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Our group has recently started a 40KRPG: Rogue Trader campaign. In this campaign, each session is basically standalone (we meet up too infrequently for anything more complex), though with consistent characters throughout.

For the uninitiated: in Rogue Trader, the PCs are the key officers on a spaceship a mile long, with a crew of thousands. Whereas typical RPGs tend to focus on a few heroes battling insurmountable odds, in Rogue Trader, the PCs are influential leaders in command of legions of troops.

In the first session, the PCs went off-ship alone, to explore a ruined facility (it was basically a traditional dungeon... in space). The session worked really well in its own right, but I'm conscious that too much use of scenarios like that would not satisfactorily represent the PCs' station in life. Why would four PCs explore a space station or planet themselves, when they could send in 4000 of the ship's crew? Why would they risk their own lives fighting a powerful foe on a planet's surface, when they could use the ship's powerful weapon to nuke it from orbit? How can a space battle be made interesting when the four players share control of one ship? (This last question is touched upon in the rulebook, but not very satisfactorily IMO; besides, that's only one small part of what I'm really asking here).

In games where the player characters have extensive resources - particularly command over powerful vehicles, or large numbers of subordinate crew - how can the GM keep the focus on the players, and constantly give them interesting decisions to make, while taking advantage of the power and authority of the characters they control?

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Ego, expertise and greed

An important thing to remember about rogue trader characters is that they are better then the normal people on the ship. And they know this. So why would a Rogue trader take his inner circle to explore a ruined facility instead of sending in a few dozen of exploration crews?

Because they are the best at it.

The rogue trader and his seneschal can see ways to exploit the resources of the place and the tech priest is the best at working with xeno and archeo tech, etc. They can send in the troops to do it for them and the books have rules for this but in general this will reduce the amount of profit they can earn from this.

This is really the theme that runs through mission for Rogue Trader. We let the minions do all the boring and menial stuff and the PCs get to do all the exciting and important stuff.

A good example is making a trade deal. Yes you can send your lawyer but he does not have the rogue traders cult of personality and quick wit to make the best deal or notice the option for an side deal that will make a nice extra profit.

Another example would be landing on an unexplored planet. yes it is dangerous but no self respecting rogue trader will let someone else be the first to set foot on his new land.

Fighting an big alien monster. Yes you could call in the lance weapon but that will also kill all your troops currently engaged with it. and damage your shiny new factory that is earning so much money.

And do not forget that you can't always access your stuff. You are in combat but your ship has also been engaged and can't offer support right now.

Ship combat

Remember it is not 4 characters that are running the ship. On 1 side it is only 1 person who decides the strategy. On the other hand it is thousands of people executing it. Depending on the classes players have selected they have different jobs but they do very little of it alone. Your rolls in these scenarios tent to represent leadership and leading by example. The tech priest who rolled well to boost the engine is both interfacing with the machine spirit and calling orders to the other tech priests. While the Helmsman might do a the steering himself but has help with engine controls and stabilization thrusters.

To keep these combats interesting for all players you can either have one person decide a strategy and let the other players think of ways to support those decisions. Or you can add multiple situations on the ship so they all have their own thing to do which might interfere. For example Boarders to repel, engine to fix, weapons to aim and ship to fly.

Conclusion

The players in Rogue trader are high power characters their decisions can shape the destinies of worlds and civilizations. They are great people but they are driven by greed and ego and might have conflicting interests.

To make them feel great give them scenarios where they have to make the big decisions and interact with important people (planet governors and other ship captains) and then describe the results of their final actions as actions undertaken by their staff. Just made good deal on food? Describe how endless steams of shuttles are flying between the planet and your ship to load the food. And maybe how the crew is happy as their food has improved.

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Sometimes the Adventure comes to You

If you're the big rich guys, sometimes you don't have to go looking for trouble - trouble comes after you.

  • After that last adventure in the ruined facility something is hunting down and killing everyone who went inside. Is it a hrud? Hidden genestealers? Some horrible shape changer? Who on this thousand person ship might be a hidden enemy?
  • "Hmm... Nice ship there. Maybe my band of pirates would love to loot it. We'll board it and make for the bridge."
  • "I'm sorry your Lordship, but we are commandeering your vessel to investigate that space hulk. Yours is the only one that can reach it in time. Of course, we would welcome your help since our troop of marines was nearly wiped out recently."
  • "It seems that our island spa of indulgent luxury on which you were vacationing has been targeted by Dark Eldar - something about getting a drink for She Who Thirsts?"
  • "As an Inquisitor, I am requisitioning this ship to provide me with a cover story for visiting that filthy Xenos planet so that I may investigate it for the Emperor. You will pretend to want to negotiate a trade and bring me along." (I hope that you don't guess at my real reason for needing to go there.)

When you are powerful you become the target of those who desire power, and the tool of those even more powerful.

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