by Chris Hutchings
Rogue Trader: Forsaken Bounty
Published by Fantasy Flight Games
Developed by Ross Watson, Owen Barnes, & Sam Stewart
Cover by Sacha Diener
22 page full-color softbound book
Rogue Trader is the eagerly anticipated follow up to the Dark
Heresy Roleplaying Game, where players take on the role of a space
faring privateer, looking for excitement, adventure and, above all,
profit in the Warhammer 40k universe. So the question is, will
Fantasy Flight Games utilize the distinctive setting and massive history
that comes with the Games Workshop franchise, or will it just be
Serenity in the 40k universe? Forsaken Bounty provides
some clues to that answer. An introductory booklet for Rogue
Trader, it surfaced at Free RPG Day 2009 to whet our collective
appetites for the main rules, due out in August.
A View of the Preview
At only 20 pages long the writers have managed to squeeze a fair amount
in. Unsurprisingly, the rules account for a big chunk of the space. For
those already familiar with Dark Heresy, there isn't anything
really new in Forsaken Bounty. Characteristics and Skills are
decently covered, and there's a massive amount of detail on combat
actions, easily enough to run some in-depth conflicts. As with the
Dark Heresy rules, emphasis is as much on dodging and evading
your opponent as on trying to hit them, which makes combats last longer
but are also more interesting. Several different combat actions are
available each round, so it's not just a case of standing next to each
other and rolling to hit.
However, as is always the case, squeezing the rules into a quickstart
preview tends to mean some details slip through the cracks. For people
who haven't come across this set of rules before, certain elements could
be confusing. Fate points in particular could use some more discussion,
and the stats for the few weapons that crop up could easily be misread
as they only appear in the character summaries.
The setting doesn't take up a great deal of room, but this is a
deliberate ploy; the writers make it clear that this is a self-contained
scenario and you don't need background knowledge in order to play.
Still, kudos to whoever managed to condense the Imperium down to three
paragraphs. This introductory adventure includes a trio of pre-generated
characters, including a Rogue Trader. With a page dedicated to each,
they are pretty well fleshed out, including backgrounds, roleplaying
hints and some excellent artwork on a par with what we've already seen
in Dark Heresy.
If you're worried about spoilers, look away now! The Scenario itself is
spread over the final eight pages and is actually a pretty good story,
with good descriptive passages. But then you can't go far wrong with
zombies in space. The plot revolves around salvaging an Imperial
Frigate, exactly the sort of thing you'd expect a Rogue Trader to be
involved in. There's a good build up before you actually reach your
destination, and plenty of opportunities for problem solving and combat
once you arrive. The inevitable 'big bad guy' is for all intents and
purposes invulnerable - until you can work out what his weakness is.
Additionally, the booklet includes some conclusions and rewards so you
can use this as a starting point or slot it into an existing campaign -
always nice to have the option.
So, is it any good? Well, essentially Forsaken Bounty achieves
most of the aims it sets for itself. As an introduction to the themes of
40k and Rogue Trader, it hit's the nail right on the head.
In fact, the most interesting things I found by far were the glimpses
into the game mechanics that we're going to be seeing more of - namely,
Endeavors and Profit. Instead of whizzing around the galaxy willy-nilly,
Rogue Traders (contrary to their name) do have rules they have to stick
to. Each 'Endeavor' (such as, in this case, salvaging a ship) includes
certain pre-requisites: gathering the appropriate equipment,
establishing salvage rights, and the like. All these are goals that have
to be met in-game, which adds a nice additional element to the mix - you
might be a hot-shot pilot but unless you can convince the Imperial
authorities to give you the contract, you're going nowhere. Success at
Endeavors leads to Profit - not just money and goods, but also an
indication of influence and social standing. Acquire enough profit, we
are told, and characters may end up "commanding entire fleets of
spaceships or owning their own planet." Nice.
Failure is probably something most Traders don't think about too much.
Problems such as damaging your own ship will reduce the Profit awarded
to you for completing an Endeavor . This booklet doesn't specify but
presumably it is possible to receive negative Profit. If you screw up
enough times you may find your Trader Charter being taken from you.
Though Forsaken Bounty gets the excitement and anticipation
flowing, it does also fall down in a few areas. Despite claiming to give
you all you need to play in one go, it does assume a certain amount of
familiarity and experience on the part of the GM. The scenario is
written with plenty of elbow room - perfect for those of us who have
been playing for some time but not so good for people new to the scene
(and with the obvious potential of picking up on all those
Warhammer war gamers out there, chances are there will be a lot
of folks falling into that category). Some areas are also left pretty
vague. A good example is Armor Penetration - though it is briefly
mentioned in the rules, some weapons are stated as having AP 0, but
others have no mention of AP at all. With the PCs all wearing pretty
decent armor, it seems unlikely that any of them will ever take any
serious damage in combat.
And, as is sadly always the case, it contains the usual assortment of
typos and the like.
As a preview goes, Forsaken Bounty is rather confused. Those with
roleplaying experience can really run a decent game from just twenty
pages, despite the occasional error. Newer gamers, though, might
struggle with some of the things we take for granted (such as 'fudging'
rules to make them work). And that is the confusion with Forsaken
Bounty - who exactly is it aimed at? The style says new players,
the content more experienced players. The writers seem to want to cater
to everyone at the expense of no one, but the size of the booklet
doesn't enable them to do that. Still, with a good scenario, a glimpse
at the way Rogue Trader is going to work and some cracking
artwork, I'd advise picking up a copy if you get that chance. At this
price, you really can't grumble, can you?