Review – The Emperor’s Chosen (Deathwatch RPG)

EmperorsChosenThe Emperor’s Chosen is a supplement for the Deathwatch RPG, which is part of Fantasy Flight’s Warhammer 40K Roleplay series. The Emperor’s Chosen, billed as a guide to the veterans of the Jericho Reach, features background material, several stories of specific veterans of the Deathwatch from years past, and the introduction of heroic legacies. The Emperor’s Chosen is a 144-page, full-color hardcover, and retails for about $40.

Contents

Only in Death (~20 pages) – The first chapter of The Emperor’s Chosen presents general information on how veteran members of the Deathwatch fit into the organization and into the Jericho Reach – changing loyalties, too many secrets, repeated secondment, promotion, and death.

Honour thy Ancestors (~50 pages) – This chapter presents seven groups of Deathwatch Space Marines, each of them which was wiped out (or almost wiped out) at some point in the past. Each entry provides the story of the squad in question and some relics that were left behind by that group, which could potentially be assigned to the PCs.

Figures of Legend (~30 pages) – Heroic Legacy Packages are introduced here. A new mechanical option for the PCs, Heroic Legacies have several moving parts. First, the squad pays an XP cost to gain access to a particular Heroic Legacy. This purchase unlocks three squad manoeuvers (one offensive, one tactical, one defensive) and six roles (three offensive, three defensive). In order to invoke the Heroic Legacy, the Kill-team takes the Oath of Legacy at the start of a mission. Each of the characters in the squad can them assume the various roles assigned by the Legacy (they can test to change roles later). Each role will grant the character bonuses appropriate to the role – Breaker of Hordes, Feller of Giants, Denier of Witches, Guardian From Afar, and so forth. The balance of the roles filled by the squad members dictates which kind of manoeuver is available to the squad at that point in time. Additional expenditures of xp can unlock a wider variety of roles and manoeuvers. Each of the Legacy’s ties back into one of the squads from the prior chapter, although the tie may not be particularly strong.

The Longest Watch (~30 pages) – An adventure in which the Kill-team must retrace the steps of some ill-fated predecessors, and then go from there to places we shall not discuss in this spoiler-free zone.

Opinions

As is usual for these books, the writing, editing, graphic design, and art are all top notch.

Overall, I am forced to say that this is my least favorite of the Deathwatch supplements, and I couldn’t really recommend it. The background veteran information chapter is just too generic, to me, to make for interesting reading or to be of much use to a GM. The seven tales of doomed Space Marines also don’t fire me up. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the tales, as such, and the writing is fine – but individual stories of (mostly) long-dead characters without much connection to meta-plot just doesn’t get it done for me. And reading material is, ultimately, what this chapter is. Yes, each squad is used as a means to introduce several pieces of wargear (such a coincidence that all of these dead guys left equipment behind somewhere), but there’s even more exposition about each of the relics; far more IMHO than is necessary for some equipment the PCs will probably never get to requisition anyway. As I’ve said elsewhere, the fact that a book, or part of a book, is primarily reading material is not in and of itself a problem – many of us own far more RPG books than we could ever play, and even if we’re playing out of a particular supplement we’re probably only using a mechanic or two out of hundreds of pages. But it is a problem that the story material presented here just doesn’t have the sort of hook into the active setting/plot that is necessary for me to find it of real interest.

Finally (well, there’s the adventure, but I don’t like to talk about them for spoiler reasons), there’s the mechanical heart of the book, the Heroic Legacies. If there was a part of this book that I’d think that someone else might find of value, it would be this part. It does open up a new array of options for veteran Kill-teams. And the system of shifting back and forth between the offensive and defensive formations is interesting. For me, however, it seems like it adds yet another layer of mechanical complexity and options on top of a system that isn’t exactly lacking in them, and I’m not sure that the payoff is worth the work.

So, I suppose that much of the above is quite subjective – if you want to read stories of the heroic lives and deaths of some Space Marines, or if you want that extra layer of options for your Kill-team, then you could very easily find The Emperor’s Chosen to be a worthy purchase. But, at least from where I sit, this is one that is pretty easy to pass up.

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