Orthesian Herald: session 1 – The Unbroken Resolve and All Those Who Sail Therein

Welcome to the Orthesian Herald, a new segment on Dreadquill dedicated to a brand new Rogue Trader group sailing under the banner of the Orthesian Dynasty. The games are played fairly frequently, and these articles are going to debrief and dissect after each session – sharing some highs, lows, learning points and handouts produced for the game.

This will be the fourth Rogue Trader group I’ve started over two-ish years, so I’m looking forward to utilising what I’ve learned early on to try and deliver a kick-ass game.

The players

Players were given free reign with what characters to pick. Players that were new to the lore and system were gently steered away from some of the more input-intensive characters like the Navigator or Astropath, which can add a whole load of extra rules on top of everything else.

In addition, each player was given 2500 experience to spend, starting them on Rank 2 with 7000 experience ‘spent’.

Lord-Captain Tassa Zacharie Aphesius Orthesian “Notch” (Rogue Trader) – Dan

With a background in the Battlefleet, the Captain was very set on running the ship and crew as an ex-commander might, with military precision and demanding unwavering loyalty. The player had also experienced a previous Rogue Trader game as an Arch-Militant very much playing at the other end of the legal spectrum, so wanted to try being the one giving orders rather than taking them.

The Lord-Captain’s stats are all over the shop; after XP spent he has a Weapon Skill and Fellowship of 51 and 50 respectively, very useful for a Rogue Trader. Unfortunately, even after a bump, his Toughness leaves much to be desired at 32, meaning our Rogue Trader will be starting the grand tour of the Nomad Stars with a whopping 9 wounds.

For his free Acquisition he picked up a displacer field, hoping that will activate enough to keep him alive…

Enginseer Xander Freeman (Explorator) – Hammond

Hammond is a long-standing regular in our games but rarely gets to play the Tech character, so jumped at the opportunity to make a really weird character off the bat. His first request was for his Acquisition to be four robo-legs so he can crawl across ceilings and gallop like a spider-horse, and for the free bionic implant he chose an MIU link with his hellgun, so he can fire it freely while hoofing it across strange alien worlds and brandishing his shiny power axe.

The character comes from an under-resourced manufactory Hive World where he was the Top Dog of running the show. When the Captain was looking to put together a crew, he picked Freeman for his administrative talents of doing a lot with very little under awful conditions. This means that although Freeman is the Enginseer rather than the Explorator, his role on the ship will still be a very familiar one.

Stats rolled were fairly average across the board, the only thing of note was a decent Agility and a Fellowship of 40 – the two skills an Explorator definitely needs. A bunch of XP was pumped into Intelligence and Tech Use, so now the Explorator is testing Tech Use on an 81. Here’s hoping he doesn’t break anything…

Gunther Von Gun (Arch Militant) – Dave

Von Gun is this player’s first foray into Rogue Trader and 40k in any big way as well, so we thought we would start off with one of the easier character archetypes to get to grips with; the Arch-Militant. A cursory glance over the character sheet reveals that Von Gun’s weight, height, age, gender and description are all “GUN”, so I think he’s really gripped the nuances of 40k lore.

Von Gun is rocking the twin bolt pistol look, and rolled above average on every stat. After plugging a few points into Ballistic Skill, he’s sitting comfortable on a 69 to hit (heh) with his bolt pistols, which is great for an experienced character, let along a starting character! This is fortunate, as with this surprisingly frail group, the Arch-Militant will be in serious demand during combat situations…

Gil Virgant (Astropath Transcendant) – Jez

The Astropath career is, in my opinion, the wildcard of the various careers because of the terrifying power and risk they can wield on a regular basis. Whole sessions can be derailed from one failed Perils test as a dinner party with bigwigs goes awry when daemons pour from the psyker’s mouth and try to eat the faces of the other party guests. It’s comforting then, to re-read my notes I made on the character’s backstory during a conversation with Jez:

“Born on a penal world, but not intrinsically criminal. Taken as a child and tortured for the guards’ personal gain – IN HERETICAL WAYS. The more they beat him, the more he became closer to the warp. He reached out to some voices in the warp to help him. These were Definitely Not Chaos.”

So that will be fine then. Most excitingly, even after purchasing two advances, he has nearly the lowest Willpower in the group. He did take a plasma pistol as his free Acquisition though, so at least he can be unstable and unpredictable in two ways.

Xandra Lyoness (Missionary) – Alex

Another player fresh to the group and to the lore, Alex was drawn to the Missionary career as being roughly analogous to clerics and healers from other systems. While not incorrect, the analogy breaks down when you notice the Missionary is also the group’s spiritual compass, daemon hunter, exorcist, interrogator, witch-finder, fiery demagogue and diplomat.

My concerns that a new player might not take to the universe was immediately quashed when she asked “Can I be carried round in a sedan chair and have flamethrowers on everything I own?”. Yes. Yes you can.

Lyoness is a 90-something year old screeching noble-born harridan who is obscenely strong, tough and perceptive. She modus operandi is to be carried round bearing relics from her previous escapades while whipping nearby pilgrims into a religious frenzy (literally and figuratively) with her trusty Neural Whip.

Marai Zilla (Voidmaster) – Andy

The final entrant is the only non-new character – Zilla is being brought over from a previous gaming group that collapsed under logistical problems. As a result Zilla is a slightly higher level than the others, but this will prove to be an absolute necessity as nobody else can fly the ship particularly well…

Zilla’s background is one of service to powerful Dynasties, and gets reassigned as Master of Space as the work calls. He’s an excellent pilot in both voidships and small craft and carries a bolt pistol as a hefty side arm. He also totes a fancy gold autogun wrenched from the bodyguard of a secessionist king in a previous life which has already served him well.

He’s a good all-round character who fills a few vital roles, and when not filling those roles has a good spread of skills to contribute to interaction or combat challenges.

The Dynasty

The Orthesian Dynasty is still in its early stage of conception, and will inevitably warrant a followup post about its trials, tribulations, colours and banners. During our pre-game sessions we did come up with some ground lore for the Dynasty, giving us as much detail as we needed to get stuck into the game while leaving it open-ended enough to fill in any blanks later on.

The Dynasty is a new Rogue Trader lineage, although the warrant itself is quite old. During his time in the Imperial Navy, Tassa Orthesian earned the reputation for being a conqueror and commander without peer, leading reclamation crusades in far-flung corners of the galaxy. These selfless acts of bravery were earning him more favour with the upper echelons of his House, and were earning him what centuries of bickering and political wrangling could not earn them. They did the only sensible thing to remove him from the picture: promote him.

Backs were scratched and brown envelopes were passed between the Powers That Be and a Warrant of Trade was eventually conjured up and “awarded” to Tassa Orthesian in recognition of his accomplishments so far. Such an honour cannot really be turned down, so the now Lord-Captain Orthesian was given the smallest warp-capable ship in the Orthesian garage and sent far, far away across the galaxy to a spit of space called ‘The Nomad Stars’.

The requirements of the Warrant state the Lord-Captain is to being the Nomads to heel, and reneging on that requirement will see assets reclaimed and resources cut off. They expect him to die out in the Nomads, ridding him from that pesky do-gooder once and for all. The Lord-Captain, on the other hand, has other ideas…

The Ship

So with some characters and Dynasty fluff out the way, it was on with building the ship. Our Lord-Captain cast the dice of fate and we began play with a 50 Profit Factor and 40 Ship Points – not a particularly stellar amount of spending power, but we were determined we were going to start at the bottom and work our way up!

For reference, most Raiders (the smallest class of the ship in the game) are around 30 SP to purchase, and the next class up, Frigates, start in the late 30s. If we wanted to fly a frigate, we’d barely be able to put any guns on it to start out with – not a great look for a freshly-minted Rogue Trader looking to cut his teeth on some Nomads xenos scum.

We also agreed to roll the Machine Spirit Oddities and Past Histories before picking the ship. Knowing what additional traits the hull would have would help inform a decision, and perhaps help play to their strengths a bit more. We rolled Resolute and Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, granting us a slight Speed hit in favour of more Hull and easier repairs, and having disguised components and extra sneaky hidey-holes around the ship in case the authorities come snooping at out goods. Nothing overly exciting but nothing particularly crippling either. The +10 to Repair tests will certainly come in handy!

We settled on the Shrike Raider in the end, as it was the perfect balance of speed and power (and to be honest the Shrike so massively outclasses the other ships in the Raider category that it renders any lengthy discussion pointless – it’s a very powerful ship for its class).

Mathhammer

We’ll also be playing with the community-vetted Mathhammer rules for ship battles. The simplest tl;dr is that ship combat favours massive alpha strikes over fights of attrition. You can spend forever trying to break armour, only for one lucky roll to slag a vessel in one hit.

The fix is simple: reduce all ship armour by 12, but don’t compound Macrobattery attacks into one lot of damage – calculate every hit against armour as you would for shooting attacks.

After playing extensively with both, I can say that I much prefer how Mathhammer works for space battles, and we’ll be taking it forwards. Whenever you see a ship armour value on Dreadquill, the number in brackets will be the original un-hammered stat.

The Unbroken resolve

Type: Shrike-class Raider           Speed: 9

Manoeuvrability: +25                  Detection: +25

Turret Rating: 2                              Shields: 1

Crew Rating: 30                             Weapon capacity: 1 Dorsal, 1 Prow

Armour: 4 (16)                                  Hull integrity: 33

Essential components: 

  • Jovian Class 2 Plasma Drive
  • Strelov 1 Warp Engine
  • Emergency Gellar Field
  • Command Bridge
  • M1.r Life Sustainer
  • Voidsmen Quarters
  • M201.b Auger Array

Supplementary components:

  • Cargo hold/lighter bay
  • Brig
  • Mars-pattern Macrocannon (Dorsal slot)
  • Mars-pattern Macrocannon (Prow slot)

We have 2 space and 2 power left over but no Ship Points remaining to purchase anything! I suspect additional components will be high on the Acquisition shopping list when we get rolling, but for now it’s fine.

The Unbroken Resolve shaped up to be a good all-round ship – practical weaponry, good speed and manoeuverability, even a decent defence for a raider! We even managed to squeeze a cargo hold onto her and have some space left over for tweaks later on. We could kit her out from the first port we stop off at, but as a new group (and a handful of those new players completely) we agreed it would be more useful to get a few fights under our belt so we know what she’s capable of and what she’s lacking.

The adventure begins

So what’s next? Our group all live near to each other, and we’ve found a night that is mutually agreeable for all of us. The only thing to do is organise the first game and get Rogue Trading!

We’ll be running a heavily edited version of the sample campaign from the core rulebook – I like the simplicity of it, and if my 2 years and 4 games of running Rogue Trader are anything to go by, the simpler the plot you can put in front of your players the better!

The game will begin with the Explorers getting a very enticing message, encrypted in the Dynasty’s official codes…

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Next: Session 2 – The Last Bastion of Mankind

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