Saturday, December 10, 2011

Fantasy Flight Games' Warhammer 40,000: Black Crusade review

One of the biggest complaints I saw about Dark Heresy was that the starting characters were way too underpowered. While I sort of like the idea of starting off with seriously weak characters and having them either get tougher or perish, just like so many of the characters in the Warhammer 40,000 novels, I also understand that a lot of people aren't going to want to go through the pretty long process of building a character, and then having them geeked in the first encounter with anything larger than a rat.

Black Crusade does not have this problem. In fact, most Dark Heresy characters would be absolutely pulped by a starting-level Black Crusade character. I'd love to roll up one Chaos Space Marine, and 3-4, maybe even 5 Dark Heresy characters, and run a PvP match. Corruption by Chaos seems to have some pretty powerful benefits as far as overall power is concerned, even if you're not winning any beauty contests when you're done..

Character creation is very complex in Black Crusade, given that you have to track what Chaotic abilities are associated with which of the Ruinous Powers. As you're creating the character, every time you tack on an ability or a trait, you have to check to see where it falls on the Ruinous spectrum; certain chaos gods are opposed to each other, so as you build allegiance to one god, you set yourself in opposition to others, and therefore taking powers granted by those other gods will end up costing more. As the game goes on, and you continue to grow your character, your allegiance to your god from character creation may shift to another one, which might even earn the ire of the first god. It's hard being evil. It does, however, lead to a lot of possibilities in game play. the powers of Chaos are forever forming allegiances with each other, and then stabbing each other in the back.

The chapters on equipping your character are pretty big, if for no other reason than they have to provide materiel for both the heavy-duty Chaos Space Marine armaments, as well as the more practical equipment for human characters. Then of course they also need to provide cybernetics options for corrupted Adeptus Mechanicus characters alongside everything else. One of the most exciting sections of the book, however, is the (unfortunately) short section on daemon weapons. I sincerely hope that they release more options and traits for daemon weapons, because this was one of the most anticipated sections of the whole book for me. What is there, however, does not disappoint: you get fun traits like "Impossibly Sharp," "Fuelled by Slaughter," "Enfeebling," "Shrieking," "Mind Eater," and "Sorcerous Force." The bulk of the text is an outline of the process of actually creating a daemon weapon by summoning and binding a daemon into the blade (paving the way for characters to attempt to make their own, an awesome roleplay possibility), then it ends with five example daemon weapons that can be dropped straight into the game.

Honestly one of the coolest chapters in the book is the one on options for psykers. As with everything else, psy powers are divided by evil god, with of course no section for Khorne, who hates psykers. Beyond that, there are the standard categories of "divination," telekinesis," and such. Players who want to play corrupt psykers I don't think will be disappointed, but all the same I hope that they release another book with expanded psyker options. There is, however, absolutely no reason why psy powers can't be lifted from other books and given their own "evil" spin.

Fully the final third of the book is dedicated to covering matters of interest to the GM. There are tips on managing compacts between characters and non-player characters (including daemons), handling balance (since the PCs are quite powerful), managing crossovers with Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader, and Deathwatch, and how to handle terror and insanity.

The rest of the book contains a chapter on daemonic corruption and boons granted by the Dark Gods, a setting guide (including a rough overview of the Imperium, the Calixis Sector, the Koronus Expanse, the Jericho Reach, the Screaming Vortex, the Ragged Helix, etc), and then a short section on monsters, and a sample adventure. The background chapter is thorough enough that I don't think one would need significantly more information to start a game, but probably most people who would be willing to drop sixty dollars on this book are probably also in to 40K to begin with.

I would imagine that Black Crusade characters would probably have a much larger chance of running in to xenos forces out of the gate than Dark Heresy characters. Fortunately, indeed there are some sample enemies statted out for eldar and necrons, but probably running a xenos-heavy game would require some Rogue Trader supplements. I'd say that probably the least complete-feeling section in the book is the enemies chapter, but at the same time I understand where they are coming from because practically everything within the Imperium and abroad are opposed to those aligned with Chaos. That being said, any GM running a combat-heavy game (I sort of can't imagine a Black Crusade game that wouldn't be combat heavy), will probably need some Deathwatch or Rogue Trader books to pad out their collections, or else get really creative with statting out their own enemies. You do get stats on many different agents of the Imperium, so those could probably be pretty easily skinned over to create a pretty broad spectrum of meat (or blood for the blood god, if you're of the khornate persuasion) to throw in the way of your Black Crusade players.

Overall, I'd say that Black Crusade is probably the best of the four sourcebooks, as far as I'm concerned, and it seems like it will mesh especially well with Dark Heresy, no matter what side your players are rooting for. If you're running a Dark Heresy game, you could use Black Crusade to create very complex, interesting, and dangerous villains, just as if you're running a Black Crusade game, you can give your players the opportunity to crush an aspiring band of acolytes, perhaps even corrupting them and forcing them to become unwitting minions of Chaos (did I mention there's a whole section on creating and running minions?).

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