Alternative Deathwatch

The new Deathwatch Overkill game came with considerable fanfare from players and longtime fans of the 40K franchise, and I’ll admit I was excited. I’m a long-time fan of the Boys in Black, I like Inquisitorial units, and I’ve always liked the idea of the Deathwatch. So while most of the excitement around the internet, especially from old timers, was focused on the Genestealer Cultists, I’ll admit I was looking forward to seeing what GW could do with the Deathwatch.

I’ll admit it, I’m a little disappointed.

Not disappointed, it should be noted, with the general idea of the product. Rather, I’m a little sad that the rules that GW has put out for the Deathwatch (and kudos, GW, for putting them out for free online as well as in White Dwarf) are focused on a particular squad. If it’s in the Deathwatch box, you have it – and pretty much have to take it. If it’s not? You’re SOL.

Some of the units are fine. The newer, less scarred Chaplain Cassius is a fine example of his breed. Jensus Natorian is a slightly inflexible Librarian, but if you were going to take Biomancy anyway, why not?

The issue is once we get out of those two Codex-esq HQ choices.

“Squad Donatus”, which is the big squad of Deathwatch proper, is rocking all the usual hallmarks of “this looks good, but is way overcosted”. An on-foot Sergeant with a Plasma pistol. A bunch of Rapid Fire guns combined with a few dudes who want to get mixed into close combat. The squad is dripping with potential, and feels awesome – each member has their own Chapter Tactics, they look great, etc. But it’s a unit that costs 35 points per Marine, has next to no mobility, and wants to both get mixed in and sit back and shoot, all at the same time.

And then you’ve got a bunch of soloist units who, as far as I can tell, can’t join units (they’re Characters, not Independent Characters) and aren’t geared up enough to stand being on their own. Plus, you know, we gave the jump pack dude who might actually get into close combat a hand flamer and chainsword, while the foot-slogging Dark Angel gets a power sword. Blood Angels, Russ told you they were jerks, but did you listen?

Again, great models. Every Ravenguard player everywhere just got their new Captain model. Jetek Suberei is basically the perfect  standin for Khan, and looks amazing. But if you want to field all of these guys? 535 points. This then solves the “These guys can’t join units…” issue by gluing them all together, but now you’ve got footsloggers, jetpack guys, a biker, and a Terminator all in the same unit.

I get that you’d be taking this for fun and flavor but come on. I’m not asking for a competitive formation here, but it would be nice if it was at least coherent.

So, what if you want to field some Deathwatch without paying “Some odd stuff ported over from a boardgame” taxes?

The most obvious answer is Space Marine allies. The HQ of your choice, a small size squad of scouts for the Troops, and a squad of Sternguard for your elite choice, as they’re a match for the Deathwatch’s special-issue ammunition.

Bare-bones, that’s 230 points. Even fleshing out the Sternguard squad to be as big as it comes, it’s 340 points. Plenty of room to give them some toys if you want more special weapons, or gear for the Sergeant and Librarian for that bit of close-combat flair. It’s more flexible, the Librarian can take other disciplines, and with the points you save, you could buy a nice transport for them all to ride in.

But maybe having the scouts along doesn’t feel right. Just having this throw-away unit that’s not really “Deathwatch-y”, like your little brother tagging along on an adventure (no offense to the little brothers out there, mine’s awesome).

Enter the Space Wolves.

Yep. In my mind, the best way to represent a group of stone cold, individualistic and utterly awesome Space Marines is the Space Wolves.

Particularly, we’re going to draw from the Champions of Fenris supplement. Now this supplement has been partially supplanted by the new War Zone: Fenris book (a review for that is forthcoming, but work is insane right now), but it’s still for sale and there’s no reason why you can’t field a force from it – that’s the reality of the weird intersection between Codexes, Supplements, and these new “Codex DLC” books. Farsight Enclaves still works, so so should this.

The good news here is that the “Company of the Great Wolf” detachment has no troops tax, and instead lets you take a huge number of highly customizable elite troops. Normally used to make Thunderwolf-heavy Deathstars, there’s no reason they can’t be repurposed to make Deathwatch-style units.

They have to take 1 HQ and 2 Elite Choices, and can take an additional 3 HQs, 3 Troops, 6 Elites, 3 Fast Attack and 3 Heavy Support, along with a Fortification and Lord of War.

That’s a ton of Elites and HQs. Most of the units we’re looking at also have the Kingsguard special rule, giving them +1 WS. That’s nice for trying to get at the mix of close-combat and shooting that GW felt like it was going for, especially given that all of our “Space Wolves” have Counter-attack as well.

So what do we have for Deathwatch-flavored unit choices? First, we’re going to avoid anything overly…wolf-y. Second, we’re going to avoid named characters, and go for generics.

Wolf Lord: If you genuinely want a combat character leading your force, look no further. With WS6, 3 wounds and 4 attacks, a Wolf Lord falls somewhere in between a Space Marine Chapter Master and Captain, and can be equipped accordingly – for a price. The Wolf Guard Battle Leader is a super-cheap 50 pt. scaled down version who, while mostly just a warm body filling up that HQ slot, is still no joke in close combat.

Rune Priest: One of the cheaper options, a Rune Priest is…well, a Librarian. Don’t tell Leman I said that. Decent combat stats, cheap, and with the ability to take Psychic powers, they pretty much fill the same conceptual space if you want your force being lead by someone who has something to say in the psychic phase.

Wolf Priest: 20 points more expensive than a Chaplain, a Wolf Priest is essentially a Chaplain plus an Apothecary, coming equipped with the free power weapon, granting Fearless and Preferred Enemy against one unit type, and a Feel No Pain (6+) to toughen up the squad a bit.

All of these three are workable choices, just depending on the style you want, and how much you’re looking to pay.

But what about those two elites? In my mind, we have three choices: Wolf Guard, Wolf Guard Terminators, and Lone Wolves.

Wolf Guard: Coming in at 18 points a model base, Wolf Guard are stupidly customizable, and you can make each and every one of them a unique hero onto themselves. With BS 4, WS 5 (in this detachment) and with 2 A, they’re slightly better in close combat than Sternguard, with no loss in ranged accuracy. They trade Special Issue Ammunition for the ability to take a mess of combi-weapons, and any model can take items from the Melee Weapons and/or Ranged Weapons list. That’s basically combi-flamers, meltas or plasmas, plus pretty much every close-combat toy you could ask for. It’s entirely possible to kit one squad out for shooting, one squad out for CC, and go that way, rather than trying to build an odd hybrid unit. They can also take a tremendous number of vehicles as Dedicated Transports.

Wolf Guard Terminators: Nearly as expensive as a single one of the Deathwatch squad members, Wolf Guard Terminators come in small, minimum-3 sized squads for 99 points, armed with Storm Bolters and Power Weapons. Like the Wolf Guard, they can be customized to your heart’s content, including a pick-n-mix approach that could have you fielding two with Thunderhammers and Storm Shields, and one with a Heavy Flamer or Assault cannon.

Lone Wolves: Soloists who might actually be able to pull that off. One of these guys can be taken for each troops choice, Wolf Guard or Wolf Guard Terminator in your detachment for 20 points each, and they get some nice stats for 20 points – WS 5, 2 A and 2 W, along with Eternal Warrior, Fearless, Feel No Pain and Monster Hunter. They too can be kitted out to your heart’s content, and come in Terminator armor as well.

There’s also formations that let you do this without even paying the HQ tax. As long as you’re willing to take 10 Wolf Guard in a Drop Pod, the Wolf Guard Thunderstrike is a unit each of the Wolf Guard and Wolf Guard Terminators, who have their ranged weapons Twin-linked for the first turn they come in from reserves, and have both units come in on the same reserve roll. Thirteen-plus kitted out Space Marines and Terminators suddenly just showing up and blasting their way in is a good way to represent “The Deathwatch Has Arrived”.

I’d argue that these aren’t particularly competitive choices, but then, I’d argue the same is true of the Deathwatch units. You’re taking them for flavor, and in my mind, unless you really happen to like the particular units in the Deathwatch rules, you’d be well served by considering the army known for having elite, highly-customized units when trying to represent the Deathwatch, where each member is a hero in their own right, and comes with their own particular flair and wargear.

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1 Comment

  1. Some really cool food for thought – though I admit it’s more got me considering how I’d put together a homebrew deathwatch mini-dex. Shouldn’t be too hard considering how standardised marine costing is. Hmm…


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