Orthesian Herald: session 4 – Welcome to the Nomads

The star of the Telos system is a huge and primal stellar mass, far brighter and more energetic than any star should be. Its fires rage so fiercely that the cataclysmic energies unleashed within cause vast bulges of burning plasma to distend Telos’ form, writhing as though immense beasts fight within.

At a (relatively) safe distance away is a network of hundreds of stone structures floating in Telos’ voids, tethered into a clutch of asteroids by huge chains and protected from Telos’ fury by layers of void shields. This is the first and last port of call for anyone venturing into the Nomad Stars – Mercy – where the mighty rule by force of arms and the weak scrabble to survive.

Mercy from space – courtesy of FFG
Bathed in light

This was to be our players’ first introduction to Mercy (heavily based off Footfall from the Rogue Trader books), the nexus for plot, factions and shopping opportunities for the foreseeable future.

This would be the closest to a ‘neutral’ zone they would encounter – a friendly, safe port is rare in the Nomad Stars, the nearest thing many have access to is an unfriendly port where everyone has mutually agreed not to openly murder each other too much.

Unfortunately for our players, their trip to Mercy was not without incident. A slightly botched Navigate (Warp) test when translating back to realspace landed them dangerously close to the Telos star, giving the ship a massive dose of radiation. Hundreds died instantly on board, with practically another third of the crew dying slowly from radiation poisoning.

Quick thinking from the crew saved most of their lives, but they would need several weeks, if not months, of recuperation before they would be fighting fit again.

With their tails firmly between legs, they limped to Mercy, ready to restock, repair and refuel and try to avoid attracting attention from the locals.

A wretched hive of scum and villainy

With an angry burst of venting gases, the armoured airlock portal swings outwards. As the swirling miasma clears, a thousand sights, sounds and smells assault your senses simultaneously. Stepping in, you find yourself in a huge, vaulted space, the walls made of roughly-hewn stone dripping with the corruption of ages.

This is the Mercy Longshore, and it is crowded with hundreds of void-farers, labourers, servitors, merchants, and scum — all swearing, grunting or calling out the values of their wares. If you expected a welcoming party, you’re disappointed — this is Mercy, where blood and strength are the only currency.

Standing in Longshore, I wanted to make sure their first introduction to Mercy was a stark contrast to any kind of Imperial port they had ever been in. My favourite introduction to Mercy in previous games has always been an encounter I lifted from one of the adventure books – the Eaters of the Dead.

The players are approached by half a dozen strange, avian-looking bipeds with a head full of quills and a penchant for bargaining with new visitors to Mercy. 40k nerds might have recognised these xenos as Kroot, for other players it was simply their first introduction to an alien full stop, and the lack of immediate reaction from the humans around them suggested they were in a place a very, very long way away from home.

An angry beaky boi – courtesy of FFG

They offered bodyguard services in exchange for… well… we never really got that far. The captain laid down the law – the Orthesian Dynasty does not truck with xenos. It would have been inappropriate to kill them there and then, so he let their existence slide.

Unfortunately for them, standing around too long in Longshore began to draw some attention, and some drunken voidfarers decided to pick a fight with a few of the richer-looking players. One even made a lunge for the Arch-Militant’s bolt pistol.

Several exploded heads and a vaporised torso later, the remaining drunken locals were set upon by the ravenous Kroot, carving their twitching bodies apart and feasting on their organs in the middle of Longshore. Bystanders swear and curse, but this is general day-to-day activity for them. One of them spits on the ground and mutters the titular, sarcastic statement to highlight the point; “Welcome to the Nomads.”

hammers and nails

In preparation for ‘hub’ sessions like Mercy, I often have a list of names for guilds, gangs, organisations and individuals that can be brought up at a moment’s notice, sometimes giving players a choice between two names that serves no real purpose other than to judge an organisation on name alone. That helps me flesh out any organisations that players return to, without having to do a bunch of legwork up front for people and places that never get seen.

Captain Orthesian had begun to step into his role as head honcho, and was beginning to issue commands to players on what he expected them to achieve on Mercy. This was helpful to me as a GM and contributed positively to group cohesion – everyone knew what they needed to be doing, and not because I told them to do it.

Explorator Freeman had been given the task of commissioning repairs for the ship. He found a Guilder called Parvik from a repair gang called Monotask, who agreed to fully repair the ship (with some absolutely flukey Acquisition rolls…) for a reduced cost, so long as the Explorator fulfilled the vague promise of providing Parvik with what he desired – some Archeotech. Freeman weighed up the pros and cons of this, and decided the terms were vague enough to commit to. Potential arguments down the line were a price worth paying for cheaper repairs in the short term.

Notes are furiously scribbled in my pad for “this will definitely not come back to bite them in the ass”.

Mercy Longshore – courtesy of FFG
The pit

The major marketplace in Mercy is the Pit – the central plaza of a huge domed arena at the core of Mercy – and where most business is conducted. The Pit has a few permanent but unhoused traders, mostly it caters to merchants, captains and factors looking for bargains and selling their wares.  Oftentimes a captain will bring a sample of his wares here and invite potential buyers to sample these wares before agreeing to purchases on a much bigger scale. Due to the nature of the Nomad Stars, pretty much anything can be found in the Pit, if one is present on the correct day.

Voidmaster Zilla and Astropath Gil had been issued the task of acquiring maps to the Gangue system, and set about trawling the market stalls. They had decent luck, getting hold of some detailed maps of the system that would help them out with the inevitable warp jump later on. Zilla was angling for some new support craft to fly about in, but after some eyebrows were raised at the difficulties of acquiring vehicles, he just picked up a spare copy of “What Landing Craft” magazine and quietly retired back to the ship.

As they made to leave, they were approached by a strange cluster of servo skulls that appeared to be carrying a crude-looking brass holo-projector.

The holo-projector crackled into life, creating a lime green display of a young man’s head, rotating slowly, suspended between the cloud of skulls. The man appeared to be laughing at an unseen joke. The voxcasters let out a tinny fanfare.

”Salutations friends! Welcome to Mercy. I am Frederick Lombar, known as Lombar the Archeologist to many. If adventure be your pleasure, I have just the job for you! Meet me at the Mayweather Mooring during second rotation and ask for me by name. Here’s to a long and fruitful friendship! Imperator Benedicte!”

And with that, the vox cut out sharply and the rotating head thinned to a single prick of light on the holo-projector. The skulls clicked and whirred before lazily bumbling away into the crowded market.

The pair looked at each other, shrugged and said “Eh, that’ll not come up again.”

“this is why we speak high gothic where i come from”

The rest of the crew were on a fact-finding mission – head to the fanciest bar in Mercy and start to shmooze your way up the social pecking order.

The Captain, Missionary Lyoness and Arch-Militant Von Gun all headed to a bar known as Telasco’s – an incredibly high-status establishment that hangs a long way above the Pit, protected by a shimmering conversion field. The crew were met with a frustrating irony – the fly-as-fuck Missionary dressed down for her first trip to Mercy as she didn’t want to stand out among the plebians, but now was at risk of being turned away from Telasco’s for looking like a scrub. Some smooth talking with the bouncers and they were let off with a warning and allowed entrance.

Telasco himself is a lush, dandy, gossip who runs his saloon for wealthy and respected clients above the toil of the common folk. Prices here comfortably exclude any but the very rich and those that dine, relax or politick here do so mostly on account of its exalted status.

The Arch-Militant stood guard, keeping an eye out for any trouble-makers, while the Captain and Missionary began Operation Shmooze. This was an excitingly unpredictable turn of affairs, as it transpired that the Missionary has a number of penalties from her Origin Path that penalise her in charming situations, plus the hefty penalties for failing a Carouse check also lead to a few space-insults being hurled.

The Captain managed to pick up some gossip about a crusade being planned by a certain Brother Espin – a name that was dropped last session by the pilgrims rescued from the Penitent Traveller. Apparently he was looking for a suitable figurehead for his ship – you can’t go blasting heathens from space without looking incredibly important while doing so.

There was a bit of commotion outside at this point – the Voidmaster and Astropath were trying to gain entrance to Telasco’s to meet up with the rest of their crew and discuss their findings. The black-carapaced bouncers were having none of it – they looked like scrubs, and Telasco’s operates a strict Zero Scrub policy.

Several botched persuasion attempts culminated in the Astropath getting very hot under the collar, about to unleash who-knows-what from their mind, when one of them realised everyone had micro-beads. They buzzed the Captain, who came to the door and told the bouncers “They’re with me.”

Red faces and fist-shaking all round. Drinks were had, shmoozing was done, but very little else was learned. The objective was achieved – get your foot on the first rung of the social ladder.

The futility of gambling with telepaths

While all this was going on, the Explorator had kicked back for three weeks, letting Monotask get about with the chore of repairing the ship. He decided to pass the time by playing cards with some of the crew. The exchange between players was quite revelatory:

Explorator: “Astropath, do you have any ground rules for your Juniors? Like, what they can and can’t do while you’re away?”

Astropath: “Nah, I let them do what they want.”

Explorator: “Okay, I teach them to play cards and gamble with them for the entire time we’re at port.”

Astropath: “Hmm. I need some ground rules for these Juniors.”

All that remained of this session was to find this mysterious Lombar and find out what he wanted.

Lombar the Archi-something

The Mayweather Mooring is a jumble of quays and hangars abuzz with the industry of raw mineral wealth. Huge carts of ore are being hauled about by thick-set reptilian beasts of burden and gangs of hundreds of grimy crewmen are clustered around rota-servitors as they receive their assignments.

The main hangar is filled with a Goliath factory ship, and by the looks of the wealth of activity around it, has just returned from a lucrative long haul.

Lombar wears a grey reinforced lab coat and crevatte, with reading spectacles are perched on the bridge of his nose. He is flicking through information on a dataslate and conversing with a crewman in a strange language.

Aat his side is a hulking ogryn carrying a weapon that looks like it shoots shells the size of your head. You can see that it looks to have been made to wear a battered crevatte as well. It notices you approach and grunts loudly, raising a hand.

Lombar stops his conversation and turns round, eyeing you all with pleasant surprise.

”Salutations friends! I am Lombar the Archeologist, I don’t recognize you, so you must have received my message yes?”

He was offering what appeared to be a very simple exchange – if they Explorers found any abandoned ruins in their travels, he would pay handsomely for coordinates. The more the explored of the ruins, the more detailed maps they made, and the more pitfalls/hazards they identified – the more he would pay.

The more I introduced him, the more I forgot his profession, so he became Lombar the Architect, Arcanist, Archeotech, Archeologist and Arcanine. Unintentional, but I was tired and a little drunk.

The deal seemed too good to be true, and the Explorator kept drilling Lombar for more information – who his employer was, what the catch was etc. He was (perhaps wisely) unwilling to accept this individual would just hand out cash for something as simple as merely discovering things.

Hands were shook, and the crew of the Unbroken Resolve went on its way. The Arch-Militant stopped off to pick up some supplies of Inferno Shells for his bolt pistols, because there’s only one thing better than a pair of rapid-firing rocket propelled grenade-launching pistols, and that’s a pair of rapid-firing rocket propelled grenade-launching pistols that also set things on fire.

So our heroes gathered their things, bid farewell to Mercy and cast off into the inky-black yonder, ready for their first adventure into the Nomad Stars.

 

Orthesian Herald: session 3 – Into the Throat

You near the warp translation point and notice a distinct change in attitude among the crew. They become hushed and pensive, going about their business without a word. Lit candles appear on the shrines at every corridor junction, and fresh wax appears dribbled across the Aquilas on all the airlocks. Red-robed Technomats scrutinise bulkheads and paneling with scanner-skulls for faults invisible to the un-augmented eye and morose war-hymns drift through the air-recyc vents across the ship.

Moments before translation, the ship comes to life.

Petty Officers on the bridge begin issuing orders to Deck Chiefs across the vessel, their consoles filling with green runes as deck crews report ready. The vessel shudders as massive adamantium shutters unfurl across all viewing ports across the ship, sealing up the guns and gracefully sliding down over the great observation windows of the bridge.

As the last light of Haimm’s baleful suns is shut out, emergency floor lights wash the bridge in a deep crimson. Tech adepts intoning in binary light candles and incense around the captain’s pulpit, flocked by clusters of illumination servo-skulls. Ministorum priests chanting hymns of salvation move up and down the rows of crews at their stations, their heads bowed in prayer.

The timbre of the plasma engine shifts up several octaves as power is sucked from the rest of the vessel and channeled into the arcane and impossibly powerful warp drive. You feel the collective psyche of every void-hardened crewman, rating, armsman and officer take a physical breath in. They hang on your word, Lord-Captain.

Taming the void

Our third session picked up exactly where we left our valiant crew; boldly sailing towards the warp point of the system of Haimm, ready to make their first proper warp translation into the Throat and the Nomad Stars beyond.

As everything was being explained about warp transit, I also posed the question about what might constitute a ‘good luck’ gesture on board the ship. All captains observe some kind of pre-warp ritual, be it excessive hymns, confiscating any items of chance from the crew (like cards or dice) or even blood sacrifice.

It was fairly quickly decided that the ‘good luck’ ritual would involve a massive salvo from the macrocannons and blaring out war-songs from the multi-band broadcasters out into space – not to pray to the Saints for luck or hope that the warp might grant them safe passage, but to angrily and loudly warn anything that exists beyond the veil of reality that the Unbroken Resolve was coming through, and you’d best get out of its way.

Just a normal warp jump, nothing to see here – courtesy of Fantasy Flight Games

The energies of a thousand suns are expelled from the warp drive with a terrifying ethereal screech, tearing a hole in reality and hurtling the vessel through it.

The whole ship issues a guttural, primal roar as the impossible forces of the Empyrean bear down upon it. Millennia of human ship-building and the thin skin of the Gellar Field are all that protect every soul aboard the ship from being torn apart in a fraction of a second by the raw unholy energies of the warp.

You feel as though a bucket of ice water has been dumped over you, soaking you to the skin, and you can feel the tell-tale scratching at the corner of your consciousness as the malefic entities of the warp probe this new intruder into their realm.

The ship settles into its route, navigation of the vessel becomes re-routed from the controls on bridge through to the navigator’s chambers. Translation into the warp is complete.

The horrors of the warp

I wanted to play up the terrifying, unknowable nature of warp travel – it’s closer to 17th century sailing than Star Wars hyperspace or Star Trek warp speed. Every moment spent before, during and after such transits are fraught with peril, and no matter how much preparation you do, nothing can prepare you for one really bad warp transit roll.

We have a slightly homebrewed version of warp transit, partly from the Core Rulebook and partly from the expanded rules in the Navis Primer. The Core rules were a little too simple, and the Navis Primer too complex, so we compromised in a middle ground. We use the following;

1. Determine duration of passage

GM comes up with a duration, Navigator makes a Navigate (Warp) test to get a close estimate. A Detailed chart (either made by the players or purchased separately) provides a +20 bonus, a Basic chart gives +10.

2. Locate the Astronomican

Awareness +10 test, every DoS adds +10 to any further Navigate (Warp) tests and vice versa. 3+ Degrees of Failure indicate the Astronomican cannot be found, imposing a -60 on the Navigate (Warp) test for ‘Chart the course’.

3. Consult the instruments

For players: cross your fingers. This shit is a secret GM roll.

For the GM: Navigate (Warp) +10 test to detect any phenomena or turbulence on the journey ahead, granting a +20 bonus to any rolls on the Warp Travel Encounters table during the ‘Translate and steer the vessel’ stage if successful.

4. Translate and steer the vessel

Navigate (Warp) test (-60 if the Astronomican cannot be located) with modifiers for Route Stability.

If the test is failed and a ‘9’ is rolled on either dice, the GM fucks with their final destination.

Roll once on the ‘Warp Encounters’ table for each 5 (3) days in the warp. +20 on each roll if ‘Chart the course’ was successful.

5. Leave the warp

Navigate (Warp) -20 test. Failure indicates the ship is off-target and could land dangerously close to a planetary body or the incorrect side of the system.

We also use an expanded warp encounters table, growing it from a potential dozen to a more meaty 20 potential encounters. I’m a sucker for a good random encounter table, and it’s available on Dreadquill here.

As we don’t have a Navigator player character, we have an NPC navigator called Mahd’Naz, who has Navigate (Warp) and Awareness at 55. We agreed that as players we will take it in turns to roll for the hapless NPC rather than let the GM decide, as not only can the players use their Fate Points for a more favourable roll, but it’s way more fun to put the players’ fates in the players’ hands rather than me making a bunch of rolls in secret and telling everyone how much trouble they’re in.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on whose side you’re on) their first translation resulted in only a minor Gellar Field breach, causing mass hallucinations for a fraction of a moment and earning all the players a bunch of Corruption and Insanity points. This would serve as a convenient introduction to the warp, and make players wary about willy-nilly warp jumps in the future.

The rest of the journey was uneventful, and they were instructed that they were going to make a routine stop a few days into transit at one of the many rest stops in the Throat called the Battleground – a stretch of void with no significance other than its relative warp stability and its massive collection of battered warship corpses from a long-forgotten war, picked clean and floating adrift in a great cloud of jagged debris.

Wolves in the darkness

At this point, our prescient Astropath was tugging on the Captain’s shirt sleeves and reminding him of one of his visions – “Wolves lurk in the rest stops”. The Captain agreed to take it under advisement, just in time for a Bridge Officer to report a distress beacon coming from a nearby wreckage cloud.

It was a standard automated distress message from a verified pilgrim transport called the Penitent Traveller. Our Missionary, Lyoness, had heard of such a transport from her Ecclesiarchy days, and confirmed that it was likely a truthful distress beacon.

They were totally unresponsive to vox hails and knowing it would be a trap, the Captain gave the order to take the Resolve in slowly, keeping a very close eye on the long-range augers.

It’s a trap!

In a shocking display of salience, the augers pick up the energy signatures of two Raider-class plasma drives flaring into life. Although it was clearly a trap, our canny Captain and his band of eagle-eyed auger-monkeys managed to spot danger before it dropped onto their heads. It was time to roll for initiative and begin GLORIOUS SPACE BATTLE.

As this was everyone’s first foray into space combat, things would be a little slow as everyone gets to grips with how it works; it is at once familiar to ground combat yet very different. The turn order is the same – everyone takes turns based on Initiative order and can perform a limited number of actions (called Extended Actions in space combat) in their turn. The big kicker is that everyone on the ship will go ‘at the same time’ (each turn in space combat is about half an hour in-game time rather than the 10-ish seconds per turn in ground combat), so the team have to get to grips with what they’re good at and what they can do to help.

In this scenario, the teacakes were playing the part of particularly dense clusters of ship wreckage – very dangerous to fly through but extremely delicious. Not all the scenery made it to the end of the battle.

Ships must always move (even if just a little bit) and they cannot come to a complete standstill, as they’re massive megatonnes of ceramite and plasteel hurtling through space – that momentum can only really be redirected, never stopped. Part of space combat I enjoy is the pirouetting of vessels around one another as they try and manoeuvre into the perfect position to take advantage of their weapons or evade an enemy’s firing arc.

Mathhammer

We are also using the community-driven changes to ship combat called MathHammer. The tl;dr is that ship armour now counts against each macrocannon hit, but armour is reduced by 12 to account for the change.

This means that combat is less reliant on a single massive alpha strike that glasses an enemy ship in an instant, and more on battles of attrition. It makes it easier for lesser ships to do progressive amounts of damage on larger ships, and allows players to better estimate how well a combat is going.

It gets pretty messy at this range
Battered and bloody

The battle started with both raiders heading directly towards the Unbroken Resolve, blasting away as soon as they got within range. This initial salvo from the Wolfpack raiders caused the most damage to the Resolve during the fight, and immediately reigned in any bravado anyone might have been feeling at that point.

One raider swept round trying to get behind the Resolve, the other going toe-to-toe. This turned out to be a bad move, as a combination of point blank macrocannon volleys from the Arch Militant and a particularly well executed hit and run from the Captain and Voidmaster left the raider crippled and its plasma drive on fire. It limped away into the debris field as the second ship swung in for the kill.

After seeing off the first Raider, attentions were now drawn to the mystery third party on the field: a small blip on the augers that had, up until now, been unidentified. It had been following the Resolve steadily and relentlessly, but wasn’t big enough to appear as a manned vessel.

After some panicked last-minute scanning, it was revealed to be a homemade Leech Mine from the Raiders – designed to follow specific plasma drive signatures and latch onto them, draining them of power. After realising it would be too small to reasonably shoot (and there was a more pressing target), the Enginseer fashioned a decoy out of obsolete parts he found in the cargo hold, programmed it with the plasma drive signature of their ship and fired it out into space. The gambit worked, distracting and neutralising the leech mine and allowing them to concentrate on the final raider.

Some fancy shooting and scary psychic powers from the Astropath damaged the second raider enough for it to withdraw, and with the Resolve sitting at less than 30% Hull remaining, the Captain decided not to pursue. It was time to see what the Penitent Traveller had in store.

Cargo cult

They discover a few hundred pilgrims on board the broken transport ship, left alive by the pirates but starving and desperate for rescue. They had been heading to the Nomad Stars to answer the call of a crusade called by someone called Brother Espin. There used to be almost ten thousand when they arrived, the pirate raiders butchered them down to the bare minimum to appear as life forms on a prey-ship’s augers if they scanned the Traveller.

They agreed to join the crew of the ship, buffering the worst of the damage to the Resolve’s crew population and earning the crew a few brownie points with any members of the Ecclesiarchy they might bump into later on.

The best fighters among them pledged their swords to the Missionary, the person responsible for encouraging them to join on a new ‘crusade’ of sorts, kickstarting her retinue and giving her a dozen maniacs with chainswords to call to her service should she need them in future…

There was nothing left to loot from the Penitent Traveller, as anything of value had already been stripped by the pirates.

Satisfied there was nothing else they could do in the Battleground, the Captain gave the order to finish the jump to the Nomad Stars. They would not be arriving in the greatest of conditions to make another warp jump straight out to Gangue, so there was going to be a slight diversion to the nearest port to repair and resupply – Mercy.

Orthesian Herald: session 2 – The Last Bastion of Mankind

We are in Haimm, an ill-omened system on the edge of civilised space, far out to the galactic west of Holy Terra. Twin white suns blaze fiercely here, their titanic gravity wells doing battle over the shattered bones of celestial bodies from a bygone era.

You have been travelling for several months from another part of the galaxy to seek fortune and glory among the Nomad Stars, as part of the remit of your newly-inherited Warrant of Trade.

Captain Tassa Zacherie Aphesius Orthesian has gathered a crew over 20-thousand strong to pilot the flagship of the Orthesian Dynasty – the Unbroken Resolve – and a staff of five advisors, counselors and warriors to act as the Dynasty’s eyes, ears and fists. (See here for the full run-down of characters)

Your journey has been long, and although no warp jump could ever be considered simple, it has been relatively placid compared to the adventures that lie ahead.

Upon arriving in the system, your deck crew have set a course for the only inhabited body and safe harbour to resupply before venturing forth: Port Impetus.

You barely have time to warm up the plasma drive for several days of inter-system travel when a Vox Officer informs you of an incoming message, encrypted in your dynasty’s personal cypher. You hear an old man’s voice, cracked with age:

”My Lord, I am Aubrey Luther. You do not know me, but I have been waiting a long time for a member of your family to return. I bear a message and a gift from your Great Grandfather, Lord-Admiral Thaler Orthesian. I would meet with you as soon as possible in the Court of the Dead, the biggest market square in Port Impetus, at the coordinates encrypted within this message. It is a matter, I assure you, that promises great glory.”

The ill-omened system of Haimm
Introducing the setting and characters

One of the trickiest parts of starting a new game is setting the tone for the universe and introducing the key elements (in this case, the characters and their roles on the ship) in as little effort on the players’ behalf as possible.

I’ve never been a huge fan of ‘you meet in a bar, introduce yourselves’, as although that’s handy for getting a mental image of your co-players, it’s mostly just reading the descriptions off you character sheet. A combination of stage fright and unfamiliarity with the game world can make this an unsatisfactory introduction for new and experienced players alike.

Instead of asking players to react to each other, I wanted to establish their roles as head honchos on a ship of thousands of faceless goons by asking them to react to ‘typical’ scenarios they might find aboard their ship. They would be unique to each character, reinforcing that character’s role aboard the Unbroken Resolve and help the players flesh out their personalities by providing them with mini crises.

Captain: On top of your regular Captainly duties, you are presented with a report of goings-on that are worthy of your attention. You cannot be everywhere at once so these have been delegated to your senior officers, but you do have enough time between your important administrative duties to oversee and assist up to two out of the five reports if you deem it necessary.

The Captain was given a handout of what the other players would be up to, and he could choose any two to assist. I wanted to reinforce the idea that the Captain was a powerful character that can pretty much do anything, but the challenge is in prioritising what you should be doing. He ended up assisting the Astropath and the Arch Militant, with varying degrees of success…

Voidmaster Zilla: The course charted by your deck officers is the safest but not necessarily the quickest. There are a few errant gravity wells of larger celestial shards between you and Port Impetus that could be used to slingshot you to your destination at a much greater speed, but a much greater risk.

Pilot+Manoeuvrability test, if failed, it would have done 1 Damage to the ship plus 1 per Degree of Failure (minus armour). As it was passed, the travel time to Port Impetus was reduced by 1 day and the senior officers got a temporary +5 boost to any interaction tests on Port Impetus as rumours of their daring approach reached the locals.

Explorator Freeman: The Unbroken Resolve is a resolute beast, not coyed by the superstitions of men or the predictable rotations of celestial matter around a binary system. She has many hidden reserves of strength, and in this relatively safe system, it would be a radiant display of her machine spirit’s strength to increase cruising speed and burn brightly through the heavens.

A fairly standard intro for the Techpriest of the group. They needed to pass a Tech Use test to decrease travel time by half a day and had the added bonus of increasing the ship’s morale by 1.

Missionary Lyoness: Haimm is an ill-omened place, spoken of by voidsmen in hushed whispers across the sector. Something about the light from two suns that turns folks mad. These whispers are beginning to turn into self-fulfilling prophecies, and many crewmen are missing their daily prayers and break from their work schedules. They need a firm voice and presence to get them back in line and to reaffirm their faith in the Dynasty and the Emperor. 

When presented with an opportunity to bolster the crew’s morale and steel them against the dark, the Missionary instead instructed her staff to round up a hundred of the most recalcitrant crew and dragged them into the chapel, calling an emergency sermon for the remainder of the voidsmen not on duty.

After spitting fire at her sermon and rallying the hearts and minds of those present, she flushed half of them out into space. This very quickly established a precedent of zero-tolerance attitudes to even the slightest whiff of insubordination.

Arch-militant Von Gun: A request for weapons-free has been submitted by both Battery Lords of the Prow and Dorsal macrocannon decks. It is no secret that they are in direct competition with one another for fastest reload and truest aim, and you suspect they are looking for the opportunity to blow off some steam after so many months of travel. The Dynasty’s macrocannon shells do not grow on trees, and they should be shown by example or by force that the pecking order exists for a reason.

What was intended to be a simple Intimidate test or playful shooting competition between the Arch-Militant and his subordinates turned into a pretty harrowing scene. The Arch-Militant wasted no time in immediately ordering both Battery Lords to be nailed to the macrocannon shells they wanted to use for target practice and were blasted out into space, accompanied by a dramatic speech from the Captain about getting ideas above one’s station.

Two terrified apprentices were promoted to Battery Lords in their masters’ absence, let’s hope that doesn’t come back to bite them…

Astropath Gil: The Astropath Transcendent receives an emergency vox broadcast on a fine-band frequency. You are requested ASAP to the junior Astropath’s chambers. As you enter you recognise the shapes of your four juniors in a huddle around the Astropathic organ in the centre of the chamber, clearly in distress. They are holding one of their number in their arms, fear erupting from their soul and madness babbling from their lips. The other three sense you entering, and bow their heads in deference. They quickly explain that during her shift as receiver, she tried to push her mind’s eye too far into the Great Warp Storms to see what lay beyond. She will be dead within minutes, but perhaps there is something that a more powerful, dutiful Astropath may glean from her prying before she succumbs to insanity..

This was an opportunity to use some of the Astropath’s extra-curricular abilities, and encouraging the use of telepathy (specifically the Mind Probe power) to glean information from people you might not get access to otherwise.

After I slightly cocked up the rules for Mind Probe, the Astropath managed to squeeze every bit of cryptic fortelling out of the dying junior;

Pass The journey through the Throat is surprisingly swift but utterly perilous should you stray from the path
1 DoS Wolves lurk in the rest stops, awaiting wandering prey
2 DoS Beyond the throat lies a flickering eye, that watches over the answers you seek
3 DoS Underneath the flickering eye lies a maze of light and a chamber of stars
4+ DoS It is a map in the heavens to a veil of ice and a beast with a broken back
I’m sure none of that will come back to haunt him.
Port Impetus – courtesy of Fantasy Flight Games
Port Impetus

Perched on the very southern tip of the Onus Region, Port Impetus stands as the gateway to the Nomad Stars and the vast untamed void beyond.

This is a place of desperate hopes and vain dreams. Port Impetus teems with a transitory population of traders, spies, merchant factors, pilgrims and missionaries amongst which move Administratum functionaries and minions of the mechanicus, all feeding on the riches that flow from the realms beyond the warp storms in the Nomad Stars. This is the last place the Imperium resides, the last bastion of mankind where the rule of the Golden Throne keeps the horror and possibility of the unknown at bay..

As the crew gather their things, I put heavy emphasis on the official, protocol welcomes they receive from all manner of functionaries, authorities and peers. This is the last civilised place they will see for a very long time, and I wanted to make the contrast with their first stop in the Nomad Stars a particularly jarring one.

They make no bones about heading out to meet Luther, the Missionary riding a sedan chair carried by oiled servants. On the front of her chair is the relic she gained as part of her Origin Path, something that the faithful citizenry of Port Impetus take immediate interest in and swarm her trying to receive her blessing and touch the relic.

They meet up with Luther, a knackered old servant of the Dynasty who has been waiting almost a century in Port Impetus for another Orthesian family member to arrive so he can fulfil his duty. He regales them with his exposition dump and tantalises them with the tale of the Righteous Remit.

Port Impetus interior – courtesy of Fantasy Flight Games
The riddle of the Righteous Remit

”In my youth I served as a deck officer aboard The Emperor’s Testament, a vessel belonging to Commander Karlorn and part of your great-grandfather’s fleet. During one terrible expedition we were caught in a violent warp storm and blown far off course.

”After we came to rest in a strange and uncharted system the ship’s astropath heard a faint message – a cry for salvation from a lost Imperial vessel.”

”At first we believed it was an old message (an echo in the warp, the Astropath called it), hundreds if not thousands of years old.”

”When we examined it, we discovered just what we had stumbled onto – an astropathic marker from the fabled treasure ship The Rightful Remit”

The Rightful Remit is an ancient treasure ship long ago swallowed by the shifting tides of the warp, a ship reputed to hold the entire wealth of a plundered world.”

”The story goes that long ago, an Imperial warlord discovered an ancient colony of man that had fallen to heretical worship and it was put to the sword, sweeping away a thousand years of civilisation in three days of fire and blood.”

”When the killing was done and the corpse counters began gathering up the detritus of genocide, the warlord marvelled at the riches he had won.”

”He did not trust his fellow crusaders to carry it away, so he set about filling his flagship, the Rightful Remit, from stern to prow. He tore out gun decks and launch bays, marooned thousands of his crew and stripped away the vessel’s innards until she was bursting with plunder. The warlord then vanished into the warp and from the pages of history.

”Free-traders, adventurers and imperial servants have all tried to find its resting place to no success, until Commander Karlorn and The Emperor’s Testament stumbled upon it by pure chance.

”Karlorn chose not to pursue it there and then due to the damage sustained from the storm, but made a note of its location so he could return when his ship was at full strength. We returned to Port Impetus and left me here with the map for safekeeping while he went to find your great grandfather. He never returned.

“For a hundred years I’ve been keeping this memolith, waiting for one of the dynasty to return so I can fulfil my duty”

He hands them the plot macguffin memolith, but before they can pocket it, a cyber-hawk swoops down from the rafters above and knocks it into the crowd. Gunshots erupt around them, followed by a voice shouting “Stop them! Grab that memolith!”

A botched ambush

Roll for initiative! It was time to get our beaks wet with some fisticuffs. I’m a huge proponent of combat as early into a new game session as possible. It makes for good in medias res and helps players work out very quickly what their characters are good at.

Not pictured: dozens of citizens fleeing for their lives

The board was set up with lots of lovely laser-cut mdf scenery from TTcombat, arranged roughly to look like a busy market. The players were in the centre while the antagonist and her armsmen body guards dressed in fancy attire.

The fight served its purpose – to establish a hierarchy of combat prowess in relation to one another and introduce the pleasingly crunchy combat rules for Rogue Trader. It’s all well and good for your character sheet to have a pair of bolt pistols written on it, but with no previous knowledge of the universe or your place within it, it can be hard to grasp its importance.

When all your teammates are struggling to pin down opponents, placing shots between cover or grappling with foes in close combat, it’s easy see where your strengths lie when you can comfortably explode at least one enemy head per turn with your hand-held rapid fire rocket launcher pistols.

Lady Ash and her cadre of fancy armsmen

The combat went in our crew’s favour, despite the Captain sustaining a dangerous amount of damage from a fluffed Displacer Field check. The armsmen were only trying to pin down the players with grenades and suppressing fire so they could try and grab the memolith, which was working until the players figured out their plan and concentrated fire on anyone trying to dash for the memolith lying on the ground.

We were playing in a crowded market area, so there was an additional -30 imposed to any shooting actions for the first few rounds as the press of panicking bodies was so thick. I’d already decided that grievous misses would result in a poor bystander biting a bullet instead, mostly just a narrative device to help reinforce the reasons for the penalties.

What I hadn’t counted on was the Captain and the Astropath blasting away into the crowd with plasma pistols trying to get the foe that was scrabbling for the memolith on the floor. The half-incinerated bodies of “near misses” kept piling up. The port authorities weren’t impressed.

Another angle of Lady Ash – an Escher ganger model as a base
A brush with the law

The Boys in Blue arrived, cracking skulls with their shock mauls and ‘inviting’ the Rogue Trader and his crew to accompany them to see the Marshall. As a Rogue Trader, your fancy bit of paper works as a Get Out Of Jail Free card for most ‘minor’ crimes like manslaughter and destruction of property.

A typical Adeptus Arbites officer – courtesy of Fantasy Flight Games

The slap on the wrist from the Precinct Marshall amounted to; “I could prosecute you, but that would involve a lot of paperwork on both our counts, so could you just bugger off and not do it again, ta.” Again, I wanted to enforce the rule of Imperial Law versus non-Imperial space (when we get there).

They also managed to learn the name of their attackers; the armsmen were under the employ of a Rogue Trader called Hadarak Fel – another reason the Marshall was keen not to get involved. Two Rogue Traders actively brawling on Imperial soil is an administrative nightmare.

Cast off

So our gang of scallywags had a quest, a fight, a rival and adventure in their hearts and were ready cast off and fly out into the heavens.

One last thing before they went though – our resident quadruped techpriest decided to skitter away as everyone was boarding and find a quiet harbour console somewhere. It was being used, but he politely unplugged the poor servitor so he could engage HACKER MODE.

After a trawl through the files of ships at berth, he found a frigate called the Fel Hand. Without any other information available he couldn’t know for sure, but a Rogue Trader is definitely the kind of person who would call a ship a pun of his own name. With some techno-wizardry he changed the ship’s time slot for tomorrow, which would would have a knock-on effect on a whole bunch of logistics and delay the Fel Hand’s departure by several days. There are no rivalries like petty rivalries, eh?

And with that, the crew of the Unbroken Resolve sailed out into the inky void, ready to stare down the Throat and into the adventures that lay beyond.

Meanwhile, on the Bench: Syracuse surface map

From the viewport you can see Syracuse in the distance – a concentration of pinpricks of light in the infinite darkness. It draws vessels from far and wide like moths to a flame. The skies around the planet are polluted with starships of all sizes and classes, from the mighty warships of the Imperial Navy on patrol outside their home dock of Port Sempect, to the bloated Universe-class mega-haulers carrying a world’s wealth of resources and people, to the smaller system ships scuttling about carrying precious cargo between the planets.

Syracuse is a sight to behold. Visible long before you can make out its details, half the planet is shrouded in utter darkness, the other half in burning sunlight. Tidally locked, the planet orbits the Tangenian sun perfectly in time with its own axis spin. Only a thin strip of habitable space runs the equator of the planet from pole to pole, and every inch is covered with a sprawling hive cities

Haloing the planet is a broken ring of drydocks, ports, loading yards, warehouses, space stations and detritus. Syracuse once boasted a proud, unbroken run of orbital docks, but these days it is mostly abandoned, fractured and isolated, left to the devices of scavengers, pirates and reclaimators.

The Grey Halo

Our new Dark Heresy campaign begins in earnest, set on the twilight ringworld of Syracuse. As an oft-mentioned place and the capital planet of the Onus Region, Syracuse needed a map worthy of its stature – not just for this Dark Heresy game but also for any future games I choose to set on the planet. I needed a map that was not only informative, but robust enough to be used in the future with little or no editing.

The entire process was recorded and sped up, in the first illustration timelapse Dreadquill has produced to date. A lot was learned on the technical side of things, but the biggest one being: do a test recording before starting a four-hour drawing process. As a result, we get this weird artifact in the middle of the screen, so apologies for that.

From little acorns

The process started with a hastily scribbled map on some lined paper made on a late-night Megabus journey. I’m a big fan of the Total War series, and I drew a lot on my 300+ hours of Shogun 2, a strategy game set in the Sengoku Jidai, or Warring States period of Japanese history. I had a lovely framework to balance powerful households, civil strife and interesting factions without needing too much legwork up front.

Highly technical cartography

The planet is covered in a strip of hive cities, joined together by fields of slums, so the whole map was only ever going to be a straight line rather than a series of continents, so that made the planning a little easier. I didn’t have too many requirements for what needed to be present either; I needed a ‘Province 13’ for setting the spooky campaign in and I needed a ‘Province Prime’ to introduce the planet at its most opulent, to meet the Inquisitor in, and to build the Kismet Palace – the seat of Inquisitorial power in the region.

I thought it would be interesting if the different major households had suzerain status over different provinces, swearing fealty to an independent province (Prime) where their Imperial overlords were set. This had the potential to set up lovely clandestine operations against different houses and cold wars bubbling over into direct border violence in the slum areas.

As a side note; the campaign is based loosely on one of the written campaigns and astute readers may pick it up, so please try not to spoil it for my players in the comments!

I also needed to emphasize the isolation of Province 13. It is one of the last independent provinces left on Syracuse, and slap bang in the middle of the destroyed, desolate and abandoned provinces ravaged by thousands of years of civil war and neglect.

Province 13, or Syracuse Magna, are fiercely independent despite having no exports or being capable of raising tithes or contributing to the planetary defense force. It is run by utterly corrupt, self-serving nobles who have ruled for generations, and there is no limit to how low they will stoop to claw on to whatever fleeting power and wealth they have left.

The concentration of the sprawl of slums between the provinces begins to thin out the closer you get to Syracuse Magna, roughly on the opposite side of the planet. I enjoy little details like this in maps, as it serves not only as wordless world-building, but also as a valid in-game reason as to why the players can’t just ‘pop out’ to get some help from nearby neighbours. Isolation is the theme of the campaign, after all!

I am very pleased with how the map turned out, and although I learned a lot from the timelapse process I think with all the technical difficulties I had assembling it, very few of them are noticeable in the final cut. Huge thanks to my old chum Frazer Merrick for the sound too, go check his stuff out and throw money at him.

Syracuse Magna has been my most ambitious project to date, with three factions planned for models (The Undertow, the Ash Garrison Enforcers and the at-time-of-writing-unseen Arbites) AND a gaming board, it’s going to be a busy few months for me!

Check out the timelapse for the map on the YouTubes, and give us a follow on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as well – all your support is greatly appreciated!

Expanded Warp Travel Encounters table released

We’ve all been there -you’ve been playing Rogue Trader and your crew is getting semi-decent at warp jumps and dealing with the harsh penalties the wild expanse throws at them. Either a jump goes off without a hitch, or you’ve played out the scant few encounters in the core rulebook so many times that translating into hell and madness becomes routine, and you’re often so busy juggling the rest of the game that improvising another new warp encounter is off the cards. Time to change that!

Here is an expanded table of 20 different warp encounters, appropriately balanced to the vagaries of the warp and definitely deadly if the dice gods are not smiling favourably that day. It will help keep your players on their toes whenever they’re traversing the Sea of Souls, and make them think twice about saying the fateful words “Oh that’s fine, it’s only one warp jump away.”

You can get the full table here.