Hark, Fortified Niche BBS user! How is 1987 treating you thus far? Probably better than the Brits, I’d say. However, Albion does have something cool to look forward to as their own fantasy miniature marvel Games Workshop dips toes in sci-fi with
Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader!
Listen to the Fortified Niche episode.
In Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader you play… probably as the forces of humanity. Aliens such as orks (fantasy orcs, but in space) and eldar (elves) exist, but don’t offers the same variety . Drug-crazed Space Marines, paper-thin Imperial Army lads, inquisitors and assassins give a lot of character to the forces of the Emperor.
The game setup isn’t unusual. The game master prepares the scenario and the forces that will take part in it. The players then play it, taking alternating turns and letting the GM resolve any special scenario effects or rule disputes. Each turn is comprised of half-a-dozen phases like movement, shooting, etc.. Once you’re done with your phases, the other player gets to do theirs.
To aid in the creation of forces, Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader provides the basic outline of a squad for most factions. Of course, you’re likely to run more than a squad in the game, so more attention to platoon structure – as well as things like command squads and weapon teams – would have been helpful.
Granted, Warhammer 40,000 is “a fantasy game set in the far future,” so the fights are very different from your usual recreations of Battle of Isandlwana. The warriors can come from wildly different species armed with a dizzying variety of weapons and weapon systems. A GM can’t balance all that by the eye! That’s why a point system is provided that covers weapons, gear, regular species statlines as well the cost to uplift them to heroic status. Alternatively, there are tables for rolling up equipment for your squads – and even entire vehicles!
Unfortunately, trouble rears its head immediately. For one, going by the point system, the Battle at the Farm is very lopsided. Space Marines, who are on the defensive and set in good terrain, have a vast points advantage over the attacking orks who have to cross a lot of unprotected ground to reach the range of their weapons. Yet the book tries to maintain the idea that the battle is fought on equal footing. Was it not tested at all? This doesn’t bode well in regards to the longevity of the product.
At the same time, while the Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader is full of evocative descriptions of life in the future, down to the languages used, there aren’t really any more examples of scenarios. The campaign section contains ideas for plots, but not mechanical ways to represent them on table. This places a lot of pressure on the game master who has to come up with ideas for battles with achievable objectives.
All things considered, Rick Priestley, the main author of the game, did a lot of great work with Warhammer. 40.000: Rogue Trader. It’s nice to see more sci-fi hit the field as well as a mostly-fantasy study tackling sci-fi warfare. Can’t wait to see what other editions of the game will bring.