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If I give an enemy NPC a Meltagun in combat, nothing prevents the players from taking the weapon after they kill him, which leads to the inevitable snowballing: they get stronger, I need stronger enemies, they loot stronger enemies and so on.

How do I prevent this from happening without lame methods such as self destructing weapons, fleeing enemies or simply not allowing them to loot?

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If you're playing Rogue Trader, characters can already have access to ultraweapons. They're rich beyond imagination. –  Flamma Feb 28 '14 at 12:38
well, the party is shipless right now, and if the weapon is better than what the currently have why won't they loot it? They skip all the profit factor and searching rolls. –  Golokopitenko Feb 28 '14 at 20:12

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I had a group of 4 PCs taken down by two NPCs wielding Power Axes, light armour. One PC named Garret had Power Armor and full health with a man-portable lascannon. I think his BS was 70 and he was famous for taking down several tanks and even War-Walkers.

Another time I had a first time player have a demon intrude on his ship the first time he ever entered the warp. I decided to simply not tell him, having the demon hide amoungst the crew. However he wanted to expiriment with his navigator power, 'Gaze into the abyss', and happened to reveal the demon. I decided the teach him a lesson about this game, by having him die, spawning Warp Predator (Ebon Geist) whom has killed many good players (and has no weapon).

My plans were ruined when he passed the fear test and, with a pistol, scored 3 Righteous Furries and did something like 100 damage.

Just let the players play, I say. The dice will make the decision in the end. It's better when players blame the dice anyway.

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You can have several tricks to get around this, I've used similar methods with fantasy and cyberpunk games.

  • Security Weapons are keycoded, or Palmprinting - this stops anyone but a certain person using it. Yes you can bypass it, but it's either difficult or very pricey.

  • Limited uses Yes, you've got a melta gun - but getting ammo/powerpacks for it is exceedingly hard (and they're expended when used) or the weapon itself degrades when used. This means the players can use that spiffy weapon, but only a bit. They'll use it sparingly then.

  • Chaos Taint Yes, you can use it; but it will either corrupt the user or the technology around it.

  • Too frikkin' complicated Particularly appropriate for alien weapons; You've got the thing, but how does it work? Ork weapons tend to not work for Orky types is an excellent example of this as they don't have the "Ork voodoo"*

  • The gun is the objective. Players are tasked to take down big nasty Bob, but their commanders have made it clear they want all the equipment that BNB has, all of it.

  • Illegal The weapon itself is insanely illegal, even possessing one will get you arrested and flayed alive. This is not too bad for small guns, but how exactly are you going to hide that massive GunOfDoom from everyone if you want to carry it around?

Note: Cyberpunk is a good guide for this sort of thing; certainly you can walk around in broad daylight wearing full Metalgear and carrying an assault rifle. Yep, no punk or two bit cop is going to touch you - but C-SWAT is going to turn up and take you out with a railgun.

*Voodoo? You do!

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Other options include : The weapon is part of the enemy (implant, natural weapons), the weapon is hard to move (turret, insanely big gun), the weapon is not actually one (Magic/Psi, Powers) –  Nigralbus Feb 28 '14 at 12:41
Good answer (I voted up). But in Rogue Trader the last two are generally not valid. Because characters are their own bosses (they don't have a commander) and because no one is going to tell a Rogue Trader that he is using illegal weapons. They're above most of the laws by their Warrant of Trade and they have more power than many planets. Even if the weapon is Xenotechnology (prosecuted by the Inquisition) they're hardly going to be processed. –  Flamma Feb 28 '14 at 12:44
Could also add in "chaos taint" to the list of reasons then.... –  Rob Feb 28 '14 at 13:30
The politics arround Rogue Traders is important here, just because they're Above the Law doesn't mean they're above scrutiny. If they are frequently observed carrying illegal/heretical/xeno equipment they are still likely to attract the attention of the Adeptus Arbites and The Inquisition, both of which have the authority to act as Judge,Jury and Executioner. Anything Above the Law in the Imperium is still subject to the Emperor and those organisations act with his authority, not the authority of Imperial Law. –  CyanAngel Feb 28 '14 at 16:01

First off, since the question is tagged rogue-trader, I'll reiterate that the PCs are already able to get their hands on the best gear out there anyhow. "You're the owners and command staff of a 5km warpship with access to resources in excess of some worlds' annual gross planetary production" will get you pretty far. As in, if you want to buy a melta gun, then make a an Acquisition Test at -10 and you can get one without having to loot it from a corpse.

Following on from that, though, note that the Acquisition rules state that the cost of getting gear includes not only the item itself, but also arrangements for keeping it supplied and maintained over the years. If they loot a melta gun, then they have the gun itself, but not the supply lines. You'd be perfectly justified in requiring them to make an Acquisition Test to establish access to those supplies, with, say, a +20 bonus since they already have the weapon itself. Until this roll is made successfully, the weapon is not usable.

Certain xenos races may also help with this. Ork weapons are Unreliable if used by a non-Ork. Tyrannids use bio-weapons or weapons implanted in their bodies. Eldar weapons have no physical triggers and are activated psychically, making them unusable by (most?) humans. Wise PCs will avoid the weapons of Chaos forces (and, if they don't, then all the better...).

Finally, rather than using enemies with bigger guns, you can always just use more enemies.

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@Golokopitenko: examine the hordes rules in the Deathwatch game - they are in the FreeRPG day version (Final Sanction) if you can find that. They easily work across the 40K RPG lines, and allow massive combats to be played easily. –  aramis Feb 28 '14 at 21:23

Advice from an old role playing book: "The police forces are capable of keeping the peace."

Longer explanation: You have a universe. The universe has rules. It has means to enforce those rules (otherwise, other rules would be in effect). But (for practical reasons) the setting has to be somewhat "stable". Stable always means rules and rules always means someone with the power to enforce them.

Which means you can only run around with a very powerful (= dangerous) weapon if this is 100% OK with the rules of the setting.

Example: In our game, we stumbled over nuclear warheads. And, stupid as we were, we decided to keep them. So we create an elaborate hiding place, camouflage. It was a lot of fun, actually.

But the GM considered the rule above. So without us noticing, a lot of people suddenly had us on the radar: Secret services, the mob, pirates, you name it. Top players in the power games. People who got into their position because they know their stuff.

Of course, we could fend them off a while but eventually, the police noticed that something was going on and 4 hours later, our pretty faces were on every billboard in the universe with the words "Shoot to kill!"

Being friends with a very important person eventually saved our necks without too much collateral (I think a star destroyer was ... err ... "lost"). Alas, when we visit backwater places, we sometimes run into a police officer (or bounty hunter) who remembers the warrant but somehow missed the "forget it, they are innocent" memo.

It made our lives (and the sessions) much more interesting for sure. But from now on, we stay away from really powerful weapons.

Rogue Traders are incredibly powerful, and most of the time they are above law.

Think of it this way: They aren't above the law, they are the rules (= if the "law" is ineffective, it has no power and therefore no influence on the rules). If your players make the rules in your game, then that's how it is. But my guess is that they aren't the only RT's in the game. How will the other powers respond to this event? Will they just stand there and watch or will they think "That should be mine" and send their goons?

Remember: If your players could get into this position, others can as well. People in power try to protect themselves. If they stay in power, they can successfully protect themselves.

But my party doesn't care. They like to cause havoc.

Then you need to decide where you want to go with them. Pure havoc can be fun. But it takes a GM who doesn't take his/her game seriously. Or do you really want to cut them down? Then you will need to hurt them (warning: This can have real-life, physical consequences).

There are two paths: Give them everything they want - they'll hang themselves quickly. Eventually, one of their actions will turn too many people or too powerful people against them.

Or mess with them: "You come back to the spaceport and ... well ... your ship is gone."
"Yeah, it's a mystery. There is not even a record it has ever been here! Well, you only have left what you carry. Please update character sheets."

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Thanks for your answer, but bear in mind Rogue Traders are incredibly powerful, and most of the time they are above law. –  Golokopitenko Feb 28 '14 at 14:03
Think of it this way: They aren't above the law, they are the rules (= if the "law" is ineffective, it has no power and therefore no influence on the rules). If your players make the rules in your game, then that's how it is. But my guess is that they aren't the only RT's in the game. How will the other powers respond to this event? –  Aaron Digulla Feb 28 '14 at 14:18
Well, they are currently the only rogue traders on the game, and it is very unlikely they will find one, and still I don't see what encountering another RT will do about this. RTs are... rogue... explorers who are granted a "free card" to do whatever they please while they discover, explore and conquer worlds, establish commercial routes etc. Another RT wouldn't doubt to attack them if they stood in his way, but in no way he is going to enforce imperial laws on them. Rogue Traders are shady, selfish, rich and powerful. –  Golokopitenko Feb 28 '14 at 20:18
@Golokopitenko, who said anything about enforcing imperial law? If another RT finds out that you've got a super powerful weapon that threatens their dominion, that's enough reason to take it by force. –  zzzzBov Feb 28 '14 at 22:02
Aaah, I see where you're going. The only problem is that my party really doesn't give a fig, and if anything they'll be delighted to cause any conflict. Also I should warn them "Picking that weapon will attract the attention of other Rogue Traders", which again will only give them more reasons to pick it. This would work fine if they were regular or sensible people, but not in this space gangsta game. –  Golokopitenko Mar 1 '14 at 8:08

Make enemies with weapons their own level (or a bit higher). If you want tougher enemies - instead of giving enemies better weapons, simply increase their level or add extras to encounters (traps, limitations, etc.)

There are always stronger enemies available. Currently the D&D 4e campaign I'm running my players are level 6, but because they managed to get so much gold, they're fighting level 8 encounters. This makes it even.

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I appreciate where you're going with this but it's possible that the specific weapon OP wants to use has a designed reason/purpose –  CatLord Feb 28 '14 at 15:27
@CatLord, Melta Weapons are generally used as anti-vehicle (in most cases, anti-tank) weaponry. They are capable of turning heavy armor to slag in a matter of seconds, and are generally impractical against masses of infantry. As you say, it has a specific purpose. –  Brian S Feb 28 '14 at 19:39

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