Rogue Trader: Season One
Rogue Traders are unique and powerful human individuals who serve as a combination freelance explorer, conquistador and interstellar merchant for the Imperium of Man. They are hereditary Imperial servants and nobles, given a starship, a crew, and sometimes a contingent of Space Marines (in very rare cases) or Imperial Guardsmen and carte blanche to roam those worlds of the galaxy that still lie beyond Imperial control or knowledge. In their task of exploring and exploiting the still-uncharted regions of the galaxy, Rogue Traders might come across worlds harbouring long-forgotten human civilisations which will be later incorporated into the Imperium by official Adeptus Mechanicus Explorator fleets and expeditions of the Imperial Navy and Imperial Guard. Other times they find empty or alien-dominated planets ripe for colonisation, conquest or exploitation by the Imperium.
All Rogue Traders are highly exceptional individuals who are driven to success beyond the dreams of the ordinary men and women of the Imperium of Man even though these exceptional people often have extreme character quirks themselves; some destroy entire worlds for the slightest reason, or include alien warriors and mutants among their entourage. Some are highly pious servants of the God-Emperor while others are no more than legitimized pirates. The most infamous Rogue Trader was Jan van Yastobaal, who became little more than an officially-sanctioned desperado, plundering whatever world he came upon. Rogue Traders are often flamboyant individuals, commonly dressed in the most extravagant finery they can acquire. However, each Rogue Trader is a unique individual from a particular background. Some newly-created Rogue Traders come from origins in the Imperial Guard, the Imperial Navy, the Merchant Fleets, the Administratum or even the Imperial Inquisition where they will have developed unique outlooks, skills and approaches to different situations. Some Rogue Traders are relatively poor, possessing a single ancient and dilapidated starship. Others are incredibly wealthy and powerful and have whole fleets of warships and entire private armies at their disposal. Certain favoured individuals may even call upon detachments of Space Marines, having entered pacts with individual Chapters. Some Rogue Traders operate as mercenaries, renting the service of their ship(s) to the highest bidder, including pirates, other Rogue Traders or an Imperial organization like the Adeptus Mechanicus, the Imperial Guard or the Inquisition.
Imperial Legal Status
The most valuable possession of a Rogue Trader is his or her Imperial Warrant of Trade; an ancient legal document which describes the accepted limits of a Rogue Trader and his descendants’ operations. These charters are hereditary and thus create an entire Rogue Trader dynasty when they are issued. These dynasties are granted a personal coat of arms identifying their members amongst the Imperial nobility. Rogue Traders are empowered with the authority by the High Lords of Terra to travel freely within the Imperium and beyond. This allows them to legally interact with cultures for which contact with by an Imperial citizen is normally forbidden, be they non-Imperial human worlds or xenos-controlled planets. Not only that, but Rogue Traders are granted the permission and freedom to deal with these cultures as they see fit, so long as it is judged to be in the interests of the Imperium. Having said that, one can assume that a renegade Rogue Trader guilty of heresy or treason will be severely prosecuted by the Inquisition if discovered and captured. It is very likely that he is considered to have forsaken the Emperor’s trust upon his family and that his punishment will be much more severe.
The Warrant of Trade
It should be noted that although Rogue Traders are shipmasters who travel the vastness of space, their authority to do so comes not from a Merchant Charter as usually granted by the Administratum to the shipmasters of the Imperial Merchant Fleets, but rather a letter of appointment that elevates them to a level of Imperial authority equaling that held by Space Marine Chapter Masters, Inquisitors and Imperial Planetary Governors. Some of the more ancient Warrants are dated from the very beginnings of the Imperium, and some were even signed by the Emperor himself. Others were signed by Primarchs or other leaders of the Great Crusade. These charters are very valuable and give their owners great leeway. They are tailor-made and unique. A Rogue Trader’s authority cannot be appealed since it comes directly from the Emperor, as according to Imperial law and Imperial religious dogma no one is empowered to overrule these persons. Certain powerful lords of the Adeptus Terra offer Warrants of Trade as a bribe to their rivals. The rival simply walks away into a life of adventure and wealth and no longer causes trouble for their political opponents in the various Imperial organisations.
Letters of Marque are similar documents to Warrants of Trade that have been issued more recently by the Imperium to less powerful individuals, though their bearers are still called Rogue Traders. The Letters of Marque are rather restricted in some aspects and controlled more effectively by Imperial authorities. These restrictions may be of geographical nature (e.g.: the Rogue Trader is restricted to operating in a single sector) or something similar. The more recent Letters of Marque are also not hereditary; hopeful heirs must return and reapply to the High Lords of Terra through the Administratum for a new charter.
Though a Warrant of Trade or a Letter of Marque grants extraordinary freedoms within the Imperium, they also invariably contain particular conditions; sometimes Rogue Traders will be required to make regular visits to certain troublesome Imperial worlds, or sent to enact military action on worlds which do not require the full force of the Imperial Navy’s Segmentum and Sector Battlefleets. More often, however, Rogue Traders will be required to travel outside the established territories of the Imperium in the name of settlement or exploration of new worlds that do not yet know the blessings of the God-Emperor.