On Saturday we had the chance to conclude my siege-based adventure for Deathwatch. This essentially boiled down to a linear series of crises for the PCs to react to – the arrival of an Ork gargant on the battlefield, an invasion of the upper hive by Dark Eldar slavers allowed through a webway portal by aristocrats who think the idea of a city where pleasure never ends is just dandy and forgot to ask whose pleasure never ceases, and so on. I think in other contexts this might have come across as railroading, but I think linear adventures are generally alright in Deathwatch and arguably demanded by siege-based scenarios. Deathwatch, after all, isn’t (usually) about parties of freelancers who get to decide their own agenda – it’s about squads of super-soldiers who get given missions and are expected to complete them. As far as sieges go, what you essentially have to deal with as the commander of a defending city in a siege is a long series of crises which you have to deal with one at a time as they arise. Granted, in periods of downtime you might be able to cook up plans to do something proactive, like sallying forth to raid the besieging army and steal their supplies or plotting an internal coup or something like that, but this is necessarily going to have to wait until a gap between emergencies. Provided you let the players have their heads when it comes to how they want to respond to these emergencies, it’s all cool unless you don’t actually have player buy-in to run a game oriented around linear missions or a scenario based around a siege – and if you don’t have player buy-in that’s a problem far more fundamental than whether or not your adventure is a railroad.
As it happened, I didn’t have the siege running over as long a timescale as I had originally planned. Given how sporadic the Deathwatch sessions have been (100% intentionally), I thought that dragging the siege out over even more sessions would begin to get tiresome, so I decided to wrap up the adventure with a high-octane session with lots of combat. I was worried that this might be too abrupt or get monotonous, but actually the players seem to have enjoyed this session more than its predecessors – cool fights are an opportunity to be show-offy and heroic, which is precisely what you want when playing a Space Marine.
Or at least, they are in theory. In practice there are issues here with the Deathwatch system; fights against inferior foes see the Marines steamrollering them, fights against tougher adversaries turn into games of what Dan identified as “rocket tag” – whoever shoots and hits first wins. This did lead to some tense moments in the game – the players were properly worried when facing off against a Dark Eldar Archon and a clonk on the head from the Ork Warboss’s power klaw forced Shim to burn a Fate point. However, it also means that Deathwatch encourages less-than-heroic strategies – taking out combats at a distance with heavy bolters, in particular, is just plain sensible. The Warhammer 40,000 RPG line in general has this feature and, to be fair, in other lines it’s less of an issue – for instance, in Dark Heresy your characters will probably be decimated in a fair fight, but you’re not meant to fight fair because you’re the Inquisition. In Deathwatch, 3 PCs ganging up on one Chaos Space Marine feels unfair and unheroic, but pitch 3 PCs against 3 Chaos Space Marines and you may easily get a TPK.
Another issue which came up this session was that whilst two of the three players were quite conversant with the setting, one of them really isn’t, which is something I and the others kept forgetting. This actually means that concentrating on combat helped, because as the Imperium teaches us you don’t have to understand something to blow it up.
On the whole, I think the Siege adventure was a success – the players especially seem to have enjoyed the chance to catch up with the lads they
pulled recruited in the first adventure. If I were to run it again, though, I’d have had the siege begin as soon as the PCs reach the Hive (or before, if they dawdle about getting to the Hive on time), and I’d have trimmed back the downtime sections which didn’t involve interesting fights. Likewise, if I run any published adventures for the group in future – there seems to be interest in further Fisting sessions, though it’s likely we’ll end up playing some Dying Earth or A Song of Ice and Fire or Mahna Mahna before then – I’ll probably look to trimming down any investigative components they cram into them in favour of hyping up the action sequences and fights.
- If the players signed up for a load of fighting, give them a bunch of fights.
- Remember to always pitch descriptions of stuff for the benefit of the player who’s least familiar with the source material.
- You don’t have to be a diablodon to get a TPK in Deathwatch.
- It might be worth tweaking the way Fate Points work to make them a little more generous, which may help the players be a bit more heroic in fights.