Thursday, June 3, 2010

Gaming: Dark Heresy

OK, so what with power outages, computer problems, Internet outages, contractors, and other nonsense taking up my time the last few weeks, I have been a bit remiss on updating.  As such, though I promised a series on the Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) Warhammer 40000 roleplaying systems, they have yet to materialize.  Well, wait no longer!

Dark Heresy emerged onto the shelves from the dark abyss of Games Workshop's Black Library after years of rumors and anticipation in the year 2008, and it was promptly announced that Black Library would no longer produce RPGs.  This bizarre announcement came on the heels of the Dark Heresy Core Rulebook having sold out of almost every vendor, and demands for reprints pounding at the unprepared gates of the Black Library like a demented horde of Visigoths desperate to enter Rome.  Why?  Well, in spite of fears that Dark Heresy would just be an updated version of the spectacular failure that was the Inquisitor RPG, it turned out that Dark Heresy was breathtakingly well thought out and (most importantly) simple!

While most of the community railed and hurled various and sundry insults to the fools at the Black Library, Games Workshop worked out a deal with the good folks at FFG for a second printing and handling of the licensed material.  FFG, seeing the clamor for product, responded quickly with new prints of the books, and promises that supplements were on their way.  These promises were quickly delivered on, with new releases like the Purge the Unclean, The Inquisitors Handbook, Creatures Anathema, and many others popping onto the shelves like Daemons recently emerged from the Warp itself.

The question really is, what made Dark Heresy a hit?  In my opinion it was a combination of factors, whose gestalt was far more powerful than the sum of its parts would suggest.  Let's take a look:

The Rules
First of all, Dark Heresy uses a straight percentile system for all of its rules, and unlike many other similar percentile systems (Chaosium, Runequest, etc) there are no other dice other than the percent dice and a d10 (on the off chance that you might be using an old d100 for percents).  Unlike Chaosium or Runequest, which treats skills as independent of abilities, Dark Heresy uses abilities as a base, with proficiency providing bonuses.  This means that there is an actual corollary between any given skill set and a specific ability score, making characters with a higher scores more likely to succeed in checks that are best suited to those scores.

In addition to a very clean set of mechanics for skills and abilities, characters gain access to Talents, which provide additional benefits in conjunction with certain skills, abilities, and actions.  Talents are akin to Feats in the Dungeons & Dragons d20 system, and are a good addition to the standard percentile system.

Character advancement in Dark Heresy is equally logical and simple.  Every time characters are awarded experience for their actions, they put that experience into a pool to buy advancements with.  Available advancements depend greatly on Rank, and once the character has spent enough experience to acquire a new rank, they are able to purchase the advancements available for that rank.

The Background
While the game is set in the traditional Warhammer 40000 universe, with all that this implies, Dark Heresy itself explores a completely new corner of that universe.  The Core Rulebook provides a general overview for those unfamiliar with the universe, and a more in-depth look at the Calixis Sector, where Acolytes are likely going to be adventuring.  Though not exhaustive, by any means, the gazetteers for the various worlds in the Core book will provide even novice GMs with enough information to run a good game.

Depending on the Inquisitorial faction, and sub-faction, that the acolytes are working for, GMs have a cornucopia of options for adventuring.  Simply learning about the organization of the Inquisitor that the players are serving could be a treacherous and perilous experience, after all.  For those who do not want to go to the trouble, time, and effort of building adventures from scratch, though, there are fantastic adventures and modules around for acolytes of all varying degrees of experience.

The Support
Fantasy Flight Games has done a great job of supporting their products.  With timely, well written, and thoughtful Errata to ensure consistency, FFG has done its utmost to provide a great balance for players.  Add to this a steady stream of excellent supplements has provided both players and GMs with tons of material covering all manner of situations and scenarios, and you have a really well integrated infrastructure for players to utilize.  The flexibility of the system and products makes it easy to use and adapt to cover pretty much anything that you want to do.

Overall, I think that the experience provided by Dark Heresy is excellent, and has stood FFG in good stead in the development of their first companion system to Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader.

Dark Heresy products are available for purchase at New Moon Comics.

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