How anyone could be expected to run Deathwatch without this book is completely beyond me. It’s simple – pick this up at the same time as you buy the rulebook and you’ll very soon see why this will become the most-used book at your table-top for players and GM alike. Adhering to Fantasy Flight’s top-notch production values, ‘Rites of Battle’ offers a staggering amount of information in an easily-digestible format, extremely good artwork and a logical layout for ease of access. This is definitely going to be a reference book at your table, so I took great notice of this last criteria especially.
As for the content, it is a good ‘all-round’ sourcebook. Chapter 1 offers rules for including the Imperial Fists and Successor Chapters in your campaign and rules for designing your own Chapter. Why anyone would want to design their own, given the huge array of existing source material in the 40K universe is completely beyond me, so I didn’t see much value in this at all – but your tastes may differ. It also presents some practical advice on integrating Deathwatch with its sister games Drak Heresy and Rogue Trader, with some plot points and caveats for doing so. What was apparent was that the authors had spent some time wrestling with how to create games in which the superhuman defenders of humanity could play nicely with regular folk. I’m still extremely sceptical that such a mix is possible, but there are options presented.
Chapter 2 introduces the idea of Deeds. Chapter and Campaign Deeds represent pivotal turning points in your characters history (or even during play) and allow you to purchase Deeds which come with an in-game benefit. I was glad to see that these primarily add flavour to your character, and the mechanical benefits are quite low-powered. There are also Deeds of Disdain, functioning as a ‘black mark’ on your record and providing you with a story goal to pursue and thus rid yourself of this taint. The absolute high point of this Chapter is the inclusion of Specialities – types of Space Marines that can be purchased with xp (think ‘Prestige Classes’ from D&D). We finally see rules for the Chaplains, the Epistolary (and many more) and the Dreadnaught opened up as a player class. Yes, I initially took a dim view of this, but there is an entire section on the practicalities and drawbacks of playing one. There are some good GM and player tips that allow these behemoths of destruction to be used sensibly.
Chapters 3 & 4 don’t disappoint, covering more wargear (guns and armour) and Vehicles. All the stock standard Space Marine vehicles (like the Rhino, Bikes and Land Raider) are her, but Thunderhawk Gunships are also covered. Chaos Space Marine Vehicles and the Tau are given some exposure (so now you have enemy vehicles to attack in your vehicles, obviously). The Renown section in Chapter 5 clarifies some points in this system, and I mostly skimmed it – this will be something you’ll need once the games is well underway, and I was predominantly looking at what I can cram into my first few gaming sessions. The fact that it came after all the exciting guns, power armour and vehicles felt like a sudden (unwelcome) change of pace.
Rites of Battle wraps up with an excellent (and too short) section on Watch Fortress Erioch, with details about its history, how it basically runs and some more information on the Omega Vault (which is the ultimate lure for me – there is always tantalisingly too little information on this magnificent device). Next to the Vault in terms of interest though was the segment on the current prisoners of the Watch Fortress. All of these could spawn entire campaigns, and there has been a lot of thought put into them.
In all, if you are wanting to seriously run Deathwatch, you need this book. The scope of the content means that everyone should find something of interest, and it represents a high-yield investment for your game.