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.

8 thoughts on “Review: Rogue Trader”

  1. There’s quite a bit of recycled art in there, but it comes from the wargame books rather than previous titles in the roleplaying line.

    I believe there’s an expanded ship construction system (including the missiles and torpedoes mentioned in but missing from the core book) coming with the GM screen, although that’s now been delayed, I think.

    I’ll be running a small miniseries (not really a campaign) in the new year, and I’m looking forward to it, as it seems like a solid game. The book could have done with some proofreading and editing though, as aside from the errors, there are quite a few places where things are not explained, and you have to work them out from implications and clues elsewhere in the system.
    .-= thekelvingreen´s last blog ..Ghost of Holidays Past =-.

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    1. In that case, I suspect the people giving out the awards don’t play the Wargame either 😉

      Yeah, the GM screen seems to be MIA just now. The Radical’s Handbook and some of the WFRP games have been given proper release dates, but it’s still listed as “Fall”. I’ll be interested to see it; the DH GM screen was pretty good.

      I’d say the game is pretty solid. On the other hand, since I wrote the review one of my co-players has discovered that it’s possible to end up with a low level Arch-Militant doing 2d10+32 damage, which makes me think the play-testing wasn’t as stringent as it should have been. The spelling errors are also annoying – I should have mentioned them i the review, but I wrapped it up a big quickly due to length.

      I’ll be posting reports on our play-sessions, so keep an eye out and I might find some more problems 😉

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  2. Yes, I’ve heard horror stories about the introductory adventures they gave away free, mostly concerning a huge difference in power levels between the Arch-Militant and the big boss monster; firing a bolter at full auto kills the boss off within one turn!
    .-= thekelvingreen´s last blog ..Ghost of Holidays Past =-.

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  3. Over all, I’m pretty pleased with Rogue Trader, although as mentioned previously, there are quite a few spelling errors and misreferenced pages. These are problems which could have been dealt with with only a very thorough bit of proof reading, and despite being annoying, aren’t really all that bad.

    That being said, I am a bit confused on one subject. On page 38, in the discussion for “Rank” it states:

    “Each Career Path has unique ranks, as your character progresses in power, you may sometimes find yourself eligible for two or more ranks. When this occurs you must make a choice between ranks available to you.”

    Huh? From what I’ve seen, each character type gains rank in a very simple fashion, by spending xp. They then gain a new rank in their type, Arch-Militant, Rogue Trader, so on. That seems pretty automatic. If there is a branch off point or pre-requisites for these branch off points, I haven’t seen it. Or are they implying you could potentially be both an Arch-Militant AND say, an AstroPath Transendant?

    So, a little confused. My theory is that they lifted this bit of explanation from Dark Heresy, where I think there WERE branching ranks, and somehow that part was left in… not entirely sure, but in the meantime, am I just clueless and missing some vital mechanic?

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    1. No, I think you’re right. It’s either lifted from DH or from an earlier draft if RT when it still had branching ranking.

      Of course, there’s no reason branching ranks won’t be reintroduced in future supplements.

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