Sunday, May 26, 2024

The Battle For the Monolith

It is the Space Year 1987. Long before his adventures in the wilder regions of space, Fateweaver Duu'ey of the Ad Hoc Craftworld, fresh out of Farseer Academy, is sent on his first mission: to investigate a strange monolith on the jungle planet Brytonn IV. An easy job, the space elf wizard thinks, until he detects an alien psychic presence on the planet...

We're playing Rogue Trader! The first proper edition of Warhammer 40,000! Neither Stuart or I have played it before! What could go wrong?!

Rogue Trader is a chaotic -- small c -- mess so at least three Eldar army lists and three different Genestealer Cult lists were published during its lifespan. I picked my Eldar from the list in White Dwarf #127 while Stuart's cult was from the Tyranids-but-not-really list in WD #145, so we're not quite authentic to 1987, but close enough.

The book does have quite an extensive section on generating scenarios but we decided to use one from Sci-fi Skirmish Scenarios by John Lambshead; after five to seven turns, whichever side was in control of the monolith -- not that one -- in the centre of the table would win. Nice and simple.

I was worried from the off as I got out my 13 miniatures and Stuart just. Kept. Deploying. Troops. We both had 1000 point armies but I was hugely outnumbered and we hadn't even started!

I expected a cagey, tentative start as no one would want to go for the central objective, and so it proved. The two forces inched -- ha ha -- forward but no one put their heads out. The Avatar, the bloody-handed god of war, must have been fuming at all this weak posturing.

Stuart sent some Genestealers around to his right and I, being well familiar with how deadly Genies are in second edition -- the best edition! -- sent the Howling Banshees and the dreadnought over to stop them. I was concerned that sending the dread over too was a bit overkill, but as it turned out the Banshees, despite being close combat specialists, had a very difficult time dealing with their opponents and it took the big war machine to break the deadlock.

The first major turning point came when the Genestealer Magus used his space magic to switch the allegiance of my Guardians overlooking the central square. Suddenly Fateweaver Duu'ey found himself surrounded by hostile enemies!

I had sent the Avatar on a speculative foray over to my right to perhaps assassinate the Magus but with Duu'ey surrounded and with more Genestealers on the way, I brought the war god back and charged the Guardians. While the Genestealers were immune to fear, the Guardians weren't, and they broke and fled, giving Duu'ey a chance to get to safety.

At the rough halfway point I had two units tied up with one enemy unit over on my left, and the Guardians gone over to the other side, so only the Avatar and Fateweaver Duu'ey were available to contest the objective. With the entire Genestealer army in front of them. Oh dear.

I decided to switch tactics and take advantage of the erratic jumble of rulesets that make up Rogue Trader. Eldar have a bespoke magic system that is nothing like that used by everyone else, so I used Duu'ey's Mind War power against the Patriarch. It cost me nothing to cast, so at best I could take control of the cult leader, and at worst I would chip away at the monster's power points, until it could no longer resist. All I needed was time.

The scenario has a variable length, between five and seven turns. The Genestealer Cult had the advantage in numbers and position, but if I could turn the Patriarch I could cause some trouble in the middle.

On this day, fate smiled on the Fateweaver.

The Patriarch turned, then literally turned, and charged into the back of his own cultists. This was a win-win for me; either Big Daddy would die, or his cultists would die, but either way that was two units tied up unable to claim the objective. I was still outnumbered, but there was a chance.

The Genestealers in the middle had been engaged in an inconclusive mêlée with the Avatar but withdrew -- Attack of Opportunity! -- to fall back and claim the monolith. Meanwhile the "combat specialist" Banshees finished off the Genestealers on my left with the help of the dreadnought, and moved into the middle. The dreadnought used its JUMP PACK -- because dreadnoughts in RT have jump packs, because this game is ridiculous -- to get there quicker.

At last, Duu'ey broke down the Magus' psychic defences and took control of the opposing space wizard. We ruled that although the Patriarch and Magus were not dead, the Eldar mind control meant that the psychic link between the leaders and the rest of the cult was severed, and so the cult turned feral. The Genestealers in the middle were confused and could not contest the Monolith, and everyone else was either engaged with the Patriarch or was stumbling around in a daze, so the only "Genestealer" forces that were in contact with the Monolith at game end were... two alignment-switched Eldar Guardians.

So the game ended as a draw by the scenario rules, but Stuart did also have a single confused Genestealer in contact with the monolith, so there's an argument that he may have had a slight edge, or maybe not, because the Genestealer was confused and not really in control of anything. I don't know. You decide!

We had a lot of fun playing the original 1987 Rogue Trader. We were expecting it to be baroque and difficult but there is enough shared DNA with later versions of 40K that it was familiar to us and it played quite well. There is a lot of randomness but for the most part it added to the fun; Stuart's Magus and Patriarch had some funky space magic, some useful, some not -- you can teleport a mile! -- and my Avatar and Farseer had random statistics, which resulted in a god of war that was more or less invulnerable but also comically unable to hit anything.

The rules are weirdly granular at some points but handwavery and vague in others. You have to take into account encumbrance, and miniatures can't turn during their move without giving up distance in half-inch increments, but there's nothing in the book about climbing or falling off buildings, not even in the detailed section on... combat in buildings. The game is designed to be run by a referee and I imagine a lot of the edge cases would be ruled on the spot by them, but it's odd looking back from the future, where this sort of thing is covered in the rules. There's a definite loose OSR type feel to the game.

So yes, good fun! It's basically a skirmish wargame and there are more recent skirmish wargames that I prefer overall, but it's clear why this game took over the world.

Arbitrary numeric score: 1987 out of 40,000.

Next up in the 40K Project: 1993's second edition, the best edition!


  1. I planned to buy the Rogue Trader just for the artwork, but your battle report persuaded me it is also worth giving the rules a go. Thanks :)

    1. You're welcome, Krzysztof! I hope you had as much fun with it as I did.