I am seriously going to regret doing this, but since it's been abandoned previously and a fellow goon is doing a write-up on
, I feel obliged to revive...
For the unfamiliar, Deathwatch is set in the Warhammer 40K universe. To some people, this is a good thing . To others it may be bleh, and to some it may even be trying too hard at being Grimdark and winding up all the way into parody.
This review may reflect all of those opinions at times.
A Brief Synopsis of Deathwatch
Deathwatch is the third WH40K RPG system, and the last of the "older" style of WH40K RPGs. It is an RPG where everyone plays a Space Marine, a genetically modified behemoth of a human who is built for war, knows absolutely no fear, and is given carte blanche to prosecute war against the enemies of the Imperium. These Space Marines are organized into Chapters, which for all intents and purposes are basically like clans/fraternities. Each maintains their own separate traditions, and each claims a different path of ancestry to the Emperor of Mankind, a once all-powerful being who has basically been put on life support for the past 10,000 years thanks to roughly half of the Space Marines turning traitor on him. The Imperium is basically the Galactic Empire of Mankind, whose golden age has long since passed and whose borders are under constant threat by foul xenos and traitors.
Despite this, there is a group of Space Marines drawn from every known Chapter still loyal to the Emperor who maintain a constant vigil over the galaxy. Watching over the Imperium, these Space Marines are called on to battle the xenos wherever they appear. Though small in number, these Space Marines are incredibly well-trained and well-armed. Overcoming the divisions of their Chapters, they work together to bring swift, merciless death to their enemies. Though their actions remain secret, the consequences of their actions - for good or for ill - make their impact known to the Imperium at large, holding back the encroaching xenos for just one more day...
Where Deathwatch fits in
Earlier I mentioned that Deathwatch is the last of the "older" style of WH40K RPGs. In my evaluations of the various RPGs in the universe, they tend to fall into two camps:
Older Style : These bear a much heavier influence of Dark Heresy 1st Edition , which was the first well-known success at putting the WH40K universe into a pen and paper RPG. Hallmarks of this influence typically consists of a relatively inflexible class-based system with certain abilities locked off to the player until they earn and spend a certain amount of experience to "rise in rank" in their chosen class. WH40K RPGs in the vein of the "older style" are Dark Heresy 1st Edition , Rogue Trader , and Deathwatch .
Newer Style : These sort of represent a bit of a branching out by Fantasy Flight Games in terms of advancement systems. While the core of each WH40K RPG system remains consistent across product lines, how characters advance can change greatly. In the "newer style", advancement is free form. Characters are not locked out of any skill or talent except by talent prerequisites and characteristic prerequisites. The XP cost of skills and talents varies by whether or not a character's archetype (which is a more general representation of a character class that players are free to move about in) aligns with what that skill or talent might require. In Black Crusade , this is typically represented by devotion to a particular Chaos God, i.e. followers of Khorne have cheaper access to melee-related skills and so on and so forth. For subsequent systems, this is represented by what that archetype has aptitudes for. WH40K RPG systems in the "newer style" are Black Crusade , Only War , and Dark Heresy 2nd Edition .
The Resolution Mechanic
All of the WH40K RPGs share the same resolution mechanic: the d100. Say what you will about the d100, turn your noses up at it because it's not a deck of cards and that's where the real innovation in P&P RPG mechanics is nowadays, whatever. The fact stands that WH40K RPGs use the venerable d100 as the main resolution mechanic. d10s are typically used as damage dice, meaning that the only dice players really need to play the game are two d10s, which is actually kind of nice. Despite all the cruft built into the rules (and there is a lot of cruft), the system at its core is extremely elegant and easy to understand. Rolling under your skill/attribute generates a success, and for every interval of 10 you roll under the target number you get an additional degree of success. This helps to circumvent most "well, we both rolled a success so now what?" arguments and is integrated into how certain talents and attacks work out. For example.
Brother Torias needs to roll under a 63 to hit the big, bad Ork with his bolter. He rolls a 28, giving him three degrees of success. If he just made a single attack with his bolter, then he just hits once. If he made a semi-auto attack with his bolter, then he may score multiple hits in the same attack.
This also plays into failure as well - for every 10 above the target number, you add an additional degree of failure which can make bad things worse. In order to adjust the difficulty of checks, the GM can raise or lower the target number in increments of 10, which is extremely handy to know.
What makes Deathwatch different from the other systems?
Playing as Space Marines is arguably the biggest draw of Deathwatch. That and the fact that it is extremely killy and combat-heavy. While in Rogue Trader you are the archetypical murderhobos, killing everything and stealing what isn't nailed down, in Deathwatch even out of the gate you are all fairly competent killers. The game doesn't make any bones about it - it even states that a Rank 1 Space Marines (babby Deathwatch dudes) can pretty much ruthlessly dispatch an entire team of baby Acolytes from Dark Heresy 1e without even taking a scratch. You're a superhuman wielding a gun that can one-shot most modern cars. And you wear tank armor that makes most modern weaponry hit you with the force of a wet fart.
That being said, your relative power level means that you get to participate in epic battles that would end even a seasoned party of acolytes right from the get-go. You face down hordes of Orks/Cultists/Insert Xenos Here, fight some of the scariest monsters in the 40K universe, and get to romp around warzones like the warrior-monks that you are. This typically means that Deathwatch is a little simpler to run, with a fair amount of direction coming from the GM.
In the next F&F for Deathwatch , we'll address...
WS: 47 (This guy is going to be really choppy) BS: 38 (This guy is almost certainly going to be choppy) S: 33 (This is a problem) T: 38 (...Could be better, as it’s below average) Ag: 44 (Much better) Int: 40 Per: 39 WP: 42 Fel: 43
WS: 47 BS: 38 S: 46 T: 38 Ag: 44 Int: 40 Per: 39 WP: 42 Fel: 43
It's been a week and you know what that means:
IT'S TIME FOR MORE
Step 3/Chapter II: Picking your Specialty
Covering Specialties is important in the process of character creation, but it also has another fringe benefit - we get to cover most of Chapter II at the same time! Specialties are basically the main role that your Space Marine fulfills in the group. They’re more or less directly drawn from the tabletop with no unusual things thrown in (you have to wait for the supplements, in particular Rites of Battle, for some of the advanced specialties that are unique roles in chapters).
Overall, specialties affect a lot more things than just ‘defining’ your role within the Kill-Team (Deathwatch’s term for PC groups). They affect how much experience you have to spend to improve characteristics, what skills you have access to, what talents you have access to - all of which help to continue to define what you do. In addition, they all come with a special ability that can’t be replicated by traits/talents. To help differentiate characters that take the same specialty within a group, there are anywhere from 2 to 3 different special abilities - you can only pick one. In addition, each specialty has a set of starting gear that stays with your Space Marine no matter what - the implications of gear and keeping it is something we’ll get into when we arrive at Chapter V. The specialties in the Core Rulebook are, as follows:
Apothecary: Apothecaries fulfill the role of a frontline combat medic within the group. Cleric would be a bit of a misnomer, as Apothecaries don’t have access to supernatural abilities that they use to heal their brethren - they rely on their skill, as well as a key piece of equipment (the narthecium/reductor) to perform emergency medicine in combat. Apothecaries are balanced more towards the close-combat, knowledge, and technical skills end of the equation (they get WS, Int, and Per cheaply) but don’t have any glaring weaknesses. Ranged combat isn’t a real strong suit (they have to rely on Chapter/General Space Marine advances to get most of those talents), but their BS doesn’t suffer too much. Apothecaries are cool fluff-wise and because of their vital role in ensuring that the Kill-Team’s geneseed is retrieved in case they die, every Kill-Team typically needs one Apothecary. Balance-wise, they’re not as good as Assault Marines in melee and their special abilities don’t make up for this difference - unlike Librarians, who can typically negate almost all of their disadvantages. Still, no one else can patch the Kill-Team back together better than them.
Apothecaries get access to three special abilities (choosing only one). They are:
Guardian of Purity: If there’s an effect that would cause the Kill-Team to gain corruption points, the Apothecary’s constant monitoring of the team’s genetic purity reduces the amount of Corruption gained by 2 (to a minimum of 1). We’ll touch on corruption later, but it’s generally tied to interacting with Chaos/really nasty xenos artifacts.
Create Toxins: With time and a tissue sample from the enemy, the Apothecary can derive a toxin that has devastating effects on that particular enemy. Once you apply the toxin, the Kill-Team weapons gain the Toxic modifier for a number of rounds, but it only works when you’re in Squad Mode. Doesn’t work on Daemons.
Enhance Healing: When you succeed at a Medicae (First Aid/Surgery) test to restore wounds, you can restore an additional 1d5 wounds. Much more useful than you realize once we get into how healing works in Deathwatch.
Assault Marine: If your thing is landing on people’s FACES and getting all up in their grill with melee combat, these guys are your ticket. They start out leagues ahead of everyone in the melee combat game, able to make TWO melee attacks in a round right from the get-go - other specialties that have a melee combat bent typically have to wait until they get much more experience just to get those two attacks, and by then Assault Marines are rolling with three. Did I mention they also start with a jump pack? Perhaps unsurprisingly, they are absolute balls at ranged combat, cannot be relied on for most skills (especially knowledge-based), and have surprisingly fragile WP growth for a class that’s expected to jump out of moving vehicles and land on top of a horde of enemies.
Assault Marines get two special abilities (choosing one). They are:
Wings of Angels: Allows you to add 20 meters to your movement with a skill check, and if you make a Charge while using this ability you add more damage to the attack. This ability can only be used in Solo Mode.
Wrathful Descent: Did you play Dawn of War 2 and think it was absolutely awesome when Assault Marines jumped through the air and hit the ground with enough impact to damage and scatter your enemies? That’s essentially what this is - if you make a Charge against a Horde, you inflict more damage to the Horde. You gotta be in Squad Mode to use this ability though
Devastator Marine: Whereas Assault Marines are for bashing people in the head, Devastator Marines are for filling them full of bolter rounds. They start with what’s widely considered to be one of the best ranged weapons in the game (Heavy Bolter) which allows them to absolutely pulp horde-based enemies with extreme prejudice. For this reason, they are often referred to as ‘Cheesetators’ for their ability to render combats with mass hordes (or even singular foes) somewhat trivial. Even post-nerf, the Heavy Bolter is That Good. They are verifiably terrible at melee combat, but they get pretty much every single talent that improves ranged weapons in the game. Like Assault Marines, they’re pretty bad at most skills (especially knowledge-based) and aren’t very quick on their feet at all (which impacts their Dodge skill). Hilariously they can improve their Strength easily, I guess so they can better carry the big guns?
The Cheesetator gets two special abilities to choose from (they can only pick one). A common theme among most special abilities is that one is typically only usable in Solo Mode, and the other one in Squad Mode. The abilities are:
Immovable Warrior: When in Solo Mode, wielding a Heavy weapon, and behind cover, Devastators gain the Sturdy trait and a +10 bonus to all Ballistic Skill tests. To use another DoW2 analogy, it’s basically like deploying your Devastator in a fortified position, bracing your weapon on cover for more support/accuracy.
Unrelenting Devastation: Maybe the number one reason to go into Squad Mode. When firing a Heavy weapon, the Devastator inflicts one extra point of magnitude damage on a Horde for every hit. If you’re using a Heavy Bolter, this means you start mulching Hordes right fast. If you’re using something with the Blast quality (flamers and rocket launchers), you deal an extra 1d5 magnitude damage instead. Need to be in Squad Mode, though.
Librarian: Space Wizards! Librarians are hard to compare to other specialties because nobody else gets access to psyker powers. They are generally good at melee combat thanks to their Force Weapon, which also makes them the best boss-killers in the game - if they channel their psychic power through their Force Weapon when they hit, they can deal tremendous single-target damage that completely bypasses all damage reduction (Toughness and Armor alike). They are terrible at conventional ranged combat, but they can easily compensate for that with PSYCHIC POWERS. As powerful as their psyker techniques are though, they are notorious for killing the entire party thanks to an extremely fun table known as “Perils of the Warp”, which we’ll get to later. Librarians have very good Willpower and knowledge-based skills, but aren’t so great at commanding other Marines, and are somewhat slow to boot. These disadvantages tend to pale in comparison to their ability to open up a hole in the Warp and suck all of your foes into its gaping maw in about a round.
Librarians get no access to special abilities, because they can already explode things with the power of their mind. Each Chapter does have their own way of using psyker powers however, so they all have powers that are unique to their Chapter.
Tactical Marine: Tac Marines aren’t really good at anything, but they’re not really bad at anything either. Just like in the fluff, Tac Marines can substitute as either Assault Marines or Devastator Marines as the situation calls, although they get decidedly more ranged combat talents than melee ones. In Deathwatch, Tactical Marines do get a bit of a special role just to make sure they’re unique - they’re incredible squad leaders, with quick access to the Command skill and a lot of talents that take advantage of their extremely good Fellowship. In conventional RPG terms, they’re the face class, but they can fill a variety of roles well. With the right special abilities, they’re downright deadly with a Bolter.
More than any other specialty, the Tactical Marines’ choice of special ability really defines their role on the team - are they going to be good jack-of-all-trades fire support, or the quintessential squad leader? Special abilities (which, as always, they can only choose one of) are:
Bolter Mastery: In Solo Mode, the Tactical Marine gains a +10 bonus to Ballistic Skill and +2 to damage rolls when using a Bolt Weapon.
Tactical Expertise: This is the Squad Mode ability. A lot of how Tactical Mastery works will be covered when I go into detail on how Squad Mode works, but here’s the basic deal - when in Squad Mode, a Marine with Tactical Expertise can allow other members of the Kill-team to use their Chapter-specific Squad Mode abilities. If you don’t have this ability, only members of the Kill-team who are from the same Chapter can use your Chapter-specific abilities.
Techmarine:If you read 1d4chan, you might’ve heard about these guys. They are goddamn overpowered. Techmarines are equally competent at ranged and melee combat, and their built-in Servo Arm is one of the more powerful melee weapons in the game. If that wasn’t enough they are DED ‘ARD in every sense of the word - Toughness is one of the cheapest attributes for them to improve, and they get a fun little talent called The Flesh is Weak which gives them bonus armor points. To top it all off, they also get cheap access to Artificer Armor at higher levels, which is nearly as good as Terminator Armor with all of the flexibility of regular Power Armor. In terms of skills/talents, they get a lot of technical skills, some lore skills, and a set of unique talents that take advantage of their Mechanicus Implants that make them technomages to a certain extent. This is because unlike other Space Marines, Techmarines are seconded to the Adeptus Mechanicus, the superstitious custodians of technology in the 41st millennium. Naturally, no other class can replicate these abilities.
Techmarines get access to the following special ability. It doesn’t care what mode you’re in.
Improve Cover: You add armor points to a specific piece of cover equal to your Intelligence bonus (unmodified). This isn’t going to make a huge difference if tank rounds are flying your way, but a Techmarine in his own improved cover is going to be the proverbial hard nut to crack on the Kill-team.
And that rounds it up for our specialties! Because I wanted to show you all the psychic rules, our Storm Warden Space Marine is going to be a Librarian.
This time, on Deathwatch...
Step 4: Derived Attributes: Movement, Wounds, Fate, and Experience Points
These should be pretty brief and easy to cover. Movement is based solely on your Agility bonus plus your Size modifier. Within Deathwatch, you generally have four choices when it comes to movement - Half Move, Full Move, Charge, and Run. We’ll get into Deathwatch’s action economy a bit more in-depth when we get into the Combat chapter, but we can figure out our movement based on some simple equations:
Half Move: Equal to our Ag Bonus
Full Move: Ag Bonus x 2
Charge: Ag Bonus x3
Run: Ag Bonus x6
So for our Librarian with a Agility of 44, his movement looks like this:
Half Move: 4
Full Move: 8
It also probably helps to mention that movement and distanced are calculated using Meters. For everything in Deathwatch involving speed or distance, meters are the norm. The movement rates also hint at Deathwatch's action economy, which we can go into a little more detail about later.
The quick and dirty way to explain the action economy in Deathwatch is: you can take either two half-actions or one full-action. For movement, Charge and Run count as full actions and carry their own benefits/drawbacks - there are compelling reasons to not just Run all the time versus taking Full Moves.
Wounds are pretty straightforward - you roll 1d5 and add 18, which gives you a pretty slim range of 19 to 23 wounds. Wounds basically represent your ability to take punishment after reducing it by your armor and Toughness. Space Marines tend to have a really high wound total compared to any human, as a result of the superhuman endurance imparted to them by their genetic modifications/implants. To illustrate, the toughest human in Dark Heresy rolls 1d5+9, showing that Space Marines can take about twice as much punishment as the toughest human (Rogue Trader ones can take a bit more, but that’s because they’re special). Wounds typically don’t matter until you hit certain break points, which we’ll cover later. Generally, you will be just as good at fighting at full wounds as you are at zero wounds. When you get down to zero wounds though, you start taking critical damage. Enough critical damage, and you die (but we’ll also get into that later in the Combat section, because the 40k RPGs have a RoleMaster-like Critical Damage table). Critical damage is the ‘bad’ kind of damage, and can generally do unpleasant things to your character that permanently alter them. Typically, this revolves around limb loss.
My favorite example of ‘bad’ critical damage is one that nearly kills you. Basically, your head is set on fire and you suffer such horrific burns that not only do you lose all your hair (depending on who you talk to though, all good Space Marines are already bald) your face is also FUBAR. The game asks you to roll 1d10. Congratulations - this is your new Fellowship score!
This is the game’s way of hard-dicking face characters. No other ‘archetype’ suffers anywhere near as much from critical damage as anyone who’s built around Fellowship. All other archetypes are OK, as they can replace missing arms and legs with bionic replacements that function either as good as or better than the original.
Storm Wardens' other bonus isn’t a characteristic bonus - it’s actually a bonus to wounds! So, rolling for Wounds gives us… 21, because we rolled terribly and added +2 wounds for the Storm Wardens bonus.
Fate is another one of the attributes that we roll for. Fate points represent the Emperor’s favor in your destiny - and as Space Marines, who can claim direct ancestry to the Emperor, you tend to have a lot more of it than most. Fate points are Deathwatch’s (and consequently, most of the 40k line’s) Get Out of Jail Free cards - they allow some player agency in mitigating the impact of bad rolls/results. You can use Fate Points to reroll dice (but you must take that result), add a bonus to your roll (which you declare before you roll the dice), or even recover Wounds and reset Critical Damage (unless it resulted in limb loss). If you need to cheat death (i.e., your character takes enough critical damage to be killed), you can also use a Fate Point for that - but when you do, you permanently burn (lose) a Fate Point. Fate is pretty easy to generate - roll 1d10. Depending on your result, you’ll get a certain number of Fate Points. Space Marines are guaranteed to have a base minimum of 3 Fate points (which of course, is the maximum number of Fate Point a human in Dark Heresy can have). For our Storm Warden, we rolled an 8, giving him a total of 4 Fate Points - the Emperor favors him more than most!
Experience is pretty basic - you start with 1,000 experience to spend on skills, abilities, and talents.
I realized I didn't have any old 40k 1e art to put with any of my text for this update, so here you go:
These are the Squats. There are many like them, but none of them are mine (thankfully).
DID YOU KNOW?! Chaos Space Marines, especially Noise Marines, used to be infinitely more than they are now. Please note that his weapon is now a guitar. I imagine being killed by him might go something like this.
Fuck it all, it's time for some more motherfuckin' DEATHWATCH
This time, we'll be covering Step 5: Starting Equipment
This part of character creation is fairly basic. All Space Marines start out with the following gear, which we’ll go into detail about in Chapter 5 (Armory):
All Specialties - Power Armor, Bolt Pistol, 3 Frag Grenades, 3 Krak Grenades, Combat Knife, Repair Cement, Chapter Trapping.
Hell, a fella in Vegas could have a good time with that.
Power Armor also comes with its own special history. Within the 40k universe, technology’s gotten to the point where it’s actually difficult to make something new. Therefore, most Space Marines do not actually wear a nice, brand-new suit of Power Armor that was made just for them to inaugurate their induction into their Chapter. More often than not, they’re wearing an old hand-me-down suit of Power Armor that a prior Space Marine lived (and likely died) in. To represent this, you roll on a special table for Power Armor history that represents the quirks of your armor’s ‘Machine Spirit. We’ll get to that in a bit - for now, we’ll cover the basic gear for each specialty.
This is the basic Bolter in action. Nearly every specialty gets one of these, in addition to Bolt Pistols.
Apothecary - Bolter with fire selector, reductor and narthecium. Note that despite being geared towards melee combat, they don’t come with a chainsword They can use the narthecium in a pinch, but because it’s not designed as a melee weapon it doesn’t get to add your Strength bonus to damage.
I put on my robe and wizard hat. Uh, I mean chainsword and trenchcoat.
Assault Marine - Chainsword, Jump pack. The chainsword isn’t terribly remarkable - it has tearing, but low penetration and base damage. The jump pack is awesome though, and you should use it every chance you get.
This is what a Heavy Bolter looks like if you’re a normal human. Space Marines tote this shit around like it’s nobody’s business - minus the wheels, of course.
Devastator Marine: Heavy bolter with backpack ammo supply. This weapon is King of Shit Mountain for reasons that Deptfordx covers here:
The Heavy Bolter has been mentioned by myself and others, as being broken. For those who've never played Deathwatch allow me to illustrate in the spirit of the Thread.
N.b. This is rules as written in the book. There was later optional errata for it, and FFG changed the combat rules in every subsequent book (Black Crusade, Only War etc.)
Brother Sebastian is a novice Devastator Marine. He has a BS of 50.
He opens up full-auto, which he has to with a Heavy Bolter, on his target.
He gets +20 to hit for his mandatory full-auto attack giving him a BS of 70.
He rolls a good but not spectacular 29.
This gives him one hit, and an additional hit for every degree of success, which is to say every 10 points, he beats his target by. So 70 a hit, then +1 for 60, 50, 40, 30, 4 additional successes.
So he's hit 5 times.
Each Bolt does 2d10+10 damage. Heavy bolter also has the 'tearing' quality, which means you roll an extra d10, discard the lowest.
So with a slight buff for discarding the lowest, on average you'd expect each Bolt to do say 23-24 damage. In addition each Bolt has 6 points of penetration, so ignores 6 points of Armour. So against a decently armoured target, each Bolt will average around 30 points of damage.
For reference a Standard Marine, loyalist or traitor, has 8 points of Armour and a toughness bonus of 8, which act as a soak against damage. Then he'll have about 30 actual wounds he can take.
So effectively, knocking off 16 points from each attack, he'll take 14 from each, 70 damage with average rolls.
Now a Heavy Bolter is a literally classed as a Heavy Weapon, and it's supposed to be a dedicated Marine Killing weapon. So YMMV but arguably that's fair enough.
But here is where it get's crazy. Righteous Fury.
Righteous Fury is the Critical Hit mechanism for Deathwatch and it's actually pretty straight-forward.
If you roll a '10' on any of your damage dice, it's a potential critical. Roll under your hit chance (still 70) again and you do your weapon damage again and it stacks with the first hit.
So you're rolling 15d10, that is 3d10 (discarding the lowest) five times. You're going to roll at least one critical, there's an excellent chance you'll get multiple.
It gets worse.
So one of your attacks critted, when you rolled the second set of damage, if you roll any 10's on that attack, it's an automatic further level of critical. Doesn't need confirming, it's automatic, roll an additional set of damage dice, and keep adding another set every time you roll a 10.
And that is how at the climax of my one and only mini-campaign I attempted to run of Deathwatch my groups Devastator marine blew away a Hive Tyrant in the first round of combat when he did something like 150 wounds to it in one attack after what took literally several minutes of rolling to resolve.
WS: 47 BS: 38 S: 46 T: 38 Ag: 44 Int: 40 Per: 39 WP: 42 Fel: 43
Name: Chapter: Storm Wardens Specialty: Librarian Past: Demeanor: -Attributes- WS: 47 BS: 38 S: 46 T: 38 Ag: 44 Int: 40 Per: 39 WP: 42 Fel: 43 -Derived Attributes- Movement Half Move: 4 Full Move: 8 Charge: 12 Run: 24 Wounds: 21 Fate Points: 4 Experience: 1,000
The Space Marine’s mind is highly analytical, constantly aware of the pros and cons of any decisions he faces.
Name: Feargus MacLeod Chapter: Storm Wardens Specialty: Librarian Past: Scouring of Vigil Demeanor: Calculating, Aspire to Glory -Attributes- WS: 47 BS: 38 S: 46 T: 38 Ag: 44 Int: 40 Per: 39 WP: 42 Fel: 43 -Derived Attributes- Movement Half Move: 4 Full Move: 8 Charge: 12 Run: 24 Wounds: 21 Fate Points: 4 Experience: 1,000