News for March 2010
Seconded to the Deathwatch 41
Becoming a Space Marine and Styles of Play
Deathwatch | Published 05 March 2010

Greetings, Deathwatch fans!

My name is Ross Watson, Lead Developer for Deathwatch. This is the first of many designer diaries that present a number of my thoughts (and those of others on the Deathwatch design team!) about the Deathwatch RPG. In these designer diaries, my intention is to make a solid connection with the fans of the game, present new and exciting information about the Deathwatch line, and have a little fun while doing so.

I look at each designer diary as a personal letter from me to a fellow gamer, someone who enjoys roleplaying and the grim darkness of the far future that is the Warhammer 40,000 universe.


Deathwatch: A New Challenge

As a long-time fan of all things Warhammer 40,000, the opportunity to create a roleplaying game centred on the Space Marines of the Deathwatch was something I absolutely could not pass up! I knew that this particular game was going to present a number of big challenges, but I wasn’t daunted by that.

Becoming a Space Marine

One of the first challenges that needed to be met was to identify and emphasise the elements of a Space Marine’s personality and bring that into the game. The Space Marines are elite warriors, amongst the deadliest in the galaxy—but that is not the entire story. Roleplaying as a Space Marine presents a unique test: Space Marines are more than human, larger-than-life figures more akin to the heroes of the Trojan War and the Odyssey than to Inquisitional Acolytes or a Rogue Trader and his companions. Some Space Marines are epic individuals who will risk all for a matter of honour, others are philosophers and tragic figures, full of passion and regret. However you choose to interpret these ideas, it is important to note that the Space Marines chosen for the Deathwatch are nuanced, complex characters.

Deathwatch supports this unique roleplaying experience with its varied themes, styles of play, and some special mechanics (more on this will be revealed in the weeks to come!).

Styles of Play

One of the things I knew very early on was that Deathwatch needed to provide styles of play that would encourage roleplaying and story-building during the game. There are a number of ways to experience the game that lend themselves to Deathwatch and focus on the different kinds of adventures the Game Master might like to run. None of these approaches are exclusive, of course, and they can be mixed and matched as required by the GM’s plot. Here are some example styles of play (from the mind of the talented Owen Barnes) that are well-suited to Deathwatch characters:

The Emperor's Finest

Space Marines are, by their nature and design, most commonly found where the fighting is the thickest. Bred for war and trained to excel in all aspects of battle, Battle-Brothers fit easily into adventures that focus on lots of combat. These often take the form of military missions where the characters find themselves sent in to destroy targets, complete objectives, and bring glory to the Emperor by vanquishing his foes. While there are many permutations and variations on the military theme and the idea of an elite group of warriors tasked with special orders, they all share the common goal of annihilating the enemy, usually in a hail of bolter shells and plasma bolts. Military-themed games also often focus on single actions and objectives in the greater scheme of Imperial strategy.

While the Imperial battlefleet rains orbital barrages from above and the Imperial Guard swarm across the blasted landscape, the Deathwatch Kill-team moves between the flames and shadows to strike at critical times and places. Against a backdrop of ash, blood, and ruin, the Battle-Brothers wade through the carnage aloof and elite, aware of their unique role in the tide of battle. Such games can also see the characters swept up in ongoing Imperial campaigns and dispatched from world to world or warzone to warzone at the whim of unseen commanders and battle-hungry generals. This could see them storming a lunar defence platform, followed by a low-orbit insertion into a jungle warzone before being conveyed by Thunderhawk gunship to a beach landing on the other side of the planet.

The advantage of military-style games is that they are easy to start and finish, existing only within the parameters of the mission and with the benefit of the Imperial war machine to ferry, supply, and brief the characters without the need for them to find their own way around the galaxy or shop for replacement weapons or ammo.

Inquisitorial Involvement

While the Deathwatch are drawn from the Adeptus Astartes, they also work closely with the Ordo Xenos. They are an elite force within the Imperial war machine, but, they have a special place within the structure of the Inquisition dedicated to the eradication of a specific enemy of the Imperium. Games that feature the involvement of the Inquisition are likely to be more subtle and detailed than those in which the Kill-team is facing the foes of humanity in open battle. This can mean accompanying an Inquisitor and his servants into the depths of a hive world, some ancient and forgotten alien ruins, or the shadowy corridors of a space hulk, far from the support of the Imperial armies, where the Kill-team must rely upon their own skills to survive and protect their allies.

Even the most arrogant Inquisitor knows, however, that petitioning a Watch Commander for the aid of a Kill-team is not to be done lightly. When the Battle-Brothers join such a mission, they can be sure it is because the Inquisitor and his followers are counting on their strength of arms. Another exciting and interesting aspect of working for the Inquisition is the moral ambiguity it can create, leading the Battle-Brothers to question their allegiances and even their own view of Emperor’s will.

The advantage of games with Inquisitorial involvement is that it allows both the GM and players to explore some of the darker and more shrouded aspects of the Imperium as well as better understand their own role in such affairs and the sharpened blade of the Ordo Xenos.

Envoys, Emissaries and Assassins

The size, skills, and flexibility of a Deathwatch Kill-team mean they often find themselves in situations unique to the Adeptus Astartes. Often, at the behest of a Watch Captain or an Inquisitor, a Kill-team may be dispatched as part of an envoy to a wayward Imperial world or even an alien empire, either alone or as part of an Imperial emissary’s entourage. This can serve a number of purposes, such as making a show of force, keeping lesser Imperial servants in line, or even honouring an ally with the presence of Adeptus Astartes representatives. In this capacity, Battle-Brothers may have to use their tongues rather than their boltguns to influence proceedings.

Alternatively, a Kill-team may find itself operating on the fringes of Imperial space, particularly where it borders aggressive xenos races. Dropped onto fledgling worlds, the Kill-team’s presence can rally the local human population against invaders and alien subversion. Where an army may fail, a small group of Space Marines can often turn the tide. Just as even a single Space Marine has the power to bolster the courage and faith of a world, so to can he be used to destroy it. Working without support for months or even years, Kill-teams deployed to alien worlds or Imperial worlds tainted by xenos dominance can wreak terrible havoc. Appearing as monsters from the dark, the black-armoured giants strike against leadership and military infrastructure, fighting tirelessly until the world's civilisation collapses under the weight of its own fear and confusion.

Games where the Battle-Brothers take up the mantle of envoys, emissaries, or assassins offer a different kind of experience to pure combat missions and a challenge for the Kill-team (a fearsome combat unit) to complete its goals and objectives without resorting to bolters and chainswords (at least not right away).

Onward, Battle-Brothers!

Join me next week as I pull back the curtain a bit and talk about the Space Marine Chapters featured in Deathwatch.

Deathwatch is a roleplaying game in which players take on the roles of the bio-engineered super-soldiers known as Space Marines. United with their battle-brothers, players will complete extraordinary missions involving some of the greatest heroes and deadliest opponents the Warhammer 40,000 universe has to offer.

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Comments (41)

Published: 3/8/2010 2:02:50 PM

I know we are all looking forward to this. I know that this game will be more combat driven, while DH was more investigative and RT was larger scale, but that is kind of the cool thing with having 3 very different games that are inter-changable. Some times you want a heavy plot and multiple paths, and sometimes a good ol' Dungeon Craw is just want the table wants. (lately that is all my table wants).  

As a GM, I like the idea of starting a RT adventure, run it for a while, and then having the Inquisition request that they transport a group of Inquisitional acolytes to a planet and await further orders. Once there, the PC's take up the Inquisitional characters and uncover a heretical scenario that requires a complete purge: Call in the Dw Kill Squad! What is not to love? If your group doesnt want to dungeon crawl, they can play one of the other two games.

As to the multiple conversations going on about Female Space Marine / Deathwatch,
I guess my creative side (you know, the one that likes playing RPG's) doesn't see a problem with INVENTING a scenario where a Sororitas is recruited to a Deathwatch Squad. Or, just saying: "yea, there are female SMs now." I mean, 40k is not drenched in a whole lot of realism sauce; armies cross millions of light years only to attack with a Chainsword.

End of line. 

Published: 3/8/2010 9:43:18 AM

aeonsin sign me up.

I dont see why people are getting upset about a little sexism in 40K, a setting full of racism, murder, hate, persecution, heresy, inherit violence and so much more. The no female space marines seems so, well, minor. 

Sister Cat
Published: 3/7/2010 1:06:18 PM

Thanks, Ross.  Keep it coming!



Published: 3/7/2010 12:42:15 PM

"What about female players who don't want to play a male, What are their options?"

I don't see how this argument continues to rage on almost every where I look. I've sat down with the females in my group and ask their opinions and they don't seem to care, I've even asked females at the store I frequent. They are more into the story than the fact that there are no female Space Marines, and hell half the females in my group are a little more militant than half the guys. One thing people forget is that it's a game and it's your game to do what you want with, I don't think if you make a female Space Marine chapter for your campaign any one will care. I highly doubt that a group of torch wielding fanatics will kick down your door and burn your group and you at the stake for crimes against the mythos, but hell after half the stuff you see going on in the news you never know.

So please post your names and address of your group members so I can get the mob up and running and we can save some time hunting for you. Also, taking applications for the angry mob, being a fanatic is optional.

Published: 3/7/2010 6:54:34 AM

"What about female players who don't want to play a male. What are their options?"

A) Make a character from DH or RT instead.

B) Change the setting of 40k for the purposes of your campaign to include female SMs.

C) Play something else.

Gender is fairly irrelevant for the Space Marines. They don't date, get married, have kids etc. Introducing female SMs is pretty pointless, IMO, as they shouldn't be roleplayed any differently than a male SM.

Published: 3/7/2010 6:09:42 AM

 Death Watch Level for The Ladies Would most Likely Include Sisters Of Battle Such as the Elete Celestine Cadres and thier Leader, The Cannoness of the Order, Or a Inquisitor Lord of Comperable stature

Published: 3/6/2010 7:54:10 PM

sorry cath'to space maries are all male but as it is role-play what stops you from making your own rules or your own twist on the warhammer 40k world for your game to use woman space maries.

Published: 3/6/2010 6:18:49 PM

I know the sororitas are the female power armour soldiers, but the point is, they are not space marines. I just want to know what the female gamers are supposed to work with.

Published: 3/6/2010 5:26:07 PM

Deathwatch as Ambassadors? Anyone remembering art from Codex: Tau with actual Space Marine Ambassodr?:) Yupeee!

Well, I´m not big fan of cross gender play, but Space Marines are male. All of them. Don´t want to be intolerant, but there´s no possible discussion.

Published: 3/6/2010 4:50:08 PM

Men = Space Marines (Boob's & power armor dont mix)
Women = Battle Sisters
Cannon Fodder = Imperial Guard

Deathwatch realy looks interesting. My team and I realy look forward to this. Bolter shells & gore is what we want!

Published: 3/6/2010 2:03:47 PM

"My wife and I are wondering the same thing - but I've got no problem introducing female Space Marines"

Hm. Yummy, The Adeptus Femarinicus. With 2 big front mounted assault g.....

No. Wait. This is......HERESY! BURN THESE WITCHES!!!!

Published: 3/6/2010 1:13:01 PM

"My wife and I are wondering the same thing - but I've got no problem introducing female Space Marines."

There is no such thing as female Space Marine.

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