Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Dark Heresy - a one note campaign setting?

The wargaming roots of the Warhammer 40K universe doesn't seem to leave much room for characterisation and roleplaying opportunities. Everything seems to be 'KILL DEM ALL FOR DA EMPURRAH!!!' and it all seems to be black and white - humans against the galaxy. Well... maybe black and dark.

It took Captain Titus from the video game 'Space Marine' to make me wonder at the depth of humanity and the broadness of character an Adeptus Astartes could have, and I could totally see him as a character I could follow in stories and the like. Considering the bleak, nihilistic and severely limited tone of the setting, is it possible for players to create characters with emotion and character? Or is that a hangover I have from the wargame, that limited need for depth considering that what the writers and designers were writing about was groups of beings simply blowing the crap out of each other?

I love the 40K setting, I love the darkness and the gothic design. I can easily make the game my own and inject as much depth and emotion as I please, but the effectiveness of that will depend on how my players view the setting. Will they want to play depth, or just shoot stuff with their bolt pistols?

I think this is one of those settings that can really divide opinion on how it should be approached.


  1. I guess give them reasons why they wouldn't necessarily kill dem all. What if there were other issues at stake around the mission, which could just be ignored in favor of completing the main mission objectives, but might relate to personal goals the players have or some meta-plot.

    For example, let's say the Inquisitors refuse to recognize some looming threat. It's up to the PCs to investigate and do something about it, gathering evidence to present to the Inquisitors. One Inquisitor in particular seems willing to believe, but needs proof for his superiors.

    After many sessions and much proof, the PCs' Inquisitor goes missing and the informal word is that he displeased the wrong people. The new Inquisitor tells the PCs that everyone should learn from his example. Starts sending them on missions, business as usual.

    So do the PCs continue investigating the big threat? Or are they cowed by the danger to themselves?

    Turns out one of the Inquisitors was doing some bad dealings but because of his clout and blackmail etc. the organization isn't doing anything about it. How will the PCs be able to overcome his forces? With the cache of cool stuff hidden for them by their old, supportive Inquisitor. Said cache comes to light somehow after they collect a few remaining pieces of evidence.

    Big fight or infiltration or whatever.

    The middle parts, each mission, should have people who have information or physical evidence about the looming problem. Maybe they have needs that the PCs can meet in trade for their help. Those needs might conflict with the easy way to finish the mission.

    Specific example:

    Lady has video evidence of an Inquisitor's men talking with a local crime boss and trading him illegal stuff for a mysterious artifact. Her brother works in the mines where the criminal found the artifact. If they can rescue her brother he can lead them to a secret passage in the mines that goes into the criminal's hideout where more artifacts and information about them can be found.

    But the hideout is in her family's ancestral home which was taken over by the criminal guy, and she begs the PCs to not damage it when they go in. The brother is one of the criminal's men, and wants out but he can't just leave, so bringing him back to her alive is important.

    Rescuing the brother and reuniting him with the sister, not damaging the mansion, getting the artifact info, and getting an artifact are all mission objectives alongside the basic Inquisitor's objective of "kill the crime boss and his men". In fact, letting the brother live goes against the Inquisitor's mission, though they don't need to know about it, right?

    1. Brilliant response - it certainly addresses the primary issue of changing the tack of the players attitudes and responses. Thanks for the post - I think what you wrote is worthy of a blog entry of it's own!

  2. I disagree that the setting is not great for roleplay, but think it is instead "on-rails" for roleplaying in a strict style. You'll never see a DH game where one character gets to be totally against the rest of the party and the game continues, but you will see great roleplaying in the same vein.
    We had a DeathWatch module where the RP opportunities were fantastic, solid, and entertaining; but they were all within the rather narrow band of attitudes that DeathWatch characters are allowed to show.
    Any specalist game will be the same; eg. Vampire!

    1. That's my primary issue with the game setting, that there is apparently a definitive grimdark way of running the game, and if a group wants to play that way then that's great. That limits other avenues of roleplaying, especially the immersively emotional style, even though that's a style I'd probably not purposefully do even though I'd like the option to do it should it arise.