"The Warrant of Trade and a starship to enforce it—these are the critical tools for a Rogue Trader. Without the former, he is merely a renegade. Without the latter, he is a forsaken drifter doomed to an anonymous death."
- —Lord-Captain Laomyr of Battlefleet Calixis
The Imperial Warrant of Trade is the most valuable possession of a Rogue Trader; an ancient legal document which describes and sanctions the accepted limits of a Rogue Trader and his or her descendants' operations across the galaxy. 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 troops of the Imperial Guard 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 for Mankind, 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--and themselves.
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 which normal Imperial citizens are forbidden contact with--because they are 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, it can be assumed that a Renegade Rogue Trader guilty of heresy or treason will be severely prosecuted by the Inquisition if discovered and captured. His punishment will be that much more severe if he is deemed undeserving of the Emperor's extraordinary trust in his family.
Rogue Traders usually return to Imperial space every few standard years, to unload their exotic wares and re-supply, recruit, and rest until the next foray into the darkness of unknown space. During these periods they may come into conflict with members of the Adeptus Terra or the Inquisition. Rogue Traders wield incredible power, and it is easy for them to forget that once back within the Imperium, they do not have free rein to act as they wish.
This strident attitude will draw attention from the authorities. Many Rogue Traders dispute the right of the Imperium to exercise authority over them. As men who have wandered amongst alien stars and conversed with all manner of cultures, Rogue Traders are viewed as susceptible to all kinds of heresies, from wayward philosophies to infection by alien creatures or possession by Warp entities that live in the darkness between stars. All of these factors can lead to violent confrontation, particularly if the Rogue Trader has knowledge or an artefact that others within the Imperial hierarchy of equal or greater power covet.
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 Chartist Captains of the Imperial Merchant Fleets, but rather a letter of appointment known as a Warrant of Trade that elevates them to a level of Imperial authority and status 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 the 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 those persons who have received the God-Emperor's direct sanction. 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.
Granting of a Warrant of Trade
The Warrant of Trade is the instrument by which a Rogue Trader is granted his lofty position and the method by which he exercises his considerable powers. Warrants are granted on the highest of authorities, usually by the office of the High Lords of Terra themselves -- and by extension, the Emperor. The issuing of a Warrant is an occasion of great significance, marked by extravagant pomp and ceremony, for it marks the establishment of a new noble line that, should the recipient prove successful, might conquer and rule entire regions of space in the name of the Imperium, thus expanding Mankind’s domains. Warrants are issued for many reasons. Some are granted in recognition of a great service done to the Imperium, while others are created for entirely political ends.
Rogue Trader Warrants are hereditary. Once one is issued, it will be passed down from one generation to the next, at least for as long as there are heirs extant to receive it. Many Rogue Trader lines die out and yet more are created to replace them, ensuring a constant supply of individuals driven to expand the Imperium's holdings. The reasons for the granting of a Warrant of Trade include the following.
Administratum Trade Mandate
A Trade Mandate is an example of one of countless numbers of administrative instruments employed by the Adeptus Terra. It is an instrument of strategy, by which the division’s policies for the managing of the unmanageable are drawn up. By way of a myriad of utterly incomprehensible cogitations, vast armies of scribes and factors plot the needs and the means of the Imperium’s worlds, and attempt to allocate resources in such a way as to allow future generations to continue their work. Such a process has no meaning or function, and has long since become an end itself, the worlds of the Imperium merely carrying on as before regardless.
The Trade Mandate is a product of this system. In such a case, the cogitations have determined that at such and such a date, in such and such a region, the efforts and services of a Rogue Trader House will be required in order to steer the region’s fortunes or to expand it borders in response to a particular threat. The date at which the Mandate is to be granted might be many centuries in the future, and so entire armies of scribes will spend their whole lives selecting the eventual recipient of the Mandate, even to the extent of determining that an Imperial Servant not yet even born is to receive it.
One of the most common circumstances under which a Warrant of Trade is offered is in recognition of military service to the Imperium. In a galaxy at war on a thousand different fronts, Lord Generals and High Admirals lead dozens of mighty Imperial Crusades to re-take entire regions lost to rebellion or alien invasion. Such mighty leaders have under their command millions of warriors and hundreds of warships, and over the course of a Crusade lasting decades they might claim dozens of planets in the name of the Emperor.
Those individuals who succeed will be honoured at the very highest levels, decorated with a multitude of medals, have victory parades, high days and celebrations held in their name and even have whole planets named after them. Such men and women rarely retire having completed their life's work, however, and they are often restless and uncomfortable in non-military circles. The boundless and untameable energies of such leaders are best put to good use, and appointment to the rank of Rogue Trader comes to many as a welcome outlet that can benefit the Imperium.
While it is possible for a Warrant of Trade to change hands through overt aggression, a change in title is actually more likely to occur through underhanded methods. Assassination of varying sorts is not uncommon, and neither is fraud, but the most common of such methods is outright bribery. This might occur when a Rogue Trader has overstepped the limits of his authority, and a rival garners sufficient evidence of the transgression that the Imperium would be forced to censure him were such evidence to be presented to a high enough authority.
Such crimes are most likely to include trafficking with alien empires forbidden even to Rogue Traders, or dealing in goods tainted by the Ruinous Powers. The issue might not even be something considered a crime, but rather evidence of political machinations against more powerful individuals and institutions. Perhaps worst of all, a powerful Rogue Trader might be accused of seeking to establish his own private empire beyond the Imperium’s borders, secede from the Rule of the Emperor. Many Rogue Traders have tried to do so, most eventually being brought to justice by the Imperium’s forces.
In such a case, a rival might take power of an existing Warrant of Trade and all of the assets and rights associated with it. A new line is established and the old one slower dissolved until little or nothing of the former dynasty remains. No one knows how many Rogue Trader Houses have been established in this manner, but no doubt a significant number of Warrants have changed hands many times throughout the millennia.
The Ecclesiarchy does not hold the power to grant a Warrant of Trade, for that privilege ultimately lies with the Adeptus Terra and the High Lords, but, in common with many of the Imperium’s highest institutions, it does have great influence in the matter. Many of the crusades launched by the Imperium against recidivist systems or vile aliens are thanks to the fiery oratory of the Ecclesiarchy's Confessors and Redemptory Priests. Such individuals preach war and redemption across dozens of worlds, igniting the zealous passions of the Imperium’s subjects until vast rallies are held where millions of would-be martyrs call for the preacher’s demands to be granted and war to be taken to the enemy.
Though the preachers utilise simplistic, even crude methods to gain the support of the masses, they are highly adept at the far subtler ways of ensuring their voice is heard. Even while the confessor preaches hate and bloodshed to the masses, his agents move amongst the Imperium’s institutions, making promises of great favour and wealth to those who aid them, and making veiled threats to those who seek to obstruct them. One such promise the adepts might issue is the granting of a Warrant of Trade, the confessor’s allies ensuring that certain individuals with the power to grant such a reward are spoken to, in return for certain favours being performed.
Just as some servants of the Imperium are granted the Warrant of Trade in genuine thanks and recognition for their services to Mankind, others are granted the rank because the alternative would be far worse. Throughout history, men and women granted leadership over a Crusade fleet have conquered in the name of the Imperium, only to establish themselves as rulers of the new realms. Sometimes these leaders have maintained at least a semblance of fealty to the Imperium, with the Adeptus Terra accepting the new regime so long as tithes are paid and other obligations met.
Yet, on many other occasions, these rulers have become so accustomed to absolute power that they desire to hold onto it for all time, rejecting their Imperial masters and setting themselves up as total rulers of the regions they have fought so hard to conquer. The only recourse in such a situation is yet another Crusade to dislodge the pretender.
Far better, then, to avoid the situation entirely by keeping the conqueror distracted with yet more regions to conquer, leaving the administrators of the Adeptus Terra to complete the pacification in his wake. Many a Warrant of Trade has been granted in order that a Lord Militant might simply conquer region after region until he has expended his forces and is no longer a threat, real or potential, to the wider Imperium.
The most coveted of Rogue Trader Warrants are those that have been granted in genuine recognition of great deeds performed in service to the Imperium. Often, such a reward is not consciously sought and as such may come as a surprise to the recipient. A Warrant of Trade granted in this manner will be gifted to the recipient in a lavish ceremony, attended by the great and the good of the Imperium's highest offices.
Many great men and women will attend, often in the hope that some of the glory and prestige will rub off on themselves. The recipient is likely to have gathered about them many powerful allies who others wish to be associated with—some might even have forged connections with Space Marine Chapters, sector lords, Admirals or Inquisitors.
The deeds for which a Warrant of Trade will be rewarded are many and varied, and there are no set definitions or conditions set. Military service is a common route by which such Warrants are gifted, but so to is mercantile or political success.
There is a darker side to a Warrant of Trade rewarded for such deeds however. The sponsor of the granting -- the individual who lobbied the powers that be for the recipient to be rewarded in such a manner -- will often expect some form of recompense, some favour that might not be called in for many decades. But called in it will be, and almost certainly at the most inconvenient time for the Rogue Trader.
To have risen to a position of influence and power within the labyrinthine structures of the Imperium's bureaucracy, an individual must, by the force of their own personality, be exceptionally driven. Just to be noticed amongst the teeming billions of the Imperium, one must be willing to promote oneself with ruthless efficiency.
The types of people that attain such lofty stations might be noble and self-sacrificing, but it is just as likely they are ignoble and self-serving. For those of rank, a multitude of ways exists to attain every conceivable personal ambition, and for some the Warrant of Trade is that ultimate goal.
Just why a highly placed official would desire the Warrant of Trade will depend on their own particular, sometimes flawed, personality, and the manner in which they attain it will depend on their circumstance, or on situations they can engineer. More than likely, it will involve prodigious bribes at the very highest of levels, or on calling in outstanding debts and favours from every possible source.
Once the Warrant is granted to such a person, they will be keen to use it to attain their every ambition. Some will desire to carve small stellar empires beyond the reach of the Imperium, while others may want to establish the foundations of a mighty noble lineage, even if they themselves will not be around to see how future generations prosper. It has often been noted that many Rogue Traders are vain and egotistical, and that many more are simply venal and megalomaniacal.
Some individuals, by means fair and foul, attain high rank in the service of the Imperium by politicking or murdering their way to the very top. Over the course of a lifetime -- extended far beyond the natural span of years by rare and expensive rejuvenation procedures -- such a person will have come into conflict with all manner of political opponents, earning the bitter enmity of the few others he can count as peers.
It may come to pass that such an individual stands at the very brink of the culmination of a lifetime's political manoeuvring, and an appointment to Sector Governor or even High Lord of Terra is the only remaining rung on the ladder left to climb.
At such times, it may be that an individual's many political rivals mobilise against him, drawing on every shred of their own influence to rid themselves of their enemy once and for all. Yet, being too powerful to oust, some in this position find a Warrant of Trade foisted upon them as a convenient way of getting rid of them once and for all.
Such an honour cannot be refused, and the newly appointed Rogue Trader has no choice but to accept his fate, demurring politely as speeches are made in honour of all the great deeds he will perform in this, his ultimate service to the Imperium that appreciates him so. For these Rogue Traders, the Warrant of Trade is a bitter reward, for it signals the victory of their opponents.
Despite the unwanted nature of the Warrant, these Rogue Traders do often go on to achieve great success, reaving across the stars, conquering dozens of planets, and amassing personal fortune far in excess of what they might have attained otherwise. Some of these individuals return decades later to enact their revenge on their erstwhile opponents, perhaps waiting until the key conspirators have retired to some private Garden World paradise before dispatching an assassin, or indeed a private army, to settle the matter once and for all.
Conditions of a Warrant of Trade
Of course, the powers and trappings of a Warrant of Trade do not come without a cost. A Rogue Trader fleet might be a significant military force, and the Warrant will often come with a number of conditions attached to it. In fact, it would be a sure sign that an individual is being virtually exiled if no conditions were attached, the authorities clearly hoping the recipient will go and get himself killed somewhere beyond their concern.
Conditions attached to a Warrant may take many forms, but invariably involve some form of military service or intervention. The most common types of conditions attached to a Warrant of Trade are discussed below.
Trooping the Colours
A common condition under which a Warrant is granted is that a particular world be "visited" by the Rogue Trader and his fleet. The world may have been isolated for some time, or, for whatever reason, simply not visited by any authority of the Imperium in a generation. Perhaps the tithes have been short or slow to be rendered, and the Imperium's bureaucracy has finally decided to investigate matters.
If such a world is distant and other, more pressing concerns have diverted attention, then it may not be practical to task an Administratum mission or Imperial Navy squadron to press home the matter. Instead, a newly appointed Rogue Trader might very well be required to make a brief layover at the troublesome world.
In all likelihood, contact with the planet in question will have been sporadic or non-existent, or concerning and fragmentary communications might be all that have been logged. The Rogue Trader will be tasked with undertaking the equivalent of a state visit, complete with all the regal pomp and circumstance of a visiting Imperial noble.
Dress uniforms and badges of office will be flaunted, retinues and honour guards deployed, bands assembled, and flags waved. This is all for show, of course, and is intended to remind the world's leadership in a very real fashion that the Imperium still exists, and has not forgotten about them or the tithes they owe.
The Rogue Trader will be expected to attend state banquets and high-level talks, acting in essence as a diplomat, even an ambassador of the Imperium. The Imperial Commander of most backwater planets will be sufficiently cowed by such a display, particularly with a small fleet of warships in geo-synchronous orbit over his seat of power. The Rogue Trader will be wined and dined and treated as royalty, and given every assurance that any shortfall in the tithe is clearly a minor inconvenience and entirely innocent, and asked to convey the governor's personal assurances that all will be made right as soon as possible.
Some Imperial Planetary Governors do not welcome the Rogue Trader's visit however, either showing overt resistance or displaying obvious reluctance to comply. In such cases, the Rogue Trader is required to launch a punitive strike to "encourage" the recalcitrant world's cooperation.
In cases where a flag-waving mission has proved unsuccessful, or a world has openly rejected the rule of the Imperium, the Rogue Trader will have no option but to use force. Few newly-appointed Rogue Traders want to squander their resources on the first bush war they encounter, so a hard-hitting show of force is often used to demonstrate the futility of further resistance.
A Lance strike from orbit often proves the Rogue Trader means business, particularly if aimed at key infrastructure targets, thus weakening the Imperial Governor's ability to rule his planet. Alternatively, a strike against a location particularly valued by the Imperial Commander might change his stance: the destruction of a luxurious winter palace or rural hunting lodge, for example.
In the unlikely event that this initial show of force does not prove sufficient, then a more protracted campaign may be required. No Rogue Trader wishes to become embroiled in such a war, but sometimes it simply cannot be avoided. If the Rogue Trader's remit extends to actually dethroning the Planetary Governor in question, then many will proceed to such a course as soon as possible. This usually ends the matter in short order, a more compliant replacement being selected according to whatever political system put him in power in the first place.
Settlement of new worlds in the name of the God-Emperor of Mankind may be a condition placed on a Warrant of Trade. The Explorator Fleets of the Adeptus Mechanicus are ever investigating the wonders of the galaxy, relentlessly recording and cataloguing celestial phenomena and stellar bodies. A report of a habitable world will be dispatched to the Administratum, along with whatever data can be gathered on it by preliminary investigation by an Explorator team.
If the world proves of no great interest to the Tech-priests, perhaps because it harbours no resources or life forms of immediate use to them, then its details will be transmitted and filed away for future generations to follow up as they will. The Imperium's bureaucracy being as it is, the report may progress through the data-mills of the Administratum for many standard years, even Terran centuries, before finally crossing the desk of a clerk tasked with dispatching settlement missions to such worlds to claim them in the name of Mankind.
In the span of time between an exploration being logged and a settlement mission being dispatched, any number of fates might have befallen the planet. The ebb and flow of galactic war might have reduced its surface to radioactive dust, or aliens might have claimed it for their own ends. It is not unknown for a Rogue Trader to arrive in orbit over such a world only to find it utterly uninhabitable, or in fact incorrectly categorised in the first place.
He will then have a colony ship and some thousands of settlers to dispose of, and it is not uncommon for a particularly callous individual to insist the colonists carry out their mission regardless, landing the prefabricated colony units wherever they can, or else. Very few colonies established under such circumstances last more than a standard year, while a very small minority may somehow survive against all the odds, alone in the darkness out beyond the fringes of Imperial rule.
Every year, unrecorded numbers of the Imperium's worlds fall to rebellion, alien invasion, or natural disaster. A common condition of the granting of a Warrant is that such worlds be brought back into the fold by the application of overt military power. Such missions are never what could be described as diplomatic, unless a transmission demanding immediate surrender can be counted as an ambassadorial communiqué.
Intelligence on such lost worlds might be incomplete or compromised, based on accounts long out of date or deliberately covered up. The Rogue Trader will be operating on the level of a Lord Militant leading a Crusade, and for such missions additional military forces might be seconded to his command. In some cases, the Space Marines of the Adeptus Astartes might accompany the fleet, usually for a short time only, but occasionally for extended periods. Though he may well act as a figurehead, the Rogue Trader will not be in direct command of such units, and an administrative body will be formed, often titled a "crusader council."
Strategy and political issues will be debated until the best use of the fleet's assets is agreed upon, calling on all the diplomatic skills of the Rogue Trader. Each of the seats on such a council is occupied by an individual of considerable power, and no Imperial Navy Admiral, Imperial Guard General, or Space Marine Chapter Master would agree to a course of action that squandered his own resources.
The degree of the Rogue Trader's involvement over the course of such a Crusade will depend very much on his own background. An individual of a militant disposition may closely oversee the deployment of the fleet's military forces, while a particularly belligerent one may actually take a hand in the fighting. Those of a more bureaucratic nature are more likely to delegate such matters to their military advisors. There are those Rogue Traders for whom the entire Crusade will represent a massive inconvenience, and these will deal with the situation in their own unique manner, seeking to extricate themselves and their ships from the mission of the Crusade so that they can continue on their way for their own ends.
Exploration is the essential mission of all Rogue Traders, yet occasionally they will be tasked with exploring a particular region of the galaxy at the behest of the Imperium's authorities. There are a lot of reasons such a situation might come about, and many Rogue Traders will be particularly resentful, as it may be specified that they themselves will not receive the exploitation rights they normally enjoy over the regions they explore.
This onerous duty might be the result of the Imperium being in possession of fragmentary knowledge of an unexplored region, which, although incomplete, suggests the presence of some natural resource or otherwise desirable asset that might be of strategic value to an entire Segmentum. A long-lost archival record might suggest that a region is populated by isolated human worlds or a space-faring alien culture.
Perhaps something far more sinister lurks in the black spaces on the map—alien Tomb Worlds pre-dating the evolution of Man, esoteric stellar phenomena that challenge the understanding of the most learned of Tech-priests, or planet-sized super-weapons placed as silent sentinels by long-extinct civilisations. All of these things might trigger a Rogue Trader mission to investigate matters, often accompanied by senior members of the Adeptus Mechanicus or members of the Ordo Xenos of the Inquisition.
Compliance With the Terms of the Warrant of Trade
It may seem at first glance that some newly appointed Rogue Traders might be tempted to simply sail away into the great unknown without undertaking any of their obligations to the Imperium. Indeed, many are so tempted, and some do try to escape. These individuals soon find out that the Imperium is not so foolish as to allow the Rogue Trader to get away without first putting in place at least one contingency plan.
The most common method of ensuring a Rogue Trader complies with the conditions of his Warrant of Trade is to ensure there are very powerful representatives of the Imperium on hand to remind him of his obligations. This might be an Administratum Prefect, but it might also be an agent of a more obscure division, perhaps even of the Inquisition. On occasion, the Rogue Trader might find his flotilla accompanied by one or more Space Marine vessels, and sometimes these will be serving as much as a reminder of the conditions of his Warrant as to enforce the power of the Imperium on its enemies.
Sometimes the Rogue Trader's compliance might be guaranteed by more subtle means, such as the promise of further powers or the granting of additional assets at various stages in a voyage. If a Rogue Trader has to make a number of diversions and fulfil a number of tasks before even reaching the fringes, then he may be reliant on the Imperium to replenish his forces before he leaves Imperial space.
There might also be more insidious contingencies put in place. Members of a ship's crew could be agents of the Imperium, and it is not unknown for actual Assassins to be emplaced aboard a Rogue Trader's flagship as insurance against non-compliance or betrayal.
There are two broad classifications of Rogue Trader: those personally granted the Warrant of Trade, and those who have inherited it from a forebear. The granting of a Warrant of Trade has the potential to establish a hugely powerful noble line, which, if successful, can grow over the generations to become equal to the most ancient of Navigator clans and merchant houses.
Many of the scions of these houses will hold the title Rogue Trader and wield the authority of the Warrant, yet in the main these powers reside predominantly with the line's titular head. Such individuals must bear the weight of tradition and expectation, and are in the main every bit as driven and able as the ancestor first granted the Warrant. On their shoulders rests the duty of maintaining the Warrant and their line's continued existence, driving them to continue the mission of the Rogue Trader, exploring the benighted regions beyond the fringes and returning with unimagined riches and glory.
Some Rogue Trader houses become split with internal strife, the various scions competing with one another for power and the favour of the line's head. In houses where the head exercises complete control, the various members with a chance of inheriting leadership might squabble and manoeuvre against one another, some even resorting to intimidation or assassination to ensure it is they, and not an older sibling, who inherits the Warrant at the head's passing.
Though some Rogue Trader houses may become riven with internecine civil war, most will invariably maintain an outward appearance of respectable propriety -- lest their competitors sense weakness and move against them. It takes a powerful head of house indeed to maintain order amongst competing offspring while also furthering the interests of his house and containing any collateral damage. Even in the face of outright rebellion against the Imperium, many heads of Rogue Trader houses will support their offspring.
Scions of the Rogue Trader Houses
So that the sons and daughters of the oldest of Rogue Trader lines do not fall victim to a life of idle luxury and thus weaken the bloodline, many such scions are ordered by their sires to "do their time," undertaking a career in one of the Imperium's great institutions until such time as they are judged worthy of returning, or duty calls them back.
Many serve in the Imperial Navy, a career that affords them many of the skills they will one day need to command a Rogue Trader fleet. Others spend time on the General Staff of the Astra Militarum, or in other divisions such as the Administratum. Such individuals are often reviled by their peers within the Imperial hierarchy, who view them merely as treading water until their privileged birthright recalls them, but many do indeed learn vital skills that will one day serve them well.
Revocation and Forfeiture of a Warrant of Trade
Some Rogue Traders become so powerful that their interests come into conflict with those of the Imperium. Considering the enormous freedom granted by the Warrant of Trade, it takes a great deal for a Rogue Trader's actions to be considered beyond the scope of his powers. The authorities often overlook even the most questionable actions of many Rogue Traders, even if word does get back to Terra, so long as the Imperium's best interests are served.
Yet there are circumstances that have in the past led to the revocation of the Warrant of Trade and the forfeiture of the great powers associated with it. Revocation means the effective death of a Rogue Trader line, its powers and privileges lost for all time. Some houses have continued in a much diminished state, slowly rebuilding what fortunes they have clung to.
Throughout the ages, some notable Rogue Trader houses have amassed such powers that they have become small empires, controlling entire regions beyond the fringes of the Imperium. This in itself is not contrary to the terms of the granting of the Warrant of Trade, so long as fealty is paid in the form of due tithes to the Imperium. Such is human nature, however, that hubris and greed has got the better of some, and they have determined to take total power of the realms they have conquered.
Although it may be some time before reports of the actions of such individuals reach Terra, and more time yet before they are acted upon, such Traitors will invariably suffer the wrath of the Imperium, with a Crusade fleet, sometimes even one led by a newly appointed Rogue Trader, being dispatched to crush them.
Acting Against the Imperium
Being free to deal with alien cultures, many Rogue Traders deal or ally themselves with the xenos in the course of their missions. It is not unknown for some individuals to become embroiled in local wars, and on occasions these have been against the Imperium. Perhaps the Rogue Trader was acting to protect his own trade interests, moving against a competitor with lethal force. If the interests are aliens, and the competitors human, then the Rogue Trader may well find himself on the wrong side in a war that soon escalates far and above a trade dispute.
Furthermore, many Rogue Traders actually enjoy the vicious cut-and-thrust of competitive trade, immersing themselves in the politics of interstellar commerce. While most are highly accomplished at such games, even a Rogue Trader can become mired in a bad deal or find himself double-bluffed and outmanoeuvred by a competitor. Before he knows it, the Rogue Trader is forced to act against the interests of the Imperium -- and finds himself the target of the Emperor's retribution.
Consorting with the Xenos Terribilus
Although the proscriptions that bar most human contact with aliens do not apply to Rogue Traders, there are those xenos pronounced so dangerous, vile, or otherwise undesirable that not even a Rogue Trader is permitted contact with them. Entire star systems are declared Perdita, their outer limits marked by sentinel-buoys that transmit warnings to vessels to turn back, on the authority of the Segmentum High Command or even the Inquisition.
Few know what horrors lurk on the worlds beyond the sentinels or what detestable alien life forms call them home. Many a Rogue Trader has allowed his curiosity to get the better of him, and those few that have survived contact with the proscribed xenos have later faced the wrath of the Inquisition and forfeiture of their Warrant of Trade.
Overstepping the Bounds
It is worth remembering that a Rogue Trader flotilla is a sizable military force in its own right, certainly carrying sufficient firepower to raze to ashes many of the Imperium's worlds. While a single vessel making a return to the Imperium will rarely cause concern, an entire fleet often will. Combine this with the fact that many of the Imperium's institutions have good reason to be distrustful of Rogue Traders, and a potential flashpoint emerges.
To the Imperial Navy, a large fleet appearing at the borders of a sector without warning will be sufficient to scramble a large force to ascertain its intentions and ensure it does not initiate hostile actions. The annals of the Imperium contain many unfortunate incidents in which a Rogue Trader fleet, returning victorious from a decades-long expedition, has returned unheralded to the Imperium only to become embroiled with an Imperial Navy battlegroup. Such incidents might be cause to forfeit the Warrant, if the Rogue Trader is still alive at the end.
The rewards a Rogue Trader's Warrant of Trade can bring are exceptional, and often quite beyond those attainable by any other legitimate means. The greatest reward is fortune, obtained by trade or conquest. Often the two are one and the same.
Quite aside from the financial gain, many Rogue Traders seek the fame and glory success can bring. Few people in the late 41st Millennium can ever hope that their name will be spoken of beyond the limits of their birth world or the span of their own lifetime. For many, the most valuable reward is the opportunity to establish a lineage, with themselves as the primogenitors, of an Imperial noble house that will endure throughout the ages.
- Rogue Trader: Core Rulebook (RPG), pp. 40-43, 211, 290, 321-334
- Rogue Trader: Into the Storm (RPG), pg. 38
- Nemesis (Novel) by James Swallow