Friday, May 7, 2010

Adding a New Player...and Discovering the Limitations of the Rogue Trader System

Bringing in a New Player

Well, sadly, it appears that one of our players is leaving us. And so soon! We had two Arch-Militants, but one of them has decided to head northward to greener pastures. We will certainly miss Casey's enthusiasm for our games.

But, serendipitously, we also have gained another player. Our long-time friend Nick has come back from the land of sand to engage with us again.

I wasn't sure how incorporating a new player would work with Rogue Trader. The game really wants everyone to sit down and make characters together. But I also thought that this was also a really neat opportunity. How does the game system hold up when someone comes in from outside?

We started with Nick's origin path and it turned out pretty well. He was able to make the character that he had in his head without too much adjustment. Then, we had to come up with how his character was coming into the game. Was he an old associate that the Explorers had known for a long time? Or was he a relative unknown. Because Nick hadn't been around and seen what kinds of characters everyone had, he decided to go with a relative unknown.

Here, we can see the path that he chose, drawn right on top of the origin grid the rest of the party used. I'm glad I kept it!

The Limitations of the Rogue Trader System

And here's where was ran into the limitations of the Rogue Trader system. I guess this is as good a place as any to discuss and explore the limitations we've found in Rogue Trader. Nick really had in his head this idea of a psyker who could control peoples' minds or at least something fairly spectacular.

However, upon examination, the Astropath character archetype does not allow one to make such a character. That's okay by me, sometimes players don't need all of the options in the world open to them. However, after making Rank 1 Astropath, it seemed pretty clear to us that a Rank 1 Astropath can't do too much of anything. They are fantastic at communication, but outside of that, they are fairly limited. They get to do some cool stuff at Rank 2, however.

Because Nick felt somewhat limited, he opted instead for making a Dark Heresy Imperial Psyker. Fortunately, we had that option. However, when we started examining the two games we noted some marked differences.

In both Dark Heresy and Rogue Trader, your character options are certainly narrowly defined. Unlike many other systems, there are Skills and Talents that you simply can't take, no matter what. I actually like that, because it reflects the Warhammer 40k universe. Its a very codified and medieval society.

However, in Dark Heresy, there were many options within the various careers. An Assassin could be a melee character or a ranged character. A Psyker could actually be a Jedi-like sword-wielding battle-psyker or a frail but mentally powerful juggernaut.

The roles in Rogue Trader seem to be much more pigeon-holed. For example, the Arch-Militant is touted as the supreme combat champion of the game, but pays more for Weapon Skill. Also, dual melee wielding is completely closed to them. Also, the Arch-Militant cannot get the Command skill until Rank 3, something that has seriously hurt the Arch-Militant in our game, since he's supposed to command the ship's troops.

My Suspicions

Here's what I'm thinking happened. Dark Heresy was a game put out by Black Library - a subsidiary of Games Workshop. And it was the first game of the 40k RPG series to arrive. I'm going to bet that Dark Heresy was crafted a little slower, more deliberately, and perhaps more playtest time behind it. (There are certainly still flaws in that game as well.)

It's possible that Rogue Trader was pushed out a little quickly or a little quicker than Dark Heresy and might have lacked more playtesting time.

All of this is just a guess. And I want to state emphatically that I'm still loving the game.

My Solution

Because certain characters seem to be lacking very vital Skills and Talents, I think what I'm going to do is this - every so often I was planning to award permanent Fate Points. At the end of a story arc, after a big accomplishment, etc. What I think I'm going to now is give the players a choice. They can have a Permanent Fate Point or they can gain access to any skill or Talent. Even if it's not on their list. While this is pretty powerful, keep in mind that this might only happen a few times in the whole campaign. And they'll still have to pay XP costs, which I might make somewhat steep. We'll have to see.


  1. We had an arch-militant join the game about seven sessions in, and we just hand-waved it away as him always being on the ship, but that he'd just been promoted up to the players' level. Seems to have worked.

    I don't mind the more limited character types in the new game, although I must admit that the psychic rules in RT are somewhat weak, especially in comparison to DH; I can understand that the astropath skillset is the most common and useful in the specific RT setting, but the result is that if you want to have non-astropath psykers in the game, you have a choice of two substandard options: you either build a psyker using the astropath powers and hope you can get close to what you want, or you use the largely incompatible DH psychic rules and hope no one notices the cracks.

    It's got a bit better with the Eldar powers in Lure of the Expanse, and we're promised more psyker options in the upcoming rules supplement, but it's still a fuzzy area in the game.

  2. Oh, and players can already buy things from outside their advancement lists; it's called an Elite Advance, and it's on p39 of the core RT rules.

  3. This is exactly why Paizo's Pathfinder D&D rules are so excellent - they've really "fixed" class-pigeonholing by changing the way favored class, class skills, and feats work.

  4. Interesting you should mention that, srmencken, because the whole 40k RPG line seems to be a step deliberately away from a more open system like Pathfinder. They really want it to be more distinct, separate, and codified.

    Again, I'm okay with it, because I don't want every system I play to be like the last and it seems to fit the world. That said, I am making a few tweaks.

  5. I've been struggling with some of the class restrictions as well. Like WfG, I kind of feel the rigidness befits the world (and also helps new players), but my Astropath is struggling to feel like an effectual character. I had originally prefaced the game by indicating they were playing more powerful blokes than your average bods running around-- but in practice the rules haven't followed. The reasoning for this is obvious-- part of the "crunch" is allowing your players to see their respective abilities grow... but when an Arch-Militant gets frozen with fear for several turns, it can be a real harsh mellow on the enthusiasm.