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roleplaying

Actual play: Deathwatch

Warhammer 40 000 Deathwatch RPG cover
Warhammer 40’000: Deathwatch

Ever since I first encountered Warhammer 40 000 in the guise of the original Rogue Trader rulebook, I’ve been imagining what it would be like to play as a Space Marine. For some reason this was never realized, not before Relic’s recent action take on the theme, Space Marine. Deathwatch RPG finally came out after Fantasy Flight had built its power level up through two “lesser” games, Dark Heresy (really good) and Rogue Trader (so-so). I just now finally got to play the game, trying and failing to figure out how to run it myself.

The premise for the campaign is a detachment of Deathwatch based on an abandoned Eldar rescue craft along with a nasty Imperial Inquisitor and all manner of alien threats in the sector. We played through an introduction, getting to know what we’re capable of and how we function as a team.

It was great. The level of power fantasy in this game far surpasses anything I’ve experienced in any other game, videogames included. We wielded the power to order kilometers-long spaceships to destroy themselves in order to grant us atmospheric entry, we commanded fleet elements to assault ground forces.┬áThe protagonists are so far above most of the forces they’re interacting with, you can pretty much do what you want without fear of consequences. As a war game and a giant sandbox, it works.

I’m still not convinced of the mechanics, but the way it’s run to us, that doesn’t matter. When the meat of the game is basically warfare and you’re not concentrating on the fighting in a round by round fashion, you’re forced to find interesting moments and scenes outside of combat. You structure the combat without rolling the dice when it’s inconsequential.

We discovered we’re able to dispatch some 250 troops and assorted armored forces without a scratch. We discovered that when something is finally strong enough to hurt us, this is still Warhammer – death comes knocking very easily indeed. We discovered our elevated, mythical status in the game world gives us a lot of leeway in how to deal with situations, not having to rely on force of arms at all times. We discovered we can cover an entire planetary siege, spearheading an assault personally, within a single evening.

As an experience, playing a Blood Angel Space Marine of the Deathwatch for a night, assaulting a heretical city, most closely resembles listening through a high-speed metal album that really gets to you. If we can maintain this level of awesome power tripping and mix it with space for reflection, this campaign is indeed going to rock.

All the power to the gamemaster. This exact same content, run by someone else, could have easily fallen flat. We happen to have the most cinematic, dramatic GM I’ve ever encountered. That he happens to be my best friend and I’ve never experienced his gamemastery skills before is weird. We’ve played together for two decades. Don’t keep your skills hidden, people!

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