Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader

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Warhammer 40,000
Rogue Trader
Rogue trader cover.jpg
Rogue Trader - the first edition of Warhammer 40,000
Designer(s) Rick Priestley Andy Chambers and others
Publisher(s) Games Workshop
Years active 1987-1993
Random chance Dice rolling
Skill(s) required Strategy, Arithmetic

Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader is the first edition rule/source book for the Warhammer 40,000 miniature wargame by Games Workshop. The subtitle refers to a particular class of character within the Warhammer 40,000 universe.

Rule Book[edit]

The existence of a science fiction table top game in development by Games Workshop was made known through Citadel Journal in 1986 and Rogue Trader was officially released at Games Workshop's annual Games Day event in October 1987. Created by Rick Priestly, The game was sub-titled Warhammer 40,000 in order to clearly differentiate it from 2000 AD's Rogue Trooper comic series. The game featured rules that were closely modelled on those of its older fantasy counterpart, Warhammer Fantasy Battle. The majority of the book was written by Rick Priestley who was also responsible for WFB.

The gameplay of Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader differs from its main modern-day descendant (Warhammer 40,000), in that it was heavily role-play-oriented, with great detail placed on weaponry and vehicles and the inclusion of a third player (the Game Master) in battles, a role not too different from the Dungeon Master of Dungeons and Dragons. Rogue Trader game introduced some races that were later removed from the Warhammer 40,000 setting, such as Squats (Warhammer dwarfs in space), Zoats (also present in Warhammer Fantasy Battle) and the Space Slann (a humanoid frog-like race).

Models which were released for Rogue Trader are no longer produced and are available in private collections with limited runs sometimes sold through the Games Workshop online store.

Like many later incarnations the Rogue Trader rulebook mostly contained what is often termed 'fluff' (more properly referred to as 'Lore'), i.e. the historical background of the Imperium and alien races. Information on the Warp was limited and the forces of Chaos were nowhere to be seen; but they were referred to by game designer Rick Priestly in the pre-release announcement, and they did show up shortly after in expansion rule books which provided not just greater background for the various races and armies but also the first proper army lists. Only a small portion of the book contained rules, with a large number of pages devoted the background of the universe. The fact that the current edition still contains a great amount of 'fluff' is a testament to the popularity of this arrangement.

Games Workshop's current management has been somewhat reluctant to refer to Rogue Trader in modern publications, choosing not to have parallels drawn between their current products and the somewhat more whimsical and tongue-in-cheek style that they practised in the 1980s and 1990s. However, the opening text was nonetheless highly similar to the later editions and of the opening texts of Black Library publications.

Also illustrative of the style is that the inside covers of the book were decorated with caricatures of members of Games Workshop staff. Additionally, the physical rule book, itself, was also notorious for poor construction, as the pages almost invariably fell out of the binding. This led to a variety of repair solutions - such as drilling holes through the book near the binding and binding it with string or ring binders - that, coincidentally, echoed the ramshackle construction techniques of the Orks.

In addition, supplemental material was continually published in White Dwarf magazine, which provided rules for new units and models. These articles were from time to time released in expansion books along with new rules, background materials and illustrations. All in all ten books were released for the original edition of WH40K: "Chapter Approved - Book of the Astronomican", "Compendium", "Warhammer 40,000 Compilation", "Waaagh - Orks", "Realm of Chaos - Slaves to Darkness", "'Ere we Go", "Freebooterz", "Realm of Chaos - The Lost and the Damned", "Battle Manual", "Vehicle Manual. The 'Battle Manual' was simply a collection of After Action Reports depicting the progress and the outcome of WH40K games reportedly played out by the White Dwarf editors and while useful from a certain point of view it contained no game-related rules or any other material, the 'Vehicle Manual' on the other hand contained a new system for vehicle management on the tabletop which was intended to supersede the rather clunky rules given in the base hardback manual and in the red softback compendium, it had an inventive target location system which used acetate crosshairs to simulate weapon hits on the vehicle silhouettes with different armor values for different locations (such as tracks, engine compartment, ammo store and so on). 'Waaagh - Orks' was an introductory manual to Orkish culture and physiology and contained no rules but was pure background ('fluff'), other Ork-themed books instead were replete with army lists not only for major ork clans but also for greenskin pirate and mercenary outfits. The "Realm of Chaos" books were hefty hardback tomes which included rules for Chaos in Warhammer 40,000, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and Warhammer Fantasy Battle (3rd Ed.).

Character class[edit]

The rule book originally described Rogue Traders as being freelance explorers employed by the Imperium to search for planets outside of the established borders. A Rogue Trader is a trusted Imperial servant, given a ship, a crew, a contingent of marines and the right to go wherever they so desire. They generally survey uninhabited worlds near to the fringes of Imperial space and on the Eastern Fringes where the Astronomican does not reach.

The potentials of new worlds, such as material wealth or knowledge, has stimulated the growth of the Rogue Trader section of society. Some have even gone so far as to try to cross intergalactic space, although even a mighty psyker is not powerful enough to send back reports from that distance. When encountering new alien species, the Rogue Trader is very much a separate organisation from the Imperium, so they must decide how to react to these new creatures. If they judge them unworthy they can be destroyed or they can gather information on them and have someone else destroy them. If he deems them useful, he may make contact with them. If they are only useful for their technology or material wealth then they may be raided, the trader returning to Terra laden with rich goods and undreamt of technology.

A Rogue Trader can be in charge of up to a dozen ships, including many transports with willing colonists and troops. They tend to be individuals who have reached a certain height in the Imperium but for some reason are not considered fit for further advancement. By being offered Rogue Trader status, they can be put somewhere out of harm's reach, though it strengthens their reputation as outcasts. They can include overzealous Space Marine Commanders, powerful navigators and even Inquisitors.

This profile has been altered as the game (and Warhammer 40,000 universe) evolved. For example, in many of the more recent Warhammer 40,000 novels, many Rogue Traders have been depicted as independent traders who tend to smuggle highly illegal or dangerous contraband by running Imperial blockades. Some of these items include, but are not limited to, narcotics, alien technology, and warp-tainted items. However, some Rogue Traders are more sympathetic to the Imperium, and many Imperial agents such as Inquisitors employ Rogue Traders when they require fast and stealthy transportation.

Yet more recent canon depicts the Rogue Traders as an amalgam of the two previous versions. Rogue Traders are given a writ from the Imperium, much like a privateers, to explore beyond the boundaries of Imperial Space. This writ passes to the Trader's descendants. The Rogue Trader and his family, and the vessels they command, which can comprise a small fleet in some cases, are exempt from many Imperial laws and regulations, but is still under Imperial scrutiny. Rogue traders that dabble too heavily in alien trade, or other "heretical" practices, could still be investigated and executed by the Inquisition.

Role-playing game[edit]

A role-playing game called Rogue Trader was released by Fantasy Flight Games in 2009.



  • Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader, Rick Priestley, Berkley Publishing Group, London 1989, ISBN 1-869893-23-9
  • Priestly, Rick (September 1987). "Warhammer 40,000: Games Workshop's Latest Tabletop Game - Hail the Emperor!". White Dwarf. Nottingham, UK: Games Workshop. 93: 33–44. 
  • Priestly, Rick (October 1987). "Warhammer 40,000 Rogue Trader". White Dwarf. Nottingham, UK: Games Workshop. 94: 2–3. 
  • Chamber, Andy (October 1986). "Warhammer 40,000 Rogue Trader". Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay. Nottingham, UK: Black Library. 171: 2–3.