News for May 2010
All for One and One for All 19
New Team-based Mechanics for Deathwatch
Deathwatch | Published 14 May 2010

by Ross Watson

Greetings, Deathwatch fans!

The Deathwatch is a unique organisation where Space Marines from different Chapters across the Imperium of Man are brought together to serve together in the same, small unit known as a Kill-team. When I turned this concept over in my mind, I found myself often focusing on the thought of what it must be like to be placed into that situation with complete strangers; some might become friends, others bitter rivals. The interpersonal dynamic of such a group would be fascinating. I returned again and again to the idea of learning to work together—to give up the “Space Wolf way” to solve a problem (for one example), and instead concentrate on “the Kill-team way”—captured my imagination. Battle-Brothers of the Deathwatch are often thrust into dire situations, sometimes alongside allies they may not trust. During the course of his service with the Deathwatch, a Battle-Brother learns to overcome many of his prejudices and misunderstandings...

Part of the core experience of the Deathwatch RPG involves roleplaying as a Space Marine sent on the most dangerous of special missions, and I wanted the mechanics of the game to support that! The “Project Iceberg” team and I designed Deathwatch around the idea that the experience should revolve around the team dynamic, from a group of strangers learning to work together to the hardened veteran Deathwatch Battle-Brothers who form a nigh-unstoppable squad. In this, I was inspired by source material like the WWII series Band of Brothers and the Knights of the Round Table in Mallory’s L'Morte D'Arthur.

The difference between the group and the individual definitely had a strong influence on my design for Deathwatch, and this concept about individual sacrifice for the good of the team evolved into a set of three linked mechanics for Deathwatch: Solo Mode, Squad Mode, and Cohesion.

Because I have been an avid player of the Warhammer 40,000 tabletop game for years, I have had many opportunities to watch Space Marines in action (at least, in miniature form!). More than a few times I would marvel at a particular commander, captain, or special character, but I would also take note of how a particular Squad, working together, could vanquish even the greatest of foes; a Tyranid Carnifex, Chaos Daemon Prince, or Eldar Avatar.

Space Marines are considerably dangerous on their own; they are the supreme warriors of the Imperium, the most deadly of soldiers. How much more impressive, then, would a force of Space Marines be when working together as a group? The challenge then would be to somehow model that idea within the mechanics of the Deathwatch RPG.

Solo Mode

The first thing I needed to do was to define when a Space Marine was acting on his own; this would be called “Solo Mode.” When in Solo Mode, a Space Marine is operating based on the traditions, beliefs, and methods of war ingrained into him by his Chapter. A Dark Angel in Solo Mode is acting and fighting as if he were part of his Dark Angels squad. Therefore, a Space Marine in Solo Mode is using abilities that are most representative of his home Chapter.

Solo Mode is the default mode of play for all characters. Unless otherwise indicated by the rules, a Battle-Brother is in this mode. While in Solo Mode, a Space Marine is not linked to the rest of his squad in any special way and cannot benefit from Squad Mode actions or abilities used by his Battle-Brothers. He has access to all of his Solo Mode actions and abilities and may use these freely.

Example Solo Mode Ability: Feat of Strength
The Kill-team is in a desperate race to reach the spaceport in time to board their Thunderhawk before cyclonic torpedoes destroy the planet from orbit. However, a burning wreck of a Chimera APC blocks their path; the Space Marine focuses his righteous wrath and, with a heroic feat of strength, heaves the wreckage aside so that he and his Battle-Brothers may pass unhindered.
Required Rank: 1
Effects: Space Marines are genetically gifted with great strength far exceeding. that or normal men. In times of need, a Battle-Brother can push this great brawn to its limits to perform truly impressive feats. Once per day of game time, a Battle-Brother may perform a Feat of Strength. This ability effectively increases his Unnatural Strength Trait by one level, so for instance Unnatural Strength x2 becomes Unnatural Strength x3. This effect lasts for a number of Rounds equal to his Rank.
Improvement: At Rank 3 and above Feat of Strength also adds +10 to all Strength Tests and Strength-based Skill Tests for its duration. At Rank 5 and above Feat of Strength last for a number of Rounds equal to twice the character’s Rank. At Rank 7 and above, Feat of Strength increases the character’s Unnatural Strength Trait by two levels.

Squad Mode
However, in the Deathwatch, a Dark Angels Space Marine is not surrounded by other Dark Angels. Instead, he is placed with Battle-Brothers of the Storm Wardens, the Ultramarines, and possibly even a rival from the Space Wolves. When the Dark Angel is acting as part of his Kill-team, he is moving out of Solo Mode and entering Squad Mode. In Squad Mode, Space Marines work together, each acting in concert with his Battle-Brothers. A Kill-team in Squad Mode is a terrifying foe for the enemies of Man; Squad Mode abilities allow the entire group to move and shoot as one, to lay down covering fire during an advance, lure the foe into a trap, and much more.

Squad Mode can only be entered deliberately (often by a character using an action). While in Squad Mode, a Space Marine is linked to any other members of his team that are also in Squad Mode and may benefit fully from Squad Mode actions and abilities. A character in Squad Mode can also initiate Squad Mode actions and abilities for the benefit of other team members also in this mode.

Example Squad Mode Ability: Tactical Spacing
The Kill-team has been deployed deep behind enemy lines in order to find—and assassinate—an enemy leader. During the journey, the Kill-team keeps a wary watch, for this region is heavily patrolled by the enemy and filled with traps. The Space Marines stand ready to knock a Battle-Brother out of the way of enemy fire or warn him of stepping upon a hidden explosive.
Action: Full Action
Cost: 1
Sustained: Yes
Effects: Formation and spacing are an important part of a squad’s function on the battlefield and influence their ability to warn each other of danger and defend themselves against attack. While this ability is in effect, the Battle-Brother and those in Support Range of him can share their Reactions. For example, one member of the Kill-team could give his Reaction (losing it for himself for the turn) to another member of the Kill-team to use. If the Space Marine has extra reactions (such as the bonus reactions granted from the Step Aside Talent), these may also be shared.
Improvement: If the Battle-Brother is Rank 5 or more, in addition to being able to share Reactions within the group, all members gain an additional Reaction while this ability is in effect.

It is important to note that the example Squad Mode ability above has a cost listed. The resource that a Kill-team uses to activate Squad Mode abilities is known as Cohesion. This resource is gained when the Kill-team is assigned a mission (don’t worry—I will be going over how Missions work in a future Designer Diary!), and is then used during the mission to activate Squad Mode abilities. Cohesion can also be reduced, however, by being hit with certain weapons (if the Kill-team is knocked around by high explosives, for example) or by certain abilities possessed by a powerful enemy (a Chaos Daemon Prince, for example, has an Aura of Death that reduces a Kill-team’s Cohesion...the warp-tainted presence of the Daemon Prince causes confusion and spreads strife wherever he goes). Certain abilities and wargear (such as a back banner!) may increase or have an effect on regaining Cohesion.

Forward, Battle-Brothers!

I hope you’ve all enjoyed this brief overview of Solo Mode, Squad Mode, and Cohesion! I will definitely have more to say about these mechanics in the future, so keep an eye on the FFG website as we delve deeper over the next few weeks into what makes the team-based roleplaying experience of Deathwatch so unique and compelling!

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)

Lord Kangarew
Published: 5/14/2010 2:09:45 PM

I like the idea of solo and team base stuff. With the right group of players u can have an epic game.

I am currently using Dark Heresy mixed with Rouge Trader and am seting my game up to include Deathwatch. So I can't wait.


Published: 5/14/2010 1:40:30 PM

This is quickly becoming one great big roll-playing mess...

Published: 5/14/2010 1:18:10 PM

Terelo, I'm not sure what's specifically "D&D-style" about that, but I'm going to disagree with you here.  Abilities that auto-scale as you advance are great.  Really, one of my dislikes about DH is that advancing Rank doesn't necessarily indicate anything... it "unlocks" new abilities for you but a poorly designed Rank 5 character will be far inferior to a well-designed Rank 3.  And you don't have to "remember" the changes... when you hit Rank 5, just change the ability text on your character sheet.  I tend to print a new sheet every Rank or so anyway so this wouldn't be a big deal.

I'm still on the fence about Deathwatch in general, but I've liked the trend the 40K line has been taking so far, and this preview definitely has me leaning back towards "yes, please."

Published: 5/14/2010 12:46:30 PM

+ Yeah, finally, FFG integrated group abilities. That makes DW a lot more interesting to me.

- Oh, and I must say I am annoyed by D&D-style abilities: At rank 1 you get this, at rank 2 you add that etc. Just look at that solo mode example: Remembering that bulk of rules clearly is PURE FUN.

Published: 5/14/2010 12:25:30 PM

 Fantastic Idea.

Published: 5/14/2010 12:24:17 PM

Interesting indeed.

Leaves plenty of scope for the rogue player, who won't go into squad mode at that crucial moment!


Published: 5/14/2010 11:25:17 AM

Wow, what can i say? I did not thought of that, nice new rules. This is really getting more and more interesting with every preview. :)

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