Thursday, 2 October 2014

GMing in Obscurity

One question that was asked a couple of times when I first shared pictures of the war band I've been working on was "what is the Ordo Obsoletus?". I was happy to explain that they are a branch of the Inquisition that have tasked themselves with unravelling the bizarre and confounding mysteries of the galaxy. The Ordo has been involved in investigating alleged miracles, space hulks, ghost ships and appearances of the Legion of the Damned. They are the group that investigates the threats to the Imperium that defy categorisation. If like me you reached your formative years in the nineties, you would happily compare the Ordo's work to that of FBI Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully of the X Files. Except of course in the 41st millennium, aliens are real, and have a whole Ordo arrayed against them. 

Not sure if the now finished Inquisitor looks much like David Duchovny...

Now, I thought that the Ordo Obsoletus were a fairly well-known minor Ordo, after the Ordos Sicarius and Sepulturum. Not so it would seem, and in actual fact there are few mentions of them anywhere in the canon (I remember them from a piece of colour text on the Legion of the Damned from the depths of a White Dwarf article sometime in the colourful realm of the late nineties). There is no mention at all of them in the Inquisitor rule book even, a tome that really laid out the bones of the previously little understood left hand of the Emperor. The Ordo then is little more than a footnote. It is by no means alone either. A quick search of the 40k wiki brings up no less than 25 minor Ordos in addition to the big three of the Ordos Malleus, Xenos and Hereticus. I couldn't tell you how many more fan created Ordos and Orders there are on top of that.

Not even the powers of the warp could tell you that.

As Inquisitor players then, is there a risk of being too obscure with our references? The Warhammer 40,000 universe has been written about for over twenty seven years now, seen hundreds of publications with its logo printed on the cover and had countless contributing authors. Some pieces have been well-received, some have been met with the bile of a million angry keystrokes. Goodness only knows what the word count of almost three decades worth of back story is. Within the mountains of source material, one can find throwaway sentences from which an entire race of xenos creatures could gestate from, names of worlds, saints, heroes and villains that practically no one else will recall. The sheer number of ideas hidden amongst it all is mind-boggling, and worthy of a sub-department of the Adeptus Administratum itself. This has the potential to create confusion, as well as ideological conflicts over seemingly retconned pieces and the work of unpopular writers. By using an obscure footnote as a basis for a character there is a risk that our ideas are ignored for the familiar, in vogue story lines by other players and GMs.

The Hrud linger in the background...

If that seems alarmist, I do remember a time when popular opinion would shout down the idea of Grey Knights using the tools of Chaos, but now we have Castellan Crowe wielding a daemon weapon. He is a special case, but a well-known trump card in that argument nonetheless. Inquisitor is an unusual Games Workshop production in that there is no etched in stone set of rules and army lists. The word of god in its case lies with the GM and players cannot point to their army codex and say that the book says I can have this. Discretion on the part of the GM is what sets Inquisitor apart. 

The GM is the conductor of the piece.

Being a good Games Master is making yourself head of a committee that involves the players. In this forum, all participants can say their piece, their ideas can be discussed upon by everyone and a consensus reached. Every Inquisitor player I've met has been a student of 40k lore and enjoys the tangled depths of its immense archives. What people don't like is surprises, so by having a discussion before your games is a good way to avoid disenchanting players who come across something they don't like mid-game. It's far easier to deal with gripes before they happen. You will find that most players just want to get their models on the table to play and will happily acquiesce to the will of the group. You are there to facilitate a game, and it's a much more rewarding experience if the participants are going in happy. On occasion, you might unfortunately find that no amount of discussion will talk a player round. In those instances a tough stance might have to be taken. As the GM you are the law and you have the right to veto anything you don't think fits in with your image of the game. That said, I always feel that offering an alternative is better than outright taking things away. Once again, the best games play out when all the participants go into them excited to play.

Combat on the edge of tall buildings? Yes please.

Does the obscure have a place in Inquisitor then? Absolutely, and for me that is exactly what the game should be about. Investigating the tantalising morsels at the fringe of the collective knowledge of the 41st millennium is an exceptionally rewarding creative exercise. However, open channels of communication with other players and the GM are vital to the enjoyment of these adventures by everyone.

You might notice blog entries become a bit more irregular from now on as I am starting a new job. The construction of my Ordo Obsoletus warband will continue, and updates can be found on The Conclave, Facebook and through Twitter. If you have any comments on today's post please send them my way.

The Carthaxian Inquisitor

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