News for March 2011
Men of Low Character 49
A look at Black Crusade, an upcoming Warhammer 40,000 roleplaying game
Black Crusade | Published 18 March 2011

“The act of creation is only accomplished by exerting one’s will upon the universe; forcing it to obey your whims."
      – Dark Mechanicus Magos Osbourne Thayne

Black Crusade, an upcoming roleplaying game that offers players a new perspective on the conflict between the Imperium of Man and the forces of Chaos, will be corrupting players this summer. In this exciting new addition to FFG’s Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay line, players have the unprecedented opportunity to play as a Disciple of the Dark Gods, whether as a Chaos Space Marine or a human Servant of Chaos. But how does a player go about creating a Heretic, a role that rejects the rigid categories of life within the Imperium? This week, we’re pleased to offer a look at character creation in Black Crusade from contributing writer John Dunn.

Greetings, Heretics! By way of introduction, my first experience with the Warhammer 40,000 universe came back in the early nineties, when I picked up a copy of Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader at my local bookshop. It was only when I got back to my dorm room to start creating characters for a campaign that I realized it was a tabletop miniatures game and not a roleplaying game. Yes, apparently, I’m that guy. In spite of my misinterpretation, I soon came to love the setting and have thoroughly enjoyed playing its many flavours since then. Now, on to Black Crusade:

Balance Within Chaos

When it comes to RPG development, Character Creation is a balancing act. Players should have the flexibility to create the character they wish to portray, but they also need some framework that establishes the tone for a setting and a campaign. To balance these two objectives meant looking at the game’s design from a variety of different angles. We had to establish a creation system that reflected the best of the prior Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay products, but we also had to make certain that players could create characters who had eagerly embraced the paths of the Ruinous Powers.

The Black Crusade development team felt that one of the most crucial elements for designing followers of Chaos was that these characters be granted a tremendous degree of flexibility; attempts to narrowly pigeonhole Heretics could lead to a path of utter ruination. Just as the player characters embraced the fickle and diverse ways of the Warp, players should be able to take their characters in whatever direction they chose so that they might best answer the siren songs of the Ruinous Powers.

So, I spent many hours reviewing and mapping out the Advancement Tables in those books about playing bootlicking Imperial loyalists. I studied the ways that they had been assembled, how selections were prioritized, how different Advances were priced, and how the merits of various skill options were assigned to character levels.

Then we threw them out, agreeing that trying to tie the advancement paths of a Player Character to a particular hierarchy of skills and talents felt wrong. Unlike Deathwatch Space Marines or Dark Heresy Acolytes, the worshippers of the Dark Gods are a diverse bunch of renegades who have been charting their own path, not bound up in some larger hidebound organization. Everyone agreed; Career Paths were out for Black Crusade.

New Directions

Not surprisingly, that had a few repercussions. Because Advancement Tables were eliminated, that meant that identifying characters by Careers just was not appropriate any more. These have been renamed “Archetypes,” which offer a starting package of Skills, Talents, Gear, and a Special Ability. Players have no further restrictions or obligations to select specific future Advances for their Heretics (and we'll see a few specific examples of Archetypes in a future preview).

Rather than creating a chart that tied into a character’s class and level, Black Crusade offers a hierarchy of straightforward prerequisites for all of the Talent Advances. Skill and Characteristic Advances remain completely open. These selections are not restricted by the Heretic’s Archetype, nor are they limited by the character’s Level—oh, that’s right; Black Crusade has eliminated Levels.

This provides players the opportunity to specialize their characters at a far earlier stage. As there are no level-associated Advancement Tables, a player has the option to take all three Advances in a particular Skill consecutively. Similarly, a player who wishes to take an Advance that is not typically associated with their starting Archetype has the option to do so. Talent Advances are slightly trickier, as many have prerequisites. However, even with those restrictions, a focused Heretic may develop a heightened level of expertise surprisingly quickly.

Bound to Dark Powers

The second major difference is that certain Characteristics, Skills, and Talents have an Alignment. For example, Strength and Frenzy are both Aligned with Khorne, while Medicae, Intimidate, and True Grit are Aligned with Nurgle, and Psy Rating, Weapon Skill, and Ballistic Skill are unaligned, not associated with any God.

As characters buy these Aligned advances, they increase their allegience to the God in question. If they buy too many advances tied to one God without others to balance things out, they become Aligned themselves, which has benefits and drawbacks. Aligned advances become cheaper, but other advances become more costly. So, for example a Heretic who is Aligned to Nurgle may find it cheaper to purchase Intimidate, but more costly to purchase Charm (which is Aligned with Slaanesh). Of course this might be just what the player wants!

With this system, players have the option of selecting Advances that tie their Heretics to a particular deity to earn a discount on future development. Alternatively, they can deliberately select Advances from a variety of paths, so that they are never penalized with an increased experience point cost. This provides a way for players to directly link the roleplaying options of their character with the way he develops over the course of a campaign.

Throughout a character’s career, flexible options continue to be available. Players may always select Advances from any of the Chaos Gods’ paths. The winds of fate might even dictate that a character break ways with the path upon which he had trod, selecting the patronage of another Dark God or choosing the unaligned path.

Unfortunately for such a character, the Dark Gods are a fickle and jealous lot. Those who attempt to shift their devotion may find that these choices and actions displease their master. While currying the favour of a Ruinous Power is a dangerous process, turning against such a master can lead to a destiny far worse than any which haunt the nightmares of mortals. These Heretics may be punished in hideous ways that mark them as having drawn the ire of the Ruinous Powers.

Black Crusade is a roleplaying game set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, a setting in the grim darkness of the far future. Players take on the roles of Disciples of the Dark Gods, working against the rule of the galaxy-spanning Imperium of Man and in pursuit of personal glory.

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Comments (49)

Alpharius Omegon
Published: 3/21/2011 11:38:06 AM

I think criticisms of Black Crusade are premature at best, as are calls for a "2nd Edition" set of rules. 


Taking a look at what FFG has been saying about Black Crusade, it's not a wild free-for-all power grab First Class ticket to Cheese Whiz Land.  It's a more flexible way to let players make the characters they want.  After all, why go through all of this talk about moral ambiguity and unique personal motivation when all they're going to do is force you to follow a preset character path?  From what I've gathered, FFG's system allows players to make Plague Marines without all Plague Marines being the same.


And if you don't want to make a Plague Marine, you can do whatever you want.  A Slaaneshi cultist who acts more like James Bond than the Marquis De Sade or a Khornate champion who is more of a serial killer than a frothing lunatic are just two possibilities I can think of right off the bat.  Chaos players can essentially determine the destiny of their characters to a greater degree than Imperial ones, but that's not as awesome as it sounds.  After all, I'm sure we've all been in campaigns with the guy or gal whose character can annihilate an army single handed, but can't drive a car or make smalltalk at a social event to save their lives. 



I personally think this is the way to go and can't wait for it to come out. 

Published: 3/21/2011 10:37:11 AM

Hmmm... not having Classes and Levels works perfectly well in other systems, but I find that changing a basic system halfway through is going be unpopular and not going to gel with the systems that came before it, the ones that it's supposed to be compatible with.

I found all the ridiculous extra thousands of rules in Deathwatch to be off-putting compared to Dark Heresy and Rogue Trader, but these proposed changes in Black Crusade could well be the make of break. But yeah, they really need to work on a Second Edition.

One where they plan out the basic system from the start, not modifying it as they go along.

Tharkas Moryn
Published: 3/21/2011 10:03:14 AM

No classes, no levels ...mmmm....truly chaotic ;-)

Published: 3/21/2011 10:02:51 AM

 Bah, such widespread changes will result in yet more power creep and even less compatibility with earlier supplements.

I'm going to completely pass on Black Crusade now, until FFG acknowledge the need for a 2nd ed and stop piecemeal changing the product line. I don't care about 'contractual obligations' as they would've been for the 1st edition only.

The upcoming Deamon Hunters book looks to be well presented, but the rules in it for playing as Grey Knights is a prime example of why this hodge-podge approach to the core books is slowly going to kill the game off.

I bought all the supplements bar the campaigns for Dark Heresy. Then with the changes in Rogue trader, i only bought ITS and BK. And then for the crazy changes in DW, purely RoB. That's my final purchase, that's me voting with my wallet and i hope that is reflected in your sales FFG, cause you've just lost a longstanding RPG customer.

Published: 3/21/2011 7:07:32 AM

Okay, I have to admit that the 'all new core rulebook' approach does have advantages: being able to approach things from an all new angle within the same world and the same base mechanics.


Published: 3/21/2011 4:17:13 AM

One thing to consider and remember is that this isn't a "generic freeform" character creation/advancement system - it's one designed specifically to represent the quirks, foibles and oddities inherent in advancing oneself in the service of Chaos. And Chaos inherently tends towards self-reinforcing extremes...

Alpharius Omegon
Published: 3/20/2011 8:44:19 PM



Nothing wrong with levels and classes, but having played other systems without classes, I have found that most players will gravitate towards making their own classes anyway.  And if they don't, they turn out to be such jack-of-all-trades that they don't pose much of a threat to any of my NPC's.

Published: 3/20/2011 4:33:21 PM

I dunno, maybe it's because I'm an old-school D&Der, but I like having character classes in a game. I'm a lot more sceptical about this game now...

Published: 3/20/2011 4:07:59 PM

you keep going on about a 2nd ed :) why? we dont need a change to the rules, just an edit to spelling errors and clear up a few things here or there so they read a bit better or add missing rules and things along those lines. a 2nd ed that does not make. plus looking at the books out for the 3 setting so far i dont think that many people would like to buy them all again.

to be butaly honest i would hope a 2nd ed is a long way off.


Published: 3/20/2011 8:07:50 AM

I like the notion that the first advance of +5 you take costs 100XP, no matter what stat it is. The next +5 costs 150XP, and the next 200XP and so forth. Up to +20 in any one stat.

Im not sure how I feel about stats, skills, talents having an associated ruinous power. Maybe if you are buying them at a reduced cost by calling on your god, but not overall every strength advance is associated with Khorne and so forth.

And I am all for a no class/no level system, other then the fact it outdates a good chunk of the previous published game material of the previous three game lines. Maybe if it was something like "A character can purchase any skill or talent he or she desires for 300XP, with an additional 100 XP fee for each prerequisite they do not meet." and thos would allow the use of existing packages and careers as "alternate" menus for XP fees. If it is available to you through your career/rank at a lower cost, you may purchase it at the lower cost.

I would also like to see Rank become something of a more abstract concept, like Requisition or Profit Factor or Reknown. And not just a check list o fyour spent XP.

Published: 3/20/2011 5:13:42 AM

 The more I hear about this, the more I'm looking forward to it.  

Published: 3/19/2011 9:53:24 PM

To be perfectly honest, I don't like this whole idea of throwing classes and levels out the window.  I don't mind RPGs without classes or levels (I used to play Deadlands alot with a former group) and I like the way FFG has managed the Warhammer 40K RPG franchise so far.

I actually expected that the Chaos Space Marines would be based somewhat off the Space Marines in Deathwatch but with a twist but this was not what I was expecting.  Maybe decreases in XP for improving characteristics for certain Gods (Strength-Khorne, Toughness-Nurgle, etc) for example but not going so far as to make your character more devoted to a Dark God just because you increased a Characteristic.

 I've been waiting to play a Chaos Space Marine since Dark Heresy came out and I like how the games in the series fit with a core set of similar underlying rules.  I frankly don't want FFG moving Black Crusade and my Chaos Space Marines away from the other games in the series.

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