Highlight Holoreel of Horror

This shall be an episodic retelling of a Deathwatch Campaign I ran last year. It also took place in Malthael, a system of my own creation, stuck inside a warp storm as referenced in my ‘Groundhog Gate’ Dark Heresy campaign.

Solar System
The Malthael Solar System. A poor paint representation…. don’t judge me!

Players –
Ultramarine Apothecary Iskandar Reas –
(Tried to build a mini-empire in Malthael, bless his smurf heart).
Imperial Fist Devastator Maxitar –
(Became more like an Iron Hand by replacing all limbs and some internal organs with augmetics, to fortify his body, I can see the logic).
Storm Warden Assault Dougal Alexander MacGregor –
(Focussed strength and was ridiculous, breaking the system with it; his normal carry weight according to rules was three metric tons).
Salamander Librarian Fuigus –
(Did not last long but managed to rack up quite a few kills due to mass flame psychic powers before he died)
Blood Angel Librarian Aatrox –
(Ended up defecting to Chaos because he thought they’d be the winning side).

Equipped
Obligatory marine being prepped for battle picture.

Episode #1, Rak and Ruin

The introductory mission for the players, boarding a Rak’Gol vessel before it can escape after it stole an unidentified device from an Adeptus Mechanicus research outpost. Secondary objectives were to cripple the vessel and eliminate its weapon systems.

They were fired in a boarding torpedo alongside a full spread of normal torpedoes in order to minimize chances of interception and hide the nature of their torpedo’s payload. The ruse worked. The Rak’Gol focussed on repairing damage from the other torpedoes, believing theirs to be a dud. Splitting into two assault groups (leaving Devastator Maxitar to fortify and defend the boarding torpedo), one to destroy the primary weapons and the other to seek out the device, they used the element of surprise to penetrate deep into the ship before the alarm was fully raised.

Rak'Gol_Render
Rak’Gol Renders. Yes that’s a chainsaw for an arm.

Librarian Aatrox lost a leg in the first round of combat with a Rak’Gol Render that was defending a vault door. For the rest of the mission he was assisted by Iskandar. Inside the vault, located by Alpha team, they found the device and some other equipment they decided to recover including a trophy suit of Mk.2 armour that used to belong to the Consecrators. They put quite a lot of effort into extracting that suit whilst under attack and in difficult circumstances, even though at points it was very useful mobile cover.

Bravo team suffered few setbacks apart from having to climb vertically up a lift shaft via magboots whilst fighting off Rak’Gol who deftly slithered up the walls (quite Cinematic I know). Both groups managed to fight their way back to the boarding torpedo and Maxitar who had been holding off probing attacks. Unfortunately they couldn’t just push off because the Rak’Gol ship (now knowing their location) would vaporise their torpedo with flak batteries before they could make their escape, so they had to wait for their own vessel to pull up alongside to cover their retreat.

Boarding Torp
Holding the line on five fronts. Hell.

Defence of the boarding torpedo became frantic (lasting 71 in game minutes) with wounded Aatrox strapped into the torpedo firing down into the chamber and Rak’Gol cutting new ways into their defensive zone (including dropping the entire floor underneath them) in order to reduce chokepoints and attack the party. Assault Marine Dougal was swamped and cut in half at the waist by Renders but fought his way free and proceeded to continue defending the torpedo by launching himself around via jetpack (he burnt a fate point to stay up fighting instead of going down safe, brave because if he had died again it would have been permanent). Eventually the group managed to extract and the mission was a success but at the heavy cost of three limbs; the Rak’Gol love krispy fried marine legs.

Episode #2, Pity the Worm

On Azmodan, traction cities had been attacked and damaged by a Giant Lava Worm (capable of surviving, thriving even, in the harsh environment of the subsurface), a species thought driven to extinction a century before. Their orders were to eliminate it with secondary objectives being to locate and destroy its lair, and to exterminate any other worms they came across.

Worm Kill
Deathwatch PSA: This is what happens when you don’t give your dog worm tablets.

The team dropped in to the area where the Worm attacked the city, keeping their Corvus Blackstar circling above to provide aerial support. Believing they needed a way to lure it to the surface, they commandeered local mining equipment and moved it in to attract the beast, activating it when it was in position. The lure worked. The worm breached the surface and attacked the equipment and the team used the opportunity to attack.

Whaling away against its armoured hide with everything they had; autocannon shells, assault cannon bursts (from the Corvus circling around) etc., seemed only to infuriate it, chipping small chunks of its armour off at a time but nowhere near enough to start reaching its flesh beneath (I treated its extremely armoured hide as cover, which had to be worn down over time). Whilst it appeared the group could not truly harm the worm, the worm was unable to catch or crush any of the party either. It was an ineffective slap fight.

That is, until Librarian Fuigus decided it was a good idea to, ‘’Hello Beastie’’, and charge straight into its open maw. First blood to the Worm (its jaws/teeth/consumption mechanism regularly and swiftly chew through rock and metals, a squishy marine in a suit was a delicacy (he burnt a fate point to survive unconscious in its belly)).

Hello Beastie
Fuigus, prior to his encounter with a digestive tract.

With a man down and no obvious progress being made, Assault Marine Dougal decides to find its ‘effluence pipe’, locating it with a quick flyby, before proceeding to force his heavy flamer fuel tank inside and detonating it in order to break open the ‘valve mechanism’ to grant him entry. Dougal clambered into the worm and crawled up the ‘tunnel’ inside, cutting anything and everything he could see until he reached the Librarian Fuigus. The Worm didn’t die until Dougal reached its brain (yes I felt sorry for the worm, what a horrible way to die!).

After that, everything was mostly mop-up – following the worm’s tunnels down to a lair (where they found eggs) and destroying the entire area and ensuring the species’ extinction with a lance strike from orbit.

Episode #3, Mutant Plague Zombies (how much worse could it get?!)

A Mutant city was located hidden under the surface of Cemetery world, Seraziel – I, and the PDF was sent to deal with the issue. Instead of risking life, limb and collateral damage in direct assaults, the PDF decided to flood the entire thing with Chlorine gas – using air circulation systems for the mausoleums to pump it into the mutant city. Things seemed to be going well until a few days later when Plague Zombies burst forth from the lower levels and broke through the PDF lines. The Deathwatch group was tasked to find the source of the Plague Zombies and stop it, with secondary objectives being; save PDF forces under siege at spaceport and restart the Chlorine gas pumps to ensure the elimination of the mutants.

corvus_blackstar.png
Death from the skies!

To start, the party flew down into the atmosphere in their Corvus, dropping a few marines into the centre of the Spaceport including Iskandar who started to organise a better PDF defence of the landing zone. The Corvus proceeded to circle the spaceport, constantly strafing the tide of Plague Zombies who were clambering up the walls. Whilst a valiant defence was attempted, in the end it was all for naught as the PDF was overwhelmed. The marines on the ground were evacuated at the last second with a few, lucky, PDF survivors who managed to dash into the Corvus with them.

Plague_Zombies
When Mutant Plague Zombies are the least of your issues, you know you’re having a rough day.

Proceeding on to the ‘city’, the party dropped down to one of the pumping stations with a plan to use those tunnels to enter the Mutant City. They found what they believed to be a holdout group of Guardsmen at the station but it turned out to be Mutant Spec Ops who had captured a Leman Russ and were using Guardsman gear; caught by surprise, Devastator Maxitar was hit by a Lascannon and lost his arm. After that those mutants were dealt with in quick order and without mercy.

The tunnels got them into the Mutant city and they split up in order to locate the plague zombie source. Navigating through the catacombs and mausoleums. Librarian Fuigus located a huge, sealed chamber crammed with around one thousand, desperate and terrified civilian mutants who had been using it as a survival shelter. He was cordial, verging on friendly, asking if they knew which way to the source of the zombies etc., before breaking open the doors and exposing them all to the Chlorine gas. (Some Salamander he was!).

GUOMutants
Another Monday!

Eventually the party regrouped and located what appeared to be the source; an underground reservoir the mutants had used as a water supply that was now foetid and turned to rot and waste. There they came across seven mutant psykers who were playing cards around a table. After talking with them, they learnt that the psykers had done this in an attempt to get revenge on the Imperium for slaughtering the mutants horribly with Chlorine gas. The deaths of tens of thousands of mutants from gas, the plague zombies and then the deaths of those seven psykers began the summoning of a Great Unclean One out of the swamp the reservoir had become. Fortunately the party managed to halt the summoning process with a liberal application of explosives that brought down the chamber itself, at the cost of Librarian Fuigus (Librarian Aatrox defected to chaos around this time so his character was replaced as well).

New Characters
(Rogue Trader Characters because no Deathwatch reinforcements due to being cut off in Malthael)
Explorator 3.142 –
(Big Genetor woman who basically juiced and matched marines in size).
Explorator Caladarius Cane –
(Attempted to skill into combat but could never match marines in capability).

Episode #4, MURDA ON DA SPESS EXPRESS!

An Ork Rok was observed under construction inside the asteroid belt but the Imperial Navy of Malthael lacks the strength to assault the position in order to take it out. Therefore the Deathwatch was sent in to destroy the Rok and kill the Waaaghboss to throw the Ork forces into disarray. The party managed to infiltrate the Rok pretty easily and began to make their way deeper into it with a plan to detonate the magazine to destroy the entire Rok in one go (and hopefully get the Waaghboss with it).

On Rok
The perfect place for a train track – aim for yonder moon!

The Kill team came across a pair of train tracks which they surmised went around the entire circumference of the Rok, and a Railway station where Orks would board trains to travel from the living areas to their locations of work. With stealth being of supreme importance, considering there would be no way for the party to survive an engagement with a million or more Orks, they made the obvious choice to spend about two hours, in game, excavating a tunnel to the Rok’s surface so that they could rearrange the train tracks to lead out into open space. They even waited to observe the first train to enter their trap and be flung out into the void.

After that entertaining diversion, they proceeded on with the mission and destroyed the Rok by following the tracks around to the Gun decks, using boxes to disguise themselves, and sneaking charges into the magazine by bluffing their way past guards.

Episode #5, Didn’t want that Fortress Moon anyway!

The Ork Waaaghboss hadn’t been on the Rok but was infuriated by the loss of it, causing him to strike out at the best location for a fight in the solar system; the Fortress Moon of Urzael-II that orbited the system Capital planet. This Waaagh was held in its tracks for a while but broke the stalemate with a Gargant and a Battle-Pyramid utilising terrifying weaponry. The Deathwatch was called to destroy those giant war machines and to find and slay the Warlord.

Great_Cave_Squig
Who’s a good Squig? You are!

They managed to find the Waaaghboss enjoying a bit of R&R at a jousting arena, riding Colossal Squigs, where challengers would try to take on the Warboss. Dougal challenged him and proceeded to joust the Warlord, eventually killing him in that fair tournament and capturing his steed – Dougal showed it who was boss and named it ‘Squigsely’, keeping it as his pet forever more. This led to a breakdown in the entire Waaagh and the Battle-Pyramid destroying the Gargant to establish its dominance, leaving the Battle-Pyramid as the largest threat the players had to deal with.

Battle Orks
When being too good at your job breaks a moon; sh*t happens!

The Battle-Pyramid had a Crystal at the peak that would lash out with a bolt of energy that could rip through any and all armour. Unbeknownst to my players this was a Yu’Vath Immaterium Energy-Arc (a ship based Yu’Vath weapon left over from the Angevin Crusade that draws power from the warp itself) and so they infiltrated the pyramid and sabotaged the Ork machinery to cause the weapon to overload in order to destroy the pyramid. The plan kinda worked; the Pyramid was reduced to slag but the overloaded weapon ripped open tears in reality, unleashing Daemons upon the world and forever contaminating it – the veil between reality and the warp had been irrevocably weakened. The party had to fight off dozens of Ebon Gheists but extracted from the area and claimed success in the end and whilst technically successful in disrupting the Ork Waaagh, the moon was lost in collateral damage. As much as was possible was evacuated and a quarantine was declared upon Urzael-II.

Episode #6, Bruul-eyed Marine

The Deathwatch vessel had been boarded during the missions against the Orks and whilst the Armsmen had repulsed them and declared the ship clear, Ork Kommandoes had been able to stay hidden on board.

Deciding to get revenge for their erstwhile commander, they tried to ambush Dougal in his quarters. At first they tried to tie him up before he awoke but when that failed and they were exposed to his full fury, they scarpered but dropped jars that broke open inside his room. The jars contained Bruul parasites.

Bruul_Parasite
Imagine these things trying to crawl into your head. Nasty.

The parasites all assaulted Dougal, sliming up him whilst he crushed them as fast as he could but he was unable to kill all of them before one reached his head. It invaded his skull and used him as a host.

The Kommandoes went after Iskandar next, who managed to kill them all before donning his armour and checking on his fellow marines. He suspected something was wrong with Dougal’s behaviour and demanded he be checked in the med-bay which Dougal refused. Iskandar tried to sedate Dougal but the parasite resisted and a fight broke out.

Bruul
His Arm? To Shreds, you say. What about his Brain? To Shreds, you say. Tsk, tsk, tsk.

Dougal, sans armour or weapons, nearly beat Iskandar, who was fully armoured, to death with his bare hands. To protect himself, Iskandar was forced to rip Dougal’s arm off with a lightning claw in order to put him down. After which he dragged Dougal to the medbay, fixed him up and located the parasite on scanners before doing emergency brain surgery which had the side effect of reducing Dougal’s intelligence (Dougal had officially become dumber than was possible at character generation).

 

Episode #7, Kraken Eggs, Statues and Broken Things

A Space Hulk drifted in from the warp storms at the system’s edge and a grave threat, beyond the hulk itself, was identified. Deep inside the Hulk was a clutch of Kraken Eggs. The Deathwatch was sent in to primarily exterminate the eggs, eliminate any other potential threats and to recover any and all goodies.

The first vessel they landed upon and traversed through to get deeper into the Hulk was an ancient Pilgrim vessel. In a large dome chamber on board, with overgrown gardens at the centre and observatory windows all around, they came across ornate statues of all the loyalist Primarchs, standing almost twenty metres tall.

From then on they tried to navigate the changing environment of the Hulk, only figuring out the pattern after multiple in-game days (a few sessions out of character). During which time they found themselves hunted by the statues they had overlooked; the Primarch Statues were motile, acting like the beings they had been carved in imitation of (Corax was stealthy and used ambush tactics, Khan used hit and run tactics etc.) but desiring only to kill any and all lower lifeforms in their Space Hulk.

Statues
Much larger than this but you get the idea. Sanguinius was the first they encountered and was quite a pain to deal with.

The statues plagued the group for multiple days, even after they’d managed to locate and deal with the eggs. During this time they found out that an Adult Void Kraken lived inside this Space Hulk and was probably dormant after coming across a tentacle inside of an Emperor Class battleship infested with Genestealers (they decided to avoid this area forevermore).

Genestealer
Hillbilly Genestealers! (I accidentally gimped the Genestealer rules and forevermore they were treated as inbred versions from the boonies. My players even played banjo music.).

Eventually the statues forced an engagement, which was a zero-g fight, in an open cavern covered in ice inside the Space Hulk. After a long fight with Corvus and Sanguinus flying after Dougal, Vulkan attempting to rebuild his fellow primarch statues and Leman Russ howling at them in rage, the fight was won and the immediate threat eliminated.

Whilst trying to extricate themselves from the Hulk, Explorators 3.142 and Calaradius Cane ended up individually trapped (one after the other respectively) in the engine room of an ancient vessel that utilised a Singularity drive run by an Abominable Intelligence (Artificial Intelligence). Explorator 3.142 talked his way out, garnering his freedom with false promises yet Caladarius Cane panicked and attacked the singularity drive itself (As the GM, I told him this was a bad idea. I even allowed him to burn fate to reverse his actions after he decided to attack it the first time but he decided to do it a second time), damaging it and its containment field which began to release the singularity it held. Dougal managed to drag Cane out of there before containment fully collapsed and the entire party escaped from the Hulk.

Episode #8, Death or Exile

Watch_Commander_Mordigael2
“Your guilt has been determined. This is merely a sentencing hearing.”

Considering Caladarius Cane’s actions to have jeopardised the entire solar system by releasing a singularity which at that very moment was growing inside the Space Hulk, consuming it slowly and potentially getting enough mass to become self-sustaining, the group decided that Cane had to be punished.

At a sentencing trial held by the players, Cane was offered Death or Exile (Death would have been by Exile) to the Space Hulk. Cane chose Exile anyway.

He was stripped of his equipment, weapons and armour and placed inside a boarding torpedo with all controls disabled and no fuel or power for a return journey. He was given a wheel-lock pistol with one shot and a primitive sword. For the final nail in the coffin, screamer units were attached to the Boarding Torpedo, programmed to play the ice-cream-truck jingle, to ring the dinner-bell for the genestealers when he was fired into the infested Emperor Class battleship.

Wheellock
He couldn’t even kill himself with the Wheel-lock because of how weak it is. That’s how screwed he was.

Cane did not last long.

GM Epilogue

Whilst fun and exceedingly combat orientated (as you’d expect), it is very difficult to balance combat encounters in Deathwatch – it’s extremely polar because either enemies are no threat at all to these ridiculously overpowered marines OR they’re so powerful they can one hit the Marines. There’s no real granularity and at times it’s a struggle to keep even the semblance of an equal encounter.

I quite liked giving them backup Rogue Trader characters; it was a tangible punishment for losing a Deathwatch character yet didn’t eliminate them from the Campaign. Whilst they couldn’t hope to match the Marines in combat prowess, they brought utility and different solutions to problems.

368db3edfc279850c9eaec02a4e959fe--deathwatch-space-aliens
Bye Bye!

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