Only War is the fifth gameline to use the Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay system, this time focusing on the common soldiers of the Imperial Guard. Players get put into the shoes of your average Imperial soldier, thrown into the endless meat-grinder of war and slaughter that defines the 41st millennium, with only your lasguns, flak-armor and faith in the Emperor to protect you and your squad. The Imperial Guard are the common soldiers of the Imperium, the brunt of the Imperial forces, and the first to be sent to die in any conflict.Needless to say, this RPG offers - perhaps more than any other RPG in the line - the ability to become truly Badass Normal; because your characters aren't rich and/or influential like in Rogue Trader, superhuman Space Marines like in Deathwatch, 'blessed' by Chaos like in Black Crusade, or have the backing of the Inquisition like in Dark Heresy. Only War is also unique in that it is the only Warhammer 40000 RPG that focuses primarily on the part that made the franchise popular in the first place - the warfare.The game was released December 17, 2012.See also Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader, Deathwatch and Black Crusade for its sister Warhammer 40,000 RPG gamelines.
This game provides examples of:
Ace Custom: Downplayed with regard to weapons. Weapons which are standard issue or regimental favored can be modified and customized for their users. Gun Accessories are obvious, but many more subtle changes can be made, such as custom ergonomics on grips and stocks, weight reductions, structural reinforcements, alterations to the trigger, action, or magazine fittings, etc. Often these will give minor bonuses to the user for which it is customized, while incurring minor penalties if anyone else tries to use it (due to unfamiliarity with the changes from the stock model.)
Ace Pilot: The Operator speciality is a general driver/pilot class that could be this, combine this with a drop troop regiment and you have a player that can drop his fellow players right in the fight, then soar off and help gun down enemies high in the sky.
Action Duo: The new Comrade system where characters of most specialisations have a NPC soldier tagging along. Players can give orders to their Comrades to add benefits for that turn, such as telling them to fire with the player at a target, increasing the chance for the player to hit said target. Players can even buy specialisation-unique orders for XP.
Notably averted with Commissars and Storm Troopers, who for various IC professional/OOC balance reasons fight alone. Commissars have a set of advances that relate to how they deal with other characters' Comrades, however, whereas Storm Troopers can basically become a second Comrade to the rest of their squad through their advances.
Amazonian Beauty: The character art for the Heavy Gunner class shows a towering Catachan woman wielding a large backpack-fed flamer. Given that people from Catachan are all tall, have Heroic Builds, and wear tanktops that bear their arms and shoulders, including the women, this is presumably true of any female character from a Catachan regiment.
Ammunition Backpack: A common attachment to many military grade weapons. Given that the characters are in the military, this is much more frequently available in Only War compared to most of the other Warhammer 40,000 role playing games.
The Atoner: Penitent regiments (not to be confused with Penal Legions) are often these.
Authority Tropes: It's easier to simply point you to the military section than link them all individually. This is because (in addition to the Sergeant specialty covering all related tropes) nearly all of them are roughly options in the regiment creation rules, where the players can pick what kind of CO they have for a variety of effects.
Awesome, but Impractical: Enforced by the Logistics system. There are plenty of powerful weapons, vehicles, and armor that a regiment can potentially use, but whether they can actually keep them operational after any length of action or just get them on time in the first place is another matter entirely.
Badass Normal: Emphasis on normal. Except for Sanctioned Psykers and the abhumans, anyway.
The Bait: An Order available for purchase in Hammer of the Emperor allows a particularly ruthless Player Character to order his Comrade to serve as bait. Said order explicitly only works if the Comrade is outside of cohesion with the Player Character, and therefore far more vulnerable to harm than he would be if he were in cohesion.
Beta Test: An interesting non-Video Game version. Several months before its official release, Fantasy Flight Games released a near-complete, fully-playable .pdf version of the Only War core rulebook through online vendors such as DriveThruRPG.com, and collected feedback from those who purchased the game regarding rules balance and other issues. These suggestions were then incorporated into the final revision of the game released in December 2012.
Black and Grey Morality: In an odd twist for this universe, this trope is actually somewhat subverted-the Imperial Guard is presented very sympathetically and with a great emphasis on True Companions, about as close to white as this game gets. The other guys are still off-black-to-black-hole, though-about the nicest threat in the core setting is theKroot, with the rest being conned by living proof you don't need to be corrupted by Chaos to be a complete bastard (Severan Dominate), Dark Eldar and all that implies, and Orks. With the occasional splash of curious Chaos reavers.
This ain't training, trooper, this is the real thing. Those are real bullets and real bombs. This is war. If you want to make it through the next few hours alive, you better do exactly as I say and exactly as I do.
Bling of War: One of the non-XP reward options is a series of medals that can be earned by a player, the unit as a whole, or as part of a campaign. All of them give the entire squad benefits, so in general the more the better (although sometimes earning them can be costly).
Boring, but Practical: Josef Stalin famously said "quantity has a quality all its own", and that goes for The Squad's equipment. Often the most effective squads are those that can do amazing things with the most accessible of equipment. There is a reason the Imperial Guard uses so many easily manufactured lasguns and flak armor, and the Logistics system reflects that some things grunts in the field just have more dependable access to.
The Brigadier: The regiment's commanding officer fills this roll, though exactly how straight they play it will depend on what their temperament is. The specifics will have a strong effect on the practices and attitude of the regiment as a whole.
Bullet Proof Vest: The Imperial flak armour shines through again, especially when a war-themed RPG being more likely to put you in harms way. Also very easy to start with if the group creates/choose the right regiment.
It's even more awesome this time around as it's very inexpensive to upgrade your regiment's armor to Good Craftsmanship (and Best Craftsmanship is even somewhat reasonable).
Chain of Deals: As With This Herring below details, sometimes the equipment and supplies the players get are not the equipment and supplies they actually need. Hence the time-honored military tradition of swapping and bartering to get what they want comes into play, and savvy characters will be able to exploit this. Just make sure that the CO and local Commissars are willing to look the other way or unaware that these deals are happening, since implying that the God Emperor is not providing adequately for the needs of His Guardsmen is technically heresy, though an understandable one among the chaos of war...
Chicken Walker: Want your entire company to go around in Sentinels? That is a perfectly possible option.
Only War also expands on some Dark Heresy fluff material by introducing the Maccabian Janissaries, an Imperial Guard regiment raised from the Shrine World of Maccabeus Quintus, obsessed with the worship of Saint Drusus, the hero of the Angevin Crusades that founded the Calixis Sector. They are explicitly described as primarily consisting of pilgrims who came to Maccabeus out of religious fervour, couldn't afford the transit fees home, and chose to band together as a formal Guard regiment and take holy Drusus' fight to the stars. Although they use the same ranks and terminology as the rest of the Guard, they stand out even amongst the Imperium as being particularly keen on the whole holy war thing.
Close Range Combatant: The Brawler specialization in Hammer of the Emperor is for characters who want to focus on this.
Closest Thing We Got: Happens often when the squad needs certain skills and has trouble finding a good match among the members. Even more than to character skills, it applies double to bad logistics rolls. The squad will rarely get everything they want, but they will be expected to make-do and find a way to make what they do have work.
The Death Korps of Kreig regiments on the Spinward Front are a recent arrival, having been diverted from the relatively nearby Siege of Vraks (a conflict elaborated on in the Forgeworld-published Imperial Armour books, volumes 5, 6, and 7.)
The Enemies Of the Imperium supplement begins a section on mutants and heretics with a short speech from Eliphas The Inheritor from Dark Crusade.
The description of Kasrkin regiments in Hammer of the Emperor includes a synopsis of the Lorn V campaign from Dawn of War: Winter Assault.
Hammer of the Emperor also contains builds for playing a few of the more famous specific Imperial Guard regiments in the fiction:
Covered In Scars: Brontian Longknives come from a prize world settled long ago by retiring Guard regiments, and they maintain their memory of this by engaging in tradition of ceremonial mock-warfare conducted exclusively with blades where a fighter is "out" at first blood. Scars on the front of the body are considered a sign of valor and a source of pride, scars on the back are considered a sign of cowardice and a source of shame. Many Brontians intentionally wear little to no cloths over their torsos to better show these off.
Critical Hit: Dark Heresy's love of the Chunky Salsa Rule is carried over here to the surprise of no one, but now there's also Stuff Blowing Up thanks to a matching series of charts for vehicles. You do NOT want to be in a tank's turret when it reaches 10 Critical Wounds, unless you wanted your ashes spread through the stratosphere.
Death from Above: Artillery regiments who sling shells down on their enemies, or drop regiments who have their infantry descend on the enemy from above. The Master of Ordinance advanced specialization in Hammer of the Emperor is all about this.
Demolitions Expert: The Breacher advanced specialization in Hammer of the Emperor is for characters who want to focus on this.
Dying Moment of Awesome: Exists in the form of the Never Die talent, which literally means that your character will basically shrug off even the worst injuries and keep on fighting until all the enemies are gone, critical effects be damned. This allows him to fight at full capacity when by all respects he should be almost entirely incapacitated and give him it all even when he's just an inch away from death, literally enforcing these moments.
Easy Logistics: Thoroughly averted. The Logistics system is used to determine how easy it is for The Squad to access equipment. Depending on circumstances, they might find things that they were depending on having not arriving on time, or even getting equipment orders mixed up. This is justified for a few reasons, including the standard vagaries of war (supply convoys being raided, resources required for higher priorities elsewhere, the unpredictability of warp travel, etc) but additionally things like Severan Dominant Agent Provocateurs posing as warehouse workers behind Imperial lines and doing things as simple as swapping shipping labels on containers.
Egopolis: The Severan Dominate, a secessionist group of systems in the Spinward Front ruled over by Duke Severus XIII, the vengeful descendant of a Rogue Trader whose attempts to set up an Egopolis in what's now the Calixis Sector were thwarted by St. Drusus. Yeah.
Elites Are More Glamorous: Storm Troopers. Although it's an odd PC squad that contains more than one of these, given that they are, like all others, simply a Specialty (class) that a character can choose.
And now that Hammer is out, Cadia's famed Kasrkin regiments are playable in full rather than being an optional refluff for Storm Troopers attached to other Cadian regiments.
Evil Counterpart: The recommendation for fielding Severan Dominate forces in a game is to reuse the NPC stats for loyal Imperial Guard, as they are explicitly mentioned to retain much of their previous armaments and organisation. This could, per the GM's discretion, extend to any number of Traitor Guard forces.
Expansion Pack World: While the other 40k RPGs all have their own distinct settings, Only War is just slightly to the side from the Calixis Sector. This is appropriate, since the game began development as a supplement for Dark Heresy.
Expospeak Gag: An exceptionally long-winded and detailed description for pens exists in the Tools section. Yes, pens;
Typically a gripped cylinder with a reservoir or staining liquid, the device has also been manufactured successfully on primitive worlds such as Iocanthos using soft breaking metal or fissionable residue encased in a strain resistant substance, usually milled on site. When a staining liquid is used, it can be manufactured from a variety of substances found throughout the Calixis Sector including, but not limited to, flora/fauna compression, animal excretion harvesting, or synthetic means. This source can often affect the hue of the staining liquid.
Faux Affably Evil: The Severian counterpoint to Commissars, Ducal Legates, are a lot more polite and friendly than their counterparts. They are also just as ruthless and far less brave, leading safely from the back as opposed to the Commissars in the thick of the action.
Foreign Queasine: The Attilan Rough Riders have a unique trait that allows them to increase their survival time absent proper ration resupply so long as they have access to their mounts. The fluff for this is that they are able to make a kind of cooked slurry porridge. The ingredients are various kinds of gathered herbs and grains...and small amounts of blood siphoned carefully from their horses.
Footnote Fever: One Sergeant Natalia Talwar got her hands on the copy of The Infantryman's Guide to The Spinward Front in Enemies of the Imperium, and wrote a few corrections (and sarcasm) for whoever inherited it from her.
Gameplay and Story Segregation: All characters mustered into a regiment are from the same homeworld. However, they will be joined by other auxiliary personnel who are likely from other homeworlds, such as commissars, abhumans, engineseers, or certain consulting specialists. Regardless, all characters who join the regiment are considered to have the same homeworld as the core regiment where game-mechanics are concerned, even if they are still distinct in-story. The rule book Handwaves this as auxiliary personnel tending to adopt customs and attitudes of the regiments they attach to (though it does not explain things like the homeworld attribute modifiers which are mostly physical rather than cultural). This is mitigated somewhat by the rules for Mixed Regiments introduced in Hammer of the Emperor.
Gas Mask Mooks: The Death Korp of Krieg regiments operating in the Spinward Front, which means potentially the players if they play as part of a Krieg regiment. The Krieg deliberately invoke this trope through their training and doctrine, so that the soldiers are stripped of any individual identity, their faces perpetually hidden behind their masks, and even forbidden from using any names, relying on their serial numbers and rank/position to refer to each other.
Glory Seeker: The Sanguine commander type is looking to push their regiment to heroism, giving optimistic Rousing Speeches. However, their willingness to put their troops In Harm's Way may be to their detriment, and they need to struggle hard to survive what they are thrown into.
Hidden Agenda Villain: The Dark Eldar Kabal "Children of Thorns" has been aiding Duke Severus in return for being allowed to raid some of his more "unimportant" worlds for pain-slaves. However, the Children of Thorns seem to be extracting their own toll outside of the small circle of outlying worlds promised to them, occasionally attacking other more "important" planets. Normally this would seem like typical Dark Eldar behavior, except that they keep attacking the same several worlds in a particular pattern that suggests they know something about these locations that others do not...
Hobbits: Ratling snipers are a playable character choice.
It's Raining Men: The Elysian Drop Troopers are an example regiment, and the regiment creation rules include drop troopers as an option.
"Join the Army," They Said: Much emphasis is placed on the pomp and the glory of a Regimental Founding, as colourfully illustrated by a series of IC diary entries in the opening chapter of the rulebook. It is a great honour for any Imperial citizen to be called to serve in the Guard. However, the reality of service is a lot ...more miserable than most of the poor bastards expect.
Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: Debatable, as everyone starts with a laser weapon. As with Black Crusade, this trope is somewhat less prominent in this game due to inclusion of variable power settings on most basic las weaponry and changes to the rules for burst and automatic fire.
Outright averted in long campaigns with a bad supply chain: Lasguns are more robust than today's AK-47. Their battery packs hold a lot more charges than slugthrower magazines and can be recharged at any suitable electrical outlet - or failing that, can derive charges from sunlight and heat. For a quick recharge in bad situations, they can even be placed in a campfire, though this technique (informally called "Catachan Reloading") isn't exactlysafe.
The Klutz: Ogryns have a habit of breaking anything remotely delicate they interact with, or knocking over anything in a confined space (doubly so because their racial claustrophobia will likely make them jumpy.) There is even a trait for certain pieces of equipment designating them as "Ogryn-proof" and thus less likely to fall apart under the clumsy operation of an ogryn.
Knife Nut: The appropriately-named Brontian Longknives. Their standard kit in Hammer of the Emperor lets them be absolutely festooned with bladed implements.
Long-Range Fighter: The Sharpshooter specialization in Hammer of the Emperor is for characters who want to focus on this.
Machine Worship: Tech-Priests, and to a lesser extent regiments mustered from Forge Worlds. Also a general component in every Imperial citizen's life due to the concept of the machine-spirit and the Imperium's rather esoteric approach to technology.
Martyrdom Culture: Penitent regiments are so set on atoning with their lives / showing their courage / overcome with zeal / etc. that they have to pass a willpower test in order to voluntarily retreat from a combat engagement, even if doing so would be tactically prudent.
Metaplot: The game plot itself takes place after several campaigns presented in Dark Heresy, and in fact Duke Severus wouldn't have been so quick to kick off his rebellion if not for the events that occur in The Apostasy Gambit trilogy. This in itself can cause some spoilers for players who also are running Dark Heresy, but have not yet gotten the opportunity to play through The Apostasy Gambit.
Military Maverick: A possible commander type, who often rubs their peers and commanding officers the wrong way, but earns the respect and loyalty of their own subordinates who will follow them even into the most horrific conditions without fear.
Military Science-Fiction: Topping evenDeathwatch, the previous best example of this from the Warhammer 40,000 RPGs. While Deathwatch may operate at a higher power level than Only War, the astartes of the Deathwatch are much more ritualistic and independent than the Guard, existing a separate order of warriors apart from the normal military. In contrast, players in Only War are part of the Imperium's primary military command structure and engage in more conventional and normal military operations on continual basis.
Outside Ride: A common option for Player Character squads with mixed classes who are in a ground vehicle centered regiment. For example, a tank company might practice tank desant, with infantry riding on the tank and then disembarking to support it once enemy contact is imminent. This is a particularly good idea if the squad contains an ogryn, as ogryn... tend not to do very well in the dark, claustrophobic confines of a vehicle hull.
Plausible Deniability: Duke Severus' deal with the Dark Eldar of the Children of Thorns Kabal is not something he can freely admit to, obviously. Thus, there is very little direct contact between them. If the Dark Eldar provide aid to him militarily, it is always done indirectly, hitting Imperial targets at just the right time to royally screw up action they see against the Dominant's regular forces. In turn, they raid some of the Dominant's less strategically critical worlds, which Severus again denies and publicly decries, despite condoning it. For the Dark Eldar's part, they find this of no bother, the politics of Commorragh having gotten them used to much worse.
Properly Paranoid: The Bilious commander type, who is ill-tempered and expects betrayal and treachery from everyone. Soldiers under their command will have to be especially vigilant and watchful.
Psychos For Hire: Severus made his power play for an independent fiefdom by making deals with Dark Eldar. He let them raid some unimportant outlying colonies for pain-slaves while under-equipping their defenders and delaying relief forces, and in turn they provided him discrete assassins and saboteurs to quietly dispose of his political enemies. The Ork invasion of the region forced him to move his plans forward ahead of schedule and declare open rebellion. Now the Dark Eldar escalate to hitting Imperial military targets to give Severus' forces a battlefield advantage, but in turn they no longer limit themselves to raiding just the Dominant's fringes as they follow their own inscrutable motives.
Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Common with penal legions, not to mention the mixed regiments option in Hammer of the Emperor.
The Reliable One: The Phlegmatic commander type, who speaks little, only gives a few carefully considered orders, and is not given to vainglory, paranoia, or excessive heroic gestures. They may be seem unremarkable, but their proven success record demonstrates solid competence.
Schizo Tech: Want your Guard regiment to pack longbows and plain steel swords to go with their laser pistols and modern body armor? Go for it!
Spock Speak: The description for the Calixian Infantryman's Portable Communications Transcription Device. It's a fountain pen.
The Squad: Enforced with the specialities you can choose for your guardsmen.
Stealth Expert: The Scout specialization in Hammer of the Emperor is for characters who want to focus on this.
Stone Wall: The Severan Dominant has adopted this as a strategic doctrine, with Dominant forces directed to dig-in and fortify the most defensible position they can find. They adopt this strategy because they know that there is no way they can compete with the Imperium's immense resource advantage, but given the threats the Imperium faces on nearby fronts they may be able to hold out by wearing down the local Imperial forces long enough for the Imperial higher-ups to decide there are higher priorities to fight. This does mean that the Dominant sacrifices much of its offensive initiative, but also means any Dominant forces The Squad is likely to run into will be in a position of defensive strength.
Straw Hypocrite: Duke Severus is a master of the fine art of lying his pants off about his political positions to get the Dominate to go along with his schemes. In reality, the entire rebellion was born out of his own familial grudge and jealousy of the High Lords of Terra.
Taking the Bullet: A possible Advance for the Storm Trooper, and an available Talent in Hammer of the Emperor.
Tank Goodness: Entirely possible. The vehicle system has been redone since Rogue Trader, and playing a Mechanised or Armoured Regiment are readily available options at the start of play.
Upper-Class Twit: Highborn regiments allow an entire squad of them. As of the latest errata, Highborn characters don't even properly have the Linguistics (Low Gothic) skill, meaning they can communicate with the lower-born but cannot actually read or write the common language of the Imperium. The Scintillan Fusiliers, described in Hammer of the Emperor, are a textbook example.
Gentleman Snarker: On the other hand, Highborn may also gain a bonus to Intelligence, Lore, and Tactics, leading to this. Lampshaded in the overview, which explicitly spells out that many Highborn regiments are training grounds for the Guard's future officer staff.
Villain with Good Publicity: Duke Severus, within his own domain at least. He spent decades carefully pruning out people of influence who would not be receptive to him, while inserting figures he could count on as confidants. Using this network of influence, he was able to control what information went in and out of the Periphery. He slowly began increasing levies on worlds under the guise of increased Imperial tithes, while simultaneously blocking critical imports from coming in from outside the subsector, and making a pact for the Dark Eldar to begin attacking in a False Flag Operation with no relief to come. When the predictable civil unrest started, he blamed the Imperium for demanding too much of these worlds while giving back too little and failing to defend them. He brought back all the supplies he had carefully secreted away, being seen as a hero for using effective emergency measures. It was not much from there to goad the worlds into supporting succession from the Imperium, with Severus himself as the obvious choice of "benevolent" leader. Little do his own citizens know that he was the one who nearly brought their worlds to ruin for his own power, the additional freedoms they were promised are largely an illusion, and the promises he made to other powers to secure their support for the revolution would leave the region economically devastated for millennia to come.
War Is Glorious: A value promoted by the Imperium and put in all their propaganda. Commissars are in charge of enforcing this view, preachers are in charge of backing it up with faith, and for many in the upper echelons of the war effort this is quite true. For the rest though, this leads to...
War Is Hell: Natch, although not that it bothers many of the people participating in it.
With This Herring: A squad will generally be assigned a mission-specific set of gear beyond the standard and specialist kit, but when you start out it is very likely you will not be able to acquire all of it, and may in fact fail to acquire ANY of it or acquire in its place something completely useless and hilarious.
As stated in the book however, savvier Characters can take advantage of the unreliable bureaucracy by stockpiling items in the event of major logisticial blunders and/or even use them to trade with other squads.
Even then, a savvy squad or Character can make great use of certain items. As mentioned, there's the obvious 'trade value' of items such as a crate of hundreds of packets of cigarettes or bottles of decent alcohol, but what if you get 'assigned' a barrel full of promethium, a crate full of grenades, or a box of demolition charges? Oh the possibilities!
Your Rebels Are Our Freedom Fighters: The forces of the Severan Dominate are nominally still faithful to the Emperor, some even fanatically so. However, they have been lead to believe (via Severus' Propaganda Machine and Cult of Personality) that Severus is rightfully entitled to the fiefdom of those worlds they claim, and the Administratum claims dominance of them illegitimately. Of course to the High Lords of Terra, rebellion against the Administratum is rebellion against the Emperor, something to which the Dominate forces violently disagree.