Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay

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Dark Heresy
Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay
Cover of Dark Heresy, the first book of the series
Designer(s) Owen Barnes, Kate Flack, Mike Mason
Publisher(s) Black Industries / Fantasy Flight Games
Publication date 25 January 2008
Genre(s) Gothic science fantasy

Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay is a role-playing game system with multiple source books set within the Warhammer 40,000 universe. The first game using the system, Dark Heresy, was created by Black Industries, which closed soon after the initial release. Official support is continued by Fantasy Flight Games.

The Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay system is explained and used with small differences in a series of independently playable games. Each has a different, narrow focus and multiple supporting books of its own:

  • In Dark Heresy (2008), the player characters are agents of the Inquisition.
  • In Rogue Trader (2009), the player characters are important members of ship crews in interstellar trade and exploration, often encountering xenos.
  • Deathwatch (2010), has a martial focus. The player characters are loyalist Space Marines.
  • Black Crusade (2011), has a martial focus. The player characters are followers of Chaos (not necessarily soldiers).
  • Only War (2012), has a martial focus. The player characters are Imperial Guardsmen.


In Dark Heresy, the players assume the roles of Acolytes working for an Inquisitor, who sends them on various missions. Depending on the type of mission, gameplay can involve investigation, combat, intrigue, or other genres. The Game Master is able to tailor his campaign to suit his player group through this flexibility. Since the players work for an Inquisitor, most missions involve rooting out heresies or matters relating to them. The game allows for many other missions, including wiping out dangerous gangs, gathering evidence of corruption, dealing with alien threats or eliminating rogue psykers.[1]

In Rogue Trader, players take the role of a Rogue Trader and his or her crew as they operate outside the stellar and legal boundaries of the Imperium. The book provides, among other things, rules for interplanetary commerce and spaceship operation, travel, combat, and customization.[2]

In Deathwatch, players take the role of surgically modified super humans known as Space Marines. These individuals are recruited from their native Chapters (fighting units of approximately 1,000 men) to serve as a military arm of the Inquisition, against particularly dangerous heretics and alien lifeforms.[3]

In Black Crusade, players take the role of Chaos-corrupted characters. Black Crusade, essentially, is the corrupted version of previously mentioned Warhammer 40,000 roleplaying games. Characters are cast in the role of the villain, with the players actively working against the human empire and for the forces of Chaos in the sector.[4]

In Only War, each player takes the role of an Imperial Guardsman, one of the billions of hardened conscripts constantly fighting on myriad fronts at the whim of the Earth-based government of the Imperium (Adeptus Terra).[5]

Black Industries chose to set Dark Heresy in a previously unknown sector of the game's fantasy universe, the Calixis Sector, within the Segmentum Obscurus. This sector lies adjacent to Scarus Sector, which is the setting of Dan Abnett's Eisenhorn trilogy. Calixis is similarly adjacent to the Koronus Expanse, the setting of Rogue Trader, and to the warzone on the edge of the Periphery Sub-Sector, the setting of Only War.


The Warhammer 40,000 role playing system uses 10-sided dice (d10) exclusively; all information is generated either through a single die roll with numbers one through ten or as a percentage with two 10 sided dice rolled together, one designated as the tens digit and the other a single digit.

Characters are created with 9 statistics;

  • Weapon Skill (WS): Hand-to-hand and melee proficiency.
  • Ballistic Skill (BS): Governs all projectile and ranged attacks.
  • Strength (S): Physical strength of a character.
  • Toughness (T): Resistance to physical punishment.
  • Agility (Ag): Governs how quickly an individual can move as well as how well they can dodge.
  • Intelligence (Int): Used to work technology and understand languages and writings.
  • Perception (Per): How quickly you notice things and in how much detail.
  • Will Power (WP): Your resistance to horrors and used to manifest psychic abilities.
  • Fellowship (Fel): Used for interaction with other people.

Each attribute ranges from 1 to 100. Very high (above 70) and very low (below 10) scores are extremely unlikely within the game system and utilizing currently published rules. The system scores indicate that your average human is in the 30s range for his abilities and variations will indicate if he is particularly well suited for a task or if it is one of his weaker areas. Game mechanics also introduce a wide variety of special rules that provide bonuses and reductions in certain areas (For example, a character from a hive world has a higher Fellowship, but a lower Toughness.)

All actions, like making an attack roll or using a skill, uses the following basic mechanic:

  • Roll percentile dice
  • Add bonuses or penalties associated with the action
  • Compare the result to the appropriate characteristic; equal to or lower indicates success; greater than the characteristic indicates failure.

With some character actions the amount by which the character succeeds or fails can add degrees of success for spectacular results. When using degrees of success the GM details the result.

Career Paths[edit]

In Dark Heresy, each player picks a career path for his character, which is similar to a class from other RPG systems such as D&D. There are eight career paths in the core rulebook, and more added in several source books. They are:

  • Adept - A career path devoted to knowledge, logic, and analysis, though they are not very effective in combat and not always good in social interaction.
  • Arbitrator - Members of the Adeptus Arbites, the elite Imperial Law upholding organisation, are effective both in investigative skills and combat.
  • Assassin - These skilled killers excel in both combat and stealth skills
  • Cleric - Clergy of the Ecclesiarchy train in a wide range of abilities, but excel at motivation and leadership
  • Guardsman - Although the name of this class usually brings to mind members of the Imperial Guard, it also applies to mercenaries and other soldiers; they are skilled warriors who can also operate vehicles
  • Imperial Psyker - This class represents an individual with psychic powers, able to channel the warp to accomplish a wide variety of things.
  • Scum - Criminals, outcasts, thieves, and other miscreants, this class has a variety of useful skills involving stealth, infiltration and social interaction with less-honest members of Imperial society.
  • Tech-Priest - Skilled with machines and technology, they are members of the Cult Mechanicus
  • Adepta Sororitas - Commonly known as the Sisters of Battle, this career path was introduced in the Inquisitor's Handbook and is recommended for veteran players due to the roleplaying challenges involved. While superficially similar to clerics, they are even more rigid in their mindset and can perform faith talents.
  • Battle Sisters - This new career is added in Blood of Martyrs, it differs from the Adepta Sororitas as income has been modified and it allows characters to start with the common Sister of Battle weapons and armour.
  • Grey Knight - this new career is added in Daemon Hunter, and is recommended for veteran players. It looks like compromise variant for Dark Heresy-Deathwatch crossover.

In Rogue Trader, one player typically takes the Rogue Trader career path, representing a ship captain who has been granted a warrant to explore and trade outside the limits of the Imperium of Man. The other players act as members of his crew. Other career paths include

  • Arch-Militant - A combat expert.
  • Astropath Transcendent - Like the Psyker, someone with psychic powers, using them to communicate over interstellar distances.
  • Explorator - A Tech-Priest tasked by the Adeptus Mechanicus to rediscover lost science and technology.
  • Missionary - A cleric of the God-Emperor, spreading the word of his religion into the dark corners of the Galaxy.
  • Navigator - Another psychic, but one whose skills lie in directing the ship itself on interstellar voyages, relying on the psionic beacon at the heart of the Imperium.
  • Seneschal - The Rogue Trader's right-hand man, running his trading enterprise.
  • Void-master - Expert in running a space ship.
  • Kroot Mercenary - from the Into the Storm sourcebook.
  • Ork Freebooter - from the Into the Storm sourcebook.
  • Kabalite Warrior - from the Soul Reaver adventure.
  • Wych - from the Soul Reaver adventure.
  • Ork Weirdboy - this new career for Ork is added in "Navis Primer".
  • Tau Fire Warrior - this career added in "Tau Character Guide" for web-only "Twilight Crusade".

In Deathwatch, Space Marines are divided into groups based upon their individual abilities. In most campaigns the Squad Leader is either chosen by one of the players or is an NPC controlled by the GM.

  • Apothecary - Combat medic of Space Marine forces. Has a stim glove that allows him to distribute pain killers and extract gene seeds from fallen Space Marines.
  • Assault Marine - Close combat expert usually equipped with a jump pack, close-range and melee weapons.
  • Devastator Marine - Heavy weapons expert. Normally armed with a weapon like a lascannon or heavy bolter.
  • Librarian - Space Marine psyker. This is normally an individual who would qualify as a Sanctioned Psyker and also meets the indoctrination requirements for a specific Marine chapter.
  • Tactical Marine - The Space Marine "leaders". Specifically hones squad leadership abilities and is normally the Marine in charge.
  • Techmarine - Space Marine who is also a Tech-Priest of the Adeptus Mechanicus and thus can communicate with the Machine Spirits of the Imperium. Responsible for maintaining all equipment within the Deathwatch.

In Only War, careers are divided to Guardsmen and Support Specialists. Support Specialists are elite members of Imperial Guard that serve beside regular Guardsmen.

  • Heavy Gunner - Big, strong, and tough, these Guardsmen wield any heavy weapons that are given to the Squad.
  • Medic - Dodging deadly weapons-fire and explosions, these Guardsmen risk everything to keep their squad-mates alive.
  • Operator - A bit less leery of the strange technology that the Imperial Guard often employs than their compatriots, these Guardsmen are often entrusted with piloting the Squad’s transport or other vehicles.
  • Sergeant - Every Squad needs a strong commander to lead the charge into combat. The Sergeant keeps his men motivated and coordinated through the toughest battles.
  • Weapon Specialist - The "average" Guardsman, these men and women perfect the use of the lasgun or other weapons, bringing death to the enemies of the Imperium.
  • Commissar - These men and women enforce morale over the rank-and-file troops with an iron fist and the occasional summary execution.
  • Ministorum Priest - Bringing the light of the God-Emperor to the battlefield, Ministorum Priests inspire the troops around them, not just with their preaching, but by fighting their foes with their massive Eviscerator chainswords.
  • Ogryn - These immense Abhumans tend to be a bit dimwitted, but act as some of the Imperial Guard’s most effective shock troops.
  • Ratling - Short and rotund, these small abhumans are used as infiltrators and snipers.
  • Sanctioned Psyker - Feared by their enemies and allies alike, the Psykers of the Imperium are capable of bending the roiling power of the Warp to their will - until that power breaks them.
  • Storm Trooper - These elite soldiers are trained alongside the Commissars in the Schola Progenium. Equipped with some of the best armour and weapons in the Imperium, they are deadly fighters.
  • Tech-priest Enginseer - Engineseers wade into battle clad in thick armour, tending to the machine spirits of the Imperial Guard’s many war machines.

To advance in his career path, a player character earns experience points (XP) and spends them to gain skills and talents or improve his characteristics. The skills and talents available depend on the Career and the level - or rank - within that path. Once a character has spent the requisite amount of XP, he advances to the next rank of the career, which unlocks new skills and talents for purchase. Each career path also has several options for certain ranks, each path specializing in a different branch of the career. Skills cost 100 XP, 200 XP, or 300 XP to purchase, with more powerful or unusual skills having higher costs. The core rulebook recommends players receive 200 XP for every four hours of play, so players can usually purchase a new skill or two after each session.


  • Dark Heresy - Core Rulebook, including a pre-written adventure (ISBN 978-1844164356)
    • The Game Master's Kit - A game master's screen for Dark Heresy and a 32-page booklet that includes a pre-written adventure, xenos generator, and new rules for poisons and toxins
    • Character Folio - A notebook designed to be a combined character sheet and journal
    • Inquisitor's Handbook - Supplement, introduces the Adepta Sororitas career path and new home world types as well as an expanded rule system for the original home worlds, expanded armoury, and expanded skill rules
    • Purge the Unclean - An adventure anthology containing three adventures, each focusing on a different genre or play style
    • Shattered Hope - A free preview adventure available for download on the Black Industries web site
    • Edge of Darkness - A free preview adventure by Alan Bligh (and others) available for download on the Fantasy Flight Games web site
    • Disciples of the Dark Gods - Supplement, information detailing cults and other various threats within the game setting. Includes a Full Length Adventure.
    • Creatures Anathema - Supplement, a "Bestiary of Aliens, Beasts, and Daemons" for use as enemies
    • The Radical's Handbook - Supplement, introduces means of playing Radical (Heretical) character types as well as new gear and advances.
    • Ascension - Supplement, introduces advanced career paths enabling players to become Inquisitors or Throne Agents, high-powered acolytes who bridge the power gap between Dark Heresy and Rogue Trader characters.
    • Tattered Fates: The Haarlock Legacy Volume 1 - Part 1 of a 3 part adventure campaign
    • Damned Cities: The Haarlock Legacy Volume 2 - Part 2 of a 3 part adventure campaign
    • Dead Stars: The Haarlock Legacy Volume 3 - Part 3 of a 3 part adventure campaign
    • Blood of Martyrs - Supplement, includes new rules, backgrounds, alternate careers and equipment for playing servants of the Adeptus Ministorum, the church of the Imperium
    • The Black Sepulchre: The Apostasy Gambit Volume 1 - Part 1 of a 3 part adventure campaign
    • The Church of the Damned: The Apostasy Gambit Volume 2 - Part 2 of a 3 part adventure campaign
    • The Chaos Commandment: The Apostasy Gambit Volume 3 - Part 3 of a 3 part adventure campaign
    • Daemon Hunter - Supplement, expanding on the inquisitors of Ordo Malleus and the Grey Knight chapter of Space Marines.
    • Book of Judgement - Supplement, expanding on the Adeptus Arbites and Scum of the Calix Sector with new rules, backgrounds, alternate careers and equipment for playing servants or recidivists of the Adeptus Abrites, the federal law of the Imperium
    • The Lathe Worlds - Supplement, revealing the secret history of the Lathe Worlds, from the founding to the current struggles against tech-heresy. In the book there are alternate careers and equipment for players.
  • Rogue Trader - Core Rulebook, including a pre-written adventure (ISBN 978-1589946750)
    • The Game Master's Kit - A game master's screen for Rogue Trader and a booklet that includes a pre-written adventure, an NPC starship generator and a star system generator
    • Lure of the Expanse - A sourcebook containing three adventures
    • Forsaken Bounty - A free preview adventure available for download on the Fantasy Flight Games web site
    • Dark Frontier - A free preview adventure available for download on the Fantasy Flight Games web site
    • Into the Storm - A sourcebook containing rules about creating alien ("xenos") player characters (Kroot and Ork species), vehicles and gear
    • Edge of the Abyss - A sourcebook containing descriptions of the worlds of the Koronus expanse, Rogue Trader's main setting
    • The Frozen Reaches - Part 1 of the 3 part The Warpstorm Trilogy campaign
    • Citadel of Skulls - Part 2 of the 3 part The Warpstorm Trilogy campaign
    • Fallen Suns - Part 3 of the 3 part The Warpstorm Trilogy campaign
    • Battlefleet Koronus - A sourcebook covering starships, including the history of the Imperial Navy
    • Hostile Acquisitions - a supplement, expanding on career paths with a distinctly "scoundrel" feel to them, as well as additional rules on making enemies with a Nemesis Origin path. Provides stats and rules to play on the other side of Imperial Law
    • The Koronus Bestiary - a supplement for Rogue Trader, is a detailed compendium of deadly beasts, hostile xenos, unholy daemons, and other dangers that fill the uncharted regions of the Koronus Expanse
    • The Soul Reaver - a sourcebook on Dark Eldar in the Koronus Expanse, including an adventure campaign about a Dark Eldar city in the Webway and rules for creating Dark Eldar player characters
    • The Navis Primer - a sourcebook covering warp related aspects of the game with an emphasis on astropaths and navigators, as well as alternate career ranks
    • Stars of Inequity - A supplement focusing on the worlds of the Koronus Expanse
    • Faith and Coin - A supplement that focuses on cooperation of Explorers and Ecclesiarchy
  • Deathwatch - Core Rulebook, including a pre-written adventure (ISBN 978-1589947788)
    • The Game Master's Kit - A game master's screen for Deathwatch and a booklet that includes a pre-written adventure, and additional NPCs and antagonists
    • The Emperor Protects - An adventure anthology containing three adventures
    • Rites of Battle - A sourcebook including new character options, advanced specialties such as Chaplain, Chapter creation rules, weapons, armour and vehicle rules
    • Mark of the Xenos - A sourcebook of aliens, heretics, and daemons for use as foes
    • The Achilus Assault - A sourcebook covering the details of the Jericho Reach campaign area, the default setting for the Deathwatch RPG. The book provides extensive information for any Warhammer 40,000 RPG type campaign, leaning toward covering Deathwatch aspects.
    • First Founding - A sourcebook that adds the four remaining First Founding chapters not included in previous Deathwatch books. This book also includes new specialties, solo rules and allows Deathwatch Space Marines to have followers.
    • The Jericho Reach - A supplement that provides information on the Jericho Reach, includes a full adventure
    • Rising Tempest - An adventure in three parts for Deathwatch
    • Honour the Chapter - A supplement that provides information and character creation options for Chapters from the Second and subsequent Foundings
    • The Outer Reach - A supplement detailing the Dead Cabal and Necrons of the Suhbekhar dynasty
    • Ark of Lost Souls - A supplement that provides rules for Space Hulks, includes an adventure set on board an infamous Space Hulk
    • Emperor's Chosen - A supplement that focuses on Deathwatch veterans.
  • Black Crusade - Core Rulebook, including a pre-written adventure (ISBN 978-1616611439)
    • The Game Master's Kit - A game master's screen for Black Crusade and a booklet that includes a pre-written adventure, additional NPCs, and expanded rules
    • Hand of Corruption - An adventure in three acts for Black Crusade
    • The Tome of Fate - A supplement that focuses on Tzeentch, the Chaos God of Change. The first of four books focusing on the Ruinous Powers
    • The Tome of Blood - A supplement that focuses on Khorne, the Lord of Skulls. The second of four books focusing on the Ruinous Powers
    • The Tome of Excess - A supplement that focuses of Slaanesh, the Prince of Pleasure. The third of four books focusing on the Ruinous Powers.
    • The Tome of Decay - A supplement that focuses of Grandfather Nurgle, the Master of Plagues. The last of four books focusing on the Ruinous Powers
  • Only War - Core Rulebook, including a pre-written adventure (ISBN 978-1616614690)
    • The Game Master's Kit - A game master's screen for Only War and a booklet that includes a pre-written adventure and additional NPCs
    • Final Testament - An adventure in three parts for Only War
    • Hammer of the Emperor - A supplement that focuses on the Spinward Front's conflicts and its participants
    • Enemies of the Imperium - A supplement that gives deeper insight into the deadly foes of the Imperial Guard who lurk in the Spinward Front
    • Shield of Humanity - A supplement that focuses on support specialists.


Black Industries, the role-playing game imprint of BL Publishing, which is itself a part of Games Workshop, initially farmed out the development of Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay to Green Ronin, the same company that created the 2nd edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (WHFRP2), before bringing development back in house. Fantasy Flight Games took over development of future products after acquiring the license for the game in 2008.

A collector's edition of Dark Heresy - the first release of the game - went on sale on Monday, 10 December 2007, at 16:00 GMT. The 200 copies of the game, individually numbered with an accompanying 'signature' of an in-game Inquisitor, sold out in six minutes.[6] The regular edition was released on 25 January 2008,[7] and a demo booklet was distributed at Gen Con 2007.[8] The game itself shares many design features with WHFRP2.

On 28 January 2008, Games Workshop announced that it would close Black Industries - thereby discontinuing Dark Heresy and all the other games published the subsidiary - to allow them to focus on the commercial success of their novels and core business.[9]

On 22 February 2008, Black Industries announced that all Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40,000 RPG, CCG, and select board game rights were being transferred to Fantasy Flight Games, who would continue to publish Dark Heresy.[10]

During late 2008 and 2009, Fantasy Flight started releasing autonomously-developed material for the Dark Heresy game: a collection of heretical factions to pit the player characters against titled Disciples of the Dark Gods; a monster manual called Creatures Anathema; and a mini-campaign in three parts dubbed The Haarlock Legacy.

Fantasy Flight also announced a manual on "radical" inquisitors (covering the most extreme factions, their tactics, equipment, and most prominent figures) and a major expansion allowing players to take their characters to the rank of interrogator, bestowed with an inquisitorial rosette, enjoying augmented prestige and able to summon more powerful allies.

On 20 February 2009, Fantasy Flight Games announced Rogue Trader, an addition to the WH40K roleplaying milieu. The initial limited release sold out at the Gen Con 2009 event before a wider release to stores in October 2009.

Deathwatch, the third Fantasy Flight RPG based in the Warhammer 40,000 universe was officially announced on 26 February 2010.[11]


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