Rogue Trader

As we’ve learned through the Hellstrom’s Hellions game, the level of support network that the players are part of has a critical impact upon the game, plot, and feel of the game.

In Rogue Trader the players control a warp capable ship, possibly up to the largest and most powerful pieces of military hardware in the Warhammer 40k setting. With ships ranging in size from “large town” to “small city” the level of support this gives the players is enormous. If not properly managed by the GM and players, this can lead to potential problems.

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Five essential styles of Rogue Trader game present themselves:

  1. Imperial Navy
  2. Inquisition Allies (or Conscripts)
  3. Rogue Traders
  4. Pirates
  5. Renegades

In order of most to least loyal…

Imperial Navy (or Privateer) game would see the players yet more supported by the Imperium and with extra resorts should they need help (like for instance losing their ship or having it massively damaged). Conversely, they’d have to go where they are sent. (One potential variant of the Imperial Navy idea is to have the PCs serve as a squadron of fighter pilots…on the other hand a more-dedicated system and setting might be advisable for that. Aerospace elements from Mechwarrior 2 or Mechwarrior 4 for example)

An Inquisition game would see the players excellently supported (by the Inquisitor who uses them) but not quite on the level of rocking up to any Imperial Navy facility and getting repairs from the government. They’d have to do what thei Inquisitor says but otherwise would have some freedom.

A regular Rogue Trader game would see the PCs given enormous freedom because they could deal with any part of the Imperium they wish but also wander off and forge relationships with aliens, separatists, heretics…and it’s all fine as long as the Imperium doesn’t find out. On the other hand they have enormous assets to call upon but it’s up to the players to somehow maintain or increase their riches

A pirates game (or criminal game), well, the players would be outlaws but could at times pass off as loyal and maybe get help from the Imperium. Total freedom…but…getting spare parts and repairs will be difficult and not to mention keeping the tens of thousands of people in the crew in-line…assuming any of them even know their ship is now a pirate vessel.

A game where the players actually turn to chaos would probably require pulling out the Black Crusade book and rules, but be fascinating to watch. Could the players find (and survive) a place where they could get repairs, re-armed, re-supplied…where would they get more crew when needed, and so on.

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The general issue with Rogue Trader in my opinion is that (as a GM) you have to find a way to get the PCs off the bridge of the ship but not at the head of massive companies of troops. That’s not an easy thing to do, and to do believably. If not handled properly this can lead to potential problems, such as the cast of NPCs getting in the way or effective roleplaying, or the players choosing to hide behind the NPCs and distance themselves from the action and drama of the game.

If the players are interested in doing dodgy deals on the side, that can be one way, with the PCs choosing to go incognito into the underbelly of some hive city or space-port station. That or pursuing some personal agendas or plots…for instance if the PCs are following in the footsteps of lost relatives who disappeared with the family’s last ship a century ago and it took this long for the dynasty to raise enough funds to get a Frigate that was decommissioned from the Imperial Navy repaired and refitted.

If you lean on the “an inquisitor has something to hold over your head and is making you investigate” angle…that’s not really believable but might work.

If the PCs are limited to a smaller ship (Transport especially, but also Raider and Frigate) it is easier to justify insufficient manpower.

Another approach might be “your named NPC bodyguard” with just a few bodyguards per character. Ideally themed, like the Explorator’s apprentice and a servitor or two, a navigator with his adjutant and some navis nobilate house bodyguards, some actual guards for the astropath, maybe a squad of 5 or 10 troops for the Rogue Trader…but you see the problem here, with 4 or 5 players and each bringing 2 or more characters as backup, it becomes a fairly large “away team”.

That’s the essential connundrum, how do you get the bridge officerer of a massive battleship with tens of thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of crew off the bridge and able to do heroic player character action off the ship?

I’d suggest four approaches:

  1. Screw it, you’re inexplicably on your own
  2. You each get 1 or 2 minions, named NPCs and NOT REDSHIRTS
  3. Let’s do the Ars Magica approach
  4. Fine, you get a believable contingent and we accept the 10 to 50 man away-team

The Ars Magica approach would be to have each player play the support characters of other characters. For instance…

The PCs are a Rogue Trader, a Navigator, a Astropath, and a Explorator.

The Rogue Trader (Player 1) decides he wants his support to be the core bridge officers. In collaboration with the other players they settle upon a Gunnery Commander, a Science Officer and the ship’s Chief Medical Officer. Player 1 plays the Rogue Trader, Player 2 plays the Gunnery Commander, Player 3 plays the Science Officer, and Player 4 plays the ship’s Chief Medical Officer

The Navigator (Player 2) decides he wants his support to be his personal retinue. In collaboration with the other players they settle upon the head of his personal staff (a chamberlain type), a former station-urchin who he took in as a maid (and secret knife-fighting bodyguard) and a traveling dilettante who is a friend of the family. Player 2 plays the Navigator, Player 1 plays the chamberlain, Player 3 plays the knife-maid, and Player 4 plays the dilettante.

The Astropath (Player 3) points out he doubts he’ll ever go off-ship solo, so just has the other players make “other astropaths” from the ship’s astropathic choir, wanting a emphasis on creepy, tragic, or both.

The Explorator (Player 4) chooses to have ‘an apprentice’ tech priest, a member of the tech guard as his bodyguard, and a skilled but frustratingly heretical non-adeptus-mechanicus technician who never says any of the right prayers to the machine spirits but somehow still fixes the machines…heathen bastard.

in situations where the players can get their primary in on the action, they should…for example at a briefing with the Imperial Navy about how the Rogue Trader’s ship (hired as a temporary privateer) will be involved in the coming fleet action, they would.

But say it was a Navis Nobilate function…that would probably end up being the Navigator and retinue only.

That could work, or could be more trouble than it is worth. But the problem remains, with the above example, could you get the Rogue Trader (owner of the ship and bearing the legal rights it operates under), the Navigator (the one person the ship can’t do without to travel the warp at all, you’re marooned without him), the chief astropath (a rare and valuable psycher vital for faster-than-light communication), and a Tech Priest (of sufficient rank to be operating alone with his own retinue, holding who knows what ancient and vital technological secrets…) . . . and then have just those four on their own having a gunfight in the undercity of a Imperial Hive World ?

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Traveling Fleet Idea

If it’s not too unbelievable…why not do the travelling fleet idea as seen in Macross 7, Macross Frontier, Battlestar Galactica (original and reboot) and some others?

We have “the main ship”, the Rogue Trader’s, filling the role of "defender of the fleet. Then we have a few civilian vessels with roles like “farm ship”, “factory ship” and so on.

If this were some sort of exploration fleet then it’d allow the Rogue Trader to have a (limited capacity) mobile resupply capacity, but conversely NPC civilian captains to work with and protect. Also the possibility of setting subordinate captains on missions like plying established safe trade routes to raise revenue for the fleet.

This might be a good way of modeling a particularly old and established dynasty, or some sort of Imperium mandated special mission or exploration drive. Also a “go find and colonize a planet” effort. In the latter case, a lot of the ships would likely land or make orbit while transports and the Rogue Trader’s vessel remain free to maneuver and travel.

Working on three ship squadrons then doing factory-1, farm-1 support-1 (surveying, small-craft for the fleet and scanning perhaps?), medical-1, science-1, (something-1) then three dedicated transports. A total of 10 ships including the RT’s. Making some (say three?) of the ships frigate class would add some backbone to the group.

Let’s say…Command-1 (frigate), Science-1 (frigate) and Medical-1 (frigate) as the first squadron, with each one plausibly able to operate solo (it’s a frigate for Pete’s sake). Factory-1, Farm-1 and Support-1 maybe raiders if they have the space, otherwise transports. And three actual transports, nice and vulnerable unless cared for…or maybe one made up as a ‘trap’ with a concealed fighter launch bay? That’s getting into specifics…

Anyhow…this has the advantage of “the base moves with the PCs” but the disadvantage that a lot of things are covered by the NPC ‘civilian’ fleet not the PCs. I think the trick would be to weave the PCs into any civilian efforts. For instance if there is a Exploator, give them a prime role among the factory and science teams. If there’s an Astropath, make them key to the ‘communications’ group, and so on.

The lack of a true ‘civilian sector’ to the Imperium and its ships is a problem here. A ‘farm ship’ would still be a set of arboritums tacked into a military warp-ship. Something to be finessed, I suppose.

Anyhow, this could provide a stable of NPCs for roleplaying purposes. Possibly suitable for some games, not others.

Another question is “is this a rag-tag fleet” made up of whatever was available, or a purpose built fleet? What is the scarcity value here? Is it a fleet established over millenia by a Rogue Trader dynasty?

Another question is whether to duplicate some roles. For example the farming / agri ship. Mainly so there isn’t a easy monopoly to exploit. So maybe factory-1, farm-1, farm-2, science-1, medical-1, command-1 (including small-craft), and three transports.

Damn…why is this idea growing momentum in my mind?

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Only War Integration

I think that Only War has a lot to offer to Rogue Trader. I’d use a lot of Only War material to model the ship’s crew in Rogue Trader for boarding actions and away missions and the like. Also if the Rogue Trader’s ship has any surface troops aboard.

In the case of actual troops it’d be a straight port across…build a Only War regiment and run with it. I’d use Storm Troopers from Only War to model either Storm Troopers or Adeptus Arbities (just adjusting weapons to suit).

In the case of formal ship’s marines, Siege Infantry or Line Infantry might be best.

For other things like “a militia of ship crew” some of the other regiment types like scouts. More lightly armoured and equipped, which is thematically appropriate.

You’d pretty much need a good Rogue Trader ship upgrade reason to be fielding Mechanized Infantry or an Armoured Regiment…but it is doable.

In general for modeling ship’s crew as Only War troops, it’d really be down to the feel of the ship and crew to dictate a lot of the regiment creation things and also the “level of equipment”. With lee-way granted for things like an Explorator PC in the Rogue Trader party,the ship having an Armoury, and so on.

Generally I am pretty generous with gear to my players. The Arc of Korthos game for instance had the influence of the Hive World of Korthos which put a emphasis on equipping its people well, modern manufacturing practices and facilities, and so on. Or, using Eberron terms, Korthos was like the Cyre of the region. In the Battletech game, similarly, Strata liked its people well equipped and well trained.

I think I will elaborate on this more in time.

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