Looking back on Inquisitor, there was a lot wrong with it when it came out. The models, whilst beautiful, were far too big compared to anything similar of the same type of gaming, which made getting into it quite hard and conversions harder. It also required a completely different painting style that only a handful of GW staffers were trained in at launch. The rules were this sort of weird hybrid of loosely defined gameplay mechanics with a smattering of RPG elements. The inclusion of Space Marines pretty much broke the game system, with long-term players having to adopt a no space marine policy except on special occasions.
Yet some of my fondest memories of wargaming are from playing Inquisitor. So what gives? I think it’s because Inquisitor, at its heart, encouraged creativity and experimentation. By having rules that were detailed, but not too thorough, it encouraged players to be a bit looser with the rules themselves, all in the aid of fun and the cinematic. I’ll never forget the trials of my friend’s Priest character with one cybernetic testicle that stopped him from running, (he had to take a toughness test if he did, due to the poorly made bionic smashing against his other gentleman plum) or the Elder Ranger that somehow always managed to miss every shot he took. Or the one time a group of us had nearly escaped a planet via shuttle, until a rogue Techpriest crashed a digger into it, causing much laughter from us all.
What I’m trying to get at is that, despite a slightly dodgy rule system, Inquisitor was all about having fun. I think in a way it wasn’t as successful because it required a bit of a shift of perspective from Games Workshop’s usual approach to wargaming. Whilst 40k or Necromunda may have narrative elements as a part of them, the underlying goal is still all about winning. Whereas Inquisitor was more about entering into a contract with other players, to have as fun a time a possible and create a fun story in the 40k universe. In that way, it was more akin to something like Dungeons and Dragons or other roleplaying games. It’s the only Games Workshop game I can remember that suggested you have a GM or ‘games master’, to help direct players actions and game flow.
But there’s a bigger factor to Inquisitor than the gameplay side of things. It’s a fun game, but Inquisitor is more than that. The game has a legacy that fundamentally reshaped the approach people took to the 40k universe and its background. Inquisitor offered us a view of the Imperium away from the battlefield and expanded upon just how things worked on a local and sector wide scale in more detail than ever before. It let the Imperium of Man become a place people lived in, rather than a series of clichés and, more to the point, planetary punch ups. In many ways, though it’s a horrible place, the new direction to the background humanised the Imperium and made me actually care for it.
That was the joy of all the Specialist Games I suppose. They provided an outlet for their creators to truly experiment and play with the 40k universe and it came out the richer for it. Every small bit of artwork, every supposedly superfluous bit of detail fleshed out a universe that, whist epic in scale, never bothered much to explain exactly who, after all the world ending epic conflict, would wash the dishes*.
I certainly don’t think there would be half the current background on the Inquisition, nay the Imperium itself, that there is today without it. It explored this prior untapped resource, shadowy figures who toil unceasingly to protect the Imperium by whatever means necessary. It also introduced us to Radicals and in doing so, allowed 40k’s concept of a morally grey universe to finally take centre stage once more. We see this reflected in novels by the Black Library, in Fantasy Flights’ wonderful RPG games (in many ways spiritual successors to Inquisitor). Let us not forget that Inquisitor gave rise to the Eisenhorn trilogy which was vital to the success of the Black Library and the ever-expanding 40k universe found in their huge range of novels.
Though the 40k codices tend deal a bit more with absolutes these days, Inquisitors’ legacy is still in there, nipping at the heels of every ‘definitive’ statement and every ‘fact’. It makes me question everything I’m told about the Imperium of Man. Very apt for a game that starts with the phrase “Everything you have been told is a lie”. It really is a staggeringly good book to read.
I’m not sure how the rumored box set revival will change things up, but I bet it won’t allow for a priest with a bionic testicle. I’ll be watching from the shadows though, just in case.
*That phrase comes from a line that I remember a comedian saying on a late night show when I was younger, “If there were a new popular film to come out about an alien attack or a worldwide event, British people would be more interested in finding out about who cleans up afterwards and does the dishes”. It struck me as pretty apt and ever since I’ve referred to our cultural obsession with the small details and the underdog by that phrase.