Monday, 8 April 2013

What if... TSR had published Rogue Trader

TSR were the giant of roleplaying, the creators of D&D, and the originators of the gaming boom which gave rise to Games Workshop, which begat in the late 80s, a war filled future where there was only grim darkness...

Eldar | Tim Wright

When RPG stalwart Ken Rolston wrote a brief article on using 40K:RT as an RPG, entitled "Orcs in Space!" in Dragon magazine 149 he offered us a glimpse of what might have been. New Romantic Eldar, with asymertrical hair-cuts, grizzled space Truckers and cyborg Squat rednecks  and lots of sawn-off shotgunts (incredibly effective in bording maneuvers, rips holes in space-suits, airlocks, all those little bits of shrapnel whizzing around in zero-g).  Of course TSR had branched into science-fantasy territory with Metamorphosis Alpha, Spelljammer, Gamma World, Star Frontiers and quite a bit of AD&D really, so was no stranger to the genre.

Space Truckers | Tim Wright

It's very rare that another publishing house other than Games Workshop (and it's subsidiaries) does anything with its systems. Ken gives us some simplified roleplay rules, adding detail to the wound charts, and some interesting scenario outlines. I was going to fake up some covers in Photoshop and write this post like a parallel universe review of lost manuscripts and concept art, that I'd 'found' in a lot of obscure stuff I'd got off eBay. Then I remembered how upset people got with Living Stone, and decided better of it, so heres a summary of some of Kens suggestions.

  • RT01: The Lost Legion - answer a distress call from an astropath asigned the Eyes of Fire Chapter of Space Marines, over-run by Tyranids on a hostile planet caught in a warp-storm. 
  • RT02: Orcs in Space, it's Full Metal Jacket / Starship Troopers, in space with Orcs. 
  • RT03: Blows Against the Empire: A Rogue Trader sent to ensure the of a mineral rich feudal tech level planet on the edge of the Imperium, amidst Eldar Pirates, radical conservative Squat mechtech and anti-Imperium forces.
  • RT04: The Warrens Beneath WarpSpace  

The great thing is how Ken seems to have grasped what is cool about Rogue Trader: the Imperiums fragility, planets lost in the warp, the endless possibilities, warring factions, the lack of any over-arching plot, Rogue Traders sodding off into the wild unknown frontier of space like some  Trading Company of the 17th Century trying to keep hold of Empire through economic means, dumb, brutal Orcs, a bureaucratic Empire,  Small stories in a huge universe. Good stuff.

And Tim Wrights illustrations, not overly gritty or punky, have a clean, American feel to them, born of Truckers and Bikers, not as manically deranged weirdo alien bastard Others, nor as scummy debased Dave Lister types, but as empathetic, wholesome good ole boys and likeable rogues, sexy sophisticated urbanites and heroes of the New Frontier.

Squat | Tim Wright


And then. 5 Years later. April 1st, 1994, TSRs house organ Dragon Magazine (#204) ran an article on "Dance Steps for Space Hulk" by Allen Varney:

Dance Steps for Space Hulk: Jim Holloway

You cannot unsee what has been seen.

 Jim Holloway just casually turning the camp factor of the Ultramarines all the way up to 11. And there are rules, pages of rules, detailing how Space Marines can foxtrot, bat-dance and tango in a hulk. Good job on repositioning the competition TSR.



  1. Well, there's a couple of eBay targets - what was the issue number of the 1994 Dragon?

  2. Interesting - never knew about this cross over before - truckers in space will always be cool and I've liked the idea of the East India Company in Spaaaace.

    I have seen the dancing space marines before though. I think the funniest thing about them is their slight podginess!

  3. The Eldar is pretty much what Dark Eldar are like now.

  4. Issue 149 of Dragon for "Orcs in Space!"

  5. The dancing marines are amazing.

  6. I do have a copy of 204 (The "Dance Steps for Space Hulk" issue) going spare if anyone wants to make an offer :-)

    Thanks for the correction on the issue number Chris. I need a good subeditor!

  7. TSR: 1, GW: 0!

    A very interesting discussion, Mr Zhu - very interesting indeed...

  8. Ah, remember this well but could never remember the issue number! Cheers Mr Bajiee!!!

  9. TSR made a Sci-fi RPG in the early 80's before Rouge Trader. It was called Star Frontiers and your crew headed off to explore the frontier. Different races ... but you get a fair idea of TSR's vision of the far furute.