Saturday, August 18, 2012

Dark Heresy Campaign 1: The Edge of Darkness, pt. 1--Meet the Characters

The freebie, introductory module, The Edge of Darkness was the first Dark Heresy adventure I ran. We'd been playing Warhammer Fantasy RPG (2 ed.), and one of my players, Jason, suggested the switch to Dark Heresy. I was on board, and pretty soon we had a decent array of players. More about them, later.

The received the following missive prior to the game, as I'd heard that low-level play in Dark Heresy could be pretty frustrating (high "whiff factor"):

Dark Heresy Combat Primer

Just a quick overview of combat, damage, and healing for Dark Heresy. You may be seeing some combat this weekend, so I'm hoping this will show you what to expect. In this, I'll give you some of my expectations about combat, an overview of the combat sequence, and a bit about the individual elements in that sequence. A lot of this is copy pasta from the Core Rules, but some of it is commentary. I will not go into use of skills and tests against character attributes, but they are very similar to combat tests in the ways they work: Roll d100 at or below the attribute in question, modified for circumstances.

My Expectations
·         You will be smart in combat. Avoid it if possible. If you can't, make use of circumstances to put yourself at an advantage. Bonuses matter. Think tactically, know your skill set, and be sure to ask questions if you're not sure about something you wish to try. I will be reasonable, and at times generous, but I will kill you if you do something stupid, or at least will not save you from yourself.

·         There is a high "whiff" factor in this game (i.e., People often fail at things). Give yourself all the bonuses you can, and remember to use your Fate points. These are important means for offsetting the "whiff" factor. Also, I expect that with as much gaming and research talent as we have at the table, we can figure out some ways to deal with this, resulting in some good house rules. I will discuss this more at game time.
·         You will get to know your character and have a good understanding how the various skills and talents allow him to do cool things. I have your character sheets, but it's your character. You'll have better ability to remember the details that matter than I will. As part of this, please remind me to take those details into account.

·         We will "house rule" some elements of combat (and other situations) to keep play moving, among other reasons. We will do so only after discussion, and achieving consensus for new house rules, after which point they will remain in effect for the duration, unless they seem not to work well. Then we fix them.

So, anyway… on with the show.

This was followed by Core Rules stuff detailing combat. Not all players had purchased it at that point, so a bit of explanation was in order. 

So, a bit later that week I sent a representation of a computer-generated summons from Inquisitrix her Grace Duchess Dorothea Senjak. For those of you who have read Glen Cook's Annals of the Black Company, yes, that's the same name as the character, "Lady," from that series of books. I love that series, and what better pattern for an admirable but truly frightening Inquisitrix?

Here's more about her, as I conceived her (with thanks to Glen Cook):

Name: Her Grace, Duchess Dorothea Senjak, Ordo Hereticus

Homeworld: Noble Born/Imperial Agri-World/Family Militant

Background: Was an Inquisition assassin of great repute for many, many years, with more than 250 confirmed kills. Her preferred method is a needle gun at long range, but she's also quite capable of killing at close range. A good number of her kills met their fates while hoping to fuck her.

Eyes: Black Lenses with Gold Images of Aquila (left) and Inquisitorial Rosette (right)

Hair: Dyed white

Skin: Dyed white

Clothing: Lots of black. Long black cloak, black armor, knee high boots with bronze buckles.

Appearance: Short, relatively slender. Long, white-blonde hair, usually worn loose, braided for "work." Wears a lot of dark cloth and leather. My inspiration was the evil witch character played by Li Bing Bing in The Forbidden Kingdom.




Faction: Amalathian
Amalathians believe that any threat to the Imperium's stability, or the balance of power between its many institutions must be crushed, and the status quo maintained at all costs. However, Dorothea Senjak tends to do as much as she can to extend the power of the Inquistion as "first among equals." She also sees herself that way, among her fellow inquisitors, and is alert for signs of heresy and corruption among her peers.

Personality:
Dorothea Senjak is not particularly gregarious, and tends to spend most of her time with her inner circle. She tends not to talk much, and her manner is somewhat cold and distant, though those closest to her know that she has a quick intellect and a wicked sense of humor. She treats her underlings well, so long as they demonstrate competence and loyalty. Those who do not demonstrate competence, and show no signs of effort toward improvement, are quickly dismissed from her staff. Only one acolyte has ever betrayed her. She killed him within a day of learning that he was passing information about her operation to a rival within the Inquisition.

She has a pensive air much of the time, but when her attention is drawn by something, she is alert and intense. She is direct in her manner, but because she is small of stature, relatively young-looking (which she is not, at age 125), and possessed of soprano voice, people sometimes do not take her as seriously as they should. This is a mistake. She is persistent, ruthless, and a terrible enemy, as patient and subtle as Death itself.

She tends to analyze situations before responding. Sometimes this lulls her enemies into thinking she will do nothing to them. The eventual responses tend to be orchestras of fear, pain, and death, stunningly byzantine plans designed not simply to defeat her enemies, but to ruin them and anyone who supports them. She is sometimes referred to as "The Spider" by her fellow Inquisitors, few of whom dare to cross her.

During her career, she has acquired a rival, Steffi Krueger, a radical inquisitrix, who is connected with her sister, Sylith (see below). Krueger has a similar background and skillset. They have never (yet) attempted to kill each other; however, they seem to keep finding themselves involved in the same situations, but at cross purposes. Dorothea Senjak has decided recently that Steffi Krueger is an enemy of the Imperium; this, of course, means that she is an enemy of Senjak.

Some background:

Dorothea Senjak one of two surviving children of Baron Milos Senjak and the commoner Jonell Acorda.

The other, living sister, Sylith, is offstage right now, but is Dorothea's rival and enemy. She is more deeply connected to the Underworld, and there are rumors that she may be in league with the forces of Chaos.

Unknown to everyone but Dorothea herself, she murdered her twin sister, Ardath, at the age of 14. She had discovered Ardath dallying with the object of her own deep affection (teenaged, obsessive) when she observed them from hiding. She formed a plan to eliminate her romantic rival, and suggested a picnic for all three of them on the cliffs by the sea, where they often played. She dosed them both with a strong but difficult to trace hallucinogenic compound, and convinced them to jump from the cliffs into the sea.  They landed on bare rock 50 meters below, and were killed instantly. Dorothea returned home as if nothing had happened. Their bodies were discovered, but it remained a mystery as to why the two young people had killed themselves until Dorothea "discovered" her sister's diary which provided a suitable alibi for the "double suicide."

She left her homeworld at the age of 16, not by her own choice, to be married off to Lornus Cambria a much older (50 years old) first son of a noble family. Within six months of their marriage, the Inquisition received an anonymous tip, and her husband was imprisoned, tried, and executed for heresy and plotting against the Emperor. After his death the man's family wanted no more to do with her, and turned her out on her own, always somewhat suspecting she was the one who was the true heretic, and that she had sacrificed him out of greed. This is not the case. Neither of them were heretics. It was the man's younger brother who framed him to move up to first in line of succession. He eventually sent assassins to take out Dorothea, but she somehow, miraculously, killed both assassins.

Her actions made it into the newsfeed and drew the attention of the powers that be. She was recruited almost immediately to be trained as an assassin. She advanced rapidly through the ranks of assassins, gaining a reputation for her successes. She is a very good marksman, and most of her victims never even get a glimpse of her. She plans carefully, strikes from hiding, and is known to use a variety of poisons.

At the time when the players meet her, she is just 33 years old, and an inquisitrix of the second rank. She has over two hundred fifty kills to her name, and has never failed to complete a mission.

 So, that's who the PCs are working for. The PCs themselves are an interesting bunch, breaking down as follows (with player backgrounds, if provided to me):

Jason: Pyotr Ianescu, Tech Priest
 Acolyte Ianescu was born in deep space on 4.392.478.M41 as “Pyotr Pluskiya Ianescu” (p-yaw-tyr  ploos-ki-ya  i-an-es-ku) aboard the rogue trader vessel Gelt’s Luster (ship commanded by Mikhael Falke) to Irena Ianescu (quartermaster of the Gelt’s Luster).  The father’s identity is unknown.

As a youth, Ianescu spent much time roaming the holds of the Gelt’s Luster and learning how to avoid the attention of the ship’s master, Falke.  Ianescu learned to read from his mother’s teaching and reviewing the inventory logs.  In his lessons, he routinely read entries for sanctioned Imperial shipments and tracked payments/expenses in the ship’s data logs.

Ianescu quickly took an interest the data-net for the Gelt’s Luster and could access and navigate most internal networks within the year (utilizing his mother’s log-in).  Ianescu ended up spending most of his early years before a data terminal seeking answers from the ship’s cogitators and asking the Mechanicus personnel about the function of the ship and data systems.

One day (6.772.492.M41), while accessing an unsecured terminal within the cargo holds, he found records that he had not previously encountered and which had been encrypted.  Ianescu quickly copied the files to his personal data slate and left the holds before he could be found snooping in the inventory records unsupervised.

In the following weeks, Ianescu did break the encryption of the files and discovered that there were additional entries for unnamed items that showed massive profits for the Gelt’s Luster (instead of their meager existence the accounts of record reported).

Upon telling his mother about the files, she told him to never speak of them again and quickly found him a mentor with the ship’s Mechanicus personnel to begin learning from them.  Within the month, the Gelt’s Luster had reached port at forge world Belacane and Ianescu was then sent out to become a scribe copying texts and tomes for the Adeptus Mechanicus.

For the next three years, Ianescu toiled as a scribe but his accuracy and speed was noted and he was transferred to schematics where he would remain for another year until his discovery.  On 2.531.496.M41, after Ianescu had duplicated an expanded parts diagram for a common chlorine gas sequestering unit, he forwarded an edit for review.  Ianescu had observed that the unit could be improved by adjusting the pitch of the fan intakes by 0.08 degrees (which would result in a 0.7% efficiency improvement). 

This was brought to the attention of Fabricator Kharlon and Ianescu was then transferred from the position of Mechanicus Administratum Scribe to become a Tech Adept Acolyte.

Indoctrination and surgery for Mechanicus implants would occupy the next two years.

At 2.844.498.M41, Acolyte Ianescu began work within Fabricator Kharlon’s forge and was singled out for his relative ability to communicate with others outside of the Mechanicus (despite having been of void born origin).  Acolyte Ianescu then began training to work as an envoy with other organizations within the Imperium (while fulfilling his primary mission of collecting data, wherever it may be found, for the expanding knowledge of the Adeptus Mechanicus and the glory of the Omnissiah).

On 0.257.506.M41, Acolyte Ianescu received a summons for attending a gathering called by Inquisitrix Dorothea Senjak of the Ordo Hereticus on Scintilla….
Stephen: Hand (of the Inquisition), Assassin

Stephen didn't provide much of a background, but here it is, as such:

Expects to die in combat. Honor demands it.  Korlash of the Daakon, taken by inquisitor after his tribes tournament of the hunt (blood) gave up identity and became Hand, ferocious and fearless. Believes in the power of names

 His assassin is a feral-worlder, a barbarian assassin, if you will, with incredible melee combat skills and a big-ass sword. He seeks battle, he seeks glorious death. Awesomely conceived, big, dumb lunkhead who is a vertiable magician with a sword. Not much sense in his head, though, and no regard for how others might see him.
Kevin: Drake, Guardsman
 
>>BIRTHPLACE
-------Imperial Agri-World  Orbel Quill: Settlement Terra 48

>>BACKGROUND
-------Drake was one of 3 survivors  on a raid by bandits on Terra 48, 18 years ago, that left it in ruins.  From then till the age of 16, Drake was part of Imperial Orphanage (OQ-48C) where he then joined the Imperial Guardsmen training to repay this service.

>>PSYCHOLOGICAL PROFILE
-------Drake has a strong desire for order and training in all aspects of life.  He believes that it was a lack of such skills in the general populace that led to Terra 48 being destroyed.  He believes that the Emperor has the all the power, order, teachings, and will to save humanity, but that much of humanity truly does not know HOW to follow him and must first be taught.  Even if that teaching comes at the cost of a bullet.
------- A very choleric personality: Drake tends to take charge it is needed and others will not - even sacrificing his safety if it means leading the squad to victory.  Yet he has little to no patience for a lack of order, and even less for those who willingly can't or won't follow orders/rules: leading to bouts of aggression and verbal assault. 
--------This mix of devotion and aggression has led to the respect of the others in his unit, even if that respects is due to fear.

>>ACOLYTE PROFILE
-------Drake came to the attention of Inquisitrix Her Ladyship Dorothea Senjak, Ordo Hereticus through her Acolyte Lieutenant Octus Vern.  Vern was charged in leading a squad, that included Drake, to rout a mutant enclave, where a llack of sufficient Intel on the enclave lead to a surprise attack by mutants during which Vern was injured.  As the unit began to fall apart, Drake was able to rally the remaining troops and they were able to fend off the remaining mutants, as well as saving Vern's life. Drake was noted of not only having above average martial prowess, but also having an air of command about him that one does not see in many Conscript level guardsmen.
Rhonda: Ferrus D'Angleus, Adept

Ferrus was a character we grew to love and hate, all at the same time. His botched amorous exploits are things of legend, and his weirdly creepy obsession with medical devices, techniques, and overall fascination with morbidity, came to be hallmarks of this weird little fucker.
Personality
Deeply angry, yet “hides” it behind a really creepy smile

Suspicious

Slinks, watches

Melancholic: Thoughtful, introspective and prone to depression – may find him crouching in a corner staring sulkily and saying random, nonsensical things

Talks gibberish to self – but is it genuine or is he playing up his madness?

Seems nervous

Arrogant and narcissistic – Took the name “Ferrus” because he doesn’t like his given name (Frak) – “It’s soooo…..common.”  Common is synonymous with “loathesome.”

Curious above all things – lusts after facts, esp about machines

At least attempts to be charming at times – will perform this world’s equivlent of a floor-scraping bow in a heartbeat – knows which side his bread is buttered on – loyal for this reason, as long as he doesn’t have to put himself in danger

First impulse in a firefight is to hide – if he wants to kill you he’ll watch you, discover your weakness and bide his time

Crafty, conniving

Given to the occasional flamboyant hand-gesture – hands are very active – twitchy fingers – generally twitchy

Could be Helena Bonham Carter’s child – that kind of vibe

Takes his divination (“Only the insane have strength enough to prosper…”) seriously. Considers his madness a good thing. Thinks it allows him to see things that others can’t see, that it will enable him to recognize the Truth when he finally finds it.

Wanted desperately to be away from home – convinced some Truth is out there and he Must know it

Likes people he finds interesting – will cowtow to the powerful – otherwise emotionally uninterested in the others – collects details about them though, in case he needs to use later

Will not shrink from forbidden knowledge unless he thinks he can’t get away w/ it

Craves experience – perhaps he uses a drug?

Wouldn’t be above torture for curiosity’s sake

Loooooves books, scrolls, whatever carries the written word or information – especially books b/c he has a thing for old things – “The books…they talk to me..” – Also loves the smell

Sensual in really weird ways – may lose himself in smelling a book in an inappropriate moment
 
Meeting the Inquisitrix
If he was hired to catalogue her library and found a secret cache of heretical tomes about dark conspiracies, this would have peaked his curiosity

If she offered him passage off-world or an excuse to get out there, he would have jumped at the chance b/c he was bored stiff and felt his “immense talents” were being wasted

Will go to great lengths to fetch information for her – but mostly b/c he wants the kudos – her good opinion of him confirms his opinion of his own intellect – she validates him
 
What the Inquisition means to him
Is willing to go against proper conduct when his curiosity is peaked, or at least he lusts after the knowledge

The Inquisition to him is not a defender of mankind b/c he doesn’t consider the hordes worthy of defending – to him, the Inquisition is there to control those lesser than himself – he hates stupidity and feels it needs to be controlled – for this reason will defend the Imperium, but not at the cost of his own skin

Does he believe what he’s told about the horrors of the universe? Wants to see for himself.
 
What he hates
Telling him he’s wrong or insulting his intelligence could make him an enemy

Hates those he considers lower than himself – those he considers stupid, for instance

John: Krell the Shademan, Assassin

- My guy likes to kill shit.  From a distance.  With a gun.  All professionalism aside, he is a hunter.

- He has precious little loyalty to the group that trained and pays him.  This is not so much due to mercenary sensibility as it has to do with a disagreement with theocratic politics. 

- After growing up and spending all of his life in cramped urban centers, he just wishes he could find a small, secluded planet that would let him live a simpler life. 

- He is not willing to betray those that he is working with, but if given the opportunity to get away from his “indentured” life, he would do it without hesitating.  He knows this is unlikely to be a reality, but he has not given up hope.

- Has respect for law enforcement / military types, is uneasy around priest / inquisitor types, and is creeped out by tech priests (why would anyone want to be THAT reliant on machines?). 

- He can work with just about anyone, provided the goal in honorable in HIS mind: by this I mean that killing or subversive action can somehow be justified (revenge, greater good, etc).  He will not be the first to speak out against it if is not (spies are EVERYWHERE).  In the event that he cannot reconcile the actions demanded of him, he will first try to dissuade the patron from issuing the order.  Failing that, he will try accomplish the final goal of the mission by alternate goals (silencing someone doesn’t ALWAYS mean killing).  Depending on the feasibility of the second, he may choose to turn on a client if there is the slightest chance he can get away with it. 

- He is jaded by such a big government and knows that the people in power are often more vile and petty than the lowest of street thugs.
 In any case, not a bad array of characters, and many of them are still alive and kicking. Hand is dead, Drake is retired, and Ferrus recently was found to be a traitor and taken prisoner. But those are tales for another day.