Battle Report #12: The Omega Sanction

c. Games Workshop

A pall of darkness shrouded the strategium, the faint flickers from the electro-flambeaux set into the walls sending shadows scuttling into the corners and across the stone floors. The lack of light did not bother the room’s occupants, however, as they were perfectly adapted to work in the dark. So it was that the only other illumination came from the baleful red glare of their helm-lenses, the blinking viridian readouts of cogitator-screeds, and from the ghostly apparition of a world tilting slowly above the main hololith in the center of the room– a fat, green orb, its image flickering occasionally as the projector skipped and stalled. The name and statistics of this planet were displayed in minute text on the side, but these facts were, at the moment, unimportant. Even the fact that a war now raged on its surface was, in the grand scheme of things, unremarkable.

This was, like a great many other things, a lie. After all, unremarkable matters did not summon the attentions of the Deathwatch.

At the head of the table, a hooded figure became visible as it inclined its head a little further forward, the green light cast by the holo-viewer illuminating the outline of a thin, female face. Unlike the armoured giants ringing this assembly, this figure was a human, a mortal in the company of genhanced war-gods. Somehow, this fact, and they way her face remained mostly obscured under the shadows of her hood, seemed to lend her more power, not less.

“As of fifteen hundred hours ago,” the figure said, with a voice like clear snowfall, “the 42nd Iron Heart Expeditionary Force breached the rebel compound at Hive Demisyne. After four hours of sustained engagement, they summarily overran the enemy compound and destroyed the traitor command structure. As is standard, they reported their success back to central command in orbit…although the Lord General’s staff noted that the Iron Heart did not use standard astropathic call-signs in making this report. The Ordo Prefectus officers on hand, however, logged this breach of protocol as a curiosity, nothing more, unworthy of scrutiny or alarm.”

At this, one of the armoured figures at the other end of the great table leaned forwards a little, the light of the projector casting the bare skin of his scarred face in flickering relief. His expression was impassive, like one of the marble statues from Old Terra, but a faint frown was visible at the corner of his lips. “And you believe otherwise, Inquisitor?” he asked, his voice surprisingly soft despite the battle-worn face that it came from.

Inquisitor Ariadna Zao of the Ordo Xenos slowly shifted her unblinking gaze onto the speaker, and elegantly folded her hands together. “Our forensics efforts have confirmed the presence of Xenos Horrificus on the surface,” she replied. “Autopsies of several captured rebel soldiers have revealed evidence that they were under the control of Enslaver organisms. At this time, we cannot confirm how much of the rebel forces were infected, or indeed if the prime hosts of the infection were killed in action or not.”

The assembled Astartes remained silent. They had all been briefed on the suspicion of Enslaver activity during the warp-jump to this world. All of them knew the gravity of such a suspicion: the Enslavers were a perfidious horror from beyond reality, who made incursions onto this dimension to feed upon and enslave the minds of psykers. Once they had infected human psyker hosts, they bent the will of other, unshielded minds in the area to their control, and began converting their hosts into horrifying living portals with which to allow more of their kind in. Entire worlds had been lost to Enslaver infestation, and in all cases, the sanction of Exterminatus had always been needed to eradicate this taint.

The scar-faced Astartes leaned back a little in his seat. “And you suspect the Guard have been tainted?”

The Inquisitor gave a slow nod. “We have a reasonable suspicion that the 42nd have been compromised,” she said. As she spoke, the drifting image of the world suddenly blinked and zoomed inwards onto one of the continents, before transforming into a topographical display of a dense boreal region. “I have had the companies of the 42nd that were involved in the capture of the traitor compound redeployed to the Verantha Highlands, to await further orders.”

The unhelmeted Astartes gave a grave nod. “An Omega sanction, then?”

Inquisitor Zao did not return the nod. “A cover story is already being implemented of a resurgence of enemy activity in the region,” she said. “It would not do for the morale of the other loyal units on the planet if the truth came out. I will trust you to execute this sanction as you see fit, Captain Argus.”

Argus was about to reply when another voice, rendered metallic by the vox-grille of a helmet, spoke up suddenly. “This is wrong,” one of the other assembled Deathwatch growled. “Those Guardsmen are loyal soldiers of the Imperium! We can’t simply just execute them because we suspect they are infested!”

Argus’ face twisted into a stony frown as he swiveled on the speaker. “Brother Na’keln,” he said, his voice shifting into an angry growl, “that is enough.”

Inquisitor Zao turned to face the speaker. “You are correct, Brother Na’keln,” she said, speaking directly to the other Astartes despite Argus’ earlier dismissal. “They are loyal soldiers of the Imperium, and do not deserve this fate. But if the Enslaver infestation is allowed to spread, then before long they won’t be loyal soldiers of the Imperium any longer. This is a mercy, a chance for them to die as servants of the Emperor rather than as xenos puppets.”

“And what if you are wrong?” Na’keln growled as he leaned forwards, the red lenses of his helm boring into the human. “What if none of them are infected? We would be killing them for nothing!”

Zao remained impassive as she met the burning gaze of those two glowing red orbs. “If I am wrong,” she said softly, “then let that be on my conscience, Brother Na’keln, not yours. But given our suspicions, can you honestly say that we have the time to be meticulous about this?”

Na’keln said nothing. Those versed in the lore of the xenos, as the Deathwatch were, knew that it took fifty to seventy-five hours for Enslavers to completely dominate their victims and begin crafting their grotesque flesh-portals. The Ordo Xenos would not be able to sift through an entire Imperial Guard regiment looking for an infected individual in that time, despite their famed thoroughness. Wordlessly, Na’keln reclined back in his seat.

Giving his brother one last warning glare, Argus stood up. “If there are no other objections,” he said, turning to the rest of his assembled brothers, “I want all squads assembled and ready for embarkation onto the Blackstars in the next ten minutes. The Verantha Highlands are known for their tectonic activity, so bring melta charges: we will plant them on the site to trigger a rockslide to bury the aftermath. This is a grim business, brothers, so let us ensure it is done quickly.”

*****

A while back, I was trying to introduce two friends of mine, Andy and Lucas, to 9th edition 40k. Both were still getting the hang of both the current edition and of Tabletop Simulator, and so I was happy to host and moderate a 1000 point game for the both of them.

Lucas was running Deathwatch, and brought the following:

DEATHWATCH PATROL:
Watch Captain- jump pack, combi-melta, master-crafted xenophase blade, Armour Indomitus, Iron Resolve, Castellan of the Black Vault, A Vigil Unmatched
10 Deathwatch Veterans- Astartes chainswords, 3 combi-flamers, 3 combi-meltas, Black Shield w. dual lightning claws, Watch-Sergeant w. combi-melta & xenophase blade
6 Deathwatch Veterans- 4 thunder hammer & storm shields, Black Shield w. dual lightning claws, Watch-Sergeant w. xenophase blade & storm shield
2 Land Speeder Tornadoes- heavy bolter, assault cannon
Rhino- 2 storm bolters, hunter-killer missile
Razorback- twin assault cannon, storm bolter, hunter-killer missile

Pre-Game Stratagems: A Vigil Unmatched

The list is a bit unorthodox, as it doesn’t make use of Kill Teams, Vanguard Veterans, or any of the other black-clad sexiness that seems to be typical to a lot of Deathwatch lists. What it does have, though, is a lot of mobile firepower, and a lot of armoured boxes for those deadly Deathwatch Veterans to hide in from the guns of the Imperial Guard.

Andy, meanwhile, brought the following:

IRON HEART EXPEDITIONARY FORCE

TALLARN PATROL:
Lord Commissar- bolt pistol, Blade of Conquest, Grand Strategist
Company Commander- power fist
Infantry Squad- grenade launcher, autocannon
Infantry Squad- grenade launcher, autocannon
Infantry Squad- grenade launcher, autocannon
Infantry Squad- grenade launcher, autocannon
Commissar- bolt pistol, power fist
Astropath- Nightshield
5 Bullgryns- Bullgryn mauls, slabshields
Leman Russ- hull heavy bolter, sponson heavy bolters, track guards
Leman Russ- hull heavy bolter, sponson heavy bolters, track guards

Pre-Game Stratagems: Ambush

Lots of infantry, a pair of Leman Russ tanks, and a decently sized unit of very durable and very scary Bullgryns. All in all, a fairly decent Imperial Guard list.

SCENARIO AND DEPLOYMENT

As this was a learning game, I decided to run a simple, straightforward table quarters mission with four objectives, with the standard scoring system of scoring points for holding these objectives at the start of the command phase. I figured that learning about the complex intricacies of matched play and its secondary objectives could wait until a later game, after both of them had gotten the hang of the basics of the 9th ed rules.

(As an aside, it irritates me that there are only three Open Play missions in the rulebook. For someone just getting started on 9th edition, this gives them very limited options when it comes to scenarios. I would love to see Open Play get expanded on, and for there to be some simple, straightforward and narrative-driven missions that aren’t limited to Crusade only).

Andy deployed with two of his Infantry squads and accompanying characters camping out on one of the objective markers, screened by a wall of Bullgryns and flanked by a Leman Russ on either side.

He used the Tallarn Ambush stratagem to place two of his Infantry Squads into reserve, along with his lesser Commissar.

Lucas, meanwhile, deployed all of his vehicles bunched into a corner, with his larger Deathwatch squad in the Rhino and the smaller, hammer-laden squad in the Razorback. His Captain, however, was put into reserve, hoping for him to come in on turn 2 to start melting tanks to death.

It should be noted that, as this was a pre-made map, most of the woods were dense cover. However, there was also a large section of ruins in the center of the board that counted as obscuring. This would have a huge impact on the game later.

With the armies deployed, the two rolled off, and Lucas won the first turn.

TURN 1

Knowing that they only had minutes before the Guard reacted, the Deathwatch sped into action, adopting fire-patterns consistent with the Devastator doctrine. The vehicles of the Deathwatch’s armoured spearhead swung up the right flank, keeping the ruins of the hive-block between them and most of the Guard’s heavy weapons as they swivelled their own guns to bear, the Land Speeders humming with antigrav as they formed the tip of the spear ahead of the transports. Speed was of the essence, the Astartes knew, and it was essential that they hit hard now before the Guard could muster a response.

The Deathwatch opened fire as they advanced, the space in front of them lit up in a storm of orange tracers as the air echoed to the chug of heavy bolters and the steady bass whirr of assault cannons. The Bullgryns took the brunt of the fire, and though they had braced themselves behind their heavy slab shields, mass-reactive shells still punched through the heavy adamantine bulkheads and riddled massive holes into the flesh of the mutants behind them, felling two of the lumbering brutes. Further behind, five of the Guardsmen taking up positions behind the abhumans disappeared in a red mist as the Razorback raked their position with its twin assault cannons, annihilating them and the cover they stood behind in a storm of shredded flesh and foliage.

As if in encore, hunter-killer missiles streaked out from both the Razorback and the Rhino, slamming home into the rightmost Leman Russ and dealing severe damage to the tank’s hull. (Note: 6 wounds were dealt to the rightmost Russ)

Though the Guardsmen were shocked by their sudden losses, the steely glare of the Lord Commissar kept them in line. At a barked order from the Company Commander, the damaged unit Combined Squads with the other nearby infantry group.

Hefting their mauls, the Bullgryns lumbered up towards the Land Speeders, intent on smashing the metal things that had so hurt them earlier. Behind them, the damaged Leman Russ edged up to gain a better line of sight on the Astartes, its crew Jury Rigging some spare parts to repair some of the damage; the other Russ revved its engines and moved to circle the ruined hab, looking to catch the Space Marines in a flanking manouver.

Raising his stave, the frail Astropath drew upon the power of the Warp and cast a Nightshield upon the damaged Russ, causing its outline to become vague and insubstantial. As the Guardsmen took aim, their Commander gave a roar of “First rank, fire! Second rank, fire!” The air was lit by strobing ruby lasbeams as the Guardsmen poured their fire into the oncoming Land Speeders, accompanied by the dull, booming cough of autocannon rounds. However, the Speeder pilots were Skilled Riders, and as the lasbeams scorched harmlessly against the armour of their craft, they managed weave and evade the autocannon rounds. The damaged Russ then added its guns to the fray, its heavy bolters tracking the Speeders while its battle cannon swivelled to face the Razorback. The heavy bolters chattered, mass-reactive rounds causing four solid impacts on one of the Land Speeders and making it swerve uncertainly in the air as it trailed smoke. The battle cannon, meanwhile, sent two shells screaming into the Razorback in rapid succession; the sturdy tank’s armour held, however, and only minor damage was caused. (Note: the battle cannon only did 2 wounds to the Razorback)

Roaring, the Bullgryn charged the Land Speeders, whose gunners responded by opening fire with a blistering curtain of Overwatch. One Bullgryn staggered as two assault cannon rounds punched through his armour; ignoring the injuries, the massive abhuman roared as he threw himself up at the damaged Speeder. Surprised at the mutant’s speed, the vehicle’s were too late to evade as the Bullgryn brought its maul swinging down, crumpling the front half of the vehicle and its riders in a single, terrible blow. The Land Speeder erupted in a brilliant fireball as its ammo stores erupted, the explosion incinerating the Bullgryn that had killed it. The other two Bullgryn paid the explosion no heed, however, as one of them grabbed the other Speeder, pulling it down to ground level, and the other began to smash into it with its maul, tearing four great rents into the machine.

TURN 2

Seeing the danger of the Leman Russ moving to outflank them, and of the Bullgryn currently tearing apart the Land Speeders, the Deathwatch made the decision to shift their battle plans. Adopting the Assault Doctrine, the two Deathwatch transports moved to the right, trying to keep the tangled wreckage of the hab-block between them and the Imperial Guard’s guns.

Even as the Deathwatch make this manouver, a blazing figure could be seen descending, meteor-like, to the rear of the Guard battle-line. Pulling up at the last second, Watch-Captain Argus slammed feet-first into the earth and fired his combi-melta at the damaged Leman Russ, the white-hot beam searing through its hull and fusing much of its internal systems, leaving the tank smoking and only narrowly intact. (Note: the Russ had been reduced to just 2 wounds remaining)

At the same time, the crew of the last Land Speeder fired its guns at point-blank range into the Bullgryn, blasting chunks of meat out of one of them. The abhuman roared in pain and teetered, but did not fall. Venting their rage, the Bullgryn slammed their mauls again and again into the Speeder, but while the metal of its hull buckled under the onslaught, it remained intact.

Engaging his jump pack again, Captain Argus launched himself in a charge on the Leman Russ, his drawn xenophase blade gleaming with viridian light. He was met by a wall of fire as the well-trained Defensive Gunners of the Russ fired overwatch: the force field projected by the Captain’s relic armour flared to life in response, battle cannon rounds and mass-reactives detonating against it. At the last second, though, one heavy bolter round punched through the field, punching a deep hole in the Marine’s pauldron: grunting, Argus staggered, his momentum lost as he fell short in his charge.

Even as the Deathwatch engaged their flanking manouver, the Imperial Guard now enoyed several advantageous positions, holding two of the objective points to the Astartes’ none.

Gunning its engines, the still functional Russ swinging around the side of the hab-block to catching the Deathwatch vehicles in flanking fire. At the same time, the combined Infantry Squad moved up to the edge of the hab-block, taking up defensive positions along the fallen tree-trunk in case the Astartes attempted to engage them at close quarters. The Lord Commissar, however, did not join them, instead drawing his relic saber and striding forwards to lend the Bullgryns some assistance and motivation.

Finally, there was a rusting of movement in the trees, and then suddenly an entire platoon of Guardsmen suddenly arrived on the left flank. Two full Infantry squads, led by Commissar, arrived and took up positions on the treeline, further cutting off the Deathwatch’s room to maneuver. It was at this point that the Deathwatch realized that they had advanced right into a well-timed Ambush. Somehow, the Guard had known they were coming.

Seeing the Astartes leader in range of their guns, the Company Commander barked for the combined squad to “Bring It Down!” Autocannons and long-range las fire lashed out at Captain Argus, but the high-calibre rounds either exploded against the force field of his iron halo or sparked uselessly against his armour. The damaged Leman Russ added its fire to the fray: despite the damage it had taken, the machine spirit of the iron beast was Relentless, and its guns blazed to full effect despite the damage it had taken. Heavy bolter rounds blew crater-like pits into the Captain’s blessed armour, but then the battle cannon roared: a shell exploded next to the Argus, throwing him sideways, injuring but not killing him as the side of his armour was reduced to a mangled mess of ceramite and blood. (Note: the Captain had been reduced to 4 wounds remaining from his original 7)

At the same time, the other Leman Russ fired its own battle cannon and secondary weapons at point-blank range, the explosive shell slamming against the Razorback and blasting four noticeable rents into its hull. The newly-arrived Infantry opened up as well, but despite buffeting the Astartes tank with lasfire, autocannon rounds and grenades, its armour held firm.

Breaking into a charge, the Lord Commissar ran in to the aid of the Bullgryn, slashing out with his relic sword and slicing two chunks out of the Land Speeder. Emboldened by their commander, the Bullgryn dragged it down from the sky and hit it again and again with their mauls, until all that remained of it and its crew was a mangled pile of savagely broken metal. Overjoyed that they had killed the nasty flying boxes, the Bullgryn consolidated towards the Deathwatch tanks, while the Commissar held his position, content to remain further behind.

SCORE:

Deathwatch– 0

Imperial Guard– 10

TURN 3

With the enemy now surrounding them, the Deathwatch knew that they had to strike, and strike now. Enacting the Tactical Doctrine, both squads of Deathwatch Veterans exited their transports, with the melee-equipped squad disembarking from the Razorback to deal with the Russ, while the larger squad disembarked from the Rhino to engage the Bullgryn.

With their passengers having been deployed, the two transports swivelled around and moved to bring their guns to bear on the infantry ambushing from their rear.

At the same time, to the north of the field, Captain Argus engaged his jump pack yet again, readying his combi-melta to try to finish off the damaged Leman Russ.

With superb fire discpline, the Deathwatch Veterans split their targets, the white-hot beams of their combi-meltas hissing out and melting one of the Bullgryn into a bubbling slag of flesh and metal, though the chattering hellfire rounds from their bolters failed to hit any of the Infantry squad in dense cover. The Rhino, however, had no such issues as it sprayed the area with its twin storm bolters, the mass-reactive shells shredding two of the Guardsmen. Next to the Rhino, the Razorback, damaged though it was, nonetheless opened up with its assault cannons, the high-velocity rounds tearing apart the foliage and disintegrating five of the Guardsmen that had been hiding within it.

To the north of the field, the Captain Argus leveled his combi-melta at the Russ and fired, the white-hot beam searing through its frontal armour and cooking it and its crew from within. With the enemy tank now reduced to a blackened husk, Argus turned his iron gaze upon the enemy infantrymen.

Wordlessly, Argus engaged his jump pack, and charged. The Guardsman were unprepared for the black-armoured superhuman cannoning into their ranks, and five of them died in seconds, either killed by the Argus’ impact or sliced apart by his glowing xenophase blade. The remainder swarmed the Space Marine with bayonets and rifle-butts, but the Astartes’ armour held firm against these assaults.

At the same time, the larger Veteran squad hefted their chainswords and charged the Bullgryn Bone’ead. They were immediately counter-charged as the Lord Commissar hefted his own sword and heriocally intervened. It proved to be the Lord Commissar’s last act, as he was immediately intercepted by several chainsword swings and messily hewn apart by the Deathwatch. At the same time, the surrounded Bullgryn was hemmed in and slashed at with chainswords and lightning claws, and two blows got past its massive shield to bite into flesh. Despite bleeding from numerous woudns, the Bone’ead fought on, enraged by the death of the Lord Commissar, and smashed two Veterans into pulp with great swings of its maul.

Finally, the smaller Deathwatch squad swarmed the Leman Russ, caving in its hull with crushing blows from their thunder hammers, battering it almost to the point of destruction. Despite being nearly crumpled like a tin can, however, the Russ remained in operation, its guns still able to fire. (Note: the Russ had been reduced to just a handful of wounds remaining)

With losses beginning to mount, the morale of the Imperial Guard began to waver. The ambushing Infantry squads held their nerve thanks to the glowering presence of their Commissar; however, the combined squad fighting Argus felt their courage melt in the face of this black-clad destroyer, and four of them either turned tail and ran or were further butchered by the lone Astartes.

Even with losses starting to mount, the Guard were still in control of at least two of the objective sites and held more than the Astartes. As the combined Infantry squad fought Argus, their Company Commander moved up to lend them aid, flexing his power fist menacingly.

Further to the south, the heavily damaged Leman Russ trundled back to escape the hammers of the Deathwatch, while the remnants of the ambushing Infantry squads moved further into cover, consolidating their grip on the objective site they were now holding.

With a blood-soaked Astartes hero mere metres away from him, the Astropath drew upon the power of the Warp to Smite Argus, but at the last moment the power slipped from his grasp, fizzling to nothingness as the foul energies dissipated back into the aether. At a bark of “Fix Bayonets!” from the Company Commander, the combined squad redoubled their efforts against Argus, practically hurling themselves at the Captain and trying to drag him down with weight of numbers, but none of their blades or rifle butts could pierce his blessed armour. Further at the back, the Infantry squads once again focused their firepower upon the Razorback. Despite blanketing with it with lasbbolts, krak grenades and autocannon rounds, however, none of them could damage the seemingly invulnerable tank.

Knowing that this would have to be settled the old fashioned way, the Company Commander charged Argus, catching the Watch-Captain by surprise as he swung his power fist into his chest, punching through power armour and dealing two grievous wounds to him. The Captain doubled over, and swung back, slashing two wounds across the Company Commander’s chest in turn, but then the Infantry swarmed him, one lucky soldier actually managing to spear his bayonet through a rent in Argus’ chestplate and wound him further. Although Argus still stood, he now bled heavily, his black armour stained even more darkly as he teetered, close to death after having taken half a dozen wounds.

Further back, however, the Bone’ead’s last stand came to an end as the chainswords of the Deathwatch rose and fell, disembowelling the big brute and sending him turmbling to the earth. With that threat dealt with, the large Deathwatch squad consolidated closer to the combat raging around Captain Argus.

Score:

Deathwatch: 0

Imperial Guard: 20

TURN 4

The battle began to turn ever so slightly in the Deathwatch’s favour, with the melee Veteran squad at last holding one of the objective points. With the majority of the enemy now in striking distance, the strike force switched to the Assault Doctrine and closed in with their foes. Knowing that he was fighting against losing odds, Captain Argus powered up his jump pack and flew out of the melee, setting down on the rock formation near the first Veteran squad and seizing the objective point on top of it.

In the wake of their Captain’s retreat, the Deathwatch Veterans advanced towards the remnants of the combined squad, resolving to eradicate these turncoats once and for all. Further back, the melee Veteran squad pushed onwards towards the retreating Leman Russ, while the Deathwatch transports edged closer to the ambushing infantry squads.

Lighting up their combi-flamers, the larger Veteran squad enveloped the Infantry unit in a searing conflagration, incinerating all six of the remaining Guardsmen in a tremendous blaze, leaving the pale-faced Company Commander standing on his own.

Elsewhere, the other squad of Veterans threw krak grenades at the Leman Russ, to no effect. The transports, however, were quick to unleash a storm of metal upon the Guardsmen, with the Rhino’s chattering storm bolters blasting down the last five of the reduced squad, while the Razorback’s assault cannons whirred and disintegrated all but three of the other squad in a squall of mass-reactive bolts.

Revving their chainswords, the Deathwatch Veterans hurled themselves into the Company Commander, their Blackshield claiming the honour of the kill as his lightning claws sheared the traitorous officer apart. The momentum of the Deathwatch’s charge carried them onwards into the shaking Astopath, who flailed ineffectually at them with his force stave as they moved to surround him.

On the other flank, the other squad of Veterans collided with the tank, their crackling thunder hammers very quickly reducing it to a crumpled ball of wrecked steel, before they consolidated onto another objective point.

Finally, perhaps eager to break the remaining Guardsmen before them, the crew of the Razorback gunned their engines and hurtled their vehicle towards the enemy Commissar, intent on running him over. With alarming speed, however, the Commissar spun around at the last moment and lashing out with his power fist, evading the Razorback’s collision and immobilizing it by ripping one of its tracks cleanly off of its treads.

By this point, most of the traitor force was dead or had broken. Shakily, the Astropath– possibly the source of this parisitic affliction– fled from combat with the Deathwatch, though at this point he was merely buying himself extra seconds of life. Only the Commissar fought on: with fanatical bravery, he smashed his power fist right through the Razorback’s frontal plating, before tossing a krak grenade in through the hole. Calmly, the Commissar walked away, the Razorback rupturing with internal explosions behind him.

By this point, however, it did not matter, as what was left of the traitor force was now fleeing for their mortal lives. The field belonged to the hunters of the Ordo Xenos.

(At this point, Andy conceded: not only was it clear that his last few models were going to be blasted off the board next turn, but Lucas’ Deathwatch were now positioned to score a full 15 points in his next turn, tying the score at 20-20. We all agreed, though, that the Guard getting wiped out would essentially be an auto-win for the Deathwatch).

RESULT: DEATHWATCH VICTORY!

Thoughts: Well, that got brutal fast. The Imperial Guard picked up a sizeable lead in the early game thanks to focusing on the objectives, but once things got to close range, the superior short-ranged firepower and close combat ability of the Deathwatch began to tell. That being said, I’m happy to say that this game went by with the minimum of rules errors, which is always great for a learning game.

Some thoughts on the game:

  • Lucas took a gamble by deep striking his Captain into the Guard backfield: while he had built his Captain for durability, that Captain ended up staring down the barrels of half of the Guard army. The gamble paid off, however, as the Captain was able to wreck a Leman Russ and tie up/kill a large part of the Guard backfield before help arrived.
  • The big block of obscuring terrain in the center of the board really messed with Andy’s firing lanes, forcing him to advance with one of his tanks to get flanking shots on the Deathwatch (and thus put it into hammering range of the Deathwatch Veterans). The fact that this coincided with the arrival of his outflanking infantry squads, however, made this a solid plan…even if the dice didn’t help him out. As an aside, I think that when Imperial Guard get updated, battle cannons need to be made deadlier, as a mere D3 damage doesn’t do enough in the current edition.
  • Deathwatch, admittedly, proved to be a tricky army for Lucas to keep track of at times, as their flexible Combat Doctrines and their rerolls against a specific battlefield role proved to be a lot to keep track of at first. That being said, these bonuses proved to be absolutely deadly when Lucas figured out how to apply them in the right circumstance.

Hopefully, this is the first of many training games I get to moderate…but then again, hopefully we will soon be able to play on an actual tabletop soon, now that vaccines are being administered and things are slowly opening up. We can only hope, at this point.

******

The astropath had fallen to his knees, his force staff lying next to him in a shattered, splintered ruin after having been caught on a chainsword. The side of is face was a bloody mess where Brother Cassian had backhanded him with his armoured hand, stunning him before he could work one of his psyker-tricks in self-defence. As the thin little man tried to stand upright, he was surrounded by a ring of black-armoured Astartes, and though a heavy iron band embossed with the Imperial aquila covered his eyes, his expression was one of terror all the same.

“P-please!” he stammered. “M-mercy! I am no traitor! I am a l-loyal servant of the Imperium–“

The psyker tried to raise his hand at this point, in a gesture of surrender. The Deathwatch took no chances: Brother Arnvulf swept forwards and stomped an armoured foot down, pinning the psyker’s arm to the ground. There was a snapping of brittle bones, and a faint squeak of pain could be heard as the psyker’s bald face turned a paler shade of white.

The ring of Deathwatch Veterans parted momentarily to as Captain Argus staggered into view. He was visibly limping, the black ceramite of his armour shredded and flecked with sparks of discoloured silver. Huge chunks of shrapnel were embedded in his shoulders, thighs, and chest, and an ugly hole was visible where a power fist had punched right through his abdominal armour, forcing him to cradle the wound with one bloody, armoured forearm. That he lived was nothing short of a miracle, a testament to his iron resolve. It was this resolve that kept him standing as he glowered over the captured psyker.

“Is he the last one?” Argus wheezed, breathing through clenched teeth.

Brother Na’keln nodded. “All of the other Guardsmen have been…have been dealt with, Captain.” Na’keln was still grappling with the grisly deed he had done, Argus knew. They would have to have words later. “This wretch is the only one left.”

Argus nodded, and walked into the circle to stare down at the Astropath, whose arm remained pinned under Arnulf’s boot. The man was almost paralyzed in raw terror, barely able to speak. By the smell of things, the little man had soiled himself.

“P-please, L-Lord Astartes!” the Astropath stammered. “W-whatever it is you think I have done, I-I am innocent! I-I-I am sanctioned a-at the highest levels, I–“

“Quiet,” Argus snarled, the low menace of his tone immediately shutting the man up. “You can cease the act, monster. We all know what you really are.”

The Astropath did not reply, but almost as if in response to Argus’ words, his terrified expression suddenly slackened, becoming a blank, colourless mask. The muscles of his eyebrows creased, and though that metal band covered his eyes, Argus could tell that his orbs were rolling back into his eyelids.

And then, like a picter image suddenly sliding into focus, a massive shape suddenly appeared in the middle of the Deathwatch. Argus caught a brief glimpse of a long, sinewy form the length of a tree, of several barbed tentacles latched into the skull of the Astropath, and of a bulbous body with far too many eyes…

The Deathwatch raised their bolters as one just as the thing exploded into action. A sudden spike of pain shot through Argus’ skull, and the noise around him turned into a high pitched whine as his limbs failed him and he lost his balance. He felt blood trickling from his nose as he tumbled over, and his vision swirled. Through the dizzying blur, he could make out the Enslaver almost casually drifting in the air in the midst of his brothers, like some grotesque jellyfish shimmering with iridescent colours. Several of his brothers were already down, some twitching on the ground as they clutched at their helms. Others were smashed back as the thing lashed out with its barbed tendrils, swatting them with enough force to send heavily-armoured Space Marines flying, shards of shattered ceramite flying from where their armour had been cracked by the blows. He saw Brother Na’keln raising his combi-melta and firing up at the thing’s grotesque, swollen body in what should have been a clean kill-shot.

Instead, the beam of the melta simply washed around an invisible barrier surrounding the Enslaver, framing it in white-hot heat almost like the edge of a crescent moon. Then Na’keln was buffeted with invisible force, his gun wrenched from his hand and sent flying away, before that same psychic impulse twisted and tore his helmet free from his armour in a welter of sparks, exposing the dark skin of Na’keln’s bare head. Then those tendrils lashed out, snagging around Na’keln, who roared a Nocturnian oath as he tried to fight free of the limbs encircling him, probing upwards towards his head. Argus gritted his teeth and tried to move, tried to fight off the psychic onslaught overloading his mind so he could rise up and help his brother…

And then explosions began to dance around the Enslaver’s form as the Deathwatch rallied and began to fire into the monster. At first, their bolter rounds did little more than patter off of the Enslaver’s psychic shield, but the xeno could only focus on so many threats at once, and before long, this field collapsed in the face of the Deathwatch’s relentless fire. Kraken rounds punched metres-long holes into the thing’s iridescent flesh, sending unnameable fluids gushing out of the rents as a terrible, keening wail was heard in all of their minds. Then Hellfire rounds impacted into this rents, the promethium-laced rounds exploding within the Enslaver’s misshapen body.

The thing burst apart, exploding in a sudden detonation like a popping blister. Flaming chunks of its unnatural flesh went spraying in all directions, dissolving as their hold on the material universe was lost.

Argus felt the thing’s hold on his mind vanish, and he breathed in hard before standing to his feet. He took a quick glance around him. Five brothers down, but none fatally so. All things considered, it could have been worse.

“Get those charges set up,” he ordered, “and vox the ship. Inform Inquisitor Zao that we have eliminated an Enslaver, and that we need a quarantine set up around the area once we’ve blown the charges.” He limped over to Na’keln, who was free now as the tentacles wrapped around his armour plates dissolved, the hooked barbs disintegrating before they could dig into his skull. The other Astartes was staring directly ahead and breathing softly, as though in a state of shock. His trance was broken as Argus extended his hand to him.

“Are you alright, brother?” Argus asked.

Na’keln took the proffered hand and was helped to his feet. “I am fine, brother,” the thing that had leeched into his mind said, making its captured body smile wearily. “A grim business, as you said, Watch Captain.”

Deeper inside, Na’keln was screaming.

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