Thursday, August 26, 2010

Character Journal 3 - H. Tiberius Holocene

Day 267, 813M41
Log of Events
Ferral Wolf, comissioned 389M34
Captain H. Tiberius Odysean Holocene

Warrant of Trade # RV-426-G7-96-BFN4Y2
Granted to Rogue Trader Hester Nathaniel Holocene 623M35 327M31
Given leave to spread the light of the God Emperor to places unknown within Segmentum Obscurus.

How do you measure the value of a life?

It is a question that every leader worth his salt must face, even Rogue Traders. I have sent men to their deaths, lost soldiers in battle. I have even left people to die and made decisions that cost the lives of thousands of souls. I tell myself that the sacrifices are necessary; sealing off a burning compartment on my ship might kill hundreds, but save everyone else, tens of thousands of people who rely on me to make the right decision. I have commanded warriors to stand and fight in futility or to advance straight into corruption. But I will never be able to forget the screams of those burning alive, or the sight of men being ripped to pieces at the hands of an Ork horde. Despite these memories, I have always been able to remind myself why I do these things.

How can I let the fate of one life, or even a thousand lives stand in the way of destiny?

I am the progenitor of the Holocene Dynasty. Sending men to their deaths is a part of that. The decisions I make will someday influence entire star systems, billions of people. I will not fail my ancestors, I will not allow our line to fall into oblivion.

And yet...

Losing Sitara was a hammer blow. Though I rarely had opportunity to express them, I cannot deny the feelings I had for her. Love is probably too strong a word, but there was caring and compassion to be sure. She smiled only rarely, but when she did, it brightened my day. Watching her get ripped to shreds by the... thing under the city was devastating.

Suddenly my understanding of my destiny was cast into shadow. If her fate meant so much to me, what of the fates of all the rest who serve under my command, who toil for the name Holocene. How can one man be held responsible for so many? How can I continue to choose to send men into battle, or one of a hundred other gruesome ends?

I wish, for a fleeting moment, that I were someone else; a lowly serf. Riches and fame seem ill-equipped to offset this price, this burden I must bear.

I find myself unsure as to my next course of action. This is unnerving to say the least. I know that I am still tasked with leading this crew, this dynasty. What if I make the wrong choice?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

ALL STOP - Into the Storm - a review

A buddy of mine, who happens to be a player in my Rouge Trader game went to Gen Con this week and picked up Into the Storm. So, here's my review of the new book, after having it for only three days.

If you don't know what Into the Storm is, it's an upgrade book or "player's guide" for the Rogue Trader game. So far, this book seems to me to be what The Inquisitor's Handbook was to Dark Heresy. And that is certainly a good thing.

Chapter One: Advanced Origins

One of the more innovative things I enjoy about the Rogue Trader system is its Origin Path system for character creation. It's a real help because it helps focus character backgrounds and creation in a massive universe of options and realities.

Chapter One greatly expands upon the Origin Path system and keeps it backwards compatible by introducing alternate origins at each station. For example, instead of starting out on a Death World, you can start out on a Death World or a Frontier World, which gives different benefits and penalties. Moving down from that, you could pick Scavenger or Fringe Survivor, etc. And on top of that, each of the new origin picks has three different variations to choose from as well. If you choose to be a Fringe Survivor, you could be a Survivalist, Heretek, or Pit-Fighter. (Warhammer Quest anyone?)

All of these new Origin paths do cost xp, however. So people looking to go crazy and power-mad are reined in a bit. I'm going to certainly offer these new Origin Paths retroactively to my players, because many of them are much better fits for their characters.

Another row of Origins is added as well: Lineage. Lineage is an Origin aspect which describes your family and their reputation.

Another cool edition - an Origin path for the Explorer's Warrant of Trade. This is very neat. In this section, the players and GM sit down together and decide the general history and background of the very Warrant they hold. Doing so determines the group's starting Profit Factor and Ship Points.

Chapter Two: Koronus Careers

This section of the book contains information the both expands on the initial Rogue Trader classes and introduces new elements to the game. I will tell you right now that this is the section that introduces the Kroot and Ork Freebooter races to the game. Unfortunately, neither race is given its own Origin chart, and they are stuck with a single career choice - Kroot Mercenary or Ork Freebooter. They do, however, have a slew of Talents and other abilities that set them off from humans. The Kroot, for example, can gain hit points by eating their slain opponents.

Thereafter, the book describes Alternate Career ranks. Just like in Dark Heresy, alternate career ranks are special ranks which can be taken instead of the next level on the line. After your alternate rank, you go back to the ranks in your regular career. Some of the alternate ranks are more specific than others. For example, the Acquisitionist can be only taken by the Seneschal. Some are very setting specific, like the Drusian Adherent. However, many of the alternate career ranks are open - able to be taken by any of the career paths.

The end of the chapter features a few Elite Advances. Two of them are are open to most careers, while some like the Rite of Duplessence and the Sanctioned Xenos are career specific.

Chapter Three: Extended Armoury

This chapter features, as you might expect, a lot more weapons and equipment. I didn't know how much they could expand the weapons list from the Inquisitor's Handbook, but they did it. Noteworthy are the expanded types of grenades and ammunition; as well as a fair number of xenos equipment.

Chapter Four: Starships Expanded

This section offers a brief write up on ship life and then goes into expanding the ship options in Rogue Trader. More hull types are present. Many should seem familiar to fans of Battlefleet Gothic, like the Firestorm frigate or the Lathe-class monitor cruiser. Also added are ship background packages. You can buy these with ship points, and are like backgrounds you can pick for your ship, rather than roll for.

There are also ship upgrades like better Warp engines, additional Void shields, or different ship weapons like missile batteries. Finally, there are interesting ship upgrades like giving your vessel vaulted ceilings (morale increase) or even buying an atomic weapon. But you can only buy one nuke at a time.

Chapter Five: Vehicles

This is perhaps the most valuable portion of the book, since it gives stats and rules for vehicles, something missing from both Dark Heresy and Death Watch. There is an old web book out there with vehicles and vehicle rules for Dark Heresy, but those rules were much more on the narrative side and sort of filler for a gap in the rules.

The vehicle rules are not unlike the rules for ships, though obviously they work on different scale. Each vehicle has a degree of armor and structural integrity. When it starts taking Structural Integrity damage, it starts taking critical wounds, much like a character.

Chapter Six: Expanded Psychic Powers

This section includes new Navigator powers as well as new Astropathic powers. None of the powers that I saw in my quick glance seemed to be redundant, as can happen in systems of this nature. There is also a new psychic school, which is Theosophamy - a school which focuses on manipulating the Warp itself for its own sake. The powers included allow the psyker to do such things as attempt to banish daemons and the like (it's not easy), or make one's weapon into a Warp Weapon.

Chapter Seven: Enhanced Game Mechanics

Chapter Seven is almost an appendix, with a number of rules upgrades or mechanics ideas in place for GMs to use or not. There is a small section on Social Interaction challenges, not unlike an Exploration challenge.

The book also introduces Meta and Background Endeavours. Meta Endeavours are large, campaign-spanning Endeavours which are meant to be either an outline for your campaign or something close to it. I rather liked this write up. It shows how Endeavours can be used to outline an entire campaign, even if you run it sandbox style.

The addition of Background Endeavours is nice as well. It allows the PCs to set up long-term tedious tasks to be accomplished by NPCs so that the party can go do exciting stuff.

This chapter also introduces ideas to make Acquisition Tests and Profit Factor more interesting. For example, if the Rouge Trader group keeps on spending extravagant amounts of money, they can attract unwanted attention.

Finally, there is an expansive look at then different roles on a Rogue Trader ship, what they do, and where they operate. I also enjoyed this section, because ship-board drama is something I wanted to cover in my campaign, and this section is great for ideas for just that.

Chapter Eight: Port Wander

Obviously, this is a detailed write up on Port Wander. Footfall, of course, is covered in Lure of the Expanse.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Ninth Session - SPACE HULK

Well, after a number of disastrous rolls by the Navigator of our Explorer's crew, I had a choice to make. I could put them waaaay off course and roll on the table to determine what ill befell them. Or, I could use one of the three pre-scripted "events" that I had developed for just such an occasion before the campaign started.

Hmm. Which did I pick? It's not hard to guess.

The Space Hulk

The Explorers' ship was set far off course by the turbulent warp, but in its meanderings, their two vessels ran across something quite interesting - a Space Hulk. As most people here know, a Space Hulk is a piece of cosmic mass, fused together with the hulls of numerous ships that were lost in the Warp at one point and time. The Space Hulk the crew found was exceptionally large, containing the carcasses of numerous battleships, cruisers, and frigates - not all of them human.

Essentially, I used the adventure found in the Purge the Unclean adventure compilation as the basis for the encounter. Obviously, what I did and used was highly modified. However, the players still had the opportunity to pick up both the Luminous Reproach (an ancient Inquisitorial power sword) and the Liber Daemonica (a powerful text of forbidden lore).

The Black Ship

The basis of the Purge the Unclean adventure is that within a Space Hulk the Inquisition discovers the lost transponder signal of a famous Inquisitor's ship. And this Inquisitor was famed to have owned a very powerful daemon's bane weapon. Instead of telling the party that up front, however, I allowed them to sort of "discover" this as they went in.

The party had to deal with strange sightings. Things moving out of the corner of their eyes, and shadows that seemed to have a life of their own. This all culminated in the party winding up in an Inquisitorial Black Ship. It was only after a few rolls that the party slowly started to piece together where they were. A few additional rolls allowed the RT to realize that they were on the Dark Victory, a vessel for a famous Inquisitor who possessed a powerful sword - the Luminous Reproach. While the ship's name changed, many of the other details came from Purge the Unclean.

The Fight

Fortunately, the crew was smart enough to bring a platoon of armed men with them. Their platoon was half made up of their highly-trained honour guard and the other half was made up of guards from the crew of the Lucien's Folly - the ship whose crew they recused from destruction. Otherwise, fighting over 50 psykers might have been daunting. Even for a powerful Rogue Trader crew.

The way I staged it was with my familiar microcosm/macrocosm houseruling. A few statted out psykers represented the main threat, fought against by the PCs. Around these main threats, I placed some simple pente stones to represent the mob of pskyers all around them. I explained that the pente stones were only there to be a visual representation. They were not really "there" in terms of fighting, choosing targets, etc. The PCs' men were represented with dice in a similar fashion.

Before the battle could be finished, two Dark Eldar arrived with their warp beasts in tow. The battle became a three-way conflict.

In the end, Ergan Wright was injured. The crew had the rest of his men escort him back to the Ferral Wolf. To see how successful they were in their escort, I had the party make a series of rolls, not unlike an Exploration test. They fell short of the mark so I had them choose. Did the rest of the guard from the Lucien's Folly perish? Or would it be their precious honour guard? The crew chose to sacrifice their honour guard...which means, now, they their well-trained guardsmen are unfortunately gone for good.

Temptations and Weirdness

Not wanting to leave completely empty handed, the Explorers decided to look for the famous Luminous Reproach. After much searching, the Explorers encountered a number of weird events, like time-looping ghosts and corridors which seemed to appear and disappear.

One of these events was an opportunity to reclaim the Liber Daemonica. However, the party decided not to. If you remember, the Rogue Trader's rash actions had already resulted in the loss of their Astropath. He didn't want to be quite as reckless a second time around.

This is was pretty cool from a roleplaying standpoint for me. A character actually learning from his mistakes. Mistakes made while in character.

Real Consequences for Hard Things

What I really liked about this session was the fact that the characters attempted something difficult (raiding a space hulk), got something special for it (a very powerful daemon-bane sword), but paid a real price for it.

Typically, in a D&D situation, the party might go on a quest and enter a dungeon. The dungeon may be even really hard if the quest is big enough. But what usually happens is that the party survives (perhaps barely) and they get their reward. Thereafter, they are healed of all wounds. Even of some of them die...they can always be brought back. Usually there is very little long term effect from a difficult dungeon.

Here, however, we have a completely different situation. The loss of the honour guard means that the Arch-Militant lost good men. Men he hand picked and hand trained, which also reduces the stats of any of their personal guard as well. But out of this great loss comes a very interesting story - of how the remaining guard of the Lucien's Folly became the new honour guard of the Rogue Trader dynasty.

How cool is that? The honour guard in the Rogue Trader game aren't just some nameless shmoes who signed up for the job, but were chosen for an in-game reason and as a result of an in-game narrative.

Very cool indeed.