Tuesday, 3 October 2017

World-building in RPGs Part Two - Peronell’s Demesne (Dark Heresy)

Pre-dating the Ramsay game and post-dating my initial failed attempt at rebooting our gaming lives via Call of Cthulhu back in 2010 or 11 (entertaining from a boozy social perspective but disastrous as a game), we had  an all too brief dalliance with Dark Heresy, the first RPG based in the Warhammer 40,000 universe.

Packed with amazing artwork and fluff, as you would expect from that setting, Dark Heresy was based mechanically on the old WFRP rules. As a result the characters, supposedly hotshot agents of the sinister and powerful Inquisition, were useless doughballs that couldn't hit a barn door from three feet with a 10 foot pole with a mirror on the end.  That did not stop us having a little bit of fun with the setting though and, as usual, I eschewed published material in favour of establishing my own setting. As any W40k nerd will no doubt spot, I am not steeped in the lore of the setting, but I do like the imagery and the crazy blend of Name of the Rose, Dune and Moorcock that it posits. I present my brief effort here for your entertainment/scorn (artwork nicked from t'interwebs).

Peronell’s Demesne

+++Dark Heresy Game Dossier+++

Peronell’s Demesne - Dateline 815.M41

Calixis Sector

Imperial Tithe world


Produces specialist components for the factory worlds and shipyards of the Calixis Sector and as such is an essential resource for the Imperium’s war machine and particularly Battlefleet Calixis. The Battlefleet maintains a high harbour in the system to protect the export routes and, at times of religious festivals like Saint Drusus day, to oversee the stream of pilgrims that visit the world’s shrine city, St Ekaterina. Ekaterina was the peasant girl long held to be responsible for leading the cleansing of the taint of the Ruinous Powers from the population during the Angevin Crusade. Prior to Peronell’s stewardship the noble houses were corrupt and of impure and weak blood. As such they formed a natural opening for the powers of the warp to force entry from the Empyrean and conduct their foul business. Ekaterina led a peasant’s revolt and overthrew the sickness but died in doing so at the hands of a Daemon from the warp whose name has long been banished from scripture. An Adepta Sororitas edict declared Ekaterina a Saint with the support of the Holy Synod of Tarsus but beatification has been denied thus far leaving St Ekaterina’s level of recognition isolated to the Drusus Marches. The case for canonisation is re-raised every generation or so and has been for centuries but for now Peronell’s Demesne is not considered an Imperial Shrine World and does not receive the same level of control from the Ministorum as a result. Nevertheless the annual Feast of Drusus celebrations can expect to attract in the region of a million pilgrims to the city, many from off-world, and both the Ministorum and the Sisters of Battle maintain colleges and libraries in the holy city. Should the case for full canonisation into the Imperial Cult be successfully made then the name of Peronell will disappear from Imperial charts forever, replaced by that of a peasant girl who lived a meagre 19 years. A colossal edifice, the Sepulchre of St Ekaterina, has been carved from the rock face above the plaza which dominates the city. Atop it, carved from natural formations, stands the likeness of Ekaterina in full Battle Sister armour from where she watches the population for signs of taint.

St Ekaterina is Peronell’s Demesne’s second city. The Capital is Falkenberg, seat of the planet’s noble houses, as well as the Planetary Governor Dell Villicus, and the site of the world’s formidable Glassworks and Foundries. The Adeptus Mechanicus maintains a constant presence in the forges and colleges of the capital as the Tech Priests of Mars oversee the production and quality assurance of numerous components including massive lenses destined for the Adeptus Titanicus. Many noble families send sons and daughters to be schooled by Adeptus colleges or the Schola Progenium as tribute to the God Emperor. For six centuries these tributes have been deemed sufficient but due to the increasing population in recent decades Peronell’s first, and thus far only modern Founding* was raised two years ago. The founding’s inauspicious beginnings (the Commissariat ship Gorgoroth, carrying the regiment’s political officers, suffered a warp accident on exit from the Empyrean killing most on board) have contributed to a reputation for ill-luck for the Peronell First. This label as an ‘unfortunate’ regiment has been further compounded by difficulties in their first theatre of action, the Imperial Pacification of 47 Kapella.

There are no other major settlements on a world that is generally hostile to habitation due to its largely mountainous terrain which, though littered with lakes and fens, has an unusually high salt content in its water and soil in most areas, residue of the once great oceans that millennia ago covered two thirds of the surface. The settlements that do exist reach populations of only a few thousands at the most due to the harsh climate and lack of land-tilling opportunities. Most peasants scratch a living keeping wiry livestock or gathering aquatic life in coracles in the fresh water lakes that occupy some higher valleys and gorges in the unforgiving mountain ranges that encircle the great plateau where the bulk of the habitable land is located. This accounts for only a tenth of the planetary surface. 


Peronell’s Demesne was named for the Imperial Guard Marshall Zif Peronell, saviour of the systems that dot this part of the secure warp route networks connecting the sector capital Scintilla with the forges of the Lathes and Opus Macharius, and the Imperial Shrine Worlds of Sentinel and Maccabeus Quintus. Peronell was granted governorship of this sparsely populated but mineral rich ancient colony following his service under the Lord Militant Drusus himself during the Angevin Crusade of almost 1500 years ago. The world was further settled by the surviving noble houses of this and other systems trampled by the rolling maul between the forces of light and darkness. Peronell governed for 62 years before his death in a warp accident. Since then the position of Governor has been largely an honorary title held by noble families for generations as a reward for good service to the throne. The real administrative power on PD is the Ecclesiarchy on issues of faith and governance and the Adeptus Mechanicus on logistics. Essentially the rule is split down the middle with the Ministorum’s seat in St Ekaterina and the Tech Priests in Falkenberg. Governor Villicus is little more than a figurehead with little real power but a responsibility to represent the noble houses in all dealings with the Imperium and trade with other worlds. The Adeptus Arbites oversee planetary law and order from a distance only concentrating mainly on policing the Imperial Tithe and tackling smuggling operations. This lack of effective governance has contributed to making Peronell’s Demesne a likely home for heresy, sedition and all manner of unsavoury activities. 

The following information is held securely by the clerics of the Sepulchre of St Ekaterina and is only accessible to those with high level (inquisitorial?) clearance:

“There is a surfeit of evidence to suggest that Peronell’s Demesne was settled by human colonists millennia ago and the original colony may even predate the Heresy. The peasantry of the more isolated settlements on the planet display distinct racial features not attributable to the influx of settlers during Peronell’s era. Some brothers have surmised that these ‘indigenes’ are the survivors of a great cataclysm that may have rendered the world largely uninhabitable during the Dark Age of Technology twenty-five millennia ago. This however seems an extreme conclusion when faced with the fact that the Calixis Sector was discovered by the great rogue trader Solomon Haarlock only eleven thousand years ago. Nevertheless, and in spite of censure by the Holy Synod at Tarsus on Scintilla, some brothers have pursued such theories with a passion and have, in the past, involved those from without the Ministorum who sought benefit from such knowledge for reasons known only to themselves and their masters.

In the area known as The Fens there are a number of unusual stone deposits scattered throughout the wetlands. An investigation by Ordo Xenos Inquisitor xxxxxxx of archaeological digs dated 198.M41 uncovered Logician Cult involvement (see Threat Briefing 1.xxxx.xxx.xx##). Further Ministorum and Scholastica investigation concluded stone deposits to be natural detritus from retreat of glaciers in pre-history of world and assertion of Inquisitor xxxxxxx that they are crafted menhirs is without foundation or merit.

+++Heresy+++Inquisitor+++Menhirs+++Logician Cult+++



· The Glassworks

The towering edifice of the monumental glassworks dominates the skyline of Falkenberg. The mammoth furnaces and refractories are meticulously overseen by techmagi for any flaws and blessed by administratum clerics to enhance the inert properties of high quality glass components of all sizes, from the humungous dioptric lenses destined for the Titan forges of the Lathes to the bespoke scope faces intricately designed to the specifications demanded by chartist captains and rogue traders. The workings extend deep into the rock foundations of the hills and connect via railway to the Spaceport in the east and the foundries to the west. The southwards slope from the base of the huge walls is the site of the dingy, sprawling workers habs.

· The Foundries

As well as providing the moulds and other equipment for the glassworks the Falkenberg Foundries produce a cornucopia of minor trinkets and implements for export including a range of Munitorum essentials for the Imperial Guard and Battlefleet Calixis. Anything from sextants to shovels are produced in bulk or can be found being traded in the Commercia to prospectors hoping to scratch precious minerals from the river delta beyond the Boondocks. Located on the western edge of Falkenberg the Foundries are linked directly by rail to the mines of the Kilnius Range to the north. To the south the slopes extend down to the delta where centuries of slurry, effluent and slag have polluted the already saline waters that run northwards to the Fens.

· The Spaceport

The constant export of products from the Glassworks and Foundries provides the lifeblood of Peronell’s Demesne and Falkenberg Port is the artery through which the nourishment flows. In ground space alone the berths, warehouses and loading docks account for over a third of Falkenberg’s landmass and the spaceport dominates the bulk of the Falkenberg plateau with the rest of the city extending westward up into the foothills of the Kilnius Range, the exception being the Boondocks to the southwest where the terrain turns marshy and, eventually to wetlands.

· The Commercia

The Commercia is the mercantile heart of Falkenberg and houses the guilds and trading houses that dominate the planetary economy as well as being home to the noble families, including the Governor Villicus whose palatial residence adjoins the Glassworks on the district’s northern limits. The western fringes of the Commercia are the site of the Adeptus Mechanicus collegia and the Administratum offices. The Administratum is a dour, crenellated granite affair that also houses the local branch of the Adeptus Arbites and hosts the local council functions such as the Mercantile Concern, the Council of Arbitration and the Peronell’s Demesne Land Registry. By contrast the colleges of the Tech Priests of Mars are ornate and finely crafted domes of basalt and glass, their beauty defying the populist image of techmagi as half machine themselves. Beyond, and in the shadow of, the glassworks and the Commercia lay the sprawling worker’s habs.

· The Habs

Home to miners, foundry workers, glassworkers and almost all other menial workers in the city, the Habs occupy the lower slopes of the foothills sandwiched between the Foundries to the west and Commercia to the east and sit forever in the shadow of the colossal Glassworks to the north and extend southwards to the sprawling, sewage infested Boondocks. The Habs district is the working muscle of Peronell’s Demesne and, comparatively, allows a reasonable standard of living with schools, clinics and chapels serving the needs of the populace. The markets that form the main social link between the Habs and the Commercia are lively and bustling environments where all classes and professions mix, socialise and trade. Nevertheless the limited diet and inevitably hazardous working conditions in Falkenberg have resulted in poor life expectancy for the average citizen and orphans, gangs and violent crime are commonplace, more so in the darker corners of the Habs and particularly on the southern fringes where the district adjoins the Boondocks.

· The Boondocks

In Falkenberg all of the shit runs downhill and there, at the bottom of the hill, you will find the Boondocks. The majority of the district sits bare metres above the sludge and effluent from the upper city, suspended upon scant foundations of ancient stonework and crafted from lumber that rots rapidly. This decaying and ramshackle timber town is home to the more unfortunate residents of Falkenberg. Those unable to work in the Foundries and Glassworks, those escaping from bondage, the weak, the frail, the predatory and the simply unlucky all settle at the bottom of the heap in the workhouses, brothels and slums from where they can only luck up at the city above them and the spacecraft that go beyond even the highest points of their city. Some residents do hold down jobs, most often working off debts to former masters or merchants on the eastern docks where goods and people are ferried upriver to St Ekaterina or downriver to the sparse settlements of the Southern Reaches. The majority however scrape a living by any means necessary whether by theft, prostitution, murder or worse.

The Mines of the Kilnius Range

Starting a the northern gates of The Foundries a number of snaking passes wind steadily upwards as the land inclines dramatically from foothills to treacherous, mountainous peaks. The barren environment affords life little foothold but in the deep gorges and crevasses toil the men and women of Falkenberg. The range is rich in mineral deposits and has been mined for millennia for its rich seams of essential metals and ores. It is unclear how far back some of the oldest digs date but even now newly dug tunnels from time to time break into ancient galleries. It takes miners of stout heart and mind to breathe such ancient air and not feel the chill touch of the ancients in such aged places. Some surmise that within the tens of thousands of miles of tunnels, of which only a fraction are currently worked, there are old secrets to be found. Some even actively seek such treasures; others have found them and found them not to be treasures at all, but cursed things that cause taint and mutation. All the more reason then to worship Him upon His Golden Throne and seek his protection against the dark things that dwell in the depths of the planet.

The Fens

A vast area of wetlands beginning 130 miles to the north-west of Falkenberg, the Fens are home to a peasantry that survives by scratching an existence from the unforgiving environment and trading blocks of dense high energy peat to the river merchants who supply the industry of Falkenberg and the colleges and chapels of St Ekaterina. Settlements rarely reach population numbers above two hundred and are, for the most part, deeply suspicious of outsiders. The original people of the Fens have a rich folk-lore and mythology revolving around the stones that populate the area and believe that they were placed there by the Emperor himself to ‘gift’ the faithful with good fortune in ill times and to draw a tithe in times of plenty (although few can remember such a time in living memory). Pregnant women will visit the stones at their traditional times of bleeding to offer essence in the belief that not doing so will lead to a build-up of ‘tainted blood’ that will harm their child and lead to defects and misfortune in the child’s later life. Many of the newer generations of Fens-folk, often only a few generations on from Imperial colonists who thought they were buying their way from the crowded hives of Scintilla to a pastoral paradise, have traditionally taken a dim view of such old wives tales. However in recent years this custom has gathered urgency due to an increase in strange, ill-omened or unlucky children dating back some fifteen or more years. Due to the low education levels and intense superstition of these people the phenomenon has not been reported widely and Spayss Bahri has been on the spot to benefit from such unfortunate parents. Bahri runs his Fens operation from an old sky mill in the western reaches of the area where the unfortunate children are corralled before being ‘tested’ for ability and thenceforth shipped onwards either to the Falkenberg workhouse in the case of ungifted children or to the catacombs below St Ekaterina in the case of those ‘awakened’. There they will face an unspeakable fate at the hands of Villicus’s daughter Borgia as they are offered to the gestalt daemon and stitched into its whole.

The Truth of Peronell’s Demesne 

The world is site of an indescribably ancient warp beacon. ‘The Cult’ is feeding child psykers to a bound Daemon, literally stitching them into the bloated ‘body’ of a chaotic, psyker gestalt, the core of which is the cackling daemon, growing increasingly agitated and aroused by the power and suffering of the victims to which it is bound by its insane worshippers. The occurrence of ‘awakened’ humans on PD has historically been incredibly rare with the Black Ships visiting only once or twice per century in the past. This has been changing for the past twenty years, since the gallery was discovered in the Kilnius mines and the stones were reawakened. The standing stones scattered around the world both on the surface and long since buried have slowly been gathering potential and, thanks to the machinations of Bahri and his network, contributing to the rise in birth defects and ‘awakened’ children, particularly amongst the mine workers and Fens-folk. This steady increase is reaching its nadir and will, come the St Drusus Day celebrations, pour over into the Empyrean and provoke a vicious warp storm. The Cult seek communion at all costs with the Ruinous Powers and will gladly see the flesh and minds of millions melt and run into corruption and madness in order to accomplish their goal.

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