Myself and Fiachra, a friend of mine, ran a Deathwatch scenario at Epiccon this year. We’ve run a few sessions of this and it’s stirred up the usual hornet’s nest in the back of my mind. Which you all are about to bear witness to. Isn’t blogging fun?

INHERENT PROBLEMS WITH DEATHWATCH THAT YOU CAN’T ESCAPE FROM:

1. It’s in the 41st millenium.

If your not already familiar with that, then either a)get familiar or b) don’t play deathwatch. I started playing 40k in it’s wargame format at the age of twelve, so obviously I’m fairly familiar with it, but for the uninitiated, the seemingly futuristic setting that often lacks futurism can be a shock. Of course, that often takes second fiddle to 40k’s general sense of ALL SKULLS, ALL THE TIME. Honestly many people are surprised that the entire human race hasn’t been overwhelmed by the sheer futility of it all and commited mass, galaxy-wide suicide.

2. It’s a bugger to get the hang of.

Deathwatch is the third installment in the series of 40krp, working on the premise that people have gone through Dark Heresy and Rogue Trader, (Both of which are excellent games in their own right that use precisely the same ruleset.) Unfortunately I don’t think they took properly into consideration that many people had been waiting all this time just to play Deathwatch and not playing any of the other games, so they made a game focused for people who were well experienced with their d100 system. I don’t know about you, but the persistent level of simple math required to keep a game of deathwatch running often leads me to fluff dice rolls like a mad-‘un. Essentially you are creating a super advanced character and using some of the most complex rules of the whole setting. Fine, if you’ve at least run dark heresy a few times. Not fine if you’re moving into it straight from 40k the wargame.

3. It’s got Space Marines.

Surely this should be a positive factor. Since, you know, it’s kind of what the whole game is about and what various people have been soiling their undergarments over for the past I-dunno-how-long. But what you need to understand is that from a roleplaying perspective, space marines are death. When you make a character for an RPG, you think up Background, Motivation and character traits. For a Deathwatch space marine, all three of these are typified by the following sentance:

“I shoot aliens in the face with my boltgun.”

There’s bugger all else to it really. I watched a friend of mine create a character for a once-off game. His character bio was essentially “marine X did his job for twenty years and then joined the Deathwatch.” That was it. Bugger all else. If it had have been any more two-dimensional I could have served it with sugar and lemon juice. Space marines don’t do anything else other than fight the Imperium’s enemies and get angry about it, so it requires some imagination to come up with something truly interesting. Space Marines also mean that the game suffers from it’s final problem…

4. All combat, all the time.

I’m not saying that every second of a deathwatch game is based ENTIRELY around combat… Wait, no, that’s exactly what I’m saying. You’ve got a character who’s got a fully reactive suit of powered armour, a genetically enhanced body and a gun that rapid-fires mass-reactive rockets. Doing anything other than combat is like showing up to a circle-jerk with a flask of viagra wearing three condoms and wetsuit. So if your not either in combat or contributing to an action that leads directly to it, then your going to feel like someone who has inadvertently shown up at said circle-jerk: Jipped on.

THANKS FOR TELLING ME WHAT THE INTERNET ALREADY KNOWS AIDO, HOW DO I FIX THIS???

Well that’s what I’ve been thinking about for the past while with the intention of having enough info to be able to at least suggest to someone how to run their own campaign over a reasonably long period instead of the classic, “two missions and we’re done” scenario. I have two pieces of knowledge so far:

1. Good character background is absolutely essential, because you want to use it inspire inter-player conflict. I’d almost be inclined to try and use a rogue-trader-esque system of background tracking to attempt to tie the group together, but when I say tie the group together, I really mean tear the group apart. Because if there’s one thing that we’ve found is really fun about deathwatch, it’s interparty conflict. Say what you like about teamwork being half the fun, when you know your squad mates are considering leaving you to rot, then the whole thing gets alot more interesting.

The second is the golden rule of GM’ing and should be liberally applied anyway, but I dunno, even more so, they deserve it, the acid spitting freaks…

2. make life hell for your players. The best thing I can think of is to promise them stuff, then don’t give it to them and make them operate over a longer period than they initially assumed they would. Every round becomes important now. Now you’ve got to get over your teamwork issues. Fight together, but still come out on the moral high ground from that other dickhead.

Maybe I’ll try and make more of this, but given the amount of deathwatch games we put in, it’s unlikely, however, I am always eager for suggestions. But right now I just want some sleep!

Night all!

Aido.

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