“Numberless were her cattle, her slaves, her concubines. Indestructible her star-ships and her biomyrmidons. Her dynasty’s name will be worshipped even unto the darkening of the stars”Epitaph found in the tomb of Sumaserakh XII, Gene-Lord of Oruk
The region of space now known as the Morana Gulf was once a prosperous Imperial sector, until the coming of the Enslavers. Known as the Psyren Scourge to Imperial scholars, the enigmatic and deadly warp entities brought entire worlds under their thrall and wreaked apocalyptic damage upon a score of star systems. The Imperium acted from cruel necessity; a quarantine lasting several thousand years was enacted, and the once-thriving worlds of the Gulf were left to die. Forsaken by their empire, isolated and beset from all sides by horrors which defied human comprehension, some worlds refused to succumb…
Oruk was one such world. Their origins are forgotten, but one fateful day the Gene Lords became the masters of the backwater Agri-World. Free of the ideological fetters and closed-minded prescriptions of the Imperium and the Adeptus Mechanicus, the ruling elite of the planet became masters of the strange and dismal science of genetic manipulation. Using their dark sciences to protect themselves from the Psyren Scourge, the Gene Lords ruled as living gods for a millennium or more. The true history of these events has been reduced to mere myth; stories passed on in hushed tones by refugees who were somehow able to slip past Imperial blockades and nightmares of the region’s collective unconscious. Equally mysterious is the Gene Lords’ fate, all that is known is that they no longer hold dominion over Oruk. All that survives of their ancient reign are scattered tribes of degenerate mutants and the forbidding ruins of ancient palaces, forts and tombs.
Oruk has recently attracted the attention of an alliance of cults serving the Ruinous Powers, a state of affairs which will not go unopposed by the vanguard forces of the Inquisition.
“The ratings have been jumpy since the Sergeant-at-arms was liquified, Lady-Captain. They believe the tombs to be cursed.”Flavius Rexana, Seneschal to Rogue Trader Moliel Va’ash
Even with their unequaled mastery over flesh and data, the Gene-lords could not escape death. When their ambitions for ever grander tombs began to test the limits of what was possible to construct within a gravity-well, their architects began to look to the void.
Numerous beyond counting, the mausolea of the Gene-Lords crowd the inner asteroid belts and rocky moons of the Oruk system with their vast tomb complexes and city-sized catacombs. Most have already been plundered of their treasures by the brave and foolhardy. Some yet remain, well hidden or well protected by lethal traps and dormant but still-functional security systems.
“Three stinking weeks out here. No slaughter, no trophies, just digging. The drekkin bugs have spilled more blood than we have”Vakaar the Pain Worm, Khornate Heretic
In ancient times perhaps it was not so, but now almost the entire surface of Oruk is covered in impenetrable toxic jungle. Twisted into new forms by the Gene-Lords dead science, the plant and animal life in this hellish morass is strange and hostile.
Iridescent swarming insects have a sting which can drive a man to psychedelic madness, birds mimic human speech to lure the unwary into bogs so the flock can feast, fragrant trees bear a fruit so sweet that the poor fools who eat it do not seem to mind that it is also fatally toxic. The sole masters of the jungle are the mutant natives, descendents of the Gene-Lords’ chattel and experiments, or perhaps even devolved descendants of the masters themselves. Secretive and elusive, the native tribes prefer to avoid contact with outsiders, and will tend to flee unless their hidden settlements are threatened.
The hostility of Oruk’s environment is rivaled only by Death Worlds like Catachan and Benediction, but beneath the jungle canopy and the very earth below, lies the promise of knowledge and power beyond mortal understanding.
“You who violate my sanctum, the very air is ripe with my curse. Your lineage will live in frailty and pain unto the thousandth generation.”Inscription found inside the ziggurat of Themet III
If scholars ever came to Oruk they would argue over the function of the ubiquitous ziggurats which litter the surface. Were they palaces, fortresses, laboratoria? Even accounting for the hostility of Oruk’s environment, investigating these monumental stone structures has proved difficult. Some ziggurats are visible from orbit and aerial reconnaissance but seem to vanish when viewed at ground level, and vice versa. Some appear hollow to auspex, only to be revealed as solid piles of stone when their gates are finally breached.
A rare few of these structures connect to seemingly boundless networks of subterranean tunnels, ancient Gene-Lord facilities where they practised their dismal arts. These pitch-black halls are crowded with grotesque engravings and eerie statues depicting various Gene-Lords’ triumphs over the scourge of the Enslavers, other stellar kingdoms, and their local rivals. Cavernous chambers house serried ranks of statues in the shape of tentacled warriors (whose hollow forms conceal degraded genetic material of uncertain provenance). Those who brave the darkness and penetrate the abyssal depths of the facility may find that the most potent creations of the Gene-Lords are not dead, merely waiting…
Altevad’s Bastion: Time-worn charts of the Oruk system dredged from ancient Imperial archives note the presence of a truly formidable star fort in stellar orbit between the fourth and fifth planets of the system, its orbit has likely drifted over aeons. If the Bastion can be found and reactivated it represents an ancient and formidable weapon. Anyone who boards this relic should beware though, a Gene-Lord bioweapon of apocalyptic power is still active within its accursed bulkheads.
Oceans of Oruk: The waters of Oruk do not teem with hostile life as do the jungles, but the oceans did not escape the attentions of the Gene-Lords. The creatures found beneath the waves are often strange and unnatural, and deep subsurface auguries conducted by previous expeditions have detected the presence of cyclopean structures in the abyssal depths which may not be strictly natural.
Valley of Sin: This sweltering and relatively dry valley was chosen as a landing site by Magos Agment at the start of their ill-fated expedition almost 200 years ago. No survivors were reported, but some traces of the Adeptus Mechanicus mission may still remain which might shed light on its fate.
“Their horrors and wonders both are the stuff of fairytales on a hundred worlds. Perhaps they could live again in us, if we could only match the purity of their brilliance… and their cruelty”Genetor Ioumanns, Inquisitorial Acolyte [excommunicate traitoris]
While the term Gene Lords may imply a single faction of godlike rulers, in truth it is simply a catchall term employed by Imperial scholars to refer to the ruling classes of Oruk over the period of the quarantine. Non-Imperial civilisation on Oruk spanned at least a thousand years, and by some estimates as long as three millennia. Across this period numerous Gene Lord dynasties rose and fell, at times the world was unified under a single god-king, at others it was ravaged by war as numerous pretenders struggled for supremacy. What unites the Gene Lords across their history is their unquestioned mastery of the mysteries biologis and the cruelty and arrogance with which they ruled. Perhaps this arrogance was earned, by their might and technological prowess alone were the Psyren kept at bay.
Although they are long dead and gone, the Gene Lord’s influence still lingers over the system. The descendents of their experiments and their bio-thralls still stalk the jungles they cultivated. Within ancient tombs and facilities, ancient security systems still remain active on seemingly inexhaustible power reserves. The disgraced survivors of previous Imperial expeditions to the surface of Oruk have even expounded wild theories that the Gene Lords are not dead at all, they have simply used their dark sciences to transform themselves into more durable forms, against the day they reawaken and recapitulate their ancient reign of terror.
“P̮̱̻͇̰͕i̘̣̼̖͜t̴ị͚̺͔̫͚͓f͓̲u̜̳̘̮͡l̼͟ͅ ͙c͖̺͎̕r̖͇̩̻̪̝͙e̵͎͖͍ͅa͙̰͙t̛u̮̜̫r̪͎͓͕̼e̦̟̝͎s̷̭̬͓̞̼.͓.̞́. ̶̹ẁo̞̱͇̜͙̗̭u͇̻ļ̥͕d̬͎̗̼̝̣̻s̺̪̞̼͍̼̳t̮͍͍ ̯t̮͖̟̣͟h̩̞͈͍͈o̯̞̞͜u̸̬̼̗ ̛͚̲̯͍̻̗m̫̭̫͖ḙ̻͍͈e̩͉̟͠t ͓̭͎t͏̬h̀e͈͖͡ ͚̫ͅK҉̗͓e̶͇͕͔̪͓͕͚ẹ͎̲̮͉̩͝ͅp̯e̼̪̳̲͓̖̱r̵̙̮̲s̯̠̖̰̗?̘͖̟”CORE KERNEL ERROR MESSAGE
When the Horus Heresy split the Imperium asunder, so too did the Adeptus Mechanicus divide. The vile magi who sided with the Ruinous Powers over ten thousand years ago sired countless heretical splinter factions of the Cult of Mars collectively known as the Dark Mechanicus. The Keepers of the Mysteries are one such.
Unconcerned with the mundane laws which constrain their uncorrupted brothers, the dark ships of the Keepers glide through the lawless spaces beyond the borders of the Imperium in search of heinous and forbidden knowledge. Any who oppose them in the void will find their ship’s systems infested with daemonic scrapcode while the dark magi whisper secrets over vox to drive even the strongest minds mad. While many who have faced the Keepers have been defeated before they could fire a single shell, the dark magi are single-minded in their pursuit of forbidden lore and have been known to ignore vessels which neither interest nor oppose them.
The Keepers and their allies among the servants of Chaos have recently turned their attention to Oruk and the dark lore of the Gene Lords. Should the Dark Mechanicum succeed in uncovering the vile sciences which allowed the Gene Lords to survive the Psyren Scourge they would pose an intolerable threat to the safety of the Imperium.
“Form ranks and open veins, time for the daily bleedin’!”Sergeant Orgus the Brass Beast
Allies of the Keepers from among the ranks of followers of the Ruinous Powers. The Inheritors are worshippers of the Blood God, but they are no mindless berzerkers. Motivated by an ancient prophesy, the Inheritors seek to conquer and maim in the belief that one day soon a bloody messiah will arise who will lead them to glorious dominion over the local stellar cluster. Where some chaos cults field vast rabbles of frothing fanatics and gibbering mutants, the Inheritors have organised themselves as a disciplined and professional military force with a well-delineated command structure and a gruelling regimen of training. This backbone of professional soldiering is supplemented by the twisted murder-machines provided by their allies in the Dark Mechanicum, and the intercession of khornate daemons summoned by their brutally efficient slaughter.
The Inheritors have landed on Oruk at the behest of the Keepers and have established a fortified base camp from which they intend to excavate a jungle canyon they believe contains a secret entrance to the otherwise impenetrable ziggurat known as the Hollow Palace. Occasional hunting parties dispatched into the jungle have been able to kill and enslave a number of mutants, which they are using to assist with the excavation, and in bloody sacrifices to their dark god.
Mutants: The degenerate descendents of the Gene Lords’ thralls live as hunter-gatherers in isolated and well-hidden villages and seem to have no interest in contact with offworlders. Unlike most feral-worlders they are not impressed or cowed when confronted with high technology, though they inevitably retreat if attacked with firearms. No expedition has so far been able to decipher their spoken language, which seems to lack any relationship to known forms of low or high gothic. If enslaved they work without much complaint as long as they are closely watched, but their unwillingness to learn complex tasks makes them worthless for all but the most menial labours. They will attempt escape at every opportunity.
The Cesk Expedition: On receiving word from a routine scout patrol that forces of the ruinous powers had been sighted in the Oruk system, Inquisitor Hieronima Cesk rapidly set to action. Calling in favours, she has fast-tracked and commandeered an expedition to the world originally funded by the Organicist Magi of the forge world Gjanisborg. Cesk is an independent Inquisitor with decades of experience stalking the lawless fringes of Imperial space, and has secured the services of both the Imperial Guard and a powerful Rogue Trader dynasty to bolster her own forces.
Gjanisborg: Hailing from a Forge world specialising in vat-grown organics and genetic lore, the magi of Gjanisborg were eagerly organising an expedition to plunder Oruk’s secrets when Inquisitor Cesk stepped in. The genetors still maintain a major presence on her expedition, but are none too pleased at having been demoted to junior partners in service of Cesk’s personal crusade against the ruinous powers.
The following adventure hooks can all be tied together into a single narrative which involves characters appropriate for Dark Heresy, Only War and Rogue Trader all pursuing parallel goals on a military expedition to Oruk. Each adventure can be tweaked to stand alone, or, if you’re feeling ambitious, they could be tied together into a single epic excursion.
Introduction: Through bribery, blackmail, or calling in an old favour Inquisitor Hieronima Cesk has roped the Explorers’ dynasty into a dangerous expedition to Oruk. A small naval recon wing sent to scout the system reports enemy vessels of unknown strength currently patrolling the inner system around Oruk itself and the Inquisitor has wisely decided to recruit some muscle before attempting a run on the planet.
On arrival in the system, the Explorers will need to defeat, delay or trick a detachment of starships belonging to the Keepers of the Mysteries in order to deliver Cesk and her Guard regiments to the surface of Oruk. Beware, the Dark Magi employ strange and powerful weapons which represent a hideous perversion of the Omnissiah’s sacred gifts. A head-on battle with the Keepers is unlikely to go smoothly.
the Inquisitor has promised your dynasty a free pass to loot the orbital tombs scattered around the system
Once Cesk and her expedition are conveyed to the surface of Oruk, the Inquisitor has promised your dynasty a free pass to loot the orbital tombs scattered around the system. Though most have been picked bare or never contained anything of value a few may have gone unnoticed, and those already plundered may have secret chambers. While any technology that has survived will be of obvious value, some of the cultural items found in the tombs (statues, murals, tapestries, funerary urns and the like) may be of interest to wealthy collectors in civilised space. Of course, demand will be higher if the Explorers can encourage a fad for all things Oruk in Imperial high society.
Provided Cesk and her Guardsmen can drive off the forces of chaos, the tech-priests of Gjanisborg are keen to turn the expedition back to its original purpose. Geneuch Alekosbreed, the dynasty’s contact among the mechanicus contingent of the expedition, has offered a substantial reward for any specimen of Oruk life which can be delivered alive and in one piece back to Gjanisborg. Of particular interest are the chattering Orphaner Shrike, Neverdead’s Panther and the toxic and elusive Cnidomorph.
Introduction: You are part of, or have been transferred to, Inquisitor Cesk’s investigative team for the expedition to Oruk. Your mistress is a cold, distant figure, constantly busy coordinating the expedition and its many moving parts. Orders are relayed via subordinate interrogators or coded missives and are expected to be followed with minimal clarification. While the expedition is well-equipped, supplies are finite and rare and powerful gear is not lightly bestowed on mere acolytes.
Following a major engagement with the spacefleet of the Keepers in the outer system, the Inquisitor fears one or more of the escort vessels in the expedition fleet may have been infected with a malefic cogitator routine. The Acolytes must locate and purge this sentient technological horror, and any crewmembers it may have covertly subverted to its cause by inhuman cunning or outright assimilation.
…surgically altered at the hands of the Gjanisborgi techpriests to physically resemble the local mutants employed by the Inheritors as slave labour
Having made planetfall and established a secure basecamp in the jungle near the Hollow Palace, the Inquisitor immediately orders a hazardous deep-cover mission. The acolytes are to be stripped of all but the most discrete wargear and surgically altered at the hands of the Gjanisborgi techpriests to physically resemble the local mutants employed by the Inheritors as slave labour. Using their disguises to infiltrate the heavily-defended Inheritor camp, the acolytes are to gather and relay as much information as possible about the enemy’s composition, and identify their leadership. The acolytes’ report will be the immediate precursor to a beheading strike, and they are encouraged to sabotage everything they can on the way out.
Intelligence suggests that the Keepers and Inheritors have breached the Hollow Palace and are now closer to their heinous goal, whatever it may be. Under cover of a massive diversionary attack by the expedition’s Guard and Skitarii, the acolytes are to slip past the Inheritor forces and enter the Gene Lord ziggurat. If the acolytes are unable to keep whatever dark technology lies in the sepulchral warrens out of the hands of the enemy they must find and disable whatever is sustaining the facility’s seemingly impenetrable void shield so the Inquisitor’s flagship can level the site from orbit. If they have performed well up to this point, Cesk may even allow the acolytes a few minutes to try to escape.
Introduction: You are an Imperial Guard regiment sworn to serve Inquisitor Cesk in her holy endeavours on Oruk. You are not cleared to know or share crucial information about your opposition, and surviving an engagement is rewarded with hours of invasive screening back at base. Whenever not on deployment, the only danger to your life is the entire rest of the planet’s evil biosphere.
Losses against the Blood-god’s elite soldiers and the Dark Mechanicum’s death-engines are expected to be significant.
Orbital insertion is one of the most dangerous parts of interplanetary warfare, often left to the likes of Space Marines. Deploying onto hostile territory with no supply train, little air support, and danger-close orbital artillery, the guardsmen must occupy enemy positions and establish a beachhead. Losses against the Blood-god’s elite soldiers and the Dark Mechanicum’s death-engines are expected to be significant.
As part of a multi-pronged operation, the guardsmen are attached to one of the Inquisitor’s top interrogators on a mission to hunt down, kill, and “hear” several officers of the Inheritors. As the mission progresses, the guardsmen become more and more uncertain of the Interrogator’s own purity. Where do the guardsmen draw the line? Reading entrails? Speaking the memories of consumed minds? Human sacrifice? Do the ends justify all means?
A Gjanisborgi excursion into a nearby gene-lord ruin found more than they bargained for. An insidious and dangerously intelligent organism hides among the bio-enhanced skitarii, spreading throughout and subverting the bio-constructs like a spiteful contagion. The Inquisitor dispatches the guardsmen to contain the Mechanicus expedition, and to make certain that no trace of the infection can be allowed to spread.
Oruk is a setting completely beyond the limits of Imperial influence, a world of isolation, dread and the lingering echoes of ancient crimes. Any adventures here should emphasise the horror and cold, alien gravity of what the Gene Lords did during their long reign. Opportunities should also be taken to compare and contrast the Gene Lords with the Imperium; with whom they share a belief in survival at any cost, and the Keepers of the Mysteries, who mirror their thirst for dangerous and forbidden knowledge.
Adventures in Gene Lord tombs and ziggurats can more closely resemble certain classic fantasy role playing games than the average 40krp adventure, but resist the urge to run them as simple dungeon crawls with a monster around every corner. Ancient security systems, bioweapons and the mechanical monstrosities of the Keepers should be treated more as mysteries or puzzles to solve, or narrative threats to be evaded by lateral thinking and ingenuity. Adventures in the jungles of Oruk will be similar to those on other famous death worlds like Catachan with the difference that the biological horrors of Oruk were designed. Plant and animal life can be as outlandish, bizarre and cruel as you like. If you can imagine it, you can bet the Gene Lords did as well, and they’d probably take just as much glee in springing their latest creation on the players as you do.
Classic tales of extraterrestrial body horror like the Alien franchise, The Thing and Annihilation will serve as excellent references for the lingering creations and bioweapons of the Gene Lords. The Lords themselves are of course inspired by the rulers of ancient civilisations of the fertile crescent: Ashurbanipal, Gilgamesh and the Pharaohs of Old Kingdom Egypt. When imagining the Keepers of the Mysteries, think one part Borg, one part Victor Frankenstein and one part Hannibal Lecter. While their militant allies the Inheritors are a spicy blend of religious fundamentalism and every right wing militia power-fantasy.
Looting expeditions into the tombs and fortresses of the Gene Lords will, as standard, yield a large number of mundane artifacts and tomb goods: statues, bas-reliefs, jewellry, tapestries, dusty scroll cases and the like which may hold some value if the Explorers are willing to find specialist buyers or drum up general interest. Anything more unusual or valuable will require an arduous search, the bypassing of ancient security measures, or a treasure hunt following various narrative clues. Consult the table below for some possible treasures waiting to be uncovered, or use them as a baseline to create your own Gene Lord treasures.
Spelunking these ancient tombs is not without risk, and the longer the Explorers choose to keep searching for riches the more difficult the challenge should become, and the more they or their lackeys should be exposed to sinister traps and the viral “curses” left behind by the Gene Lords.
|01-04||A small stone sarcophagus containing the mummified remains of a favourite pet|
|05-09||A secret compartment contains the skeletal remains of hundreds of conjoined twins|
|10-14||A sleek metal case holds twelve stoppered glass vials half filled with dusty sediment|
|15-19||The immaculately preserved skin of a bio-engineered feline warbeast. If properly handled it could be fashioned into a suit of armour for a single person. (Count as a suit of best-quality xeno-mesh)|
|20-24||A wickedly sharp ritual dagger which appears to have been grown from dental enamel (counts as best quality mono knife)|
|25-29||A sophisticated crystal glass aquarium biohabitat contains only muck and the bones of long-dead fish. Water filtration, aeration, heating and auto-feeding still function on backup power.|
|30-34||A locket amulet opens to display a human fetus preserved in amber|
|35-39||An exquisitely-wrought set of surgical devices appear to have been artificially grown from mother-of-pearl. If supplemented with gauze and other perishable supplies they will function as a best-quality medkit.|
|40-44||A feasting table and seats for fifty guests are shaped from the contorted forms of naked human slaves infused with durable resin. Their anguished expressions suggest the resin was injected pre-mortem.|
|45-49||An exquisite statue of a powerful Gene Lord is crafted from petrified wood. The absence of tool marks suggests it was grown, not carved. It stands at over two and a half meters tall – life size.|
|50-54||The skeletal remains of twenty-six of the Gene Lord’s bodyguards lie on slabs clad in suits of fantastically ornamented carapace armour. Their dead fingers clutch working M35 pattern Bolters, though the unorthodox ammunition appears to have rotted away.|
|55-59||An urn full of seeds that look like beads of black glass. If planted, they will grow an incredibly invasive strain of corn, inedible to normal humans. The corn consumes other plants, insects, and small vermin.|
|60-64||A miniature stasis unit houses a tiny, immaculate tree. The miniature tree may be of interest only to a collector, but the stasis unit is undoubtedly archaeotech.|
|65-69||What appears to be a canopic jar is in fact an elaborate life support unit containing a Gene Lord’s favourite concubine suspended in amniotic fluid. The occupant is extraordinarily beautiful, but if removed from the jar they will dissolve into a mass of putrid black slime within minutes.|
|70-74||A throne of force-grown ivory is padded with synthetic muscle tissue. If carefully rehydrated and fed with sugar-rich solution the muscles will gently massage the back and buttocks of the occupant. A pleasant experience, if one doesn’t think about it too much.|
|75-78||A metal sarcophagus produces an impossibly fast-grown clone of a single person, once, before falling silent for eternity. The clone has no memories, a full set of healthy organs, but is short one finger and one soul.|
|79-82||An archaeotech tox-wand that can take a genetic sample and within 1d5 hours produce a vial of poison deadly to anyone descended from the sampled individual.|
|83-86||A crotalid-hide scroll case contains a perfectly preserved warp navigation chart of the local stellar region dating back at least two thousand years. If a Navigator is able to decipher it they will find most, but not all, of the ancient routes are no longer viable.|
|87-90||A briefcase-sized metal box houses a dormant vore-weapon and several vials of pheromone dust which can be used to wake and direct the biomechanical killing machine.|
|91-93||Six glass ampoules of a drug which, when ingested, grants the user unnatural intelligence (4) for 1d5 days and inflicts 5 insanity points. Each dose taken after the first immediately inflicts a further 5 insanity points and causes any mental disorder the character has to become Acute. If they have no mental disorders or all their current disorders are acute, they develop a new severe disorder instead.|
|94-96||Among some other trinkets found in the ashen remains heaped inside a Gene Lord’s sarcophagus is a still-functional personal conversion field generator|
|97-98||Among more mundane and ceremonial weapons, an archeotech hellpistol whose unusual power cell is fitted with an intravenous line. If drained of power the cell can be recharged by feeding it fresh human blood (donor takes one level of fatigue)|
|99||In lieu of a casket a dessicated Gene Lord mummy lies interred in a fantastically ornamented Mk. I Aquila Lander. The sterile environment of the tomb has left it perfectly preserved and fully functional once refuelled. The exterior is plated with jewels and precious metal and the interior is luxuriously appointed in fragrant jungle timbers and the hides of rare beasts.|
|100||Tucked into an innocuous corner of a colossal tomb complex, behind numerous discrete security systems and dummy chambers filled with lesser loot, an elaborate life-support device hums quietly. It contains a single genetically enhanced humanoid brain suspended in fluid and appears to be dormant, but alive. Theoretically it could be communicated with or implanted into an artificial body. Would such an action be wise? The Gene Lords were hardly human to begin with, and this one has been dead-dreaming for thousands of years…|
Between the Keepers infecting comms systems with malignant viruses and Untouchable abominations hunting you in pitch black tombs, Oruk is a place full of fresh horrors. It’s saying something when the Khornate daemon-summoning army is the most mundane threat you’ll face in this system.
In our Rogue Trader campaign we spent long sessions fumbling around in the depths of the forgotten laboratory-mausoleums of the gene-lords on Oruk, after having snuck in disguised as Inheritors and their local slave chattel. I’m not sure we recovered much of value from that part of the adventure, but the assorted crap we hauled out of the system’s orbital tombs were enough to let us throw some really great theme parties back in civilized space.