Thursday, April 15, 2010

Gaming: Rogue Trader: Lure of the Expanse

Wait, I'm not talking about AT-43 this week?  Quick, get the straight-jackets!  Seriously, though, I think that I have plowed the field pretty thoroughly in regards to AT-43, and since I do want to talk about other games I love, and only have one day a week to do so, here we are.

OK, while I have not done an actual review of Rogue Trader, it can be assumed that I like the game (after all I run a once a month RT game).  For those out there who have no idea what Rogue Trader is: RT is a Roleplaying Game set in Games Workshop's famous and popular Warhammer 40000 universe, where player characters, referred to as Explorers, play the command crew of a Trade Dynasty ship.  Part mercantile adventure, part space battle game, part standard roleplaying game, RT manages to merge all the best attributes of a variety of different concepts.

Now, what is this Lure of the Expanse book all about?  Well, frankly, Lure of the Expanse is a series of linked adventures leading up to a massive closing scenario.  If played as part of a campaign, you are looking at a minimum of 9 and a maximum of 20 sessions to get through the whole book (possibly even longer if you have short sessions or players develop byzantine side quests for cash).  This book is comparable to Fantasy Flight's Dark Heresy: Purge the Unclean campaign book in many ways, although I would have to say that Lure is a much better value for the dollar.

The Adventures: The book is divided into three sections, each dealing with one part of the overall story-arc of the race to exploit the mysterious, hidden world known as the Dread Pearl.  Interestingly, though, each section is not one stand-alone adventure, but several linked endeavor/adventures.  Here is a rough breakdown of the sections for ease of reference:

   The Eye of the Needle: This section includes the standard set-up adventure where we learn what the whole campaign is going to be about.  It starts off with the Explorers learning of the Foretelling of the Seven Witches, and their need to earn their way into the conclave so they can learn what lucrative secret the Witches will be revealing.  The next adventure in Eye of the Needle is a race to get to the first leg of the journey first and includes sections of space battle and possibly mutiny, depending on prevailing conditions on the Explorers' ship.  On arrival at the Quppa-Psi, the Explorers must battle rivals, hostile fauna, and duplicitous Eldar to secure their prize and the right to move forward in their quest.  Ideally, Eye of the Needle will take anywhere from 2-4 sessions to complete.

   The Heathen Trail: Here is where things become a bit strained.  The second arc of the story is basically a series of scavenger hunt adventures where the Explorers are looking for more clues as to the final location of Warp-shrouded Dread Pearl.  The Heathen Trail contains adventures on five different planets, with five different sets of goals, and the ability of the Explorers to pick and choose what order they want to do the adventures in.  Each section of this arc is pretty well self contained, and while it works great as part of a larger campaign, like Lure of the Expanse, they can also be easily adapted to run as simple scenarios in your own home campaign.  The end result, assuming that you are running the campaign as a coherent whole, should be the Explorers getting access to the final resting place of the Dread Pearl.  If the guide is to be believed, each planetary adventure should take one full session, however if your players actually do any roleplaying, aside from just bulling their way through encounters, you can probably double that, so figure a 5-10 day turn-around to complete this stretch.

   The World Beyond: Almost anti-climactic in its closing of the story, the third arc gets the Explorers to the Dread Pearl, a Maidenworld of the ancient Eldar Empire, only to find that there are others there as well.  While the adventures and closing are interesting, I happen to feel that this is the weakest section of the book, as most of the adventures are simply things that were done earlier, done again with different NPCs.  Unless your characters feel the need to make life more difficult than it absolutely needs to be, this should be a 2-3 session arc, however adding in a space battle (or three) and spending all their time fighting off all comers could push this back to 5 sessions easily.

Information: Apart from the adventures themselves, the most important thing in the book, from my perspective, is the information contained in it.  The planetary Gazetteers for Footfall, Zayth, Dross, Vaporius, The Wreck of the Light of Terra, the Processional of the Damned, and (of course) Dread Pearl are all excellent and very useful even if you are not pursing the campaign outlined in the book.  A savvy GM can use a lot of the information in the Gazetteers to form endeavors that will be fun and flavorful for their Explorers.  The informational content doesn't end there, though, as there are a huge number of NPCs, creatures, aliens, and starships that will help make other games far more interesting.  Even if you ignore the adventures, these parts and parcels make the book a must have for an GM.

Support: Like all Fantasy Flight Games releases, the publishers have a great network of support for their products.  Their website contains hand-outs, downloads, and other goodies that make running the adventures a breeze.  In addition, you can use the free adventures Forsaken Bounty and Into the Maw with Lure of the Expanse to further enrich Explorers time in the Kronus Expanse.

THAC0: 5
Whether you are a Warhammer Fluff Kingpin who just wants to own the book so he can learn more about the setting, a Rogue Trader GM, or simply an RPG enthusiast, Lure of the Expanse is a must have title for you.

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