GM School: Managing the Parry in Deathwatch

Welcome to the second instalment of  GM School, a blog series where I attempt to learn from my own mistakes and become a better game master! In this post, I want to take a look at how a particular aspect of the Deathwatch close combat rules can potentially make players seem less badass, and what options there are to counter it.

Deathwatch Combat Rules: The Parry

In Episode 4, Scott Doucet sends his character, Brother Matthias, into toe-to-toe and chainsword-to-chainsword combat with a fighter within the rebel ranks. Twice, Matthias attacks the rebel, firstly with a Charge and then with an All Out Attack. In both instances, the rebel is able to turn the blows using a particular Reaction (an action each character gets every combat turn as a response to others’ attacks) called a Parry, making an unmodified Weapon Skill test each time.

As this seemed to be a potential issue I checked the rules out afterward. They were clear: No matter how well the attacker rolls to strike, a decently-armed defender can attempt to turn the blow without penalty. At first blush, it seemed there was little an attacker on his own could do about it, until I gave it some thought.

OptIon One: Teamwork

The first solution appeared to be, try and draw the target into using its Reaction up in another way; perhaps by shooting at it, inviting the chance to Dodge.

While it seams like a good way to encourage the Kill-team to act as a co-ordinated unit. it relies on the player who wishes to engage in close combat to be low in the initiative order so that it can then make a charge after the rest of the team draws the Reaction. Otherwise, it would have to be close enough to make a regular Move into direct contact with the target and then Delay its action for the later attack – which then means that any shot by the rest of the Kill-team at the same target is effectively shooting into melee, which imposes a -20 to any attack roll.

Then, there’s the chance that the rest of the Kill-team could potentially finish the target off before the close-combat character gets the chance to move in if the target fails its Dodge roll.

Option Two: The Feint

Thankfully, a further re-reading of the combat rules offered another option; a Half Action called a Feint. This allows a fighter to enter an opposed test of Weapon Skill with its target; if the fighter wins, the target may not Parry or Dodge the fighter’s next attack.

If there’s one down-side to this, it’s that the fighter’s next Action MUST be a Standard Attack; it cannot be a Charge or an All-Out Attack, and if the fighter makes a Feint as its last Action in a given turn, hoping to start its next turn with a Standard Attack, it cannot make a Reaction (a Dodge or Parry) in the meantime – a tough ask, especially as the target will most likely get a turn in the meantime. The best way to use the Feint is in a one-two combo in the same turn with a Standard Attack.

Based on this, it would appear that teamwork is the best option if the attacker wishes to charge or go all out – but is there another way to tilt the odds in an attacker’s favour?

Option Three: Upgraded Craftsmanship?

When Scott built Brother Matthias, he described Brother Matthias’ Assault Marine standard-issue chainsword as having the words IN OMNIUS EXCELSIOR – “excellence in all things” – inscribed on its casing. As Brother Matthias’ Renown increases, Scott could opt to have the artificers in the Armoury of the Deathwatch’s home base in the Jericho Reach, Watch Fortress Erioch, either upgrade his sword or create a new one of exceptional or greater craftsmanship.

The effects of master crafting are left to the game master and usually revolve around durability, but it might be possible to allow the sword to impose a -10 to the target of any opposed Feint and/or Parry tests. Could this result in too much power in Brother Matthias’ hands? Perhaps, but it could let Scott feel a bit more badass through Matthias in close combat.