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Anathema: Rules and background

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The Age of the Imperium is at an end. This is the dawn of a bright, new age: The Age of Freedom

It is the 42nd millennium of Man. For more than a hundred centuries the decadent priests of the false Corpse-God of Terra have ruled the galaxy with an iron fist. But no more. Their god is dead, freed from the deathless prison his jail-keepers named the Golden Throne in mockery of its purpose. Warmaster Abaddon, heir to Blessed Horus, is leading a mighty Crusade against all the wicked works of the Adeptus Terra, the Priesthood of Earth. He has sworn never to rest until there is no more falsehood left in the galaxy. Never to lay down his arms as long as any oppressor is left alive. Never to yield as long as there is breath in his body. Yet even with their false god fallen the decadent bureaucrat-priests of Terra refuse to see reason. They continue to drone as they always have, blinded by false faith and numbed by fear of everything they cannot understand. And so the dying Imperium continues to fight, oblivious to the fact that the end is near. Mighty Imperial battlefleets continue to cross the Immaterium. Vast armies still give battle in the name of the Corpse-God on uncounted worlds. The Adeptus Astartes, the Space Marines, still slave for Terra as they have done since their will was broken. Their comrades in arms are ever legion; the inexhaustible armies of the Imperial Guard and countless planetary defence forces, the enforcers of the Adeptus Arbites, the servants of the Inquisition, and the tech-priests of the Adeptus Mechanicus to name only a few. But for all their multitudes, they are failing. As the Crusade grinds on more and more worlds are breaking free from the tyranny of Terra, adding their strength to Abaddon's holy quest, the liberation of Mother Earth. For when the cradle of humanity has been scourged free of all taint the human race will know that it is free at long last. To be a man in such times is to be one amongst untold billions. It is to rise up to topple the most oppressive and powerful regime imaginable - or die trying. Forget the power of technology and science, for so much has been forgotten, never to be re-learned. Forget the promise of progress and understanding, for there is no peace amongst the stars, only an eternity of carnage and slaughter, and the laughter of thirsting gods.

In this play-by-post (PbP) game you will play an aspiring Champion of Chaos in the Distant Dark Future of the Warhammer 40,000 setting.

Unfamiliar with the setting? Check out some of these wikis:


Or one of several fan communities:


So far, so good, but here is the twist:

The Corpse-God of Terra (i.e. the God-Emperor of Mankind) is dead. And I don't mean dead as interred in the Golden Throne; I mean dead as in the Throne has failed and no more Emperor to act as a figurehead to the Priesthood of Earth. Or at least that's what they are telling you. Maybe the Throne never worked in the first place. Maybe it still does. True or not: The Astronomican is gone, this is an irrefutable fact. And the Imperium is falling apart. Ever so slowly at the moment, but soon the whole rotten structure will come tumbling down. Ezekiel the Just - whom the Imperium call Abaddon the Despoiler - will see to that. He'll drive a spear-point of destruction right into the rotten heart of the Imperium - Terra. And you, you are honored to fight beside him.

It began back in M41. At the very eve of that Millennium Abaddon led a vast host out of the Eye. It was not he first time he tried to topple the Imperium of Man. The 13th Black Crusade (that's what the Imperial bureaucrats call it anyway) got off to what seemed a very bad start: After initial naval engagements a great Liberator army assaulted Cadia. It looked like Cadia would fall, but before that happened the Imperials turned up with a much bigger fleet and pretty much chased Abaddon back to the Eye. In the following years the Imperials tried to exterminate the Chaos forces left on the planet's surface. They very nearly succeeded, only to be ambushed by Abaddon's true might: This 2nd Liberation host was several orders of magnitude greater than the initial feint had been, an army so big it was widely considered the biggest military buildup the galaxy had seen since the Horus Heresy. It wiped out the Imperial fleet and the legions of Chaos poured into the greater galaxy.

So where do you come in?

You're one of the survivors of Cadia. Perhaps you were there for the initial assault sixteen years ago. Perhaps you're an Imperial turned renegade during the long years of fighting. Maybe you're a mutant, a witch or some such that have been hiding in the Cadian outback. Or maybe you came in years later with Abaddon's second push and were landed to mop up the Imperials left behind the front lines. It's up to you to decide the particulars.

What is important is that even now the Warmaster is pushing towards Terra, while your band is stuck on the surface of Cadia. There are still Imperials around and fighting is fierce, but at least now you have a chance of surviving - and hopefully getting off this rock. Off this rock and on to join the Crusade against Terra!

The name of the game is Anathema. It is, despite not sharing the same system, essentially a Black Crusade game (i.e. you're a Champion of Chaos out to fight the Imperium).

It's called Anathema for TWO reasons: 1) Because your are quite literally considered Anathema by the Adeptus Terra and 2) because complex rules and lots of dice rolls are anathema in this game.

Anathema is a game about being different, begin the outsider, being the savage, being the enemy at the gates, being the darkness inside unleashed.

Anathema is  also about collaborative storytelling, and not about playing with dice, nitpicking over rules, or counting Thrones to buy some fancy gear: That is why Anathema has these very simple rules, but still offers endless complexity during play.

Simply put; anything goes, as long as it sounds fun and reasonable. Reasonable and fun in your own eyes, but also in the eyes of the GM and the other players. If you overstep this fundamental premise the Dark Gods will conjure forth trials and travails to put you in your place.

Anathema is divided into 4 Tiers. We'll play for a while at each Tier, then advance to the next. We're not trying to cover ever swing of a chainsword or every cup of tea drunk. What we're trying to do is tell enough of the story at each tier that we can comfortably move forward.

Tier 1 - You start at this tier. At this tier you are an aspiring Champion of Chaos. That might not sound very impressive, but 'aspiring' is relative; objectively you're a terrible scourge of mankind, albeit on a lesser scale. In this context lesser means you could probably personally take on a handful of enemy Astartes and emerge victorious. You have a small warband: It might not be very big, but is has some interesting supporting characters in it (it's the player's job to detail these). You don't have access to a voidship; actually you're stranded on Cadia, but we'll get back to that.

Tier 2 - You've become an accomplished leader of freedom-loving folk, a true Champion of Chaos. There are few that can stand before you; you routinely face down the finest champions of the Imperial Space Marines. You warband has grown to include several lesser champions, a hardened core of elites, and a larger body of troops. You command your own voidship (or maybe you share a more potent vessel with other Champions). Worlds (small ones anyway) tremble at your approach.

Tier 3 - You're one of the great Champions of Chaos. Your personal power is such that few mortals have any hope of besting you; if an enemy Chapter Master comes at you in his Terminator armour he better bring a bodyguard if he's to win. Your warband is no longer a warband, its an army. You don't have just a ship, but either a single mighty vessel or fleet of fleet of lesser ships. Your actions are such that the fate of an entire sector might hang in the balance.

Tier 4 - You're one of the greatest Champions of your age. You brush shoulders with Primarchs and Greater Daemons fear you. If daemonhood is what you desire, then it is yours for the taking. You want to rule your own Empire instead - go right ahead.  The fate of the galaxy may be determined by your actions. You command vast armies and a mighty battlefleet.

Anathema characters only have eight stats with numbers (there are some additional numbers as well, but we'll get back to those later).

Numbers go from 0 and up: 0 is not good, 3 is quite good for a human, and 5 is about as good as most people can get. During character creation it's possible to reach all the way to 9, but only because you're something special. 10+ stats are reserved for truly exceptional creatures (such as your Champions on higher tiers).

High stats let you overcome more difficult challenges more often. High also beats a lower stats in a competition, unless special circumstances come into play: Someone with Prowess 4 will almost always beat someone with Prowess 3 in a standup fight. With Prowess 5 vs. 3 the situation is even more clear cut. Guess the weaker guy has to cheat - or try something else, like writing a clever narrative that brings into action one or more of his other stats.

Prowess: This is your own personal physical prowess and combat ability. High Prowess general means you're strong, tough, and/or fast (in whatever combination you desire). Prowess also helps determine your personal fighting skills. If you have high Prowess you're also allowed to use better defensive gear, armour and power fields and such. This is the most important stat; in the Dark Future there is plentiful combat and physical challenges galore - you won't be much use if you're dead.

Cunning: This is your mental capacity, you smarts, your perception, your willpower, and so on. Lets you solve mysteries and conduct investigations, amongst other things. Also lets you outsmart dumb enemies, even if they have higher Prowess than you for example. Or to see through the lies of those that would try and trick you. Or to compensate for you lack of skill in other areas. This is the most important stat; smart always beats dumb, no matter what else is entered into the equation.

Interaction: This is your social skills, you appearance, your charisma. Lets you interact with others in a favourable (for you) fashion). Threaten, lie, persuade, seduce...there are many ways to get others to do your bidding. With high Interaction you will have a bigger and/or more loyal warband than the norm. This is the most important stat; you don't need to be a great warrior if you have 10 champions ready to die in your place.

Warcraft: You're a trained warrior, war is your craft, death your companion. You can shoot, fence, command others, set ambushes, create good battlefield tactics, ensure your men have enough supplies, the applications are many. It also helps determine your personal fighting skills; high Prowess in combination with Warcraft is better than pure Prowess for example (but not necessarily better than say a combination of Prowess and another stat). This is the most important stat; in the far future there is Only War, and only the true warriors will prevail.

Subterfuge: Sneaky stuff. You know, sneaking around, tricking your opponents, setting traps - anything that isn't directly confrontational goes here. Your opponents won't get much use out of their Prowess or Warcraft if you sneak up on them and slit their throats before they realize you're there. It also covers information; high subterfuge means you know the secrets of your enemies and allies. This is the most important stat; those who live by the gun, die by the gun, leaving you to pick up the pieces.

Psychics: You're a master of futuristic magics. Read and manipulate minds...set stuff on fire...pick up a tank and use it to crush your enemies...the possibilities are endless. You should decide what type of psyker/sorcerer you are; give yourself a good theme so to speak. This is the most important stat; iconic and immeasurably potent - why would you NOT want to be a rogue psyker or chaos sorcerer!?

Faith: Faith in the True Gods. Basically one or more of the major Chaos gods - or the innumerable minor gods/major daemons. Those of great faith will find that Chaos favours their actions in ways great and small. It also covers stuff like the Mark of Chaos and Gifts from patrons, the summoning of daemons (in conjunction with Psy) and so forth. This is the most important stat; I mean, in a galaxy where Chaos is a very real force and Dark Gods really do exist...you do the math!

Tech: You're tech-priest material. Maybe you have formal training - or maybe not. Doesn't matter really. What does matter is that in an age where tech is poorly understood - but hugely powerful - you know how to work this particular brand of magic. Combine it with Psychics and/or Faith to work with the most esoteric of technologies. This is the most important stat; despite being dark, gritty, and sometimes low-tech the galaxy is also awash with techno-stuff of ever color and variety - and you're one of the few who can work it...

How good you are at something depends on how many points you've sunk into a stat:

0: You're pretty inept. Much like the citizen-dregs of the Imperium in fact, which usually have only 0s across the board.

1-2: You've some skill. You're not an master or anything, but you're noticeably more skilled than those with a 0 score. A PDF trooper has Warcraft 1, while a Guardsmen might have 2.

3-4: You're pretty damn good. A person with Prowess 3 is going to be incredibly fit and a dangerous opponent in a brawl. Someone with 4 in Psychics is someone to be wary of.

5: This is getting pretty amazing; few normal humans can ever reach this level. This is the kind of Prowess possessed by Space Marines or Ork nobz for example, or the Tech of a full Tech-Priest.

6+: You're not a normal human. You're a Champion of Chaos. You could be a veteran Space Marine, a Chaos sorcerer, a powerful mutant, an insidious xenoform...whatever you can imagine. Normal rules do not really apply to you. So if you want you can go for a 6 or a 7 or even higher (9 is absolutely max). But only if you want to go 6+ you must make up a good enough background story to fit.

Since this is an RPG there will be plenty of opportunities for your character to grow (i.e. gain more stat points). Would be no fun at all if that wasn't possible!

Dice: Anathema isn't dice-less. It's dice-light.

Sometimes I'll grab one ore more d10s and let them roll across a relatively smooth and level surface. I do this whenever I feel the Dark Gods aren't quite sure what they want and instead decide to add some randomness.

You (the player) on the other hand NEVER roll any dice. You're not one of the Great Gods of Chaos, so what fate awaits you is dictated by the will of the gods - and your own ability to shape your own future. That's right, your choices and actions do matter - this is, after all, the Age of Freedom, where men with vision and willpower can carve out their own destinies. DICE do not in any way enter into this equation.

To create your Champion you only need to do this:

Name: Give him/her a name. It can be anything you like, as long as it is not intentionally lame and/or humorous (if it is you can find yourself another game).

Stats: Divide 18 points among your 8 stats.

By comparison a human civilian has 0 points.

The rest of the galaxy is mostly in between there somewhere:

A very tough IG sergeant could be 6 points ( for example Prowess 3, Subterfuge 1, Warcraft 2).
A typical Space Marine would be 12 points (something along the lines of Prowess 5, Cunning 1, Warcraft 4, Subterfuge 1, Tech 1).
A veteran psyker Inquisitor could be as much as 30 points (Prowess 5, Cunning 6, Interaction 3, Warcraft 4, Subterfuge 3, Psychics 4, Faith 3, Tech 2)

Gear: You can have whatever gear seems appropriate for a character with your stats; i.e. if you have high Warcraft you'll have plenty of military equipment, high Prowess lets you wear Power Armour, good Psychics nets you force weapons and/or psy foci, etc. Having good Subterfuge means you have generally more and better gear than everyone else. Tech is also important if you want hi-tech gear that's also well-maintained.

This rule is not hard and fast; if you absolutely want something you can probably have it. But it won't make you character any better; your gear is part of your stats, so if you have low Prowess and wear power armour it just means that your character is very weak, almost helpless without his armour.

Description: Create a short background/description for him. This can be as detailed as you like, somewhere between 50 and 500 words is appropriate. You can add more later.

The 40k setting has a rich background and therefore lots of interesting character concepts. The Black Crusade books are of course excellent sources of inspiration. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Renegade Marines

Space Marines are pretty straightforward; typical loyalist Marines have around Prowess 5 and Warcraft 5, plus a few points in things like Cunning, Subterfuge and/or Tech. It varies a little with parent chapter. You're free to model your champion as you please.

Old legions: You're from one of the legions that turned on the God-Emperor during the Horus Heresy. That doesn't mean you're 10,000+ years old. Sorry. You can be a veteran of the Long War, but if you want to have been buddies with Horus and Lorgar you need special permission (because such characters normally would not be tier 1 champions!).
Renegade chapter: Your chapter is one that betrayed the God-Emperor at a later date. You're no less a traitor for that.

Rogue marine: You've abandoned your loyalists chapter more or less on your own. Maybe you deserted, maybe you were betrayed, maybe all your brethren were killed in battle. Make something up. If you want to be a Grey Knight you're positively lame and need to go away.


Apostate: A fallen (former) member of the Adeptus Terra. Your could have been a Ministorum priest or an administrator or something else. Now you are something more, but you've retained your tricksy and clever ways. Typically has a wide range of skills and knowledge of the wicked Imperium.

Chaos Warrior: Rather similar to a space marine, only you're not. Instead its dark tech/psychics/daemonforged arms/mutation/blessings of the dark gods etc. that fuel your inhuman fighting skills.

Heretek: A fallen tech-priest. You known, like a tech-priest, only infused with dark power.

Mutant: You are heavily mutated and draw your power from this. You have typically lived on the fringes of human society; now you've risen to avenge the wrongs done against you or something like that.

Renegade: A catchall for a more martially inclined apostate, you could have been a Judge or a Guardsman in your former life. Or something more exotic, like a fallen Sister of battle. You were once part of the Imperium, so you've more knowledge of how it works than say a Chaos Warrior.

Rogue psyker/sorcerer: A futuristic corrupted psychic (if you originated within the Imperium) or a magic-user/sorcerer (if you did not).


You can be a xeno if you want. Either from a well-known race like Eldar, Tau, Ork etc., or something more exotic that you've made up yourself. Try to steer clear of obviously lame choices like a Tyranid creature...or actually I'd like to hear your sales pitch on that one, so hit me! The Lost and the Damned are generally open-minded folk, but many are surprisingly hostile to xenos, so consider yourself warned.


No, you can't be a daemon or anything that's daemon-possessed (because then you wouldn't be you, you would be the daemon). Anathema is about freedom and making your own destiny; daemons aren't like that at all.


Name: Hrothgar

Prowess: 6
Cunning: 3
Interaction: 0
Warcraft: 5
Subterfuge: 2
Psychics: 0
Faith: 0
Tech: 2

Gear: He's equipped pretty much like the Space Wolf he is, which sometimes gets him into trouble when other warbands think him a Corpse lover. Because he has Tech 2 it's fair to assume he's got a fancy Fenrisian chainsword and that his gear is in good repair.

Description: Formerly of the Space Wolves Legion of loyalist Space Marines. Switched sides during the fighting on Cadia (will elaborate later). He's not much of a Chaos worshiper (yet); he's more like a man who has lost faith in his God and his way of life and is searching for something to fill that void. As a Space Marine he's a peerless warrior and soldier. He's also rather cunning and not above using some subterfuge.


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