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[40k Rogue Trader] Storyline conundrum - how the hell do the PCs fix this?

God-Emperor

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Okay, I've painted myself into a corner, and both myself and my players are at a loss of how to fix this so that it doesn't eat the universe.

I've been running Rogue Trader (using a blend of the newer mechanics from Dark Heresy 2nd edition and Only War, but also dips from basically all of the published 40k systems, all the splats, etc), and this game has gone on with this set of player characters for just over a year, and with this iteration of the Calixis Sector/Koronus Expanse basically since the 40k RPG books were first released in 2008. We've gone through just about every module for Dark Heresy, a few for the other game lines, and I've expanded a lot for Koronus using Dies Irae's legendary AP thread and Game of Thrones for inspiration, to the point that there are like 50+ factions and several hundred NPCs active. My notes for this are truly massive.

Now, to understand the corner that I've painted myself into, I need to explain the instigating events, and I can't really TL;DR this, because it's complicated like some Doctor Who metaplot stuff. Also, serious spoilers for the Haarlocke Trilogy from DH1.

In Dark Heresy, there was a series of modules dealing with the Haarlocke Dynasty of Rogue Traders, and the things that Erasmus Haarlocke had done in decades past. The short version is that during a succession dispute, Erasmus' wife and daughter were killed, he went a little mental, slaughtered basically all of the surviving members of his bloodline, then turned to some seriously dark stuff to seek a way to undo the past. The Tyrant Star storylines are all plot devices centred on what Erasmus Haarlocke did to try and change the past, or at least journey there. His attempts to go to various locations are mirrored in reality by Komus appearing in the sky and hideous warpcraft stuff plunging entire cities into ruin as a side effect.

The final module of the Haarlocke Trilogy has the acolytes go to Mara (dead world, quarantined), investigate the weirdness inside (serious temporal discontinuity, reality-cracking sorts of horror), and find that there are several other groups already in competition to reach the secrets within. In our case, the PCs slaughtered the competing groups (some slaugth, some heretics, and a renegade inquisitor), and were able to enter something called the Blind Tesseract that Haarlocke either built or discovered and made use of for his plans.

Now, the Blind Tesseract is a difficult concept to explain. It required a leap of faith to even enter it, and instead of plunging to our deaths, we found ourselves within a non-space filled with archways, an astrolabe, and a mannequin-like creature called the Iron Daughter that acted as both a gatekeeper and limited information source. The Blind Tesseract exists outside of time and space, but with lenses that allow it to see into other places and times, some of them that seem to be in alternate threads of continuity. Tuning the astrolabe allowed the archways to open up, providing a sort of portal to the place that was being viewed, even if that place was in the distant past or future. In order to understand Haarlocke, we needed to retrace his footsteps through a variety of realities and eventually head him off before he exited.

We travelled through easily a dozen different strands of reality, each with some horrific trial attached, some in the past where we found that we were unable to influence events (we passed through other people like a hand through smoke), while others showed possible futures (such as the Calixis Sector if the Slaugth took over and converted Scintilla into a feeding pit for the worms, or another with alternate versions of ourselves as a band of heretics seeking to begin a Black Crusade of our own). Some of us saw the Fall of the Eldar up close, while others witnessed the death of Sanguinius firsthand (and yes, most of us walked away with TONS of insanity and corruption, and at least one dark pact made for initially altruistic/desperate reasons). We saw Haarlocke's backstory, saw his family die, saw the dubious sciences that he turned to in an attempt to enter the cracks between reality to return to the past and prevent their deaths, saw his attempts to retrieve them from an alternate reality, etc. We also saw that Haarlocke had become an exceptionally dangerous and somewhat unstable individual that could be used to our advantage if we were willing to accept the collateral damage he would cause (and the fact that we would become radicals at best, or declared excommunicate traitoris at worst).

When we emerged from the Blind Tesseract, we worked out that there were really only two options - allow Haarlocke's return, which would make the Tyrant Star stuff seem like a mild fart BUT would provide us with a powerful asset against some much bigger threat in the near future (later figured out that was a Necron dynasty reawakening nearby, which is now a current event in Rogue Trader), OR we could break the archway and prevent his return and have to deal with that huge threat on our own. Our Inquisitor (a PC who had only been an Inquisitor for a couple of missions at that point) elected to break the arch and deal with the consequences.

Now, since then, as a GM, I've been using that broken arch as plot fodder for a long time. The concept is very Doctor Who, Star Trek, or Sliders in nature - when the arch broke, things cracked along fault lines between realities, and things can slip through the cracks. There are an infinite number of alternate realities that have the same basic rules as the one the PCs are in, but with anywhere from a handful of tiny differences to being completely different from the ground up. In one alternate reality, the Calixis Sector was similar until the Fall of Cadia happened early, and now the Eye of Terror is visible from Scintilla, and the two dominant factions are Chaos and Necrons with pathetic survivors living in the ashes between those great forces. In another, the Slaugth capitalized on things after the Risen Saint Schism went to hell and now the factions are the Worm-that-Walks and their slaves being fought by a resistance movement. In another, the Well of Night was destroyed, which cut off the crusade into the Jericho Reach (total defeat) and the path into Koronus (huge loss of trade there) but allowed Calixis to recuperate and push into the Spinward Front for total victory over the Orks and Severan Dominate, until the Screaming Vortex opened to unleash a huge Black Crusade.

As these cracks have spread, there have been more and more intruders slipping through - at first just a character here and there who had a very different account of history in the sector, but gradually growing to include entire ships or even fleets from factions that don't even exist in Koronus/Calixis. At this rate, entire planets might start slipping through soon.

Now, the Blind Tesseract is still there, but it's damaged, and the cracks are spreading (although there is some question as to whether the cracks were there before the Blind Tesseract was built, or if the cracks are spreading backwards through time). The PCs (and several other factions) have figured out how to enter the Tesseract, the cracks, or sometimes both, although they can't seem to do much with it outside of simply passing through to another reality and never seem to encounter each other while inside (which suggests there may be multiple Tesseracts, possibly one for each reality? Perhaps being displaced from time and space is even worse than initially thought?).

When I initially started working with this plotline, I had no solution planned for it. I figured that PCs are often really clever, and they'd come up with something that sounded totally cool and fitting as a solution, and I could just steal that idea and pretend it was the intended path all along. Unfortunately, that hasn't happened. A couple of PCs have journeyed inside of the Blind Tesseract, seen some of what's going on (including most of the events of our old DH acolytes going through Mara years earlier), and realized just how utterly horrible the scope is, but nobody at the table has a solution or even the beginnings of a plan (despite something like 100 years of RPG experience between all of us, and easily a dozen sessions of time to kick around ideas). They've since realized that the Processional of the Damned (star system, looks like a black hole with trillions of shipwrecks in orbit) is something like a sinkhole between realities, where wrecks from an infinite number of other universes are somehow coming to rest (possibly thousands of copies of the same ships since the number is so vast as to be incalculable but more than the Imperium of Man could possibly have built in all of recorded history combined by orders of magnitude). Heck, they've been salvaging dozens of ships from it and selling them to the Navy. Elsewhere, another faction has repaired literally thousands of wrecks and thrown them into the path of a Black Crusade that has gotten so out of control that it's beginning to cascade through the cracks from Calixis Sector to Calixis Sector to Calixis Sector, just in the hopes of slowing it down. Maccabeus Quintus was just the site of one of the largest naval engagements in 40k history, because it involved the combined fleets of 6 different realities on one side.

At this point, things are starting to approach a sort of critical mass like a Doctor Who season finale - the bad kind where things have gotten so truly proper-fucked that the only way for the writers to fix it is to blow up the TARDIS and invent some nonsense to reboot the universe. I don't want to go that route when there's already several decades of in-game history and easily a thousand NPCs already invested in a game that has been running for 9 years (even if we've switched off who is GMing every so often).

So, I ask, if reality is cracking, allowing alternate realities to bleed through on a larger and larger scale, how the hell do you fix that? Or even slow it down or mitigate the damage? The PCs all know that this absolutely needs to be fixed, but the most they've looked at doing is dipping into other realities to borrow resources (in one case on a truly massive scale). That's not a solution for the actual problem; that's damage control to deal with what has already come through. I'm well beyond the point where I can just handwave this mess without breaking the setting further. If it matters, we're up to 025.M42, Cadia fell only a short time ago, Biel-Tann has been sundered, and all that stuff with the Eldar in the Gathering Storm codex books is currently happening, so some of the really dubious alliances do have precedent (I have at least one arch-heretic willing to work with Imperials in secret because that's preferable to being disintegrated by the Necrons, the Eldar have made some seriously sketchy alliances in the name of survival, etc). I can provide more detail if needed.
 

Kakita Kojiro

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If I'm understanding correctly, in your Dark Heresy campaign, the PCs went into the Blind Tesseract, followed Haarlocke around through, and ultimately broke the arch that would have allowed Haarlocke to return.

Now, in Rogue Trader, although broken, the Blind Tesseract is still around and can be entered and traversed.

It seems to me that the RT PCs can take a cue from Doctor Who, and enter the Blind Tesseract to go back in time and break the arch that would allow the DH PCs to have done their thing. They'd end up in a timeline where they'd have to deal with Haarlocke, instead, and (presumably lesser) effects of the broken Blind Tesseract. Not "fixed", perhaps, but an improvement at least.
 

God-Emperor

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Correct. Breaking it trapped Haarlocke and prevented his path of return, but that hasn't stopped others from finding the entrance and taking different archways (and they've figured out that going through the broken arcane archway inside the astrolabe room probably won't lead to good things), or from finding cracks that lead from one reality to another (and often not understanding what happened). There's also the lingering question of whether there are multiple iterations of the Blind Tesseract between realities and only one of them was broken, and the possibility that the cracks existed before and the Blind Tesseract was built to exploit them.

And yeah, there's always the mess that can result from any time travel paradox story, going back to stop yourself from building the time machine, that sort of thing, but I don't know that anyone wants that sort of mindscrew if it can be avoided.
 

Kakita Kojiro

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Well, you could always go with "suddenly, everything is back to normal and you're the only ones who remember otherwise" fix. Maybe only the characters who've been in the Blind Tesseract remember how things used to be.

Someone else fixed things, and you can see if the players can accidentally brainstorm that to use as what your plan was all along.

In my own, years-long RT game, I'd thrown a Necron dynasty at them, with only a puny Crusade on their side to help out. They players were making some progress on things, but the whole Necron threat + Crusade effect was having too much of a distorting influence on the game, distracting from the fun parts. So I eventually "solved" the problem, at the cost of an entire Space Marine chapter, while the PCs basically supported efforts from the sidelines. It was good drama for a while, but it was long past time to put those toys back in the box. The players are rather relieved that it's over, excited about the new opportunities now available... and worried about when those Necrons will be back now that they're down an Astartes chapter.

If you've boxed yourself in, you can just change the status quo by fiat, and let things sort themselves out later.
 

Kraus

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So, I ask, if reality is cracking, allowing alternate realities to bleed through on a larger and larger scale, how the hell do you fix that? Or even slow it down or mitigate the damage? The PCs all know that this absolutely needs to be fixed, but the most they've looked at doing is dipping into other realities to borrow resources (in one case on a truly massive scale). That's not a solution for the actual problem; that's damage control to deal with what has already come through. I'm well beyond the point where I can just handwave this mess without breaking the setting further. If it matters, we're up to 025.M42, Cadia fell only a short time ago, Biel-Tann has been sundered, and all that stuff with the Eldar in the Gathering Storm codex books is currently happening, so some of the really dubious alliances do have precedent (I have at least one arch-heretic willing to work with Imperials in secret because that's preferable to being disintegrated by the Necrons, the Eldar have made some seriously sketchy alliances in the name of survival, etc). I can provide more detail if needed.
One option is to let it break, and use that to reboot to a slightly different continuity: say that if the home reality of the PCs reaches critical level, then it will be basically implode, getting rid of the cracks, blowing up the Blind Tesseract, and restoring metaversal stability at the low, low cost of the complete destruction of one reality.

That seems a bit flat, so perhaps it has to be the PCs that instigate this: they can't save their own reality, but they can cause a controlled collapse that cauterizes the reality breaches and solves the problem for all of the other realities.

The PCs might be able to use the Tesseract or the Processional to escape to another reality as this happens, which might be similar but not the same, or be a reality of their choice. Or perhaps they can't or won't, but can potentially pull some gambit that really helps out versions of themselves in one particular alternate reality, and get a kind of victory that way. The game could then switch to that reality, and the players could pick up from there, closing out the story arc, and allowing you to move on to another.
 
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Slybrarian

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Honestly, I'm just amazed your characters have found a hole through time and haven't started running stock market scams.
 

Arturs Leitans

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Congrats, you have broken the existence.
Dead end time line? you usually see these from other side, something comes and warns you about future danger, or escape from dying alternate dimension, yada yada yada. This time players get to experience it :D

Give them some knowledge how to navigate the broken archways. Make them go trough the hoops, navigate the fractures etc.
option 1 :Go back in past and just stop archways from being broken in the first place .
option 1.1.Let them stay around the past knowing the future will never happen. ( Or go all skynet inevitable on them)
option 1.2 paradox them out of existence, knowing the future will never happen. ( Or go all skynet inevitable on them)and let them play characters from earlier time
option 2. bail the dying reality, use the implied multiple tesseracts. Bonus points if ypu make them destroy this reality to stop fractures from spreading and consuming ALL
or any variation thereof
 

celebrityomnipath

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Necrons are a races, possible multiple races, that went through a transhumanist event and transcended the flesh. Humanity had an event like this too, that's what the end of the Dark Age of Technology was about, but the event failed. It failed for a reason, go back in time and find out why. It's just possible that humanity built a really really good weapon for killing our version of the Necrons, possibly this is what fucked up warp travel and ruined the universe, find one and steal it.
 

God-Emperor

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So my players are talking this out yet again and ideas are finally starting to come into shape in ways that weren't before.

Current thoughts are to A) abuse the cracks while they can to do things like dragging that Necron tomb world out of Koronus (it's actually at the edge of the Screaming Vortex, but whatever), and drop it into the Orpheus Salient in the Jericho Reach to let the Necrons awaken right in the middle of the Tyranid swarm (so that those two forces tear each other to pieces and maybe solve that part of the Deathwatch setting), and B) to move a huge choir of Bonesingers inside of the Blind Tesseract somehow and have them sing a huge amount of Wraithbone All-Purpose-Plot-Insulation [tm] into all of the cracks. If it gums up the Tesseract into uselessness, that's fine, because at least it would seal the holes, stop things from other realities from slipping through (or at least limit that to a very small/unreliable scale), and keep Haarlocke trapped.

The funny bit is that this conversation was directly instigated by them reading this thread, yet doesn't really incorporate any of the ideas presented in the thread so far. Maybe it was that they saw that I'm reaching out to the community for help that convinced them that 'the faecal matter is definitely no longer figurative'.

Whatever. If this leads to a solution, I'll take the win.

And I'm sure at least one of the players is going to use information learned via looking through the lenses in the Blind Tesseract to completely break the economy in the Koronus Expanse, possibly start or stop a trade war between Navis Houses, bring about the financial ruin of the Chorda Dynasty, and maybe even cause the Inquisition to torch a xenos planet as damage control. At least they're not thinking small, right?
 

Kakita Kojiro

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The funny bit is that this conversation was directly instigated by them reading this thread, yet doesn't really incorporate any of the ideas presented in the thread so far. Maybe it was that they saw that I'm reaching out to the community for help that convinced them that 'the faecal matter is definitely no longer figurative'.

Whatever. If this leads to a solution, I'll take the win.
Heh. One of my players - the Rogue Trader, actually - posted questions to some groups he was on, asking for Necron advice, since their situation was so grim. That's how I knew that plot had run its course.

They did kinda-sorta end up taking some of the 'net advice, though. They ended up dealing with some horribly heretical xenos, to get some tech that they passed off as Imperial. (I'm sure it'll all turn out not to have any horrible consequences for them, of course...)
 
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