Codex: Deathwatch Crusade Rules review

With the release of Codex Supplement: Deathwatch, the faction has now been folded into the big umbrella of Codex: Space Marines, with access to all of the faction’s units and most of its rules. I say “most” because one of the things that stood out about the book’s rules were that there were several rules that didn’t apply to the Deathwatch, such as the ability to upgrade Captains to Chapter Masters or the Crusade rules around Chapter Honorifics. Fortunately, the Deathwatch supplement also introduces new custom Crusade rules for the faction to replace the ones they don’t get and add a few new rules of their own to boot. In today’s article, we’ll look at these new rules, what’s notable about them, and what we’re looking forward to.


The Deathwatch come with 5 new agendas to choose from that form their own category. That means that, in an Incursion game, you’ll be able to take both your agendas from faction-specific ones – one from this supplement and one from the codex. It’s an interesting approach that will open up a lot of narrative hooks. Three of the agendas reward you for destroying enemy units, one sees you defending your deployment zone, and the final one is a relic-retrieval agenda not unlike the Necrons’ Inescapable Retribution.

The three focused on destroying enemies are fairly straightforward. Suffer Not the Alien works similarly to their Chapter Approved secondary of the same name, but is dialled back a little – units get 1XP for every 2 xenos units they destroyed during the game. Xenopsyker Assault gives 2XP for every xenos psyker unit you destroy, and an additional 1XP every time one of your units denies a xenox power. Finally, Strength From Diversity gives you a way to get XP for kills off of non-xenos units, giving a unit 2XP if it destroyed at least one unit each with ranged and melee attacks.

Watch Eternal is another straightforward one – keep the enemy out of your deployment zone at the end of the battle, and anyone who survived gets 2XP. One nice thing here is that enemy aircraft don’t count toward this, so if they fly over your head on the last turn you can safely ignore the planes and clear out the ground units to get that XP. Not bad.

Secure Xenotech is the coolest option here – there’s a xenos artifact on the field that needs to be retrieved and made safe before it falls into the wrong hands, and the Deathwatch are charged with securing it. Your opponent places an extra objective marker on the battlefield that only counts for this agenda, and if you can get an infantry unit to complete an action on it, that unit gains 3XP. As a bonus, if you can get that unit back to your deployment zone and have it survive the battle, it’ll pick up an extra 2XP (for a total of 5) and allow you to get a free relic before your next battle, which you can put on a unit’s sergeant if you want.

Credit: TheChirurgeon


How do you put that relic on the sergeant? I’m glad you asked! The Bestowed in Honour and Necessity requisition costs 1RP, and lets you give a unit’s sergeant a relic from a small list. The usual 3 choices of Artificer Armour, Master-crafted Weapon, and Digital Weapons are all there, as are Banebolts of Eryxia and an Artificer Bolt Cache. This probably makes Deathwatch the only faction that can put a relic on a unit sergeant in Crusade right now (the wording of Specialist Reinforcements in the core rules is a little weird on this), letting you customize your Order of Battle even more than other Marine lists, which is totally in keeping with the Deathwatch brand. This rules.

Kill Team Specialism is exactly what it says on the tin – pick a Kill Team and give it a specialism. One thing to keep in mind here is that you can’t use this when you add the unit to your roster – it has to level up at least once first. You’ve got to be able to absorb the PL hike, but this requisition will add a nice option to your roster to further define your Kill Teams and really make each one unique. Plus, since you’re going to have to play at least one game with each Kill Team before it specializes, you could keep track of what it kills and give it the specialism that matches what it’s been hunting.

Expiation in Vigil allows you to put Black Shields in units that couldn’t normally take one, letting you choose a single Marine in any CORE unit and improve its WS, wounds, attacks by 1 each. In addition, it also opens up the option for you to use the Atonement Through Honour stratagem and use that unit to make a Heroic Intervention. The one thing to keep in mind here is that you can only use this requisition when you add the unit to your roster, so you won’t be able to have a Black Shield show up later in a unit you’ve already got. That being said, being able to shove a Black Shield into basically any squad is cool, as is the particularly spicy trick of making a Black Shield Dreadnought.

Finally, Rearm, Reform, Redeploy is a really cool trick if you’ve taken any Kill Teams in your Crusade force (which you should, because they rule). For 1RP, you pick a Kill Team and can change up their loadout. You can also change what datasheets you drew the 5 optional models from, though the mandatory ones stay the same (so a Proteus has to keep at least 1 Watch Sergeant and 4 Veterans, a Fortis needs 4 Intercessors and a Sarge, etc). One of the key bits of the fluff for Deathwatch is that they customize their loadouts before every mission to suit the foe they’re going to be facing, and this lets you do exactly that.

Battle Traits

As with the other codexes so far, you’re also offered a selection of Battle Traits for various units. Three characters get two traits each, and everyone but vehicles gets a shiny new D6 table to choose from (or roll on, if you’re not a coward).

Watch Masters and Watch Captains can speak with the Voice of Experience, letting you pick a model within 6″ at the start of your Command phase to benefit from your Aura abilities for the rest of the turn. This will give you some added flexibility and does a good job of modelling the experience of your Deathwatch force. On the other hand, if your Captain is more focused on getting his own hands dirty, he might be an Executioner Emeritus, improving the AP of all of his attacks by 1. This won’t stack with Combat Doctrines, but it does mean you’ll have a Character who’s always effectively benefitting from the right doctrine for the situation, making the decision of which to choose in any given turn ever so slightly easier.

A Deathwatch Chaplain can be recognized as a Promulgator of the Litany, extending the range of its Spiritual Leader ability by 6″. This might seem somewhat lackluster at first, but if you’re taking Kill Teams and combat squadding them out, you’ll often be left with blocks of Ld 7 marines with no sergeant, which puts them in danger of failing a morale check if they take even 2 casualties. With the change to And They Shall Know No Fear in the codex, this can be risky, especially if you happen to lose 3. By pushing their Ld up to 9, your Chaplain can let your ObSec Eradicator squad ignore morale entirely until it takes 4 casualties, making it that much less likely that a couple lucky rolls for your opponent will end in disaster for you. The other choice, Perpetual Repugnance, is a lot more obviously useful: if the Chaplain is within 12″ of a xenos unit, his litanies are always inspiring.

A Deathwatch Librarian can study to become a Scholar of the Forbidden Librarius, allowing him to replace Smite with another power from the Xenopurge discipline. You can even pick which power you’re taking before every game, adding even more flexibility to your arsenal. If that’s not your cup of tea, a Mental Duelist gets a second deny attempt in each of your opponent’s psychic phases, letting you cut down on their options.

Other units get a whole slew of options to pick from. Unwavering Enmity and Chosen Prey both make your units even more effective against xenos, with the former making Shock Assault always give the extra attack even if they didn’t charge, while the latter lets you pick a particular xenos species and get +1 to hit them. Mobile Hunters makes your squad always count as having Remained Stationary when you’re figuring out whether Bolter Discipline applies, and Special Operations gives the unit Objective Secured or, if it already has it, makes each model in the unit count double. Finally, Duty’s Bond and Rapid Appraisal let your unit use a stratagem for free – Duty’s Bond allows you to use Brotherhood of Veterans, swapping out the unit’s Chapter Tactic for whatever’s most useful in the moment, while Rapid Appraisal lets them use Special-Issue Loadout, giving units other than Deathwatch Veterans ready access to Special-Issue Ammunition when it counts.


Credit: TheChirurgeon

Masters of the Specialisms

The Deathwatch replacement for Masters of the Chapter, these options turn your Captain or Watch Master into a one-man Kill Team, giving them the benefit of the Kill Team Specialism of your choice. And if that wasn’t enough, they can use their prodigious experience to further instruct a CORE unit in your army in their chosen method of war. At the end of each battle, your Master chooses a CORE unit that destroyed at least one enemy in its corresponding force organization slot (a Master Aquila can choose any unit, so long as it destroyed something). If you choose that unit to be Marked for Greatness, it gains 5XP instead of 3 (a Master Aquila only grants 4XP).

The first half of this is interesting, even though it might seem underwhelming at first – it’s difficult to get re-rolls on Characters with the new Codex, and your Captain the ability to re-roll 1s to wound against two different force org slots can be deceptively useful. The second half is a great way to get your units up and running – take a fresh unit and have it kill the right enemy and you’ll push it right up to 6XP, pushing it right to Blooded rank and giving it its first Battle Honour. There’s nothing flashy here, but these options are worth looking into.

Battle Scars

The Deathwatch also have three unique Battle Scars they can suffer. Like the other faction-specific ones, these are double-edged swords that don’t cause a reduction in Crusade points. None of them are particularly great, but they are interesting, and not purely negative. If you want an interesting narrative hook for one of your Kill Teams, one of these will work perfectly.

First up, Bring Not Shame to Your Chapter forces a unit to roll a D6 any time they want to shoot or charge, and on a 1 they can only target the closest enemy. As a trade off, they can use the Atonement Through Honour Stratagem even if they don’t have a Black Shield. If the unit does contain a Black Shield, the strat is free. Space Marines have an overdeveloped sense of honor to begin with, and few moreso than Deathwatch Marines. This battle scar will let you play out their efforts to redeem themselves as they charge into the fray without thinking. It’s an interesting option that gives you a reasonable upside.

Kill Teams work best as a finely-tuned machine that uses the strengths of each of its members to overcome any weaknesses they might have. However, since they’re drawn from several different chapters, sometimes they don’t work that well together. A Brotherhood in Turmoil represents this, having them suffer both the Disgraced and Mark of Shame scars from the core rules, but getting +1 strength and +1 to advance and charge rolls as they take out their anger on the enemy. Not being able to be the target of stratagems and losing access to auras hurts, so you probably don’t want to take this one. If you wind up with it for whatever reason, though, at least they’re able to keep their anger pointed downrage. All that said, having this end up on a unit of vanguard Veterans isn’t the worst thing ever.

Finally, Xenophobic Furore lets your Kill Team look for revenge against a xenos that killed them. You can only use it if they were destroyed by a xenos unit, and it only takes effect if the same xenos species is on the field. When it comes into play, though, you add 1 to the unit’s attacks, but it can’t perform actions and is ignored when you’re figuring out who controls objectives. Basically, Death Company-lite, but they only get mad about certain very specific aliens. Pretty cool, especially since you’ll probably have some Outriders or Vanguard Vets with Objective Secured running around, so having one unit without the ability to take objectives honestly doesn’t hurt that much. It’s also very narratively satisfying – having been bested by xenos once before, your squad wants nothing more than to prove that they won’t lose to the same trick twice.

Special-Issue Equipment

Deathwatch have all the coolest toys, and their Crusade rules offer you two tables full of weird wargear their units can draw from to represent that. The Special-Issue Wargear table lets units get access to new gimmicks, whether that’s adding the Smokescreen, Melta Bomb, or Shock Grenades keyword, gaining access to Teleport Strike, or getting a discount on the Auspex Scan stratagem. The tactical options these upgrades open up are worth exploring, and combined with the Rearm, Reform, Redeploy requisition, you can build specialized Kill Teams that can take advantage of these abilities to devastating effect.

The other table offers Special-Issue Ammunition and adds to the options the unit has when it uses the Special-Issue Ammunition rule. The effects these offer range from straightforward (Thermic Penetrator Rounds adds 1 to hit rolls and improves AP by 1) to situational (Tempest Bolts reduces range by 6″ but always wound vehicles on 4+) to specialized (Derevenant Shells stop Necrons from being able to use Reanimation Protocols). These options are really cool and add some additional flexibility to what’s already one of the most versatile weapons out there. However, since so few weapons have access to SIA now, these aren’t the go-to they might otherwise be. Keep them in mind if you’re running Proteus Kill Teams, though. It’s one of the cooler concepts in the new book with one of the worst payoffs.

Crusade Relics

The Deathwatch come with three unique Crusade Relics to round out their selections. The Arachnosavant’s Illuminator upgrades a weapon with the Special-issue Ammunition ability, and causes it to deal mortal wounds any time it wounds something. The Mag-pulse Discharger lets a character shove enemies away, subtracting 2 from charge rolls from an enemy unit within 12″ once per enemy charge phase. Finally, The Watcher’s Veil gives your character an aura that makes all CORE and CHARACTER units within 6″ untargetable by enemies more than 30″ away, and imposes a -1 to hit against enemies that can shoot them. Each of these options has something going for it, and with some clutch play and a bit of planning could be used to great effect.

Final Thoughts

Condit: All in all, the Crusade rules here are a solid set of options that create some great narrative opportunities for any Deathwatch force. The Special-Issue Equipment can be a bit hard to use (especially the ammo), and the Masters of the Specialisms feel kind of lackluster, even against the Codex Marines’ Masters of the Chapter, but the rest of the options are really cool. Combined with the options in the core rules and the codex, Deathwatch players will be able to develop some truly unique rosters, and I’m excited to see what they can do with them.

Rob: On the whole I really like these. I agree that the Masters of the Specialisms aren’t as cool as the Masters of the Chapter honourifics, but they’re still pretty neat and they combine well with the kill team specialisms to create some interesting flavor for Crusade Deathwatch armies. The Special-Issue Equipment rules are my favorite Crusade rules so far.

Have any questions or feedback? Drop us a note in the comments below or email us at