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“I’m sorry, Senior Arbitrator, you must have me confused with someone else. I’m no petty criminal, I’m a legitimate businessman with legitimate business interests, and if you doubt me, I have a certain document to show you.”
— Rogue Trader and suspected smuggler Havelock Blackheel

The Imperium of Man is a vast, scattered realm, extending over almost the entire galaxy, impinging itself upon the more compact areas of alien-settled space. The million or more human-inhabited worlds the Imperium controls are but a tiny fraction of the galactic whole. Then there are the fringes and Halo Zones, remote areas where the Astronomican does not reach, and where the only human settlers are Renegades or pioneering groups whose ancestors were forgotten by the Emperor’s servants millennia ago. Most of the Milky Way Galaxy remains unexplored, unknown, and extremely dangerous, even in the late 41st Millennium.

The potential of new worlds, alien civilisations, and unimaginable resources made necessary a class of free-ranging Imperial agents known as Rogue Traders. Licensed and often equipped by the Adeptus Terra, the Rogue Trader is free to explore the far regions of the galaxy, the areas where the Astronomican does not reach, and those areas within its reach as yet unvisited by humanity. Rogue Traders have even attempted to cross the great starless voids of intergalactic space, but over such distances even Astropaths’ powers of psychic communication are useless, and whether such missions have succeeded is unknown. Operating in isolation from the central authority of the Imperium, the Rogue Trader must decide how to react to alien cultures, new discoveries, and threats. If he judges an intelligent xenos race to be potentially dangerous, he may attempt to destroy it or to gather as much information as he can so that others may do so. If he decides a race may be of use to humanity, he may attempt to make contact and establish relations. If merely rich in technology or minerals, a planet may be plundered, and the Rogue Trader will return to Terra laden with the treasures of space — alien artefacts, rare and precious minerals, and undreamed-of technologies.