Saturday, June 16th is Free RPG Day ‘12
and with it comes a slew of new and interesting little releases. They can usually be divided between tasters for new games that will be released at Gen Con this forthcoming August and support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera. In general, the tasters for the new, “hot” games are highly anticipated and on the day itself, in high demand, and for the last two or three years, none more so than those released by Fantasy Flight Games to preview the publisher’s Science Fiction RPGs set within Games Workshop’s far future setting of Warhammer 40,000
. Free RPG Day ’12 is no different, this year’s preview being for the publisher’s forthcoming Only War
Out of all its forebears Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader, Deathwatch, and Black Crusade, the RPG that is closest to Only War is Deathwatch. Both are military orientated RPGs, but where Deathwatch focuses on the elite of the Emperor’s fighting forces, the devout, bio-engineered super-soldiers also known as Space Marines, the soldiers in Only War are members of the Imperial Guard, the galaxy-spanning armies of the God-Emperor. They are far from the elite, being ordinary men and women trained to fight and sent off to far flung stars and systems to hold the line against the coming night.
For Free RPG Day ’12, Fantasy Flight Games has released Eleventh Hour: An Introduction to Only War, which provides a taster of the game that includes the basic rules, four ready-to-play sample characters, and a scenario written for those characters. As with previous RPGs set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, Only War uses a percentile system for its mechanics with the given characters suggesting that its scale is roughly on a par with that of Dark Heresy. The RPG also allows players to take the roles of non-humans, in the case of Eleventh Hour, a hulking Ogryn, and that unlike the previous RPGs, the player characters will be facing non-humans rather than just Chaos cultists, demons, and other Chaos nasties.
In Eleventh Hour, the Guardsman player characters are jungle fighters, members of the Catachan 233rd Regiment, attached to the Scintillan 17th as part of Operation Hammerstrike on Aeyras. This inhospitable jungle moon is best known for being a refuge of the Severan Dominate heresy, but has more recently been subject to an Ork invasion. In an effort to drive the invaders from the moon, the soldiery of Operation Hammerstrike has driven the Orks back to their base in the Teeming, a massive crater filled with carnivorous, poisonous plants. Unfortunately, it has stalled in the face of a concentrated counter strike and the decision has been taken by the Imperial Navy to conduct an orbital bombardment and literally “glass” part of the moon. As the adventure opens, the Guardsmen have eleven hours to back track across the swamp infested world if they want to reach the safety of a firebase outside of the target zone.
Eleventh Hour is a race against the clock, the scenario being built around a simple and easy to use “Ticking Clock” mechanic. Given that Only War is a military based RPG, it will be no surprise that most of the challenges presented in the scenario revolve around combat, but there is more to the adventure than just that. The characters will be faced with decisions that will see them questioning both their honour and their ideals. Just how desperate are the player characters? Will they adhere to their principles, even though that will slow them down, or will they abandon both them and their comrades in their desperation to reach safety?
Nor is any surprise that Eleventh Hour is bright, colourful, and well presented. The game’s rules are clear and easy to understand, and enough background is provided should the GM want to run a sequel to this scenario. The given characters include a Heavy Gunner armed with a Heavy Flamer; a dual weapon wielding Weapons Specialist; a Tech-Priest Enginseer whose Laspistol never runs out; and a very bullish Ogryn. Of the two, only the Heavy Gunner and the Weapons Specialist are strictly human, and it is these two that the author suggests be used again if there are more than four players.
Whilst Eleventh Hour is not a wholly original scenario, it is well written, pleasingly detailed, and presents both roleplaying and combat challenges to the players. In doing both, Eleventh Hour: An Introduction to Only War does an excellent job of living up to its title.