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Crystal Geyser

The Story of Sartorn - Can Deathwatch be Fun to Play?

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I’ve been wondering about the viability of Deathwatch as a game for quite some time now. Common complains that I’ve heard with the system essentially boil down to the premise of the game being too narrow and “railroady,” and Astartes characters not having enough actual personality to sustain player investiture. In this post and hopefully the responses that follow, I’m going to attempt to answer two important questions.


1)   Can Astartes characters be interesting?

2)   Can a Deathwatch Campaign provide players with the freedom to pursue their own agendas and goals?


Let’s talk about character first. Many view Astartes as cookie-cutter, generic templates that do not have enough flexibility to provide a basis for interesting characters. I believe there’s a way to not only construct Space Marine characters that can be just as interesting as human characters. I think the key to this, for those who find the stereotypical Astartes – a noble, proud warrior-knight – to constraining, even when modified by chapter tendencies, is to first create a concept of a human character that fits into the 40k world and then apply that same idea to a Space Marine.


For instance, let’s take the character that one of my thought of for Rogue Trader. The character is an Astropath serving a dying and withering noble house. In order to regain the political power and prestige of the house he serves, he astrotelepathically “hacka” the conversations of important figures such as rival Rogue Traders, Administratum Officials, Ecclesiarchs, and more. By doing so, he has accumulated a vast trove of political secrets, which he can use to both blackmail various Imperial Institutions and also predict how the political-economic climate is going to swing, allowing him to scheme accordingly. This character A) has a very defined personality with goals and B) has the freedom and agenda to pursue his own interests, due to his access to starships and the resources of a Rogue Trader.


Now, let’s take my theory and try to convert said idea into an Astartes. For the sake of this experiment, let’s call him Sartorn. We already have a few elements to work with – a dying power base, psychic hacking, and political ambition. How can we make this work as a Deathwatch character? Well, let’s say that instead of a noble house, Sartorn – a Librarian of the 6th company  – is a member of the Adeptus Astartes chapter known as the Marines Stygian, which has suffered a grand misfortune – the chapter has been earmarked by the Inquisition as a potential moral risk, and now other chapters and imperial adepta are giving them a wide birth, marking a stain on the chapter’s honor. However, the Adeptus Astartes have never been beholden to the laws of men, and if Sartorn were to, say, listen in on a private communiqué between a notable Inquisitor and an Adminsitratum overseer to get better handle on the details of the situation, then, well, who can blame him? Perhaps he learns that the Inquisitor is being bribed by another power group, one who wants the chapter out of the way. Or maybe there’s a traitor within the chapter’s ranks, one that needs to be eliminated before he bring the entire chapter to ruin. Or, just perhaps, the Inquisitor is framing the chapter, pursuing an agenda of her own.


Either way, the best method for Sartorn to get to the heart of the issue is to get up close and personal with the Inquisition itself – which, if he wants to remain unnoticed, means joining the Deathwatch. It won’t be an easy task, however. If this erstwhile Astartes happens to perform one too many psychic interrogations, people are bound to start asking questions – which means disposing of certain officials who would best be left silenced. To get closer to his target, Codicier Sartorn could end up spending centuries climbing the ranks until he reaches the title of Brother-Captain – centuries that the Marines Stygian don’t have, as there are already those within the Inquisition and the chapter’s first founding parents calling for the declaration of an Excommunicate Traitoris. So, to expedite the process, a number of Brother-Sergeants and Watch-Captains suffer mysterious battlefield “accidents”. Now, Sartorn is operating alongside the Inquisitor who has framed his chapter, and is in a perfect position to strike. But what if the Inquisitor is just a pawn of a greater force? Can Sartorn risk showing his hand too early? Or will his pride in his chapter force him to vent his wrath prematurely?


So let’s take a look at Librarian Sartorn – does he fulfill the requirements for an “Interesting” character? Well, let’s see. He certainly doesn’t embody the usual mold of a Space Marine, but his motivations make sense for an Astartes. He is proud of his chapter, and will do anything to clear their name if need be. He holds himself above regular men, and views their deaths as worthwhile sacrifices to ensure his chapter retains its image. He’s not without severe flaws – when you’re willing to endanger and even kill your superior officers to further your own aims, you’ve crossed the line that most other Astartes would consider acceptable. So, he possesses the motivations and mentality of a Space Marine, but with enough tweaks and flaws to making him stand out from the usual mold.


Now, is he proactive? Sartorn has his own agenda, which he pursues actively through political maneuvering and the use of his psychic powers, along with a healthy reliance on social skills such as deception and scrutiny. That being said, he also has the combative skills of a Space Marine. The chaos of battlefield provides ideal opportunities for him to abduct key officials who he needs to interrogate and to assassinate superiors so that he can earn himself promotions. The character isn’t just a combat tank that can shoot lightning bolts – he has cunning, and a reason to use it.


So, let’s take Sartorn as proof that Astartes characters can have a lot of personality. In fact, Sartorn has a personality and motivations that wouldn’t make sense for most human characters – the causal way that he sacrifices other people’s lives borders on psychopathic, yet he is motivated by a noble cause higher than himself. So, given that, we have answered Question 1: Can Astartes Characters be Interesting? Yes, they can. Now, we have to answer Question 2: Can Deathwatch Campaigns give players the freedom to pursue their own goals?


Let’s see how, if at all, Sartorn could pursue his goal, as a good character concept means nothing if the campaign doesn’t leave room to explore it. First, what does a “typical” Deathwatch campaign entail? The game has an undeniably martial focus, meaning your day-to-day adventuring is mostly combative. Also, unlike in Black Crusade or Rogue Trader where you choose where you are fighting and what you are fighting for, in Deathwatch you an inextricably tied to the Inquisition and the Imperium, who issue your characters their orders, missions, and objectives. Can players pursue their own objectives when constrained by the parameters of Inquisitorial missions? For instance, at the start of this hypothetical Deathwatch campaign, Sartorn’s first personal objective is to identify who his immediate superiors are and to decipher the chain of command, in order to calculate which sergeants, captains, and other personnel need to be incapacitated to bring him closer to his target. This is very difficult to do if your game session begins and ends on the battlefield. If Sartorn is immediately ushered into a drop pod, fired down to the surface, and then collected after the battle’s end by a Thunderhawk gunship, there is no time for him to pursue his own agendas. Yes, he could try and stake out his targets on the battlefield, but that’s very difficult to do without not only compromising your fellow players but also when you’re being attacked by hordes of ravenous orks – orks who do not, and should not, care that you have better, more important, and more intellectually stimulating goals to pursue. As such, in a “standard” Deathwatch campaign, where characters are expected to report to superiors, take orders, and be accountable, there is little room for side adventures or personal stakes.


Something I also want to discuss is whether Deathwatch is a game that rewards different play styles. To figure that out, we need to discuss how Sartorn would mechanically function. Sartorn is a character who relies on deception, first and foremost – skills like Deceive, Forbidden Lore (Inquistion), and Interrogation are all of great necessity to him. Additionally, an understanding of Lore and skilled proficiency with Telepathy are also must-haves. Admittedly, this doesn’t leave much room for Sartorn to prioritize combat abilities, in a game that in its default format is predominantly combat-based. Can Sartorn survive in such an environment, or will he struggle to keep up with and perform alongside the other Battle-brothers of his Kill-Team, mechanically speaking?


Now, let’s say, for the sake of argument, that in a more conventional roleplaying game like Dungeons and Dragons, or even Dark Heresy, there are mainly three character types – Brains, who prioritize Intelligence and Knowledge-based skills; Faces, who excel at social interactions and deception, along with economics; and Tanks, who serve as the group’s muscle. A game like Dark Heresy, or even the higher power levels of Rogue Trader, requires a healthy amount of different character types. A Rogue Trader party, for instance, needs a skilled diplomat to conduct trade, a knowledgeable specialist who can identify various relics and artifacts, and a warrior to defend against the hostile things that inhabit the space between the stars. However, often times these categories prevent a character from specializing in other things, meaning that a player who wants to create a more balanced character might find himself at odds with other characters who are more heavily specialized.


One way in which Deathwatch is a great game is that a character has the mechanical freedom to prioritize mental and social skills without being a completely incompetent fighter, as the abilities of even a newborn Astartes are formidable. If you, as a player, want to play a smart or sociable Space Marine, you can do so without sacrificing the majority of your ability to defend yourself – unlike in games like Dark Heresy and Only War, where your Adepts and Psykers are likely to be utterly steamrollered in a straight punch-up. This imbalance often forces Game Masters to somehow balance combats that will provide a decent challenge for characters like Arbitrators and Guardsmen, who can take a truly punishing amount of damage and still keep swinging, without those same enemies utterly murdering the party’s brains and face. Nevertheless, thanks to the abilities of an Astartes, Sartorn can not only keep up with his fellows on the battlefield but also invest XP in his social skills and psychic powers, without risk of becoming utterly incompetent.


But, unfortunately, just because you can create a smart or sociable Astartes doesn’t mean you should, and most Deathwatch campaigns reward combat characters first and foremost, as opposed to catering to players of all flavors. Deathwatch seems to be a game that severely fails when it comes to rewarding party balance, in that its extremely combat-centric missions leave little room, value, or necessity for lore-based or social characters – character like Sartorn. Let’s take a typical Deathwatch mission – the Imperial Guard has identified a key area that could help them gain a significant territorial advantage in a protracted war against the Orks, but the waves of waves of guardsmen being funneled into the meat grinder have failed to dislodge the xenos. Thus, the Deathwacth is summoned to remove the blockages. Let’s face it, being told that your mission is to charge a bunker full of greenskins and re-take a key bastion provides a great thrill for those of us who like to play the tank, and even players who prefer talking or thinking their way to a solution will likely enjoy bouts of posthuman-fueled bloodletting every now and again.


But what about when every mission follows this primarily combat-based formula, when the research has been done ahead of time? For our players who enjoy social interaction with NPCS, investigation, intrigue and lore, these objective-centered missions clearly favor one type of character build over all others. While in a Dark Heresy game a band of Acolytes is expected to be able not only to investigate and analyze a potential threat but neutralize it, for a Kill-Team all of the research has been done ahead of time – the enemy has been located, its weaknesses have been identified, and now it’s time to send in the Emperor’s Sword. It doesn’t really make sense for Astartes to be investigators or researchers, meaning that all of their intelligence is likely to be delivered by an Inquisitorial NPC right before the start of a battle.


We’ve established that, in a typical Deathwatch campaign, character variety is not really useful or rewarded, which immediately puts a mark against encouraging player initiative – so, while it is possible for Sartorn to specialize in deception, he will not have anywhere near as much time to exercise his skills as players with a more combat-centric focus. Given this, we can conclude that a standard Deathwatch campaign will not reward players who want to break way from the mold. So, while it is possible to create Astartes characters who are interesting and have their own aspirations, it is much more difficult to give players a chance to pursue these aspirations, perhaps even downright impossible within the parameters of a typical Deathwatch campaign. How can a Game Master construct a campaign that caters to players of all types, allows personal objective seeking, but also encapsulates the military lifestyles and regimen of the Space Marines? Additionally, how does he or she do this and also provide scenes in which social and intelligent characters can strut their stuff?


I’m not entirely sure about that part. What do you think?


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We’ve established that, in a typical Deathwatch campaign, character variety is not really useful or rewarded, which immediately puts a mark against encouraging player initiative – so, while it is possible for Sartorn to specialize in deception, he will not have anywhere near as much time to exercise his skills as players with a more combat-centric focus. Given this, we can conclude that a standard Deathwatch campaign will not reward players who want to break way from the mold. So, while it is possible to create Astartes characters who are interesting and have their own aspirations, it is much more difficult to give players a chance to pursue these aspirations, perhaps even downright impossible within the parameters of a typical Deathwatch campaign. How can a Game Master construct a campaign that caters to players of all types, allows personal objective seeking, but also encapsulates the military lifestyles and regimen of the Space Marines? Additionally, how does he or she do this and also provide scenes in which social and intelligent characters can strut their stuff?


I’m not entirely sure about that part. What do you think?


I think this is the crux of the problem with both Deathwatch and Only War.  Hack-and-slash is an easy trap to slip into in any RPG, but the martial emphasis in 40k even further encourages it, as do the rules.  Furthermore, as a GM it's quite easy to determine the results of a combat encounter and how to proceed, the same cannot be said of other types of encounters.


A friend recently started running a World of Warcraft RPG that highlighted several similar issues.  We had agreed to play a combat-focused campaign, but the sessions boiled down to a series of encounters with martial enemies in which we would simply trade attacks until either they died or we were about to; at which point more powerful NPCs intervened on our behalf.  There were a handful of investigative skill checks between encounters, but they served only to provide us with background fluff and had no effect on the actual plot.


Now, a lot of my frustration can certainly be chalked up to a novice GM and my own high expectations, but I found it interesting that the Deathwatch campaigns my friends ran several years ago had similar results while their Dark Heresy and Rogue Trader campaigns were much more enjoyable.  Both Warhammer 40k and Warcraft originate from wargames, and the vast majority of their background material focuses on combat, usually at a larger scale than RPGs are really meant to handle.  This is combined with both the intention to play a military-themed game and mechanics that heavily emphasize combat even within the system's capabilities; the Warcraft RPG rules used the D&D 3.5 engine but had been altered to match abilities from the computer game, resulting in far more martial abilities than usual; while social and intellectual abilities are almost nonexistent in Deathwatch despite their presence in Dark Heresy and Rogue Trader.


Simply put, everything about the game is pushing for as much combat as possible, which also means dice results will matter more than character actions.  I'm not saying creativity is impossible, either with characters or actions; but the emphasis is on the tactical rather than the personal, so where variety shows up it tends to be in method rather than motivation.  There are fewer relevant stats for the majority of rolls, so characters are going to have similar characteristics and be more defined by weapon usage than anything else, as that will determine how they act in most situations.


Frankly, I think Deathwatch needs less Deathwatch in it.


I know that sounds weird, but hear me out.  The campaign you proposed about Librarian Sartorn is hands-down the best idea for a Deathwatch plot I have ever heard, the only thing that even comes close is running a game within a single Chapter about Neophytes being inducted and following their rise through the ranks.  Even then, though, to actually resolve the major elements of your suggested campaign I'd find myself leaning heavily on Dark Heresy Ascension for the higher-level interactions within the Imperium; Rogue Trader certainly wouldn't be out of place either.  The mechanics (especially the class-based character progression and discrete "missions") of Deathwatch discourage the kind of campaign you describe, and so those other games and house-rules would be filling in the gaps.  Even if the GM was really good about including valuable non-combat encounters and the characters were engaged in the story, they'd still be fighting the mechanics of the game every step of the way.


In this regard, at least, Only War is far better.  The Aptitude system differentiates between character roles while still giving them the flexibility to develop in a more comprehensive campaign like what you describe; many Deathwatch classes have essentially no access to non-combat abilities whatsoever.  There's also more mechanical support for how the PCs might interact with superiors or the Imperium at large.  With the inherent mechanical compatibility of the various 40k RPGs, you could probably use Only War mechanics to run an Astartes-based campaign; only using Deathwatch for its Astartes character and equipment profiles.


Now, to be fair, Deathwatch is perfectly functional at its intended purpose; gaming the combat missions of well-equipped superhuman special forces teams against incredibly dangerous foes in an episodic fashion.  I find that enjoyable, but not particularly compelling.  I'm not going to look to it for engaging roleplaying any more than I'm going to look to war movies for engaging character development; it may be there, but that's not exactly the point of the genre.


I dunno, hope that helps.  It's an interesting topic, and as my SWRPG group is approaching the beginning of the Galactic Civil War, I'm seriously contemplating how to best transition to a greater military emphasis.  If you're interested in GMing resources, Age of Rebellion has plenty of information about how to incorporate non-combat aspects in a military campaign, and if you're willing to try switching systems I transitioned a Dark Heresy campaign to AoR (staying in the 40k setting, just changing the mechanics halfway through) last year with great success.

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When you are a hammer, every problem is a nail. I will be starting a Deathwatch campaign in a few weeks and have been thinking about this problem. The starter scenario where you are fighting off a bunch of Tyranids is really a bad example of a good way to play. With experience measured out by objectives completed, it feels very wargame-y to me. It's very good at teaching you how to handle combat, though. That there will be combat is a given, you are playing Space Marines, after all. I think the answer for my game will be to remove the PC's from the command structure. My ultimate goal is to run them through Ark of lost Souls (because Space Hulk, c'mon) and then, through the vagaries of warp space, put them on Istvan IV (?) before Horus turns to chaos. If they prevent that from happening, I will reward them with a trip back to their time, only the Dornian Heresy has occurred (look it up) and they are all from traitor legions in their new future. Plenty of opportunities for combat, and lots of role playing as well. This is my hope, at least.

I think the key is to remove the comfort of "following orders" and make the PC's think for themselves. My players are pretty mission oriented thinkers, and I like to shake them up once in a while. Wish me luck.

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"The mechanics (especially the class-based character progression and discrete "missions") of Deathwatch discourage the kind of campaign you describe, and so those other games and house-rules would be filling in the gaps.  Even if the GM was really good about including valuable non-combat encounters and the characters were engaged in the story, they'd still be fighting the mechanics of the game every step of the way."


I think that to solve this problem, the Only War/Dark Heresy 2e Aptitude System could be ported over to Deathwatch without difficulty. I’m currently running a Rogue Trader campaign using a conversion for Aptitudes as opposed to Career Ranks, and so far it’s been pretty successful. I think a fairly simple way to start off players with 6 Aptitudes, like in Only War and Dark Heresy 2e, would be to figure out their equivalents on the Career Rank/Specialty System.


Each Astartes, using the Specialty System, has essentially 4 Specialty Trees they can use to rank up – the General Space Marine Advances, the Deathwatch Advances, their Specialty Ranks, and their Chapter Advances. If we want each Astartes to have 6 Aptitudes (the number possessed by Guardsmen and Acolytes in Only War and Dark Heresy), I think you could assign Aptitudes based on their Specialty and their Chapter, similarly to how Dark Heresy characters get their Aptitudes from their Role and Homeworld. For their Chapters, they could gain Aptitudes based on the characteristics that gain bonuses during character creation. Similarly, each Specialty could have Aptitudes based on how easy they are to advance in the Rank Scheme.


An example:


Specialty Aptitudes
Deathwatch Apothecary: Intelligence, Defense, Perception, Fieldcraft

Assault Marine: Weapon Skill, Offense, Agility, Finesse

Devastator: Ballistic Skill, Finesse, Strength, Offense

Librarian: Intelligence, Knowledge, Willpower, Psyker

Tactical Marine: Fellowship, Social, Leadership, Willpower

Techmarine: Toughness, Defense, Intelligence, Tech


Chapter Aptitudes

Black Templars: Willpower, Offense

Blood Angels: Weapon Skill, Finesse

Dark Angels: Ballistic Skill, Knowledge

Space Wolves: Perception, Social

Storm Wardens: Strength, Defense

Ultramarines: Intelligence, Leadership


As always, if a Character would receive an Aptitude twice (such as an Ultramarine Apothecary receiving Intelligence twice), the player can exchange one of the repeated Aptitudes for any other Characteristic-based aptitude.


"...characters are going to have similar characteristics and be more defined by weapon usage than anything else, as that will determine how they act in most situations.


Frankly, I think Deathwatch needs less Deathwatch in it."


As for taking the “Deathwatch” out of Deathwatch, as you put it, I think the key might be to thrust players into an environment where they do not possess the aid or scrutiny of the Imperium at large. The mention of the Ark of Lost Souls module got me thinking – a good campaign premise could feature the survivors of a Space Hulk that has recently returned into realspace after centuries of warp transit. Let’s say the players are the lone survivors of a failed boarding action by the Deathwatch, and sustained such grievous injuries that their sus-an membranes activated and forcibly shunted them into suspended animation. Centuries, or even millennia, could have passed since then.


The campaign begins, in media res, with Apothecaries of a new, younger squad of Deathwatch marines awakening our players aboard the Space Hulk. Immediately our players are made aware of the sleeker, more advanced patterns of power armor worn by their saviors and the strange, unfamiliar heraldry they bear on their pauldrons. There’s little time for questions, however, as now they need to fight their way out of a hostile Space Hulk. Once doing so, the reality of their situation sets in – they’ve returned to an Imperium that no longer remembers them. Entire chapters have risen and fallen, and some of the characters might find themselves as the last survivors of chapters that no longer exist. Others might find their chapters have changed significantly since they remember, and no longer hold beliefs that match up with their own.


To add some intrigue, the players might even find that all the records of their original mission have been deleted, and that their own chapters have no memory of their great deeds. How could such a thing happen, and why? If a Game Master wants to take this even further, the players could be veterans of the Horus Heresy or even the Great Crusade, and some of the characters might have some explaining to do if they hail from the Legions that would later betray the Imperium. In this scenario, the players are not wanted by the Imperium, and will likely want to forge their own, new destiny. 

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I solve this is my games by giving Kill-Team Dauntless(my players group) a broad objective investigate rumors of xenos activity on planet (insert world here) and letting them figure things out for themselves a bit. My favorite so far was telling the team how an inquisitor lost a number of agents and they've been asked to check it out. The reknown and xp points still comes from achieving objectives and the like, but they get the chance to deal with local bigwigs and actually have to use their brains.


Case in point the finding of the lost agents. The kill team consisting of an ultramarine tactical, blood angels librarian, space wolf assault, imperial fist apothecary and an iron hand devastator. Fought native beasts, investigated the city the agents were last seen in, destroyed said city when they discovered that most of the important inhabitants were infected by gene stealers and requested a planetary quarantine then proceeded on the equivalent of a dungeon crawl to destroy the brood lord after which they left and allowed the inquisitors and IG to mop up.


The personal goals of the members I've had them write down when we began and I add to the list as we go so I can help incorporate the things into the story. The space wolf is seeking a lost relic of the chapter (haven't hammered it out yet) and I intend of having him hear a rumor so he can request the team go look for it. (SPOILER: it's on a space hulk I'm making)

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My players have been clamoring to play Deathwatch as a break from OW, and I am glad to have found this thread so I can explain why I have zero interest in running that. I also think that playing as space marines truly limits the game, as they are inhuman in both body and mind - incredibly powerful, but having no meaningful interactions with normal people on a day to day basis.


Deathwatch excaberates this issue, in that when the PCs aren't clearing space hulks they are meditating or training. There aren't really any chances to role play, and when there are, players can't really act like people. For better or for worse, they have to really work as a team of centuries-old warrior monks who are mostly devoid of normal human mental/emotional characteristics.


My players act like a bunch of self-serving grunts who will steal anything not bolted down and do only what is necessary to save their own skin. When it comes to Only War, that is okay and mostly expected. When it comes to playing as Space Marines, no Astartes would act that way in the first place and it certainly wouldn't be tolerated in Deathwatch.


They essentially want to play DW because of the massive power creep and access to advanced weapons/armor. They don't see the role playing issues as that important, as they aren't that big of role players anyways. They have so far ignored the fact that most of this game is set in space hulks and other tight corridors (combat situations they dislike and find boring) and have offered the alternative of just playing as regular space marines in the same chapter. That has it's own problems but for me, I just don't find this part of the range that compelling to play - and I think this is highlighted by the start of this thread. 

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I cannot disagree any more strongly with this thread. Marines have plenty of scope for roleplay and flexibility and are not just brute force killing machines.


I'm going to start off with debating the idea of them not having emotions. While every marine is supposed to be a template or a copy, all copies have defects and eventually even a clone fades from the original. Never has it been officially stated in any fiction (or at least agreed upon) that a marine lacks no emotion whatsoever and has no capacity for sentiment or mercy and indeed it is because of this that players are granted creative licence. Marines do have individual personalities and they do have differing beliefs depending upon their original homeworld. While every marine is a genetically enhanced super soldier, they still had past lives before they did this and those events have shaped their progression as a marine.


For example there are plenty of opportunities for meaningful roleplay. Black Templars and psykers for example generate a nice amount of player dynamic and friction, when one of them dislikes psykers and feels they are abhorrent while the other argues that the Emperor was also a psyker and that by insulting psykers they insult the Emperor himself. Those sorts of moments creates tension and allows for conflict.


Other options for roleplay concern how things are handled in regards to civilians. Marines are not all identical and some will value human life and if they have an opportunity to save a group of loyal innocent servants they may feed the need to do so, to protect the righteous and faithful while others will simply bomb the hell out of the place and say screw the collateral damage. When you get that situation you provoke conflict and icy receptions as say the compassionate one will shun the cold nature of the other and may provoke an argument back at chapter. Random made up conversation:

A: "You could have saved those people."

B: "Acceptable losses."

A: "Nonsense, they were innocent civilians who could have lived to serve the Emperor still."

B: "They died loyal, he will smile upon them now they are beside him."

A: "I find your callous nature towards the sentiment of human life rather disturbing and almost wreckless of how quick you are to condemn the innocent and the traitorous to death."
B: "Watch your tongue marine..."


You will get interchapter rivalries such as Space Wolf and Dark Angel, debates over whether the Blood Angel is quite in control of his rage, accusations that the Blood Raven is one step away from going Tzeentchian...this allows players plenty of chance to bicker and have those moments what makes them so human.


Expanded description:

Space marines can also fulfil their own agendas. Some do have conscience and some do feel remorse for their actions. Few men can condemn hundreds of thousands of innocents to death and watch them die without some effect upon the very mental state of the marine. While they may slay thousands of evil xeno on the field without a care, a marine watching a human perish may slowly have their very mind clouded and start to doubt or wish to undertake acts of penance. These can allow players an opportunity to complete their own agenda outside of their campaign or even take them down new and interesting paths. For example I did read of one such character who, for his failing to defend civilians, despite being commended for completion of the main objective, instead felt bad he couldn't save the rest and placed his services at the disposal of a number of survivors acting as their lone sentinel and watcher from the horrors.


Astartes are tough but even they are not enough to beat a more powerful organisation, the political wrangling and fierce beasts that are the Adeptus Mechanicus, Adeptus Administratum, Inquisition branches, Officio Assassiorum...and as easily as they can smack a Tau on the field, such a situation may arise where they must be taken out of their comfort zone and be forced to deal with representatives of each of them. Astartes cannot simply put their boot into everything without repurcussions. They might be able to order the Imperial Guard commander to fight for them with his regiment but without a sufficient degree of charm or social skills the men will only obey his orders, not follow him and treat him with respect. They may have to defend their actions against Inquisitorial scrutiny, try to debate with the Ad Mech for access to tech...messing with any of these can have far more reaching consequences than they may initially realise. Not all problems are solved by a bolter and chainsword.


Anyone who therefore claims that Deathwatch has no capacity for anything other than brute force and warzones is not thinking outside the box.

Edited by Calgor Grim

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Well, even though roleplaying with marines is harder than with an acolyte for example, it's absolutely not impossible. Players who are willing to roleplay will get more than enough possibilitys in DW.


You can find lots of support for roleplay in the books, but sometimes you have to read a paragraph more than once to really extract it. For example some of the oath descriptions really scream to be roleplayed.


For example the Oath of Glory: "The Adeptus Astartes relentlessly seek glory in the Emperor’s name, often pushing themselves to feats of greatness (even by the high standards of the superhuman Space Marines) against the Imperium’s foes.". I guess this is a push for a nice roleplay in battles.


Also, interaction with humans gives a lot of opportunities, as different humans will act very different towards Astartes. Mostly even depending on how the Astartes act towards them. In one of our last game the players were greeted by a population trying to read every wish from their eyes. After a psychic accident leaded to the govenours eyes exploding, they started to show fear for the astartes, whispering when they thought the KT couldn't hear 'em, fullfilling orders only as much as needed. Fun times were had :)


As I said, roleplaying with a marine might be a bit harder, just take your time and you will get a feeling for it.

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Being in year two of my weekly deathwatch campaign I can tell you that roleplaying as a space marine is an amazingly rewarding and varied experience.  Rivalries creep in, brotherly competition, massive differences in command styles and mindsets from different chapters.  In my crew, just look at these few characters from the Roster and consider how much difference there is.


Space Wolf Rune Priest


Iron Hands Forge Master


Black Templar Assault Marine


Salamanders Librarian


The Black Templar despises witchcraft and has had to learn over the course of the campaign how to deal with the fact that he has to work with them every day as brothers.  This has led to much conflict and massive character growth, at this point he isn't sure that he will ever be able to go home to his chapter because of the experience.  He just doesn't have the same level of Abhorrence he once held.


Salamanders and Space Wolves are renowned for their compassion for humanities masses.  The Iron Hand is the total opposite, and as his madness has grown from his transformation into the Machine, his disdain for humanity has only grown more prevalent.  This has led to many heated moments when the fate of worlds hung in the balance.  Yet his skill in battle and his unerring logic and tactical acumen has won him a great deal of respect from his brothers.


The Black Templar keeps a kill tally that continues to climb higher and higher, and is somewhat boastful of it.  This is a source of some consternation for the Space Wolf, as he knows that he has a more impressive record in battle, but doesn't want to antagonize the Templar by letting him know.  So he must endure the boasting our of respect for his brother.


The point is that not a single one of my characters acts in any way like a Cookie Cutter Robot Monk, but they have stayed true to the reality of what makes a Space Marine.  The stereotypes and tropes that follow are no better or worse than the Drunken Dwarven guy or the Tricky Halfling Thief, or the Rogue Trader with the Hat that is also a Weapon of Mass Destruction.  It's all what you make of it


As for the players having Agency, that's easy.  Give them a ship and have them operate autonomously on extended missions.  In my campaign the players rotate as squad leader each mission, the title is (Precoris) or first among brothers.  I gave them a Watch Captain in the beginning when they were learning, but he died very early in the campaign and has been replaced with a Captain who does not accompany them on their ship.  Instead important missions and hot spots are relayed to the ship and the Whenever the Kill Team needs to pick a new place to go they first pick what Salient to go in, then they pick from a variety of mission dossiers which one they feel is most important to them.  Then they go there and get involved.  Sometimes one mission trail leads into another one and they will often just follow right along with that trail until the thread is finished.  Usually that is only the prepublished campaigns, but some of my homespun web has kept the players busy for some time as they attempt to unravel the layers and layers of plots and enemies that beset them...

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It is a topic which comes up all too often in connection with DW. Of course the role-playing aspect mostly depends on what the players want from the game (yay, Captain Obvious!), but in my case it could be instigated by giving them lots of marine-on-marine interactions, mostly within the walls of Erioch. Just the splatbooks contain around 60 or so named SM NPCs, most with their own agendas, and a place where the usual beginner's toolbox of violence, threat of violence, abuse of real or perceived authority and browbeating people simply won't work. DW internal politicking can easily bring players to develop personal likes, dislikes and agendas. Now that leitmotif can be expanded to include Crusade leadership, Inquisition or other powerful entities. Case in point: Ebongrave and part 1 of Rising Tempest - my team so utterly botched the mission that they were forced to develop their characters in reaction to how they were suddenly well-known and infamous and subsequently many NPCs had strong opinions about, and plans for them.


Another similar event in my other DW group, spontaneously developed in this case, led to the characters honestly wanting to off each other (Templar and Minotaur catches Flesh Tearer libby drinking blood, during a Khornate battle no less, events stop them from executing him right away, now he drags the team from battlezone to battlezone as the leader to avoid having to present the report to their Watch-Captain). This leads to high quality roleplay as they try to out-manoeuvre each other step by step, gathering allies to their cause, but also bonding during situations where cooperation is needed in order to survive. The extreme internal strife admittedly needs very mature roleplayers, but it's really fun to run.


Also, it's been a while, good to be back.

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