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Alank2

Edge of Darkness review (free web adventure)

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 So, after my overly long and complicated review of a short Deathwatch adventure (https://community.fantasyflightgames.com/topic/187569-shadow-of-madness-review-gms-kit-adventure/), I finally decided to make some more reviews, and it's only fitting that the next review after Shadow of Madness will be Edge of Darkness, right?  ;). What's with 40k and all those grimdark titles?

Edge of Darkness is a free adventure, available to download on Fantasy Flight Games' Dark Heresy page. If their server is unavailable or you're reading this review after they removed it from their site, there are some other sites providing access to it. On a side note, it's a Dark Heresy 1.0 adventure, but you can use i in DH 2.0 as well, with only minor modifications.

As usual, if you're a player, DO NOT read this review unless you already played through this adventure - and I definitely suggest playing through it, so if you're a player, suggest it to your GM!
 ... but make him read the ending of the review, first, for some balancing tips ;).

 

 Quick summary: Great adventure with beautiful atmosphere fitting to a 40k universe, hampered a little bit by high difficulty level which may or may not be intentional, may require some balancing work on GM's part.

 
 Let's start, like Rulebook, from Table of Contents:
 
 1. Overview
 2. Introduction and Dramatis Personae
 3. Among the Missing
 4. The Twilight City
 5. Chamber of Horrors
 6. Final Verdict



1. Overview

 Edge of Darkness is an introductory adventure to Dark Heresy, so it's full of tips and help for beginner GM's. It is also designed to help new players get the feel of 40k world, with all it's grimdark, technomagical weirdness and an ever-present risk of enemies within.

The adventure starts as players, starting their new job for the Inquisition, arrive at their meeting with Inquisitorial agent. There they find out that someone is making an illegal, heretical experiments on humans, and their mission is to find and stop him, her or whatever this person is. The adventure takes players around he Hive on Scintilla, where they can see the life on Imperial planet, from the lowest of menials to local gangers and corrupted enforcers. Only at the end of the adventure they see the true face of the enemy, which after poorly-armed gang members seems even more horrifying... perhaps even too much.


 2. Introduction and Dramatis Personae

This is pretty straightforward; short introduction to whole adventure, plot synopsis, and a section about NPC's. From this, characters deserve special mention - they are surprisingly well written for just few short sentences. Those short descriptions omit their physical appearance (which is mentioned later, when players have a chance to meet them), and instead focuses on their motives and actions, helping GM to grasp the whole picture.


 3. Among the Missing

 Players start this adventure by receiving the message telling them to appear at the certain location. While this method of introduction is quite simple, and it is well described, it poses one small problem. While it's easy to imagine your Hiver or Void Born removed from past life, tested and measured, questioned and interrogated, as the adventure puts it, it's harder to imagine why a Feral World character would be there. Make sure to discuss your PC's background, or you may end up with some awkward questions.

 After arriving to this location, players take the elvator down and than walk a hilariously long corridor. Since walking down this few hundred meters long secret passage with no apparent features takes some time, players are supposed to spend this time introducing themselves and discussing. They also have some occasions for first Tests.

No matter what they do, they end up in a large room with ominous, unmarked crates, a dead body with some creepy modifications and and Inquisitorial agent, who sends players on their first mission. This scene is beautifully described, and if you make use of it, players will immediately get hooked. It is also creepy in it's own way, hinting on the things to come.
There is also hilarious note that you can read if players start saying that they're not ready. In this case, Inquisitorial Agent makes a very ironic statement that unfortunately, Adeptus Astartes are actually busy so they have to work with what they have.


 4. The Twilight City

The Acolytes now move down, to the lower districts of the Hive. This is again described in a detailed way, giving GM another occasion to show players the characteristic atmosphere of the 41 Millenium. It also introduces additional mechanic in form of Degrees of Success. There is also something very precious, that was for some reason not included in Core Rulebook - monthly wages. Why such information was not part of the Core Rulebook is a mystery, but at least it's here.

There is also a working map that you can show your players. It's probably one of the 2 maps in whole 40k line that you can give to your players, and one of few maps at all - FFG seems to not like drawing maps for some reason, and when they do, they tend to make them full of spoilers and therefore useless to players. But, at least here it is.

 Players will be ambushed on their first night in the local 'hostel'. It's worth noting that if any players gained Light Sleeper through some additional backgrounds, they will awake immediately. If not, and if they did not block the door in some way (lock itself is useless since dregs have key to it), they can be beaten really hard. Most of the players have around ~15% chance of waking up; those who do not pass get hit for one turn as Surprised, and as they are sleeping without armor, they can easily lose their Wounds pretty quickly. On a side note, if players sleep in their armor, have them awake automatically but start combat with 1 level of Fatigue, since they were not sleeping well. -10 to all Tests quickly balances lack of surprise, especially for low-level Acolytes. 

In short, be aware that those dregs can actually hurt the players hard. But it is Dark Heresy, not some kind of heroic, so that's to be expected and it does a great job at showing players that despite being player characters, they can still get hurt easily. Also, without Medicae (and they probably don't have it) they need to pay for a local doctor and they still be left with some lost Wounds for the rest of the adventure, especially if they fall to Criticals during fight.

Aside from this trap, player make some rolls, some investigation, and meet local gangers and enforcers. Unless they gain unwanted attention and end up in conflict with Enforcers or local dregs, they will not get in combat. Which is good, since after last one they should already know that combat is pretty deadly here. If they still don't get it, they definitely will in the next part...


 5. Chamber of Horrors

Here adventure becomes really hard. If you played it as one session, players are probably out of Fate Points, some are wounded, and the hardest part of the adventure is still before them.
There are 2 variants of what will happen here:

a) Players are not competent enough to realize what's going on. In this variant, sooner or later they gain the attention of their target, who sends his Body Snatches against them. This combat is pretty brutal an quick. It starts with Fear test, as those horrible abominations suddenly appear among darkness and charge. Considering that most of PC's have around ~30% chance of passing this Test, 2/3rd of them are probably hampered and weakened, if not outright out of combat. Body Snatchers are tougher than Acolytes and deal higher Damage, and there is 1 per Acolyte. And they are accompanied by 1 overseer, a human with some armor and silenced weapon. Unless your players are really good (or you actually finished a session, gave them xp and allowed their Fate Points to restart before this fight), they are going to be in a really tight spot.
This will be mitigated if players pass Fear (or if you remove it) and then have higher Initiative. Then they will probably kill 1 Body snatcher with autoguns and lasguns, which will probably tip the odds to their favor. Still, this can be a hard combat for not prepared grup, although with high Initiative it's manageable.

b) Players find out where enemy lurks and move there. This presents it's own challenges:
- If they use force to enter, they will drawn attention. Look above to see what happens, but add some additional guard to make it nearly hopeless to win.
- In order to use Stealth, they need to pass Silent Move (+10) versus Awareness 35 of patrolling guards. Since most PC's do not have Silent Move and therefore treat it as Basic, this will possibly end as above. Perhaps the assassin has Silent Move, and therefore he can silently kill one or two guards, but even he has around ~60% chance of succeeding. Less if he has to roll once for each killed guard.

 Nevertheless, if they are still alive, time comes for grand finale. Either enemy makes their escape by basically using living bombs full of viral infection to escape in chaos, forcing players to use flamers (which they have no easy access to and probably no training), or risk infection; or they enter their building.
In first option, it's hard to win and stop enemy from escaping. And being infested with something called "viral infection" sound bad.
In second variant... let's start with ALL remaining Body Snatchers (between 5 and 10) jumping at Acolytes, possibly Enofrcers attacking from the back, even harder Fear tests leaving players seriously weakened and some probably unconscious. Then they have to defeat the main boss, who's easily capable of crushing one Acolyte in combat, and at this point, they are wounded, out of grenades (if they had any), and probably heavily weakened by Fear and any Critical Damage they received. 

 There is also possibility of your players being too smart for their own good (like mine were), figuring everything out and assaulting the Alms House so fast, they have no possibility of encountering some Body Snatchers earlier in order to kill some. In this situation there are 10 Body snatchers, Medical Cherub and 2 flesh golems, not counting the Big Bad herself. This will overwhelm any group of players that are not heavily armed and prepared, so first rank Acolytes are basically done for at this point. You should either make enemy retreat, leaving only some Body Snatchers to slow them down, weaken enemies in some way, or be prepared that players are going to burn Fate.
  

 There is also a nice section about developing the plot further. Since all those free adventures and the one in Core Rulebook can be used together, if you wish, this can help to set up the whole campaign, if any of your players are still alive at this point.

 
 6. Final Verdict

 "As is", without any changes, I would rate this adventure as 7/10. It's truly beautifully written, with great descriptions and good plot. It shows both the typical grimdark of 40k universe, and the hardship of working in the Inquisition, with extremely deadly enemies. However, this attention to details and relative openness (it's not as railroading as it seems, it actually gives players a lot of possibilities), and well thought-out NPCs, are overshadowed by some balance problems. Big balance problems.

 If you like grim darkness and want to play it hard, like it should be in 40k universe where  99% of Acolytes die on their first mission, then you will rate this mission as 10/10. And if you're players are really good, they have played some 40k RPG's earlier, they have Rank 2 or more or they are just crazy veterans of RPG who can take everything head-on, then this adventure is great for them.

 After some balancing, I definitely give this adventure 10/10. To be honest, all balance problems can be solved if your players have at least 1 mission after them, so playing this as a second mission in a larger campaign could be a wise idea.
  If you want this mission to be your player's first, I would lower the number of enemies in every encounter by 1 and also stress out the importance of not using Fate Points unless in life or death situation (so they have some left to re-roll Fear Tests), and pray that you have some Priest or someone who can inspire them with Charm or some Lore to give them +10 to Fear tests, if they prepare beforehand.


That was a long post, huh. I hope you'll find it useful :).
Edited by Alank2

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I played this adventure twice with different groups. The first group was after one short adventure (first one ever, with the mines with mutants and plaguebearer) and thou the encounters were really hard, especially the last fight with the chirurgeon, they managed to win, without dying. They had some better weapons like orthlack autopistol, or armageddon autogun, combat knives, and some talents.

 

The second group on the other hand had to have some help from me to win. Their first mistake was to try to arrest the enforcer commander (the only one that might have been their ally, as the rest was switched with logician agents), so I had them burn FP, to run away, and loose pursuit. Then I had to lower the number of enemies in the final fight (body snatchers were still locked), and there was basically chirurgeon, scalpel familiar, servitor with chainsaws, and maybe one body snatcher. One of the players died because of some bad rolls and tearing chainsaw.

 

Both parties loved the adventure, and I like it myself, and I think it's a great introductory adventure to the grim dark 40k. Then you can move on to Purge the Unclean or Damned Cities or first part of Apostasy Gambit for more urban adventures.

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 It's good to hear somebody else's history with this adventure. And it seems we agree that it's a great way to introduce players to a 40k universe, but it can be a little harsh for players and not everyone appreciates that. Players coming fresh from Call of Cthulhu are ready for that kind of thing, but your typical D&D players will be surprised (and possibly not too happy), so GM's should be careful when using this adventure or at least warn new players that 40k universe is deadly sometimes.

And yes, as a second or third mission it works great, too. And it can easily lead players to Purge the Unclean or other adventures, although PtU has it's own problems from time to time.

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