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

by Ross Watson

Greetings, Deathwatch fans!

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

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

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

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

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

Solo Mode

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forward, Battle-Brothers!

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

Deathwatch is a roleplaying game in which players take on the roles of the bio-engineered super-soldiers known as Space Marines. United with their battle-brothers, players will complete extraordinary missions involving some of the greatest heroes and deadliest opponents the Warhammer 40,000 universe has to offer.

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Comments (19)

Published: 5/17/2010 9:46:48 AM

I had the wonderful opportunity to playtest this game. I can tell you from experience (I have over 20+ years gaming RPGs, minis, etc.) that these mechanics are neither complex nor cumbersome. There's more to playing a Space Marine than just killing the foes of the Emperor. One of the reasons the Deathwatch was chosen was to give players the flexbility to play a Space Marine and be able to go out and conduct missions in a manner similar to characters from other games. The Solo/Squad system meshes in nicely and really reflects how a Space Marine would react if he were put into a group of total strangers. Sometimes he would be able to act on his own (or have to) and others he would rely upon his squadmates. It's actually much simpler than you think and works very well.

It helps to think of these guys as you would an SG team from Stargate SG-1 (the best analogy I can think of for how Deathwatch Kill Teams are handled). A team is selected (i.e. the PCs) and they are sent out to conduct a mission within certain parameters. By giving them the ability to switch between solo and squad, you are able to open up a wider range of abilities that each Chapter has. Throw in Cohesion and you can see how the squad reacts under pressure.

All I can say is trust what is coming and you won't be disappointed.

Published: 5/17/2010 7:44:51 AM

So I have been waiting for 10 years to have a game with Astartes in, but this seems more like a descent/doom then an rpg.

One of the beauties of roleplay is just that - acting out the character, and though Astartes have a very similar attitude - kill xenos, the black library books have provided many intersting characters.

I understand the military neccessity of the game, and as such restrictions in how you play (think classic d&d paladin), but having alternative mechanics for play type seems more complex then needs be.

Deathwatch does not just have to be about squad mechanics and blowing up the bad guy, (40K wargame does that) but needs to reflect more the why's and wherefores of the character, how he accepts his new role in the Deathwatch, what it is to be squaded with legions and Astartes he does not know or maybe even understand.

With potentially hundreds of years of legion specific dogma, training and tactics to be incumbered with people who don't understand needs to be as much a feature of the game as grouping up and destroying Xenos.

The opportunity to play a god (as far as the average imperial citizen is concerned) is fantastic, and like any game I am sure the enemies you will face will be tuned to the capabilities of the characters, so combat isn't the be all and end all of the game in my opinion.

It would be nice to see thoughts on how this interaction will exist in a role-playing environment.

As to the Player vs character argument, I have run many tournament games with a wide range of players - the types who want to roll vs a skill, and the type that wants to get a result by pure roleplay ignoring skills on the character sheet, and I don't think any game can cope with the variety, imagination and cunning of individual players, and such choices are simply down to the Game Master to resolve, one would hope in the best interest of the game.

Also is there any chance we will see a Heresy expansion for Deathwatch ever - because as far as roleplaying interesting elements, this would be the daddy.

Published: 5/17/2010 5:37:50 AM

Marines have never been satisfactorally represented in an RPG before, it's a huge challenge and personally I like that Demeanors and these new Marine-specific tactical mechanics give PC's powerful new combat and social/skill options without harming Roleplaying opportunities, I could forsee the Kill-Team Captain geting a discount on initiating squad orders if he roleplays the instructions in a suitably dramatic or professional manner.

Gotta remember that yes, it's an RPG, but it's a Military RPG, so a lot of mechanics will cover how amazing Astartes are in combat, and any mechanic that encourages your PC's to behave like Marines in character is fine by me.

Published: 5/16/2010 3:35:33 AM

One of the primary goals of role-playing, even before it was applied to games was to help people express themselves in ways that were impossible in their personal lives, to cultivate the ability to work together and communicate well in a group with others and to develop social ability.

It is true what you say, that the skills are used in this way by players that are not very social, but then again when they roll for a charm without saying anything adequate, they are not role-playing. Personally, no I wouldn't auto fail them, but give them another chance to make it up by replying something appropriate. Now, if they weren't able to do it in the first place..well.. If an actor decides to assume a role for a play when his acting skills are poor to non-existent, maybe he should give up acting or start practicing in order to improve themselves.

Published: 5/16/2010 2:13:06 AM

Unless of course the character they are playing isn't very good at Charm or isn't charasmatic. The point of the roll is it should reflect your characters abilities rather than going off the players abilities. If the player tries to charm and says something unconvincing should they auto fail as well?

Published: 5/15/2010 3:04:33 PM

I agree on your example with the Charm skill and indeed, if the dialogue which the player role-played is well played out and sufficient, no roll needs to be made to cement that success. Let's not forget that the rules are meant to support role-playing, not replace it.

That said, we'll wait patiently and see what they have in stock for us in the future, although, as they say in the grim darkness of the far future: " Hope is the first step on the road to disappointment " :-)

Published: 5/15/2010 12:09:41 PM

I, too, harbor doubts regarding this rule. It also moves the whole group  one step away from roleplaying "by the seat of your pants" and towards a tactical wargame, where violent scenes are step-by-step die exercises rather than fluid moments of drama. It makes the game more like 40k, yes. And there's not much roleplay in how groups work there. Basically, my reservations are the same as for making Charm rolls after an acted out attempt at actually winning the other guy over by player dialogue. Even if you, as a GM, give positive mods to the roll it can fail - no matter how the case was presented by the player. So why roll at all? Either it's roleplayed convincingly, or not. In the same way, individual Marines will either cooperate beautifully or not.

Still, I'd like to read the full rule before deciding for or against. This small teaser probably doesn't do it justice, in the grand scheme of things.

Published: 5/15/2010 11:35:45 AM

I will admit that I share opinions with some of the people here, particularly regarding these modes and how they will assist or obstruct the role-playing capacity of a group. I would like my players to decide and work together because they choose to put their differences aside (if any) in front of their oaths, the Inquisition and the protection of mankind against any and all foes. It would be excellent if the willingness to cooperate and listen to one another was due to the trust was developed and earned in game with role playing and not simply because some rule dictated that "if we work together we can use *those* abilities and get another +10 on the test, or +1d10 on the damage roll"

Like some, I like that Dark Heresy is not level-based and that Now, I am sure that if one takes some time to read what the core book says about their career they can easily plan they way their character will evolve, without burning up brain cells from triple-analysing the various " vicroty algorithms" like in other games of the genre.

Other than that, I am having my reservations about the abilities and the way they are utilized, because it reminds me of games that everything had a rule, a card, a meter or a counter (like wfrp for instance) which over-complicated the game, albeit making it more beautiful to the eye.

Will have to see how this turns out and then decide whether or not its worth the effort for me. Personally I too prefer a game oriented towards less record keeping and book skimming, but hey, call me old-fashioned...

Lord Richter Castus
Published: 5/14/2010 11:47:13 PM

This sounds cool and all, but are we going to end up getting something like the Party sheets in WFRP? It almost feels like the game may be taking a big step away from the grounds that've already been laid down in DH. On the other hand, the squad stuff might also end up being like the sheet you've probably got set up for your ship in RT. I really hope that the "modes" are maybe just kind of misnomers, or maybe the(as it seems to me by reading the diary) "mode of thinking" they had going through the creative process.

Anyway, thanks again for a big update, and this sure sounds like it can be a fun mechanic to play with. Just please don't make it too difficult to blend the games in the 40KRP line. PLEASE!

Published: 5/14/2010 7:33:43 PM

First of all, thank you FFG for giving us specifics in the Designer Diary!  Concrete excerpts and examples like this are exactly what I was looking for.  Much obliged!

That said, I do agree with Terelo.  One of the things I appreciated about DH and RT was that the Ranks weren't levels in the D&D sense, but more an abstract measure of how much experience you had accumulated over time.  I do not like the idea that abilities are going to be scaled with your Rank.  Because really, that turns DeathWatch into a level-based game, not something I'm interested in.  Also, I find it over complicated, packing too many different things into one ability.  But really, a lot of this is just taste.  It's not objectively bad, it's just a taste I really dislike (but does appeal to folks like 'guessmyname')

The squad-based mechanics are certainly interesting.  I can definitely see the perks, but I'm wondering how much book-keeping it's going to require in play.  My tastes definitely run towards less record keeping and resource tracking, not more.  But here's to hoping those concerns are unfounded.  One thing I'm really wondering, is will the Sergeant of the squad have more authority/ability to activate these various squad abilities, or will their usage and activation be decided by meta-game player democracy?  Guess will see.

But again, thanks for the specifics FFG!

Published: 5/14/2010 5:31:03 PM

The best thing I like about these rules is that it gives players an incentive to step outside the chapter role. People have put forward  the question how these chapters are actually going to work together. This is clearly the reason why. Together we are stronger.


Published: 5/14/2010 5:01:57 PM

don't know if I like the idea, will have to how it plays out in a real game when i get the book, and if I don't like it after that i know what I can do :) change it and carry on having fun:)

really need to know more, Q: can you use stuff from solo mode when in squad mode? I need to have a good re-read after some sleep :) and see how i feel after that .

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