Sunday, October 18, 2015

Review: Rogue Trader

Okay, so I've been looking for a good go-to set of sci-fi RPG rules for a very long time.  Since 1978 in fact.  I started with Traveler, but it was too limited, too "hard sci-fi", and the concepts were boring.  Quite a bit later I came across d20 Modern and d20 Future.  This was better and catered to concepts I wanted to use but suffered a bit from being kind of "d20 stodgy".

A couple years ago I downloaded some free Warhammer 40,000 (WH 40K) quick-start rules (or other free thingy like that) and ran a decent one-shot about a group of imperial inquisition troubleshooter types arriving on a frozen mining planet and investigating chaos tainted trouble down the mines.  I wasn't super excited about the rules mechanics themselves but the WH 40K universe clearly had a lot of potential for the sort of "non-hard" sci-fi gaming I was seeking.

I didn't buy the books then but I've been watching the new books coming out from Fantasy Flight Games and putting them on my wishlists.  Finally they came out with Rogue Trader and I decided to take the plunge.

Now, going in I was expecting a sort of "Traveler 40K" game: a bunch of random-ass WH 40K types goes around in a small ship trading, pirating, exploring, adventuring etc.  But the book makes it abundantly clear that your little band is much, much more than than.  A Rogue Trader is a unique and powerful person possessing a Warrant thingy to be a Rogue Trader and only people with some Serious Background can get one.  And being a Rogue Trader implies that you are part of a larger organization with resources (represented by a Profit rating) and you are out to accomplish Big Things.

It's like you're supposed to be the East India Company in space, or a space-faring version of Sir Francis Drake on the Spanish Main.  I was actually pleased to see this relatively British take on things.  Most RPGs are American made and tend to use "the frontier" and the Old West as the models for space.  There's a lot of that "rugged individual" and "manifest destiny" type crap built in.  This is refreshingly different.

Character generation has a really nice system where you use a cascading Path chart to work out your character's background and those choices add to skills, etc. which reflect that background.  I like it a lot.  It's simple but effective.  Then you have eight career paths (classes) to choose from. These are all very useful for the setting and absolutely 40K flavored.

But it still left me with the question of just what is this game about, exactly.  Okay so we have this small group of spacer-types in one ship--like the TV show Firefly--but we're supposed to be out colonizing planets, wiping out pirates, and other Big Things--more like Star Trek(?).  Even the ship is supposed to have a crew of hundreds, if not thousands of people.  Maybe the game is actually supposed to play a bit like Star Trek, where you have a big ship with a big crew doing Big Things, but the stories are all about the handful of lead characters.  So, more "Star Trek 40K" than "Firefly 40k"?

For the campaign, the game master is supposed to set up Endeavors, such as "Establish a Cold Trade From Dead Xenos Worlds".  These are usually divided in to three phases (sub-adventures) which lead to accomplishment of the Endeavor once all three are completed.  Naturally there is room for side adventures, interacting with NPCs, etc. but it's all on the way to accomplishing your Endeavor.  A series of Endeavors, related or not, is the course of the campaign.  The book includes an example Endeavor, NPC opponents, and campaign setting to start you off.  It is very self-contained.  You can easily run an entire campaign with just this one book.

Bottom line: I like this book.  I like the career paths, the background Path chart, the campaign setting included with it, and the whole Endeavor concept is way beyond my (somewhat unimaginative) initial expectations.

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