I've had a couple of e-mails expressing interest in the basics of Deathwatch as a role-playing game so I thought I'd jot down a few thoughts and then it turned into an article, lol.
A Brief Overview.
For those of you who are unaware the Deathwatch is a Chapter of Space Marines with a somewhat unusual structure. In basic terms the Deathwatch is made up of Marines from various Chapters who serve for an agreed period of time from a single mission to an entire campaign depending on circumstances. Certain Chapters have supplied Marines from the organisations creation while others started to do so at a later point in time and on extremely rare occasions the odd Marine just turns up and pledges service for reasons of their own. They also supply the chapter with various items of equipment from their own armouries for the Deathwatch to use, though the Deathwatch has some unusual items that it has acquired on it's own while fighting various of the Xenos races which are it's primary concern.
Once a Marine joins the Deathwatch (for however long that may be) he paints his armour black with the exception of his right shoulder pad (which will display his chapter symbol) and his left (which now sports the inquisitorial symbol) and has certain generic war-gear relating to his speciality. In extremely rare circumstances a Marine will just turn up at a Watch Station with his armour completely black with no Chapter symbol at all and offer himself in service to the Deathwatch. These 'Black Shields' may be excepted (or not) at the Watch captains discretion but are rarely (if ever) turned away.
The upshot of this is you and your friends get to play as a bunch of Marines from various Chapters and then go off and kill shit ;-)
You'll need somebody willing to be the GM (Games Master) who will make up (or use pre-made) missions for you to complete (hopefully) and also to act as all the NPC's (Non Player Characters) that you'll meet up with on the way.
The emphasis of Deathwatch is less political that that of Dark Heresy and Rogue Trader and is far more biased towards combat (well you are playing a genetically engineered killing machine) though the systems themselves are (almost) completely compatible.
You'll need some d10's as well as most tests involve you rolling two of them (one nominated as units and the other nominated as tens) in order to get a result between 01 and a 100 and then comparing the result to the appropriate characteristic (with whatever applicable modifiers added or subtracted) in order to see if you pass the test. Obviously a higher characteristic is therefore more desirable but not necessarily essential as long as your not rubbish at everything that is, lol.
I suppose you'll want to create a character now then?
The Core Rulebook has rules for a number of loyalist chapters to choose from and the 'Rites of Battle' supplement deals with the successor chapters of a number of them but the system is fairly flexible if you want to create a Marine from a different Chapter or (like me) a chapter you have invented previously. Rites of Battle has quite detailed rules for 'custom' chapters but we'll leave that for another article methinks.
Stage 1: Generate Characteristics.
All Space Marines start with a wide variety of Skills, Talents and Traits that they get by virtue of being Space Marines as well as certain benefits gained from their special implants. Deathwatch Marines also get extra training over and above what a normal Marine has to represent his specialist training. I'm not going to go into detail of all these freebies in this overview but suffice to say that a Space Marine starts off bastard hard before you even begin to roll dice, lol.
His actual stats start at a base level of 30 + 2d10 giving a result of 32-50 (0's being tens in this case) and this will obviously shape your character somewhat in your mind. For example, an Intelligence score of 32 combined with Strength and Toughness scores of 50 gives an immediate idea of a character stereotype (though not necessarily one you had in mind). You get one re-roll to a single characteristic which in the previous example might be a good idea to use on Intelligence if your planning a Techmarine or Apothecary character ;-)
Stage 2: Select Chapter.
The Core Rulebook has rules for Black Templars, Blood Angels, Dark Angels, Space Wolves, Storm Wardens (made-up purely for the Deathwatch book I believe) and Ultramarines with 'Rites of Battle' adding the Imperial Fists as well as rules for successors. Each Chapter choice has different modifiers to your characteristics appropriate to their background and some appropriate restrictions as well (you obviously can't be a Black Templars Librarian for example). Their are also different 'Modes' for each character (but we'll talk about those in later articles) as well as an appropriate 'Demeanour' which represents their beliefs. In basic terms your stuck with your chapters Demeanour but can pick your personal one (my character is 'calculating' for example).
Stage 3: Select Speciality
Stage 4: Movement, Wounds, Fate and Experience Points.
Movement speed is based on your Agility score with a +1 bonus to take into account your Power Armour.
Fate is a pool of points that can be temporarily used to re-roll fluffed tests amongst other things or in more extreme cases permanently burned in order to save your character from certain death. For example you could use a Fate point to alter a test down by 10 in order to prevent your character missing his jump and falling down a hole but would need to be 'burned' forever if your character had just been eaten whole by a Carnifex and you wanted to avoid your characters permanent demise. You'll get between 3 and 5 Fate points depending on your roll but 3 is the most likely result.
Wounds are an indicator of how much damage you can take and will be a number between 19 and 23.
You also get 1000 experience points to spend on your character in order to flesh-out his background a little. For those of you familiar with other systems in the range a Space Marine has basically spent 12000 XP before he even starts so is far superior to any starting character from Dark Heresy or Rogue Trader. There are a number of advance tables that your character can pick from to spend his points but that's a discussion for another time.
Stage 5: Starting Equipment.
Deathwatch Marines have a set of war-gear appropriate to their speciality that they can take on any mission as standard. Anything else will need to be requested from the armoury before the beginning of missions. Everybody gets Power Armour, a Bolt Pistol, 3 Frag Grenades, 3 Krak Grenades, a Combat Knife, Repair Cement (used to patch up holes in armour during missions) and a Chapter Trapping (a small item with minor benefits appropriate to your chapter). Each speciality then gets additional gear as appropriate (Assault Marines gets a Jump Pack and a Chainsword, Devastators get a Heavy Bolter, etc.).
Stage 6: Characters Life.
This is the stage in which you fill out the characters appearance, personal beliefs and all that Role-playing stuff ;-)
Okay, I think that's enough for now. I'll go into more detail about some of the game mechanics next time.
Thoughts and comments are (as usual) most welcome.