Now a lot of GMs like to make up their own stuff on the fly, and that's great. I like to have some kind of an outline to work off of, and then maybe improvise some details as I go. The Black Crusade game sort of gives you a campaign world in the form of the Screaming Vortex, a big warp storm full of horrible Chaos folk who are up to no good. One of the biggest strengths of the FFG 40K RPGs is that it's obvious that the writers are way into the background, and it shows. The feel of the 40K universe is right on.
The actual Black Crusade game however, is a little daunting. There's a lot of flavorful and characterful things all kind of thrown in there, but some of the actual game mechanics feel a little hard to grasp at first. The game is driven by percentile based 'checks', with modifiers depending on how difficult the test is. However, implementing those skill checks into the game seamlessly is challenging, and a lot of that falls on having a good GM who knows the system. Skill challenges were one of the things in 4e D&D that always seemed a little tacked on, and required a lot of thought to not feel like it took you out of the game. The same general thing applies to the 40K RPGs as well. I'm still trying to learn the ins and outs of the skills and talents, as well as how to run combat smoothly.
It turns out that being a Chaos Lord involves a management degree and strong communication skills.
Anyways, onto the adventure. The Hand of Corruption can be started right off with some new characters, but to me it seems to make a lot more sense to do Broken Chains and Rivals for Glory (available as a download and included in the Black Crusade GM kit, respectively) so you can really establish some contacts and begin to build a following within the Vortex before you attempt the Hand of Corruption path. Some of the challenges seemed pretty tough, and that's before you even get into combat. This adventure book is a full hardcover book of about 140 pages, so it's very extensive, and covers a lot.
SPOILERS * SPOILERS * SPOILERS * SPOILERS * SPOILERS * SPOILERS *
The first part of the adventure path requires heretics (player characters) to have some pull with their social skills - things like Charm and Intimidate, as well as those skills a lot of people seem to ignore, like Lore, Tech-Use, Trade and so on. This isn't a wargame, so you're going to have to use your head to figure out how best to get what you want. This is especially complicated since there really is no such thing as charity in the Vortex - everybody wants something, and expects you to return the favor.
Your first challenge is to learn about a mysterious ritual...that you can win by playing cards. Seriously. You meet a grizzled old warlord, who has the knowledge to drag an entire Imperial Penal World into the Vortex. Lacking the resources or possibly the ambition to see it realized, the warlord still wants to see someone carry this plan out to its terrible outcome.
Getting to the penal world is a challenge in itself. Void ships don't just drift out of the warp, so you have to first get passage to Imperial space, and then figure out how to get to the prison world, which is of course very well defended and suspicious of outsiders. The planet outside the gigantic prison complex is essentially a deathworld, on top of everything else.
However, the corruption of Chaos is everywhere, just waiting for a whispered word or a suggestion from a 'friend' to push someone over the edge. There are numerous NPCs who make the heretics work that much easier as far as infiltrating an Imperial prison world, and establishing contacts once they get there. Much of this adventure entails establishing a solid power base under the noses of the Arbites and Imperial Guard regiments, and then once the core is good and rotten, fomenting your dirty deeds into full blown rebellion. Oh, and you also have to perform an esoteric ritual using four of the most high profile NPCs as sacrifices. Did I mention this wasn't going to be easy?
So once you do all that, and are able to hopefully have your own army of pissed off prisoners on your side, you can finally pull the entire thing into the Vortex. Which of course, has dire consequences, as people spontaneously mutate, and pack of daemons begin to rove around. In addition to your typical warp wackiness, it turns out that the penal world is a TOMB WORLD, and once you complete the ritual and drag an ENTIRE PLANET into a warp storm, Necrons wake up and try to ruin your day.
The last part of the adventure, suddenly kicks into high combat mode, with the heretics descending into the depths of the planet to destroy the Necrons. Oh, and there's some C'Tan stuff down there as well. My biggest gripe with this is that it sort of nullifies all the hard work in enacting the ritual and building up base of power on the planet in the first place. Of course, you can always change this up a bit as the GM, but it seems like you would have to have a pretty resilient group of players who love these kind of grand monkey wrenches. In fact, it seems like a lot of the adventure is spent trying to make things almost impossible for the heretics to succeed, which isn't quite my style anyways. I want the game to be challenging, but I still want the PCs to win. Of course, being evil Chaos worshippers, this might be the best you can do, right?
However, where the adventure falls down a bit on story, it makes up for this with the incredible amount of detail. You could run this as a campaign for years if you wanted. I applaud the heavy role-playing approach, but I wonder that given the target audience (40K fans) if this approach is going to go over real well. My impression is that games like Black Crusade involve a lot of dialogue and character interaction, as well as a liberal dose of GM fiat. That's not a bad thing, but it definitely makes this geared towards role-players who really dig that kind of stuff. I could imagine doing this as a play by post over the course of several months, which would also give it kind of an epic feel.
Overall, I'm giving this a 6 out of 8 pointy arrows on the Chaos star scale. The artwork and background are top-notch, but the adventure is SO big in scope and scale that some gaming groups might find themselves a bit burned out by the end. And the Necrons kind of feel like a big 'screw you' to the players, but hey, life isn't fair when you're a disgusting heretic devoted to the ruin of the Imperium and the corpse-god Emperor. Still, I love to see this kind of stuff from FFG, and I'll probably keep picking up the Black Crusade books as long as they publish them.