I want to start by saying that I really wish I could afford to buy into the Only War beta and play test, but at twenty bucks – or whatever the Sterling equivalent may be – it’s a bit outside my current price range of free. My reasons for wanting to join in on this are two fold; firstly I really like the setting, being a huge fan of the novels and other stuff that’s been put out there by Games Workshop, the Black Library, and Fantasy Flight; secondly, I’ve spent a couple of years now playing around with the idea of running a military style campaign involving a bunch of guys spear pointing an invasion onto foreign soil (think Generation Kill to a certain degree), and the system seems to lend itself to that very well.
So, couldn’t afford the full Beta, next best thing was to give the adventure a shot, and hope that there’s no massive changes between Only War and Dark Heresy, which I was lucky enough to already own.
The adventure was very much what I would expect when the basic premise of the game is ‘guardsmen fight things’, but there was a nice extra level of suspense added. With a ticking clock in the background that counts down to an orbital bombardment, the choices the players make have an obvious set of consequences.This is especially true as the story starts with the surviving characters part of a ten man squad with the rest of them out for the count, bleeding to death, missing limbs, or blind. Do the players try to bring them along and save their lives, or leave them behind to save their own? All of this will have an effect on how quickly they reach safety.
In character this was dealt with very well by the junior member of the Commissariat who was played by a wonderful chap named Ant (a bonus character available from the FF website. I did ask a specific player to take this role on as they knew the world and system better than myself, and were confident enough to play the Commissar well). They provided one of the lame guardsmen with a pistol, two clips, and a prayer to the Emperor, and anyone else was either left behind or swiftly dispatched, with all honour they were due, as heroes of the Imperium. This kept the group moving well and set the tone for when they met another higher ranking Commissar.
There was a great example from play that came about when I was NPCing said Commissar; when worried about a boat capsizing, an NPC guard swiftly removed his helmet to bail the water out, trying to save his fellow guards. He was swiftly shot in the temple for removing his head gear in a combat situation without permission from a superior officer. And still, no one thought of killing either of them…
If I have any complaints about the printed adventure, it would be the expected frequency of the combats. I like a bit of a fight, and playing front line troops, my players expected to get into a scrap or two, but I ended up ignoring every instance of the game recommending that I throw in a fight if things slow down. I never thought it was necessary, and a good GM would b able to keep the pressure on without piling the Orks on every ten minutes.
As to the system, I really did like it. Most of the stuff is geared towards combat, but if you were expecting different, you should steer clear of a game called Only War. One of my players was an old hand at Dark Heresy, running and playing, and another knew their way around the combat system enough to make it easier on me when it came to running the combat It did also showed me a few things that could be a wee bit broken, and one or two ideas that could be great little house rule fixes. Firstly, grenades are fricking deadly! I know, big surprise. But really, when my experienced player was grabbing up any and all he could find, I should have seen something coming. Later on in the game, he barely even touched his shotgun, instead looting even Ork corpses for Stick-bombs, and it soon became clear why. At close range for firearms, he had a pretty good shot of getting the grenade somewhere near the bad guys, and with the blast radius, he was usually killing off at least one with each attack, and occasionally getting a good grouping that took out three at a time.
There could also have done with some clarification on targeting using full auto fire. In the end it was just deemed sensible to have either a spray across a line; no one target being hit more than once, or concentrated fire; all shots on target hit the same guy. Another house rule everyone should consider is the stacking of aim bonuses (big thanks to Ant for this one). If you’re a little ratling fella with a sniper rifle, and really want to make your shots count, why not spend an extra full turn action aiming, to add a massive plus forty to your hit chance? Worked well for us, so i suggest you give it a shot.
I don’t think I really need to talk about production values much here; it’s a Fantasy Flight release – they were going to make it pretty and navigable, and they did. My final thoughts have to be that if you’re planning on getting the main game when it’s released, either make sure all your players are gung-ho types, or delve a bit deeper into the world you’re going to be playing in to find some plot lines that can get the guards out of the firing line on occasion. But, you are playing a game called Only War…