News for September 2009
All Batteries Fire! 17
Space Combat in Rogue Trader
Rogue Trader | Published 14 September 2009

By Rogue Trader Developer Sam Stewart

Hello, Rogue Trader Fans! Last week I talked about setting up an Endeavour, with the Rogue Trader Sarvus Trask and his valiant crew wresting a trade route to Mallanus Minoris from the clutches of the vile Ork Freebooterz. This week, let’s look closer at one of the battles between their ship—the Cerberus—and one of the Freebooterz warships—the ‘Eadsmasha!

First, let’s take a look at our opponents. The Cerberus is a Havoc-class merchant raider that is both Resolute (a Machine Spirit Oddity decreasing her speed but increasing her hull points) and Haunted (a Past History decreasing her crew’s Morale but increasing her Detection and ability to resist boarders). Even with her resolute tendencies, the ship is still fast, manoeuvrable, and well armed. Like all raiders, however, her armour is weaker and she has less hull integrity than other ships her size. For weapons, she’s carrying a long-range dorsal Sunsear Laser Battery and powerful prow Ryza-pattern Plasma Battery—both macrobatteries.

The ‘Eadsmasha! is an Onslaught-class Ork Freebooterz vessel. Its hull is classed as a frigate, and although it’s slower and less manoeuvrable than the Cerberus, the ‘Eadsmasha! has tougher armour and more hull integrity. It also has one additional prow weapon slot, and it mounts two looted prow macrocannons and a dorsal battery of Gunz—all three macrobatteries as well.

The two ships start 20 VUs (Void Units) apart from each other and facing one another, in orbit over Mallanus Minoris. Earlier in the Endeavour, Trask managed to surprise his foes, but this time the Ork is aware and waiting for him. Each ship rolls Initiative (the 10s column of their Detection, plus 1d10). In personal combat, combatants use their Agility when determining Initiative to represent their quick reflexes. With starship combat, who acts first depends more on who notices their enemies first—hence the use of Detection. The Cerberus, with its higher Detection bonus, wins the roll and goes first.

Space combat is very similar to normal combat, with Strategic Turns and Rounds taking the place of regular Turns and Rounds. Each ship gets one Strategic Turn during each Strategic Round, which lasts roughly 30 minutes of in-game time.

During that turn, each ship must make one Movement Action and may make one Shooting Action (during which any available weapons are fired). Crewmembers also have the option of performing Extended Actions to boost the ship’s performance or create other benefits. Each player character can only perform one action, however, so it behooves them to plan their turn carefully. 

During the Cerberus’s first turn, Trask boldly decides to head straight at the enemy. There will be no skulking about while there are xenos to butcher! The counsel of his Void-master gunner does convince him, however, to perform Evasive Manoeuvres as the ship approaches, to make it more difficult to hit. Trask must make a Difficult (–10) Pilot+Manoeuvrability Test to succeed—meaning he adds his Pilot (Spacecraft) Skill of 30 to the Cerberus’s Manoeuvrability of 25, then tests against the total of 55. He rolls a 42, success! Success plus one additional degree of success means all shooting against his ship takes a –20 penalty until the beginning of the Cerberus’s next turn. Unfortunately, his own ship suffers the same penalty.

The Voidmaster gunner then fires on the enemy. They are still 12 VUs apart, meaning the plasma batteries are out of range. The Sunsears, with their range of 9, are within long (double) range of the enemy.

Macrobatteries fire in a similar manner to fully automatic weapons. The gunner makes a Ballistic Skill Test, and more degrees of success means more hits. However, with a total penalty of –30 (–20 for Evasive Manoeuvres and –10 for long range), the macrobatteries only score two hits. One is soaked by the ‘Eadsmasha!’s void shields, while the other does little against the Ork’s tough prow armour.

Then it’s the Ork’s turn. Trask thought he was out of range of the worst of the ‘Eadsmasha!’s fire, but he didn’t know about the Big Red Button the Ork Kaptain installed on his bridge. Belching a vast cloud of vile fuel-gas, the ‘Eadsmasha! lurches forward an additional 4 VUs, moving 9 total. Now, only 3 VUs away from its target, the Ork opens fire!

Even with the -20 penalty from Evasive Manoeuvres, the ‘Eadsmasha! can smash the Cerberus. Its looted macrocannons are within short range—partially negating the firing penalty, and even its gunz are in range as well. It lets loose with everything, scoring three hits with its macrocannons, and one solid hit from the gunz. One macrocannon hit is absorbed by the Cerberus’s shields, the rest go straight to armour. When multiple macrobatteries aboard a ship are directed against the same target, their damage is combined. The ‘Eadsmasha! ends up rolling 25 total damage. The Cerberus subtracts 16 due to armour, but still takes 9 damage to her Hull Integrity. One volley, and more than a quarter of her Hull Integrity has been lost! Things are looking grim for Trask and his crew.

A lesser captain might break off and retreat at this point, but not Trask. He quickly consults with his crew and comes up with a plan “that’s just crazy enough to work!” He wants to come up alongside the Ork ship, then turn directly into her flank and give her a withering volley at point blank range.

However, the Ork ship is only 3 VUs away, under the minimum distance the Cerberus is required to move each turn. Trask will have to Adjust Speed, a Challenging (+0) Pilot+Manoeuvrability Test. In the Cerberus’s engineerium, the Explorator links himself directly with the Cerberus’s core cogitators in order to Aid the Machine Spirit, boosting the ship’s Manoeuvrability for the turn. Then Trask makes his Adjust Speed Test, and succeeds with two additional degrees of success. The Cerberus can choose to move half its Speed instead of its full (as can any ship), and Adjust Speed allows it to decrease or increase the distance it moves by one VU for every degree of success. With the savage flare of firing retro-thrusters, the Cerberus moves forward 3 VUs, then turns hard to face the Eadsmasha!’s vulnerable flank.

On the gun decks, the crews let out a hearty cheer as the ship’s Missionary exhorts them, Put Your Backs Into It! With the accuracy of the macrobatteries boosted, the Void-master calculates targeting solutions and orders all batteries to fire!

She rolls a successful Ballistic Skill Test with no degrees of success for the plasma batteries, and misses with the laser batteries. However, the Void-master’s Master of Gunnery ability allows her to re-roll failed Ballistic Skill Tests when firing the ship’s guns. She rolls again, and scores an impressive four degrees of success! Not only do all four of the laser batteries’ shots hit their target, but by scoring four degrees of success, she also equalled the weapon’s Crit Rating. The Eadsmasha! is in for a Critical Hit.

First the Void-master calculates damage, subtracting one hit from the Ork’s void shields, then rolling the remainder. She gets a total of 36, and once the Ork subtracts its armour of 18, it still suffers an additional 18 points of damage to its Hull Integrity—almost half its total! In addition, the Void-master rolls high on her Critical Hit, causing a fire to break out on the unlucky Ork ship.

During the Eadsmasha!’s next turn, the full ingenuity of Trask’s plan becomes apparent. The Ork ship’s Manoeuvrability is low enough that it will have to move a good distance forward before turning, meaning it will be unable to bring the majority of its weapons to bear against the Cerberus. Meanwhile, Trask’s more manoeuvrable vessel can come about and stay on its stern, raking the Freebooter until it surrenders—or is destroyed.

Of course, this is only a brief snapshot of basic starship combat. Lances, boarding actions, hit-and-run attacks, and the horrific plasma drive and warp drive overloads (to name a few) are beyond the scope of this designer diary, but all combine to make space combat in Rogue Trader a savage—and thrilling—experience. 

Rogue Trader is a roleplaying game set in dark gothic far future of Games Workshop's Warhammer 40,000 universe. Players take on the roles of explorers aboard a Rogue Trader's ship, searching for profit and adventure while discovering new alien cultures and threats in the uncharted regions of space.

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Comments (17)

Published: 10/16/2009 1:55:48 PM

Wow, this looks sweet. I almost passed on Rogue Trader since Dark Heresy is more my style, but the fact that all the players get to influence/help their captains ship is really, really cool.

Alluvian Est-Endrati
Published: 9/21/2009 9:42:21 AM

Very very cool. I have always been very fond of ship to ship combat in RPGs since I was introduced to Spelljammer a great many years ago. It will be very nice to have more solid rules for this stuff without having to break out Battlefleet Gothic.

Published: 9/17/2009 12:08:23 AM

 looks like I may have to pick up some battlefleet gothic minis in anticipation

Published: 9/16/2009 1:24:04 AM

It sounds interesting

Published: 9/15/2009 4:19:06 PM

I don't like idea of movement and firing. It looks like one vessel is waiting for oponent to make actions. I have to check idea:

Player: movement, firing

Oponent: firing movement.

This will looks more like shooting in middle of movements of two vessels. Any coments?

Published: 9/15/2009 4:04:43 PM

Is the range/distance aspect best dealt with on graph or hex paper?

I like how its an approximation of the BFG rules.  I wonder if there will be an official conversion process from RT to BFG.  I hope they can really strike a good balance between staying true to BFG and being a fun 1-on-1 space battle game.

Published: 9/15/2009 2:17:01 PM

Now that looks cool! Simple, similar enough to the basic combat rules so it doesn't feel like learning a whole new game, everyone has the chance to do something and play looks pretty dynamic and exciting.

Published: 9/15/2009 4:32:37 AM

yeah looks easy to me, and a flow chat would really help out as well, looks to me like RT is going to be loads of fun! :)

Published: 9/14/2009 5:07:45 PM

Looks fairly simple to me, so well done on that FFG!

Published: 9/14/2009 3:09:46 PM

Looks too complex for my tastes.  The overall product sounds fun, though.

Published: 9/14/2009 3:00:36 PM

With Eldar ships, the big advantage is their holofields, which make detection and targeting somewhere between difficult and impossible (their depiction in the novel Shadowpoint is quite good at demonstrating this, IMO). By the sounds of it, those factors will be highly valuable in this system.

The Eldar ruled the stars for millions of years before mankind came along, and it was no flaw in their fleets nor weakness in their warriors that condemned them to this slow oblivion. There is no reason, save an unpleasant anti-Eldar bias, that their fleets and armies should be weak. As demonstrated by their depiction in Creatures Anathema, the warriors of the Eldar are more than a match for those of mankind, swift and deadly to behold, and I don't see why their ships should be any different.

Published: 9/14/2009 2:49:49 PM

I'm not sure it this will be as lopsided for the eldar as BFG is.  GW ignored the fact that big ships could carry better sensors and more of then which would tend to offset the small ships maneuverability.  And the fact that eldar ships were supposed to be brittle but, weren't.  They had the One Stat to Rule Them All. 

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