Dark Heresy

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Innocence Proves Nothing.

"Basically you're fucked like in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, only instead of dying from blood poisoning caused by a dirty pitchfork you get to have your innards blown across the wall and then subsequently set on fire by a plasma gun (probably your own)."

Dark Heresy is the first game of Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay]] series. It has the players assume the role of Acolytes of the Holy Inquisition in the grim, dark future of the 41st millennium, rooting out heresy among the Imperium wherever it may be arise. Notable for having over five consecutive pages entirely filled with Critical Hit Charts.

Dark Heresy is also the basis for a series of novels written by Sandy Mitchell, of Ciaphas Cain (HERO OF THE IMPERIUM!) fame. The novels star the "signature characters" used by the rulebook for its gameplay examples: former arbitrator Mordechai Horst, tech-priest Hybris Vex, sanctioned psyker Elyra Yivor, Redemptionist assassin Keira Sythree, and guardsmen Danuld Drake and Vos Kyrlock. So far Scourge the Heretic and Innocence Proves Nothing have been released.

Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay series also includes Rogue Trader, Deathwatch, Black Crusade and Only War.

See also Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (its fantasy counterpart), and of course Warhammer 40000, as Dark Heresy (unsurprisingly) shares a great number of tropes with its parent game.

Also check out Adeptus Evangelion, a fan-made conversion for running games set in the Neon Genesis Evangelion universe.


Tropes used in Dark Heresy include:
  • Arc Words: Not for the game as a whole, but the phrase "come and see" is obviously intended to be used as Arc Words in any storyline involving the Menagerie.
  • Anti-Hero: At their best, player characters will be type III. At their worst, well, see Villain Protagonist. The Inquisition as a whole considers itself type IV.
  • Anti-Villain: Ascension gives us Imperial Governor Malaki Vess of Zweihan’s World, one of the few hive worlds in the Imperium that isn't a Crapsack World. However, the Administratum is planning to levy heavier tithes that will change all that, and so Vess is planning to secede from the Imperium in a desperate attempt to keep his world from falling apart.
  • Awesome but Impractical: Plasma guns shoot miniature suns as ammunition. Unfortunately, the ones in the corebook are also hideously expensive, slow to reload, prone to disastrous overheating, require time to recharge between each shot, and (as of Errata 2.0) only do about as much damage as a bolter. Luckily, the plasma weapons included in the Inquisitor's Handbook have a bit more bite to them, and Ascension introduces the rules for "military-grade" plasma weapons included in Rogue Trader.
    • If the GM is being stingy with the Thrones, even the iconic bolter can descend into Awesome but Impractical territory, since each individual bolt round costs the same as three hundred and twenty bullets—leaving the poor Guardsman to decide whether he wants to shoot the giant gribbly monster with his bolter, or eat for the next two weeks. And that's before you get to the fully-automatic heavy bolter. It costs four hundred and eighty Thrones to fire this gun for fifteen seconds. When the rulebook says that "a man might beggar himself to own one," it is not kidding.
  • Badass Normal: All player characters besides Psykers, Tech-Priests and those with Pure Faith abilities (mostly Sororitas).
    • Badass Abnormal: Some of the Ascended Career Paths lead to this, such as the Inquisitor, the Sage, and (especially) the Vindicare Assassin.
  • Black Magic: Chaos rituals and sorcery, as described in Disciples Of The Dark Gods and The Radical's Handbook. Leads to Explosive Overclocking when combined with Psychic Powers.
  • Brown Note: Komus, the Tyrant Star, whose appearance in a system has been known to drive entire planets insane.
  • By-The-Book Cop: Any Arbiter class character who is played straight will necessarily be one. However, Imperial law tends to be pretty permissive about brutal enforcement as it is, "always err on the side of harshness" being a sanctioned policy. That said, Arbiters might take issue with some more Radical Inqusition operatives if those Radical options take them on the bad side of Imperial law.
    • That said, there are variants of "the ends justify the means" - a background plainly named "Justice, Not Law", and (in Calixis, recently) the whole Divisio Immoralis - which works on the principle that since heretics are here and Inquisition is yet to arrive, it's better to assassinate one demagogue now than let a heretical cult spread and then have to purge the whole crowd later, and it's better to shoot a whole crowd now than purge the hive of billion people even more thoroughly later.
  • Canon Immigrant:
    • One in particular is a quote from a Vindicare Assassin designated LIIVI, who (probably just) shares a name with a character from one of 40K's most popular fanfics, Love Can Bloom. And the target matches: the cover picture of the Ascension GM section has a Vindicare stalking a Farseer...
    • Adept Castus Grendel, a character from a famous /tg/ copypasta was featured on the Radical's Handbook preview (along with some exploits and companions). To muddle the water a little, Knowledge is Power mentions some Adept Grendel working for Malleus in the same area, but he's a psyker.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: The Pilgrims of Hayte, the iconic example of a Chaos cult in it For the Evulz.
  • Church Militant: In addition to the standard Cleric career path, the Inquisitor's Handbook offers Sisters of Battle as a character class option. The Blood of Martyrs sourcebook offers expanded options for both.
  • Church of Happyology: One adventure includes a particular Cult of the Emperor called "The Joyous Choir" with a central dogma that the God-Emperor wants his subjects to be happy, and they can be happy by finding their true place in His plan. People are judged on how close they are to their place in the Emperor's will by use of an electronic scanning device, and based on the results of that scan they receive coaching from the cult's priests. Many young planetary nobles have joined, and have indeed enjoyed greater prosperity for themselves since joining. Of course, a rational-minded Inquisitor will point out that by forming various cooperative and trade agreements between nobles who are members, of course they will find their fortunes benefit. Said cult also has some records it would very much like to keep from public exposure...
  • Cold Sniper: The Ascension Splat book mentions that Vindicare Assassins tend to be very detached, methodical, and stoic thanks to their discipline and training, though they are known to sometimes express a very dry and fatalistic sense of humor.
  • Conditioned to Accept Horror: The "Jaded" trait. Through either a lifetime of bad experiences, careful training, or just a callous nature, characters with this trait never have to take insanity checks from "mundane" sources of horror. Supernatural sources can still druge up their fears though.
  • Continuity Nod: Two of the characters pictured in Ascension are easily recognizable to veteran Specialist Game fans as Inquisitor Covenant and 'Slick' Devlan, characters introduced in Dark Heresy's spiritual forefather Inquisitor. Ascension also finally attributes the "only the insane have strength enough to prosper" quote from the start of the Inquisitor rulebook to a specific individual: the rogue Inquisitor Felroth Gelt.
  • Crapsack World: In addition to the general crapsackiness of the 40k universe in general, you have the feudal hell that is Sepheris Secundus, the "Scrivener's System" of Prol (where a civil war is brewing because they're running out of places to store all the paperwork), and Klybo, where various settlement attempts have been so spectacularly unsuccessful that the planet's name has become the Calixian equivalent of "SNAFU."
    • Read the Prol example again. Every word is LITERAL.
    • Sepheris Secundus takes the cake. The gap between the nobility and the serfs is wide even by Imperial standards, the world is technologically barely above Medieval Stasis, and yet is tithed more heavily than most worlds in the sector, for its minerals are quite valuable. While most serious mining worlds in the Imperium use powered mining tools and explosives for excavation, Sepheris has to get by on hand tools and backbreaking labor. While most populated worlds give their population some Bread and Circuses, the serfs on Sepheris get more work. While other Imperial citizens get to go to temples to worship, the Sepheris serfs get yelled at by lay-preachers while they push heavy mining carts. While other Imperial commoners have some flexibility in how they choose to serve the God-Emperor, vocation on Sepheris is determined exclusively by birth. The one time a local noble did try to introduce more advanced mining techniques, education, and progressive social restructuring, he was brought down by other nobles who thought he was making a power-play. Granted, if a heretical cult didn't make it there and piggyback on his faction, the call for intervention would probably not have succeeded - and then he was the one dealing with cog-boys, while only the royal elite force had common lasguns. In 40k your "allies" are more dangerous than enemies about half of the time.
  • Cult: Everybody, including the player characters. "The only cult that we do not abhor is that of the Emperor!" (not really - a lot of those are extremely heretical, too).
  • Everything's Better with Dinosaurs: Admit it, GMs, you're all waiting for an excuse to sic a Saurian Carnosaur or two on your hapless Acolytes.
  • For Science!: The Logicians cult, perfectly happy to slaughter millions of people (at a time) in the name of returning humanity to its technological golden age.
  • Hazmat Suit: The Vile Savants, daemons of Nurgle responsible for one of his Zombie Apocalypse plagues, take the form of a walking hazmat suit filled to the brim with pestilent filth and diseased maggots.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Encouraged in the Game Mastering section of the rulebook. The system is already pretty deadly, Player Characters have uncertain life-expectancy, and the GM is discouraged from softpeddling that, in order to underscore the brutality of the setting. However, the GM is encouraged to bend the rules a little when a character is facing certain death in order to make that death spectacular, with the explaination that a player should not be afraid of their character's death, but they should not feel like their character can expect to "die like a chump".
  • Heroic Willpower: The Inquisitor class gets the special ability "Indomitable Will of the Inquisition"; which allows them to pass a willpower test perfectly once per session.
  • He Who Must Not Be Seen: The Unknown Heretic is an in-universe example of this—the only person in existence to be branded Excommunicate Traitoris by the Inquisition without anyone being certain he actually exists.
  • Horde of Alien Locusts: The Creatures Anathema supplement gives us the Xothic Blood Locust, a literal case of this trope. Intersteller travelers may unknowingly carry their eggs on their clothes or in cargoes they pick up, which can lead to disastrous swarms when they hatch on some other world. Their name comes from their preference for draining blood from living creatures, which a swarm of them can do completely in a matter of seconds, though they will consume almost any organic fluid they can find. The same supplement also gives profiles for Genestealers and Lictors, which are the harbingers of alien locusts orders of magnitude worse...
  • Horror Hunger: An early side effect of the use of a Halo device (see below.) It Gets Worse from there.
  • Identity Amnesia: One of the possible character origins introduced with The Inqusitor's Handbook Splat is that of a "mindwiped" character. This is generally done deliberately by the Inqusition for agents who have witnessed too many Things Man Was Not Meant To Know, but who have skills that would be wasted by the expedient of execution. While they are at it, the mindwipers add some Conditioning To Accept Horror and a few basic survival skills. However, such characters might be subject to unpleasant flashs of half-memories, and have a built-in Trigger Phrase to prevent them going rogue.
  • Immortality Immorality: Dark Pacts of Longevity, which involve selling your soul to a daemon, and the Halo Devices, which turn you into an inhuman, cannibalistic monster.
  • Knight Templar: The Inquisition's stock in trade.
  • Magic From Technology: Some of the "miracles of the Omnissiah" that Tech-Priests get access to.
  • Memory Gambit: The Ascension Splat introduces options for character to enter trances when at the time they snap out of it, that character will forget everything that happened since the trance began. This forefits any experience they might have gained during this time, but also allows them to confront Things Man Was Not Meant to Know or other such things that might cause them to Go Mad From the Revelation without suffering their permanent effects.
  • Mind Control Device: Volitors.
    • Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: Normally not, but invoked with Oblivion Volitors, Heretek brain implants that said to literally eat your soul (people who know about such things say it's much the same old servitor implants, only crude, but now they cannot say it openly... which tend to hinder the investigations).
  • The Paladin: The Adepta Sororitas career introduced with The Inqusitor's Handbook. Each is an Action Girl, to varying degrees, and they can use Fate Points in unique ways to manifest "acts of faith." However, they lose these abilities if they gain more than a small amount of corruption points, and the very fact of who they are limits and dictates how they behave and what they do. For this reason, the book recommends limiting this class to experienced roleplayers.
  • Power Perversion Potential: Biomancers can do some... interesting things with their abilities. They also have a tendency to be huge party animals, as they can engage in gluttony and debauchery and still remain fit and healthy through use of their powers.
  • Properly Paranoid: Stands out as a games system where having Paranoia is not a character flaw, but a purchasable Talent that grants bonuses (namely, +2 to initiative and the ability to make awareness checks in situations normal people couldn't). A number of role-playing suggestions are given for people who take the Talent but nothing that mechanically impairs you in any way.
  • Religion Is Magic: Faith Talents. The Blood of Martyrs, Daemon Hunter and Heresy Begets Retribution include extra options of this nature.
  • Shout-Out: Numerous.
    • One example from the core rulebook: "'Verbal' Boze, Scum"
    • Who was the rogue trader who discovered the Calixis sector, and whose family line continues to cause trouble there to this day? Captain Haarlock.
    • We're on a mission from the God-Emperor.
    • The Skin Taker of Fedrid is an invisible monster that kills for no apparent reason and takes grisly trophies from its prey. Sound familiar? Curiously, while "technologically-advanced alien big game hunter" is implied as a possible identity for the Skin Taker in its description, neither of the two writeups provided for it take this form. Amusingly, it's not too hard to "build from parts" in equivalents of human technologies, from chameleoline and blur field enhanced armor to synth-skin spray (though you may have to borrow buzzsaw chakram and some other things from Rogue Trader).
    • The writeup for the Menagerie takes strong inspiration from The King in Yellow.
    • Among the Daemon Hunter career options is "Agent of Reliquary 26".
    • One of the Sanctioning side effects - Pain through Nerve Induction: "The skin on the back of your right hand is horribly scarred. You are uncomfortable around bald, robed women".
    • The world of "Feudal-tech experiment" under rule of the Mechanicus? Heterodyne.
  • Small Girl, Big Gun: The cover of The Inquisitor's Handbook Splat features a Sister of Battle (unusually fully helmeted) carrying a boltgun so over-built that it looks like she would have difficulty lifting it without her Powered Armor.
  • Splash Damage Abuse: An advantage of grenades is that they do not need to land at a target's feet to do their damage, they just need to land in the target's general area. This makes them ideal for cell members who lack combat specialization to still contribute in a fight. Hucking a grenade into the cover enemies are using will either signifigantly damage those enemies, or flush them into the open for the thrower's more combat-skilled teammates to finish off. Grenades scatter, but blast radius makes it less of an issue.
    • Much the same goes for flamers, except scatter. The shooter requires training to use it effectively, but doesn't need to check anything each shot, it's the target who have to dodge.
  • Splat: The different character classes/career paths (Adepts, Arbiters, Assassins, Clerics, Guardsmen, Sanctioned Psykers, Scum, and Tech-Priests), as well as splats for world of origin (Feral, Imperial, Hive, or Void-Born). The Inquisitor's Handbook adds the Adepta Sororitas career path, rules for alternate homeworld types and specific homeworlds, and sub-splats (Background Packages, Alternate Career Ranks, and Elite Advances) dedicated to covering world-specific variants of the greater career paths and life-changing events in an acolyte's career. Ascension adds "ascended" versions of all the base classes (Sages, Judges, Death Cult / Vindicare Assassins, Hierophants, Storm Troopers, Primaris Psykers, Desperados, and Magi respectively, though there is some overlap), as well as the Crusader, Interrogator and Inquisitor ascended careers. And then there's The Radical's Handbook, which adds evil versions of a lot of these splats. Is your snowflake special enough yet?
  • State Sec: The Player Characters are members, ranking from an operative cell in the base book to high peers in Ascension.
  • Super Soldier: If the Vindicare Assassin wasn't enough, the Daemon Hunter supplement includes rules for Grey Knights, the most superior of the Imperium's Super Soldiers. (This also encourages further crossover between Dark Heresy and Deathwatch.)
  • Took a Level In Badass: The Ascension supplement, which allows players to become Inquisitors and Throne Agents a la Eisenhorn or Ravenor, is this for the entire line as a whole. Any character carried over from the stock leveling system will literally be taking a level in some variety of badass when they make the transition.
  • Uncancelled: The unusual circumstances behind the game's cancellation and uncancellation, both within a month of its initial release, are explained more fully on that page.
  • Urban Segregation: Sepheris Secundus is a particularly extreme example of this, even by typical Warhammer 40,000 standards.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: The Logician cult. See For Science!, above.
  • Villain Protagonist: Seriously, if you play an inquisitor team faithfully and accurately to the background of this universe, you can rarely be anything BUT this.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Over the course of a campaign, you will bribe, torture, and murder. You may even set entire planets to the flame. You'll do it because everything you're up against is so much worse.
  • The Worm That Walks: The alien Slaugth, masterminds behind the Amaranthine Syndicate.
  • Zombie Apocalypse: Outbreaks of the walking dead are frightfully common in the Calixis Sector.

The novels provide examples of[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Berserk Button: Keira's is impiety (usually in the form of Drake's off-color sense of humor), though most of the time circumstances force her to restrain herself when the button is pressed, rather than giving in to her murderous instincts.
  • Blue Blood
  • Cast Speciation: The reason almost all of Quillem's team dies in the second book. The casualties' skills overlap almost perfectly with some of the Angelae.
  • Chainsaw Good: Kyrlock's signature weapon is a chainaxe, which he wields with surprising dexterity.
  • Color-Coded Patrician: Red is strictly reserved for royalty on Secunda. Keira, who always wears red because she considers red a holy colour, gets around this by buying red underwear.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Tech-priest Vex, occasionally. The rest of the time he's just deadpan.
  • Deliver Us From Evil
  • Delusions of Eloquence: The older of the two watchmen Kyrlock chats with briefly in the lower levels of Hive Tarsus in Innocence Proves Nothing.
  • Demonic Possession: What the Angelae think is going on.
  • Driven to Suicide
  • Emotion Bomb: Keira experiences a multi-emotional one at the climax of the first novel. After her attempts at muting the emotions with the techniques of the Collegium Assassinorum don't work, she embraces a strand of rage and channels it via her Redemptionist Credo. Cue Curb Stomp Battle, at least for the most part.
  • Fake Defector
  • Fantastic Caste System: Shipboard in Innocence Proves Nothing.
  • Feudal Future: Scourge the Heretic takes place virtually entirely on Sepheris Secundus. See this trope's entry further up the page for details on that world.
  • The Fundamentalist: Keira, by her Redemptionist upbringing. Her training has allowed her to "focus her zeal" so she can keep perspective on the big picture, going after the "bigger fish" instead of wanting to smite every sinner she encounters. Her own coming of age and experience begin to soften her views somewhat, a development that causes her no end of confusion.
  • Giant Wall of Watery Doom: Horst and Vex narrowly avoid being flattened by one in the first novel, an event that gives Horst nightmares long after the fact. The Angelae use one to kill a powerful rogue psyker in the second novel.
  • Good Shepherd: Keira runs into a young priest who tries to be an example of this trope in Innocence Proves Nothing, but he comes off as well-intentioned and simple-minded.
  • Green-Eyed Monster
  • Groin Attack: Elyra shoots a thug in the crotch with her laspistol when he tries to rape Zusen.
  • Gunship Rescue: The tau gunship used to attack the psyker prison on Sepheris Secundus, and to rescue the surviving wyrds at the end of Innocence Proves Nothing. Hey, the bad guys need a Gunship Rescue every once in a while too, y'know.
  • Happily Married: Lord and Lady Tonis. They even commit suicide together.
  • The Infiltration
  • Insufferable Genius: The Navigator aboard Inquisitor Grynner's ship.
  • Join the Army They Said: The first time we meet Drake, he's complaining about his decision to join the Guard.
  • Knight Templar: Keira. And she used to be worse.
  • May–December Romance: Keira and Horst. Keira is explicitly described as a teenager, while Horst is probably at least in his early thirties (given his level of experience both as an arbitrator and as the leader of the Angelae cell).
  • Military Moonshiner: Kyrlock got some alcohol from one.
  • The Men First
  • Nice to the Waiter
  • Oblivious to Love: Keira, due to her strict Redemptionist upbringing.
  • Pet the Dog: Kyrlock's interactions with Zusen; even though she's a rogue psyker, and therefore makes his skin crawl, Kyrlock puts up with her clinginess and goes out of his way to be nice to her. Zusen's an empath, so she realizes exactly what's going on, and she appreciates the effort.
  • Playful Hacker: Vex is decidedly not playful, but this is one of his major skills.
  • Playing with Fire: Elyra is a pyrokine.
  • Power of Trust: Elyra and Kyrlock both pull this on the other.
  • Power Perversion Potential: Innocence Proves Nothing includes a semi-explicit example when Elyra reminisces on the last night which she spent with another psyker who used his telekinetic powers in somewhat... interesting ways.
  • Punny Name: 'Danuld Drake'. Hmm, remind you of anything?
  • Princess for a Day: Keira, as part of a plot to infiltrate a suspected Chaos cult.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Our heroes, the Angelae.
  • Reverse the Polarity: Happens to a mad psyker at the first book's climax, unintentionally and catastrophically.
  • Right Hand Versus Left Hand: Inquisitor Finurbi invokes Special Conditions at the end of the first novel, essentially giving orders to his Angelae not to trust anyone else from the Inquisition. This leads to a lot of tension later on when two other Inquisitors actively attempt to offer their assistance. As it turns out, Finurbi was right to be worried, as the leader of Faxlignae on the tau gunship turns out to be a fourth Inquisitor.
  • Screw Politeness, I'm a Senior!: Keira. Who's a teenager. But she's playing a woman over a century old.
  • Sex Is Evil and I Am Horny: Keira. Who is very confused.
  • Spy Catsuit: Keira spends most of her time in a chameleonic synskin bodysuit.
  • Stealth Pun Shout-Out: Not terribly stealthy, but Carolus is Latin for Charles, making the Angelae.... Reinforced by the fact that "Finurbi" is Latin or at least Dog Latin for "Townsend". (Of course, since the author is Sandy Mitchell, we were expecting no less.)
    • There's another one: Inquisitor Jorge Grynner (Ordo Xenos) is a reference to George Smiley. Smiley has a protege named Peter Guillam; Grynner has Pieter Quillem. And Grynner shares Smiley's habit of polishing his eyeglasses with his necktie.
    • And slightly shady bar owner Muon in Innocence Proves Nothing.
    • Still another: the xenos-tech-collecting organization that seems, to Inquisitor Grynner, to be behind all this is the Faxlignae—High Gothic for "Torchwood."
    • Inquisitor Karnaki of the Ordo Malleus may be a reference to Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder, occult detective in a series of short stories from the early 1900s. Supporting this is the inquisitor's reference to bringing his "plasma pentacle"; the detective sometimes used an "electric pentacle" in his investigations.
    • And who can forget Danuld Drake?
  • Talking in Your Dreams
  • Team Mom: Elyra.
  • Token Minority: Tech-priest Vex has dark-colored skin, a detail mentioned once in each book.
  • Tsundere: Keira is a particularly dangerous Type A -- she's an assassin and a Redemptionist, so when she's feeling tsuntsun, she kills you.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting: The Angelae spend most of the first novel and all of the second split up into at least two separate groups.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: In Innocence Proves Nothing, the Angelae never quite get around to informing the reader exactly how they plan to defeat a powerful rogue psyker that can dodge all of their attacks. As it turns out, they do so by dumping an entire lake on him.
  • Urban Segregation
  • UST: Between Elyra and Inquisitor Finurbi, Keira and Horst, and Keira and Drake.
    • Drake realises that it's impossible to resolve his end of it, since it's obvious to him that Keira likes Horst, and that he's not stupid enough to even try anything. By the time of Innocence Proves Nothing, the Keira/Drake UST has mostly dissipated.
  • We Named The Pony Mordechai