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Dark Heresy = Survival horror in space?

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#1 johnnybleu



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Posted 01 October 2010 - 06:07 AM

I have an idea for a mini-campaign I would LOVE to run for my Acolytes, but I would just like to iron out a few details first, or see if it would even be possible. As the topic said, I'm mainly interested in finding out if the Dark Heresy system would be well suited for a "survival horror" type game, or if the rules would fall apart.

My idea (while not terribly original) is as follows... While en route to a routine mission, the acolytes "bump" into a huge ship that suddenly bursts out of the warp. Naturally, they decide to investigate. Turns out the ship in question has been drifting aimlessly in the warp for centuries after getting caught in a warp storm and is now, for lack of a better term, a ghost ship. Dark empty hallway, dim or flashing lights, random psychic disturbances, warp anomalies, nasty critters, terrified survivors, mutants, structural damage, and so forth. What then ensues is your typical survival horror fare, with the acolytes trying to discover what happened, and how to "fix" things-- while trying to stay alive.

Now, what I want to know is; can I do this, or should I look for another system? Furthermore, since my acolytes are all at starting rank, will they be able to survive the psychological meat-grinder, or should I wait until they have more experience? My main concern is that they will all go completely insane... I want this thing to terrify my players, and really play up the mood and atmosphere. I don't intend to have any physical encounters for at least one or two sessions, but plenty of weird warp/psychic disturbances to keep everyone on their toes. Also, they will have limited access to supplies. Is it a good idea to throw a group of poorly trained acolytes in such a situation and ask them to fend for themselves?

Other things I'm not sure about is how, exactly, to get my players on the ship... If they're traveling in space, as I said, it would imply that they would be on a ship, and thus only a handful out of thousands of passengers and crew members. Why would the ship they're on even stop, let alone send out the acolytes to "check things out"? Then I figured maybe the inquisitor asked them to investigate reports of a derelict vessel drifting nearby. Problem here is why would an inquisitor ask a bunch of low-ranking acolytes to tackle such a massive task?

I already have most of the events on the ship figured out, with goals and objectives kicking around, as well as several major NPCs and various groups/factions that live within. I just need to get my players there in a believable fashion, and know if they'll be able to survive.

Thanks for any input!

#2 Gregorius21778



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Posted 01 October 2010 - 06:59 AM

First of all, I do not think that any other syste has space hulks. Drifting Ghosthips, but not SpaceHulks™


As far as I read it, your hulk is much to crowded. No, seriously. You are not the first one stuffing his/her hulk with survivors AND ghosts AND critters AND Orks AND Gene-Stealers, AND Mutants AND... yes, I have been adding things you haven´t claimed, but you know where I want to go.

Keep it a little "stream lined". No matter what the grimdark tries to make you believe, wars do not go on forever. Especially if both sides do not have access to reinforces. In this case, conflicts end very quickly. If you want to have different "groups" on board, make both them small. And have VERY good reasons for what sheltered them from the warp. Or turn them into hopelessly insane mutants.

As for "starting levels", do not send fresh acolythes. I would suggest about 1000xp. At last.

They way you plan it (ship stumbles upon hulk) it won´t be survival horror...unless you cut them off from their ship with a very effective method (like..hulk fading back to warp). As long as they are able to go back, they will have reinforcements, supplies, etc.

Last but not least, give them very good reason why they should enter the hulk. "Curiousity" alone might not work. A superior might.


#3 Diel Ulricsson

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Posted 01 October 2010 - 01:55 PM

Remember also that Space Hulks are prime targets for all sorts of reasons. If they are old they may house archaeotech, which everyone loves (for monetary reasons in the case of pirates, or for power reasons in the case of the AdMech or the Inquisition), Xenos threats (such as Genestealers and other nasties) or any other things concievable really. There could be a nice chaos item on board the Inquisitor wants to get a hold of etc.

You could make it a big thing. You could say the ship was originally a science vessel sent by the Imperium millenia ago to study the warp anomoloies in one area and got lost. As such it has on board archaeotech, and a whole host of Warp related information which could be vital to the Imperiums war on Chaos.

Why would the Inquisition send only you guys in? Maybe they didn't. Maybe they send in a few small groups and send them off in different directions to scout it out, and then, when contact with the main ship gets lost, and contact with the other groups drops out, the Acolytes start to get scared...

Then they find the mangled corpses of one of the other teams...

#4 Bilateralrope



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Posted 01 October 2010 - 02:59 PM

johnnybleu said:

Other things I'm not sure about is how, exactly, to get my players on the ship... If they're traveling in space, as I said, it would imply that they would be on a ship, and thus only a handful out of thousands of passengers and crew members. Why would the ship they're on even stop, let alone send out the acolytes to "check things out"? Then I figured maybe the inquisitor asked them to investigate reports of a derelict vessel drifting nearby. Problem here is why would an inquisitor ask a bunch of low-ranking acolytes to tackle such a massive task?


Low ranking acolytes are often used by Inquisitors like miners used canaries. If the acolytes die, then it's time to call in something less expendable.

#5 ! : ?

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Posted 02 October 2010 - 05:24 AM

The movie "event horizon" might provide you with nifty ideas for your game !?



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#6 Adeptus-B


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Posted 02 October 2010 - 12:21 PM

Low-level Acolytes in DH will have a hard time surviving encounters with relatively mundane xenos, like Orks, never mind Genestealers! Have you thought about trying Deathwatch? The starting characters are comparable to Ascended characters in DH, and killing large numbers of xenos is job one for them.

#7 Darth Smeg

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Posted 04 October 2010 - 02:02 AM

I ran a survival horror scenario based on Event Horizon a while back, and my players loved it! Fatepoints lost, potentially revolutionizing tech advances lost, insanity points gained.....

A resume in case anyone wishes to steal parts of it :)

The Acolytes are following clues in their investigations that lead them to a research station in orbit around Heed, a dead world in the middle of nowhere. They pull some strings and are able to arrange transport to a location only 3 weeks sublight travel from Heed on a patrol ship, that will pick them up on the way back, same place, 10 weeks later.

This was of course to make sure they were stuck on this station with no means of escape (their system ship does not have supplies for an extended trip, so they need the resources of the space station)

They arrive, but find the station dead and unpowered. Investigation is slow and tedious, as they have to wear void-suits and mag-boots to move around. No power to the doors means lugging around portable power packs just to move between rooms. Most systems are unavailable, but some clues were found on dataslates left in deserted rooms, suggesting research into cross-system teleportation. They found a lab with the portal, which is deactivated and unmoving, and basically a direct copy of the drive core from the movie Event Horizon.

[Adnotamentum vocis :: signo temporis 580.816.M41
Savant Mandrillen]
The results of the cellular regenerator are encouraging. The theory of neural path dynamics has proven itself well suited to practical application in neurolinked nuclei transmogrification, and we now have stable, repeated success in organ regrowth without need of VAT chambers, surgery or other invasive procedures. Of course, all Gaelos seems to care about is his member. Fine, I accept that we all have different motivations, and we all work towards the same goal, but how that man ever came to be recruited is beyond me.

[Memoria mechanicus :: signo temporis 1.726.816.M41
Chryosinist Steimer]
Dreamt of Minorva again last night. It's been 7 years, now, and I really thought I was over that... But I seem to dream of little else these days, and these thoughts distract me in my work also. On that note, there seems to be no progress with the probes. It can't be much longer before we proceed with live subjects.

[Memoria mechanicus :: signo temporis 5.757.816.M41
Chryosinist Steimer]
The dreams are getting more and more intense. I see her death again and again. I know that it wasn't my fault, but I still can't help feeling responsible. She calls to me in my sleep, even as her eyes bleed and flesh shrivels, she calls to me.

[Memoria mechanicus :: signo temporis 4.775.816.M41
Chryosinist Steimer]
I cannot stay away any longer, I must go to her. Perhaps it is not too late to save her, and if not... well, I must be with her again.

[Adnotamentum vocis :: signo temporis 7.649.816.M41
Savant Antoninius Briehl]
Miles and Trevor opened the gateway again today. Passing a pict-probe through the black surface resulted in lost pict-transmission, but after a delay of about 5 minutes the pict-probe appeared through the terminus on the surface below. Inspection of the probes integral pictstore reveals a blank over the whole interval where the probe was in transit. 536 metres of nano-wire was 'inside' as the probe emerged.

[Adnotamentum vocis :: signo temporis 2.731.816.M41
Savant Antoninius Briehl]
36 attempts have been made to glean insight into the state or nature of the 'between' termini. Nothing has been learned. No records are transmitted from within, and nothing is stored. 3 days ago we sent a servitor through, and have been inspecting its biological neuro-transmitters and psynaptic cortex through biosynthetic scanning and with the help of our resident wyrd, Dr. Steimer. Apart from signs of above-average strain, nothing was learned. We will be sending in our first human test-subjects tomorrow.

[Adnotamentum vocis :: signo temporis 5.735.816.M41
Savant Antoninius Briehl]
Test subjects entered the terminus on our side, but after just a few moments ceased all movement and had to be retrieved by umbilical. No sign of physical damage, but both subjects are in a catatonic state and are not responding to stimuli.

[Adnotamentum vocis :: signo temporis 2.751.816.M41
Savant Antoninius Briehl]
The test subjects woke up today, and presently lapsed into severe attacks of hysteria. In the end we had to sedate them with extreme amounts of D-34, and I wonder if we will ever get a sane word out of either of them. Second batch of test subjects being sent in as I write these words.

[Adnotamentum vocis :: signo temporis 8.759.816.M41
Savant Antoninius Briehl]
Second round of test subjects was a failure. Exact same results as first attempt. An unexpected development, however, as Dr. Schneider insisted upon joining the experiment. "Can't leave important matters of scientific examination to those without the proper faculties to understand them" or something. While I admire his dedication to the cause, I can't help but wonder if his actions are a little misguided. We shall see if it was worth the risk when he wakes up.

[Memoria mechanicus :: signo temporis 1.778.816.M41
Adept Zimmerwahrt]
It would seem Steimer has gone of on some research on his own. He was nowhere to be found this morning, but his still glowing lho-sticks were left in their tray at the lab. Why he would voluntarily go in there after the limited success we've had with the other subjects so far is beyond me.

[Memoria mechanicus :: signo temporis 3.785.816.M41
Adept Zimmerwahrt]
Steimer is back, but from where is anybody’s guess. He seems lucid enough, but distant somehow. Driven. He keeps muttering something about miscalculated coordinates, insufficient correction for planetary gravitation. Not my field, but the experts are all shaking their heads, claiming to have triple and quadruple checked all their calculations. Who knows, but this is the closest thing we've had to a breakthrough since we got the gateway open in the first place. We’ll se tomorrow if he is right.

[Voxslate :: signo temporis 729.815.M41
Capsa scientia of Savant Ignacia Bonsell]

I am pleased that you feel you are making progress with the Sing-gates, but forgive me if I do not share in your elation just yet. I am a practical man, and I believe in practical results. I know your goals are more academically inclined than mine, and while I certainly see the value of keeping food and resources flowing smoothly across subsectors, or even sectors, I do not think you fully realize the military capabilities of this technology!

Imagine legions of the Guard unleashed upon our enemies, countless regiments arriving on location without the limitations of the Navy’s capacity for transportations. Distance and state of the Warp no matter of importance… Think of it man! The Imperium would be unstoppable! We would finally be able to smash all His enemies with the Hammer of the Emperor, and we might even find we have the right caliber ammunition available for our guns, and not have to endure while they are shipped to the wrong sector.

By all means, push whatever buttons gets you juiced up, but know that the fate of the galaxy depends on your success. No pressure.
- General M.

As they make their way to the core control room, they find the first remains of the stations crew: a single, dead man, floating in zero g, frozen stiff, with a knife stuck in his chest. They reason that he must have shut down the power, executed the manual override of the automatic engaging of backup auxilliary power, then killed himself. Everyone else have left in salvation pods, but this man stayed behind and made the supreme sacrifice?

Why? They can't find out without activating the station. Probably a bad idea, but they have little choice.

So they do :)

Now investigating the station becomes much simpler, and they find more logs. Which again tells them they are in real trouble, but now they can't turn the power back off. :)

[Memoria mechanicus :: signo temporis 2.770.816.M41
Medicae Freider]
Terra, what is happening, here? Schneider was rescued (sort of) today as he attempted to flush himself out a void-lock. He is severely damaged, and restrained in medicae lab 16 awaiting the arrival of Churgeon Ajoku from planetside. At the same time test-subject 13 has woken from his coma-trance, and promptly tore his eyes out in a hysteric fit of laughter and mumbling nonsense in some unknown tongue

[Memoria mechanicus :: signo temporis 4.779.816.M41
Medicae Freider]
Steimer went through the portal, alone. The others just shrug, and seem mostly annoyed that he didn’t follow proper procedure for logging and documenting his experiment. Am I the only one in here who seem to think this perseverance as insanity?

[Memoria mechanicus :: signo temporis 9.786.816.M41
Medicae Freider]
I found a reference to the strange words spoken by test-subject 13 in one of the books Laurentz has compiled on the research of the Sing. It's High Gothic translation is something like liberate tutemet ex inferis. Save yourselves from hell.... And yet Steimer wants to go back.

[Adnotamentum vocis :: signo temporis 780.816.M41
Savant Probus Mojaris]
Sure, it is never pleasant to experience setbacks, but remember that through strife do we ever grow and learn. We all knew there would be difficulties to be overcome, and that sacrifices would have to be made.

Recent events are no exception, and not really of significant consequence either. How do you think the first experimental test-flights with Warp drives went? What with no Gellar fields to protect the crew? Imagine if their setbacks led them to abandon work on the project! Where would Man be today if we never learned to journey through the Warp? Decades to reach our neighbors inside sub-sectors? Transport of food would be impossible, military support unfeasible. The Imperium could not survive, perpetually over extended. No power structure could! We would be a scattered collection of petty tribes, feuding over resources and territory. Easy pickings for Orks, Eldar reavers or worse!

No my friend, conquering the Warp enabled us to spread amongst the stars, and was the greatest achievement of Man ever made! The heroic perseverance of the adepts working staunchly in the face of failure and the malefic effects of the Warp upon them and their test-subjects.

And now we are poised for the greatest discovery since that time! Our dedication and commitment must be similarly great.

This is when things start to go wrong.

Suddenly walls that were just plain grey a few seconds ago are now covered with bloody graffiti, occult symbols and other disturbing images. Then the light cut out and they're left in darkness. Shining a torch on the wall reveals a sentence in High Gothic: "Mighty Emperor, spread your Divine Light to protect me from the Darkness". The Litany of Protection. Reading this aloud makes the light come back on, and the walls turn back to normal.

Spooked, they hurry back towards the control room, but on the way the station is rocked by some enormous explosion or power surge. The shaking throws the Acolytes off their feet, and the find themselves suddenly in the middle of a crowded and busy laboratoria, being addressed by a well dressed gentleman.

“Ah, Captain Fordwell. So good to see you, we have been anxiously anticipating your arrival. Welcome to Enlightenment”. The man speaking is obviously in charge here, as his dress is more formal and extravagant then the scientists and assistants that are busily at work at various stations around the room. “We have prepared a modest welcoming buffet in your honour, if you will step this way, then we can talk more comfortably. But excuse me for a moment…” He turns his attention to a man amongst you, obviously a schollar, and speaks “Magister, you are most urgently expected in the Ambassador’s Ward, he has been waiting for some days now already. Danas here will escort you”. A young man bows respectfully and leads him off down the main corridor to the right. The man turns to Warn: “The Tekniarch gave unmistakable commands that you were immediately brought to his presence, Magos. He is in the vaults, making the final repairs to the constructor-artifact from site 13. He seems most determined and enthusiastic. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he was experiencing … emotions” A thin smile as he waves another attendant, a robed man with obvious bionic enhancements, to your side. Warn is led down another corridor to the left.

You are brouht to a conference room, where you are served refreshments. Delicacies, wine, amasec. On the way in, Uthak catches eyes of someone he recognizes.. but who? The man turns to you, as attendants hand you glasses of sparkling wine. “As you have no doubt realized, I am Allectus Deguise, and again I welcome you to Enlightenment. It’s not much of a place, but the work we do here, ahh.” He turns to Castus. “And you, dear Dr. Laurentz, your arrival has been most welcome! I had the honour to attend your lecture on the sub-Adrantian dialectic patterns at the Magnopticon in 813. Most illuminating! And you will find some old colleagues down in the labs, too. They have some relics there for your study that will make the samples we sent to Scintilla seem, well… you will see for yourself shortly”. He raises his glass, and turns to Brutus. “You will be pleased to know we have finished refurbishing and repairing your ship, Captain. The prototype Void shields are working beyond our expectations, and the new hyperplasma drive as increased speed and maneuverability by 48,7%. Whenever you are ready, I will take you and your first officer to inspect it”

(Warn, Castus, Uthak and Brutus are the Acolytes real names, and Dr. Laurentz was the missing scholar they are searching for, the clue that led them here in the first place.)

The illusion disappears as suddenly as it had arrived. The chrono-piece tells them that 15 hours have passed, and they are being frantically voxed by their pilot. Turns out their ship (which has been docked to the station by an umbilical) was badly damaged by the blast, and has been venting atmosphere for 15 hours now.

They now have to fix their ship, taking turns working outside the hull with their void suits, while the rest stay on the station. Where things start to go bump in the night. At the same time the vision has triggered some irresistible curiosity amongst the Acolytes (as it was designed to do). The tech priest believes no risk is too great when there might be an STC on board. Brutus has ambitions of getting his own ship, and Captain Fordwell has already crossed the Acolytes path before. And Uthak... poor, simple, feral Uthak has been hopelessly in love with Octavia Niles ever since she seduced him onboard the Cygnan Martyr in The House of Dust and Ash. He saved her, protected her from the other Acolytes even though she had tried to kill them all (him included, but he refused to believe it)

So while the others are fixing the ship or passing the time in other ways...

“Uthak, darling! I’ve missed you terribly!” You start up from your regimented exercise regime, hanging upside down holding onto a 50Kg hyper-density base support used for generating appropriate resistance for stomach crunches. You’d recognize that face anywhere! She’s been in your dreams regularly since you parted ways at the docking of the Cygnan Martyr. Octavia! “Darling, there are rumours that you and your friends sold me out to those horrid traders people. Tell me it’s not so?” You open your mouth to speak, but she just smiles and gestures for you to follow as she disappears around the corner.

What follows is a strange chase scene as Uthak is chasing the vision of his lost love, spectacularly failing a series of WP and Perception tests. He is led through air ducts and vents, and then runs straight into a shaft leading some 20 metres straight down onto a swiftly rotating fan, then onto a lab-bench filled with spiky metal bitz used for wierd sciency-stuff. All bones broken, internal bleeding and 1 FP gone.

He looks up, and find himself lying in the lab with the gateway, which is now active and open. Octavia is standing next to him, arms stretched towards him and eye-sockets empty and bleeding. "I have such wondrous things to show you"...

The tech-priest is almost tricked into opening "the vaults", which are really void-locks leading outside, but extreme paranoia saves his life.... barely.

In the end they manage to fix their vessel, leave the station, spectacularly fail to resolve the situation planetside, burn all their leads, hide out in their cargo hold for 7 weeks as they drink urine-re-cyc and wait for pickup. They then re-route the naval patrol to go blow up the station, further eliminating all possibilities of following their investigation any further.

Ah, but who knows what happened in the time after they left, eh?

Tarald - The Dark Lord of Smeg


My House Rules for using Only War (and more) for Dark Heresy games

#8 johnnybleu



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Posted 04 October 2010 - 05:18 AM

Thanks for the input, everyone!

Actually, Even Horizon is what I was mainly aiming for... I know someone suggested Deathwatch as a more suitable system for a game like this, but I'm not really planning on having them fight lots of Xenos (or lots of anything, really). I'm certainly not trying to recreate Space Hulk, or Doom. Think more psychological horror, rather than all-out action fest.

I really like the idea of sending in low-ranking Acolytes to "test things out". That's pretty sick, and works nicely, actually. ;) I also like the suggestion of having the ship be really big. I was actually going to do that initially this ship is massive and actually houses a small colony of survivors (their offspring, actually), which could serve as a "base" for the players once they find it. I was thinking of running 10+ sessions in this thing, so it would have to be huge.

The bulk of the adventure would be spent exploring the endless labyrinth, and figuring out how to get simply around. More puzzles and frights, rather than actual combat. Furthermore, I trust most of the encounters would involve running away or something to that effect. Overall, it would be much more low-key than a fast-paced action flick. Event Horizon, and not Aliens.

So then, the question still remains... Is DH well suited for a "explore and gather clues" kind of adventure, rather than a constant shoot-out? Also, since the players will be isolated and cut off from the outside, there's the problem of replacing a character should someone die. I guess this is where the survivors could come in. Creepy inbred void-born survivors, but potential characters none-the-less...

#9 numb3rc



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Posted 04 October 2010 - 08:20 AM

johnnybleu said:

So then, the question still remains... Is DH well suited for a "explore and gather clues" kind of adventure, rather than a constant shoot-out? Also, since the players will be isolated and cut off from the outside, there's the problem of replacing a character should someone die. I guess this is where the survivors could come in. Creepy inbred void-born survivors, but potential characters none-the-less...

Is it ever! DH is an investigation game primarily.  That's where Adepts come in! They can investigate circles around any given guardsman. You should make every effort to not make a game of DH a constant shoot-out. Take time to build tension and let the players investigate. Heck, I've been in a game where there wasn't even a gun drawn for two whole sessions! Remember, nothing you can describe can be as scary as what the players can themselves can imagine. Keep the badddies "off-screen" for most of the time if you can and simply let the PCs draw their own conclusions.


And goodness gracious Darth Smeg, your players are a bit too inquisitive for their own good. If I was playing in that game, the power is staying off! We'll power terminals independently if we have to. Ignorance is a virtue!

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