Les Edwards's excellent depiction of the true Imperium of man.
I have a feeling this'll be a long post, so if you want the tl;dr version it's this: in short, this is a love-letter to the game Confrontation. Now, I'm not the first person to write such a love-letter (you can see the Tears of Envy post on the matter here), and I'm sure I won't be the last: indeed, the system seems to be something of a touchstone for gamers of a certain age; for me, this is because the system defined certain aspects of life in the Imperium in ways like nothing before it, but it's also having several other resonances which I believe are important to highlight.
As a quick précis for those unaware of the system, Confrontation is a skirmish-level game produced by Games Workshop in several issues of White Dwarf in 1990-1. Depicting the vicious gang-warfare of life on the Imperial Hive World of Necromunda, the system is an exceptionally detailed and complex game of brutal survival as rival factions scavenge, trade, loot and steal food, equipment and weaponry. It also provides us with one of the most complex and thorough depictions of an Imperial planet - everything from it's hierarchy to it's geology is outlined. With very much an adult focus, not least due to it's complex mechanics, the game included detailed rules and exposition on themes like drug taking, injury, and hacking bits off your opponent's gangers, as well as some peculiar additions like the Caryatids: psychic-sensitive, bat-winged, self-harming, blue space-children. The system was re-imagined and released in 1995 as the Kirby-box Necromunda game, still available in various forms on the Games Workshop website. Whilst Necromunda codified the rival fighting gangs as belonging to differing industrial Houses in the Underhive, Confrontation instead presented us with a range of gangs whose ties of allegiance were based more on dress or style, class, ideology or philosophy, or some other more innate characteristic - like small bands of apostate mutants or rogue psykers.
The game is a curious gem in it's level of scope and detail, as well as it's simultaneous flexibility of rules (almost any action imaginable has some guiding system in place), and it's pitch towards realism (with rules for how much weight gangers can carry before counting as over-encumbered, for example) - making it very much a narrative skirmish game, or tabletop RPG. This narrative element is further emphasised by the fact that each gang member has just three characteristics, WS, BS and I, the slightest of statistical sketches to flesh gangers out; everything else that defines their persona is entirely down to the player. It's within this that I see Confrontation as being the true precursor of the Inquisimunda systems, where narrative is the aim of the game: a story unfolds in the interactions between gangers, their opponents and their setting in a way that can't quite develop in a larger scale war-game. Whilst larger-scale systems allow for cinematic moments to occur, often by statistical odds being overturned, a smaller scale game where each miniature counts, and develops a personality through the things they manage to achieve (or more often not achieve) has a greater power to really draw and immerse a gamer within the setting and the events being revealed as they occur. Or for example, within a game of this scale and complexity, a world of things are possible that just couldn't be factored into a larger scale game - looting knocked-out opposing gangers, setting elaborate traps, cutting out an opponents eyes (yes, this has happened in a game) - become far more narrative-changing than simply removing miniatures as wound counters. However, more than this, this method of gaming becomes the complete inverse of competitive, tournament style play, with opposing players working together whilst simultaneously playing against one another - one discursive eye is kept on a meta-narrative whilst the other is kept on the minutiae of one's strategy to achieve the gangs goals. Points values are eschewed, 'balance' is ignored in favour of story arc, and rule of cool reigns supreme. It's a joyous way to game.
The second major reason why Confrontation seems so relevant to me at the moment, though, is it's extraordinary aesthetic. It's an absolute masterpiece of art-direction. Establishing so much of what makes life in the 41st millennium so rich, the pencil imagery that accompanies the short articles are real visions of glory: imagine a grotesque cluster-fuck of 2000AD, Travis Bickle, Stephen King's It, Byron dandies, Aliens metal hives, horrifically mutated children, witches and ghouls, Tiepolo's Punchinellos, Napoleonic native Americans, Cronenbergian bodily abjection, Easy Rider set in Catholic France, redundant technologies worn as fetishes, Riddley Walker, The Warriors, Renaissance masquerades, ritualistic body modification, New Romantic Nipponophiles, Baroque architectural reliefs... Take all of these ostensibly disparate visions and then bind them in a mittel-European Gothic cloak, a truly nightmarish vista where hell is real and life is short, and you're about halfway to appreciating the majesty and horror of Imperial life.
I noticed a forum discussion recently where a member opined that miniatures of Imperial citizens would be very welcome - well, these visions are they: the dispossessed, the downtrodden, the human debris and filth that make up the drawings produced for Confrontation (however fancifully attired some are). There's no man on the Clapham omnibus in the grim darkness of the 41st millennium. No average white man. What struck me about the suggestion (and this may be an unfair misreading on my part) is that the Imperial citizen is somehow separate from the Imperium at war: perhaps it bears repeating, there is only war. Whilst not all citizens are directly involved in toe-to-toe combat with the xenos or the heretic, for example, all are armed, all are involved in some kind of struggle, even a basic struggle for survival amongst the countless billions of other human sludge. Sedition is rife, resources scarce, rationing abounds, lives pre-destined based on class and status. The war effort is king. The imperium is feudal and fascist, the only way to survive is to fight, to know your place and protect what's yours by birth or by taking.
This pathetic aesthetic is fundamental to Confrontation, and is even written into it's rules: granted, your gang may be lucky and scavenge a laspistol, but good luck finding an ammo pack for it. Pray over it all you like, but the Priests of Mars care not for your sobbing. Or alternatively, try coshing a rival gang member with a sock full of bolt shells, as you don't have anything as useful as a gun to put them in - yet think of the prestige they bring, possibly enough to trade one for a week's food rations, or a couple of doses of spook... provided you can survive the night with them stashed away from jealous eyes...
This is the setting that Confrontation presented us with those decades ago, and you can see how it's coloured my perspective. It seems so vital, so rich, so dark, so gothic - so necessary. It's here that the grim resides: the pathetic and hopeless cause of humanity that calcifies and slides into entropy. This is life in the Imperium, and it's horrendous - but it's more than a little beautiful, too.