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“It’s the brightest light of civilisation you’re likely to find in the Gulf, but that doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy it there.”  

Navigator Tertius Ernadine Ruhk

Though technically still classified as an Adeptus Mechanicus colony world, Serenhold is the most powerful Imperial-aligned world in the frontier space of the Morana Gulf. Aspiring to the status of Forge World, the ruling power of Serenhold would see their dominion rise as the premier political power in the Gulf, by any means necessary. For all its recent history, Serenhold has been ruled by the enigmatic Fabricator General Zero-One (stylised 01). The arch-magos has been shrewd in courting other powerful Imperial institutions, and most major political powers with interests in the reconquest of the Gulf have a presence in the system, including the Imperial Navy, the Order Dialogous and the Adeptus Astra Telepathica. 

The polluted soil of Serenhold itself has been declared holy territory of the machine cult, and 01 forbids most non-mechanicus personnel from setting foot there (though many suspect this has more to do with the fabricator general’s paranoia than with religious doctrine). As such, most other Imperial institutions maintain a significant orbital presence, or locate their infrastructure on Serenhold’s nameless icy moon. Elsewhere in the system is the planetoid Vode, a rich mining outpost which feeds Serenhold’s ravenous forges and doubles as a penal colony to which 01’s enemies may be exiled.

Locations

Serenhold System

Forge 01

“+WE WILL NOT BE DENIED+ WE WILL NOT BE DELAYED+ WE ARE THE OMNISSIAH’S GLORY+” 

01 delivers a proclamation

Forge 01 is the principal settlement and manufacturing installation on Serenhold. A glorious tangle of refineries, forges, manufactoria and data-crypts which stands as a living testament to the might of the Machine Cult and the their triumph over the hostile Gulf. Or so 01 would like it described. Though it does not yet boast the manufacturing base or sheer power of cities on more established forge worlds, Forge 01 benefits from being a relatively new settlement.  

Constructed in the decades following the end of the quarantine of the Gulf, Forge 01 benefits from the foresight and planning of the wrights who constructed it and operates with a level of efficiency that the tech-priests of established forge worlds can only dream of. This novelty also attracts a number of nonconformist sects who would be rejected by the mainstream of the Cult Mechanicus, but are more than willing to swear allegiance to 01’s cause in exchange for protection.

The “Os”

“Debris warning is in effect for orbital layers A through F due to the recent bombing of Autostat Eighteen. Landing vouchers are available for every decaton of debris recovered. Damage due to negligence will not be reimbursed.” 

Serenhold Orbital Control announcement

While Serenhold itself is forbidden to all but the most well-connected outsiders, the void around the planet is a more welcoming environment, as long as they have something of value they are willing to part with. Thousands of independently operated orbital habitats fill the skies around the nascent forge world, each paying a hefty license directly into 01’s coffers. The Os fulfill a diverse variety of functions, from luxurious residences and hotels for wealthy nobles and businesspeople, to seedy gambling dens, pit-fighting arenas and huge retail storehouses brimming with equipment for explorers and colonists.

Since Serenhold sits on one of the few known stable warp routes between the Morana Gulf and the nearby civilized Perios sector, the Os are a big draw for independent traders, smugglers and seekers after rarities and curios. For people daring to leave the sectors, the Os are a taste of the wild frontier. To the people returning from the outer Gulf, the Os represent safety and civilization.

Serenhold Orbit

Serenity Base

“Technological antedvancements really get me in the mood…” 

Archaeoxenan Agathon Neverdead proposes an expedition

Despite the narrative 01 attempts to establish as being the original motive force behind the development of Serenhold, they were not the first to claim dominion over the world. The Adeptus Mechanicus presence in the system was originally established by an Explorator named Yotta Seren, who first founded an outpost on Serenhold’s moon. This base became a springboard for Mechanicus expeditions into Morana, and in many ways served as the seeding grain around which the rest of Serenhold’s civilization has been able to flourish.

Outsiders are welcome to enjoy the comforts of Serenity, but only by invitation by one of the members of Explorator Seren’s expedition. Among the luminaries that hold honorary memberships in Seren’s centuries-old base one may find Imperial nobles, Rogue Traders, archaeoxenans, and a significant percentage of other explorers across the Gulf. These figures come together for secret auctions where a bidder might find brand new planetary surveys, exclusive warp charts, archaeotech, and other even rarer treasures.

Other locations

Vode: A dismal planetoid barely massive enough to hold on to its feeble atmosphere. Vode is rich in metals and pockets of rare elements and esoteric fluids. As Serenhold bootstraps its manufacturing capacity, Vode has grown from a gloomy penal colony to a thriving mining outpost.

Athenium Eschaton: One of the more distinguished orbitals among the thousands which throng the Serenhold system. The Athenium is a temple-vault of the Sororitas Dialogous Order of the Quill. The Ecclesiarchy has spared no expense in making the orbital the perfect place for study and contemplation. It boasts an extremely comprehensive librarium archive, as well as a number of hydroponic gardens, viewing galleries and observatories. The fact the Athenium is often the first destination of ancient and forbidden lore from the reclaimed worlds of the Gulf is of great interest to the Inquisition, among other parties.

Tobius Engine Yards: The only fully operational Imperial shipyard in the Morana Gulf, the engine yards at Serenhold are owned by Wray Industries and subcontracted to their subsidiary maintenance and salvage enterprise – the Tobius Company. The shipyard is equipped to perform repairs and refits of ships up to battlecruiser hulls and complete place-forging of escort vessels. In addition, a fleet of warp-capable salvage vessels stand by to collect wrecks across the Gulf with no questions asked.





Factions

The Prime Factors

“By the will of the Omnissiah I do swear my flesh, my will and the loyalty of my lineage to Zero-One for all eternity.” 

Magos Voronoi Kassus swears allegiance to Zero-One

01 would like to pretend that they alone control every aspect of life and economic activity in the Serenhold system. Everything from their choice of moniker to their habit of only appearing in public with a fluttering entourage of hundreds of neurolinked servo-creatures and cherubim slaved directly to their cortex seems calculated to support this idea. While an effective piece of propaganda, it is a falsehood, and the Fabricator-General relies on a carefully managed inner circle referred to informally as the Prime Factors. Arranged by rank according to their likely loyalty and the extent of their power, this inner circle is dominated by lesser Magi (codename 02, 05, 07 etc…), though there is space under Zero-One’s wing for those outside the cult of Mars, including the CEO of Tobius Company (Alias “13”)

As with all high courts the ranks of the Factors are riven with intrigue and minor power struggles. While presenting a united front, 01 is particularly adept at playing ambitious minions off against each other. In the last decade alone six Factors have perished to assassinations ordered by other Factors, and a few have even been personally executed by 01 after bungling plots of their own.

The Serenites

“Never before have I seen someone employ the Rite of Pure Thought to expunge everything but their greed and ambition.” 

Explorator Ashura laments Zero-One’s avarice

While many Imperial institutions enjoy 01’s largesse and happily enforce the status quo of Serenhold’s politics, there is a large minority of dissidents who view the Fabricator General as a false tyrant to be overthrown. The Serenite conspiracy is an open secret, a malcontent cabal organised mostly by Explorators using Serenity Base as a staging post for expeditions into the Gulf. In much the same way as Rogue Traders are a law unto themselves beyond the Imperium’s borders, powerful Explorators are often able to flout the norms of the Adeptus Mechanicus in pursuit of their mission.

With deep pockets and a motley collection of allies throughout the Gulf and nearby civilised space, the Serenites attempt to frustrate 01’s megalomaniac schemes without going so far as to declare open war. A magnet for opportunists, rabble-rousers and political radicals within the hierarchy of the Mechanicum, the Serenite cause also attracts a large number of former minions of 01 who have been burned by the Fabricator General’s machiavellian treachery.

Imperial Navy Colonial Administration (IN:CA)

“I have twelve ships at my disposal to patrol twenty systems, half of which are pirate dens or xenos havens. I am certain you understand the phrase ‘cost-benefit analysis’ Lady Orja. What is the Imperial Navy’s benefit in this enterprise?”

Commodore Darius Vessenquin of Navy Task Force Tiresias

Until the region can be officially annexed by a neighbouring sector or establish its own government, Imperial assets in the Gulf answer to the Imperial Navy’s Colonial Administration, headquartered at a massive waystation orbital at the outer edges of the Serenhold system. Although officially under Navy authority under Rear-Admiral Opther Blix, the day-to-day running of the Colonial Administration falls to a committee of seven lords and officers of the Adeptus Terra. These are assigned by the governors of nearby sectors, each posturing to gain the upper hand in the future of the Gulf.

The Colonial Administration is responsible for protecting reincorporated planets in the Morana Gulf, collecting tithes, and ensuring that those tithes are put to effective use. As a consequence, the IN:CA has a significant number of fresh Imperial Guard regiments under its command, but too few ships to maintain supply lines for hostile deployments. The two Imperial Navy task forces assigned to the region are small and spread thin, and thus the administration is forced to rely on Rogue Traders and Explorator fleets to pursue the reconquest of Morana.

Other Factions

House von Kroyer: As a last-ditch effort to protect his dynasty from a more powerful rival house, Rogue Trader Kennoch von Kroyer is said to have recently sworn his family to serve 01 “for all eternity”. Whether or not the Lord Captain was desperate enough to declare eternal fealty, the von Kroyers have recently been a recurring presence in the Serenhold system, and are rumoured to be running covert missions for the Fabricator General.

Huvillite Sect: Magos Huville would have enjoyed a modest legacy in the annals of the Adeptus Mechanicus for his hand in the design of the workhorse Aspis-class light starship. He instead became a legend by leading a massive expedition into the Morana Gulf millenia before its quarantine status was lifted. Not a single member of the expedition returned and no trace of it has been found to date. To the commoners and laity of the Adeptus Mechanicus of Serenhold he has become a messianic figure, and a cult has formed to preach of the day he will return and lead humanity into a new golden age of technology.

VOID Corps: The Vode Orbital Interdiction Division is a quasi-private paramilitary company which raises massive battalions of expendable troops from among the penal miners of Vode. Only occasionally deployed outside the Serenhold system, they are usually fielded en mass in suicidal boarding actions against orbital stations which have fallen out of favour with Serenhold and the voidcraft of pirates and smugglers bold enough to operate within 01’s expanding sphere of influence. 





Game Hooks

Dark Heresy

Introduction: At first glance Serenhold might sport all the traditional trappings of an Imperial system, but in truth it’s a den of crime and corruption masked behind a veneer of entrepreneurial enterprise and righteous colonial exploitation. The local authorities are so eager to accept the charade of legitimacy to justify their own profiteering that they grow lax in their policing of societal threats, and pay little heed to criminals that seek refuge beyond Imperial borders. The Inquisition is almost forgotten here, so it falls to the Acolytes to serve as a reminder that there is no place that is beyond the reach of the Holy Ordos.

A major civilian orbital recently cut off contact with the rest of the system and every party sent to investigate has failed to return. The last voidship to dock with the orbital has been impounded by the Navy and the acolytes have been tasked with interrogating the ship’s officers about the mysterious cargo they delivered to the station, before investigating the installation themselves and putting and end to whatever alien or daemonic force may have been unleashed there.

A gang involved in the cold trade in alien technology has recently become so brazen and powerful that they have begun to use alien weapons to openly attack their rivals. The Inquisition becomes suspicious after a number of bodies are found shredded almost to the point of liquefaction by a xenos monofilament weapon. Eager to disabuse the cold traders of the notion that they are untouchable the acolytes are dispatched to bring them to justice. The cold traders have powerful clients, including Rogue Traders and Explorators, who have an interest in keeping their suppliers hidden. Even if they can be tracked down to their hidden base, surviving the eldar Deathspinner they’ve been terrorising the underworld with is easier said than done.  



a number of bodies are found shredded almost to the point of liquefaction by a xenos monofilament weapon


The Aethenium Eschaton of the Order Dialogous contains many secret libraria in which are housed dangerous and forbidden texts detailing alien science and strange, un-imperial rituals. Evidence has recently come to light that one particular tome (the only one of its kind) is coveted by a heretic sorcerer who has long eluded capture by the Inquisition. Fearing the sorcerer may already have infiltrated the Aethenium, the acolytes’ Inquisitor has charged them with entering the librarium-orbital under assumed identities and stopping the heretic before she can find her forbidden prize. The acolytes must tread carefully, if the heretic suspects they are onto her she may strike at them with fell sorcery, or simply flee the system and continue to plague the Imperium even without the tome she desires. 

Only War

Introduction: The players are thrust into the mag-boots of the downtrodden and poorly equipped Void Corps penal battalions. Every assignment is a suicide mission, equipment is unreliable even by the standards of the Imperial Guard, and even if you survive the chance of a reprieve are minimal. Still, it’s more exciting than swinging a pick at moon rocks all day… 

Before they’re even organised into regiments, the convicts who have been volunteered for Void Corps must first pass “basic training”. This involves being assigned to squads, handed barely-functional small arms and excavation equipment and being dumped into barren mining tunnels devoid of atmosphere to fight to the death with a number of rival squads. Those that survive have the privilege of “graduating” to active service in the corps, and even more dangerous missions. 



being dumped into barren mining tunnels devoid of atmosphere to fight to the death with a number of rival squads


The owner of a large manufacturing orbital has recently fallen out of favour with Zero-One and the Void Corps has been tasked with evicting them without doing too much damage to valuable industrial infrastructure. The orbital’s owner is now fortified in the facility, protected by a large number of highly trained mercenaries. A plan has been devised where the Corpsmen will be smuggled in aboard a materials shipment from Vode. The manufactoria are still in operation, so the players must successfully navigate the large and deadly production floors to achieve their objectives.  

Following the capture of the industrial orbital, evidence suggests its former owner had been covertly backed by the Serenite faction operating from Serenhold’s nameless moon. By way of retaliation 01 would like some damage done to the private base of an upstart Explorator but is unwilling to commit any but the most expendable troops to the task. In addition to being located in a canyon on an icy moon with an almost non-existent atmosphere, the Explorator’s base is protected by several crack squads of skitarii. Destroying or capturing the base is likely out of the question, but the Corpsmen may be able to do some structural damage before they escape (or more likely, die in the attempt).

Rogue Trader

Introduction: Serenhold is the natural staging post for a crew of ambitious Rogue Traders. Whether it is the start of a new campaign or a new foothold in an ongoing one, the Explorers will find numerous factions and leads to explore here. The dynasty may be an existing fixture in the Gulf, or invited to the orbital offices of another Rogue Trader to discuss opportunities and partnerships.

Explorers who are eager to reclaim lost human worlds in the name of the Emperor will find eager supporters in the Colonial Administration’s chief committee. They have freshly-drafted regiments from the recently reconquered Vanshaya standing ready for deployment, but the IN:CA will demand a proof of ability before seconding a regiment to the Explorers. Commodore Vessenquin of the Imperial Navy recently reported a new pirate coalition forming at the rogues’ haven system known as Okhropir. If the Explorers can capture a few officers from this new organization and bring them back to the Imperial Navy for questioning, the Colonial Administration will be eager to lend them the manpower they need.

The system is abuzz with the rumour that a cache has been recovered from the ill-fated and mysteriously vanished Huville Expedition. Wild stories claim that it contains charts of stable warp routes through the Saintstorms, planetary surveys of yet unheard of human worlds in the Gulf, the trail of an STC, and even a recording of Magos Huville himself. Whatever the truth of the contents may be, one lucky group will know for certain after the auction on Serenity Base concludes. If the Explorers wish to have a chance to get their hands on the cache, they must get invitations to Serenity and win a bidding war that is certain to get hot – especially with Huville’s fanatical adherents so close by.



reliable auguries foretelling that a space hulk known as the Wandering Siren will break warp near the world Widald, not far from Serenhold


Eager to strike a deal with some ambitious newcomers, Wray Industries and the Tobius Salvaging Company have an endeavour that requires a capable and daring group. A Tobius executive will inform the Explorers that they have reliable auguries foretelling that a space hulk known as the Wandering Siren will break warp near the world Widald, not far from Serenhold. The hulk is known to be an amalgamation of Imperial hulls dating back to the Psyren Scourge and possibly as far back as the Reign of Blood. If the Explorers can catch the hulk, board it, and halt it, Tobius wish to break it up to salvage its rare hulls. Anything that is not part of a starship superstructure is free for the Explorers to loot, if they can pry it from the hands of whatever creatures dwell aboard the hulk…





Notes for GMs

Serenhold is a facade. Significant effort and investment has been made to sell the illusion that this domain is a part of the Imperium, and it is such an alluring lie that it’s easy to forget that Zero-One alone is lord and master here. In truth, this is how most Imperial colonial efforts operate and the local chapters of Imperial institutions know it well, but Serenhold attracts the types of people who thrive in the murky gray depths of false legitimacy. Adventures set at Serenhold should be a constant struggle against institutional corruption, two-facedness, and crime-by-other-names enduring simply because the criminals pay rent to 01.

Rogue Trader players should find this climate to be their ideal element: presence of familiar institutions to be leveraged, and the extra-territorial freedom to pursue any ambition. However, the players are not first on the scene and if they don’t make a quick name for themselves by ruthless cunning they are liable to become pawns in someone else’s web of schemes.

The authorities operating out of Serenhold are likely to be more pragmatic than their in-sector cousins, with fewer nepotistic quagmires to get stuck in. But those stationed out here are most likely to be either too incompetent or too ambitious for sector politics. It’s never going to be clear if an official at Serenhold is acting on Imperial interests or their own – Zero-One least of all.

If you are using Serenhold as a campaign hub, it’s an ideal place to make contact with the Ranamanda Syndicate, the Protectorate of Vanshaya, or the Rogue Trader dynasties of Vipinicus and von Kroyer. Once the players have made a name for themselves, they may even be roped into the Cesk Expedition.

Themes

  • The Last Bastion of Civilisation
  • The Thin Veneer of Civil Society
  • Abuse of Absolute Power




Aspis-class Corvette

Designed by the singular Magos Huville of the Forge World Morningstar in 994M36, the Aspis Corvette was made to serve as a convoy escort in the Perios sector, protecting valuable shipments from the predations of separatist raiders. Its small size and light armour makes the Aspis cheap and fast to manufacture, and it compensates its defenses with a set of Morningstar-pattern auxiliary void shield projectors.

Dimensions: 1.5 km long, 0.4 km abeam at fins approx.
Mass: 6.8 megatonnes approx.
Crew: 17,000 crew, approx.
Accel: 7.0 gravities max sustainable acceleration.

Speed: +5
Maneuverability: +20
Detection: +10
Hull Integrity: 30
Armour: 12
Turret Rating: 1
Space: 32
SP: 31
Weapon Capacity: Dorsal 1, Prow 1

Easy to Repair: When affecting long term repairs, this ship may repair an additional +2 Hull Integrity if the repairs succeed.

Integral Component: The Aspis always has one Huville-Pattern Auxiliary Shield Projector (already accounted for in the ship’s Space)

Huville-Pattern Auxiliary Shield Projector

The Huville-Pattern shield projector adds 1 void shield to a single facing of the ship. As a free action in combat, once per round, the shield can be redirected towards a different facing with a successful (+0) Tech-Use test.

“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.

Locations

Oruk System

Tombs of the Gene-Lords

“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.

The Jungles of Oruk

“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.

The Ziggurats

“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…

Other locations

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.





Factions

The Gene-Lords

“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.

The Keepers of the Mysteries

“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.

The Inheritors

“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.

Other Factions

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.





Game Hooks

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.

Rogue Trader

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.

Dark Heresy

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.

Only War

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.





Notes for GMs

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.

Themes

  • Forbidden Knowledge
  • Survival at any costs
  • Paranoia and isolation
  • Ancient crimes against nature

Touchstones

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.





Plundering Gene Lord Tombs

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.

Gene Lord Tomb Findings

D100 rollResult
01-04A small stone sarcophagus containing the mummified remains of a favourite pet
05-09A secret compartment contains the skeletal remains of hundreds of conjoined twins
10-14A sleek metal case holds twelve stoppered glass vials half filled with dusty sediment
15-19The 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)
20-24A wickedly sharp ritual dagger which appears to have been grown from dental enamel (counts as best quality mono knife)
25-29A 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. 
30-34A locket amulet opens to display a human fetus preserved in amber
35-39An 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.
40-44A 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.
45-49An 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.
50-54The 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.
55-59An 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.
60-64A 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.
65-69What 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.
70-74A 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.
75-78A 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.
79-82An 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.
83-86A 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. 
87-90A 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.  
91-93Six 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.  
94-96Among some other trinkets found in the ashen remains heaped inside a Gene Lord’s sarcophagus is a still-functional personal conversion field generator
97-98Among 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)
99In 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.
100Tucked 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…




Author’s Notes

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.

“The High Protector wants ten million barrels of crude by next week. All hail the new boss, same as the old boss.”  

Ny Thoko, Oilfield Overseer

Vanshaya lies in a region of space which was, until recently, subject to a quarantine order by the Imperium due to a massive outbreak of deadly warp entities known as Enslavers. While originally a colony of the Imperium, millennia of isolation saw the planet diverge from Imperial customs and culture. Miraculously weathering the Enslaver scourge, civilisation flourished on Vanshaya and the world was eventually united under a federated global government and began limited exploitation of resources in their star system. A small but well-maintained fleet of raider-class vessels stationed in-system before the quarantine allowed the Vanshayans to protect themselves from pirates and opportunistic xenos. These ships also allowed them to engage in limited trade with nearby civilised worlds and human colonies, making short, unreliable hops through the warp without Navigators. 

This peaceful status quo would be shattered with the arrival of the Imperium in the form of the von Kroyer Rogue Trader dynasty. Using an incoming fleet of chaos reavers as justification, the dynasty engaged in some literal gunboat diplomacy,  using their guile and superior firepower to force the Consul of the Vanshayan federation to sign away his world’s sovereignty and establish an Imperial Protectorate. The independently-minded Vanshayan people were appalled at this cowardly capitulation, but the deed had been done. Within weeks, Imperial Guard regiments friendly to the von Kroyer dynasty had landed and seized control of spaceports and other strategic locations and the Consul was swiftly deposed (later assassinated) and replaced with a “High Protector” loyal to the Imperium.

Ultimately, the incoming reaver fleet was defeated long before they were able to reach Vanshaya, but the world’s fate was already sealed. Taking note of the planet’s vast reserves of promethium and robust tech-base and civilian infrastructure, Imperial authorities elected to maintain direct control over the world, buying the von Kroyer dynasty’s rights over the planet surface in exchange for a monopoly on void-based trade in the system. Vanshaya is now in the grip of interstellar culture shock. Open resistance to Imperial rule grows by the day, but the Emperor’s Law has come to Vanshaya, and the black gold beneath the planet’s surface ensures that it’s there to stay.

Locations

Daksina Jagaha

“Citizens are reminded that refusal to address officials in Gothic is grounds for revocation of free movement privileges”

Public bulletin, Protector’s Square

Once a bustling city of more than twenty million people, the Imperial Protectorate has divided the the planetary capital into a number of security zones in order to render the resentful populace more compliant. Rolling curfews are in effect, and interminable checkpoints manned by the Imperial Guard and Adeptus Arbites have left the streets alternately deserted and gridlocked. Imperial officials are keen to restore a profitable and stable status quo as quickly as possible, but the situation continues to deteriorate, with rebels now fully committed to a campaign of terror and assassination against those they see as brutal foreign overlords. 

Despite an increasingly low standard of public order, the city maintains a level of technology approximately equal to the average Imperial world, and the Protectorate authorities have seen to it that all the products and comforts they are accustomed to are available to them. The south-eastern part of the city is home to a sprawling network of docks and refineries, still busily engaged in distilling the world’s abundant crude oil into promethium: the Imperium’s life-blood. Elsewhere in the city, ancient stone buildings share a skyline with modern plascrete constructions and the boxy shapes of prefabricated Imperial architecture hastily erected to house the Protectorate’s instruments of power

The Trans-Continental

“We are sorry to announce that the scheduled service to *Hogenbruck* has been delayed by *forty-six hours*: This is due to unexpected rebel activity near Sternpoint”

Service announcement, Daksina Central Station

One of the crowning achievements of the Vanshayan civilisation, the Transcontinental rail girdles almost the entire width of the planet’s inhabited landmass and links most of its major population centers. Far more than a single track, the trans-continental is a locomotive super-highway, carrying everything from ultra-heavy traction-tankers to high-speed luxury maglev shuttles for the planet’s business elite. 

The Imperial authorities are naturally eager to continue to exploit this vital trade route, and have directed most of their occupation forces to protect strategic depots and interchanges to keep the promethium flowing from the oilfields to the shuttleports at Daksina Jahaga and Korburg. Alas, defending almost twenty-thousand kilometers of track is no easy feat, and sections of the line are regularly sabotaged or seized by rebel forces.

Hogenbruck

“They levelled my family’s hab for nothing. The footage didn’t even make it into the extended cut!” 

Anto Mattyahu, refinery worker

Once the most prosperous city on Vanshaya and a founding partner to the previous federal system, the city of Handigarh was a metropolis of ten million before House von Kroyer arrived. Disappointed with the lacklustre opposition offered by the Consulate’s forces, Kennoch von Kroyer turned the city into the set of a staged war to demonstrate his dynasty’s military prowess. Holo-vids of Imperial Knights demolishing armoured columns and insurgent forces terrorizing hab-blocks were forged here to espouse the von Kroyer triumph, and as a statement to the rest of Vanshaya: Resistance is futile.

Now renamed Hogenbruck, the city is being brutally redeveloped in Imperial fashion. Lucrative reconstruction contracts offered to allies of the High Protector and an influx of pilgrim colonists has turned the area into a burgeoning bastion of gothic culture. The Imperial Knights of House Faresi remain stationed out of Hogenbruck, awaiting their next contract from the von Kroyers or a more honorable employer. Until then they provide B-reel for war documentaries.

Other locations

Eksa: When Vanshaya was cut off from the Imperium they were not cut off from their faith. The Cult of the Emperor persisted as the world’s dominant religion and Eksa has always been its traditional centre. Owing to its holy status, this small city has been spared the violence meted out against the rest of the planet. Its ancient and spectacular temples are lively with the sound of votive drums and the ecumenical debates of Imperial missionaries who have come to disabuse the locals of a number of doctrinal misinterpretations.

Vanguard Starbase: Vanshaya’s formidable orbital starbase is a relic of the Imperium from before the planet was cut off by the quarantine protocol. Vanguard is a sprawling and well-defended facility comprising dozens of shuttle bays and berth for interstellar carriers and their escorts preparing to ship Vanshaya’s precious promethium out of the system. Since the occupation the starbase has played host to an increasingly colourful collection of guests as traders flock to the newly open market from across Imperial space.

Wilderness Zone:  An unbearably hot, humid and malarial rainforest occupies the equatorial lowlands far from the world’s major population centers. A favourite hiding place for rebel forces, the von Kroyer dynasty released a tribe of Kroot mercenaries under their employ into the jungle to root out the resistance. The Dynasty have since lost interest in the planet, but the xenos have not re-emerged, leading some to suspect the tribe and their Warsphere may still be hidden somewhere in the untamed depths…





Factions

The Vanshayan Protectorate

“Hmm, the rate of civilian casualties is a concern, certainly, but the Lord Governor is very pleased with the way we’re meeting the production quotas. If we can hold the insurrection off for a year I see promotions in our futures!” 

Count Altuidus Bleen, High Protector of Vanshaya

Within weeks of the von Kroyer coup, the Imperium dispatched a veritable legion of administrators, fixers, career politicians and other lackeys to begin bringing Vanshaya to heel. Headquartering in the sprawling Consular Complex at the heart of Daksina Jagaha, the offices of the Vanshayan Protectorate immediately began issuing edicts and unilateral decrees: the adjustment period was over, Imperial rule was to be the new status quo and industrial production was to escalate indefinitely to feed the ever-expanding Imperial war machine. 

At the head of the Protectorate administration is one Count Aluidus Procopius Jax-Hellene Bleen, a nobleman and unsuccessful career politician reassigned to the Vanshaya project following a string of ignominious postings at the head of various Adeptus Administratum divisions on the hive world Diadoch Primus. As befits the newly-minted despot of an occupied world, Bleen is vainglorious, paranoid and rules without regard or sensitivity for the conquered people under his charge. The administration beneath him is a viper’s pit of cronies, charlatans and disgraced Imperial officials reassigned to frontier space as a punishment. The shambolic Protectorate survives because it is backed by the hammer of the Imperial Guard and the seemingly endless resources certain interested parties are willing to invest to bring Vanshaya fully under Imperial control.

Vanshayan Free People’s Liberation Army

“They burn our ships. They bomb our cities. They steal our people for their wars between the stars. And they call me the monster? Then a monster I shall become, and monsters you will be alongside me!” 

Modisahrsa, Rebel Icon

When Vanshaya was annexed, more than half of its standing army was forced into penal regiments to fight and die on battlefields many lightyears away to atone for the sins of their homeworld. Of the remainder, many scattered and fled the cities, emptying armouries and ordnance stores.  

Forming independent partisan bands and guerilla forces, these rebel factions can now be found lurking in forgotten defensive networks across the planet. The Protectorate considers them a leaderless rabble and counts them as closer to vermin than a legitimate threat, but this fails to account for the many agents of Vanshaya’s Clandestine Service who evaded capture during the slipshod von Kroyer occupation.

Imperial analysts believe that these highly effective operatives are behind the enigmatic leader known as Modisahrsa, an agitator who broadcasts inflammatory speeches from an unknown location, urging the population to rise up against the Imperial occupation. Reports from interrogations of captured rebels suggest that Modisahrsa may be much more than that. They say that Modisahrsa walks among their people, that they guide the rebellion with cool patience and a clear vision, and that they alone control a third of Vanshaya’s missing stockpile of tactical ordnance.

The Ia’Sothan Peacekeepers

“An iron peace is better than a golden war” 

Ia’Sothan Proverb

Hailing from the culturally isolated mountain world of Ia’Sothos, the Peacekeepers are an Imperial Guard regiment frequently used as occupation forces on rebellious human worlds. Ritually tattooed and devoted to their own peculiar culture, the Ia’Sothans come from a highly ordered and spiritualistic society and are not given to fraternising with locals or chasing glory. Though these qualities leave them well-equipped for the task of maintaining order on Vanshaya, the Peacekeepers number less than two million active combatants on a world of almost three billion inhabitants. 

The Peacekeepers are commanded by Lady-General Farra Chi’Nwendu, a plain speaking and taciturn veteran of several successful occupations. Although on paper she answers directly to the High Protector, in practise the General takes her orders directly from the High Command of her home sector, and more often directs her guardsmen under her own initiative. Thus removed from the profit-seeking and politicking of the Protectorate, the senior officers of the Peacekeepers primarily aim to bring stability and order to the world, no matter the cost. If prometheum yields must fall or an unpopular truce must be struck with one of the less overtly terroristic rebel groups to ensure a stable future for Vanshaya in the name of the Emperor, the Peacekeepers consider it a price worth paying.

Other Factions

Knight House Faresi: When she was employed by the von Kroyer dynasty, Zazyria Faresi was promised a righteous war against xenos and the arch-enemies of humanity. Instead she and her family were abandoned on a fringe planet to maintain a symbolic occupation. As much as House Faresi enjoy stomping out insurgents, their god-machines cry for worthy opponents.

Iri Maerse: The tech-priests of Vanshaya did not turn away from the doctrines of the Cult of Mars during the long quarantine, though the millennia of separation did lead to the development of a culture most tech-priests would consider strange. The Iri Maerse or “Priests of Mars” in the local language, are a divided house. Around a third of the sect viciously oppose the Imperial invasion and have sided with various rebel groups, while the remainder of the cult see the arrival of the Imperium as a long-promised return to the fold of galactic society and a chance to reconnect with the true faith of the Adeptus Mechanicus.

Ranamanda Syndicate:  An industrial cartel consisting of a number of powerful Imperial noble families, business concerns and even Rogue Traders, the Syndicate has begun to expand its activities beyond the mining colony from which it takes its name. It has identified the recently conquered Vanshaya as an investment opportunity and begun aggressively bidding on reconstruction and infrastructure contracts offered by the Protectorate.





Game Hooks

Dark Heresy

Introduction: The opening up of a civilized world untouched by the Imperium for so long is a rare occurrence. Much rarer is to find a world that has faced an Enslaver plague and survived. With no extant resources on the planet, the Inquisition must establish a fresh foothold on Vanshaya. This means securing resources, recruiting informants, and infiltrating local institutions. The acolytes are entrusted by their Inquisitor to set up this brand new network under the cover of a wealthy monastic order in Eksa.

A government in flux is a prime opportunity to develop assets. A director of the Trans-Continental has expensive habits and significant debts. A rebel organizer has a secret family in Imperial-controlled territory. An Imperial Guard general is suffering a crisis of faith over the treatment of the locals. Turn these people into agents of the Inquisition, willing or not.

A senior member of the Protectorate administration is either dangerously incompetent or in the pocket of a hostile, anti-Imperial faction from off-world. She can not be allowed to continue to negatively influence the stability of Vanshaya but her elevated position means she must be disposed of covertly. Framing the rebels or even tricking them into assassinating her are both options. There may be yet more subtle solutions.

The Enslaver outbreak which prompted the quarantine of this region killed billions of people and all but ended civilisation on a score of worlds, but somehow Vanshaya remained prosperous and untouched. How did they survive? Why do Vanshaya’s history books make no mention of the crisis? Why have no psykers been born on the planet in recorded memory? Do the answers lie in the blank space found on every Vanshayan map, beyond the Sleeping Saints mountain range?

Flipping the script: You are cast in the roles of agents for Vanshaya’s defunct Clandestine Service, now in deep cover and working covertly to resist Imperial control. Espionage, assassination and terror are your weapons, and you have the home field advantage. Identify key Imperial personnel and facilities, plan your assault, then strike from the shadows, for Vanshaya!



Provide good opportunities for footage with high propaganda value


Only War

Introduction: Guardsmen of the Ia’Sothan Peacekeepers have been deployed to Vanshaya as an occupying force. Famed for their incorruptibility and just treatment of conquered people (provided they are Emperor-fearing humans) the guardsmen from Ia’Sothos are tasked with maintaining order for a corrupt and self-interested Protectorate government. 

The guardsmen are sent on a round trip of minor settlements across the Anzalia plains. In addition to rooting out rebel strongholds and securing key strategic sites (fuel depots, transmission masts etc.) they have also been tasked with citizen outreach: rendering what assistance they can to the locals in an attempt to convince them of the benefits of submitting to Imperial rule.  These tasks could be anything from repairing a tractor, to helping settle a decade-long blood feud between rival villages.

For reasons that shall forever remain a mystery, command has attached a war correspondent to the guardsmen’s unit. It is the squad’s duty to ensure the remebrancer’s safety, despite the fact that they keep asking stupid questions and walking directly into danger. The guardsmen must also provide good opportunities for footage with high propaganda value. 

The guardsmen are sent into the jungles of the Wilderness Zone to rescue a Protectorate official held hostage by a rebel faction. After finding the rebels skinned and ritualistically mutilated, the guardsmen must evade and survive the elite xenos terror that lurks in the dense jungle. Only the greatest warriors can enjoy the honour of being ingested by the kroot kindred.

Flipping the script: You are battle-hardened soldiers in the Vanshayan Free People’s Liberation army, currently operating from a hidden base in the jungles of the Wilderness Zone. Your orders come from the secret rebel command half a world away: intercept Imperial supply convoys, disrupt infrastructure, make an example of collaborators. If you succeed, melt back into the jungle and await further orders. If you fail, better you die with honour than in an Imperial torture chamber.

Rogue Trader

Introduction: Vanshaya is a wealthy world, and technically still beyond the borders of the Imperium, for now. With the von Kroyer dynasty apparently too distracted to manage their latest acquisition, an opportunity has presented itself for your own dynasty to make some coin…

The von Kroyers have managed to negotiate total control over void trade in the Vanshaya system, but they have largely lost interest in the planet itself. If goods could somehow find their way to the surface without going through official shuttle ports some hefty profit could be made. Or, if the Explorers don’t feel like smuggling, new industries and services could be developed on the planet, as long as they can navigate the turbulent political landscape.

When Vanshaya was invaded the von Kroyers arrived with allies including a tribe of mercenary Kroot operating from a Warsphere – a formidable superheavy voidcraft. Some time during the invasion the Warsphere landed in the jungles of the Wilderness Zone and the xenos have not been seen since. Orbital scans have not been able to locate anything through the thick forest canopy. If the Explorers can brave the sweltering, rebel-infested jungles and locate the Warsphere they may be able to engage the services of the xenos themselves, or purge the vile aliens and collect a handsome bounty from the Imperial administration. 

The Explorers are contacted by a representative of Vanshaya’s Consul-in-exile (whereabouts unknown) with an intriguing proposition: If the Protectorate were undermined and Vanshaya regained its status as an independent colony outside Imperial borders, the reinstated Consul would grant the Explorers’ dynasty total control of all incoming and outgoing trade. If they accept the offer, the Explorers will have to be extraordinarily cunning and subtle to topple the Protectorate without arousing suspicion, but if they manage to pull it off the rewards would be vast beyond their wildest dreams.





Notes for GMs

The central tension on Vanshaya comes from three major factions with conflicting goals. The Protectorate administration wants to extract as much profit as possible from the planet before moving on to new pastures, the Imperial Guard Peacekeeper forces are attempting to end the bitter civil war and negotiate some kind of status quo, while the rebels simply want all occupying forces off the planet.

The players can be encouraged to empathise with the rebels by playing up similarities between Vanshaya and modern-day Earth, after all, the planet has a fairly high level of technology and has managed to exist for millennia mostly untouched by the grim darkness unfolding around it.

Unlike in many games set in the 41st millennium, the enemy are not hostile aliens or frothing chaos cultists, but ordinary people with legitimate grievances against the Imperium. If the players wish to side with the rebels and retake the world from the Imperium this may be possible, but the road will be hard, the consequences for failure will be dire beyond imagining, and at best it will be a temporary reprieve. The Imperium will always return.

Themes

  • Resistance to occupation
  • Transitional government
  • Colonialism

Touchstones

Media centering around modern wars and their aftermath should be the primary inspiration for games set on Vanshaya. The paranoid and worn-out atmosphere in the divided capital city could be reminiscent of The Third Man, while urban rebel groups will largely use the same tactics as the French Resistance during the German occupation of World War 2. The conflict between Imperial forces and insurgents in the provinces is more like to be the kind of gritty, harrowing affair portrayed in films like The Hurt Locker, Green Zone and 13 Hours.





Backgrounds

Only War

Ia’Sothos 2280th Peacekeeper Regiment

“We understand your anger, but you must come to realise that your world is the Emperor’s now. Struggle for a thousand years, you will never again be free”

– Col. Nitha Sh’Rea addresses Vanshayan civilians

The Peacekeepers are considered an ideal occupying force due to their discipline and aloofness from the locals they have been ordered to subjugate. However, much to the dismay of self-interested Protectorate administrators, the imported Ia’Sothan regiments seem more interested in keeping order on the planet than in acting as Protector Bleen’s private army. Ia’Sothan culture values determination, mental discipline and serenity; traits which have earned the 2280th Mechanised the grudging respect of even the most bitter rebels.

Characteristic Modifiers: +3 Agility, +3 Intelligence, +3 Willpower, -3 Perception

Starting Skills: Climb, Common Lore (Imperial Creed), Common Lore (Imperium), Linguistics (Low Gothic), Operate: Surface, Trade: Tattooist

Starting Talents: Foresight, Rapid Reload

Blessed Ignorance: –5 penalty on all Forbidden Lore (Int) Tests

No Secrets Among Brothers: By ancient custom the people of Ia’Sothos are tattooed with their entire life histories: the place of their birth, their educational accomplishments, acts of valour, crimes. Because each Guardsman’s triumphs and failures are written on their skins, it is difficult for them to hold secrets from each other. Ia’Sothan characters suffer a -10 penalty to Deceive and Intimidate tests when interacting with other Ia’sothans. However, this openness breeds trust: Charm and Inquiry tests with others of their homeworld have a +10 bonus. 

Respectful Distance: The openness the Ia’Sothans have with each other is inverted when dealing with outsiders. Even with those they admire and respect, Ia’Sothans are guarded, aloof and certainly not quick to fraternise with the locals. Ia’Sothan characters suffer a -10 penalty to Charm and Inquiry tests when interacting with characters not of their homeworld. This guardedness can sometimes be an advantage, and confers a +10 bonus to Deceive and Intimidate tests with non-Ia’sothans.  

Sure-footed, clear-sighted: The majority of the surface of Ia’Sothos is covered in rugged mountains, which has bred a rugged resilience in her children. Ia’Sothan characters start with the Climb skill and gain a +10 bonus to survival tests in mountainous environments.

Regimental Doctrine: Mechanised Infantry

Iron Discipline: Starting Aptitude – Willpower 

Wounds: Standard

Standard Regimental Kit: One M36 lasgun and four charge packs per PC (Main Weapon), one suit of Imperial Guard flak armour per PC, two frag grenades and two krak grenades per PC, one Chimera Armoured Transport per Squad. One pict recorder per PC, one microbead per PC, one Autopistol and two clips per PC, one smoke grenade per PC, one clip/drop harness per PC.

Rogue Trader

House Faresi Knight-Scion

“Where I tread is the Emperor’s domain. I am the Border-bearer, the Conqueror in His name.”

House Faresi Oath

The scions of the esteemed Knight House Faresi have been operating on the fringes of Imperial space since the days of the Great Crusade, regularly entering into compacts with Rogue Trader dynasties and other colonial authorities. Due to a string of disastrous losses over the past few centuries Faresi have been reduced to a mere three Knights, piloted by the sisters Zazyria and Megaera and their brother Umukoro. But the family is much larger than this: the three Knights are accompanied by a dozen cousins aspiring to become the next champions of the house. Due to the lack of available god-machines, House Faresi encourage their aspirant scions to seek positions aboard starships to hunt for new knight armours out in the wilderness of space.

Knight-Scion is a special career that follows the career progression of either the Arch-Militant or the Void-Master, but replaces the starting skills, talents, and equipment of the chosen career. The Knight-Scion also comes with its own career special ability that replaces those of the Arch-Militant and Void-Master.

Starting Skills: Tech-Use, Common Lore (War), Pilot (Walker), Scholastic Lore (Heraldry), Scholastic Lore (Tactica Imperialis), Speak Language (Low Gothic), Speak Language (High Gothic)

Starting Talents: Melee Weapon Training (Universal), Pistol Weapon Training (Universal), Good Reputation (Adeptus Mechanicus), Peer (Imperial Knights)

Starting Equipment: Bolt pistol or duelling laspistol, best-craftsmanship mono-sword or common-craftsmanship power sword, armored synskin body suit, MIU Implants, micro-bead, House Faresi colours, fine clothes, 1d5 house attendants

Special Trait: Knight Aspirant: +10 to Willpower tests when attempting to link with powerful machine spirits (Super-Heavy Vehicles, Star-Ships, Facilities etc), difficulties for Pilot tests to control walkers are never worse than -20

Knight-Scion Special Ability

Adamantium Steeds: +10 to Acquisition rolls made to acquire ground vehicles and vehicle components.





Author’s Notes

The von Kroyers were here!

What a mess they left behind, huh? Yeah, things didn’t get quite this bad when we ran Vanshaya, but it probably should have! We certainly didn’t care about the planet, and we really did plan on staging a fake war for propaganda purposes.

We were trying to drum up support for our crusade and wanted to bring back some holo-reels that showed what happened when someone stood in the way of our dynasty. But we got side-tracked by adventures on much, much creepier worlds…

“You can’t grow nothing, can’t eat the wildlife, can’t drink the water. It’s a perfect market!” 

August Aquifer of August Aquifer’s Honorable Water Purification Co.

Ramananda Magna is a fledgling mining world with a rapidly expanding population beyond the current borders of Imperial space. Originally settled by clans of freeholders, the planet has more recently come under the control of a ruthless cartel of Imperial business concerns and noble families calling themselves the Ranamanda Syndicate. 

Ranamanda’s mineral wealth exists mostly in the form of copper, nickel, cobalt and other heavy metals, which are so abundant that the majority of the land is stained blue and green. This abundance of metals has the unfortunate effect of rendering the environment barren and toxic. What indigenous life exists is hardy and well-adapted to these chemical conditions, but these adaptations render these organisms inedible so the planet relies entirely on trade to feed its swelling population. 

A remnant of historical waves of invasion, the upland areas of the planet are infested with orks, who constantly raid frontier mining settlements and eagerly inhabit any abandoned mines and fortifications they happen to stumble across. The Syndicate throw just enough military power at the greenskins to keep their numbers in check, but have not yet seen value in exterminating the menace. Periodically, the xenos will rally under one banner and launch massed assaults which leave great swathes of the planet surface littered with the remains of burned settlements and wrecked vehicles, picked over by scavengers and salvage crews looking to earn a little coin.

As the Syndicate’s influence grows, free colonists and prospectors find themselves pushed into these increasingly toxic and lawless badlands, while the inhabitants of the growing industrial settlements are herded by the thousands into dangerous refineries and manufactoria to swell their masters’ coffers.

Locations

Click for full scale map

Cobalt Hill

“That’s two day’s wages for one day’s worth of food! Keep squeezing your workers like this and see how it ends for you.”

Radka Mateo, labour agitator

The de facto capital of the Ranamanda colonial administration, Cobalt Hill is a rapidly growing settlement and the hub of economic activity on the planet. The city consists of a shuttle port, a colonial fortress housing the Syndicate’s representatives and their military forces, an expanding industrial district and a sprawling network of ramshackle dwellings, worker barracks and shanty towns. 

The city is the only place on the planet where one can access the full range of goods and services usually found on an Imperial colony, including access to Astropathic communication and servicing of high-tech equipment such as auspexes and bolt weapons. In recent months the city has been shaken by increasingly frequent strikes and worker riots, even as each new shuttle brings in hundreds of fortune-seeking colonists. Throne Gelt is highly valued as most employers pay their workers in scrip which is only redeemable in Syndicate-owned company stores.

Cypri Fields

“This is a robbery! Hand over the water or you’ll be the one leaking!”

‘Kid’ Kabelo, Outlaw

Representing the true frontier of Ranamanda, Cypri Fields is a sprawling lowland region home to scattered enclaves of self-reliant colonists, free prospectors and ambitious hydroponic farmers. The area is largely free from Syndicate interference because it has been chosen by the Adeptus Mechanicus as a testbed for various terraforming and detoxification efforts which might be used to make the planet more hospitable to human habitation. While the lack of Syndicate oversight is a boon to the free-spirited, the Adeptus Mechanicus have no interest in enforcing order among the plebians, so banditry and opportunism are rife. 

The only settlement of any size in the region is the Mechanicus-controlled Dimness: Little more than a cluster of prefabricated laboratories and hydroponics bays, ringed with the shanties of settlers drawn by the improved local infrastructure and the promise that the Cypri Fields will one day be fertile farmland. Food and water is a little easier to come by here than elsewhere on the planet, but all other supplies are reserved for the Cult of Mars and its enigmatic projects. Baptisms in oil are offered to those desperate enough to sell their soul to the Machine God.

Other locations

Thruport: The former site of the planetary spaceport, Thruport was abandoned as the colonial capital following an Ork attack, but remains an important shipping route and a haven for smugglers and cut-throats.

Vainsteel: The second largest industrial city, Vainsteel is wholly owned by Syndicate partner Wray Industries, who are using the influx of settlers to further their plans to corner the local market in las weaponry.

Fort Brennan: Formerly the fortress of an Imperial Guard expeditionary force, “Fort Burnan” is now the power centre of the most powerful and populous tribe of Orks on the planet under Boss Bruzgob Big-Burna.





Factions

Wray Industries

“If you have a problem with the terms, you can take it up with Mr. Wray. He is currently on a pilgrimage to Mars and is expected back on Diadoch Primus some time within the next five to ten years.”

Hennig Zelpha, Regional Manager

A major economic player across the stellar region. Wray manufacture billions of lasguns for both the Imperial Guard and the civilian market. Their operations on Ranamanda are a negligible part of their industrial empire, but the abundance of certain elements makes it a valuable investment.

The most publicly visible member of the Syndicate, Wray are rapidly moving to establish monopolies over heavy manufacturing and construction, leveraging a close relationship with the Adeptus Mechanicus to leave their rivals in the toxic dust. 

The Blue Bastard Mercenary Corps

“Watch your mouth. I don’t shoot people in the back for money, I do it for sport!

Don “Drekker” Dexter

This unscrupulous cadre of mercenaries consists mostly of defectors from Imperial Guard expeditionary forces and other veterans of the Ork Wars. Using the uncivilised nature of Ranamanda to evade justice, the Blue Bastards revel in their unsavoury reputation, and are happy to fight for anyone who can keep them well supplied with ammunition and strong drink. They have most recently been employed by the Syndicate as strike-breakers at Cobalt Hill. This earned them the enmity, not only of the workers, but also of the Syndicate’s standing private military, who they undercut when the contract was put out to tender. 

Worker’s Unions 

“It’s awful convenient when they all chain themselves up outside the factory like this.”

Lt. Lombar Ines, Syndicate Incorporate First

The exploitative practises of the Syndicate and allied robber barons have not gone unnoticed or unopposed by the increasingly downtrodden colonists. Despite brutal crackdowns and underhanded tactics by the powers that be, increasing numbers flock to the cause of organised labour. Mostly clustered around the major manufacturing settlements, the fledgling unions run the gamut from well-resourced and fair-dealing organisations, to corrupt cabals with close ties to organised crime. Dark rumours abound of heretical notions spreading through labour networks, including democracy, “human rights” and even collaboration with xenos. Whether there is truth to these accusations or if they are simply baseless smears promulgated by the Syndicate remains to be seen.

Other Factions

Robber Barons: Often descendents of the first colonists, these uncouth individuals have local monopolies on various goods and services and will stoop to anything to maintain their petty advantages. 

Imperial Guard: Though Imperial authorities have mostly ceded responsibility for the defense of the colony to the Syndicate, a few scattered remnants of a combined expeditionary force remain on the world. Morale is low and mutiny is a constant risk.

Planetary Ecologists: Tech-priests of the eccentric Ecognostic sect have set themselves the unenviable challenge of rendering the planet fit for long-term human habitation. Operating from geodesic research outposts, small teams of ecognostors can occasionally be encountered in the wilderness, engaged in peculiar, furtive projects. 





Game Hooks



Rumours abound that the leaders of the uprising have allied with sinister forces “for the greater good”


Dark Heresy

Introduction: An agent going by the codename ‘Verdigris’ has been emplaced in Cobalt Hill, operating from a cover identity as owner of a general store. They are concerned with the situation on the planet and are preparing to assemble a team of local assets. 

A number of suspicious deaths in Thruport imply the involvement of a well-resourced smuggling ring whose crimes may go beyond simply what is forbidden by the laws of man. 

A renegade Inquisitorial acolyte is suspected to have made planetfall at Cobalt Hill recently. They must be rooted out and captured before they can reveal compromising secrets about the Inquisition’s activities. If flushed out of hiding, the traitor may attempt to flee to the frontier.  

Workers in Vainsteel have begun a campaign of sabotage and murder in an attempt to resist Syndicate influence. Rumours abound that the leaders of the uprising have allied with sinister forces “for the greater good”.

Only War

Introduction: The players can be Syndicate soldiers, mercenaries, or Imperial guardsmen from the expeditionary forces stationed on Ranamanda to advance the interests of the Colonial Authority.

A worker’s collective have seized the means of production and hired mercenaries to protect themselves from reprisal while they sell the fruits of their labour on the black market. The guardsmen must retake the industrial facility without excessive collateral damage.

Adeptus Mechanicus supply convoys bound for Cypri Fields are being attacked and looted by unknown assailants. Bandits, Orks, or something worse? The guardsmen are assigned to escort detail and must keep the cargo safe at all costs.

Scouts report that the Orks of Fort Burnan are preparing to mobilise for a major assault. The guardsmen are dispatched on a desperate mission to infiltrate the mountain stronghold and stop or delay their assault by any means necessary. Failure could result in a direct attack by the greenskins on Cobalt Hill.

Rogue Trader

Introduction: The Explorers are approached by a member of the Syndicate (A noble house, private company, or even another Rogue Trader dynasty). In exchange for helping advance their endeavors, the Explorers will be given a stake in the Syndicate and its operations on Ranamanda. 

The dynasty’s allies want another partner destroyed, discredited, or at least forced out of the Syndicate. They are not fussy about how this is accomplished, as long as it doesn’t hurt the profitability of the colony as a whole. The Syndicate represents a tangled web of alliances, feuds and (sometimes literal) marriages of convenience which the Explorers must carefully navigate to achieve their goal.

The Syndicate wishes to diversify their portfolio in the Ranamanda system and invite the dynasty to start a profitable new venture (Anything besides mining and heavy manufacturing). This may involve shipping in hardware and infrastructure from other colonies, sourcing water and food, establishing new trade routes, or finding new ways to exploit the influx of colonists. 

Deep void scouting missions report a massive fleet of Ork ships moving rapidly towards the Ranamanda system, a WAAGH! The Explorers must quickly muster defenses, enlist allies and prepare the system for a massive greenskin invasion. If they don’t feel like saving the colony, they can at least try to recoup their investments before the Orks arrive. 





Notes for GMs

Ranamanda as a setting is intended to represent a clash between the values of the frontier colonists; freedom, self-determination and pride, with the worst excesses of the Imperium’s endless drive to expand, embodied in the Syndicate. While the frontier settlers and colonial labourers who toil in the Syndicate’s manufactoria may fight their hardest to preserve their way of life and secure decent living standards, they are ultimately doomed to fail as the Imperial machine crushes them beneath its treads. 

These themes can be incorporated into your games by showing your players both sides of each conflict. The Inquisitorial Acolytes may believe that Imperial interests should come before the wishes of factory workers, but will their beliefs stand firm when the Imperial officials of the Syndicate reveal themselves to be greedy, callous opportunists? Would a profit-seeking Rogue Trader be moved by the plight of families of colonists being forced out into the hostile wasteland by his expanding industrial operation? Guardsmen ordered to open fire on striking labourers may think twice then they realise they have more in common with the strikers than with their own commanders. 

NPCs at all levels should be shrewd hustlers looking out for their own interests; the weak and gullible don’t last long on the frontier. On a colony world outside Imperial borders, laws are difficult to enforce and almost any goods or services might be available, but always at a steep price. In the confines of Syndicate-controlled settlements, open violence and other behaviour which threatens order and profit will be dealt with by company enforcers. On the true frontier, there is no law but the law of the gun. 

Themes

  • Greed and exploitation
  • Frontier isolation and self-reliance
  • Hostile, corrosive wilderness

Touchstones

Games taking place on Ranamanda should have the feel of gritty westerns like A Fistful of Dollars and Deadwood. The bandit and ork-infested frontiers should evoke the high-octane post-apocalyptic feeling of Mad Max, while interactions with the Syndicate and local Robber Barons should be informed by the amoral capitalist excesses of the likes of There Will Be Blood and Robocop.





Backgrounds

Characters from Ranamanda can use the Imperial World, Frontier World or Mining World homeworld options, depending on their social standing and where exactly they hail from on the planet. Additionally, the following special backgrounds are available:

Dark Heresy

Syndicate Negotiator (300xp)

As with most Imperial organizations, the Ranamanda Syndicate can’t help but style itself after the dizzying bureaucracy of the Administratum. The cost of employing a dozen citizens to negotiate a 10% cut on the cost of a shipment is negligible when those citizens have nowhere to spend their salaries other than the company stores.

Careers: Adept

Bonus Skills: Barter, Evaluate

Bonus Equipment: Ranamanda Syndicate Employee Manual – A well-thumbed pamphlet outlining the regulations of the Syndicate and conduct expected for employees and freelancers.

In The Hole: Start with 100 thrones worth of extra equipment, but you owe 150 thrones in debt to the Syndicate and you have 1d5 months to repay it before an enforcer is sent to collect.

Just Sign Here: When making a roll to negotiate the terms of a contract, roll twice and pick the better result.

Syndicate Mercenary (300xp)

The Syndicate is quick to identify expendable colonists with a penchant for violence, loan them some high-end equipment, and put them to work as private security or strike-breakers. The lifespans of such individuals are usually short, especially if they aren’t able to pay off their debts, but a lucky few can “graduate” into permanent Syndicate employees, or else important figures in organised crime. 

Careers: Assassin, Arbitrator, Guardsman

Bonus Skills: Barter, Gamble

Bonus Equipment: Ranamanda Syndicate Employee Manual – A well-thumbed pamphlet outlining the regulations of the Syndicate and conduct expected for employees and freelancers.

In The Hole: Start with 100 thrones worth of extra equipment, but you owe 150 thrones in debt to the Syndicate and you have 1d5 months to repay it before an enforcer is sent to collect.

Worth Your Weight in Water: When negotiating price for buying or selling services of mercenaries, roll twice and pick the better result. 

Labour Agitator (200xp)

A disenfranchised factory worker, you have vented your rage against the corporate overlords and lived to tell about it, for now. 

Careers: Scum, Guardsman

Bonus Skills:  Intimidate, Trade: (pick one) armourer, miner, smith, scrimshawer, technomat or wright

Bonus Equipment: You start with 3 home-made firebombs and a crowbar (counts as club)

Bonus Talents: Hatred (Enforcers) 

“I’ve Had Worse”: +10 bonus to Toughness tests to avoid being stunned by physical attacks. 

Only War

2nd Incorporate Syndicate Regiment

“Bought my las from the company store, gotta frag a whole army to settle my score!” 

– 2nd Regiment marching song

The Sluggin’ Second comprise the bulk of the Syndicate’s private force of line infantry and are deployed across the planet across a variety of theatres, from massed field battles with orks, tunnel fights with rebellious miners, and brutal street brawls with striking workers. The concentrated resources of the syndicate mean they are often better equipped than genuine Imperial Guardsmen, but these guns for hire lack the devotion and discipline of their more pious brothers in arms.

Characteristic Modifiers: +3 BS, +3 Agility, +3 Strength, +2 WS, -3 Intelligence

Starting Skills: Athletics, Awareness, Command, Linguistics (Low Gothic), Navigate (Surface), Survival

Starting Talents: Combat Sense or Quick Draw, Rapid Reload, Street Fighting

Independent Operation: The Comrades of a frontier world character count as being within Cohesion so long as they are within 15 metres of their Player Character.

Distrustful of Authority: –20 penalty to Interaction Skill Tests made to interact with unfamiliar figures of authority and vice versa.

Regimental Doctrine: Line Infantry

Survivalist Doctrine: Starting aptitude: Agility, re-roll failed Survival tests in deserts.

Hardened Fighters Doctrine: Starting combat knife replaced with sword. 

Wounds: Standard

Drawback: Incompetent Leadership –10 penalty to Command Tests made during combat Routine (+20) Command or Intimidate Tests as part of any Comrade Order that does not already require a Command Test

Standard Regimental Kit: One M36 lasgun and four charge packs per Player Character (Main Weapon), two frag grenades and two krak grenades per Player Character, 1 suit of light carapace armour, 1 sword, 1 hotshot laspistol and four charge packs, 1 microbead, 1 set of field gear (uniform, cold weather gear, bandolier, rucksack, set of basic tools, mess kit and water canteen, blanket and sleep bag, rechargeable lamp pack, grooming kit, set of ident tags, 1 Ranamanda Syndicate Employee Manual, 2 weeks rations)

Favoured weapons: Hellgun, Heavy Bolter

Other Syndicate Regiments

The Fightin’ First – Guerilla regiment composed mostly of Ork War veterans recruited from miner’s militias

The Third – Mechanised infantry regiment mostly used by Wray Industries as security detail for shipments

Special Company – An elite and extremely deniable black ops force employed for industrial sabotage of the Syndicate’s rivals





Author’s Notes

Ranamanda was the first endeavour our Rogue Trader dynasty (the von Kroyers, expect to see them crop up as NPCs) took on when the campaign started in 2013. Some nobles in the Syndicate wanted a lift to the planet to inspect the damage after an Ork raid, to see if it was still worth continued investments.

The tone of the whole campaign was set when the Orks attacked the capital and we promptly informed our passengers that they had been safely delivered, and we were leaving. The “Cobalt Hill Bargain” would forever live on in infamy as the desperate Syndicate representatives offered us partnership in the Syndicate and orbital rights to the system in exchange for fighting the Orks. And from there on it was a wild ride of war, drama, and backstabbing which eventually ended with our dynasty usurping control over the Ranamanda Syndicate.

Our very own salty westworld would serve as the springboard to countless future endavours, but more about them some other time.

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