Setting Saturday: Warhammer 40,000

Deathwatch is the third and final core rulebook for Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay, and it came out this past week. For awhile now I was wondering why even bother making a RPG about Space Marines, because they're such potent bad-asses that not a lot can truly threaten them. The answer that the Fantasy Flight Games team came up with was remarkably elegant. Space Marines, you see, fight massive tides of faceless mooks in the fiction. So what Deathwatch did was formalize that genre convention into mechanics that seamlessly plug into the main rules. Hordes are a definite threat to Space Marines in the Deathwatch game.

But this column is mostly about setting, so here's why the Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay system is important. There are three 'games' that use the system: Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader, and Deathwatch. They share basic mechanics and then there's places where they diverge. It's important to note that they diverge, because those divergences illustrate something about settings that a lot of people forget. A setting, you see, can support multiple genres. Dark Heresy is the gritty sci-fi noir detective novel where your characters are ultimately going to become twisted wrecks of human beings: H.P. Lovecraft meets Blade Runner. By contrast, Rogue Trader is high adventure into the unknown reaches for greed and glory; Robert Louis Stevenson by way of starships. Deathwatch, finally, is the balls-to-the-wall action movie set in Warhammer 40,000; You're the best of the best sent on missions that are certain death for anyone else.

These genres are not exactly something a person who is only familiar with the tabletop miniatures game would see. All somebody who plays the tabletop war game would see is the potential for war movies. But that concept would be ignoring all the other games and fiction set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Necromunda shows the kind of tiny conflicts that might arise in the slums of an Imperial world. Gorkamorka demonstrates things from the Orks' perspective. The books alone for Warhammer 40,000 very clearly demonstrate that Warhammer 40,000 is a huge fictional world for those with imaginations to play in. There's just certain conventions the setting demands, like psykers standing in for wizards and magicians.

The sky's the limit for fictional worlds, clearly.
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