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janikest

GMing a "Hardcore" Dark Heresy game

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Hi guys,

 

I was not used to the 40K universe until 18 monthes ago when i was invited to a Dark Heresy game creating my first character (which turns out to be a psyker... never had to regret that!).

 

Since then i have been quite a hardcore fan and after GMing Deathwatch, i am starting my own DH campaign.

 

As a player, i love the thrill of getting out of very difficult situations and trying to ascend at the best of my abilities in a grimdark universe where acolytes are but pawns of the inquisitorial machine. My character used to be a fragile voidborn being hiding Under a desk at the first fight encounter to being a badass savant with fearsome powers, extended lore, and a shiny suit of light power armor.

 

Games are pretty intense for me and i sometimes overthink plots and opportunities, with the ultimate aim (selfish as my character can be) to be even more badass (earning more thrones, getting shiny gear, forbidden lores).

 

But at the same time, i find the game truly thrilling when you feel that things can turn bad and be life threatening for your character at any moment: gangers ambushing you off guard, exploring a space Hulk with no survirors, feeling the presence of a daemon, of simply being suspiciously interrogated by your inquisitor who suspects you have more corruption points than you should. As a mutant, a psyker, and trading with hereteks, the game difficulty increases at the same rate as you accumulate thrones, status, and shiny gear.

 

Well, all that to say that i am running my own Dark Heresy campaign with quite high prerequisites. I have told my players that the game difficulty will be insane (and honestly, given the starting characterictics, game as RAW is supposed to be extremely hard to begin with, meaning that players have a good chance to fail their rolls without modifiers). Note that i never lest players with no options and playing cunningly is the key, but sometimes the dice says otherwise and one can fail horribly even with the best idea.

 

I ran a first session and i don't think it was disappointing. I won't go in all the détails, but if the characters failed their inquiry rolls to find an imperial ship, they would have to be part of a Rogue trader ship that would be immediately attacked after landing. I quickly show them how fragile they were by hammering the NPCs they were siding with. And the players are quite Lucky to be alive because the mooks attacking them failed almost all their rolls :-)

 

But one thing i find hard to figure out is a paradox: at the one hand, you want to show your players that things can turn really bad for them at any moment, and that they can die, on the other hand, they play because they are to some extend, attached to the character they have built, so thats quite a tricky balance. The game becomes indeed interesting when you see your character evolve and be more consistent both in terms of skills and roleplay.

 

One thing i should have done is to tell my players to prepare several characters they would like to play to play so that if one eventually dies, they won't be left with no options.

Edited by janikest

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One thing i should have done is to tell my players to prepare several characters they would like to play to play so that if one eventually dies, they won't be left with no options.

 

Bad idea. They will still be less invested in their characters. 

 

 

Better to give them the illusion of terrible danger and lethality than to put real threat that will generally break them. The players must be in dangers when necessary and be in real danger when they do stupid things but, otherwise, it should be reasonable. Then, when they face great dangers, if they f*ck verything up, it will be super lethal.

 

 

For example, if there is a bloodthirster, you make it not notice the player unless they attack him, but when the real challenge start, now there is danger. If players attack it without a plan, they will pay. But you don't make an awareness test to the bloodthirster just to see if he spotted them while it's not necessary to the story.

 

 

I don't know if I'm clear enough but that's quite the idea.

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I agree with you both on one point, that death of characters should be avoided if players are attached to them, but bad décisions can be punished nevertheless, like being taken prisoners, or having one limb cut off and have to pay a shitload of thrones for a bionic replacement and so on

I am also not really favorable of my members losing permanent characteristic points as this can be really gimping their abilities. But i lose the idea of stacking insanity and corruption points :-)

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I mostly ran a couple of published adventures, but here is my idea:

 

If the characters try to keep a low profile, they should not expect anything atypical for the environment. The Inquisition´s greatest weapon is surprise (and fear). If they know how to avoid attention, the acolytes can often win easily because they are much more prepared and dangerous than most anyone else.

 

 

If half the fights in the adventure have a serious risk of FP burn. this can lead to a pretty serious burnout. IMO Dark Heresy works better as a Call of Cthulhu in space game, focusing more on investigation and horror than on grueling fights. Now, boss fights and gimmick fights where the party needs to do something different (or run away) are another thing entirely. I try to keep non-boss fights passable, unless the party did something stupid before hand. However, if you are out of Fate points and you are dead, you are dead. I can only do my best to make it a good death and fistbump you.

 

That isn´t to say you can´t make a total meatgrinder and have a handful of backup characters for every player. Mind you, I´d prefer that for Only War, not Dark Heresy.

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One thing i should have done is to tell my players to prepare several characters they would like to play to play so that if one eventually dies, they won't be left with no options.

 

Bad idea. They will still be less invested in their characters. 

 

 

Better to give them the illusion of terrible danger and lethality than to put real threat that will generally break them. The players must be in dangers when necessary and be in real danger when they do stupid things but, otherwise, it should be reasonable. Then, when they face great dangers, if they f*ck verything up, it will be super lethal.

 

 

For example, if there is a bloodthirster, you make it not notice the player unless they attack him, but when the real challenge start, now there is danger. If players attack it without a plan, they will pay. But you don't make an awareness test to the bloodthirster just to see if he spotted them while it's not necessary to the story.

 

 

I don't know if I'm clear enough but that's quite the idea.

 

QFT.

 

When I first set out to GM Dark Heresy I wanted the same thing you're describing.  It was my first time GMin any game, and I was all psyched up for how realistic and dangerous and exciting I was going to make the game.

 

But your campaign really won't take off until you're willing to "cut corners" somewhat with the "realism."  You have to realize that GMing isn't really about making things "realistic."  GMing is about telling a great story and making sure that your players FEEL challenged, so that the payoff is rewarding.  

 

Players form a connection with their characters when they've overcome challenges together, not when they've been ripped to shreds or bungled another awareness test.  But you can't get the feeling of overcoming challenges without risk.

 

The example with the bloodthirster is perfect.  If you know that the bloodthirster will just rip the party to shreds then you should cut them some slack (or not put them up against a bloodthirster in the first place), but ONLY if you can do so without them realizing, which will break the meaningfulness of the encounter. 

 

Your time to pull no punches is in situations where the players have had a chance to prepare for it, and in situations where they have made key decisions that lead to it.

 

And even then, you should always consider the parameters of the encounter fluid.  If the PCs are on their last legs and you had another wave of enemies planned that can be easily dropped without harming the plot then you need to be willing to do that.  

 

Really the art of GMing is knowing the difference between a climactic battle that leaves everyone super psyched for the next session because they escape by the skin of their teeth, and a kick in the nuts when they're already down.

 

Last point--sometimes the PC's screwing something up is the best thing for the story.  In the last session I GM'd the moments that really made it memorable were the little 'errors' the PCs made that directly influenced the story and gave their characters personality.  Knowing the difference between that and an unnecessary focus on "realism" is the key.

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