(Above image by Fantasy Flight Games and Games Workshop)
So I’ve decided to take the time to write about the sector of space that my upcoming Rogue Trader campaign is going to take place in. While all of the planets and regions listed below are big points of interest, they are not by any means exclusive, and there are dozens of other such planets and locations that my party may yet stumble upon…
THE KERBERUS SECTOR
Located in the Ultima Segmentum to the galactic east of Ultramar, the Kerberus Sector is one of the many regions of Imperial space situated dangerously close to the ever-expanding border of the T’au Empire. Located as it is in one of the further edges of the Segmentum, the Kerberus Sector, for the most part, always been regarded by the Administratum as a backward wildnerness space. Part of this is due to the fact that the light of the Astronomicon shines a little more dimly in this sector, both due to the sheer distance from Terra and also due to the pervasive interference caused by a local warp-storm, the Gyre.
It is perhaps because of both the more limited presence of the Astronomicon and the neglect of the Administratum that Kerberus does, indeed, live up to its reputation as a wilderness. Outside of the more “civilized” worlds such as Kerberus Prime and Calyphia, corruption, piracy, illegal trade and heresy are rife in the sector: on many worlds, Imperial control is limited or even nonexistent, and there are hundreds of asteroid belts, gas clouds and warp-anomalies in which pirates, smugglers and scavengers can hide. To make matters worse, xeno ships have been becoming more and more commonplace throughout the sector in the last millennium, with Ork pirates, Kroot spheres and even Eldar raiders appearing and attacking more and more brazenly. The limited Imperial naval presence in the sector is spread thin, constantly trying to put out a hundred different fires as once…and the looming threat of the T’au simply adds to the stress of the Navy’s strategos. The top naval commander in the sector, Admiral Hallsmark, believes that it is only a matter of time before the T’au attempt to expand into Kerberus, and fears that his limited fleet will be unable to stop them when they do so.
Despite– or perhaps because of– Kerberus’ isolated nature, the space lanes of the sector are a hub of activity. Numerous trade cartels throughout the sector keep commercial traffic active and alive, and no less than three Rogue Trader dynasties call the sector home. The degree to which this trade is legitimate, however, is of a matter of contention, and unsubstantiated reports persist of Kerberan traders engaging in commerce– and in some cases alliances– with alien races. These rumours are of particular concern to the Ordo Xenos, in part because of the potential harm an underground market of alien artefacts and technology could create, and in part because such a market would breed fertile ground for subversion and dissent that could be sown by agents of the T’au.
Kerberus’ proximity to the outermost edges of the Ultima Segmentum– and to the edges of known Imperial space– also make the sector an ideal springboard for exploration voyages, and dozens of ships venture into the void each year to explore the unknown, to seek out long lost worlds and civilizations, to find new worlds to settle, and, perhaps most importantly, to find wealth and plunder. Most of these ships disappear the moment they move beyond known space, but occasionally, these brave explorers will return with tales of wonder…or occasionally, of horror. There are dockside legends of what lurks in the great expanse– of cemetary-worlds populated by the unquiet dead, of abominable intelligences inhabiting an artificial planet, of a sentient black hole that actively seeks soul-matter…though whether these are true stories, or the ravings of madmen, has yet to be determined.
(Image by derbz at DeviantArt-https://www.deviantart.com/derbz/art/Hive-City-Spires-W40K-669482769)
The world for which the Kerberus Sector was named, Kerberus (official Imperial classification Ceta Kanis III) is an ash-shrouded cinder of a world whose desolate surface and high temperatures seem to evoke the hellhound for which it was named. Indeed, one Administratum analyst, upon landing on Kerberus and seeing its scorched surface and rivers of molten rock and chemical fluids, famously remarked that “they have finally sent me to Hell.”
A hive world boasting a population in the billions, Kerberus Prime is one of the focal points of industry in the sector, with a populace of workers churning out thousands of machine parts, prefab units, vehicle chassis and arms and munitions on a daily basis. The world’s primary hives exist in spite of the hostile environment surrounding them: estimated to have been colonized perhaps two or three centuries before the Great Crusade, Kerberus is a turbulent world which, due to a comet impact centuries before, is wracked with constant earthquakes, volcanic activity, storms and smog-clouds that have rendered the planetside a barren wasteland. The planet’s two major oceans have been rendered toxic by extreme pollution and chemical saturation over the centuries, and due to the rapidly diminishing state of the world’s polar ice peaks, the planet relies heavily on a massive underground network of water reserves.
Life-forms on Kerberus have evolved to adapt to the harsh climate, and include such monstrosities as Titan Worms, Landcrawlers, sludges, chem-nautilus, and various bacterial and lichen-based species. The most notable lifeforms, however, are drakes, which are focused mainly around volcanic regions. For centuries, the drakes have been the largest threat to the people of Kerberus– massive, thickly-scaled beasts that fly on great wings, the drakes descend from their volcanic homes to regularly attack convoys, factories, and hab-areas. It is for this reason that Kerberus is such a heavily-fortified place, and why the Kerberians are such a hardy folk. On Kerberus, to be caught outside the city walls for a day or two means death, and this is a reality that the Kerberians have had to live with for centuries.
The population of Kerberus is confined to several massive forge-cities, each one situated in the vast mountain ranges ringing the deadly planet. The cities of Kerberus are designed both as self-sufficient factories, and as fortresses to ward the population against the dangerous wildlife. The population of Kerberus is divided into two classes- the workers and serfs who toil day in and day out to survive, and the ruling elite. The workers perform a myriad of jobs, from water and food-maintenance, assembly-line work in the factories, and various other tasks, each of which is absolutely crucial for the greater whole of the population to survive. For the workers, life is hard, as they not only have to fulfill their quotas, but must also hope to survive. Despite this, the Kerberians perform their tasks unflinchingly, and even take a measure of pride in their resolute efficiency.
The elite– or “firedwellers” as they are called, both because they live in the hottest, yet temperature-insulated, parts of the cities, and because of their quick tempers– are the upper class of Kerberus. For centuries, they have been the ones who have organized beast-hunts and have fought against marauding monsters and drakes. For the firedwellers, one cannot advance up the social ladder unless they have proved their valour and fortitude in a hunt: the better a monster-fighter one is, the better their rank. It is for this reason that the planetary governor– or Lord Protector, as the official Kerberian term goes– is one who has ascended to his office by killing a drake. The current Lord Protector of Kerberus, Tyrus Kragorev, also happens to be the Imperial Commander of the Kerberus Sector, although his administration thus far has failed to curtail the growing rate of piracy in the sector, a fact that frustrates both him and the Administratum in equal measure.
As the most industrious and developed world in the sector, Kerberus fulfils an important administrative role as the sector capital. As such, both the Administratum and the Adeptus Mechanicus have a major presence on this world, particularly in Urcanis, the principle hive city., with numerous administrative buildings, shrines and forges making their home there– although it is a recurring joke that the Administratum offices on Kerberus Prime are either secretly abandoned or have long run out of paper, given how slow the Administratum is to act in the Kerberus Sector. The Mechanicus also have a forge complex of their own on Kerberus’ principal moon, Anubis, which serves as the Mechanicus’ administrative and spiritual seat in the sector as well as the closest thing that the Kerberus Sector has to a forge world.
(Artist unknown- from https://worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/79003/making-a-slow-orbit-around-a-large-gas-giant)
A verdant world to the galactic east of the sector, Calyphia enjoys a position both as one of the prime agri-worlds providing food and produce to the rest of the Kerberus Sector, and as one of its main trading hubs. Calyphia is in fact a large moon orbiting Parthenos, a ringed gas giant the colour of faded azure. Colonised millennia ago in the aftermath of the Great Crusade, Calyphia is the result of further millennia of terraforming and bio-modification. The result is a paradise world of soaring blue mountain ranges, fields of lavender grass, dense woodlands and wide open seas, and a sky where the ringed outline of Parthenosis always vaguely visible.
The population of Calyphia is concentrated into a few coastal hive cities, the ornate spires of which are said to glitter against the night sky. Unlike most other planets in the Imperium, they generally enjoy a comfortable standard of living. This is in part due to the offworld trade that regularly brings wealth back to the planet– in addition to regular agri-harvests to meet Imperial tithes, Calyphia is renowned as a trader of luxuries, providing the rest of the sector with fine wines from its vinyards and gemstones mined up from its mountain ranges. To facilitate this trade, the orbital dockyards of Calyphia are some of the largest and most sophisticated in the sector, and as such Calyphia is a frequent stop for ships coming into and out of the sector.
Calyphia is also noteworthy in that it is the home of the Avalon rogue trader dynasty. Originally themselves a free trading guild from Calyphia, the Avalons earned a Warrant of Trade for acts of uncommon heroism against an Ork Waaagh! back in M36, and with that Warrant of Trade became a power in their own right. The voyages of and exploits of the Avalon Dynasty served to increase Calyphia’s already substantial wealth, and soon the presence of the Avalon Dynasty formed a substantial part of the planetary economy. While the Avalons have never once tried to enter into the planetary government, such is their influence that all Calyphians acknowledge that this planet is essentially theirs.
Once called “a symbol of the larcenous virus that infects Kerberus” by Admiral Hallsmark, the Hex is infamous as a hub of smuggling, black market trade, and piracy throughout the sector. Originally an unremarkable listening station dating back to the days of the Great Crusade, the Hex was the site of a major space battle in M35 between Imperial forces and the armada of the Ork warlord Skargut, which saw the Orks defeated and Skargut’s personal space hulk, the Rok of Ages, shattered by a sustained bombardment. In the aftermath of the battle, however, local traders and merchants, seeing an opportunity, lashed together the disparate pieces of the space hulk, turning it into a waystation where they and their fellows could stop, refuel and rest between their long voyages into the void.
Over the centuries, what began as a free-floating structure evolved and expanded, as just about anyone with private interests and a ship tried to set up shop there. Numerous asteroids were hollowed out to form habitats and bases, connected to the structure by intertwining lines of cables, tunnels and supports. Similarly, several ships over the years have been attached to the ever-evolving structure as well, fused or even crashed together in untidy agglomerations that have simply become even more lopsided over the centuries. What began as a simple waystation now resembles a floating molecular structure of steel and rock, with dozens of smaller habitats, docks, outposts and private domains forming an interconnected web of steel around the original waystation at the heart of the Hex, which itself is now gigantic from centuries of expansion. As one helmsman once famously remarked, the Hex had its beginning from the remains of a space hulk, and now seems to have become one once again.
Within the many sub-stations, hollowed out asteroids and free floating structures of the Hex, anything and everything can be found, and anything and everything can be bought. Black market sales of drugs, fenced goods, illegal technology and outlawed medical practices are rife within the Hex, and without the Arbites, port authorities or the Inquisition keeping an eye on anyone, these deals happen freely in the open without fear of repercussion. Illegal trade in xenos artefacts and alien beasts occurs on a daily basis, and while at least one cadre of local scientists and experts have taken it upon themselves to mediate these transactions to limit bio-contamination (as an alien phage breaking out is always bad for business), there are no restrictions, checks or balances involved other than disagreements over price. Even the slave-trade, such as it is in the sector, has found a home in at least one of the habitats, and poor souls are bought and sold, or worse, modified, mind-scrubbed and psycho-conditioned, in the hundreds.
It is not only commercial pursuits that draw ne’er do wells to the Hex. Any and every vice imaginable can be found here, with narcotics, prostitution, pit fights and gambling simply being the most tame examples. Those who come to the Hex come from all walks of life in the sector: pirates and smugglers may find themselves doing business with free merchants or even rogue traders; recidivists take shelter here, staying one step ahead of any bounty hunters sent to retrieve them; free thinkers and heretics publish manifestos and attract followers in the same streets that Imperial missionaries preach their fiery screeds; tech-priests, augmenticists, flesh-artisans, rejuvenators, elixir-chemists and a thousand other experts in a thousand proscribed fields sell their services to any with the money and the time. It is not merely humans who visit the Hex, either– mutants are able to live there free of persecution, and it is not uncommon to see xenos stalking the streets, whether it be Kroot or Tarellian mercenaries, Sslyth bodyguards, Nicassar mystics, or even the odd Eldar Ranger.
It is no secret that the Hex is a focal point for vice, lawlessness and heresy within the sector, and in any other circumstance, the Imperial Navy would have come down like a hammer upon that station years ago. However, the much of the legitimate trade in the sector, for better or worse, goes through the Hex as well, as the station still fulfils an essential role as a vital way-station between most trade routes. Perhaps even more significantly, many planetary governments have economic interests (both legal and not) tied to mercantile traffic through the Hex. It is perhaps for this reason that, in its endless battle against piracy and smuggling, the Imperial Navy has gained no local support, whether it be material or political, for any proposed push against the Hex– something that frustrates Admiral Hallsmark, the commander of Battlefleet Kerberus, to no end.
(Image by QuAuZ at Deviantart)
THE CAIRN EXPANSE
Also known as Ghost Space, the Desolation and Nowhere, the Cairn Expanse is a mostly unexplored cluster of nebulae, asteroid belts and ancient stars to the galactic south-east of the Kerberus Sector. They have remained largely unexplored and unsettled for centuries, in part because most ships that enter that region never come back. The first ship that did come back– the free trader Asterion and her captain Jakov Orsmar– reported finding a system where strange anomalies caused his ship’s systems to go dead for hours on end, and where strange, sinister whispers were picked up on the ship’s vox. An expedition to the only habitable planet in the system found clusters of abandoned, ancient cities, hundreds of cairns dotting the marsh-like landscape, and a perpetual fog that at least thirty men got lost in, never to be found again.
That was but the first of many stories to come out of the Cairn Expanse, a name that came from the description of that first planet that Orsmar discovered. Tales have spread of sprawling city-sized tombs on long-dead worlds, of ancient, undisturbed ruins, and of a black star ringed by hundreds of wrecked and abandoned starships. There are tales of the Expanse being haunted, of ghost-ships that attack without warning and of eery signals that appear and then disappear on vox networks.
To date, no less than fifty ships have disappeared trying to enter the Cairn Expanse, and by comparison, only a handful have ever returned, with nothing to show of their voyage except tales of horror. In recent years, the Ordo Xenos of the Inquisition place a quarantine upon the entire region. However, with limited ships at its disposal, the Imperial Navy in the Kerberus Sector has been unable to effectively maintain this quarantine…and the tales of long-abandoned ruins continue to spur foolhardy adventurers into journeying into the Expanse…
The Gyre has been a fixture of the Kerberus Sector as far back as any of its denizens remembers– the earliest Imperial records,that survived the Age of Apostasy make mention of the “great, violet wound upon the void,” and some of the oldest voidfarers mutter that the Gyre has been around since the days the Emperor walked among men. A warp storm measuring several thousand light years in width located in the galactic east of the sector, the Gyre takes the form of a swirling, star-shaped vortex of bilious gas-clouds and raging aetheric energy, tendrils of the great warp storm seemingly reaching out in all directions as though grasping at the material universe. In the millennia that the Gyre has existed, it has always remained unusually stable, maintaining its shape and position within the sector, though in those millennia it has never shown any sign of diminishing.
The debilitating effect that the presence of the Gyre has had on the sector is twofold. Firstly, the presence of such a large warp storm has impeded space travel in a significant part of the sector, forcing the adoption of lengthy, circuitous routes to avoid it altogether. The Gyre’s very presence, however, has been known to cause smaller, short-lived warp-squalls to flare up in surrounding regions of space, and to cause instability and turbulence in nearby warp routes. Far more debilitating, however, is the effect that the storm has had on the holy Astronomicon: due both to the intensity with which the Gyre rages and the sheer distance away of Holy Terra, the Astronomicon shines less dimly in many parts of the Kerberus Sector. This has been known to make warp travel and navigation riskier, and many ships have been forced to make use of ancient star-charts and memorized routes rather than relying solely on the Astronomicon.
Despite the many dangers of sailing into a warp storm, and despite the fact that the Inquisition has officially declared the Gyre to be off limits, more than a few brave or foolhardy adventurers have sailed into the storm. Those few that have returned have done so with tales of worlds unseen by human eyes, of pockets of stable space within the Gyre free of the touch of the warp, and of verdant, green worlds ripe for exploration and settlement. More than a few rumours have surfaced of ancient xeno ruins and treasures lying on those worlds. Whether such rumours are true or not, they have not stopped adventurers from sailing forth into the storm, braving the danger (and possible damnation) for fame and wealth…though there are many who argue that whatever lies at the heart of the Gyre cannot have remained untainted by the touch of the Warp…
(Art by Games Workshop)
THE VANISHING OF TETHYS
Prior to 999.M41, the world of Tethys was a rapidly-rising star on the economic promontory of the Kerberus Sector. An aquatic world located just to the galactic southwest of the Gyre, Tethys was a magnificent jewel of glimmering green seas, continent-sized beds of algae and tangled island chains. For most of its history, it had been considered a backwater, its few landmasses inhabited by an impoverished population and its floating cities ruled by bickering noble families mostly interested in cultivating old grudges and clinging to their petty fiefdoms, and by a line of planetary governors more interested in lining their pockets than in paying their world’s tithes. Production was at an all time low, and even worse, the superstitious, pre-Imperial cults, who worshipped of the ancient, monstrous leviathans that stalked Tethys’ oceans, still practised their heretical rituals behind closed doors.
A timely census by the Administratum, however, eventually revealed the depth of the government’s corruption, and in the ensuing political fallout, the governor of the time was deposed and one of the newer nobility, Brigitte L’Oiseaux, was installed in his place. Under L’Oiseaux’s tenure, Tethys’ tithes were not only met, but also exceeded, its fisheries and kelp farms suddenly feeding much of the sector. At the same time, Tethys’ star ports were opened up even further to offworld trade, and raw materials, vital infrastructural services and offworld luxuries were brought in in exchange for the planet’s growing market of sea-beast hides and aquatic delicacies. Imperial authorities such as the Arbites and the Ecclesiarchy were strengthened and made more visible, and after a vigorous purge, the heretical cults of Tethys were pushed back into the shadows and margins of society, forced now to live in fear of discovery.
Almost overnight, Tethys’ economic woes were reversed, and its people were soon enjoying a standard of living almost unheard of in their long history. Within a few years, Tethys had grown to enjoy such a position of wealth and influence that there was even rumour that the sector capital might be moved there.
And then, seemingly at the height of its grandeur, disaster fell upon Tethys. In one dark night, the oceanic leviathans– each a fabled monster in its own right– went into a frenzy all at once, attacking beyond their territories and devouring or savaging all they came across. Psykers all over the planet began to scream, and many were simply obliterated in eruptions of empyric energy that caused massive destruction and loss of life. Above Tethys, the normally indigo night sky suddenly became the sickly violet of an infected wound, and actinic lightning stabbed across its suddenly turbulent atmosphere. Acid and fire rained from the heavens, and gale force winds tossed floating buildings and settlements into the air like children’s toys. And then, in what seemed like the blink of an eye, the Warp itself swept over Tethys in an apocalyptic surge, and the planet was simply gone.
News of Tethys’ disappearance was slow to reach the rest of the sector at first, but when it did, it took on a much more horrifying aspect than the simple vanishing of a world. All stellar cartographae in the sector soon confirmed the same thing: the Gyre had expanded. A tendril of the storm, like that of a starfish lazily reaching out, had extended to envelop the Tethys system completely. The news sent ripples of shock throughout the sector government at Kerberus Prime, the shipyards at Calyphia and the naval command at Port Warden. Economies tied by interstellar trade to Tethys went into freefall, and panic and confusion reigned on populated worlds, the Adeptus Arbites desperately trying to maintain order as ordinary citizens screamed that the end times had come. Across the sector, soothsayers and diviners began experiencing visions of destruction, anarchy and death, and the sheer empyric feedback of the warp-event caused dozens of ships to be thrown violently off course as their Navigators and Astropaths suffered seizures or went mad.
In all of its long history, the roiling tides of the Gyre had never before shifted position or expanded. That they had not only done so now, but, in the process, enveloped a major Imperial world, was shocking in the extreme, and hundreds of explanations arose as a result. Some claimed that it was divine punishment for the sins of Tethys and its populace, while others claimed it was the work of xenos, harnessing the warp itself as a weapon against the Imperium. Others still claimed some strange artefact or anomaly on Tethys must have attracted the warp like a magnet, while those knowledgeable of Tethysian lore whispered that perhaps the ancient leviathans, still worshipped in secret by so many on that lost world, might have done this somehow. To many others, however, the fact that a warp storm had just swallowed a major Imperial world spoke of darker, deeper implications, and feared that the eye of the storm now gazed ever more hungrily upon the rest of the sector…