THEMES IN DARK HERESY
Whether you intend to plot out a single adventure or lay the framework for an entire campaign, there are certain ideas that resonate throughout Dark Heresy. By planning adventures that help to evoke and further these themes, you will help to immerse your players into the dark distant future of the Imperium.
ONE MINUTE TO MIDNIGHT
The Imperium is tottering on the brink of ruin and disaster. Enemies surround mankind: terrible, rapacious and horrific enemies that seek to destroy humanity utterly. Across the Imperium, man is caught up in countless struggles to survive. Doom fills the air, and the end is nigh. In the Calixis Sector, the terrifying Tyrant Star waxes fat and powerful, ready to unleash hell, unless, that is, the Inquisition can somehow turn back the overwhelming tide of dread and ruin.
THERE IS TAINT IN ALL THINGS
Corruption, in every manner it can be expressed, is everywhere. Entropy is the natural state of the universe. All things inevitably seek to break down into the primal chaos from which they came. The efforts of humanity to hold corruption at bay will ultimately prove to be futile, as every system that has ever been erected to hold off the decay are also subject to it.
Libraries built to maintain accurate knowledge of the past corrode; their codifiers break down introducing errors into the data records. Scrolls are burned, lost, miscopied or deliberately falsified by those who would control the future by altering the past. Institutions form, flourish for a time, then fall short of their promises, forgetting their original purpose. Eventually, many such organisations exist only because tradition dictates that they should do so, for nobody knows why they were created or the meaning of the work they do.
Most obvious to all is the corruption of the body, for mutation has become common on many Imperial worlds, and incidents regarding psykers grow more frequent with every passing century. Subtler still is the threat posed by the many people who slowly adapt physically to their environments, losing the “purity” of the human form and those who have forgone “meat” in favour of metal. Souls and minds fester as surely as flesh. Daemonic influence is ever present. Insanity is rife. Those that seek to do what is just lose their way, their pure motives corroding until they find themselves performing the most debased and vile of acts all in the name of decency.
CALCIFIED KNOWLEDGE AND MYSTICAL TECHNOLOGY
In the Imperium, most of its citizens have no idea how the manifold examples of extant and ancient technology work or that they even exist. A soldier of the Imperial Guard can field strip his lasgun in under thirty seconds, yet he has no grasp of what purpose the various mechanisms he has pulled out of his weapon actually serve. Even the low level Tech-priests of the Mechanicus of Mars have no comprehension of what it is that they do—their knowledge is by rote. Machines work because their operators followed the appropriate rituals to appease the machine’s “spirit”— not because they pushed the runic button inscribed with the sacred word of power “ON”.
The Imperium prizes a stasis of thought. Traditional ways are always the best ways and obedience to dogma without any consideration for what it may mean is common. Thus, both technology and knowledge have become sacred. All but the most basic of technological devices are thought of as supernatural and capable of being regarded as either holy or unholy. Superstition is commonplace, as the breakdown of knowledge has meant that the majority of the populace are unable to comprehend the reasons why something may be so; the citizens of the Imperium rely on charms and ceremonies to allay their fears as they have little capacity for self-examination or critical thinking. Frequent users of any form of technology know a variety of rituals that they must observe to keep the spirits of their machines placated. There are many who truly believe that ignorance is a form of strength. Active scientific research is rare and often regarded with fear. Outside of the followers of the Omnissiah, it is practically non-existent in the Imperium.
THERE IS ONLY WAR
The Imperium has a vast number of worlds that haven’t known even a hint of battle for over ten thousand years, but there is no Imperial world within the reach of the Astronomican that doesn’t have what is known as a “siege mindset”. Constantly harangued about the dangers of xenos threats and more nebulous enemies that lurk out in the dark, the people of the Imperium are forever being reminded that war could come to their world at any time. Every planet’s tithes go towards fuelling the Imperial war machine, which is eternally engaged in hundreds, if not thousands, of conflicts across the galaxy. Some are unquestionably large-scale wars, such as the struggle against the chitinous alien horde of living weapons known as the Tyranids that are presently attacking large swathes of the Eastern Fringe, or the ten thousand years long fight against the traitorous ancient followers of the Ruinous Powers that lurk inside the Segmentum Obscurus within the region known as the Eye of Terror. Almost all industries within the Imperium aid the various war efforts in one way or another and the authorities of many planets are often at pains to point out to their citizens how important their efforts are in securing the Imperium’s future.
KNOW YOUR PLACE
The Imperium clings strongly to a feudal mentality. Nations brought up following the Imperial Creed have a very definite sense of obligation and a clear idea of what their “place” is within their society. Travel is rare and most citizens never leave the world of their birth. Conformity to what is expected is the norm. Indeed, one of the many reasons why mutants and psykers are so persecuted is because they generally exist outside of the accepted bounds of Imperial culture. The Imperium has three tithes, which it levies against the majority of its worlds:
- Control your psykers and give them over to the Black Ships.
- Whether troops or materials, supply the required amount when asked.
- Have no dealings with enemies of the Imperium.
In exchange for adhering to these three obligations, the Imperium safeguards its worlds against the many dark forces arrayed against them. The majority of Imperial citizens see nothing wrong with this system. Most will report any “witches” they know of (though superstition may silence them) and deviant behaviour when they see it. They willingly join the Imperial Guard when called upon to do so, and the thought of seeing an alien, much less speaking with one, is abhorrent. They proudly serve their leaders and exult in the Imperium’s victories. They whisper in awe about the glorious campaigns of the Space Marines and tremble in fear at the thought of ever crossing the Inquisition…
That said, Inquisitors and those they tend to choose as Acolytes are notorious for not knowing their place or even for refusing to accept that they might have a place. It is one of the great ironies of the Inquisition that in order to protect Imperial society, its agents frequently remain outside of it.