Yesterday I set-to running my first game of Deathwatch. Having played Dark Heresy and Rogue Trader before, the rules were largely familiar, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable game to run. As the majority of this review will be positive, and thus of little use as critical feedback, I will apologise if I come across as negative, as these are the points I wish to focus upon.
The Extraction mission at the back of the Deathwatch book was the order of the day, a nice time based mission that could fit into an evening of play. Over-all, this was a fantastic idea, as the mission fits nicely into a 4 hour real-time slot if you keep combat dynamic, and go heavy on narration.
It is likely my inexperience with the system talking, but scaling difficulty was a bit of an art form, and some of the random encounters seemed to be 'time wasting' (rolling dice for the sake of it, insta-gib encounters) that I quickly glossed over as suspense-building 'you're being stalked' style encounters. In my opinion, 'weenie' creatures did not function as anything but a means of spending our limited time rolling dice for no purpose other than instantly killing them in spectacular ways; whereas hordes provided a fantastic experience, kept combat fast and felt a lot more cinematic.
This scalability issue, though over-come in hindsight, isn't made clear in the rules or Games-master tips, so a warning to first-time GMs is thus: mock-run some combats without your players, and gauge what will do what. You don't want to TPK them the minute they land, but you may find your final stand looking a bit impotent if you don't calibrate it to their current level of injury. Luckily the Hive Tyrant proved up to the task of putting at least one of them into critical, and looking to do the same to others until that pesky T-Hawk showed up .
This brings me to my next and final major point. Righteous Fury and Hellfire rounds. Dear lord are they a Gms worst nightmare if you dislike tweaking a situation in response to plain good luck. Our Apothecary unloaded hellfire bolts into the Tyrant was they were facing it down, the extraction vessel an unknown distance away. He rips off a full-auto burst, the first round impacting with righteous fury... again... and again... and again. 105 damage in total from a full auto bolter burst, after TB 15 taken into account. You can imagine my face looking at my prize 'better than you and killy' beast suddenly hitting barely double digits in wounds. Though heroic as hell and a big fun-point for my players during the game, a marginally higher roll would have (without obvious gm intervention) killed the Tyrant outright. To this end we will be play testing alternatives to righteous fury that capture the epicness of a truly critical strike without risking unintentional glory-hogging during boss-fights.
All in all the system lives up to every expectation. The character generation is great, the characterisation harking from the Dan Abnett/Graham McNeil era of Space Marine literature (3 dimensional, rich cultured men put into extreme situations from their very induction). The combat system, if you ignore solo/small group weenies as anything but a diversion/plot device, is fast, furious and representative of the kind of force a marine would be sent to face. And the mission itself is a fast improvement on what I thought were pretty bad attempts at introductory games in the back of the DH and RT books (fantastic games with poor rules induction). Every rule is given a chance to shine, and you can up or lower the difficulty of the mission to give any level of character a good game (hopefully with a near death experience at the end ).
Well I feel I have bored you for long enough, but please let me know if you feel I am being unfair to the game on my negative points, and have a quick glance over my group's debrief story (soon to have a connecting briefing in the after-math of the Tantalus consumption!).
For the Emperor!