Friday, March 7, 2008 - 10:47 AM

I'll be running a Dark Heresy game sometime soon, something limited session. While considering the plot I had in mind, something short and dreadfully suspenseful, I pondered quite a bit on my own interpretation of the Warhammer 40K setting, which Dark Heresy uses.

Reinterpreting or reinventing the work of other people has been a long-time tradition, even if not necessarily time-honored. The popularity of spinning ideas into new directions is quite plain; one only needs to see the amount of fanfiction out there to understand that. Being the sort of creative zealot I am, I much prefer to generate my own material, but I find it very rewarding and inspiring at times to grow new ideas from someone else's proverbial flowerbed.

Generally, this tends to follow from one of two instances. First, there is something incongruous or illogical or ... just plain odd... which goes unexplained. Second, there is some mechanic in the game system that needs some manner of rationalization to fit into the world, unless you simply intend to gloss over or ignore its presence in-game.

The example I've been sharing recently with a couple friends has to do with the Sisters of Battle. Now, you can come up with all sorts of funny reasons why your standard 40K outfit has tremendous shoulderpads (portable refrigerators for beer) or extraordinarily spiky helmets (pick up pay-per-view three planets away), but what caught my attention was that in almost all illustrations of the Sisters, they are portrayed as beautiful. Stern, maybe, and a few artists toss on a battle scar or two... but beautiful.

Well, we all know how popular hot chicks with guns are for the market.

What do I see? I see women who are taken in as orphans, and raised to a grim, stoic life of faith and militancy. I see women who are indoctrinated to be fanatical warrior-nuns, sworn to burn the heretic and defend the Emperor and the Church. Beauty? Beauty isn't a necessity for soldiers. Why would they all be beautiful?

My brain simmered that in the futuristic dark-ages of the 40K setting, and came up with a conclusion.

I see women who undergo ritual plastic surgery at age 18, so that every single one of them looks like the Founder of their respective order. That means only six possible faces for hundreds of thousands of warrior-nuns. Same hair, same armor, same face, and same faith. It's the capstone to a dehumanizing process to ensure they understand their place. To me, that's the sort of psychological twist that makes the 40K setting evocative. It doesn't always have to be about the out-sized shoulder pads and huge guns.

In terms of mechanics... the level system in Dungeons and Dragons has always warranted a closer look. Just what -are- levels, anyway? How does it translate in the game world, when someone is level 10 and fights someone level 1?

Hit points, at least, you can interpret as skill as well as physical endurance. Rather than saying "The ogre cuts open your leg" on a hit, you might say "You barely manage to parry the ogre's blade, but it shoves you off balance and you feel your arm grow tired". Either way, this is translated as damage. In the case of hit points as skill/fatigue, your character might not even suffer a real wound until you are brought to zero. Everything before that fatal blow would have been exhausting parries, scratches, near-misses and fatigue. Or whatever else.

But what -are- levels? Why precisely is a level 10 person so far above your average level 1 person?

My own interpretation of this mechanic will be the topic of the next post, in which I also explain how it contributed to a cosmology.



At March 11, 2008 12:30 PM, Blogger RenThing said...

A little off topic but have you heard of My Life with Master?

Sounds like an interesting design.


At March 11, 2008 3:31 PM, Blogger Ian said...

Or, rather than plastic surgery, some sort of gene therapy while they age with material taken from the champions of their order. Since they all get the same stamp, one per order, they'd all look pretty alike.


At March 12, 2008 9:16 AM, Blogger Montgomery Mullen said...


Yes, I know the game well. I highly, highly recommend it. It's truly a work of gaming genius, and you will be astounding at the things you find yourself doing in that game.


I thought about that, but by the setting's standard, gene therapy seems largely restricted to the Space Marines (aka Adeptus Astartes... and isn't it just curious, that name?). So, I opted for the cruder of the two options.
Good thought, though... I may adjust it in the campaign I run.


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