Monday, May 23, 2011

More Dark Heresy Starbox Notes

-There's a lot of things to keep track of in the middle of a fight in Dark Heresy--fatigue points, different armor on different body parts, et cetera, plus if it's something grotesque you've got fear and corruption points going on. Could use some counters/visual aids for this shit.

-Combat so far is slow and crunchy but still less tactical than Rolemaster or Type IV (or even, in a weird way, arguably, older D&D). There's generally only one or two good ideas about what to do, (generally: shoot the guy) however the armor system, "layered" damage effect created by the crits, and fate points gives getting hit a satisfying level of detail about what gets done to you. Every PC feels like Wolverine--you keep coming back from getting your ass kicked full of complex damage to deliver some final blow. It's effective for creating a specific genre of combat.

-...however, if both sides are fatigued or otherwise anti-buffed, combat seems like it'd just turn stupid-slow (you-miss-I-miss-you-miss-I-miss), so-- first conscious hack: if both sides are at -10 to everything, they cancel out for purposes of fucking each other up.

-Mandy likes the combat system more than Viv, probably because:

a) Mandy is more experienced and more Old School so is used to dying and avoiding combat
b) Mandy rolled better than Viv this session, or
c) both

Though, to be fair, hormonally-speaking, Viv was in no kinda mood to sneak around last night.

-Too many environmental things in the combat system are expressed as simple plusses and minuses. Feels like there should be some more "lateral" ways to hurt opponents, use equipment, etc.

-I'd like to find a way to trade penalties for some kind of situation-altering disadvantage. Like, ok, you take less damage but you end up 20 feet away or dropping your weapon--something like that. If the system is going to give you all that combat detail, I want a way to translate the detail from the combat system from just arithmetic into situational complexity.

-Related idea: anything done on the GM's part to make the firefights more weird (gravity-distortion glove, device that divides zapped foes into 2 midget foes, etc.) is effort well spent since otherwise it's just: "Hey, slug it out--roll, roll, roll, roll".

-1d5? Really? Fuck.

-The rulebook is poorly organized and has way too much fucking padding. Though there is some of the old Games Workshop black magic and blacker humor buried under all those sanitarium walls.

-I confess to honestly needing fucking help dealing with the gun fetishism going on here. In order to play this game as it was meant to be played you need to care way more about remembering the differences between guns than I ever will. This all makes perfect sense when playing wargame 40k because you'll know your units and their weapons (and their weapons are largely the only thing you use to tell them apart), but in an RPG it effectively means every foe has a magic weapon with special dice properties to memorize. Some rules I just discovered 3 seconds ago: Las carbines can shoot twice per round, pistol weapons can be shot in melee (a la original WH40k so I guess I should've realized), flamers automatically hit but people in their path need to make an agility test, you can be "pinned" by attack fire and have to make a willpower test to get past it. Fuck that last one, I'm ignoring it. Is there any disadvantage to firing on full auto besides chewing up ammo faster? Can't figure it out...

-Rulebook designwise I think they should've gone for a "complete description of every rule about a given weapon in a little box" system rather than a 3.5-style "each weapon fits arguably into 900 different categories and the categories are described somewhere other than where the info on the gun itself is described and the place where the gun is described has actually nothing other than a paragraph of gunfluff in it so really just look at the tables which are spread over about like 30 pages interspersed with crap about hailing the god-emperor".

-The Random Spacemonster Generator ably served doubly duty as a what's-this-plant-in-the-lobby table, just replace the last d6 table with things like -dendron or -rose.

-The instadungeon served pretty well as a Gigastructure level generator, though I should make a full-on sci-fi version, it'd probably take less than an hour. Though I should also probably write some proper dungeon for that area, too.

-The magic effect table from Vornheim did ok as a random chaotech grenade generator, though if I'm gonna keep doing that I'll need to write a sci-fi hack since half the things on the original are too fairy-taley for space.

-The techroom and Kirbyweapon generators worked absolutely ace.

-As far as setting hacks: there's an empress instead of an emperor, I am assuming the PCs are lost in the White Sun Sector, and the rest is Yet To Be Discovered.


-Oh yeah: Mandy reminded me to tell you they named their ship The Absolution which I thought was pretty 40k of them. Mandy's idea and I think Viv went along with it on grounds of Depeche Mode.


Ursca said...

'Las carbines can shoot twice per round,'
Well, hit twice if you use semi-auto and roll well. Full auto is really really good, to the extent of making a lot of weapons a little obsolete, which is a shame. It takes a full action to do, but then you get a bonus to hit anyway, and one that is better than if you had aimed.

'you can be "pinned" by attack fire and have to make a willpower test to get past it.'
That's only if you use the suppressing fire action, as little sense as that makes.

I printed off a little table with all the weapons on it, which is pretty good during play, at least if you can remember what the special attributes do.

I'd say the tactics in combat mainly come from grabbing all the positive modifiers you can to make hitting easier and to do more damage with automatic weapons, shotguns etc.

Or you do what my players do, and wear gas masks and hazmat suits, and then throw hallucinogen grenades and molotov cocktails EVERYWHERE. And if you miss it barely matters because the target is usually within the blast radius anyway.

richard said...

Ever since Traveller and Twilight 2000, every present/sf game I've seen has had way too much gun fetishism for me to care about (spoiler for James Bond 007: just go with the standard H&K blahblahblah. It has more bullets than the rest). My play group in the late 80s loved it, I didn't.

I got to the point of deliberately inventing a gun system designed to take the piss: cheese guns. Name a kind of cheese. That's the noise the gun makes. it gets some dice of damage and encumbrance based on that noise. So cheddar is an old school machine gun -cheddarcheddarcheddar- while bree is an ultratech ultra-fast repeater. Limburger and Danablu are some kind of massive howitzers. Gorgonzola is an exotic energy weapon used by aliens.

thekelvingreen said...

Yes, the organisation of those books is terrible, which is a shame as they're quite pretty to look at. Rogue Trader was just as bad, when they should have learned their lesson by that point.

I also ignore penalties if both sides are suffering the same, otherwise it does descend into a flurry of misses.

Also ignored: suppressing fire.

Full-auto: yes, the only real disadvantage is the ammunition consumption.

There is a pretty decent system in there somewhere, but my word it needs exhuming from the muck.

Zak Sabbath said...


Disagree that it is a "pretty" book. There are some very good pictures in it, but most of the design is just photoshop designbloat in yellow and brown designed to make it look expensive.

If you wanna do the "random crap in the margins, flavor everywhere" mode, then Realms of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness was the high-water mark. The rest is just dropshadow-and-gradient bullshit picked up from web designers.

Anonymous said...

I was looking forward to the 40k posts; keep em coming :)

ravenconspiracy said...

I happen to be working on Dark Heresey stipped down modifications also - I just wanted it to feel less unwieldly during play.

I'm certain you can mod it for you own liking just fine but just a few thins I'm working on:

Basic skills start at full value, not half (so you don't actually have to buy them).

Scrapped almost all combat talents (traits?) and made the combat options pretty much universal.

Scrapped the advancement system as-is. (down to just stats, psychic powers, a few talents, and advanced skills) Stat buys are based on current stat value (classes get 3 main stats a little cheaper).

Players can buy a random psychic power for reduced cost.

Simplifying lots of things like armor, weapons, and psychic powers. (also using the old 2e 40k rapid fire dice)

Zak Sabbath said...

much of the basic skill system is a complete spazz from an old school point of view and I kinda ignore it.

If a person could do it, you can do it by rolling on a characteristic. If it's a rare skill, you can do it if you have the skill and do it at -10 or more if you don't.

"Basic skills start at full value, not half (so you don't actually have to buy them)."

I don't even know what that means. Fucking rules.

thekelvingreen said...

Zak, fair enough. I have to admit that I've never read Dark Heresy, so I base my impression only on Rogue Trader.

I was also referring more to the art than the design, about which I know very little. Part of the poor organisation, to my mind, is due to the design, but I wouldn't know enough to know how to improve it.

Apologies, I never seem to make myself clear when I comment here and always end up embarrassing myself.

Mandy said...

There were a lot of song titles that would have worked well as ship names on my Itunes. Or even band names for that matter. However there is no Depech Mode on there.

If we can't repair The Absolution I'll be well prepared to christen a new ship by shoving an electrical socket ripped out of the wall into a warp-demon's eye socket and explode it's brain too.

ravenconspiracy said...

"Fucking rules. "

Quote of the day.

You are obviously already houseruling yourself to a better game so you know what you're doing.

"much of the basic skill system is a complete spazz"

Agreed. Just needlessly complicated for essentially no positive effect on the game.

I have a few very rules-attentive players and some very rules inattentive players so I strive for simple but defined rules changes (the goal of which is make improvising at the table easier).

Dr Vesuvius said...

Zak, has anyone pointed you towards Stars Without Number yet? Ruleswise it's what you'd get if OD&D made sweet, sweet love to Classic Traveller, a world apart from the bloated monstrosity of the current 40K RPGs. The default setting is a fairly standard diaspora-collapse-rediscovery space opera, but it looks fairly easy to repurpose to other settings. Best of all there's a ton of sandbox GM-friendly tables to help with on-the-spot inspiration. The core rules PDF is free from RPGNow, but there's a POD hardcopy version available if you hate trees.

I'm playing in a fairly kick-ass Rogue Trader game at the moment, and running my own Ancient Greeks In Space game using Fate3. But both the RT GM and myself are cannibalising large chunks of SWN for inspiration. I think you might find it interesting, if you haven't seen it already.

Dr V

Zak Sabbath said...


I not only own it, I already hacked it for use with D&D. good stuff.

Anathematician said...

How did you modify Stars Without End for D&D. I am interested in your take.

John Johnson said...

Regarding full auto fire. If you were to take any gun and fire it on full auto, not only would you blow through your ammo faster, but you would have two other things happen.

a.) Your barrel would start heating up to the point where it can actually glow and start smoking. This makes it dangerous to touch, and can damage the weapon.

b.) The chances of a misfire (where the bullet doesn't actually fire) increase dramatically as you use more ammo.

Also a gun on full auto is spitting out shells all over the place. These shells are hot, and depending on how long you're firing sooner or later one will hit you and burn you.

Increased firing also increases the odds of your gun malfunctioning in other ways.

Here's a nice Wikipedia article on various types of gun malfunctions.

Now I've never played Warhammer and don't have the Dark Heresy box but I'd probably create some chart with these malfunctions and roll on it for however long the player is firing on full auto. Then I'd make up some sort of affect on game play. For example, your gun hangs up because you've been firing on full auto for 2 rounds? It takes another round to clear it and you have to roll against whatever your Dexterity (or similar skill in the system) is.

C said...

A french guy had do a hack for play to Dark Crusade with the rules of Lamentations of the Flame Princess. You can see it here :

Anathematician said...

The Absolution is a fantastic name and reminds me The Cartoon Network's Toonanmi back when its animated ship was named The Absolution then named The Black Absolution which I am sure is a homage to Rolemaster and the spells of the same name.

Unknown said...

Yay, dark heresy!

I'm playing in campaign atm, but we are running a published module, so i'm interested in seeing how your starbox take on DH works out.

I've always thought of DH being more orientated to linear-ish adventures what with the whole inquisitorial acolyte thing.

Jasper Gein said...

The firefight mechanics are the only ones in the game that provide good, realistic results if you plug in the right numbers, but I agree that the workings inside the box are so convoluted that it's rarely worth it.

I have a few players who are genuinely interrested in learning the rules of the games being played, and reserved enough with their criticism to give them a chance no matter how bad it seems at first glance. Still, even if everyone knows the rules and are willing to play by them, the players must be dedicated to playing Dark Heresy and not just something in the WH40k setting, else they start questioning the point very quickly.

If someone were to simplify this I'd love to see it. I know everyone has their own ideas for improving the game, but I've never seen an overhaul of the firefight mechanics that didn't completely change the tone.

Zak Sabbath said...


it's always nice to see your little goggly eye guy commenting, no worries. i just usually only reply when i've got a bone to pick.

thinking of which...


thanks for the thoughtful thoughts. food for hack.

Von said...

I found running Dark Heresy to be an act of compromise between how much intense combat the players wanted and how much crunchy bullshit I was prepared to put up with on any given night.

As a result, combat encounters became large, frequent set-pieces in dangerous environments, of the sort you describe; things with gantries where the sky was on fire, or fights on the back of tanks, or in the presence of Necron shit that made guns, bionics and other mechanical doohickeys very, very hostile to organic life. A session would either be one of those or the investigative buildup to one of those; it's a stricter combat/theatrics divide than I normally like, but necessary in order to press the buttons the players needed pressed.

Your thoughts on counters and visual aids make me wonder if that's why WFRP 3 is the way it is, so laden down with proprietary dice and character cards. It's not a bad mechanic, I suppose, if it could be made generic in some way. Food for hack indeed.

Germexish said...

long i've wished for you to do this. at last my wishes are granted. i've been running a game for the last 5 months or so and agree with your statements so far. i can't wait to hear more about it.