Rogue Trader RPG: Core Rulebook
- The Rogue Trader core rulebook contains everything you need to start your adventure
In Rogue Trader, you take on the role of a Rogue Trader and his most trusted counselors, empowered by an ancient warrant of trade to seek out profit and plunder amongst unexplored regions of space. Your ship will take you to new worlds and uncharted reaches of the void, where you will encounter rivals, pirates, aliens, and possibly even creatures of the warp. You will acquire and spend great wealth and riches, and fame or infamy will follow. You will discover ancient and forgotten mysteries and search out the unknown to find lost human worlds or never-before-seen celestial phenomena. You must survive the dangers of space, for beyond the threat of vacuum and deadly radiation lurk things Man was never meant to find... To be part of a Rogue Trader's crew is to stand on the threshold of nearly unlimited opportunity. Vast profits await for you and your fellow Explorers to find and claim. Fame and fortune reward the bold, but the unwary find only an anonymous death. Begin your players' path to wealth and glory with a complete starting adventure that puts the Explorers right into the middle of the action. The Rogue Trader core rulebook contains everything you need to start your adventure in the Warhammer 40,000 universe.
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My only complaints about the game are:
1) The psychic system isn't compatible with the one in Dark Heresy. This makes it harder to combine the products.
2) There isn't enough variety in the ship design section - more examples and hull-types would have made this part of the game a lot more fun. I'm expecting future supplements to address this.
The game supports a variety of playstyles. You can run it as a trading game (ala Traveller or d6 Star Wars), a tactical combat-orientated game or a more traditional adventure game.
This is pretty much a must-buy if you're interested in both 40K and RPGs.
Rogue Trader does not disappoint in the looks department. The same exacting standards that make Fantasy Flight's board games a hit are all present here. The art is superb, the layout and organization of the book is great, and the overall quality of the binding and paper is way above average.
Character generation is fairly quick and on our first run through, me and my group found we had a decent handle on most of the rules pretty might right away. The core resolution mechanic is a percentile system that has the players try to roll under their score in a given stat to complete a given task. Many situational modifiers can come into play, especially during combat. Anyone coming from a D&D background will find that combat works and feels very different. After only playing through a few short encounters to get our feet wet, I can say that I'm a fan of the pacing and mechanic though I'm still somewhat unsure about how well the system will scale to different levels of play. Starship construction and combat rules along with "mass combat" rules are included as well.
Fans of the 40k universe will find no shortage of detailed setting information in some of the later chapters of the book. Rogue Trader definitely offers a unique glimpse into the lifestyles of some of the denizens of the 41st millennium - all well written and clearly presented.
Because the game presents game-masters and players with so many varied ways to enjoy the game, it's a safe bet that role players and fans of the 40k universe will all get something valuable out of this book.
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Chapters 2 and 3 are based around character creation and rules. This game makes use of an "origin path" system for generating a character background. This information has mechanical effects that give you special boons and disadvantages based on your character's life thus far. The book and the Fantasy Flight web page provide a graph they encourage you to use for the entire group to develop pre-existing character relationships and shared interests/histories. This system is quite different form what was provided in Dark Heresy, but ends up with a more articulated and customized character. "Classes" only have one straight path of advancement, instead of the complicated routes of advancement in Dark Heresy. This takes away some customization, but it really is ok. You can still spend your experience to pick plenty of skills and talents. The classes made available include the Rogue Trader, Astropath Transcendent, Navigator (a second psycher), Exporator (Tech-priest), Arch-Militant (Fighter), Missionary, Seneschal (knowledge keeper), and Void Master (pilot).
A chapter is dedicated to Astropaths and their disciplines/powers. It gives some rules for their use and their abilities, and is followed by a similar chapter for Navigators. Anyone playing either type of character will need to go through these sections at character creation. There is some additional background information to be dealt with here, that has a mechanical impact on your character.
A major departure for this game comes in its monetary system. Rogue Trader creates an attribute not unlike strength or agility called Profit. This attribute is rolled like any other attribute to see if the character can acquire the new item. It is modified by rarity of the item and your location when trying to acquire it. This system is a major boon to the system since the game does stress how much money is actually flowing through your hands. It feeds the idea that you have people to keep the books for you. The rules are not exceptionally complex, and work well, but you might just not be able to get that new storm bolter even with a very high profit.
The section provides some base templates to build from, and at character creation the number of build points you have for your ship is determined (there is a chart that gives you a starting profit and ship points in an inverse manner: the higher your starting profit, the fewer ship points you get). These build points let you get a bigger and better ship. The templates that are provided range from small merchant ships to navy cruisers.
The information of background for this game is of similar design to what was in Dark Heresy. There is a chapter dedicated to detailing the universe in general and the Imperium of Man in specific. The following chapter gives great details on rogue traders and their place in the universe. These chapters can help players not familiar with the setting and have a desire to make their characters more connected to it. It would be a good idea for anyone to read through this of course, even if you are an old fan. There is always information of the Kronos Expanse (the actual setting of the game) that could be of use.
The game is incredibly easy to set up and run as a one-shot game if you have nothing else to do (say your weekly game will be missing a player and you still want to play), and it can also benefit from campaigns. The character creation system is designed to be done as a group activity, and the game certainly expects players to operate as a team. The rules are fairly intuitive, but do require the book or print-offs on hand at all times (see below). Difficulty of tasks and rolling is handled well, where you roll a d100 and try to get under your attribute (which is modified by conditions and the difficulty of the task). The system is a great deal of funwhen you have all the information you need on hand. A lot of the art is beautiful, and evokes the feel of the game, especially in the early chapters. Character images are especially well done in the class chapter.
What keeps this game from getting 5 stars is a problem that existed in Dark Heresy that continues on in Rogue Trader (and will likely not be fixed any time soon). You need to constantly be ready to reference a large number of charts to determine a number of issues, including difficulty modifiers to rolls, critical hit results, and so forth. This can severely slow a game down (especially in combat). You will need to have ready access to all these charts on a regular basis when playing the game. It also is in need of an errata, as there are a few typos (which is disappointing considering how long it took for the game to finally ship and how long it took to publish). Some of the art is not as sophisticated as would be expected. Ship images are especially disappointing. Considering the incredible gothic structures that act as ships in this universe, the seemingly poorly designed computer images of ships does not evoke the ancient and foreboding feel vessels of Warhammer 40k deserve. When you expect medieval gothic cathedral and get Babylon 5, you are bound to be disappointed. Other art that is not as pleasing still fits what has been done for Warhammer 40k, but still might not appeal to someone new to the setting.
Overall, I can say I enjoy the game. It is an improvement from Dark Heresy, which was itself an excellent game. This seems more playable to someone new to the setting, and gives people an entrance to Warhammer 40k for people that have previously not been interested. It is certainly worth picking up, and can only get better with supplements, though none are really necessary to really get into this game. I could not ask for much more in a game.
Having stayed with RPGs now for a couple of decades, my point of view is that, recently, game books have become harder to read and burdened with byzantine rule systems. Case in point, Shadowrun (3rd/4th ed). I find the game extremely predictable and the rulebook a headache to wade through.
Rogue Trader is a breath of fresh air. From the past. If that is possible. Overall, the character building system is straightforward and helps players immediately get plugged into the game's backstory (even for GW newbies). The career path system I think is excellent because, as a player, they make backstory dovetail with your skillset and weaknesses. There are reasons why you are the way you are. And all of this is in the space of about 50 pages that don't require you to read all the way through. On top of this, players can see the "intersections" of each other character's career paths, which encourages unity and common purpose. This is rare in most games I've encountered (usually, the GM has to work hard to find ways to unite the player characters -- here, it is done for you).
I also see similarities with earlier games from the 80s, like the first editions of D&D. There are a lot of charts here. Whether you use them (the combat critical chart) or not, may be up to you, but I think they add a lot of flavor to the game without burdening the rules on specific rule subsets to handle certain combat permutations. Moreover, they are quite humorous.
I was worried how RT would handle larger, mega events like starship combat. Again, I haven't played with these rules yet, but what struck me is that even at this macro-level, every player gets a chance to do something cool aboard the ship, plus, these major events can be resolved in a timely manner, allowing the game to return to character-centered adventure.
Lastly, with a few exceptions, the rules are written straightforward and nicely organized into chapters that make absorption of the rules and background possible in short doses. RT is one of the heaviest books I've purchased (really heavy -- I need a stand to hold it up as I peruse: perhaps my only complaint). I think the $60 sticker price is sharp, but worth it. It's a beautiful book, well written, well organized, and offers a different slant on space opera.
My experience with free trading in a science fiction setting has been pretty much nothing but the D6 Star Wars RPG using the Tramp Freighters Galaxy Guide. In fact, most people will think of Han Solo and Malcolm Reynolds when it comes to this type of game. That's a bit of a nightmare, to be honest. It's fun zipping about the cosmos as a crew of half a dozen - it's easy to control as a GM and keeps the action flowing. Thing is, after more than ten years playing that kind of game, it gets kind of repetitive. How do you inject something new into the mix? That's easy. Give your players a crew to deal with. Say, oooh, about TWENTY THOUSAND OF THEM!!
You see this the Warhammer 40K universe, and everything in the 40K universe is BIG!
In this game you will literally be flying giant starships, hundreds of years old and kilometres across, built like gargantuan interstellar cathedrals. Your mission as a Rogue Trader is supposed to be to explore strange new worlds (to dominate, bring under the control of the God-Emperor and abuse for resources and profit), seek out new life (to exterminate) and new civilisations (to steal new technology from)... to boldly go where no man has gone before (primarily because if they do they'll have their heads bitten off). Under an ancient Warrant of Trade you and your crew will be able to fly beyond the boundaries of the Imperium and explore the vastness of the galaxy, trade, deal and dominate other worlds, alien or no, and create profit for your starship. Basically, you're told to sod off into space and pretty much do what you want - in the name of the Emperor, of course.
The very term Rogue Trader tells you this might not always be the case and this is perfect for the sort of games I want to play. Years ago I used the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay rules to try and run a game in the 40K universe. It worked fine but the fact that the regime was so oppressive made my games a little limited (more my fault than the setting, perhaps, but when the player's answer to everything is grimdark WAR FOR THE EMPEROR! it gets a little restrictive). I don't want to be limited by the domination of humanity by the Emperor and that everything the billions upon billions of humans do in the galaxy is for His and the Imperium's benefit.
So I'm glad I purchased Rogue Trader because now I can fly away from the Emperor's sphere of influence and pretty much do what I want. Rogue Traders and their crews may be the representatives of the Golden Throne but they are left to their own devices and are a power unto themselves. So those dirty Xenos and possibly heretical human worlds that the Emperor wants vaped in the Imperium may be the very creatures you make profit from in trade and diplomatic relations outside the borders for humanity. You may end up relying on them for help or aid or supplies, and you may have to make some pretty shady deals or pacts with enemies of the human species. Brilliant.
As I've not fully played this game I'll give you a brief overview of the book.
If you know Dark Heresy then you'll know this game. In fact, if you know Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay then you'll know this game. It's a primarily percentile based skill roll - get under the appropriate number and you succeed, with varying levels of success (or failure) depending on what you succeed (or fail) by.
Character creation is a doddle and is made even more interesting by the use of the Origin Path. By choosing where you come from (A Death World, a Hive World, a Forge World etc) you can read down a chart and choose different aspects of your history. These aspects decide on skills and bonuses/penalties to certain stats and rolls. Once you've finished you'll have a career. The table is very clever - you can either decide where you come from and read down the chart to decide what you are, or you can decide what you are and read up the chart to find out where you come from. Excellent.
Careers include the Rogue Trader (captain), the Arch-militant (the combat specialist), Astropath Transcendent (the telepath, kind of a communications guy but it goes far beyond that and they get all kinds of psychic powers - this also applies to the Navigator), Explorator (engineer), Missionary (a priest zealot), Navigator (a dirty mutant!), Seneschal (the guy `in the know', with contacts and such), and the Void-master (pilot). Each has a distinctive role to play and has plenty of gaming potential. Add to this a cool list of guns, bombs, cybernetics and other kit and you can create a pretty good character with all kinds of quirks.
Starship creation and combat is decided by a point-based starship creation system. With this your players can create a starship of their own - there are several basic designs to choose from and then they spend points to beef them up for battle, make them better for trade and commerce or somewhere in between. Combat is fully covered.
GM tips and background material is plentiful, giving you plenty of ideas for games and hints on how to evoke atmosphere. It also gives you the background necessary to understand the universe of 40K. Then there's a small section on adversaries and NPCs, and a detailed description of the Koronus Expanse, a section of space for the players to explore as they settle into their new roles. Top this off with a short adventure and you're ready to go.
WHAT I LIKE ABOUT IT
- Wonderfully presented. The artwork is lovely with only a couple of `meh' illustrations and it evokes some good atmosphere.
- The rules are simple. With twenty years of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay experience it was a doddle to get my head around it. I don't see any newcomers to the system having any problems.
- It is its own book. I don't need to by x-amount of supplements, everything I need is right here.
- The Origin Path is a cool way to help character creation. PCs with similar histories could have crossed paths before and that makes for some good roleplaying.
- I managed to get the full gist of the rules and setting in one two-hour reading session. Now, that's probably because of my experience with WFRP but I know it was also because the layout of the book was well realised and easy to navigate. The index is a massive bonus, as well.
- It gives you plenty of advice on how to run a Rogue Trader game and really invokes the atmosphere of the setting. I feel like I'm ready to run a game right now and the sheer scope of the premise opens up all kinds of avenues of adventure.
WHAT I DON'T LIKE ABOUT IT
- Not enough stats for vessels, enemy vessels, NPCs and foes the Rogue Trader might come across. I felt it was a bit lacking in that department.
- There are a few typos and what have you, and there were a few times I had to re-read a sentence or a paragraph because the explanation wasn't clear.
- Everyone will want to be the Rogue Trader captain. Let's face it; you don't want to defer to a fellow PC's decision.
- With a crew of thousands at their beck and call your first few games are going to be a struggle, as your players will simply send NPC crewmembers to do their dirty work.
No doubt some of my problems with the game will be ironed out once I get to play it. All in all, it's an excellent product, beautiful to look at as it is to read and will no doubt make for some brilliant games with like-minded players who can get past the idea that trading in space isn't all about the Millennium Falcon.
Start up: Much like Traveler of old, this Rogue Trader (RT) allows characters to start with career background. This process involves a chart and the character must choose a path that crosses from your class, through motives, and even back to your home world. There is a total of 6 items that all contribute to make each character unique. Even if you have the same class it would be hard for any two characters to be identical using this "pathing" approach! This rapid advancement eliminates the process of starting out as a typical "level one noob" and puts your right into the heart of the action!
Game play: I'm not too familiar with WH40K or Dark Heresy mechanics so this is just an informal impression. Everything starts off with a d10. I think there is a table for EVERYTHING under the sun. Starting off the goal is to form up and make your living on the each of space - no cozy home on the core worlds for you! You and your band of hearty adventures crave danger...and riches! Did I mention as a Rogue Trader you are much like a pirate? Oh sure you have fancy clothes and a letter of authorization much like a letter of marque on the high seas, you and your band are chartered to do what it takes on the fringes of the empire to win glory and conquer new turf...and make a tidy profit doing so!
Combat: Combat is both space based and personal. Most teams will start out with a ship randomly selected but augmented at the start by the PCs. This ship will be your launching point for adventures and you best hope it stays in one piece! Again ship to ship combat resembled Traveler of old with long range weapons, short range weapons, armor, maneuvering, etc. There's even ramming! In our adventures we started out with a mid-sized war vessel...she's tough and so far very reliable...but its also ancient - over 4,000 years old so maintenance is a constant concern.
NOTE: here's what the ships look like:
Personal combat is fast and ruthless. If you have played Traveller or WH Fantasy you will note it can be a battle of misses or quick death. So far we have had dam few misses but a lot of death. Our recent landing party lost 8 out of 10 folks in just one encounter. Of course these were "red shirt" crew members not PCs; but they were dropping like flies! So it has been win-fast/lose fast. Call me crazy but I kinda like that.
Adventure. This game has all the open ended potential that Traveller had. Adventure can be pulled out a simple bar encounter; there is no linear feel to this game at all. I really like that! So the GM will have to be on their toes to keep up with players that get rowdy. Likewise, rowdy players will have to be careful or they will end up in the recycler!
Story: Our adventure starts off with my main character being a fancy playboy living the high-life off of the family trust fund and running the company as the president of family corporation when bad news comes in. My uncle, who is THE real leader of the family, has died unexpected and he left the whole organization to me to run. So I'm forced to take over the leadership role as Rogue Trader only to then find that the family's noble house is in fact on the decline and something must be done before we lose it all to creditors.
So I start by pulling together a crack team of specialists (other PCs) to help me take the family's sole starship off to uncharted regions of space and to strike our new fortune. With only 3 players the GM had to sub in several NPCs to fill key positions. I found out it takes a LOT of players to run a starship that is over a mile long! The characters do their homework and research various areas of opportunity before we all settle on a destination - a new frontier - I think it was called the Coronus expanse. Of course along the way:
1) we shot up a bar
2) we were drugged, beaten and interrogated
3) we ran a foul of the interplanetary secret police
4) we had a secret assassin sabotaging our ship
5) our ship was attacked by "bad things with big claws" near a warp storm!
6) we got fought off space pirates!
7) meaner space pirates ran us off!
8) we were double crossed by the assassin
9) we had to blow up our own gunship!
10) we found aliens; we fought aliens...and they kicked our butts!
11) we saved the day for the secret police
12) and we made it back to the bar we shot up all in one piece.
All in all it was a very pleasurable experience to play. Time really flew by after we got past the character and ship generation stages.
Thanks again to Izrador (our GM) for hosting our gaming sessions!
Oh yeah, and your typical ship has a crew of no less than ten to thirty thousand people on it.
The tone this sets very much reminds me of Dune. You're in space, you've got high tech equipment, but everything is super-archaic and super-political. There's lots of room for intrigue and (any 40k fan should know) tons of room for action, all on a scale that virtually no other RPG trusts players to manage.
The rules are easy to get into, being a simple percentile system. Roll a d100, if you get under your skill rating then you succeed a task. Character creation is robust, presenting players with a walkthrough for their home planet, history, and motivations, as well as a respectable selection of roles to fill on the bridge of their prized vessel, letting players quickly get into who they are and what they're doing, even if they aren't necessarily familiar with the 40k universe. It's very true to the flavor, in that almost no player can get out of being a scumbag of some variety. Not that they'll mind. Everything looks and feels so fun to play with, from the Bolters, Meltas, Chainswords, and Power Fists to all the lovely psychic powers and Navigator abilities. You'll quickly want to be a part of this world, despite how unpleasant and harsh it is, and you'll cackle like Vladmir Harkonnen the whole time.
Rogue Trader's biggest advantage is that the Koronus Expanse and the role of Rogue Traders in general is detached enough from the rest of the setting that you don't necessarily need to be an expert in 40k in order to understand this game. Not that it doesn't do a lot to get you interested. The entire list of toys is chalk full of fluffy detail, and it WILL help you understand the Grim Darkness of the Far Future while also helping you to get interested in more of it.
Its disadvantage is that it's still a part of the 40k universe, which is hugely idiosyncratic and detailed, and if you aren't familiar with it then it's very easy to feel overwhelmed when you try and immerse players in it. The issues you'll run into aren't rules-related or even character-related. You'll know how people act in this setting and this game by reading this book. It's all the etiquette, protocol, and organization. You need to know how Orcs organize an attack force before you can run the players against one, for instance; you'll need to know how the Empire of Man restricts trade and what their cultural taboos are in order to structure the world around players; and you'll need to walk players through managing their gargantuan ship in order for them to get a grip on just how much power and resources they all have. Traditional roleplaying groups not familiar with 40k tend to have a rough time with that last part, especially if they aren't used to a sandbox tabletop RPG. I know this from experience, having been disappointed with how little my players took to enjoying it despite my excitement to run it -- they were really lost for a good few sessions before they got the idea. This keeps me from giving it a five-star rating.
That said, this is an excellent sandbox space RPG, even disregarding its place in the 40k lineup. If you're into 40k already, consider it a must-have.