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Subject: Retrospective: Inquisitor rss

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Simon Crowe
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The days of Games Workshop producing what they now refer to as 'specialist games' has been over for a while. Veterans fondly remember Necromunda, Mordheim and Blood Bowl. Warmaster and the various versions of Epic 40k still have their fans. They are all simple one-on-one wargames that GW are famous for. But in 2001 GW released a rather unique game called Inquisitor. It was an ambitious idea, to combine squad based combat (similar to Necromunda) with a roleplaying game. The idea was laudable, but how did the game shape out?



What's the idea?

Possibly the biggest difference between Inquisitor and other GW skirmish games is that it involves an extra player to act as a Gamesmaster. As in an RPG, the GMs role is to create stories and surprises for the players, mediate disputes, and be a final say in what characters can and can't do. It's an interesting addition to a miniatures game, though of course requires an extra player.

The non-GM players choose a group of characters to play. There is no specific group that has to be chosen, a player could try anything (a genestealer cult, a rogue trader and his crew), but the background and rules strongly suggest that each player uses an Inquisitor and his retinue. The background in the book is very good, with plenty of detail on how the Inquisition operates. However the idea that each Inquisitor wanders around with a motley group of henchmen seemed rather forced to me.

It should also be noted that there is no attempt to balance forces used, it is up to the discretion of players and the GM as to what models are in each force and their statistics, skills and equipment. Whilst I appreciate the sentiment here I'm not sure this works well in practice. It's pretty difficult to tell if two groups are balanced against each other and it would have been better to provide some semblance of balance by allowing players to construct characters based on a points system. An optional points system is included, but it's very brief and hardly detailed enough.



Rules

Unfortunately the rules appear to have been written by people who think that and RPG means complexity and lots of detail. Personally I prefer games that are a bit more streamlined.

Dice rolls are mostly based on rolling D100 and trying to roll equal to or under the characteristic required. The two possibly most important parts of a skirmish game, shooting and hand-to-hand combat, are unfortunately quite convoluted. There are an awful lot of modifiers applied to both situations, and combat especially has rules for positioning, reach, parrying etc. It's an attempt to add a lot, but I believe a simpler system could be much better. For instance the combat system in Necromunda is much simpler and is a decent representation of two (or more) fighters battling it out. The designers should have learnt that less is more.

Injury rules are fairly convoluted. There are different hit locations, each can take amounts of damage based on a models toughness. At 5 different levels of damage, models suffer effects of being hit (e.g. leg hits slowing movement). It’s again a bit too detailed, more so than any other RPG or miniatures game I’ve played. There’s lots to remember and work out, and even after many games this requires lots of checking the rulebook.

The rules for actions are unusual. When it was time for a model to act it's controller describes a series of action he would like that model to try. He then rolls a number of D6 based on that characters initiative value. Each roll of a 4+ allow the character to perform one action, the actions being performed in the order described.

This rule has a lot of problems. First it is a good idea for a player to describe all actions the character will do just in case all dice roll a 4+, even though it is more likely they will only get to do half those actions. This just wastes time. Secondly the rule feels unthematic. If a character failed a shooting roll then it makes sense he missed his shot, but if he just rolls badly for his number of actions then suggesting the character has tripped or is acting slowly feels less than heroic and rather forced. The problem here could be that be making it a 50/50 roll, it ends up fairly random. Perhaps if the roll was just a 2+, so players are likely to make most of their actions but could miss out one or two, it would be better.

Overall the game becomes very bogged down in its own rules. There are plenty of times that players will need to look through the rulebook, even after many games. Games drag on for longer than is necessary. There is simply no reason for a skirmish game to be this complicated.



Miniatures

Miniatures wise, GW broke from their normal style to produce a series of larger 54mm models intended for use with the game. The intention was to provide more character and detail to the models. In reality the detail and quality varied, but it was a nice thought. However there were other problems with the size of the miniatures. With such a limited range of models it was hard to customise a group the way you wanted it. Most GW players have a lot of bits for converting their 40k armies, but less so that will fit a larger scale. In addition whilst players might have a battlefield of 40k scale terrain, a whole new board would be needed for appropriate terrain for Inquisitor scale.

Thankfully you are not required to use that scale of miniature. It is fairly easy to substitute in 40k models, which are more varied, and use 40k terrain. Players could use a quick range conversion (taking distances in cm rather than inches) and the game works out fine.



To conclude

Inquisitor is a very uneasy mish-mash of a skirmish miniatures game and a roleplaying game. Unfortunately it doesn't really play well as either. I think the rules could easily have been streamlined for the skirmish play, whilst still retaining some of the roleplay elements. If they'd just adapted the Necromunda rules I think it would have been better than what they ended up with.

I do like Inquisitor for its ambition, and for getting players engaged with storytelling and the 40k background. If it wasn't overly complicated, I would almost suggest it could act as a gateway game for miniature gamers wanting to try out roleplaying, however the roleplaying side of things is not really developed enough for this. (It's a shame it took so long for the excellent Dark Heresy to arrive.)

So high marks for ambition, but a failure of execution. My final score was 5/10. I have enjoyed a few games both playing and as GM, but others have been dull and I have very little desire to get back into this game.
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John Venables
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I agree with your thoughts so whole-heartedly, that my advice to anybody thinking of going anywhere near this game is:

Play Dark Heresy or Necromunda instead, preferably both!!!
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Old Scratch
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I don't think that Inquisitor constitutes a rpg at all. It doesn't really meet much of the criteria for an rpg by today's standards. Everytime I read "rpg" in the review, I sort of grimaced.

The game was a mishmash, and I don't think that it did any of its various elements justice at all.
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Simon Crowe
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Old_Scratch wrote:
I don't think that Inquisitor constitutes a rpg at all. It doesn't really meet much of the criteria for an rpg by today's standards. Everytime I read "rpg" in the review, I sort of grimaced.

The game was a mishmash, and I don't think that it did any of its various elements justice at all.


It uses elements from RPG games, most prominently having a GM. I'm using RPG to describe a type of game, not to suggest it involves the playing of roles (though there's no reason why it couldn't).

But yeah, it was all over the place in terms of rules.
 
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Gregg Lewis
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It's amazing how many Dark Heresy players I've encountered that have no knowledge of this game. I agree with all of your points. But I like the book as a sourcebook for other things. It explained ALOT of things that I had been confused about for years. It added alot to the 40k mythos IMHO.
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James Searles
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The book is amazing. The game not so much.
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Derek Anderson
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I didn't think the game was that great with the role playing and messed up rules, it was a pain to learn. However, the minis were so cool I couldn't pass up on some of them.

For awhile we played with Inquisitor minis but used Necromunda rules, it worked out nice and was a neat twist to the Necromunda game.
 
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Bart Wynants
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I think you’re judging this little gem of a game way too harshly.

First of all, the general idea conveyed is indeed that of Inquisitors and their rag-tag bands of misfits battling it out. If that seems a stretch to you (it does to me as well) nothing stops you from creating warbands made up of mutants, gangers, marines or what have you without an Inquisitor included among them.

Regarding the points system, the basic system presented might not be overly detailed, but it’s solid enough to allow a face-value comparison between characters. Any attempt to slap strict points values on a game of this scope is doomed to fail anyway. If the GM (or the players) do a proper job creating an interesting scenario for an exciting game, that’s all the balance you need. As clearly stated in the introductory blurb, the game is a cooperative attempt to create cool stories. You might as well be berating Monopoly for not providing adequate combat rules or jailbreaking mechanisms; it’s not the aim of this game to do so and it makes no secret about it either.

As far as the rules go, you are correct in stating that they are quite detailed. If that’s not your cup of tea, then indeed, this might not be the game for you. However, for those who don’t shy away from a little complexity and (often harsh) realism in their games, you will find a very decent engine under the game’s hood. You mention the injury rules as being convoluted. I disagree – they are actually quite straightforward to use and do a great job in reflecting the results of the various injuries inflicted upon the unfortunate characters. No need to flip through the rulebook if you simply photocopy the single page the injury chart is on. It’s no more complicated than your average RPG.

On action rolls: I find this a singularly great mechanic, creating a wonderful action flow at the gaming table. Gone is the predictability of the classic turn; you never know when your turn might be interrupted and something unexpected will mess up your plan. You’re forced to think on your feet and make the most of your actions, take calculated risks. I’ve played this game with a lot of people and all of them loved the action mechanics for these reasons. Granted, the first time I read the rules (before playing) I had my doubts as well as to their effectiveness / fun factor. However, once I used them, I was sold. Which makes me wonder if any of the people deriding the mechanic have actually tried it... Of course, as with all things, YMMV.

Miniatures: Well, that’s where you’re spot on. I never understood why on earth anyone would play the game with obscenely expensive 54mm models when it plays just as well with 28mm scale.

Comparisons: you can’t compare it to Dark Heresy, as Inquisitor is not an RPG – it’s a skirmish game with narrative elements. If I were to choose between Inquisitor and Necromunda, however, I’d pick Inquisitor every time. Much more cinematic, much cooler, much more detailed and therefore (to me at least) much more fun.

Summing up, I’d rate this game 8/10. Background material is great, presentation is great. Rules are fairly good, although sloppily explained sometimes.

My advice: keep an open mind and give this one a try. If you’re intimidated by the rules, start off with a small-scale duel between two fighters or small warbands with basic weapons. You’ll get the hang of it before you know it. Oh, and use 28mm minis and terrain, avoiding overpriced GW if at all possible ;-)
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