Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Deathwatch Campaign Journal - Part 1, Welcome to Threnos

Here is the first installment of our Deathwatch campaign. I am posting this on behalf of Adeptus-B

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My Deathwatch campaign is set in the Calixis Sector rather than the Jericho Reach (I also GM Dark Heresy, and didn't want to have to keep track of two radically different settings simultaneously). This is the introduction I used to establish the setting- after playing it out with the 'core' group of players in the first session, I have emailed this description to subsequent players who have joined our group after the initial launch to bring them 'up to speed'. I hope other GMs may find something in this that they find useful...

You have been recommended for service in the Deathwatch by one of your Chapter’s Chaplains, due to your evident zeal in combating xenos. You have undergone a series of trials that have proven your worth to the elite alien-fighting organization and been accepted into their exclusive ranks, to serve in a beleaguered Watch post on the outskirts of Segmentum Obscurus.

It’s been a voyage of several months, requiring transfers between a series of voidships until you finally reach the edge of Imperial space: the Calixis Sector. You await the arrival of the ship that will carry you on the final leg of your journey at an Imperial Navy substation orbiting a grimy planet called Fenksworld. Other Astartes from a variety of Chapters also await the transport; undoubtedly these are warriors who will be spilling their blood alongside you in your service to the Deathwatch.

After a few days an ominous black Hunter-class destroyer docks at the substation, and you are summoned aboard. As serfs carry your gear to your quarters, you and the other Astartes are directed to the ship’s chapel. There, you are met by a like number of Marines standing at attention; their armour gleams as if recently repainted in their Chapter colours, and each holds a stylized silver shoulder plate in their hands. One by one, these Battle-Brothers step forward and ask each of your group in turn to place a hand on the shoulder plate’s skull-and-crossbones icon and recite the Oath of Binding, the pledge of loyalty to the Deathwatch and the vow to keep its secrets. This ritual complete, the Space Marines mustering out of Deathwatch service hand off their shoulder plates to their replacements and take their leave.

As the destroyer pulls away from the orbital facility and enters the warp, a staff of armourers aboard ship begins the process of modifying your armour, lacquering it Deathwatch black and adding the silver shoulder plate, electroplating the left arm to match. As this painstaking procedure is being undertaken, you and your Battle-Brothers begin undergoing rounds of hypno-indoctrination in the secrets and tactics of the Deathwatch.

Six months go by as the destroyer plies the warp, although temporal distortion makes it seem as though only a few weeks have passed. Finally, claxons sound to indicate that the ship is transitioning back into realspace. Plasma engines rumble for several hours as the destroyer approaches its destination; during this time, your keen hearing the faint, static-filled sounds of Imperial hymns emanating from vox speakers throughout the ship…

Eventually the unmistakable sounds of docking resound through the vessel, letting you know you have finally reached your destination: Watch Fortress Threnos.

You and your new comrades assemble in the destroyer’s primary airlock, clad in power armour newly bedecked with the iconography of the Deathwatch. As you snap to attention, the airlock door hisses open, revealing a large hanger bay beyond. Within the hanger stand one hundred Chapter Serfs in precise rows, clad in somber robes. As one, the serfs drop to a kneeling position, leaving a single figure standing erect in the hanger. He is a fellow Space Marine, clad in Deathwatch colours and bearing the rank insignia of a Captain. His right shoulder plate displays the symbol of his parent Chapter: the mysterious Dark Angels. He is helmetless, revealing a face that has been horrendously scarred: large areas of flesh have been dissolved down to bare skull. The bone has also been damaged, as attested to by the extensive metal reinforcements embedded into areas of exposed skull. One eye was clearly beyond saving, and has been replaced with a glaring red cybernetic implant. The captain stands silent, clearly awaiting a salute; when it is given he quickly returns it an addresses your group: “Welcome to the Deathwatch, Battle-Brothers,” he growls in a rasping voice, as damaged as his visage. “I’m Captain Korvus. I’ll be overseeing your training. You’ve received preliminary implantation of basic Deathwatch protocols during your voyage- now we will begin implementing that knowledge in the live-fire arenas. But first, the Watch Commander has requested your presence in the Chamber of Vigilance. The serfs will attend to your possessions.”

The Captain leads you through a twisting labyrinth of corridors within the orbiting Watch Fortress, passing a number of serfs, scribes, and technicians along the way, all of whom bow reverently in your presence. After several minutes of walking you arrive at a large arched door of adamantine, its surface inscribed with hundreds of names. “Battle-Brothers who have fallen in service of the Calixis Sector Deathwatch since its founding two thousand years ago,” explains Captain Korvus as he enters his authorization code to open the door. Just before the two halves of the great door hiss open, you notice that there is room for more names to be added to this roll call of the dead, and you can’t help but wonder- will yours be among them…?

The Chamber of Vigilance is a large octagonal room with a cathedral ceiling. Monitors line almost every wall, interspersed with stout support columns sculpted to resemble heroes of the Angevin Crusade. A circular table stands unoccupied in the center of the room. Other than the integral servitors monitoring the data flashing across the many vid-screens, the only one in the Chamber is a Space Marine clad in elaborate Artificer armour, the Deathwatch black accented with numerous silver flourishes. He turns as you enter, hands clasped behind his back, and you see than his face is weathered and lined, but strong. He has long white hair and sharp green eyes; the plate on his right shoulder indicates that he hails from the famed Ultramarines.

“Welcome to Watch Fortress Threnos, sons of the Emperor. I am Commander Ramius, senior officer of the Calixian Deathwatch- a position I have had the honour to hold for four centuries now. Here you will receive specialized training in how best to combat the xeno menace that threatens the Imperium on all sides. And worry not- your tour in the Deathwatch will be no mere academic exercise: you will be afforded a wealth of opportunities to practice what you have learned by smiting the enemies of Mankind, honing your skills while earning honour for yourself and your Chapter.

“The enemies of the Emperor are many and varied here on the very edge of Imperial space. Calixis is a young sector by Imperial standards; it’s been a mere two millennia since the Angevin Crusade brought the Emperor’s light to this benighted region, and there are many indigenous species ripe for extermination. Aboriginal Enoulians, scavenging Morgauth, and sinister Draethi will all be targets of your wrath. Many of the well-known xeno threats that span the galaxy are found here as well: savage Ork warbands and piratical Eldar Kabals also menace the Calixis Sector. And then there are the Q'orl, the Verminthiculians, the mystery of the Maggot Men...

“And our commitment extends beyond the sector border as well- the Calixian Deathwatch is pledged to support the war-torn Spinward Front and the settlement of the Koronus Expanse." As the Watch Commander speaks, a series of star charts flash across the Chamber's largest pictscreen, revealing the daunting size of the watch Fortress' jurisdiction.

“Unfortunately, not all of our enemies are aliens: trade in forbidden xeno artifacts and technology- dubbed the ‘Cold Trade’ by the criminal underground- flourishes within the sector, bringing us into frequent conflict with humans who have betrayed their duty to the Emperor for monetary gain. This disgraceful lust for the tools of damnation dictates the placement of this very Watch Fortress.” Commander Ramius touches a button on a control console, calling up an image of a charred, lifeless planet surface. “This is the world below us, the former capitol of the Chaos-worshiping Yu’Vath empire which ruled this region of space before being cast down by the Angevin Crusade. Orbital bombardment at the climax of the Crusade scoured the planet’s surface, but untold leagues of tunnels still exist deep underground. Adeptus Mechanicus explorator teams are excavating these tunnels and destroying the blasphemous artifacts discovered therein, but they have barely made a dent in the hidden secrets left behind by the Yu’Vath. Hence, Watch Fortress Threnos must remain ever vigilant against those traitors to the Emperor who would plunder the hidden mysteries far below, without regard to the evils they may unleash.

“All these threats and more the Calixian Deathwatch must be prepared to stand against. But first: you must be weary from your long voyage. Undoubtedly you are eager to exercise your battle skills. Captain Korvus can arrange a live-fire exercise in one of the station’s battle arenas.”

-And from there, we ran a few 'training sessions' in the Watch Fortress' combat arenas, with the newly-formed Killteam taking on waves of Combat Servitors (both individual Astartes-grade servitors [based on the stats from the DW Rulebook], and Hordes of 'commercial-grade' gun servitors [from the Dark Heresy Rulebook] armed with twin-linked autoguns with Manstopper rounds); ostensibly intended to get the recruits adjusted to working with their new brethren, these sessions really served the practical purpose of giving everyone (players and GM) an idea of what constitutes a 'legitimate threat' to a mighty Deathwatch Space Marine, before we began playing real missions.