Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader takes place in a frontier system on the edges of the Imperium of Man, and it dives deep into this small slice of a vast galaxy. Owlcat Games has used the vast and expansive lore of 40K to help make the Koronus Expanse a compelling and fascinating place to explore, but if you’re not familiar with the broader setting, it can be a touch confusing.
There are in-game measures in Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader meant to help new players catch up: Certain phrases are highlighted, and hovering over them provides the definition, plus there’s also an in-game encyclopedia. But if you want to hit the ground running, here’s the lore you need to know to be at home in Rogue Trader right away.
The Imperium of Man
Humanity is united under one banner in the universe of 40K: the Imperium of Man. The Imperium is a brutal and cruel regime, built around worship of the God-Emperor of Mankind, who rests upon a Golden Throne. The God-Emperor maintains the Astronomicon, the lighthouse that lets ships safely travel through the void. Every element of the Imperium is built around the Emperor, from the religious Ecclesiarchy to the bureaucratic Administratum.
The Imperium of Man is a society built around fear, hatred, and oppression of the witch, the heretic, and the mutant. What’s more, The Imperium has the firepower to back up these inclinations, thanks to the Imperial Navy and Guard, the Ecclesiarchy’s Sisters of Battle, and of course the setting’s iconic Space Marines.
Rogue Traders are extremely powerful captains who explore the frontiers of Imperium space. They are free from the Imperium’s crushing laws in a way only a rare few get to enjoy. They can trade with xenos, chart new worlds, and even enjoy a little bit of heresy, as a treat. Rogue Traders exist as dynasties, with a Writ of Trade being handed down within the house from a trader to their heir. At the beginning of Rogue Trader, the player has been summoned as a potential heir to serve a powerful Rogue Trader house.
There’s a second dimension that exists parallel to realspace, and it’s called the Warp. The Warp mirrors the emotions and psyches of sentient beings; it is a roiling, extradimensional realm of power. It’s also home to Chaos, the Primordial Annihilator, a corruptive force.
It’s impossible to avoid the Warp entirely; Voidships in 40K access faster-than-light travel by plunging through the nightmare realm. In order to survive the trip, every voidship is equipped with a Geller Field to keep the Warp at bay. On top of that, voidships need a Navigator, an Imperially sanctioned mutant with a third eye, to get from point A to point B.
Some humans are especially sensitive to the Warp, and can draw on it. These psykers are incredibly powerful, serving as the 40K equivalent to wizards or Jedi. Because the Warp is chock-full of demons who want nothing more than to cause murderous trouble in the name of Chaos, psykers are incredibly dangerous. In Rogue Trader, this manifests via a mechanic called Perils of the Warp. Idira Tlass, your ship’s psyker, was capable of either being the MVP of a fight… or summoning a giant demon in my backlines while screaming about the spiders under her skin.
The Adeptus Mechanicus
The Imperium is full of contradictions. They abhor the mutant, while relying on mutant Navigators to travel through the galaxy. The Adeptus Mechanicus, who are basically the IT department for the entire Imperium, show off another contradiction: They worship the Machine God, the Omnissiah, and use their vast knowledge to placate the Machine Spirits that reside in elaborate pieces of technology.
The Imperium has outlawed AI, and so the Adeptus Mechanicus use human brains in servitors or servo-skulls to set up computing systems. They produce the Imperium’s tanks, guns, and military gear. The Mechanicus also have ritual knowledge of how to treat Machine Spirits within technology; an unhappy Machine Spirit leads to rebellious tech that won’t work.
The Adeptus Mechanicus isn’t a monolith; the faction is continually in-fighting over matters of theology, philosophy, and technology. However, most citizens of the Imperium avoid these red-robed cyborgs.
Rogue Trader offers players plenty of opportunity to find out more about the world of Warhammer by examining their environments, chatting with companions, and following every line of inquiry. However, Owlcat Games didn’t hesitate to dive deep into the Warhammer canon, so starting with these concepts in mind might make the ride a little easier.