Sunday, December 29, 2019

(WH40K - RT)Into the Storm

How much digital ink do I really need to spill on Into the Storm? It's an expansion to the Rogue Trader core book. Everything here could have gone into the core, were they inclined to make it 600 pages long, but since only Exalted and Chuubo's have that kind of hubris, the material wound up in a supplement instead. In theory, there's not much else to say . . .

I mean, some of the choices are a little questionable. I can't say with certainty that this book was originally 250 pages that got cut from the core and repackaged as a supplement, but if it were, some of the cuts were definitely justified by more than just length. The extra Origin Path options, by adding xp costs to some of your choices, make it possible to naively go through the expanded Origin Path and wind up with an illegal character. The only way to avoid it is to keep careful track of your character creation resources, thereby undermining one of the primary benefits of a life path system.

Alternate career ranks are an interesting idea, and they can potentially add some unique flavor to your characters, but the rules on how and when to use them are a little confusing. They also have the potential to mess up your general character advancement, not just in terms of balance, but by doing things like cutting off access to vital prerequisite talents. And finally, the abilities offered by the alternate ranks are rarely distinct enough to make much of a difference. Getting a separate menu of things you can buy at a particular character level that largely overlaps with your default class, but which may have a few rare talents available instead of the base class's more powerful abilities doesn't seem all that different than just picking up a couple of rare talents as elite advances, outside your normal progression. Though admittedly, this is a weakness in Rogue Trader's advancement system overall. It's largely point buy, and the main function of classes is to tell you what you can't purchase.

Also . . . orks are here. I am so fucking ambivalent about these guys. I like that Into the Storm gives rules for playing xenos characters. You won't hear one word of negativity from me regarding the Kroot. The Kroot are great, though I . . . question the book's assertion that because their genders don't map precisely to "male" and "female" that means that they can neither seduce nor be seduced by a human. Either the FFG people have never been on the internet or they've been on the internet a little too much and are trying to futilely stem the tide of Kroot rule 34 roleplaying we all know is inevitable (oh, btw, it exists, it's off-putting, and I'm not sure who I was trying to impress by searching for it).

Maybe it's the medium clouding things for me, but the main cultural distinction of WH40K orks seems to be their refusal to use the letter "c." You know, the pointless one we stole from the French and whose primary purpose seems to be to distinguish words with Latinate roots from those with Anglo-Saxon roots. So when the book talks about orc "Kraftsamnship" all it really says to me is that orks never fully reconciled with the Norman invasion of England and thus their spelling of words like "craft" and "chaos" must derive from a branch of the language that split off somewhere in the 11th or 12th century (although, on a related note, the ork spelling of "klan" is not only genuinely upsetting to me as an American, it's also etymologically inauthentic, seeing as how that word entered English through Roman influence on the Gaelic tongue . . . sounds a little like some of that ork genetic knowledge got corrupted by folk etymologies.)

Oh, sorry, I guess I got caught up in a bit. Point is that British accent snobbery means less than nothing to me. Henry Higgins was able to get away with it because he was played by Rex Harrison, but WH40K has not earned that kind of lifetime pass.

I'm not a total curmudgeon. I get why orks are supposed to be funny. Stripped of the obnoxious classism of their presentation, there's something inherently funny about a group that openly embraces the game's violent, macho excess. In the grim, dark future of the 41st millennium, there is only WAAAGH! That's funny. Baroque, over-engineered, smog-belching killing machines, with lots of pointless extra blades and random explosions . . . those are funny. The thing I was incorrectly imagining bomb squigs to be (tiny, grenade-sized mini-orks strapped to a grenade and told to run at the enemy) . . . that was funny.

The problem with orks, however, is something I like to call "the tinker gnome problem." Someone, somewhere was under the mistaken impression that it would ruin the joke if they were allowed to know things.

It's real tricky to get at exactly why this is a problem. The wacky inventor decapitates themself when they try out their coal-fired toothbrush. That's a grotesque, but amusing slapstick image. But it would be a mistake to think that the joke is "the inventor didn't understand the physical principles of combustion." Wile E Coyote probably is a super-genius. Like, if you looked at his math with the rocket boots, it would probably check out. The joke is about the aesthetics and purpose of the technology. Wile E Coyote and the tinker gnomes and the Orks are funny because they want rocket boots and steam-powered toothbrushes and ridiculously giant handguns, and they never realize that those are ludicrous things to want. They have knowledge without restraint.

But there's this misguided idea that because they are comedic characters, they must be denied the dignity of true knowledge. The tinker gnomes' inventions don't work. The orks' inventions shouldn't work, but they're held together with a psychic energy field and in any event they're cobbled together from bits and pieces of mysterious ancient forerunner technology that they subconsciously retrieve from the genetically-encoded memories inside the symbiotic fungus that powers their regenerative and reproductive abilities.

And all that so you can avoid having ork schools and ork mines and ork factories and have a species that is devoted to ONLY WAAAGH! In the end, though, it's kind of a wasted effort because there has to be an implied ork logistics chain, even granting the universe has given them special powers to skip over the complicated stuff. Where are the millions and millions of tiny screws coming from? If they are a true threat to the Imperium, which has billions of soldiers, then they are are going to need nearly endless numbers of tiny screws. Do they have an auto-lathe that churns them out? Are there ork machinists? Slavery of other species can explain some of it, but how do they get to be strong enough to take slaves? They need starships to conquer planets and industry to get starships, so where does it begin?

It's a long way to go just to have a faction that is artlessly ported over from a fantasy rpg with a minimum of modifications. At some point during the second or third paragraph you spend justifying why a magic space fungus allows your sci-fi creatures to live according to trope logic, it stops being funny. Just give them a culture already.

Just to be clear, I'm not anti-Ork. It's just, whatever genre they're supposed to be, I'm not feeling it for Rogue Trader.

And there goes my ambition to have a short, simple post for an uncomplicated book. I really loved the new information about starship crews. It's packed with new setting detail, PC hooks, and adventure ideas. Just an absolutely vein of rpg value.  The expanded endeavor system is an exciting idea. Meta-endeavors that do for your campaign what regular endeavors do for adventures. Can you get the PCs to buy in to the idea that they choose the plot? Can they even be trusted with that much power. Finally, WH40K's religion continues to be confusing. Why can things be "holy"? Did Saint Drusus have any ideals other than "conquer shit?" Does the Cult of the Omnissiah just pick technologies at random to be blasphemous?

Anyway, this is kind of an indispensable book for me as a Rogue Trader GM. I'm glad I was able to buy it before the price exploded.

Ukss Contribution: I've been remiss with my WH40K books so far. I've been picking Ukss entries based on some ideal of generic applicability, and while I've not yet picked something I regret, it is a little weaselly of me to consciously avoid "overly 40K" setting elements. So I'm going to make a vow - every third book or so in this series, I'm going to be very deliberate about picking something that is unmistakably and distinctively (if not uniquely) "40K."

This time? Chain blades. They're swords that have a chainsaw instead of a blade. If this was at all a practical idea, it would have been used by a real military by now, but there is a certain thrill I get from the terrifying excess (also, it greatly confounds the "why orks" question - none of their "it can't possibly work, but it does" technology is more ridiculous than this).

It's cheating a bit to pick this particular item at this particular time, because Into the Storm only has modified chain blades (like a chain blade mounted around the edge of a discus - yipe!), but since one of those modifications is removing the safety guard, I feel like it's fine. I consider it nothing more than correcting an oversight from the core book.

PS: To all of you language nerds who noticed that I mangled the history of the letter "C," I hear you. I read the wikipedia article about it in the middle of composing this post, and on a purely factual level, I'm guilty of some shocking inaccuracies.

Nevertheless, this roast was a long time coming and I regret nothing. "I before E," my ass!


  1. "I before E except after C" is one of my very favorite phrases.

    There are so, so many aphorisms which are wrong more often than they're right, yet it's rare to have one where you can just prove that fact with hard numbers, then kick back and relax with an awkward string of non-answers from your 7th grade English teacher. That memory keeps me warm at night.

    What always struck me about the Or(k/c)s is, nobody notices that they're Tyranids. 40K has evolved to have two different groups of planet-stripping psychopaths with no drives save the destruction of everything besides themselves, with no real technology but posing a galactic threat due to their relentless reproduction and psychic hivemind (which traits also make them too alien for Chaos to mess with). One of these is played dead straight as an homage to Alien. The other are comic relief cockney stereotypes. And as far as I can tell, not one writer has ever realized it.

    1. You know, the Tyranid-Ork connection didn't occur to me either, but now that you point it out, it's hard to imagine how I missed it.

    2. Gratifying to hear! Usually, when I make this point to somebody, they just patiently explain the aesthetic differences over and over until I give up.

      Granted, wargames are very much grounded in aesthetics (and 40K more than most), but still.