Rogue Trader is an RPG system set in the 40k Universe. The primary setting is the Koronus Expanse; a vast region of space beyond the Halo Stars. It sits behind two great Warp storms: the Screaming Vortex and the Void Dancer’s Roil. The gap between the two is known at the Maw. What makes the Koronus Expanse the primary place setting is that until recently it had been lost.
Faster than light travel involves entering an alternate dimension known as the Immaterium, more commonly known as the Warp. A realm made of emotion made manifest and an infinite number of daemons.
The route through the Maw into the Koronus Expanse was re-discovered within the last two or so hundred years. It’s an entire segmentum of the galaxy with hundreds of millions of planets for the taking. The players play as a party of explorers under the helm of a person known as a Rogue Trader. A Rogue Trader has been granted the right to represent and claim planets and territories in the name of the God-Emperor of humanity.
So go explore and have fun!
So naturally I did not start my group in the Koronus Expanse. I started them in the Calixis Sector. I have seven players and five of them have never played Rogue Trader, it’s a brand new d10 system they need to learn, and the classes do not translate straight across to fantasy (i.e. there is no designated ‘tank’ or ‘healer).
I wanted to start my party in the Calixis Sector because its a much easier place to introduce the world. It’s a part of the galaxy under the influence of the Imperium of Man. I never liked the “you all meet serendipitously” method of starting a campaign- so I like to start them in a “you’ve all been hired for X” plan.
Writing the ‘Opening Mission’ was the most difficult thing I’ve written by far. Mostly because I wanted to introduce almost all of the mechanics of the game to them. Combat, Space combat, interaction challenges, exploration challenges, covert ops challenges, space travel, warp travel, investigation, purchasing personal things, outfitting the ship, entering and exiting port, etc…
So I wrote an escort mission. My players began on the Hive World (industrial/labor planets) of Gunpoint and they commandeered a ship that was provided for them and they set off. A lot more happens in between missions but the short hand goes like thus:
The players were assembled on the planet Gunpoint. They were briefed: they had to go to a penal planet of Sheol XVII. They needed to escape Gunpoint, however, because there were armed men hunting them. They were promptly ambushed but managed to escape. Once upon their ship they fled the planet. The first mate aboard the ship was named Havoc, and he explained a little more of the situation. They made their way to Sheol XVII. Having duped a pair of ‘police’ ships, they got inside the planets perimeter. They picked up a man named Killian Rage. Havoc and Killian Rage go way back, having known each other for several decades.
Killian explained that Sarvus Trask, a prominent Rogue Trader, was hunting him. Sarvus betrayed Killian; he used him as a scapegoat for a political deal and had him imprisoned as a sign of good faith. So now Killian Rage is attempting to return to the Koronus Expanse and Sarvus is trying to stop him.
Once they escape Sheol XVII they go to the feral world Endrite to raid a facility belonging to Trask. They successfully make it planetside, make their way on foot to the facility, and raid it for all of the supplies. Unfortunately though, the supplies that were supposed to outfit their ship were merely cleaning chemicals.
They then went to Thical, a prominent hive world near the Maw. They went to fence the stolen goods but they were met with a counter proposal from their agent: retrieve my stolen valuable thing and I’ll pay you well. The players expertly infiltrated the facility and found the relic, but had to chase the men down to retrieve it. They returned it to the agent who paid them and re-supplied their ship.
As they were about to leave Thical Sarvus Trask found them. In the final days of the re-supply he encountered and captured Havoc in the city. Amassing a fighting force, he appeared suddenly, murdered Havoc in front of them, and stormed the players ship on the dock. It was a fight for their ship and their freedom. It also turned out that their one time ally had been paid to turn on them and dealt a serious blow to the ship. During the battle several players were critically wounded including Killian Rage who had his left arm completely chopped off.
They escaped after repulsing Sarvus Trask and fled to Port Wander, the final stop this side of the Maw. On Wander they got their ship re-supplied, hired a new crew, and fixed their broken components. Once ready, they plunged through the Maw into the Koronus Expanse. Port Footfall is the stop on the far side of the Maw. Once on port, Killian introduces them to his old flames father, Zulfikar Raheem, who pays them handsomely.
And then Killian leaves, unsure whether he’ll ever see the party again.
So a lot of this mission was a “connect the dots” sort of mission that allowed me to teach my players the various components of being alive and in the 40k universe. A lot of this was just me being like, “Hey, this could be totally cool.”
But a small portion of the missions were me reconciling my last campaign that was a failure because I had never GM’ed before. My first campaign as GM was fun but it got super duper turbo derailed because I didn’t understand how to tell the story.
Killian Rage was an NPC pirate lord in my first campaign. For me, and I think for my players, he was one of the popular elements in the campaign. So I began having him show up just to keep interest high and to give them a “Team Rocket” sort of half-antagonist. He was eventually killed by the party.
Killian Rage represents me in the campaign they are currently playing in. I gave him no voice, I made him very Mary Sue, and he didn’t talk much but he always knew or had just what the party needed (because I am the GM). His plan to get them to the Koronus Expanse was a representation of my first campaign and how it goes terribly wrong. Killian assumed it would be really easy since he knows everything he needs to but doesn’t consider that others will act in ways he can’t predict. My players behaved in ways I didn’t predict.
Sarvus Trask kills his blood brother Havoc in front of him and Killian becomes ‘disarmed.’ He literally lost his left arm when Sarvus Trask cut it off, a nod to my loss of control from the first campaign, and his brother Havoc was killed in front of him, a nod to Killian dying in the first campaign. And when Killian lost Havoc he was lost without him- a feeling I felt when Killian was killed in the first campaign.
So the ‘Opening Mission’ ends with Killian introducing the party to Zulfikar Raheem. Zulfikar agrees to pay the party when he learns that Killian lost Havoc. Zulfikar had a daughter once, but she fell in love with Killian and left with him to go on adventures. She never returned, and Zulfikar blames Killian for her absence.
So when Killian returns asking for a favor (that he knows he has no right to ask) Zulfikar only grants that favor when he learns that Killian is experiencing the same grief that he is. He pays them, but as a mockery to Killian. As Killian is leaving the facility, unsure of his future in the Koronus Expanse, he dons Havoc’s blood stained cloak and leaves.
The mockery and departure of Killian, and generous payment to the players, is a reminder to myself that this campaign is happening because of the mistakes I made in the first one. I learned from my experience and here we are now. My first one was a confused mess but it makes me a better GM for my players now.
My players are here, they’ve earned their wings, and now I don’t need to escort them anymore.
I feel like this campaign is already way better than the first. For instance, people actually liked Killian as an NPC. I even had an instance of a player conversing with him in character. That last session where they make it to Footfall and Killian leaves- I have been told was a really good session by a few and in one instance a players favorite they’ve ever been in.
That makes me smile to think about. I think I have a lot of room to grow as a GM in this campaign and I look forward to it. So yeah, I feel better about this campaign. Especially now where we get to the point where its really easy to lose control. But I’m ready.
And don’t worry.
Killian will be back. Eventually.