Friday, January 31, 2020

(WH40K: RT )Hostile Acquisitions

When addressing the concept of penal legions, "The Imperium does not believe in waste."

Later, on the opposite page, re: heretics, "It is better that a thousand innocents die than one heretic go free."

Rogue Traders are authorized (indeed, mandated) to trade with xenos.

The sale and possession of xenos artifacts is highly illegal.

This book is pretty good.

It probably shouldn't exist.

Hostile Acquisitions is about crime in the Warhammer 40k universe. It has a lot of interesting setting information (we even get proper names for significant characters in the Calixis sector government), but it highlights the contradictions inherent in Rogue Trader as a game. In general, Rogue Trader characters are supposed to be scoundrels at best. The worst ones are absolute bastards. Regardless of where they fall on the spectrum, though, they're supposed to be scoundrels for the system. The Imperium of Man wants to get a jump on plundering territories they can't quite control, so they employ a caste of professional plunderers. Because of who they are and what they do, they are almost, but not entirely, above the law. Yet the few laws they are subject to are contradictory and vague and inconsistently applied.

If you wanted to, you could make the argument that that's the point. When you're living in a tyrannical system, "poorly written" laws serve the interests of those in power, allowing them to dole out punishments on a whim, to "guilty" and "innocent" alike. But Hostile Acquisitions doesn't make that argument. "[There are] as many honest, diligent, and idealistic enforcers as dishonest, lazy, or brutal ones."

I'm honestly not even sure what this book is really about. It offers some useful, detailed advice about running heist, scam, and piracy adventures, but that's what all rogue traders are doing all the time (well, that and treasure hunts through haunted ruins, but even those have the same basic structure as a heist). The thing that makes them "crimes" is their choice of targets. Hostile Acquisitions does sometimes acknowledge this point, but never quite groks to the irony.

The result is something where half the time I'm just staring at the page, thinking "what the hell am I reading?" The answer is always some variant of "look they're just tropes, okay - Rogue Trader on it's best day is a simple midi soundtrack away from being Sid Meier's Pirates and ultimately that's beautiful."

Still, as great as it was to introduce a lifepath-based nemesis system, it was a missed opportunity to not have any entries at all that were just classical square-jawed heroes out to stop the players' nefarious schemes. This iteration of the Warhammer 40k universe unfortunately does not have that level of self-awareness. That's why we get a crime book that seems to forget that the very existence of Rogue Traders in the first place is the crime.

I did learn a new word, however. "Contumacious." It means "stubbornly or willfully disobedient to authority (especially of a defendant's behavior)." Expect me to inartfully cram it in to future blog posts.

Ukss Contribution: Transportation as punishment. I feel a little uneasy about using a historical atrocity as light entertainment, but Ukss does have oppressive imperial governments and transportation has the advantage of being cruel without being stomach turning, so I could use it as the introduction to an adventure without feeling like a complete monster.


  1. "Transportation as punishment," i.e., penal colonies?


    1. Sort of. Penal colonies are one form of transportation, but it can also just refer to moving prisoners to overseas colonies that exist for other, more general reasons.