Friday, February 26, 2010

First Session: Character Creation

Well, we had our first session, which was dedicated to nothing more than character creation, as usual with just about any game system that I've run.

Overall, I was very impressed with the Rogue Trader system and its character creation. I'm fairly impressed with how the game organizes player origins and how it helps the group to create backstories for all of their characters.

You can see their paths below.

What was pretty cool was how organically that character's origins came up and then adjusted to accommodate each other. Patrick (blue) had the idea of being born on an agri-world and then coming up from nothing to become an Arch-Militant. Casey (purple) had the idea of becoming an Arch-Militant but starting as a noble. From there, the two players saw that their paths would be very similar, and then together created characters who came from two different walks of life but grew up together.

Matt (green), also wanted to be noble born, and linked his origin into both of theirs, so that now his Rogue Trader is the familial brother of Casey's Arch-Militant. Doug also linked his character onto their same home world, so now four of the player characters come from the same home world.

Because the two Arch-Militants faced a Calamity in their lives, the group came up with the idea of their home world being overrun by orks and then subsequently razed by space marines. This comprehensive creation of backgrounds, all interviewing was created by the group. It was awesome.

Jared (pink), linked his character into the family's saying that his character met the Arch-Militants when they were forming their own mercenary army. Along with that, Jared's character brings in Tony's (orange), because they were both enslaved upon the same ship together.

Now, there is plenty of background and flavor to go around, without the entire party having the same exact background as well. There's plenty of variation to go in there, like Doug's (yellow), whose character is literally missing years of his life while his ship, escaping the Calamity, got lost in the Warp.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Things I Learned from Kinko's

Back when I gamed in Minion Land, there were two guys there who worked at Kinko's. During my time there I became very familiar with the wonderment that is Kinko's and what all it can do for you at the gaming table.

A lot of what can enhance the experience of gaming are little things. For example, for the low cost of about 4 dollars and some change, I was able to use the Kinko's poster-maker and produce a large, black and white version of Origin Path chart from Rogue Trader.

I left a mechanical pencil on the paper so you can get an idea of scale. So, for just a few dollars, I was able to create a nice, big visual to focus the players on their first session of character creation. With colored markers, each player will mark off their Origin Path, and we'll be able to immediately see where they intersect. Important for a group with six players. Here's a closer look at the chart.

Another thing I learned from Kinko's - the power of paper. Just by using different kinds of paper for different handouts or sheets in the game can make a big difference. Case in point - the basic character sheet.

You can't really see it in these pictures, but I ran these off at Kinko's for the low price of about one dollar. Anyhow, the character sheets for the players are beige, which are easier on the eyes and lend themselves to a "parchment" sort of feel. They're also printed on card stock, which cost me nothing extra. By printing them on card stock, a character sheet feels a lot more substantial. It doesn't rip or shred easily. It doesn't get holes in it when you erase on it. Overall, it gives the character sheet a better heft and texture. This is not something that you fold up and put in your back pocket. It's much more like holding an official invitation to something.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

More Figgity Bits

So, besides the Endevour cards, I'm also going to be making placards and placeholders. I've noticed that if I make a handout with character pictures and write ups beside the pictures, the handouts may get glanced at. At most. There are those few players who will take the time to read the handouts, but those are rare. This doesn't concern me the least. It's the old adage of "no one wants to read about your fake world that you built".

Usually, when I write up NPC backgrounds and find a picture for them, it's mainly been for mebecause I forget many times who is doing what and where.

However, in an effort to bring the players into more focus on the campaign and who the movers and shakers are, I'm going to try and create placards for the more prominent and powerful factions.

Case in point - the 6 major Rogue Trader Dynasties in my game. I've created 6 large Rogue Trader Dynasties that will factor into the Koronus Expanse. These factions can be allies or enemies and are a source for NPCs.

However, to get the players more focused on them, I've put their information and symbols on placards which will stand up on the table. Like so...

So, on each card will be written some brief information about the six major Rogue Trader Dynasties along with their house symbol. The symbols you see here are not the final product. They are just some sample graphics I pulled off the web as placeholders until the real house symbols arrive. My buddy Mik is drawing up the real ones as we speak.

Right away, after making these placards I noticed some problems. Problem one, the house symbol is too small. You can barely see it, especially at the other end of the table. Two, the font is also too small. The information gets lost. My players are as likely to read these placards as they are a handout.

So, at launch, my goal is to have the placards much bigger, with the text large enough to take up the whole placard, with a large symbol that will be prominent and easily recognizable. Once that's done, I have a great roleplaying prop. For example, if I have a member of House Ontiverous show up, I can just put down the placard and the players will know immediately which NPC has shown up.

On the placards is the following information:
  • Dynasty Name
  • A brief, one sentence description of the dynasty
  • A brief history
  • A single, memorable accomplishment of the dynasty
  • Edge - which is one dark deed the dynasty has done, or a activities that the dynasty is at least a bit infamous for. This last one is fairly important, since all of these dynasties have the potential to be enemies for the party.
As I sit here and type this, I will probably put the brief history, notable accomplishments, and edge all on the back of the placards. That way, if a player picks up the placard and reads it, great. Otherwise, I can use them as crib notes to myself.

Finally, once all of the placards are done, I will at least get a really neat effect by placing them down on the table. Viola!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Six Great Dynasties

I wasn't going to post this stuff this soon, but one of my players (and rightly so) requested it. When we sit down and create characters next week, the group will get to pick from one of six Rogue Trader dynasties. This will be the first thing that they do, before characters are ever created. The reason being, the dynasty they choose should alter the sort of characters they make and certainly make a difference in the backstories of the characters as well.

The reason I'm going to let them pick is that, from my experience, if you give 6 people complete and total free reign to design something, it usually gets locked up in committee. However, if they get together and make their own Rogue Trader dynasty, that'll be fine, too. It's a win no matter what, because the dynasties they don't pick become allies or rivals in the campaign.

Obviously, they won't be able to pick House Null.

House Dexen: The Negotiators

A once greatly respected line known for their diplomatic skills.

Brief History: The Dexen were founded by the honored Warmaster Matthais Dexen, who, after a lifetime of war, dedicated the rest of his life towards exploration rather than battle. His excellent negotiation skills forged accords with small factions within the Eldar and Tau, and his dynasty still enjoys access to rare xenos technology.

Notable Accomplishments: During the battle of Seven Suns in the Scarus Sector, Aria Dexen was able to halt the attack of both Tau and Eldar forces by uttering five words.

Edge: The Dexen line is rumored to cleave a little too close to xenos species. Many now look at this line of Rogue Traders as getting too distant from humanity.

House Holocene: The Defenders

A stalwart band of protectors of humanity and aggressive settlers.

Brief History: Founded by renowned Inquisitor Matthias Holocene, this line of Rogue Traders began their journeys into the wilderness seeking to purge Chaos and bring the word of the Emperor to settlers. As the centuries have passed, the Holocene Dynasty has moderated their tone, becoming protectors and settlers. However, their moderate tone has started to get them into trouble. Particularly with the Inquisition.

Notable Accomplishments: The Holocene are most renowned of their defense of Norn of the Calixis system. Against an entire Ork invasion fleet, they stood their ground, losing all of their ships in their fleet but one.

Edge: The Holocene are known to be defenders and champions without peer. However, their moderate view of the Emperor's Will allows open interpretation of His Law and any number of heresies and cults to the Emperor are on their ship. Some say that the Holocene teeter dangerously close to the path of the Radical.

House Naraghast: The Privateers

A militant group of pirates and freebooters.

Brief History: The Naraghast were once an ancient line of proud settlers and explorers. That was until their success caught up to them. Their entire fleet was raided by an alliance of lesser rogue traders, leaving a single smaller ship alive. With one last ship remaining, the Naraghast rebuilt its legacy over the next century and hunted down their attackers, burning them all. Today, they are a gritty and hard clan of survivors, just one step away from space pirates.

Notable Accomplishments: Besides hunting down the five other rogue trader lines that attacked them, the Naraghast are known for the daring raid of the death world of Woe, where they sent an entire fleet of Chaos ships to their doom, crashing down upon the surface of that world.

Edge: As a group of pirates who skirt the law, this is edge enough.

House Null: The Evil Ones

A Rogue Trader line corrupted by Chaos.

Brief Background: The Null fleet first began its journey amongst the stars when it acted as an agent of a number of noble houses from the ill-fated Hive Tenebra. However, when Tenebra fell, the entire privateer fleet became a series of vessels with no true home. They became Rogue Traders as Scintilla's consolation for losing everything. Matron Null piloted her large fleet out into the edges of space, making limited contact with xenos; trading with distant systems; and contacting outposts. Somewhere along the way, her and her entire fleet became corrupted by xenos forces. It is said that somewhere out in the Halo Stars, Null’s ill-fated fleet became entangled with an alien species of great power and knowledge.

Notable Accomplishments: The Null Fleet is one of the most feared threats in the Koronus Expanse and the Calixis Sector itself. Of all of their infamous deeds, the Null Fleet is perhaps most maligned for taking on patrols of the Imperial Navy and winning.

Edge: The Null Fleet knowingly and willingly associate with the forces of chaos and demons.

House Ontiveros: The Explorers

Once a dynasty of Tech Priests, over time this line has become ecclectic and diverse.

Brief History: This line of Rogue Traders was founded by Magos Silicant Ontiveros. His ship of tech-priests sailed into the void on a mission of discovery. However, as the millennia passed, the line began to die out, due to a lack of genetic diversity. Over time, the Ontiveros line has picked up crewmates from all over the galaxy, now sporting an extremely diverse and eclectic band of crewmates. Though different, all of the crewmates of the line share a common love of tech. Their ancient ship is always on the verge of collapse, but commands respect due to its antiquity.

Notable Accomplishments: House Ontiveros has discovered many things. But perhaps one of their most famous finds was the vault world of Bubo, which turned out to be an entirely artificial planet.

Edge: While out in space, this line has been known to unlock all manner of technology, some of it rumored to be not only heretical but blasphemous.

House Augurian: The Quest-Seekers

A dynasty founded by the daughter of Saint Tristesse who now seeks out the meaning behind a millenium-old prophecy.

Brief History: Long ago, an unknown explorer founded and forged the world of Norn in the Koronus Expanse. For millennia, the world was lost and forgotten. But just nine hundred years ago, the world was rediscovered by a single Rogue Trader, Tristesse, who was eventually sainted for her great deed. Now, two-thousand years later, her companion fleet, founded by her daughter, still exists. It continues its legacy into the void.

Notable Accomplishments: Aside from being guided by a saint, the Augurians are renowned for appearing in response to a massive prayer uttered by the pilgrims on Norn. In an hour of great need, the Augurians were able to save the shrine planet from destruction.

Edge: While many of their accomplishments have been indeed heroic, and their faith in the Emperor is unshakable, over time their search for an ancient artifact has become more and more fanatical. Some believe this line is slowly turning itself over to madness.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Getting the Scope of Rogue Trader

As I'm getting ready for the campaign, inevitably my players are asking questions and we're talking about what to expect for the upcoming game.

One thing that I've found that we've all struggled with is understanding the macro scope of Rogue Trader itself. For one, I've had to really reiterate that the characters on the ship are not beginners. They are not just starting out. The characters in Rogue Trader are experienced explorers with long histories behind them. I think that will be challenging for some of the players who are not as familiar with the setting. Heck, it's challenging for me.

If you look at the size of ships in the Warhammer 40k universe, they are massive. Their largest ships are 5 km, or 3.1 miles long. To put that into perspective, Manhattan Island is 2.3 miles wide at its widest point. So, an Imperial Battlecruiser's shadow would actually exceed the width of Manhattan.

Here's another way to look at it. A modern aircraft carrier is 333 meters long. The smallest of the capital ships in the 40k universe, a destroyer, is 1 km long. So the smallest of the Rogue Trader vessels is as long as 3 aircraft carriers. A light cruiser - a medium sized ship - is about as long as 6 aircraft carriers.

In other geek news, a Star Wars star destroyer is estimated to be 1.5 km long, about as long as a frigate in the 40k universe.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Figgity Bits

There are so many neat little campaign managing elements in Rogue Trader that I decided to make some of them into figgity bits.

From my experience, players love figgity bits. They love handouts, cards, pictures - anything they can hold in their hands. Of course, there is a limit to everything. No one wants to read your 10 page dossier on the royal palace and its architectural history.

So, I definitely decided I wanted to start with a map. Maps can be a good way to get your players' attention. Usually, when you bring one out, everyone's eyes turn towards it. It also helps everyone conceptualize what is going on. For example, players can see with their own eyes how far their company and traveled. They can see how close particular threats are and which factions lie beside other ones.

So, you can see above a map of the Koronus Expanse. I was very deliberate about its size. In my Iron Kingdoms campaign, we printed out a large poster map of the Iron Kingdoms. However, whenever I brought out the map, people had to pick up their stuff or move their drinks. In the end, it was just too cumbersome. This map is just the right size for the table.

Of course, a map is nothing special. Plenty of games use maps. It's what is going on the maps which is cool.

So I've made these handy Endevour cards for the group. In Rogue Trader, side quests (or even your main quest) are described as Endevours. At the top of the card, there's a place where I can write the title of the Endevour, and then there's a place where I can circle whether it's a Lesser, Greater, or Grand Endevour. Below that, I can write down how many achievement points it will take to accomplish that Endevour. Finally, below that I can write down all of the Objectives, or tasks that it will take to complete an Endevour.

Also, if you look to the right of the Endevour card, there are little squares with arrows. What I'm going to do is to write the names of some of these Endevours on the little squares and tape them to the map, so at any time, the players can see what Endevours are on the map and how far away they are. Not unlike the galaxy map in the Mass Effect games.

One Endevour I'm thinking about setting down at the outset of the campaign is:

Fame & Notoriety: Spread your fame / infamy throughout the Koronus Expanse and the Calixis Sector. (Grand Endevour - 1,500)
  • Spread knowledge of your deeds to at least three separate locales in the Koronus Expanse (300 pts.)
  • Spread knowledge of your deeds to a highly populated and metropolitan area in the Calixis Sector (300 pts.)
  • Accomplish a particularly heroic or villainous task (200 pts)
  • Get another rogue trader crew to be impressed with you (100 pts. each)
  • Deal successfully with the Imperial Navy (100 pts.)
  • Deal successfully with the Inquisition (100 pts.)
  • Get the Imperial Navy to owe you a favor (300 pts.)
  • Get the Inquisition to owe you a favor (300 pts.)
I plan for this particular Endevour to be something that the party can pursue for most of the campaign. As you can see, the Objective points can actually exceed the value of the Endevour. Excess points can, at the GM's option, go towards other Endevours.

Why Rogue Trader?

Rogue Trader has to be one of the most interesting and innovative table top RPGs I've come across in a while.

The game mechanics for the system itself are not really that revolutionary. It's a straight up percentile system - something - fans of Call of Cthulhu should be familiar with. If you ever played the old RPG Inquisitor by Games Workshop, much of the Rogue Trader's system will be familiar.

However, what makes Rogue Trader so innovative for me are the various ways the designers approached campaign design and structure.

First of all, let me say that Rogue Trader is very different from many other table top RPGs in its very premise. In many pen & paper RPGs, you begin with the premise that you are nobody, or at least lower-level operatives in the world at large. However, through time, effort, story, and perhaps some experience points, you can rise to become a potent force in your character's environment.

Rogue Trader does away with that and presumes that the characters you play are already powerful individuals with long and turbulent histories. In this game, you are the members about a Rogue Trader ship, a vessel of grand size and vast power. You begin the game commanding large forces and troops. It's certainly a different approach to table top roleplaying than what I'm used to.

Characters for Rogue Trader start with a lot of experience under their belt, and their backgrounds are determined on a large flowchart. The flowchart allows the players to find commonalities between their characters, possibly sharing backgrounds. Perhaps your player character and the guy next to you fought on upon the death world of Woe. Or perhaps you both served on the same freighter.

What is really interesting about this for me is that in ye olden days, all of that was determined by you and the players. The player characters may have know each other at the start of a campaign. Or perhaps they just met at a tavern. More importantly, there was very little in the way of aid for the Game Master or his players when it came to establishing relationships and commonalities between the different characters. You were just supposed to know how to do this and do it well.

When you go it alone, much of what happens is trial and error. In my past, I think a lot of table top gamers can relate to experiences in which a party or campaign collapses because the characters made for the game don't mesh. Or perhaps the characters are trying to go off and pursue their own agendas.

Rogue Trader is one of the few games I've ever seen where the implied rule is that everyone sits down and makes their characters together. I've seen RPGs encourage this, but the implication in Rogue Trader is that this is almost necessary.

Besides that, there is also an implied system for campaign creation and plot. The Rogue Trader game has a number of tools which allow players to drive the story, not the GM. While plenty of people prefer games where the player characters drive the story, again, it's always been the GMs job to set up a system to let this happen.

In Rogue Trader, however, this is a system of Endevours, which are small, self contained story arcs. The GM is expected to create Endevours for the PCs to tackle, assigning them point values, and creating objectives. Each objective should bring a rogue trader party closer to completing the Endevour.

While this may seem a bit video-gamey to some, I love it. It means that, at the start, I can lay out on a map what missions there are out there and what it may take to complete each one. But also, it's implied that the players themselves might be able to suggest their own Endevours, at which time the entire table might hash out the objectives through discussion and consensus.

It's been a while.

Well, this is my second blog. The first one was a success, but I haven't posted on it for quite a while. Hmm. Maybe it's time to fix that.

So, anyways, I was going to post this on the regular blog, but a few things prevented me from doing that. For one, the regular blog has been quiet for two years. (Said that already.) Secondly, I realized that my next few series of posts will be radically different from my first one. Third, I think I'm going to use this space for actual gaming, so that my players can look up stuff on it if need be.