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Warhammer 40K’s newest tabletop RPG embraces the series’ pulp-fiction roots

Cubicle 7’s next game will embrace its d100-based roots

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A warband stands on a precipice overlooking a grim cityscape. Image: Cubicle 7/Games Workshop
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Warhammer 40,000 is a world where powerful transhuman warriors clash with terrifying alien monsters, but often its most interesting characters are the humans caught in between. Throughout the Black Library novels, Inquisitors Gregor Eisenhorn and Gideon Ravenor are shown to be incredibly powerful psykers, but they would be ineffective without the efforts of ex-bounter hunter Harlon Nayl or the acrobat Kara Swole. Similarly, author Dan Abnett’s Horus Rising is all the more stark and terrifying because its events are seen through the eyes of artists and journalists, remembrancers like Euphrati Keeler and Solomon Voss.

A hive spire rising against a red sky. Image: Cubicle 7/Games Workshop

At Gen Con on Friday publisher Cubicle 7 announced it was expanding its line of 40K-themed role-playing games to include regular humans who, like Nayl and Keeler, work in service to more powerful patrons. Called Imperium Maledictum, this new game was inspired by previous d100-based games published by Black Industries — including classics like Dark Heresy. The subject of this new game stands in stark contrast to the higher-tier characters available in Wrath & Glory, Cubicle 7’s marquee 40K-themed tabletop RPG. Expect the fights to be close quarters, and the narratives deliciously pulp.

“With Wrath and Glory, you’re more action-focused,” creative director Emmet Byrne told Polygon ahead of the announcement. “You’re playing archetypes and units from the tabletop [wargame]. Imperium Maledictum is [about being] much more lower-level investigators trying to work against — or work within — the mechanisms of the Imperium.”

Players will build their party as a kind of warband, with each of its characters bound to a powerful patron. That patron could be an Inquisitor, like Eisenhorn or Ravenor, or it could be a remember of the Imperium’s powerful religious caste, known as the Ecclesiarchy. Many different options will be made available to players, but the important part is the drive and focus that such a patron will give to an ongoing campaign. They will be responsible for the warband’s quests and objectives as well as the resources they have at their disposal. But they will also invest the characters with the authority they need to break through the Imperium’s crippling bureaucracy.

“In Wrath and Glory, if you’re a Space Marine you do whatever you want,” Byrne said. “A regular citizen on the street is not going to tell you you, ‘No, you’re not allowed into this bar.’ Whereas [Imperium Maledictum] is very much about your influence, your personal influence.”

Players will be able to use their character’s backgrounds to earn boons. Perhaps they went to university at the Schola Progenium, and therefore have ties to the scholars themselves or the aristocrats who fund their research. Perhaps they have a history as a petty criminal, and therefore have access to the gangers and crime bosses who control the underworld. Players will need to make use of every social connection they have available to achieve their patron’s goals.

But sometimes they’ll need to make a show of force to get the job done.

“At some point, if you wish, you can take out your symbol of your patron and start waving it around,” Byrne said. “‘Hey, I’m really important!’ If your patron is an Inquisitor, they might not like that because word will get back to them that you burned down the barn and you brought attention on them, that kind of thing. [...] At what point do you kind of hit the red button where you need to [say], ‘Hey, I have this powerful patron.’ And even then, people might go, ‘I don’t care.’ It might be actually worse.”

The Imperium Maledictum line of role-playing products is expected to begin rolling out in the fall at the earliest with a core rulebook, a game master’s screen, and a boxed starter set. The first official adventures will launch at the same time, in the form of free-to-download PDFs.

“One of the things we started doing a few years ago was we stopped putting adventures in our books,” Byrne said, “with the thinking being that after you run that first adventure they become kind of dead pages in the book that you have to keep lugging around with you.” Instead, those expensive pages will be filled with more source material, tables, and background details about the setting.

Byrne said that the line will quickly expand with books on vehicles and weapons. From there, Cubicle 7 will begin to publish faction-specific materials, books that detail working for the Inquisition or the Astra Militarum, the Ecclesiarchy or the Astra Telepathica. Those, in turn, will be supplemented with complementary adventures. Fans will be able to follow the development on the official Cubicle 7 website, with more details to follow from a seminar at Gen Con on Friday.

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