It’s a bit of a retro-40k week here on spalanz.com, after my look at Necromunda (albeit in its latest incarnation) earlier in the week. So I thought I’d stay on theme for this post and look at the original rules for Warhammer 40,000 from way back in 1987!
Last year, 40k turned 30, and there were of course a number of celebrations of that fact, including the new 8th edition, and of course a facsimile reproduction of the original 40k rulebook, Rogue Trader. Sold exclusively at Warhammer World, the reproduction is pretty much entirely faithful to the original book, albeit with a revised publication history, and shows us latecomers to the game just where it all began.
I’m not going to go over the rules in great detail here, but I just wanted to share some of my initial thoughts and reactions having been leafing through the book of late.
First of all, the book feels entirely too much like a Role Playing Game, rather than a tabletop wargame. The black-and-white illustrations are highly evocative of the old Star Wars RPG from West End Games, and there are pages and pages of table of weapon stats that read a great deal like they’re for use in a RPG setting, in my view.
There is a lot of lore in this book, as well, which again adds to the RPG feel. Unlike with the recent editions of the game, where the lore comes first, the book is organised with all the rules in the opening chapters. The Age of the Imperium chapter then goes into great detail over all manner of things, such as the Imperium’s organisation and structure, before travelling over other alien races such as the Tyranids, Eldar and Orks. Notably, Genestealers are a separate race to Tyranids, and of course, we get the classic Squats as basically Space Dwarves, and Slann as Space Lizardmen. We also get a whole bunch of rules for different plant and animal life with which we can pepper the game.
There is a recommendation that games use a GM to keep track of all these myriad rules, which crops up in several parts of the book. There’s a nice little section on collecting miniatures, where the book recommends you plan your purchases before just buying lots and lots of shiny new toys – itself such a different tack from the current way of doing things! – and there is the suggestion that the GM will buy or convert all of the weird and wonderful NPC-like monsters and aliens that your armies can fight.
Conversions seem to be actively encouraged, with whole sections talking about suitable materials with which you can scratch-build terrain and the like. Whereas one person may just see leftover plastic yoghurt cartons, Rick Priestley sees a control tower just needing assembly! It’s all pretty fantastic, and feels just incredibly geared towards giving us the tools we need to really immerse ourselves in The Hobby as a whole.
Of course, the lore is a bit different then to how it is now. Of course, we have the Space Marines as the defenders of mankind, all bedecked in (MkVI) beaky helmets, but no mention of the Horus Heresy or Chaos in general. The basic backbone is there, for sure, but there is a lot that is missing from the established storyline in this book.
I said I wasn’t going to talk about the rules, but it is worth mentioning that the game otherwise feels quite similar to how it remains. The turn sequence is still move-shoot-melee, though there is a separate Reserves phase that follows melee combat, and the Psychic phase follows that, with the Rallying phase coming last (analogous to the Morale phase).
There are, of course, the whole host of byzantine charts that explain how to wound in close combat, etc, and vehicle firing arcs are gloriously a thing in this edition. I do miss that – it feels a bit weird that a vehicle, whose guns are modeled pointing away from the action, can still be a part of things. But I guess it does allow for speedier gameplay.
Overall, I love the look of this book. It reminds me so much of the old Star Wars RPG, as I’ve said, but on closer inspection, it has so much in common with British comics of the era such as 2000AD. I’m not 100% sure, but I think my brother may have actually had this book when we were growing up. If he didn’t, then it was certainly something very much like it. It harkens back to a time when gaming like this was very much the province of the nerd squad, and so they could be as complicated as you liked, because nothing had to have mass-market appeal. Does that sound elitist? Probably. But I do find myself resenting, at times, how simplistic some games have become nowadays, and how generic fantasy and sci-fi often gets, in order to appeal to the larger market. But I guess that’s a discussion for another time.
Did you used to play with 40k in the Rogue Trader era? Have any fond memories of those days? Leave a comment, and let’s talk about it!!