How Can I Make Session 2 of Deathwatch Go Better?

It’s always tricky, the first time you come back to something after leaving it for a while. You tend to think that you can just pick up where you left off and keep on as good as you used to be.

This I discovered when two old mates and two new mates – Eric van Note, Gavin Lucan, Pierre Cadieux and Will MacKenzie – and I got together in the online environment known as Roll20 to play a game of action and fury and tell a tale of a group of elite warriors battling a foul enemy.

It was the first time that I’d taken on the duties of game master – part master of ceremonies, part referee, part actor and part author – in a few years – at least, with the goal of making a regular, ongoing story.

How did we do? What did we learn?

What Did I Expect Out Of Myself?

My overall goal on Saturday, and my ongoing goal with the campaign, is to entertain my four players and be entertained myself. That first session, I didn’t find the most entertaining.

I’m not sure how good my GMing skills were even when I was deeper into the hobby than now, but I know that today, they’re pretty rusty.

The feedback from my players, though, was positive; while they did point out a few things I could improve on, they enjoyed themselves and are looking forward to the next one.

A few years ago, I probably would have ben stressing about how I was still pretty mediocre about the whole thing and how they mustn’t have had any idea what they were talking about. Now, though, I’m approaching GMing with the knowledge that I’m both out of practice and trying things that I don’t think I even knew how to try back then.

I’m accepting that not every thing I attempt will succeed, and that I’ve got a good bunch of mates – even the ones I’ve only just met, like Eric Van Note, who got in touch after seeing my grandiose posts about themes and big ideas on the Deathwatch forums – who are willing to let me make mistakes and figure out just where I’m meant to put my feet so that I can get back up on the horse again. (Stirrups?)

Also, as experienced gamers, I’m trusting that when they say they had a good time, they know what they’re talking about!

What Could Have Gone Better?

A screen-grab from the Roll20 application.

For starters:

My Preparation

I made a lot of notes and had a lot of stuff in my head, but the main thing I was worried about, making up a decent battle map, I didn’t do pre-session. I will say that doing a search for “pipe” and dropping ramdom pipe-esque objects onto the battle map seemed to work out fine, but the problem was I was doing it in the first half an hour of the gaming session, which was very naughty.

A One-Session Combat

The second thing was that, after we got started, the opening fight took two and a half hours, maybe three. We wound up at four thirty with a promise to continue on next week, but I was a bit disappointed that we hadn’t got too far (but not-so-secretly relieved; it gave me time to make sure the rest of the mission went a lot more smoothly).

A good chunk of it was that we were still learning our way around Deathwatch’s combat rules, which are about on par for a mainstream RPG rule set. The initiative, turn order and actions are standard, but the sources of modifiers to skill rolls was a little on the tricky side.

Using Hordes Right

One discovery that came out of it was that Hordes – big groups of enemies that the rules clumps together for ease – are great for ranged combat, but not so much in hand-to-hand (at least not the Chaos infantry troops in the book). Maybe I was missing some of their options, but the fact that a Horde can take as many shots as the tens digit in their Magnitude and do extra dice damage with ranged weapons makes them more threatening at a distance, while one-on-one, they’re a bit on the dull side.

At least they were against Will’s Assault Marine, whom they had no chance of damaging up close.

Not Enough Character

Overall, also, the fight was pretty much character-less. There was a lot of “I Roll, You Roll” in it, which shat me the last time it happened when I tried running Starship Troopers. It didn’t bother me so much this time around, but it was still annoying. The Hordes didn’t really have any personality, so the players didn’t have anything to respond in character to.

There were definite positives, though. As I mentioned, the basic system was good to get a grip on, and Roll20 was a marvel for slapping a battle map together quickly. It handled ranges and turn orders great, too.

How Can I Do Better Next Session?

Four things, I think:

During a tabletop RPG session. Image sourced from

Start on time.

Make sure I’m ready before I turn up, and this inclues me turning up half an hour early – because while I thought AI had time to do some private prep-work, Eric had already joined the session and was watching me fiddle. SO when game time hits, the only thing we should be doing is either playing or having a chat – in either circumstance, I must not be busy with final prep!

Get through combats faster.

I want at least two, with ample opportunity for character interaction in between – and when I say “character interaction,” I mean more than just “have GM character X dump piece of info Y.” I mean give each player a chance to trigger one of his character’s Demeanours. (Then again, these can happen through combat…)

Make the combats more characterful.

This means named NPCs who have objectives of their own that are more than just “kill the players’ characters.” The sort of folks who’ll have ready taunts for one or more of the PCs, and whom the players can feel good not for just defeating, but also deflecting them from their purpose.


Save my notes properly.

I was making notes as I went in a campaiugn WIki I maintain, but somehow I left the page without saving it and lost the lot. Most of it isn’t a big deal, liek the name of an off-screen NPC I introduced, but still, it’s a pain in the arse. I think next time I’ll just keep pen and paper handy.

Take The Good With The Average

The bad news was, I had a lot of re-learning to do.

The good news is, I have more help than I expected.

That, I think, is the biggest take-away. It’s not going to go the way I think; ti won’t match the ideal I have in my head.

But that idea is a load of bollocks anyway.

So I’m going to stay relaxed and remind myself that the overall goal isn’t to have the group create some epic item of shared fiction, it’s for a bunch of people, myself included, to get together and have a good time!

Are You Curious?

What have you tried to get back into after a while away?

What did you find you had to re-learn?

How do you handle being out of your depth?




Wikipedia entry on Game Masters