The grim, gothic science-fiction universe of Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 is one of gaming’s greatest melieus. Since the original Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader hardcover book was first released way back in 1987 (my original copy sits behind me on the shelf as I write), the vast expanses of the 41st millennium have been continually developed in more and more detail as a background to the hugely popular tabletop miniatures game.
Almost since the original hardback hit the shelves, fans have dreamed of roleplaying in this incredible universe, but it took a long time for those dreams to become a reality. Finally, Black Industries, a Games Workshop publishing company—hot on the heels of the success of their 2nd edition launch of the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay game—announced that a W40K roleplaying game was imminent. But not just one roleplaying game—there would be three! There were so many possibilities in such a vast universe that one game couldn’t hope to cover them all, so there would be three games that shared similar mechanics, but focussed on different aspects of roleplaying in the far future.
Well, Black Industries released the first, long awaited system: Dark Heresy, and it sold out in no time at all. The future looked bright until suddenly the news came through that Black Industries was being dismantled. Thankfully, and to the great relief of roleplayers worldwide, it was announced that Fantasy Flight Games would take over not only WFRP and Dark Heresy, but all further development on both RPGs. And since then we have been treated to a surfeit of riches—and just recently, the announcement of a surprising fourth addition to the W40K RPG pantheon.
The Dark Heresy: Core Rulebook is the first game in the W40K RPG line (but of course you can choose and play any one—or more— of these RPG systems, depending on what kind of setting and characters you and your players would enjoy the most).
The setting is a part of the Imperium called the Calixis Sector (the background material is written by best-selling Warhammer 40,000 novelists Dan Abnett and Ben Counter), and players take on the roles of Acolytes of the Inquisition, aiming to uncover and combat the enemies of mankind. You stand in the front line of a great and secret war where your duty is to hunt out the foul stench of heresy, the vile alien, and the twisted influence of Chaos. You will tread where others fear, venturing to distant planets, ancient space hulks and the unsavoury depths of the under-hive. You will never know fame nor reward, yet if you stand resolute your deeds will be whispered to the God-Emperor of Mankind and your name will be revered for millennia…
At last count there were twelve supplements and expansions for Dark Heresy, so there’s no shortage of detailed background material and adventures to keep your players busy rooting out heretics for millennia! Two good places to start are the Game Master’s Kit, an essential resource for the GM containing a sturdy screen full of useful references and information, and a full scenario; and Purge the Unclean, an anthology of linked scenarios.
Then there are expansions full of new rules, careers, creatures, gear and packed with background material—The Inquisitor’s Handbook, The Radical’s Handbook, Disciples of the Dark Gods, Ascension, Blood of Martyrs, and Creatures Anathema.
Of course there is plenty of adventure material available, including the three-book epic campaign called Haarlock’s Legacy: Tattered Fates and Damned Cities, and Dead Stars. Also look out for The Black Sepulchre, the first installment of a new campaign.
The next RPG, Rogue Trader, took W40K roleplaying out into the blackness of infinite space. Players take on the roles of a Rogue Trader and his most trusted counsellors, empowered by an ancient warrant of trade to seek out profit and plunder amongst unexplored regions of space. Your ship will take you to new worlds and uncharted reaches of the void, where you will encounter rivals, pirates, aliens, and possibly even creatures of the warp. You will acquire and spend great wealth and riches, and fame or infamy will follow. You will discover ancient and forgotten mysteries and search out the unknown to find lost human worlds or never before seen celestial phenomena. You must survive the dangers of space, for beyond the threat of vacuum and deadly radiation lurk things Man was never meant to find.
Vast profits await for you and your fellow Explorers to find and claim. Fame and fortune reward the bold, but the unwary find only an anonymous death…
Best of all, there are rules for building your own starship (or starting play with one of six pre-generated vessels). Dynamic rules cover all eventualities from social interaction to deadly fast-paced combat, starships and psychic powers to a system of profit and influence. The Rogue Trader: Core Rulebook contains everything you need to start your adventure in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, including a complete adventure that puts you right into the middle of the action.
Then blast into some of the galaxy’s greatest adventures: The Lure of the Expanse, featuring three adventures set amongst the unexplored stars beyond the Imperium; and The Frozen Reaches, which puts the adventurers on a planet facing an imminent Ork invasion.
There’s plenty of expanded background material and new rules too: Edge of the Abyss offers in-depth descriptions of several important locations in the Expanse, and background information, statistics, and ships for the most powerful alien races and organizations; Into the Storm details new character options and gear (plus you can play as an alien!); and Battlefleet Koronus is an extensive sourcebook about the starships of the Imperium.
Something W40K players have been wanting to do for a long, long time is actually roleplay the classic Space Marines or Adeptus Astartes—the devout, bio-engineered super-soldiers who are so iconic of the tabletop game and the W40K universe. And finally, the Deathwatch: Core Rulebook arrived. As a character in a Deathwatch game, you are an exceptional space marine singled out, after many years of faithful service to your own chapter, to join one of the most unique and specialized collectives of Space Marines—the mysterious Deathwatch. Its members swear a new oath to safeguard the Imperium from the darkest of threats. You will be called into service to hunt down and destroy hostile xenos forces, to seek out and crush the root of heresy and sedition, and to continually fight against the foul daemon menace that crawls forth hungrily from beyond the Warp. You and your fellow players will be on the front line of an Imperial Crusade to reclaim the vast region of space known as the Reach from darkness and heresy. The fate of billions rests in your hands!
Your GM would do well to employ the aid of the Deathwatch Gamemaster’s Kit, which comes complete with a sturdy GM screen featuring stunning artwork and useful tables, charts, rules, and statistics, providing quick Game Master reference and a handy place behind which to plot your evil schemes. In addition, there’s a 32-page full colour booklet with a selection of useful NPCs, an expanded Mission generation system, and a complete adventure, The Shadow of Madness. But that’s still not all … included is a section devoted to aiding Game Masters to devise missions and implement them into your own Deathwatch campaigns, plus an appendix detailing the important NPCs that your players’ Kill-team may encounter, with plenty of adventure ideas for each.
The surprising new addition to the W40K RPG line is a fourth game that was never announced back in the Black Industries days: Black Crusade. This new game will offer players an entirely new perspective on the conflict between the Imperium of Man and the forces of Chaos—for now you will be able to play as a Disciple of the Dark Gods, whether as a Chaos Space Marine or a human Servant of Chaos. It’s time to be the bad guys!
As you can see, Fantasy Flight Games has roleplaying in the universe of the 41st millennium well and truly covered—it only remains for you to choose your game, gear up your characters, and go forth to investigate, explore and of course—fight!