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[Wrath and Glory x Miserable Secrets] Miserable Heresies: Investigation system


Another Kill Team...
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Miserable Heresies

Wrath and Glory already has an investigation system - why bother porting another?

The W&G system looks good for targeted investigation, where you’re solving a particular mystery to the satisfaction of an NPC sponsor. Miserable Secrets more affords a mode of play where mystery is pervasive, where you’re dredging through the fractal secrets and dramas of a community and just getting deeper and deeper into their mess until the situation explodes. I’ve really enjoyed running that, and think it’s a good model for an Inquisition game where you might start looking into a minor matter in a proud bastion of humanity, and might end up trying to talk an Inquisitor out of calling Exterminatus on the whole vile place once its secrets come squirming out of the walls.

Also I’m too lazy to use Roll20’s card system to run the clue spread, and I wanted to see if the system would still work well with dice and conventional combat rather than Rose’s elegant synergy between Memory and Castlevania-inspired combat.


Miserable Secrets (and hence Miserable Heresies) uses Secrets as the concrete unit of discoverable things about a person, location or situation. The player characters can still learn any arbitrary (true or false) information through roleplaying, unstructured skill rolls or what have you, but Secrets have a defined role in the pacing and investigation mechanics.

Secrets are categorized into suits, as with a normal playing card.

Clubs are obvious, at least when uncovered - the axe in the Cardinal’s back, the “anonymous” letter in the General’s handwriting to the charismatic labour agitator, the mutations under the power armour.

Spades are subtle or unexpected, predatory or horrifying truths. Forensics indicating the Governor was ambushed by a trusted figure, the persistent references to a “Grandfather” figure in local Imperial Cult practices, the dawning realisation that the reactor “accident” killed just the right workers to guarantee the Tithe will fail this year.

Diamonds are objects or knowledge of value. The crate of psyk-out grenades diverted to the cult compound. An Aeldari prophecy that contains actionable warning of warp storms. The hand of the Cannoness’ twin sister, useful for opening her relic vault.

Hearts are relationships. The Arbite’s murderous grudge against the Inquisitor. The oath of brotherhood between the Governor and the insurgent leader. The Intercessor’s conviction that a Hospitaller acolyte is a descendent of her sister lost 10,000 years ago.

If preparing in detail, the GM may find it useful to assign one secret of each suit to each major character and location in the investigation (for example the Kill Zones and Locals from random planet generation). Otherwise she may extemporise them in play from her understanding of the situation.

Optional: Distinctions said:
To introduce the idea of Secrets and to flesh out characters even further, it can be useful to use Distinctions from Miserable Secrets - each player assigns a detail to his PC for each suit. These do not have to be *secret*, hence the change of name - your Astartes might be very proud of her (Clubs) purity seal affixed to her armour by the Lord Commander of the Imperium himself during the Crusade.

Diamonds distinctions can be a piece of Rare Wargear of value 3 + Tier, or anything the GM and player agree is of equivalent usefulness.
Secrets are true, but not to their literal wording. They may turn out to have other explanations, to have been learned out of their proper context, or be somewhat biased by source. The GM should balance retaining some flexibility in keeping the fictional situation making sense with preserving the mechanical value of having discovered a Secret and the general ability of the players to trust they are making progress.


Much like in Wrath and Glory, a Cue is a pointer from the GM towards a Secret. For example, if the player fails a roll to dig up dirt on a Rogue Trader, and the GM has a Diamond secret for that Rogue Trader of “An Aeldari Prism Rifle commemorating a promise”, she could give a Cue of “You hear she has an...interesting...gun”.

Cues usually function as a mitigation of failure and have a role in the pacing mechanic.

Investigation Turns

Each day and each night (roughly 12 Terran hours, or however the people of the planet you’re playing on divide arrange their daily cycle) is an Investigation Turn. During each turn, each player character can take one Investigation Action.

In general this doesn’t restrict whatever else they might want to do - they can act, fight, research or whatever else they please as usual for a role playing game. But the Investigation turn structure matters for mechanical actions that can uncover Secrets.

The Clock

The arrival of the PCs on a world and the commencement of their investigation is never a neutral event. Before long the forces in the shadows will realise they have an adversary in play that they cannot ignore, and will strike.

The GM determines a number of Investigation Turns after which the PCs will be confronted with a climactic scene - this total is called the Clock. By default this is 2d4 turns.

She also determines a number of combined Secrets and Cues the PCs must have by that time to be not caught flat-footed by their foes. By default this is ((the number of players) x (the Clock + 1).

Both numbers are usually kept secret from the players. However it might be useful to make one or the other explicit, especially if the one kept secret is not an expected value (for example the PCs might realise the Cult will attack at the commendation ceremony for the surviving war heroes, but not whether they know enough, and are racing to gather Secrets ahead of the explicit Clock). In any case the players should understand these rules exist and the Clock is running.

If the Clock expires and the heroes have enough Secrets and Cues, they should be set a Threatening Task. Success on that task grants one bonus Secret per player, chosen by the GM based on the situation. Failure may generate Cues at the GM’s option, which should be based on how close the PCs got and whether anything in the fictional situation compromised the enemy’s efforts to cover their tracks.

If the Clock expires and the heroes do not have enough Secrets and Cues, they are attacked and subjected to a difficult battle in which they are ambushed or otherwise disadvantaged. If they survive, the GM may grant Cues based on the situation (were the enemies unmasked or corpses/prisoners recovered, was certain telltale wargear used, was the location significant).

It’s fine to run a battle if the players beat the Clock (such as a counter ambush), or a tough Threatening Task if the Clock beats them, as long as the basic premise of the mechanic that getting more Secrets and Cues is better is maintained.

Once the climax scene is resolved, set a new Clock. The number of turns and the number of Cues/Secrets are both important levers for pacing and setting the difficulty of the investigation - the Clock will probably get shorter and the number of Cues/Secrets higher relative to the Clock as the situation escalates and the danger posed by the PCs becomes more obvious.

Eventually this cycle should finish in a massive fight, a climactic boss battle against a summoned demon, a Tyranid hive creature, a rival Inquisitor or the like. This and the wrap up in which the planet’s future (or lack thereof) is determined should count as a Milestone and thus by default should be at the end of about four sessions (all highly dependent on your group’s pacing and the story at hand).

It’s not necessary to make a battle the climax of your investigation, but in a 40K context it will probably make sense. Thematically, attempting to repair the tainted karma of a world through violence (the leading generator of karma) is aptly difficult. Mechanically, battle is a large part of many Wrath and Glory characters’ abilities and not necessarily well showcased during Investigation actions.

The GM may stop the Clock and start a new one at any time based on the fictional situation (for example, if there is a battle scene outside the Investigation Turn structure that releases the building tension and significantly changes the situation).

Investigation Actions

Investigation Actions are usually relatively difficult - as a rule of thumb a DN of 3+Tier is appropriate. They are generally attempts to dig up Secrets, and if it was easy they wouldn’t still be Secrets. However, usual considerations apply, and the GM should make use of bonuses and penalties based on the fictional situation according to her group’s normal tastes.

Each Investigation Turn, each character may take one of the following Investigation Actions.

Form a Bond: Establish legitimate trust with a character that is already predisposed to like or cooperate with you. In most cases this will require roleplaying and skill rolls to establish this opportunity.

Requires a skill roll, usually Insight, Deception, Leadership or Persuasion. On success, learn one Secret about the character in the suit of your choice, and gain one Glory, as well as an improvement to your relationship with the character. On failure, learn Secret of the GM’s choice about anything other than the character (they trust you with someone *else*’s secret, or the interaction inadvertently leads you into a seemingly unrelated revelation); your relationship with the character is not damaged in any way, but they’re still not over the line to fully trusting you.

Take Action: Shake loose a secret with brute force. Arrest and interrogate a subject, attack the cult minions in a lopsided slaughter, slander the Ecclesiarch to her face in the Cathedral.

Requires a skill roll, usually Deception, Intimidation, Athletics, Ballistic Skill, Weapon Skill. On success, you gain an appropriate Secret of the GM’s choice, and usually some advantage in the fiction (you seized a useful item, have control of some territory, damaged someone’s reputation). On failure, you must Defend at an elevated difficulty (usually +2DN).

Dig: Scouring a crime scene, researching in the archives, gossip, breaking and entering - most conventional tasks for investigators will fall under this category.

Requires a skill roll, usually any Intellect or Fellowship skill or Stealth. On success, gain one Secret of your chosen suit. On a fail, gain one Cue.

Walk of Faith: The deepest Secret is how much the universe depends not on careful stratagems or malice, but serendipity and misfortune. Exposing your PC to the whims of fate can be the key to unravelling the miserable heresies that surround her.

Requires a roll, against a random skill or attribute (see table below). The GM poses the situation based that lead to needing to make that roll, with the player helping to establish his PC going along with the probably crazy or dangerous situation. On success, gain a Secret of the GM’s choice, and a point of Wrath. On a failure, gain two Cues.

Note that failing Walks of Faith is one of the better ways to stay ahead of the Clock.

Revelation: While any investigator will voraciously collect any and all secrets that come her way, the best will make connections in that web of mystery to infer deeper truths.

Describe how any three Secrets that have not already been used for Revelation are connected, and declare a fact about the situation this implies. The GM determines the difficulty of an Investigation check to establish the truth of this inferred fact (default 4 + Tier but may go very high or low depending on how much she likes the idea).

On success, the fact is on the same level of truth as a Secret (but does not count as a Secret for the Clock). Choose a Revelation Card with face number from Ace to 5, or shift 2 Exalted Icons to take a Queen.

On failure, the character can’t assert their hypothesis with any real certainty, but at least has refined their understanding of the situation. Draw a Revelation Card.

Revelation Cards are used in combat, see below. They are drawn from a Miserable Secrets style deck (A, 2, 3, 4, 5, Q for each suit), but if not actually using cards you can simply roll a D6, counting 1 as Ace and 6 as Queen. Suit is not important.

Respite: Taking Respite during an Investigation Turn uses the character’s Investigation Action. Since it has an opportunity cost, it should not be subject to disruption under most circumstances, and the GM should warn the player if there is an exception.

Defend: When fortune turns against the investigator, be it political pressure from the Governor’s court, an attempted abduction by a heretical cult, or a sniper round from a fell Xenos, she has an opportunity to escape harm and perhaps learn something.

Defend cannot be chosen as and does not count as the hero’s Investigation Action for the Turn, but instead is forced upon them by the fictional situation at the GM’s option, or by failing a Take Action roll. It requires a roll of the GM’s choice (eg Awareness to notice a Genestealer clinging to the roof above, Toughness to withstand the noxious gasses at the bottom of a Hive, Leadership to deflect the slanders of a heretical priest).

On success, the danger is avoided and the character earns one Cue.

On failure, the GM gains one Ruin, and may choose one of three options:

- Earn a further 3 Ruin
- Inflict exactly enough Wounds to make the character Heavily Wounded, or (Tier) Wounds if they are already Heavily Wounded
- Inflict a difficult fictional situation on the character that restricts their ability to take Investigation actions on the next round (e.g. they may be imprisoned and can only Dig, a slandered fugitive who must Take Action to get anything done, or hopelessly lost and only able to take a Walk of Faith)


Under the Miserable Heresies structure, the battle system is de-emphasised during Investigation Turns - you’re largely better off with Take Action, Defend and Threatening Tasks to handle things.

Hence when you do break out the combat system, in the spirit of 40K and in fairness to your more combat-invested heroes, go big. Combats in Miserable Heresies should be large and difficult for their Tier, particularly when the investigation is finally over, nearly everything has come out, and the main players are throwing out everything they have before the hammer of the Inquisition comes down on them.

A good Miserable Heresies battle should involve:

- Objectives, ideally for both sides. Before long there will be many, many people interested in killing the heroes, but that should not be their definition of success in the combat. Assassinating other NPCs, destroying evidence, stealing weapons, setting off the giant plague bombs, or whatever the evil plan that was the point of the whole mess - they’ll be trying to achieve that while sending bolter rounds the PCs’ way.

- A good mix of enemy types, and heavy use of Mobs. Mobs help give a more 40K scale to battle scenes, give less combat-capable characters a useful target, and help break up any ideas about just focus-firing on the boss. Dealing with or preventing Mob reinforcements during the the course of the battle should be a common challenge for the heroes.

- At least up until the final battle, a way for either side to cut their losses, likely forfeit their objectives, and escape. This helps you run more challenging battles without while generating more grudge-festering defeats and less total party kills or prematurely wiped-out factions.

When using a monstrous creature or boss NPC, GMs may find it useful to inflate their Wounds rather than give them excessively high Defence or Resilience. This makes it more likely that all heroes can contribute to bringing them down (especially with the help of the Escalation Die, see below).

The Escalation Die

Stolen from 13th Age, this is a mechanic that makes the heroes more dangerous to the enemy as the battle goes on and becomes more desperate. This helps frame battle scenes against initially overwhelming forces - if the heroes can hang on, the tide will turn in their favour and they can stage a reversal.

The escalation die is a d6 that enters play at the end of the first battle round, showing the 1 face. At the end of each subsequent round, increment the die by 1. Once on 6, it remains on 6 for the rest of the battle.

The current value of the Escalation die is added to the base damage of all attacks by the heroes, and as bonus dice to any roll to achieve an objective in the battle.

The GM may pay one Ruin per attack or objective roll to extend the benefit of the Escalation Die to a non-Troop Threat.

Revelation Cards

A Revelation Card can be spent to gain its number in bonus dice for a roll in a battle scene. If the number matches the current value of the Escalation Die, the action so enhanced does not count against the character’s actions for the turn in any way (this property cannot benefit a multi action or multi attack).

Queens are always counted as having the same number as the current value of the Escalation Die.

Standard Wrath and Glory Investigations

You may find it useful to use the standard Wrath and Glory Investigation system at the same time as Miserable Heresies. They have different purposes, and you may have need of the W&G one - to prove a particular accusation to a particular NPC.

If so, it’s easiest to just overlay them. Clubs and Diamonds Secrets can generally serve as Clues and vice versa; you may find it useful to introduce physical objects to act as corresponding Clues for Spades and Hearts Secrets (experimentation data, wedding rings etc), or allow Spades and Hearts Secrets to offer bonuses on rolls to collect Clues. Cues are the same in both subsystems. Investigation Actions should be able to serve as the needed rolls for both systems.

Succeeding at the Wrath and Glory Investigation should offer rewards useful in the broader Miserable Heresies Investigation - Wrath, Glory, or even a Revelation Card for each PC.
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Another Kill Team...
Staff member
RPGnet Member
Does this make any sense to W&G players who aren't familiar with Miserable Secrets? :eek:
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