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Inquisitor’s Handbook (Dark Heresy) RPG Review

Posted By Flames On April 29, 2008 @ 5:30 am In RPGs | 7 Comments

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Introduction
The Inquisitor’s Handbook is the first, major, supplementary book for Dark Heresy and at around 250 pages it’s about as big as many corebooks are for other games. Dark Heresy is, of course, the long awaited RPG for Warhammer 40,000 and Dark Heresy is the first in what is/was a proposed chain of corebooks for the line, each taking on a different aspect of life in the Imperium. Dark Heresy handles the inquisition side of things with characters playing the cronies of an Inquisitor undertaking investigations to root out xeno and daemonic influence and to destroy or expose it. I am quite enamoured of Dark Heresy but complaints about the system from myself, and others, were the tight nature of the game setup and the restrictive ‘classes’ approach as compared with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay’s much more open career path system. The Inquisitor’s Handbook deals with some of these concerns – I feel – but not as adroitly as I would have liked, mitigating rather than correcting them.

Overview
The Inquisitor’s Handbook is a hodge-podge of bits and pieces scattering all around the game system and the background. It’s a goody-bag of weapons, skills interpretations, new background options and new ‘fluff’ which may or many not suit a particular player group. To me it didn’t feel like it had quite the same character as a player’s guide for other systems – ones which generally limit themselves to player advice and increasing player options – but it felt like an expansion of the corebook material overall, for both players and Games Masters. I felt, reading through it, as though some of the content here should have been in the corebook and vice versa, particularly the background information and the Calixis sector particulars. It would have made more sense, to me, to have increased the player and character creation options in the main book and then had the Calixis specifics in a sourcebook, or collected in this volume with the specific data appropriate to it. The ‘imposition’ of the Calixis sector as the group’s playground is just another aspect of the ‘hemming in’ that has been a criticism of Dark Heresy.

Artwork
The artwork is up to the same high standard as the corebook, though there were a few instances of using the same image over again. As before the page backgrounds and ornate imitation scroll work are very atmospheric and help to evoke the right feel for the game but they can be a contributing factor to eye strain and can make it difficult to read through the book in its entirety, meaning you may miss something. Otherwise a solid piece of work though I do feel that a little more clarity wouldn’t hurt some of the images, 40k and Dark Heresy artwork can come out a bit ‘muddy’ with detail being lost in the lack of contrast and defined lines.

Writing
The writing is solid and good, unmarred by too much fiction and gets the point across clearly. I did notice a few spelling errors here and there, though I’m not one to criticise really. One would assume that such a product, particularly as it’s still produced at present by Black Industries, would receive some heavy duty editing, even so there were errors like ‘usual’ appearing where ‘unusual’ should have and so on. These are just niggles though.

The background information is presented clearly in an encyclopaedic form, not hidden away, and it greatly expands on the background details of the setting, both the Calixis sector and more widely. We learn more about many planets in the sector as well as getting information on the starships spanning the void – and their blacked out dark levels – as well as more data on imperial religion, cults and better defined specifics of life as an acolyte. All of this is welcome information and much of it contains aspects that could be harvested for use to create adventures.

Rules
The bulk of the book is made up of new rules and their surrounding text, much of this new information deals with expanded and new character backgrounds and a new career path. As far as new backgrounds go you can go with Forge World, Mind Cleansed, Noble Born and Schola Progerium – orphans raised specifically as fanatical enforcers of the imperial will. These are all welcome additions and allow a much broader set of characters to be created for play, particularly the Noble Born which I feel will be one of the more popular new backgrounds, particularly as a noble and their entourage makes great cover for an inquisitorial investigation.

Homeworlds also get a bit of an expansion with particular stand-out Calixian homeworlds being singled out for treatment. This is good in one way since it allows characters with specific backgrounds relating to the Calixis sector to be created but this, again, continues the problem of connecting the game and its support materials to this specific sector and role. As such, while it expands in one direction it also further constricts in the other. There are also particular background packages, special set-ups for characters as pre-set additions to skills and stats, attached to particular circumstances, planets or upbringings.

The new career path presented in the book is that of the Adeptus Sororitas, warrior nuns from the orders militant and the military wing of the Ecclesiarchy. The adeptus sororitas are quite powerful, particularly with their access to powers of faith which they can access by spending fate points, these act like extremely powerful psychic abilities, just without the taint.

The career paths are further enhanced with more information on elite advances and the introduction of alternate ranks. Alternate ranks do help with the constriction of the existing career paths but not that well. Comparisons can be drawn between alternate ranks and the prestige classes of d20 games, the alternate ranks are more specialised and particular ranks that you can substitute for advancement into your new rank, taking the alternate instead, in order to do so you must meet prerequisites and all in all they almost exactly mirror the idea of prestige classes, save that you can pick and choose from within the alternate rank’s options. I would much rather have seen some rules here for creating a ‘multi-career’ or career web character than this, though this does help expand the career options it is a bandage, not a cure.

As far as weapons and equipment go this book has it all, even though much of it is culture and Calixis specific we do get rules for some old favourites like power gloves and graviton guns, as well as rules for force fields. The force field rules require the rolling of dice and aren’t simply treated as all over armour of a certain level as I would have thought they had. Personally I find that the dice rolling approach tends to make the force fields both too powerful and too unpredictable and to slow down combat a little too much for my taste, preferring to convert their saving throw to the appropriate number of armour points and using them like that. Other than that this section is a godsend with enormous amounts of equipment in it, though I should have liked to see some statistics on some common xeno weapons, shuriken guns and so forth, rather than everything being weighted towards imperium devices.

Skills are expanded in their own section with some additional trade skills and a lot more suggested uses and subsystems for the existing skills. This is also supplemented with rules for crafting one’s own gear and equipment and the rules for this, while short, are quite comprehensive and should be more than enough for the day to day uses the acolytes might put the skills to. Similar to this in a way are the rules for gaining and cultivating contacts who can supply the acolytes with information and rules for the construction of alternate identities, essential for espionage.

Upsides

* Much needed expansion of character options.
* Loads of new equipment.
* Good background information

Downsides

* Modifications to careers paths still don’t open the game up.
* A bit of a grab-bag of game elements, check it first to see if you can get good use out of it.
* Too much specialised Calxis information rather than general use information.

Score
Style: 4
Substance: 4
Overall: 4

Review by James ‘Grim’ Desborough

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