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Saturday, 28 July 2018

Free RPG Day 2018: Warhammer 40,000: Wrath & Glory – Blessings Unheralded

Now in its eleventh year, Saturday, June 16th was Free RPG Day and with it came an array of new and interesting little releases. Invariably they are tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera or a quick-start. Warhammer 40,000: Wrath & Glory – Blessings Unheralded is an introductory scenario for the new roleplaying game to be published by Ulisses North America. The anticipation for this release echoes that of Shattered Hope, the introductory scenario for Dark Heresy released by Fantasy Flight Games in 2007 for Free RPG Day. Warhammer 40,000: Wrath & Glory – Blessings Unheralded is perhaps the best appointed of any of the releases for Free RPG 2018, its folder including a map inside its cover, a set of counters for use on that map, the rules and a scenario in thirty-two pages, plus four pre-generated characters on four-page character sheets.

In the dark and terrible era of the forty-first millennium, the God-Emperor continues to sit immobile upon the Golden Throne of Earth, ruling over a galaxy plagued by the plans of the Dark Gods and rent by the Great Rift, an Imperium of Man tempted by corruption and chaos, and a civilisation rife with the violence and oppression necessary to stamp out the corruption, the chaos, and the temptation. This is the basic situation in Warhammer 40,000: Wrath & Glory which will be familiar to fans of Warhammer 40,000 going all the way back to 1987. In Warhammer 40,000: Wrath & Glory, players will roleplay members of a warband, not just members of an Imperial warband—though that is the obvious default and is the one provided in the scenario, Blessings Unheralded. The full game will offer a variety of roleplaying set-ups and options, from an unruly Ork mob battering and bruising its way to be top Ork to Eldar bands striking at chaos operatives to stave off the encroaching forces of the Dark Gods.

Warhammer 40,000: Wrath & Glory employs a dice pool mechanic which requires six-sided dice, one of which must be a different colour. This other die is known as a the Wrath die. A typical dice pool consists of a character’s attribute and a appropriate skill. For example, the Agility attribute and the Ballistic skill to shoot a gun or Willpower and Intimidation to aggressively persuade someone to do something or answer some questions. A character has seven attributes—Strength, Agility, Toughness, Intellect, Willpower, Fellowship, and Initiative—and eighteen broad skills, from Athletics, Awareness, and Ballistic Skill to Survival, Tech, and Weapon Skill via Insight, Pilot, and Psychic Mastery.

When the dice are rolled, results of four, five, and six are counted. Results of four and five are called ‘icons’, whilst sixes are called ‘Exalted Icons’ and count as two icons. Each task has a difficulty number indicating the number of icons a player has to roll in order to succeed. A standard difficulty requires three icons, a challenging difficulty requires five, and so on. Icons can be rolled on the Wrath die, but when a six is rolled on the Wrath die, it generates a point of Glory. When a one is rolled on the Wrath die, the Game Master can add a complication to the game. The effects of the Wrath die always count, no matter the outcome of the other dice rolled.

If after succeeding at a die roll, a character has any ‘Exalted Icons’ left over, his player can ‘Shift’ them. An Exalted Icon can be Shifted to gain a point of Glory, but a Shift can be spent to increase damage in an attack roll, gain information, improve the quality of an outcome, reduce the time a task takes, and so on. As befits, the title of the roleplaying game, each character also has Wrath and Glory points. Wrath represents a character’s inner fire and resolve and each character has two Wrath points per session. They can be spent to re-roll failures, restore shock (damage) taken, or gain narrative declaration. They are gained through good roleplaying and accomplishing objectives. Glory represents the characters’ collective will to win and is a group resource. Gained by Shifting Exalted Icons or by rolling six on the Wrath die, Glory is spent to increase a character’s dice pool, increase damage, or seize the initiative. The Glory pool has a maximum depending upon the number of players and once this is reached, it cannot be added to, so the players have to spend Glory in order to make room for more.

Where the players have Wrath and Glory, the Game Master has Ruin. It is gained anytime a character fails a Corruption test or a Fear test, or when the Game Master rolls a six on her Wrath die. She can use Ruin to interrupt the player characters in combat—the player characters always act first—by just one NPC, to seize the Initiative Order and have the NPCs act before the player characters, to re-roll failures, restore Shock, or soak wounds. Ruin can also be spent to activate the Ruin abilities possessed by many NPCs, so for example, the NPC villain of the scenario possesses ‘Kneel Before the Dark Gods!’ which force others to fall prone before him.

The explanation of the core mechanics run to just five pages, whilst those for combat are nearly double that. The rules for combat cover are straightforward, though Initiative is always in the player characters’ favour, one player character acting and then an NPC; both minor monsters and NPCs can operate and attack as mobs, so that individually they are not so much for a threat, but together…; and suggestions are given for using an interaction attack rather than a melee or ballistic attack. So a character might intimidate the enemy, flip acrobatically to distract them, and so on. There is room here for the players to be clever with their characters. Much like the miniature rules that Warhammer 40,000: Wrath & Glory – Blessings Unheralded are ultimately descended from, when characters suffer damage, they can attempt to ‘soak’ and slough off the damage they would otherwise take.

The last third of Warhammer 40,000: Wrath & Glory – Blessings Unheralded is devoted to the scenario, ‘Blessings Unheralded’. This is designed for four players, who are members of the same Imperial warband, currently assigned to assist to a Rogue Trader. A few months ago, another member of the warband was grievously  injured and sent to St. Deploratus’ Sanatorium on the world of Enoch for medical treatment. Unfortunately, not all is well at the facility, for something is turning patients and visitors alike into Poxwalkers, whilst others are suffering from Abacys Syndrome, which causes them to chant random numbers. Are the two outbreaks connected? Can the warband determine the cause and perhaps save the reputation of the St. Deploratus’ Sanatorium? At just three acts, ‘Blessings Unheralded’ is quite short, offering no more than a single session’s worth of game play, but that session includes a mystery, Chaos splurgy bits—and plenty of them, a threat to Enoch, decent interaction, and of course, combat. The Game Master will need to check the Difficulty Numbers of the various tests as they look to be a little low, but otherwise it a nicely done adventure, worth playing with the pre-generated characters or characters of the players’ own creation once the Warhammer 40,000: Wrath & Glory roleplaying game is released.

Four pre-generated characters are provided, each detailed on a full colour, four-page character folder. They include a fearless, heretic-hating Ministorum Priest, a fearsome and intimidating Imperial Commissar, a hardy Imperial Guardsman armed with a trademark lasgun, and a tactical space marine.

Physically, Warhammer 40,000: Wrath & Glory – Blessings Unheralded is best appointed release of any of the titles published for Free RPG Day 2018. It is professionally presented, well written with plenty of full colour artwork. The separate pre-generated character are a very nice touch and make the adventure much easier to run. It even comes with a sheet of counters to use on the map inside the card cover for the adventure’s climatic battle.

Warhammer 40,000: Wrath & Glory – Blessings Unheralded presents everything needed—bar dice—to try out the mechanics and setting of the new roleplaying game. The rules are clearly explained, the pre-generated characters nicely presented, and the adventure a decent introduction to desperately dark and corrupt world of Warhammer 40,000: Wrath & Glory in which the heroes go to war. Overall, Warhammer 40,000: Wrath & Glory – Blessings Unheralded is a great package and a solid introduction.