Lately–as I’ve mentioned on the Total Party Thrill podcast–I’ve been running a Warhammer 40k Rogue Trader game using Fantasy Flight Games’ Dark Heresy Second Edition system. Rather than members of the Inquisition, as Dark Heresy is designed for, the player characters make up the crew of a Rogue Trader vessel. We had to lightly reskin and reflavor a few items, but it has been an overall smooth conversion, but one mechanic has stuck in my craw since the first game of Dark Heresy we ran in 2014: item acquisition.
To summarize, Dark Heresy uses a random item acquisition system, whereby the players roll a requisition test using their Influence characteristic to determine if they are able to find and purchase the pieces of gear they’re looking for. The difficulty of the test is based on the rarity of the item, and there is a skill, Commerce, which can be used to aid in the test. Each requisition test allows the character to acquire a single item. Each acquisition test reduces the group’s Subtlety, a mechanic which measures roughly how likely it is that heretics know the party are part of the Inquisition. Within rough GM guidelines of what kinds of items are available in a given place and timeframe, the requisition test is the sole determinant of whether the party can purchase an item. A bad roll means an Inquisitor can’t find simple items, and a lucky roll means neophyte Acolytes can acquire a Boltgun. I hate this system. It’s difficult for GMs to control, it’s frustrating for players, and more often than not, it leaves us feeling unprepared, underequipped, and woefully neglected by the Inquisition itself.
Since Rogue Traders are fundamentally hyper-militant merchant ships, I knew I needed to better reflect their economic successes and resources when outfitting the PCs. I’ve replaced the Subtlety mechanic of Dark Heresy with Profit Factor, stolen from the original Rogue Trader RPG; this represents the net worth and economic interests of the party, as well as their prestige as Rogue Traders. When they negotiate trade routes, establish colonies, or discover valuable caches of archeotech, they’ll be rewarded with Profit Factor. Unlike the original Rogue Trader, which simply used Profit Factor for requisition tests, I want to treat Profit Factor more like gold pieces in Dungeons & Dragons: earned by adventuring, and spent to gear up for further adventures.
For a sense of scale, the typical Rogue Trader starts with 5,000 XP and 20-30 Profit Factor. My party–being the crew of an incompetent, black sheep Rogue Trader–started with 1,000 XP and 5 Profit Factor. Profit Factor is still roughly on a 0-100 scale, with the expectation that the party will spend everything they earn before 5,000 XP, and most of what they earn for the next 5,000 XP or so.
Note: while this has been themed for Rogue Trader, Profit Factor could easily be repurposed as “Inquisitorial Resources” for a true Dark Heresy game.
New item Acquisition Rules
To buy items, players need to make an opposed Challenging (+0) Commerce test. Depending on rarity, items are purchased in quantities as stated on the Bargaining Quantity column of Table 1: Buying below. Their net success on the Commerce test determines the cost, per the Table 1: Buying table below. The cost is paid from their Profit Factor. This payment basically represents a cash payment, a profit sharing arrangement, a trade of existing cargo, or some other appropriate exchange.
To sell items, players need to make an opposed Challenging (+0) Commerce test. Depending on rarity, items are sold in quantities as stated on the Bargaining Quantity column of Table 2: Selling below. Their net success on the Commerce test determines the sale price. Normally, the sale price is netted out against the cost of an item purchase, as they are assumed to be part of a single exchange. However, if the players succeed with at least 3 Degrees of Success on their Commerce test, they can liquidate the items, adding the proceeds to their Profit Factor. Note that players may not resell items below Rare, because these items simply don’t have enough profit margin to be worth the trouble of reselling.
Players may make a single Commerce test to buy or sell multiple items, as long as the items have the same rarity. For example, they could use a single Commerce test to purchase 1 Bolt Pistol, 1 Boltgun, and 1 Plasma Pistol, because they are all Very Rare, and Very Rare items are purchased with a Bargaining Quantity of 3. When purchasing, round the number of items up to the next Bargaining Quantity. When selling, round the number of items down to the previous Bargaining Quantity.
As always, the GM determines what items are available for the players to purchase. This should be dependent on the characters’ Influence, current Profit Factor, and location. Even the shadiest arms dealer in the Imperium isn’t going to sell a Unique Thunder Hammer to some schmuck Rogue Trader crew who can barely manage to rub two nickels together.
|Table 1: Buying||Opposed Commerce Check (Net DoS)|
|Rare||6||Free||2||2||1d5 (min 2)||1d5 (min 2)||Unavailable|
|Very Rare||3||3||1d5 (min 3)||1d5 (min 3)||Unavailable||Unavailable||Unavailable|
|Extremely Rare||1||1d5 (min 4)||1d5 (min 4)||Unavailable||Unavailable||Unavailable||Unavailable|
|Near Unique||1||2d5 (min 5)||Unavailable||Unavailable||Unavailable||Unavailable||Unavailable|
|Unique||1||3d5 (min 6)||Unavailable||Unavailable||Unavailable||Unavailable||Unavailable|
|Table 2: Selling||Opposed Commerce Check (Net DoS)|
|Unique||1||2d5 (min 6)||5||4||4||4||3|
There were a few goals I had in mind when designing this system. First, I wanted to give the players control over their item acquisition, while ensuring the Commerce skill remained useful. Second, I wanted to reduce the number of tests required to buy things. Finally, I wanted to return to the idea of selling items for half-value, because the standard Dark Heresy rules make trading in items nearly impossible.
Ultimately, I didn’t get rid of all of the randomness, but I gave players significantly more control. By the time characters reach the 5,000 XP expected of Rogue Traders, there’s no sense in worrying about common items; they have thousands of crewman on their ships and a steady supply of gear coming in and out simply by virtue of being Rogue Traders (or, in Inquisitorial terms, the Acolytes have been entrusted with an expense account.)
I expect players to invest in Commerce, so the Degrees of Success requirements will have little effect on mid-level parties, but will effectively gate access of low level parties to high rarity items. The main benefit is that this prevents the party from flying immediately to the shadiest black market they can find and blowing their starting Profit Factor on Near Unique and Unique weapons. Since many Profit Factor rewards are given in multiples of 1d5 in the original Rogue Trader, basing the costs off a 1d5 roll seemed thematically appropriate.
The introduction of Bargaining Quantity should reduce the number of tests; in core Dark Heresy, even acquiring relatively mundane mission-specific gear like Stummers or Chameleoline Cloaks can be a frustrating comedy of errors and wasted Fate points. The idea here is that for Scarce and Rare items, the players make one roll/payment, and everyone in the party grabs an item. Keep in mind that ammunition is two rarities lower than the base weapon, so this will remain relevant even when the party moves on to higher level gear.
For most rarities, selling items will net half of the minimum cost of the item. This was achieved by doubling the Bargaining Quantity for items below Near Unique. However, to reflect the special nature of Near Unique and Unique items, they are sold much closer to the minimum price, and in the case of Unique items, have a chance to be sold at a profit.
One glaring oversight in these rules is the acquisition of voidships and ship upgrades. To include them in Dark Heresy in any meaningful way at this time, I would need to import them wholesale from Rogue Trader. We haven’t turned much attention to the ship itself in our campaign, so I’ll cross that bridge when we get there.