In the Emperor’s Service, a small group of acolytes begin to uncover a sinister truth…
Campaign Setting and Rules
Dark Heresy rules were published by Fantasy Flight Games and subsequently, taken up by Black Industries. It was the first official Warhammer 40,000 (WH40k) RPG, published in 2008 and winning a silver ENnie for best game in 2009. We play using 1st Edition which, considering it is a second print, is riddled with erratum. Much of the erratum was not promulgated to players until the third season.
A summary of the system is found here.
The Player Characters
After an introductory adventure with pre-gens (ready-made characters) which were a simple way of learning the game, full characters have been generated. The careers chosen are Adept, Arbitrator, Guardsman and Tech-Priest. In Episode 1.4, an Assassin also joins the crew, but he soon becomes a NPC owing to player unavailability.
In alphabetic order the characters are:
- Franz, an Assassin: 1.83m tall, medium build, a nondescript blonde male.
- Grimm, an Arbitrator: Pale, 1.9m, sturdily built, with close cropped white hair and clean shaven face. Habitually wears a helmet, with some sort of Plaz-steel visor, which makes it hard to see his eyes. But his chin and generally unsmiling mouth are still apparent. Also habitually wears a Hand Cannon called ‘Lawgiver’.
- Jahr, Guardsman from a feral world: A strapping 2.1m tall, and if ever winkled out of his Guardsman’s Armor, it can be seen that his pale skin is heavily tattooed, and his teeth are filed sharp.
- Mola, an Adept: Mola wears the sombre robes of a Scholar. At 1.75m this willowy, mocha-skinned, hazel-eyed, chestnut-brown-haired woman is the team’s midget. It was not her fascination with lore of all kinds – which any Adept might display – so much as her devotion to Orthodoxy and a flair for accurate pistolry that recommended her to the Ordos.
- Zarkov, a Tech-Priest: Around 1.8m tall but of uncertain build, with strange additions that bulk out his robes. Not much can be known about Zarkov’s true appearance since he wears a hooded robe. What is visible of his lower face is usually covered by a respirator. When visible, there are “tattoos” on his hands and lines up his arms but on closer inspection they are not tattoos but some sort of technology embedded in his flesh and protruding in some places.
+++++++++++++Excerpt from Adept M Quintilla’s Data Slate+++++++++++++
The Emperor Protects! We are all four of us acolytes in His service, assigned to Inquisitor R. Graves in the Calixis Sector.
For the past month, I, the Adept Quintilla (familiar name Mola) have endured shared quarters with the three men of the team, aboard the scow Brazen Sky. The purser, who is the only crewmember we are permitted to deal with, has alerted us to imminent orbit over our destination, Iocanthos.
We are new to each other so I here present us as we appear at this point, stretching, dusting ourselves off and enumerating our small store of equipment.
Jahr Barak: Guardsman. Strapping and tall, with tan skin and brown hair and eyes. Jahr has some tattoos that have some significance on his own feral world, but he has firmly embraced civilized culture and treasures his many weapons and guard armor.
Justin Grimm: Arbitrator. Tall, solidly built, and pale, with close-trimmed hair so white that he appears bald at first glance. Grimm is less well-equipped than Jahr, but still has chain armor, a shotgun and a stub revolver. He habitually touches his Arbites shoulder-guard.
Zarkov: Tech-Priest. Even Zarkov’s basic dimensions are obscure, thanks to the robes which swathe him and jut out at odd angles over miscellaneous augmentations. Most of his face is obscured by a breather mask, and his voice is metallic. He seems to have a number of items of equipment, and though I am not familiar with the functions of many I do recognize staff and stub revolver.
Quintilla Mola: Adept. Though considerably shorter than either the Arbitrator or the Guardsman, I am generally considered tall, and slender under my Adept’s robes. My skin is mocha and hair chestnut, and my eyes are deep brown. My own equipment is minimal, for apart from this slate and quill with which I record events, I have but a chrono and a stub revolver.
We drop into orbit and receive the go-ahead from the purser. We arrive in a hold where a lighter is being loaded ready for transit to Port Suffering. The super-cargo transfers the inventory to my data-slate, on my insistence, before we board.
I accept an approved anti-nausea pill, having an idea of what the entry to atmosphere will be like, but it proves inadequate. Vomit stains my robe. Beside me, Grimm fares no better.
[Easy Toughness checks are demanded: Jahr and Z are OK but Grimm and Mola fail. -10 to all Int tests next 5 hours for Mola owing to the soporific.]
Hot air, smoke-laden with burnt residues of various accelerants, swaddles us as we disembark. Underlying it is a strong iron tang, supposedly the residue of Ghostfire Pollen. A hover-sled approaches.
A blotchy-faced official, and two goons, dismount the sled. His name is Smyk, and his officiousness prevents me from carrying out my plan to use our Imperial authority to requisition anything of use from the lighter’s cargo.
As we are finishing with Smyk [ none of us really have any skills to bring to bear, and he is not actually hostile] a tatty cherub flaps unsteadily down and hands me a scroll from Inquisitor Graves. The parchment says we should follow the cherub to our contact, one Aristarchus.
Port Suffering is a cack-hole. [ The GM tells us to picture Mos Eisley for the look, crowds and smell of Port Suffering.] Broad alleys sprawl off the winding street we follow the cherub down – it floats above and ahead of us, sporadically returning when it gets too far ahead – and all manner of stall, temporary dwelling and agnostic spall of gear make our progress even less straightforward. The cherub leads us into one of the broad alleys.
[ We all fail Perception at this point.]
The alley is somewhat less crowded, though Jahr stays on point to ensure we make our way through swiftly. We are accosted by a tattooed tribal wretch clad in what appears to be a blanket. At the rear Grimm catches a few key phrases among his unintelligible ranting and commits them to memory. Meanwhile, at the far end, our path is blocked by half a dozen or so native youths who shout anti-imperial slogans, then rush us.
Grimm draws his pistol and advances to stand next to Jahr, while Mola and Z each draw a pistol. Jahr draws a sword. Seeing our weapons, some few of the young thugs slow their headlong rush enough to begin reaching for their own firearms. The rush makes them harder to hit [-20 to BS] but they are ruled to be unable to dodge.
The alley is reasonably broad and uncrowded. Blanket man plays no part, even as an obstacle. Up to four men could fight alongside across it.
Round 1: Jahr waits for an opportunity. [Unlike D&D this does not surrender his place in the init track, and the charging opponent gives him a +20 to hit.] Z blazes aimlessly. Z swaps out his pistol for his staff [a ½ action]. Grimm shoots one [we name him Cliff] in the chest [11 less 3 Toughness = 8 of 10 wounds.] Jahr swings but misses, even with the advantage. The thugs are now all either adjacent or ready to fire, although Cliff pulls up a bit short and cannot make a melee attack without moving further next round. Mola shoots another thug [we name him Nigel] in the right leg [12-3=9 of 10 wounds].
Round 2: Jahr and Grimm are now roughly in one rank, facing three thugs. Z and Mola are behind Jahr and Grimm, while on the other side, Cliff is somewhat behind the first three thugs, and two further thugs are further back again, leveling stub pistols.
Jahr is now in melee, and swings his sword accurately, but is evaded [the thugs have Dodge as a skill, so only need roll under their Agility]. Z steps up as close as he can get to Jahr’s flank, forming a solid rank with Jahr and Grimm, missing with his staff. Grimm draws his Arbites club [takes a ½ action: an Arbites club is equivalent to a riot baton or tonfa] and jabs at Nigel [ganging up adds +10] striking his chest! Nigel fails to dodge and is winded [7 less 3 Toughness, 1 wound remaining, =-3 with 1 level of fatigue]. Nigel misses with his reply swing, and the other melee thugs also miss. The remaining thugs cannot get a clear shot or cannot join in melee. Mola shoots into melee, hitting Nigel again! [Stunning him and immobilizing his weapon arm for 5 rounds.]
Round 3: Thugs press forward, desperate to do damage of some kind. The press of melee means that Nigel is no longer in easy reach of Jahr and Z.
Jahr’s sword misses even with all-out attack and ganging up with Z, but Z, using the same all-out tactic, connects with the right leg of his unwounded foe [who we name Moe: 10 less 3 Toughness = 7 of 10 wounds]. Grimm tries a follow-up attack on the same target but misses. A number of handguns fire, all at Grimm [including Mola’s, as her shot was a little inaccurate]! Grimm is shot in the chest! [13-1 effective armor-3 Tough = 9] but he hardly seems to feel the damage [Uses a Fate Point, d5 back, rolls 4, = 5/11 wounds remaining. Mola’s shot was minimum damage so does not exceed Grimm’s combined armor and Toughness].
Round 4: Thugs are not yet willing to flee as only two of them are effectively out of the fight, and one of us is wounded.
Jahr finally connects with another all-out attack on Moe, who falls! [7 wounds after Toughness, Moe only has 3 left: he blacks out]. Somewhat surprised that Cliff is still pressing forward, Z and Grimm miss him. Nigel is backing off, encouraging his shooters, who let fly at Z. They miss, but one hits Cliff in the back of his right leg, breaking it [and stunning him with a level of fatigue]. Mola misses her fourth shot.
Round 5: A small group of Port Guards pile into the alley, on our side. The thugs are already discouraged now that half are effectively out of the fight.
Jahr’s all-out attack misses but Z and Grimm gang up on another unwounded opponent, hurting him twice. The mobile thugs flee, some at half pace.
The cherub seems to have made its way off during the commotion. Although they have stopped the fight, the guards are not altogether friendly. They want us to accompany them back to their station. I attempt to persuade them [ Fellowship+10] that our official business takes precedence but I am unsuccessful.
Grimm takes the opportunity of this slight diversion to loot Moe of his Stub pistol and spare rounds. Then we accompany the guards to their post.
After about an hour in the guard post cell, shouting arouses us and we are allowed out and our weapons are returned. Our rescuer is dressed in charcoal robes. His eyes are a gold-flecked grey and he carries a Psyker mark on his cheek. This then is Aristarchus, our contact. He and the cherub lead us to a walled imperial compound.
Aristarchus’ briefing focuses on Stern Hope, where psychic “phenomena” have occurred. His fears are around any threat to the consecration of the new cathedral to sainted Drusus, which is located in mountains to the north.
It is at this stage that Grimm recites, as best he can recall, the lines spouted by Blanket man:
‘Crow father… Two false faces… Hill shall run with blood… Snake taken to their breast…’
It is possible that this suggests the natives have taken a traitor among them, but it is possible that the ravings provide some insight to what may be threatening the cathedral.
An on-the-ground investigation is called for. We are to journey to Stern Hope on a flat-bed, starting on the morrow. It should take two days. Part of them will be through barren wastes where ferocious tribes vie for control, and part will be through rugged and perilous mountains. We shall travel to Stern Hope or die in the service of the Divine Throne!
+++++++++++++Data Slate record ends+++++++++++++
The session ended with Aristarchus healing Grimm, then a discussion regarding extra equipment, then a night’s rest and another few points back for Grimm.
This is the first episode of a new Dark Heresy adventure, starring an all-new cast of Acolytes.
Overall, we did feel quite rusty in spite of playing three sessions not that long ago, but the encounter was a good chance to re-learn things like point-blank shooting and all-out attack and ganging up. Compared to D&D it feels quite nice to be able to not over-think where one stands physically, and the “ready action” is significantly better.