Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Deathwatch: Free RPG Day Impressions

Free RPG Day was this past Saturday, and I was able to participate in a Deathwatch game using the Final Sanction adventure produced by FFG for the event. It looks like an interesting game. It uses the same core system as Dark Heresy and Rogue Trader, which in turn was based on the 2nd Edition Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay rules originally developed for Games Workshop by Green Ronin. I point this out in the interest of full disclosure, because I'm a bit of a Green Ronin fanboi, and to point out that the game is based on a pretty solid system.

There are some interesting additions made to the system to better capture the sort of situations that nine foot tall super-soldiers in power armor are likely to find themselves in. Namely, the Horde rules. These rules group units of lesser beings (like rebel mobs or Imperial Guard troops) into single stat blocs that have special rules associated with them. The biggest of these special rules is that instead of hit points they have Magnitude. Magnitude is used both to record hits and to multiply the damage done by Hordes. As the Magnitude of a Horde drops so does its potential to do damage. There's also a morale rule using Magnitude whereby a Horde has to take a break test if it takes too much damage in one turn. If it fails, then the Horde is eliminated as any survivors flee.

While damage to a Horde is taken off the Horde's Magnitude, it does not act exactly like hit points do for individual creatures or characters. Instead of doing regular damage, a hit simply removes one point of Magnitude. This means that a hit from a bolt pistol does as much damage to a horde as a hit from a las cannon. In each case only removing one individual from thee mob. What really hurts Hordes are autofire weapons and blast weapons, which is to be expected as such weapons being fired into a group of people are going to do a lot more damage. Melee weapons also have a decent chance of doing more damage to Hordes, presumably because the users are wading into the Horde and downing foes left and right.

I don't want to get too specific with the rules, but for those unfamiliar with the 40K RPG system, it's percentile based where you attempt to roll under your skill or attribute to succeed at a task. By every 10 points that you succeed by, you are considered to have one "degree" of success. Every degree of success against a Horde with an autofire weapon does an extra hit and every two degrees of success against a Horde with a melee weapon does an extra hit. Since Hordes are at a +20 to hit due to their size, this makes those weapons likely to do multiple hits every time a Marine successfully uses them.

We played the system completely wrong at Free RPG Day (we treated the Magnitude as if they were hit points rather than as I just described above), but based on what we did do compared to what we should have done, I think these new rules should capture the powerful nature of Space Marines quite well. A Horde can still take down a Marine, but if the Marine uses the proper weapons for the job, then he can wade through those Hordes just like the Marines from the novels do.

One other system that I wasn't quite as impressed by, and that we really didn't use at Free RPG Day, was the Demeanours. Each Marine gets two Demeanours. One is based on his Chapter, and one is a personal Demeanour. These basically act as extra Fate points that can be used when taking an action that fits the Demeanour. The Marine is supposed to get an extra bonus if he really plays out his Demeanour well. This bonus is in the form of doubling the effect of the Fate point.

The idea is to bring a bit of character and roleplaying to what is otherwise a game about a squad of super soldiers killing things. I appreciate the effort, but I don't know how well it's going to work. There are two problems I see. The first is that the Demeanours are only useable once per session. This means that as a player I'm only going to be looking for ways to bring my Demeanour into play when I really need an extra Fate point, and ignoring them the rest of the time. If I didn't have this limitation, then I'd be looking for ways to bring in my Demeanours all the time, and thereby better emphasizing my character's personality.

The second problem is that some Demeanours are far more useful than others. In Final Sanction I played an Assault Marine with the Hot-Blooded Personal Demeanour. This is ridiculously easy to use in play. On the other hand, his Chapter Demeanour is Son of the Lion which basically means he's secretive, introverted, and untrusting. I could see this coming into play, but rarely in a way that it would apply directly to a roll. Other Personal Demeanours in the group included Gregarious and Studious, neither likely to come into play much in combat, where extra Fate points are most likely to be needed in a Deathwatch game.

Perhaps I'm being overly critical, and maybe it will work better in practice than it would seem to, but while I admire the goal here, I'm not sure that the execution really works.

Still, the game overall is looking promising, and while I don't know if I'll ever get the chance to play it again, I'm looking forward to seeing the full rules.

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