Monday, 29 March 2010

Rogue Trader Sessions 06 and 07: Calling Inquisitor Marple!


Aphesius Alesaunder, zealous yet charming missionary of the Imperial Cult. (Manoj A)
Maximillius XVIII, tough-as-nails technician from a death world. (Ben F)
Octavius Sol, seneschal and quartermaster. (locked away in darkened, smoky rooms negotiating trade deals, due to Stuart still being Down Under, fending off various deadly vermin every time he needs a loo break)
Triptych, mutant navigator and his harem. (Ric R)

You get two updates in one this time, as I moved house in there somewhere, and so didn't get internet access until after the second game. Right, so after the previous session, I did my usual thing and planned the next game based on what the players had expressed interest in doing, as per Ben Robbins' sandbox advice; this has worked well so far, but to paraphrase a better writer, no scenario survives contact with the players.

They decided to head to the Exurack system, as the notes on their map suggested that there were possibilities for mining there, and they sensed an opportunity for profit. Arriving there without incident, they ran into the Rogue Trader Aurelie Moullierre, a personality they'd encountered back in the first session and with whom they'd gotten along quite well. As such, they didn't try to snatch ownership of the system from her, but instead met with her and discussed an alliance, ever-mindful (or perhaps just paranoid) that another Trader, Appollonius Gil, had launched an assassination attempt against both themselves and Moullierre, also back in that first session. They came up with a non-aggression pact, promising to aid each other in defending their respective holdings, and also agreed to help her with her current problem, the rescue of an orbital platform that was slowly sinking into the surface of one of Exurack's gas giants.

I'd come up with a clever little subgame here, complete with a suitably old-school d10 results table and the like, but the players came up with another solution, in hindsight a far more obvious one, and because I'm a firm believer in a "Yes, but..." style of running a game I could not really deny them their plan. So we played through a fairly dramatic sequence in which Maximillius led a team of engineers out onto the surface of the orbital platform to manually repair its stabilisation boosters, while surrounded by the vicious winds of the gas giant. There were a couple of hairy moments, and Ben decided to burn a Fate Point to rescue a technician believed lost to the storm; so far the players have only burned these points to save others, not themselves, although they've not been in any truly tough fights yet. I need to fix that.

Anyway, this was a short session, as it was a Sunday night, and there were only two players. We ended with a plan to transport some representatives of the Imperial merchant guilds to the Mianded system, to look over the mining facilities there, and in game mechanics terms complete the trade objective they needed to gain some profit. A bunch of pompous merchants and minor nobility all cooped up on a long voyage? Sounds like a murder mystery to me, so that's what I threw at them when we met up a week later. I worked up some character sketches to help the players keep everyone straight, and gave them a chance to interact with the merchants for a bit before the journey proper began, during which they quickly developed, as players do, distinct impressions of who was to be trusted, who was to be leaned on, and who was probably a Chaos cultist.

The general point of this expedition was for the players to impress these merchants with their wealth and competence, and so get them to sign up for a trading agreement; I simulated this with a sort of numerical attitude tracker, similar to the one from the Rogue Trader core rules. If the players did well, then they'd adjust the merchants' attitudes in their favour, and if things went wrong, the tracker would get adjusted back the other way. Things, of course, went wrong. There was the murder, which got the merchants uppity, half scared for their safety, and half scornful of the player-characters' ability to look after their guests. This got worse as the players started to drag the merchants and their attendants into interrogation rooms, but eventually they uncovered the killer, who claimed to be in the employ of the aforementioned Gil, his mission to sow exactly this kind of discord and damage the player-characters' reputation. Their Trader, Horatio Locke, called a council, in which he made the decision that they could ignore Gil no longer, and tasked the player-characters with formulating a plan to deal with him.

The players did well to turn the situation around, implicating the rival Rogue Trader, and putting a number of points in the plus column, adding more as they singled out certain traders for more intimate negotiations, and in one case, blackmail; there were cheers at the table as the socially awkward and half-mechanical explorator managed to somehow seduce one of the merchants by impressing her with his mastery of beverages. It was at this point that a second incident occurred, as another attempt was made on the life of Locke, in which he was trapped in a vacuum and slowly suffocated. The Rogue Trader survived, but only just, and the player-characters discovered that the culprit was the same engineer who'd been rescued in the previous session, which led to some musing on the use of Fate Points to save NPCs who would then return the favour with attempted murder. They also discovered the engineer's corpse, all folded up and stuffed in an overhead service locker; they recovered camera footage which showed a hulking humanoid doing the deed, but not enough detail was visible to make an identification, and a search of the ship turned up nothing.

No further incidents occurred on the way to Mianded, and the player-characters completed their trading objective, collecting a healthy bit of profit. On the way back, they popped in to an unexplored system, finding a ruined settlement roughly eight thousand years old, and a mass grave filled with the bones of large beings each roughly the size of an ogryn. They spent a couple of days collecting archaeological data, and then headed back to Jameson's Hollow, but the Astronomican was obscured for some reason, and Triptych had to navigate blind, resulting in a long jaunt in the warp, during which the ship was haunted by ghosts and a bout of insanity swept through the crew. They arrived back at Jameson's Hollow to find that almost two hundred and fifty days had passed in real time, and that's where we left it.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Rogue Trader Session 05: A Game of Thrones (But Mainly Assassinations)


Aphesius Alesaunder, zealous yet charming missionary of the Imperial Cult. (Manoj A)
Maximillius XVIII, tough-as-nails technician from a death world. (Ben F)
Octavius Sol, seneschal and quartermaster. (hovering about in the background, as Stuart F has fled to the Antipodes)
Triptych, mutant navigator and his harem. (Ric R)

Last time, the player-characters had assassinated the unpopular ruler of the Mianded system, and I got the distinct impression that they had decided to crown his enemy, Kaltos, despite the general populace seeing him as a terrorist. Well, the session started off going in that direction, anyway...

This was a bit of an odd session for me, as I was all set for a quick resolution to last week's action, then moving on to another part of the sandbox. Instead, the players stuck around and spent the entire session getting involved in some proper Machiavellian scheming. They started off by encouraging an official period of mourning for Flavion, at the same time secretly encouraging the disenfranchised to make their opinions of the deceased lord known. Then they had their Rogue Trader come planetside to declare the return of the Mianded system to the Imperial fold, an event which prompted Flavion's loyal guard to come out of hiding to attempt an assassination. This was foiled by some smart thinking by the players, as well as a heroic camera opportunity from the priest as he abseiled out of a shuttle into hand-to-hand combat with the assassin; the guard had been softened up by some freaky mutant mind mojo from Triptych, but the navigator chose to conceal his involvement.

The player-characters then arranged for Kaltos to come to Antiriad in order to take the throne, which was, of course, a trap. They convinced Flavion's guards to do the deed, and promptly betrayed the assassins by gassing them into unconsciousness once Kaltos had been killed, plausibly expressing regret that they weren't in time to save the visiting lord. Knowing that a handful of assassins had never come forward and were still at large, the player-characters then made it seem that not only did Kaltos survive the attack, but that he was going to be formally accepted as ruler of the Mianded system by their own Rogue Trader at an exclusive social gathering; these details were leaked to the remaining assassins through secret back channels the player-characters discovered through a drug-assisted interrogation of the survivors of the Kaltos assassination. They then emptied the planet's prisons, dressed the criminals up as the upper crust of Antiriad's nobility, and brought their ship, the Banshee into a low orbit directly above the party location.

Political stability via superior orbital laser weaponryThe decoys dressed up as Kaltos and the Rogue Trader were both killed during the dinner as the remaining assassins revealed themselves, at which point the player-characters ordered the Banshee to fire its massive space lasers at the party. The weaponry, not being designed for such use, lacked accuracy and power, but still managed to raze the building to the ground, as well as a number of surrounding, and occupied, dwellings.

So, yeah, shock and awe.

Satisfied that they'd made their point, the crew of the Banshee left a garrison to watch over things until their return, then hopped back into the Warp for the journey back to Jameson's Hollow, to sell the robots they'd captured a while back.

This was a very easy session for me to run, as the players ran away with their ideas, heaping on twist after twist, and all I had to do was sit back and let them know which skill rolls to make. So I didn't get to use my new spangly starship combat system (hint: I stole it from another game), and the crew haven't gone anywhere new, but that's fine, because we're having fun with the sandbox style of play, something I think none of us have done for years.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Rogue Trader Session 04: Yojimbo in Space


Aphesius Alesaunder, zealous yet charming missionary of the Imperial Cult. (Manoj A)
Maximillius XVIII, tough-as-nails technician from a death world. (Ben F)
Octavius Sol, seneschal and quartermaster. (left on the ship, as Stuart F was not present)
Triptych, mutant navigator and his harem. (Ric R)

Well, I've discovered that the Rogue Trader starship combat rules are not right for me. Starship combat isn't complicated really...There's too much emphasis on exact positioning, and with the movement rates of the starships, it's clear that you need a big table in order to run starship combat as written. There are guidelines for a more abstract approach, but they're too abstract even for me, taking out the complicated bits of the system but also taking out the fun bits, de-emphasising starship combat to the point that it's almost not worth doing. I think there's room for middle ground, and I have been putting together some ideas for a system that is loose and abstract enough to save headaches, and has the required detail to make differences in ship capabilities significant. More on that later.

Anyway, when we last left the crew of the Banshee, they had just pulled out of the Warp into real space, only to get hit by something large enough to knock out the ship's shields and set off every alarm on the vessel. There followed a short (and to my mind, unsatisfying) space battle between the Banshee and two opposing forces as it became clear to the crew that they had stumbled right into the middle of some local conflict. They used the superior firepower of the Banshee to force a ceasefire and one side fled towards one of the system's three stars. The player-characters then followed the other side back to their homeworld of Antiriad.

Antiriad turned out to be a small hive world, a warren of urban development spread across almost the entire surface of the planet, with a prominent yet modest Imperial governor's palace. Here the explorers met a warm welcome, but also noted a heavy emphasis on security, with plenty of guarded checkpoints passed on their way to meet the so-called "Imperator of the Seven Systems". They met this Imperator, a man named Flavion, in his private chambers, as he was apparently far too corpulent to get out of bed. Although they were disgusted by this individual, and noted how nervous his staff were, they nonetheless befriended him, discovered more about the conflict into which they'd dropped, and promised to help, in return for Flavion's aid in bringing the system as a whole back under Imperial rule.

Later, the explorers ventured into the city to find out more about the system, and discovered that Flavion was a fickle and unstable ruler, a paranoid man with strange tempers who had no qualms about making people disappear. They also discovered some of the history of the system, noting that the centuries-old conflict apparently stemmed from a succession crisis following the death of Arthur/Arturus (both names appeared in the histories), the last legitimate Imperial governor. This did not tally up with Flavion's stories of "dissidents" and "terrorists", so the player-characters told the fleshy giant that they were going to scout out his opponents' forces and check their strength, in anticipation of the coming assault.

Instead, they went to visit the opponents on more peaceful termsNo samurai were harmed in the making of this scenario., finding that the homeworld had been abandoned, and the people had fled to another planet where they hid below the surface in a series of natural caves converted into a fortress. There they met the leader of these hardy exiles, a stark and practical military-minded man named Kaltos, who claimed to be the descendant of the true rulers of the system. The players took an instant liking to Kaltos, and with him formulated a plan to assassinate Flavion through poisoning, allowing Kaltos to take the throne.

Now, there wasn't supposed to be such a clear goodie/baddie dichotomy in this scenario, and there was a "third way" written in my notes, but the players went their own way and didn't encounter it. This is fine, as I write these star systems as mini-sandboxes, detailing the planets, locations and important individuals, but steering clear of plot, as I've come to realise that players make their own plots. Still, the players' choice to back Kaltos will have repercussions as they discover what kind of king they have made, and how the people respond to a man they think of as a terrorist being put on the throne.

When preparing the scenario, I created a situation where the players would have to step into a local conflict and make some hard choices, and only at the table did I realise, when Ben pointed out that it felt like a western, that I'd basically dropped them into Yojimbo. I created the two warring dynasties and the relationships between them using the Renegade Crowns sourcebook for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, partly because I wanted to try out the systems in that book, but didn't have a WFRP game in which to try them. It will come as no surprise that there was much I couldn't include, but on the whole it worked quite well as a way to create a framework of personalities and relationships that I could then modify and personalise.