After my last post, and a reader’s comment, I started to really think about what a contemporary equivalent of Warhammer 40,000 would look like. Let’s do an experiment.
Warhammer 40,000 Rogue Trader was successful at the time, (and became the behemoth it is today) for several reasons, I think. One, it took tropes everyone understood from contemporary and canonical fantasy fiction and science fiction and mashed them together with very little to no shame.
Two, it had a rebellious, punk sensibility. The Imperium of man is a dystopia from the political perspective of a democratic western citizen in the 1980s (the target market).
Three, it appealed to a certain desire to be the bad guy: if you played an Imperial force you were fighting for a cause that was, in political terms, more evil than the Eldar, or the Squats, or even the Orks. Well, the Orks are pretty evil I suppose if you consider war for it’s own sake as evil. Yes, Chaos was icky, but the way people had responded to Chaos was to create a society no modern person would want to live in or fight for. You got to be the racist fascists with cool uniforms, or the weird aliens, and it was all a big joke.
What would a modern equivalent look like? It would have to be politically bold, that’s for sure, and you know what? Hardly anything is now. If we take the dystopian element and put it into today’s context, perhaps the Imperium would be a society that was free and democratic on the surface, but underneath was run by an elite for profit. The soldiers of the human race believe that they are fighting for freedom, but really they are just wiping out aliens who refuse to be corrupted by our commercial products so that we can take their resources for our endless capitalist economy.*
The human’s technology would have to incorporate more modern original sci-fi, like the Matrix or Elysium for example. So probably a lot of cybernetics, cloning/body replacement, and AI-controlled troops. I’m thinking a bit like Infinity’s treatment of technology, actually. Oh and the Force. There’d have to be something mystical/telepathic to keep fantasy nuts interested.
What about the aliens and other factions? They would have to be recognised tropes. Something like the noble eco-aliens of Avatar. Something like the terrifying xenomorphs of the Alien franchise. And of course, zombies of some description, and space raiders like the Orks or the Reavers in Firefly. Oh, and maybe humans who don’t fit in and are fighting for their way of life, again like the Ariadna colonists in Infinity.
Just some quick thoughts. I’m not really addressing the aesthetics or the game mechanics of course, which I’m sure had some influence on Rogue Trader’s success. And most of all, I think it would have to be funny. You were meant to laugh at the Inquisition and commissars, not think that they were a grim but necessary evil.
What do people think of this?
*I’m not saying this is how it is in the real world, I’m saying that this is a modern rebellious political narrative on a par with the fascist “for your own good” Imperium of Man.