Wednesday, 27 March 2013

40k and D&D - A General Overview

Warhammer - I am mostly talking about 40k here - fascinates me; the setting has some crazy great ideas and the artwork is superb and very inspiring. It has two major flaws that oft hold me back from playing it, though: (1) the official system is baroquely complex for my style, and (2) the setting, if logically followed through, excludes D&D-style adventuring altogether. With this post (and probably with a couple more) I intend to get over the problems (admittedly, both can easily be solved) and create the means of adventuring in a setting (reminiscent) of Warhammer 40k.

First, "Warhammer meets D&D" is not a new thing. The following products and blog posts, to some degree, all dealt with it:
  • Chris Hogan created the famous Small But Vicious Dog, a mash-up of Labyrinth Lord and WFRP (check out the SBVD Sidebar)
  • John Bell, over his blog, started converting the Stars Without Number training packages and background packages to 40k (unfortunately, there are no tags on his blog, although there is a built-in search engine) you may find everything under the Dark Heresy and Stars Without Number tags
  • FrDave also posted some great ideas on a 40k megadungeon using SWN
  • Mike Davison posted answers to the "twenty questions regarding the setting" thingy for his Warband game

SBVD belongs to the list only because it managed to integrate the crucial parts of WFRP into B/X D&D/Labyrinth Lord very intuitively and preserving the feel of Warhammer, as well. To me, the other three gentlemen's works are much more important as they deal with the 40k setting directly, although with rather different purposes: John's version is supposed to be a Traveller-like sandbox, FrDave's is a megadungeon, and Mike's game is "only" influenced by 40k and is intended to be a wilderness sandbox with rivalling warbands and crazy stuff.

Before we go any further, let's take a look at what I previously wrote about the criteria of a D&D setting and check each entry on the list to see if and how they are represented in the general 40k setting:
  • Adventurers: Sort of... There are Rogue Traders who act like the player characters in Traveller but in a much greater scope (starships of unbelievable size with crew counting hundreds of thousands); furthermore, there are ever-fighting gangs in the sprawling metropolises (cf. Necromunda).
  • Dungeons: Although their existence as proper dungeons is not emphasised at all in the "canon" of 40k, there certainly are locales which could function as dungeons (or even megadungeons), such as the gigantic space hulks (the setting for the original Space Hulk game and a recent adventure for Deathwatch, Ark of Lost Souls); forgotten fortresses and temples of the Empire, the Eldar, or some other faction's; or the labyrinthine underhives.
  • Monsters: Check. There are many different foes in the setting, including thugs, heretics, cultists, chaos space marines, daemons, eldar, orks, etc.; also, they are of a variety of power levels (from human weaklings to greater daemons).
  • Treasure: Well, check; not so much cash or objects of art, rather ancient technology, chaotic weaponry, and other crazy gadgets. It has to do with the general gun fetish of 40k and with its wargame origin, as well.
  • Wilderness vs. Civilisation: It is a tricky one, but since their meaning is really "safe zones" and "adventure zones", they are right there (Imperial world vs. warzone, for instance), so sort of check.
The setting in general does not support classic adventuring because of the rigorous social system; however, depending on the scope we aim for, we can mostly disregard that aspect in actual gaming and consider it part of the background. For instance, in a megadungeon similar to Necromunda, it does not really matter what the rest of the setting looks or feels like; all that matters is the dungeon and its close environment (lairs, settlements, geography).

In the future, I would like to post some ideas on both the space travelling sandbox and the megadungeon approaches to mixing D&D and 40k. Since I post rather infrequently and have some other articles in the works, it is impossible to say when I will be able to further discuss this topic; anyways, it will happen sometime.

UPDATE: It has been brought to my attention that Paul Schaefer's Weirdhammer also fits into "D&D meets 40k"; regarding its approach, it is most similar to Warband as both are wilderness-based games, transporting some elements of 40k into their D&D and not the other way (i.e. transporting traditional adventuring to 40k).

UPDATE: Added links to John Bell's SWN adaptation.


  1. One idea I've had for a game using SWN / 40K would be to run it as an open-table Inquisition style game, using the random threat / adventure generator tables in SWN adapted for 40K. I'd recruit a couple of co-GMs, and each one of us would play a specific Inquisitor who is part of a conclave. PCs would be acolytes assigned to the conclave and sent to investigate specific, randomly generated threats on various worlds throughout the Tellian Sector (my homebrew sector for 40K). PCs who reached 10th level would become Inquisitors in turn and co-GMs.

    1. It sounds interesting; it sounds very much like Dark Heresy, though, thus kind of missing my point: playing D&D in the 40k universe (i.e. exploring the vast universe by spaceships, the wilderness of a former civilised planet corrupted by Chaos, or ancient ruins - just like in traditional adventures).

      Nevertheless, the idea is solid, and I like the end-game of becoming co-GM very much :)

    2. Thanks. If you want to play an exploration driven game, I'd make the PCs a team of "explorators" dealing with lost civilisations and colonies. This would tend to given them a background in the Cult of Mars, which would let them engage with the 40K setting in all sorts of ways without requiring them to be tech-priests.