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Advice for a new Dark Heresy gamemaster


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#1 Ansalagon

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Posted 16 October 2013 - 01:52 PM

I will soon start Gamemastering in Dark Heresy. I know the group really well, and i have a good deal of experience as gamemaster... even gamemastered a couple of sessions in deathwatch.. My knowledge of the 40k universe is decent... But i would really hear some advice on how to run Dark Heresy... things to do and not to do, what to look out for, things that does not show in the rules and such...  Any advice is helpful :)



#2 Braddoc

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Posted 16 October 2013 - 03:58 PM

Well, DH is low key way way WAY more low key than DW for one. combat is more deadly (due to having crappy armour, low wounds, no real skills) and don't expect the starting character to be any good right off the bat, that'll take a few ranks before they start settling in their role.

 

Hmm..really, hard to give you advice for DH really..all depend son your mission/campaign idea



#3 Pixels The Red

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Posted 16 October 2013 - 04:16 PM

Give them a mystery to investigate. Give them interesting characters to interact with. Give them grey morality. And when you give them combat, start them off with a bunch of weak enemies to show them just how deadly even a nutter with a combi-tool can be



#4 cps

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Posted 17 October 2013 - 02:26 PM

Give them a mystery to investigate. Give them interesting characters to interact with. Give them grey morality. And when you give them combat, start them off with a bunch of weak enemies to show them just how deadly even a nutter with a combi-tool can be

This.

 

Depending on your GM style, you can get away with very little prep work. Create a setting, primary antagonist, and the skeleton of a plot and let the players fill in the gaps.  Give them a vague goal; my first one was "There's a terrorist bomber operating in the hive. We know his alias but not much else. Find him and stop him."

 

DH really shines in its investigative aspects, so encourage them to go looking for evidence and try to keep them chasing the next lead.  They will definitely go in a direction you don't have a clue prepared for, but try to feed them something.  Your players will draw your plot map for you without even realizing it. This method requires you to be very good at improv and quick thinking, so be warned.  If they do something completely unexpected, give them a clue that looks like a red herring. You'll have however long you have between sessions to figure out whether it's a real clue or a red herring.



#5 Magnus Grendel

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Posted 20 October 2013 - 02:11 AM

Definitely.

 

Investigation should be the key. I wholeheartedly suggest not bouncing around the sector like an ADHD sufferer on a pogo-stick with a mouthful of e-numbers - Hive Sibellus, by the time you look at the spire, and the palace, and the tricorn itself, and the underhive, has as much variation as you could ever want in a 'world'. This means that when you do head somewhere else, it makes it special...

 

..As in "holy crud we're on a deathworld" special... :ph34r:

 

staying in one place also make the 'contacts' rules from the Inquisitor's Handbook useful - populating the world with recurring contact NPCs - inquisition, criminal and otherwise, fleshes it out.

 

It becomes a lot more engaging when the Inquiry check is (a quote from our last campaign)

"Xenotech. Oh, hell. I'm going to have to talk to Pietro again, aren't I?"

"Didn't you shoot him last time you met?"

"Only a little bit."

 

as opposed to just rolling dice and talking to generic bar patron #142,756

 

 

And yes, have a vague outline story, and a more detailled plan for the next session only. Beyond that, expect the players to have gone wildly off on a tangent and you'll need to sit down and rewrite the detail..

 

Oh, and allow the bad guy to react. Generally the arch-heretic, gang boss, or whatever, will not sit still. If he knows he's in trouble, let him try and strike back and/or flee. Allow the players to be left with partial failures every so often - that just means there's someone else to hunt down.

 

And be very careful about the amount of combat you throw at people. A fistfight in a bar under the 'rule of first drawn' is fine, and even if a couple of players get a thrashing, they'll be fine. By comparison, one accurate full-auto burst of autogun fire can put a player in intensive care for a week.



#6 Simsum

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Posted 20 October 2013 - 03:10 AM

It's kind of awkward that the most player-driven of the game lines has the closest thing mission support system. Rogue Trader's Endeavour system is worth a read if you happen to have the RT Core (p.276 & onwards).

The gist of it is to set up milestones for your players to achieve, and that's roughly half of a good way to plan investigative adventures. The other half, as Magnus Grendel elaborated on above, is to have antagonists that don't just sit still.

Anyway, how I do things, is to find an interesting location and do something horrible to it in a slightly insane super-villain'y sort of way. Think a James Bond film where James was too drunk or distracted to get in the way of the bad guy.

Once you have that, work backwards. Ask yourself what the antagonists need to do to pull off the more or less mad, and definitely too elaborate bit of horribleness. These are the primary milestones of your adventure, and you probably need around 5 of them. So.. 5 things that need to happen for your villains to blow up the world, turn everyone's hair into mullets, or whatever awfulness you've come up with.

Now re-visit your 5'ish primary milestones, while trying to answer these four questions, as they relate to each primary milestone:
  • Who is/are the BBEG(s)?
  • Why are they trying to do whatever horrible thing it is you're having them try to do?
  • Who would they turn to for help?
  • who would help them?

Your answers to those questions should supply you give you a good idea of what sort of clues to drop for your players, what sort of help your players might be able to drum up (keep in mind they probably won't try this), and what sort of enemies might come hunting for the players, when they start asking questions (always have at least 1). And it should give you a good idea about the sorts of very specific physical locations you should try to prepare (try to keep the number reasonable, like 5'ish).

Wrap the lot up in a neat little timeline, so regardless of what your players do, stuff will happen.

Also... Strongly seconding Magnus Grendel's warning about combat. Just to drive the point home, in our last campaign I had to schedule almost a year's worth of in-fiction downtime that I hadn't planned for at all, because a couple of players got so creative about doing something fantastically stupid and suicidal, that I ended up either having to kill their initiative in the good old railroad fashion (this is rarely fun), or sit back and watch them screw themselves and my plans for the immediate future (always fun, if cringeworthy).

Oh and.. Be extremely mindful of everyone's Fate Points, and if you have one, tell your Psyker in no uncertain terms that using psychic powers when he's at zero FP is completely illegal by the rules and simply cannot be done. Because anything else is just begging for a TPK.

EDIT: The Radical's Handbook might be really useful, as it contains a bunch of more-and-even-more shady factions for hire. Intended as a contacts/services sort of thing for players in a heretical campaign, but pretty much ideal as a roster of recurring secondary (or primary) villains for GM's too busy to write up their own. Really, it's probably the most useful book for a GM besides the DH core.

Edited by Simsum, 20 October 2013 - 03:17 AM.


#7 Lexdamus

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Posted 20 October 2013 - 05:42 AM

Remember that you can start small with your heresies and moral threats your acolytes investigate. It could be something as simple as the inquisitor sends some acolytes to a hive district with some strange trends of disappearances in arbite/enforcer reports or losing contact with with a reliable informant unexpectedly. 

 

Also try and have some recurring NPCs and enemies that are unique and memorable. These can really give your players focus on what they think they should be doing. Like hunting down a rogue mechanicus magos or an organization that always seems to be interfering with their investigations or crops up  with ties to some of the plots they are investigating. You can make for some very subtle plot arcs that can really draw in your players attention. Gming for me the way i do it is I have the inquisitor delegate missions time to time and during them there are tidbits and scraps of intel they can find using their skills or inventive roleplay. Kind of like dangling a load of different plot hooks for the players to see which they grab for then work with it. 

 

The most important thing though is to make sure you and your players have fun and enjoy the process of the campaign playing out. Encourage players to be inventive but do not be afraid to lay down the law if you feel they are getting too distracted/the campaign going off course. Even if they don't agree with your interpretation of the rules you are the Gm after all and can have the final say. 



#8 Adeptus-B

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Posted 20 October 2013 - 07:52 PM

Investigation should be the key. I wholeheartedly suggest not bouncing around the sector like an ADHD sufferer on a pogo-stick with a mouthful of e-numbers - Hive Sibellus, by the time you look at the spire, and the palace, and the tricorn itself, and the underhive, has as much variation as you could ever want in a 'world'. This means that when you do head somewhere else, it makes it special...

 

Yeah, I think that's a mistake I made with my campaign. I wanted to really travel the Sector, putting out fires all over the place, but I'm finding that interplanetary travel isn't as interesting as I assumed it would be. Detailing new worlds is extremely time-consuming, and, since I have a full-time job, I'm finding that I have to accept a much lower level of setting detail than I would prefer. If I had it to do over again, I would probably focus on fewer, but more detailed settings- probably having the Acolytes represent agents assigned to an Inquisitorial field office in the Tephaine system, which has enough variety that it isn't necessary to go anywhere else to find 'adventure', unless it is for a major set-piece event.


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#9 cps

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Posted 20 October 2013 - 08:53 PM

Oh and.. Be extremely mindful of everyone's Fate Points, and if you have one, tell your Psyker in no uncertain terms that using psychic powers when he's at zero FP is completely illegal by the rules and simply cannot be done. Because anything else is just begging for a TPK.

Umm, what? I get that doing that is a bad idea (having rolled a natural 100 on the perils table with no Fate left once myself), but I'm pretty sure this isn't actually a rule.

 

Anyway, one thing people often screw up when writing the BBEG is their motivation. Having one-dimensional bad guys is in no way believable.  Nobody is the BBEG for the sake of being the BBEG. Nobody who commits evil acts think that they're evil people. This is important when writing your antagonist - they believe that what they're doing is justified, or even good. 

 

This isn't to say you need to have your antagonist's motivation figured out from the get-go.  Have them do bad guy things, but eventually you're going to want to lay out to the players why the bad guy they're chasing does what they do (the motivation can evolve organically from what the players do during the campaign).  This will give you two things: a more believable antagonist, and an opportunity to tap into one of Dark Heresy's other major themes: temptation and corruption. Maybe what the BBEG is doing makes sense. Maybe them'll let the players join them. Maybe the BBEG is also an Inquisitor.

 

Villainy is an art.



#10 Magnus Grendel

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Posted 21 October 2013 - 01:13 AM

Anyway, one thing people often screw up when writing the BBEG is their motivation. Having one-dimensional bad guys is in no way believable.  Nobody is the BBEG for the sake of being the BBEG. Nobody who commits evil acts think that they're evil people. This is important when writing your antagonist - they believe that what they're doing is justified, or even good. 

 

This isn't to say you need to have your antagonist's motivation figured out from the get-go.  Have them do bad guy things, but eventually you're going to want to lay out to the players why the bad guy they're chasing does what they do (the motivation can evolve organically from what the players do during the campaign).  This will give you two things: a more believable antagonist, and an opportunity to tap into one of Dark Heresy's other major themes: temptation and corruption. Maybe what the BBEG is doing makes sense. Maybe them'll let the players join them. Maybe the BBEG is also an Inquisitor.

 

Agreed. "I want to take over the universe" is quite satisfying, but a really good villain is someone like Inquisitor Qixos - he's doing things with good intentions, and thinks you're a heretic.

 

Ideas/Examples of 'evil' inquisitorial shennanigans:

  1. Set up a criminal organisation. Violently take control of the criminal underworld. 'Lesser' crimes are below the Inquisition's notice but this puts the hidden hand controlling them in an excellent place to throttle the Cold Trade in xenos artefacts at source.
  2. Locating and hunting down various proscribed artefacts is best done with knowledge beyond 'this is evil, please burn it'. Unfortunately, this probably involves consorting with cultists and arch-heretics to gain said lore. What do you imagine they will demand payment in?
  3. Radicals always love their 'experiments'. Qixos' supercharged pylons. Drogan's psychic scourge. Pretty much everything Valeria owns. Acquiring resources generally involves theft, abduction (especially rogue psykers who are supposed to be on their way to the black ships), murder, etc.
  4. Conspiring against and planning to murder an important other figure (Inquisitor, Planetary Governor) who is not generally known to be a heretic. Of course, their evidence could be fabricated. Who do you believe?


#11 Simsum

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Posted 21 October 2013 - 06:38 AM

Umm, what? I get that doing that is a bad idea (having rolled a natural 100 on the perils table with no Fate left once myself), but I'm pretty sure this isn't actually a rule.


Eh, sorry. Misunderstanding. It is not a rule, but it is something that GM's should make a rule when the group is getting used to the game, because Psykers without Fate to Burn can accidentally kill an entire party at any time.

I'm a big-huge fan of villains with personality. I'm an even bigger fan of not actually having villains, and instead having people who're willing to pay a price the party finds unacceptable, to achieve ends the party more or less shares.

But... Depending on playstyle it may or may not be worthwhile to create a villain with any kind of depth, and regardless of playstyle that tends to be true for short adventures introducing a new system. Because.. There's not going to be a lot of great roleplaying, most of the time will be spent on getting a handle on the system - at least, that's my experience.
Point being that a GM's time is valuable too, so.. don't blow it on stuff that'll never make it into the actual game.

Also, it tends to be a really good idea not to develop BBEG's too much before the players have had a chance to come into contact with the BBEG's plans or person. Players almost always have their own ideas about what drives a BBEG and who the BBEG is, and in my experience they tend to feel pretty pleased with themselves if they're somewhat right with their speculation. So uhm.. It's a good idea to stay flexible enough to incorporate some of their ideas.

#12 cps

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Posted 21 October 2013 - 08:23 AM


Point being that a GM's time is valuable too, so.. don't blow it on stuff that'll never make it into the actual game.

A very important point. You can have the the most lovingly crafted world and have thought through every single detail about its politics and society, but if the players never encounter it, it may as well not exist. Don't waste your time.
 

Also, it tends to be a really good idea not to develop BBEG's too much before the players have had a chance to come into contact with the BBEG's plans or person. Players almost always have their own ideas about what drives a BBEG and who the BBEG is, and in my experience they tend to feel pretty pleased with themselves if they're somewhat right with their speculation. So uhm.. It's a good idea to stay flexible enough to incorporate some of their ideas.

This right here is why I suggest waiting for your players to tell you why the bad guys do what they do.  If they're even half right they'll feel great about it, and often the motivations they ascribe to characters are better than what you can come up with. 

 

Don't use their ideas wholesale though - use portions, make their guesses on the right track but a little bit off, or imply they're missing a key piece of the puzzle.  They'll feel like they're still a step behind, which is a great way to foster a love/hate relationship with the bad guy and further develop their motivations and to keep the players engaged.



#13 Askil

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Posted 24 October 2013 - 02:24 AM

This is a big one so stick with me.

Simplify throwaway NPCs

 

I reduce NPC stats to a 1-10 scale so I can roll their tests on 1d10 and spend less time doing maths for similar results.

 

Never be afraid to fuge NPC rolls, if your players aren`t taking you seriously because you keep rolling badly then ignore the rolls or grant leeway (I find a +1 to hit equals a -2 to damage balances nicely.)

 

Rather than tracking NPCs critical damage make the hit that takes them to 0 wounds into a critical hit of that value, or alternately just make up some suitably grimdark death scene.

 



#14 bogi_khaosa

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Posted 20 November 2013 - 11:25 AM

 


Eh, sorry. Misunderstanding. It is not a rule, but it is something that GM's should make a rule when the group is getting used to the game, because Psykers without Fate to Burn can accidentally kill an entire party at any time.

 

 

So can psykers WITH Fate to burn. Burning a Fate Point will save the psyker, not other people.






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