Review: “Deathwatch: Mark of the Xenos”

One of the major issues I had with Fantasy Flight Games’ Warhammer 40,000 RPG systems was that there seemed to be a dearth of “monster books.” There were a lot of written adversaries but they were scattered around a lot of books, since there are four different game lines now each with different, specific focuses that required different presentation. In the Dark Heresy core book you can get some heretics and things of that nature, there’s some pirates, aliens and Eldar in Rogue Trader. Creatures Anathema added a lot of content for Dark Heresy, with Orkz and other aliens aplenty, but when Deathwatch came around, FFG shone a huge spotlight on the hitherto under-represented Tyranid and Tau. The need was really felt for a new compendium of creatures that could challenge a bunch of Space Marines, rather than a bunch of Adepts.

And like a Krootox rampaging across your gaming table, came Mark of the Xenos for Deathwatch. Mark of the Xenos is a “monster book” for Deathwatch, containing all the creatures found in Jericho Reach, giving the Achillus Crusade a hard time.

Up front, I will state my only grievance with the book. It is, of course, very focused on a certain region of the Imperium. There are no Eldar in the Jericho Reach for example, so there’s no Eldar in this book. To get my Eldar-killing on, I’d have to buy a module that features them, and get their stats there. Lure of the Expanse, for example, has a Pathfinder, Farseer, Warlock and Wraithguard fully written up. That’s a Rogue Trader book though. Dark Eldar you can find a lot of in Purge the Unclean, a Dark Heresy module. You’d have to put in a little homebrew time to get those Deathwatch-ready.

I would really like a book that just has every alien species and insane cultist archetype that the Imperium carves up on a regular basis, but Mark of the Xenos is nonetheless a very nice book with a hell of a lot of adversaries.

The book is divided into four fairly simple chapters: Aliens, Renegades, Chaos and a section for the Game Master. The aliens section is the most expansive, because there are a lot of aliens, and the Deathwatch is pretty primarily concerned with killing aliens. They are equal opportunity purgers, but they work for the Ordo Xenos primarily.

Tau, Tyranids, Orkz, And You

The book is much more than just stat blocks. Fantasy Flight Games has a lot of fluff, adventure seeds, and cool asides in this book that I will gloss over just for the sake of brevity. It does a great job of expanding the lore of each of the adversaries and their role in the Jericho Reach, and confrontations not only with the Achillus Crusade, but also against each other. The book provides a lot of descriptive content for each individual enemy creature as well, with adventure seeds, text descriptions and some lore here and there. Some of the monsters are full-featured non-player characters with multiple possible storylines and motivations. I don’t want to ignore that content, but it is simply too much to talk about in the review!

So to talk about the critters in the book itself. First off you have the Tau. The main draw of the Tau is that they’re intelligent, advanced and coordinated. They’re on the level of the Imperium tactics and tech-wise, mostly, and without being baby-eating crazy like Chaos. In Deathwatch, creatures are divided into Troops, Elites and Masters. Troops are creatures that you need a bunch of to challenge the Space Marines, mostly for Hordes, but they can also go toe to toe with Dark Heresy characters alone so they’re useful for that. Elites are creatures that are equivalent, alone, to a single Space Marine, and Masters are creatures that are so powerful you need the whole kill-team wailing on them in order to kill them.

For the Tau, we get a Broadside Battlesuit as an Elite, armed with HUGE ion cannons, a Tau commander Master with a ton of staying power and leadership functions, the inspirational but incredibly vulnerable Ethereal Master, and Drones and Pathfinders for troops. We also get the full compliment of Kroot forces (including Krootox, Hounds and Gnarloc) and Vespid Stingwings to finish up the forces of the Tau Empire. Because the Tau have some human worlds under their control, you can also use the stat blocks for Imperial Guard or human heretics to represent Human Tau forces too, to make things even more interesting.

Next up we have the Tyranids, a race of monstrous beings whose every technology is completely biological, controlled by a Hivemind so powerful that it can blind psychics. Tyranids get a few new weapons here than in the core rulebook, but they’re not too noteworthy. They make for a good change of pace for something to stick on your gaunts. Because you get a Zoanthrope in this book, you also get some Tyranid psyker (psychic) powers and psyker rules here.

For those of you who wanted all the huge tyranid beasties in the core book, you had to wait a bit, but you’ve finally got them. The Carnifex is represented in all of its supermassive glory, along with the Dagon Overlord, an incredibly powerful unique Hive Tyrant of Hive Fleet Dagon. Iconic tyranid creatures like Raveners, Lictors and Tyrant Guards make their appearance, as well as the (relative) newcomer, the Trygon, a gigantic tyranids that burrows underground and ambushes you with scything claws.  Seriously, the gang’s all here – you’ve got all the tyranids you could want between this book and the core rulebook, and they are pretty deadly. I’m genuinely happy we got the Trygon in there.

Then you’ve got probably the most iconic Warhammer alien, the Orkz. Orkz are goofy, loutish, brutal green humanoids that are actually fungal in nature and have a weird as hell ecosystem and they barter using teeth. They also talk like hilarious British soccer hooligans while killing people – that’s what really matters. The Core Rulebook doesn’t say much about Orkz in the Jericho Reach, and they’re a minor presence compared to the Tyranids, Tau and Chaos, but it’s really awesome that they’re included again (ignoring that you can play an Ork in Rogue Trader with Into The Storm, of course). They can use the little update to the Deathwatch Troops/Elite/Master system. You’ve got Boyz, Meganobs, a Warboss and a Big Mek. The book points you to Creatures Anathema for more stuff like grotz and squigs which is disappointing. But at least the basic stuff is here.

There’s a couple of more obscure alien species to spice things up, like the Bruul Parasite, which basically turns people into zombies, and the Crotalid which is basically a giant crocodile that lives in Feral Worlds. Most of these add interesting new plotlines, but aren’t terribly competitive in competitive in straight-up combat compared to a tyranid warrior or a chaos marine. A few seem weirdly more in line with Rogue Trader adversaries. Still, that might be to their advantage – a bruul parasite for example might force the Space Marines to use their brains a little bit.

More Fun From Beyond the Warp

Taken together, Chapters 2 and 3 (Renegades and Chaos) comprise the same amount of page space as the xenos chapter, and their separation is sort of semantical – the chaos chapter has Chaos Space Marines, Daemons and other people and monsters who eviscerate kittens for fun, while the renegades has Apostates, heretics and weirdos who aren’t completely daemonic but are still evil. The renegades chapter has a lot of cool off-the-cuff characters like Inquisitor Hakk, who could be an ally or an enemy, but is a nutcase regardless of what side you have him on, as well as a heretek who literally eats Space Marines. There’s also an insane computer and a bunch of mechanical minions it could control.

The Chaos chapter opens with four Master class enemies, the Bloodthirster, Great Unclean One, Keeper of Secrets and Lord of Change, providing you with the Greater Daemons of each Chaos God. These are insanely powerful adversaries, and the book advises against using them as anything but the capstone of a campaign, when the Kill-Team has earned more experience and acquired the battle honors needed to wield greater weaponry. Otherwise they will get stomped. These guys are obscene, with like 200 wounds and overall armor between 15 and 20, multiple attacks, and various supernatural powers.

To accompany the Greater Daemons you also have the iconic daemon troops of each Chaos God: Bloodletters of Khorne, Daemonettes of Slaneesh, Pink Horrors of Tzeentch, and Plague-Bearers of Nurgle. Then you have iconic marines for each too, which function as Elites. Noise Marines, Berserkers, Sorcerers and Plague Marines, and even Obliterators and Possessed, they’re all here. New chaos weapons for all traitor marines, and chaos psyker powers for the Sorcerer, round out the section. The forces of Chaos are well represented, if you include the Daemon Prince and basic Chaos Marines of the core book. They’re perhaps the most frightening enemies just because they’ve got Space Marines like the players are, with similar (if not better) attributes, equipment and abilities.

The book closes with a few helpful sections for the GM. There are tips for using Hordes, and new rules for unnatural hordes, such as fanatical or psychic hordes. There’s also fairly serviceable rules for mass battles. It’s a pretty short section, and probably won’t blow your mind, but it’s a nice addition to a book already packed with content. If you’re looking for adversaries for your Deathwatch Kill-Team, you definitely want this book, and if you can swing it, Creatures Anathema would probably be worth getting as well. But I’m still holding out hope for a definitive Warhammer 40k RPG adversaries compendium in the future.