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RT Campaign - Advice, Tips, Wisdom for a (real) Newbie?

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Hey guys,

I have a group of fellow geeks who I boardgame, MtG with etc... All familiar with computer based RPGs. However, we've never played a 'pen and paper' RPG...

Rogue Trader has heavily piqued my interest, and I was wondering if anyone had any tips or advice for a first time GM/Group. I should mention that the group has varying degrees of familiarity with the 40k universe - from knowledgeable to limited familiarity. I will be GMing (and have a fairly good knowledge of 40k) and there will be 2-4 players. I have already purchased a couple of the RT books/GM kit.

I suppose I'm asking about the things that wouldn't necessarily be in a book - tried and true methods, newb traps etc etc..

Any input would be most appreciated - Thanks!

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1. Know the rules well

2. Know where you can find rules you can't remember

Essentially, there is no replacement for careful study of the RT book. Sit down by yourself and run through some combats, a chase, warp navigation and a ship combat. That should cut down on time spent furiously flipping through the book, while the other players sit and wait.

It also gives you some feel for what equipment is poor/good and how hard different opponents are to face.

3. Be a good host

Your job is to make RT a positive and exciting experience for the players. Make sure that everyone gets something to do and if possible try to let the players choose what to do. It is tempting to railroad the players, but it is more interesting to let them create the story. (don't be afraid to ask for time-outs while you work out how the unexpected player choice affects things). Players quickly become bored if it is apparent that they are merely there to act out a script handed down by the DM.

That's my general advice =)

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 You're going straight from cRPGs to Rogue Trader? Bold choice. Good choice, but bold.

Building on some of the things that Johan B said-

Be Prepared For Anything. (alternately: Prep-work Makes Things Much Easier).
Make a list of possible NPC names so things don't look too generic. Same for ship names. If you have the time and feel up to it, actually think of some defining character traits for them- if they're memorable enough then you can re-use that particular NPC and add to the player's immersion in the campaign.

Similarly, be prepared to field whatever off-the-wall plan your players come up with. Very few computer RPGs allow the sheer scope for crazy plans that people dream up. Eventually your players will realise that and start thinking outside the box. If you're smart and/or lucky enough to anticipate their actual plan, you can keep the game flowing smoothly and fun.
If you can't, don't worry about it- try and keep the game running smoothly if you can, but call a time-out to figure stuff out if you need to.

If the rules don't allow something awesome the players have thought up, and you think it should work, then let them try it. It Is The GM's Prerogative To Make, Break Or Change Rules To Make The Game More Fun.

One last general tip before getting down to some RT specifics: Phat Loot And Easy XP Do Not An Awesome Adventure Make. Nor Does Poverty And TPKing All The Time.
Imagine you've just completed a game, say one of the Final Fantasy series. You start playing those early levels again, with your game winning character, but they are exactly the same difficulty as the first time round- same level mooks in the same places. Your attacks are ridiculously overkilling each and every one. What was fun is now boring. This is the potential pitfall of too much awesome loot and easy experience (known as Monty Haul GMing). It's an easy trap to fall into (especially given the premise and sheer SCALE of Rogue Trader- although that same scale and premise means that a campaign actually works rather well under a Monty Haul), but eventually your player will realise that cakewalking the whole thing is boring and you find yourself having to drastically ramp up the difficulty of fights and endeavours.

Of course, then you can run smack into the opposite problem- not many people enjoy playing desperately poor peasants who get smashed by everything (those who do take up Dark Heresy, Harn or WFRP), and dying all the time is hardly ever fun (except in Paranoia!, in which case it's hilarious). GMing is therefore a problem of balancing the amount of loot and the challenge needed to get it. It can be tricky to figure out to begin with, hence my comment earlier about going straight for Rogue Trader being a bold move. I normally direct people to *spits* Dungeons & Dragons for their first pen and paper RPG, especially first time GMs, as it does actually have a pretty good section in the core rules for determining that balance. Rogue Trader, for all its' many other good points, does not. Of course, since you've already bought the books...

On to Rogue Trader specifics:

Scale. In Rogue Trader, your players aren't a rag-tag bunch of runaway farm-boys trying to knock down the local Evil Baron™, nor are they a bunch of misfits just this side of outlaws desperately trying to make enough money to keep their ship fuelled and flying. They are merchant princes and feudal overlords, with the lives of thousands hanging off their very words. Despite that, most things are going to end up resolved by the players, rather than their subordinates, since it's more fun that way. This shouldn't end up feeling like Captain Kirk And The Five Most Important People On The Ship Go Somewhere Dangerous Alone all the time however. They've got upwards of ten thousand minions. If you feel you have to, remind them of that.
That said, those minions are mostly going to be moving furniture. Any serious opponent to the party is going to have their own mooks, so feel free to have things mostly decided by players vs main NPCs (good computer analogy- the endgame of Fable 3, and the battles of Redcliffe and Denerim from Dragon Age: Origins- even the final battles of Mass Effect 2 work well on the same principle).

Always a Bigger Fish. No matter how powerful the player's Dynasty becomes, they still have to answer to the Imperium sooner or later. Even if they spend years or even decades out beyond the Maw and the borders of the Imperium, they should still worry about running afoul of Imperial or quasi-Imperial institutions. An Administratum audit should scare any of them who know where their affluent lifestyle comes from (gotta love the future IRS demonio.gif) while the threat of the Adeptus Mechanicus withdrawing their services is very, very real. No matter how much diplomatic immunity their Warrant grants them, there are still hundreds of laws on the books that the Adeptus Arbites could use to hassle them. Above all, they should be very underwear-soilingly worried if an Inquisitor comes to call while they are within the Imperium... unless of course, they haven't done anything that could be considered wrong...
Outside the Imperium- they have to contend with larger and more prosperous Dynasties, alien horrors and monsters from the Warp. 


That's all that springs to mind offhand. Good luck with your campaign.

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Starting a new RPG system can even be hard for experienced players, just take your time.

The 1st few sessions should be more a trial and error thing. Your group must slowly learn the twist of P&P RPG and IT IS FULL OF FUN!

As the system comes to you, the story will flow out more gradually and the different aspect of the game will settle in.

Don't use 100% of the system, start with the brief rules in the download part. Play an encounter, simple stand up fight ( i prefer to use the old style warfare for the 1st encounter in a new system, the players have cover and opportunity to try, the enemy is standing in battle line formation and taking pot shots at the players.

then add, more things, maybe suppressing fire, pinning test, fear etc. At the same time as a DM you can then start doing battle plans, moving enemy with traps etc but take your time! Same thing for ship battle, let them shoot down mines and navigate through them, then add turrets maybe then when you and them are good whit the flow add ships as enemy...

Then after 2 or 3 sessions, you guys will feel at ease in the system (and the books surfing the index and finding what you are looking for, sounds weird but this is a transition from a slow crawl games rule checking to a fast action sequence).

Then add asthropaths, navigators, the full shabbang.  Make sure those players who play those are reading them not just waiting on you to do the job for them.


The above comments are all good too, just start small. If you are a real real newb to RPG, there is no issue in stream lining the game at 1st. (i.e. forcing some stuff on the players, or simply refusing some players choices because you can't handle them yet...) In time you will be able to take whatever your players throw at you, at 1st maybe not, your plans will be very rigid and single minded (cause you won't be used to having other people play your toughs and ideas), some clues you think easy they won't ever "get" and they will often derail your adventures completely. The thing is to learn to adapt, stay flexible but don't over doo, if you feel something is getting out of hand, just remove, block stop, until you can think about it and discuss the impact with the player (after game session or by emails, etc). Your players will understand this is a start up as you gain experience as a DM and they as players it will get easier up to a point where you will even free play whole stories. (free play is complete improvisation! )


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             The other guys have pretty much most of the things I wanted to talk about, so Ill keep this brief.

           One of the most important things I have learned is that the rules should always play second to characters. I'm not saying that you let the players do what they want, but you will eventually have to learn when to use the rules and when to skew or cut them when necessary. For example, when my ork wanted to take over a ork ship, there were no real rules about something of that magnitude. I allowed it and it brought along some of the most memorable roleplay I have seen in forever. Of course, I also limited him a bit, emphasing the fact that eventually the orks would rise up against him since he was that powerful of a ork yet.  Just try to use your common sense to think what should or shouldnt be possible and the rest should be easy.

         Also remember, Human behavior. For example, if one of your characters kills a persons brother right in front of him for no good reason, you can probably safely say that no amount of roles is gonna convince that guy not to hate that character. Npc's will have grudges and views and will think certain ways. for most NPC's, it wont matter to much, but major NPC's should have major agenda's, not do things becuase they are the bad guy of the week. The crime boss will want money and profit, the missionary will want to spread the word of the emperor, the chaos worshipper....ok bad example but you get my point. 

        I hoped this has helped you out a bit.

                                             - Arvandus

P.S   Crisaron, thanks for the shoutout about my podcast. Im glad im considered good enough to be given as advice to newbies :  ).

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A couple of simple guidelines:

1. whether you make your own adventure or use one that's "out there": make sure that you know the entire storyline.  It's a lot easier to wing it when players go offtrack if you know where the adventure is going rather then only having read the first part (or made up the first part) because you were short on time.

2. make sure to put short notations of rules you'll need when playing a particular bit into your "script".  It'll save you a lot of headache during the game by avoiding you having to look up rules.  That means: if there's water your players might go for a swim - even if they're being chased - so know how you'll handle that and if necessary put a short rule there.  Basically: try to think of all the stupid stuff your players might do (trust me, they'll try a lot of stupid stuff) and be prepared for it.  If they wanna try to infiltrate the enemy compound without getting noticed (no we don't need guard uniforms, we simply need to put the right tattoo on our arm that'll mark us as one of them) ... you need to know how you'll react.  First time that'll be a lot of stuff you're scribbling down ... but the more you play the less it'll be.

3. when in doubt, use a shorthand rule.  Mine for RT would be: test against the relevant skill modified by a number between +30 (for very easy) to -30 (for insanely hard).

4. the key to being a good game-master imo is to make sure the story is the most important thing.  Try not to get bogged down in rules to much, it's all about the story that's being told through you and the players.  Make things as realistic as possible but some nice cinematics are always fun.  Anything that'll enhance the feeling that the world is "real" and not just something you're pulling out of your arse is good.

5. especially if they don't know the 40kverse that well: ensure that this isn't a handicap.  You are their guide.  If they have the knowledge skills: have them do tests on it and if they succeed hand them a small paper that you made beforehand with the relevant info on it.  Makes for a lot better roleplay and it'll enhance the feel that their character isn't just about killing stuff, putting xp into other skills helps a lot too ;-)  You can help here by giving them an easy handout as to what kind of actions they can use during combat for example.

6. imo starting out characters should "start out".  Meaning they shouldn't instantly the biggest baddest threaths out there (orks, rak'gol, genestealers, ...).  They're basically fresh slates, as green as they come (though they are off course not as green as a deckhand, they're still rogue trader & retinue) at commanding a ship.  So imo first one-two adventures should have a lot of "non-combat" stuff in there (eg. crossing a corridor that has no air in it, with a big gap in the middle leading into the void should they fall in).  It's all challenging to a lvl 1 character ;-)

7. make sure every character get's his/her turn to shine (or has the opportunity to do so at least).

8. have a break every now and then in the bits that aren't so tense so you can check ahead again and everyone can go pee/get a smoke/talk to your hot sister for a bit 

9. don't have to much snacks, it's seriously annoying if you need to talk louder because players are munching so much.  Don't have to little either, but you'll get there by trial and error :P

10. don't do space combat with ships until you got the players to know and do the rest decently.  Space combat tends to be waay to long for those who start out at it meaning it's not fun.

11. make sure they all have their character made before you get together for the adventure.  Making characters tends to take ages if you plan to "quickly finish them before the session".  It doesn't work that way.  They make their characters beforehand, or you add 2-3 hours to the session just for that.

And the master rule: make sure they understand perfectly that your word is law.  If they've read the rules (you say they're geeks, so they will have) they still know jackall.  It's your version of RT, so that might differ from the official rules.  Any and all rules discussions occur after the session, not during.  Your ruling during the session is what stands (and if you were wrong you can always give them something shiny to make up for it later).


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Alasseo said:

I normally direct people to *spits* Dungeons & Dragons for their first pen and paper RPG, especially first time GMs, as it does actually have a pretty good section in the core rules for determining that balance. Rogue Trader, for all its' many other good points, does not. Of course, since you've already bought the books...

I always thought that my first foray into proper RPGs would be Dungeons and Dragons (if just due to the prolific nature of content/familiarity with universe etc..). But once I started reading about Rogue Trader I honestly got quite seduced by the themes and scope of the game. Hopefully I haven't bitten off more than my green RPG group can chew...!


Thanks so much to everyone for the extensive input - it will be a huge help over the next few weeks as I ease into this campaign.

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Possibly useful ideas for Rogue Trader:

All Rogue Trader PCs are inherently the sort to go with the landing party on the dangerous mission to the Planet of Death in the Forbidden Zone.  Most crew specialists will be happy to stay onboard ship unless given a specific reason and a reasonable guarantee of safety.  Such is not the route for your intrepid crew!  Ensure from before character creation that the players understand this, and generate characters appropriately.

Don't get too clever on the first time out.  You may have some overly involved plan involving a ten thousand year old Slaughter-class cruiser, a mandate signed by Robute Gulliman and the White Consuls' role in the Matter of the Empty Cathedrals, but it's much easier to start off with a campaign straight out the book if you're on your first game.  If it runs for long enough you can add complications later.

Allow re-working of characters, and clarifications of rules.  The PC has taken a hideously useless collection of abilities that the player never gets to use, the new supplement has released an alternate origin path option that fits far better than what had been picked originally and at the climax of the last game you forgot that the plasma cannon in the heavy weapons emplacements should have overheated.  Re-jig the characters (not in the middle of the session), and mention the rules next time they come up (I didn't know this last time, but from now on we're doing it like this...)

You almost certainly have e-mail and other means of communicating with the players.  Use such technology.  Ideally hand out a bit of paper with your e-mail and phone number and take note of such information from other players.  Using e-mail to give out extra information between games or getting a phone call to let you know Dave fell off his bike and can't make the game on time are not essential, but they are useful tools.  Wikis and forums can be set up, but are a waste of effort except in long-lasting and/or extremely involved games.

Names are hard to come up with on the fly.  Have a big list of names each for Imperial humans, Navy warships, merchant ships and planets.  Other lists of names may be useful.

If the players are bored, have something explode.  Even if you're not sure why yet, their reactions will take long enough that you can figure it out.

Have prepared all-purpose unexpected encounters.  One or two ready to in at opportune times is enough as long as you replenish your stock after use.  This can be a lavishly-detailed rival Rogue Trader with her retainers and ship covered in detail, or a handfull of scrawled copies of stat blocks with "Suddenly, pirates!" as the header.  Orks are particularly good for this, as they are numerous, persistent and available in a variety of flavours.

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You've gotten a lot of good advice already, though there is one thing that hasn't been mentioned yet:  Acquisitions.  Be advised that an extreme result on the Ship Points vs. starting profit factor can be very difficult to deal with.

My group had several newbies...    they were all experienced role-players, but some of them hadn't played Rogue Trader and had no familiarity with the 40K universe.  I think the single most common newbie question has been "Um, what should I buy?" when the PC's are docked at Port Wander.

With that in mind, here are several recommended purchases:

1.  You need the good quality medi-kit, the one that can be used untrained.  Medicae skill is rare, and if the medic goes down its likely a TPK if you don't have one.

2.  Warpsbane hull.  Seriously.

3.  Good armour for all the PC's.  Void suits too...  You might look into getting a void suit with integral armour as well - given the 40K technology base, standard void suits are unarmoured and are too bulky to be worn with armour.

4.  Effective weapons for all PC's.  The exact weapon is a matter of player choice and character class.

5.  Shields can be a lifesaver.  All the PC's in my group

After that, transportation and upgrading the ship's armsmen appear to be popular choices among my group.  They have 6 gun cutters now, and 2 companies of reasonably competent goons, with a decent proportion of meltaguns and stormtrooper carapace.


- V.

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Don't forget to read the errata (what i'd give for a reprint of the books that have errata).

Teach yourself how to make a character (this process is not terribly confusing).

Have everyone read about the combat system in the book, that chapter.

Get some pre-made characters and have your players gather for a single purpose: run a combat.  Fight each other in groups or individually.  Nothing liek on the job training and figuring out what you like.  Twin-Linked Hellguns are nice.

After the combat if you still have four interested players try and run an introductory adventure, a small one.

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Afew Rogue trader specific tips


1) As your first RP experience, run a few of the published adventures, there are some in the main book, GMs screen, and most other releases. Lure of the Expanse is particularly excellent.  This will get your players and yourself in the zone and familiar with the rules.

2) use study tabs (those little coloured tabs that you can mark books with) for the rules you find yourself needing most. Critical tables, combat mods, starships actions are all good candidates. Nothing slows down a game like searching through books for rules.

3) once you are familiar with what you need, use word or excel to create rules summary sheets with the most common stuff for your players, give each a copy and insist that they attach it to their character sheet, i cannot stress how helpful i found this.

4) Prep, prep and more prep. While running the adventures i mentioned earlier, make some NPCs. Start with their favourite merchants (who do they buy guns off?), bartenders for their favourite haunts (and then get a handful, 4 or 5 short sentences of description of the hangout, something that makes it unique). Then make some bad guys, not necessarily people to kill but long term adversaries. Make your players hate them, players LOOOOVE to defeat baddies that they hate. Now create some ships that their friends and enemies fly. Create them some allies or at least friends.

5) Do some more prep.

6) all this prep means that when your players ask you who else is in berth around footfall, or who in the room is likely to take their side in a fight, you are ready with a few ready made NPCs to use.

7) be deliberately loose with your own plots. Rogue Trader is a sandbox game and to a certain extent it relies upon the players deciding to go off and do stuff. If you make very detailed plans, your players WILL frustrate them. Therefore be flexible. If they absolutely must meet a certain NPC to progress and he is on a ship they hulk, simply have him be elsewhere. If they knew he was on the ship, have him escape by teleportarium. If they murder the only guy who knws of the ancient secret doodad, have some other NPC know (maybe the first NPC left his secret with enough as he got a "bad vibe" off the PCs). The moment your players find an unexpected way to exploit a situation to make money and generally improve their situation is the moment you know they have got the idea.

8) Manipulate their emotions. Don't tell them the pirate fleet is evil. That has no impact. Let them find the ship of an allied trader who they liked, shredded and with the trader dead in a horribly fashion (flayed across the prow is good), then its personal. Make them hate the enemy, make them love their friends. If they are finding a battle against Orks a bit hard, have another friendly trader turn up and help them. If an endeavour is going too easy, have a foe turn up and reap the rewards. Stuff like this gets the players emotionally involved and thats good for RP.

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