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Anathema: Portraying the setting


Beyond our universe exists another realm, one quite unlike our own placid reality. It is a place of strange energies and infinite dimensions, where the very laws of nature are inconstant and mutable. It is a place of promethean creation and unbridled entropy; a furnace of creation and a maelstrom of destruction. It is a place of ideals, dreams, and emotions – and of corruption, nightmares, and insanity.

This place has many names: the Warp, the Empyrean, the Immaterium, the Great Beyond, the Spirit Realm, the Dreamlands, the Otherworld, the Abyss, Hell, to name but a few.

But to those that know it best, it is simply:

The Realm of Chaos.

It is where starships must go if travellers wish to cross the void between the stars, without taking lifetimes to reach even their closest stellar neighbours. It is the place from which psykers – humans gifted with preternatural powers of the mind – draw their power. It is – some philosophers and priests claim – the place the dreaming mind touches upon when we sleep, and where the souls of the departed go after death.

This realm of chaos is also home to strange forms of life and patterns of thought, all of them utterly alien to Man. Most of these creatures are little more than feral beasts that swim through the endless depths of the Immaterium, feeding off the wild energies of the Warp. Others are predators who prey on their own kind, primordial and dangerous, but mercifully mindless beyond base animal cunning and killer instinct.

But there are those that dwell on the other side who are different from their more primitive kin: Monstrous creatures of brutal intelligence and pure malevolence. Consumed by an insatiable hunger they desire nothing more than to cross over into our world, to feed upon the lifeblood and raw emotions of Mankind.

They are:

The Daemons of Chaos.


From the beginning it had known it was different. The others had either been docile and oblivious, or ravenous monsters possessing only the basest of bestial instincts. Even the larger, more intelligent ones lacked true purpose. Beyond preying on their lesser kin they craved nothing, thought nothing.

But it was different; it had this bottomless pit inside that could not be filled, no matter how much it fed upon the other creatures of the warp.

A singular thought occurred to it:

I hunger, therefore I am.

For aeons it swam the Empyrean, before it slowly became aware of the Other Side. There, just beyond its reach, behind an accursed barrier of orderly natural laws, lay the lands of honeyed succour. Endless fields of sweet nectar; the narcotics of pure emotions and the rapturous energies of life. Its hunger grew even greater.
Slowly it pieced together the lore of this other place. It was indeed possible for one such as it to cross over and feast. Not an easy task, to be sure, but others of his kind had done it, and the feat could be repeated. But try as it might, it could find no path through the barrier. Every time it tried, the door was barred, one way or the other.

It had hungered for an eternity before it finally had its chance. A tiny bubble of that other place it could not reach, drifting aimlessly upon immaterial tides in the wake of a monstrous tempest. It approached the bubble in high spirits. It had learned from another Empyrean wanderer that the bubble was adamantly strong and seemingly impervious, but that sometimes a tiny crack could be found.

It was not a patient being, for it desired nothing more than instant gratification, but the long ages had made it nothing if not persistent. It waited and watched, until finally the tiniest of flaws was revealed: Barely large enough to slip through, and existing so briefly it might as well not have been there at all. But it was ready; with improbable speed it grabbed hold of the moment and willed passage through the crack.

On the other side wonder waited: A veritable fountain of emotions; raw fear, desperate hope, lecherous desire, pure anguish, prolonged suffering, acute pain, bleak hopelessness – so many flavours to taste!

This magnificent cacophony of activity and mirth emanated from the strange little creatures that resided at the centre of the bubble, huddled together inside a sarcophagus of inert reality. Already it could hear their minds crying out, speaking in unfamiliar tongues, conveying exotic and exhilarating information about the wonders of the other side.

The things inside were Men of the Earth, travelling through the Warp aboard a Voidship, hoping to reach another World upon which to settle. Its interest in the other side grew greater – as did its hunger.

Now that it had pierced the barrier, it sought to find a host that it could possess. It knew that possession was an essential part of any expedition into that other place. It had – at no small cost – bargained away this lore from the Keeper of Secrets, the wisest of its kind. Without a host to possess, the Keeper had explained, no daemon would be able to exist in the physical universe for very long.

The hull of the stranded voidship proved an unanticipated difficulty; even the raw energies of entropy would take too long to eat through metres of battle-steel and warding circuitry. Getting turned back now was unacceptable. Such an opportunity as this might never come again, not even for one as long-lived as it.

A little trial and error saw it finding a way through. By altering its form to become a creature of volatile, exotic energy that existed out of phase with the structure of the Man-Ship, it was able to pass through the skin of the voidship unimpeded

It manifested in the depths of the vessel, taking on a shape it felt was more conductive to possession, a semi-translucent spectre of hellish fire and hoarfrost, of fanged tentacles and devouring lamprey-mouths.

The Man-Things grew even more frantic when they realized it was among them. This only added to its already insatiable appetite. Was there really no end to the wonders of this place?

A few fought back, but it mattered not, for none possessed the unflinching will or the weapons required to fight a hell-spawn made of nothing but hunger, frost, and flame. Others fell to the floor, insane with fear, juicy morsels, to be snacked upon in passing, or left for later feasting. Most ran; they could run, but there is no hiding in the cold tomb that is a voidship lost at warp.

After the first spree of mayhem it remembered the words of the Keeper: possession is nine tenths of a successful manifestation. Its focus so restored it stopped slaying, and started possessing. The first attempts went awry. Some bodies fell apart before it could fully assert itself. Other bodies that it tried to wear were hacked apart, blown to pieces, or burned to cinders – the little flesh-things had rallied and now extruded a euphoric admixture of fear and courage. This was much more difficult than it had anticipated. Had perhaps the Keeper left out a few of the secrets of successful possession?

It could feel its form starting to come apart, its energies leaking away into the waiting Immaterium. Anger arose like a sudden warp-storm; it had been deceived! With anger came new purpose, and for a while it clung to existence through sheer fury alone. It renewed its efforts to find a suitable host. Finally it got the possession right; it came across a particularly welcoming mind, and this time it slid home, like a hand into a glove!

It feasted. It gorged on flesh and blood. It devoured souls. It draped itself in skin and bone. Hundreds of Man-Things fell before it, each a unique and delicious treat. Still it hungered. It fed some more. Hundreds became thousands. Their fear was think and heavy now, a sweet syrup that slowly, but surely filled the black hungering pit. This was life the way it was meant to be lived, a true body walking the true universe, doing what it willed, feeding as it pleased.

Then the unthinkable happened. The sack of flesh and blood that was its new body somehow found the strength of will to banish it back into the Warp. Impossible! Unthinkable! Inexcusable! Oh, how it raged at its own sudden impotence.

As the hunger grew anew, it contemplated only one thing: to return…

Chaos can be many things. It will be different things to different people. It can even be wildly different things to the same person. It will undoubtedly be portrayed in different ways at different times within the scope of this game. That's why its called Chaos. It's hard to pin down, hard to quantify.

Chaos is, amongst other things, insidious. It is a fact easily forgotten when imagery of fallen Space Marines with rotting flesh for bodies charge across the battlefield at the head of a mutant army - with Chaos sorcerers providing mobile artillery support and daemons flying air supremacy missions overhead. Chaos can be that too, but it is not primarily that - not in Anathema anyway. Insidious means Chaos is sneaky, tempting, seductive. This has the added benefit of making Chaos potentially very social, very interactive. It's not all bolters, chain-swords, and bloody rituals. It's trying to convince people that freedom, liberty and equality are better than droning for the Corpse-God. Corruption of the mind and spirit - not just bloody mayhem and physical mutation.

Don't confuse insidious with nice or even not vile. Chaos isn't nice and it's most certainly hellishly vile once you get that far. It's all-consuming. It has a way of getting inside your head, and once its gotten in there is really no way to be rid of it again. And there is no denying the power of entropy, the utterly and irrevocably corrupting nature of Chaos. So beware - once you start down the path of the Lost and the Damned, there is no turning back. The best you can hope for is to slow your fall into the dark abyss...but sooner or later you will be a Slave to Darkness. And when you think about it...why would you even want to resist? Why would you not receive the Gifts of Chaos? For the paltry price of only one soul - your soul - you can have it all!

Before the game begins - or at least fairly early on - you need to think about what Chaos means to your character. This is especially true if you've got lots of point in Fate, because that normally means you're closer to the fully glory of the Dark Gods than other Champions. Are you blissfully unaware of the true nature of Chaos. Do you suspect, but do not care? Do you know, but still do not care? Do you know and desire power? Have you gotten a glimpse and your mind didn't make it through completely sane? Are you utterly amoral and already on of the Slaves to Darkness? I'd suggest not starting out too heavily corrupted - part of the game is about making choices and if you start out all fallen you've already made some big choices before the game starts, potentially spoiling some of the fun for yourself.

If some of you are tempted to ask meta-questions like 'are the Chaos gods real' or 'is the Emperor truly a god' or 'what happen to the souls of the dead/do people even have souls' - I'm not answering those. If you want to believe in the Powers that's a faith-thing. Just like believing in the Corpse-God. If you want to imagine there are gods out that that answer YOUR prayers, then feel free to believe that. In fact, you're free to believe what you like. It might even be true. You might even make it true by believing. Or not. Maybe your just insane. If there is even a difference between faith and insanity.

I'm sure each and every 40k player/reader has his own mental imagery pertaining to how things look and what the setting 'feels' like. Most likely those images are heavily influenced by 40k artwork. Artwork has always been one of Warhammer 40k's fortes, supplying high-quality images in a variety of styles. Whatever the personal style of the creator, such images have always been suitably heroic, Gothic/baroque, and grandiose. Much of the artwork has also been inspired by the fact that 40k is first and foremost a miniatures wargame (and secondly a setting for suitably heroic novels). Let's be honest: Not everything ports over equally well. For example: For my own part I have a particular loathing for how over-sized some personal weapons are (looks good on the minis, silly in artwork) and how every fucking 40k ship looks like more or less the same scale-up metal mini (BFG is a blast and the fluff excellent, but the way ships are portrayed in artwork is atrocious). Of course YMMV, but that's my take.

Now the important thing about this post is NOT to bring you around to my view, because that is both impossible and ridiculous. The important thing is that I want you to know how I picture things in MY head. Because those images no doubt bleed over into my writing. So I knowing what I see you can more easily know of what I'm talking - and then apply whatever filters you're using to envision 40k. Like one player said: My imagery of mechadendrites doesn't have to be the same as yours for us to play together.

That was pretty well said IMO. So, to recap: I'm not trying to enforce my 40k imagery; you're entirely free to imagine things the way you want inside the privacy of your own head. But once you as a player step out of your own mind to communicate with the rest of use we need to have a common frame of reference - which is just provided. So if you suddenly feel an urge to portray your tech-priest with a steam-powered engine and lots of whirring cogs...tone it done a little, smooth it out, leave our imaginations room to work.

For Anathema I want to tone the worst artwork 'excesses' a bit. Architecture will still be Gothic and Imperial high society will still be suitably Baroque. Ships will still be gilded, decorated and have banners flying - but they also look appropriately futuristic and have greater variety (flying Gothic cathedrals gets stale after a while). I'm also trying to do away with is the monstrously misshaped pieces of personal equipment; all the gear is there, but let's just imagine that things look...reasonable. So bolters have bores about the size of the rounds they fire, not something ripped from a WW2 battleship.  You can also kiss goodbye the endless array of bulky and steam-punk-looking machines. Marines don't wear badly painted piston-powered suits of plate mail. They wear suitably ominous-looking suits of ultra-tech power armour, the best the AdMech can produce. The keyword is tone it down, not remove it altogether.

Example: You meet an Adeptus Mechanicus Magos, who is deep in the mysteries of the Machine God. He's still going to be suitably robed and covered with techno-arcane symbols. He's still going to be able to speak to the machine spirits (i.e. interface with anything that has a processor of some sort). He's also going to have various cybernetic and/or bionic upgrades and replacements. He is, however, not going to look like some steam-punk monstrosity, with visible gears, cogs - even exhaust pipes showing. If you get a glimpse of his true nature its going to look ultra-tech, but with a suitable gothic appearance - ornamentation, gilded parts etc.

The same applies to how the world works; everything can't be all bad, corrupt, defunct, etc. Its a dark and dismal world, but it is not all pitch black. People get born, most survive after a fashion into adulthood, get work, match up, get children of their own, die of old age (which for many could be somewhere between 40 and 50). Their lives may be hard and there is precious little freedom to be had (but who would want that anyway), but death does not lurk around EVERY corner ALL the time, nor is life and endless march of pain, degradation, and abuse (for some it is, but not for all of them all of the time).

Once again this has to do with my own suspension of disbelief...but more importantly it has to do with contrast. If everything is as dark as it can get, then it gets damn hard for me as a GM to make an interesting game. If every Imperial citizen is equally downtrodden and corrupt, then they are all the same and without variety the world gets gray and boring. Like I tried to explain above this also applies to Chaos. Yes, Chaos can indeed by entire Daemon worlds and evil so vile it can barely be imagined. But it is also about change for the better, freedom of choice, and empowerment of the individual. And everything in between those two extremes.

Example: Orphanages are a common sight throughout the Empire. Some are undoubtedly nice places to grow up, filled with light and hope. And some are without a doubt pits of terror and despair, where the children prey upon each other and their caretakers heap abuse in every form upon them. But the majority are just...not very nice. The management might be skimming the coffers, leaving the children with little to wear or eat. Or the staff is disinterested and leave it to the children to establish their own pecking order, so that only the strong prosper. This allows me to describe various orphanage settings, rather than have every which one a pit of corruption.

Keywords: Hard sci-fi (looks like it could actually work), Gothic-Baroque (lots of grand, dark Gothic imagery and lovely over-the-top Baroque ornamentation), gritty (the world of the low-boan is worn and dirty - not entirely unlike the original Star Wars movies, and very far removed from Star Trek).

You can learn more about my style of story-telling in the Distant Dark Future by browsing through my campaign blogs and other written accounts you can find floating around the internet. Not a requirement, but if you have some time to kill...there is even a Dark Heresy novel - it's not quite finished, but you can find some teaser chapters.

That said: If you do read up, please note that Anathema is an entirely separate entity. So if I wrote something in a blog three years ago for another game it might not be entirely applicable to THIS game.

Also do note that I like reusing stuff - my creative well is not without a bottom, so I'm not above bringing in an NPC, a setting, or parts of a scenario that I've used before. I rarely use things the same way twice - so that NPC that also appeared in another game might look and act the same, but have different motivations. So if you do come across something that looks like I've ported it into Anathema I would not take it at face value.

Here are some assumptions I make when GMing 40k (in no particular order):


- All Marines have jump packs (well, not termies of course, but normal PA marines have): Marines are Mobile Infantry (look that up will you?), not knights without horses.
- Not all Chaos Marines are old hands from the Horus Heresy; actually most are not. And yes, that means that the Renegade Legions recruit new marines.

More later


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