Throughout the course of the month of May I will be taking some time to explore the world of Warhammer 40,000 through the lens of Fantasy Flight's series of Roleplaying Games set in the grim darkness of the far future.
First off, I am am sure that some of you are all aching for a bit of background, and I will endeavor to supply you with that before I elaborate. In 2008, Games Workshop, through its Black Library Publishing division, released the first true roleplaying game set in the universe of Games Workshop's world famous and highly popular Warhammer 40,000 universe. The game, set 38000 years in a future where the human race struggles for supremacy amid both alien and supernatural threats, was then picked up by Fantasy Flight Games in the US, who began a massive program of development for the system. Given its amazing initial successes, Fantasy Flight began a full fledged program of expansion and support and created an ancillary game, released in late 2009, called Rogue Trader. Even greater sales and successes followed the release of Rogue Trader, and Fantasy Flight began development of Deathwatch, which is scheduled for release this summer.
Now, I know what you are thinking: how can you have three different games in the same setting?! Very easily, in point of fact. The Universe of Warhammer 40,000 is epic in its porportions to begin with, and the simple fact is that each of the games fills a somewhat unique sub-genre within the setting. Let's take a look:
Dark Heresy: Characters, referred to as Acolytes, are doing the holy work of the Imperial Inquisition, rooting out enemies of humanity wherever they go. Dark Heresy allows players to create Acolytes from any of the three major orders of the Inquisition (Ordo Xenos hunts aliens, Ordo Malleus hunts daemons, and Ordo Hereticus hunts witches and traitors), and provides a look at the lowest levels of society as the players work their way up in their masters' organization. Well supported with many supplemental books and adventures, Dark Heresy provides a fantastic gateway into the Warhammer 40K universe for roleplayers who are uninterested in the tabletop wargame. This game is good for players who are interested in sleuthing adventures and thriller/suspense/intrigue campaigns.
Rogue Trader: Unlike Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader characters, referred to as Explorers, are not working directly for the government of the Empire of Man, but are rather members of an interstellar trading cartel known as a Rogue Trader Dynasty. Rogue Traders have been a staple of the Warhammer 40K universe from the beginning, and this game added a whole new dimension and power level to the game. While it is compatible with Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader has a slightly different feel and structure to the adventures, as well as innovative new ways of generating characters and solving problems. In addition, giving players command of a starship, and the ability to pick and choose Endeavours (the Rogue Trader equivalent of missions or projects) makes this a far more advanced game for players who are looking for a type of 'Pirates in Space' feel. Though the Core book only came out last November, we already have set of supporting adventures (see Rogue Trader: Lure of the Expanse) with a great deal more on the way.
Deathwatch: Now we get into the nitty-gritty of what really makes Warhammer 40,000 a popular game: Space Marines. Deathwatch puts players in the role of Space Marines seconded to the Ordo Xenos, the Inquisitorial branch dedicated to wiping out aliens, and looks to be head and shoulders above the power levels of the prior two books. While the game has not yet been released, we have seen a great deal about the setting and the options for building a Deathwatch Kill Team Marine, including the use of specific Space Marine Chapter backgrounds. Unlike the previous games, Deathwatch is likely to be focused on combat and will definitely appeal to the dungeon-crawl, shoot-em-up type of player who likes killing aliens of all stripes.
So what are these articles going to deal with? Well, next week I will talk more about the specifics of Dark Heresy, game mechanics, supplements, and overall conceptualization. The week after I will do the same for Rogue Trader, and the week after that I will round up the rumors on the forthcoming Deathwatch system.
Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader, and their supplements are available for purchase at New Moon Comics.