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Friday 11 September 2020

[Free RPG Day 2020] Rain of Mercy

Now in its thirteenth year, Free RPG Day in 2020, after a little delay due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, took place on Saturday, 25th July. As per usual, it came with an array of new and interesting little releases, which traditionally would have been 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. Again, global events meant that Gen Con itself was not only delayed, but run as a virtual event, and likewise, global events meant that Reviews from R’lyeh could not gain access to the titles released on the day as no friendly local gaming shop was participating nearby. Fortunately, Reviews from R’lyeh has been able to gain copies of many of the titles released on the day, and so can review them as is the usual practice. To that end, Reviews from R’lyeh wants to thank both Keith Mageau and David Salisbury of Fan Boy 3 in sourcing and providing copies of the Free RPG Day 2020 titles.

Rain of Mercy is an introduction to the grim darkness of the 41st Millennium and Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Wrath & Glory, published by Cubicle Seven Entertainment. Fairly short, in just sixteen pages it provides an introduction to the setting of the 41st Millennium, an overview of the specific setting for Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Wrath & Glory, and a short scenario designed to be played by four players and the Game Master and if not the full mechanics of the roleplaying game. It does not however, provide a full introduction to the mechanics of Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Wrath & Glory, but the given explanation is sufficient to play through the included scenario, ‘Rain of Mercy’.

The setting for Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Wrath & Glory is of course, the Imperium of Man, over which the Emperor, his body a rotting carcass sustained only by power from the Dark Age of Technology, has maintained a watch from the Golden Throne of Holy Terra. His mind is the very beacon by which the great ships of the Imperium the Warp and travel between the stars. They ferry not just goods and people, but also the Adeptus Astartes, the Space Marines, bio-engineered super-warriors, and members of the Imperial Guard, the ever-vigilant Inquisition, and the Tech-Priests of the Adeptus Mechanicus, from world to world, to investigate and scourge untold xenos, heretics, mutants, and more—including Chaos! Of course, this setting is better known as the background for Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 miniatures wargame, in Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Wrath & Glory the focus will be on induvial rather than military regiments and units.

The specific setting Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Wrath & Glory is the forsaken Gilead System, which lies beyond the Great Rift, left behind by the Cicatrix Maledictum, the Warp Storm which rent the Imperium in two. The Gilead System is home to several different worlds, such as Avachrus, the Forge World, where the system’s technology is built and maintained; Ostia, the Agri World whose farmer are driven to point of starvation by having to feed the Gilead System; Gilead Primus, a Hive World home to billions; and Enoch, the Shrine World dedicated to the worship of the Emperor. Three years after the Great Rift, a flotilla of ships under the command of Rogue Trader Jakel Varonius, arrived in the system, having managed to find a stable route across the rift, bringing order and relief to the Gilead System which was on the point of collapse, suffering under the weight of too many refugees, most of them pilgrims to the Shrine World of Enoch, stranded by the opening of the Great Rift.

The Player Characters are assembled by Jakel Varonious to undertake a mission for the Ecclesiarchy. A troubling situation has arisen on Enoch, the Shrine World of thin desert land masses amidst extensive oceans, these land masses consisting of shrines around which cluster tent cities inhabited by refugees. A new cult has arisen amongst the slums—the Water Bringers, which might be loyal to the Emperor, but might also be a gang extorting money for the water it appears to have a ready supply of, and there is also talk of new saint on Enoch as well. The characters are charged with infiltrating the Water Bringers and determine the veracity of the supposed saint—be they unsanctioned Psyker, heretic, or one of the Emperor’s blessed. The scenario is short, but involves a reasonable mix of interaction, investigation, and combat, and ultimately leaves the outcome very much in the hands of the players and their characters.

The four characters consist of a Space Marine Scout who dreams of becoming a fully fledged Space Marine; a zealous and uncompromising member of the Adepta Soroitas, a Sister of Battle; a Skitarius and Tech-Priest, who monitors for the use of heretical tech; and a silver-tongued Rogue Trader. All four consist of a description, a nice illustration, some combat stats, and a single ability. For example, the Space Marine Scout always goes first in combat and once per game can attack twice per combat round, whilst the Sister of Battle can pray to the Emperor and once per game, cause an attack to miss any target.

Mechanically, Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Wrath & Glory employs a six-sided dice pool system. Results of four and five generate single Icons, whilst rolls of six generate two. If the total roll generates more Icons than the Difficulty Number, then the Player Character or NPC succeeds at the task. Good roleplaying can earn a player Wrath points which can be spent to reroll results of one, two, or three. And that really is the extent of the explanation of the mechanics for Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Wrath & Glory in Rain of Mercy, bar rolling for damage in combat. Indeed, there is not even a skill system or anything in the way of attributes for characters presented in Rain of Mercy. Instead, the Difficulty Numbers are given for possible actions by the pregenerated Player Characters—Cunning or Persuasion Tests, Intimidation or Leadership Tests, and so on—in individual scenes. This gives rise to a couple of issues with Rain of Mercy as an introduction to Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Wrath & Glory.

Mechanically, what it ignores is the possibility of rolls of six generate extra effects and the use of the Wrath die, which can either trigger a gloriously gory critical hit in combat or a narrative Complication. Narratively, the lack of a skills system or any attributes placed in front of the players reduces their agency because they do not know what their characters can do or what they are good at. Now there is some indication in the Player Character descriptions, but that is not quite as easily digestible as a skills list. On the plus side, this means that the rules are fast, and the rules are furious, and the rules are easy, and the rules are simplistic, but on the downside, it means that whilst Rain of Mercy is playable as is, it does not properly prepare either the Game Master or the players to play the full version of Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Wrath & Glory.

Physically, Rain of Mercy is well written and well presented. It is not extensively illustrated, but the full colour illustrations are excellent.

There is a great deal to like about Rain of Mercy. The booklet is well presented, the explanation of the background is good, the scenario is decent, and it is all nicely playable in a session or so. However, as an introduction to Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Wrath & Glory, the fact is that Rain of Mercy is severely underwritten in terms of the mechanics. It simply fails to give enough of an impression as to what those rules are and how they work in play, the result being that Rain of Mercy only succeeds as an introduction to the setting of Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Wrath & Glory; as an introduction to the mechanics of Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Wrath & Glory it is a complete and utter failure.

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