Tag Archives: Dark Heresy

Review: Rogue Trader

RT_CoverRogue Trader, is the second core rule book in the Warhammer 40K Roleplay series. While it’s predecessor, the extremely successful Dark Heresy, followed the adventures of a group of Inquisitorial Acolytes, Rogue Trader returns to the roots of Warhammer 40K by putting you in the shows of a Rogue Trader and his crew as they ply the stars seeking fame and fortune.

It should be made clear that Rogue Trader is in no way a second edition of Dark Heresy. While there are a few mechanical changes, both games use the same system and characters from either game can be used in the other. Likewise, the fluff books (of which there are quite a lot now) are 100% compatible with both books, although I’m expecting Fantasy Flight Games to announce some books which are more focused on Rogue Trader in the near future.

Anyway, without further ado, we shall proceed to the review:

Art & Design

Fantasy Flight Games is well known for it’s award winning art-work. Dark Heresy and several of the expansion books have won well-deserved awards for it and it looks like Rogue Trader will be winning a few more pieces of silverware.

The overall design is identical to that of Dark Heresy, with the red and yellow colour scheme replaced with a blue, silver and metallic scheme instead. This gives a rather near feeling of continuity. The illustrations in a variety of styles and all fit the subject matter excellently, adding much needed pictures of Xenos and ships to already staggering visual palette of Dark Heresy. If you want an idea of how good the art is, then click on the image above to see a much larger version of it which was released as a wallpaper by FFG.

I was initially worried that there would be a degree of recycling in Rogue Trader, potentially with chunks of previous books being recycled. Thankfully, this is not the case, with the only non-original illustrations being wire-frame drawings of the weapons and a take on Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man.

As for the book it’s self, it’s roughly 400 pages long (the same as Dark Heresy) and hardback. Paperback copies of Dark Heresy were previously available but disappeared after FFG took over the licence, so it’s unlikely that a paperback version will be making an appearance. Print and binding quality are good, but unfortunately my book arrived with a slightly damaged spine (although the packaging was undamaged).

Mechanics

The mechanics of the game are pretty much unchanged from Dark Heresy. It’s still a d100 based system, you still have all the same stats, insanity, wounds and so on. All that can really be said about it is that it’s inspired by Call of Cthulhu and works very well.

The main changes come when you look at the skills. Dark Heresy had a lot of skills, in particular weapons skills. They took a ridiculous amount of time to get and you got quite large negative modifiers if you weren’t skilled with a weapon. Thankfully, there are now four universal weapons skills (Pistol, Basic, Heavy and Melee) and most of the classes start off with at least one of these.

The advancement tables have also been changed. While Dark Heresy presented you with several very similar and slightly pointless sets of skill and talent options when you got higher up the XP ladder, Rogue Trader doesn’t. Instead there are quite simple tables for each class which allow some customisation. There is also an emphasis on “Elite Advances”, which are skills which aren’t on your classes table but can be awards by the GM on conditions of his choosing, allowing massive customisation.

There are also two new sets of mechanics. Spaceship use and the Navigator powers. I have to admit, I don’t fully understand the way that Navigator powers work, although they are much more controlled then the Psyker/Astropath powers, which are notorious for their high chance of unleashing demons and so on when a party is mid-combat. They also have some nifty tricks, like being able to shift dimensions momentarily, kill people by opening their third eye and predict the future. The downside is that they also have to roll to navigate the ships successfully through the Warp.

On the subject of Ships, ship combat is a cross between character combat and Battlefleet Gothic, but it remains quite straight forward. Ships have their own ‘character sheet’ and a selection of traits to give it personality. They are also highly customisable, with a lot of different modules available for kitting out the ship.

Unfortunately there are only a few ship hull initially. It would seem likely that there will be a ship expansion release at some point. With any luck, this will include more and bigger ships.

Characters & Gear

The character classes in Rogue Trader are all new, but are also all similar to older classes. Most of them are much more refined and all the classes have a much clearer purpose and more combat utility. It’s suggested that at least one member of the party should take the role of the Rogue Trader, the captain of your ship. The other classes are Astropath (Psychic Communications Specialist), Arch-Militant (Ballastics Expert), Explorator (Engineer, Archaeologist and Explorer roled into one), Missionary (Flame-thrower wielding cleric), Navigator (Psychic Pilot), Seneschal (Indiana Jones style brains and brawn) and the Void-Master (A Merc by any other name).

All of these classes look interesting to play, and few fit traditional character tropes. The Missionary does have a Medical skill, but so do several other classes and there is a good deal of skill overlap, allowing player more freedom to do what they want. For further customisation, there is a large choice of background options, all of which add skills or stats without tying a character down. This origin path system is a bit limited if you follow it to the letter, but as the book says, it’s a case of guidelines rather then rules.

The gear is much improved on that in Dark Heresy. Stats have been buffed and most of the weapons have had their armour penetration increased. There are also a nice list of Xeno and other rare weapons – these were originally printed in some of the expansions, but they’ve also been buffed to do much more damage. Starting characters also get some very nice gear.

Fluff

Like most 40K spin-off material, Rogue Trader’s setting is some distance away from areas used by Games Workshop in their core material. Instead, it takes place in the Kronus Expanse, a poorly explored area adjacent to the sector which provided Dark Heresy with it’s setting. This area plays home to Orks, Eldar, various groups of Pirates, Kroot and all manner of heretical beings (stats are also provided for most of these). It is a gigantic area of space, with uncounted worlds and perils waiting for an adventurous Rogue Trader.

There are three chapters dedicated to providing material on the Imperium and the Expanse. It’s more then enough to help someone who has never played a Warhammer game to get started. There is also a sample adventure called “Into The Maw” and another two sample adventures, “Forsaken Bounty” and “Dark Frontier” available from FFG’s website.

Faults

So far, I’ve been nearly 100% positive about Rogue Trader. I’ll admit, I’m biased by the fact that I am in love with the system and the setting. There are a few faults with the game.

The first, and least critical is actually to do with the advertising. FFG proudly declared that the game would go on sale during Gencon. Unfortunately, it didn’t actually become available until mid-October and for a while FFG were rather cagey about when it would arrive. Thankfully, it got here eventually and was worth the wait.

There are a lot of small spelling errors in Rogue Trader. There are also a number of tables which have been incorrectly numbered and reference. This is particularly noticeable in Chapter 9, where there are nearly 40 tables, and the references are extremely inaccurate by the end of the chapter.

There are still a few too many similarities between classes. This was Dark Heresy’s main flaw, and while it has been drastically reduced, I can’t help feeling that there is at least one extraneous class in the form of the Void-Master.

Finally, while there are a selection of enemies ready for use, they’re are very few of them. My particular bugbear is that there are only one example each of Ork, Eldar and Kroot characters. No doubt there is an entire book of Xenos in the works, but it would have been nice to have been provided with some more examples.

Conclusion

Rogue Trader is almost certainly my best big name buy this year. It’s a stunning book that refines an already good system and I highly recommend it to anyone who is in the market for a straight-forward, pitch black space romp.

RPG Blogger’s Carnival: Going Too Far

RPGBlogCarnivalLogoWhere are the ethical limits in Role-Playing?

There are different challenges in different games. In D&D, Vampires are a creature of evil, nicely clean cut and lined up for your party to slaughter without a second thought. On the other hand, Vampire: The Requiem and Vampire: The Masquerade set you up as the vampire, having to take into account the required for frequent doses of fresh, human blood, so even if you’re character is good, you still have to engage in a hunt for humans and a rather horrible act which has been compared to a variety of other morally reprehensible crimes.

Some games, such as the Warhammer roleplaying games even go so far as to encourage what we would regard as immoral behaviour. In WFRP, in the Human Empire, Elves are not allowed to enter buildings and must be chained up outside. Dark Heresy goes one step further, with all Alien races deemed heretical and subject to summery execution.

So given this context, where do you just turn round and say no?

Of course, at the extreme end of the spectrum there are a variety of games that no right-minded gamer would every touch. F.A.T.A.L. and Racial Holy War are two of the more notorious example – both glorifying a very real-world racial hatred against various groups. F.A.T.A.L., of course, takes this right up to 11, with the rules encouraging rape and demonstrating a lack of taste, common-sense and general human decency.

Very far over the acceptable line indeed, but then not at all representative of your average gamer.

So where is the line for the average gamer, to wit, Me?

Well, I’ve done some pretty bad things in character.

One of my favourite gaming stories is the complete and utter carnage that half my Dark Heresy group got caught up in a one-shot story. The plot involved a Death Cult on a graveyard planet and remains the only time I’ve ever seen a Party actively try and kill it’s-self. The short version is, through the use of disguises made from the skin of dead Imperial Guard, we infiltrated the Cult, didn’t realise when we should probably have stopped and opened fire and ended up conducting a Demonic summoning. I ended up killing a pregnant women as a sacrifice.

I’m not terribly proud of that, even though on of my colleagues promptly scarified me in return for immortality or some such. I even rolled a dice to decide to go through with it or not, because while I thought my character would be happy with it, I wasn’t. Would I do it again? Probably not, because I admit that was over my personal line and I didn’t feel comfortable doing it.

The second time that I know I went too far was shooting a Kobold pup. This was during Castles & Crusades, in a world where we were religiously mandated to kill all evil creatures. The Cleric even got bonus XP in an earlier session for a stunning in-character tirade laying out exactly why evil creatures couldn’t be redeemed.

To be clear, several people did say that they weren’t comfortable with the pups being introduced (this was in an ‘official’ module as well, not the product of a particularly sadistic GM’s mind). I also roleplayed a loss of faith after that, although not particularly well.

So, yeah, where do I think the moral lines are in a roleplaying situation?

Killing kids of any type is right out. It’s not smart, it’s not clever, it’s not funny, no matter how annoying the pint-sized MacGuffin the GM’s saddled you with is.

Anything relating to sex is out. I’ve heard of people introducing rape as a plot element, in particular in World of Darkness, but it’s not something I’d be comfortable dealing with.

In-game racism varies from game to game. It can be a good way to generate friction or provide plot. It’s still not something I feel that comfortable with, but backstory and motivation make a world of difference. Any game where I was asked to hate on a specific real world group or a fantasy group without motivation would be out.

Murder, theft, pillaging, unleashing demonic hoards, destroying planets, killing PCs: No problem with any of that. That’s just good old fashioned fun.

This post isn’t really what I was expecting it to be, although it has given me quite a lot of things to think about. I do like to play my own values in some games, which is why my brand new Rogue Trader character is a heretic, an idealist and a renegade. Maybe this is a bad thing, maybe I should be trying to roleplay outside of my moral comfort zone. But then again, if I feel bad after roleplaying a situation I’m not comfortable with, then eventually I’m going to stop wanting to roleplay.

RPG Blog Carnival October ’09 – Morality: In-Game & Real Life

RPGBlogCarnivalLogoFirst of all, thanks to Johnn at Campaign Mastery for hosting September’s Blogger Carnival (even if my entry was a bit late).

This month, I’ve chosen a rather philosophical topic for discussion: morality. Everything from alignments to your limits as a player.

There is good and there is Evil. Evil must be Punished. Even in the Face of Armageddon, I will not compromise on this.
– Rorschach illustrating his black and white moral sense, Watchmen

I’ve encountered games which encourage depravity from the darkest depths of the human psyche and which result in nobel behaviour that would put a saint to shame. I’ve personally murdered innocents on a whim, encouraged genocide, been sacrificed by my companions and have sliced my way through thousands of characters, creatures and assorted NPCs, often the in name of a deity or king.

Is there any chance I would ever act like that in real life? Not even the slightest chance.

Likewise, I’ve heard stories about in-game racism, misogyny, ethnic cleansing and the sort of death tolls that would make history’s greatest warlords turn pale. All this is before we even get started with notorious games such as F.A.T.A.L. or Racial Holy War, where all sense of conventional morals is abandoned in favour of blatant racism and disturbing mechanics. In fact those examples I cited come from Vampire, a home brew system and Dark Heresy – we’re talking mainstream games and normal, well adjusted players.

I’ll be discussing some of these stories in my own entry for the carnival, later this month. What I want to hear from you guys is how you deal with morals in-game and in real life. What are your limits as a player? How evil can you be? Do you just like to play by alignment or do you like a more realistic moral system? What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done as a player? How much difference is there between your real life morals and your in-game morals? If a God mandates Kolbolds are evil and must be destroyed, could your character kill a Kolbold pup in cold blood?

What ever your answer is to these questions, then, as always, post an entry about it to your blog. Once it’s up, come back here and leave a link in the comments. At the end of the month, I’ll compile the links and have a bit of a discussion about each.

For previous carnivals, please see the Carnival Archive at The Dicebag.

RPG Blog Carnival – Mistakes, I’ve Made A Few

RPGBlogCarnivalLogoThis month’s RPG Carnival, hosted by Campaign Mastery is about mistakes made during role-play.

I’d be the first to admit that there are a few flaws in my roleplay. The one which I’m currently trying to eliminate is the use of out-of-character knowledge and out-of-character deductions. I’ll illustrate this with an example.

The last mission in the Dark Heresy campaign I was playing was set on a Chaos-riddled space-ship hulk, buried on a war-torn planet. My character was a tech-priest, the only class that is more then vaguely competent (read “has better then 45% success rate on rolls”) when it comes to dealing with technology.

So far so good. A tech-priest should be right at home on a spaceship – except this is the 40K Universe, where nothing is ever that simple.

Drawing upon everything I knew about sci-fi and Warhammer, I petitioned my party to destroy the ship. In order to do this, I suggested we find the engine core and perform some rites of cleansing to the Omnissiah (ie Press the self-destruct button).

That would have been my big mistake – my tech-priest was born and raised on an Imperial planet. There was no way he could have the knowledge to destroy a millennia old spaceship given the WH40K universe. During the next session, the GM turned round and told me that there is no way I’d have had that knowledge (after he’d dropped heavy hints to make the same point). Not a major problem as things turned out, but I really was aware that I’d used too much Star Trek fanboy knowledge as soon as I’d voiced the idea.

The correct way to play it for the character would have been to come up with some bluster about the Omnissiah showing us the path and trying to hide my lack of knowledge.

The positive side of this is that at least I’m aware that I’m doing it. Self-awareness helps me work on better characterisation and means I stop and think more before I take a character action. Hopefully in posts to come I’ll be able to look back and laugh at the silly mistakes I was making.