Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Search for 'Rouge Tarder'

What is it that keeps me, and many like minded beard herders, coming back to Rogue Trader? Why are we still basing our gaming on a rule set that's nearly 30 years old and has been superseded by 5 newer versions? In this post I'm going to have a good chat with myself and try to figure out what is wrong with me!

1. It's cool to be retro.
Let me take you back to 1987. Predator, Robocop and Beverly Hills cop 2 were just 3 of the films you weren't allowed to see cos you're 11. You've started high school. La Bamba and Risk Astley are the only songs you ever hear. Your mum still buys your clothes. You are not cool. You meet a bunch of other guys who are not cool. You meet to have lunch  in a history room to avoid the mentalists that fill your home town. Somebody introduces you to Fighting Fantasy books. From there it's a short hop to dungeons and dragons and Runequest. Then someone points out you can buy figures. But you have to paint then! But they show you how in these magazines! Look those guys have guns! Those are cool! If we buy them we'll be cool! And there is game to play them with! Let's do it! 

Well, that's one theory. I'm still trying to be cool. Still hasn't worked. 

2. It's a better game. 


It isn't.

All 5 editions since Rogue Trader are essentially the same game with different sections altered or tacked on. It's like having a girlfriend who gets her hair done every week and buys a new dress but you know she never changes her underwear. It looks new and sexy but you know what your going to find underneath. 

Rogue trader is clunky and clumsy and can take ages to play. The vehicle rules are terrible and they had to change them twice! So that can't be the answer.

3. The fluff was better. 
Better how? It certainly wasn't very clear. The modern fluff is very rigid and the story is very tightly controlled. In RT it was kind of all over the place. You had a graphic story about Logan's world. Bit of info about the Imperium of man, some major alien races and some mad flora and fauna but there wasn't an all encompassing scheme. It seems like a load of mad ideas thrown at a wall and most if them stuck. It certainly left a lot to your imagination (and this is a very good thing!) but I'm not sure better is the right word.

So if it's none of the usual statements what is it about Rogue Trader that keeps me going back where the most recent editions have left me with nothing but meh!

One thing that occured to me is 'the scenario'. In today's 40k the scenario is a very basic little frame to allow you to alter your games slightly. Roll a dice, fine you come on from a corner. It's basic, everybody knows what's going to happen. Most players have already worked out which units in their army will be holding which piece of ground for how long in order to score the victory points to win in scenario 4 before they even painted a model. 

In rogue trader you didn't even know what models you were going to have. That was the GM's job. As was the scenario. Which was much more of a story - a series of difficulties to overcome often based around another players force. In the RT book itself there is a scenario generator that could keep the most avid gamer happy for a lifetime. Bonkers little gems that just made you want to play all if them just to see if what you pictured in your head would actually work on a table top.

That's only part of the reason that I and many others keep coming back to Rogue Trader.
I think the real reason may be because  see it as such a massive missed opportunity. 
There was a time where 40k didn't know what it wanted to be. It wanted to be a table top role-playing game but also wanted to be sci-fi wargame. And for a while it could be both those things. But not for long. Because we'd bought more figures and more tanks and we wanted more stuff and GW gave us what we wanted and led to the world dominating table top monster we have today. 

Which is why we are always harking back to Rogue Trader. Because we didn't realise what we lost by just wanting a massive battle with 'fousands uv spashe mureens' and now that we're older, greyer, beardier and wiser we want to explore those possibilities that we didn't when we were uncool and wearing shell-suits. We now know that at the start if it all we were given a book that allowed us to game an endless galaxy filled with warped versions of any hero or villain from films or comics. The possibilities were immense! Have you seen the trailer for the Dedenders of the Galaxy? You could so turn that into a Rogue Trader game! I simply think we didn't take the opportunity to make the most of the gift we had been given and we want to make up for our ignorance. As they say, youth is wasted on the young.

After all, what is a Rogue Trader? A person who shrugs off perceived imperial wisdom and goes off hunting for endless possibilities at the edge of the known galaxy. Doing things his own way with whatever forces he feels fit and making it up as he goes along.

No wonder we don't call it 1st edition.



  1. Excellent bit of reminiscing there. I do think the fluff (or lack thereof) was better, but I think you've hit the nail on the head as to why we go on about it so much.

  2. There's also the part of you that says "This one was ours!". I never really played Rogue Trader, in 87 I was only 7, my gaming didn't kick off until the 90's and 40k wasn't my bag until a bit later, I cut my teeth on Warhammer and the majority I played was 4th so for me 4th edition Warhammer is mine, for me it's the best and 2nd edition 40k is mine. Rogue Trader for me is romantic (not in a kissy kissy way or ought) because, whilst owning the books, I've never really explored it, maybe it's time I did.........................

  3. I thought "Rogue Tarder" was a search term to use in ebay to find myself some bargains, kind of like "Oger".
    Instead this post was far more interesting. I think many oldhammer fans will relate to it, including me. Fighting Fantasy was my gate way drug and Warlock magazine introduced me to minis. The rest is history.

  4. The fluff in RT is like the tip of an iceberg which makes you want to search deeper and find out more. It's a hook for the narrative style of gaming. The modern version is over-fluffed to the max and it turns out most of it is drivel. When the GM gives you your forces or you roll up a random force you feel like an individual commander and your job is to crack the enemy with the troops to hand. Scoot forward to now, your HQ pieces are just tools in your tool kit and the enemy is a math problem. Generally speaking. You are massively right about not appreciating what we had back then.

  5. I can sum it up in one word. Potential.

    RT gives us the potential to play the best games ever and everything is better in that never to be trod upon green field of potential. The best we can hope for is to model a little of what our imagination allows us to glimpse. I find 2nd edition with it's more structured lists and fluff easier to game, less potential but easier to throw something down.

    To do RT properly you need to invest time.

  6. My point about fluff may have been a little harsh but I was looking at it from the point of view of people I know who only know the current straight jacket approach in recent editions. The fluff in RT gives you a departure point but leaves the destination entirely up to you. As you and your mates play the background develops and it's your imagination that gives shape to what you play. Not a codex. As Erny mentioned, it's the potential that makes it such a fascinating artifact and it's only now that I'm realising this and playing the kinds of games that give me that kind of fun!

  7. Heh, thats great. Bang on for the most part too.

    The vague background is a plus, a sandbox to put whatever notion appeals right now directly into. I used to love the maps for places like Middle Earth and the cutaway diagrams for things like AT-ATs as a kid, but now I know them to be the enemy of creativity. Rogue Trader had no map (or plan) and it was the better for it in many (not all) respects.

    I use all sorts of rulesets to game in the 40K universe, I dont prefer RT (or any other iteration) to existing tighter rulesets. I do use the Necromunda ruleset with certain friends of a similar vintage however, because its a convenient common language that allows us to get on with the storytelling (like we should have twenty years ago).

    I definitely thought that I wanted huge battles and I got that in 3rd for a while, but fluffy exploration of the setting with handfuls of eclectic characters appeals to me far more now.

    Great article.

  8. Word. Though I guess in my case, I'm making up for the opportunity I missed by not being born at the time. But I think for somewhat younger beards like me, it's the pursuit of what seems like a vanished philosophy of gonzo anything goes rpg tabletop crazyfest gaming. Nobody would try to write that now, at least partly because rules publishers seem to think that 'tighter' rulesets will sell better. And they're probably right. And they make great games, too...but where's that maniacal gleam? That little impossible-to-predict dose of wyrd which is so addicting?

    Anyway. You concussed the nail, friend.

  9. Great contemplations! Really interesting to read other peoples thoughts as to system preferences.

    For me RT beats the later editions because the more complex system actually allowed you to run more complex scenarios. Its vague background material also gave you the freedom to come up your own truly personalised force; both in terms of character (still possible in later versions through miniature choice) and in terms of stats.

    However, you hit the nail on the head when you mention it being about the story. I always felt in RT games it was about cinematic moments rather than obliterating the opposition (the latter seeming more important in more recent versions IMO).

    Anyway, it was a good read and brought back fund memories of my early years of gaming. Thanks!

  10. For the record I have never owned a shell suit, fellow classroom hider.

  11. Wow, all the thoughts you are sharing here make their totally valid points. RT is (I refuse to say 'was') an early mix between a RPG and a wargame, so you know, pros and cons; but the most important thing for me is not what ruleset are you going to use, but how atmospheric your game becomes. RT is outstanding at that, it totally boosts your imagination and gives you a freedom that later editions have not reached. Everything is recognizable and familiar (euphemism for 'copied', I guess, but that is exactly what becomes inspiring of it and what we look for when setting our games!) and the spirits of it makes all of us to think about gaming just for fun, no expectations for victory-at-all-costs.

    So well, it is really nice seeing that the interest about this is growing!


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