Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Deathwatch and Rites of Battle by Night10194
SPESS MAHREENS!Original SA post Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Deathwatch and Rites of Battle: Part 1
Here we go, with the iconic shoulder-pad enthusiasts and potato men of the 41st Millennium. These are the Space Marines, the Adeptus Astartes, the giant men (and only men, which poses a problem for a modern RPG published in 2010) who stand astride 40k and mostly don't accomplish anything, like every other force in the setting. The book immediately starts with the comparison, for those uninitiated, that you're going to be playing something akin to a knight of the round table, but in space. Your character begins Deathwatch as a veteran hero, or an extremely promising prodigy. Someone whose chapter sent them to join the Deathwatch, which has been weirdly shifted from being the general alien-hunting commando units for the Ordo Xenos to being its own specific warrior brotherhood located in the Jericho Reach, still technically affiliated with the Ordo Xenos but no longer really its chamber militant because Marines are never allowed to stay subordinated to anyone who isn't another Marine for very long in 40k Fluff. The intro blurb is very clear that this is going to be a game where you kick an enormous amount of ass, and the mechanics are going to back this up this time. You're not a lowly S4 T4 WS4 BS4 TT TacMarine. You're a Fluff Marine. The ones who can bring down tanks with their pistols, punch through a bunker bare-handed, and take on hundreds of enemies per mission. We then get a usual 'what is a roleplaying game' spiel because why not, but there's nothing in it we haven't seen a thousand times.
We then get into a very congratulatory run-down of what makes a Space Marine, which proclaims them to be the single most important and most powerful weapon in all of the Imperium. A 1000 Marine Chapter is described as a fully self-sufficient army, with its own space-fleet, its own vehicles, its own support staff, its own command staff, its own right to operate independently, etc. All their gear is the best gear the Imperium can build and is maintained to the highest standard. They are heavily trained, experienced, every single one has its own glorious history of which all its members are fiercely proud, every Marine is a genetically enhanced killing machine, etc etc etc. Massive and powerful, yet so agile and skillful, etc etc.
There are roughly 1000 Chapters, and most of them descend from the original 18 Legions. Legions were created to provide an army for each of the 20 Primarchs, the sons of the Emperor, though 2 of them were lost because back in the day GW wanted you to be able to develop your own First Founding chapters and ideas and stuff so long as it kept you buying models. A Primarch is a hyper-marine supposedly worth about 100 other Marines, and their actions directly led to both the original expansion of the Imperium of Man and its current status of being totally fucked. They split off into 9 loyalists and 9 rebels during the course of their enormous crusade across the galaxy, with Horus, the Emperor's favored son, leading a bunch of his brothers into rebellion in the name of Chaos. The Horus Heresy is an awful lot more relevant to Marines than DH PCs, because they tend to know what happened, since it was sort of Marines' faults. The Legions had been unstoppable and the Imperium was terrified of another Horus, so Guilleman, one of the Primarchs who had survived the initial Heresy, recommended splitting the Marines into 1000 soldier Chapters and using them as special forces rather than risking an individual warlord being able to fall as catastrophically as Horus did.
Guilleman is also responsible for the doctrine that the standard chapter follows, the Codex Astartes, which is full of helpful tips like 'pin people down with an HMG and then jump on them with rocket boots'. The Codex also recommends a long period of indoctrination and direct ideological training for young Marines during their implantation with magical gene-seed taken from their older forebearers, to ensure they learn every tradition of their Chapter and will fit in with its culture while they grow into a giant posthuman. He also decreed that a Chapter should produce its own gene-seed and stock, and that there should be no mixing of these blueprints for posthumans. This means every Chapter has quirks in their training, quirks in their genetics, and quirks in their culture that let them distinguish themselves a little more than just the different colors on their frowny-faced armor. The Adeptus Terra has taken direct control of the genetic blueprints for Marines, and uses it to maintain some degree of control over the Astartes (I'm going to use Marine and Astartes interchangeably during this review because the book does the same thing and writing Marine that much would make me go crazy); they can declare the creation and founding of new chapters from excess geneseed (each Marine produces 2 Marines worth of seed at all times, to be harvested when they die) or declare a chapter a traitor and destroy its stocks of genetic material.
Some chapters rigidly follow the Codex and the rules. Some do not. The ones who do not tend to be directly related to the original Legions, especially ones that didn't like Guilleman much. They tend to have some reason or excuse for avoiding the normal, standard organization of Marine forces. While the Adeptus Terra does not try to enforce the Codex, it should be noted that they have always favored Codex chapters above divergent ones, especially when it is time to create new Chapters. Guilleman's original Chapter, the Ultramarines, have the most descendant Chapters and are usually held up better in Imperial propaganda to try to encourage people to be more like them, because anything that makes Marines more predictable is really helpful for the people who are going to try to herd these cats into combat.
Marine Chapters tend to have a world or set of worlds that they select their Initiates from. They favor feral and feudal worlds, preferring lower tech warriors where young child soldiers are more common, though you'll find Marines recruiting from almost any kind of planet available if you want to be different. They also tend to have recruiting trials that kill shitloads of children to select the 'best' base warriors to turn into posthuman supersoldiers, because Grimdark. A Marine recruiting world will be ferociously defended by the Chapter that claims it, whether they rule it directly or not, because they need that supply of brutalized children to make soldiers out of. The chapter also funds itself by the exports and produce of its recruiting worlds and the rewards granted by other Imperial forces they assist. A young Marine Neophyte is then taken to be implanted and surgically modified, then heavily indoctrinated into the chapter culture. Neophytes them serve as scouts and auxiliaries to their fellows in the field, usually serving under a veteran who assists and instructs them, until they are taken for a full Marine and given their power armor. A young Tactical Marine has usually seen several campaigns and years of war as an Initiate before they ever put on the power armor. Marines are canonically permitted to do little but fight and prepare to fight. Glory is the one pleasure generally allowed to them.
There's also a bunch of total bullshit about how much smarter Marines are, because of their tremendous mental training. I say bullshit because reading 40k fluff, Marines are absolutely not smarter than average for humans. Game stats wise, you'll have a higher Int compared to an equivalent Acolyte, but the Adeptus Astartes are hardly any wiser than humans. We also get a ton about the nineteen magic implants Marines have and god help me I'm not listing all of those. They mostly don't do that much in game terms. If you really want to know, the most important one is probably the one where Marines can eat brains and discover thoughts.
In a Codex chapter, after their time as a Scout, a Marine will be appointed to the Devastator squads. These are the heavy and support weapons handlers for the Chapter, and a young Marine will carry ammo, learn from the rest of the squad, support them, and learn how to use heavy weapons. Scouting taught them how to read a fight, Devastator duty is designed to keep them back a little from the front lines and learn how to direct fire. After that, the Marine will be given a jetpack, a chainsaw, and told to jump into concentrations of enemy fire to take ground and silence them as an Assault Marine, trying to teach them initiative and the value of opportunity. The humble Tactical Marine rifle trooper is actually the 'final' stage of a Marine's training, unless they showed enormous aptitude for one of the prior roles, because a TacMarine is expected to be able to fill in in any of the other jobs. Elites get put in even blockier Terminator armor or formed up into Veteran squads to bodyguard Captains and other officers, or get appointed Sargent and lead a squad of their own. Some Marines draw specialist jobs like medic (Apothecary) or vehicle crew.
The Chapter Master of a Chapter is the overall commander and director of the army. They are theoretically the strongest, most experienced, smartest, and best. In reality, this isn't always the case. Almost every Marine aspires to be a Chapter Master or part of their honor guard some day, because advancing within the chapter is one of the few ambitions that is still encouraged in a Marine.
Next Time: Creating a Chapter, and a Marine.
Roll For Singular Personality TraitOriginal SA post Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Deathwatch and Rites of Battle: Part 2
Roll For Singular Personality Trait
We have a couple cans of worms to get through this time. First, as requested, yes, there is a table for rolling for a singular personality trait for your PC. This would be fine and ignorable if you already had an idea in mind, except that it has a mechanical effect in a half-baked subsystem. Get used to half-baked subsystems, they're a staple of the FFG 40kRP games! You have a Chapter Demeanor and then a personal one. If you roleplay out and invoke your demeanor once per session, you can claim a Fate Point benefit for doing so. If you did it 'well' according to your GM and fellow players, you double the bonus you'd have gotten. You roll a d10 for Calculating, Gregarious, Hot-Blooded (clearly the best), Studious, Taciturn, Pious, Stoic, Ambitious, Scornful, or Proud. You are permitted to make your own or change your personal demeanor as the game goes on, but chapter demeanor remains the same forever. Gameplay benefits linked to subjective judgment of how well someone's RP moment went are a sin, but the basic idea of 'I'm Proud, so I can get a bonus to a test in a challenge to prove my honor once per session' or whatever isn't terrible.
Marines have the same stat set as humans, but all their stats start at 30+2d10 instead of 20+2d10, and they get Unnatural Strength (x2) and Unnatural Toughness (x2). Their Chapter also gives them further stat buffs, and only buffs. They take no penalties from Chapter because Marine chapters aren't allowed to have actual weaknesses in the official fluff. If you think I'm kidding, one of the add-on books has a section on the White Scars (mongol space bikers) where within the same paragraph it talks about how they are hot-headed, reckless, and prone to fast action without planning, before going on to describe them as wise and masterful strategists who always carefully consider their battles. You get the same bad 'reroll one stat you don't like, keep the new result even if it's worse' mechanic from DH. You then pick your Chapter, pick what kind of Marine you are (Tactical, Devastator, Apothecary, Assault, Librarian, Techmarine), roll d5+18 for Wounds, get your 3-5 Fate points (Marines have a hell of a lot of luck), and then encounter one of the stupidest things in all the line.
You see, somewhere along the line someone at FFG had the idea that since the systems are all using the same system they're all compatible for cross-splat play, which is technically true. They then decided that they'd assign a huge starting EXP total to characters in Rogue Trader and Deathwatch, so that a Dark Heresy PC with that level of EXP would be equal to a starting character from the other line. The problem with this is, say, a 14000 EXP Dark Heresy character doesn't have all the random bullshit Marines get, can't use Marine weapons (which we'll see are CRAZY POWERFUL), and also the EXP costs of stats, skills, and talents changed between lines. You cannot 'balance' the lines by equivalent EXP because an EXP point actually buys more for a DH character, and they try to use that to make up for the higher base stats and powerful starting packages for the other games. It's silly and just makes the EXP tables for the other games more annoying.
You also get your standard issue. Marines all have Power Armor (which has AV 10 Chest, AV 8 everywhere else, and gives +20 Str that isn't multiplied by Unnatural for Strength Bonus), all kinds of special chainswords, jet packs, big HMGs, etc based on what class you took, and all of it is vastly superior to human gear. We'll get into it further in the Gear table, but suffice to say most Astartes weapons add +d10 damage over the human version, making an Astartes Boltgun superior per-shot to a human Heavy Bolter. It was so crazy that there's a sweeping modified errata weapons table designed to tone down the massive number of d10 damage dice you'll be flinging around.
Gender and Appearance notes all Marines are male. The book will talk about this in detail, and FFG's message boards were full of trouble about this back in the day, because this is an RPG published in 2010 that demands you play a male PC. I know the whole issue is a stupid nerd can of worms. To me, it's totally irrelevant and I was happy to just allow the women in my gaming group to play female Marines if they wanted because if there's one thing that should be obvious it's that I don't give much of a damn about the sanctity of 40k Canon. The book suggestion of 'let them play a Canoness Sister or a female Inquisitor' just...doesn't really work for such a combat heavy game, when Marines have so many inherent advantages for combat. Besides, this is the game about playing as Space Marines!
You can also roll d5 for your backstory based on chapter if you're boring. Then you get a couple questions about 'what was your homeworld like' and 'what do you love and hate in the world' and 'what does your assignment to the Deathwatch mean to you' and they're reasonably good for fleshing out your PC. You can also roll on a table for some naming suggestions based on chapter. We then get a hilarious aside about how you are very serious angelic heroic warrior knights who don't use contractions and should speak with dignity, but also some other important stuff to consider: How would your Marine react to dealing with ordinary people? What do they think of civilians? Where do they diverge from their Chapter? Why are they in the Deathwatch, even if they don't know the reason? They might have been sent because they're officer material, to learn to work with other forces and fight a variety of foes. They might have been exiled in an 'honorable' posting because of chapter politics. They might be expected not to return. There's a lot of good hooks you can come up with for why your soldier was sent to join a multi-chapter fighting force to work with the Inquisition.
Then we get the Baseline of Competence for Marines, by which I mean the skills, talents, and traits you begin with (and a description of what each of your magic organs does, though these are mostly minor and emphasize the Marine is mostly immune to environmental hazards) and holy hell are Marines competent compared to an Acolyte. I mean, obviously. You can use every single weapon with Astartes in its name without further weapons training talents. Marines know how to be stealthy (if outside their power armor, anyway), they can drive, they're trained in tactics and demolitions and maintenance of their gear, they're hard to pin, they're good soldiers, and as Deathwatch soldiers, they've been so well trained in fighting Xenos that against any Alien enemy they auto-confirm Righteous Fury (I forgot to mention, crits in 40k are RIGHTEOUS FURY instead of ULRIC'S FURY and RIGHTEOUS FURY! sounds fun and cool to declare when someone scores one) without needing to recheck their attack roll. Every single Marine in your party is a massive badass and they're only going to get better at killing things. In a lot of ways, this is one of the fun parts of the game. The game knows you're going into huge gunfights and melees, it makes everyone really good at them and able to contribute at baseline, and then you pick classes and chapters to both determine what you can do on top of killing, but also the cool ways you're even better at killing. It is nearly impossible to make a 'weak' Marine PC.
There are also references to Solo Mode and Squad Mode and oh god no please no no no (I will get to them later but you remember what I said about half-baked subsystems? There's one in every fully FFG 40k game and they're always integral to the game, too. Like space-ship design in Rogue Trader, and here it's a system for teamwork and unit cohesion that is hilariously unnecessary when the baseline PCs are this powerful).
Next Time: The Canon Chapters
Models of Hero: A catalogueOriginal SA post Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Deathwatch and Rites of Battle: Part 3
Models of Hero: A catalogue
So the Black Templars are one of the first Successor chapters. They were founded by the Imperial Fists legion when the Codex Astartes was first implemented, and have been on permanent crusade ever since. This came after the Imperial Fists were originally branded heretics and threatened for refusing to break up into the chapter structure in the aftermath of the Horus Heresy. A unit on crusade is allowed to break some of the rules about numbers, organization, etc. The Templars just never stop declaring their constant-space-borne-murder-spree a single, continuous crusade. They have no direct recruiting worlds and instead do everything aboard their enormous battle-fleet, and by establishing keeps on the worlds they participate in conquering. These keeps supply them with a constant supply of brutalized children, taken in and forced into blood rites and insane religious trials and fights to the death to see if they are worthy of becoming Space Marines. Once an aspirant has been chosen, the Keep's staff will begin a bastardized version of the implantation ceremony; because the Marines are constantly on the move, their Implantation is rarely carried out by the best experts and has devolved into a highly religious event that includes purification by fasting (at a time when the recruit's body is trying to grow to massive proportions), flaggelation, and scarification to 'sanctify' the procedure. The book notes this makes their death rate in surgery significantly higher than most chapters.
In general, you'll find Templars are kind of idiots. One thing the setting likes to waffle back and forth about is how much Marines actually believe in the Emperor as God vs. the father of Space Marines/keeping to his old idea of not being a God. For the most part, it settles into a comfortable place where the Marines happily accept the religiosity when it gives them glory, while still sneering about how they're more enlightened than the common man and know it isn't 'real', enjoying the pomp and ceremony and aggrandizement while staying comfortably aloof. Black Templars? Oh, they absolutely go whole hog on the religious aspect and are absolutely true believers. Instead of a Scout company and a reasonably training regimen, a Templar takes a Neophyte as a squire and brings them into battle. You learn by fighting, and they don't care how many of their trainees they lose, because again, they're sort of stupid. They also hate psykers with a passion, and one wonders how that works when they're a fleet based chapter reliant on Navigators and Astropaths for all their navigation and communication. They don't really have a combat doctrine besides screaming and chanting hymns and then charging into gunfire waving their shields and swords in a mob. This works because A: Power armor and B: 40k. Their High Marshal is naturally noted as a 'military genius' because everyone in the Marines is, and again: I absolutely don't buy Marines being any smarter than humans.
In game terms, they get a bonus to WP and WS. Their Chapter Demeanor is Zealot: They hate psykers and will cause friction with a PC Librarian, with the Templar needing to take time to pray for forgiveness for allowing themselves to be allies with a psyker, though the book emphasizes the chapter *will not* send anyone who is insane enough to attack their fellow Marines over such things. The book is very clear this should be limited to grumbling and tension, or else the Marine wouldn't have been seconded to the Deathwatch for fear of causing an inter-chapter incident, and I appreciate this. They tend to spend all their off-duty time in prayer and hate the idea of fun. They're sort of miserable to play as.
Blood Angels are WHFRP Blood Dragon vampires except prettier, more vain, and immune to the sun. I'm not even joking; they sleep in magic coffin machines that filter their blood to help fight a dark curse called the Red Thirst triggered by them all remembering their Primarch, the weird magnificent hawkboy Sanguinius, getting killed by Horus during the Heresy. This desire for endless battle and bloodshed will eventually drive most of them insane, becoming a black rage that gets them rounded up, put into a company of similar frothing madmen, and then pointed at the enemy. Blood Angels enjoy art, especially of themselves, and come from a broken, irradiated hellhole world called Baal. The mutant scavengers of the world set out across the ash wastes and then have to jump off a cliff with icarus wings and do all sorts of other trials (and remember, these are still children) then fight one another to the death for the amusement of the Blood Angels before they select a few winners to turn into pristine, beautiful vampires like them. There's a lot of focus on how the transformation takes these twisted, broken genetic 'rejects' and turns them into Aryan superhumans and it sets my teeth on edge.
The Blood Angels are a fully codex chapter except for the Death Company of frothing madmen and the Sanguinary Priests, their version of Apothecaries, who are specialized in treating their fellows' crazy vampire blood condition. Their gameplay bonus is a +5 to WS and Agility, and they make fantastic Assault Marines. Their Chapter Demeanor is Red Thirst: They're vampires, for god's sake. They love to shed blood, they love to be covered in blood, but they have to hold their curse in check because indulging in it drives them crazier and crazier. This is played up as a great flaw that makes them more human because it grants them 'humility'.
The Dark Angels are a highly secretive chapter because everyone they left behind on their homeworld during the Crusade went Chaos. Or maybe everyone who went to the Crusade went Chaos and the ones at home were loyal. Nobody knows, it's a mystery. They fly around in a floating monastery carved out of a big chunk of their planet, because the aforementioned 'some of us are heretics and some of us aren't scuffle blew it up. They don't want anyone to know about the heresy thing, and they're obsessed with hunting down all the heretics and forcing them to repent, then killing them. Their entire chapter is organized around keeping this heresy mess a secret, with inner circles and secret grandmasters, and they will happily abandon a world to die to chase after a rumor of one of their fallen fellows. Marines don't even learn this is what's going on until they make it into the elite First Company, the Deathwing.
They're sort of dicks. Weirdly, there's no talk on how they recruit or where they sustain their crazy magic space fortress from. Which is unfortunate, because one reason I keep including everyone's Recruiting Trial is because it's an important part of a chapter's character. It tells you what they look for, and how brutal they prefer to be says a lot about their character. In all honesty, aside from the whole 'Conspiracy Marines' there's very little on the actual character of the Dark Angels in the book. They're just sort of generic, mysterious dicks who sometimes betray their allies to run off for no reason that makes sense to anyone but a few of their officers. Gameplay wise, they get +5 BS and Int. They have the Chapter Demeanor Sons of the Lion, which makes them insular, aloof, and elitist. Sure sounds like fun to have in a party.
Space Wolves are actually friendly and tend to do things other than just fight all the time, like drink and sing and have parties. They are also giant vikings. These two traits tend to make them fan-favorites. They come from Space Viking Planet, Fenrus, a terrible world full of krakens and ice-floes where the people are constantly migrating with the ice, having to sail in epic voyages and viking sagas all the time to find new temporary land that will let them farm and raise families and fight, which is actually sort of a neat idea for a sci-fantasy planet. The Space Wolves are completely non-Codex, and have 'Rune Priests' instead of librarian psykers. These chaps go down to watch over the battles and struggles of native heroes, and pick young warriors on the verge of death to rescue and take to become Marines, which is a bit on the nose but works fine. Space Wolf geneseed is crazy, though, and turns you a little wolfy, and if it turns you too wolfy they have to kill you lest you turn into a crazy giant werewolf with Space Marine powers.
Wolves are specifically noted as being some of the most friendly Marines you'll meet. They try to make friends with their fellows in the Deathwatch, they tend to try to make friends with the other forces they fight alongside, and as noted they are some of the only Marines said to do anything but fight and train to fight. They enjoy celebration and poetry, and they hate the Codex. They also don't like the Dark Angels, because their primarch thought the Dark Angels' primarch was a nerd and they used to fight sometimes. As a result, Wolf and Dark Angel units will each appoint a champion for a ceremonial duel with one another to settle any friction before they have to work together. A duel that is explicitly not to the death, at least. They've got 'Good Guy Marine' written all over them but I'll take it after the last three. They get +5 Perception and Fellowship, and their Demeanor as the Sons of Russ makes them prefer plain speech and openness, taking to their work with enthusiasm and joy.
The Storm Wardens are FFG's own chapter and they're fine. They live in Calixis and most of their prior command structure is in stasis after witnessing something awful, to be unfrozen and awakened in case of emergency. They hate the Calixis sector and find the place insufferable, giving the governor their emergency codes in case the sector catches fire but otherwise being clear he isn't to call, which instantly makes me like them a bit. They live in Space Scotland, a boggy, harsh planet full of trolls and feudal clans. There's also a big population of Ogryn on their planet, big ogre-type guys who are dumb and friendly and nice, and the Storm Wardens and local humans live in peace with them. They recruit from among young adventurers who make it to their fortress, who then compete in big games and tournaments that are, for once, not intended to kill them. Those who fail still made it to the fortress and are sent off with congratulations, often becoming heroes and leaders among their clans, which in turn encourages more adventurers to try to become Storm Wardens, which suits the Marines well.
Storm Wardens love their claymores, and a soldier's claymore is usually sent back to their clan after they die, enscribed with the deeds they did among the heavens. They can actually use those claymores in game, and they're pretty much a DH1e Great Weapon, taken in place of the Warden's combat knife or chainsword, and will actually outperform either by a little. Giant paladins swinging blessed monomolecular claymores around to cleave the forces of hell is a-okay by me. They're a little boring, with the weird note that they love vehicle combat for some reason, but there's nothing wrong with them and I appreciate the friendlier recruiting trial. They get +5 Strength and +2 Wounds, and the Demeanor Aspire to Glory, which makes them insular but very devoted to their close friends. Personal honor is everything to them, and building relationships is about assessing another's personal honor to see if they're worth getting close to.
And finally, we get the soldiers of legend, the greatest of all Marines, the descendants of everyone's Spiritual Liege Roboute Guilleman, The Ultramarines. These are the golden boys, the favored Marines both in-setting and by the company that writes them. Their founder wrote the Codex, they're the favored batch and geneseed template for expansion into successor chapters, and they love rules and order so long as those things are being set by an Ultramarine. Their writeup talks about how they are the most celebrated, the best, the most beloved of all Marines. Their genes are pure, their doctrine orthodox, and their faith unquestioned. They rule an entire subsector, the Realm of Ultramar, and it is totally the best place in the Imperium, believe me. Guilleman's leadership and genius absolutely saved the Imperium right after the Heresy (say the Ultramarines) despite the fact that they were so intact because they conveniently missed most of its serious battles. Then he got stabbed in the neck by a Demon Primarch and was put into stasis, barely alive. Later GW will haul him out to be the Imperium's mighty fascist figurehead, but that's a few years off from when this book was written.
Everything about the Ultramarines in the book talks up how great they are at absolutely everything and how admired they are, but I don't think it's just my imagination that it takes on a sort of tongue in cheek tone at a few points. Like when it points out how heroic they are to be able to base their entire lives around rules that are 10,000 years old and have not been edited or changed since. I will give the chaps one thing, though: They have the absolute sanest, smartest recruiting rite. They just...have a bunch of military academies for the human Planetary Defense Forces of their Realm, and they pick up the most promising cadets. No blood trial, no mass slaughter, no epic quest, just 'Hey these guys are top of their class, the right age, and show a spark of leadership potential, bring them in to discuss putting our geneseed in these fine young people.' There's an awful lot about how much they love duty and honor and glory, and very little actual personality because that would require them to have any texture.
Gameplay wise they get to *pick* what stats they get +5 to, and get two of 'em like anyone else. Their Demeanor is Honour the Codex. They love rules. They love rules they made. They try to take over and become leader in any situation and context they find themselves in. You can write fun Ultramarines, but not if you write them, uh, uncritically.
Next Time: We make a better chapter and begin making our Marine.
Original Chapter, Do Not StealOriginal SA post Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Deathwatch and Rites of Battle: Part 4
Original Chapter, Do Not Steal
Rites of Battle has a lot of useful material, but the single most important part of it is the detailed rules for writing your own chapter and giving it mechanics. This is important because getting to make your own chapter is fun, and helps a lot with building investment in your Marine. My players would occasionally play a canon chapter they really liked, but for the most part they loved writing up their own chapter, making up their own recruiting rite, and getting to shape the culture their PC came from. Being a Warhams roleplay thing, this can all be done by massive tables to roll on, and honestly they tend to produce fairly coherent and fun chapters so I can't fault them. We'll also be getting into some of the other mechanical effects of the Chapter as we make it.
We start off with some suggestions for ways to make the recruiting rite matter to mechanics. These generally play into the Demeanor system, suggesting that, say, a chapter that recruited by ritual duel might get Demeanor improvement on a duel with an enemy champion, etc. You do not roll for Recruiting Rite and style; that's entirely on you to make up. I think my favorite recommended rite is the one where the recruit is expected to fight a full Marine. They aren't expected to win; chapters usually recruit the ones who are brave enough to stand and give it their all. Each also comes with a little adventure seed idea for how to tie a future adventure back to the Marine's past as a recruit. It's not a bad little idea.
First, you roll for why your chapter was founded, and when. Was there an inkling that the Imperium was short Marines in a specific region? Were they originally founded and sanctioned to fight a specific foe? Are they a rare garrison force? Our Marines were founded, according to a d10, for purposes of Strategic Prognostication. The Imperium just assumed by tarot card or data analysis or prophet that they were going to need some Marines. Then you roll for what millennium you were founded in; our Marines are, according to a d100, founded in the late 39th millennium and aren't especially old. Next you check which First Founding chapter you descend from, with Ultramarines being vastly more likely than others, the gits. You're very unlikely to be from any other than Ultras, Blood Angels, or Dark Angels because all the others either have weird flaws in their geneseed, hate the Codex, or whatever. Rolling a 63, we narrowly avoid being Ultramarine knock-offs and are instead Blood Angel descendants. Next comes the bit I dislike: You have 40% odds of rolling that you are exactly like your parent chapter, down to demeanor. C'mon, guys, where's the fun in that? You only have a 20%-30% chance of actually getting to use the rest of the creation system! We would always just flip a coin between the results that allow you to keep going on the tables rather than roll the risk of being a knock-off Marine, but I want to emphasize that 60% of the table will stop you from continuing in Chapter Creation aside from some fluff history stuff and while this is easily fixed it's a huge letdown.
Luckily for us, we rolled Flawed, anyway, with a 10 on d10. Flawed means our Chapter has something wrong with it, rolled on an additional table. These are things like 'really odd Chapter Cult' or 'Other Imperials don't trust these original characters'. We got a 9, for 'Really Odd Chapter Cult'. Our Marines do something weird when worshiping the Emperor and their ancestors that could cause them some trouble if it's found out. Just what is up to you; most of the suggestions involve murder, but who knows. We also have a 50-50 chance of having our own Demeanor, and thankfully, we do. The Demeanor table is a little limited, but still fun. We roll a 5 on the table and get Scions of Mars: Our vampire knock-offs absolutely adore technology and have close ties to the Mechanicus, genuinely believing in and assisting with the Quest for Knowledge while at the same time having an affinity for really fancy wargear and electronics. That could link back to their weird cult; perhaps they legitimately and genuinely worship the Emperor in aspect as the Omnissiah and have to hide that they're vampire techpriests.
Blood Angels also have a huge chance to have something wrong with their genetics, and we are no exception. 50-50 chance of a problem, we roll an 18, so problem comes up. Ultramarines, of course, are highly unlikely to have their noble genetic purity sullied. Our Marines roll a 10, which is 'roll again d3 times and take all results', and we get a 3. We're mutant as all hell. We get a 3, giving our marines a mutated brain implant that makes their 'can sleep parts of their brain at once' power run amok and give them turbo wakefulness and insomnia, we lose the ability to spit acid with a 6 and then an 81 (Dang), and our Marines suffer -10 Awareness in bright light without their helmets, but can see in the dark and have spooky glowing eyes. So they're insomniac night owls whose saliva can't eat through steel. Woe upon these cursed mutants.
Next you roll for what your stat boosts are, and they're much on par with the rest of the book. We get an 84, that gives +5 Weapon Skill and Fellowship. Marines of this chapter are known for being inspiring master duelists and champions. You roll for who your great hero was, from a past officer to a current, humble line-soldier, and we get that the greatest hero of our chapter was a Master of Sanctity, the person who is supposed to be watching over the geneseed so it doesn't mutate all crazy like ours did. The Master of Sanctity personally slew a Demon Prince in a duel, according to the table, which might explain all the mutations: Spite-curses are definitely a thing with demons. Or maybe it was damage control and they kept everything from being even worse, saving our OC Vampires while they only had a few minor inconveniences and cool plot hooks.
Next you check for your homeworld. The dice say we're Fleet Based, like the Black Templars. These Marines don't have a specific homeworld and draw from the worlds they visit during their duties, as well as having massive forge-ships and a regular route of travel and patrol. Our Marines rule their fleet Distantly, meaning they aren't in direct command of the huge migrant fleet they're attached to; this is kind of an interesting result. Perhaps they work among a massive group of ships that have formed a stable community as they travel, followed by a few Marine combat vessels that recruit from the void-born community they are attached to? That's sort of cool.
Next you roll for if you follow the Codex, with a strong weight towards 'yes' or 'yes, but'. We are lucky and get a 10, for 'no'. It also notes any Ultramarine chapter that rolls a 10 is hated by their progenitors. You actually get a separate table weighted much more towards orthodoxy if you're an Ultramarine successor. Our Marines either have too many Marines, don't organize by Company at all, or do something even wilder like focus on space battles or something. According to dice, our favored way of fighting is orbital strike and bombardment specialists, so our Marines are experts at drop-podding in and timing things with naval bombardment. That's quite fitting.
Now, there's a mechanic I have to describe because it comes up here, but I'll get into detail on it later. In general, your Marine is in what's called 'Solo' mode. They get passives based on their Chapter when in this mode. They can spend actions or roll against a resource called Cohesion to enter Squad Mode, losing those passives for the ability to declare action-economy breaking squad bonuses and special maneuvers, at the cost of Cohesion. I have made it sound a lot more simple and coherent than it is. You roll for a Solo and Squad ability for your Chapter. Ours is that our Marines are fast as hell. They get Lightning Reflexes when in Solo (doubling their Agility for initiative), get dodge bonuses at later ranks, can react in surprise rounds on reflex alone after that, and finally gain the ability to just say 'I pass this Agi test' once per session. They also roll that they just have the Blood Angel Squad ability, which is the ability to go into a crazy vampire kill-frenzy; I'll get to this more in later chapters. For our Defensive Squad pattern, we have the ability to set up an aura where other Marines (and our Marine, obviously) can move after Dodging attacks in order to get close to enemies quicker.
Since we are unique, we can't be of one class. Our Chapter has no actual Devastator squads; they don't like heavy weapons. I imagine this comes from being actual space Space Marines and orbital commandos. Our Marines also have a traditional weapon they hold as sacred (other options are things like animal companions, mounts, modified gear). We'll say they think of the Storm Bolter (two bolters taped together) as the mark of a masterful warrior. In addition to all their other cult weirdness, when rolling for beliefs they honor their Primarch above all (the most common one), but that meshes interestingly with the whole AdMech Marines angle. Perhaps they think of Sanguinius as the true heir of the Omnissiah, and have to hide this from other Blood Angel successors lest they get yelled at for improperly worshiping the golden hawkman.
Finally, you roll for your current status and strength, with a strong bias towards 'nominal' or 'under strength, but not in danger'. We get a 10 on the d10, which tells us we're Over Strength. Fits with not being a Codex chapter. We also get one unusual friend and enemy within the other organizations of the Imperium. Interestingly, we're particular friends of the Chartist Captains, the 'slow FTL' generation ship traders who do most of the Imperium's bulk commerce. Neat, and only a 2% chance of that. Our Marines also roll that they hate a particular Chaos aligned group, and one of the options mentioned is space pirates. Well, that's just dandy. They got their geneseed ganked by an evil demon pirate queen and now they battle devil pirates in hellspace to defend honest merchants in their wandering, giant planet-sized fleet of slow starships and Marine escorts.
The random table for names always produces hilarity. It's the X Ys. We roll that we are called the WAR DEATH, which is hilarious, then try again and get the Brothers Sons, which is also hilarious. Finally, on the third try, we get the Star Dragons and that will be acceptable.
The final thing you do is roll for a Chapter Advance Table. Every Chapter provides its own advance table that a Marine has available right away, in addition to their Class, base Deathwatch advance tables, and rank. We get 62, No Respite to the Enemy, which gives any Star Dragon immediate access to cheap Dodge+20, cheap Tactics+20 access to a Tactic you choose (probably Naval tactics), Gunslinger access, Mighty Shot access, and both dual-wielding talents. So our Marines a space vampires with glowing eyes that flit around a massive migrant fleet of void-born, defending them from demon pirates from hell, who cannot sleep and are masters of rapid, agile John-Woo gunfighting.
This is why people create their own chapters. Because it's hilarious and fun.
Next Time: Our Own Star Dragon
Original Character, Also Do Not StealOriginal SA post Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Deathwatch and Rites of Battle
Original Character, Also Do Not Steal
It's time to see the character creation system in motion. We start off rolling up the basic attributes, as has been done in every one of these Warhams reviews, and we get WS 46, BS 43, Str 46, Tough 39, Agility 32, Intelligence 47, Willpower 41, Perception 41, and Fellowship 47, after Chapter modifiers for a STAR DRAGON. Our clumsy, sickly OC will reroll his Agility and gets it to 44. He's a smart, strong chap who is mostly average for his chapter otherwise, but who is missing a critical point of Toughness that will end up making him easier to shoot in the face. His Demeanor is Calculating, meaning he likes to carefully weigh the positives and negatives of things and is constantly thinking very hard about what to do. He also comes with the Scions of Mars Chapter Demeanor from being a Star Dragon. We'll roll on the Blood Angel Name Table and his name is Sepheran.
Sepheran gets an enormous number of skills right off the bat. Marines have so many skills and talents that when I was running the game, I made a template for that for character sheets because fuck typing them all out. He's good at Awareness, he knows the chapter's code system, he can climb, he can dodge, he knows a bit about the Imperium, the Astartes, and War, he can hide, he can drive, he can scare people, he's literate, he knows how not to get lost, he knows the SCHOLASTIC LORE of the Codex despite being from a special OC chapter that doesn't follow it (probably so he can make fun of it for being full of truisms like 'When harried the Space Marine drives his enemies back!' rather than anything useful), he can be quiet, he gets a Tactics skill of his choice (likely to do with Space), he knows both normal British and psuedolatin (Low Gothic and High Gothic), and he can track his prey, as well as knowing lots about Aliens for being in the Deathwatch. He's also ambidextrous like all Marines, has training in every single non-Exotic weapon in the setting, has Bulging Biceps (so he can fire heavy weapons like they were rifles), has Heightened Senses of hearing and sight (+10 to non-combat checks with both), has the ability to spend a Fate Point to make an attack or single shot undodgeable, has nerves of steel (reroll failed Pinning tests), can swap weapons as a free action once per turn, has a +10 against Psy powers, halves all Critical damage he takes, and can use his bare fists as a d10+SB Pen0 non-Primitive weapon that makes him count as Armed, because all Marines know martial arts. Whew! That's thousands of EXP worth of abilities. He also has a ton of various abilities related to his Special Magic Organs and I believe I cannot emphasize this often enough, can eat a man's brain to gain his thoughts.
We'll roll a d5 to see what mastery he has, and it looks like Brother Sepheran is a kind and caring Apothecary, a space marine doctor. This means he also starts with Medicae and a powerful healing tool that heals wounds better even if PCs are badly wounded; his Narthecium device will heal someone by double what Medicae would normally do, and counts them as Lightly Wounded at up to 3xTB wounds taken, so for most Marines with their 18-23 Wounds and 8 Toughness Bonus, he can always treat them as lightly wounded. He also gets to pick his choice of super special extra ability: He can reduce Corruption gains by guarding his friends' Geneseeds, he can grant his friends biological weapons to use against the enemy (but only in Squad Mode), or he can heal an extra d5 with every use of medicae, regardless of how badly wounded the character is. He takes the latter. Sepheran is a brilliant young doctor who focuses on saving lives and diving sideways through the air while firing two handguns or elegantly dueling people.
He has 22 Wounds, and 5 Fate. He is ridiculously lucky. As an Apothecary, he isn't bad at any stats (some Marines are bad at various stats) and is good at Weapon Skill, Intelligence, and Perception. Marines pay a ton more EXP for advances: 200, 500, 1000, 1500 for a 'good' stat, 500, 1000, 1500, 2000 for a 'medium' one, 750, 1500, 2000, 5000 for a 'bad' one. Marine skills often cost more, as do talents. For some reason, Sepheran's Chapter skills are extremely cheap. and the Rank 1 Apothecary skills are mostly stuff like Chem Use or Interrogate, so he'll spend 500 on getting his Toughness to acceptable levels, 200 to buff his Int, then 200 on getting Dodge+10 so he can dodge out of the way of our friend Lascannon if he comes knocking. He has not yet mastered the art of two gun fighting, but he is a young space-doctor-duelist-war-king, it will come in time.
As we get further along to gear, squad modes, solo modes, etc, we'll fill these things in for Sepheran, Brilliant Space Doctor Vampire. As for his appearance, we just assume he's hulking, yet extremely beautiful, like something out of an old 90s anime. Basically assume this is a chapter of JoJos.
Next Time: Oh god, so many tables full of things to buy. Also, Careers in more detail.
Mechanical but not thematic progressionOriginal SA post Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Deathwatch and Rites of Battle: Part 6
Mechanical but not thematic progression
Deathwatch works a lot like the advancement system in Dark Heresy, but with a few tweaks. I didn't cover the (many) add-on books for Dark Heresy, so we didn't get into one of the worst ideas in the line: Replacement Ranks. Replacement Ranks came about because the authors wanted to add variance to Careers, but didn't want to make any new Careers which, having written a Career once I totally understand. It is a goddamn nightmare to try to make sure you pace out, price, and include everything at logical points in advancement. The idea for most of Rogue Trader and Dark Heresy was you could instead take, say 'Gunslinger' as a replacement for Rank 1 Scum, or 'Edgy Cop' for Rank 6 Arbitrator. The problem with this is that was awkward to make sure the character could still advance properly when they got back on their 'normal' career track, eventually solved by saying they could buy anything from the rank they missed at a higher price.
Deathwatch tried to fix this awkwardness by instead having a character's advancement options be composing of a mix of four different advance tables at base, plus in Rites of Battle you can buy access to Advanced Career ranks, which don't replace anything in your progression but instead give you some base abilities and access to another advance table. A normal character can buy rank-limited advances from the Deathwatch table (Representing the sort of covert and knowledge-based training every Deathwatch Marine has access to as they advance in the ranks and gain experience in the organization, regardless of their specialization), their Chapter table (Which is not limited by Rank; you have access to your full Chapter Table. This is stuff like Ultramarines being able to max out Command really early, or how our Star Dragons can all learn crazy two-gun acrobatic fighting at any level), a general rank-limited Space Marine table (For stuff any Marine might manage to learn by being a Marine) and then finally your actual Specialization table (Which is small but tends to contain the most powerful talents and skills, or contain powerful talents earlier in your progression than if you had to buy them from your General table). Overall, it can be a little overwhelming and confusing, but it works with the basic idea of the game to have a big baseline of competence that anyone can buy from and then make your class describe what you're Really Good At instead of being quite so restrictive.
One of the problems comes in something that annoyed the hell out of me in both Deathwatch and Rogue Trader. In normal DH, your first 4 ranks are costed so that you'll gain new ranks quickly early in a campaign and then settle in on Rank 5 for a long time. This isn't the case in either of the other games in the line that use the Career system. Ranks 1-3 take 4000 EXP in Deathwatch, then Ranks 4-8 take 5000. Also, as part of their 'EXP totals should balance cross line characters' all the EXP costs for everything are much higher in Deathwatch for some reason. At a suggested 500 EXP per session, you'll be Rank 1 for 8 sessions. Assuming the average group meets once a week, this is expecting each Rank of advancement to take 2 months of play. Anything on your advance table that is in the 4+ ranks is going to be beyond you for a long, long time if you go at the recommended pace and start at rank 1.
Other than that, I especially like the implementation of Chapter as an advance table. You don't get many direct bonus skills for your Chapter, but your Chapter skills tend to allow you to buy them to their max level, do it cheaply, and do it from the very start of the game. For instance, an average Blood Angel can take all kinds of acrobatic vampire fighting stuff right off the bat, no matter their career. Some could be balanced a little better (The Space Wolves get really good skills with drinking, while others get stuff like the Ultramarine being exceptional at diplomacy and building political connections, and one of those seems more useful than the other) but the concept is very sound. The low costs give an incentive to be good at your Chapter abilities, but you can decide for yourself the degree to which you're a product of your Chapter and you have a lot of useful stuff to spend your EXP on. In general, it is nearly impossible to make a 'weak' Deathwatch character, and everyone is going to be designed to be able to contribute to the main activity of the game, which is combat.
The first actual Specialization is our good Sepheran's Apothecary. Apothecaries are the Marines charged with keeping other Marines alive, and if they die, harvesting their Geneseed. This is an actual mechanic; if your Geneseed is successfully harvested and brought back safely after you lose a PC, you get mechanical bonuses for your next PC. Apothecaries serve as field scientists and xenologists, biological warfare experts, and rifle infantry when deployed with the squad, and are surprisingly good at basic close combat. Since you're a Marine, you're going to be great at killing things anyway, and with their special equipment, their choice of removing Corruption, adding biological warfare abilities to the squad, or hyper-healing people, they're really good at their specialty, too. Not having an Apothecary around makes it really hard to get anyone with Medicae onto the team, and speaking from having played in a game without one where we were often forced into battle wounded or using our Fate points to heal because of this, you *really* notice not having one in your squad. Their being intelligent and especially good at studying exotic new aliens to figure out how to kill them is fun, too.
The second is the Assault Marine. They get a jet-pack for extremely quick movement, though every Marine can use one of those if they buy one. They are absolutely the best at melee, having good WS, Str, Agi, and Per. They are also terrible with guns (relatively), having Bad BS, Int, and WP. They also start with Swift Attack, meaning they can melee attack twice right at the start, while most classes won't get it until Rank 4. Their special abilities either let them add a significant +20 meters to their charges with their jet pack with a successful Pilot test (and make it explode more mook enemies when they land, presumably by crushing them under their feet) in Solo Mode or let them butcher tons of mooks on any Charge, jetpack assisted or not, against weak foes in Squad Mode. They focus entirely on melee and speed advances, quickly getting their third attack by rank 2 and getting all kinds of dueling and active-defense abilities. If you want someone to leap in and challenge an enemy champion, the Assault Marine can handle it. They're less great against swarms of weak enemies, but that's a function of the swarm fighting rules and of how much better automatic/explosive weapons are at doing it rather than a deficiency in their melee abilities. If you want to blend Elites and fly around with a jetpack and a chainsaw, be an Assault Marine.
The Devastator is really good, but also feels a bit like the odd man out when every single class can use heavy weapons anyway. It isn't that they aren't good at their thing (they are very good at their thing) so much as you only have 3-5 PCs, usually, and most PCs can fill in their role well enough. They do get a free Heavy Bolter, which is already reason enough to play one as the DW Heavy Bolter is an ungodly death cannon, and their specials are pretty good. Either they get +10 BS and Sturdy (hard to move or shake) while behind cover in Solo Mode, or they do +1 dead enemy per hit against mooks (or +d5 per Blast or template hit) in Squad Mode. Both of those are fantastic for big guy with big gun. They're good at Ballistic Skill, Strength, and Perception and bad at Intelligence, Weapon Skill, and Agility (ouch). They're experts at being tough, shooting people, and using automatic weapons, flame weapons, and explosives. They're one of the premier horde-killers in the game, gaining lots of talents that will help them kill whole platoons of soldiers in a single round.
The Librarian is broken. Like, absolutely the single most powerful class in the game. Stack all the advantages of a Space Marine onto the most forgiving (and one of the most powerful) psy-systems in the line up to the point that DW had been released, give them a Force Weapon (A magic sword that gains +Psy damage and pen base, but that can also cast a massive damage boost on hit), make them excellent at melee (they're only a little behind the Assault Marine) and you've got an insane murder-jedi wreathed in magic armor and wielding one of the best melee weapons in the line. They are good at Weapon Skill, Willpower, Intelligence and Perception, and bad at Ballistic Skill, Agility, and Fellowship. There isn't a lot more to say about them; they don't get a 'pick one' special ability because theirs is just their initial power selection, but for instance, their very basic psy power at level 1 will deal 3d10 Pen3 with an AoE, and that isn't even their best trick. They can also massively buff themselves and others, they get specific powers based on their Chapter (Use the Chapter you succeeded if using a custom Chapter), and are generally insanely good.
Good old Tactical Marine. I played one of these myself and have fond memories of them. The Tactical Marine is the Cleric of Deathwatch. They're Good at Willpower and Fellowship and aren't bad at anything. They focus a lot on leadership and command, and they can gain skills to fill in wherever the party needs them, but they're especially good with a basic boltgun. You have the choice as a TacMarine between getting a +10 to-hit and +2 to-damage with every Bolt weapon in the game while in Solo mode (this includes our friend Heavy Bolter, and later on you will see why this rules), or a TacMarine can use their special Chapter squad abilities for the rest of the squad, even if the squadmates aren't from their chapter when in Squad Mode (God we'll get to all this in time). They get lots of free specialist ammo that they can use to customize what their bolt weapons do, turning them into AoE chaff-mulching weapons, powerful anti-monster guns, general purpose armor penetrators, or later, space marine killers.They're solid leaders and rifle masters and that's surprisingly fun to play as. It would be more fun if Squad/Solo mode wasn't so clunky, but again, we'll get to that.
Finally, we have the Techmarine. These are Techpriest Marines. You may have thought I was joking when I said as the line goes Techpriests would be upgraded from 'cool and unique tech powers' to 'Actually God'. I was not. The Techmarine starts with a powerful servo-arm sticking out of their spine that can punch like a power fist and can be used as a bonus attack every round if they give up their Dodge for it, or just used for their melee attacks. They can spend a turn to improve a squad's cover, giving it +Intelligence Bonus in Armor. They get great Strength, Toughness, and Intelligence at the cost of poor Willpower, Fellowship, and Agility. They also get a unique trait, The Flesh Is Weak, that grants them points of Machine armor. This extra armor from their cybernetics stacks with their power armor (they can also buy a suit of upgraded, AV 12 armor at rank 4) and counts against being on fire, which means you can easily make a Techmarine who is immune to being on fire. They have tons of special gear and can eventually absorb fire like they were an actual armored vehicle. They can eventually get a massive +10 Str and Toughness 'machinator array' implant that counts for Unnatural stats and allows them to implant themselves with extra guns or blades that they can use as a free action. Techmarines are crazy.
One of the problems with Advancement in Deathwatch that I want to talk about is how you never really feel like you change up what you're doing or what level you operate at. A Deathwatch PC with 20,000 earned EXP is mechanically infinitely more powerful than one with 1,000, but they don't really feel 'different' in relation to their enemies. You'll still be doing the same things you did at the beginning of the campaign, the same enemies will be a threat or a non-issue for the most part, and a lot of this is down to enemy design and gear. Serious enemies are very powerful and damage is very high. Your level will change some of the details, but the best strategy is and always will be 'shoot fire with the biggest gun possible' because your squad has a decent chance of one-rounding even the nastiest foes. As you advance, much of your upgrading will be in terms of what gear you're permitted to use, as much as any character abilities. You'll always be a power-armored behemoth action hero, no matter how early or late you get in a campaign. It's still fun to gain new powers and honors, but you start at the apex of the system's combat power and only go up from there.
Next Time: A cursory look at any minor changes to Skills and Talents, which mostly work the same as in DH.
This isn't skills and talents! This isn't skills and talents at all!Original SA post Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Deathwatch and Rites of Battle: Part 7
This isn't skills and talents! This isn't skills and talents at all!
Right, so, looking at things I don't need to cover Chapter 4 or 5 at all because they're nearly completely copy-pasted from the original system, we know how the basic resolution system works, and I'm not going into enough detail to actually list out the new Talents. Instead we're going to hop on over to Rites of Battle and check out some other new character creation and advancement options; these and the Chapter Creation system are why I wanted to cover both books at once.
First is a new First Founding Chapter, the Imperial Fists. The Imperial Fists are sullen folk who are mostly kind of boring and depressed. We get the usual stream of hyperbole about how they're the best at everything, but they've never shaken the shame of their Primarch, Rogal Dorn, being unable to reach his father in time to aid him during his duel with Horus. They had been the palace guard during the siege of Terra, and they consider the Emperor's wounds their fault. Dorn had also opposed Guilleman's Codex Astartes, arguing that the Legions should remain intact in order to continue the Crusade and try to put the Imperium back together. He lost that fight, then stumbled into another losing war against a traitor Primarch where he let himself be led into a massive trap that killed many, many Imperial Fists, because he couldn't believe that the master of constructing fortifications (the Demon Primarch Peturbo) might be able to build something he couldn't take. He was literally taunted into a stupid attack by his opponent saying 'Hey I bet your guys, known for their expertise at taking fortifications, can't beat my entire planet full of fortifications and traps'. One gets the impression Dorn was not a smart man. They claim victory for being 'willing to die for their cause' but the truth is they were so savaged that they had to be rescued by the Ultramarines, who then pointedly forced them to accept the new Codex system. Dorn then later randomly died in a boarding action while busily losing another war.
As you might guess, the Imperial Fist hat is bad luck. They get a +10 to Willpower, they're good at attacking in sieges, and their demeanor as Sons of Dorn is about being dour, focused, and extremely stubborn. They try to portray their desire to fight on and refuse to admit defeat even when they are only bashing their heads against a brick wall as heroic rather than stupid, but...look at the above. When they lose, they tend to lose hard, because they hate admitting they lost. They also really enjoy wearing 'pain gloves' designed to inflict agony on themselves as penitents, and carving little memorials out of the bones of their dead comrades. They're, uh, kind of morbid.
We also get rules for a bunch of successor chapters, who are mostly fairly bland, most of them just being 'base chapter but with a minor extra skill or talent and a minor drawback'.
We also get a bit on 'joint operations', or how to bring Deathwatch PCs into the other games. The simple answer is 'don't.' Deathwatch has a very different focus than the other games in the line. The game suggests here that bringing in a female Inquisitor or a Canoness is a good way to solve the gender issue if you have a player who wants to play as a woman, but again: A Marine has a ton of intrinsic advantages in combat, and a primarily Deathwatch game is going to feature a ton of combat. It is a much simpler solution to just say 'fuck GW' and do what you want. There are various adventure seeds explaining why Marines might show up in the other settings, or why the other settings might tag along with Marines, but the games are different enough that I wouldn't advise it. Not only that, but the games all have different subsystems that don't interact so well with each other; no character from another line interacts with Solo/Squad and Cohesion rules, for instance. It's better to just let the Marines have their story and let everyone else do their thing without the hulking posthumans coming in and exploding everything most of the time. They also have to address that Psy has fundamentally changed between games, and that no other game uses the old 'roll Xd10+WP Bonus+Bonuses vs. Casting Number' WHFRP2e-esque system. As if to further illustrate why all this isn't a good idea.
Finally, we get to one of the important new add-ons: Deeds. You buy a Deed with beginning EXP, and you can only have one. This is something impressive or important that you did before you entered the Deathwatch, and some of them are chapter/character class locked. They tend to cost 100-500 EXP and they can alter your base stats, give you talents or equipment, all kinds of things. One of the most notable ones is for Dark Angels or Space Wolves: For 100 EXP, they can have fought in the ritual duel between units of Wolves and Angels. You roll a d5 to see how you did, ranging from a shameful display that only has penalties on a 1, to winning so handily that the rival chapter hates you now but you get Swift Attack (melee attack twice) on a 5, or to a draw that marked an auspicious time for both Chapters on a 3, giving you *+1 Fate*. You can also spend 300 EXP to just choose the result you want, if you aren't stupid. You can be an expert on defensive or offensive maneuvers, letting you use your Chapter Squad abilities for allies from other Chapters and reducing the costs of Squad actions. You can be a master duelist, a great hand-to-hand fighter, or even just come with your own expensive power sword or meltagun. They're all designed to be little hooks for your character that also give you a little, fun mechanical benefit and they're a fun extra option to have.
In addition to Deeds, you also get Distinctions. These are meant to be earned in play, and represent big, crowning moments that grant the character special abilities. You have to earn the GM's permission to buy these super-talents, usually at the end of a significant campaign arc. These do things like letting you grant your rifle special rules it shouldn't have, or giving you massive social bonuses with the people of a world you saved, etc. Most cost about 500-1000 EXP. They tend to be quite powerful, like letting you use Intelligence in place of Agility or Strength if it's higher, or making your Marine go into hyper-mode and gain huge bonuses when near death. Like Deeds, they're another attempt to give you ways to mark out your power-armored behemoth from all the other power-armored behemoths.
Finally, we get to Advanced Specialties. I alluded to this earlier, but you unlock an Advanced Specialty by just buying it for the listed EXP cost after you meet the requirements. Once you do, you gain the passive abilities of the Specialty and any wargear it comes with, and you also add its advance table to the advance tables you can buy from. This works a lot better than Replacement Ranks.
The first Specialty is Black Shield. You are a black knight, from an unknown chapter (and possibly a redeemed Chaos Marine or something similar), and you can take this one at Rank 1 for free during character creation. Black Shields are driven warriors, given to take and volunteer for any task if it furthers the cause of their redemption, and they will never again leave their vigil with the Deathwatch. They lose their Chapter Solo Mode ability, but gain the ability to pick and choose which Chapters they have Squad abilities from. They replace their Chapter Advance Table with the Black Shield table. They also get extra bonuses on Fate Point usage; they can spend Fate to double movement and give +10% to hit for one turn, spend it to ignore a Critical injury for the rest of a fight, or spend it to automatically pass a WP test against a Psy power or other attempt to control them. They're a fun extra hook for a Marine.
The Champion is an insane badass. You have to be Rank 4 or higher, have earned plenty of Renown (Renown is a subsystem that mostly limits what gear you can use, earned by success and glory), and need a 50+ Weapon Skill. They gain a buckler with a minor force-field save and a fine power sword on becoming a Champion, and it costs 4000 EXP. In return, if you get a Fury against an alien enemy, they have to roll a Toughness save or die instantly if they had remaining Wounds equal to or less than your maximum, that limiter basically making the ability mostly pointless. More useful, all your melee attacks against alien enemies gain Toxic (Toughness save or take d10 un-reducable wounds), and this works even if the alien is immune to toxins, since it represents telling blows and masterful strokes rather than poison. Their advance table also lets them learn nearly every melee talent, which is very useful if you weren't originally an Assault Marine, albeit at higher prices. They also gain the ability to use the Intimidate skill to draw fire directly to their position and away from allies.
The Chaplain is a Marine who watches over a chapter cult. A Marine priest. We get a lot of hyperbole about how they're perfect officers and agents of zeal, despite (again) the fact that most Chapters will also quietly say they don't believe all this "Emperor as God" nonsense so they can stay cool and aloof. Chaplain is unavailable to Space Wolves, Librarians, or Techmarines and requires Rank 4+, 45+ Willpower, and 40+ Fellowship, plus 3000 EXP. They get a sanctified power stick for holding up dramatically and beating people to death. Also a skull hat and a force field generator. They make exceptional leaders for a squad and remove many of the possible cohesion penalties from fear and gunfire, and can spend fate to give their squad all kinds of bonuses. They also get access to a bunch of command, social, and historical skills.
The one everyone's been waiting for: Dreadnought. If your PC has 60+ Renown and 0 Fate Points left, you can spend 5000 EXP to say the last fate-burn was you being dearly wounded and entombed in a giant walking funerary mecha. You gain access to a ton of combat talents relating to automatic weapons, flamethrowers, and smashing people with giant robot fists. Your new robot-shaped body is now capable of wielding the biggest flamethrowers, automatic weapons, and man-smashing fists. You have a lot of armor. You become forgetful and sad. You can no longer type or use Stealth. You are big, stompy, and probably angry about nearly being exploded. Also covered in purity seals, even more than usual.
Epistolary is just an upgrade to a Librarian and is mostly unexciting. They just require you to be Rank 5+ and a Librarian, and for 2000 EXP you get a Psychic Hood (protects you from Perils) and you pierce aliens' WP saves more easily, plus you gain some new knowledge skills and a few anti-alien powers. There's nothing exciting about these guys.
Forge Master is like Epistolary but for Techmarines, and being a Techpriest class, is equipped with godlike gear tinkering abilities. Rank 4+, Techmarine, and since it comes with a Servo Harness, Power Axe, and Artificer Armor (the Av 12 Armor Techmarines can buy at, uh, Rank 4 for 1000 EXP) it's pretty much a no-brainer. You gain the ability to add a positive special trait or remove a negative from one of your weapons or an ally's every mission, and you take no penalties when firing or using captured alien gear, which means a Forge Master can pick up a Tau Railgun and go to town on people. They also get Machinator Array *early* and there is absolutely no reason for any Techmarine not to slam the Forgemaster button as hard as they can once they hit Rank 4. I don't know where FFG's massive hard-on for the Mechanicus started but it's hilarious and in every game from Rogue Trader onward.
A Deathwatch Keeper is a guardian of weird secret stuff on the Watch Fortress, with their own biometric key and a power halberd. They require Rank 5+, 40+ Fellowship, and 50+ Renown, plus 3000 EXP. They get +30 WP against attempts to read their minds, automatically succeed opposed Fellowship or WP tests with aliens by at least 1 DoS, and get better NPC reactions for being an officer. They also spend 1 Fate to automatically convince local forces to commit assistance, as a visible representative of the Deathwatch and their Chapter. They gain a bunch of knowledge and officer skills.
The Kill-Marine is interesting. They're trained for diplomacy and solo operations, being covert advisors and assistants sent to monitor people like Rogue Traders or Inquisitors by offering them a Marine as a bodyguard or aide. They only require Rank 1 and 40+ Fellowship, and cannot be a Techmarine or Apothecary. Also only cost 1000 EXP. They can use Squad abilities while alone if need be, get a bunch of covert skills and diplomacy, and eventually build a web of good contacts and reputation that grant them persistent Fellowship bonuses.
The Captain is exactly what you'd expect. They require the Command+20 skill specialization, Rank 5+, 60+ Renown, and 3000 EXP, plus must have 'distinguished themselves in play'. They get a chainsword (lol) and an Iron Halo forcefield (less lol). They get a bunch of abilities that they can swap mission to mission, ranging from extra supplies for the squad to instantly granting a ton of temporary Cohesion to letting the unit enter Squad Mode without spending actions multiple times per mission. They also gain the ability to use Strength in place of Fellowship if it's higher and to never take more than -20 total on Fellowship tests, plus tons of lore and Command talents.
The First Company Veteran is just a very experienced soldier. They can be any class and just require Rank 4+ and 2000 EXP. They get abilities based on their experience, picking one per battle, like rerolling damage against a specific alien type, a pool of attack-roll rerolls, and the ability to once-per-session remove any penalties from a single test. They don't actually directly gain Terminator armor, but it's suggested this class should be able to access it often. When we get to Gear I'll explain why that isn't necessarily a good idea.
Next Time: Oh boy, time for gear.
Poor Manual DexterityOriginal SA post Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Deathwatch and Rites of Battle: Part 8
Poor Manual Dexterity
You remember how the gear section is where things went off the rails in DH? It's the same here, to the extent that there is a huge, official Living Errata designed to bring the weapons and equipment back under control, which was then followed in future games. Black Crusade, the next game in the line, only uses the Living Errata rules for Astrates weapons.
Marines don't have money. I'm fairly sure if anyone ever attempted to show a Marine an accounting or balance sheet they'd be flung with enough force to penetrate an armored bulkhead. Instead, Marines get Requisition points per mission, which they then spend on purchasing the equipment they need, loaned out for that mission. They also get a stock of personal gear that they can acquire by spending EXP for Signature Wargear, in addition to various permanent items granted by their class. For instance, an Assault Marine doesn't need to re-buy a basic chainsword and jump pack every mission, and a Devastator can always fall back on the trusty Heavy Bolter and backpack ammo supply if the team doesn't need a different heavy weapon this mission. Your standard wargear from your class, plus your talents, will go far and leaves Requisition a pretty flexible way to pick up specialized weapons and equipment that you need. It's a pretty painless gear system and I appreciate it not including any 'roll to see if you get what you wanted' silliness.
Gear is also limited by Renown. You earn Renown for succeeding on missions, acts of conspicuous personal bravery, and length of service. You go up a rank of Renown per 20 Renown you earn, starting as Initiated and hopefully ending as Hero. Before you go up in Renown for the first time, you'll be limited to bolters, heavy bolters, flamers, your free combat knife and/or chainsword (or your fancy knight's sword if you choose one as a Dark Angel, or your giant mono-claymore if you're a Storm Warden), missile launchers, or a useless shotgun if you decide to take it because you're dumb (Seriously, it's inferior to a bolter in every way). You'll also have your power armor and can request to switch down to Scout armor if you need to be stealthy (Scout armor is worthless as armor, only covering Body and Arms for AV 6, but it gives +10 to stealth checks instead of the -30 for Power Armor). Also, tons of grenades; grenades are normally free, too. You only pay for grenades if, in the game's words, 'your request is deemed truly excessive'. At Respected, the second rank, you get the Lascannon, Power swords or axes (penetrate armor, cleave through unpowered weapons on Parries), Stalker Bolt Sniper Rifles (Accurate has also been upgraded to give rifles +d10 damage per 20 they hit by when firing on single-shot, which helps this rifle a ton), Meltas (extremely close-range but powerful microwave guns that crack tank armor) and Plasma Guns (oddly underpowered, the one weapon type the Errata buffed). At Distinguished you get stuff like Power Fists (2d10+2xSB as a Marine, at Pen 9?) or Thunder Hammers (Count your Unnatural as x3 while wielding, 2d10+5+Strength, Pen 8, AND can stun guys?), Plasma Cannons, Inferno Pistols (Pistol-sized meltas! Fantastic for handy, portable anti-tank), and all kinds of fancy tricks. At Famed you get the big stuff like requisitioning Terminator Armor (turns you into a small mech. Unable to dodge. Very slow. May not be worth it) and massive miniguns. Then as a Hero, you get things like ancient chapter relics or artificer armor. The same Artificer Armor the Techmarine has been wearing for 4 levels at this point while he smugly lectures you about the Omnissiah.
Now, any weapon with Astartes in the name can be wielded by a Marine in power armor. They cannot use other weapons in their armor due to its poor manual dexterity. Astartes weapons, we are assured, cannot be wielded by humans. They take -30 to hit with them and the weapon counts as one size category too high. The problem with Astartes weapons can be seen in the humble bolter. Its core rulebook stats give it 2d10+5 Pen5. The astute among you may note that is 5 more damage than a human *heavy bolter* from DH. It also still has Tearing, so you roll 3d10 and take the highest 2, either of which can cause a Fury check. Ostensibly, the changes to weapons were to limit dice rolling; the Bolter is reduced to d10+9 Pen4 with S/3/- fire rates, removing its full auto to try to make it less good (the games will constantly remove, then return, full auto capability to bolters depending on how the wind is blowing and whether it's sunny out this week or not). All this is clearly an attempt to tone it back down. The Heavy Bolter originally did 2d10+10 Pen6 with a Full Auto rate of 10. This gets dropped to a much more manageable but still crazy d10+12 Pen5 -/-/6, and having used one on a Tactical Marine with Bolter Mastery and specialist ammo and Mighty Shot, that thing will still kill anything short of a main battle tank and will still do that if you use the AP ammo and shoot it in the back. Lowering the power on most weapons was necessary because the original core book was crazy out of control.
The decision to make Marine weapons inherently and massively superior has the knock-on-effects I've already described: They necessitate enemies with huge damage reductions and truly massive wound pools to stand a chance. Remember that Full Auto was still +20 to hit at this point. Now imagine Sgt. Martinez is firing at BS 55 base, at Short range because his Heavy Bolter has a huge range, with Tactical Bolt Mastery, with a power armor bonus that gives him +5 BS. He is now firing at 100% to-hit and is mostly rolling to see how many times he hits someone with his (let's assume he's using AP ammo) d10+16 Pen8 weapon, which rerolls damage. That was my Tactical Marine, and he wasn't even a particularly spectacular Tactical Marine. Enemies that can take that kind of fire will be immune to fire below that level, and everything you make has to be competitive with that sort of firepower. The numbers spiral upwards towards madness and enemies with tons of Unnatural x3s aren't uncommon. Enemy firepower is also balanced on the same Marine scale, so a Tau pulse rifle (which their most basic soldier has) does d10+12 Pen4. Which ironically makes Tau terrifying to Marines because their basic mook soldier actually has a better gun than you (which is TT accurate) and can hurt you even through all your unnatural armor and toughness. It also makes it difficult for human-scale characters to contribute meaningfully in any combat environment with Marine scale enemies. d10+3 Pen0 Lasguns aren't going to do shit. This necessitates the creation of an entire system of massed enemy units specifically to let Lasguns have a chance to hurt you if you get shot with 50 of them. This same system will also lead to a scene where a single Tactical Marine with a pair of Stormbolters killed over 100 Tyranid Gaunts in a single round of fire. Things are going to get crazy and triple-digit body counts will be the norm, which you might take as a plus.
This game's proliferation of Unnaturals also leads to a new trait: Felling. Felling reduces someone's Unnatural toughness multiplier by 1. As a Techmarine, you get can a you-only heavy weapon that can do up to 6d10+12 Pen14 Felling with an AoE if you fire it at someone far enough away. This is more powerful than even our game-skewing old friend Lascannon. Lascannon is shocked and angry to no longer be the most powerful single-shot weapon in existence. I thought I should mention it. (Admittedly this is a Hero scale end-game weapon, the Conversion Beamer).
I should also mention the specialist Bolter shells, because TacMarines get them as standard and lots of other PCs will buy them with Requisition, since they're great. Your standard Bolter carries three full clips at all times, and as a free action you can swap which one it's drawing from. Your standard .75 (or .998, fluff waffles a lot on which caliber Bolters are) is the basic round. You can also get overcharged Kraken penetrators, which increase range by 50% and make the weapon Pen 8. You can use Hellfire biological warfare rounds, which Fury on a 9-10 and penetrate any and all Natural Armor immediately. You can use Metal Storms, which give -2 Pen and Damage but give each shell a 2m blast radius. You can use Dragonfire rounds for -2 Damage but setting people on fire. Implosion Shells will reduce enemy Agility by d5 per hit that does damage, which is hilariously a great way to capture a Carnifex with a Heavy Bolter (if reduced to 0 Agi, you're paralyzed and unable to act at all). Stalker Rounds give -2 damage but a '-30 to tests to detect gunfire that can only be attempted at half the distance'. At no point is a basic distance for detecting gunfire ever listed. FFG! They also don't give the penalty and become totally silent if put in that Stalker sniper rifle. You can get Witch Bolts, which reduce enemy Psy Rating when you shoot them. Finally, you get Vengeance Rounds, which detonate in a little plasma burst and gain Felling and Pen 9, but shoot you in the arm and jam your gun if you roll a 91+ since the bullet detonates in the barrel. These are designed specifically to kill other Marines.
Finally, we get to armor. Armor is actually really involved! You get a huge list of mostly superfluous bonuses for your armor, plus little notes like 'you can fire a rifle one-handed with no penalty' or 'your armor produces food for you'. It also gives -10 to any check requiring manual dexterity outside of combat, -30 to stealth, and it gives +20 to Strength, though this is added to your SB *after* your Unnaturals. Marines in their armor also count as Hulking, the size above human sized, in all positive aspects (they move faster, grapple better, etc) but none of the negatives (they're no easier to hit). More importantly, you also get a History for your armor, a little magic extra ability that distinguishes your suit. You roll on a d10 table with the option of moving up one or down one. These are all things like '+5 Agility' or '+10 more Strength' or '+5 WS, but the suit thinks guns are cowards and gives -5 BS'. If you're using Rites of Battle, you can also roll for what mark of suit you wear, and older suits get multiple histories. You can have Beaky Armor! It even gives worse armor but +10 to Agility. Mk6 Corvus is clearly the best, most beaky armor for the Marine on the go. There are also a bunch of additional history tables that can do everything from making your armor include magic hyper-gauntlets to it being possessed by an insane hero whose hyper-skill you can call on at the cost of gaining Insanity. Armor History is pretty neat and makes your power armor feel like a personal relic.
You can also get Terminator Armor, which puts you to AV 14, gives -20 to Agility, +30 to Str, lets you wield heavy weapons one-handed, lets you mount missile batteries on your back, gives you giant chainsaw fists, and won't let you Run, so you won't be moving much. It's a weird tradeoff.
We also get rules for Force Fields! They provide a defense roll against any incoming fire or blows, which you can use in addition to your active defenses. If they succeed, you don't take the hit. However, on a 1-10 (for an average field) your field also shorts out and won't work unless someone makes a Tech Use-30 test to repair it, or until the next mission. To make up for not being able to dodge, Terminator Armor has a 35% Field Save that never overloads, representing (and I kid you not) the shots hitting your invulnerable shoulderpads.
Weapons and armor can also be Master Crafted or Exceptional. An Exceptional weapon gives +1 to damage and becomes Reliable (Jams only on a 00), while a melee weapon gets +5 WS as well. Exceptional armor gives +1 AV to the first shot to hit it per round. Master-Crafted weapons give +2 to damage and never, ever falter or fail, while melee weapons also get +10 to-hit. Master-Crafted armor is +1 AV all the time.
Your weapons are insanely powerful, you have the best armor in the game, and you can still be torn apart in a minute because all this stuff leads to massive inflation of monster stats.
Next Time: Psychic Powers, Amigo
Better heavy weapons than the heavy weapons guy, better melee than the melee guy, same armor, easier system. What could go wrong?Original SA post Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Deathwatch and Rites of Battle: Part 9
Better heavy weapons than the heavy weapons guy, better melee than the melee guy, same armor, easier system. What could go wrong?
First we get some more fluff about Marine Librarians. As you can probably guess, they're masterful warriors who are also powerful wizards and very wise but eager for battle, as is par for the course. They are obviously way better wizards than human wizards, according to the fluff, where we get a ridiculous quote about 'If man's mind is his greatest weapon, how much greater of a weapon is the mind of a SPACE MARINE!?!!!' and plenty about how few of them survive their training and how it's even worse than normal Psyker training. For once, though, all the talk of how a Librarian is one of the most deadly warriors in existence is absolutely not hyperbole; Librarians are *crazy* powerful mechanically. Psy use is carefully monitored because a Marine who is a psyker is, by nature, a mutant. Too much psy mutation in the Geneseed leads to Inquisitors asking pointed questions, and it gives us another excuse to have Marine chapters shoot a bunch of children to prove they're hardcore and grimdark, which is apparently critical for 40k. I am really looking forward to getting to Realm of Sorcery after all this because holy hell will the Imperial colleges in Fantasy be a relief after the endless drudgery and misery-porn of 40k Psykers.
One thing I haven't made clear enough after all this time is how much the Imperium relies on divination. Whole Marine chapters or armies are founded and equipped based on tarot reading. Now, given the Tarot is psychically linked to the Emperor and Warp, this is slightly less insane than it sounds, but divination is one of a Librarian's chief duties because it is considered an essential part of an army's general staff in setting. Librarians are also the main keepers of a Chapter's history and lore, hence the name. Being exceptionally powerful by Psyker standards, Librarians are also capable of serving as long-distance Astrophatic communicators over interstellar ranges. These intelligence, record keeping, and communication duties are actually considered more important than their ability to explode people with their brains, which is fair enough. It is, interestingly, primarily the low-ranking Lexicaniums (which is probably where a Librarian PC starts) and then the very high-ranked Epistolaries and Chief Librarians who actually go into battle; mid-rank Codiciers are powerful enough to do the communication and intelligence work competently and not as awesomely powerful as Epistolaries, so they mostly stick to the less glamorous duties. By the same token, Lexicaniums are expendable and still learning, and so a bit of experience in direct combat can do them good. Once again, at every rank we are assured that Space Marine wizards are the best wizards ever. Also, Black Templars refuse to have Librarians (but still have to rely on human Astropaths and Navigators, much as they hate both) and the Space Wolves have functionally exactly similar but 'different' Wolf Priests.
I've mentioned before that Librarians are broken. Part of that is going to come from the new Psy system. Psy no longer works on an Xd10+Modifiers vs. Casting Number kludge of trying to repeat WHFRP2e's magic system. Instead, you cast spells with a simple Focus Power tests, which are done by taking a WP-0 test that auto-fails on 91+. You also get to add +5% to your chances per point of your Psy Rating. You only invoke a mishap if you cast 'unfettered' (using your full PR) and get doubles on the focus power test, otherwise the Spooky Shit and Bad Shit tables are very similar to DH. More importantly, you now have two new options. Fettered Psy halves PR (round up) but ensures you absolutely cannot suffer any mishaps on your spell. Pushing ensures you will roll on the mishap table regardless of your Focus Power roll, and gives you a rank of Fatigue if you roll doubles, but adds +3 to your PR for the spell. I will also note that the worst results on the Perils of the Warp table are now more focused on the Psyker; if you accidentally summon a powerful Daemon Prince it will ONLY attack the Librarian until it is defeated or the Librarian is on the ground burning Fate (or dead) and then vanish, so no more accidental TPK result (though a DW Killteam has way better chances from the start of killing that thing than a DH Acolyte Team did of taking on an Unbound Daemonhost).
Let's also take a moment to talk about the Librarian's Force Weapon melee weapon. They get their choice of a Sword or a Staff, with the Sword having +1 damage and +2 Pen (d10+2 Pen2 base) relative to the Staff's d10+1 Pen0. The sword is a better weapon, the Staff adds +15 to Invocation tests (If a Marine spends a full round Invoking before casting, and succeeds a WP test, they gain +1 PR on the spell next round). Both add the Psyker's base Psy Rating to both Pen and Damage, which is good, since you start at PR3 and gain 1 PR a rank up to PR10. But that isn't why they're so insane. Any time you damage a target with a Force Weapon you can invoke a Focus Power test (which you can choose to use Fettered, so you have no reason not to do this every time you damage someone) as an opposed WP test. If you win the opposed test, for every DoS you scored you immediately inflict d10 extra damage that ignores any and all DR. So every single melee attack that deals any damage is now also a chance to inflict a bunch of un-saveable d10s of extra damage, and the Librarian is absolutely the second best melee fighter in the game as is just by Talent and Stat access. All your Librarian needs to do is buy a jump pack and suddenly they're better at the Assault Marine's job than the Assault Marine will be.
Now, the actual powers are interesting, in that they're expensive to buy and you only ever get the common 'Codex' powers, then a handful of unique Chapter powers. Created Chapters use their First Founding Chapter's magic. Powers range from a simple 'fire a heavy flamer but with Penetration determined by PR' to 'Do PR in d10s of damage, at a Blast radius of 2xPR, with Pen of PR' AoEs, to summoning a giant Warp tornado that flies around sucking people into space hell, to calling down a massive orbital bombardment earthquake once per day with a radius that can be measured in over a kilometer. Powers can, and do, outdamage the Devastator's single-shot heavy weapons. They can also buff themselves to crazy heights, adding things like an extra parry per-round that doesn't count against the limit of parries, or adding even more PR-to-Damage-and-Pen, or buffing WS or Str through the roof. Librarians will take people apart in all forms of combat, and if that fails for some reason, they're still a Space Marine and still running around in power armor with bolters and everything.
Also, a high level Librarian can get a Psychic Hood, which lets them cast actual counter-spells to stop enemy psykers from using Psy by making a Focus Power test that imposes -10 to the enemy's casting check per DoS. The hood also grants +5 to all Focus Power tests anyway. If the Librarian is just trying to stop a Psy attack on themselves, a successful Focus Power test will just negate the psy being used on them, immediately.
The only reason people don't quite notice how broken Librarians are is because EVERYONE in Deathwatch is insanely powerful. A more forgiving and useful Psy system (which honestly isn't a bad thing, the DH one was a mess) combined with very powerful offensive and buffing powers (and squad buffing powers, for some chapters) combined with getting the probably-best-melee-weapon-in-the-game by default and being extremely good at both Psy and Melee makes them insane warrior-wizards who will likely be one of the strongest characters on any squad that has a Librarian. In any other game they would completely wreck the power curve. Here, it's noticeable but they don't quite run away with the show, despite how insanely good they are.
Next Time: 7 chapters in, the basic rules of the game. Mostly repeats from DH. Until we get to Squad Mode. Oh boy, Squad Mode.
Breaking the action economy is always a good idea, right?Original SA post Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Deathwatch and Rites of Battle: Part 10
Breaking the action economy is always a good idea, right?
So, for the most part, the rules work exactly like in DH. Down to wasting a ton of page space on exactly how far a Marine can scamper and jump or how absurd of weights you can lift (the average Marine has an unencumbered carry weight of 1350kg in their armor, 675 outside of it, or 'why are we bothering to record this'). Most of it doesn't bear repeating, as a lot of it has changed relatively little from either DH or even WHFRP2e.
Instead, we're going to be spending a lot of time talking about Solo and Squad mode, the main new subsystem for Deathwatch and something I'll admit I only now think I understand, despite running and playing this game. You see, the book does a terrible job of describing how these things work, and its something that really could've done with more examples of play, more signposting, etc. Possibly they could have done that rather than wasting page space on 'how many meters can your Marine jump from a standing point vs. a running start', but I digress.
Marine Squads get something called a Cohesion Rating, as chosen by which PC you choose to be a squad leader at the start of your deployment. You get Cohesion equal to the leader's Fellowship Bonus, +1 per rank of the Command skill they have (+3 at Command+20), +1 if they're Rank 4, and +2 if they're Rank 6. Certain armor histories and other factors, like letting an Ultramarine command the squad (gets you +1) will also increase Cohesion. Cohesion is important because it powers absolutely all of your Squad Mode powers. Your party can lose Cohesion if a character takes a heavy hit from a sniper rifle, explosive, or a weapon specifically noted to attack Cohesion. You can also lose Cohesion via Fear; the whole fear system now attacks Cohesion instead of forcing you not to act, because Marines are immune to that level of fear but can get shaken up anyway. If your squad is reduced to 0 Cohesion they will automatically all drop back to Solo Mode. You gain Cohesion by completing mission objectives or spending 1 point of Fate for 1 point of Cohesion.
By default, a Marine is in Solo Mode. Solo Mode gives some passive buffs and some minor, but significant powers you can use once per session or once per combat, like temporarily boosting your Strength for one round. This represents you focusing on your personal abilities and being a crazy warrior-hero; all the Solo Mode buffs are for the individual Marine only and don't use any group resources. You cannot use any Solo Mode buffs while in Squad Mode. To get into Squad Mode, you can immediately say you're rolling d10 vs. Cohesion if you want to join a Squad action someone is calling right now, and if you fail you lose your next turn (then enter Squad Mode the turn after). Otherwise, you just spend a turn switching into Squad Mode and then you're in.
When in Squad Mode, you have to stay close to other Marines using Squad Mode or you'll drop out. Any Marine can spend some actions during their turn, spend some squad Cohesion, and call a Squad Action, but each PC can only take or benefit from a single Squad Action per turn. Squad Actions will let you act outside initiative order, make concentrated attacks, etc. You get a limited pool of Codex Squad Actions that anyone can call, regardless of Chapter, and then Chapter Squad Actions that ONLY MEMBERS OF THAT CHAPTER can benefit from or call (unless you have a TacMarine who has the ability to get everyone else to benefit from their Chapter actions, use optional rules from Rites of Battle to eventually develop better teamwork, or have a couple Deeds that will let you let others use your Chapter Attack or Defense action at a cost). There is a very fucking important detail about Cohesion spending that is only mentioned once: Once you have paid for a Squad Action, the SAME SQUAD ACTION will not cost any Cohesion to call again for the rest of the mission. This is REALLY FUCKING IMPORTANT and I will reiterate, is only ever mentioned once.
Squad Actions are things like Bolter Assault: Every PC who participates can, outside their normal actions, make a Charge movement then fire a single shot from a bolt rifle or pistol, or throw a grenade. This costs 3 Cohesion, so you'd think you couldn't do it often, except that after you've paid the 3 cohesion once you can just keep Bolter Assaulting for free. Some of these are even Free Actions to call (like the aforementioned Bolter Assault) and many will get better as your Rank improves; in this example you can eventually fire bursts while advancing, which is insanely good. You only have access to a limited pool of these abilities decided by what 'oath' you took before the mission and who is in command, but once you realize you can do these repeatedly they become insanely powerful. This is something my play group didn't realize for ages because again, it is NOT WELL SIGNPOSTED. Again note you cannot combo these abilities: You can only benefit from one Squad Action between your current turn and the start of your next turn. Some abilities can also be sustained and left active without the original caller needing to pay additional actions during their turn.
These are, thus, extremely powerful abilities. Things like Bolter Assault and Furious Charge will let you become extra-mobile and essentially take full move and attack turns, outside your turn order. Some will let you trade your Reactions (dodges and parries) with one another, letting a Marine who is, say, fighting a multi-attacking hyper-boss in melee get extra active defenses while the others use their armor to soak fire from lesser enemies. Some of the Chapter ones will do things like, say, letting a Blood Angel (and any other Blood Angels) just get +10 to WS, Str, and Toughness (multiplied for Unnatural, and up to +20 at Rank 4) or let a Dark Angel keep up suppressive fire on targets while still continuing to take their normal turns. You can move through cover without triggering enemy overwatches. You can buff your cover. You can hate demons so much they can't do shit to you. Squad Abilities, once you realize you ONLY PAY FOR THEM ONCE A MISSION are extremely useful.
They are also mostly unnecessary! You are insanely powerful as is, and amping up to 'and the Marines also take extra turns and are very fast and all' is cool, but we played without realizing the 'only pay once' thing for several campaigns and still never found that we were often that seriously challenged in combat. When you are already this good, you don't need the crazy tactical edges you get from Squad Mode. They're a good, cool idea (though I despise how they actively encourage all being from the same Chapter unless you took specific bonuses or variant rules introduced in another book) that you will rarely find you actively need, and that will mostly let you crush combat encounters a little harder than normal. They're also absolutely atrociously badly described in the main book. They really, really needed more 'in-motion' examples because there's nothing like this subsystem in any of the other games in the line.
Finally, we get a description of mission prep. First, you pick who your leader will be (usually a TacMarine with high Fel). You then pick your Oath. Your mission Oath will determine which Codex Squad Mode abilities you have access to and give some other little bonuses. Your Leader is also important because the Leader can make themself and everyone in close range enter Squad Mode without needing to roll as an immediate, free action once per mission.
The Oath of the Astartes gives you +2 Cohesion and some tactical maneuvering/reaction sharing Squad options. You have to be a TacMarine, Dev, or Assault Marine to select it.
Oath to the Emperor gives +10 WP for the mission, and requires the leader be an Apothecary, TacMarine, or Librarian. It also gives you some focus-fire abilities as your Squad options, and a regroup move.
Oath of Glory gives everyone +1 Renown after the mission per objective you complete, letting you progress to better gear faster if you win. It requires an Assault or TacMarine leader. It lets you move quick, bolter assault, and charge into melee as squad moves.
Oath of Knowledge requires a Librarian or Apothecary (No TacMarine for once) and either lets your Librarian reroll any psychic mishaps for the mission or grants everyone +10 BS/WS against a specific type of enemy, like Orks or Tau. It gives you a bunch of digging in and defensive Squad moves.
Oath of Loyalty gives you a +10 to resist Cohesion damage and +1 to all Cohesion challenge d10 rolls, requires an Apothecary or TacMarine, and gives you a bunch of defensive and fire-soaking Squad abilities.
Oath of the Weapon is for Devs and Techmarines only, granting allies the ability to reroll failed confirmation rolls for Fury and ensuring no guns jam or fail during the mission. It also grants tank-busting and fire-support Squad abilities.
There's also a lot of pointless 'you could roll for a mission complication' stuff that will mostly be handled by just planning out the mission in most groups, as well as a pointless victory points system for determining if your mission is succeeded or failed, which again, won't come up for most gaming groups since 'did you succeed or fail' will usually be based more on 'is the enemy commander assassinated' or 'did the thing you were defending explode' than an arbitrary 'kill markers' system.
Next Time: Combat, at last.
Surprisingly BriefOriginal SA post Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Deathwatch and Rites of Battle: Part 10
The combat chapter is surprisingly brief and has very little that wasn't in Dark Heresy. One note is that the original play example and rules for Righteous Fury made it insanely, crazily powerful, beyond normal, but this was walked back to normal in errata. I strongly suspect this was less 'errata' and more 'tried to give characters something that will actually stand out in the world of 2d10 weapons being standard before realizing how stupidly overpowered it was and pretending it was an error'. It is true that normal Fury really isn't as impressive in a game where most of your weapons already do bucketloads of damage; Fury was a big deal in Fantasy because damage mitigation actually worked and Fury let you go beyond it for big, dramatic hits that mattered. An extra 1-10 damage is still helpful in Deathwatch, but it generally doesn't change the tenor of an attack. This is probably why they later move to a system of 'Fury instantly kills mooks, does an instant d5 Critical effect to bosses' instead in the later games. The damage inflation got so high that a d10 of damage just didn't feel significant enough any longer.
The only really new rule we need to talk about is Heroic Sacrifice. If you have just burned your final Fate Point, you can declare that your Marine is making a heroic stand rather than being knocked out of combat and surviving. For rounds equal to your Toughness Bonus, you will ignore all further Critical Effects unless they physically remove a limb, as well as getting a free Fate Point to spend every round (which can be spent on recovering normal wounds. Marines heal d10 instead of d5 when spending Fate to Heal, too). At the end of this time, no matter what happens, your Marine will get a moment to say a few final words about honor and duty or speak to their friends one more time, then collapse, dead. Probably on top of a pile of dead enemies. I appreciate this rule; having the option to go out in a mighty heroic stand for the sake of your allies and your mission feels like the right way to handle a PC getting smoked in a game like this.
With that, we move on to the GMing chapter, because there's actually absolutely nothing new to talk about in combat otherwise. We've covered most of the additions to the combat system in the other updates. I've mentioned it before, but it's sort of baffling to me how DW probably has the deepest combat system in the line, with a lot of options and abilities, and yet you barely need it because you're ridiculously powerful. That, and at the end of the power curve of the game that DW operates at, you run into a new kind of problem. Trying to make combats hard enough that the Marines will need everything they have tends to involve putting down enough firepower that it turns into a luck thing as to whether or not they just get splatted. The system's power curve is so wrecked by the addition of the Marine scale that scaling up can be tough.
The GMing chapter emphasizes that you should be individuals, individuals who can actually make a difference, because being Space Marines it's time to emphasize that you actually have agency within the setting since you're the main characters of 40k now. Your story should be about a group of mighty individuals who probably come into interpersonal conflict as they explore their relationship and learn to work together while committing an enormous amount of murder (though the themes section only mentions how you all have a common link and common cause and doesn't suggest you should have arguments about doctrine or whatever). Being Marines, it is emphasized over and over again that you are not expendable and you are important from the moment your PC stomps onto the stage. There's also a little section about how the main thing every Marine wants is glory, which I maintain is mostly because it's the only positive emotional reinforcement most of them are ever allowed to enjoy. To be honest, the view of Marines in the themes section is rather boring. It's mostly more 'Marines are the Best, now that you're a Marine you matter, unlike the other games.'
We also have some suggestions for game styles: A pure military game where the PCs are dropped into warzones and play like it was a strategy game, focusing on combat with some light squad roleplaying. A game where they work more closely with the Inquisition and get caught up in the mysteries and dire horrors of the Jericho Reach, albeit from behind a boltgun and power armor. A game where they serve as the Deathwatch's emissaries and liaisons, scouting fringe worlds, committing themselves to minor conflicts where a single squad of Marines could turn things around, honoring allies and assassinating enemies. There's also a lot of reminders to make sure your NPCs don't overshadow your PCs, which is good advice at all times. Obvious advice, but better said and not needed than unsaid and needed, no?
We get the usual recommended EXP per session vs. recommended EXP per encounter, and as usual, the EXP per encounter method will probably give players less EXP so it isn't usually worth using. Recommended rate of advancement is 500 EXP per session, which isn't a lot when individual Talents can cost 1500 and it takes 4000-5000 to rank up. Marines feel like they advance very slowly in play, partly because each bonus they buy feels small next to where you start, partly because everything is so goddamn expensive. A single extra Wound costs 2 sessions worth of EXP! We also get the usual 'well you can give 100-500 EXP extra for 'good roleplaying'' suggestion that I hate in every game it's in (especially if it implies that this should be per-player). You also get up to 5 Renown per mission, if you manage to complete every objective and the GM put in bonus objectives, doubling this if you took the Oath of Glory, which means you can potentially hit 100 Renown in 10 missions if you're a glory hound. Depending on pace of play, you might be a Hero before you ever hit rank 4 and get access to special classes. They also note that if you died heroically, your new PC will start with 200 EXP per rank of your dead Marine, plus whatever is needed to match the rest of the party. If the party could retrieve your geneseed, you also get +5 to one stat of your choice and an extra Fate Point. So if you die well and they get your geneseed, your next PC will actually be above the curve for the party.
We also get a lot about creating missions and setting victory point markers and it's all basically pointless. I never once used Kill Markers when running. I don't think anyone does. It's much easier to just set actual objectives, like 'is the enemy commander dead' or 'did you retrieve those documents from his HQ after killing him' or 'did you nearly get Ciaphus Cain killed again'. There are guidelines for giving more Requisition if a mission has many complex objectives, and a note that while Requisition is given on a per-player basis, players are free to share. If the TacMarine doesn't need anything, they can give up their bonus Requisition to get the Devastator a much cooler gun, etc. There's a lot of focus on sharing resources and working together, which I appreciate. In general Deathwatch is a very highly collaborative game that, due to its central theme of a bunch of heroes having to learn about their relationships and how to work together as a team, generally promotes surprisingly good feelings among players while they commit hundreds of murders.
Finally, we get Fear and Insanity as they interact with Marines. Fear is weird for Marines. Marines never freeze up and panic, 'AND THEY SHALL KNOW NO FEAR' being a popular catchphrase. Fear causing foes impose their Fear Rating's WP penalty as a penalty to all WP tests if you are in Solo Mode. Errata later notes this penalty does NOT apply to the Librarian's Focus Power tests. If you encounter a Fear causing enemy in Squad Mode, your Squad Leader must make a WP test with the Fear Rating penalty or else the team suffers a loss of Cohesion equal to the enemy's Fear Rating. Marines might not panic but they lose their ability to work together pretty quick if faced with anything scary. Remember your average WP is still only 41, after all.
Insanity doesn't cause monkeycheese disorders in Marines. Marines gain temporary Battle Traumas per 10 Insanity if they fail a WP test, generally lasting one mission. These are things like thinking they have an extra personal objective on missions, or occasionally lashing out in a traumatic frenzy. The long-term insanity for Marines, every 30 points, is called Primarch's Curse. You begin to manifest the crazy of your chapter in increasingly serious ways. Blood Angels get way too into blood and start to trudge towards the Death Company. Black Templars grow ever more fundamentalist and insane. Far from being great leaders, an insane Ultramarine slowly becomes more and more imperious and arrogant, greatly hindering team cohesion as they declare all others should bow before their Spiritual Liege, Roboute Guilleman and his endless wisdom. I actually really like the Ultramarine one because it eventually renders them unable to use allies' Squad Mode Chapter Abilities even if you have the special ability to use them, because they simply won't listen. They also greatly harm team Cohesion unless an Ultramarine leads the team as the petulant little bastard undermines and insults their 'lesser' leader at every turn. Space Wolves get more animalistic and instinct driven. Storm Wardens obsess over dueling and personal honor. Dark Angels progressively refuse to work with anyone who doesn't know THE SECRETS OF SPACE.
Primarch's Curse is fine for invoking hubris and heroic flaws in your epic space shootmans, except that there's no way to cure or get beyond Insanity in WH40KRP besides spending exorbitant amounts of EXP. Which also doesn't let you progress down from these breakpoints. I wish this system was more of a temporary setback sort of thing, given that it generally manifests in ways that prey on your flaws to make you harm the group's ability to work together. If these were temporary breaks that you could overcome by camaraderie and remembering the meaning of friendship or something, they would fit much better into the game's themes of coming together. Instead, as permanent disabilities that you can never work off, they conversely make it so that if a character gains IP, the longer they are on the squad the more damage they eventually do to one of the central themes of the game. Admittedly, without Fear to cause Insanity Marines don't generally gain much Insanity.
Marines gain Corruption like any other PC, but do not suffer Malignancies nor Mutations. Corruption is solely a 0-100 track that kills you at 100. Why even bother having it, then?
Next Time: The Deathwatch, In Fluff
StuffOriginal SA post Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Deathwatch and Rites of Battle: Part 11
We're going to see some more Rites of Battle stuff coming up soon, as Rites has a ton of extra fluff and god help me, the fluff is actually one of the selling points of Deathwatch. Yes, I didn't believe it at first, either. I'm skipping the section on The Imperium because we did it already in Dark Heresy.
The Deathwatch itself is founded in a mutually beneficial agreement between the Adeptus Astrates and the Inquisition. They exist because the Ordo Xenos saw the Sisters putting in excellent work for the Ordo Hereticus and the Grey Knights (This being before Matt Ward and the Sister Hat Incident) doing good work for the Ordo Malleus, and in their arguments about how best to exterminate all non-human life they decided it would be helpful to have their own special forces unit. They sent word to Chapter Masters far and wide and after much discussion, it was decided that they would form a special, larger Chapter made up of seconded Marines from many Chapters to serve as the Ordo Xenos' special forces. They are called the Deathwatch because they stand guard against a supposed 'doom' of every alien in the galaxy rising against humankind in self-defense against the genocidal lunatics (the book does not point out the self-defense part).
The Deathwatch is unusual in quite a few ways. Their numbers do not fix at 1000, and their members are rarely permanent. They do not recruit on their own, but rather periodically accept new Marines from the rest of the galaxy. Marines serve a term of service and then return home, educated in how to fight alongside many other forces and chapters and covered in glory from their deeds. Meanwhile, the Deathwatch has a wide variety of promising Marines and honored heroes to draw from. This is obviously very helpful for the Marine chapters; the Deathwatch is a great place to, say, dump someone who might have caused a leadership issue within your chapter without dishonoring them, or to send a promising officer to gain some experience outside the Chapter, or to send a great hero so you can spread the glory of your Chapter beyond your normal range of operations and make good contacts and allies elsewhere. This is also very helpful for the Inquisition, because having a bunch of elite special forces Marines around is very useful. This is part of why I kind of like the Deathwatch: It exists for a pragmatic reason that actually makes sense. As an added bonus, the Deathwatch undertakes its operations not in massed units but in small, elite Kill Teams, which just so happen to be about the size of the average RPG party.
Thus, you get an elite, special unit that's sized well for roleplaying game adventures, exists for a reason that both makes sense and gives it a bunch of plot hooks, and gives your players a lot of good hooks to come up with, like why they're in the Deathwatch, what they hope to learn, where they came from, what they know about the galaxy beyond their comfortable Chapter, etc. You've also got the perfect excuse to be an unusual Marine; like I said, troublemakers or those who don't fit in are sometimes sent to the Deathwatch to get them away from the Chapter without direct censure. As a framing device for a Marine RPG, the Deathwatch is great.
We get a bit about Watch Captains (Field commanders) and Watch Commanders. Watch Commanders are notable because they command one of the Deathwatch's many Watch Stations, responsible for a whole region of space (Watch Station Erioch is your assumed home base for Deathwatch, for instance) and they specifically will never return to their Chapter if they accept the promotion. They become a permanent part of the Deathwatch and help set organizational culture and the agency's dealings with the Inquisition. Also of note is that promotion to Watch Captain and Commander can be recommended by Inquisitors, but requires the consent of other Watch Commanders. Watch Fortresses serve as home bases, places for storing information, captive aliens, lab equipment, forges, and a massive number of training rooms. One of the most important things the Deathwatch does for an incoming Marine is provide an immense amount of training and access to information on alien foes. No Marine returns from the Deathwatch without a working knowledge of how to fight most of the major Xeno enemies the Imperium runs into, another major reason Chapter Masters keep sending soldiers off for years on end to fight for the Deathwatch. Very little space is given to accommodation or personal suites; Marines mostly live in monastic cells. Watch Stations are much smaller listening posts designed to host a couple Kill Teams and keep tabs on a small region of space. You'll often be dispatched to look into why one of these mysteriously went dark, etc.
Most Marines sent to the Deathwatch are sent specifically to learn or to represent their chapter to the wider Imperium. Most Marines sent to the Deathwatch are some of the most promising their Chapter has to offer, sent on recommendation of their Apothecary, Chaplain, and Company Captain. In general, a Marine is sent for a single 'mission', but in practice, the mission can be a long campaign or a series of operations stitched together by the thread of convenience. Interstellar travel is insanely difficult, after all. It would hardly do to send a promising officer off on a four year journey to a distant warzone, deploy them on one combat drop, then shuttle them home. There is a dumb bit in the fluff about how a Marine who served in the Deathwatch will never speak to any who did not do the same about what they did there, but that sort of defeats the purpose of it serving as a training unit or a means to gain glory. Marines who have served get to paint one pauldron silver for the rest of their lives, to show they went and made it back. We also get a lot of BS about how purity and faith are obviously the truest of weapons against the vile xeno, because this is still 40k.
The Deathwatch is meant to fight aliens, but God knows Marines won't turn down killing anything else they get a good shot at. Besides, out in the Jericho Reach (the specific warzone for this RPG), the Chaos guys are in bed with weird alien technology and mighty evil AIs, so the Deathwatch can shoe-horn themselves in a good reason to be blasting devils and spikier Marines.
We get a lot on the various alien enemies you might face, with the first billing going to the Tyranids. Tyranids are generic swarming aliens that want to eat everything in the galaxy to make more Tyranids. Tyranids are fairly boring to fight because their fluff is very clear that they have almost no actual weakpoints, only minor ones. Fighting an endless swarm of bug aliens sounds a lot more fun than it is, when you have an enemy who has no actual personality, no real strategies beyond 'there are so many of us that you will run out of ammunition', no critical points for Marines to strike, etc. Tyranids are generally a victim of their own hyperbole about how unstoppable they are. If you do decide to do a campaign with them, play up how important it is to strike the controlling Synapse creatures, give them hive structures and things players can meaningfully disrupt, and maybe end on boarding a giant living hive ship and killing the 'norn queen' inside to destroy it. Fighting Nids will require you to constantly be thinking about 'how can I give my players an actual objective'.
Orks are Orks. They're the wily British football hooligans we all know, the only people who remember 40k is a joke. They're buff, tough fungus men who just want a good fight, a pint, and a squig-burger. Their WAAAAAAAAAGHS are described as a mix of a migration, a pub crawl, and a genocidal crusade. They kill or enslave anyone they come across and have literally no concept of 'non-combatants', because the idea is totally alien to them; who would want to live a life without fighting? There's even a suggestion here that the Boltgun was originally designed to kill Orks, because they seem to have little conception of being killed by precise hits to their vitals and instead need to be torn apart with brute explosive force. Orks are useful because the characters in 40k take Orks really seriously, because Orks will kill and enslave entire planets. At the same time, this means your heroic warrior-angel will be gravely intoning 'Brothers, Mech Badzappa has returned, now with the cybersquig Killrippa' and shouting about po-faced duty and honor while the crazy hooligans they're battling light cigars from their flamethrowers and get up to stupid, explosive antics all around them. Contrast in all things.
Eldar are dicks. Eldar are like Fantasy elves, but worse. Eldar are an entire species of space elves that base everything they do around long, complex prophecies and then wonder why constantly trying to undertake seemingly illogical and counterproductive actions to avoid their fates just ends up walking them directly into the dire fate they originally foretold. They used to be the most powerful race in the galaxy until they partied too hard and caused Slaanesh. Causing Slaanesh also means every Eldar is bound to Slaanesh, and so they have to put their souls in little gems that they hide in their giant worldships to prevent themselves being eaten by the Party God they created. The Eldar hate Chaos, they hate the Nids, and they generally have common cause with the Imperium on the whole, but the two species are arrogant and genocidal pricks who both place no value on the others' lives and thus generally end up working at cross purposes because they're both idiots. Eldar don't get much of a stat writeup in this game, so you likely won't get to blow up many space elves.
The Tau Empire is an optimistic, technologically advanced race that hasn't yet given up on the idea that maybe things shouldn't be shit all the time. They enthusiastically form federations and make friends with other species, including humans, and they have active and effective diplomats. The Imperium hates and fears them because their idea of a government that should work for the Greater Good of all citizens seems to have a supernatural appeal for fringe Imperial worlds, causing them to forsake the Emperor and join the people who can grant them consumer goods and plasma rifles. The Imperium claims it is ruled according to 'the brutal realities of the galaxy' and scoffs at the 'naive' Tau who believe all should be equal and that multiple races can live in harmony. They're also blue, have hoofs, and are stereo typically presented as vaguely Asian. Oh, and they like mecha. A lot. Both Tau and Imperium are at an impasse after initial attempts to exterminate them were defeated by the Tau's surprisingly potent military. The Tau know the Imperium is too big to just beat in a straight fight, but the Imperium can't marshal the local forces to take out the Tau, because a Tau infantryman's rifle is capable of taking out Imperial light tanks and they actually have things like 'missile guidance systems' and 'combined arms doctrine'. This is also written before GW decided the Tau were secretly all evil, so a running joke in DW is the Imperium desperately trying to figure out what psychic trick or villainy the Tau use to keep their population in line, because it literally never occurs to them that it might just be that the population actually likes the government and thinks things are going well. As someone who had to fight the Tau in Deathwatch, trust me: It is a huge fucking shock when your Marine has to take cover and advance carefully against standard infantry with a rifle that outranges them, outdamages their bolter, and actually threatens them through their armor and toughness. You actually do need to use tactics fighting Tau, and they have tons of military objectives, logistics, critical points, and commanders you can put a team up against to put a dent in them. They're probably my favorite enemy for the game.
You can also run into psychic space jellyfish who take over minds or ancient kill-bots might show up, but neither is given much in the way of stats or page-space.
There's also a big section on the kinds of missions the Deathwatch does, but eh. You capture unique aliens for study. You investigate alien plagues. You fight alien armies. It's all pretty self-explanatory.
Next Time: The Jericho Reach.
If we just attack everywhere at once, we'll win faster!Original SA post Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Deathwatch and Rites of Battle: Part 12
If we just attack everywhere at once, we'll win faster!
I like the Jericho Reach, because unlike Calixis it has things going on, places with distinct conflicts, and if you squint, it even has an actual theme. Considering FFG's fluff work, I'm even pretty sure it's intentional. Jericho is a region taken during the Crusade 10,000 years ago that was lost when the Imperium had its first crazy enormous post-Horus civil war, the Age of Apostasy. Somehow, while the Sisters of Battle were busy being created by an insane civil war provoked by an adminitratum nerd, the Imperium simply lost its records of the Jericho Sector and communication became much more difficult. For five millennia, the Reach has had no-one to collect its psykers, no-one to enforce any sort of wider sector order, and the Imperial order has fallen into dissarray in what was known as the Age of Shadows. Jericho Sector was renamed the Jericho Reach and marked as beyond human intervention until such a time as the Imperium could afford a proper crusade, but they could never muster the funds, manpower, or strategic necessity. Everywhere that bordered it was busy with other matters.
Then they discovered a warp gate half a galaxy away, in Calixis, a sector that has so little going on that it can afford to muster a great crusade. This is a giant, alien structure that somehow allows for rapid, almost instant transit without any risk of Warp incursion or going off course. It single-handedly permits the attempt to retake the Reach. It is also built by Necrons, this much is very clear, and the setting hits you in the face with the idea that the angry robots are probably going to wake up and fuck everything sooner or later, but it's an implied-hitting-you-over-the-head, not an outright statement. You are free to make the Gate anything else, and probably should, because...well, Necrons. The Imperium has only known about the Gate for about 500 years. It has been open the entire time, and the Imperium has no idea how to close it. They keep it surrounded by a naval cordon that they're 'sure' can blow it up, but so far it's impervious to anything they have. The area just around the gate is corrosive and damaging to ships, and ships have to simply pass through and get to a minimum distance from what they dub The Well of Night.
Realizing that the gate wasn't going to close, and that this was a grand opportunity anyway, the Imperium mustered a great Crusade to go and return the Jericho Reach to the Imperium of Man. The only Imperial forces in the Jericho Reach before the Crusade were forces like a few Watch Stations of the Deathwatch, standing a vigil to keep an eye on the region and make certain it didn't grow into a threat to its neighbors. Now, with the Achilus Crusade coming through the portal, they finally felt they had the forces necessary to take a more active role. The Deathwatch had, until this point, kept to itself on on Watch Fortress Erioch, an ancient and massive space station full of guns and built around an ancient vault that was old before the ancient Emperor-era Imperials ever built anything around it. Most of the inhabitants are the servitors, serfs, and acolytes of the Inquisitors and Marines who stand the long vigil. Erioch is much more populated than it used to be now, with the arrival of the great crusade and the opening of the region to the rest of the Imperium on a larger scale. We get some perfunctory details on Erioch but I'm going to save those for the Rites of Battle bit, since it populates the place and fills in a lot more detail to let you use it for adventures rather than as just a home base for your Marines.
The important person is our first major personage, Watch Commander Mordigael. He is your overall canon commanding officer. He is a useless idiot, and I am certain this is intentional. He is a handsome, angelic Blood Angel, five centuries old and long associated with the Deathwatch. He has only been Watch Commander for 10 years at this point, and his obsession is with things remaining as they are and were during his long, pre-crusade vigil. He dislikes disruptions in the normal routine of his station, and he hates any implication the Deathwatch is supposed to be tied directly to the Crusade. While in the core book they only mention he is a massive perfectionist who likes to spend hours practicing his martial disciplines, Rites of Battle will make clear he spends a lot of his time organizing tournaments of honor and attending to ritual combats with captured aliens, enjoying the trappings and pomp of his position. He is a Marine covered in glory who is not actually doing very much to lead or help anyone.
The local head librarian is obsessed with ancient lore and mostly dull. The local head Inquisitor is, rightfully, terrified of what could happen if the Achilus Crusade fails. She points out, rightly, that if the crusade is pushed back to the gate and back through it, whatever beat the crusade will now have a direct route into a corrupt, poorly defended sector with very little experience with full scale war. She is obsessed with finding a way to blow up the gate, just in case. Inquisitor Hezika is a bit conventional, but noted to be very good at herding Marines and managing their egos.
Now we get to the meat of the setting: The Achilus Crusade. When the Crusade first arrived a few decades back, under the conservative but competent Lord Militant Achilus, it stayed focused and began a cautious program of slowly sweeping forward, conquering and thoroughly pacifying worlds it encountered. Achilus was a veteran of many wars, and he believed the primary strategic value of the Reach was to open up a new front with the neighboring Tau Empire, which had given the Imperium so much trouble in prior attempts to defeat it. Achilus' forces found the war much harder than intelligence had led them to believe, encountering plenty of dangerous renegades and heretics, including Chaos forces stemming from a dark Mechanicus forge at the planet of Samech as well as much more numerous and better dug in Tau forces than Intel had ever reported. Achilus was not well liked by the Astartes, because they saw his cautious nature and delays to address these obstacles as cowardice. Nine years into the crusade, however, he and all of his most critical staff were simply lost when their ship's warp drive mysteriously malfunctioned. The fact that the new Lord Militant stepped in and immediately purged any remaining staff who thought like Achilus tells me Achilus' death was likely not an accident, but this is implication and conjecture on my part.
Lord Militant Tetarchus is a dashing, plucky, can-do officer who is convinced any situation can be won if you just have sufficient willpower. He also thinks of himself as one of the greatest strategists in history, and his response to 'we are bogged down and the war has encountered much more resistance than expected' was 'NONSENSE! We'll split the army in three and win three times faster! I'll be hailed as the greatest leader since Macharius!' He predicted his new strategy would completely conquer the Reach within a decade. It has been thirty years. His synchophants have mostly proven unable to adapt to or handle the difficulties they face. The Imperium is stalled or losing on all three fronts. When your Marines arrive, the crusade is at best a bloody stalemate and at worst, is actively being driven back, and remember that the Gate is two way and Calixis is absolutely not ready for being invaded by Tau, serious Chaos warfleets, or worse. Tetarchus' brilliant plan of 'you need to want it more and attack more often! That'll win the war!' has backfired so spectacularly that it puts the worst case scenario on the table, and his incompetence as a commander and inability to plan for the worst threatens more than just his armies.
This is the theme I was talking about. Across the Reach, you see people believing Imperial propaganda and acting like it's all that's necessary, like failures of war are failures of will and not a matter of not having enough guns and hands to hold them. It is steadily losing the Imperium the war when you get onto the scene. You have a chance to turn things around, of course; you're Space Marines, the main characters of Warhammer 40k, permitted plenty of agency to act. But things are not going well and will get worse if you don't. Glorious proclamations and martial spirit alone aren't going to save the Jericho Reach. And you may've noticed Mordigael doesn't have much besides those, back among your Astartes command staff...
Next Time: The Salients of this disaster
What do you mean we committed the reserves already!?Original SA post Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Deathwatch and Rites of Battle: Part 13
What do you mean we committed the reserves already!?
The Orpheus Salient was actually going well. The northern salient (I know I should be using spinward or whatever, but it's north on the map, so fuck it, north it is), it was commanded by a young general named Curas, who had been picked because Lord Tetarchus was fond of him. However, he turned out to be an exceptional officer with a very talented staff, and they made the Orpheus Salient into a well-organized, rapid advance that freed somewhere around sixty worlds. They were aided in this by a few strokes of good fortune, but for a long time Orpheus was where the war seemed to be going exactly as Tetarchus had envisioned it, and he had begun pulling troops from the 'victorious' salient to recommit them to his own bloody, stalled warzone at the center. Then everything went straight to hell.
The leading elements of the Salient were suddenly hit with communication blackouts, reported as some kind of 'shadow across the warp'. People who know 40k know what's coming: When the Tyranids show up, they mess with telepathic communication because of the overwhelming amount of psychic activity necessary to control the Hive Fleets. Worse, the rapid advance and secured planets left behind meant the leading edge of the naval and Guard forces that were now running smack into a surprise Hive Fleet were the bulk of the salient's soldiers; things had gone so well that most worlds behind that armored fist were undermanned since they'd been fully pacified. Curas and sixty percent of the effective combat strength of the entire Orpheus Salient were lost in space. The communications damage hindered reorganizing what was left behind. The once-freed worlds are mustering everything they can as the jaws of a great and terrible space bug close around them, and many of the forces they would've needed to make a stand were already peeled off to help in other warzones. The fast advance made no plan for disaster or a sudden shock, and the entire Salient threatens to buckle and snap, opening a path for Hive Fleet Dagon directly into the rest of the crusade, or worse, the Warp Gate. If a Hive Fleet makes it to an unprepared region like Calixis, it could easily devour dozens of populated worlds, and each devoured world is more ships, more monsters, and more strength for the fleet. Dagon could snowball out into a region that has never faced Tyranids before. This is a potentially existential threat for large portions of the Imperium.
But there are a few places where your Marines might start turning this around. The most prominent is the Hive world of Castobel. Castobel stayed loyal through the entire Age of Shadow. For five thousand years, its people have fought to keep Chaos or alien raiders from taking their planet, maintaining order and a functioning hive society by trade and exploitation of other worlds. When Curas arrived, they rejoiced that their long vigil was gone, and their world finally saved, and quickly became integral to the salient's campaign. A Hive has billions of people and massive manufacturing potential, after all. Now, all it has are a few beleaguered ships that escaped the initial slaughter of Curas' advance, the troops that were aboard, and its planetary defense force. And the Nids are bearing down on it. Castobel's biomass is also focused almost entirely in the Hives; the vast surface outside the cities is unlivable, making it impossible for the nids to consume an ecosystem outside the hives and forcing them to fight bloody battles with the determined defenders if they want food. The locals are not giving up without a hell of a fight, and if your Marines can show up and take out some of the worst of the monsters or find critical weaknesses in the hive splinter, you might be able to save Castobel yet and deal a real blow to Dagon.
Eleusis was once a shrine world, which fell to becoming a Chaos Shrine when the Age of Shadow cut it off from the Imperium. When it was retaken early in the crusade, every inhabitant was killed and the ecclesiarchy claimed the planet, determined to purify and reclaim it. They have made it the seat of cardinals and brought in millions of pilgrims to repopulate it, and yet now, it sits under the shadow of another uncaring, murderous force that enjoys exterminating entire planetary populations: Nids, rather than Imperials. As the darkness closes in, many in the Shrine World begin to wonder if the Emperor really does protect, and some quietly seek the ancient knowledge of the people they murdered to see if other Gods might protect them where Empy does not. Naturally, you'd be fighting nids and also blowing away insane cultists here.
Freya is just a dead world that was eaten by nids. It mostly matters because it is where the Deathwatch confirmed for themselves that the reason Curas' crusade fleet wasn't reporting back was because nids.
Hethgard is the other major campaign world for Orpheus. It is a Fortress World, a world given entirely to military production and fortification. It was also the rear HQ for the whole salient. It is also, unsurprisingly, under attack by horrific bug aliens. EVERYWHERE in Orpheus is under attack by horrific bug aliens. A former mining colony, the mined-out mountains of Hethgard are now massive geological bunkers defended by millions of troops backed up by Storm Wardens and Space Wolves. If the Imperium has a strong-point that can be expected to win a ground-war with the bugs in this region, it's here. Since most of the defenders are trapped in a constant siege situation, your special forces Marines might be called out to do any kind of raiding or science mission they need done, as well as dropping in to prevent breakthroughs or limit enemy gains. If you want a straight bug war, Hethgard is where you'll send your PCs.
Vanir is not a single planet, but a system of inhabitable worlds, formerly ruled by petty monarchs who had minorly gene-enhanced Crowns Guard and a small fleet of warp-capable ships with which to beat the planets into submission, like a mini-Imperium with its own little knock-off Space Marines. They were crushed by the Crusade when it came through, but some of the leaders escaped to plot the overthrow of the Imperials. When the Hive Fleet showed up, the Monarchs didn't care; they saw only an opportunity to rebel. Now surviving Imperial forces that escaped the slaughter of Hive Fleet Dagon are desperately trying to beat the petty monarchs again, to retake the worlds and get their defense systems on line in time to give themselves a chance when the Nids arrive. They can't fire capital weapons or destroy orbital defenses; they're going to need every one of those very soon! Perfect place for your Marines to go on dangerous assassination missions or play the Space Guns of Space Navarone.
As you can already see, compared to Calixis, each world has at least a seed of a plot or sub-campaign for your Marines to get directly involved in.
Next Time: If a frontal assault didn't work, you lacked WILL!
Tetarchus disregarded intelligence reports, claiming they were 'over-cautious and defeatist'Original SA post Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Deathwatch and Rites of Battle: Part 14
Tetarchus disregarded intelligence reports, claiming they were 'over-cautious and defeatist'
Acheros is the central Salient and it has been fucked since day one. Achilus had decided he was going to focus on one enemy at a time, and intelligence reports about the region that would become the Acheros Salient suggested it was going to take a tremendous amount of force to crack. The center of the sector was still populated, but those worlds had fallen to heresy and empire building of their own, not to mention the presence of xenos slavers and strange technology. Achilus was warned it would be dangerous, and so was Tetarchus. Much of this information had been provided by the Deathwatch at significant cost over their long vigil and the nine prior years of the Crusade. Tetarchus thus declared he would take personal command of this salient, concentrated all his best troops and heaviest assets into it, declared it would be easy, and then split his forces within the salient so as to 'prepare to flush out any serious resistance' and 'progress quicker'. Splitting his armies seems like Tetarchus' main trick.
He certainly flushed out serious resistance. If anything, the intel reports were overly optimistic. Expecting to be fighting a dozen small empires of renegades, the Crusade fleet ran into coordinated, serious resistance in space from actual Chaos battlefleets, including ships with Chaos Space Marine complements from the Traitor Legions. By the time the initial battles were over, more than twelve Imperial ships of the line had been lost, and worse, the majority of those had been captured to be repurposed by the enemy. An actual capital ship is one of the few things in the Imperium that is absolutely not expendable; building serious warp-capable warships takes ages. Even worse, they lost dozens of warp-capable transports and hundreds of thousands of guardsmen, with whole units annihilated in transit. His idiocy also got a Space Marine Battle Barge killed. The Storm Wardens' Battle Barge Warchilde was lost with all hands, denying the Imperium a Battleship class ship and killing more than a company of Marines. Most Chapters only have one or two of those things. If the Storm Wardens hated Calixis before, I can't imagine how pissed they are that a Calixian general's dumbass plan lost them a ship that will take over a millennia to replace and a serious chunk of their Chapter. It took heroic action by the surviving Naval commanders to pull the rest of the fleet back and prevent the entire battlefleet from being annihilated or captured. I can't imagine any naval admiral has much love for Tetarchus after that. It is hard to overstate what a military disaster his 'rolling offensive' turned into. Worse, anyone who reached their objectives was now cut-off, since all war-plans had been made with the assumption of space superiority.
Ever since this, the Imperium has been struggling to make any headway past its initial mustering point. Tetarchus refuses to change strategies, and keeps throwing new men and new ships into the contested areas in Acheros, convinced that with enough elan and will there will be a breakthrough any day now. He has bled the Crusade of its best forces, annoyed its Space Marine allies, and pissed off the Navy, but he's sure he can still win. Somehow. Even though it's been thirty years. If you want your players to fight heretics rather than aliens, Acheros is the place for you.
Karlack was a small, insignificant agri-colony that mostly survived the Age of Shadow by its own insignificance. It is also the very first life-sustaining world encountered outside the Well of Night. When the locals welcomed the crusaders with open arms and proved to still be loyal to the Emperor, it was taken as a blessing on the Crusade's purpose. Karlack was then declared the new field HQ and quickly built from a feudal medieval world into a massive orbital anchorage and military depot, its locals watching in awe as whole mountains were leveled for raw materials and entire asteroids were brought in by orbital mining to be worked. The planet is facing gaian collapse from the massive industrialization effort, its skies and seas poisoned and its climate unstable. The locals who welcomed the Crusade have since been rendered into little more than slaves, becoming an indentured afterthought as the reward for their 'faith' as their world is paved over and their lives upended. Unrest is beginning to spread as people whisper that the Emperor's people returning have damned the world, not saved it, and the Imperium's casual brutality (as well as their poor performance in the war) are beginning to cause a rise in resistance movements and cult activity. As this is literally Crusade HQ, a major cult uprising would be bad, for obvious reasons. Your Marines could be needed if things get ugly, but Karlack is probably better for games about Guard or Acolytes.
Oh, there's also a persistent local legend about a weird city on the bottom of the sea, with strange ziggurats and wraith-like figures that drag those who disturb it to their deaths. Attempts to build defense platforms and things in the region it is supposed to be located have met with all kinds of strange accidents and disasters. The Inquisition has been unable to determine what is going on, only that non-human artifacts do indeed turn up among the islands of that region. The hint is supposed to be that Karlack might be a tomb world if you want to use Necrons, just it hasn't woken up yet. As it is also, again, Crusade HQ that would be very bad. If you don't want to use Necrons (and no-one would blame you) it could be a Chaos mess, something entirely different, or even just a superstition that is rallying the local resistance. Whatever is the case, something is definitely going on in Karlack.
The Cellebos Warzone is the most important part of the Acheros Salient. It consists of about fifty star systems, though only a few are strategically important, and it has been the meat-grinder for billions of Imperial soldiers over the past 25 years. Tetarchus is convinced he can eventually win through by attrition, that the heretics will break any day now, and the Imperium was finally starting to make halting progress when the Orpheus Salient collapsed. Now, their offensives have been halted and they are digging in, fearing the spread of the Nids but also a counter-attack by Chaos forces. Tetarchus, meanwhile, has grown increasingly withdrawn, macabre, and paranoid. He cannot understand why his brilliant strategies have faltered so, and he begins to think it must be the work of 'traitors' all around him. Defeatists. Cowards. This man has unbridled authority, no ability to admit he has made errors, and the excuse of facing Chaos would provide him with endless acceptable external factors to blame other than his own strategic idiocy. This is an obvious problem.
Meanwhile, the actual warzones of Cellebos aren't that interesting; they're all your usual wartorn hellholes full of power metal album covers and millions of men fighting hordes of demons and screaming heretics. If you want, you can drop your PCs into any warzone here and throw them at a Chaos Champion or a dark ritual or something important. The Hadex Anamoly is where things get interesting again. At some point in the Age of Shadow, a planet that was trying to ascend to hyper-god-hood or whatever else Chaos Worshipers get up to accidentally caused an actual, stable warp anamoly rift. Similar to the Eye of Terror, albeit much smaller. This means Chaos forces from within the Warp, like the Traitor Legions, have an actual stable path for their raiding and a place to retreat to. Worse, this was in the heart of the sector, among its formerly most populous and productive worlds. It is whispered that Varrus, the former Sector Capital, may even be a proper Daemon World now. This anamoly is a key strategic point for Chaos and part of the reason they fight so hard for Cellebos; actual stable paths from their hell anamoly world to realspace are unspeakably valuable for them.
Worse is the Dark Forge of Samech. Samech was formerly the foremost Forge World of the region, the places that produce all the actual high-tech stuff that requires Adeptus Mechanicus oversight. They especially specialized in computing equipment. It actually wasn't until late in the Age of Shadow that Samech fell; it used to communicate with Watch Fortress Erioch and as recently as the late 40th millennium, wasn't known to have fallen to the enemy. It became known when a Mechanicus explorer fleet managed to reach and contact Samech, only to be blown to pieces and salvaged. Now swallowed by the Hadex Anamoly and having broken completely with the Imperium, Samech is strategically vital to the enemy. They produce the advanced weapons, warp drives, and material that the Chaos forces need to maintain this warzone. They are also very well defended, both by the people they can afford to pay, and by their needing to be well armed to even get Chaos to barter with them. Worse, they also produce actual AIs, which they try to secret onto other planets and get to take over all administration, then subvert the planet to their benefit. Samech is the heart of the Chaos forces and far from the front, but if your Kill-Team can make raids and do damage to this forge they will actually measurably damage Chaos's ability to make war in the Acheros Salient.
40Khaos is still pretty boring, but I really like the addition of an actual strategic reason for them to be so stubborn in defending this area. Also, Samech brings some pretty nasty unique stuff to the table, as per the Mark of the Xenos monster manual. Having Chaos actually have a reason to have plenty of ammo and equipment rather than just 'lol Chaos has infinite everything' for once is sort of refreshing and gives PCs something to actually strike at. Tetarchus still having a head is basically an indictment of the Commissariate as a whole, though.
Next Time: Mass Graves and Madness.
Don't tell me we don't have the manpower! Don't tell me it can't be done! Tell me how many heads are spiked on our battlements! Tell me how deep the mass graves are!Original SA post Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Deathwatch and Rites of Battle: Part 15
Don't tell me we don't have the manpower! Don't tell me it can't be done! Tell me how many heads are spiked on our battlements! Tell me how deep the mass graves are!
Canis Salient is the original salient against the Tau. It is commanded by a close friend of Tetarchus, Lord Ebongrave, a former cavalry officer (literal cavalry, he was a Rough Rider with power lance and horse) who has gone completely insane in the face of fighting the Tau. He has been horrified by the subversive effectiveness of the Water Caste, the Tau diplomats, and he sees traitors and Tau sympathizers everywhere he looks. He oversees purge squads and constant winnowing of his own officers and troops, and he has consigned entire worlds to blockades that are starving them completely (to the point of growing cults and Chaos armies in desperation) for the hint that they may have spoken to Tau diplomats. His salient is under attack by a Tyranid splinter that has broken off of Dagon's main mass, and while it's being held in place at the moment, he absolutely refuses to shift forces away from the purges or the war with the Tau, muttering that they are a 'moral threat' that goes beyond any monster who merely wants to eat you.
Part of the reason for his growing paranoia comes from a horrific terrorist attack on the planet of Spite, where he has his HQ. A group claiming to be Tau-affliated revolutionaries de-orbited a factory ship onto the planet, causing ecological disaster and millions of deaths in the name of their 'Vengeance Sept'. In the aftermath of this, he has switched more and more troops to 'moral hygiene militias' and purge teams, and encouraged paranoia among each of the city-states of Spite such that each has cut itself off from others. Looming over it all is his miserable interrogation facility at Sepulchre Sigma, where he oversees constant interrogations that are depicted as simply getting people to confess to whatever they're accused of, rather than giving him any useful intelligence, which I appreciate. He is tearing his own HQ world apart even further looking for culprits and traitors as he commits more and more men to repression duties even as a swarm of alien locusts threaten to kill everyone, but The Blasphemy Incident makes it feel a little more human for someone to have gone that insane.
Also, the mystery of who the hell the Vengeance Sept are is never answered in the book. They could be human radicals who went further than their Tau handlers wanted. It could be an evil Tau tactic to deniably ruin the HQ world of the army fighting them while claiming 'oh it was just lunatics'. With the timing on the attack, it could be a genestealer cult (I went with this in one of my games) trying to undermine defenses ahead of their fleet splinter. It's there for PCs to solve, and it's here I'd also note that you could do a lot of good DH games in the whole mess of corruption and incompetence among the Crusade officers in Jericho.
I wasn't kidding about the quarantine worlds, either. Three major planets in the region have been cut off from all Imperial contact or supply, with a naval blockade, on suspicion of having talked to the Tau. The book points out that they are suffering a serious rise in dangerous cult activity, driven by desperation, sickness, and starvation. Marines might be sent in to assess the situation or stop it getting worse. If you're playing Rogue Trader, I bet these people would pay through the nose for any relief from the blockade...
The Velk'Han Sept of the Tau Empire is a cluster of several dozen populated worlds, most of them human worlds ruled by sympathetic human proxies. It was this that originally drove Ebongrave mad. The Tau have their repressive side, controlling all education and outlawing faith in the Emperor, and controlling the local population much as you'd expect from a paternalistic, somewhat more imperial Starfleet. Their secret police are also much more fond of simply disappearing people who are suspected of rebellion, rather than bothering with messy public executions. Human forces in Velk'Han are usually led by humans, ordered and equipped as proxies rather than directly led by the Tau, while the core of experienced Fire and Air Caste troops handle the most dangerous and important missions. The Tau are struggling to keep the Sept supplied and viable in the face of both the war with the Imperium and now the arrival of the Tyranids, and they already had problems with strange, alien ruins that cause madness on some of the planets of the Sept as it was. If you fight on the Greyhell Front against the Tau, you are going to face a variety of troops. Tau, Vespid (bug people with Marine-killing guns), Kroot (Cannibalistic Predator-esque mercenaries the Tau use for close combat), human auxiliaries, and more.
Tsua'Malor is the capital world of the Sept, a heavily built up world populated by a majority of Tau settlers, where they hand down their orders to the human leaders who have bowed before the Sept. It also contains a state university where they send all the best and brightest human minds from their Sept, educating them in the proper ways of the Greater Good and teaching them to use and work with Tau technology. More than that, though, it contains a place where the Tau experiment with human psychology, trying to understand their enemy by studying human political prisoners and working to refine their re-eductation methods, if you believe the rumors. As the HQ for a major enemy faction, if your Marines can reach Tsua'Malor there's all kinds of commando stuff they could get up to, from assassinations to stealing technology to rescuing defectors.
In general, the Tau methods of repression are much more based around a sort of paternalistic re-education rather than extermination. Their portrayal here is showing the signs of the slow slide into 'actually they're just totally evil' that we'll eventually get to with the Tau in 40k, but it says something that they still come off better than the Imperials for not having an actual policy of constant genocide yet.
We also get another little blurb on Ebongrave, and how he again, absolutely refuses to hear of the possibility of truce to fight the Tyranids and would rather see all of Jericho die than allow the 'moral infection' of alien thought to spread. He no longer leaves his bastions and spends all his time accusing people of treason and heresy. He is backed up in this by a whole bunch of elite Death World troopers he has convinced of the necessity of slaughtering anyone who shows weakness, the 14th Mortressa Highlanders, and they are the only force among his troops he genuinely trusts.
There's also Krrk'tikit, a planet where the Tau are trying to communicate with crystal energy beings and convince them to join
We get some more interesting worlds on the Greyhell Front, but the most interesting is probably Bekrin. Bekrin was a Cardinal World, seat of the regional ecclesiarchy, which evacuated in the face of the Hive Fleet splinter. The splinter was turned aside before it could attack Bekrin, but for some reason Ebongrave absolutely refuses to allow anyone onto the planet. Its verdant beauty is beginning to reclaim the once-shining cathedrals while they stand empty and the Ministorum begs for the place to be returned to them, yet the Lord Militant remains firm. Is it more of his paranoia, or did he see something awful there when there was no-one left to hide it from him?
There is also the world of Veren, a minor planet seemingly of no strategic value that the Tau have been defending to the death. As a result, Ebongrave is convinced it is the site of some mighty weapons research facility or treasure he simply doesn't know about, and so he has made it central to his war plans, despite its worthlessness on a strategic scale. Is he being drawn into a trap? Probably, but your Kill Team could be seconded to find the Tau 'doomsday' device that MUST be there, etc.
I admit I dislike the slow grimdarkening of the Tau, but at least it's still at the level of 'imperialists who would like their auxiliaries to die first, and also nice things for the Tau' rather than the later 'ETHEREALS ARE MAGIC MIND WORMS ALL TAU ARE EVIL' stuff. They make a nice contrast with the insane, paranoid Imperial commander, who feels like he's insane and paranoid for reasons that at least seem plausible. There's a lot for players to do and the Tau are really fun enemies to fight, bringing variety, tactics, and the possibility you might commit the grave sin of working with them against the Nids.
Next Time: Who You Kill.
Climbing over their own deadOriginal SA post Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Deathwatch and Rites of Battle
Climbing over their own dead
I have a lot more fluff to cover from Rites of Battle, especially the (pretty good) NPCs and lots of detail on Watch Fortress Erioch, but first it's important to get the last big mechanical thing out of the way after all that fluff: Enemies. This game focuses on combat above any other game in the line, even the power metal space opera Black Crusade or the other military game, Only War. Your Marines are, as a common denominator, good at and expected to enjoy killing shit. It's also particularly interesting to see where the out of control scaling leads enemy stats and how it necessitated the creation of new rules entirely.
You see, the astute among you might have looked at a Marine's Toughness and Armor; take Brother Sepheron the Apothecary, who isn't even a particularly tough Marine. He's at DR 18 chest, 16 limbs and head. A 'human' boltgun will penetrate 4 of that, but still only deal 6-15 damage (d10+5) and thus only do 0-1 damage to his chest, 0-3 to his extremities. And that's the .75 caliber armor piercing explosive rocket. The humble lasgun or autogun physically cannot hurt him, especially as enemies do not Righteous Fury. A high level Marine can even walk through bolter fire without fear. As we worked out awhile back in chat in the thread, the most powerful Techmarine can hit AV19, Toughness Bonus 17 (Their Machinator Array is not, according to additional material, counted for Unnatural but just added on as an extra 10 Toughness, but a fully bionic location gets +2 Toughness Bonus). That character could walk *naked* through boltgun fire and shrug off plasma rifles, or even withstand hits from Astartes small arms without fear. The system had to come up with solutions to allow enemies to threaten even these power-armored behemoths. While their solutions won't deal with the biggest, buffest of invincible Techmarines (though a Lascannon or Meltagun still will) they can put the fear of combat back into the normal Marines while also giving Marines a convenient way to blow away 200 enemies in a system that would struggle with 20.
This solution is the Horde system. Lesser enemies like Chaos Militia or Cultists, small Tyranids, or Tau line infantry can form Hordes. A Horde is a unit with a Magnitude rating that explicitly does not measure their direct numbers, only an abstraction of their current morale, effective fighting strength, and coordination. The higher the Magnitude, the easier the Horde is to hit, but also the more dangerous the Horde becomes. You technically still have to roll for damage against a Horde when you hit it, but in practice a Horde loses a point of Magnitude to any attack that deals at least 1 damage anyway, and most Horde-style enemies will suffer a minimum of 1 damage from any Astartes weapon as is, so rolling for damage is mostly a formality and can often be skipped to speed up combat. A Horde of enemies can make ranged attacks equal to the 10s digit of their Magnitude each turn, and each one is a full ranged shot with one of their weapons (So, say, a Horde Magnitude 30 with Autoguns could fire 3 Full Auto attacks in a turn) and they never run out of ammo or jam, so there's no reason for them not to spray and pray constantly if they don't need to move. A Horde of melee fighters simply attacks every PC who is within or adjacent to it once (or more times, if they have Swift or Lightning Attack), and cannot be Dodged or Parried without special traits. It also gains no bonuses for outnumbering a Marine. Hordes also add +d10 damage to their attacks per 10 Magnitude, max of 2d10. This lets, say, a Horde of Guardsmen Renegades put out 3d10+3 shots instead of d10+3, which now does 6-33 damage and can hurt Brother Serephon or other average Marines.
You damage hordes by hitting them with AoEs, flamers, automatic weapons, anything explosive, Psy, or particularly skillful melee. A Melee attack on a Horde will kill 1 Magnitude (And Hordes generally cannot Dodge or Parry, themselves) per successful hit, +1 per 2 DoS, +1 for the whole attack if you used a Powerfield Weapon. Gunfire inflicts 1 hit per hit on target, +1 to the whole burst if the weapon used does Explosive (X) damage. Any weapon with the Blast trait does +1 hits per meter of blast radius. This means the Blast 3 Metal Storm Boltgun rounds you can use will inflict 3 hits per hit on a Horde; consider the Boltgun hits up to 4 times (3 if you're using Errata) and is also X, and you can respectably blow away massed enemies with the right ammo and a bolter. Your frag grenades will also do good work. Flamers do d5+(1 per 3 meters of range) without needing to roll to-hit or anything, so a 30m Heavy Flamer will do 10+d5 hits to a Horde, slaughtering plenty. A Marine with the Storm of Iron Talent (acquired fairly early in Devastator and TacMarine) will double their damage to a Horde after all modifiers if using a flamer or a semi/full auto firearm. A Marine with Whirlwind of Death (Available only at max rank of Assault Marine, for some reason) doubles their melee damage against Hordes after all modifiers. This is one reason I say Assault Marines aren't the best at fighting Hordes and tend to do better against elites; their good and consistent damage doesn't matter much, they get their mass-fighting talent very late, they can't active-defend Horde attacks, and melee simply kills chaff slower than an automatic weapon, explosives, or a flamethrower. Psy Powers will just do PR damage to a Horde, +d10 if the Psy power was AoE (most are AoE), making them quite effective. Any weapon with the Devastating trait in any capacity adds its Devastating number to its anti-horde hits per hit.
If a Horde loses 25% of its Magnitude in one turn and isn't immune to fear, it rolls WP or breaks and runs. If it is at 1/2 or worse of its original Magnitude, it gets -10 to this WP test. If it is at 1/4 of its Magnitude at the start of its turn, it simply runs, regardless of tests. Only Fearless enemies will stay to get wiped out to the last. Otherwise, your Marines will be pummeling and breaking units then moving on to someone who isn't running for the hills. Hordes work well in getting your Marines triple digit bodycounts, giving them a good reason to bring AoE and automatic weaponry, and letting you abstract out big units of weak foes. The big damage is also meant to be an abstraction for any attached heavy weapons, so if you throw a 50 Magnitude horde of enemy Guardsmen at your Marines, you don't have to separately attach autocannons, lascannons, or whatever; those are just assumed to be part of the 5 3d10+3 Pen0 ranged attacks it's flinging out there each turn. Hordes are satisfying to fight and lose effectiveness nicely, with the morale rules and loss of Magnitude giving your players a good way to wear them down and force them to remove themselves when they become a foregone conclusion. It's a rules bandaid, but it's a rules bandaid that works and helps evoke the setting better.
We don't get a huge spread of enemies in the core book; basically you get 1 or 2 Troops (horde-capable mooks), an Elite or two, and a Master (bosses) for each enemy faction. For Chaos, you have Militia (Chaos Guard, ranged hordes with mediocre Guard gear but decent enough 35% WS and BS) and Heretics (Crazy cultists with a melee focus, poor skill, high WP, and resistance to fear, horde enemies) for the little guys. Then you have the Chaos Space Marine, who is basically a starting PC with about 8-10 more Wounds, +10 WS and BS over average (50 WS and BS), but only a chainsword and boltgun, not weapons designed to kill a fellow Marine as the Elite. And then the Demon Prince as a Master. The Demon Prince has 80 Wounds, a TB of 12, Armor of 12 (TB 8 if hit with something that bypasses Demonic), they cause Cohesion damage by getting near you, have a 75% WS, 3 attacks, ignore your Unnatural T, hit for 2d10+25 Pen 6, and have a bunch of good combat talents. This is a good indicator of what a boss for Marines looks like, and it'll carve the average Marine apart in one or two hits despite all their toughness. This demonstrates what we called 'tink or splat', where almost every weapon and foe you face either seems to do minor chip damage that can barely hurt you unless it's in huge numbers, or just rips your Marine in half if you don't dodge-tank everything (you want to dodge tank everything in 40kRP). At the same time, a well prepared starting party can already rip the Demon Prince apart.
Tau have the Tau Commander, whose massive battlesuit grants them 90 Wounds, TB 10, SB 10, flight, AV 9, and all kinds of amazing two-weapon fighting abilities. As well as being personal badasses armed with plasma cannons, missile launchers, and chainguns on their XV-8 Battlesuit that can all be dual-wielded as if they were pistols, they also grant the ability to spend a full action to render the team vulnerable if the team hits Cohesion 0. This will give all Tau fighting under the Shas'O (Commander) Rerolls on all failed BS tests once per round, for the rest of the fight. Don't overextend against a Tau Commander with squad orders, especially since the Tau have a fair number of weapons with Devastating, meaning they damage squad cohesion. So that's the Tau idea of a boss fight: A hero in a mech jump-jetting all over the place blazing away at you with high powered cannons and missiles who then shouts 'THE TIME IS NOW!' and then all their troops blow you apart, if you aren't careful. Tau also have Stealthsuits, and I can tell you from experience these Elite mechsuit pilots are absolute dicks to fight. Their suit can swap between a mode where if you don't detect them they're so invisible they cause you a -30 to hit them (but give you a good chance to detect them due to the sensor interference) or a passive mode where they just get a +10 to Stealth and -10 to be shot at. They also each have a melta gun (anti-tank weapon) or chaingun. Tau Chainguns and Pulse Rifles originally 'only' did 2d10+2 Pen4, but were shifted to d10+12 Pen4 in the Errata, hitting as hard as Marine Heavy Bolters. Stealthy ambush guys who are hard to shoot back at and wearing power armor and equipped with 'light' heavy weapons can mess you up. Finally, you get the Fire Warrior, the only mook that doesn't need to form a Horde to hurt you. They're average in all over ways, but that bears mentioning, and they can still form Hordes to hurt even more. A Marine can't ignore multiple 3d10+12 Pen4 shots in one turn. They can also get swarms of AI-linked gun-drones that are pathetic until there are a lot of them in one place, at which point they get substantially more accurate. Tau can't handle melee; even the unnaturally strong suits will get taken apart by even a non-melee specialized Marine. You want to get in there with your knife or chainsword, and they want to stop you from doing that. Use cover a lot against Tau.
Nids start their section off with the Hive Tyrant, a big brain bug. The Tyrant has 120 Wounds, TB 15, AV 10, and hits like a truck filled with other, smaller trucks. It's amazing at melee, has a bunch of biomorphs that can make it poison or give it ranged options, and it's also a powerful psyker. The Hive Tyrant is no easy ask, even for Marines. It can also heal Hordes and draw more Nids in to fight you, but if you kill it it automatically breaks any non-Fearless Nids in the battle. The Tyranid Warrior is a big ole melee threat that's on par with a specialized Marine, and can direct the lesser monsters with its Synapse ability. Think of Warrior Elites as bug sergeants. A Warrior can also use a bunch of short-ranged biological guns or focus purely on killing you in melee, which it's way better at, and they can be given wings and allowed to fly, which makes them much more dangerous. Finally, you have Termagaunts and Hormagaunts, your usual shitty little swarm-bugs, with the former using beetle-firing guns and the latter being all spastic and slashy. Hormagaunts are actually surprisingly dangerous horde creatures, with high WS and good damage; don't get surrounded. Gaunts will also act like stupid animals if they don't have any Warriors or a Hive Tyrant in the same battle, or if you shoot the big bugs first.
What you might notice is how many Wounds the big enemies have compared to DH, where a boss would have, say, 20-30. This is because Marine weapons would kill anything with 20-30 wounds extremely quickly, and giving things the DR to survive Marine weapons at those Wound totals would make them impossible to hurt with many other options and weapons. There is an awareness that the increasing weapon damage necessitates more Wounds, but it never applies to PCs; your 19-23 Wounds at start are the highest in the series, and you can still only buy a few additional Wounds (and at proportionally enormous costs of 500-1000 EXP apiece), so once something can get through your DR if you don't dodge it's going to splatter your Marine quickly. I honestly don't understand why it went this way. I've had to tune every encounter to make sure PCs can either take solid cover or have chances to active-defend against anything powerful enough to one-shot them, and if your GM has, say, a Tau Horde with 50 Magnitude focus all their firepower on a single Marine instead of spreading their shots there's not a lot that Marine can do about it if they don't have very solid cover and good luck on enemy to-hit. Surely giving PCs some ablative wounds over time or at least a way to actually meaningfully increase Wounds relative to the damage coming in would have been easier.
Next Time: Watch Fortress Erioch
It's called the goddamn Omega Vault, there's nothing good in there.Original SA post Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Deathwatch and Rites of Battle
It's called the goddamn Omega Vault, there's nothing good in there.
Watch Fortress Erioch is so big it qualifies as a major stellar object. Even in a setting where the average combat spacecraft is a 2 km flying cathedral, the Watch Fortress is big. It is also built around something that was there long before the Imperium ever found the place, something called 'THE OMEGA VAULT', that is slowly opening new rooms and new items within itself as time goes. For some reason, the Imperials seem to think this is eventually going to turn out well instead of opening onto a hellportal or some incredibly powerful alien monstrosity. 40k Imperials are not smart people. No-one is sure how the Fortress ever got where it is, because it's built in a seeming Imperial style but was built millennia before the Imperium was really in the region. The underlying architecture is similar to something called a Ramilles Star Fort, a massive semi-mobile defense station, but with a great deal added onto it and built around the aforementioned OMEGA VAULT.
No, I'm not going to stop making fun of the OMEGA VAULT. There's a lot of cool stuff in Jericho, but the deus-ex-machina mystery-box vault is not one of them. I mostly forgot it existed when I ran DW myself.
The exterior of the station is constantly moving, since it's made up of immense support gears that create an ever-shifting maze inside. Gravity goes crazy among the outer components and can sometimes lead to your Marines solemnly trudging through an MC Escher painting, which is kind of cool but mostly pointless. No-one knows what most of the gears and moving parts are for, only that it's frightening to wander along hallways that keep narrowing and widening. There's some silliness about how it's so scary to xenos that it might have some kind of psychic horror generator but again, eh.
The Fortress also has immense jails and labs devoted to studying the many live xenos specimens that the Marines bring home. The only question they are particularly interested in is 'what weapon will kill this thing' and 'how can we exterminate its species better', so these are hardly a cheery place, or one possessed of much actual curiosity or scientific merit. There's an awful lot of grimdark torturing sentient beings to death to discover how they 'work' stuff going on here, though, as well as releasing captive aliens into the Hunting Grounds for target practice and tournaments. I mean, important live-fire exercises. No-one would ever imply that Marines like having a place to murder things in simple pissing contests solely because it's one of the only things they've ever been conditioned to enjoy.
The Inquisition does like keeping Tau around for behavioral studies on how they work without an Ethereal around, hoping to discover how the Ethereals keep them working together and what will happen if all of them can be eliminated. This includes a group of Fire Warriors who have been messed up by some kind of alien device that has convinced them there is peace between the Tau Empire and Imperium of Man. There is an Inquisitor who is specifically messing with this group to see how quickly they'll start resorting to shooting if confronted with 'dissidents' who claim the two empires are at war among the various prisoners. There's also a whole wing devoted to keeping hold of Hive Fleet Dagon vanguard beasts, like Lictors and Genestealers. Now, a Lictor is basically an Alien from the Alien movies if it was also able to turn invisible and could eat your brains to tell the Hive Mind your plans. A Genestealer is a horrifying alien bug that has relatively independent thought and that tries to infest others, implanting an alien organ that will make their children Genestealer hybrids and force them to protect and raise these creatures. These hybrids will then co-opt subversive movements and cause instability on their home planet, while spreading more genestealer infection. Once they hit a critical mass, they put out a call to the Hive Fleet to come eat the planet (and the hybrids, who are often rather surprised) while it is defenseless. As you might imagine, storing these things is dangerous and difficult. The Imperials do so because every hive fleet manufactures and uses its vanguard organisms differently. They keep these beasts to study them and try to understand how Dagon is using them and why, and if there are any unique genetics that can be used to tailor biological weaponry against them.
The lower reaches of the fortress are made into great catacombs and quarantine chambers for hiding dangerous books and artifacts. The zones are said to contain everything from blasphemous texts with mind-eating powers to a portal to the Eldar webway (though the latter is dismissed as fantasy), which it notes would be a huge goddamn security risk because the Webway is the Eldar FTL network and if you had a portal to it in your secret base you could have space elves popping in and out to get up to no good all the time. The Great Ossuaries are hilarious and awful at the same time: Marines love taking trophies, because again, glory and memories of battle are the only positive thing allowed to them without strings attached. So the Ossuaries are full of commemorations of their various genocides, slaughters, and 'purgings', where the bones of now-dead species can be found proudly displayed with 'BROTHER X KILLED A MILLION OF THESE'. The problem is, they built a great temple to their own mass murder in a setting with psychic resonance. The Ossuaries are haunted as ALL HELL. There are constant stories among the human staff that there is something deeply wrong with the place, and any psyker who enters can feel the agony and anger of the millions, possibly billions, of murders commemorated in that unholy place. As a nice note about the difference in Marine and Human psychology, many Marines find the Ossuarie soothing and spend times meditating there and giving thanks to their past comrades for the 'work' they represent, while almost any human who goes there comes back with nightmares and vows never to enter there again.
The Hunting Grounds are another testament to the joy Marines tend to take in their work and the extend to which they rely on murder for positive emotional reinforcement. Originally used solely for live fire testing to see what weapons killed what prisoner, a Commander Prascus built these up into a great tournament ground 400 years back. By murdering prisoners of war and alien beasts together, he reasoned that Marines of multiple chapters could have a nice, relaxing, fun way to get along and learn to work together before they hit the field. He considered these great sport and a wonderful way to hand out minor honors. Since their establishment, the Hunting Grounds have been expanded over and over, to the point of adding entire mock space-ship interiors and multiple habitat zones to give Marines a challenge. The current commander, Mordigael, is very fond of these tournaments and exercises, and more and more resources are devoted to letting Marines 'hone their skills' and win honor together for team-building.
This is one of the reasons I say the average Marine is a deeply broken person, a hero mass-produced and told to go and do heroic things by a fascist death cult. I appreciate touches like the Ossuaries being haunted and how they horrify a human but make a Marine, raised in a culture of counting glory in bodycount, feel contemplative and welcomed.
Next: More of this place.
Finally done with the genocide pornOriginal SA post Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Deathwatch and Rites of Battle
Finally done with the genocide porn
Alright, so that last section about Erioch was mostly fascism porn, we're getting back to the better parts of the setting now. The Inquisitorial Enclaves are, of course, the fanciest part of the fortress. Inquisitors may make a big deal about how they are humble and righteous servants of the Emperor, but you'll never see them going lacking for wealth and the occasional luxury if they have the chance. The book reinforces the general theme that lots of Erioch is too big for the inhabitants, with the rich and palatial suites of the Enclave being barely 1/5 filled even with an active Inquisitorial presence. The butlers and serfs employed by Inquisitor Carmillus (the current resident Inquisitor, who must maintain peace among the Inquisitorial factions on station) try their best to keep up the entire Enclave, but it's too much of a task for them. Thus, the whole place seems like a giant, empty, haunted palace built for men larger than men. The opening of the Warp Gate and beginning of the Crusade have filled the place more than usual, and the actually inhabited areas can seem to bustle like an Imperial hive at times, but they're still surrounded by emptiness.
We get a short aside on the sorts of people who work here, like the Family Longsorrow. The Longsorrows were brought here to be executed for some unknown and probably scurrilous charge by an Inquisitor Barnabas eight generations back. Barnabas happened to die before he could carry out the sentence and left them in limbo; they'd been stationed in an Inquisitorial holding well beyond a classified warp gate, there was no releasing them. But wonder of wonders, subsequent investigation found the Longsorrows to be innocent and the Inquisition to have no right to kill them, which confused the Inquisitors enormously. Since then, the Longsorrow Family has assumed a status as butlers and leaders among the various masterless serfs whose Inquisitors die in action on the station, organizing them into efficient teams that help their aristocratic masters remember to pack enough bolt shells and assist in picking out the right gilded masterwork chainsword to complete an Inquisitor's ensemble before missions.
There is also a shrine to a St. Aret, a beautiful Ecclesiarchal facility that is millennia old. As no-one could remember who the generic gilded, heroic warrior the shrine was supposed to symbolize, they picked St. Aret as he is the patron saint of forgetting painful and terrible memories. Some of the longest serving Marines can point out that the shrine pre-dates St. Aret's beatification, but that doesn't stop adepts leaving offerings of broken data-slates and cracked memory cores as offeratory gifts.
Finally, we get to the interesting part of Erioch: The people. Herein we get an assortment of eccentric Marines, Inquisitors, and others and their attendant plot hooks if you need ideas for commanding officers, colleagues, and annoying Inquisitors for your PCs to deal with. I already spoiled the best of them, but for purposes of the archives, we'll start with Goremann the Elder. Goremann is an ancient Crimson Fists Space Marine, from the chapter that accidentally blew up its own ammo dump when trying to blow up some orks, and it is said he was such a warrior against Orks that the beasts would chant his name whenever he strode out to challenge another of their champions, since they knew 'Goremann' meant some good fightin' was coming. He then suffered mortal wounds and had to be placed in a Dreadnought armature five centuries back. He has requested to remain with the Deathwatch, but as a venerable elder and respected tactical advisor, they fear risking him in battle. Thus, the bored old dreadnought's advice has trended towards 'THIS MISSION DEFINITELY REQUIRES A DREADNOUGHT.' in recent years, and his plot hooks center around him trying to convince the PCs to help him get back into action as a private favor, or him managing to wheedle his way into getting drop-podded or teleported into the middle of a mission where the PCs are trying to be subtle and now they have an irreplaceable, honored elder who is also a giant robot loudly trying to help them.
Brother Richter is an oddity: A humble Space Marine. He is a warrior of the Black Templars, and despite being of the sort of prowess and bravery that ought to get him promoted to be a Sword Brethern, he seeks no honors and wears no distinctions. He merely does his duty quietly, and then spends a great deal of time talking in private with the Chaplains. It is clear to most that he is under some great spiritual distress. The adventure seeds are about possible answers to why he is a sad Marine. In one possibility, he has lost a whole chain of young squires and blames himself for their deaths, thinking he is an insufficient teacher and leader, and the Chaplains quietly ask the PCs for help in convincing the depressed Marine of his worth so he does not take the Black Shield and renounce his Chapter. In another, he is secretly searching for something in the Catacombs of the Deathwatch, and it is up to the GM if this is a sinister act of treason or if he is seeking to expunge some secret shame of his chapter. In either case, the PCs get involved to either stop the treason or discover his quest and decide if they want to help or not, possibly earning them a friend for life. One of the reasons I like these NPC write-ups is that they have just enough detail to have flavor, while as you can see from the adventure seeds, they remain open-ended in how you want to use them.
Captain Brand Mac Lir is a Storm Warden who joined the Deathwatch after his Chapter fought shape-shifting, psychic men made out of enormous colonies of hive-minded worms. They had explosion rifles. The Slough are one of those things that really should've had Top Billing in Calixis and the fact that they first appear on the fucking GM screen instead of being 'Hey, Acolytes are going to have to fight The Thing except it forms cults' is a travesty. Brand is unusual for being cautious and circumspect; his experience fighting The Thing has left him wary of traps and aware that many enemies aren't stupid. He is also known for his famed, enormous claymore Morwenna, which has been declared a chapter relic. In one plot hook, he has realized his command duties keep him from battle and is considering a PC to inherit his holy greatsword, which means he will put them (and their team) to the test through tough missions and tests of character to get his awesome magic sword, which is something most Marines would relish. He can also be brought in as a voice of caution, someone for the PCs to argue for or against when time is pressing in and they have to choose between the safe, by the book path or taking risks.
Chaplain Strome is a Black Shield, one of the chapter-less warriors who joined the Deathwatch for life. It is unknown where or which chapter he came from, or why. He devoted himself to the Deathwatch with such vigor that it caused some to question his sanity, and after one mission where he took over 200 shell impacts and was expected to die, the Chaplain was sent to give him his final rites. Something about the Chaplain's presence kindled in him his true calling, and he overcame his injuries, becoming a Chaplain himself. He is one of the champions of Erioch, known for having killed a Tyranid Carnifex and an Ork Warboss in a duel, among many other deeds. His hooks include pressing to investigate the ambush that almost killed him and whether or not one of the Inquisitors on station may have had a hand in it, and a mission to deal with discovering that a seemingly-unique unkillable alien might not be unique, sending the PCs out to investigate. I'm a little disappointed none of his plot hooks are about 'why did this man come and devote everything he has to the Deathwatch' given the hook of being a Black Shield Chaplain. You could do a neat arc about whether or not it's possible for someone who has lived as 'perfectly' as he has since becoming a Deathwatch soldier to redeem themselves in the eyes of a group as rigid as Marines.
Watch Captain Ramiel was a Dark Angel. A very stereotypical one. He has spent an enormous amount of time in the Deathwatch and risen to Watch Captain, but he has no loyalty to the organization, only his own chapter and his secret mission to investigate his suspicions that one or more Fallen Angels have been Deathwatch Black Shields. Here we get Strome's past coming into question; Ramiel suspected Strome. Ramiel also vanished 30 years ago, near the Hadox Anamoly. His mission seeds are either finding him (or one of his team) still alive and holding out on a Watch Station near Hadox, with the possibility that he is either a traitor, mad, or was betrayed because he was getting too close to some grand conspiracy, or that he left a gene-locked casket with damning evidence of a wide conspiracy to use the Fallen and others as Black Shields hidden deep in the Catacombs. Dark Angels PCs are likely to really like Ramiel's subplot, because if you didn't want to have a paranoid conspiracy wall why are you playing a Dark Angel?
Apothecary Septimus further feeds into this subplot. He randomly showed up thirty years ago aboard a Rogue Trader vessel of all things. He is a Kill-Marine, one of the lone 'emissaries' the Deathwatch sends out to assist, advise, and spy on allied forces. He is from the Angels of Absolution, a Dark Angel Successor, and it seems he really expected to meet and talk with Captain Ramiel when he arrived. Unusual for a Dark Angel successor, he is not only capable of smiling, but generally upbeat and carefree, even known to make jokes (notable for any canon Marine who isn't a Space Wolf). He's also very eager to help any PC party that suggests they might head out to see what happened to Ramiel. All in the name of being friendly and helpful, of course. His subplots are either trying to find out what happened to the Captain and recruiting the PCs as allies he thinks he can trust in case of conspiracy, or a totally unrelated subplot about trying to manufacture bio-weapons to use against the Tau that doesn't really go anywhere.
Captain Prascus is the guy who first built the Hunting Grounds, and has been dead for a long time, killed in the Tyrannic War. An Ultramarine, he was known for his exceptional skill in assembling PC parties. No, really, that was his especial genius as a commander; he was good at putting together groups of wildly divergent Marines who would somehow learn to work together and become teams of heroes. A 'Prascus Pair' is still slang on Erioch for unlikely friends. His subplots include discovering a record that suggests he may have been an undiscovered psyker, using divination to determine who would make good teams rather than any sort of natural ability, or discovering that he forced his teams to work together with blackmail, drugs, and threats. In either case, the PCs have the choice between hiding the truth and letting him be remembered as an inspirational hero, or revealing it in the name of avoiding lionizing a rascal. I'm not sure I like his subplot given that his schtick is the kind of thing the entire game is built on.
Champion Attalus Fellhand is an amazing swordsman and an abrasive, insecure dick from the Space Wolves. He was sent to the Deathwatch because he's a fantastic hand to hand fighter who has won great honor for himself in battle, and is thus going to be expected to become an officer some day; his masters want him to learn to fight aliens. He is totally unsuited to it, and he is a terrible student. Worse, he knows this. He hides his insecurity behind bravado and his tremendous skills in battle, but deep down he knows he is failing at his real duty and he is growing increasingly desperate. His subplots revolve around either slowly learning the brash Space Wolf really, really needs help and winning a friend for life by figuring out how to help him shape up, or him desperately trying to get assigned to go fight familiar, 'easy' enemies like Orks alongside the PCs to shore up his flagging ego.
Ah, Inquisitor Barnabas. The original captor of the Longsorrows, and many other families within the Tower of Brass at the Enclaves. He was known for his habit of sweeping gestures, fancy cloaks, big hammers, evidence-less pogroms, and for how none of this impressed the Eldar when they shot him with a tank cannon and he exploded. He was, in fact, so stupidly loud that many of his colleagues suspected he had a secret, subtle agenda hidden under the obvious distractions. His subplots are either evidence that he was actually being mind-controlled by aliens, and now the PCs have to search the Catacombs to ensure his contributions didn't leave behind traps and tricks, or the possibility he was just an immensely stupid man and that an unsecured package he left somewhere on the station is only now threatening to explode or teleport an Eldar strike team aboard or something and the PCs have to race to stop his idiocy from dooming them across centuries. Ah, that the Imperium is blessed with such keen-eyed eagles standing watch at her gates.
Forge Master Mac Zi is another Storm Warden, and a very odd Techmarine. He is an immensely curious man who actually likes xeno-tech, and secretly, heretically, views it as another manifestation of the Omnissiah to be understood and turned to the glory of Man. He hates the overall Forge Master, a Space Wolf Iron Priest named Harl Greyweaver, and plots to remove or kill him. He will, to this end, try to bribe the PCs with amazing master-crafted equipment (that may incorporate xeno-tech) to get them to help him in his conspiracy, because he knows giving PCs hyper-weapons is one of the surest ways to get them on his side. Alternately, he is found dead after an accident with trying to replicate an Eldar Chainsword that sawed his face off, and his death is used by Radical Inquisitors to try to accuse Harl of his murder with circumstantial evidence, wanting to get the Xenotech hating Iron Priest out. PCs must solve a Space Marine Murder Mystery where a man accidentally chainsawed himself to death. And they say 40k isn't funny anymore.
Inquisitor Andarion is a bookish, nerdy Inquisitor who has come following the footsteps of another Inquisitor, Vincent, who vanished while looking into rumors that the City Beneath the Sea on Karlack might be linked to the race that built the warp gate. He is deeply worried about the local legends of death-creatures and powerful xenotech, and is steadily working to uncover the Necrons/whatever more interesting cosmic horror you decided built the Warp Gate. His two possibilities are either the PCs simply helping him with the muscle side of his investigations, or a more curious plot where the ship that brought him to Erioch exploded hours after he disembarked. Did he destroy it? If so, why? Some taint, or covering his tracks about something? Never know with Inquisitors.
Inquisitor Ghraile brings us our first official woman of all of Deathwatch. Yay. She has come to try, desperately, to convince both the Crusade and the Deathwatch that the giant surprise swarm of alien locusts that is killing an entire salient MAY BE a more important threat than the 'moral decay' of the Tau or whatever other idiocy is making them take a fucking Hive Fleet with a surprising lack of urgency. This is not at all unreasonable of her. What is unreasonable is one of her potential plot points, where she intentionally releases Vanguard organisms from the Xeno Holding Cells to show the Deathwatch how dangerous the damn things are. In a saner plot, she pleads with the Marine PCs to escort her to Orpheus Salient, so she can gather first hand evidence of exactly how bad it is and convince Commander Mordigael and others to take the threat seriously.
Next Time: Invisible Alien.
The team assures you it's thereOriginal SA post Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Deathwatch and Rites of Battle
The team assures you it's there
The Deathwatch keeps a bunch of aliens for study and interrogation, and these continue the general trend of 'enough detail to have a hook, enough ambiguity to make it yours'. We start with Aun'la Tsua'Malor Viorla, a Tau Ethereal. A low ranking Ethereal that the Imperium captured after intercepting word of his movements, he was taken in a careful covert operation that disabled his transport, stole him, then blew up the transport and made it look like an accident. However, the Deathwatch has found him a very odd prisoner. For one, the paranoid among the Inquisition question how smoothly and easily the operation to capture him went, especially the part where the Tau slipped up and made his movements known. Moreover, there doesn't seem to be anything special about him, and the Imperium was absolutely sure they'd find psychic brain worms or some other kind of evil magic that was letting the Ethereals control the other Tau. Some of them suspect he isn't an Ethereal at all, but some kind of diversion or spy, though they've found no signs of that, either. I like this because you can run multiple directions with it. It can be a trick! Watch Fortress Erioch could come under attack by Tau special forces slipping inside to rescue prisoners or collect intelligence or assassinate personnel and you can do Space Marine spy vs. spy fights in their giant gothic cathedral station. Or it could be played as 'there isn't actually anything super special about Ethereals and the Imperium is working on faulty assumptions'. Your PCs could escort him for a high profile prisoner exchange. There's lots of stuff you can do with a minor captured Ethereal ('Ethereal').
Larathyn Ki Tajell is an Eldar Corsair. He has also been having a very bad couple centuries. When the Deathwatch went to investigate an Eldar attack on one of their minor monitoring stations, they found the automated defenses had seen it off, but that there was a single male Eldar who presented himself as being under Inquisitorial protection and mandate, complete with the requisite scrolls and seals. He claimed to be a close friend and associate of an Ordo Xenos Inquisitor. Said Inquisitor had both disappeared, and was due to be put to the question if he was ever found again, unbeknownst to Larathyn. He was thus arrested and taken to Space Marine Jail. He has been there for three centuries, answering questions and pretending he is merely an honored guest waiting for his friend to arrive and put things straight. He will happily and politely insert himself into any investigation where he is consulted, and most of the Marines reckon he must be some kind of spy. A bumbling space elf who was arrested while trying to show the space cops his badge is funny to me, and you can go a lot of directions with Larathyn. Especially if the PCs discover they need to find his old Inquisitor friend. There are no rules for Eldar in the DW books, but if you want to get up to elf shenanigans he's not a bad plot hook for it.
Subject 696 is a xeno blob monster that offends the Marines on a deep and personal level: They have, to date, been completely unable to find a way to kill it. It was found aboard a Rogue Trader vessel by a team led by Chaplain Strome, who seemed to have a premonition that a mighty foe awaited aboard the derelict. It had consumed the crew and grown into a giant gribbly tentacle mass, and though the Marines tried, none of their guns or power swords hurt the creature. They eventually caught it in a stasis field and brought it home, to keep trying to kill it. They have tried everything they can think of to figure out what the hell it is and how to kill it, and nothing works. The current theory is that it might be a single feeding tentacle from some eldritch horror in the beyond, slipping through cracks into this reality. In which case the PCs may well end up *campers* who are *good for games*. *Spicy parties* might ensue if they find more of these creatures. Things could get *frumple*. Space Marines fighting the Orz is something I didn't know I wanted until now. (Star Control 2 was a masterpiece).
The Oathkeeper is a 2m tall silicate egg-monolith, from a silicate species. It can only speak telepathically, an experience that most find deeply unsettling. It calls itself the Oathkeeper of the 29th Intercession, and considers itself a willing hostage for an agreement the Deathwatch has no memory of. It also talks about the Omega Vault a lot, but is very difficult to understand. The records for the Bestiary say that this cell held a 1m tall, slow moving silicate being about 2000 years ago, and the creature appears to be partly artificial and heavily engineered. Apothecaries believe it is continuing to grow and become more mentally complex and powerful, while at the same time becoming unable to move. What it wants and why is unknown, but sometimes it will broadcast a very powerful psychic warning signal in an unknown language. The Imperials are ready to kill it at a moment's notice, just in case. I don't care for the Omega Vault, but it's nice to see some genuinely weird and mysterious aliens.
Verian-Holms Declacre is a former Imperial governor, formally executed but instead brought to Erioch for questioning. He was busy selling weapons to pro-Tau rebels, Rogue Traders, and Crusade Forces at the same time, and he has contacts to a wide-ranging pro-Tau peace/cooperation conspiracy in Jericho Reach. A conspiracy that may well reach into the Inquisition. It's a simple plot hook, and you don't get any real character for Declacre besides him being a generic, corrupt bureaucrat, but given the whole Ebongrave situation and the Tau's relative willingness to work together against the Tyranids at least, you could use this to present some interesting dilemmas or intrigues to a PC party.
The Devil Leech colony is a fairly minor xeno hive-mind of paralytic leeches, who work together to paralyze a target and then drain it of all its precious bodily fluids. They're notable for having a networked intelligence, though; the more leeches, the smarter the colony becomes and the better it is at solving problems. The colony aboard Erioch has been allowed to grow large indeed, and it's becoming hard to keep them in their cage; they've gotten very clever. If you want a tide of hive-minded leeches to cause trouble, they could always outwit the Imperials and escape into the vents.
The Mahir Leaper is interesting because it shows an example of Tyranid adaptation. The Death World of Mahir is locked in combat with Hive Fleet Dagon as we speak, because the invaders have struggled in their invasion upon finding the local ecosystem is almost as dangerous as they are. The Hive Mind is actively adapting its monsters to Mahir in a struggle to eat the planet before the planet eats the invasion fleet, and the Imperium is not entirely sure which will happen first. Mahir Leapers have adapted to be smaller and hunt in packs, as a variant of hormagaunts. They also have a harder-than-usual carapace to keep out the many poisonous insects of Mahir. The Marines maintain a breeding colony of these variant Gaunts, not so much for study as because they've found they make excellent target practice in their silly games in the Hunting Grounds. The idea of a dangerous as hell planet that is confusing the Tyranids and making a game attempt at eating the Hive Fleet splinter attacking it is pretty great and would be a fun place to send a Kill Team.
Finally, we get to the best alien. 'Tyranid Organism, Genus Unknown'. The Kill-Team that brought in the seemingly empty stasis trap that contained this creature insists it's real, because their auspex registered something entering the trap. So they put the empty trap in an empty cell, sealed it, put motion tracked guns outside of it, and deactivated the field. There has been no sign of the xeno since, which only convinces the Marines they are dealing with a lethal camouflage expert, maybe a new strain of Lictor. Battle Brothers regularly bravely volunteer to enter and fight the beast to prove it's there, but their requests are denied for fear of letting it escape. After all, it's so undetectable that it might not be there at all!
Next Time: THE OMEGA VAULT (eh)
Get your Deus Ex Machina here!Original SA post Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Deathwatch and Rites of Battle
Get your Deus Ex Machina here!
The Omega Vault is a poorly thought out idea. The book's section on it brings it up as a 'built in arc' for a campaign, having sections of it unlock as the players complete their objectives and get involved in plots, until it opens up to reveal anything from plot hooks to super weapons, which will drastically alter the course of the Achilus Crusade. Before we discuss why this doesn't really work, let's go over their suggestions for what's in Fortress Mystery Box.
1: A super awesome Imperial Confessor from 2000 years ago, who was somehow preserved in his golden power armor and everything, and whose incredible preaching is so powerful it can turn one warzone around. Confessor Melcher El was a big part of St. Drusus' Angevin Crusade that captured Calixis 2000 years ago. After being released, PCs will have to guard him while he single-handedly makes the Imperium start winning one of the three losing wars, partly from the people involved in the two wars he doesn't choose to get involved in. This completely undermines what I saw as the theme of the crusade, namely that 'will' and 'attacking hard enough' weren't working and they were losing because the Imperials trusted to their own propaganda. There's also oddly little discussion of 'how the hell did a guy who just happened to be preserved in a weird vault for 2000 years turn out to be there and ready to win another war' and you'd really think something so obviously sinister would merit some more mention.
2. A magic child with super psychic powers who causes a civil war on the station between 'pro magic child' and 'anti-magic child' factions. Boring.
3. Powerful C'Tan (Necron knock-off Chaos Gods) artifacts. These could allow genuine control of the Warp Gate or possibly close the Hadox Anamoly, turning around the Acheros Salient. They might also cause angry Necrons. Well, 'angry'. That would imply they had personalities.
4. The literal father of the Kroot, the cannibalistic mercenary buddies the Tau use for close combat duties. As in, the progenitor of their species. The Kroot will instantly turn on the Tau everywhere if he can be persuaded to help the Imperials. Inquisitors and Marines want to shoot him in the head for being an alien instead, because genocide is way too ingrained in Imperial culture. Eh.
5. Random superweapon or powerful resource of your choice to deus ex machina a plot line.
6. THE TRUTH: A secret truth about the Imperium or Marines in general that will CHANGE EVERYTHING.
Now, the problem is, first of all, all of these are lame. But most importantly, they're all gotten by waiting for a magic mystery box to unlock. They're unrelated to the core gameplay of Deathwatch, which is about your team coming together while they do crazy techno-feudal special ops warrior-monk work. A magic vault of Deus Ex Machinas has no place in this story, especially as you're playing as Main Character Marines. If you want your Kill-Team to single-handedly turn around a warzone, that is entirely in keeping with the fluff and tone of the setting. They don't need a magic mystery box full of secrets; have them do it by killing sufficiently horrible gribblies and having adventures. The Omega Vault is a flawed idea that wouldn't have worked in any game in the line, but it would have been *less* of a bad idea in many of the others. Rogue Traders going on a grimdark One Piece adventure where they seek the keys to the vault that unlocks their dreams would have worked better. Dark Heresy people solving puzzles and mysteries to open the Vault and find terrible truths? I could see that. But Space Marines? You've got plenty of chapter politics and interservice intrigue, sure, but at heart your adventures aren't about seeking to unlock an ancient macguffin vault in your home base; they're about shooting hundreds of aliens and punching out a bug the size of a building with your giant power glove.
Next Time: More of the Sector
Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Deathwatch and Rites of BattleOriginal SA post Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Deathwatch and Rites of Battle
And they called it Outer Heaven-oh. Wrong game.
We finish up the fluff portions with a description of some of the weird places and things in the corners of Jericho, away from the major warzones. One of them is a crazy series of asteroid habitats where the Imperial Guard is fighting an orbital battle with an insane Imperial sect that believes the only purpose of life is to suffer and die for the Emperor. They have thus devoted themselves to suffering, dying, and making others suffer and die, which means the constant warfare in their crazy little ring around a massive gas giant suits them fine. For some reason, the Guard suspect these guys of being supported by the Tau solely because they have Kroot mercenaries fighting among their ranks. No-one is sure who is leading the Gilded Torment, the insane death cult, but if you had to ask me I'd say they're facing a radical Slaaneshi cult and not Tau backed terrorists. The environment is bad for the Guard; it's hard to deploy tanks and heavy weapons in artificial gravity and atmosphere. They might need your Marines if they intend to finish things here.
The Execution Eternal is an Oberon-class Battleship, and as a former Battlefleet Gothic player I can tell you that's a lot less impressive than most Imperial battleships. The Oberon is a sort of 'try to do absolutely everything, not end up great at anything' massive boondoggle of a ship. It is, however, still a goddamn Battleship and in this setting that means it's quite capable of serving as a battlefleet's flagship or blowing away an entire colony. This one was overtaken a year ago by a pro-Tau mutiny among its crew, but its officers managed to spike the warp engines and kill the Navigator before the traitors could escape. The Tau sent support, but so did the Navy, and the two sides are now locked in a year-long war aboard a massive combat cathedral the size of a small city. The Navy refuses overt assistance from any other branch of the Imperial armed forces, and unless something should change (like your Marines deciding 'fuck the Navy's pride') there's no end in sight to this miniature war over a single capital ship.
Warzone Epsilon is the point at which Dagon Hive Splinters crashed into the combat between the Imperium and Tau in the Canis Salient. It is unknown if the Nids have an actual objective in the region or if they're simply attacking because they attack anything in their way, but Ebongrave refuses to consider them anything but a side battle to be held off with holding actions and the Navy while he 'finishes' the fight with the 'real' enemy, the Tau. The Navy has lost plenty of ships but managed to hold the Nids in place for now, and when the Nids lose in space they can't recoup the biomass. Were it not for the Navy holding them off, Ebongrave's lunatic policy of refusing to divert forces would probably have gotten the entire Canis Salient as shattered as Orpheus. As it is, he is also actively making it harder for the Tau to hold against the Nids, even though the Tau aren't as batshit crazy about trying to continue the war with the Imperium as he is. The Tau would probably be very happy to make a temporary truce and play spy games instead were it not for him. Meanwhile, the Tau and Nids are locked in combat in a region the Imperium has dubbed 'the Xenocide', since it's aliens fighting aliens. A few intelligent officers have suggested assisting, to deny the Hive Fleets biomass. Some stupider ones have suggested sabotaging the Tau to ensure the whole Sept is attacked by the Nids, but that would (and the book notes this) only strengthen the Hive to the point that the Canis Salient would likely be lost. Your Marines probably have plenty to do in the region.
The Deserter's Coil is a rumor spoken of among the many soldiers who want to get the hell out from between the Tau, Nids, and the lunacy of Lord Ebongrave. It's supposed to be a large series of life-bearing but mostly uncharted worlds where a soldier can live free on the fruits of their labors, with various Navy renegades being willing to ferry troops who seek to get out of the Guard out to this untamed region to build their ideal society away from the bureaucracy and madness of the Imperium or the hand of the Tau. It is, naturally, a trap by Chaos. When you arrive, it's all Chaos, all the time. And you've already deserted, so the Imperium will torture you to death if you go back, so might as well settle in and strap on your eight pointed star until Chaos also tortures you to death because it is equally as authoritarian and normative, the norms are just skulls. The idea is to build a Chaos army out of those seeking this subsector of soldiers and then flank the Canis Salient with it to fight through to Acheros. Your Marines could go and punch out some of the people responsible for this. Maybe lead a rebellion.
Menicus is the last bit of fluff in the book. It's a strange and exceedingly life-bearing fungal planet inhabited by a cult of 'The Young God', who lives in the Warp and who will come and make all the world alive and no longer drab and dull. The locals are fanatics who fled to this planet to witness as it becomes lush with life, and to beg for their Young God to come through to this world. This is a Chaos Cult, but it's not clear which God. If you're really unlucky, it could be an entirely new one (though it could reasonably be Slaanesh or Nurgle). Another little mystery for your PCs to stop.
And that's it for Deathwatch's fluff. I can cover the vehicle rules (they aren't very good) and other complexities and honors and things introduced in Rites of Battle, I could cover the First Founding book, or I could just get back to Fantasy after a final sum-up. All are fine with me.
Next Time: ?
RetrospectiveOriginal SA post Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Deathwatch and Rites of Battle
There's more I could cover, especially about vehicle rules. The simple fact of the matter is they're pretty uninteresting and mostly notable for having the same problem as the rest of the system: Most vehicles have, say, 40+ Armor on their front, 20 or so on their back, then 30-40 HP. They also have all kinds of weird facing and movement rules that don't add anything and buckets of powerful heavy weapons, like heavy bolters that inexplicably do even more damage than hand-carried bolters or massive 'turbo-lasers' on the Thunderhawk gunship that do more than a lascannon. For the most part if a vehicle is on the field, you start needing to field anti-tank weapons to destroy it. This becomes a much bigger problem if you give PCs a vehicle in a game like Only War, where any PC exposed to an anti-tank weapon (which, remember, can be fired at PCs without penalty) will evaporate into a mist whereas Marines *might* be able to take one hit.
But what I'd like to talk about is why I remember Deathwatch fondly, despite it being a mess of a game who stretches its system to the extreme limits of what it will handle and a game about one of the worst aspects of 40k. Deathwatch is not a great game from a design perspective. It is a game where your gender is decided by GW and every single PC is playing as an elite stormtrooper for a genocidal regime of space fascists. Its fluff will occasionally remind you that one of your jobs is actually wiping out alien species that have no means to fight back against a bunch of power-armored jackboots.
The thing is, first of all, the setting is full of enough actual plot hooks and stuff to do to ignore those portions and get to fighting actual battles. The framing device of serving in the Deathwatch gives you a reason to put Marines in an uncomfortable position where they have to adapt outside the familiarity of their Chapter. The game can be played as special forces commando homeric epic heroes. The setting never stops reminding you that there isn't anything glorious about the murderous nature of the Imperium, unlike some 40k stuff. Stuff like the Invisible Alien In A Box, the silly Marine hunting ground games, the incompetent commanders who are following Standard GW Brilliant General tactics and getting wrecked for it? All of it contributes to a setting where you're free to do more with Space Marines than make them invincible glorious heroes. It's also surprisingly fun to play a game where yes, every single PC is extremely good at fighting and you expect fighting to come up often as stress relief from contemplating whether or not your 3-5 heroes even matter in a war of billions of people. It's also fun to play as one of the main character types that actually gets agency in 40k.
There are tiny seeds of interesting ideas all over Warhammer 40,000. Most of them are not realized in any sense, or momentarily realized by one author for one book or edition and then cast out in favor of the Marines being more invincible, the Imperium more unambiguously the 'lesser evil' at the very least, etc etc. I've used the term 'manufactured hero' a lot during this review because to me, that is the most interesting part of a Marine. You actually aren't that special as a Space Marine Hero. You're the baseline. The expected level of exceptional performance. You're a mass-produced epic legend, who is a mighty slayer of foes and elite warrior exactly like all the other people who look just like you in your big frowny-faced armor. Your Chapter of 1000 people like you have a glorious history where they recount how they did much the same as every other Chapter. You'll win every fire-fight you're put into but unless they're the exact right fire-fights (and in an RPG campaign, of course, they often will be) it probably won't make that much of a difference. The average Marine is only ever allowed to enjoy glory and aspires mainly to die heroically some day. They're pathetic creatures, kept around and supplied extravagantly because they make for great propaganda and when you get them to stop showboating they can be useful special forces. You don't have to stay in this sort of mould, obviously, but keeping it in mind as a baseline is why I find Marines interesting; your PCs will obviously diverge and develop much more of an actual individual personality, because they're PCs, but this is the picture you get of Marines past all the talk of how epic and wonderful they are.
Roleplaying people like that trying to have actual emotional relationships with each other and getting involved in epic struggles beyond the simple 'shoot the alien, receive the medal' urge they all share is simply fun. Especially when you're given a setting where people believing their own hype is destroying the sector and putting billions at risk. It feels like there's an actual theme, and like there's pride and programming to transcend as well as external challenges to shoot with a rocket propelled assault rifle. There's a surprising amount of room to give your Marine a real character because they're in a situation that doesn't correspond to their workaday norm. Combined with actually having fun (if simple) gameplay and big, cathartic action sequences to balance out the character drama, and having powerful characters with enough agency to possibly turn some of these warzones around, the game can produce surprisingly good stories. The system has a lot of mechanical complexity in the name of trying to add more decisions to combat, most of which is unnecessary (they even mention in a sidebar that they realize Squad Mode is probably unneeded and it's fine to only play in Solo) because PCs are so powerful and combat is on such a high level of lethality. It has a lot of numbers and moving parts that don't add a lot to it. But it's still playable, and you would not believe how much it helps to actually have a setting with a theme and some adventure hooks. There's a good balance between enough detail to hang a story concept on but enough ambiguity to let you make it yours.
Also I won't be getting to the Monster Manual but it has a bunch of NPCs who actually make surprisingly good main villains or allies, like the heroic Commander Flamewing, a Tau commander who won a ground war with the bugs and who is now absolutely desperate to end the war between the Imperium and Tau to focus on them. Or the evil Magos Biologis who has figured out how to eat Space Marine geneseed to give himself Space Marine powers, and who is experimenting with making his own Marines or even better Marines with what he's learned. He was good enough that I actually used him as a main villain, mostly unaltered, for a campaign. Everything in Deathwatch feels like it's written towards the idea of PCs actually interacting with it and having stakes in doing so, outside dumb stuff like THE OMEGA VAULT.
Thus, as terrible of a setting as 40k is, as boring as Marines usually are, the Space Marine Game for 40kRP is surprisingly good, demonstrates FFG's actual growing talent at writing fluff for the game and setting, and is at least a very interesting game to play. It's still full of holes and not that well designed (though it is playable), there are still some baffling decisions (like how hard it is to increase your HP), but the Jericho Reach is an interesting place to shoot ten thousand bug aliens and then contemplate your role in galactic warfare and the meaning of your glories.
Next Time: Rogue Trader: Terribly Designed Space Colonialism.