There was no noise save the crunch of broken glass underfoot and the last tapering exhale of the grav-chutes. The fireworks of battle could be made out beyond the reinforced stained glass behind the altar at the northern end of the shrine, but their report was muffled by the cold stone walls.
It’s size was modest, easily capable of housing some fifty worshippers at a time. Not enough for every soul on the estate, but certainly those of import. The walls were clogged with beautiful woven tapestries of Imperial saints and incense burners swung gently from the high vaulted ceiling. Rows of hand carved pews that had once stood rank and file for daily worship were being rearranged into defensive positions around the doors. Our master was wise to send us through the ceiling.
My heavy caliber autorifle was levelled at the nearest figure, who was still reeling from the shock of our insertion and my proclamation. He was one of half a dozen others I counted as we arrives, all clad in the flamboyance and artisanry expected of the House Guard of a powerful lineage. He was young, less than 20, but his features had been aged beyond his years by horror. His skull shook in a carapace helmet that was several sizes too large.
He was alive because Imperial law demanded it. If I were a common thug or gang-coloured butcher he would already have several fist-sized holes punched through his centre mass. The law affords him no rights, no guarantee of fair trial or treatment, only a single gossamer-thin opportunity: redemption. I repeated my proclamation and clarified our intent for those who had not been paying attention.
“Imperial Inquisition, drop your weapons! Your Master has been thrice-damned by a jury of your peers for the capital crime of heresy! All servants and members of the House of Rauth are considered Not Innocent by extension, your degree of guilt will be decided by the next actions you take, so I repeat – drop your weapons!”
It was so quiet in those following moments you could hear the squeaking of scales in their heads as they weighed their options. The iron fist of Imperial justice is purer than the fires of Sol that birthed holy Terra, and heavier than all the men, women and children who have shed blood in service to the Golden Throne. How could these poor fools possibly fancy their chances against such an absolute?
They did anyway. The boy’s panicked hand leapt for his sidearm but mine was already primed. With a squeeze of a trigger, the silence in the chapel was shattered in the same way as thunder rends the sky.
I had been weightless before. We would run zero-g drills in the Schola on holy days. As a treat the masters would let us dictate our learnings for the day, as a benevolent reflection of the God-Emperor’s grace. We would choose the zero-g chamber every time.
This was not that. The unnatural feeling of helplessness was present, but twinned with a fusillade assault on the senses. Your inner ear spins like a compass at magnetic north. Your body is pummeled furiously by nimbus fists, from which you cannot defend yourself as your arms are whipped back by invisible reins. You hear nothing except the roaring wind. You see nothing through tear-filled eyes. You tumble through the heavens with nothing but your grav-chute and the elusive memories of your aerial insertion training – two minutes of lying on an ammo crate on a guardsman assault course with a drill sergeant barking instructions like we were some thick-skulled ground-pounders.
Perhaps it was my disdain for her petulant remarks that jogged my memory. Perhaps it was catching a glimpse between blinks of a drop zone that was once the size of a grapefruit had now filled my horizon. I would hate to give her crude methods such credence over my own survival instincts. Whatever the case, whichever direction I faced, I reached to the small of my back and ripped he grav-chute cord with all my strength.
Nothing happened. The ground seemed inches from my face, the gothic spires of the shrine we were to land in turned from stalwart monuments to treacherous deathtraps.
Then the grav-chute ignited with a blessed vengeance I have not seen since in man or machine. Its roar was a thunderous, mocking laugh, an affront to gods and gravity. I was plucked from the air by the hymns of saviour angels, played by the part of the whining grav engines strapped to my back. My neck jerked back, like a child being collared while stealing pastries. My limbs flailed in front of me. I was a cartwheeling puppet whose master had snatched up the marionette. Adrenaline burned through my veins and I could hear the blood pumping in my ears drowning out the tattoo of anti-aircraft and small arms fire in the complex below.
It was an impressive estate, designed in traditional high gothic, replete with sky-piercing spires and high arched windows. The grand courtyard in the centre was filled with the disciplined snaps of the guardsmens’ las rifles and the surreptitious crackling of return fire from the House Guard. They were our distraction while we dynamically inserted into the defensive heart of the estate: the shrine.
I scanned the skies near me for my newly minted comrades and by the Emperor’s grace they were present and largely on target. We were four angels of wrath descending on wings of fire.
There was no time to signal to them, although what I would have signalled I’m not sure. We were moments from insertion through the stained glass ceiling of the shrine. I braced for impact.
Time slowed. There was no impact. My feet traveled through the glass as though it wasn’t there. I was a stone dropped into a serene lake, and my ripples exploded the stained glass around me into a violent kaleidoscope of jagged shards. The descent was a blur as every sense was filled with the sight, sound and pain of broken glass and the floor of the shrine rushed up to meet me. The grav-chute issued one last triumphant wail as it spent the remainder of its fuel cushioning my landing.
It took longer than I care to admit to regain my bearings and offer silent thanks to the infallibility of my chute’s machine spirit and the wisdom of the Emperor that made it so. Blessed be my upbringing then, for my hands do not suffer such frailties, and my rifle had been unclipped from its harness and levelled at the nearest target. It struck me how quiet it was, the gunfire just outside the shrine was little more than a muffled rainstorm in the distance.
We had arrived, but we had yet to make our entrance. I was still struggling to focus, but all I needed was my voice. It was time to make our duty known, to fire our warning shot.
A violent means to a better end; the more concentrated the application of violence, the longer and better the end result. That was the most resounding wisdom imparted to me from my upbringing. Tumbling through space at the speed of sound in an iron coffin was an outstandingly violent means to an end of the cold walls and stale air of our master’s void ship. As fire washed across the nose cone of our lander and the planet engorged in the front viewport, only a single thought occurred to me: was this a commendation or a condemnation?
I was joined in the passenger compartment of our lander by four others; two gunmen, a tech adept and a woman clad in full plate armour. The first shooter was wiry and run-down, with a ganger fauxhawk that had greyed earlier than his age belied. He was clad in quilted overalls sat underneath a guard-issue flak vest we had been assigned before our departure. My briefing told me he was a gunslinger named Proteus, a man whose past was not his own, the bullet scar on his left temple and barcode tattoo behind his ear confirming he was a mind-cleansed agent. Useful enough in a previous life to have his skills preserved, but not his memories.
The second gunman stroked a long hunting rifle and was the only one in the compartment to meet my gaze. Not a challenging or scrutinising look, but a disinterested, vacant stare – as a child might before understanding the social implications of holding another’s gaze. He sported black dreadlocks on most of his grey skull, the left side of his face singed to baldness by some violent means. He was lean, wearing a black assassin’s body glove that exposed his arms branded with a letter ‘X’. The compartment rattled, and an earring bearing the same symbol caught the light. The briefing told me his name was Mur-X52, which explained the symbology, but I could not place the death cult or assassin temple he would have been from.
The Tech Adept was the closest to a civilian we had. He was silver-bearded portly man into his fifth or sixth decade and appeared surprisingly human for a member of the Cult Mechanicus. He wore their colours but where I expected robes, he wore short, practical garments festooned in pockets for tools, geegaws and miscellanea. The roughness of his fingers and pollution scars on his arms told me he worked with heavy machinery, probably agri, before his assignment to us.
The final person was only thing that gave me cause to believe this wasn’t a mission to rid the Imperium of troublesome agents; a holy Sister of the Adeptas Sororitas. Her plate mail was painted purple with white aquila adornments and the gold sashes of her Order draped over top. She had her nose pressed hard into an almanac of the planet we were just about to be forcibly dropped on, but she wasn’t taking it in, just moving her eyes and turning the pages. I knew what fake studying looked like from my classmates in the Schola. Perhaps the act of reading soothed her. It soothed me watching it.
The compartment was suddenly bathed in crimson light and the lander lurched downwards. A Latirian Guardsman escort in our compartment burbled something into his atmo-helmet vox in a regimental cant. I picked up something about anti-aircraft weaponry. Our ‘brief’ was becoming briefer by the second.
The faceless Guardsman addressed us brashly, saying more with his hands than with his amplified voice. “Straps off! We are dirtbound in fifteen seconds! Hats on asses people, they’ve rolled out the fireworks to welcome us!”
As if to punctuate his charming turn of phrase, a cacophonous explosion rocked the plummeting lander and a sliver of shrapnel punched through both sides of our compartment. Alarms screeched and the light shifted to a more panicked shade of scarlet. The Guardsman knuckled some runes on the rear door’s command slate and the lander shuddered gratefully in response.
The rear of the craft split open, sunlight lancing into the crimson twilight of the cabin. Air and noise exploded into our compartment as the rear doors slowly unfolded, ready to disgorge its precarious cargo. I remember the air tasting like iron, but that could have been the blood from my tongue. Wind whipped around us, tugging at our harnesses and yearning for us to wrap ourselves in its embrace. I checked the straps on my weapons and that there was a round in the chamber. We would be deep striking into the centre of the conflict, so the impatient weapon spirits must be primed for split-second fury. The guardsman gazed out the rear of the lander at the violence that was unfolding on the ground below in the same way as one of my Schola mentors would browse a box of confectionery for the choicest morsels.
An explosion erupted in the sky behind him, casting us in his shadow. He turned to look at us. You could tell by the way he spoke that he was grinning under his atmo-helmet.
“Face first into battle!” He barked as the jump light in the compartment turned the colour of seasickness. “Give ’em hell!”.
“I was not prepared for what I had seen. I had expected a paltry gathering of dead men’s dusty things, or some backwater squatters with zipguns holding up the local merchantry. Not… this.
Bile rose in my throat. My vision narrowed to a distant pair of pin pricks. My body rejected the nature of gravity and my head took leave of my senses. My previous life was vomited into the turbulent stream of my consciousness, but not the part I had expected. I had piled men as sandbags on Caltrax-9 and dug riot trenches through the tank-compacted bodies of water rioters on Daphnia, but those were not what I had flashed back to at that moment.
I had a sudden moment of lucidity amidst the cotton wool clarity my senses were affording me. There I was, barely few decades old and squire to a famous Arbitrator and law-maker, tending to his equipment before evening prayers. He approached me, hand raised, and my gut sank.
I quickly rose to my feet and closed my eyes, anticipating another reprimand. What was it this time? Was it the third rivet on his maul again? I swore I had checked that. Inside breast pocket strap? I had the seamstress prepare another three for me, just in case it snapped again. Only this time, there was no reprimand. I slowly opened my eyes.
I was only a stripling at the time and have since mentally reconciled his immense size, but it did not prevent this particular memory from painting him as a giant. I stared up at him from my position as insect. He was a broad man who blocked the light from the hall when he stood in the doorway and his fist was balled, but this time it did not contain a reprimand, but a collection of images. He asked me what I saw.
I told him I saw the collected works of a serial killer. The pictures were of bodies, all cut in precisely the same way across the throat, sometimes so forcefully that the head was left dangling about the chest by a thread of sinew or a patch of skin. He told me my observation, although precise, must be false. These were done within minutes of each other, but on different planets scattered about the sector. There was nothing connecting these individuals, rich or poor, except the cuts in their neck. This had to be the work of a cult.
Something about that encounter made me overstep my position without hesitation. Even as the words left my lips, I foresaw a lifetime cursed to squiredom, cleaning the slop from the interrogation chambers for the rest of my miserable existence. I told the Arbitrator he was wrong.
So much effort had been made into making it appear the work of a cult, the locations and timings specifically, that the killer had plastered his fingerprints all over every crime scene. Not literal fingerprints, that’s Magistratum work, woe betide the day the Arbites are forced to rely on basic fingerprint evidence to convict. No, the fingerprints of murder.
The cast-off blood from each cut played out identically. Some had struggled, some were killed standing, some were killed sitting, some in their beds while they slept, and yet the cast-off tells the same story – one person, one thing, of the same height, build and strength, did this. As I spoke, I referenced scribes and verispex agents who had done work about this, and I had already begun flicking through my work scrolls for citation. He had already left the room.
I received my deployment orders the next day, a junior post at Caltrax-9. The other squires told me it was essentially a death warrant. Seventeen years later at my posting on Daphnia I receive a missive from the the Segmentum Headquarters. My mentor had been dead for six years at this point, but his signature was undeniably present on the scroll.
The case had been closed, an incredibly prominent member of the Adeptus Terra had been implicated and found guilty, and my name had been signed off as the contributor for the evidence that finally damned them. I was not sure what to make of the information at the time, but it filled my contemplative morning lho-stick time for many subsequent sunrises. There had been a pattern, and I saw it as instinctively as I draw breath. I took a long, purposeful draw on my lho-stick. Tigurian-brand I think it was. The rich, peaty taste turned into acrid death in my lungs.
I coughed and spluttered, falling to my knees. My head swam, the cotton wool on my senses turned to razor blades. The sweet smell of morning lho turned into the sickening smell of poisoned sea air and death. My vision collapsed around me, cascading like a tower of broken glass. The atrocity in that Emperor-damned cave triggered something deep within me. I knew what this meant. This was not the needless wholesale slaughter of Caltrax-9, nor the street butchery of Daphnia.
Colonel Vaux blew warm air into his hands. It was dark underground, but at least they were out of the blasted wind on the surface. He looked back over his shoulder towards his Inquisitor. The man’s face was lit only by the dim green glow of his auspex, playing on his scar and making it look like a fissure deep through his skull.
“There are six potential stashes. I’ve marked them on your dataslates.” The Inquisitor spoke flatly, as though they weren’t just about to kick down the door of a dangerous gang’s hideout.
Vaux heard the familiar clicks and muttered prayers of Guardsmen checking their weapons and reciting litanies of readiness. He did the same, sliding a fresh magazine of Kraken penetrator rounds into his bolt pistol.
“You have been briefed on the crystals. I expect a full report when we convene.” With those words, the Inquisitor disappeared into the gloom ahead.
For this Inquisitor skirmish, two warbands clashed over possession of Chaos-tainted Yu’Vath crystals in the gloomy, frigid depths of the Golgotha mines.
On one side is the warband of Inquisitor Tarrik Vanth, a radical Ordo Malleus Inquisitor with strong Xanthite beliefs – an ideology that espouses the use of Chaos to defeat Chaos. He is a battle-hardened Inquisitor, with a shoulder-mounted psycannon and a sword containing a bound daemon.
His comrades are all Imperial Guardsmen, recruited from across the subsector to his personal retinue. His second in command, Colonel Vaux, is backing him up for this dangerous endeavour. He is an eagle-eye shot and a dab hand with his power fist. Sergeant Honies the Medic and Trooper Gene Ric made up the rest of the warband.
On the other side were cultists of the Crimson Wake, devilishly cunning and deadly combatants dedicated to Chaos Undivided. They were lead by the Arch-Heretic Karo, a cunning combatant with several dirty tricks up his sleeve.
He was backed up by Gorthar, a Khorne-aligned pugilist and Mucus, an ancient warrior who has been battling with the Crimson Wake for longer than his three brains can remember. The final member is Tlashkala, a plasma gunner that was exposed to the open warp, twisting his flesh and turning his blood to plasma.
The game was set in the underground mines of Golgotha, deep beneath the surface of the fourth moon of Ulsvar IV. It was designed to be a checkpoint that had been overtaken by a gang, and they had used the tall sections as watch towers.
The rest was filled with a few tall towers joined by bridges and a few pipes and barrels for scatter terrain. The six loot tokens were scattered roughly in the centre of the board at various heights to encourage some Thrilling Heroics.
Both warbands had the same brief – end the game in possession of as many Yu’Vath crystal tokens as possible. We used red translucent Blood Bowl block dice to represent the discovered crystals.
Across the board there were six golden loot tokens, representing a stash of weapons and gear that the gang had secreted away that *could* contain the crystals. Both teams knew where all the loot stashes were, but did not know which stash contained crystals.
Checking a stash costs one action, and the character must make a Sagacity test to see if they can identify any crystals in the stash. If they fail, they can spend another action to test again, with a cumulative +10 modifier each time they test (after a while they should get better at knowing what to look for!).
Once they pass the check, the character has correctly identified whether or not there are crystals in the stash. Roll a d6: on a 4+, the stash contains Yu’Vath crystals. On a 1-3, the stash is just worthless ration bars and shoddy smuggled small arms. Whatever the outcome, remove the stash token – it’s assumed the character tears the stash apart looking for crystals, and others will be able to tell at a glance that it contains nothing.
You can carry as many crystals as you like, but it costs one action to pick each one up. The winner would be whoever carried the most crystals at the end of the skirmish. If one warband was driven off, any crystals left behind on the board would belong to the remaining warband.
The Golgotha mines are dark, and very little light trickles through the built-up machinery overhead. You need to pass an Initiative -10 test to be able to see anyone.
Both warbands begin by attempting the stealth approach. The Crimson Wake have the most success with this, infiltrating North across the board from their South-East starting position without raising any alarms. Gorthar manages to surprise the ganger in yellow (pictured above top left) and tears both his arms clean from his sockets. Gorthar then helps himself to the ganger’s stash token, finding the first Yu’Vath crystal.
Vanth’s warband in the North West corner have less luck with the stealth approach, being spotted in the second turn as Trooper Gene Ric prats about at the top of a ladder. The alarm is sounded by an optimistic ganger, who finds himself torn to shribbons by a devastating fusillade of psycannon fire from Vanth on the lower bridge.
Mucus had made excellent progress across the board, moving quickly under the cover of the ample terrain. He charges Vanth, and the pair exchange vicious blows that would have felled any of the other characters several times over.
Tlashkala and Sergeant Honies have a surprise encounter around the ground floor stash token. Unfortunately for Honies, Tlashkala is quicker on the draw, and splashes white-hot plasma across his body. Honies is critically injured but not out. Tlashkala is content that Honies is dead, and presses forward North to assist Mucus.
By this point, several turns have passed of causing brutal injuries to one another, but neither gaining the upper hand. Even with Tlashkala assisting, the two cannot seem to down Vanth permanently, but nor can Vanth cause a crippling strike on his assailants.
Karo moves forwards and uncovers the second Yu’Vath crystal in the stash that Honies almost died to protect. He is also pretty convinced that Honies is dead, and decides the most helpful thing would be to fire indiscriminately at the combat with Vanth and two of his team “mates”. Luckily for everyone his shots go wide, so he snatches up the Yu’Vath Crystals and skirts around the skirmish looking for the final objective.
Meanwhile, Vanth’s allies have been scouring the rooftops for signs of further gangers or stash tokens. Vaux is utterly convinced that his Inquisitor doesn’t require assistance, and moves to gather the most Westerly loot stash. Trooper Gene Ric has less conviction, and dives off the gangway directly into combat, kicking Mucus in the head on the way down.
Since his run-in with the yellow-coated ganger, Gorthar has been resolutely clambering the outside of the central building, making for the stash token on the tallest building. He spies Vaux and Gene Ric heading his way and makes a quick getaway, narrowly avoiding detection. Discretion is the better part of valour, after all.
Vaux continues his mission, and the second stash he checks is empty as well. Gorthar in the background has uncovered the third and final Yu’Vath crystal. With Gorthar in possession of two crystals and Karo carrying the third, the Crimson Wake have technically won, if only they can get off the board in one piece!
At this point in the game, Vanth has been duelling with Mucus for almost a dozen turns and several in-game hours. Only Sergeant Honies (above, at the base of the central structure), Vaux (above, Westerly side) and Gorthar (above, halfway up the central tower) are not involved in the massive brawl under the central structure.
The tide of battle seems to turn as Vanth suffers the worst of his injuries and spends a few turns stunned on the floor. However, the fortuitous timing of Gene Ric’s aerial arrival has distracted the Crimson Wake reavers long enough to think that Vanth is dead, and give him a few turns of precious recuperation. Gene Ric battles on valiantly, armed only with his trusty short sword.
Vaux finally eyes up a heretic trying to make off with some crystals down the outside of the central structure. He opens fire while stampeding towards him, desperate to turn the tables in his favour. Gorthar on the other hand, is weighing up his options. He has done the maths and concludes he would likely lose that fist fight, so he tries to disengage from combat and flee with the crystals.
One tragic mis-step later leads Gorthar to go tumbling to the ground, just in time to crush the freshly recovered Sergeant Honies to death*. Gorthar staggers to his feet and makes a break for it, but not before Vaux can fill his head full of holes with armour-penetrating bolt rounds.
*At this point, it’s worth mentioning that Honies was not crushed entirely to death. He was crushed into unconsciousness, where he slowly but inevitably bled to death over the following few turns. Being crushed to death sounded a more heroic way to go out.
Karo has decided that the melee with Vanth is all done and dusted (both he and Tlashkala failed to realise Vanth was still alive, or even that he had pulled himself to his feet after Mucus brushed his teeth with a chain axe). He makes a run for the exit, but notices several Yu’Vath crystals on the ground and hungrily goes to grab them.
Unfortunately for him, Vaux still had a perfect aim lined up at Gorthar’s body, where Karo had now thrown himself. Vaux plugs Karo a few times but he leaps for cover, and Vaux cannot put the killing blow onto him.
Meanwhile, Gene Ric had broken from combat intending to grenade whatever was left standing, but Vanth annihilates Tlashkala with furious psycannon fire. The combat has left Vanth with barely any health remaining and bleeding from every body part, but he had disarmed Mucus (literally) and chased the foul mutant down.
At this point, Vanth decides to pick up the remains of Mucus’ severed arm, still attached to revving chain axe, and plunges it into the mutant’s back. Some say these two lovebirds are still fighting to this day.
Vanth succumbs to his wounds, and strays into unconsciousness as his body (finally) runs out of blood. Mucus goes to perform a killing blow, but BAH GAWD OUTTA NOWHERE Colonel Vaux launches an aerial power fist strike straight onto Mucus. The attack leaves everyone (literally and metaphorically) stunned, and Mucus uses the opportunity to slink off into the darkness, deciding not to take his chances with the totally uninjured basejumping maniac with the power fist.
Karo comes round, and as Vaux is in the middle of reloading, sees his chance to make a break for it. He grabs the two nearest Yu’Vath crystals to him and disappears under the cover of the southern building. Trooper Ric makes one final blast of las fire at the fleeing Karo, but fails to make any difference to the outcome.
It was a hard-fought game, with Karo escaping with two Yu’Vath crystals and leaving one for Vanth’s men to scoop up in the aftermath of the skirmish.
Karo’s warband came off the worse; Karo barely escaped with his life, Mucus thoroughly battered with a mangled arm, Gorthar lying face down with a head like swiss cheese and Tlashkala had been used to repaint the local scenery a nice shade of Heretic Red.
Vanth’s warband was not so bad off, Vanth slipping into unconsciousness could be fixed with some field medics, and even though his face was almost severed from the rest of his head, it’s unlikely that anyone will notice much difference after he’s recovered. Sergeant Honies will be honored (and replaced), but the other two warband members seemed to emerge largely unscathed.
All in all it was an excellent game, with plenty of drama and excitement. At no point could I work out who was winning, as the power struggle seemed to change almost on a turn-by turn basis. Although Karo made off with more crystals, their warband indisputably came off worse, and would seriously struggle in a followup game.
There’s a few things I would do differently to run the game. The biggest would be to introduce a time limit of sorts when I feel like the game is running its course. Although I enjoy playing Inquisitor ‘to the bitter end’, when one player has to leave when the game hasn’t *entirely* resolved, it can be a bit of a rush to come up with an epic climax.
Playing again, about halfway through the game I could announce some kind of time limit (5 turns?) before the gang summoned reinforcements that would overwhelm the warbands, so they have to grab what they can and scarper. I think that would help keep the tension high, and prevent the game from descending into a battle of attrition.
Both players now have the bug, and after the tidy up we spent almost an hour eyeing up 54mm models for their warbands.
Will we see Vanth and the Crimson wake clash again?
We’ve all been there -you’ve been playing Rogue Trader and your crew is getting semi-decent at warp jumps and dealing with the harsh penalties the wild expanse throws at them. Either a jump goes off without a hitch, or you’ve played out the scant few encounters in the core rulebook so many times that translating into hell and madness becomes routine, and you’re often so busy juggling the rest of the game that improvising another new warp encounter is off the cards. Time to change that!
Here is an expanded table of 20 different warp encounters, appropriately balanced to the vagaries of the warp and definitely deadly if the dice gods are not smiling favourably that day. It will help keep your players on their toes whenever they’re traversing the Sea of Souls, and make them think twice about saying the fateful words “Oh that’s fine, it’s only one warp jump away.”