Greetings, Deathwatch fans!
My name is Ross Watson, Lead Developer for Deathwatch . This is the first of many designer diaries that present a number of my thoughts (and those of others on the Deathwatch design team!) about the Deathwatch RPG. In these designer diaries, my intention is to make a solid connection with the fans of the game, present new and exciting information about the Deathwatch line, and have a little fun while doing so.
I look at each designer diary as a personal letter from me to a fellow gamer, someone who enjoys roleplaying and the grim darkness of the far future that is the Warhammer 40,000 universe.
Deathwatch: A New Challenge
As a long-time fan of all things Warhammer 40,000 , the opportunity to create a roleplaying game centred on the Space Marines of the Deathwatch was something I absolutely could not pass up! I knew that this particular game was going to present a number of big challenges, but I wasn’t daunted by that.
Becoming a Space Marine
One of the first challenges that needed to be met was to identify and emphasise the elements of a Space Marine’s personality and bring that into the game. The Space Marines are elite warriors, amongst the deadliest in the galaxy—but that is not the entire story. Roleplaying as a Space Marine presents a unique test: Space Marines are more than human, larger-than-life figures more akin to the heroes of the Trojan War and the Odyssey than to Inquisitional Acolytes or a Rogue Trader and his companions. Some Space Marines are epic individuals who will risk all for a matter of honour, others are philosophers and tragic figures, full of passion and regret. However you choose to interpret these ideas, it is important to note that the Space Marines chosen for the Deathwatch are nuanced, complex characters.
Deathwatch supports this unique roleplaying experience with its varied themes, styles of play, and some special mechanics (more on this will be revealed in the weeks to come!).
Styles of Play
One of the things I knew very early on was that Deathwatch needed to provide styles of play that would encourage roleplaying and story-building during the game. There are a number of ways to experience the game that lend themselves to Deathwatch and focus on the different kinds of adventures the Game Master might like to run. None of these approaches are exclusive, of course, and they can be mixed and matched as required by the GM’s plot. Here are some example styles of play (from the mind of the talented Owen Barnes) that are well-suited to Deathwatch characters:
The Emperor's Finest
Space Marines are, by their nature and design, most commonly found where the fighting is the thickest. Bred for war and trained to excel in all aspects of battle, Battle-Brothers fit easily into adventures that focus on lots of combat. These often take the form of military missions where the characters find themselves sent in to destroy targets, complete objectives, and bring glory to the Emperor by vanquishing his foes. While there are many permutations and variations on the military theme and the idea of an elite group of warriors tasked with special orders, they all share the common goal of annihilating the enemy, usually in a hail of bolter shells and plasma bolts. Military-themed games also often focus on single actions and objectives in the greater scheme of Imperial strategy.
While the Imperial battlefleet rains orbital barrages from above and the Imperial Guard swarm across the blasted landscape, the Deathwatch Kill-team moves between the flames and shadows to strike at critical times and places. Against a backdrop of ash, blood, and ruin, the Battle-Brothers wade through the carnage aloof and elite, aware of their unique role in the tide of battle. Such games can also see the characters swept up in ongoing Imperial campaigns and dispatched from world to world or warzone to warzone at the whim of unseen commanders and battle-hungry generals. This could see them storming a lunar defence platform, followed by a low-orbit insertion into a jungle warzone before being conveyed by Thunderhawk gunship to a beach landing on the other side of the planet.
The advantage of military-style games is that they are easy to start and finish, existing only within the parameters of the mission and with the benefit of the Imperial war machine to ferry, supply, and brief the characters without the need for them to find their own way around the galaxy or shop for replacement weapons or ammo.
While the Deathwatch are drawn from the Adeptus Astartes, they also work closely with the Ordo Xenos. They are an elite force within the Imperial war machine, but, they have a special place within the structure of the Inquisition dedicated to the eradication of a specific enemy of the Imperium. Games that feature the involvement of the Inquisition are likely to be more subtle and detailed than those in which the Kill-team is facing the foes of humanity in open battle. This can mean accompanying an Inquisitor and his servants into the depths of a hive world, some ancient and forgotten alien ruins, or the shadowy corridors of a space hulk, far from the support of the Imperial armies, where the Kill-team must rely upon their own skills to survive and protect their allies.
Even the most arrogant Inquisitor knows, however, that petitioning a Watch Commander for the aid of a Kill-team is not to be done lightly. When the Battle-Brothers join such a mission, they can be sure it is because the Inquisitor and his followers are counting on their strength of arms. Another exciting and interesting aspect of working for the Inquisition is the moral ambiguity it can create, leading the Battle-Brothers to question their allegiances and even their own view of Emperor’s will.
The advantage of games with Inquisitorial involvement is that it allows both the GM and players to explore some of the darker and more shrouded aspects of the Imperium as well as better understand their own role in such affairs and the sharpened blade of the Ordo Xenos.
Envoys, Emissaries and Assassins
The size, skills, and flexibility of a Deathwatch Kill-team mean they often find themselves in situations unique to the Adeptus Astartes. Often, at the behest of a Watch Captain or an Inquisitor, a Kill-team may be dispatched as part of an envoy to a wayward Imperial world or even an alien empire, either alone or as part of an Imperial emissary’s entourage. This can serve a number of purposes, such as making a show of force, keeping lesser Imperial servants in line, or even honouring an ally with the presence of Adeptus Astartes representatives. In this capacity, Battle-Brothers may have to use their tongues rather than their boltguns to influence proceedings.
Alternatively, a Kill-team may find itself operating on the fringes of Imperial space, particularly where it borders aggressive xenos races. Dropped onto fledgling worlds, the Kill-team’s presence can rally the local human population against invaders and alien subversion. Where an army may fail, a small group of Space Marines can often turn the tide. Just as even a single Space Marine has the power to bolster the courage and faith of a world, so to can he be used to destroy it. Working without support for months or even years, Kill-teams deployed to alien worlds or Imperial worlds tainted by xenos dominance can wreak terrible havoc. Appearing as monsters from the dark, the black-armoured giants strike against leadership and military infrastructure, fighting tirelessly until the world's civilisation collapses under the weight of its own fear and confusion.
Games where the Battle-Brothers take up the mantle of envoys, emissaries, or assassins offer a different kind of experience to pure combat missions and a challenge for the Kill-team (a fearsome combat unit) to complete its goals and objectives without resorting to bolters and chainswords (at least not right away).
Join me next week as I pull back the curtain a bit and talk about the Space Marine Chapters featured in Deathwatch .
Deathwatch is a roleplaying game in which players take on the roles of the bio-engineered super-soldiers known as Space Marines. United with their battle-brothers, players will complete extraordinary missions involving some of the greatest heroes and deadliest opponents the Warhammer 40,000 universe has to offer.