Saturday, 3 September 2011

Beginners Guide to Deathwatch - Part 2 - Characteristics

Due to problems getting us all together in the same place at the same time we didn't manage to get a game of Deathwatch in today and due to me being extremely unsatisfied with how the narrative I did for the 2nd part of the last mission turned out I've decided to redo it which will take a bit of time. Fortunately I have something Deathwatch related for you all anyway (whether you want it or not, lol).....

So following on from part 1, here's a look at some of the basic game mechanics of Deathwatch the RPG.

As mentioned previously most checks are done by rolling two d10's to end up with a number from 01 to 100 and then comparing it to the appropriate characteristic on your sheet. If it's equal to that number or under then you've passed. Each multiple of 10 that you beat the characteristic by is referred to as a 'degree of success' indicating that you've been even more successful which can mean you have managed to accomplish something extra special, conversely each multiple of 10 you fail a test by can mean something quite spectacularly bad has happened. So if your testing against your Perception score to see what's sitting in the dark corner of a room a success might mean that you can work out it's an Ork, whereas succeeding by several degrees might mean that you can also tell that it's an Ork Nob armed with a Power Klaw for example. Failing the test would mean you spotted nothing, failing the test by a lot may mean that the Ork sees you instead.....

There are also a large list of Skills that relate to certain areas of expertise to show if you actually know something about the activity your attempting. Broadly speaking skills are either 'Basic' or 'Advanced'. Any character can attempt to undertake an activity that's classed as a Basic skill even if he doesn't possess it but does so with the appropriate characteristic halved. For example your character might wish to climb up a rickety ladder in order to get to the floor above, which in this case would be an Strength test. If he has the 'Climb' skill he would use his Strength score, if he didn't he would have to halve his Strength score for the purposes of the test. So a character with Strength 40 would have to roll 40 or less to make the climb if he had the appropriate skill or 20 or less if he didn't. If the ladder is particularly shoddy then your GM may impose further penalties on the test or require a different test altogether (Agility instead perhaps).
An 'Advanced' skill on the other hand cannot be attempted at all unless you have the appropriate training. While attempting to leap out of the way of a moving car (Dodge) could be reasonably attempted by anybody, performing brain surgery (Medicae) obviously couldn't.

Test Difficulty.
Your Characteristic scores are representing the peak of your ability in certain areas so a character with an Intelligence of 65 isn't going to be exactly pushing his abilities to open his front door but might have trouble rebuilding a Cogitator unit while blindfolded ;-).
In game terms a test would have to be challenging in order to use your full characteristic whereas an easy task would give you +20 to your score for the attempt. Modifiers range from Trivial (+60) to Hellish (-60) and no test can ever be modified by more than +/- 60 regardless of the help or hindrances effecting the outcome. Skills can also be upgraded to give you bonus's to tests by spending experience points. If the aforementioned smart-arse with Intelligence 65 also had the Skill 'Tech-use' at +20 then he might actually be able to rebuild that Cogitator whether he's blindfolded or not.....

Specific Characteristics.
Characteristic scores can be increased (by up to 20 points in intervals of 5) by spending experience points but the cost varies based on your chosen speciality. An Assault Marines first Weapon Skill upgrade costs a mere 200 XP whereas upgrading his Intelligence by the same level would cost 750 XP.

The first number in each characteristic is called the characteristic bonus and is used in some tests and abilities. A character with an Agility score of 39 would have an Agility bonus of 3 for example.

Weapon Skill (WS).
Weapon Skill measures the likely hood of you being able to hit an opponent in hand-to-hand combat whether that be with your actual hands or a fucking great Power Fist. You can gain -10 to this test if you 'charge' an opponent (you need a run-up though) or -20 if you 'all out attack' but the latter means your so committed to the attack that you lose the ability to Dodge. An important characteristic for a Space Marine (as your going to end up in combat eventually) and is an essential one if your going to be a character who makes a habit of hitting things (such as an Assault Marine).

Ballistic Skill (BS).
Ballistic Skill represents your accuracy with ranged weapons as well as throwing accuracy. Firing a weapon on semi-auto would modify the test by -10 and full-auto would reduce the difficulty of success by -20 but either way if your planning on a career as a Devastator this is the stat your interested in. Like Weapon Skill this is another important statistic for a Marine character but is in some ways less important that Weapon Skill for most characters. An Assault Marine (who probably rarely uses his Bolt Pistol at all) could survive quite happily with a low BS score whereas avoiding close combat altogether is an unlikely proposition for any character ;-)

Strength (S).
This statistic decides how much weight your character can carry, lift or push and it's bonus is also added to the damage done by melee weapons. Space Marines come with Unnatural Strength (x2) which doubles their Strength characteristic bonus and wear Power Armour which adds a further +20 to their Strength (added after the Unnatural Strength, not before). This stat can also be upped by certain Bionics and Power Armour modifications. Space Marine weapons are extremely formidable anyway and with the bonus's you get for implants and Armour this means that even the puniest of Marines will still happily punch a humans head off his shoulders without breaking a sweat.

Toughness (T).
Represents your ability to resist Diseases, poisons, toxins and the like as well as reducing damage taken. All Space Marines get Unnatural Toughness (x2) as standard which (as with strength) doubles the characteristics bonus. Any damage taken by the character is reduced by his Toughness bonuses value making a Space Marine extremely hard to hurt with primitive weapons and that's not even taking his Power Armour into account. Certain Bionics increase toughness as well but for the most part only in the specific area in which it's installed.

Agility (Ag).
A measure of speed, reflexes and general acrobatic ability and is also important when driving vehicles or being sneaky. Primarily used in conjunction with the 'Dodge' skill to avoid being hit by enemy ranged weapons and also to get out of the way of melee attacks. Your Agility bonus also directly effects how far you can walk, run or charge. Additionally, when deciding who gets to go first in combat all characters (bad guys included) roll a d10 and add it to their Agility bonus to decide the order of attack.

Intelligence (Int).
A measure of your particular Marines reasoning abilities and knowledge. An important statistic for Apothecaries and Techmarines as their signature abilities (Medicae and Tech-use respectively) are both governed by Intelligence. Also is used when deciphering languages, using 'Lore' abilities and other similar tasks. Both Apothecaries and Techmarines get access to a wide variety of equipment to supplement their aforementioned abilities so a low score isn't necessarily a complete disaster.

Perception (Per).
Perception decides how observant your character is about his surroundings and is used primarily in awareness tests. Space Marines come with the 'Heightened Senses' talent for both sight and hearing which give him a bonus of 10 to tests using those senses. Power Armour's Auto-Senses add a further bonus of 10 to tests making sneaking up on (or hiding from) a Marine a somewhat tricky proposition.

Willpower (WP).
A guide to how resilient your Marine is to the horrors of the 40K universe and is also the primary characteristic that Psykers use to see how effective their powers are. A Marine Librarian with a low Willpower score isn't a great person to stand next too when he's ready to use an ability ;-)

Fellowship (Fel).
The ability to befriend other characters and creatures and by extension also to charm and/or deceive them. An important characteristic for any Marine with the desire to be leader as it is the characteristic used for Command tests. As the leadership of a kill-team is meant to change based on the missions primary objectives it's not common for one person to lead a team exclusively though certain characters personalities may push them more in that direction. Whether team leader or not it's nice to have at least one character in your group who's capable of the diplomatic sides of dealing with people.

In Conclusion.
Pretty much every test involves a roll against a characteristic modified by the appropriate skill's modifier which makes specialisation a way of life in a Deathwatch Kill-team. As characters stats are generated at the very beginning of the creation process it's relatively easy to pick a character specialisation and Chapter that suits the values that you rolled. However most people will have a concept in mind before this stage so it can lead to slightly odd circumstances such as rolling a dumbass Techmarine or an Assault Marine who can't hit an opponent for shit. Fortunately the advance tables for Talents and the XP costs for characteristic upgrades are heavily biased towards abilities appropriate to your chosen career path so there's no such thing as an unplayable character regardless of how poor your starting rolls are. It just may require spending your initial experience points allowance on 'bread and butter' upgrades rather than fancy ones ;-)

Next time I'll have a look at the various specialisations and also my personal opinions on what makes a 'balanced' and playable team of people.

Thoughts and comments are (as usual) most welcome.


  1. I appreciate these articles, been trying to get some friends to try out deathwatch with me :)

  2. @ Metrosh - I've been getting e-mails about doing the articles but then don't get any response from the people who were asking when I do them, lol. So it's nice that at least one person appreciates them ;-)

    I'll probably do a couple more this week as I haven't had many 'fix my list' e-mails lately but I'm guessing that's because there's already better known blogs that do it and to be honest I've done bugger all work on any of my armies worth posting either.....


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