Cubicle 7 Announces Dark Heresy 3rd Edition… Sort Of

It’s Gen Con season, which means the RPG publishers are all making their big announcements, and Cubicle 7’s pulled out a big surprise in the form of Imperium Maledictum – an upcoming new Warhammer 40,000 RPG.

This is a bit of an interesting move, not least because they’d only recently expended energy into salvaging Wrath & Glory, the previous 40K RPG, going to the extent of putting out an entirely revised version of the core book because the previous version by Ulisses North America, whilst it was built on some pretty solid ideas, had some fairly major quality control issues. And part of the selling point of Wrath & Glory, from its original unveiling under Ulisses to Cubicle 7’s adoption and resuscitation of the line, was its scalability – thanks to its clever Tier system it could handle PC parties ranging in power from baseline scum to high-powered Space Marines, Inquisitors, and other movers and shakers. What’s the need for a new game?

Reading Cubicle 7’s press release doesn’t give a ton of details – nor would you expect such from an early preview – but there are some bits that stand out and make me inclined to make some guesses as to what the deal is here. Imperium Maledictum is directly called “the spiritual successor to the beloved series of roleplaying games started by Black Industries over ten years ago”. There’s a little ambiguity here; Dark Heresy in both its editions is definitely included, because Black Industries did publish the earliest 1st Edition products before Games Workshop shut it down; whether Rogue Trader, Deathwatch, Black Crusade, and Only War are also intended is something where there’s a bit more wriggle room for, because whilst Black Industries did plan for some of those games to be part of the line eventually, they were shut down long before they were actually made.

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Wrath & Glory and Other Warhammer 40,000 RPGs Disappear From DriveThruRPG

Despite its first wave of products coming out and its core rules being pretty solid as far as I was concerned, there’s been a concerning silence about Wrath & Glory. Aside from a few mentions in interviews, there wasn’t much emerging from the design team with respect to details of future products. The game’s standalone website was still up, though it’s a singularly crap effort – there’s no link to buy the game from, only the starter set is detailed, and the social media links go through to WordPress defaults – and all mention of the game seemed conspicuously absent from Ulisses North America’s front page. Rumours floated around about poor sales, though sales figures in the RPG industry are incredibly difficult to pin down.

Now, though, a much more concrete sign of trouble has emerged: without warning, all Wrath & Glory products have been pulled from DriveThruRPG, along with all the PDFs of the Fantasy Flight Games-era 40K RPGs which Ulisses Spiele had been given the rights to sell as part of their deal with Games Workshop. The products are still available in your library if you’ve purchased them already, and they still show up on searches – but you get an error if you click on those search results, so it’s no longer possible to buy the products on DriveThru if you haven’t already.

On doing further checks, other Ulisses North America game lines like The Dark Eye and Torg are unaffected, so it doesn’t look like this is a shift in policy on their part to shun DriveThruRPG (a bizarre choice since it’d mean walking out of the biggest shopfront in the market). Likewise, Rough Nights and Hard Days – the new supplement for WFRP – is still available on DriveThruRPG (and is doing pretty well in the sales rankings at that), so it seems unlikely that Games Workshop has abruptly decided to cancel all their RPG offerings or ban their licensees from using DriveThru. (Such a move would be a bit out of character for Games Workshop these days anyway, since under their new CEO they seem much more reasonable and gamer-friendly than they’ve been for a long while.)

On the whole, the situation stinks of a licensing issue between Games Workshop and Ulisses – extending, possibly, to a full-on cancellation or freezing of the licence. Why this would be the case I do not know; a lot hinges on what termination clauses and measures were written into the licence, and as a result it’s possible that this was initiated by Games Workshop, or by Ulisses, or by both.

It’s difficult to speculate what could have prompted this, but if I had to put bets on it, I’d say that some sort of acrimonious disagreement is involved. Compare this to the situation where Fantasy Flight gave up the licence voluntarily, and were able to declare as much to give customers a chance to make a last few purchases before the clock ran down. I can’t see that either Ulisses or Games Workshop would have wanted it to go down this way if they had a choice about it.

Possibly it’s just a momentary argument about royalties due from PDF sales or something of that nature, and PDF sales will be restored in due course… but it feels more likely that Wrath & Glory is dead in the water. Whether this came down to Ulisses tossing the 40K licence away (perhaps due to poor sales making it no longer worth their time, or their arrangement with Games Workshop constraining them from making other deals they thought would be more worthwhile), or down to Games Workshop slapping the franchise out of Ulisses’ hands, we don’t know. We can only hope that sooner or later someone else will step up to the plate to handle the grim darkness of the far future in tabletop RPG format.

UPDATE: It’s been announced that Ulisses are turning over development of Wrath & Glory to Cubicle 7. Cubicle 7 press release here, Ulisses statement here.

Despite Ulisses putting a brave face on this, I feel like this is mostly good news for Cubicle 7 and Games Workshop, and a bad sign for Ulisses North America. UNA lose a major brand, Games Workshop greatly simplify their oversight workload on the RPG front, and Cubicle 7 get all the Warhams RPGs under their banner. I have to suspect that Ulisses Spiele may feel that UNA has overextended itself and have decided to prune back their American branch accordingly.

Cubicle 7 confirm that there’ll be a revised printing of the core book, which I actually welcome – as much as I like the new system, the production values on the core book could do with a little Cubicle 7 magic, and folding in the errata would be a nice move.

Supplemental Heresy

Is Allen Varney watching this blog? Hot on the heels of me doing my Dark Heresy 1st Edition appreciation, his Bundle of Holding scheme has unveiled not one but two Dark Heresy bundles, comprising more or less the entire 1st edition line. That being the case, I may as well follow through and give my thought on the rest of the support line.

The Inquisitor’s Handbook

This largely player-facing supplement is essentially a grab-bag of extras greatly expanding the character creation and gear options available. The new homeworld options are welcome, as are the homeworld-specific gear sections which help give you some idea about what of stuff might be more commonly available on particular types of world.

As the front cover not-so-subtly indicates, however, the main attraction is the addition of the Adepta Sororitas career – which impressively even manages to get a flavour of just how broad the activities of the Sororitas are – they aren’t just Sisters of Battle, though naturally they’re really good in that niche.

(It occurs to me that since in a Dark Heresy game you are likely to spend much more time interacting with Sororitas than with Space Marines, who by and large are well beyond the power level of the game, that the upshot of this is a much less masculinity-overdosed take on the setting with many more prominent women in the lead.)


Whilst many enjoyed the low-powered high-danger WFRP-in-space style of Dark Heresy, there were also a good many folk who were disappointed at the low power level of the game – a common complaint, in particular, being the fact that people were hoping for a game where you could play an Inquisitor or their peers, and that’s very much not what they got.

The initial plan seems to have been that Dark Heresy characters who hit a particular level would graduate to one of the other games in the line; Ascension, then, represents something of a change in plan, instead offering an extended character progression system (adding in Ranks 9-16 to the base game’s 1-8), Ascended careers (including Inquisitor) for characters who hit these ranks, some fancy gear and high-level foes, and general support for running games at a substantially higher power level, and an Influence-based system for acquiring gear is introduced from Rogue Trader so as to get away from the Throne-counting currency system of original Dark Heresy.

The end result is not entirely compatible with the similarly high-powered stretches of Rogue Trader or Deathwatch, though I suspect that’s not so important – after all, if you are particularly keen on a crossover game, then you’d be using those materials to run a high power game, whilst Ascension offers a way to run a high-powered game that retains the Inquisition focus of Dark Heresy. The levels of experience points and character features you are dealing with at this point can be pretty burdensome, though some effort is taken to rationalise this – like the ability to just put down a bunch of XP to master an entire related set of skills, rather than doing them one at a time. The book does provide guidance on how to create characters starting at Rank 9, for those who want to skip baseline Dark Heresy entirely.

To be honest, my inclination is to say that the 2nd edition of Dark Heresy, with its overall uplifted baseline power level and the fact that you can go all the way to Inquisitor with just the full book, has made Ascension slightly redundant in comparison – the product exists, after all, to soothe the complaints of people who, based on their tastes, I suspect would prefer the 2nd edition anyway. Still, both for getting ideas of the capabilities of NPCs who can absolutely curbstomp you, and for the potential of running an extremely long-term Dark Heresy campaign (or the delicious idea of running a split campaign, where everyone had two PCs – a low-level set of Acolytes and a high-level Inquisitor and their immediate assistants), it’s not without its uses.

The Radical’s Handbook

Of course, if you don’t have Ascension in play, you can still get an edge on your opponents – especially if you are willing to do some dodgy shit. In that light, The Radical’s Handbook is a joy – a compendium of cool stuff for Acolytes to use if their Inquisitor (or them, acting without their Inquisitor’s sanction) decides that the Puritan route is bunk and if the Imperium is to have a hope against the nightmarish forces arrayed against it then it needs to be willing to use the tools of the enemy for its own advantage.

As well as offering extra kit, powers, and character options to help give a more Radical spin to your player characters, the book also gives in-depth looks at various different Radical philosophies (both major Imperium-wide ones and Calixis Sector-specific ones). They never did an equivalent Puritan’s Handbook, and to be honest that makes sense – the Puritan philosophies, by dint of their adamant adherence to Imperial orthodoxy, are nowhere near as useful as maybe-ally maybe-enemy factions and offer much less in the way of diversity compared to the Radical groups.

The nice thing about Radicialism in the Inquisition is that Radical Inquisitors and their retinues make great adversaries, even if your player party is just as Radical – because the Radical philosophies are not necessarily compatible with each other at all. In my experience, Radicalism in a Dark Heresy campaign works a bit like Godwin’s Law – the longer a campaign goes on, the greater the likelihood that the player characters will reach their breaking point and find themselves under enough pressure that they crack and decide to use Radical methods to advance their ends – so when they get tempted you might as well have some tasty treats to tempt them.

Daemon Hunter

The Ordo Hereticus and Ordo Xenos didn’t get their own supplements like the Ordo Malleus did with this one, though arguably they didn’t really need it. The Ordo Hereticus’ work largely consists of going after the sort of human-scale threats that are the bread and butter of most baseline Dark Heresy games anyway. The Ordo Xenos are the same except for aliens; there’s plenty of aliens in the game that a human could viably fight, and when it comes to fighting the big bugs the Ordo Xenos has an entire game line’s worth of backup in the form of Deathwatch.

The Ordo Malleus, however, go gunning after daemons, and even comparatively low-powered demons are a bit of a nightmare. It’s only fair that they get a little extra help, and that’s largely what you have here, with character options and equipment geared towards tackling daemonic threats and Deathwatch-inspired details on the Grey Knight chapter of Space Marines who specialise in daemon hunting. The latter are the real killer app here because frankly sending Dark Heresy Acolytes after the bigger daemons is just a recipe for a TPK, so if you want to run a long-term daemon-hunting campaign you pretty much have to let the party have Grey Knight backup if you ever want to unleash the big beasts.

Book of Judgement

This is a splat-specific book which shines a bit more of a light on the Adeptus Arbites (AKA the Justice Department from Judge Dredd in space), along with the criminal sorts they go gunning after. Rules are offered for handling investigations in a more game-y way, which seem to have influenced some aspect of 2nd edition’s design, but the general assumption that you’re going to use this book in the context of an Inquisition-focused game misses a trick – with just a bit more details here and there and some more support for the internal structure of the Arbites you could absolutely run 40K Judge Dredd with this.

Blood of Martyrs

This was a better go-around of the “focused supplement” type, with a better appreciation of the way such a supplement can sneakily allow you to use Dark Heresy to run a game based around an Imperial institution which wouldn’t necessarily support an entire game line by itself. This time, not only is it entirely viable to use the extra careers here to do an all-Ecclesiarchy campaign, but it also really unpacks the potential diversity of the Adepta Sororitas, making an all-Sororitas campaign viable – even a low-combat not especially nuns-with-guns-focused Sororitas campaign.

The Lathe Worlds

Applies the Blood of Martyrs job to the Adeptus Mechanicus. I’ve seen some saying that the Mechanicus careers here are a bit overpowered, with skitarii ending up being able to do the combat character type better than the other careers. Then again, I would be hesitant to allow the entire scope of characters in the book outside of a deliberately Mechanicus-focused campaign anyway.

Disciples of the Dark Gods

This is an adversaries sourcebook which describes a fat stack of dire conspiracies themed around the various major Inquisition Ordos – as well as notes on the sort of shenanigans that happen when the various Imperial bodies start working against each other. It’s consequently rather Calixis Sector-centric, though most of the conspiracies could quite easily be transplanted to the Sectors, at least as far as their central concept goes. Naturally, most of the conspiracies are primarily comprised of humans, making them decent foes for any Dark Heresy party to come up against.

Creatures Anathema

As the name implies, the aliens collection. Some were unhappy that this had lots of new creatures but not many iconic xenos from the wargame, but given that most of the iconic xenos would trivially smush a Dark Heresy party that seems to be the right call.

GM Kit

It’s the usual GM screen/adventure/small rulesy bit combination. The GM screen began the terrible, awful, bad, not good tradition of having the panels in portrait orientation instead of landscape. The adventure is nothing to write home about. The rulesy bit is a rundown on the Slaugth (a tasty Dark Heresy-exclusive xenos species) and a generator to let you roll up your own alien horror.


The first adventure supplement for Dark Heresy was Purge the Unclean, which kicks off the trilogy of linked adventures provided there with an honest to goodness Scientology parody. Scientology parodies have a long and storied history in tabletop RPGs – including a major development in the Shadowrun metaplot and multiple examples in the history of Call of Cthulhu (Chaosium put out one in Nameless Horrors, for instance, and there’s one in the original Delta Green book) – so it’s quite fun to see one applied to Warhammer 40,000, especially since that gives a little whiff of the more freewheeling take the setting used to have in its early stages.

That said, I rapidly lost interest in the adventure for several reasons. It’s very linear, and whilst it talks up how enticingly intrigue-based it is it’s a precious long time of playing through mandatory sequences before you get into anything especially intriguing. It also regularly a) makes the blithe assumption that more or less all the PCs will be male and b) presents women as variously prostitutes, damsels in distress, and silly noblewomen who want to play dressup with the PCs like they’re life-sized dolls. I gave up reading over it when I realised I could probably improvise a better Scientology-parodying adventure.

The rest of the published adventure supplements for Dark Heresy consisted of big fat adventure trilogies with predetermined arcs going through them. I am amused to note that many of the principle designers of the Dark Heresy adventure supplements – Ben Counter, John French, and T.S. Luikart – either started out as Black Library authors and got brought into designing these apparently for the name recognition or shifted into writing Black Library fiction after this. Certainly, the linear approach makes me think that most of the investigations here would work better as novels or short stories than as tabletop scenarios, since the writers seem to understand the requirements of the former better than the latter.

An Appreciation of Dark Heresy 1st Edition

To the tastes of many, and for the purposes of many styles of campaign, the 2nd edition of Dark Heresy is a clear improvement over the first. The tuned-up system improvements make combat more balanced, the character generation process yields more capable characters and offers more flexibility, you can viably play an Inquisitor with just the core book, and the Influence stat and the various things it can be used for (including the summoning of high-powered Requisition Characters as backup) really helps to support the idea that the player characters are Inquisitorial agents with institutional power behind them, rather than disposable schlubs thrown out there to make their own way on a “the Inquisitor will disavow all knowledge” basis.

On paper that all looks good… but there’s a particular style to 1st edition Dark Heresy. For all its roughness compared to the rather smoother 2nd edition, there’s an itch that the 1st edition scratches better than everything else. Yes, your characters are about as incompetent as starting WFRP characters due to the system being adapted wholesale from 2nd edition WFRP. Yes, your psyker will very occasionally detonate and wipe the party. Yes, your character progression is about as rigid as you’d expect in a society as fascistically regimented as the Imperium. Yes, the basic assumption seems to be that you are thrown out there to investigate hideous threats to humanity in a universe where humanity itself is pretty hideous with precious little backup, making your party somewhat more competent equivalents of Paranoia Troubleshooters.

The thing is, that’s all awesome. This is a game where you fail a lot unless you do your damnedest to get positive modifiers on your side and where a fair fight is for suckers, and I am down with that because it encourages smarter play than brazenly confronting your foes like this is yet another Hollywoodtastic power fantasy. This is also a game where the unfair laws of chance will sometimes curbstomp you even if you’ve done everything right, and I’m cool with that because most of the extreme failure states are at least everything. I note a lot of 40K fans, particularly but by no means exclusively yankerdoodles, dislike baseline 1st edition Dark Heresy because they don’t think it’s particularly heroic, which just shows that they don’t get the setting – there are no heroes in the 41st Millennium and if you believe they are you’re a chump who like so many others has swallowed the setting’s internal propaganda like it’s actual fact. (There’s a distressing number of 40K fans who believe that the Emperor is actually canonically intended to be infallible, rather than just being claimed to be infallible by the Ecclesiarchy whose very existence makes a mockery of all that he strived for; proof, if ever any were needed, that reading comprehension and critical thinking are just as lacking in geek circles as they are in wider society.)

In terms of setting a template for all Warhammer 40,000 RPGs to follow, Dark Heresy may have bedded in rules which work fine for my beloved Acolytes-as-Troubleshooters approach but which became increasingly inappropriate for other expressions of the setting, but aesthetically it was excellent. I particularly appreciate the diversity and richness of the artwork; it would have been easy to go for a more cleaned-up and homogenised art style (as WFRP2 was doing at the time), but they went for the wilder and more characterful stuff instead, and whilst there are missteps (almost all the illustrations of woman assassins are basically fetish art with sci-fi weapons added, and c’mon folks, I dig that particular set of fetishes as much as anyone but there’s a time and place) but these are well outweighed by the quality work (like all the lovely John Blance pieces). This may seem like a small thing next to the overall game design, but I would say it is crucially important for setting the tone and atmosphere of the game and conveying the fact that when you get deep into the lore the setting is a much more baroque, Byzantine and gothic place than it’s given credit for in the smoother, cleaner artwork sometimes used for it.

Precisely because of the freedom offered by the tabletop RPG format, an RPG will tend to drill down into the nitty-gritty of a setting much more than a wargame or boardgame will; this goes double for investigative RPGs, where the order of the day is specifically about poking overlooked stuff and inquiring just how it’s supposed to work, and where to have a deviation from the norm acting as a clue you need to establish what the norm is in the first place. Dark Heresy may not provide orders of magnitude more depth than the core wargame book in terms of dry facts about the setting, but I’d argue that it was by far the most flavourful Warhammer 40,000 product released since the original Rogue Trader; it’s certainly the game that got me hooked on the universe in a way which no previous media had ever managed to do.

I’d always been a Warhammer fantasy boy growing up, writing off Warhammer 40,000 as an overblown power fantasy (in part, I suspect, because I’m of the generation which would have been slightly too young for Rogue Trader and first took note of Warhammer 40,000 in the 2nd edition era). I’d been somewhat drawn in by peers playing the wargame in the mid-2000s, but Dark Heresy would mark the point where I became well and truly hooked on the setting, and so it has a place in my affections that no later edition can shake. Perhaps the best thing about the update between editions is that the two games cater to sufficiently different playstyles that there’s room for both in my life, whilst they’re close enough in system terms to drag ideas from one into the other when it would be particularly useful to do so.

Fantasy Flight’s Last Inquisition

The Fantasy Flight era of Warhammer 40,000 RPGs is over; the licence has gone to Ulisses Spiele’s North American division, whose Wrath & Glory system is designed to depart from the WFRP-derived system of earlier 40K RPGs to more smoothly cater to characters of a wide range of power levels.

It’s timely, then, to do a little look over those 40K RPG products I’ve not yet put under the microscope here, so I’ll start off by taking in the supplements for 2nd edition Dark Heresy – the last major RPG product line they put out before shuttering their Warhammer ranges for good.

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Dark Heresy 2nd Edition: Under the Influence

What with all this fuss about the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, it’d be easy to miss the fact that Fantasy Flight Games have put out a 2nd Edition of Dark Heresy. Replacing the previous edition of the game – the only Warhammer 40,000 RPG which wasn’t developed under FFG’s auspices – the 2nd Edition was, like D&D 5E, subject to an open playtest. Whilst Mike Mearls has mentioned how the 5E playtest took the game’s design into an unexpected direction – in particular, the realisation that a sizable demographic of players preferred a more rules-light and loose approach to the game than both 3E and 4E had offered is cited as something which really changed the development team’s thinking – it’s rare that a game publisher’s intended direction with a game has been so comprehensively changed by an open playtest to the extent that Dark Heresy‘s was.

For those who didn’t follow what went down with the open beta, here’s my understanding of it (as someone who didn’t take part in the beta but kept an eye on the news): the first version of the beta rules which went out were substantially different to the product as released. In fact, it was substantially different to most of the prior Warhammer 40,000 RPGs. A substantial portion of the beta testers objected; they didn’t want the backward compatibility with earlier products to be nuked, and they especially didn’t want to break compatibility with Black Crusade and Only War, whose rules updates had generally been well-received. (Indeed, many had assumed that Dark Heresy 2nd Edition would mostly consist of applying the Black Crusade/Only War updates to Dark Heresy). Thus, midway through the beta test, FFG announced they were changing direction in response to this feedback and released an extensively revised beta which formed the basis for the game we’ve now received. (Cue wailing and gnashing of teeth from folks who liked the radical shift represented by the first beta version.)

Continue reading Dark Heresy 2nd Edition: Under the Influence”