The name Rogue Trader refers to two different games associated with the Warhammer 40,000 universe. The original Rogue Trader was the first edition of the Warhammer 40,000 tabletop game, while the current Rogue Trader (2009) is the second of a series of Warhammer 40,000 tabletop roleplaying games. While its sister game Dark Heresy casts the players in the role of Inquisitorial Acolytes and focuses on themes of corruption and conspiracy, Rogue Trader is a game of exploration, adventure, and the horrors of the unknown, following one of the eponymous Rogue Traders and his crew as they explore the uncharted depths of space for gold, glory and the God-Emperor. Something like a Darker and EdgierStar Trek — or, as some put it, Mirror UniverseStar Trek.Tropes for the former can be found on the main Warhammer 40,000 page; this page is for the latter. See also Dark Heresy, Deathwatch, Black Crusade, and Only War,Rogue Trader's sister games.
This game contains examples of:
Ace Pilot: One of the possible archetypes for Void Master characters (the others being Ace Helmsman, Ace Gunner, and Ace Sensor Officer). The Flight Marshal elite advance that Void Masters can take is unambiguously this.
Oddly enough, the core rule book has no rules for anything those piloting skills are useful for.
Always Chaotic Evil: While several of established antagonists options are present, groups such as Chaos Reavers, Eldar, and even Orks, while usually hostile to humanity's interests, can at least occasionally be reasoned with and dissuaded by means other than violence. The Rak'gol, on the other hand, never show any interest in dealing with anyone of any other species by means other than aggressively attacking them, their only culture (in as much as can be determined) seems only centred around killing things. Lure of the Expanse details that they can never be negotiated with because they show absolutely zero interest in such, and their almost-bestial hostility and "alienness" are great for game masters who want to put a "Survival Horror" element into their campaigns.
Ambition Is Evil: Inverted very strongly. Rogue Traders are already extremely powerful individuals with as much freedom as can be had in this setting, yet the rulebook encourages them to always shoot for more profit that will build a lasting dynasty and legendary reputations that will echo down history.
Arbitrary Minimum Range: The game has minimum range for Nova Cannons, as they cannot safely be used too close to the ship, having splash damage and a chance to explode closer to the firer than intended (technically they can still hit the firer if you fire at the absolute minimum range and roll very badly). This is a holdover from their rules in Battlefleet Gothic, as RT space combat rules are heavily based on that game.
Armor Is Useless: Averted like the plague. Try walking around without armour - unless you're a particularly feared psyker, you'll find something sticking out of your flesh soon.
There are actually some results on the Critical Damage tables that only occur if the character is not wearing armour, or that have a worse effect if the character is not wearing armour.
Armour is a mixed blessing for Kroot characters. They have trouble finding armour that fits them in any case, but if they wear anything more than the slightest of physical protections then they cannot benefit from several of their racial advantages, like Super Senses and Super Reflexes. Normally they count on those to Dodge the Bullet and Parry The Sword more than they do armour to shield them.
Authority Equals Asskicking: Not only are the player characters the ones that run the ship, they're all but inevitably the most powerful, well-trained warriors on the ship as well.
Played completely straight with Power Armour. It provides the best protection available, but makes you easier to hit and the power cells only last 1d5 hours, so it's use is situational at best.
Badass: If your character isn't this, you're doing it terribly wrong.
Balance of Power: Aspyce Chorda and Calligos Winterscale, the two strongest Rogue Traders in the Expanse are on a brink of war. They are so evenly matched that neither is guaranteed victory.
Base on Wheels: The hat of the planet Zayth, a pre-Imperial human colony founded during the height of the Dark Age of Technology. Exactly what happened to start it has been long forgotten, but the various factions of the colony ended up locked in a Forever War, where the populations had to live in mobile crawling fortresses the size of space-born battleships to survive each other's artillery fire. The remaining population endures to this day, roaming across the After the End battlescape their planet has become in mobile fortress-cities, trading macro-cannon fire with each other whenever they come into range and scavenging what little resources they can from cities felled in eons past.
BFG: Your ship has guns that take a good seventy men to operate, fired in salvoes of hundreds. The big guns need over a thousand hands.
Big Bad: Karrad Vall the Faceless Lord, and Morgash Kulgraz, Kaptin of Da Wurldbreaka are both strong contenders for being the ultimate Big Bads of the Koronus Expanse.
Bigger Is Better: A literal case with Ork equipment. As the quality of the craftsmanship goes up, so does the size and mass of the piece of equipment. With human manufactured items, the opposite tends to be true.
Blind Seer: Astropaths, as per usual, went under necessary Mind Rape on Terra to protect their already strong minds from the Warp, the physical damage of which always includes their eyes, causing them to either turn to vapour or develop severe cataracts. It also hones their psychic senses so they can "see" perfectly well. Astropaths Transcendent, the ones you play as, are even better at it than most-not only can they leave the Light of the Astronomicon for long periods, they can keep it together so well they lead others who can leave.
Car Fu: The Into The Storm supplement finally introduces official rules for vehicles and vehicular combat into the 40k roleplaying system.
Citadel City: Citadel Station, in the form of Port Wander. Carved from a large asteroid and built out, it serves as the primary naval base in the region though it also has a sizable civil population. Well defended by void shields and macro-cannons, the patrol hub for numerous Imperial Navy squadrons, and possessing several military-grade drydocks, it is the last bastion of Imperial might at the frontier-edge of the Calixis Sector and the last port of call before passing through the Kronus Maw.
Cool Starship: Naturally. If their ventures are profitable, the player characters may eventually find themselves in command of a Cool Fleet.
Corporate Warfare: When major Rogue Trader houses clash, it takes this form. Each house is effectively a multiple star-spanning Mega Corp. unto itself, and when massive profits are at stake and they are well outside of Imperial jurisdiction, the violence can get as ugly as any of the wars in the setting, if not typically at the same scale. The brewing conflict between the houses of Winterscale and Chorda are probably the biggest example of this in the Kronus Expanse.
Gameplay and Story Segregation: The chapter specifically addressing Rogue Traders in the corebook paints a picture of the Imperium gifting each newly-appointed Trader with a flagship, which will "often" be a cruiser, as well as frigates, cargo ships, and tenders. The actual character creation rules provide for the Rogue Trader and his/her crew to start with exactly one ship and no more. And while it is possible to start the game with a full-scale cruiser for a flagship, it requires the players to cut out a significant amount of their starting Profit Factor to do so.
The Ghost: Why the Chaos-aligned pirate Korrad Vall is called the Faceless Lord: all that most Traders encounter of him are his employees. It is because he is blessed by the Ruinous Powers to be subjective to those who witness him. Every person will see him differently, and even when multiple people engage with him at the same time each will remember the encounter completely differently such that he only ever seems to directly interact with one of them at a time.
Ghost Ship: The Whisper of Anaris, an Eldar vessel of ancient make with chips in its wraithbone hull and tears in its solar sails, it appears with a psychic scream in realspace at mysterious times to suddenly fire on some ships but not others and then disappears just as quickly, following some inscrutable plan of its long dead but still dreaming crew. It is actually the last ship of the ancient craftworld Lu'Nasad, which was long ago corrupted by the warp into a terrible scourge of psychic destruction. The Whisper acts on the final command of its last commander, the Farseer Anaris, to prevent the accursed craftworld from doing any more damage and drive off those who might one day seek it.
Go Mad from the Revelation: There's only one Navigator power that all of them share. It's called The Lidless Stare, and it basically lets them open their third eye (and that's a literal one, not some wishy-washy metaphor...); if anyone looks into it, they see the Warp. This can be detrimental to your health. At Master level, it's a possible One-Hit Kill.
This also applies to the narration for a lot of the more remote planets in the books, which contain many examples of Lovecraftian horror.
Insufficiently Advanced Alien: The Rak'Gol have human-level technology and widespread cybernetics use, but seem to be almost entirely mindless when encountered.
Intrepid Merchant: The player characters, in most of their business as a Rogue Trader crew. Profit is often a unifying (though almost never the sole) reason to go hurling themselves into the unknown of the Kronus Expanse, looking for new opportunities for trade and bounty to bring home the wealth.
Kicked Upstairs: A possible (and apparently quite frequent) explanation for how a particular Rogue Trader got his Warrant of Trade: some very powerful people wanted him out of the way, but he himself was too powerful to just kill, so they gave him the Warrant to get him to take his interests elsewhere.
Large and in Charge: Ork Warbosses, particularly the aforementioned Morgash Kulgraz. Also Calligos Winterscale, probably the most powerful Rogue Trader in Koronus Expanse at moment.
Lighter and Softer: than the other Warhammer 40000 games, at least. There is sense of adventure, discovery and making lasting changes in a wide-open sandbox area of the galaxy that is free from large-scale wars or plots and conspiracies threatening to bring everything crashing down.
Note that Rogue Trader is the only one of the RPGs in this series which allows multiple kinds of xenos as Player Characters. Let that sink in a moment: xenos partying up with humans from an Absolute Xenophobe culture. The freedom granted to a rogue trader gives a lot of leeway for shrugging off some of the darker aspects of the setting.
Do note that while said Xenos career options include Orks and Kroot which by far aren't the darkest of the xenos in the setting, you also have the option of creating Dark Eldar characters, who by their very presence make campaigns significantly Darker and Edgier.
Lightning Bruiser: The Rak'Gol, again. They are surprisingly fast, hit very hard, and can take more punishment than an Ork.
Lost Technology: Archaeotech, items designed long before the current Dark Age. They're better in pretty much every way beside availability.
Machine Worship: The Machine Cult of Mars, represented here by the Explorator career path.
Merchant Prince: Any sufficiently influential Rogue Trader is basically this.
Military Science-Fiction: Averted, unsurprisingly if your familiar with concept of a Rogue Trader, not unsurprisingly if your only familiar with the parent franchise.
The Battlefleet Koronus supplement includes expanded rules for starship combat and rules for large-scale ground warfare, allowing the game as a whole to take on more of this flavour.
Mordor: The planet Inequity, home to Chaos Lord Karrad Vall the Faceless Lord. It is located in a star system where a red giant dances with a black hole, and the whips of plasma siphoned off it lash the planets around it creating detritus and dangerously unpredictable gravity shoals. Navigation to the planet is only safely possible by a damned warp beacon powered by hundreds of sorceress sacrifices. Its surface is covered in caustic atmosphere and acidic rain drawn from boiling seas. Quakes are frequent and eruptions are a constant danger. Slaves toil to their deaths in the mines and manufactora. Daemons stalk the surface drawn from warp rifts deep in the planet's crust exposed when the original settlers Dug Too Deep. It is a haven for Chaos reaver Space Pirates, and all of its cities are Wretched Hives that makes life in an Imperial underhive look pleasant by comparison. Above it all Vall rules this domain from his infamous Citadel Of Skulls, a combination fortress, armoury, manufacturing centre, treasure vault, palace, and debased temple to Chaos.
Power Creep, Power Seep: Rank 1Rogue Trader characters are significantly more powerful than Rank 1 Dark Heresy characters; in fact, they're explicitly noted as the equivalent of Rank 5 Dark Heresy characters (which has a maximum of 8 Ranks).
Theoretically, at least. However, in practice, using Dark Heresy characters in Rogue Trader is a bit unbalanced. Well-built DH characters quickly out-scale RT characters because of cheaper advances (usually 100 to 300 xp vs. 200 to 500 for skills, and 100 to 300 vs. 500 or 1000 for talents), a larger variety of options, and the fact that while RT characters start with 5 more points in all their characteristics, they only have 4 characteristic advances, whereas DH characters have 6 total (with Ascension).
Which does make a kind of sense. High level ascension characters are the most loyal, singularly powerful servants of the Imperium short of the Astartes, and have been through constant high intensity missions whereas a strong rogue trader is a civilian that does not generally need to adapt to anywhere near that level of stress.
Production Foreshadowing: While Kroot are present in the Expanse, their homeworld of Pech is on a far side of the galaxy from it. The rulebook says that many people speculate that they may have come to the Expanse a few generations ago through some kind of warp-gate that led to the far side of the galaxy, but does not go into any more detail and leaves it as just in-universe speculation. Come Deathwatch, and it is revealed that such a gate does in fact exist and goes between the Koronus Expanse and the Jericho Reach, a location that includes worlds claimed by the Tau Empire of which the Kroot are a part. And as of Black Crusade, the nearby Screaming Vortex has a similar gate, and a planet with a population of Kroot.
Punch Clock Hero: The Into The Stormsplat gives us the Kroot mercenary as a career option. Rogue Traders are one of the few Imperial servants who have sanction to deal with xenos, and that includes hiring of services. The Kroot are excellent trackers, spies, and close-quarters combatants, but their help is strictly mercenary. They can be trusted to uphold their word, but how determined they are to see their task through is heavily dependent on the remunerations they expect to receive, to the point that they can resist fear and pinning better if their current venture is potentially profitable enough.
Rogue Traders and their staff, can also fit. Since they can accept contracts from Imperial or colonial entities, or just provide protection.
Psycho for Hire: A perfectly valid career option, as the game's supplements allow the game to pick some alternate career options that turn the characters into this, but The Soul Reaver introduces a full career path that makes all of these look heroic by comparison, namely the Dark Eldar Kabalite Warrior.
Recycled IN SPACE: Nearly all the game mechanics are recycled from Dark Heresy. If you doubt this, compare the charts for critical hits or the names and descriptions of most of the talents. (Of course, since the games were designed to be compatible with and supplementary to each other from the get-go, this is hardly surprising.)
Scarily Competent Tracker: Kroot characters can be built for this, their hunter's instincts combined with the ability to have a keenness of perception beyond the limits of humans means that they can sniff out prey (bestial or otherwise) from the merest hint of their presence.
Scoring Points: The Endeavor system in the rules is structured this way. Essentially for any given business venture to be considered successful for a Rogue Trader, they need to score beyond a certain threshold of Achievement Points. Achievement Points can be granted for actions which will help make the venture successful, such as setting up future trading agreements, acquiring new treasure, or simply building up their reputation for future leverage. Conversely, Achievement Points can be deducted for things which will hurt the venture, like making enemies out of potential long-term trading partners, spending excessive amounts of their own resources, or suffering a humiliating defeat. If by the end of the Endeavor the Explorers have gotten enough Achievement Points, they gain the Profit Factor from the Endeavor with bonuses for exceeding the threshold by various amounts.
Screw The Rules, I Have A Warrant of Trade!: Rogue Traders are expected to operate outside the Imperium's borders where the Lex Imperialis does not apply and are thus exempt from prosecution for anything they do out there. However, they do come under Imperial authority while back in the Imperium (where they often must go to sell exotic goods or negotiate trades on that end) and can be prosecuted for anything they do there. However even then, their warrant of trade will excuse them a lot, as someone who has such a warrant must have strong connections with authorities in the Administratum or Imperial Navy and local authorities will find it difficult to prosecute them or make such a prosecution stick.
Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Rogue Traders are allowed to get around a great deal of the regulations of the Imperium, essentially because they're some of the most wealthy and powerful individuals in the galaxy (emphasis on individuals).
The root of it is actually more "Screw the rules, I have Navigators". The caste with exclusive access to the limited gene-lines that are the only people that can drive FTL ships (without going homicidally insane) pretty much makes them the one subset of humanity that the emperor's men CAN'T touch. Lose the navigators, or even get a significant number of them killed fighting for control, and the whole empire goes down in months.
In the lore, this is the entire point of licensing Rogue Traders. On the frontier they are much more effective than more official operatives.
Shout-Out: The description of the Endurance Motivation ("You seek to endure, and, in enduring, grow stronger") refers to a line spoken by Dak'kon from Planescape: Torment.
There is also the characteristic given to Death World characters, which lets them take training with primitive melee weapons, to represent their experience fighting terrifying monsters with improvised or underpowered weaponry. Its name? If it bleeds, I can kill it.
The Hostile Acquisitions sourcebook brings us the "Reaver" career option, raiders who have lived too long on the edge of space and now live only for pillage and slaughter. The accompanying illustration includes a rather familiar brown duster. This may be the only thing ever to become Lighter and Softer when translated into the Warhammer 40,000 universe.
Also, In the entry on Void Kraken, there is an account of a sailor who told his captain that that there was no moon...
There is an ability that Dark Eldar can use when applying poisons and toxins onto their foes that delay the effect of the toxin until some time after it has been applied, with some particularly gruesome effects like the victim's body exploding violently due to the victim's blood actively revolting against the body. What is said ability called? "You are already dead."
Simple Yet Awesome: Bolter weapons, which are the standard armament at most levels, but are also rocket propelled missiles at semi and fully automatic rates.
Space Is Cold and Literally Shattered Lives: A major danger of void exposure is your corpse freezing solid and becoming fragile within a minute of death. Inherited from Dark Heresy, though given the activities of Rogue Trader characters it's a more common danger for them.
Space Pirates: A common threat to Rogue Traders and Imperial shipping in general. Come in human, Eldar, and Ork flavours.
There are two types of human flavour: Regular Joes who are in it for the money, and Chaos pirates who are in it For the Evulz. At best. Oh, and some Rogue Traders do this, too.
The Hostile Acquisitions sourcebook is a handy resource for players who prefer to play on the wrong side of the law.
Starship Luxurious: Things that can potentially be found aboard a Rogue Trader's starship include vaulted ceilings, barracks for entire regiments of ground troops, room-sized techno-pipe organs, gladiatorial arenas, factories, and full-size churches to the God-Emperor (some of which can detach from the ship proper and be air-dropped as prefab cathedrals on worlds in need of converting).
Too Dumb to Fool: A particularly messy variant. If a Navigator takes The Lidless Stare up to Master level, anyone who looks into their Warp Eye has to pass a Toughness test or die immediately—unless their Intelligence is less than 20. As a comparison, the minimum starting Intelligence is 27...
Unobtainium: Nephium, the only source of which is the bubbling sinkhole pits in the middle of ancient, abandoned xenos cities made of ice on the frozen planet of Lucin's Breath. When a small amount is added to crude promethium, it drastically improves the refinement process and leaves a much more efficiently burning fuel than otherwise. The environment it is extracted from is extremely hostile to human life and the ruins that surround each sinkhole are said to be haunted, yet it is so valuable that the houses of Chorda and Winterscale and a dozen smaller operations come to literal war over stakes claimed to prime extraction sites.
War for Fun and Profit: Literally in the case of war-related Endeavours. A Rogue Trader can act as a mercenary force broker, lending services to one side or another whether that be navel protection, private army deployment, supply transport, scouting, or just plain privateering. Heck, just arranging arms deals is often quite profitable in itself. The Battlefleet Kronus sourcebook expands a great deal on this aspect of the game.
Worthy Opponent: This can quite easily happen in-game between PCs and other Rogue Traders, since while most of them are rivals, very few are outright enemies as Koronus is filled with forces that are openly hostile to all humans. The supplement Edge of Abyss actively encourages GMs to have their groups develop rivalries with, and seek to surpass the existing canonical NPCs.
Wretched Hive: Footfall, a collection of hollowed-out asteroids, repurposed derelict ships, and other such liveable space detritus loosely held together with tethers and docking bridges, located on the far side of the Koronus Passage. It is here that various factions vie for control of various territories, any number of goods both conventional and illicit can be bought and sold, and a variety of powers keep agents stationed there to guard their interests and monitor those of others. A place where assassins, diplomats, priests, criminals, and even xenos can rub elbows with each other. The fact that not all of them shoot each other on sight says much about how little Imperial law means on Footfall.
Writers Cannot Do Math: Working from the numbers given for the dimensions and tonnage of ships, small raiders are about half the average density of balsa wood (Ork Brute Ram: 60 kg/m^3) while the largest bulk transports would blow away in a slight breeze (Imperial Universe class: 2.9 kg/m^3). Crew requirements have the same scaling problem (as well as being far to low for how the fluff describes living conditions, even on the smallest ships) while passenger capacities seem to be random numbers that don't increase with size at all.
You Lose at Zero Trust: If your crew ever hits zero morale they will turn against you entirely and attack any authority figure they can find. Considering that even a "small" Imperial craft has a crew numbering in the thousands this means that the players will at least lose their ship, if not their lives. The only other solution is to execute the entire crew... and you can't run anything without them.