Planning a FATE Rogue Trader session

So, it’s nearly time for my monthly FATE Rogue Trader game again and, whilst i’ve been batting a few ideas round in my head since the last session, lack of time and free weekends has meant that i’ve yet to get anything conclusive down on paper; one of the main strengths of the FATE game in my opinion is that it supports (and to some extent even encourages) and somewhat ‘seat-of-the-pants’ style of games mastering, where a lot of the plot evolves organically from player actions, Aspects and such like. Despite this I am of the school of games mastering where I like to have some notes at the very least and preferably one or two sketched out encounters ready in reserve to minimise on the amount of time that I have to spend flipping through notes or looking stuff up on the computer during play.

Given that i’ve been reading a lot of posts on Google+ recently about session planning and people asking about it I thought that, as I planned out my next session, that i’d write a blog post about it to detail my thought processes as I went along.
IF YOU ARE ONE OF MY PLAYERS PLEASE STOP READING NOW UNTIL AFTER THE GAME
Where to start?
There are a lot of places where you can start when planning a session/adventure for a roleplaying game and lots more articles regarding crafting an adventure are available on the internet via a simple search; however, the way I prefer to start planning is to have a glance over my notes from the previous session and see if anything jumps out at me that requires resolution in the next session. Looking at my notes from last session (described here) I can see that the player party had just disabled two of the enemy vessels responsible for the recent destruction of an imperial supply train; Lord Admiral Black and Enginseer Prime Pak had used their teleportarium to transport aboard one of the vessels. Although the dice roll had been done at the time to determine that Pak had repaired the engines and stopped vessel tumbling into a gravity well, the details of what transpired on board had still to be discussed, so this gets added to my list.
The other player characters had been onboard the Venerus when Lady Dominique Decusis-Black had, in the absence of another authority figure, assumed command and overseen the bombardment and surrender of the second vessel.
Split parties

Always a slightly difficult issue for me is what method of GM-ing to use when the party splits up; generally I adopt the tactic of jumping between the two groups trying to keep them engaged and not leaving anyone sat twiddling their thumbs, doing nothing whilst the action unfolds. At the end of the last session we have the encounter with Admiral Black and Enginseer Pak on the enemy vessel to resolve, however, I don’t want to do this to the exclusion of the other two characters (York Benetec and Confessor Cornelius) who are currently aboard the Venerus.
As far as I see the situation, I have a number of methods to resolve this:
  1. Resolve the scene with Admiral Black as a quick talkthrough so that the party can be re-united as quickly as possible and the main action can continue.
  2. Create a scene aboard the Venerus involving the other two characters and then adopt my normal tactic of jumping between the two.
  3. Contrive some reason why the group from the Venerus go aboard the enemy vessel and join up with the other two players.
In this sort of situation I generally try and go for the decision that will result in the most interesting potential story or the most action-packed session time that we can get; looking at the options I have outlined above, option 1 would be the easiest to do however it’s not terribly interesting and (in my opinion) wastes a lot of the potential interaction and RP opportunities inherent in the party’s current situation.
Option 2 is doable, all it requires is that I create an appropriate scene for the the party members on the Venerus; this is eminently do-able and can possibly link in to some of the other unresolved plot threads from the last session (or before).
Option 3 is possible, although it is not terribly likely that the players of York Benetec and Cornelius would want their characters to go aboard the enemy ship and I have no interest in forcing/rail-roading them into this decision.
It would seem that option 2 is the most likely of the scenarios, looking at my notes from last session I can see that we still have unresolved the matter of the warp entity that caused York Benetec to have the Venerus drop out of the immaterium in the first place; when they stumbled onto the renegade vessels it was necessary for them to deal with the immediate threat and push all other concerns to the background. Given that Chief Confessor Cornelius is devoutly opposed to the blasphemous creatures of the warp and that the Navigator has psychic ties to the realm of the warp/immaterium this would seem a logical encounter for the two characters.
At the minute my list of ideas for the session looks like this:
  • Scene onboard the renegade vessel near the gravity well: Play through the scenario as Admiral Black and Enginseer Pak arrive on the renegade ship via the teleportarium; they quickly repair the engine and begin making their way towards the bridge in order to take control of the vessel.
  • Scene aboard the Venerus with the warp entity: Stirred into life by the use of psychic abilities and the clarion call of battle during the events of the previous session, the warp entity attempts to manifest itself on the Venerus; this scene should focus on how York Benetec and Cornelius deal with this whilst Admiral Black and Pak are aboard the renegade vessel.
  • Brief tie-up scene: Assuming that the player characters are successful in securing the renegade vessels and dispatching the warp entity in some fashion they now have an additional two vessels and only a limited supply of navigators (two on the player ships, York Benetec (PC) and Passacaglia Belisarius (named-NPC)). Question: Are the renegade ships capable of warp travel or where they bought here by the larger (now fled) ship? If warp-capable then they must have their own Navigators, can the players cajol them into service and use them to move the ships? Will the players try and sell or commandeer the ships into their fleets?
The player party was originally on their way to Footfall via the Endeavour system when the intervention of the warp entity caused York Benetec to drop them out of warp; assuming that the player party decide to continue with their previous plan then this adds the following two elements to my session planning list.

  • The Endeavour system: The player characters arrive in the Endeavour system, populated by savage space faring humans (only just warp capable, space vikings) divided into clans that are constantly warring with each other. Confessor Cornelius wants to travel here because the Imperial Missionary Deacon Samuel Kiril whom he previously met on Footfall was travelling here on a mission to set up an Imperial Colony and return the savage local populace to the light of the Emperor. Note: This may be a good place to use the new colony-building rules that I have been adapting from several G+ posts. This scene has the potential to expand and take up a large portion of the remaining session.
  • Returning to Footfall: The original destination of the player party was the Imperial Space station of Footfall, they are planning to return there to consult with the Adeptus Mechanicus regarding the Ancient Enemy and what action can be taken regarding them in future. Note: The most likely contact is Rha-Haz the senior tech-priest since he is already something of a mentor to Enginseer Pak.

This covers the basic list of scenes ready for the session and I have the majority of the significiant NPC notes prepared; however I like to create a couple of additional wrinkles or complication suggestions for each scene in my game since they suggest possible future avenues for the plot to follow or other ways for the player to engage with what is occurring.
Looking over my list of scene I come up with the following:
  • Scene onboard the renegade vessel near the gravity well
    • Repairing the damaged engine (although the roll for this has already been done it can still be played out).
    • Any members of the renegade fleet who have decided not to surrender but to go out fighting.
    • Who made the decision on board the renegade ship to surrender and were they sincere? [create appropriate NPC/s]
    • Is there a navigator onboard and can he/she be coerced into working with the players, and do they even want a renegade as part of their fleet?
    • How far does the corruption go?
  • Scene aboard the Venerus with the warp entity
    • What is the warp entity?
      • Given that the entity has been drawn by the conflict and violence of the combat it would seem that it is either connected to Khorne or Chaos Undivided.
    • What abilities does the entity possess?
      • Thus far the entity has shown the ability to plague the characters with phantasms and memories dredged from their past, all of them involving threats or violence.
      • The creature is a creature of fear and violence that is shaped by the murderous impulses and memories of those it preys on.
    • What does the entity want?
      • The entity may just want to cause violence and death if associated with Khorne.
      • Perhaps the creature feeds on the fear or violence.
  • Brief tie-up scene
    • Once the players have dealt with their respective scenes have a brief tie-up scene where they can meet up again on the Venerus and make plans/discuss what has just happened.
    • If the scene onboard the renegade vessel takes less time than the warp entity scene then Admiral Black and Pak may come aboard the Venerus whilst the hunt for the creature is still in progress and they may assist/become involved in this.
  • The Endeavour system
    • This scene assumes that the players still decide to stop off in the Endeavour System.
    • Deacon Samuel Kiril has set up a small colony and is working on converting one of the clans to the ways of the Emperor.
    • The clans have only just begun to discover warp-capable travel and fly smaller fighter craft, their technology is held back by the fact that they are constantly warring and raiding each other.
    • If Deacon Kiril can get some help to conquer/convert some more clans then an alliance may be able to win over/conque the rest – the only way that the natives will be converted is by the sword since their society emphasises respect through stength and conquest.
    • Some of the clans follow the Sky Warriors and have a great martial belief whilst others follow a darker god of vengeance and murder.
      • The followers of the Sky Warriors believe that they were bought to their world as a test and that when they have proved themselves worthy in battle the Sky Warriors will return.
        • In fact the clans are descendants of an ancient Space Wolves thrall ship that was cast adrift in the warp and crash landed here; injured beyond human endurance the only surviving space marine tried to pass on his knowledge to the surviving thralls before he died.
        • As he died the space wolf ascended into the sky, promising that his brothers would return.
          • In fact the space wolf climbed into a surviving fighter crafter and set the controls to autopilot, the ship ran out of fuel in orbit around Endeavour Prime where it became a floating shrine/tomb to the space wolf.
        • The followers of the darker god have been corrupted, the noble savagery that the deceased space wolf attempted to pass on has been lost and corrupted by an aspect of Khorne. 
  • Returning to Footfall
    • The players return to Footfall where they can meet up with Rha-Haz the senior techpriest in attendance; he will be most interested (although cautious) regarding what the characters have to say about the Ancient Enemy.
    • Rha-Haz will want to quarantine and conduct experiments on any samples of the Ancient Enemy tech that has been captured.
I now have a sketched out list of scenes to include and also a good idea of what NPCs to start detailing and how I can begin further detailing the scenes.

Space colonies

Settlements in Rogue Trader
Recently Conny Delshagen posted on the Google+ Traveller community about whether anyone had successfully used the World Tamer’s Handbook colonisation rules for Traveller: the New Era; although I don’t really play Traveller at the moment i’m always looking for science-fiction ideas that can be incorporated into my FATE-based WH40K Rogue Trader campaign ‘The House of Black’ which (as of the time of writing) is still running on a monthly basis. Reading the blurb associated with the World Tamer’s Handbook on RpgGeek.com it seemed to focus around star system generation and rules for colonisation; although i’m fairly happy with the Diaspora adapted rules for system generation that I have, setting up colonies and such like was not something that I had covered in much detail. I had previously looked briefly at the colony system presented in Fantasy Flight Games ‘Stars of Iniquity’ supplement but, whilst the system seemed very comprehesive, it was extremely detail orientated and (I believed) too complex to be a worthwhile addition to my RT game; I had switched to FATE to reduce the clunkiness of the rules, so adding in a massively detailed sub-system seemed counter productive.
It occurred to me that perhaps this would be a good place to use the Fate Fractal: for those not familiar with the Fate Fractal (or the Bronze Rule as it is also called in the FATE core rulebook) it states:
“In Fate, you can treat anything in the game world like it’s a character. Anything can have aspects, skills, stunts, stress tracks, and consequences if you need it to.”
I had already used the Fractal to a certain extent when defining my rules for space combat (see http://wh40krpg.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/testing-proposed-narrative-space-combat.html for my most recent post regarding narrative space combat) with the players ship treated as a character (having skills, aspects, stunts, stress tracks and consequences).
What sort of stats would a space colony have?
Taking a tip from my work on space ships I decided that colonies would have five Aspects in order to represent what the colony specialised in an potentially one or two Stunts, the colony would also receive 2 stress boxes and 3 consequences boxes (with the standard 2, 4 and 6 values) in the same way as a character (although additional Stunts could be taken to increase the number of stress boxes).
Some examples of Aspects might be:
  • Primitive
  • High-tech
  • Abundance of natural resources
  • Theocratic government
  • Wise sages

I envisioned that the High Concept Aspect would represent the dominant form of government on the colony and that the Trouble Aspect would represent some sort of challenge or impending danger the colony.
What benefits would players get from visiting a space colony?
In order to make it worthwhile instituting rules for space colonies (although these rules could also be used for space stations and other sorts of bases) it would be necessary to provide some story reason for the player characters to visit them; the most obvious reason for this is to purchase equipment or make repairs to ships/vehicles, etc.
Using the simple model above it would be simplicity itself to make the Aspects of the station affect what objects the PCs can get hold of, they would be able to invoke the colony’s Aspects as they would any other Aspect to improve Resources rolls along with any other actions as appropriate whilst on the space station; for example, if the players are getting a ship repaired at an orbital facility with the Aspect ‘Adeptus Mechanicus workshop’ then they could invoke this to get a +2 to the repair roll. However the reverse is also true that Aspects could be invoked against the players either by the GM or other players; for example if a character tries to get hold of a stub gun in a colony with the Aspect ‘Primitive’ then the GM could invoke this to apply a -2 penalty to their Resources roll.
Colony Maintenance
In any session where a particular colony is featured the GM should roll 4DF and note the resultant number (Aspects may be invoked on this roll as normal), if the result is a minus figure then the colony has suffered some sort of stress and the negative shift should be marked on the stress boxes/consequence tracker as usual (with any consequences reflecting the slow deterioration of the colony, for example: civil unrest).
If the result is a positive then the colony uses the positive shift to first recover from any stress or consequences it has sustained, if there is any positive shift left after this then add an additional stress box to the colony’s total to represent the colony growing.
Setting up a Colony
One of the great things about Rogue Trader is that the player characters are (unlike the majority of humans in the WH40K universe) powerful people with spaceships at their disposal and commanding vast resources; this means that feasibly the player characters may be instrumental in setting up new colonies and bases, any system that I was going to use would need to represent this possibility.
It is my current idea that, when initially set up a colony has only a single Aspect (which should reflect the colony’s initial challenges, no stunts, a single stress box and no consequences boxes); each session after a colony has set up until it has reached the standard beginning colony statistics it should make a maintenance roll (as detailed above), when the colony reaches a total of 2 stress boxes due to growth then it gains the consequence tracker and additional Aspects/Stunts as per a standard beginning colony.
These are just a few ideas at the moment and will no doubt see further development, however, i’d be interested in people’s thoughts/comments.