It had been a long few days for the band of Inquisitorial acolytes. They’d boarded the Rogue Trader ship in pursuit of the Faceless Trader Durron, only to be split up until an hour or two ago. Trapped on a truly terrible ship with at least one daemonic incursion, a sputtering Gellar Field Generator, and far too many warpy doorways and malfunctioning grav plates, the group largely considered themselves lucky to have only accrued a few score Insanity Points between them, doubly lucky that only one eyeball had been lost, and triply lucky that only one Fate Point had been burnt. At least they considered themselves lucky until, in the middle of a gunfight with Faceless Trade goons, Meem the Astropath finally noticed the daemonic aura coming off of fellow acolyte Happy the Chirurgeon.
It was the 7th or so session of a Dark Heresy Second Edition campaign, and the players had already gotten used to things going completely sideways for them, but when it came to the daemons of the warp snatching one of them they had really thought it would be one of the psykers. As the gunfight with the Faceless Trade goons continued, what had once been Happy cackled, claiming that they had quite enjoyed following the party around and messing with them. The voices in their heads, the increased chance of psychic phenomena, the screaming paintings, the ship’s cook with the meat cleaver . . . and they meant the acolytes no true harm; after all, the disembodied voice that had convinced the possessed space dinosaur to leave them alone had been the daemon possessing Happy. They should be grateful!
This did not stop Gavrosh the Heavy Metal Hierophant from screaming about a daemon, nor Meem from trying to hurl psychic fire at Happy’s body, so the daemon cackled some more and turned off all the lights. The fight devolved into confusion and lowercase-c chaos. The goons panicked, some firing wildly. Klaus the Guardsman and Mycandria the Sororita aimed at muzzle flashes, while the currently-Frenzied Maud the Untouchable (Meem’s brother) chased some fleeing goons with his sword. Meem managed to (carefully, so as to not over-penetrate and blow up (more) parts of the ship) land a melta beam hit, while Gavrosh was able to convince a pair of the goons to turn traitor with a wicked riff and love for the God Emperor.
The daemon attempted to use psychic powers on Meem in turn, but the slippery Astropath was able to see it coming and escape the attack before it could land. Jasper, the aforementioned ship’s cook NPC who’d been experimented on by Happy, did manage to land a hit on the psyker with his meat cleaver, but didn’t last much longer after Klaus targeted him. Out of her share of the goons and hearing Gavrosh’s yelling, Mycandria whirled about and managed to put a sniper rifle round into Happy. That only made her the next target of the daemon’s psychic power; however, not even a Chirurgeon possessed by a daemon is immune to the Perils of the Warp. Two unlucky rolls exceeding 100 and suddenly Happy was consumed in warp fire, annihilated in body and soul as the daemon possessing them burst forth. The Slaaneshi daemon was quite put out by the death of it’s very interesting host, and immediately hovered its way back into the gravity-less elevator shaft the acolytes had used to ascend through the ship. Meem and Mycandria did what they could to harry it with fire both psychic and rifle-delivered, and the daemon attempted to telekinetically yank the Sororita out into the open air, but neither side was really able to land a blow. As the last of the resisting goons was killed, the arcane light of the daemon dropped away into darkness.
Unable to pursue the now-hostless daemon the team had little choice but to interrogate their captives (learning that Durron had been attempting to gain access to the bridge), spare a brief moment in mourning for Happy, and press on. The elevator lobby that Happy and most of the goons had died in had been the latest step in an effort to ascend into the tower of the ship, where the VIP quarters and the bridge were located, to find and deal with Durron once and for all. As they proceeded they found signs of battle; since alerting The Captain to Durron’s efforts to cripple a Gellar Field Generator and consign an area of the ship to the Warp in an effort to kill the acolytes, the Rogue Trader crew and the Faceless Trade had turned on one another. Many of the bodies were of the standard hired goon criteria, although several were clothed in the black greatcoats the acolytes had come to associate with ‘true’ members of the Faceless Trade. Some, however, were obviously of the Rogue Trader crew but had a distinct symbol to their clothing: one way or the other, these crewmembers had a red-white-black checkerboard pattern on their person, whether it was an article of clothing, a medallion, or painted on to armor.
On tentatively friendly terms with the Rogue Trader the acolytes each grabbed a checkerboard item for themselves: Mycandria and Meem each wrapped a bandana around their necks, while Gavrosh tied one into a headband. Klaus found himself a belt buckle. Maud, being of the penitent bent, carved a checkerboard pattern into his bicep with a knife. As they drew closer to the bridge, the acolytes determined that there were two approaches. Mycandria and Klaus, being the stealthiest of the current team, would take one way and attempt to ambush the Faceless Traders. The others would charge in the other way once glorious combat had been joined.
With the blessing of the God Emperor, Klaus managed to make his stealthy approach successfully. Spotting Durron and his entourage trying to force their way into the bridge, Klaus was quick to roll a krak grenade towards the feet of the Trader’s Untouchable minion, the only survivor of an earlier battle in Mess Hall 235-B. The one person who could thwart Meem vanished below the waist in burning fire and shrapnel; unfortunately Mycandria had not been so stealthy, and immediately took a las bolt from one of Durron’s four Guardsman-style bodyguards.
As battle was joined the less stealthy team rushed in through the other entrance. Gavrosh began strumming his axe to inspire his fellow Acolytes, while Maud charged forward and went into a frenzy. Meem lobbed fire towards an enemy psyker, but the unsanctioned heretic was able to dodge it. Durron raised a weapon clearly not of human make and fired it at Klaus; thankfully it missed, but the liquid it shot began to melt its way through the deck. The fight devolved into a general shootout and melee, but it quickly started to go awry for the acolytes.
Maud, usually darn near invulnerable thanks to his armor and mutant genes, was soon badly injured because Durron’s Guardsmen came equipped with krak grenades. The acolyte berserker spent at least one turn blinded from the explosions and flailing wildly. Meem was overwhelmed by incoming fire and eventually couldn’t dodge a lightning bolt from the enemy psyker, bowling the Astropath over and accidentally summoning a daemon of Nurgle into the fight. Klaus was able to then kill the enemy psyker with his last krak grenade, but after taking a shot from her the daemon then chose to charge towards Mycandria, who had continued to be scorched by las fire.
For a moment things seemed to swing back in favor of the acolytes when Klaus riddled the Nurglite daemon with bolter fire and Meem put a melta beam through its head, discorporating it in the process. Gavrosh, finally being noticed and taking a las shot, actually managed to convince the Guardsman who had shot him to turn on the rapidly-losing-allies Durron. Durron kept missing with his alien bile spitter, and didn’t trust himself to hit Meem, who was probably the single largest threat. However, the Faceless Trader noticed the family resemblance between Meem and Muad; smirking at the Astropath he turned his weapon on the Untouchable.
Gifted with foresight, Meem dashed across the deck and hurled himself in front of his brother, who himself was incapable of dodging due to being Frenzied. There was a splortch followed by a horrible sizzling sound. Meem the Astropath was dead before he hit the deck, a hole eaten through his chest by the attack’s acid. Screaming with fury Mycandria took aim, and just as Durron began to smile her sniper round took him in the head; the thought of taking the Faceless Trader alive obliterated by the Sororita’s righteous anger. To Maud’s view, still clouded by his own rage, it appeared as if the God Emperor himself had avenged his psyker brother.
The three ostensibly still-loyal-to-the-Faceless-Trade Guardsmen hesitated, and two looked to be ready to go down fighting, when bolts of plasma took them both in the back. Every survivor of the fight turned to see the doors to the bridge finally opening, and the Rogue Trader so far known only as The Captain walking out, holstering two odd pistols and beginning to clap as he looked down at Meem and Durron’s bodies.
“Well, I’ve gotta say, that was well done . . . ”
“Life is the Emperor’s currency, spend it well.”
That’s one of the delightful little ‘Thoughts for the Day’ et al that you can find throughout the books of Warhammer 40,000 and the various RPGs that it has spawned over the years, including Fantasy Flight Games’ now-defunct Dark Heresy. It’s certainly an appropriate one for the setting, but Dark Heresy isn’t the only tabletop roleplaying game that might draw some wisdom from it. Taken another way, it could read “your character’s life is worth a lot, so make losing it worth it’.
Player character death is one of those subjects that a lot of people have written about from the GMing perspective: how doggedly should you be pursuing it, how to handle it both in and out of game, and so on. But it’s also important to keep in mind that the GM isn’t the only one who has influence over a character’s death: the player does as well. Case in point, Happy’s player volunteered to be caught up in and possessed by the various daemonic incursions harrying the party. She wanted to do something different and interesting (she’d never betrayed the party before, really). Meanwhile Meem’s player not only asked to take the bile spitter shot but deliberately decided not to burn a Fate Point to survive the hit, reasoning that Meem’s guilt over Happy’s death and willingness to sacrifice himself for his brother were a fitting end to the Astropath.
Very rarely are you going to want your own character to perish; after all, if you’re playing them then you still must be enjoying doing so. But a character death done right can have an emotional punch like little else in a role-playing game. The GM might very well be expected to kill characters depending on their style and the game involved, but a player offering up their character themselves is almost always a surprise (at least to their fellow players, if the GM was brought in on it ahead of time like with Happy). Keep it in mind as a story-telling tool at your disposal. Make sure it works, though; avoid doing it just for shock value. Try to have it fit the story and themes of the character and campaign, and be mindful of how the character’s loss will effect the dynamic of the party. If your character is the glue that keeps the others together, you should probably keep this move on the shelf.
On the other hand, maybe you’re not enjoying the player character any more, or maybe you feel their story has played out as far as it can, or you’ve got a great idea for another character and the current one needs to be ditched first. One should always try to make a character’s exit more than just a poof of smoke and they’re gone, and death isn’t the only option to do so, but it is an option. I can’t speak for Happy or Meem, but I’ve known players in the past who were definitely looking to send their character off with a bang instead of a whimper. Just make sure that it’s actually memorable, or it won’t hold any narrative or emotional weight. Simply dropping dead won’t do – but being secretly possessed for two sessions before being consumed by warp fire, for example, will certainly leave a mark on the campaign – as well as other characters if they’re standing too close.
Perhaps these poor acolytes will contribute to the Adventure Log again, or perhaps they’ll end up like their fallen compatriots and go unmourned and unheard of. Either way, go play some games and have a good time, and remember: the Emperor protects!
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