Is retro the future? Thoughts on Rogue Trader

My next painting project, watch this space
Well, I'm back from the week of painting at the in-laws but still have no proper Internet wired in at home, I think I'm getting something close to withdrawal symptoms. In the brief moments I have been able to get online and read as many blogs as possible, I've noticed something in the air...

Maybe it's blatant to everyone and I've just noticed it. Maybe I've just been listening to a bit too much Joy Division and early Human League. Maybe it's because I've been reading a fair bit of JG Ballard lately (most recently, High Rise). Either way, there seems to be a lot of musings about and perhaps even a hankering for a return to the white heat, chaotic creativity and satire of the 40k of the 80s as embodied by Rogue Trader. A place where the word "Horus Heresy" meant nothing, Space Marines were psychopathic criminals charged with preventing the scourge of graffiti across the galaxy, anybody could buy power armour, and the Eldar were essentially New Romantic pirates. In space.

Forget Chaos, spray cans are the scourge of humanity
A few bloody brilliant posts have embodied this much better than I could. There's James' stuff over at Warp Signal, and this fantastic article over at The CoxombMordian7th has also recently featured Ambulls on his site, something that put a big grin on my face as I've been tinkering with an ambull-based scenario for 6th edition 40k.... In "researching" this post I've also just discovered a fantastic and newish blog by a chap called orlygg, that focuses on Rogue Trader and its history.There is also the (possibly) Old School Review created by Colonel Kane of Tales from the Maelstrom, and Porky very kindly featured a few of my posts under one of his OSR lists - a belated thanks!
Bowie's in space....

There has also been quite a few posts on a few forums recently where the love for Rogue Trader and the old school seems to be much more evident. Maybe it's becuase many of us old duffers don't link change, there always seems to be someone complaining about something or another (myself included). But change in itself isn't something I'm opposed to, change can be an arse ache, but in a game where strategy is involved it's easy to fall into a rut, so a bit of change is always good I think. On the whole I like 6th edition, and not just for the mechanics, but more so for the shift towards a narrative emphasis. I think much of the love for Rogue Trader has something to do with that. The rules were incredibly chaotic and creative (if a little heavy at times) there was no such thing as canon other than the poor spelling of a big metal tube for firing big metal things at people you don't get on too well with. The artwork, whilst being less naturalistic, seemed to have much more atmosphere and energy - something covered at length in the Coxomb post. Yes a lot of it was ridiculous, but there was some great stuff in there.The character names were ridiculous puns, but often satirical. There was something brilliantly irreverant about it.
When Titans were modelled on bull mastiffs - much scarier...

Rogue Trader, as Jams at Warp Signal covers much better, certainly seems to have come out of a British post-punk tradition that had little regard for authority, where DIY attitudes prevailed, and humour was essential.Perhaps with the economy and political decisions in the UK increasingly resembling those of Britain under Thatcher, maybe us wargamers are looking for similar things now as then. Maybe, as I said before, it's all in my imagination.

Either way I'd love to see more posts and reports about games using either the Rogue Trader rules, or even better, games using Rogue Trader fluff with either RT rules, or even those of 6th... I think there's a project looming on the horizon. Not again....

Barry, how do you steer these things?
Does anyone think there is something to this? What are your thoughts on the RT fluff and aesthetics? Answers on a postcard as this was meant to be the start of a discussion and not just me waffling.

Well, that's it for now. I have a few, hopefully interesting, posts lined up including the Spears of Mawdryn stuff I need to catch up with, a fluff post I promised Colonel Scipio and much more....


  1. *Update* Not sure how, but commenting had been disallowed on this post. A bit late I know, but comments are now possible...

  2. For myself as Andys partner in crime at 'tales...' it a return to the hobby i loved when I was younger. Working for GW for a long time at Lenton killed any enjoyment of GW for a *very* long time. I now set myself a 'cut off point' of about 1991 (before the god awful 'red period') as doing that means gaming only brings back fun memories of narrative, creative happy games of my teens.

    As opposed to the souless 2000 pt 'blood angel vs blood angels' tournament games I had to endure on a weekly basis at Warhammer World

    Gareth (Major Hazzard) from Talesfromthemalestrom.

    1. Thanks for the comment Gareth, I can imagine how that would, the seemingly increased importance in tournament play really put me off for a while. Thankfully I have good friends with the same mindset so I never had to play games like that. It's always been about the narrative for us. 6th definitely seems like a step in the right direction in that regard.

      Are you still in the Notts area?

  3. I think there is much in what you say. There is too much latent energy in the imagination of the hardcore fans for this to be a mere fad. I think that the retro-RT scene is rapidly on the rise and will continue to do so.

    The question is will it start to gather many newschool gamers from the mainstream GW games?

    1. I think you're spot on there. I think there is a possibility of that happening, but I can't imagine a large number of newschool gamers being drawn in but we shall see...

  4. Sorry I came to this post a bit late; so probably nobody will ever read this reply but I thought I would give my two cents worth anyway.

    I completely wholeheartedly agree with the main point; retro is on the rise amongst us gamers and this is a good thing. Now I am proud to say that I have played every version of 40k from Rogue Trader onwards and most of the spin offs too (Space Marine; Space Hulk; Space Crusade etc!)

    There was a time when I slavishly stuck to the latest ruleset; devising new armies that were geared towards mega; shooty death and victory at all costs. Then one day a few years ago I realised something; games were no longer fun....and many of the armies I faced were identical to each other; or at least variations on a theme! The whole thing felt sort of....empty. My gaming partners and I would turn up; unpack our marines and destroy each other's armies with no hint of a story or background to the encounter. Just mindless shooting!

    I remembered back in the old days things had been more fun; but I couldn't work out why so I broke out my copies of Rogue Trader and Second edition 40k plus all my old copies of White Dwarf. After a short while of thumbing through these I managed to put my finger on the old days things were more fun; yes it was zany; yes it was weird and a lot of it was frankly out there but it had an X-Factor to it that just made it fun. Every game was an adventure; and it told a story...weird unbalanced shit happened; but that was all part of the fun.

    Having decided this I decided to see if a 25 year old set of rules could still be fun today. Now most of my gaming group have only come to the hobby in the last few years and so have only known 4th Ed (2004) and later versions of 40k; hence they are by virtue of their background power gamers. So next time they game around they were needless to say fairly confused when I confiscated their heavy hitting army lists and gave them my own pre-prepared lists; what shocked them even more was that these lists did not involve hundreds of infantry; scores of tanks and flying machines. No the list I gave them consisted of one champion each and 12 models.

    Nonetheless they were up for something new and so I games mastered a variation of the Battle at The Farm from the RT book. Whilst the rules were a little difficult to jump back into we persevered and where there was ambiguity I adjudicated as fairly as possible. Within an hour we were all engrossed in it and the rest of the afternoon simply evaporated! It was awesome; and by the end of it we all agreed it had been thoroughly good fun; much more so than many of the modern games we had been playing. It was agreed that we would keep dipping our toes into the retro pool every so often for a bit of narrative fun.

    Now we do play the new sixth edition; but every so often I will crack out my copy of RT or my 2nd Edition box set and we will enjoy a blast from the past!!

    I've even started to collect a couple of Rogue Trader and Second Edition armies to play with and you can see my progress on my own retro blog at

    I hope this has given some insight into my own perspective on the retro revival!
    Long live Rogue Trader!

    1. All excellent points, I think you made my point better than I did in the main post! There is just something more fun about the retro stuff, both miniatures and rules just feel like they burst out of creativity - without getting pretentious its like punk in music, the results might not be as technically perfect as they are now, but they all had a life and energy about them. Anyhoo, completely agree with all of your points, definitely share your perspective.

      I actually bookmarked your blog on my phone to the other day to add my blog roll when I had PC and Blogger access again so I shall be doing that now sir!


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