We played the second session of our new Dark Heresy campaign last weekend. Since last winter, I've done some freelance editing for Fantasy Flight Games on the Dark Heresy and Rogue Trader game lines, but it wasn't until very recently that I was actually got to play the game.
I must say, the two sessions we've played have been "quintessential" 40k games: brutal, gritty, gory and full of insidious corruption and planet-spanning conspiracies. We actually started out playing a published module (I'm not going to say which one; the players read this blog!) but we quickly steered off the "adventure path" and started plotting our own course through the Dark Heresy universe.
In brief: the characters were recruited by an Inquisitor—part of an elite cadre of powerful warrior statesmen who safeguard the vast Imperium of Mankind from dangers both within and without—to investigate a grisly murder in a backwater hive community.
Although the adventure was set on the hive world of Scintilla, which is dominated by massive hive cities covering hundreds of square miles and full of billions of citizens, the investigation itself took the characters to the decaying fringes of the underhive. Both vital resources and law enforcement is tenuous down here; blackouts frequently plague the crumbling tenement blocks, while savage narco-gangs patrol the dark alleys. Overhead, lost in the featureless steel sky, trains rumble along, carrying passengers to other, more prosperous sectors of the gigantic hive.
Anyway. We had a bit of action, a bit of intrigue, and a lot of scrappy first-level characters struggling to carve out their own little fiefdoms in an unforgiving universe. We've also had player deaths: two of them so far, one in each session. Both were totally awesome and over the top in a way that only Dark Heresy (and the 40k universe) can offer.
The psyker character failed her dice roll when using one of her powers, and she had to roll on the Perils of the Warp table. This is a percentile-based table used to determine exactly what horrible fates can befall psychic characters. Results range from "The character laughs hysterically for 1d5 rounds" to "The character's body is ripped apart and 1d5 daemons spill forth from the warp." The psyker's player rolled 100, and she was sucked screaming into the warp. Scratch one character.
The next character death took place during a chase sequence through a decaying hive transit tunnel. The characters were aboard a quad-wheeler—a cross between a monster truck and a dune buggy—pursuing some villains in a similar vehicle. During the scuffle, the assassin character (who apparently wore no armor) got too close to a thug with an autogun, and his leg was blown off at the hip. He would have been dead from blood loss, but the assassin's player burned his Fate Point (the only way to trump a PC death) and we ruled that he remained alive, unconscious, missing a leg. It was awesome!
The game itself is very gritty. At first level, the best the characters could hope for was a one-third chance of success on an unmodified roll—pretty stark odds, considering how dangerous the setting is.
The players were somewhat disappointed initially with how few options first-level characters get. But the career path (think D&D class) advancement tables allow players to plan out their character's career, which gives them a decent degree of control over how they'll develop over time. But still: the players failed their rolls (often spectacularly) far more often than they succeeded.
We also had a lot of fun with Dark Heresy's wacky random tables. The psyker death and the blown off leg were both the result of random chart rolls.
Where we go from here is up to the players. They've yet to meet their Inquisitor, but they do know where he is—he's investigating something on the mining world of Sepheris Secundus. Likewise, they've gleaned a few important clues about this current conspiracy, so it remains to be seen how far they'll pursue it.