So, after much waiting by many fans of Warhammer 40k since the release of Dark Heresy, and then Rogue Trader, all those moons ago, here it is. Deathwatch. The RPG that lets you play as the premier warriors of the Imperium of Man, the Space Marines, Angels of Death.
The premise is one known to all 40k fans as soon as you read the title. The Deathwatch is a Space Marine Chapter very different to the average Chapter, as they are made up not from permanent members, but are recruited from other Chapters for a specific mission or tour of duty, which may cover centuries. They are also dedicated almost solely to the war against the alien, being the allies and equals of the Inquisitorial Ordo Xenos, the Deathwatch are the force the Ordo Xenos most frequently call upon in carrying out their duty to the God-Emperor in purging any xenos that threatens the Imperium.
Of course, in gaming terms, this allows a great deal of flexibility and freedom in what Chapter you can come from, because any number of Chapters second their Battle-Brothers to the Deathwatch, which of course makes the idea of roleplaying as a Space Marine all the better, as you will not be fighting alongside only other members of your Chapter and have the same skills and general personalities, unless you choose to, of course.
Firstly, we have the Introduction. This covers the standard "what is roleplaying?" question, the contents of the book (there are 15 chapters including the Introduction), and then the background of the Space Marines. Some of this information has been covered in other books, such as Codex: Space Marines, but obviously not all people who decide to play Deathwatch will have as deep a knowledge of 40k as some of us. The origin of the Space Marines, the former Legions, the Horus Heresy, the creation of the Codex Astartes and the sundering of the Legions into the Chapters we know today and how Chapters select their recruits, this is all covered here.
It then goes on to explain how a man (the book states that only males can become Space Marines, due to the organs that help make a Space Marine are keyed to male hormones, tissue types and genetics) becomes a Space Marine, taking you through the process of the new organs being added and the psycho-indoctrination treatments needed step by step, which helps to show quite how different and beyond human a Space Marine really is. Just the information on the various different organs implanted into the Marine, and the affect they have on his body, make this chapter well worth a read.
This section also covers the training of a Space Marine, and how they progress from the Scout Company (where they are taught stealth, infiltration, ambush and sabotage techniques) to the Devastator squads (which are the squads that carry the heavy weapons, and used when overwhelming firepower is needed), and then to the Assault squads (where they are trained in melee skills and learn to use jump-packs), and finally to the Tactical squads (the most common unit in a Chapter, and are designed with flexibility and broad application in mind).
Overall, this is a great first chapter of the book, as it helps you to fully understand quite what it is to be a Space Marine.
We then have one of the main chapters of the book, Character Creation. A lot of this is similar to Dark Heresy and Rogue Trader, though there are some tweaks to better fit the nature of the Space Marines and the Deathwatch.
You start with generating your characteristics, which in this case is 2d10+30 for each stat, which, once you take into account the increases you get from your Chapter, puts most Characteristics between 32-55 to start with. This is a jump up from Dark Heresy (27-45 usually) and a bit of a bump from Rogue Trader (32-50), as it should be. Space Marines also get Unnatural Toughness and Strength, which doubles their Strength and Toughness Bonuses (which are determined by the ten's digit of their Str or T characteristic), making them hard as hell to take down, they can crush someone's skull in one hand, and means they can carry a lot of equipment, making volume and space, rather than weight, the determining factor for Space Marines and their equipment.
You then select your Chapter, of which there are 6 represented in this book (but it's fairly easy to just make your own chapter rules if you want more variety, and future supplements are meant to be providing rules for more notable Chapters, as well as rules for making your own Chapters). The Chapters covered in the book are the Blood Angels, Dark Angels, Space Wolves, Ultramarines, Black Templars, and the Storm Wardens (the Chapter created by FFG specially for the Deathwatch RPG). These provide, in my opinion, a fairly adequate number of starting choices, and cover a lot of bases for character style, skills, personality, etc, though getting information and rules on the other First Founding Chapters (such as White Scars, Raven Guard, Iron Hands, Imperial Fists and Salamanders) will be equally useful.
There are then the Specialities, which are the "careers" of Deathwatch. These include Apothecaries (healers and medics), Assault Marines (close combat masters), Devastator Marines (ranged combat), Librarians (psykers), Tactical Marines (all-rounders, and make good leaders) and Techmarines (techies). These cover the main types of soldier needed in the Deathwatch Kill-Teams, and the most common disciplines you'd encounter in the Deathwatch. Each of these have their own lists of skills and special abilities, which I'll expand on later.
You then calculate the number of wounds you have (how much damage you can take), Fate Points (expendable points that can be temporarily used to reroll dice results, regain some health, etc, or permanently burnt to stop your character from dying, etc), and other extrapolated stats (movement, etc).
You then spend your starting XP. You get 1000xp to spend to customise your Marine, and combining that with the cost of the talents and skills you automatically start off with, you end up starting with 13,000xp. This means that, to have a balanced party should you want to include Rogue Trader or Dark Heresy characters, you'll need to start your RT and Dark Heresy characters off with 14,000 xp (Ranks 4/5 and Ascension Rank 1, respectively). Then, after spending XP, and jotting down your starting gear and skills (as well as the rules for all the different Space Marine organs and how they affect you rules-wise), you are pretty much done.
After this, there is a section on Demeanours, which is a new addition with Deathwatch, which basically is a character trait that you attach to your Marine, such as "Hot-Blooded" or "Stoic". When you act up to this defining trait, your character basically gains the same benefit he would from spending a Fate Point, but doubled (so double the amount of health regained, double the bonus modifier to a test, etc). This helps promote playing up to your character, and makes your character's personality an important part of the game.
There is, finally, a section on how to roleplay as a Space Marine, which is pretty useful, and several pages of background and information on each of the 6 Chapters in the book, which is very good for helping you get to grips with how your character will act due to the influences of their Chapter.
All in all, a good chapter, well laid out, and quick and easy to use to make a character. You can have one rolled up and ready to play in about half an hour tops.
This chapter covers the careers and skill trees that the characters can select skills and talents from as they gain XP and increase in rank. Most of this section is very like the Careers sections in Dark Heresy and Rogue Trader, though there are a few tweaks to the progression system that help make it more representative of the differences between a Space Marine and a normal human.
These tweaks mostly consist of the splitting of the rank progression from one unified path (like in Dark Heresy and Rogue Trader) into 4 different paths, namely:
1. General Space Marine Advances (skills all Marines would know and can learn);
2. Deathwatch Advances (skills that only Marines in the Deathwatch learn over time);
3. Chapter Advances (a table of skills that represent the tactics and skills that are dominant in each Chapter); and
4. Speciality Advances (the skills you learn or know by being an Apothecary, or a Librarian, etc).
This helps to separate out the different sources of knowledge and training that a Space Marine of the Deathwatch would know, and, in my opinion, helps to better represent the in-game variety of influences that apply to a Space Marine.
The General Advances cover skills all Marines would know, such as Survival, Awareness, Demolition, Concealment, all the skills needed for the Space Marines to do their duty.
Deathwatch Advances consist of rarer knowledge, such as Forbidden Lore (Xenos), different Ciphers, Exotic Weapon Trainings, and other information that a Marine would only come across in working for the Deathwatch and interacting with the Inquisition on a frequent basis.
The Chapter Advances help to characterise the differences between the Chapters, with the Black Templars being Fearless, having the Hatred talent (gives +10 to hit in melee) for heretics, mutants and psykers, and other skills and talents that help represent their faith and hatred for the heretic. Meanwhile, the Blood Angels are furious close-combat berserkers, but also have skills in crafting and the arts, as befits a Chapter that pride themselves on their artisans.
Dark Angels have lots of Forbidden Lores, are good at interrogations, and are quite paranoid, which fits their Chapter well, whilst the Space Wolves are good at drinking, carousing and storytelling, as well as being famed trackers and animal-handlers, which fits the viking-esque traditions of their Chapter.
Finally, the Storm Wardens are gamblers, trackers and famed for fulfilling their oaths, which is all represented in their Chapter skills and talents, and the Ultramarines are the premier tacticians, commanders and diplomats, making them great for interacting with anyone the Kill-Team will need to assist them in their missions.
We then have the Speciality Advancements, which provide the skills and talents needed for the Space Marine to fulfil their purpose on the team. Each Speciality gets different abilities straight away that others don't (such as the Devastator's "Immovable Warrior" trait, which allows him to hunker down and provide a mass of accurate fire from his Heavy Weapon when he is behind cover), and a list of skills and talents appropriate to their role.
I like the way this section was done, as it does accurately depict the variety of influences and areas of knowledge that apply to a Space Marine. A few tweaks with where different skills sit in the progression tables could be useful (such as moving Medicae from Rank 8 (the final Rank) of the General Advances and moving it to maybe Rank 2, so that normal Marines can at least carry out first aid), but otherwise there are no major problems with the way the skills are distributed.
This section explains the purviews of all the different skills in the game, and in that way is almost identical to those found in Rogue Trader and Dark Heresy. In that regard, it's layout is tried and tested, and there are no major problems with this chapter, other than, annoyingly, one or two of the skills missing descriptions, though, to anyone who has played the other 40k RPGs, that's not that big a problem, but might confuse new players.
TALENTS AND TRAITS
The same applies to this chapter, as it is basically the same as those found in the Rogue Trader and Dark Heresy games. However, this time the talents chapter and the traits section (usually found in the Antagonists part of the other books) have been combined, which is useful as it requires less page-flipping to find out the different effects that apply to the Space Marine or his enemies. There is also a swath of new talents in Deathwatch, which are specifically for Space Marines, such as Astartes Weapon Training (Space Marines have been taught how to use all the weapons they'll be made to use), Armour-Monger (Techmarines know how to enhance the protection of the already powerful armour that Space Marines wear, being able to increase the Armour Points provided by 2 as long as he has time to bless and prepare his armour each day), and many others.
Given the reorganisation of the traits section to fit into this chapter, and the addition of more Astartes-centric talents, I think this chapter does it's job very well.
This chapter covers the variety of weapons, armour, bionics and other equipment that the Kill-Team will regularly be using in it's missions.
Quite a few of the weapons, such as Nova Grenades (plasma-based flash-bang grenades), Stasis Grenades and Vortex Grenades (both of which are great old throwbacks to the older editions of Warhammer 40k), whilst the rest are ones like you'd see in Dark Heresy and Rogue Trader, but "upgraded" to the Astartes versions of these weapons. This results in weapons that can easily kill mere humans, as bolters and the like probably should be, and can actually hurt Space Marines, which was one of the flaws with the previous games. Having looked at these weapons, I'd be tempted to upgrade the weapons from the previous games so that, whilst they'd be less deadly than Astartes weapons, they'd be more deadly than they are currently.
However, a few tweaks could be useful. Melta and Plasma weapons could do with a bit of a boost, since those weapons should be capable of killing someone in a single shot. Admittedly, they can do so with Righteous Fury, but anything but a glancing shot with a plasma or melta weapon should incapacitate or kill a person, or even severely hurt a Space Marine. With those weapons, I'd probably buff them up by giving them either an extra D10 in damage, or give them the new Felling (1) trait (which removes the benefits of Unnatural Toughness (x2), putting the Marines back to TB 4-5 rather than 8-10). Likewise the Assault Cannon could do with a little boost, since it's roughly only causing little more damage than a Heavy Bolter currently, and the Needle Sniper Rifle, despite it's Accurate and Felling(1) trait increasing it's damage, with no penetration value it's hard for it to hurt someone wearing thick armour. I'd perhaps raise the Pen to 5 (explained away by the laser beam the needle sliver travels down burning through the armour. I'd also increase the Pen of the Long-Las and Needle Rifles in the other games, but that's another story). Other than that, the weapons are great, with each of them having their own niche that they do very well.
One of the most interesting parts of this chapter is the traditional "special issue ammunition" that the Deathwatch has always been known for, and that the Sternguard units in the tabletop game have now been given. All the favourites are here, with Hellfire Rounds dealing lots of damage, especially against Tyranids, Kraken Rounds for taking down high-armoured targets, Metal Storm for explosive suppressive fire, and Stalker Rounds, which, when combined with the Stalker patter Bolter, make amazing silent sniper weapons. These are joined by Dragonfire shells, which explode into fire, saturating an area in what is basically napalm, Implosion shells which can cripple an enemy, Witch Bolts, which are great against psykers and daemons, and finally Vengeance Rounds, which are designed to penetrate power armour and take down Space Marines, for use against the Traitor Legions. These items make the bolter a great all-round weapon, so much so that, unless you really need another weapon, the average Kill-Team member could just use his bolter, plus clips of these various bolts, and be able to tackle anything that came his way.
We then have the Armour section, which covers Power Armour in a way not previously carried out in the other games. The amount of work that has gone into making sure each of the major components of the Power Armour that we know from the fluff have rules, such as the auto-senses, Nutrient Recycling, Bio-monitor and medical injectors built into the suit... the armour fits fully with the background. There is then a section on the histories of power armour and how the machine spirit of the armour begins to form it's own personality, giving the suit various traits as it almost has a mind of it's own. It's a great start, and something I hope that will be covered more in the future. The same applies to the types of power armour available, as this book only really covers the Mk.VII "Aquila" power armour, but it's stated that rules for the various other types of power armour that a Space Marine might wear will be coming in future books.
The rules also covers Artificer Armour, Scout Armour and Terminator Armour, all of which are useful in various situations. Force Fields are also covered, which give a percentage chance of an attack not harming the wearer, and examples are given in the form of Combat Shields, Storm Shields and the well-known Iron Halo.
Relics, more powerful and characterful weapons or items are also covered, each with their own background from their past. Then there's wargear, which covers jump-packs (often worn by Assault Marines), drugs, mines, auspexes, melta-bombs and the likes, all of which are staples of the Space Marine forces in the tabletop game. Finally, the bionics fit both with what has gone before in Dark Heresy and Rogue Trader, and what has been covered in the various Space Marine codices (like the Servo-Harness).
There are also new rules for better types of equipment. Rather than the Poor/Common/Good/Best quality types in the previous games, Deathwatch uses Common, Exceptional and Master craftsmanship. Whilst these are just names, they help evoke the feeling of the setting more, in my opinion.
The final part of this chapter is the new Renown rules. When Marines complete a mission, they gain renown, the amount of which depends on how hard the mission was and which objectives they completed. As Marines gain renown, they increase through the Renown Ranks from where they started (Initiated), to being Respected, and then Distinguished and Famed, until they become a Hero. All of the equipment in this chapter is only available to Marines of a certain Renown Rank, so a Marine must be Famed before he is allowed to wear the holy Terminator Armour, they won't let a completely new member of the Deathwatch wear such rare and precious equipment. Basically, equipment must be earned through deeds, rather than just bought, which really captures the spirit of the Adeptus Astartes.
Other than the tweaks I mentioned I'd be making to buff some of the ranged weapons earlier, I think the rules here are fine. It covers all the bases, and brings back some fond memories of equipment that has since been faded out of the tabletop game, as well as helping represent such broad concepts as glory and renown within the rules.
This section is mainly of use to the Librarians, but also briefly covers psykers of all descriptions, such as astropaths, sorcerers and xenos. It then goes on to cover Astartes Librarians in greater detail, how they are selected and trained, their role in the Chapter, the various Librarian ranks, and how Space Wolves Librarians (Rune Priests) are different to normal Librarians, and how Black Templars don't have any Librarians due to their hatred of psykers.
It then covers how psychic powers work. The psy-system in Deathwatch is the same as the one in Rogue Trader, the one created in-house by FFG rather than the Dark Heresy style system created by Black Industries. For this, I'm glad, as the FFG system is a lot more balanced and a lot more reflective of the setting, in my opinion. You roll a "Focus Power" test that is basically a Willpower test, which is modified by your Psy-Rating (you add a positive modifier of 5xPR), which can be decreased from it's normal level by Fettering the power (holding back the energy and using just enough power to manifest the power, but not enough to cause any sort of unexpected effects), or add +3 to your Psy-Rating by Pushing (forcing more power to come through, but automatically causing a Psychic Phenomena to occur).
The powers covered in this book are split into different disciplines, namely Telepathy, Divination, Codex (powers available to all Librarians), and Chapter (powers unique to certain Chapters, and representative of the Chapter and it's culture). This means there is a wide variety of powers, and Librarians from every Chapter will be able to pull something out of the hat that the others can't, which helps make Librarians even more varied.
PLAYING THE GAME
This section is pretty much entirely the same as in Dark Heresy and Rogue Trader, in that it explains the main rules of the game. The main differences are the new rules for Deathwatch, namely the Solo and Squad Modes.
Solo and Squad Mode are used to help represent the differences between the tactics individual Marines will use, and the tactics they use when they work together as a unit. Whilst a Solo ability might mean that a single Marine can perform a Feat of Strength (increases his Unnatural Strength level by one, meaning he becomes even stronger for a few rounds), a Squad ability would allow, with a battlecry from one of the Marines, all of the Marines, regardless of their initiative at the time, carry out a Bolter Assault (allows you to make an immediate Charge move towards the enemy whilst firing your bolter or throwing a grenade). These differences between the two modes might appear gamist at first, but after a good look, they are there only to simulate the tactics that the Marines are famed for in the background and the novels.
All Marines can use the Codex Solo Abilities (as long as their Rank is equal to or above the prerequisite), and have Chapter abilities (both Solo and Chapter) which gain power as they move up the ranks, but the Codex Squad Abilities the squad will know are dependant on Oath-Taking. This represents the preparation and meditation that the Marines carry out before going on a mission, and the Oath that they take before they leave. Which Oath a Squad can take is dependant on the Speciality of the Marine chosen by the squad to be their Squad Leader for this mission (a Techmarine might be a better leader if you are searching for a piece of xenos tech, where as an Apothecary might be better if the mission is to rescue Marines, or at least their geneseed, that have been lost behind enemy lines). Each Oath (Oath of the Astartes, Oath to the Emperor, Oath of Glory, Oath of Knowledge, Oath of Loyalty and Oath of the Weapon) can only be taken by certain Speciality squad leaders (Knowledge can only be taken by Apothecaries or Librarians, where as Oath of the Weapon can only be taken by Devastators or Techmarines), which means that choosing the right character for the job is important.
Depending on which Oath you take, the Squad will gain a benefit (such as Ignoring weapon jams and being able to reroll all tests to confirm Righteous Fury if you take Oath of the Weapon), as well as a selection of Squad Mode Abilities (Weapon allows you to take Fire Support (makes Suppressing Fire more accurate), Fire for Effect (squad members can use their Reactions, which are usually used for dodging or parrying attacks, to fire their weapon in single-shot mode) and Tank Buster (the squad distracts the vehicle or bunker, whilst a Marine carrying a Heavy Weapon or explosives can move into a better position to throw the explosives or to get a better hit on the target). This helps to promote frequent rotation of the position of Squad Leader, which lets every player have a chance to be in charge, and also accurately represents the in-game notion that the most qualified Marine for that mission should be in charge.
There are a few unclear parts of the rules though, which could do with an FAQ or errata to clarify, but it is pretty functional, and I like how it accurately represents the in-game realities of a squad of Space Marines, so I applaud the designers for taking the time to try to model the different tactics and behaviours in this way.
There are also several pages on how Missions are organised, such as importance of objectives, complications that can occur during or before the mission, and the rewards that follow from doing your duty. This is expanded in the GM section of the book.
Other than the problems I've highlighted (with unclear rules, which will hopefully be clarified in the next month or so when the first Deathwatch errata/FAQ is released), I generally like this section, it has rules that help to reinforce and strengthen the roleplaying of a member of the Adeptus Astartes.
This section, other than a few clarifications, is pretty much identical to the Combat section in Rogue Trader and Dark Heresy. If you liked the combat rules for them, you'll like these one, if you didn't like them, you won't like these ones.
Generally though, they aren't that complicated, and with the introduction of Horde rules (covered later) the game seems to favour narrative combat rather than map/model based combat, which, seeing as I hate using map based combat unless I really have to, I like the rules a lot.
THE GAME MASTER
This section covers all the stuff the GM has to know to run a good game. It covers the role of the GM, the basic rules of being a GM (Know the Rules, Know the Plot, and Be Prepared), suggestions on how to evoke the setting and the primary themes of Deathwatch (There is only War, Battle-Brothers in Arms, Heroes of Legend, and Duty is our Reward). Also covered is suggestions on how to run Deathwatch, and the various styles of play (such as The Emperor's Finest, where the game is designed to play up to the epic and militaristic nature of the Space Marines, and Inquisitorial Involvement, where you explore the darker and more shrouded aspects of the Imperium, such as the Inquisition, traitors in the ranks of the Crusade, etc, and Envoys, Emissaries and Assassins, where you will be the escort of an ambassador, or even act as the ambassadors, to isolated Imperial worlds, to xenos planets, or to Crusade commanders, or act as recon and sabotage units, assassinating enemy leaders to better allow the Crusade to cleanse the Jericho Expanse and reclaim it for the Imperium).
Also covered are examples and suggestions for how to dole out experience points after missions and how to allocate increases in Renown depending on the difficulty of the mission. There are ideas for medals and honours to give to players for deeds and achievements worthy of merit, though these will gain proper rules in the future. There is also a section on what difference saving the geneseed of fallen Space Marines will do in terms of that player then making a new character (it'll mean his new character starts off slightly better, and gains the XP and Renown for the mission he died in despite his character not surviving it).
Finally, there are the rules for interaction and social skills, and the rules for Fear, Insanity and Corruption. Since Space Marines are psychologically programmed not to feel or react to fear as humans do, they don't run away when a Hive Tyrant jumps out at them. Instead, their reaction depends on whether they are in Squad Mode or Solo Mode. If they are in Squad Mode, the squad leader must take a Willpower test, or the squad will lose Cohesion points (the points built up and used to activate Squad Abilities), and if you are in Solo Mode you will gain a negative modifier to any Willpower tests you make. This means that, while their allies might turn and run, Space Marines will stand their ground and hold the line against whatever foul creature may try to break them down, which accurately represents the Astartes saying "And They Shall Know No Fear".
For insanity, Space Marines don't lose their minds as others do, but instead begin to fall deeper into the indoctrination that is present in their brain. Whilst mere mortals might become paranoid, or obsessive compulsive, a Marine will throw himself harder into the fight, believe he hears the Emperor talking to him, or lose touch with his humanity and treat normal men as beneath him. There are also Primarch's Curses, which are the flaws or negative traits of the Marine's original Primarch that come through as he gains Insanity. The Blood Angels, for instance, will become more bloodthirsty and throw themselves into melee combat, where as Ultramarines will begin to let their pride get in the way, nominating their Squad for more dangerous missions, become distrustful of non-Codex Chapters (such as the Black Templars and Space Wolves), and will feel slighted if not chosen for leadership in their squad. This all helps to play on the very human flaws that even the Primarchs had, which helps show that, despite their vast genetic and psychological differences, Marines are still, somewhere deep down, human.
This Chapter covers the Imperium of Man, including the organisations that form and help run the behemoth that is the Imperium, the different major groups that work for the Imperium (the Imperial Guard, Navy, Rogue Traders, etc), and the general timeline of the Ages of Humanity (stretching from the Age of Terra in the current day, to the Dark Age of Technology in the 15th to 25th millennia (when warp drive, Navigators, psykers and xenos were first discovered), through the Age of Strife, the Great Crusade and the Horus Heresy, and finally to the Age of the Imperium, the current era).
We then move onto the Domains of the Emperor, which describes the Warp, the various planets that make up the Imperium (covering broad types, such as Hive Worlds, Feral Worlds, Feudal Worlds and Dead Worlds), and the enemies of the Imperium (grouped into The Enemy Within (Heretics), The Enemy Without (Xenos), and The Enemy Beyond (Daemons). The broad styles of conflict and armies are also covered, describing how the Imperium fights in urban warfare, armoured warfare and civil wars, and the forces at the disposal of the Imperium, such as the Imperial Guard, Storm Troopers, the Imperial Navy, the Sisters of Battle, the Adeptus Mechanics (with their Skitarri Tech Guard and Titans) and the Space Marines.
This chapter gives a great broad overview of how the Imperium works, and whilst many people might think it doesn't cover enough, it gives new players enough information to be able to get a good feel of the setting, which is important since many players won't be coming from the position of someone knowledgeable about 40k.
I love this Chapter, as it covers things about the Deathwatch that have never been talked about or explained before. FFG were given almost free reign to develop and flesh out the Deathwatch, something Games Workshop doesn't allow lightly, and they haven't disappointed.
The origins of the Deathwatch are covered, showing how they were formed through a mutual pact between the Inquisition, predominantly the Ordo Xenos, and dozens of Chapter Masters of the Adeptus Astartes, which created the force we know today, equals to their Inquisitorial partners rather than subservient as was originally believed, and stubborn in their duty to protect the Imperium from the xenos hordes.
Also covered are the differences between the Deathwatch and an "ordinary" Chapter, and the changes a Marine makes when joining the Deathwatch, such as painting his armour black. There is also the organisation of the Deathwatch, which explains the positions of Watch Captains (who supervise one or several Kill-Teams) and Watch Commanders (who supervise entire sectors of space). This section clarified many assumptions made due to the tabletop rules, such as explaining that Watch Captains accompany Kill-Teams very rarely, in the tiny minority of circumstances where the support of a supreme veteran are needed. It also covers the several ways the Deathwatch recruits it's members, from Chapter's submitting applicants (after that Marine has been vetted by their Company Commander for strength at arms, the Apothecaries for strength of body, and the Chaplains for strength of spirit. Only then will a Marine be put forward to the Deathwatch for recruitment) to the Deathwatch making a general request to all Chapters in the area to draft Marines for the Deathwatch, usually if a major campaign is at hand, or the Deathwatch in that area has suffered major losses, to an Ordo Xenos Inquisitor that has worked with a Chapter suggesting a certain Marine to both their Chapter and the Deathwatch. All of these are ways that the Deathwatch gains members.
The various threats the Deathwatch faces are also explained, giving a page or so to each of the xenos races most frequently encountered by the Deathwatch, such as the Tyranids, Orks, Eldar, Tau, Enslavers and ancient xenos artifact remains. The types and styles of missions that Kill-Teams get sent on are covered too, both solo missions that just the Kill-Team will be on, to joint operations with other aspects of the Imperial war machine.
Finally, the concept of "Black Shields" is presented. These are Marines that will turn up at a Watch Fortress with their entire armour, including their Chapter iconography, painted black. This only happens once every several decades, and it is tradition that these Marines are not questioned as to their origin or reasons for being there, and the Watch Commander will accept them into the Deathwatch. These mysterious Marines might be the last of their Chapter, with their Brothers dead, or they might be the remaining loyal Marine to a Chapter fallen to the darkness, or even a traitor themselves, coming to the Deathwatch in order to redeem themselves to the Emperor. These Black Shields will remain in the Deathwatch until they die in service, unlike most other Marines. The concept of Black Shields is an interesting one, and one I like a lot, as it allows all sorts of interesting plot hooks with members of the Traitor Legions coming to try to redeem themselves, or to infiltrate the organisation, or a player character running from a past they'd rather forget but never seems to leave them be.
This chapter is an absolute must-read, and probably one of the best chapters in the book....
THE JERICHO REACH
...except for this one. This chapter covers the official setting of Deathwatch, in the year 814.M41, in an area of space on the Eastern Fringe called the Jericho Reach, in the fourth decade of the Achilus Crusade, an effort by the Imperium to reclain the Jericho Reach as it's own.
The Jericho Reach was formally known as the Jericho Sector, owned by the Imperium and home to untold billions of men. However, a few millennia ago, warp storms and other disasters spread across the sector, making interstellar travel all but impossible, until the High Lords of Terra declared the sector lost, renamed as the Jericho Reach, until such time as it could be brought back into the Imperial fold. Throughout that time, however, the Deathwatch remained in the sector despite the dangers, guarding against any xenos incursion.
Then, in 755.M41, a warp gate was found within the warp storms that mark the boundary between the Calixis Sector (setting of Dark Heresy) and the Koronus Expanse (setting for Rogue Trader). This warp gate was found to provide nearly instantaneous travel between the Calixis Sector and Jericho Reach, in a manner that bypassed not only decades worth of travel from the Calixis Sector (on the western edge of the galaxy) to the Reach (on the eastern edge of the galaxy), but also bypassed the warp storms that surrounded the Reach. In the interests of Imperial security, all information on the warp gate was suppressed, but the Achilus Crusade was formed, diverting forces from the Margin Crusade into the Halo Stars near Calixis (which since the start of the Achilus Crusade has since ceased to be, only existing on paper now for the purposes of the secrecy of the Achilus Crusade) through the warp gate, without the knowledge of the millions of Imperial Guardsmen that formed the armies, to the Jericho Reach. This was done so that the Calixis Sector, and neighbouring sectors, would not balk at the cost of the Crusade the Imperium was levelling on them, when the Crusade wasn't helping them directly, but was in fact occurring on the opposite side of the galaxy.
Since then, over 30 years have passed, and the Crusade has begun to stall. Whilst they originally made fast gains, the forces of Chaos, which have taken over many of the central worlds of the Reach, have slowed the main Crusade spearhead, the Acheros Salient, to a crawl, whilst the Coreward arm of the Crusade, the Canis Salient, have encountered an Expansion Fleet of the Tau Empire, who have been slowly moving in an subsuming human worlds into the Empire for the Greater Good. Meanwhile, the Rimward arm of the Crusade, the Orpheus Salient, after making huge gains, has been pushed back violently by the arrival of the Tyranid Hive Fleet Dagon, which arrived unexpectedly and has crippled the Orpheus Salient, wiping out over half of their forces and their entire Command (General Curas and his entire staff) are missing in action after the Naval Command Battlegroup that carried them was swarmed by Hive ships, and thus it is unknown if they are alive or dead.
Roughly 20 or so planets are described in the book, some with more information than others, but all with enough info to build on and set missions on, which is incredibly useful, and gives enough of a setting for GMs to develop themselves, but not too much that creativity is stifled. Several of the more important planets, such as the main Imperial planets, the Tau, Chaos and Tyranid controlled worlds, and the main warzones, are all covered here in a fair amount of detail, and all of them are interesting.
Out of the entire book, I think this is the best chapter. It has the most detailed and interesting setting of all the books other than maybe Rogue Trader, and covers everything in enough detail that, if you don't want to, you don't have to develop them much other than figuring where on those planets your mission will take place.
This chapter covers the enemies the Deathwatch will often face, and a series of NPCs you can use in your games. These include the Tyranids (where Hive Tyrants, Warriors, Hormagaunts and Termagants are covered, as well as Tyranid bio-weaponry), Tau (Crisis Battlesuits, Stealth Suits, Gun Drones and Fire Warriors are covered, as well as all the main Tau weaponry and wargear), and Chaos (which includes Daemon Princes (who are bloody hard), Chaos Space Marines, Renegade Militia and Guardsmen, and Chaos Heretics (fanatical types), as well as rules for the different Marks of Chaos).
Also covered here are the rules for Hordes, mass groups of smaller warriors, such as Imperial Guardsmen, that are given rules for fighting as a single entity, so as to speed up combat so you don't have to roll dice for each individual soldier, and that their fire might be focused so that, whilst a single shot would bounce off a Marine, a volley of shots might penetrate their armour.
The rules are light, loose and flexible, which means they are great for making combat easier to run. It treats all the fighters in it as a single entity, and so rather than Wounds, it uses "Magnitude", an abstract number that represents the number of troops within that Horde. When you attack a Horde, it's Magnitude decreases, representing soldiers dying, getting pinned down or retreating, and basically representing the reduction in combat effectiveness of the group. I like this because it means that the Marines aren't necessarily killing all their enemies, but making them flee before them and basically reducing their capacity to fight back. Rules are included for how Blast and explosive weapons (such as frag grenades/missiles) deal extra Magnitude damage due to the nature of the weapon, and rules for flamers and other weapons of that sort are covered in a similar manner too.
However, Hordes can be a lot more deadly than individual soldiers. Being able to mass their fire increases the chances of them injuring tough opponents like Marines or just mowing down normal humans or xenos. Instead of rolling for attacks from each solider, you roll for the entire Horde, with them doing a number of ranged attacks based on the tens digit of their Magnitude (a Magnitude 25 unit can do 2 ranged attacks) and being able to attack every enemy in close proximity in melee with a number of attacks based on what traits (such as Lightning Attack) they have, with enemies unable to dodge or parry their attacks due to sheer volume. The damage done by Hordes with their attacks is based off the damage roll their weapons do, in addition to an extra 1d10 damage for each tens digit of Magnitude, up to a maximum of +2d10 (so a Magnitude 25 unit with autopistols would do 3d10+2 damage with it's ranged attacks). This means that normal troops, in large enough numbers, can now be a threat to a Space Marine, which is good, as it shows that Marines can take down individuals with little problem, but mass numbers are an equal match for them.
Since these rules are quite light and flexible, I like them. FFG could have made large amounts of complex rules, but the point was to make combats against large numbers of opponents more abstract, narrative and fast-flowing, and the rules do that perfectly.
The final chapter is a short pre-written adventure, designed to be fairly easy to run and good at covering the new rules for Deathwatch, allowing a GM to ease their players into the new game. For a pre-written adventure, it's not bad, though not as well written as other books done by FFG, such as "Lure of the Expanse" for Rogue Trader, but that is to be expected of a short pre-written adventure as opposed to the campaign book that is LotE. It has a few good NPCs in it and an interesting twist in the countdown before the Tyranid swarms arrive, and provides several plot hooks for continuing on with the story after that adventure.
In conclusion, Deathwatch is a book that does what it set out to do, representing the Space Marines of the 40k setting in rules for the 40k RPG line that work well. Whilst, as I've covered earlier, the game could do with a few tweaks and several instances of rules needing to be clarified in the future through an errata, the book is entirely functional without any errata as long as you are willing to read over the rules a few times to make sure you understand what they mean. The art in the book continues the very high standard that FFG have maintained throughout all their publications, and the writing of the background is close to being as good as that in Rogue Trader, with possibly the Jericho Reach chapter exceeding even that.
All in all, this is a great RPG, and well worth a look at. I was a constant sceptic of the idea of actually roleplaying Space Marines, thinking they'd just stomp around and be in combat 100% of the time, which sounded boring as hell to me after the dark, gritty investigations I played through in Dark Heresy, and the exploration and adventuring my players went through in search of profit and glory when I've run Rogue Trader. FFG's Deathwatch, however, might just have convinced me otherwise.
With all that said, I give this book a solid 8/10. What is there is great, other than a few problems, and I can't wait to see what is held in store for Deathwatch over the coming months and years.
Thanks for reading,
Jordan "MILLANDSON" Millward