Opening with a vivid and atmospheric piece of fiction that encapsulates the rich and ancient sweep of the Warhammer 40K setting, this is a revamp of the original Dark Heresy rules. The presentation, the artwork, mirrors this style well, combining to suck you in and want to know more...
When I say 'revamp' in some ways this is more of an augmentation. Many of the original rules pertaining to character generation and task resolution are little changed (if you own Dark Heresy 1e materials it will take little modification to use them with this ruleset), and new rules have been added to handle things like investigation, social interaction, and vehicle combat. However, it presumes nothing and opens with an overview of the universe in which this game is set, thus making it equally valuable to a newcomer to role-playing in the 41st century. An interesting feature is that this time, the default setting is a new sector, the Askellon Sector, rather than the Calixis Sector used in Dark Heresy 1e, so if you have been playing there you now have a whole new place to explore, with its own dark secrets to discover.
Introduction done and scene set, Chapter 1: Playing the Game explains the game mechanics, showing how characteristics and skills are brought together for task resolution. It's a good way of giving a feel for the game before players settle down to create their characters, giving them a solid grounding on which to base their choices. As Chapter 2: Character Creation comes next, they will be able to apply their knowledge straight away. Here you are led through the process step-by-step, with the options at each stage presented clearly. If reading the PDF version, hyperlinking has been implemented well to enable you to refer to apposite information quickly. As each option is explained, you also learn more about life and places in the 41st century, it's well worth reading the lot even if you have a clear idea of what sort of character you want to play before you start. The main choices are homeworld, background (what you did prior to becoming an Acolyte) and role (which is as much about how you see yourself, your approach to life, as it is a statement of what you do). All give various advantages and combine to create the character.
Whilst much of character creation is about making choices, there's an interesting twist in which a twist of destiny is added in by means of percentage dice. The result gives a 'prophecy' - couched in suitable terms - with an associated game mechanical effect, which may be beneficial or otherwise. Once you have a bunch of characters, it is time to establish them as a warband in service to an Inquisitor. You may choose to play out their initial assembly, or begin your game with the warband already established and comfortable with one another, having worked together for some time. It's likely that the GM has already designed the Inquisitor that they serve, but if not there is scope for collaboration here, and plenty of detail is provided about how to create (and run) an Inquisitor character. One day, those Acolytes who survive may aspire to such dizzy heights, after all.
Although the full character creation process is covered in Chapter 2, following chapters contain some essential details you will need when generating your character - the full skill list (Chapter 3: Skills), talents and traits (Chapter 4), equipment (Chapter 5: Armoury) and finally Chapter 6: Psychic Powers. They make interesting reading as well, with information on how to use them mechanically as well as in role-play, and continuing to build up the rich panoply that is the 41st century. Next comes that pivotal element of any game in Chapter 7: Combat. The nature of the setting is such that combat will be inevitable, so here the rules and options are explained. Mechanically-speaking combat is conducted in rounds with each participant having a turn to act, and certain actions which can be performed during that turn.
This is followed by Chapter 8: Narrative Tools. Here other aspects of the game, other things that will take place apart from brawls, are covered: social encounters, investigations, exploration, travel and more. It's a mix of description and rules material demonstrating what can be done and providing the necessary mechanics to moderate the outcome. There are some fascinating concepts here like influence and subtlety, how to use them and track them, a creative mix of role-play and mechanics to model all manner of interaction. Plenty of examples are provided to make everything clear. There's an extensive discussion of investigation and the investigative process, something likely to feature quite large in the adventures of a group of Acolytes who will be sent to find out what is going on and then deal with it a lot of the time. Fear, madness and other mental aberrations are also covered - much of what the Acolytes will have to deal with is by its very nature terrifying and mind-wrenchingly wrong. The operation of fate - which can become significant - and the sort of people that might be sent to reinforce a team of Acolytes as the need arises round out this chapter.
Next is Chapter 9: The Imperium and the Inquisition. This augments the information that has already been presented concerning the setting. There is a wealth of detail here depicting a rich, sweeping, ancient, decaying yet vigorous galaxy swarming with life, trapped in the grasp of the overarching Imperium. Those who have followed Warhammer 40K since its inception as a miniatures skirmish game will see much that is familiar, those who have arrived later will be fascinated by the depth and detail of the setting as told through the organisations and factions to be found there.
This is followed by greater scrutiny of the game's new home in Chapter 10: The Askellon Sector. History, worlds, and the people who dwell on them are laid out in dizzying detail, a ready-made backdrop for your adventures.
Then we reach the final portion of the book, which is the domain of the Game Master, and the GM alone. Of course, this makes the assumption that only one of your number will assume that mantle, although it does make sense that whoever will run the adventure at the end is the only person to read it beforehand! First up, Chapter 11: The Game Master provides all manner of useful help and advice to support whoever is running the game, from determining what sort of adventures to play to how to prepare for and run them. There's quite a lot on creating and playing the Inquisitor to whom the Acolytes answer and on running different aspects of the game, especially encounters with particular reference to those which end up in conflict. There are ideas on creating adventures and campaigns, and how to weaver ready-made adventures and your own designs into a coherent whole, and a lot about how to make an investigation work on the table-top. All good stuff, and worthy of study.
After Chapter 12: NPCs and Adversaries, which provides instruction on how to create your own as well as ready-made ones, the final chapter comprises an adventure, Dark Pursuits. Designed to introduce the core themes and concepts of the game, it involves a complex web of intrigue around the trade of items proscribed by Imperial law (and probably common sense) which the Acolytes must unpick. Whilst investigation is at its core, there is plenty of scope for action and it is written so that there are several routes to success, leaving the Acolytes feeling that their choices and actions really make a difference.
In this work, Dark Heresy comes of age in a stylish and robust game that should provide years of collaborative entertainment.
[5 of 5 Stars!]