Review #002 – Dark Heresy by Fantasy Flight Games

After the review of Mongoose Publishing’s Traveller, its seems only fitting that we move to another RPG that has been covered on the site and one that deals with another sci-fi setting…. Dark Heresy by Fantasy Flight games

 

Introduction

Dark Heresy is the game set in Games Workshops Warhammer 40K universe. It’s essentially the game that roleplayer’s have been asking after for the last 25 years since GW released the tabletop miniatures game.

 

Style

40K has always been a bit different to other Sci-Fi in that it portrays a very chaotic, dark universe where bad things happen as a matter of course. Technology is not that advanced, no beaming from place to place here. The setting is filled with weird aliens that, pretty much, all hate humanity; weird humans that call forth strange beings from another dimension and other people who are just plain weird.

This is a pretty dark setting to put PC’s into, but it works. It’s mainly a story of the struggle of the PC’s against the overwhelming tide of corruption, insanity and dark places and the stories and adventures in Dark Heresy convey this pretty well.

 

System

The system is based upon the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay system, which was based upon the tabletop systems. There are some pretty minor changes but essentially it’s a percentile system with a twist. The twist is that the first digit of the percentile score in you attributes acts as a bonus on some tests. An example would be each character has an Agility statistic, the first digit of which is applied to each roll for initiative, i.e. a score of 37 would add 3 to your initiative rolls. It sounds like it’s a bit of a chore but it is pretty easy to use and it works.

Other than percentiles, the system only uses single D10 dice making it easier for groups to ensure they have the correct dice, no huge stacks of dice or a big variety of dice needed.

On top of all this the system encourages modifiers to every dice roll. Without modifiers, starting PC’s are going to have a tough time doing anything. It makes PC’s think about how they can make life easier for themselves so is good from that point of view, but it places a lot of work on the GM in that they have to keep track of all of the modifiers. PC’s will want to move into close range where possible in fire fights, use superior quality guns and fire semi automatic bursts to increase the chances of hitting the nasty beast intent on ripping them limb from limb.

One thing worth mentioning here is the class system. Dark Heresy features a system where, during character generation, you chose that path which your PC will take, Guardsman, Psyker, etc, etc. However, once upon that path you’re locked into it. There is no way to change your path at a later time. So if you create a combat grunt to begin with, that’s all he’s ever going to be. Admittedly he will be a stronger combat grunt, but he’s still a combat grunt, no multi-classing here. Now they have tried to correct this in later supplements with alternative career paths, but for the main they still mean that you will follow the original premise of the characters path. Diversity here is not really an option; you’re good at what you do and can only get better at it and not become a jack of all trades.

 

Setting

As already mentioned, Dark Heresy is set in the Warhammer 40K universe. The setting is a pretty grim far future, with lots of nasty stuff to get involved with. Tech is not a big deal here with most technology being that which has been handed down through generations rather than newly invented, due to most new tech being suppressed. The real drive here is the religious devotion to the Emperor who has been encased in his golden throne for hundreds of years and now rules via his massive armies, spread throughout the galaxy.

The PC’s play acolytes of an Inquisitor who is basically a right-hand man to the Emperor and the PC’s get involved in adventures concerning 3 main paths, Heretics, Xenos or Demons. Demons is anything that is brought through to the universe from the “warp”, Xenos are hostile alien races, which covers pretty much every alien race as the Emperor has declared them enemies and Heretics is any internal strife caused by citizens such as cultists, independent pskyers or anyone promoting religions other than devotion to the Emperor. It’s a pretty nasty mix and there are lots of opportunities for the PC’s to get involved in some or any of the problems in their area.

Layout

What can I say… the layout of the book is just beautiful, full colour, well organised, lots of tables and charts, examples and the art is stunning.

The book is a hardback, containing 400 pages of well laid out information from the rules to the setting material. A lot of care and attention went into this book and it really shows. The size of the book really was needed due to the depth of information out there from the 25+ years of GW Warhammer 40K universe and I’m sure that the half of the book that covers background and GM ideas is just scratching the surface.

 

Art

As mentioned above the art in this book is stunning. Mind you, with 25+ years of art in GW’s vaults the designers had a lot to draw from. What is nice is the way that the pieces pick are relevant to the sections in which they have been placed and the standard is high throughout. I have not seen a single piece in this book that I did not like… it is that good.

 

In Play

The rules here work well in play for a pretty fast, fluid system. My biggest problem with it is the combat rules where characters have a bunch of wound points and once that reaches zero they then start to get critical hits which further damage them, such as they get stunned or start to bleed out or lose a limb. That’s all ok, but looking over the correct table for the type of damage, in the correct body location can slow down the combat a bit. It’s a minor issue at best but it is annoying all the same.

I spoke about the modifiers before in the system section, but it’s worth repeating that starting characters will fail a lot if they are not given some good modifiers on their rolls. The system seems designed for modifiers, positive and negative, to be thrown around heavily. Don’t be afraid to use them a lot.

 

Overall

Dark Heresy is a great looking RPG. The setting is rich and diverse, with a huge back catalogue for books, wargames and even computer games to draw inspiration from. The system has a few minor niggles but is playable and the physical book is just beautiful to look at. The book is a little more expensive than other RPG’s but you can really see where that extra money was used to make this a great system and book. Overall Dark Heresy is well worth a look at if you like Sci-Fi or if you are into GW’s other games.

 

The RPGBrainDump Checklist for good books

Index

Check

4 pages long with index of tables

Table of Contents

Check

3 pages long with sidebar TOC as well

Adventure Seeds

Absent

There is a large section on some of the worlds in the basic sector and a starting adventure, but little in the way of seeds

Character Sheet

Check

Clean, but some items repeated on both pages and set on a brown background, bad for printing.

Chargen Summary

Absent

Steps mixed in with the actual rules

Stat Level Meanings

Absent

Fairly easy to work out due to percentile scale

Rules examples

Check

The chapter on playing the game has lots of examples

 

Scores

Style

4.0

System

3.5

Setting

3.5

Layout

4.0

Art

5.0

In Play

3.5

Overall

23.5 / 30.0

 

Scores – rpg.net Style

Style

4.0

Substance

4.0

 

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