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Dark Heresy: Core Rulebook $59.95 $29.95
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Dark Heresy: Core Rulebook
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/19/2015 10:22:03

This massive tome launches the Warhammer 40K Roleplaying line, something long-awaited by those who'd watched the richness of the setting unfold around the original minitatures skirmish game. Unsurprisingly, it begins by explaining the underlying concepts of that setting, clearly enough that even those of us uninterested in miniatures can understand. Set in the 41st Century, it paints a bleak picture of galaxy-spanning warfare across decaying worlds where much of technology has been lost, presided over by an undead - or at least, not properly alive - emperor, who is as much deity as ruler.

Interestingly, characters are not the iconic 'Space Marines' of the skirmish game, but acolytes of the Inquisition, whose role is to search out threats to the Imperium of Man from within and without. The first part of the book explains how to create your character and shows how the game is played, with later chapters detailing the role of the Game Master, providing a lot more information on the setting, and even an introductory scenario to get things going.

The character creation process is laid out clearly in Chapter 1: Character Creation. It is a six-stage process beginning by determining your home world. You next work out your 'characteristics' or capabilities both physical and mental and then choose a career path to follow. Next you have points to spend on skills (or improving characteristics if preferred) as well as money for weapons, armour and other equipment. That's the main number-crunching part of the process. Then you need to flesh out the character a bit, deciding everything from what he looks like to how he behaves and thinks, maybe even his hobbies or favourite food! Each choice made has a bearing on what comes after, and in the main you have the option of making a choice or rolling random results, although you do have to roll characteristics. Plenty of detail on all the options is provided to help you make up your mind, and it's written in such a way that you are absorbing background on the setting as well - neat!

Chapter 2: Career Paths comes next, giving a wealth of detail about what the path you have chosen to follow has to offer, both now and in the future as your character gains experience. Each is unique, indeed each character on that path can choose a different route, and it is worth studying your chosen one thoroughly from the outset. The entire process of advancement is described here too, it's complex but elegant and quite easy to follow once you get the hang of it. Again, the background is woven in seamlessly so as you read you discover more about your niche within the setting.

The next few chapters continue in similar vein, with detailed examinations of skills, talents, equipment and psychic powers, if you are lucky (or unfortunate?) enough to have any. Throughout, it is explained how each one will work both mechanically and in character, enabling you to use them to good effect in play. The final part of the opening section is Chapter 7: Playing the Game which draws everything else together and gives you the lowdown on how to make everything work. Examples and advice abound, and although there's no substitute for trying it all out, preferably in the company of someone who already understands it, this chapter provides a good start.

Then comes Chapter 8: The Game Master, which seeks to provide aspiring Game Masters with what they need to know to run the game effectively. It is comprehensive, starting from the basics and hence being suitable for someone who has never GMed before, as well as providing system and setting specific information to empower you to run Dark Heresy well. There is a wealth of material here and it will repay careful study (along with the rest of the book, as the GM, of course, needs to have a thorough grounding in rules and setting alike).

The next three chapters provide more detail on the background and setting, looking at life in the Imperium, the Inquisition itself and one part of known space, the Calixis Sector. Unlike many combined rulebooks (i.e. those intended for both GM and player) which divide into a 'Player' section and a 'Game Master' section, these are of equal use to both players and GMs despite being located after the chapter dedicated to the art of game mastering, certainly the chapter on life in the Imperium. The GM may choose to reveal the inner workings of the Inquisition through role-play, if the characters begin as new recruits to its ranks, and likewise may wish to restrict knowledge of the Calixis Sector until the party actually goes there.

Chapter 12: Aliens, Heretics and Antagonists provides a bestiary and details of those whom the characters may encounter in their travels, with particular note - of course - to those who they might be investigating for heresy or who would provide opposition.

Finally, there is a full-blown adventure, Illumination, to get your campaign off to a good beginning. It's a tale of treachery and dark secrets to be uncovered, with action and danger aplenty, showcasing many of the perils that the average Inquisitor faces on a day-to-day basis. A bunch of newly-recruited Acolytes (guess who?) are sent to escort a senior Inquisitor as he heads up an investigation of a barbaric world... but they have to get there first.

As well as providing all the game mechanics necessary to play the game, this richly-presented tome provides an excellent introduction to a darkly fascinating setting. Whether you are a long-time player of the skirmish game wanting to know what else those characters do but brawl or a role-player looking for a vivid and rich setting with depth, this is worth checking out.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dark Heresy: Core Rulebook
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Etienne S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 12/09/2012 16:45:13

If you are buying this to read on your tablet, it may run quite slow.

I have a very fast Quad Core tablet and this document is very slow to load. It takes minutes for some pages to load up and for some of the pages to zoom in and out.

However, the majority of the information pages load up in acceptable times. If you need to jump from one page to another that is futher away, then it may take a while to load.

Wish there was an option for a lower quality on so that it can be used comfortably on tablets. There is no reason to be able to zoom into the document so that a few words takes up the whole screen. I tried to downscale the pages but wasn't allowed because the the document is secured against page extraction.

It still works absolutely fine on a PC but is a bit of a chore on the tablet.

If I had a chance to do it again, I would have bought the paper version instead, even though it is big and heavy.

[3 of 5 Stars!]
Dark Heresy: Core Rulebook
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Rory H. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/06/2012 05:21:18

Dark Heresy has probably been around long enough for the gaming community to recognize the setting, and the rules are a pretty straightforward percentile affair, with customizable archetypes being used for character generation. The art looks quite impressive, and it's got a very large page count for it's background. I do feel that there isn't enough support for a GM to run it without supplements, however, and actually feel that some of the editing (in terms of what to include) could have been organized better. Moreover, later 40K games have formatted themselves better, and are a lot more streamlined in the presentation of their rules. The file itself is enormous, which can lead to some technical issues in downloading. Although the basic premise is eminently workable, it currently ranks as the weakest of the 40KRP game line because of these reasons - and certainly deserves an updated edition, in my view.

[3 of 5 Stars!]
Dark Heresy: Core Rulebook
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Carson H. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 02/15/2012 08:58:54

I rated so low because I first down loaded this and the text was fuzzy and the bookmarks didn't work. Then an update was posted so I down loaded it again. Now the bookmarks work, but the cover was blank and the text was still fuzzy. It is "usable" as a quick referance, but with a $30 price tag it needs to be improved.

[2 of 5 Stars!]
Dark Heresy: Core Rulebook
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Nicholas B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 01/14/2012 11:58:05

While the book would normally be a 5 star, from the site I can only give it a single star due to the fact I spent 30 dollars for the digital version, and cannot download it since it has a 0 MB size, or in other words, there is no book for me to download despite spending the money. Perhaps once customer service gets back to me I can change my rating of this book.

[1 of 5 Stars!]
Dark Heresy: Core Rulebook
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Steve I. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 01/12/2011 09:12:10

I have this book in print too, and I bought this so that I could read and reference it on the go. Excellent stuff. The book is attractive, well laid out and the colours and illustrations used in the book match the theme of DH very well.

This is a brilliant game and well worth the money. As the previous reviewer says, Cthulhu in Space is one way to approach it :) Obviously it lends itself to all manner of scenario themes, don't imagine it always has to be Chaos Cultists!

I Bought this 12 Jan 2011 and one thing I would point out about this PDF version which annoyed me greatly is that the Errata have not been incorporated in their entirety. The first round of errata which extended to 1.5 pages (approx) have been updated in the version of the PDF, but the Errata was last updated and published on the 23 April 2009 and there are 9 pages of ammendments and clarifactions that haven't been incorporated. Has there really been no opportunity over the last 2 years to produce an up-to-date version of the PDF with all the Errata in?

I have marked it down one mark because of this, otherwise it would have got a 5.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dark Heresy: Core Rulebook
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Darren M. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/12/2010 23:33:39

I'm coming in a touch late for a hard-hitting review of Dark Heresy, mostly because I couldn't really justify the purchase of a $50 corebook for a group of players - well, for a group of players that I didn't have at the time; my current crop likes Werewolf: The Forsaken and infighting for the sheer joy of infighting. (I could get 'em onto Paranoia, but why spoil the fun?) I also have to apologize for its brevity, because for the life of me, I couldn't seem to wrap my mind around some of the things that I wanted to say about the game.

A quick overview, then: The characters play acolytes of an Inquisitor, plucked from their lives by fate or design to fight against the enemies of the Imperium - mutants, alien, daemons and heretics, as well as the Inquisition's own internal squabbles. Of course, since this is the 40k universe, they're likely to slide into becoming what they're fighting. Think of Call of Cthulhu with a hefty dose of bolter fire, 2000AD and Heavy Metal. The amusing thing is that it's actually a spinoff of a novel series - Dan Abnett's Eisenhorn - which in turn were licensed fiction for an unsuccessful skirmish/role-playing game called Inquisitor. Dark Heresy is like the son of the son that you never knew that you had, to GW.

The first draft of this review echoed a common complaint about Dark Heresy: The characters start off on the very bottom rung of the ladder, working for an Inquisitor, and make their way up over time until they - assumedly - become Inquisitors in their own right, although the rules for playing as Inquisitors proper haven't been released yet. To some degree, that complaint is accurate. You aren't going to replicate Abnett's excellent Eisenhorn novels when you first start playing, and as those novels are a gigantic influence on Dark Heresy, it's going to be a disappointment for those who were thinking of stepping into Eisenhorn's shoes - or Ravenor's hoverthrone.

I was intially going to ding the game for this; in fact, an early draft of this review did just that. But I was browsing through some comics collections at Half Price Books - in particular, Mam Tor's Event Horizon - and realized that most of the comic stories that I was reading, some of which were just excuses for the pretty art, could easily take place in the 40K universe. If you were to limit Dark Heresy to just playing Inquisitors, you would lose out on the underclass of the 40K universe - the smaller stories, where underarmed or underskilled characters face challenges that are more appropriate to their skill level than the enormous threats that Inquisitors deal with. By starting from the bottom, they're making it unnecessary to go back and fill in the lower levels of the 40K universe.

(In my original draft, I also suggested that Dark Heresy might have been served better by going with a slightly more indie approach - something along the lines of thrashing out the major decisions that Inquisitors have to make - but I think that going with a more familiar model was the right choice. Maybe another day.)

The system is - to the best of my knowledge - essentially a variant of the Warhammer Fantasy 2nd edition rules. Character generation begins with where you're born, ranging from the feral worlds that the Imperium cherry-picks for the best to those born in the voids of space. I'm especially pleased with the inclusion of characters from feral worlds. Usually, playing a primitive character means that you have to do some tedious role-playing in the Unfrozen Cave-Man Lawyer mode - "I don't understand how your magic sky-bird takes me from the ground to the stars" - but in the 40K universe, that's perfectly okay. Everybody else, with the possible exception of the Adeptus Mechanicus priest, doesn't understand either. Everybody's essentially a savage in the 40K universe. They just have fancier clothing and more toys to show for it.

The career system is present here as well, but it's much more limited than in Warhammer Fantasy. The Warhammer Fantasy system focuses primarily on giving you a cross-section of medieval society, ranging from dung-collector to Elven envoy. There's just no way to do the same thing for the 40K universe, as it comprises literally trillions of people and most likely billions of jobs. Instead, it pares it down to the occupations most likely to work with an Inquisitor - roughly splittable into knowledge workers (Tech-Priest, Cleric, Adepts, Imperial Psyker), muscle (Arbitrators, Scum, Guardsman, Assassin, and Imperial Psyker again.) It may seem limiting at first glance, but again, the size of the 40K universe - and some useful tables for generating unique characteristics for your character - make sure that each character is different from one another, if the sheer scope of the 40K universe doesn't give you enough of a hand. (I mean, imagine the differences between, say, an assassin born on a Feral World and one born as a noble on a Hive World. Same job, but much different backgrounds.) Particularly amusing are the tables of side effects of Sanctioning for Imperial Psykers - well, amusing horrifying, ranging from whispering the Imperial Litany underneath your breath to having no teeth left. There's even an amusing reference to Dune's gom jabbar, leaving psykers with hand scars and a fear of bald women.

Your career indicates which upgrades you can buy with experience, and once you've bought enough upgrades, you gain a rank - and new upgrades to buy. After about six ranks, you can select one of two paths to finish out your character's advancement - for instance, sages can either specialize in arcane learning, or become psykers, while assassins finish out working within the nobility or leading their own assassin's guilds. I may have missed details as to whether or not you can switch from career to career - for instance, a Scum getting trained as a Guardsman - but I can imagine that it's a simple lateral move. Characters also can buy a variety of talents, filling roughly the same role as feats in the d20 system. Rather than staying relatively dry and practical, they convey some of the crazy feel of the Warhammer universe. Characters don't have a resistance to Chaos; they have the Armor of Contempt. The guy who's good with a flamer doesn't have Flamer Mastery, but Cleanse And Burn. Adeptus Mechanicus characters can pick Binary Chatter if they want to talk to servitors in their own language, or take Rite of Pure Thought if they want to get rid of those pesky emotions. The only talents that really threw me were the Maglev powers, which allows Adeptus Mechanicus characters to hover purely through the grace of the Machine God; somehow, floating just doesn't seem something that the ironbound Adeptus Mechanicus would do.

The fundamental engine for the game is a percentile roll, adjusted for difficulty; for every ten points that you beat the target number by, you get a degree of success, which translates accordingly. Cleverly, the tens digit of the attribute governing a particular skill roll is added to your rolls as a bonus. Your skills are determined entirely by your attribute - in fact, the maximum you can add to a skill is +20, so attributes are going to be the governing factor for most skills.

About combat and its intricacies: I would love to tell you about them. I really would. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to to do so, and so cannot tell you about its intricacies, its whiff factor - which I have heard is a problem - or its lethality. I will note that, thanks to a conversation on, you cannot fire a pistol or firearm at point-blank rnage; if you can close to within melee distance, and your opponent only has a firearm, you can carve him up like a Christmas goose until he can limber a weapon. This makes a lot of 40K's signature weapons - chainswords, choppas, power swords, and what-not - actually useful, rather than decorative. Regrettably, you may have to seek another review for further details on how the combat system works.

The sheer scale of the Warhammer 40,000 universe forces Dark Heresy to focus on a particular sector of Imperial space - the Calixian sector - and they do a really excellent job of giving you an idea of some of the sheer, 70's-metal/prog-rock album-cover craziness that populates the Warhammer universe. If you're looking for surrealism, there's Ambulon, a city built around an ancient machine that strides through the wasteland mining and drilling for oil, slowing down only when it needs to offload its spoils. If you want dark, medieval brutality, you've got Sepheris Secundus, where a brutalized serf class slaves under the local barons. The Misericord is another medieval society in space, portraying a Gormenghast-esque society - full of ancient ritual and paegantry, its original meaning forgotten - floating through the Warp.

The metaplot deals with Komus, the mysterious Tyrant Star, an enormous black sun that appears and disappears through Imperial Space, althought it's more a tease than anything substantial; as I'm to understand it, it'll be fleshed out further in Dark Heresy's campaigns. (I had a friend of mine with the last name of Komus, making me imagine a red-haired nerd in the sky every time I read the thing's name.) Even better are some of the smaller planets, reminders that you can take just about any story published in Heavy Metal or any heavy metal album cover and translate it into the 40K universe. I particularly like the world where everybody over the age of forty mysteriously dies; it's just Star Trek enough a concept to want to drag it through the demolition derby of the 40K universe.

The book closes out with an adventure for new acolytes, and let me pause here for a digression: If you're writing your own game, putting an adventure in your core book is amazingly useful. It's essentially an extended example for how the game should be played, a way to translate the cold grammar of the system and the setting into the language of actual game play. When I was talking with Jason Sartin recently, he paraphrased something that somebody else wrote: a game's sample adventure may or may not accurately reflect the game that you just read, but it almost always reflects the game the designer wanted to make. In this particular case, I don't know if the game's primary designers were responsible for the adventure, but it at least gives you an idea of what can be done.

The adventure itself is decent, but not fantastic. One problem is that the author has no real ear for how people talk. It's hard to write character dialogue without getting a lot of practice, but that's why you have to practice it - and practice it hard - so that you don't wind up writing stuff that sounds like it was hacked out during the 3rd edition goldrush. For instance - and I should warn about spoilers:

“A dark spirit has returned. The Ashleen name it the Dancer at the Threshold. Others call it the Crow Father… and we have seen why. It has many names and to say some of them is perilous. It is ancient and wicked, and delights in slaughter and leading men to their deaths with lies of their heart’s desire. My people record their past through spoken tales, but some things are too dangerous to say aloud. Take this book for it may help you.”

Stiff as all hell. Or try this:

“Enough!” Raine cries. “There has been enough bloodshed this day. We will go and shall not return. I see now that I was wrong. I see now that you are damned and the crow sits whispering on your shoulder. You have led these people to ruin. My people will have no part of it!”

Not really so much a human being talking, but a series of clues enswaddled in dialogue. Or take this description of Ghostflowers:

Drusus later remarked in his memoirs that the only memorable aspect of the planet was the vast felds of wild fowers

which resembled “Shimmering felds of rippling explosions, caught at that fleeting moment between beauty and destruction”

The problem is that the author is making is to not create a unique voice for each of his characters. Would an Imperial general describes rippling explosions as being "caught at that fleeting moment between beauty and destruction"? Would a female shaman list a daemon's attributes in such a straightforward, listlike manner? Nobody is the RPG equivalent of David Mamet, but the World of Darkness books did pretty well at creating relatively unique characters, distinguishable from each other by voice alone. Abnett's characters are fairly similar, but he knows enough to give them a particular quirk or character trait that he can come back to when he wants to distinguish one from another. (Voke's cold authoritarianism versus, say, Aemos' "most peturbatory" and perpetual attention to detail.) It seems like a small thing, but investigative games require memorable characters - and good role-playing - to set them apart from each other. It would have been useful to see that in the opening adventure.

The adventure itself is pretty straightforward, almost like a Western. The characters are sent off to a backwater town in order to investigate psychic phenomena, have a few fights, then confront the Big Bad at the end. There's a lot of neat bits that work well. For instance, there's a massive fight at one point during the adventure. Rather than simulating the battle proper, the adventure cleverly lets PCs interact with events that occur during the battle, with success bringing victory that much sooner. It's similar to Legend of the Five Ring's battle system, except on a smaller scale and without the chart. I think that one of its primary problems is that it's mostly about moving the characters from setpiece to setpiece - here's a big battle, here's the climactic showdown with the villain - rather than giving them a framework to investigate in. Maybe you want something railroady to begin with, especially if you're a brand-new GM, so take that criticism with a grain of salt.

There are a few things that the game could handle better. While there's some space devoted to the investigative model of a Dark Heresy campaign, it would be nice to see some of the advice given in Call of Cthulhu repeated here - a flowchart, or a system to create a clue matrix, would be immensely useful. To be sure, Dark Heresy can do a lot - not just detective work - but I only know how to create investigative adventures because I've read just about every Call of Cthulhu adventure there is. (Even Death in Norway and Alone on Halloween. I rule!) There is, however, a handy fix to this: Call of Cthulhu adventures translate very well into Dark Heresy terms, with some legwork and extra combat.

My other complaint is something that I ultimately decided that the book answered neatly: To wit, the vast amount of power that an Inquisitor - and the Inquisition - wields over Imperial society. In order to avoid allowing the characters getting a tongue bath from every official in the Imperium, as well as avoiding turning the game into a rump Paranoia, Inquisitorial agents have a set of rules to follow. One of them is that you shouldn't use your master's name as your own, which is essentially an injunction against using the Inquisition's power for your own. In other words, if you wander around using the Inquisition's name for every little thing, the Inquisition will be justified in getting you acquainted with the business end of an excruciator. The acolytes do, unfortunately for them, occupy the same niche as the Imperial Guardsman; he'll survive and struggle on behalf of a larger force which may or may not care if he's killed outright. As they get more powerful, though, they may be able to get to pull some of the Is-Vader-Going-To-Have-To-Choke-a-Bitch exercises of power that Inquisitors wield. (I had to work that line in there somewhere.)

(And again, I have to correct myself. I believe that the various rules that Inquisitorial Acolytes are to follow is actually contained in the Inquisitor's Handbook, not the core book. So the whole issue of how much power Acolytes wield is up in the air if you go by the corebook and the corebook alone.)

On the other hand, there's a segment in the adventure contained within the book where the characters are detained by Imperial authority - and the characters are going to be eager to drop the mention that they work for the Inquisition when they're staring at the inside of a prison cell. It happens again when the characters are sent to retrieve somebody, and that person refuses a direct request from an Inquisitorial acolyte. An actual system to measure Inquisitorial status would be nice, so the characters know, or can guess at, where the limits are. Perhaps the Inquisitor's Handbook goes into more detail? I hope so.

Artwise - well, Games Workshop pretty much built itself on the success of its artists and sculptors, so the art in here is fantastic. Again, I have to say that a lot of the illustrations feel weirdly too...clean. If you look at John Blanche's artwork, he's got stray brushlines everywhere, almost to the point where you're not sure if you're looking at an Imperial Guardsman or a Rorscach blot wearing a flak helmet, but the essential energy of his design comes through. Here, most of the new art depicts stuff that's already been drawn before, so it's difficult to be truly creative without stepping on the toes of GW's design staff.

Is it worth buying? I've been eyeing it for months, but $60 was a pretty steep price, so I eschewed it in favor of slightly more affordable games. But having read it through, I want to actually run a Dark Heresy game, which is something that doesn't often happen with the games I read. So while it does have a lot of unpolished areas, while it has to bite off much more than it can chew, it's definitely the game that a lot of people have been waiting for a long time to play.

-Darren MacLennan

[5 of 5 Stars!]
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