Saturday, December 21, 2019

(WK40K - RT) Stars of Inequity

I may have to rethink my thesis on Warhammer 40k. Stars of Inequity wasn't satirical in the slightest. There are comic-relief orks who are "funny" in a kind of insufferable way, but mostly it plays Rogue Trader's "dark Star Trek" completely straight.

It's the book's best quality, really. The bulk of its page-count is taken up by a variety of useful subsystems and GM advice. We get rules for randomly generating star systems and a colony-managing minigame. And though they're unfit for their ostensible purpose, the random planetside adventure tables nonetheless contain a lot of good story ideas (ultimately, their flaw is merely that the largest of them contain only 10 entries, which means they needed to be a lot more abstract).

Overall, then, Stars of Inequity is a nifty little book that's very useful for Rogue Trader GMs and moderately inspiring even if you're interested in other sci-fi rpgs.

It also has the unfortunate side effect of demonstrating that the WH40K universe cannot support the weight of its sci-fi premise. Or, to be more precise, it could, if it didn't insist on being so WH40K about everything.

The basic setup of the game is that it's roughly 40,000 years in the future. Humanity has spread to the stars . . . at least twice. After an initial wave of colonization put human settlements across nearly half the galaxy, there was a dark age where interstellar communication fell apart and the old order atomized into a million different worlds. Then, after about 5,000 years of that, a new empire arose which united most of the human planets, but still, after 10,000 years, has not yet reached the extent of the prior age.

One way it does this is by sending heavily-armed capitalists into its border regions to economically exploit isolated human worlds and foster an imperialist relationship of dependency in advance of an all-out military conquest (which the traders may decide to effect themselves, seeing as how they're so heavily armed).

So far so good. Where it loses me is when I think about the fact that we, in the modern day, are about as far away from the people of WH40K as we are from the neanderthals. And in-setting, the rogue traders entering the Koronus sector are as far removed from the people they're meeting as we are from the earliest recorded writing . . . times 3.

When you think about those kind of time scales, you start to realize that WH40K is really underselling its universe. Even if a human planet completely lost all technology when the first galactic civilization collapsed, they would have enough time to rebuild all of it from scratch. And that's to say nothing of the planets that didn't lose all their tech.

Which means that going into the Koronus Expanse, an explorer could potentially find anything. There should be new human subspecies, separated from Homo Sapiens by millennia of evolution. Human societies that have a cultural history 100% divorced from Earth, and thus are as alien as any xenos. Interstellar federations more technologically advanced than the Imperium. And, potentially, societies that are all of the above.

Plus, there are true aliens, psychic mutants, and your FTL drive works by taking a shortcut through Hell.

Given all that, it would be nice if we could get an objective description of literally fucking anything.

Obviously, WH40K has this thing, where the unreliable narration is an indelible part of its brand, and there are times when I can respect that, but it has the annoying tendency to make the limitless sci-fi potential of its fundamental premise into something bland and predictable. Oh, you've discovered another human planet, thousands of years diverged from your culture? What's it going to be, a huddling of poor, benighted souls in desperate need of the light of the Emperor's guidance? Or perhaps a seething hive of degenerate heresy, begging to be cleansed by a holy crusade? Maybe we could put a pin in both those ideas and just start off with a description of what their clothes look like?

No? Oh, fine, have it your way.

Don't get me wrong, I love Rogue Trader. It's a game of space pirates flying around uncharted regions in giant Gothic cathedrals loaded with WMDs and given a literal license to do whatever the fuck they want so long as it turns a profit. As an rpg uber-geek, I adore games that get right down to the bedrock of what this hobby is all about.  There are just times I wish it wasn't always the way it was.

Ukss Contribution: A lot of this book steers you towards the well-trodden paths of "typical" WH40K stories. That's not a problem, per se, because it's a GM reference book, and you kind of want those to tell you what the game's "supposed" to be like. It does, however, mean that if I took the real best element, Corsair Captain Jalthas Mettiere, the sample antagonist who is, strangely enough, a stock heroic type - the dashing pirate with a code of honor - it would just wind up being really generic out of context.

So I'm going to pick something incidental from one of the book's too-short "other xenos" sections, the orbiting crystal cities of the Dominion of Fhjor. What the hell is a Dominon of Fhjor? Hell if I know, that's the first and last time they're mentioned, but they have orbital cities made of crystal, so they must be pretty cool.

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