Deathwatch is my first foray into the world of WH40K (not counting Space Hulk), and due to this, I am having some difficulty envisioning how this translates into a role-playing game. Don't get me wrong, the book is brilliant, the flavor is amazing, the material is rife with opportunity.
But most of the usual player hooks are dispensed with. Loot? Not really, though reknown is a way to get better gear. Money? Nope. Fame? Nope. Huge tracts of land? Nope (for either entendre). Progression? Well, yes. Absolutely.
My concern - or question - derives from the near perfection of the Space Marines themselves. It would seem that the will of the God-Emperor is the trump card to be played against any Marine who exhibits any semblance of self. Since the Space Marines have very little personal goals, and since everything else is controlled - how do you get a real role-playing flavor into a game where the characters are the perfect soldiers; driven, unquestioningly, by higher powers?
- Certainly there are tactical situations in which a characters' Chapter/Background will influence his actions, but how often will this play out in the form of role-playing?
- What does inner-party conflict look like? SM1 says attack. SM2 says defend. Commander says attack (beacuse it is the will of the emperor). SM2 capitulates. Repeat? Are there many opportunities other than this to have conflict? Sure the Black Templars dislike the Librarian in the group, and won't sit near him during chow, but will work/fight with him. Is that really conflict?
- Are all of the role-playing opportunities tied into combat and combat only? Again, perfect soldiers. Someone on here debated the idea of blackmailing a SM, and many dismissed this out of hand. I agree. But is there ANY weakness that can be used against the Space Marines.
- How do you role-play the idea of becoming Battle-brothers? This seems like a very key point to me. Many players I have known will simply min-max the concept and realize that using Squad mode gives them bigger numbers - so Squad on! But, I just can't see a newly formed kill-team working together as a crack unit. So how do you make the team "earn" it's dependence and fluidity with each other? Is this more a role-playing exercise or a rule set to say "after x missions, you get y squad mode abilities" or somesuch. Also, this seems very "binary." One day we are not brothers, and the next we are. I would like to see this be a tangible (for lack of a better word) milestone for a KT.
Again, I want to reiterate, I love this game, the material in it, and the flavor - and I am a newbie to the system and the world. I probably missed some things in my first readthrough of the galactic tome of knowledge that is the rulebook. I apologize if I missed stuff.
The tactical side of the house is outstanding, and I am looking forward to obtaining information on more foes. I could see me running a game and the folks enjoying it muchly.
My only concern is - it seems like it may devolve into Space Hulk the pen and paper version with a distinct lack of depth. As I am new to this arena, I am in earnest looking for any support/ideas you can proffer regarding potential character driven challenges and role-playing opportunities.
Thanks in advance.
You would be incorrect to assume that these marines have no personal goals. Everyone has personal goals. Do not think that the hypno-indoctrination has somehow stunted their personalities, because it hasn't.
The Will of the God-Emperor is what keeps them fighting for the Imperium... that's it. When they yell, "For the Emperor!" it's not just literally for the Emperor, but the ideals and beliefs that he instilled in the Imperium. They might as well be yelling, "For Humanity!".
Every marine feels a personal connection with the Emperor. They aspire to be like him in all things. Despite this desire, they are still individuals with their own personalities and goals.
Also, these marines are NOT perfect soldiers. If they were perfect, the Horus Heresy would never have happened. They very much so have a human personality, even if they are not truly mortal.
You'll see the Chapter play a large role in the role-playing of said marine. What you may see play an even LARGER role would be that marines personality. Their demeanor. Keep in mind, the Demeanors in the book are just examples of demeanors... if you want a full list of possibilities, just open up any dictionary and look for adjectives. In most cases, the role-playing will be a mix of Chapter and Personal demeanors. Either one could have more emphasis.
In your example, it would be more like this:
SM1 (blood angel): Attack! Let's spill their blood in the Emperor's name!
SM2 (squad leader, space wolf): Aye, that would be swell. However, they are entrenched... by Grimnar's teeth, that would be suicide.
SM3 (dark angel): What's wrong Mengsk (space wolf squad leader)? Scared of some puny mortals and their tiny guns?
SM2: Ahhh... the silent one speaks at last. What would you propose then? Shall we dance in front of them in our tiny white robes?
SM4 (ultramarine librarian): Gentleman please, why don't we use a northernly approach to our advantage?
SM1: Bah, can't we just engage them now? If we attack now we'll take them by surprise...
SM2: Fine fine, we'll attack from the front and from the Northernly approach. Good call, Librarian.
SM3: We should be cautious, this cult is known for their suicidal use of explosives.
SM2: Noted. We'll be sure to shoot the crazy ones first.
Roleplaying opportunities tied to combat alone? Hardly.
Actually, there is plenty of "small talk" between marines if you read any of the novels written about them... just not a lot of this "small talk" happens during a mission.
I think what would have been nice to mention in the core book is WHAT marines do in their downtime. No, I'm not talking about fire drills, prayer, squad tactics, etc.
I'm talking about the Space Wolves sitting at "the pub" together, downing lots of ale, while telling stories of their past victories...
Ultramarines playing chess against each other...
Dark Angels sitting together in shadowy corners as they watch the merriment of "downtime" that other marines get, while glaring at the Space Wolves...
Blood Angels chatting about "Oh, remember whats-his-face before he lost his arm to that ork Nob?"...
Black Templars shouting at the Space Wolves, "How can you drink in a time like this when there are blasphemers to kill in the Emperor's name!?"...
Storm Wardens listening to the thrum and rumble of shelling in the distance, conversing dismayingly that, "What I wouldn't give for some rain on this damn planet..."...
See? Those are interesting ideas that could be given as examples as to what a Space Marine does when not on mission. A bulk of your roleplaying is going to be done in-mission... that much is obvious. However, being able to carry over your personal discussions from "out of mission" to help mold your Space Marines personality, and where he fits with his squad, would be a great boon for all players.
Portraying the Space Marines in the above fashion not only does credit to the many novels that have been written about them, but it also humanizes them... breathing more life into what many would consider just "mindless killing machines... where is the fun playing one of those?"
You'll find that there are many of us here who are just as passionate about this setting as you are. Running Deathwatch can be as bland or exciting as the GM makes' it out to be. Space Marine robots? Sure, if that's what you and your players want. Heroes of legend? Yep, that works also.