Sunday, April 19, 2015

Reading Rogue Trader, Part One

I've been playing Warhammer 40k since it was first released and I've played games in every edition. I've long felt that the 1st edition was my favorite, but recently someone asked me why. I'm sure a big part of the answer is simply nostalgia. I have very fond memories of simply throwing whatever models were in my collection on the table and forging a narrative around them. Points didn't really matter (the point system wasn't great anyway - more on that in future posts). They didn't even have to be painted (horror)! A simple fact of the matter was I didn't have tons of models. The nearest store to really stock a comprehensive selection was an hour and a half away and in the dark days before the internet and online shopping it wasn't easy to simply choose optimal builds. After that drive I usually just bought whatever looked the coolest!

My 'good guys' were a mix of Space Marines, Imperial Guards, Adventurers, and Eldar (including Harlequins) and these fought against the 'bad guys' of Orks, Chaos Renegades, Adventurers (sometimes the same characters who were notorious for switching sides), and Genestealer Cult forces. The games were usually small with 20-30 models per side (sometimes unpainted, did I mention that before? Shudder!) with limited vehicles - I had a rhino, a landspeeder, an Eldar Warwalker, several Ork buggies, an Ork dreadnought, a Chaos dreadnought, and a couple of robots.

But I digress. To answer the question why 1st edition was my favorite (and to get ready to play some more games with this edition), I decided to read the book cover to cover, which is something I haven't done in decades. This is the first in a series of articles on my observations. I know from skimming through there are some surprising things I'd forgotten that are much different than the game 40k has become. I'm going to take these articles one chapter at a time and I'll highlight things as I go.

On the first page of the book (well, page 6, but the first page of text) I might have found the answer to why the 1st edition was my favorite...

    To fight a Warhammer 40,000 game you will need an extra person called the gamemaster, usually referred to simply as the GM. He will act as the umpire or referee, and it is his task to enforce the rules of the game; interpreting them where necessary. The GM should make sure that the players have sufficent dice, pencils, paper and any other items needed during play.
    It is possible to fight a game without a GM, so long as players are willing to cooperate a little, adopt a reasonable attitude and are honest in their record keeping. It is also possible to fight games where all of the players are on the same side against a side controlled directly by the GM. Of course, this does rely on the GM to make the game as fair as possible. One-sided games against the GM should be conducted with the aim of finding how well the players preform, rather than by aiming to defeat them.

How different is this than modern 40k (or Warmachine or Bolt Action or... etc.)!? Throughout the original Rogue Trader book, many of the rules are presented with the idea that there will be a GM to adjudicate situations and interpret the rules as a neutral observer (and I love that one of the GM's duties was to make sure every one had pencils and paper). The book often seems like more of an RPG than a wargame. Now, I played plenty of games without a GM, but the narrative seemed far more important back then than seeking advantages in the Rules As Written, fielding the optimum model to point ratio, or even winning the game.

This aspect of the game was missing from the 2nd edition forward. Certainly you could play with a GM, but that element was not written as part of the game. Again, I'll get into specifics as I sort through the chapters, but as far as what made it my favorite, I can probably stop now!


  1. I'm looking forward to more of your analysis.

  2. What you say about the GM is what I miss the most from those days. However, in my gaming group I usually take the role of GM and I really enjoy it. I will be forever thankful with my older brother for introducing me to 40k when I was 12. And 18 years later I still draw ideas from it, now to apply to 7th ed 40k.

    1. I still act as a GM more often than a player in all genres of gaming, and I also have just as much fun doing that as running my own armies. Really my point was that the 1st edition assumed a GM as the default.

  3. Rogue Trader all the way! Although we have been enjoying In The Emperors Name lately!