Friday, 19 August 2016

Deathwatch Part 4 - Retcons, Reasoning and Missed Opportunities (Warhammer 40,000 Codex Review, 7th Edition)

So, we've now covered the whole book from the lore, to the weapons and units, to the Formations and detailed each in full. Well, as full as can be expected given the bare bones nature of the last one. By the end, it's clear that this is a very problematic book to be sure, and for everything good here there's at least one big mistake. This goes as much for the lore as the rules themselves, many of which lack direction, reasoning or even real imagination. 

One point, left by the ever awesome grdaat, noted that this book is a mess, and in all honesty it really is. Many ideas seem to have been thrown together with little to no thought, there is a very problematic lack of awareness on several topics, and if this thing had an editor he needs to seriously up his game. Even ignoring the outside universe and sticking squarely to the book's strengths, pages upon pages kept contradicting one another or seemed to have been written without awareness of the book's other pages. One other comment, made during the second part, pointed out how I should not have bothered to list the Stalker bolter alongside the Banebolts as no HQ choice can equip it. Problem is, the stats for the book itself lists stats for the Stalker firing these exact shots, so it's intentionally stated the weapon should be able to use them. Any five minute check should have been able to pick up this sort of thing yet it didn't, and other issues such as the remarkably fuzzy details surrounding Vanguard Veterans' jump packs only made things much worse.

In all honesty, while there is direction here and the start of a real identity to this army, it almost seems half finished in many areas. The artwork is stunning yet the lore is decidedly mixed. Units like the Veterans are a fantastic option yet others seem barely changed from other astartes codices, and all Formations save one were something which could have easily been written in five minutes. Hell, the vast majority of them were little more than a copy/past job with one another, just with the bits re-arranged; each was a Kill-Team, and each featured the same unit options. The only bit which changed was who the Veterans were were required to team up with, and who they had a bonus to help kill. That sort of repetition surpasses simple padding or experimenting with a single theme, it crosses over into simple sloppiness.

The book itself is rife with underdeveloped ideas, and were it not for the fully published cover and the fact it's on the shelves, this could have been mistaken for a work in progress. Vast chunks of it seem to have barely been developed past the conceptual phase, and speaking personally that seems to be the aspect which hurts this the most. It's not a formulated or finished idea, it's something where the writers have been apparently spit-balling concepts onto a book. Really, think about it for a second. Many core points introduced which break away from the traditional identity of the Deathwatch - or even certain rules - seem to be little more than a stub of an idea. It's as if someone asked "Well, what if this happened?" and promptly added it, but never bothered to follow up on it.

So, the Deathwatch are no longer part of the Inquisiton? Interesting, what can be done with this and how does it affect them? According to this codex, bugger all.
They have Guardian Spears now, why do they have them and what does this mean for their relationship with the fabled Adeptus Custodes? Your guess is as good as mine. At best, here is a vague hint that they were gifted them thanks to serving as the Imperium's guardians, but even that is frustratingly vague and simply says that it's "symbolic of their role as sentinel."
The book retains extremely similar Formations, each built to combat a different threat? Great, how does that work? It just means they all gain re-rolls to wound against certain units.

This sort of problem keeps turning up time and time again, when by rights it honestly did not deserve to. There was so much lore here, so much work laid down for Games Workshop to so easily adapt, so many rules and ideas that they basically had a guide on how to do it laid out before out for them. Okay, there would have been stumbling point still on how to adapt an army of this type, and issues when it came to retaining its own identity, but this was hardly an impossible task by any means. To accomplish this failure would require astounding incompetence, an alarming lack of imagination, continuous outside interference, a rushed deadline, or all of the above. That last one would explain a great deal, especially if there were repeated last second demands made of the creators, given how certain concepts panned out. This isn't, after all, the raging Ward level fuckwittery we have quite come to expect from truly bad writers so much as something directionless, scattershot and bizarrely half-done

Take the infamous removal of any link with the Inquisition, for example. Okay, they need to remove any link to the Inquistion, fine, that's difficult, needlessly problematic and creates a ton of new continuity problems across the franchise, but it can be done. But the results they come up with? Trying to justify the Inquisitorial sigil of their order by claiming "they both defend the Imperium"? Refusing to deal with any of the problems this causes where their authority clashes, the issues in lacking the Inquisition's resources, or even how it's basically thrown into the story via a minor sub-paragraph? That reads less like someone actually planned this out or really wanted it, so much as someone demanded it be thrown in at the last second. Whether this was a writer with seniority or an editor, or a writer suddenly striking out on their own, who can tell, but it certainly isn't well thought out in the slightest.

Also, for those wondering, this doesn't seem like the result of The Beast Arises. True, the new Imperial Fists origin was hinted at in the timeline without any real depth or detail, but if they were at least willing to latch onto that new retcon, you would think they would emphasize some greater connection with certain chapters. That or find something to help replace the void left by the Ordo Xenos being booted out of the army, allowing them to have much more of a backbone or something to help further reinforce their unique nature in the galaxy. 

As for why it was removed, well, that's the bigger question. The obvious one which comes to mind before everything else is the tabletop mechanics. With Games Workshop having segmented each army, regulating the Inquisition into some minor online-only codex, it seems as if they wanted them to stay that way. Doing this supposedly helps present the space marines as a power unto themselves, answering to no one and being in charge of their own destinies - The sort of thing which might seem as if it were a good marketing hinge to help build up a fandom, until you think about it for more than five seconds. Yes, I know we're harping on this particular point, but that last bit really does emphasise the problem: No one apparently bothered to think about so much of this book for more than five seconds.

What we ended up with here, for all its promise and some admittedly solid baseline ideas, seems akin to an Early Access codex. It's a half finished product, one which is competent and with certainly quite an interesting work for sure, but desperately needed much more time in development before it saw a release. That and, let's be honest here, a lot more imagination when it came to the rules involved. The Formations were little more than a throwaway section at best, and it really had no right to be that. Even if you accept that this was rushed, so much more could have been done to be more inclusive of the army's themes or even more of its units. Nothing there even tried to use the Land Raiders, Dreadnoughts or even the venerated Rhinos, instead opting for infantry heavy choices; and those we did get were pretty bloody disappointing to say the least.

Look, let's be fair and just accept that they were required to do little more than mash together infantry choices. Let's even be fair and say that they did need to have a multitude of very basic lists, similar to one another and each focusing upon combating a specific foe. Let's even just consider that certain ones did need to combine extremely inopportune choices of units, like putting Terminators and Bikes in the same squad for all the problems it causes. Even if we accept all these limitations, there is still a great deal they could do to help make each one feel distinct and allow them to stand out.

For starters, consider what the Deathwatch really are: A bunch of very individual, very distinct and varied marines bunched together and forced to act as a unit. Few share the same background or culture, and fewer still share the same talents. Their real strength stems from how each one is able to use their natures or specialist aspects to help cover one another and work as an extremely highly effective units. It is, ironically, the same ideology the Craftworld Eldar work on implemented on a squad based scale, so already you have a few ideas which could be worked with.

Let's say, for example, that one Formation required you to pair up a small number of Vanguard Veterans with a much larger number of standard Veterans. The former is intended only for rapid, fast paced assaults while the latter can be combined to work with any number of things despite a focus upon ranged attacks. So, why not have one influence the other, treating them as acting in unison despite their varied nature. As they move forwards, perhaps claim that the influence of the Vanguard Veterans allows them to run further or retain a much longer charge range. As they move in, perhaps they could also briefly break up, with the combat focused Veterans hurling themselves into combat while the guys with the guns stand back and lay down suppression fire. You know, something which could do anything from limiting the effectiveness of Overwatch volleys to effectiveness in melee or even piling into combat 

The same goes for stranger ones like mashing together Terminators with Veterans. Perhaps you could alter rules so that the Terminators keep being hit first by certain strikes over the Veterans despite their positions towards enemy fire, or even acting as a living shield-wall. Think of it as a kind of Roman tortoise formation or a flying wedge. One would be forsaking their ability to act in combat in order to help boost their saves in some way, allowing the rest of the squad to fire between them.

Even some of the more bizzare ones could just work a bit by allowing them to act in combination in some way. The bike squadron could gain benefits thanks to better knowing the lay of the land, or breaking off to help run down fleeing enemies Kroot Hounds style. They could even acting as spotters for the rest of the kill team to boost their BS skill. Others could even just help serve in other ways, like focusing upon co-ordination in battle, allowing others to pick up fallen heavy weapons and use them in place of their comrades. 

Even if you just wanted to go for the most basic option, they could merely gain a few abilities or bonuses to help take down certain enemies. Rather than unit types, perhaps the kill teams could focus upon certain armies instead, and have some ways to counter them. Against the Orks, this could help in beheading an enemy leader or forcing them to break from combat sooner than expected. Against the Craftworld Eldar, this could be moving in a certain way, allowing their armour to cover certain weak spots shuriken weapons exploit. Well, that or put the fear of She Who Thirsts into them by targeting their spirit stones. Even against the likes of the Traitor Legions, you could have the squad acting intelligently; use certain jibes or tactics to goad enemies towards them, or even baiting them with members from First Founding forces they have  score to settle against.

Still, for the sake of being fair, let's say you can't even do all that. Let's say instead that everything you have must instead be focused upon the squad itself over enemy units. Let's say they can't cover the entire squad at a time and instead need to focus exclusively upon those leading it. So, use the varied origins to your advantage. No rule within this codex even seems to acknowledge that the armies stem from a thousand differing forces, from the Space Wolves to the Fire Hawks to the Excoriators; opting instead to treat them all as if they were little more than Codex adherent warriors no different from one another. So, have the sergeant lead them influence them somehow.  Put a Dark Angel at their head, and have his mysterious knowledge of certain Chaotic foes or parts of the universe give them an edge in some areas. If a Space Wolf is heading them, have his pack mentality alter how they operate to a degree or let his enhanced senses to pick out enemy infiltrators or traps.

Even if this just comes down to giving a kill team led by an Imperial Fist the Bolter Drill rule, that's still something to work with. It gives more of an impression of a varied and unique force than anything on offer here, and it would be a chance to suggest this is a coalition rather than a bunch of guys all recruited from the same world. It would be a chance to try something just a little different here and there, and add some character to what is sadly a surprisingly soulless army. Again, this isn't hard. Each of the points brought up in the prior paragraphs were stuff I came up with while typing this article. Sure, they need work, but it's better than just putting some variation of "you re-roll to wound your enemy" on every single bloody one.

The community deserves better books than the likes of this. While Codex: Deathwatch certainly does have its merits and stands out with a few strengths, no one in their right mind would deny that this is an extremely flawed release. It required a great deal more work to truly do the army justice, and this honestly seems more akin to a dressed up early draft than a true finished product. Given that we are expected to hand over a solid £30.00 for these books now, even those with countless recycled units in them and half the size of a full army, I think it's only right we get what we pay for.


  1. Something they could have possibly done was give you the option to buy traits for Kill-Team Leaders, with the idea being that there's a set of traits associated with various famous chapters, but you can mix and match to forge a narrative and make your dudes.

    Something like being able to buy 'Kill-Team gets Tactical Doctrine once a game' and model the relevant sergeant as an Ultramarine or Ultramarine successor. Buy 'Kill-Team has Bolter Drill', sergant is Imperial/Crimson Fist. And you can buy up to three traits, say, with a list being given in the wargear section, each trait costed accordingly. I came up with this off the top of my head, kind of inspired by the talents you can get in the RPG, but even the fact I could do that suggests it'd be an interesting option. You wouldn't even need to entirely tie it to chapters: you could let any combination of traits be picked, just giving example trait loadouts to represent the famous chapters, and still go 'your sergeant might be an Ultramarine, but you could replace X trait with the Bolter Drill trait to represent him serving beside an Imperial Fist who taught him the fine Bolter Drill of the sons of Dorn'. It'd give the Deathwatch the sort of your dudes feel they honestly deserve because of their interesting composition, still give you straightforward loadouts if you just want to have a standard Ultramarine leading, but also give room for members of the Deathwatch to have learned from the representatives of other chapters who serve beside them.

    I'm trying to think how I'd fix the Kill-Team formations, because they're honestly the most horrible thing in this book to me. The fact that they're so bland and basically copy-pastes of each other is almost insultingly terrible for an army that should have a ton of character to it. I like the idea of merging different types of unit into each other and your suggestions really do give an impression of what this should have been beyond 're-roll to wound against X unit type' copied five times.

  2. I still don't understand their rationale behind splitting the Deathwatch away from the Inquisition. That lore is good. They are great alien hunters, best in the Imperium. Totally unnecessary IMO.

  3. I'm re-posting this because I tried it as one long comment and then the box vanished without a confirmation message, so I don't know if it went through or not.

    For a long while now this book hasn't sat right with me and I couldn't tell why, but I think I've figured it out now.

    For all their good parts, the rules are still a mess, and that's because they don't go far enough with them. They have weapons made to combat different enemies but they don't have units made to combat them, instead it's the same units from Codex Compliant books with a few extra options.

    Let's look at a good book, once again I'll bring up the IA4: The Anphelion Project (second edition), in that book they give a full army list for D-99, genetically enhanced superhuman veterans that serve as the military arm for the Ordo Xenos and are trained in combating specific threats, they're broken down into kill teams, and are extremely effective at their job.
    That sounds suspiciously like another organization that's supposed to work for the Inquisition, but the similarities end there because the D-99 don't suffer from bad writing. Every squad is broken down into fulfilling one specific role and it's a role they do very well, there's a low model count for the entire army, and thanks to the wide variety of squads and equipment on hand there's many ways to play them, all except the intentionally stupid/circus lists are pretty solid, and you need the units to support each other if you want to win (for example, the command unit offers solid buffs even Ethereals would be jealous of while certain squads can be completely helpless against some threats, and there's no way to arm them to combat those threats, you just have to use another squad).

    Compare that to this Deathwatch Codex: "Here's the Terminator squad. Figured that might as well go here, all other Marine armies have them." Same with the Assault Squad and the Bike Squad, it's so paint-by-numbers I doubt many people thought twice about there being regulated squads in the Deathwatch (I know at first I didn't, it's what I expected).

  4. Here's what I'd suggest, either have more squads branching off to fulfill certain roles better (getting access to more gear and/or special rules to help you decide if you do/don't take them) or have one squad that you can build anything out of.

    Start with one marine, this is the squad leader, do you give him Terminator Armour? Now he and whoever else is in this unit is an Elites choice, regardless of whatever else they're equipped with, they would also buy their terminator armour/wargear separately from him which could give you a mixed unit (as I said let us make anything) that would be capable of doing something it's normally prohibited from, for example a unit with Terminators and Bikes could be allowed to Sweep Advance as the Bikes would cut down the fleeing opponents, and a unit with Terminators and Jump Packs would allow the Terminators to strike sometime before Initiative 1 since the Jump Packers would charge in and draw the enemies attention/disorient the enemy, allowing the Terminators the opening they need (though I wouldn't say let them attack at I4, maybe 2 or 3 at most).
    Is the unit leader on a Bike/Wearing a Jump Pack? Now he and his unit are Fast Attack, same principle on the marines also needing to buy their leader's gear, in each case let the models using different gear actually support each other while at the same time offering their own drawbacks (using Terminator Armour amid Bikes/Jump Packs for example would normally be a very stupid idea, you lose the mobility of the latter, and the teleportation of the former). This could also spread to weapons, if the Squad Leader is still in his normal armour but has a Frag Cannon, everyone can take them and the squad will be Heavy Support as an example (or maybe they'll become Elites for Taking Xenosphase Blades/Disintegrator Gun that the 30th Anniversary Marine carried).
    In this case we'd be limited by what the unit leader wears, only being allowed to take 2-3 models with Terminator Armour/Jump Pack/Bike per unit if the leader isn't wearing Terminator Armour/Jump Pack/Bike as an example (same with the weapon examples I used, like the Frag Cannon). Make mission tactics not just be a 'pick your bonus' but a passive buff that's different for each slot and what they're armed with (maybe a Terminator led squad with two bikes gets a bonus to sweep advances, maybe a Bike led squad with Jump Packs gets an extra point of Strength on Hammer of Wrath, etc.) that affects them throughout the game and gives you a certain objective to fulfill for an extra Victory Point (a Terminator/Bike squad killing/sweep advancing the enemy Warlord for example).

    I'm basing this both off of the Deathwatch RPG since you'd pretty much never find anybody with the same gear, and very few with the same class (by the way, it's apparently Heresy to play as a Techmarine now since the Deathwatch don't have them in the Codex for some reason) as well as their Overkill game where they came very close to doing something like this but fell short at the finish line. I must admit it makes me curious how I'd do at putting together my own list (done in the same style as the one I linked). What do you think?

  5. You know what? I've got a vacation coming up and I'm actually going to try implementing this idea, as well as some of the ones you suggest here (before you reply I do realize you offered similar suggestions, I figured in my comment I might as well go a bit farther with suggesting how to implement ideas I liked). I would like your permission to post a link to it once I'm finished however, either here or if I could email it to you, because I'd be very interested in any suggestions you'd have to improve it.

    1. Really, if you have the time then you have my full permission to use any and all ideas listed here for your work. The whole point was to really suggest how things could be fixed and if you think you can put them to good use, please go right ahead.

      Also, sorry I have not answered some of your other comments until now. I've been a bit short on time of late and, with the prior comments, I honestly wasn't sure what I could add to those past bits. On the one hand, those are the sorts of ideas which I think have some merit to them (and mostly I didn't suggest them to avoid making them too close to the RPG) but on the other, it really depends how well they'd work given the smaller scale structure of the force. Honestly, it's worth experimenting with, but it might need some tweaking.

      I would, of course, honestly be willing to help however I can. That said, given the quality of your past codices, i'm pretty sure you'll do well.