Okay, so I’ve spent the past few days looking over Dark Heresy, its rules, the character creation, and basic assumptions. I’ve had some knowledge of the setting beforehand, having played Chaos Gate and the Dawn of War series on the PC, owning a few Black Templar space marines as a Warhammer 40k Tabletop Wargame army before, and reading several of Dan Abnett’s inquisitor novels.
That said, I think that the primary obstacle in creating a pitch for a Dark Heresy campaign is the preconception that 40k is nothing but mindless violence and senseless death. While these are things that are extolled in the in-game literature, the truth gets a little more complicated than that. Of course, first impressions make for very strong influences on how people react to something, and Warhammer 40k is one of those love it or hate it settings at first glance.
And so I think it might be a good idea to start laying out my groundwork for a Dark Heresy Campaign pitch. First off, assumptions:
- The Imperium of Man is home to countless cultures – Despite the monocultural portrayal in most of the popular art and imagery of Warhammer 40k, there are countless worlds in the Imperium which have their own individual cultures, art, customs and architecture. Each new world that the Acolytes visit can be pretty much anything. Strange Garden Worlds terraformed and cultivated to serve as vacation spots for wealthy nobles, sprawling steampunk industrial cities where the smoke from the city sized foundries blot out the sun, even strange Utopian civilizations that resemble Egyptian culture that worship the Golden Throne as a Pharaoh and Sun God. All of these have a place in this universe.
- Dark Heresy is a Street Level game – This isn’t about leading the Adeptus Astartes into glorious battle against the Eye of Terror… yet. Your life isn’t about just war or the battlefield. Dark Heresy explores the more human side of the setting, dealing with the people of the Imperium, and the evils that seek to corrupt them.
- Acolytes aren’t part of the ignorant masses - Dark Heresy’s primary assumption is that the players are the agents of an Inquisitor, common men and women who have caught the eye of an Inquisitor for their force of will, resourcefulness, cunning and strength. It is the ability to resist the total social brainwashing of the masses and actually think and act independently that the Inquisitors prize in their Acolytes. Anyone who mindlessly babbles the dogma of the Imperium is ultimately useless to an Inquisitor.
- The game has room for Character Development – While the game is ultimately one where violence and combat is going to happen, the characters have room to grow. I’m not entirely sold on the eternal vigilance angle espoused by all the 40k propaganda, and so there will actually be downtime for the Acolytes, and opportunities to round out relationships and contacts and pursue non-combat vital angles. Heck, even Inquisitor Eisenhorn found a little time to knock back a little amasec now and then.
- Dark Heresy relies on Investigation and Combat in equal measure – As Acolytes, majority of your character’s work will be undercover. Often even the Planetary authorities will not be made aware of your identities as Agents of the Throne as even they may be part of whatever heresy you are sent to investigate. There’s no help hotline to the Inquisitor either, so caution should be foremost in the Acolyte’s minds. Still, nobody got anything done by being cowardly, so Acolytes should not mind getting their hands dirty now and then.
- Dark Heresy will ask hard questions – The moral choices made by Acolytes are difficult, as sometimes the lines blur between the innocent and the guilty. Furthermore, the forces of Chaos are seductive, often luring Acolytes to make foolish pacts with the daemons for the “greater good.” This isn’t a game centered solely on Man vs. Other conflicts, but also upon Man vs. Himself.
I feel the need to spell each of these major assumptions out to help players understand that there’s a lot of interesting things that can go on in a Dark Heresy game. It’s not just about kicking down doors, screaming “HERESY!” at the top of your lungs and wailing on whatever poor soul was behind the door with your chainsword.
And so these are some of my basic assumptions, what do you guys think? What assumptions did you or your GMs use when you played Dark Heresy? I’d really like to know.