System Analysis is going to be a sporadic series where I go through the mechanics of a system and explain how they, to me, are there to help convey whatever the game is trying to get across. With luck, the series will be insightful and give people cause to comment, thus leading into discussion on the matter and just how mechanics can really help bring the feel a game is going for across. This week, System Analysis is going over Dark Heresy by Fantasy Flight games.
I've said this in numerous places, but one of the fastest ways to learn a new system is to go through and make a character for it. This is the first place most people encounter a system, and it is also a perfectly viable place to start getting the feeling of the game across. This is something that Dark Heresy's writers seem to have understood, because the game gets the feeling that you are a random person, chosen a bit by fate, right from the get go. How? Well, like this:
Everything Is Random
If you go by the book, everything about your character can be randomly generated in Dark Heresy. I mean everything. Height, weight, gender, skin tone, quirks about your character are all randomly determined. As are the important things like stats, class, and just where you might be from. This has all the strengths, and weaknesses, of normal random character generation, but it also works well in the 40k universe. Why? Because one of the themes of the universe is that it doesn't care.
I have ridiculously good aim, low intelligence, and am a scholar...
The topic of this paragraph is perfectly possible to happen, and something that almost feels like it should happen at some point in a long running game of Dark Heresy. You, as a citizen of the Imperium of Man, are assigned a job. Maybe you can climb your way up, but odds are you'll be in one line of work your entire life. the world doesn't care if you should be an army sharp shooter. If fate decreed you be a scribe, then whether you can read or not you will be a scribe. This goes along with what I was saying above too, and when you get that person who ended up with Int as a dump stat, then rolls "scholar" as their class it can be quite fun. After all, no one will care that they're stupid, the class will define them more than who they originally were.
Why This Is Good
this is good not only for the universe feel, but also as a way to challenge your players and get them out of their normal habits for char creation. Maybe you have someone who always plays the melee damage monkey. Maybe in DH they end up rolling a priest. They're now being challenged to do something they don't normally do, and are given abilities they may not normally have access to. they can still build towards what they like, but elite advancing gets expensive over time and society will still expect those things out of their character.
Why This Is Bad
Aside from the normal pitfalls of a random char creation, the extent that DH goes to with it can put some people off. Some people don't want to gender bend, and a die roll can force that. You can also end up with odd combinations of quirks and scars, or a character that is seriously weaker than everyone else in the game due to bad luck with their stat block or other things that were rolled. On the inverse, some starting packages can seem downright over powered by comparison. Such as the person who gets to start off as a Sister of Battle and gets the early power armor + bolt gun, or the noble who gets to start with hundreds more thrones than anyone else. These differences can make the game unfun for some people, and is something to keep in mind.
What It Does
If nothing else, the character creation gives a sense of the hopelessness that most people in the 40k universe feel. You have no control over who you are, and now you have been grabbed by the Inquisition and big things are going to be expected of you. Maybe not great, maybe not world saving, but things that you quite simply aren't prepared for are now going to be expected of you regularly.
This, to me, is one of the more important things to play up with a 40k game. The feeling of being joe average on day one, and then joe average that happens to be part of an interstellar secret police the next. it also, sadly, doesn't quite fit the other games in the 40k line as well, but that is a different topic.
What It Doesn't Do
The big thing that this doesn't do is the standard thing that random creation prohibits. Namely, you aren't going to get the character you would have got with a pure "point buy"type system. You will be extremely strong in some areas, and/or extremely weak in others. It all comes down to how you roll the dice.