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.
Ace Custom: Tome of Blood provides rules for the player characters to create "Legacy Weapons," unique weapons that act as their character's signature sidearm and grow in power as they gain Infamy.
Affably Evil: Many characters, and the sorcerer-planet of Q'Sal in general (by the standards of Chaos, at any rate). Though expanded information on the planet has made Q'Sallian culture itself more of a subversion, since it's one of the biggest consumers within the Screaming Vortex's thriving slave trade, and that it's a pretty twisted place underneath the Golden Age facsimile.
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.
Arms Dealer: While worlds like Q'sal and the Hollows are rife with weapons for sale, particular mention goes to independant Hereteks within the Ragged Helix who arm much of the Screaming Vortex with weapons they create and distribute independently.
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..."
The Apostate archetype is a downplayed example, they are (initially, at least) ordinary humans who happen to be incredibly charismatic.
The Badguys Are Cops: Within adventures that take place within the Imperium, the most common enemy will be those that enforce order and orthodoxy within the (mostly dystopian) Imperium, particularly those that do so by brutal force (which is commonly a driving motive for individuals serving Chaos). In other cases, they may be corrupt or radical elements, which can actually work the the Heretics' favor.
Body Horror: As a heretic becomes more and more corrupt, his 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 a hundred more who are serving the Ruinous Powers for selfish goals or for a patron for their personal hatreds.
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 from preceding game lines.
In the other 40K RPG systems, skills and talents were limited to advancement charts, with skills not on the charts having to be purchased with an expensive elite advancement, pending GM approval. Black Crusade instead uses an alignment system, so any talent and skill is available so long as you have the XP to spend on it, and you buy the advancement with a discount if it is aligned to the deity you character is aligned to, pay nominal XP if the advancement is Unaligned or aligned to the allied deity, or pay a "surcharge" if it aligned to one of the two opposed deities.
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.
Anybody who "enjoys" the Cyclops mutation loses one of his eyes and gains the ability to see the future. However, they can only see their death, so they tend to become paranoid, and develop the Conspiracy Theorist neurosis noted above.
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 completely 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...
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" 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.
Eldritch Location: Within the context of the Screaming Vortex, where Daemons and mutants and mutates are commonplace, the planets Korvaska and the Flaming Tomb are particularly strange. The largest planetoid in the Ragged Helix, known as the Halls of Dionea is also quite unusual.
In the case of Korvaska (also called the Dread Planet), it's curiously unaffected by the tides of the Vortex and supports a bare-bones ecosystem despite not having the geology which would allow it. It also has a planet-wide unnavigable tunnel complex, mysteriously flourishing oases that turn hostile in minutes of being "invaded", and an inexplicably sustained population of mutant tribes [[note:Warfare and attrition (they can't enter the oases to get supplies) should have wiped them out fairly quickly, but they don't ever seem to thin out]]. Stranger still is an event called "the Winnowing", where localized pieces of the landscape change freely as though being molded by invisible hands.
Enforced Cold War: On Q'sal, one of the most influential planets of the Vortex, the three city states are in a state of uneasy peace, held together by a treaty that no party is willing to break. 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 center of arcane industry, the three city states could drag the entire Screaming Vortex into a three way war. As it is, sorcery and schemes, in the forms of politics, espionage, and industrial production are the means of choice that they try to subvert 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.
A Lighter Shade of Black: 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.
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.
Mutants: Unsurprisingly, there are worlds where the native population is heavily or entirely composed of mutants. The Q'Sallians (or possibly just the ruling class of Sorcerer-Technocrats), whose patron is the deity who loves mutations the most, are hinted to be so warped with cosmetic mutations that they're virtually unrecognizable as being human.
Mythology Gag: The title of the game-line is also the common term used in reference to great invasions by the forces of Chaos.
N.G.O. Superpower: While anybody who gains enough influence can become this, the two triumphant examples are Forge Castir and Forge Polix from the Hollows. They are a pair of Dark Mechanicus industrial hives, each one equal parts city state, Dark Mechanicus holy city, and industrial complex. They are locked in a perpetual civil war, but that doesn't stop them from supplying much of the Vortex with its weaponry.
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: A follower of Nurgle can develop a disorder that makes him 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.
Proud Warrior Race Guy: Followers of Khorne may well be the most honourable of the Forces of Chaos when they care about it.
On the worlds of Berin and Asphodel are a population of Orks and Kroot, the populations of both are slowly aligning to Khorne. Note that while Kroot are more of a Proud Hunter Race, life on Asphodel is turning them overtly violent out of necessity, as well as slowly turning them to an evolutionary dead end.
Psychic-Assisted Suicide: The psychic power "Compel" in the telepathy discipline that gives a brief 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, to 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 also 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 the players proving themselves to a Slaanesh-worshiping pirate prince, who has mastered all of the above sins without totally succumbing to any one. Each of his six most notable courtiers has proven him or herself as a master of one of the respective sins.
Shell-Shocked Veteran: The "Dead Inside" personality disorder makes somebody detached and shell shocked. Followers of Khorne are more prone to getting this.
The Exospectre: "Let me tell you how much you have failed, Garthin. There are 387.44 kilometers of runemarked circuits in wafer-thin layers filling this sub-complex. If the word "failure" was engraved upon every nanoangstrom of those thousands of metres, it would not equal one-billionth of the failure you have displayed at this singular moment."
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 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 one who serves Slaanesh, can acquire an entire coterie of sycophantic hangers-on. While they're 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 cities on 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 are exactly as they seem, to the point where the framing quote is a soul trader waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Villain Cred: The Infamy characteristic, which is central to some of the game mechanics, is an odd combination between reputation and favor of the Gods. While you can spend XP to get higher Infamy until you hit lower-midlevel (representing player characters leveraging their actions towards their reputation), Infamy is mostly rewarded by achieving something tangible, which increases your reputation and unholy favor.
Optional rules state that if a character becomes too dependent on another with a higher Infamy score to get equipment or favors, he may risk lowering his own Infamy, with a lack of self-reliance being a sign of being an underling rather than a peer.
Similarly, particularly Infamous characters can "overawe" less Infamous characters, and keep them in their place (i.e. not trying to embarrass, coerce, or otherwise manipulate the more Infamous character).
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 its 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.