A curtain of force rattled the organs in my torso like a half-empty box of lho-sticks. A sulphurous light detonated in the chapel, disorientating even through clenched eyelids. A drizzle of stained glass rain pattered off my flak jacket, shook from its frames high above by the concussive blast. This was as good an opportunity as any.
I was on my feet in an instant, ears still ringing and sun spots dancing across my retinas. The stun grenade from Crisis had found its mark. One of the House Guard was clawing at his eyes. Another was stood still, blood dribbling from his ears. The Sister planted a plate metal boot on his chest and withdrew the massive sword she had sheathed in his gut. He slid from her sword into an unceremonious mess on the chapel floor.
I vaulted the pew, shock maul primed. It sprang to life in my hand, crackling with electric wrath. The servitor was within striking distance, its weapon erratically tracking false positives in the wake of the stun grenade. It didn’t register my presence until maul and head connected.
Lightning arced from the impact and charred skin was scraped from its metal chassis. The explosion of energy burst the visual augmetics in its head like ripe ploinfruit. It staggered briefly but superficially.
I struck again, jabbing the maul hard into its sternum, trying to cook off whatever passes for a heart in this wretched cadaver. Energy surged from the weapon in an awesome display of light and heat, enough to kill a man several times over. The smell of ozone and burning flesh was ineffable.
The power cell in the maul’s handle began to flash, its machine spirit faltering. Emperor’s teeth, how has this not stopped it!? I glanced up from grinding my maul into its chest, expecting a machiavellian sneer or a smug grimace of victory. Nothing. Blackened cheek flesh hung from its jaw with no iota of emotion. It stared through me with a single rheumy eye.
It brushed my hand away with a steel balled fist and sent a piston punch towards my gut. I backed off, holstering my maul and scrambling for my autogun. The servitor lunged forwards, tiles shattering beneath its armoured boot. I tried to raise my rifle in time but I was beaten to the draw by the glare of red-hot muzzle from the servitor’s implanted rifle. Without a second’s hesitation, it fired.
A pitiful click issued from its ammunition hopper. Emperor be praised! The servitor paused, beginning a complex hopper cycle. This blessed reprieve would be its undoing. I shouldered my rifle with practised ease, sighted its damaged augmetics and poured the Emperor’s fury into its skull.
Nothing was left save some mangled data cables and lumps of withered grey matter bound together by blackened sinew. It spasmed, death throes snapping its limbs to inhuman angles. It toppled backwards, leaving a crescent trail of smoke in the air from its severed neck. It had stopped moving before it hit the chapel floor, a viscous dark fluid pumping out onto the broken tiles and shards of glass.
I paused for breath. By the saints, I hope they don’t have any more of those.
I glanced behind me to assess the situation. The Cell had cleaned up. Crisis and Mur were keeping the last two cowering guards pinned down behind a makeshift barricade of broken pews, with a righteous Sister bearing down on them wailing war hymns. By another miracle, I even saw the bloodied Proteus returned to his feet. His chest was in tatters and his face looked like he’d had a wet shave with a chainsword. I was not sure that it wasn’t an improvement.
He noticed me and flashed a blood-marbled grin. In each hand he jangled a red stained coinpurse, both marked by the House Guard insignia, and he slipped them into his pocket, returning to a crouch to pat down the next body. Emperor preserve us, one must admire his conviction to his purpose at least. Remind me not to die before he does.
A scream from the front of the chapel refocused me. One of the last Guard, some kind of leader judging from his uniform, bore down on me with zeal in his eyes and steel in his hand. I turned the first blow aside with my rifle but he was fast, weaving around my clumsy, tired ripostes. He sent a flurry of slashes to my abdomen, but the blunting and bending of his blade made us simultaneously realise his masters had outfitted him with a sword that was more ceremonial than practical. He looked shocked, but not as much as he was about to be.
Three pips issued from the holster on my belt to tell me that we were fully charged. I made an opening with a sweep of my rifle and let out a primal, exhausted roar. In a ballet of fire and blood, my shock maul was in my hand, thumbed to maximum power and swept upwards into his chin. He exploded off his feet, his jaw shattered and fragments of teeth were propelled from his mouth by tongues of flame. He arced gracefully, landing on his neck with a snap. He lay unmoving, save for the flickering embers where his eyes used to be.
I was panting hard, squinting through someone else’s blood to discern any more threats. The chapel had gone quiet. The soft thumping of gunfire in the courtyard returned. Then, a broken, cowardly voice;
The boy crumpled at the snarl of my autorifle. His sternum had been reduced to mincemeat from a burst of point blank supercavitating rounds. Gunfire erupted around us, as though exploding off the starting blocks to the sound of a race gun. Beyond the collapsing corpse of the boy more House Guard, hungry men in rich-man’s rags, scrambled for weapons or cover.
All except one – a bulky yet emaciated ghoul of man, his right arm cut off at the shoulder and replaced with a vicious bullet-spewing automatic rifle. Metal plating glinted through torn, leathery flesh and half his skull was given over to cybernetic targeting enhancements. My stomach tightened. It was no man but a man-shaped, brainless flesh-vehicle, lumbering forwards on ruthless subroutines to effectuate calculated slaughter: a combat servitor.
I ducked behind a heavy hardwood pew as the graciously haphazard return fire splintered off the lip of the backboard. The boy lay near my feet. His face bore the same disbelief as when we began our exchange. His sidearm holster was still buttoned.
Small arms fire raged across the chapel, the most enthusiastic coming from the slow, implacable advance of the combat servitor. Our cell had worked it’s way into a vaguely defensible position on the east side near the primary entrance and were doling out fury to anyone caught out of cover. Crisis the tech adept and Mur the sharpshooter were picking their targets carefully, keeping those pinned they could not kill. The Sister was stalking between the rows of benches clutching a bastard sword as long as she was. It protruded behind her like the tail of a great predatory lizard. Proteus dropped the nearest House Guard with a blast of his shotgun, but didn’t see the second one stand up behind him.
“Proteus! On your six!” someone yelled over the cacophony of combat and the battle hymns from the Sister. He turned just in time to find himself staring down the twin barrels of a House Guard shotgun. Proteus smiled calmly and his lips began to move, presumably in some cutting slight on the Guard’s parentage, and took the full impact to his chest. Strips of meat and shredded flak vest filled the air, and Proteus tumbled backwards through a pew.
A split second later the House Guard’s neck was opened and his life fluids painted his uniform a new shade of carmine. Smoking brass pinged out of Mur’s hunting rifle. His face was blank as he thumbed another round into the breach, already lining up another shot. I couldn’t tell if his actions were a comradely retaliation or it just happened to be the clearest shot at that moment.
No matter. It was better to die for the Emperor than live for yourself. There were more pressing matters to attend to, and the weight of its augmented legs shaking the tiled floor I sat on indicated those matters had become extremely pressing. The weight of fire from the servitor was tipping the scales in their favour – Crisis was clipped by a round and sunk behind cover and Sister Leora was struck full force in her plate armour in a staggering display of sparks.
I slung my rifle over my back and unhooked the shock baton from its resting place on my hip, blindly feeling for the activation rune as I tried to keep an eye on the seven different skirmishes that were developing in the confines of the chapel. I hated how ugly and clumsy it felt in my hand when it wasn’t active.
I waited, back pressed against the pew, and prayed. All I needed was an opportunity, a brief pause in its firing solution to change ammunition hoppers, or the ticking of cooling metal as it vents heat from its overloaded weapon.
The Emperor granted me serendipity in the shape of an overweight agri-trac repairman. A warning is blurted across the chapel from the flesh voice of the Tech Adept, followed by a fizzing metal object arcing over the bullet-scarred benches. My hands were already covering my head and burying my face in my flak-lined coat. I knew what happened next.
I heard a single syllable barked from a House Guard, a muffled yelp of warning too little too late.
“Emperor preserve us, Asus Prime is the only planet I’ve known that you can smell from space. Penal states, prison nations, cheap labour and, unfortunately, where our target is lurking. Quick in and out – we don’t want to be about when the chain gangs find out there are offworlders in a security blind spot…”
The Asus Prime Kidnapping is a short mission between two small insertion forces on the prison planet of Asus Prime, both trying to collar a person of interest in both their investigations; a middle man for a xenos artifact smuggling ring called Krannich.
The fight takes part in a security blind spot, a loading bay near Krannich’s area of operation. It has been specially selected as a place that is overlooked by the local enforcers and relatively devoid of roving chain gang patrols – the perfect place for a shady meetup.
In the north of the map, Inquisitor Jekt is accompanied by a hardened ganger called Conan the Unkillable. Jekt is a dirty fighter, relying on brute force and underhand tactics to overcome his foes, and Conan is a mercenary with a powerful healing mutation. Inquisitor Jekt had inserted onto the planet with the intention of dragging Krannich off for interrogation to find out how deep this smuggling ring goes.
In the south, Takoda Tedd and Major Farideigh are sneaking in to try and capture Krannich as well. Tedd is a trusted ally of Inquisitor Xerxas who has several interests on Asus Prime and carefully controls and monitors the flow of artifacts on the planet but Krannich is upsetting that balance of power. Tedd is accompanied by Farideigh, an old warden on Asus Prime and now a powerful ally in sneaking past the light sequences and guard patrols to close on their target. They need Krannich alive to find out who instructed him to muscle in on Xerxas’ turf.
In the centre of the arena is Krannich, two of his goons, a loading servitor and a Penal guard watching over the loading area. Krannich believes he is meeting a contact looking to buy a new batch of xenos curios from him. Little does he know that it was a decoy to lure him away from his safety net, and now he has two Inquisitors circling the loading bay, waiting for their time to strike.
It is dawn, and the crimson sun of Asus has begun its slow crawl across the horizon. Owing to the low light and the constant throb of nearby industry, there is a -20 to Awareness tests for hearing, and sight is reduced to 1/5th of a character’s Initiative. Anything over that is a -2 penalty per inch to Awareness tests for sight.
There are also roving chain gangs, albeit some distance away. If/when either of the warbands sound the alarm, they will only have six turns to grab the goods and make it off the board before a horde of angry servo-enhanced chain gangers arrive to butcher everything in sight.
The loading servitor remains (largely) neutral. He’s got a job to do, and by the Omnissiah he’ll do it against all odds. He doesn’t care for the fate of the galaxy, the battle for the Emperor’s soul, or the conflicting ideologies of two radical Inquisitors over the supply and demand of xenos artifacts. All he cares about is getting those damn crates on that damn truck, and he’ll be oblivious to anything otherwise. After all, who on Terra would really need to mess with crates of ore or a knackered loading truck when the fate of billions of souls are at stake?
The game begins, and both players have openly committed to a sneaky approach. With only two characters each, and a good mix of Initiative and Speed orders, the game goes back and forth between the players very quickly. Even with Sneak actions, the players rapidly move forwards to their targets while the guards amble around (using a scatter dice) and the loading servitor carries out his to-do list for the day.
The first event is Major Farideigh taking is upon himself to see to the outlying Penal guard called Zaal. His dust mask and rebreather don’t help him hear the Major noisily clanging his way up the ladder right near their starting corner. By the grace of the Emperor, he walks clean over the Major’s head and stares longingly off into the distance on the other side of the tower.
In the other corner, Conan and Jekt are making great progress. Jekt dives behind the truck, waiting for the patrol of the servitor to grant him the cover he needs to circle round clockwise and approach the meeting point from the east. At this point, the players are still unsure of the servitor’s motivations, so are treating it with due suspicion.
Meanwhile, Farideigh has seen his moment to strike. He leaps up behind Zaal and puts him into a Militarum Death Grip, determined to take him out silently and efficiently. At this point, it’s worth noting that we were at somewhat of a loss of how to deal with this combat using the Inquisitor rules as written, as we felt that the normal unarmed sneak attack wasn’t really appropriate. We borrowed the Grappling rules from Dark Heresy to keep the game flowing – opposed Strength checks (with a bonus to the grappler for getting the jump on Zaal) to either cause damage or break free. It is a tense few turns of Zaal going bluer and bluer in the face…
Meanwhile Jekt is still trying to find an opening between crate runs to make a break for it. Conan, on the other hand, decides the best way to complete this stealth run is by fucking everything up in the biggest, loudest way possible. He piles into the truck and starts looking for the On Button.
There is a quite crumpling sound in the distance as Zaal goes tumbling off the character roster.
During this exchange, Takoda Tedd has been making a beeline for the meeting point. He has ducked and weaved through the guards quite expertly, pushing himself up against a window to eavesdrop anything interesting from inside. One of them hears movement outside, but sees nothing and makes the professional bodyguard decision not to follow up on that line of inquiry.
Jekt reckons he has figured out the servitor’s pattern and is ready to make a dash for it, and Conan has found the keys to the truck underneath the overhead sun visor (damn those critical success 001 rolls).
Jekt dashes behind cover just as the hauler truck roars into life and suddenly lurches forwards. It is at this point that Conan realises his plan extended only to starting the truck, and he plows it through a pile of barrels.
The loading servitor has to accelerate to a jog to place his second crate, but by the Emperor he takes pride in his work. The truck belches smog and noise as Conan cackles hysterically at the wheel. The guards correctly determine that this commotion is probably beyond the work of rats and pile outside to investigate.
As Conan prepares to receive the award for Greatest Distraction Ever, Jekt secretes himself into the shadows to observe the guards and determine the best time to strike.
Conan wedges the throttle open and bails out of the moving truck as it careens through more scenery and off the board. Luckily for him there’s some nice soft concrete blocks and steel barrels to break his fall and he survives the incident without a scratch. A great cracking sound is heard for miles around as you hear the servitor’s heart breaking – how will he ever deliver the final crate now?
During this commotion, Farideigh and Tedd are alerted to the presence of another party. They don’t know who else it could be, but whoever it is has clearly upset the guards and made some kind of distraction. Never one to waste a good thing, Farideigh drops from his tower and moves towards the meeting point. Tedd meanwhile commando rolls in through the window, just in time to come face to face with the guards returning to check in on their boss.
They draw their weapons and Tedd fumbles for his guns, both apparently victims of the element of surprise. Tedd squeezes a few shots off but they explode off the hab walls around his target.
Jekt has found his opportunity to strike. The guards have been distracted by another distraction, and he draws his crackling power sword and moves in to butcher them. These guards, not burdened with an abundance of critical thinking skills are instead apparently expert swordsmen, and avoid all the incoming attacks from the Inquisitor and the gunfighter.
Jekt manoeuvres one of the guards out of the doorway onto level ground to better his chances. The other guard steps in to try and carve up Tedd. A very dejected loading servitor returns to make his final delivery.
In the meantime, Conan has pulled himself together and found a little hidey hole to watch the carnage unfold. He is pretty pleased with himself at this point, and decides to never roll any more actions for the remainder of the game as a little reward to himself for being so great.
Jekt makes short work of the first guard. One blow is all it takes, cleaving him from shoulder to hip in a pretty brutal display of a power sword’s effectiveness.
Tedd catches a sword to the arm which throws his aim off, and he’s unable to cause any significant damage to the guard to stop him raining blows down on him. Farideigh is still to far away to assist, so it looks like Tedd may fall to the hapless NPC guards!
Jekt steps in to combat the second guard, inadvertently saving Tedd’s bacon and freeing him up for more thrilling heroics. The second guard is cut down with ease, and Tedd unleashes a torrent of fire at the imposing silhouette in the doorway. They connect but only stagger the Inquisitor, not causing enough damage to save Tedd from becoming power sword confetti. If only there was another unwitting third party to rescue him!
Jekt is grabbed by the clamps of the disgruntled work force and finds himself locked in mortal combat with the loading machinery. He laughs in the face of such danger, until he sees the damage stats for those power clamps.
Tedd is never one to look a gift horse in the mouth for a third time, and immediately rushes for Krannich. Luckily he is small, lightweight and pliable in his old age, so Tedd tucks him under his arm and makes a break for it.
Unfortunately for Jekt, he is unaware that the mission is slipping away from him clamp by clamp, as he tries to land a finishing blow on the servitor without losing an arm to the angry plant machinery.
Farideigh arrives, although he apparently was here for several turns, just “waiting for the right time to strike”. Tedd is unconvinced. They defenestrate Krannich.
Jekt lands a clean blow on the loading servitor, severing its head completely from its body. He is tired, sweaty and covered in blood and clamp fluid. At least he’s cleared the area single handedly, and can go on to claim the VIP for himself, right?
During this terse exchange, Tedd and Farideigh have exfiltrated the hab and are about to begin their final leg to the board edge. Only a handful of successful Sprint actions are between them and victory…
As Farideigh barrels off with the VIP under one arm, Tedd is ambushed by a fusillade of fire from an unseen gunman on overwatch! Conan had apparently spent the entire game moving a grand total of twenty inches waiting for his time to strike.
Farideigh is inches from the board edge. He only needs two run actions or one non-risky Sprint action to sieze the day. He has decided that discretion is the better part of valour, and Tedd can take care of himself.
Inquisitor Jekt suddenly bears down on him brandishing his big angry power sword, intent on carving Farideigh a few new breathing holes. He only needs to wound Farideigh enough to slow him or knock Krannich from his grasp.
He swings and misses over and over, Farideigh’s survival instincts being too strong to allow himself to be hit by the hissing energy blade. When it comes to Farideigh’s turn, he only needs to pass a single Initiative check to break from combat and seize a victory.
The dice tumble and it comes up a success. Farideigh breaks from combat, crosses the board edge and wins the day.
So it was a victory for Xerxas’ crew, Tedd and Farideigh, although a phyrric one. Tedd is badly injured and left to the devices of Jekt and Conan, although whether they stick around to secure him or flee the now painfully close angry chain gang (2 turns left!) is a story for another time.
Jekt is a new character from one of the players, and this was an opportunity to play test him in the field. He has a host of weird and interesting bits of kit, such as wrist-mounted single shot webbers, caltrops and poison dart launchers to emphasize his dirty fighting style. Many of them were left unused, as the sheer awesomeness of the power sword was too much to contend with. The fact he cut down three NPCs in quick succession only highlighted this, with some points that he might be a bit too overpowered being countered with an understanding that he never really came up against someone his equal – he was an Inquisitor standing in a field of faceless unarmoured goons. What did they expect to happen? Expect to see Jekt pop up again in the future for further road testing.
We were left feeling a little let down by Tedd, whose prowess in the field over many years of service has given him quite the reputation for being the last word in a hollow-point argument, but he was routinely unable to land anything more than glancing blows on even the unarmoured characters.
Conan was another new character as well – he was never injured so we couldn’t test out the strength of his Regeneration mutation, so he’ll likely be popping up again in the future and given a good seeing-to. His gun is strong but he’s not a brilliant shot (low 50s), so we felt it balanced out.
Farideigh was contending Jekt for Most Valuable Player – silently taking out the Penal guard, reaching the hab unnoticed and then snatching the VIP out from underneath Jekt’s nose without firing a shot. There were many times he intended to lay down cover from a smoke grenade or take a few pot shots into close combat to try and save Tedd, but a dud grenade roll and a constantly shifting three-way combat means he never had a safe shot to take.
Overall a thoroughly enjoyable match to partake in. Two characters aside made the game fly by, with players always rolling dice with nary a breathing space between characters. It’s a dangerous thing though, with only two characters each, if one is even slightly inconvenienced (like being pinned or stunned for a turn) you are suddenly at a massive disadvantage. Both players managed to make it through to the final turn without any characters suffering though, and we were all genuinely surprised at how well the sneaky tactics worked.
We’ll be seeing Jekt and Conan return in another story, likely to follow up any secondary leads to Krannich and his smuggling ring. Although Farideigh escaped with Krannich, his loyalty lied with Tedd and Tedd’s master. With Tedd’s fate unclear (is he at the mercy of Jekt, the roving chain gang, or did he slip away), Farideigh is at an impasse. Stick with the mission and turn Krannich over to Xerxas, or see if his own master would be interested in such a valuable asset…?
There was no noise save the crunch of broken glass underfoot and the last tapering exhale of the grav-chutes. The fireworks of battle could be made out beyond the reinforced stained glass behind the altar at the northern end of the shrine, but their report was muffled by the cold stone walls.
It’s size was modest, easily capable of housing some fifty worshippers at a time. Not enough for every soul on the estate, but certainly those of import. The walls were clogged with beautiful woven tapestries of Imperial saints and incense burners swung gently from the high vaulted ceiling. Rows of hand carved pews that had once stood rank and file for daily worship were being rearranged into defensive positions around the doors. Our master was wise to send us through the ceiling.
My heavy caliber autorifle was levelled at the nearest figure, who was still reeling from the shock of our insertion and my proclamation. He was one of half a dozen others I counted as we arrives, all clad in the flamboyance and artisanry expected of the House Guard of a powerful lineage. He was young, less than 20, but his features had been aged beyond his years by horror. His skull shook in a carapace helmet that was several sizes too large.
He was alive because Imperial law demanded it. If I were a common thug or gang-coloured butcher he would already have several fist-sized holes punched through his centre mass. The law affords him no rights, no guarantee of fair trial or treatment, only a single gossamer-thin opportunity: redemption. I repeated my proclamation and clarified our intent for those who had not been paying attention.
“Imperial Inquisition, drop your weapons! Your Master has been thrice-damned by a jury of your peers for the capital crime of heresy! All servants and members of the House of Rauth are considered Not Innocent by extension, your degree of guilt will be decided by the next actions you take, so I repeat – drop your weapons!”
It was so quiet in those following moments you could hear the squeaking of scales in their heads as they weighed their options. The iron fist of Imperial justice is purer than the fires of Sol that birthed holy Terra, and heavier than all the men, women and children who have shed blood in service to the Golden Throne. How could these poor fools possibly fancy their chances against such an absolute?
They did anyway. The boy’s panicked hand leapt for his sidearm but mine was already primed. With a squeeze of a trigger, the silence in the chapel was shattered in the same way as thunder rends the sky.
I had been weightless before. We would run zero-g drills in the Schola on holy days. As a treat the masters would let us dictate our learnings for the day, as a benevolent reflection of the God-Emperor’s grace. We would choose the zero-g chamber every time.
This was not that. The unnatural feeling of helplessness was present, but twinned with a fusillade assault on the senses. Your inner ear spins like a compass at magnetic north. Your body is pummeled furiously by nimbus fists, from which you cannot defend yourself as your arms are whipped back by invisible reins. You hear nothing except the roaring wind. You see nothing through tear-filled eyes. You tumble through the heavens with nothing but your grav-chute and the elusive memories of your aerial insertion training – two minutes of lying on an ammo crate on a guardsman assault course with a drill sergeant barking instructions like we were some thick-skulled ground-pounders.
Perhaps it was my disdain for her petulant remarks that jogged my memory. Perhaps it was catching a glimpse between blinks of a drop zone that was once the size of a grapefruit had now filled my horizon. I would hate to give her crude methods such credence over my own survival instincts. Whatever the case, whichever direction I faced, I reached to the small of my back and ripped he grav-chute cord with all my strength.
Nothing happened. The ground seemed inches from my face, the gothic spires of the shrine we were to land in turned from stalwart monuments to treacherous deathtraps.
Then the grav-chute ignited with a blessed vengeance I have not seen since in man or machine. Its roar was a thunderous, mocking laugh, an affront to gods and gravity. I was plucked from the air by the hymns of saviour angels, played by the part of the whining grav engines strapped to my back. My neck jerked back, like a child being collared while stealing pastries. My limbs flailed in front of me. I was a cartwheeling puppet whose master had snatched up the marionette. Adrenaline burned through my veins and I could hear the blood pumping in my ears drowning out the tattoo of anti-aircraft and small arms fire in the complex below.
It was an impressive estate, designed in traditional high gothic, replete with sky-piercing spires and high arched windows. The grand courtyard in the centre was filled with the disciplined snaps of the guardsmens’ las rifles and the surreptitious crackling of return fire from the House Guard. They were our distraction while we dynamically inserted into the defensive heart of the estate: the shrine.
I scanned the skies near me for my newly minted comrades and by the Emperor’s grace they were present and largely on target. We were four angels of wrath descending on wings of fire.
There was no time to signal to them, although what I would have signalled I’m not sure. We were moments from insertion through the stained glass ceiling of the shrine. I braced for impact.
Time slowed. There was no impact. My feet traveled through the glass as though it wasn’t there. I was a stone dropped into a serene lake, and my ripples exploded the stained glass around me into a violent kaleidoscope of jagged shards. The descent was a blur as every sense was filled with the sight, sound and pain of broken glass and the floor of the shrine rushed up to meet me. The grav-chute issued one last triumphant wail as it spent the remainder of its fuel cushioning my landing.
It took longer than I care to admit to regain my bearings and offer silent thanks to the infallibility of my chute’s machine spirit and the wisdom of the Emperor that made it so. Blessed be my upbringing then, for my hands do not suffer such frailties, and my rifle had been unclipped from its harness and levelled at the nearest target. It struck me how quiet it was, the gunfire just outside the shrine was little more than a muffled rainstorm in the distance.
We had arrived, but we had yet to make our entrance. I was still struggling to focus, but all I needed was my voice. It was time to make our duty known, to fire our warning shot.
A violent means to a better end; the more concentrated the application of violence, the longer and better the end result. That was the most resounding wisdom imparted to me from my upbringing. Tumbling through space at the speed of sound in an iron coffin was an outstandingly violent means to an end of the cold walls and stale air of our master’s void ship. As fire washed across the nose cone of our lander and the planet engorged in the front viewport, only a single thought occurred to me: was this a commendation or a condemnation?
I was joined in the passenger compartment of our lander by four others; two gunmen, a tech adept and a woman clad in full plate armour. The first shooter was wiry and run-down, with a ganger fauxhawk that had greyed earlier than his age belied. He was clad in quilted overalls sat underneath a guard-issue flak vest we had been assigned before our departure. My briefing told me he was a gunslinger named Proteus, a man whose past was not his own, the bullet scar on his left temple and barcode tattoo behind his ear confirming he was a mind-cleansed agent. Useful enough in a previous life to have his skills preserved, but not his memories.
The second gunman stroked a long hunting rifle and was the only one in the compartment to meet my gaze. Not a challenging or scrutinising look, but a disinterested, vacant stare – as a child might before understanding the social implications of holding another’s gaze. He sported black dreadlocks on most of his grey skull, the left side of his face singed to baldness by some violent means. He was lean, wearing a black assassin’s body glove that exposed his arms branded with a letter ‘X’. The compartment rattled, and an earring bearing the same symbol caught the light. The briefing told me his name was Mur-X52, which explained the symbology, but I could not place the death cult or assassin temple he would have been from.
The Tech Adept was the closest to a civilian we had. He was silver-bearded portly man into his fifth or sixth decade and appeared surprisingly human for a member of the Cult Mechanicus. He wore their colours but where I expected robes, he wore short, practical garments festooned in pockets for tools, geegaws and miscellanea. The roughness of his fingers and pollution scars on his arms told me he worked with heavy machinery, probably agri, before his assignment to us.
The final person was only thing that gave me cause to believe this wasn’t a mission to rid the Imperium of troublesome agents; a holy Sister of the Adeptas Sororitas. Her plate mail was painted purple with white aquila adornments and the gold sashes of her Order draped over top. She had her nose pressed hard into an almanac of the planet we were just about to be forcibly dropped on, but she wasn’t taking it in, just moving her eyes and turning the pages. I knew what fake studying looked like from my classmates in the Schola. Perhaps the act of reading soothed her. It soothed me watching it.
The compartment was suddenly bathed in crimson light and the lander lurched downwards. A Latirian Guardsman escort in our compartment burbled something into his atmo-helmet vox in a regimental cant. I picked up something about anti-aircraft weaponry. Our ‘brief’ was becoming briefer by the second.
The faceless Guardsman addressed us brashly, saying more with his hands than with his amplified voice. “Straps off! We are dirtbound in fifteen seconds! Hats on asses people, they’ve rolled out the fireworks to welcome us!”
As if to punctuate his charming turn of phrase, a cacophonous explosion rocked the plummeting lander and a sliver of shrapnel punched through both sides of our compartment. Alarms screeched and the light shifted to a more panicked shade of scarlet. The Guardsman knuckled some runes on the rear door’s command slate and the lander shuddered gratefully in response.
The rear of the craft split open, sunlight lancing into the crimson twilight of the cabin. Air and noise exploded into our compartment as the rear doors slowly unfolded, ready to disgorge its precarious cargo. I remember the air tasting like iron, but that could have been the blood from my tongue. Wind whipped around us, tugging at our harnesses and yearning for us to wrap ourselves in its embrace. I checked the straps on my weapons and that there was a round in the chamber. We would be deep striking into the centre of the conflict, so the impatient weapon spirits must be primed for split-second fury. The guardsman gazed out the rear of the lander at the violence that was unfolding on the ground below in the same way as one of my Schola mentors would browse a box of confectionery for the choicest morsels.
An explosion erupted in the sky behind him, casting us in his shadow. He turned to look at us. You could tell by the way he spoke that he was grinning under his atmo-helmet.
“Face first into battle!” He barked as the jump light in the compartment turned the colour of seasickness. “Give ’em hell!”.
“I was not prepared for what I had seen. I had expected a paltry gathering of dead men’s dusty things, or some backwater squatters with zipguns holding up the local merchantry. Not… this.
Bile rose in my throat. My vision narrowed to a distant pair of pin pricks. My body rejected the nature of gravity and my head took leave of my senses. My previous life was vomited into the turbulent stream of my consciousness, but not the part I had expected. I had piled men as sandbags on Caltrax-9 and dug riot trenches through the tank-compacted bodies of water rioters on Daphnia, but those were not what I had flashed back to at that moment.
I had a sudden moment of lucidity amidst the cotton wool clarity my senses were affording me. There I was, barely few decades old and squire to a famous Arbitrator and law-maker, tending to his equipment before evening prayers. He approached me, hand raised, and my gut sank.
I quickly rose to my feet and closed my eyes, anticipating another reprimand. What was it this time? Was it the third rivet on his maul again? I swore I had checked that. Inside breast pocket strap? I had the seamstress prepare another three for me, just in case it snapped again. Only this time, there was no reprimand. I slowly opened my eyes.
I was only a stripling at the time and have since mentally reconciled his immense size, but it did not prevent this particular memory from painting him as a giant. I stared up at him from my position as insect. He was a broad man who blocked the light from the hall when he stood in the doorway and his fist was balled, but this time it did not contain a reprimand, but a collection of images. He asked me what I saw.
I told him I saw the collected works of a serial killer. The pictures were of bodies, all cut in precisely the same way across the throat, sometimes so forcefully that the head was left dangling about the chest by a thread of sinew or a patch of skin. He told me my observation, although precise, must be false. These were done within minutes of each other, but on different planets scattered about the sector. There was nothing connecting these individuals, rich or poor, except the cuts in their neck. This had to be the work of a cult.
Something about that encounter made me overstep my position without hesitation. Even as the words left my lips, I foresaw a lifetime cursed to squiredom, cleaning the slop from the interrogation chambers for the rest of my miserable existence. I told the Arbitrator he was wrong.
So much effort had been made into making it appear the work of a cult, the locations and timings specifically, that the killer had plastered his fingerprints all over every crime scene. Not literal fingerprints, that’s Magistratum work, woe betide the day the Arbites are forced to rely on basic fingerprint evidence to convict. No, the fingerprints of murder.
The cast-off blood from each cut played out identically. Some had struggled, some were killed standing, some were killed sitting, some in their beds while they slept, and yet the cast-off tells the same story – one person, one thing, of the same height, build and strength, did this. As I spoke, I referenced scribes and verispex agents who had done work about this, and I had already begun flicking through my work scrolls for citation. He had already left the room.
I received my deployment orders the next day, a junior post at Caltrax-9. The other squires told me it was essentially a death warrant. Seventeen years later at my posting on Daphnia I receive a missive from the the Segmentum Headquarters. My mentor had been dead for six years at this point, but his signature was undeniably present on the scroll.
The case had been closed, an incredibly prominent member of the Adeptus Terra had been implicated and found guilty, and my name had been signed off as the contributor for the evidence that finally damned them. I was not sure what to make of the information at the time, but it filled my contemplative morning lho-stick time for many subsequent sunrises. There had been a pattern, and I saw it as instinctively as I draw breath. I took a long, purposeful draw on my lho-stick. Tigurian-brand I think it was. The rich, peaty taste turned into acrid death in my lungs.
I coughed and spluttered, falling to my knees. My head swam, the cotton wool on my senses turned to razor blades. The sweet smell of morning lho turned into the sickening smell of poisoned sea air and death. My vision collapsed around me, cascading like a tower of broken glass. The atrocity in that Emperor-damned cave triggered something deep within me. I knew what this meant. This was not the needless wholesale slaughter of Caltrax-9, nor the street butchery of Daphnia.
Colonel Vaux blew warm air into his hands. It was dark underground, but at least they were out of the blasted wind on the surface. He looked back over his shoulder towards his Inquisitor. The man’s face was lit only by the dim green glow of his auspex, playing on his scar and making it look like a fissure deep through his skull.
“There are six potential stashes. I’ve marked them on your dataslates.” The Inquisitor spoke flatly, as though they weren’t just about to kick down the door of a dangerous gang’s hideout.
Vaux heard the familiar clicks and muttered prayers of Guardsmen checking their weapons and reciting litanies of readiness. He did the same, sliding a fresh magazine of Kraken penetrator rounds into his bolt pistol.
“You have been briefed on the crystals. I expect a full report when we convene.” With those words, the Inquisitor disappeared into the gloom ahead.
For this Inquisitor skirmish, two warbands clashed over possession of Chaos-tainted Yu’Vath crystals in the gloomy, frigid depths of the Golgotha mines.
On one side is the warband of Inquisitor Tarrik Vanth, a radical Ordo Malleus Inquisitor with strong Xanthite beliefs – an ideology that espouses the use of Chaos to defeat Chaos. He is a battle-hardened Inquisitor, with a shoulder-mounted psycannon and a sword containing a bound daemon.
His comrades are all Imperial Guardsmen, recruited from across the subsector to his personal retinue. His second in command, Colonel Vaux, is backing him up for this dangerous endeavour. He is an eagle-eye shot and a dab hand with his power fist. Sergeant Honies the Medic and Trooper Gene Ric made up the rest of the warband.
On the other side were cultists of the Crimson Wake, devilishly cunning and deadly combatants dedicated to Chaos Undivided. They were lead by the Arch-Heretic Karo, a cunning combatant with several dirty tricks up his sleeve.
He was backed up by Gorthar, a Khorne-aligned pugilist and Mucus, an ancient warrior who has been battling with the Crimson Wake for longer than his three brains can remember. The final member is Tlashkala, a plasma gunner that was exposed to the open warp, twisting his flesh and turning his blood to plasma.
The game was set in the underground mines of Golgotha, deep beneath the surface of the fourth moon of Ulsvar IV. It was designed to be a checkpoint that had been overtaken by a gang, and they had used the tall sections as watch towers.
The rest was filled with a few tall towers joined by bridges and a few pipes and barrels for scatter terrain. The six loot tokens were scattered roughly in the centre of the board at various heights to encourage some Thrilling Heroics.
Both warbands had the same brief – end the game in possession of as many Yu’Vath crystal tokens as possible. We used red translucent Blood Bowl block dice to represent the discovered crystals.
Across the board there were six golden loot tokens, representing a stash of weapons and gear that the gang had secreted away that *could* contain the crystals. Both teams knew where all the loot stashes were, but did not know which stash contained crystals.
Checking a stash costs one action, and the character must make a Sagacity test to see if they can identify any crystals in the stash. If they fail, they can spend another action to test again, with a cumulative +10 modifier each time they test (after a while they should get better at knowing what to look for!).
Once they pass the check, the character has correctly identified whether or not there are crystals in the stash. Roll a d6: on a 4+, the stash contains Yu’Vath crystals. On a 1-3, the stash is just worthless ration bars and shoddy smuggled small arms. Whatever the outcome, remove the stash token – it’s assumed the character tears the stash apart looking for crystals, and others will be able to tell at a glance that it contains nothing.
You can carry as many crystals as you like, but it costs one action to pick each one up. The winner would be whoever carried the most crystals at the end of the skirmish. If one warband was driven off, any crystals left behind on the board would belong to the remaining warband.
The Golgotha mines are dark, and very little light trickles through the built-up machinery overhead. You need to pass an Initiative -10 test to be able to see anyone.
Both warbands begin by attempting the stealth approach. The Crimson Wake have the most success with this, infiltrating North across the board from their South-East starting position without raising any alarms. Gorthar manages to surprise the ganger in yellow (pictured above top left) and tears both his arms clean from his sockets. Gorthar then helps himself to the ganger’s stash token, finding the first Yu’Vath crystal.
Vanth’s warband in the North West corner have less luck with the stealth approach, being spotted in the second turn as Trooper Gene Ric prats about at the top of a ladder. The alarm is sounded by an optimistic ganger, who finds himself torn to shribbons by a devastating fusillade of psycannon fire from Vanth on the lower bridge.
Mucus had made excellent progress across the board, moving quickly under the cover of the ample terrain. He charges Vanth, and the pair exchange vicious blows that would have felled any of the other characters several times over.
Tlashkala and Sergeant Honies have a surprise encounter around the ground floor stash token. Unfortunately for Honies, Tlashkala is quicker on the draw, and splashes white-hot plasma across his body. Honies is critically injured but not out. Tlashkala is content that Honies is dead, and presses forward North to assist Mucus.
By this point, several turns have passed of causing brutal injuries to one another, but neither gaining the upper hand. Even with Tlashkala assisting, the two cannot seem to down Vanth permanently, but nor can Vanth cause a crippling strike on his assailants.
Karo moves forwards and uncovers the second Yu’Vath crystal in the stash that Honies almost died to protect. He is also pretty convinced that Honies is dead, and decides the most helpful thing would be to fire indiscriminately at the combat with Vanth and two of his team “mates”. Luckily for everyone his shots go wide, so he snatches up the Yu’Vath Crystals and skirts around the skirmish looking for the final objective.
Meanwhile, Vanth’s allies have been scouring the rooftops for signs of further gangers or stash tokens. Vaux is utterly convinced that his Inquisitor doesn’t require assistance, and moves to gather the most Westerly loot stash. Trooper Gene Ric has less conviction, and dives off the gangway directly into combat, kicking Mucus in the head on the way down.
Since his run-in with the yellow-coated ganger, Gorthar has been resolutely clambering the outside of the central building, making for the stash token on the tallest building. He spies Vaux and Gene Ric heading his way and makes a quick getaway, narrowly avoiding detection. Discretion is the better part of valour, after all.
Vaux continues his mission, and the second stash he checks is empty as well. Gorthar in the background has uncovered the third and final Yu’Vath crystal. With Gorthar in possession of two crystals and Karo carrying the third, the Crimson Wake have technically won, if only they can get off the board in one piece!
At this point in the game, Vanth has been duelling with Mucus for almost a dozen turns and several in-game hours. Only Sergeant Honies (above, at the base of the central structure), Vaux (above, Westerly side) and Gorthar (above, halfway up the central tower) are not involved in the massive brawl under the central structure.
The tide of battle seems to turn as Vanth suffers the worst of his injuries and spends a few turns stunned on the floor. However, the fortuitous timing of Gene Ric’s aerial arrival has distracted the Crimson Wake reavers long enough to think that Vanth is dead, and give him a few turns of precious recuperation. Gene Ric battles on valiantly, armed only with his trusty short sword.
Vaux finally eyes up a heretic trying to make off with some crystals down the outside of the central structure. He opens fire while stampeding towards him, desperate to turn the tables in his favour. Gorthar on the other hand, is weighing up his options. He has done the maths and concludes he would likely lose that fist fight, so he tries to disengage from combat and flee with the crystals.
One tragic mis-step later leads Gorthar to go tumbling to the ground, just in time to crush the freshly recovered Sergeant Honies to death*. Gorthar staggers to his feet and makes a break for it, but not before Vaux can fill his head full of holes with armour-penetrating bolt rounds.
*At this point, it’s worth mentioning that Honies was not crushed entirely to death. He was crushed into unconsciousness, where he slowly but inevitably bled to death over the following few turns. Being crushed to death sounded a more heroic way to go out.
Karo has decided that the melee with Vanth is all done and dusted (both he and Tlashkala failed to realise Vanth was still alive, or even that he had pulled himself to his feet after Mucus brushed his teeth with a chain axe). He makes a run for the exit, but notices several Yu’Vath crystals on the ground and hungrily goes to grab them.
Unfortunately for him, Vaux still had a perfect aim lined up at Gorthar’s body, where Karo had now thrown himself. Vaux plugs Karo a few times but he leaps for cover, and Vaux cannot put the killing blow onto him.
Meanwhile, Gene Ric had broken from combat intending to grenade whatever was left standing, but Vanth annihilates Tlashkala with furious psycannon fire. The combat has left Vanth with barely any health remaining and bleeding from every body part, but he had disarmed Mucus (literally) and chased the foul mutant down.
At this point, Vanth decides to pick up the remains of Mucus’ severed arm, still attached to revving chain axe, and plunges it into the mutant’s back. Some say these two lovebirds are still fighting to this day.
Vanth succumbs to his wounds, and strays into unconsciousness as his body (finally) runs out of blood. Mucus goes to perform a killing blow, but BAH GAWD OUTTA NOWHERE Colonel Vaux launches an aerial power fist strike straight onto Mucus. The attack leaves everyone (literally and metaphorically) stunned, and Mucus uses the opportunity to slink off into the darkness, deciding not to take his chances with the totally uninjured basejumping maniac with the power fist.
Karo comes round, and as Vaux is in the middle of reloading, sees his chance to make a break for it. He grabs the two nearest Yu’Vath crystals to him and disappears under the cover of the southern building. Trooper Ric makes one final blast of las fire at the fleeing Karo, but fails to make any difference to the outcome.
It was a hard-fought game, with Karo escaping with two Yu’Vath crystals and leaving one for Vanth’s men to scoop up in the aftermath of the skirmish.
Karo’s warband came off the worse; Karo barely escaped with his life, Mucus thoroughly battered with a mangled arm, Gorthar lying face down with a head like swiss cheese and Tlashkala had been used to repaint the local scenery a nice shade of Heretic Red.
Vanth’s warband was not so bad off, Vanth slipping into unconsciousness could be fixed with some field medics, and even though his face was almost severed from the rest of his head, it’s unlikely that anyone will notice much difference after he’s recovered. Sergeant Honies will be honored (and replaced), but the other two warband members seemed to emerge largely unscathed.
All in all it was an excellent game, with plenty of drama and excitement. At no point could I work out who was winning, as the power struggle seemed to change almost on a turn-by turn basis. Although Karo made off with more crystals, their warband indisputably came off worse, and would seriously struggle in a followup game.
There’s a few things I would do differently to run the game. The biggest would be to introduce a time limit of sorts when I feel like the game is running its course. Although I enjoy playing Inquisitor ‘to the bitter end’, when one player has to leave when the game hasn’t *entirely* resolved, it can be a bit of a rush to come up with an epic climax.
Playing again, about halfway through the game I could announce some kind of time limit (5 turns?) before the gang summoned reinforcements that would overwhelm the warbands, so they have to grab what they can and scarper. I think that would help keep the tension high, and prevent the game from descending into a battle of attrition.
Both players now have the bug, and after the tidy up we spent almost an hour eyeing up 54mm models for their warbands.
Will we see Vanth and the Crimson wake clash again?
We’ve all been there -you’ve been playing Rogue Trader and your crew is getting semi-decent at warp jumps and dealing with the harsh penalties the wild expanse throws at them. Either a jump goes off without a hitch, or you’ve played out the scant few encounters in the core rulebook so many times that translating into hell and madness becomes routine, and you’re often so busy juggling the rest of the game that improvising another new warp encounter is off the cards. Time to change that!
Here is an expanded table of 20 different warp encounters, appropriately balanced to the vagaries of the warp and definitely deadly if the dice gods are not smiling favourably that day. It will help keep your players on their toes whenever they’re traversing the Sea of Souls, and make them think twice about saying the fateful words “Oh that’s fine, it’s only one warp jump away.”