Dark Heresy a GM's Review

Dark Heresy is first game in a line of role-playing games set in the Warhammer 40K universe; it is published by Fantasy Flight Games and contains all you need to play the game. In Dark Heresy, the players take on the role of Acolytes of the Imperial Inquisition, sent out into the galaxy to root out the enemies of mankind and the God-Emperor, so grab a chainsword and get ready to burn some heretics!


Dark Heresy

I have to be honest and admit that I Dark Heresy because I thought the cover looked cool and when it arrived I was not disappointed. The book has the high production values of all of Fantasy Flight’s products and so everything from the binding to the paper feels like it will stand up to vigorous use at the gaming table. The artwork is full colour and of a similar high standard to the book itself and has this H.R. Giger meets Marilyn Manson feel to it that is very evocative of the 40K universe. That said, I was not really that familiar with the 40K setting having only played the tabletop game once MANY years ago, so this was really my first encounter with the Imperium of man. Which leads to my first criticisms of the book; it feels like it is written for people who are already familiar with the universe to some degree and not for new players. These means it’s a bit of a struggle to piece together an idea of what life is like, especially regarding technology (I’m still not sure if they have computers). The information is there, in fact there is a section called Life in the Imperium, I just didn’t find it that accessible. However, once you do get your head around it, you realise the setting is actually broad enough for you to pretty much make up your own planet and have things how you want (within limits) and have found that treating technology like magic seems to be an easy compromise. So first impressions over, what is this game like to run?




The System


Dark Heresy works on a percentile system and it is pretty easy to pick up the basics. There is a lot of crunch to the rules, pages and pages of charts, different types of damage, rules for armour penetration, fatigue etc etc, but actually when you start playing it all works very intuitively and you never feel bogged down by the rules. There is a small but fairly comprehensive bestiary at the back and everything comes with a very easy to read stat block. Not much description but they have tried to keep things fairly generic so they can be used in a number of different situations. If it is lacking anything it is any real social mechanics, but when you are on a mission from the God Emperor you can always use your bolter pistol instead! All things considered a very good system.

The Setting

 Zen Jeru Recommends:-

Ultramarines: A Warhammer 40K Movie, 2010.
For those of you new to the Warhammer 40K universe, it can seem a little strange and unfamiliar, how does a galaxy of religious fanatics flying around space in technology they don’t understand actually work? If you have the time there is a mountain of novels and computer games that will immerse you in this vast world, but if you are looking something that comes in under the 90 minute mark then you can’t go wrong with Ultramarines: A Warhammer 40K Movie. Yes it focuses on the Space Marines rather than the Inquisition, but it does an excellent job of conveying the attitudes to religion and technology in the universe, the two things I found most confusing when first approaching this game. It is all CGI but the voice acting is excellent, the action is intense and the story and characters are surprisingly gripping, well worth tracking down as an introduction to this world.

As I mentioned before, it did take a while to get my head around the Dark Heresy setting as it is not your typical sci-fi universe and there are a lot of unique elements that you will want to have a grasp of before running the game. Most of the technology is either salvaged or reverse engineered from a civilisation that was destroyed thousands of years ago and a religion has grown up around its use. Faster than light travel is possible but is very risky and not readily available so you can have planets that are incredibly isolated from the rest of the sector. This is great news for GMs because of the amount of control it gives you over the planets the players visit. One game they could be on a hive world fighting robots with their laser guns, next time they are on a feudal world wearing chainmail protecting a castle, and it makes sense that one planet has robots and the other lives in the dark ages. They have provided a default sector for you to set your game called the Calixis sector and detail all the main planets, power groups and inquisitors and this is the setting for all the published adventures that are available. You could if you wanted to make up your own sector from scratch, or if you are a fan of the universe use another canon sector from elsewhere in the galaxy. But really the Calixis sector is big enough that you could squeeze your own planets in there, letting you use what you wanted from the published material and make up the rest or come up with a unique side quest when the published adventure is getting a bit stale. At first I thought I would make up my own planets, being the creative genius that I am, but on reading I found the three main planets covered everything I was thinking of so just stuck with them.

The idea of the players all being Acolytes of the same Inquisitor and then being sent on missions gets players straight into the action and explains why the group was formed, so no need for them to meet in a tavern! This doesn’t mean that the players are limited in their choice as the eight character classes are all quite different and very customisable, so each group could be very unique giving the game plenty of replay value. This setting lends itself to a number of different styles of play from investigation, to survival horror to a good old hack ‘n slash (although the characters do tend to be glass canons so be careful with those combat servators!). The antagonists are loosely grouped into three categories, aliens, chaos (demons from another realm) and their worshipers, and heretics who are basically anyone the inquisition doesn’t like; and these all present different threats to the PCs and would all make for recurring villains in a long running campaign.

So if you fancy something different to your usual Star Trek clone, a universe filled with story hooks and intrigue, or if you’re looking for a system that will satisfy the min-maxer in you but then blend into the background when you play (or you’re just a fanboy who can’t stop giving money to Games Workshop!) then I highly recommend Dark Heresy.

Highly Recommended!

 5 Star Rating: Highly Recommended

Want to try out another system?

World of Darkness Core Book RIFTS: Ultimate Edition Savage Worlds Deluxe In Flames