Rogue Trader puts the player in a position of elevated power in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, somewhere in between a governor, a ship captain, and a noble. The game continually asks you to make choices about what kind of Rogue Trader you want to be, and some of the options on display are utterly reprehensible. This is actually fantastic, because I’m a huge fan of RPGs that let you be a bad guy. Rogue Trader even goes one step further than most other games in the genre; you can be not just a bog standard bad guy, but an unspeakably petty tyrant that makes scenery-chewing villains like Cruella DeVille look downright reasonable and level-headed.
The 40K setting is defined by a certain baseline cruelty that isn’t there in other sci-fi galaxies; this is a place where instead of computers, people delegate work to lobotomized criminals called servitors. The state executes citizens for crimes like “enjoying history books” and “having weird mouths.” But a Rogue Trader has the ability to set the rules for everyone around them; their sacred Writ is signed by the God-Emperor himself. If you choose, your Rogue Trader can be a benevolent and kind person who shelters those under their command.
Or, if you prefer, you can go hard on being the absolute worst boss in the Koronus Expanse. At one point, my trusty right hand steward, the Seneschal Abelard approached me and told me that there were a bunch of orphans onboard thanks to the events of the tutorial. The Seneschal said that a word from the prestigious Rogue Trader would mean the world to those orphans.
To my shock, one of the options I could choose was to decline, and explain that I didn’t see the purpose in speaking to those orphans; it would teach them that they deserved attention and sympathy. It takes a certain amount of audacity for a developer to include RPG options that can be summed up with “Fuck those kids,” but I appreciate the ability to go there.
In another instance, I was speaking with my ship’s Navigator. The Navigator is necessary for faster-than-light travel upon any Voidship, and they organize themselves into noble houses. My Navigator, Cassia, asked about the fact that I had thousands of crew going about their days, singing, chatting, joking, and yelling. Why, she asked, hadn’t I done the proper thing expected of nobility and just removed all their vocal cords? Again, I was surprised to find an option where my Rogue Trader enthusiastically agrees that the riff raff have had it too good for too long, and that it’s time to start removing some vocal cords.
When it comes to “big” decisions, Rogue Trader offers one of three paths: Dogmatic, which is a traditional Emperor lover and Imperium fan; Heretical, which is someone who loves Chaos and murder; or Iconoclast, the closest one to 21st century mentality. I found a lot of the Iconoclast choices to be entirely reasonable, but incredibly boring. But there are tons of smaller decisions, like the ones above, that don’t fit into this system. Here, I’m free to make whatever choice I like, and some of them just happen to be big-time war crimes. My favorite RPGs are the ones with lots of options, and Owlcat Games did not disappoint.