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Reviews - Rogue Trader: Forsaken Bounty
by Chris Hutchings

Forsaken Bounty coverRogue Trader: Forsaken Bounty
Published by Fantasy Flight Games
Developed by Ross Watson, Owen Barnes, & Sam Stewart
Cover by Sacha Diener
22 page full-color softbound book

Rogue Trader is the eagerly anticipated follow up to the Dark Heresy Roleplaying Game, where players take on the role of a space faring privateer, looking for excitement, adventure and, above all, profit in the Warhammer 40k universe. So the question is, will Fantasy Flight Games utilize the distinctive setting and massive history that comes with the Games Workshop franchise, or will it just be Serenity in the 40k universe? Forsaken Bounty provides some clues to that answer. An introductory booklet for Rogue Trader, it surfaced at Free RPG Day 2009 to whet our collective appetites for the main rules, due out in August.

A View of the Preview
At only 20 pages long the writers have managed to squeeze a fair amount in. Unsurprisingly, the rules account for a big chunk of the space. For those already familiar with Dark Heresy, there isn't anything really new in Forsaken Bounty. Characteristics and Skills are decently covered, and there's a massive amount of detail on combat actions, easily enough to run some in-depth conflicts. As with the Dark Heresy rules, emphasis is as much on dodging and evading your opponent as on trying to hit them, which makes combats last longer but are also more interesting. Several different combat actions are available each round, so it's not just a case of standing next to each other and rolling to hit.

However, as is always the case, squeezing the rules into a quickstart preview tends to mean some details slip through the cracks. For people who haven't come across this set of rules before, certain elements could be confusing. Fate points in particular could use some more discussion, and the stats for the few weapons that crop up could easily be misread as they only appear in the character summaries.

The setting doesn't take up a great deal of room, but this is a deliberate ploy; the writers make it clear that this is a self-contained scenario and you don't need background knowledge in order to play. Still, kudos to whoever managed to condense the Imperium down to three paragraphs. This introductory adventure includes a trio of pre-generated characters, including a Rogue Trader. With a page dedicated to each, they are pretty well fleshed out, including backgrounds, roleplaying hints and some excellent artwork on a par with what we've already seen in Dark Heresy.

If you're worried about spoilers, look away now! The Scenario itself is spread over the final eight pages and is actually a pretty good story, with good descriptive passages. But then you can't go far wrong with zombies in space. The plot revolves around salvaging an Imperial Frigate, exactly the sort of thing you'd expect a Rogue Trader to be involved in. There's a good build up before you actually reach your destination, and plenty of opportunities for problem solving and combat once you arrive. The inevitable 'big bad guy' is for all intents and purposes invulnerable - until you can work out what his weakness is. Additionally, the booklet includes some conclusions and rewards so you can use this as a starting point or slot it into an existing campaign - always nice to have the option.

So, is it any good? Well, essentially Forsaken Bounty achieves most of the aims it sets for itself. As an introduction to the themes of 40k and Rogue Trader, it hit's the nail right on the head. In fact, the most interesting things I found by far were the glimpses into the game mechanics that we're going to be seeing more of - namely, Endeavors and Profit. Instead of whizzing around the galaxy willy-nilly, Rogue Traders (contrary to their name) do have rules they have to stick to. Each 'Endeavor' (such as, in this case, salvaging a ship) includes certain pre-requisites: gathering the appropriate equipment, establishing salvage rights, and the like. All these are goals that have to be met in-game, which adds a nice additional element to the mix - you might be a hot-shot pilot but unless you can convince the Imperial authorities to give you the contract, you're going nowhere. Success at Endeavors leads to Profit - not just money and goods, but also an indication of influence and social standing. Acquire enough profit, we are told, and characters may end up "commanding entire fleets of spaceships or owning their own planet." Nice.

Failure is probably something most Traders don't think about too much. Problems such as damaging your own ship will reduce the Profit awarded to you for completing an Endeavor . This booklet doesn't specify but presumably it is possible to receive negative Profit. If you screw up enough times you may find your Trader Charter being taken from you.

Though Forsaken Bounty gets the excitement and anticipation flowing, it does also fall down in a few areas. Despite claiming to give you all you need to play in one go, it does assume a certain amount of familiarity and experience on the part of the GM. The scenario is written with plenty of elbow room - perfect for those of us who have been playing for some time but not so good for people new to the scene (and with the obvious potential of picking up on all those Warhammer war gamers out there, chances are there will be a lot of folks falling into that category). Some areas are also left pretty vague. A good example is Armor Penetration - though it is briefly mentioned in the rules, some weapons are stated as having AP 0, but others have no mention of AP at all. With the PCs all wearing pretty decent armor, it seems unlikely that any of them will ever take any serious damage in combat.

And, as is sadly always the case, it contains the usual assortment of typos and the like.

As a preview goes, Forsaken Bounty is rather confused. Those with roleplaying experience can really run a decent game from just twenty pages, despite the occasional error. Newer gamers, though, might struggle with some of the things we take for granted (such as 'fudging' rules to make them work). And that is the confusion with Forsaken Bounty - who exactly is it aimed at? The style says new players, the content more experienced players. The writers seem to want to cater to everyone at the expense of no one, but the size of the booklet doesn't enable them to do that. Still, with a good scenario, a glimpse at the way Rogue Trader is going to work and some cracking artwork, I'd advise picking up a copy if you get that chance. At this price, you really can't grumble, can you?



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