Actual play: Dark Heresy – Illumination

Dark Heresy rulebook
Dark Heresy rulebook

Yesterday I got my act together and finally ran a game of Dark Heresy, the Inquisition themed roleplaying game set in the universe of Warhammer 40’000. It’s been out for over a year and I’ve been itching to play it.

I have done so little roleplaying in recent years that I was a bit nervous and quite probably overdid my preparation work, piling some eleven-plus hours for the one night of gaming. I don’t regret it, as I really knew what I was doing and now I’m ready for the next two games, as well – I got plenty of surplus material. I think that works out to around three hours per game session, which is frankly a bit much to my taste. We’ll see what I can do about that.

We’re running the rulebook’s introductory adventure, Illumination. Our group has three characters: an Assassin and two Imperial Psykers. A hilarious time was had with the character creation. I can’t think of another game with such outlandish, yet moody options, resulting in absolutely broken caricatures of characters, so far from the accepted heroic tropes as can be. It was a little bit time-consuming and it would have helped if everyone had their own career advancement options at hand. Choosing the psychic powers was slow, although they are delightfully brief to describe.

The adventure played well, managing to blend together everything I wanted. We even ended the laugh out loud funny session on a suitably moody note, dreading what’s to come The group handled their first combat encounter by appearing so intimidating that the enemy backed off – this is what I want from an Inquisition game! Granted, it was psychic fear and thus also subject to random warp implosions and such, which only adds to the tension. I love the mechanic where every manifestation of psychic power is a potential bomb going off. Keep rolling those 9s, folks!

I kept checking the book to read up on skills, talents and powers, but it was smooth enough. The one thing I worry about are the generally very low characteristic scores of the characters. Most of the time it seems quite unlikely that you could succeed on any given roll. This makes me not hang the proceedings on the die rolls, which leads to the die rolls being a kind of windowdressing. It all worked out fine in the end, but it’s something I need to think about a bit for the future.






4 responses to “Actual play: Dark Heresy – Illumination”

  1. Kai Avatar

    From what I’ve read (not having played the game) the scores really are quite low and prone to fail. This leads me to believe that they are not indeed meant to be rolled for every action, but for really important ones. Of course, there are different schools of thought, but in general I’ve always liked games where the dice-rolling is not the main focus.

  2. Joonas Laakso Avatar
    Joonas Laakso

    The problem is that I don’t want to make them roll for mission-critical stuff, because it’s very likely they will fail. Which leaves the scenario sort of up in the air. Also, failing all the time is just not fun. I may need to look into the difficulty modifiers a bit more, use them more encouragingly.

  3. Loke Avatar

    You can add modifiers depending on difficulty on the rolls, so if it’s not something that is challenging (+0) then add +10-60 to the players Stat before he rolls to determine success.So if they are just trying to find easy to find information, a player with a Fel of around 30-40 with a +30 modifier is very likely to succeed.I also make them roll Inquiry rolls etc based on time not an exact situation. So if they are actually talking to someone who has the information they need, I use pure roleplay. If they are out looking for information randomly, then I do rolls, like once per hour spent or something like that, and the results gives how much info they have found.

  4. Glowhome Avatar

    Some people have become far to used to the handholding that modern RPGs
    often offer. Personally I prefer open ended games that allow almost
    anything. The fact that you can play this game with “Chaotic Evil”
    characters as they descend into total madness all the while doing the
    bidding of the Emperor is BRILLIANT!
    Or you can run a completely military campaign with nothing but guardsmen.

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