The intoxicating lure of Chaos leads untold millions down the path of corruption, and the noblest of intentions offers little protection against its dark influence. A soldierís bloodlust, a politician's ambition, a loverís desire, and even a motherís whispered prayer over her feverish child Ė they are all the playthings of the Dark Gods. Why resist? Wealth, power, and happiness await those who serve the Ruinous Powers, and the only price is your humanity.
And Show It to You: The Tome of Excess describes a drug called Sweetmeats, which are made from a Space Marine's internal organs that are removed from his living body and roasted while he is forced to watch. Granted, the organs in question are the progenoid glands, which aren't necessary for continued survival in the way that hearts or lungs are.
Anti-Hero / Anti-Villain: This game allows you to play this as well as the shallow-one-dimensional cackling Card-Carrying Villain. As the opening quote shows, sometimes the first tragic step in becoming a monster can be as noble and pure as a parent's love for her child.
Ascended Meme: The last mortal words of a Tzeentchian Daemon Prince in Tome of Fate were reported to be a recognition that his schemes were blown wide open by the Imperium...and then giving it the qualifier "Just as planned..."
Black and Grey Morality: While Chaos is generally Always Chaotic Evil, an often overlooked aspect FFG is trying to re-emphasize is that Chaos also embodies positive concepts. Khorne, for example, is not only the god of bloody madmen, but also martial champions constantly defying the odds and looking for an honorable challenge.
Body Horror: As a heretic becomes more and more corrupt, he body will slowly start to mutate, and some mutations are rather...impressive.
Byronic Hero: A viable character option. When they turned to Chaos, many Heretics felt the Imperium is far too oppressive and limiting for the good of humanity, especially when they feel that embracing the powers of Chaos can help humanity preserve itself in a galaxy trying to kill them. Sometimes it's a more personal level than that, but for every Lord Byron that serves Chaos, there's probably more who are serving the Ruinous Powers for more selfish goals.
Class and Level System: Notably averted. The followers of Chaos are a diverse and fluid lot, and so Black Crusade characters are not restricted by the same Career Path advancement system as their Loyalist counterparts.
Clingy MacGuffin: Though not strictly a Macguffin, the "Cursed Heirloom" talent, which allows you to obtain a very rare item, for free beyond the cost in XP, with a random curse. It will always turn up if you lose it, even if it is destroyed.
The Corruption: Given Black Crusade's focus, this is explored in more detail here than in previous Warhammer 40,000 RPGs; in particular, the Corruption track is intended to be used as a sort of "progress meter" for the campaign as a whole, tracking how close the PCs are getting to becoming DaemonPrinces or ChaosSpawn.
More specifically, there's actually two tracks in the game: actual Corruption, and Infamy, which is the measure of both how much you've impressed the Ruinous Powers and your ability to control your mutations. Hit the threshold where you lose your humanity with a high enough Infamy score, and it's presumed your patron blunts the impact of the runaway mutations long enough for you to control them, and you become a Daemon Prince. Otherwise...
Crapsack World: Virtually every planet in the Screaming Vortex is this in some form or another.
Mammon, mentioned in the corebook and fully detailed in the "Tome of Excess" splatbook, may be the Most Triumphant Example for the line or even for the setting as a whole. It's a former Imperial world that has been stuck in the Screaming Vortex and where some long-ago, forgotten cataclysm has reduced the once-technologically advanced civilisation to primitive techno-barbarians (to put this in perspective, a crappy, near-broken down lasgun would be a near-mythical treasure to them) who struggle to survive in a barren wasteland with no oceans/seas and the only food source being "foul weeds, dry mosses, and the emaciated bodies of scavenging rodents". But wait, that's not all; the inhabitants are fanatically religious, worshiping a bastardized, crude mockery of the Imperial Cult, and is built on fighting not for glory in death, but for the return of the Emperor in some undefined future time where he would bring salvation to Mammon's then inhabitants. Yes, that's right: They're fighting for their yet-unborn descendants. However, their religion has schismed into two sects, which are both so dedicated to a genocidal campaign against the "heretics" that "there is no such thing as a non-combatant upon Mammon". In other words? Mammonites will mercilessly kill anyone of the opposite faith, down to a mewling newborn baby.
The icing on the cake? Chaos warbands and warlords regularly scout out Mammon's warriors for worthy "recruits" ó- and most of them enjoy breaking the Mammonites' spirits by revealing the truth about Mammon's state of affairs, its complete insignificance, and how the Emperor they've praying to for their unborn future generations' salvation is but a rotting corpse that knows nothing of them, nor his own Imperium knows or would even care for their plight.
Asphodel is a gloomy swamp and jungle-infested world inhabited only by Kroot, all of which are slowly devolving even by Kroot standards into non-sapience, and trapped in perpetual warfare with the Feral Orks of the neighboring Death World of Berin.
Kurse used to be a thriving civilized world, rich in machines and lore from the Dark Age of Technology. Now? It's a slag-heap consisting of seas of simmering fire and continents pockmarked with massive irradiated pits, some of which extend down to the planet's core, with the few remaining patches of inhabitable environment crawling with mutants and cannibals.
Aphexis is a bleak world so dull and drab that it seems to infest the very souls of its inhabitants, who are apathetic to anything and everything. Chaos warlords have repeatedly conquered the planet, only to abandon it when absolutely nothing worked to make them take any notice. As in, watching several thousand of their fellows being whipped to death doesn't elicit the slightest response.
Melancholia is a windswept planet beset by eternal hailstorms and driving rains, where some daemonic perversion of natural law means that no stone may be set upon another, forcing the inhabitants to never find any respite from the cold misery and drudgery. At the same time, each and every mortal soul has a heart to make a Slaanesh worshipper blush, burning with lust and the desire for blood, dampened by the eternal cold misery. Champions from Melancholia make the cruellest, most bloodthirsty and most imaginatively blasphemous champions of the Ruinous Powers in all existence.
Mire is a fetid, clammy planet of swamps and endless plains of sucking mud, where grim, ghoulish packs of starving cannibals grub through the stinking mudflats for sustenance, feverishly slaughtering each other over the smallest grub or root, greedily ripping open the bellies of their foes to devour their still-warm organs.
Death World: Many of them, especially as you go deeper into the Screaming Vortex.
Malignia is a seemingly paradisaical world of thick temperate forest and tropical forests & jungles. It's better described as a lush green hell; there are so many predatory lifeforms here that they've never been fully catalogued, and almost as many dangerous plants.
Furia is a storm-lashed ocean-world inhabited by "leviathans" that are commonly believed to be at least half-daemon, which are capable of wiping out entire ramshackle flotilla-cities.
The Burning Tomb is a world where "islands of scorched rock float in seas of magma", the populace depending on pyromancer-psykers to shield them and destroy their enemies. The air is filled with clouds of noxious gasses, which in some place gather so thickly that a single breath can kill, storms can whip up tsunamis of molten rock and metal that wash over the lands, and daemonic entities of living lava have been known to rise from the seas and stalk the land, slaughtering everything in their path.
Messia is a blasted, rocky world choked by a thick, poisonous atmosphere, which rotates so slowly that a single day lasts a year. On the day-side, the fierce white star Xoson burns through the pollutant streams to scorch the earth and unleash acid-storms and storm-force winds. The night-side is more survivable, but haunted by all manner of monsters. Not least of which are huge armies of roving mutants that vary from swollen, mindless near-zombies on the night-side to fast, ferocious and wickedly intelligent abominations on the day-side.
Enforced Cold War: On Q'sal, one of the most important planets of the Vortex, the three Tzeentchian city states are in a state of uneasy peace, held together by a treaty that no party is willing to break just yet. If war did break out, the sorcerous powers each of the city states possess would likely destroy Q'sal (there were originally nine city states, with six destroyed, if legend and lost history is to be believed). And since the world is a massively influential and a center of arcane industry, the three city states could lead the entire Screaming Vortex into a three way war on the way. As it is, sorcery and schemes, in the forms of politics, espionage, and industrial production are the means of choice that they try to outdo each other.
Rune weapons, which were previously daemon weapons, but the daemon got out, and the weapon survived the process. They don't have the strange powers anymore, but daemonic influence leaves them still hideously powerful.
Evolving Weapon: Legacy weapons are tied to the user's personal legacy, apropos to how its used, and eventually shape themselves to how their wielder uses it.
Fat Bastard: Assuming a character isn't this already, a possible mutation is that characters will become quite large. Followers of Nurgle have a chance of this being taken even further.
The current ruler of the daemon world Contrition is a Daemon Princess known as the Mistress of Spite. On top of being appropriately sized for her status, she's an... impressive example of this trope.
Fisher King: While this occurs within the warp with the Chaos Gods and powerful daemons, there are places in the Vortex that play upon this trope.
The Ragged Helix is a chain of asteroids and planetoids that shape themselves after their owners' own image. Whether this happens from Xenos technology or warp influence is not known.
The Cat's Cradle is roughly analogous, but the soft reality there has to be manipulated by the will of those who can (i.e. psykers and daemons).
The Daemon World known as Contrition is a lesser example, it takes the form of a large city where the denizens are obsessed with inflicting pain. The aesthetics and how that pain is influenced by which power is in ascendance at the time.
Fragile Speedster: Human Heretics lack the inhuman resilience and Powered Armor of Chaos Space Marines, but all possess an ability allowing them to act sooner in combat.
Gameplay and Story Segregation: In theory, Black Crusade lets you play a veteran legionnaire of the World Eaters, Death Guard, Thousand Sons or Emperor's Children, who has presumably been a loyal servant of your chosen Chaos god for the better part of ten thousand years. In practice, it's not actually possible to build a starting Chaos Space Marine who isn't Unaligned, and in fact the character must rack up a significant amount of in-game experience before he can formally align himself with one of the four Great Powers.
This has been addressed in the supplemental books involving the various Gods of Chaos. The first, Tome of Fate, has a archetype for a Sorcerer from the Tzeentchian Thousand Sons, the Tome of Blood provides an archetype for a Khorne Berserker, and the Tome of Excess has a Slaaneshi Noise Marine archetype. The Nurglite tome, when released, will have rules for Plague Marines.
Great Escape: The Free RPG Day introductory adventure, "Broken Chains," revolves around the PCs attempting to escape (or conquer!) the compromised Imperial prison barge Chains of Judgement.
Leeroy Jenkins: The Tome of Excess lists this as a means of obtaining Khorne's favour. Reads like an explicit Shout-Out, requiring your own allies to have formed a detailed plan that you wreck by attacking spontaneously while yelling your own name.
Lighter and Softer: Compare Black Crusade to the "Tome of Corruption" for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, and it makes being a Chaos follower much more viable. There are fewer mutations overall, but the main ones cut were the pointless or "gotcha!" mutations, such as instantly becoming a Chaos Spawn, or being reduced to a mindless drone, or having one's facial features rearrange themselves.
Mad Scientist: Having traded the hidebound scriptures of the Adeptus Mechanicus for the freedom and insanity of Chaos, hereteks tend to be both better scientists and crazier madmen than their erstwhile tech-priest brethren.
Magitek: This is the bread and butter of Q'Sal, world of the sorcerer-technocrats. Their Crystal Spires and Togas society is kept aloft by daemonic machines and sorcery. It also states something about the setting that the people constantly exposed to The Corruption of said tech, and whose economy is based on bartering souls, reign over a planet with living conditions better than many Imperial worlds, combined.
Mooks: Black Crusade characters can take Minions, followers of fanatical loyalty (but sometimes questionable competence) that can fill holes in their master's repertoire, or simply provide a source of warm bodies to throw at opponents. Taking multiple iterations of the Minions Talent can eventually lead to a character acquiring his own Quirky Miniboss Squad.
This goes into full effect when a character takes the "Horde Minions of Chaos" trait, where the player gets a small force to call their own.
Mythology Gag: The title of the game-line is also the common term used in reference to great invasions by the forces of Chaos.
This kind of Heretic is embodied by Captain Korginthe World-Reaver, one of the example rivals for the PCs. Despite what his many titleswould imply, he actually worships Khorne as the embodiment of martial honor. Thus, he honors pleas for mercy (as he thinks only the skulls of people who fight back are worth sacrifice), and pointedly avoids some of Chaos' Kick the Dog tactics.
One of the example origins for the Apostate is basically this. A loyal priest of the Emperor who ministered to the Imperial Guard and got sick of watching millions go to their deaths and thus turned to Chaos in order to sabotage the Imperial war effort.
No Points for Neutrality: Somewhat. Staying Unaligned denies a character access to powerful Gifts, items and psychic powers and means they don't get discounts on certain skills, talents and attributes. However it also means they don't have to pay extra for purchases opposed to one deity or another and, for high level psykers, grants them access to powerful Exalted powers.
Becomes an Inversion when you realize that your total XP costs are actually lower as neutral than they are while you are aligned. Furthermore, the Exalted Powers are much more powerful than the aligned psychic powers. Played with when you realize that they have less control and are based more on power in the Psyker himself, making him potentially dangerous to the party.
Non-Action Guy: The ready availability of combat-capable Minions makes this a more viable build option in Black Crusade than in the other 40k roleplaying games. A player can easily build his Heretic to be The Smart Guy or The Chick (or the Evil Genius or Dark Chick, as the case may be), whose only viable option in combat is to hide under the nearest rock until the shooting stops, and so long as the Heretic has a Minion or two around to serve as a bodyguard, that player will still have something to do in combat and need not worry about being left out.
The Pig Pen: Followers of Nurgle can develop a disorder that makes them become this, becoming filthy and destructive, and also contemptuous of beauty and the fine things in life. Another manifestation is that things around him seem to break down while he (and he specifically) has them.
Psychic-Assisted Suicide: The psychic power "Compel" in the telepathy discipline that gives a body control power. While the target's survival instincts make any suicidal actions more difficult, this is the only power of this type that allows a PC to force a target to kill itself.
Psychic Powers: Many. They range from families of stock psychic powers, like telepathy, telekinesis, and precognition. Then there are be more exotic powers as they get into specific gods or Exalted powers.
Sanity Meter: Averted, unlike in the loyalist-centric 40k RPGs. This is because any Heretic worth his salt is assumed to already possess 100 Insanity Points by the time play begins, and has long since gone past crazy all the way around to differently sane.
Sealed Evil in a Can: It's not terribly uncommon to see Daemons that are held within a weapon or a war engine.
A handful of worlds, like the Flaming Tomb or Korvaska are hinted at imprisoning something within.
Sense Freak: This is a pretty heavy theme with Slaanesh. There's also a drug called rose which heightens sensory input so much that the user can, among other things, see in the dark; but the user runs the risk of sensory overload.
Seven Deadly Sins: Slaanesh's personal demesne has has six concentric rings, each one themed on, in order: avarice, gluttony, lust, envy, pride, and sloth. Wrath, of course, being the exception since that belongs to Khorne.
The pre-written adventure in the Tome of Excess revolves around proving to a Slaanesh-worshiping pirate prince that once has mastered all of the above sins without totally succumbing to any one. His most notable courtiers are each a master of one of those sins
Shell-Shocked Veteran: Followers of Khorne can get a disorder which makes them become detached and shell shocked.
Small Name, Big Ego: In-Universe, Tzeentch followers can get a disorder to become convinced they are incredibly powerful psykers. This makes them incredibly irritating to deal with, especially for real psykers.
Insufferable Genius: In the case the person with the disorder actually is an incredibly powerful psyker, the penalty to social rolls still applies, presumably because it's just as annoying to have it rubbed in your face.
Super OCD: Characters can develop this, followers of Tzeentch would manifest it as a paralyzing fear of contamination, while followers of Slaanesh can't focus unless something is "just right".
Sycophantic Servant: Minions can be given the Fanatical and the Sycophantic traits and they actually have tangible benefits.
A heretic, especially those who serve Slaanesh, can get a coterie of sycophantic hangers on. While their good for parties and inflating one's ego, though don't appear to be useful for much without a little bit of imagination...
Talking Weapon: If a weapon starts talking to you. You should either put it down, or use it with extreme caution.
More specifically, weapons don't talk, but daemons imprisoned within them can communicate with their wielders telepathically, often as threats and demands for release. Other times, a clever, more patient daemon will praise and advise their wielders, waiting patiently for a chance to escape or trying to manipulate a way out of the weapon.
Tragic Hero: Many join Chaos with the noblest of goals and the best of intentions: to protect those they love, to make the world a better place, to stand against the tyranny and cruelty of the Imperium. Many fall. Many more die trying. Hardly any of them live to see their original dream fulfilled, in a form they would still recognize, and remain uncorrupted enough to care.
Utopia With A Dark Secret: Played with. Everyone knows that Q'Sal is powered by human souls that their technology requires torturing of, and that the three major cities major cities of the planet have a deep and abiding loathing for each other that is this close to erupting into a devastating war. That technology, however, and the genuinely high quality of life they have is exactly as it seems, to the point where the framing quote is a soul trader waiting for the other shoe to drop.
The version of Imperial history and organization presented here is stripped of the usual implication that it's all justified and things were fine until the Horus Heresy. It really plays up the idea that PCs in the other lines are tainted by evil just for defending it. A repeated theme is that many heretics embrace Chaos just because it opposes the Imperium and have no real loyalty to it.
Weak, but Skilled: Black Crusade balances Chaos Space Marines against ordinary human heretics by granting the latter a greater variety of starting Skills and Talents and a greater amount of starting Experience Points. Of course, when the Talents include such things as "is a psyker" and "can shoot lightning from my nipples," the terms "weak," "skilled," "ordinary," and even "human" begin to lose some of their meaning....
Who Needs Enemies?: Compactsnote (the Black Crusade equivalent of Endeavours in Rogue Trader and Missions in Deathwatch) have three levels of objectives: Primary, which must be completed for the Compact to be successful; Secondary, which must be completed in order to complete the Primary Objective; and Tertiary/Personal, which represent each Heretic's personal stake in the Compact. The book recommends that for each Compact, the GM should make some Heretics' Tertiary Objectives incompatible, mutually exclusive, or even counterproductive to the success of the Compact as a whole, so that hilarity (and interesting roleplaying) will ensue. (Thankfully, the book also offers tips on how to stop the game from collapsing under the weight of all the intraparty conflict.)
World of Chaos: No pun intended, but the Cat's Cradle — the "eyewall" of the Inner Vortex — is a sector of space where strange and fantastic planets regularly wink in and out of being, if they aren't illusions to begin with. Powerful minions of Tzeentch and sorcerers like it there.
Wreathed in Flames: The Burning Body gift wreathes a character in living flames. There's also the Flaming Skull gift (which, as the name implies, reduces the character's head to a flame-wreathed skull) and the Khornate version of Wreathed in Chaos.
Wretched Hive: The Screaming Vortex is a wild and lawless region of space. On the outer reaches, the laws being ignored are those of the Imperium and of common human decency; closer to the center, the laws being ignored are those of physics.
On the outer reaches...except for Q'Sal. There, they just ignore physics, as the planet itself is in much, much better condition then the vast majority of the Imperium. And they're Heretics, too. See why Chaos can be so appealing?
Q'sal has it's own section in The Tome Of Fate. They work very hard to give outsiders those impressions, but their culture is pretty messed up even by Chaos standards, due to the Pact that keeps law and order on their planet being rather unnatural. The general living conditions and high technology, on the other hand, is just as it seems, and the people are generally nice despite the whole inter-city-state rivalry, soul abuse, and downright insane devotion to appearances.