Friday, March 11, 2016

Deathwatch in 40K

It's always sad when real life interferes with 40K. Between my last post and early February, I neglected the blog in favor of trying to finish the Assault Squad. Unfortunately, on February 9 I slipped on a patch of ice in my driveway and broke my ankle. Within a week I had a steel plate and eight screws in my leg and doctor's orders not to put any weight on it for six weeks. Between the pain killers and the need to keep the leg elevated to reduce swelling, I was in no position (literally) to do any modelling. Instead, I've found myself dreaming of future modelling projects and keeping up on the latest hobby news.

That brings me to the new Deathwatch box. I've been interested in the Deathwatch's backstory for several years and was very exited to hear that I would soon be able to field them on the table. As with Execution Force and Betrayal at Calth, I had no interest in the board game itself and bought the box entirely for the models. I split the box with one of my fellow Cabal members, Jake, who is working on a Tyranid army. Obviously, I ended up with all the Marines and he took the Genestealer Cult.

The Models
As usual, GW has done a great job on the models. They're all highly detailed with most having been molded in suitably dynamic poses. I'm particularly excited about the variety of Chapters represented by the kit, each model reflecting the particular aesthetic of his Chapter. Given that GW has started to produce plastic models in Heresy-era armor, it's notable that the Iron Hand Marine, Ennox Sorrlock, is wearing a suit of Mk III armor.

Since the Deathwatch are supposed to have access to non-standard weaponry, GW has given a couple of the models some unusual wargear. The Imperial Fists' representative, Rodricus Grytt, has the fantastic man-portable Deathwatch frag cannon (it fires as an Assault 2, S6, AP-, Rending template or a 24" range, Assault 2, S7, AP3 solid shell), while the Salamander Terminator, Garran Branatar, has a meltagun mounted under his power fist.

The Rules
As I'm sure many hobbyists have done, I bought the board game so I can use the models in games of 40K. As far as I can tell, the Genestealer Cult's rules are pretty good. While the individual units aren't especially powerful, when combined into the Broodkin Formation with its various special rules, I think the Cult becomes a potent force that could significantly boost a Tyranid army.

Unfortunately, the Deathwatch is the opposite. Individually, the Deathwatch Marines are pretty impressive. With the exception of the two Ultramarines and the Imperial Fist (who isn't equipped with a bolter anyway), each model possesses the special traits of his respective Chapter. All models with bolt weapons are equipped with Sternguard Special Ammunition, even those with bolt pistols and the twin-linked bolter on the White Scars Marine's bike. And the unique Deathwatch weapons, the frag cannon and the Terminator's meltagun, are a nice touch. However, the organization of the individual units and the Kill Team Formation itself are nonsensical. I strongly suspect that the Kill Team provided in Deathwatch was designed to given players a wide variety of model types for the board game, with little thought being given to how the units would work in 40K.

The only way to get all eleven members of the team on the table at one time is to run Kill Team Cassius. In this Formation, the entire team forms a single unit; none of the models are permitted to separate from the group, even if they have the Independent Character special rule. This means that a Raven Guard Vanguard Veteran, who can use his jump pack in both the Movement and the Assault phase, has to maintain unit coherency with a Salamanders Terminator who can't even make Sweeping Advances. Other than being able to field the entire unit, the only advantage the Formation gives you is the allowance to re-roll To Wound and armor penetration rolls of 1. That's not much of a consolation prize for forcing two jump pack Marines and a biker to foot slog alongside a Terminator.

[Update 3/13/16: After thinking about it, it occurred to me that the allowance to re-roll To Wound and armor penetration rolls of 1 (which I incorrectly referred to as Preferred Enemy) is not the only benefit of Kill Team Cassius. Most of the special rules possessed by the various team members have the "A unit that contains at least one model with this special rule..." caveat. Thus, the full team would benefit from the following special rules:
Zealot (from Cassius)
Stubborn (from Gydrael)
Shrouded for the first turn and Stealth for the rest of the game (from Setorax)
Heroic Intervention (from Setorax and  Delassio)
Fearless (from Branatar)
Hit & Run and Split Fire (from Suberei)
This is a pretty impressive list of special rules and might compensate for the disadvantage of mixing model types.]

With the Kill Team Formation [possibly] being less than ideal, the only other way to field members of the Kill Team in a Battleforged army is in an Allied Detachment. That means that a lot of models will be left at home while others will be poorly supported. For starters, there are two HQ models: a pre-Battle of Macragge Chaplain Cassius (who is pretty unimpressive without his bionic enhancements and the Infernus combi-flamer) and Blood Raven Librarian Jensus Natorian. Natorian is a Mastery Level 2 Psyker who generates his powers from the Biomancy discipline. Which of the two will sitting out the battle is pretty obvious; when most of your assault-oriented units have jump packs or a bike, you have little need for a foot-slogging Chaplain.

The single Troop choice, Squad Donatus, would be the highlight of the Detachment. The Sergeant, the Ultramarine Donatus, is equipped with a bolter and the Precision Shots rule. The Space Wolf, Redblade, has a boltgun, two close combat weapons, and the Counter-attack rule. The Imperial Fist, Grytt, has the aforementioned frag cannon. The Iron Hand, Sorrlock, has a combi-melta and Feel No Pain (6+). Finally, the Dark Angel, Gydrael, has a plasma pistol, a power sword, and the Stubborn rule. Since all five Squad members are characters, the appropriately-equipped Gydrael can handle any Challenges.

The only complaint I have about this supercharged Sternguard Squad is that they don't have a Dedicated Transport. Unless your primary army is providing Donatus and company with a transport, the unit won't last long on the average table top.

The Allied Detachment only has one Elites slot, meaning that you have to chose among the Deathwatch's three options. There are two Marines with jump packs: Edryc Setorax of the Raven Guard and Antor Delassio of the Blood Angels. Setorax has a pair of lightning claws, Stealth, and the Raven Guard-specific rules, effectively making him the Kill Team's assassin. Delassio has the less-impressive hand flamer, chainsword, and the Blood Angels' universal Furious Charge rule. The third Elite, Branatar, wears Terminator armor and has a heavy flamer, a Master-crafted power fist, a Master-crafted meltagun, the Fearless Special Rule, and Feel No Pain (4+) against Flamer weapons.

Oddly, each of these three models makes up its own unit of one. Since none of them is an Independent Character, each model has to go solo. This is not a good recipe for survival. If I had to choose a single model, I'd probably choose Branatar, who can be brought in with a teleport homer to provide crowd control with his heavy flamer or to attempt to take out a vehicle with his Master-crafted meltagun. After that, though, he is an expensive one-wound model with almost zero support. It's unfortunate that I have to make the choice at all; I really like the jump pack models and would hate to have to leave them at home.

The lone Fast Attack entry is in the same boat as the Elites. White Scar Jetek Suberei is equipped with a power sword, a teleport homer, a Space Marine bike with a twin-linked bolter, and the host of special rules White Scars bikers get. Again, Suberei is a one-model unit without the Independent Character rule, meaning he's unlikely to survive for very long. Suberei's gimmick is that he carries a teleport homer, allowing him to bring Branatar or a Terminator Squad from another Detachment safely onto the table.

Ideas for a Future Deathwatch Book
I think a lot of us are hoping that the Deathwatch will get more models and an expanded ruleset in the future. I have a few ideas that I think could make a fully developed Deathwatch work better than the initial offering.

First of all, I think Squad Donatus is a pretty good example of what a Deathwatch Troop unit should be. The fluff suggests that Deathwatch Kill Teams are never particularly large, so their squads should be limited to five or six well-equipped models. The unit definitely needs a Dedicated Transport, though, with the Razorbacks seeming like the ideal vehicle. As a plus, GW could release an Inquisition upgrade sprue, with icons and symbols that could be added to any Deathwatch, Grey Knights, or Inquisition vehicle.

Second, Deathwatch fluff suggests that they have few Marines in Terminator armor. Thus, Terminators may often be part of a squad dominated by power armored Marines. The background of the Deathwatch board game states that, because of his slow pace, Branatar is typically teleported in when necessary. To represent this, a unit like Squad Donatus could include a single Terminator as a member. For a small upgrade cost the Squad could have a teleport homer and a special rule circumventing the usual Reserves rules, allowing their bulky squadmate to arrive at the end of a Movement phase when close quarters support is needed. The Terminator could arrive in unit cohesion with his Squad and remain a part of the unit for the rest of the game. Since Razorbacks can't accommodate Terminator armor, teleportation would allow the rest of the team to use a Razorback as a Dedicated Transport until they disembark and get into close range combat.

As for jump pack Marines and bikes, GW could release more such characters and allow them to form small units. I would love to put Suberei in a group with other fast attack-oriented Marines; e.g., a Ravenwing biker, a Raven Guard biker). Alternatively, jump pack Marines and bikes could be grouped into mixed units given that jump infantry and bikes move somewhat similarly.

However, if GW intended to keep Deathwatch in a support role only (which would be keeping with the fluff), an expanded ruleset could treat Deathwatch specialists like Branatar, Setorax, Delassio, and Suberei as "advisors". Unlike Independent Characters, they would be attached to a specific unit at the beginning of the game and would remain a part of the Squad throughout. In turn, the unit would benefit from the Deathwatch member's special rules and wargear. For example, an Ultramarine Vanguard Squad with Setorax attached to it would be Shrouded until the second turn, after which it would have Stealth.

1 comment:

  1. Have you seen 3d printed Warhammer 40k models? What you think about this trend? I'm more than impressed with the way figurines turned out. The only "but" here's that not everyone is having a 3d printer at home. What's your thoughts on this subject?


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