October 2020 FAQ Update Review – Deathwatch

In advance of the upcoming release of Codex: Space Marines and as promised, Games Workshop dropped a massive FAQ update on us today (remember when we said fifteen books needed FAQs? Turns out it was more). There’s a lot to digest, so we’re poring over every word of the updates and noting what’s changed and our thoughts on what it means for the faction. In this article we’re looking at the Deathwatch.

Today’s FAQ on Warhammer Community is an interim update to the Deathwatch intended to serve as a bridge between the now-defunct 8th edition version of Codex: Deathwatch and the upcoming supplement to Codex: Space Marines, which is expected to be released before the end of the year. To be clear the FAQ explicitly states that Codex: Deathwatch cannot be used any more – you now use Codex: Space Marines and Index: Deathwatch until the new book comes out.

The changes in this update are significant; the update earns the title “index” and has more in common with the Index releases for a 8th edition than a traditional FAQ or an update to an old book. Major elements such as Special Issue Ammunition, Mission Tactics, and mixed Kill Teams have been altered, and players will find that core parts of legacy armies (such as Veterans armed with storm bolters) will not play the same.

Deathwatch Primaris Watch-Captain. Credit: RichyP

Deathwatch in Codex: Space Marines 

The Deathwatch are considered a Chapter like any other within Codex: Space Marines. That means they have access to a Chapter Tactic and a Warlord trait. There is also some restrictions on what units they are able to field; Deathwatch are not allowed to field:

  • Assault Squads
  • Attack Bike Squads
  • Bike Squads
  • Devastator Squads
  • Sternguard Veteran Squads
  • Tactical Squads
  • Scout units.

Most of those units are replaced by options from the Index (and presumably, the future Codex). A Deathwatch Captain are also prohibited from being upgraded to a Chapter Master; you already have a Watch Master for that.

Chapter Tactic: Xenos Hunters

The Deathwatch Chapter Tactic provides two abilities. First, it allows Deathwatch units to re-roll hit rolls of 1 in melee combat against TYRANIDS, AELDARI, ORK, NECRONS, or T’AU EMPIRE units. This makes the Deathwatch unique among all of the other Space Marine factions (and most other factions outside of the Inquisition and Chaos) in that an army-wide ability is gated to specific factions. The other ability is the option to re-roll a wound roll of 1 against units of a specific Battlefield Role that is selected after both sides have finished deploying their armies. Note that because all Stratagems and Relics have been deleted without replacement Deathwatch players will not have a way to change this selection until presumably the supplement is released.

Warlord Trait: Vigilance Incarnate

This trait allows you to select one friendly DEATHWATCH CORE unit within 6″ of the WARLORD and pick one Battlefield Role during the Command phase. Until the start of the next Command phase that unit can re-roll wound rolls of 1 against enemy units of that Battlefield Role. This is in addition to the option permitted by Xenos Hunters, allowing for more flexibility.

Note that per this index, any of the named characters (Watch Captain Artemis, Chaplain Cassius, Codicier Natorian) are required to take Vigilance Incarnate trait if they obtain a Warlord trait. That’s fine; it’s a decent trait.

Special-Issue Ammunition

The rules for Special-Issue Ammunition (SIA) have changed significantly. First, there are no restrictions on the use of SIA with Bolter Discipline. Previously Deathwatch units were prohibited from combining the two abilities per the April update in White Dwarf, but the FAQ does not mention this restriction. Second, the four ammunition options have changed:

  • Dragonfire Bolts remove the benefit of cover from the target of an attack. This is all benefits – Light over, Heavy Cover, and Dense Cover, so you also ignore the -1 to hit when you shoot through Dense cover. Previously this ammunition provided a +1 bonus when attacking a target in cover, which meant it was rarely used. The new version is much better.
  • Hellfire Rounds give a +1 bonus to wound rolls made against units that do not have the VEHICLE or TITANIC keyword. Previously they provided a flat 2+ to wound non-VEHICLE targets, making this a massive nerf. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s not great.
  • Kraken Bolts give a flat 6″ increase to the Range characteristic of the weapon and increase the Armour Penetration by 1 (which is cumulative with the bonus conferred by Combat Doctrines). This ammunition was more restricted in 8th edition, as in that version pistol weapons only received a 3″ range increase and the AP was capped at -2. The removal of the cap makes things very interesting for the stalker pattern bolter, which can now shoot at AP-4 in Devastator Doctrine.
  • Vengeance Rounds add 1 to the Damage characteristic of the attack, which is a dramatic shift from the 3″ range penalty and 2 points of improvement to AP previously provided. This is bonkers good

All of these options have changed from 8th edition, and only Hellfire Rounds experience a (significant) downgrade which was likely necessary given how good it was. The end result is that the player will be forced to make meaningful decisions about what ammunition to choose. Expect a Hammer of Math on the topic at some point in the future.

The other significant change from Codex: Deathwatch is which weapons have access to SIA. Previously the list of weapons with SIA was provided at the beginning of the book. With the FAQ the ability is instead listed as an option with the weapon, and the number of weapons with this option is (to be generous) limited. The only weapons that have access to SIA are Deathwatch bolt pistol, Deathwatch boltgun (including the boltgun portions of Deathwatch combi-weapons), Deathwatch twin boltgun, Stalker-pattern boltgun, and Vigil spear (shooting).

That’s it – No Special Issue Ammo for Primaris Marines.

The consequence of this omission is that some units which previously had access to SIA have lost it, and other units inexplicably have combination of weapons with and without SIA. For example Veteran Bikers within Kill Team Cassius have SIA since their bikes are equipped with Deathwatch twin boltguns, but Veteran Bikers inside Proteus Kill Teams do not because the Veteran Bike Squad only has (non-Deathwatch) twin boltguns. Similarly Chaplain Cassius can fire SIA with his Deathwatch bolt pistol, but Deathwatch Veterans (who have SIA with their Deathwatch boltguns) will not be able to fire SIA if they take the (non-Deathwatch) bolt pistol from the Deathwatch Equipment List. This also means that Terminators cannot fire SIA (as storm bolters do not have the ability), and no Primaris units can fire SIA. This is a bit of a mess, and almost certainly something that’s going to get tweaked and adjusted with the Codex. At least, we hope.

 

Credit: Alfredo Ramirez

Kill Teams

A total of four Kill Team options are available; three for Primaris Marines and one for everything else. Deathwatch units with mixed models are still possible thanks to the Kill Team rules, but the configuration has changed. As with 8th edition if a unit contains models of mixed Toughness then the majority Toughness applies, although players who might want to manifest Might of Heroes and boost the stats of a model in the unit should note that the rules in the power explicitly state to use the lowest Toughness characteristic in a mixed unit when resolving any rules. The rules also include special consideration for what keywords are available for mixed units. For example, units with the BIKER keyword are not considered INFANTRY for purposes of Bolter Discipline or embarking on a TRANSPORT, but are considered INFANTRY for purposes of interacting with terrain. This means that Deathwatch BIKERS can ride through ruins and do all sorts of other cool tricks that regular Astartes BIKERS cannot.

Outside of rules for TRANSPORTS, models explicitly do not any keywords unless the datasheet provides it. Per the FAQ, “models in KILL TEAM units do not retain any keywords from their original datasheet” and “the entry for each KILL TEAM unit will detail any keywords that unit has, as well as any other keywords gained while that unit contains certain models”. In other words a Terminator doesn’t have the TERMINATOR keyword unless the datasheet says it does. This makes things very, very weird.

In a significant shift from 8th edition, the vast majority of unit-wide bonuses for Kill Teams are gone and certain abilities are gated behind the requirement that all units be the same type. A Veteran Kill Team with a Biker can no longer Fall Back and charge, nor does the presence of a Black Shield allow the unit to make Heroic Interventions as if they had the CHARACTER keyword. Certain abilities can only work if the unit consists entirely of that particular model, such as a Kill Team that includes Outriders only being able to use Turbo-boost if the unit contains only Outriders. Expect a lot of Combat Squads.

All Kill Teams are TROOPS with the INFANTRY, CORE, KILL TEAM, and relevant name (PROTEUS, FORTIS, INDOMITOR, or SPECTRUS) keywords. Models in a KILL TEAM unit can be equipped with any wargear listed for the model on its original datasheet, and the minimum number of that specific model must be included for any wargear options which require a minimum number of models. For example if you wanted to field an Eradicator with a multi-melta then the Kill Team would need to contain at least 3 Eradicators. One big thing to note here is that if your team’s keywords can change as the team composition changes; if you only have models with FLY left, your team will gain the FLY keyword. Likewise, Outriders and Bikers do not gain the INFANTRY keyword, so a unit with only those left has the BIKER keyword instead.

Proteus Kill Teams

The descendent of the Veteran Kill Team, the Proteus Kill Team consists of a core of one Watch Sergeant and four Deathwatch Veterans with the option to add on Deathwatch Veterans, Deathwatch Terminators, Veteran Bikers, and Vanguard Veterans. Note that while Blackshields are an option for a unit of Deathwatch Veterans, they are not one of the options listed for Proteus Kill Teams. Proteus Kill Teams with Vanguard Veterans gain the MELTA BOMB keyword, and units that consist only of Vanguard Veterans, Deathwatch Terminators, or Veteran Bikers gain the FLY, TERMINATOR, and BIKER keywords, respectively.

As far as we can tell, the requirement that all of the models in the unit be Terminators to get the TERMINATOR keyword means that if the unit contains a mixed force then it cannot use the Deathwatch teleport homer. This is because a model in a KILL TEAM unit does not retain any keywords from their original datasheet, but only gains what the entry for each KILL TEAM unit gives them.

Fortis Kill Team

The Primaris Kill Team has been divided into three different options depending on what kind of armor the models are outfitted with. Fortis Kill Teams consist of one Intercessor Sergeant and four Intercessors to which you can add up to five Intercessors, Assault Intercessors, Outriders, and Hellblasters. As with 8th edition units the Intercessors can choose between the various bolt rifle options, and Hellblasters can choose between the various plasma incinerator options. This is different from the Intercessor Datasheets in that any model can make the choice instead of all models, meaning that you can mix and match bolt rifles and auto bolt rifles if you wish. If the Fortis Kill Team is split via Combat Squads and one of the units contains only Outriders then it gains the BIKER keyword (while retaining the INFANTRY keyword) and can use the Turbo-boost ability. This is apparently the only way to get an Outrider unit consisting of more than three models, and also allows them to gain Objective Secured since they have the Troops role.

As is their lot in life, nobody likes the Suppressor Squad. There’s also no option to include Bladeguard Veterans or Veteran Intercessors.

Indomitor Kill Team

Chonk Squad. When the Fortis Kill Team gained Outriders they also lost Aggressors and Inceptors to their own special fatboy-only unit called the Indomitor Kill Team. Indomitor Kill Teams contain a core of four Heavy Intercessors and one Heavy Intercessor Sergeant, to which up to five additional Aggressors, Heavy Intercessors, Inceptors, or Eradicators can be added. Yes, this means you can field a unit of five Eradicators as Troops and bring up to 30 of them in a single Battalion. As with the Fortis Kill Team each model gets the ability to individually pick their weapon option so you can mix-and-match. Note that the Index explicitly calls out that only Eradicators can shoot twice when they use their Total Obliteration ability, and if the unit contains only Inceptors then it gains the FLY keyword.

It appears that, at least when it comes to Power Level and Deathwatch, Games Workshop has decided that Eradicators are a bit too cheap at their current price. Adding an Eradicator to an Indomitor Kill Team will cost you 3 PL even though the unit cost is 6 PL per three and the cost per model is 40 points in Matched Play.

Spectrus Kill Team

Spectrus. Spectres? Get it? Because they’re sneaky? The final Kill Team option consists of entirely PHOBOS units, with a core of four Infiltrators and 1 Infiltrator Sergeant and up to five Infiltrators, Incursors, Reivers, and Eliminators. You get the same flexibility in choosing individual loadouts as with other Primaris Kill Teams, but curiously this Kill Team also features several abilities which are applied to the whole unit. The Infiltrators’ Omni-scrambler ability works for the whole unit so long as there are any Infiltrators left, and the Reivers’ Terror Troops ability also functions so long as there’s a Reiver in the unit. Spectrus Kill Teams with Infiltrators or Incursors gain the SMOKESCREEN keyword and units that contain Reivers gain the SHOCK GRENADES keyword. It seems that the entire Spectrus Kill Team can also benefit if an Infiltrator carries a helix gauntlet or an Infiltrator comms array, so it’s entirely possible to bring a unit of 4 Eliminators and an Infiltrator with a comms array that gets ObSec and re-rolls hit and wound rolls of 1 if you have a PHOBOS Captain and Lieutenant on the board.

Credit: Alfredo Ramirez

Datasheets

The FAQ contains Datasheets for the Watch Master, Watch Captain Artemis, Chaplain Cassius, Codicier Natorian (a Blood Raven Librarian), Deathwatch Veterans, Kill Team Cassius (a special kill team), Deathwatch Terminator Squad, Veteran Bike Squad, and the Corvus Blackstar.

The Watch Master was given the Chapter Master treatment; he has the Rites of Battle (Aura) that only affects CORE units within 6″ as well as the Watch Master bonus to give one CORE or CHARACTER unit within 6″ the ability to re-roll hits. The Custodes decided they were tired of sharing and took back their Guardian Spear, replacing it with a Vigil Spear with the exact same stats. I don’t get it either, but he’s still 130 points. The Watch Master doesn’t have the UNIQUE keyword so it looks like you can field three if you want.

Watch Captain Artemis was given an upgrade to his hellfire flamer so that it has a 12″ range, but it also no longer wounds TITANIC units on a 2+. Meanwhile he was finally given a master-crafted power sword and the same Rites of Battle (Aura) rule as everyone else. Thankfully Artemis also figured out which part of the stasis grenade to throw; it will no longer deal D6 mortal wounds to him if he misses. He’s 105 points. It’s a nice little set of upgrades that make him fieldable at only 5 points more than a standard captain with the same kit… but you probably want a different loadout.

Chaplain Cassius is a new unit for Deathwatch, representing a watered-down version of what the Ultramarines get because he was an intern at the time he was in the Deathwatch. He’s basically a Chaplain with one more attack, better Leadership, a better skull-on-a-stick, and a bonus to yell his one Litany per turn. You could pay 95 points for him, or you could drop 110 for a Primaris Master of Sanctity and yell twice as much. The FAQ suggests you should feel bad if you field Cassius with Primaris Marines as it’s not thematic.

Codicier Natorian is the Kill Team Cassius Librarian. He has a better WS, improved force sword, and gets a +1 bonus to Psychic tests when manifesting Smite or Witchfire psychic powers. It should be noted that the Witchfire powers are the two worst powers in the Librarius discipline, so that’s not great, but the bonus to Smite is decent. He costs 100 points.

Deathwatch Veterans are a Troop option you can field if for some reason you don’t want to field a Proteus Kill Team, which I guess you could do if you wanted a Black Shield. Each Veteran now comes with a power sword, which is pretty awesome given that those swords are now at +1S. They also have two wounds, putting them in line with Tactical Marines from the codex. One major change is that the Deathwatch frag cannon was heavily nerfed, with the frag option going from a 2d6 weapon that automatically hit to a 2d3 weapon with the Blast trait. The shell option lost the improved stat line for shooting within half range. Your basic Veteran with a Deathwatch bolt gun and power sword is 23 points.

Kill Team Cassius is a unit of four Veterans, one Watch Sergeant, one Terminator, one Veteran Biker, and two Vanguard Veterans. I guess this unit is an example of what a Kill Team could be if all of the units got the same rules; every model is equipped with a “Deathwatch” branded gun with special abilities attached to it. The Terminator is equipped with a Deathwatch heavy flamer (which the Deathwatch Terminator Squad can’t get) while the Veteran Biker is equipped with a Deathwatch twin boltgun (which the Veteran Biker Squad can’t get). The squad is 260 points.

As the rules are written, Kill Team Cassius can’t use the Deathwatch teleport homer because the datasheet does not indicate that any of the models (including the actual Terminator) have the TERMINATOR keyword. As a reminder, “models in KILL TEAM units do not retain any keywords from their original datasheet” and “the entry for each KILL TEAM unit will detail any keywords that unit has, as well as any other keywords gained while that unit contains certain models”. As the Kill Team Cassius datasheet does not indicate any models get the TERMINATOR keyword you can’t use the teleport homer that the Terminator model is carrying. Whomp whomp.

The Deathwatch Terminator Squad gets the 3W bonus that other Terminators have from the new Space Marine codex, and there are also some minor changes to the available wargear. The units lose the option to carry a power fist and meltagun, but gain the option to wield a plasma cannon. All things considered that seems like a decent tradeoff. Deathwatch terminators cost 38 points per model for a storm bolter and power fist.

Veteran Bike Squads are three wound models that can put out a surprising amount of attacks with the Astartes chainsword. They lost the ability to charge after making a Fall Back move and no longer carry Deathwatch teleport homers. They cost 30 points each, or 2/3 the price of an Outrider. If you compare three Veteran Bikers to two Outriders you get the same number of attacks with the same profile and one more wound. Veteran Bikers also gained the option to bring a Veteran Attack Bike with a multi-melta. Note that the twin boltgun on the Veteran Bike Squad is not the same as a Deatwatch twin boltgun so they can’t fire Special Issue Ammunition. I guess they forgot to pay the licensing fee.

The Corvus Blackstar remains the premier transport for non-PRIMARIS units, even though it can fit gigantic space bikes and Tactical Dreadnought Armour. The stats are largely unchanged from 8th edition, although the top speed is a little faster. The blackstar rocket launcher has changed from a pair of profiles to a fixed 2d3 S5 AP -1 1D profile with the Blast keyword, the Auspex array now removes cover, and the Infernum halo-launcher somehow makes the armour thicker. The base model is 180 points. It’s a set of slight improvements for a unit that recently made it pretty far in a “worst units in the game” poll, and isn’t likely to change the amount of play it sees, particularly with the abiltiy to take Impulsors for Deathwatch.

Stratagems

None.

Relics

None.

Psychic Powers

None, but Deathwatch didn’t have their own psychic discipline anyways.

Warlord Traits

None.

Credit: TheChirurgeon

Overall Impressions

Kevin: To be blunt, this FAQ is an absolute mess. For a faction who’s received absolutely no unique content since their book in 2018 (the Psychic Awakening update in White Dwarf put them in compliance with Codex: Space Marines and was out of date before was mailed out) it’s nice to see new options, but the lack of polish in this update is frustrating. Fortunately there is room for hope. This is just an interim update to a supplement that’s supposed to be out before the end of the year, and a lot of the inconsistencies can easily be addressed. Deathwatch have always been intended to be a flexible army that provides a lot of freedom to the player to make the army how they see fit, and those options remain. Hopefully the supplement will have been given the care and attention to detail that this FAQ did not.

Staying positive, the option to field Infiltrators with Eliminators looks like it can be a lot of fun and very tactical. Expect lots of Gravis units with Eradicators and Heavy Intercessors providing a heavy and resilient base of firepower, especially with a Librarian casting Psychic Fortress to protect them. The option to field Outriders in squads of five with Objective Secured should also provide flexibility, and the Outriders can also take advantage of the re-roll in melee should you be lucky enough to face an alien faction. The real strength of Deathwatch in its current form lies outside of the Primaris, with Veterans getting a second wound, access to improved Special Issue Ammunition, and S5 power swords by default. Veterans rapid-firing Vengeance rounds will be a highly lethal threat, and if more units get the options of Kill Team Cassius once the supplement drops players will have a lot to work with.

Rob: There’s a lot to be excited about here. First off the missteps, though real, aren’t that big a deal – no one is taking Kill Team Cassius in real games and the lack of Warlord Traits, Relics, and Stratagems is going to be a temporary issue – there’s no way those don’t get added to in the upcoming supplement. On the major upside I don’t think losing Special Issue Ammunition on Primaris Marines is a bad thing – a bit nonsensical, maybe – but previously Veterans were hopelessly outclassed by their Primaris counterparts whereas now there are some very interesting decisions to be made in the codex. And on that topic, the new Primaris Kill Teams can do a lot of real interesting and crazy shit with the ability to take more models for primaris units and then combat squad them. Five ObSec Outriders? Five ObSec Eradicators? A squad of four ObSec Eliminators with a Helix Adept Infiltrator? Why not! There’s a ton of good stuff to play with here and it makes me very excited to see what the supplement has in store. We recently showed that Deathwatch are one of the game’s worst factions, so hefty boosts are definitely in order for them

 

Have any questions or feedback? Drop us a note in the comments below or email us at contact@goonhammer.com.

 

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