Psychic Awakening Review: Deathwatch

Hi everyone, Michael here to take a look at the “new” rules for the Deathwatch that were published in White Dwarf. For more reviews and analyses, check out the Tactics Corner.

The Deathwatch were not to feature in any of the Psychic Awakening books, but were reported to feature some new rules in White Dwarf. That did not bode well for what was to come for the army.

Let’s get it over with. The new rules were a big disappointment for most Deathwatch players, including myself. It is little more than a copy/paste job on some of the Space Marine special rules and stratagems from the new codex, quite literally, as the old version of Combat Doctrines in presented in the new WD rules. Some of the new rules and stratagems do provide a nice boost for the Deathwatch, some of which I will go into detail on below.

However, the Deathwatch did not get a lot of things; no new stratagems, no new relics, no new warlord traits, no super doctrine, no updates to psychic powers (Deathwatch Null Zone is still warp charge 8), no access to new units (Phobos units or the Impulsor).

To me, this release just smacks of laziness. If all we were going to get was access to rules and stratagems that were in the codex, why have to wait for 7 months for the ability to access them. This release could have been sorted out in an errata or FAQ last year, or even now instead of publishing it in White Dwarf.

Anyway, let’s take a look at the rules and see what can be salvaged from it.

Combat Doctrines

Deathwatch now have access to the Combat Doctrines for Space Marines. The version published is the old one, rather than the recent FAQ update forcing you to move through them as the game proceeds. If Deathwatch were still able to utilise the old version of the rules, this would be a big boost for them, as they would be likely to stay in the Tactical Doctrine for most of the game. However, I can see this being errata’d to come in to line with the version of Doctrines that all other Marines get. I’ll give GW the benefit of the doubt on this one, as I imagine the rules went to print before the recent FAQ came into effect.

One of the big changes to Doctrines is that the effects of Special Issue Ammunition will stack with the AP bonus of the doctrines. This is a big boost for Veteran Squads, as well other squads that use Bolters or Storm Bolters.

In the Tactical Doctrine, your Veterans can have Bolters that are AP-3 at close range, AP-2 at long range, or can wound on a 2+ at AP-1. This should give them a nice bonus to their damage output.

The Doctrine bonus is actually a lot more limited for Intercessor squads armed with Bolt Rifles. The limitations to Kraken and Vengeance bolts means that your AP is already maxed out on a Bolt Rifle (at AP-2 and AP-3, respectively), so the Doctrine bonus will not actually come into play with Bolt Rifles. However, with Hellfire Bolts, you will be wounding on a 2+ with AP-2 in the Tactical Doctrine, which should significantly boost your damage output on Intercessors. The Auto Bolt Rifle also gets a nice boost, going up to the damage output of a Bolt Rifle in the Tactical Doctrine, while getting some benefits over the rapid fire weapon. It also gets better when you factor in some of the new stratagems, as well as the extra shot per weapon.

The Doctrine will also be more useful for long range firepower, where the Bolter Discipline rule is superior to special issue ammunition.

Let’s take a look at some of the numbers for the combination of Doctrines and SIA.

In the table below, we will look at the number of unsaved wounds caused for a unit of 5 Deathwatch Veterans firing with Bolters at a unit that is over 9″ away in the Tactical Doctrine. At deep strike range (over 9″ away), the Vengeance bolts will be getting a single shot, so double the number below for rapid fire shots.

(T4, 3+)
(T3, 5+)
(T4, 6+)
(T4, 2+)
(T7, 3+)

For 5 Intercessors armed with Bolt Rifles in the Tactical Doctrine, the numbers are as follows:

(T4, 3+)
(T3, 5+)
(T4, 6+)
(T4, 2+)
(T7, 3+)

For 5 Intercessors armed with Auto Bolt Rifles in the Tactical Doctrine , the numbers for various situations are below:

(T4, 3+)
(T3, 5+)
(T4, 6+)
(T4, 2+)
(T7, 3+)

As you can see from the tables above, with the Tactical Doctrine activated, it is almost always better to use the Hellfire shells to wound on a 2+ against most infantry types. Only against vehicles is it better to use the Vengeance rounds, where the Hellfire shells do not work.

The extra AP of the Tactical Doctrine means that the Auto Bolt Rifles are now a great choice for a unit of Intercessors, giving them extra shots and the ability to advance and still fire (without penalty if there is an Aggressor in the unit).


The Deathwatch also have access to a number of the new Space Marine stratagems to boost their damage output and durability.

Bolt Storm and Rapid Fire are great new stratagems for the Deathwatch Intercessors when combined with special issue ammunition and the benefits of the Teleportarium stratagem.

A unit of 10 Intercessors with Auto Bolt Rifles can teleport in on turn 2. Using Bolt Storm and Hellfire shells, that is 30 shots that automatically hit, wound on a 2+ (re-rollable if you have the correct Mission Tactics) and at AP-1. That is a lot of firepower to have to deal with! This unit will most likely delete a unit of Ork Boyz or smaller Tyranid gribblies if they are not boosted to resist damage in some fashion.

You can also use Rapid Fire on a unit of 10 Intercessors with Bolt Rifles to fire 40 shots from the Teleportarium, wounding on a 2+ at AP-2 with Hellfire shells. This makes the Intercessors a very strong strike force for the Deathwatch to deal with a range of enemy threats. Unfortunately, they do not get access to the Veteran Intercessors stratagem, to boost a squad even further.

They also gain access to Big Guns Never Tire, allowing vehicles to move and fire without penalty. This could be useful for the Corvus Blackstar, allowing it to move and fire at full BS when on full profile. However, the Deathwatch are an army that uses a lot of CP, so spending one each turn on the Corvus Blackstar is a big investment.

Transhuman Physiology is also a strong boost for the army. Only being wounded on a 4+ does wonder for the durability of your Marines, especially when backed up by the abundance of Storm Shields that the Deathwatch squads can access.

They also still have Adaptive Strategy in the list, but I imagine this will be removed with an FAQ.

Some of the other stratagems are useful in the right circumstances, as well as the useful ones that already exist in the Deathwatch codex.


The Deathwatch Chaplains now get access to the Space Marines litanies, though the Deathwatch do not get access to a unique litany of their own. The litanies must be used at the start of the movement phase, so you cannot use it when deploying from deep strike or the Teleportarium. However, the Deathwatch have access to the Beacon Angelis, allowing them teleport a unit already on the table to the bearer’s location at the end of the movement phase.

This allows you to have the Chaplain on the board at the start of the turn and use his litany powers. You can then teleport him near a character holding the Beacon, allowing him to use the litany to support any units arriving from reserve that turn. Alternatively, you can have a Chaplain with the Beacon and a Jump Pack advance up the board with his Litany active, and teleport a Kill Team to support him and make use of his litany that is activated.

A number of the litanies will be useful for the Deathwatch. The Litany of Faith will be useful against armies that can deal a lot of psychic mortal wounds, or can deal them in some other fashion. Deathwatch lack cheap screening units (without allies), so anything that can protect your forward units from Smites or other such powers will be useful.

Catechism of Fire is also a great ability when paired with the Deathwatch’s other stratagems. This should stack with the Doctrines, giving any unit +2 to wound against the nearest enemy unit. This will allow your Bolters to wound most vehicles on a 3+, and even Imperial Knights will be wounded by a 4+ by Bolters.

The Recitation of Focus is also great for improving the already superior firepower of the Deathwatch, allowing most units to hit on a 2+. Coupled with wounding on a 2+ against a range of targets, this will provide a big boost to the firepower of many of your key Deathwatch units.


Even though the Psychic Awakening update for the Deathwatch was a little lacklustre, there are still some useful new rules and combinations that the Deathwatch can have access to.

The addition of Doctrines to special issue ammunition is a great boost for Veterans and Intercessors alike. It is also a nice boost for those units that cannot access SIA but still have considerable firepower, such as Inceptors and Aggressors.

I look forward to trying out the new rules when I can finally start gaming again.

And remember, Frontline Gaming sells gaming products at a discount, every day in their webcart!



About Michael Corr

An avid 40k player and blogger from Scotland. I started in 3rd edition and have been playing ever since. I detail my adventures in my own blog "St Andrews Wargaming", highlighting my mediocre painting skills, regular battle reports and my occasional random ramblings.

8 Responses to “Psychic Awakening Review: Deathwatch”

  1. gvcolor May 4, 2020 9:36 pm #

    Here’s my SALT – WhereTF was 40 shots of 2+ poison at AP-2 for 10 Dark Eldar Kabalites? Hell I’d have taken 40 on a 3+ at Ap-1 even – Oh wait, Litanies even… iNow I remember why I shifted to playing Apoc 6 months back.

    Great write up, and yeah off-topic, but salty AF with the whole Psychic Awakening thing. I don’t play competitive – don’t do tournaments, but GW needs to lock the door on the fluff narrative rules testers and leave it in the hands of the competitive play testers and listen to them.

    • Michael Corr May 4, 2020 11:08 pm #

      Yeah, some armies seem to have been left behind by the Psychic awakening updates.

      • Ohlmann May 4, 2020 11:29 pm #

        Deathwatch is one of them ; but the absurd slate of buff from the second marine codex mean they still have some good toys.

        Dark eldar, on the other hand …

        • Michael Corr May 4, 2020 11:53 pm #

          Agreed. I’m not saying the update for the Deathwatch is bad, they gain a lot of buffs from the Doctrines and Marine stratagems.
          It’s just why have to wait 7 months if they were getting nothing new at all, in fact, they get old versions of some rules that are probably no longer valid.

          • Zweischneid May 5, 2020 4:01 am

            It’s still 2 pages of strats, a mono-faction buff, litanies, etc..

            Drukhari didn’t get a single strat, copied, old, useless or otherwise.

            Ynnari got literally nothing and Ynnari-players shelled out 40 bucks or so for a book, where the only new rule inside was “you’re not allowed to use any of the new rules printed anywhere in the book, thank’s for your money”

            Compared to the PA-treatment of most factions, the Deathwatch version is pretty amazing actually.

          • Ohlmann May 5, 2020 5:52 am

            Not “most faction”, Zwei. The Orks, Tau, regular eldars, and pretty much all imperium factions got something between decent and amazing.

            The Dark Eldars, Deathwatch, and I guess probably the Harlequins too got shafted big time from PA specifically.

            (and there’s probably also a case that the cults were shafted too, even if they did have additional rules at leasts)

  2. Rob Butcher May 6, 2020 8:09 am #

    DW are now on a level playing field with the other SM Chapters as far as doctrines / bolt rifle stratagems go.

    There are no DW Phobus models (outside of the Reivers) so no rules. It’s that simple. Not laziness – just GW policy that you should get the models in a Codex from one box,. (Watch Warhammer Tv they’ve covered this in Q&A twice this week.) The shoulder-pads haven’t been released for DW Phobus, nor are they bundled inside a box with the models.

    From a Lore perspective the Vanguard Phobus are seen by many as replacements for SM Scouts from the 10th Company. Why would they be in a DW army as they’re green troops ?? Yes the rules for Infiltrators (no deepstrike within 12″, infiltrating and auto-wounds on 6s) are nice. But DW do get their special ammo which most SM Chapters don’t. So that’s reasonably balanced.

    DW have done well at Warhammer World over the Winter with armies regularly in the Top 10. Watch the videos by SN from Gibraltar for some good builds.

    • Michael Corr May 6, 2020 9:33 am #

      Your argument that Deathwatch don’t get access to Phobus models as there are no Deathwatch phobos units or shoulder pads doesn’t fit with me. Only Intercessors have a specific “Deathwatch” box that comes with the same shoulder pads as the veterans. Aggressors, Reivers, Hellblasters and Inceptors all use the Deathwatch Veteran upgrade sprue, but there is not option to buy a box with these components in them.

      Phobos Marines could use the same shoulder pads no problem. It would be no more difficult to fit them than for any other Primaris kit.

      I can maybe see the argument for not allowing Phobos units in the Deathwatch, but why is the Impulsor excluded? Deathwatch have access to the other Primaris vehicle units, but not this specific one?

      My accusation of Laziness was not to do with not allowing models, but that these rules were simply a copy and paste with material that was released about 7 months ago with no new material. In fact, the rules we were given are so old that they are not even the current version of the rules and will probably be FAQ’d in the near future to bring them in to line with the current version.

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