SupplementWatch

So to continue my 40K RPG roundup, I might as well go over the various supplements for Deathwatch. Perhaps more than any other 40K RPG line, Deathwatch‘s supplements had this odd split between ones which were useful for more or less any Space Marine-themed game and ones which were very much focused on the Jericho Reach, the default setting of the game. That’s odd because I genuinely don’t remember the Reach getting that much of a buzz, and I wonder whether Fantasy Flight were trying a bit too hard with the Reach-focused supplements to get people to care about a setting which hadn’t taken off. (Perhaps part of the issue is that, as the Ordo Xenos’ designated Troubleshooters, you can pretty much send the Deathwatch anywhere, and the Jericho Reach just wasn’t as interesting as any other random sector in the Imperium people could use.)

Still, the less Reach-focused supplements were, by and large, pretty badass.

Continue reading “SupplementWatch”

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Very Fun But Overburdened

Deathwatch holds a special place in the history of this humble blog, seeing how it’s the first game I wrote about on here. Out of all the Warhammer 40,000 RPGs it’s by far the most pure and simple in its tone; you play Space Marines assigned to the Deathwatch, a body whose members are drawn from all the different Space Marine Chapters out there in order to provide Astartes-scale backup for the Ordo Xenos. This obviously and naturally lends itself to mission-based, violence-oriented, alien-blasting gameplay. The Deathwatch concept is a nice, setting-supported angle to allow for PCs of different Space Marine Chapters to go on missions together, but the system is also robust enough that you can absolutely run a game based around a single Chapter, and there’s some quite nice rules for squad-based abilities and the like and the sacred history of your power armour and gunning down massed hordes of low-powered enemies.

The main problem with the game is that it’s built on the Dark Heresy chassis, which in turn was based on extending the WFRP system in directions it had never been intended to really accommodate. Whilst that just about works for the purpose of Dark Heresy provided you’re willing to play it as the low-power high-threat WFRP-in-space version the rules suggest, for the purposes of handling Space Marines it requires tacking on heaps of stat boosts and Talents (the FFG-era 40K RPG equivalent of Feats, with all the niggling exceptions and rulebook-flipping that entails), and pitching them against enemies with a similarly burdensome amount of game mechanical widgets.

It’s for this reason that I am less grumpy about the new 40K RPG expected for 2018, Wrath & Glory, ditching the Dark Heresy-era system in favour of a new one than I was about WFRP3 ditching the WFRP system. For one thing, they are at least having the decency to give the new RPG a different name, so it’s not like it’s claiming to be the inheritor of the legacy of a previous game whose approach it’s completely dispensing with. For another, they apparently intend to build Wrath & Glory from the ground up with an eye to making a system which can account for characters at a range of power tiers smoothly, and even provide ways for low-powered characters to adventure with a high-level party and still make useful and important contributions.

That all sounds great and the sort of stuff you need to do to produce a general system which can handle the full variety of player characters people might wish to play in a 40K-based game, and is exactly what Fantasy Flight didn’t do. (Ross Watson is developing the system and he was the lead designer on Deathwatch, and I suspect the frustrations he must have faced trying to make Space Marines work smoothly in the Dark Heresy model have left him with all sorts of ideas about how to accomplish this.) We’ll never know what Black Industries’ original plan was for when they got around to doing Deathwatch (it’s the third of the planned trilogy of games they originally conceptualised before they were shut down and the line was licensed to Fantasy Flight), but as it stands Fantasy Flight seemed to take the approach that you can just keep tacking stuff onto a character sheet and people will keep following it.

Now, to be fair, especially if you just relax and stop worrying too much about tracking every single little Talent and power every entity have, Deathwatch works reasonably well. However, it’s still stiffer and slower than a high-octane Space Marine battle really should be, and a lot of that comes down to the fact that the system is straining to handle all sorts of stuff it was never really meant to. I still have a certain affection for it, but out of all the 40K RPG systems it’s the one I suspect will be come most redundant for my purposes once Wrath & Glory‘s Space Marine support gets fleshed out.

A Stony Sleep, A Shaky Ending

It had been about half a year, which meant it was time for us to Fist again (like we did last summer). Having run an interim adventure so that the player characters were actually of a level appropriate to the campaign, I ran the gang though the next episode of The Emperor Protects, entitled A Stony Sleep. Session logs are up here, Dan’s thoughts are here and here, Shimmin’s thoughts are here, here and here, my thoughts are immediately below. (Spoilers ahead.)

Continue reading “A Stony Sleep, A Shaky Ending”

Listen to edited highlights of exciting Fisting sessions!

For the benefit of the user who got here after asking their preferred search engine “what does one feel with insertions and fists?”: you might get a better idea by listening to Shimmin’s recordings from the first Deathwatch mission, which he’s been posting bit by bit to his blog over the past few months. These are particularly significant gaming sessions for this blog, because they were the subject of my first few posts here, so if you’ve like what I’ve posted here over the past year or so, you might like to give them a listen.

Excellent Search Queries Episode 2

Subsequent to this: today somebody got to the site by searching “what does one feel with insertions and fists?”.

Can’t help you, friend; it varies a lot depending on which supplements you use, what tier the Marines are at, what career paths people have chosen in character generation, which (if any) prewritten adventures you use, how seriously you and your Fisting partners take the whole thing, how well you know the other participants, how much you trust each other and feel safe in each others’ company, how relaxed you are and which and how much lubricant you use. There’s just too many variables!

The Siege of Mersadie Hive: The Waaagh Hits the Fan

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.

Lessons learned:

  • 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.