This article is about the organization. If you were looking for a different Deathwatch, see below.
|Battle Cry||"Suffer not the Alien to live!" / Various battle cries from the Marine's parent chapter.|
|Founding||Around M32, in The War of The Beast|
|Chapter Master||None - Lead by Watch Commanders|
|Homeworld||Various Watch Fortresses around the galaxy, but officially Talasa Prime|
|Strength||Exact number varies, several times normal Chapter strength (1000) galaxy wide.|
|Specialty||Killing Xenos, Kill-team strikes, being every Chapter at once.|
|Colours||Black, with a silver left arm and right pauldron bearing the colors and iconography of the Marine's parent Chapter on the right pauldron|
"They're not like you and me, which means they must be evil!"
- – Governor Ratcliffe, about Native Americans
"Do not ask, ‘Why kill the alien?’ rather ask, ‘Why not?’"
- – Watch Captain Artemis
"Ooh ooh ooh! DEATH-WATCH! Ooh ooh ooh! DEATH-WATCH!"
- – An unorthodox battle cry, which has gained popularity among the more musically inclined in the Deathwatch
The Deathwatch is an independent Space Marine Chapter and is composed of the most badass Space Marines from every chapter who are deployed according to their skills and which specific kind of xeno they are the most experienced at facing. If they have a devastator squad composed of ten heavy bolter-equipped Space Marines who are sent to fight the Tyranids, then you can bet that those heavy bolter-equipped marines will be the best shots with a heavy bolter the Imperium could get their hands on and know everything there is to know about fighting the space bug lizards, loaded with all the best toys for Tyranid killing. Except that Deathwatch does not have Devastator squads...(but have Hellblasters, 'coz GW).
As well as anti-xenos tactics, Deathwatch marines are also instructed in unorthodox and covert warfare techniques, as well as training for missions that are normally completely outside an Astartes' function like hostage rescue, kidnap and false flag operations. A large part of their induction is spent getting marines to unlearn hidebound chapter doctrine and learning how to adapt to new tactics from other sources.
Their armor is painted black save for one pauldron which remains painted in the chapter colors to avoid pissing off the machine spirit. The other pauldron gets replaced entirely with a superfancy silver one bearing the Inquisitorial Seal (despite them no longer having anything to do with the Inquisition). Surprisingly this paint job actually manages to look really badass even if it ends up being totally pointless with the Black Consuls, Black Templars, Raven Guard, and anyone else wearing black. They get their shit done and get it done quickly and now finally have their own codex. There are also a few fan-made codices for them as well as an RPG where they star as player characters though.
Tactics for Overkill's Deathwatch have been assembled here: Tactics/Space Marines and here: Tactics/Inquisition, since it's not entirely clear which the Overkill dataslate is a supplement for. Tactics for the codex can be found here.
The origin of the Deathwatch is apparently a point of contention, since over the decades there have been several different accounts of how they came to be, with variances across the codices, novels and roleplaying games.
1990s - 2016 fluff
The original origin for the Deathwatch wasn't really fleshed out too much other than to say that at some point, a group of Inquisitor Lords sat down with esteemed Space Marine Chapter Masters and assess the encroaching xenos threats and decided to hash out an agreement where the many disparate chapters of space marines could work together with the Inquisition to create a more effective fighting force.
The Deathwatch (RPG) eventually put a name to this meeting and called it the Conclave of Orphite IV and in this telling the Ordo Xenos already existed, who shared the belief that without imminent action, humanity would be consumed by alien beasts and the Age of Imperium would come to an end.
The Deathwatch RPG and the original fluff differ on what form the Deathwatch would exactly take, as in the original 90s articles, "Deathwatch Kill Teams" were basically a synonym for the "Ordo Xenos Kill Teams", where squads would be raised at the behest of individual Inquisitors and commanded by them, but in certain exceptional cases these Kill Teams might be led by a Deathwatch Librarian or Captain. Beyond this, GW had been very neglectful of the Deathwatch for decades and never really provided any new fluff or crunch. Conversely, in the RPG of early 2010s, the Deathwatch would become its own entity with a heirarchy of ranks, capable of sustaining and directing itself without direct input from the Inquisition and was not beholden to the Inquisition (explicitly calling them equals), though still tied to the Inquisition who would root out the foes for the Deathwatch to eradicate.
|This article contains spoilers! You have been warned.|
Come late 2016 however, practically all of the above is retconned directly. Now the Deathwatch was formed after the Ork Tyrant called "The Beast" nearly conquered Terra, and it was made directly by the High Lords rather than by agreement of Inquisition and Chapter Masters. From there the Deathwatch were given the best equipment that the Imperium had, and they were even allowed to innovate with whatever they wanted, though how the fuck the AdMech were convinced to agree to that is left up to the reader. The books official explanation for why that's allowed is the same one as why the Deathwatch have Custodes equipment and why the Deathwatch choose to use Xenos weapons: Fuck all. So, the Deathwatch are now what happens when the Imperium gets so pissed off it says “Fuck our dogma, our beliefs, our reservations, our paranoia, and FUCK YOU. Especially you. We’re fucking you RIGHT UP!”
With regards to the status of "Chamber Militant"; the Codex for the Deathwatch and their section in Imperial Agents outright ignores any Inquisitorial attachment. They wear the same sigil, which is apparently open to everyone now, and occasionally find themselves allied with an Inquisitor but that's the extent of their relationship.
Following the release of the Codex though, the Beast Arises Series offers a take on their origin that differs in some ways. We learn that during the days of the WAAAGH! Beast, the Orks were an almost unstoppable force and many marine chapters were slaughtered. The Imperial Fists Chapter Master and Lord Commander of the Imperium at the time: Slaughter Koorland determined that taking the Orks on head-to-head no longer worked since the Imperium's technological advantage was being eroded. So he colluded with Grand Master Assassin Vangorich (yes, the dude that killed all the High-Lords, and he was a rather cool dude back then) to create much smaller kill-teams with mission specific profiles which would be better suited to cripple or behead a threat rather than slug it out on a battlefield. Thus many chapter mixed units were formed and have their armor painted black, they forgoed their allegiance to the chapter and most importantly, its dogma. With this concept the Space Marines would have an extremely flexible force: from the melee prowess of the Blood Angels, to the stalwart defense of the Imperial Fists. It was a specialist force, but all the specialists were mixed in giving each unit an edge on every possible situation.
The Deathwatch was the brain child of Koorland himself, although the most of the High Lords (other than Vangorich, who had inspired them) protested its creation, primarily based on deep seated fears of an Astartes re-unification following the Horus Heresy and that it was bad enough that Koorland was an Astartes High Lord himself, fearing him turn into a dictator (amusingly he would later go on to shoot the Ecclesiarch for Heresy). He only gave it up when he was called out on the fact that he was already the Chapter Master of the Imperial Fists as well as being the Lord Commander of ALL Imperial armed forces; So having a third title was a bit of a push. The Inquisition happily took over the role as overseers to the Deathwatch because they themselves owe allegiance to no single master other than the Emperor, so in theory were not likely to go AWOL with a powerful force of Space Marines. Koorland agreed, but with three caveats:
- That the Deathwatch be limited to Chapter-Strength (this apparently got dropped later as they became a permanent fixture as they garrison Watch Fortresses all over).
- That the Lord Commander have authority to disband them.
- That he would appoint a Space Marine to oversee all strategic aspects of the Deathwatch (the first Watch Commander Asger Warfist).
At the time the Deathwatch would be referred to as the chamber militant of the Ordo Xenos, except for the fact that during its inception the Inquisition didn't even have Ordos. Towards the War of the Beast, the Inquisitorial Representative(s) decided that the Inquisition itself could be better served by dividing their attentions between Xenos and Daemon, rather than arguing over which was the greater threat. So the Inquisition divided into Ordo Xenos and Ordo Malleus.
The differences between the codex and surrounding sources place doubt on what exactly happened, since no source can seem to agree on the details. In the Codex there is no mention of them having fought in the War of the Beast other than participating in the clean-up afterwards, though given how it's worded and what happened in that series, it could be argued that they were formed partway through the war, rather than as a consequence of it (which the codex seems to imply). Other differences with the codex:
- Koorland's role in agreeing to Inquisitorial authority and restrictions to chapter strength (which appears to have been dropped anyway) is not mentioned in the codex (though by rights, the Inquisition can oversee anything they like) though the book does say that occasionally an Inquisitor will be in command of a Watch Fortress (almost definitely an elder veteran at that).
- The Codex doesn't mention any Inquisitorial connection which is arguably contradicted by the Inquisition's entry in Imperial Agents, and more specifically the rule Chambers Militant which allows an Inquisitor to field a Deathwatch squad but with the Inquisition faction, though that might be more a reference to how an Inquisitor can command a Watch Fortress and using an older term rather than keeping the old "Inquisitorial" Chambers Militant of the 90s.
- The 2017 tie-in novel to the codex: "Deathwatch: Kryptman's War" by Ian St Martin has the Imperial Navy believe that the Deathwatch carry Inquisitorial authority, (the source of which is not made clear) but no Inquisitors are present in the book. Additionally Swordwind" by the same author directly deals with a Deathwatch member's oaths to the Inquisition upon his returning to his parent chapter, refers to Deathwatch vessels as belonging to the Inquisition and has him ferried home in an Ordo Xeno starship.
Organisation and Chapter Strength
Another point of contention is how the Deathwatch is organised and how many marines they actually have.
The original fluff barely made any reference to how the Deathwatch was organised aside from being an ad-hoc arrangement of temporary squads and fortresses under the command of the Inquisition. In the Beast Arises, Koorland set that the Deathwatch be set to "chapter strength" back in M32, and appointed a single Watch Commander to oversee strategic aspects while taking his orders from the Inquisition. Admittedly, even the Watch Commander himself had no idea what the position entailed.
By M40 in the codex and contemporary fluff, Koorland's singular position of "Watch Commander" doesn't seem to exist and command is decentralised to the Watch Commanders of their respective fortresses and surrounding domains, making them roughly analogous to Chapter Masters. These new fortress commanders are usually Watch Masters but the codex implies this may not always be the case. (Interestingly, the new "Watch Master" role has been amalgamated with the old RPG rank of Watch Keeper who was one of the few permanent Deathwatch staff members and carried the same Clavis that Watch Masters now do) Whether the Masters have any higher authority above them is not made clear, depending on how much influence you think the Inquisition actually has over them.
Despite nominally being referred to as a chapter, the issue of "chapter strength" also seems to have been ignored, though this depends on how large you assume the "average" Kill Teams to be. For example: kill team Cassius was 11 strong, while kill team Artemis was 6 (plus himself as Captain for 7).
A traditional Fortress such as Talassa Prime has been shown to have five companies of four kill-teams plus a Watch Captain. So there is probably somewhere between 21 - 41 marines per company, making 105 - 205 marines per Fortress, plus a dedicated command staff including a Librarius, Chaplaincy and any attached Dreadnoughts for around 9 - 10 members, plus an armoury of indeterminate size to maintain the fortress's vehicles, though a conservative estimate would be 3 more techmarines given the size of the other departments, especially considering the huge redundancy of experience spread through the kill teams themselves, which can compose of their own techmarines, librarians, chaplains and Apothecaries. All in all this puts a watch fortress at somewhere between 119 - 219 space marines. The Deathwatch tie-in novel shows around 200 members mustering at fortress Furor Shield, though this was a joint action including watch teams from nearby jurisdictions, but probably remains a good estimation of roughly how large a bulked out fortress can be.
Across the Imperium there are four "primary" fortresses which probably have either significant strategic value or play host to unique facilities (Talasa Prime is said to be a major training facility) plus fourteen other regular fortresses, which are all said to generally follow the same core structure, so the concentrated bulk of the chapter would be anywhere between 2142 - 3166 Deathwatch Marines, much higher than "Chapter Strength", assuming all of the Fortresses are equivalent in strength to the primary ones.
The final number is also complicated by the 40+ smaller Watch Stations which house anything between squad or two all the way up to a full blown company! Though it is not made clear whether or not those small stations fall under the purview of the closest Fortress and being assigned squads from there, or if they have their own discrete commands, otherwise that would add about another 200 - 1640 to their roster. Nor does it account for any Deathwatch Marines on detached duties (Kill-Marines) that appear in the RPG but are not mentioned in the codex unless you count those units which can be deployed in squad sizes of 1.
In addition, the 8th Edition Deathwatch Codex mentions that Roboute Guilliman assigned "multiple chapters" worth of Primaris Marines to the Deathwatch. While its quite possible that this hasn't increased their overall numbers if they took greivous casualties due to the Great Rift/Blackness, this alone implies that the Deathwatch are far bigger than any chapter.
Given the possible final numbers anywhere between around 2100 - 4800 marines, assuming the Deathwatch maintains itself at full strength all of the time, and that all Watch Fortresses are equal in strength.
If that seems like a huge amount, remember that would imply that each chapter of the thousand or so in the Imperium are donating only about two to five marines at any given time. But given the number of repeat chapters represented in Talasa Prime alone, added to the fact that apparently hundreds of chapters are risking dishonour by actually requesting their battle brothers return to their parent chapter, this unusually high number may not be an unfair estimation and may even be a lowball considering permanent members seconded from Chapters completely or Blackshields who cut all ties with their former Chapter before joining (due to any number of reasons, being loyalists hailing from traitor Chapters, exiles or other personal reasons etc.).
Induction and Training
Calling on ancient oaths and debts of honour from hundreds of Space Marine Chapters, the Deathwatch
forces requests each Chapter to volunteer a handful of its best warriors to be conscripted into the Deathwatch. This usually occurs when the old Deathwatch-conscripted marine dies in battle or returns after he fulfils his term of service to the Deathwatch. Some Chapters view recruitment into the Deathwatch as a great honour, with the warrior both envied and revered by his battle brothers for being chosen. Others, either view the conscription as little more than an inconvenience as it robs them of their best warriors or as a chance to get rid of marines too insubordinate to mix with the battle companies but too well-celebrated to be demoted.
As their recruits are full-fledged space marines and not mere neophytes, they usually believe they have some idea what to expect; most assume that they will be brought to a heavily-fortified space station where they will be trained much in the same way they are already trained, but with more specialized weapons (after all, Space Marine training is already quite intense and comprehensive). This notion is immediately proven wrong as the inductees first gaze upon a Watch Fortress. What greets them is a systemless planet floating in the middle of nowhere, encircled by a colossal artificial ring, supposedly built millions of years ago by an ancient alien civilisation. It is on this ring, bristling with Imperial gun batteries and missile defences, that the Deathwatch and its private fleet of warships make their home.
The ring station is so large that the Imperium has built entire orbital cities into their ancient superstructure; including individual quarters for thousands of space marines and serfs, vast customizable training fields, including artificially-recreated planetary environments. The recruits are sworn into the Deathwatch and are forced to undergo hypno-indoctrination to put the Watch above all their old loyalties, and then undergo months of intensive retraining in unconventional tactics. They are divided into 6-man Kill Teams, no two members being from the same chapter. The inductees are also introduced to their new arsenal; each of them is given a Combi-weapon built to accept a range of attachments and ammunition, for every Deathwatch space marine must have a secondary and tertiary weapon for any eventuality.
As part of the training, each marine is forced to watch endless hours of vid-recordings of space marines losing battles against Xenos. The lesson there is two-fold, one is to understand Xenos strategies, tactics, and weaponry, including all their strengths and weaknesses. The other is that though the Deathwatch marines come from diverse backgrounds, apparently nothing creates better unit cohesion and hatred against the Xenos than for a Space Marine to watch helplessly as another space marine fights a desperate and ultimately doomed last stand, again and again across thousands of battles. At that point the point is pressed home--it does not matter what chapter you are from, the Space Marines in the recordings were mercilessly slaughtered and you must now avenge them with extreme prejudice. The experience is so realistic that all inductees must be physically restrained to their seats prior to donning the vid gear (which in all likelihood includes a Pain Glove nicked from the Imperial Fists, so that the Deathwatch trainees get to feel the pain the Astartes victims of Xenos likely felt in those recordings, which must be especially unnerving if the recording a trainee is watching came from a helmet cam mounted to an unfortunate Astartes being disemboweled and then beheaded by a Genestealer or certain Dark Eldar).
At the end of their training, every Deathwatch Space Marine has not only been reforged into an unparalleled Xenocide machine, but a Deathwatch Kill-Team as a whole will royally fuck up the shit of their target. Though extremely rare as Deathwatch is more of a small unit spec-ops force meant to infiltrate and eliminate specific objectives and targets instead of fighting all-out battles, the arrival of additional Deathwatch Kill Teams typically spells the end of whatever unlucky Xeno son of a bitch is on its receiving end. And if the shit has hit the fan to the extent that one hundred or so Deathwatch members have to deploy to just one battle and organize into an actual company, it probably means that the Imperium is going to be sending a lot more than just the Space Marines.
Before deployment, each marine has the Deathwatch pauldron added to their armour and has the rest of their suit painted black. This process is surprisingly dangerous and must be carefully overseen as the machine spirit of the armour must be coaxed into accepting its new designation. Each suit of Deathwatch armour is thereafter twice blessed; a unique entity in itself and a single-minded foe against xenos.
So, where's their Codex?
The earliest rules for Deathwatch were in a 3rd-edition Chapter Approved entry in 2001 with rules to take one single Kill Team in any generic Imperial force, followed by a whole lot of nothing, and then a 6th-edition Apocalypse formation in the Damnos book, where two Sternguard Squads and a Captain would get Preferred Enemy (one Xenos codex) and an additional special ammunition profile called Aniphase Rounds (AP4, forces Necrons to re-roll successful Reanimation Protocols). From here their representation would slowly accelerate...
In 2016 the game Deathwatch: Overkill was released. While not a full army, it did give a small set of special units using the packaged models, each of which was based on the hero of a story written by Black Library and led by a younger, un-nommed Ortan Cassius. Each model has their own Chapter Tactics (or equivalent thereof), but don't officially have it, so they can fit in any other Marine army without complaint. A good majority of the units also have Sternguard ammo, making them far more useful than their Damnos forebears.
Then, in August 2016 a full Codex went up for pre-order alongside a new game called "Death Masque" which featured new models for the Eldar (Xenos filth!), Harlequins, and official Deathwatch sprues with Deathwatch Veterans, Deathwatch Vanguard veterans, and an upgrade sprue to make your own Deathwatch units. There are also "new" (essentially the same thing but with a few "I"s to glue on) vehicles for them such as the Deathwatch land raider and Deathwatch transport/razorback. However, they do get one genuinely unique vehicle in the form of the Corvus Blackstar, an airborne transport that carries a decent amount of firepower, as befitting the Deathwatch.
One of the great things about the Deathwatch is that the kill team kits provide a lot of goodies for kit-bashing some of your other Space Marine armies. Some of the items available are listed below:
Lots of chapter specific pauldrons. You only get one per chapter for every five-man kit, but they can be useful if you want a nicer-looking pauldron for a single character (especially if GW doesn't sell transfer sheets or upgrade sprues for said chapter):
- Dark Angels
- Blood Angels
- Space Wolves
- Raven Guard
- Imperial Fists
- White Scars
- Iron Hands
- Crimson Fists (Technically it's the Imperial Fists pauldron, but the shape's identical)
- Hawk Lords/Knights of the Raven (Using the Raven Guard pauldron)
- Flesh Tearers
- Raptors/Mentors/White Consuls/Black Consuls
- Taurans (you can also use it for Minotaurs)
- Black Templars
- Mortifactors (only available on Captain Artemis' model in Death Masque)
- Blood Ravens (only available from Jensus' model in Kill Team Cassius)
- Howling Griffons
- Novamarines/Sons of Medusa
- Silver Skulls
- Blackshield (represented as a pauldron with scratch marks and chains)
You can also give the Deathwatch pauldron to your regular space marine veterans to show their service, to give your characters more flavor.
- Shotguns for full-size Astartes, not just scouts
- Infernus Heavy Bolter
- Storm Shields similar to the one used by Hector Rex
- Melta Powerfists
- Heavy Thunderhammer
- Infantry-portable Frag Cannons
- Xenophase Blades
- Guardian Spears (The only source for the weapon outside of the Adeptus Custodes)
Their 8th Edition Codex shows that Primaris Marines will be included in the army list. Then...they got little more than token support. When the Space Marines got their SECOND codex (Cue "Gee, Billy" memes), the Deathwatch were shunted into the role of the red-headed stepchild of the lot. While the other chapters (barring the Grey Knights, who never went Primaris) got access to all the fancy new vanguard stuff, all the Deathwatch got was one tank. When Psychic Awakening rolled around in 2019 and 2020, they didn't even get a role in any of the books, just a token nod to keep them barely up to snuff in an article of White Dwarf alongside the Harlequins.
Needless to say, the hopes of keeping the Deathwatch anywhere near competitive in 9th Edition are minimal at best. Due to forgeworld not nerfing twin volkite dreadnoughts and Deathwatch librarians giving units 5+++ FNP saves, Deathwatch are actually, by the numbers, the best space marine army as of August 2021.
That said, they did recently get a Codex supplement announced. How much this will level the playing field though remains to be seen, but at the very least, this will give them access to the entire armory.
Daily Rituals of the Deathwatch
03:00 - Morning Prayer. The Deathwatch are roused from their chambers to pray. Prayer lasts two hours, one for the Emperor and the other for new ways to purge the alien.
07:00 - Battle Practice. The Deathwatch descends upon the prisons holding captured xenos and proceed to find the best way to maximize pain and suffering upon them before giving them the Emperor's Peace.
10:00 - Morning Meal. A light meal is prepared by the serfs in the Deathwatch. Permission to eat the xenos they've killed is denied.
10:15 - Movie Time. New Deathwatch initiates are forced to watch videos of fellow battle brothers getting shat upon and humiliated by the filthy alien. Each Deathwatch initiate is strapped and bound by ceramite braces to contain their rage. The videos are usually custom-tailored to the initiate depending on their originating chapter; Salamanders and Lamenters watch civillians being slaughtered by Orks and tortured by Dark Eldar, Iron Hands and other tech-fetishists watch Necrons fuck toasters and Rak'gol wear their shitty cybernetics as if to mock them, Blood Angels and other melee-chads watch Tau play keep-away and gun down those trying to charge them, and Novamarines and other already sufficiently die-hard alien haters get to watch diplomatic meetings between the Imperium and xenos that don't end with the filthy aliens dead. The ancient films Alien and Predator are popular choices among Veteran Kill Team members.
11:15 - Tactical Indoctrination. The Deathwatch plans the next campaign to wipe out the filthy xenos and study the weaknesses and best possible ways to inflict as much pain as possible on the alien.
13:00 - Midday Meal. A meal is prepared by the Deathwatch serfs. Eating the aliens is still prohibited.
14:00 - Evening Firing Rites. The Deathwatch practice fighting xenos in the dark. Tau and Eldar Snipers are given weapons and promised freedom if they survive. The odd few that ever do are then given freedom through a bomb attached to the weapons they were given.
16:00 - Battle Practice. The Deathwatch practice fighting Tyranid organisms in melee. Due to the raw amount of rage that the Deathwatch exhibit during the battle, some wonder how they aren't Angry Marines instead.
19:00 - Evening Meal. A feast is prepared by the Deathwatch serfs. Eating the dead aliens is allowed if they are deemed safe to eat.
22:00 - Interrogation Time. The Deathwatch interrogates and torture captured xenos for information and intelligence. Any xenos who successfully resist are designated to be tomorrow's meal, if they are safe to eat. If not, then they are thrown in with some starved Kroot.
24:00 - The Deathwatch ends their interrogation, punch their small posters of hated xenos, and proceed to go back to rest in their chambers.
- Deathwatch Tactics
- Cyrus - A fellow deathwatch and a well known scout sergeant.
- Ortan Cassius - Another Deathwatch Alum and current Master of Sanctity of the Ultramarines
- Deathwatch (RPG), part of Fantasy Flight Games' Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay system. You get to be a Deathwatch marine and kill xenos.
- Deathwatch: Overkill Rules for the Deathwatch units from Deathwatch: Overkill
- A vid-recording likely included in the Deathwatch "compulsory viewing" curriculum for trainees. Yes, this is from an official 40k product.
|Forces of the Deathwatch|
|Command:||Forge Master - Keeper - Deathwatch Chaplain |
Watch Captain - Watch Master - Deathwatch Epistolary
|Troops:||Deathwatch First Company Veteran - Deathwatch Champion |
Terminator Squad - Veteran Squad - Kill Team - Kill Marine
|Walkers:||Venerable Dreadnought - Deathwatch Dreadnought|
|Vehicles:||Bike Squad - Rhino - Razorback |
Land Raider (Land Raider Redeemer - Land Raider Crusader)
|Spacecraft:||Kill-Ship - Boarding Torpedo |
Drop Pod - Space Marine Landing Craft
|Allies:||Space Marines - Primaris Marines|