News for May 2010
Strength and Honour 19
Demeanours in Deathwatch
Deathwatch | Published 07 May 2010

by Ross Watson

Greetings, Deathwatch fans!

As a roleplayer, one thing that is very important to me during a game is to grasp one definitive element that sets my character apart from the others, and then get a chance to really *use* that during the game. My own personal goal was to make sure that there was a chance for every Deathwatch character gain the spotlight and do something cool and memorable once in every game! This concept was behind the development of a mechanic in Deathwatch that we eventually named Demeanours.

A Demeanour is a specific trait associated with a particular Space Marine. Some Demeanours are linked to the Space Marine’s home Chapter—the Chapter’s beliefs, traditions, or even specific flaws in their gene-seed. Others are unique to that individual Space Marine’s personality.

The purpose of Demeanours is to highlight what makes each Chapter—and each Space Marine—different. They exist in Deathwatch as a narrative prompt, meaning they present options and reasons for a Space Marine player character to act a certain way or respond in a particular manner to any given circumstance. Demeanours are not a straightjacket; they do not force a character to take action. Rather, Demeanours present the player with ideas and opportunities for the decisions he makes while roleplaying to have an impact on the mechanics of the game.

Two Types of Demeanours

A Demeanour can be both a particular advantage for the Space Marine or a portray a challenge he must overcome, and in enduring, grow stronger. All of this means that each Deathwatch character has two Demeanours; one from his Chapter, and one that is personal to him.

The Chapter Demeanour represents the traditions and beliefs of your home Chapter. It may also represent particular quirks or mutations of their gene-seed. Your Chapter Demeanour is part of the bedrock of your character, and as such, the Chapter Demeanour does not change after character creation.

Your Personal Demeanour represents a strongly-held set of values or facet of your personality. It may be an ideal you strive to live up to or a code of honour. However you choose to describe it, your Personal Demeanour is a powerful part of who you are and helps set you apart from the other Space Marines of your Chapter.

During the course of a Deathwatch campaign, part of the GM’s role is to challenge your Personal Demeanour and test your values. Can you hold true to your beliefs in the face of utter evil or seductive temptation? It is natural that your character should grow and change over time, and that should be reflected in your Personal Demeanour. No one knows your character better than you! Therefore, you may choose to change your Personal Demeanour at any time you feel it is appropriate.

Sample Personal Demeanour: Studious

The Space Marine values lore and learning, preferring to think his way through a problem.

Using Demeanours

The intention behind a Space Marine’s Demeanour is to provide an opportunity for the Space Marine to gain a dramatic and highly memorable moment (a “crowning moment of awesome”). The opportunity provided by the Demeanour is inextricably linked to his Chapter and his own unique strength of personality. It is his chance to put the spotlight on just how his Chapter is different to those of his Battle-Brothers in the Kill-team...or (just as significant) how that particular Space Marine’s personality is expressed.

When a Space Marine focuses on the core elements of his personality, calls on the legacy of his geneseed, or honours the important beliefs and traditions of his Chapters, he becomes more than just another Battle-Brother.

When you use your Demeanour during the game, it is known as “triggering” the Demeanour. In order to trigger a Demeanour, the Space Marine player need only announce that he is doing so and apply the benefits. You can only trigger your Demeanour a total of once per game (although every Space Marine has two Demeanours, he gets the benefits only once per game, and he must select which Demeanour to trigger in this manner).

When a Space Marine’s Demeanour is triggered, the Space Marine gains any applicable benefit he would normally receive from spending a Fate Point, and in addition, he may also improve these benefits through roleplaying.

The benefits of triggering the Demeanour may be enhanced if the Space Marine player puts effort into roleplaying the Demeanour. The player can portray his character either gaining strength from his ideals, or (alternatively) he can consider his Demeanour a particular challenge that he must somehow overcome.

Gaining an improvement is simple; if the other Space Marine players agree that your Demeanour has been roleplayed well, you gain the Improvement! Judging this can be as simple as asking for a quick thumbs-up/thumbs-down around the table.

Gaining an Improvement means that you double the bonus from the Demeanour. You could gain a +20 bonus to a Test instead of a +10, remove 2d5 Damage instead of 1d5, and so forth. Even if your dice completely desert you, triggering a Demeanour should always have something impressive happen during the game, and GM’s are encouraged to take part; if a Triggered Demeanour results in an attack that does no damage, the enemy may instead gain a distinctive scar he will bear forevermore, for example.

Forward, Battle-Brothers!

Now that you’ve got an idea of what Demeanours are and how they are used, next week I’ll dive in and go over some of the ways the “Project Iceberg” team developed the core experience of 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 (19)

Published: 5/8/2010 1:37:25 PM

This game is looking more and more intersting. I will be looking for some more info about this. And I hope that it won't be the last title in the W40k RPG series.

Published: 5/7/2010 6:01:42 PM

This seems like an interesting mechanic, although I feel that house rules will really make things worthwhile. The sheer number of possible demeanours means that the writers will likely stick the more basic ones in the CRB (ex/ Ultra Marines love being all codex-y, Dark Angels are moody, Space Wolves have to wrestle their inner beast et al.)

Published: 5/7/2010 4:04:43 PM

I tell you one thing, that black and white image harkens back to the good old days in White Dwarf magazine and the Space Hulk rule books. I love it. Who's the artist?

Published: 5/7/2010 3:30:51 PM

"If ill-will is inevitable", it's better when it's directed towards GM rather than one of the players. The former helps to unite the party against a common foe. The latter brings dissent and weakens the group. Just ask an Army drill sergeant.. :D

Nevertheless, it's an interesting game mechanism that's worth trying out at least.

And besides, think about it this way: a GM has a thousand ways to put a power-gamer back in line, no matter how many "happy re-rolls" he's got. So let them play democracy all they want ;-)

Published: 5/7/2010 3:20:31 PM

It does sort of sound silly, when phrased that way, Atheosis - Hopefully, the players will find a better way to express it.

Karl, you've hit the nail on the head - this 'Demeanours' system is exceedingly reminiscent of the World of Darkness (or at least the old one, with Natures and Demeanors helping to give reolplaying and mechanical depth to a character) combined with Exalted's stunt system. 

Bringing Atheosis' and Karl's posts into collusion, yes players -can- simply say "I activate my demeanour" - but as with the Exalted stunt system, great(er) rewards go to great(er) efforts, Brothers; "Brother Bethor falls back on his inherently studious personality and seeks to gain another view of the situation" is deserving of better rewards than "Brother Bethor wants his demenaour bonus, now."

... Kage, I'll give you a missed demeanour...

And as for the inevitability of ill-will, a lot of that comes down to knowing your players; being a GM is as much a magic-and-politics dance as it is knowing the rules - Maybe even moreso.

All in all, this does seem like an interesting idea and I can't wait to see how the folks I pull into my 40K game will try and love me gently with Gorechild through these rules...

Published: 5/7/2010 3:16:47 PM

"may be enhanced through role-playing"    so there is a base result for triggering it despite one's acting ability, popularity, or play style.

The added result being optional really means if you don't like it don't bother you still get a bonus, just not a double bonus. It might actually make the powergamers learn to role-play hahahaha we can only dream right?

The Wyzard
Published: 5/7/2010 2:56:07 PM

 If ill-will is inevitable, wouldn't it be less of a problem if it was fairly unanimous if not majoritarian (making it look non-arbitrary) than if it was a unilateral decision?

Published: 5/7/2010 2:46:50 PM

Yeah, but what happens when you have a missed demeanor?

Sorry, couldn't resist. 


Published: 5/7/2010 2:27:55 PM

So basically, the PC succeeds a bit, even if he fails.




Published: 5/7/2010 2:10:35 PM

The alternative is that people try and not offend each other and always agree for the bonus or powergamers who always want the bonus."


 I agree with this concern. The idea is nice but let us be realists. It requires a certain amount, shall we say enlightenment, from the group to use properly. Players are humans after all and denying the bonus ( even with good arguments ) will lead to residual ill will. 
The Wyzard
Published: 5/7/2010 2:00:23 PM

 I don't really see the logic in thinking the GM should control it instead of the other players.  The players are certainly just as likely to want to keep their own in line, and it eliminates the possibility of GM favoritism.  


If you have a pack of power-gamers who denigrate the intent of the game in favor of bonuses, then changing the rules is not the proper solution.

Published: 5/7/2010 1:49:49 PM

I can only pray that I'll have the quality of player that will take the Studious Demeanour, instead of extra Boltgun magazines!

Fire first, think later!


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