Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Review: The Inquisitor's Handbook for Dark Heresy

Dark Heresy, the horror/sci-fi rpg set in the voluminous Warhammer 40k universe, recently saw its first two supplements released: the Inquisitor’s Handbook and Purge the Unclean, a collection of three linked adventures. I picked up the Inquisitor’s Handbook and spent an afternoon thumbing through it; here are some thoughts.

To begin with, I didn’t really thumb through it. That implies that I skipped around and didn’t really dwell on one section. The exact opposite happened; I found myself pausing to digest each chapter and entry. Before I knew it, I was reading the whole damn thing. Luckily, this is the mark of a great book. I’ve owned a dozen “player’s guides” for various games before, and none were as packed with detail as the Inquisitor’s Handbook (IH).

It’s an incredibly meaty read, chock-full of tasty morsels from the 40k universe. I played the tabletop wargame for many years, so I understand a lot of the organizations and events described in the IH – but still, it was a real treat to see it all codifed and presented so lovingly in a book. Character development takes a great leap forward with the new career paths and additional options in the game.

My favorite parts of the IH are the offhanded details mentioned here and there that hint at the broader conspiracies that run rampant through the Imperium. Single-sentence descriptions of mutant uprisings in the lower levels of a hive world, Chaos pacts between gods and corrupt noblemen, or horrific tales of an Inquisitorial purging gone awry: these are the details that make the 40k universe grand, and I’m excited that the game line now encompasses three published tomes.

The release of the IH and Purge the Unclean is something of a milestone for the game. Shortly after Dark Heresy was published, Black Industries (a subsidiary of Games Workshop) announced it would cease publishing the line. “Craziness!” fans hollered. “Don’t they know they have a hit on their hands?!” Indeed, it was a hit. The first printing of Dark Heresy debuted earlier this year in the States and sold out within weeks. I watched many, many ebay auctions end above $100 in those dark days before finally securing one for near retail price.

The IH and Purge the Unclean are the last Dark Heresy books to be published by Black Industries. A fourth, Disciples of the Dark Gods, may or may not be scheduled for release in September. The game line itself has been licensed to Fantasy Flight Games, which is awesome because they’re a top-notch company, and I’m expecting great things from their continued support of the line. However, the timeline is a bit shaky at this point. I’ve spoken with some folks at FFG, and they’ve confirmed that there’s a senior line developer in place for the game line, but they’ve not yet begun writing additional supplements. At best, we’d be lucky to see a new, FFG-produced release within a year’s time.

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