In the grim darkness of the 41st millennium, there are only cryptic, pseudo-feudal, mostly ineffective systems of law. The entirety of the text of Rogue Trader: Hostile Acquisitions, is based on this premise: as a Rogue Trader, you can undress and run rapturously naked around the house of the divine Emperor of Mankind, and He will be really disappointed in you, you stupid twit, but He won’t do much about it. Until at some point you might be so naked that the neighbors may call the cops. You will reach a new level of streaking debauchery, hitherto unforeseen by anyone. People’s eyes will melt at your glorious nudesensce.
And then a skull-faced maniac with arm-claws will murder you in your sleep.
Hostile Acquisitions is a very useful book for the Rogue Trader line because it helps define the actual power of a rogue trader. With the main book, you knew that the rogue traders were extremely powerful and exorbitantly wealthy individuals given power to conduct business and colonize worlds in the far reaches of space, with the blessings of the Imperium. Though you were essentially above the law, you probably didn’t know much about Imperial law (as a player) other than the pervasive “chaos and xenos are bad, and if I talk to them I’ll get cooties, and then I’ll be killed by a skull-faced maniac.”
And even that started to get shaky by the time you purchased Into The Storm and started recruiting Orkz into your crew.
Hostile Acquisitions is a pretty multi-faceted book. While it is mostly for rogue traders who want to go above the law, as hard and as low-down and dirty as they can, it is incredibly useful as a flavor piece for other Warhammer 40,000 games, such as Dark Heresy. It deals with a lot of the heavy stuff of Warhammer 40k, about how law and ethics work in this society, what is right and wrong to the Imperium, and as a Rogue Trader, how your independence and power match against the law.
The book opens with a highly detailed overview of crime and punishment in the Imperium. As a society with a dark feudal tone, the Imperium hardly cares about the crimes of the lower classes – a beating, whipping or pillory will suffice for a thief, though each of these punishments could result in a broken spine given you’re being beaten by power-armored jackboots. The Imperium is in an endless state of war, and as such the crimes you really have to care about are consorting with its enemies, and heresy. And heresy is basically consorting with the Imperium’s enemies anyway, since believing in Khorne even for just a short while is inherently evil, and will likely result in you wearing spikes and maiming people for blood. For a rogue trader, who may tempted to trade with aliens or deal in artifacts tainted by chaos, these are the laws to be aware of. If you stray too far, any one of your actions is basically inviting the death penalty many times over. Every handshake with an Eldar is one more bullet in the Inquisitor’s bolter once it’s pounded into your skull. The higher you shoot, the farther you risk falling. Only a few rogue traders in the history of the Imperium have been assassinated, and you could be one! Such notoriety; this is all really interesting and useful story material. Even for games at lower levels of society, such as Dark Heresy (where you can actually play as Adeptus Arbites, the space cops enforcing this stuff) the entire section is pure gold and great roleplay fodder.
Apparently the Imperium has a whole class of extremely luxurious penance ships, where the prisoners are tortured every second of their sentence by their inability to enjoy the sheer beauty and comfort that is all around them. The Imperium doesn’t mess around with penance. They will go the extra mile to torment you if you are naughty.
The next chapter is the obligatory section in every Warhammer 40k RPG book that I lovingly refer to as the goods. You have alternate career ranks, and tons of equipment. Let’s look at the equipment first. A lot of it is flavorful, alien, heavy-duty and highly illegal stuff, from eldar and dark eldar weapons, to fake replicas of eldar and dark eldar weapons, to… crappy knockoff bolters. Frankly, I think a lot of this stuff is just excellent material for Dark Heresy, while for Rogue Trader some of it is a little lukewarm. The alien stuff is definitely Rogue Trader. But for example, footfall weapons are essentially bootleg bolters: they are unreliable but easier to acquire than other kinds. This is the kind of stuff that seems better for cash-strapped Dark Heresy Adepts than for Rogue Trader Explorers, or for outfitting NPCs. Nonetheless, it is incredibly flavorful, and goes well with the other “custom” weapons, like the stutter-las, which are illegally modified versions of existing weapons.
The new Alternate Ranks are flavorful but a lot of them are really weird, and some are pretty extreme even if your Rogue Trader players want to flaunt the law. There’s a Secessionist alternate rank that immediately gains the Enemy talent for every single organization loyal to the Imperium, because, well, you’re trying to secede from the Imperium! And in return you get a lot of social stuff like Charm. Meanwhile the Reaver is basically an arch-militant rank for when your arch-militant wants to be insane and to never actually have to roleplay. It’s not terribly impressive, really. Arch-Heretek though is cool. It gives non-techpriests a (illegal) way to get into mechanicus stuff. Swashbuckler is a pirate with a nice, well-rounded list of benefits, while Cold-Trade Broker, House Operative and Manhunter are very campaign-specific characters. They each are very well-suited to certain campaign styles, but put them together and things may get a little messy.
Then there’s the Drusian Charlatan, who sells fake religious trinkets to people. If you really want barter, charm, commerce stuff, and the ability to swindle people out of their money with cold reading, well. There it is – a whole alternate rank for it. Have at it folks.
Finally you have all kinds of upgrades, including letting an Ork mekboy tamper with your stuff and add some More Dakka and whatnot, and a bunch of commercial goods like drugs. There are also tons of new cybernetic upgrades, which is good, because there are entire classes of people that completely revolve around cybernetics, and a whole new class that revolves around illegal cybernetics. You can also get new stuff for your ship, like a library full of alien books, and crew quarters that are even more cramped and horrifying than the ones in the core book, for those times when you really hate your crew.
Chapter Three contains information on the organizations you’ll come up against if you break the law, such as the Imperial Navy and the Adeptus Mechanicus, with powerful NPC adversaries, pregenerated NPC spaceships to do battle against, and fluff about the organization. Again, this is stuff that’s also very useful for other game lines. I’ve been mentioning Dark Heresy a lot, but it occurs to me that Black Crusade is perfect for this as well. A radical Rogue Trader is likely to face all of the same organizations as a bunch of heretics will. Here you have Arbites, Administratum and Inquisition foes and fluff ready-made for some Black Crusade Heretics to take on.
I was quite excited when I read the next chapter. This stuff deserves to be the main system. The big picture element introduced for the GM in this book is the Nemesis Path in Chapter Four. This allows the GM to create the background and generate the rough abilities of an important NPC in the same way that a PC would generate his or her Explorer. You walk through certain steps of background creation, determining the origins and motivations of your NPC to produce a fleshed-out adversary. Enemies generated on the Nemesis Path get certain additional abilities and boosts (bolted unto existing enemy templates like “ork warboss” or “rogue psyker”). Enemies generated also have a Profit Factor so their influence can function like the PCs’ does. This is really good stuff, and any Rogue Trader GM should take a look.
Instead of the typical short module often included with these books, Hostile Acquisitions closes with a section on various (dodgy) ways to score big money in Rogue Trader. There’s the “Cold Trade” where the Cold Trade Broker comes in handy. The Cold Trade is the trade on alien goods and artifacts, everything from weapons, to strange fuels and foods, to alien building materials. You can get Tyranid shell armor that will make the Ordo Xenos want to kill you on sight. That’s some fashion statement. Then there’s a bunch of lost treasures you can go hunting after, like the magical and miraculous quills off the back of a revered Kroot Shaper. While you are essentially hunting for the protrusions off the back of an old, dead alien lizardman, rest assured that they are extremely profitable to own, or something. Each treasure has a good bit of story, many are strange and wondrous, and they are great seeds for Rogue Trader adventures.
Overall, Hostile Acquisitions is another fine product for Warhammer 40,000. While it is very much a conditional product, it is versatile, and a great part of the collection whether you’re playing Rogue Trader or games like Dark Heresy and Black Crusade which deal with these same aspects of law and power. Keep in mind though that the Nemesis Path is probably wonky if ported directly into those games, but the general thought behind it is perfect, and it works excellently in Rogue Trader.
The book is out now, for $20 at DriveThruRPG. I know FFG used to have wonky PDF pricing, but they’ve since greatly improved it. You can get any of their books much cheaper in PDF than you can in hardback, though their hardbacks are pretty lovely. I highly recommend this book.