Friday, August 13, 2010

Game Book: Rogue Trader: Into the Storm (long)

Rogue TraderRogue Trader: Into the Storm

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There is only one reason for players of Rogue Trader not to get Into the Storm, the game's newest supplement. If buying the book means not making rent, then don't. (I paid $50.00 for my copy, bought by a friend at Gencon). While not perfect, this a ridiculously good expansion of the game, and the only player-friendly supplement for Rogue Trader outside of the core rulebook.

Given they all share the same basic game system, Into the Storm has useful crunchy and fluff bits for both Dark Heresy and Deathwatch. Much is Rogue Trader specific, but players of the other two 40k games would find a lot to mine from. Players of other science fiction role playing games might find it an interesting read, but the rules are intrinsically tied to the Games Workshop's Warhammer 40k setting. This is neither a nice nor a realistic setting, but is a damned cool one.

Some of the standout materials are the expansion of character creation and customization, the vehicle rules (perfect for Dark Heresy and Deathwatch games), and the ability to play as an alien on a Rogue Trader vessel. The aliens covered are the Ork and the Kroot.

The hardbound, 256 page (2 pages for the index, 2 pages for ads) book is a handsome piece of work, with a generous helping of well done color and black and white illustrations. There are eight chapters.

Chapter I: Advanced Origins doubles the choices for a player character background. There are new character Home Worlds, Birthrights, Motivations, and so on. An optional Lineage is added to the Origin Path, letting the character start play as Disgraced or Witch Born among others. All this change does not invalidate anything a player may have come up with using the core rulebook; these are additions, not replacements.

This chapter also includes an alternative method to create a starship. Instead of rolling for Ship Points to spend, players can build one up using an Origin Path for starships.

Chapter II: Koronus Carreers adds the Kroot Mercenary and the Ork Freebooter as player character options. The Ork is surprisingly well done, and the opportunity to play a battle crazed green spore creature working for the "humies" has a lot of role playing potential. Not to mention the bird-like Kroot, who can assimilate traits of their enemies by eating them. Each alien gets their own Origin Path.

Also in Chapter II are Alternate Ranks, where a player character can deviate from the skills and talents of their chosen profession and spend a rank pursuing a specialty, such as becoming a Flight Marshal (think Starbuck) or and Ork Mekboy (who can turn any piece of useful equipment into something much more useful for a short period of time -- then turns into worthless junk). Elite advances add smaller customizations at a lower price.

Chapter III: Extended Armory is a big toy box. Not just weapons and armor, but also medical equipment, drugs, bionics, and special equipment for Orks and Kroot.

Chapter IV: Starships Expanded has new hulls and components for starships. Now the players can build all sorts of ships, and the GM can throw new designs at them. There are example Rogue Trader vessels, including the Sovereign Venture, from the free Rogue Trader Quickstart adventures.

Chapter V: Vehicles, covers ground, air, and small spacecraft. How fast they move, how many people or how much cargo they can carry, and how they can shoot at (and ram) one another. High speed chases, aerial dogfights, crashes and more are covered. 14 sample vehicles are listed, included iconic 40k examples such as the Aquila Lander, the Rhino armored personnel carrier, and the Ork Warbike.

Chapter VI: Expanded Psychic Powers not only adds more powers for Navigators and Astropaths to choose from, there are new extended actions for both professions to use in Starship Combat. No longer do the three eyed Navigators and the blind Astropaths have to sit there and look pretty while the pilot, gunners, and auspex operators get all the glory. Now they can use their psychic powers to tip the balance the next time a pirate fleet tries to take on the player's starship.

Chapter VII: Enhanced Game Mechanics is the chapter where they put all the new rules that didn't fit in the other chapters. Social Interaction Challenges can be used to sway planetary rulers, sign trade agreements, broker peace treaties, and more. The mechanic is very similar to Exploration Challenges from the core rulebook and fills the same purpose as the 4E Skill Challenge, albeit with more player control.

Endeavours get some extra attention with the addition of Background and Meta Endeavours. A Background Endeavour is one where the players hire the work out. It's beneath them, they would rather be swashbuckling across the stars than hauling ore, so they let their hirelings take care of it. Sometimes the hirelings screw up. Royally. Meta Endeavours string together many endeavours to create an entire campaign. While interesting, that's not how my game rolls. I don't have every game session planed out for the next two years of playtime. But the concept made me think harder about the theme and direction of my campaign.

Expanded Acquisition Rules spell out what happens when player characters throw too much money and influence around. Bad things, like attracting the attention of thieves or even the Inquisition.

Ship Roles creates a job description that player characters can choose to fill. While the Rogue Trader will take the Lord Captain slot, the rest of the players have many choices, such as First Officer, Choir-Master Telepathica, and Ship's Confessor. Not all roles suit every type of player character, but there are plenty of choices. Each role gives the Gamesmaster another way to involve the players in running their ship and each player a bonus to a useful skill.

Chapter VIII: Port Wander is an extensive gazetteer of this enormous space station. Maps, history, major movers and shakers, shady meeting places with shady characters, adventure hooks, and dark secrets. This chapter tips into Gamemaster material at times. Having the less detailed Footfall gazetteer in the adventure Lure of the Expanse at least keeps the secrets out of player hands. Still, this is an excellent example of what to put into a Rogue Trader setting. There is a sidebar on the use of Port Wander in Dark Heresy games.

Problems: Some of the tables don't include everything they should, such as the ships components table leaves out a plasma drive. Some of the examples confused me more than the rules they were meant to illuminate, like the first Social Challenge example. Where did that -10 on the Blather test come from? (After a long time, I think I figured it out. It should have said in the example.) I'd rather have a 4 page index than 2 pages of ads. But these are nits.

Overall: Highly recommended.

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