Warhammer 40,000 Rogue Trader (1987)

How unqualified am I to write about Warhammer 40k? Try this on for size: I thought Rogue Trader (1987) was a tabletop roleplaying game like Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. I thought you, the titular trader, put together a crew of rascals, got a ship and got up to hijinx in the horrific universe of perpetual war that is the Age of the Imperium. And I am right, if I am referring to the 2009 RPG of the same name from Fantasy Flight. But this book? Nope, dead wrong. Rogue Trader, in fact, is the very first iteration of the 40k wargaming rules, the equivalent of the original Warhammer Fantasy Battles box set. This is where it all starts, for better or worse. There is a GM though (weird)!

I can’t evaluate Rogue Trader on the merits of strategy games, or even other iterations of Warhammer, so here are some random impressions. For one, I am surprised that the focus is so firmly on the lore from the very start. It feels like a solid two thirds of the book is devoted to non-mechanical matters! I am also surprised at how horrible the universe is from the word go. The Old World is miserable too, but the Imperium is incredibly oppressive, even with its pitch black sense of humor. There are still bright colors, at least on the miniatures, but some of the art, particularly Wil Rees’ stuff, are biomechanical nightmares that firmly counter any brightness. I really hate (and love) Rees’ illustration of the flying marines most for some reason. There is such a palpable sense of futility in that drawing.

Considering how obsessed with Chaos the game becomes over the years, it also seems noteworthy that there is scant mention of the Ruinous Powers and their influence. Some of Rees’ illustrations obviously depict Chaos, and there is a bit on mutations. The Warp is not yet connected to Chaos at all (though there are implications that things do live in Warp Space). Instead, Rogue Trader is very much framed as Space Marines vs. Orcs. I knew that was a thing, I guess (see: Warcraft ripping it off), but it seems so strange looking back from 2022.  

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