Warhammer 40K, Deathwatch, and Eclipse, Part I

The question this time around was “How do I build a 40K Space Marine in Eclipse?”

Really, that pretty much comes down to “what do a Space Marine’s innate abilities look like in Eclipse?” – and the only way to answer is to start converting those abilities. For this there’s one basic underlying assumption; starting humans are pretty much starting humans and can serve as a benchmark for everything else. Secondarily, +5 on a d100 pretty obviously equates to +1 on a d20 roll. Finally, I’m going strictly by game the RPG (Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader, and Deathwatch) mechanics; fluff text is pretty much irrelevant, as are descriptions of mighty feats from novels and such.

So to start with characteristics… Baseline (“Imperial”) human characters in Dark Heresy generate their characteristics as (2d10 + 20). Baseline human characters in Rogue Trader use (2d10+25), but are presumed to be starting at a total of 5000 XP. Starting Space Marines in Deathwatch use (2d10 + 30), but are presumed to be starting at a total of 12,000 XP. Unfortunately for those who like consistency, all three state that you can only boost an attribute by +20. Implants may excuse that for the space marines, but no reason is given why Rogue Trader characters have potential attribute limits five points higher than Dark Heresy characters. Oh well.

Since Dark Heresy characters seem to be the real baseline humans in 40K, lets consider them.

With a maximum initial attribute of just twice the minimum and a bonus range of a mere three numbers (with one of them – the +4 – being extremely unlikely) our baseline humans in Dark Heresy actually have a considerably narrower range of attributes than is found in d20. Baseline D20 humans have an attribute range of 3-18 (a maximum of six times the minimum), an average of 10.5, with a bonus range of -4 to +4 – three times as many possible bonus values. Ergo 40K games focus on the center of the bell curve and simply ignore its extremes. That’s reasonable enough in a grimdark setting where sticking up your exceptional head is almost certain to get it shot off and where any severe weakness likely leads to death or permanent consignment to the faceless masses.

So: Baseline 40K Humans have an initial characteristic range of 22 (2d10 roll of 2 + 20) to 45 (2d10 roll of 20 + 20 +5 Purchased, although this is likely rare) with an average of 31 and a bonus range of +2 to +4 – very commonly +3 and almost always +2 if it isn’t +3. In d20, that 31 and +3 equates to 10 and +0 – the standard, noncombatant, background NPC.

Rogue Trader types have better attribute generation, averaging 36 – pretty much equivalent to 4d6 drop one, the “Elite” attribute array, or the reasonable point-buy options. That makes Rogue Trader characters the standard d20 PC types.

In 40K Skill Percentages go up with attributes; +10 attribute = +10% skill = +2 on a d20 roll. Attribute Bonuses, however, only go up with +1 per +10 on the attribute – half as fast Averaging the two tells us that +3 to an attribute in 40K equates to +1 to an attribute in d20. This neatly matches what we get from the average attribute for a normal person being 31.

So to derive d20 attributes from 40K, just divide by three, rounding off. To generate attributes for 40K styled characters in d20 just use one of the standard generation methods.

Far more importantly when it comes to d20, that tells us that Space Marines basically enjoy about a +2 (well, 1.66666…) bonus on all their attributes above a baseline adventurer. In fact the attributes correspond quite well. We’ve got Strength / Strength, Intelligence / Intelligence, Toughness / Constitution, Agility / Dexterity, Perception and Willpower / Wisdom, and Fellowship / Charisma. That doesn’t actually matter much, but it is convenient.

Now the Space Marines are artificially modified, so in d20 terms they’re an Acquired Template.

  • That gives us an initial base of Str +2, Int +2, Wis +2, Con +2, Dex +2, and Chr +2 (presumably focused more on Leadership than Looks). That’s (72) CP – expensive, but generally useful.

Now to cover their bioengineered organs.

  • A Space Marines Unnatural Strength is complicated. In Deathwatch it basically adds +10% to relevant checks only to counter penalties or improve the level (but not the chance) of success on strength checks (that’s equivalent to a +2 of course) and (for most characters) adds +4 to relevant weapon damage but not to chances of hitting. Of course, in d20, there generally are no degrees of success and a bonus to hit is generally far more important than an equal bonus to damage. Thus this translates into +4 Strength, providing a +2 to all three items. +4 Strength is (24 CP).
  • A Space Marines Unnatural Toughness is ALSO complicated. It basically provides Damage Reduction (the Deathwatch equivalent of more hit points since it has the same effect; you can survive more hits), regulates how long you can keep marching, hold your breath, and similar physical feats, and has some effect on recovery from poisons. While this translates less directly, a +4 to Constitution has roughly equivalent effects – and +4 Constitution is, of course, (24 CP).
  • Space Marines are highly resistant to pain, they do not suffer from Blood Loss, and they take only half damage from attacks made on them after they go unconscious. Of course d20 characters do not normally suffer pain, crippling injuries, or other troubles; they can fight perfectly well until they lose consciousness at negative hit points. Taking half damage after you go unconscious is fairly useless in d20 though; Such an ability is only relevant in that narrow margin between zero hit points and death. If you’re unconscious and still being targeted by any serious opponent in d20 you are likely only one hit away from death anyway. This might make it two – but there are better ways to get up again. Oh well. That’s Immunity/Bleeding (Uncommon, Severe, Trivial, 3 CP) and Immunity/Taking Damage below 0 HP (Uncommon, Severe, Minor, Specialized/halves damage only, 3 CP).
  • Space Marines suffer no Perception penalties due to lack of sleep. While there are a couple of obscure d20 rules about sleep – in 3.5 there’s a note in the Elder Evils book, in Pathfinder there’s a note in an adventure path – in general it’s not a worry. That’s Immunity/Perception penalties due to lack of sleep (Uncommon, Minor, Minor, 2 CP).

According to Elder Evils in 3.5 “A living creature can go without sleep for a number of days equal to its Constitution modifier (minimum one). Thereafter it is fatigued, remaining in this state for a number of days equal to its Constitution modifier (again, minimum one); if it would become fatigued during that time, it is exhausted instead. Each day after that period, the creature takes 1 point of Wisdom damage. If the total Wisdom damage exceeds its Hit Dice, the creature is affected as if by an insanity spell until it sleeps” – so most combative adventurers can basically go at least a week without sleep with no real problem,

In Pathfinder there’s a rule buried in an Adventure Path: “Characters who do not get a full night’s sleep may suffer the effects of fatigue. If a PC does not get at least 6 hours of sleep, she must make a DC 15 Fortitude save or be fatigued and take a –1 penalty on all other checks and saving throws against sleep effects. A second night without sleep requires another DC 15 Fortitude save. A failed save results in the character becoming exhausted and the penalties increasing to –2. A third failed save on the next night increases the penalties to –3.”

  • Space Marines get a +4 bonus against ingested poisons. Once again, not a big thing in d20, but… Resist/Poisons, Specialized for Double Effect (+4)/Ingested Poisons Only (3 CP).
  • Space Marines can eat portions of creatures to gain some of their skills or knowledge for a few hours. It doesn’t even need to be a part of the creatures brain; a few drops of blood will do.

Wait, what?

OK, I’m not even going to bother explaining why that’s blatantly magical (much less why no one in ten thousand years has done any research on packaging emergency skills if this DOES work). I’ll just roll with it. That’s Double Enthusiast, Specialized for Increased Effect (Works in minutes) and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / the user must devour a portion of a creature with the needed skill or knowledge, the GM decides what the user gains, the effect lasts for a maximum of one day, and only skills and knowledges are eligible (4 CP).

  • Space Marines gain a +6 bonus on saves against gaseous toxins, may reroll against drowning or asphyxiation or gaseous toxins, and may breathe water. (Presumably they’re worried about drowning in other things). Translating that directly will be complicated, and expensive, and not all that useful in d20 (and don’t these guys normally wear environmental armor anyway?) Normal d20 characters can hold their breaths while fighting for (Con) rounds – at least a minute for any normal character – which is quite enough to get through most combats. Worse, if you’re stuck in a bad environment for a long period, rerolls are unlikely to do you much good in d20; the game includes poisons that act in seconds, not environments that gradually make you ill. Ergo: Immunity/Breathing (Common, Severe, Minor, 6 CP). Space Marines can hold their breaths for up to an hour (thus ignoring drowning, asphyxiation, and gaseous toxins), and breathe very bad air, water, or similar substances, for up to a day.
  • Space Marines get a +2 (+10%) bonus to Spot Checks (2 CP).
  • Space Marines get a +2 (10%) bonus to Listen Checks (2 CP).
  • Space Marines can enter a state of suspended animation, either through meditation or if dying – but must be revived with a complex procedure. (They can also burn fate points to evade certain death, but that’s a part of the game system, not unique to them). That’s Returning, Specialized/the body must be recovered and countermeasures administered (3 CP).
  • Space Marines are (optionally) resistant to radiation. Most d20 games do not have “radiation” as such. In those that do, its resisted with Fortitude checks – and that’s already covered under “Unnatural Toughness”.
  • Space Marines may re-roll failed saves against poisons and toxins. Doesn’t this make part of their lung boosts a bit redundant? Never mind, that’s Luck/Specialized in Resisting Poison (6 CP).
  • Space Marines can detect poisons with a perception check, can track by scent, can (at the game masters option) get a bonus to track creatures that they’ve tasted (and which have presumably gotten away).These guys seem to have a LOT of trouble with poisons don’t they? Well, that’s Occult Sense/Detect Poison (Specialized/requires a relevant perception check, 3 CP), Track (Wilderness, 3 CP), and a +3 Speciality in Survival / tracking things you’ve eaten part of (1 CP).
  • Space marines may reroll failed checks against environmental temperature extremes. Well, I could buy that as a specialized version of Luck again – but lets forget rolls here. Immunity/Temperature Extremes (Common, Major, Minor, 6 CP) will pretty much cover that.
  • Space Marines may spit toxic acid at their foes, possibly temporarily blinding them. They may also be able to chew through metal and such if the GM allows it. This has a ten foot range, does 1d5 damage and might do another 1d10 if a save fails. Uhm… yes. There are lots of ways this could be built, but in the interests of speed and simplicity, I’m going to just use Trick (6 CP). I’m not going to think about what filling your mouth with acid and trying to chew through metal would do to your teeth, gums, mouth, throat, and internal organs.
  • Space Marines gain a +1 Dodge Bonus, only to counter the -1 AC adjustment for wearing Large armor. That’s Defender, Specialized/only to counter the penalty for +1 Size Category Armor (3 CP). I suspect that the bonus is a lot more that 5% in 40K; otherwise this wouldn’t be considered especially important.
  • Space Marines have “Progenoids”, which can be harvested to make more Space Marines – but only two, and the process is absurdly complicated. Given that most creatures get to reproduce for free, this has no cost.

Space Marines also have some automatic traits that – while still more or less “built in” – are still available to other characters. In terms of our Template they’re just more special abilities though.

  • Space Marines are Ambidextrous. Of course so are d20 characters by default; no cost.
  • Space Marines do not need to brace weapons – and seem to routinely use oversized ones. That’s Anime Master (6 CP).
  • Space Marines can reroll failed will checks to recover from pinning. Of course d20 characters can only be pinned with their consent since they can do as they please. If a d20 character wants to walk straight into the machine gun fire and laugh as their internal organs turn to goo, they may do so without rolling (and then likely fix it up with a healing spell). No cost.
  • Space Marines may ready one-handed weapons as a free action. That’s Reflex Training (6 CP).
  • Space Marines gain a +2 bonus on saves against Psychic Powers. That’s Resistance (3 CP).
  • Space Marines may launch strikes that cannot be Parried or Dodged. In d20 both of those are normally subsumed into Armor Class and no one can “parry” or “dodge” the way they can in 40K anyway. This is probably best translated as a +2 BAB (12 CP), as weird as it is to have that in a Template.
  • Space Marines have automatically mastered a Martial Art. That’s +8 SP in one (8 CP). I guess that if you haven’t mastered your C’hi you cannot survive the process or something.
  • Space Marines can apparently live a very long time. Immunity/Age (Uncommon, Severe, Minor, 4 CP).

Now that’s a total of 215 CP – up there in the middle of +6 ECL territory.


Now, fortunately for their ECL, if somewhat unfortunately for them and those around them, Space Marines have some major problems.

  • They are obvious – and primary – targets.
  • They are fanatically dedicated to their leaders (apparently a part of the process of becoming one).
  • They have forgotten most of their prior lives.
  • They often die during selection, conversion, and early training.
  • They are on permanent active military service. Space Marines do not retire.
  • They require constant monitoring, drug treatments, and hypnotherapy to remain functional.
  • They are subject to Insanity Points and Corruption Points.
  • They do not understand technology.
  • They are extremely limited in who they can work with.
  • They are subject to many irrational beliefs.
  • They often suffer from genetic damage typical to their Chapter, depriving them of one or more of their special abilities.
  • They can only use minor magic and psychic abilities, and even those are always crippled and perilous.

What, you think they can use major magic? Lets see… can they restore a dying, poisoned, insane, diseased piece of human wreckage to health in an instant? Teleport without difficulty? Transform creatures into other creatures? Travel the dimensions freely and safely? Raise the dead? Make up their own powers on the fly? There are (literally, thanks to the Spell Templates in the Practical Enchanter) millions of d20 spells and powers out there, capable of doing virtually anything – and there are a lot of other ways to use magic. Space Marines and other 40K characters can only use a very limited selection of low-level effects and it is terribly dangerous to them. Even the Emperor – despite having mass sacrifices, worship, and plenty of other help – is unable to manage a simple return from near-death.

That’s enough to count the entire mess as being Specialized, bringing the price down to 109 CP – a +3 ECL template. That’s probably fair enough – but it also means that Space Marines will be absurdly crippled in any setting where the other characters aren’t stuck with 40K restrictions. Go ahead. Join that cleric, wizard, and bard in going adventuring when every exposure to their magic or bardic powers drives you further into irreversible madness.

So am I basically saying that you can’t play a space marine in d20?

No. This is Eclipse. What I’m saying is that d20 and 40K are built around some very different assumptions and mechanics, and a simple direct conversion isn’t going to work very well. Ergo, the next article on this is going to be about building a space marine style d20 template that actually works properly.

6 Responses

  1. Given that my gaming group recently concluded a short Rogue Trader campaign (in favor of returning to Pathfinder), which was my first time playing a WH40K character, I found this article very insightful. Given that the person who ran the campaign is a major fan of both systems (and, of course, space marines), I wonder if I could show him this article and maybe change his mind about Eclipse.

    …probably not, though.

    • Sadly, a lot of game masters want to be able to depend on the game system to “keep the players under control”. Unfortunately that’s only possible in really simple systems and when the game master simply says “No!” to attempts to do things that it doesn’t cover already.

      Those are usually “here is the list. If it’s not on it, you can’t try it” systems. Thus the note above that – in more than ten thousand years – apparently no one in the 40K universe has tried to produce reliable “bottled skills”. There are no species-selective nerve gases. There are no isolated planets which have continued to advance in science. There is no explanation of “sub-molecular fuels” or how they can be used if you take the fuel out of the weapon (and that’s a thirty second list; players have a lot of time to get creative in). Yes, they try to hide that with “all technology is only used ritually” – but that’s merely an excuse for saying “you can’t try that!”.

      Oddly though, a lot of people want some excuse for saying “No!” over and above “that would spoil the game”.

      Perhaps the next article? Being able to play a space marine in a d20 game might attract him.

      • Hope springs eternal, but I doubt that he’ll be willing to give it a fair chance. For whatever reason, their minds seem to be made up that a point-buy system (for Pathfinder/d20, since they were all fine with Rogue Trader) is unbalancing…which I find astounding, since – given that we’re talking about us running a game with the Eclipse rules, rather than having a theoretical discussion about what “balance” is the way most messageboard threads are – that’s them saying that they don’t trust each other, or even themselves(!), not to run amok under those rules (and apparently the GM doesn’t count for anything).

      • Well, it’s only a guess – but that usually translates to “He wants me to do a lot of work learning a niche system, to discard all my hard-earned system mastery and expensive books while buying another (or working with a PDF, which is a bother), and all for a single, short-term, game which will get dumped as soon as we break the system – which all of us will be trying to do so as to prove ourselves right. HELL NO!”

        That’s really a self-fulfilling prophecy. Eclipse IS a bit niche; it appeals to people who have gotten really tired of “official” stuff that breaks the game while still not letting them build the character they actually want to play. It DOES throw a lot of their existing system mastery out the window. It doesn’t break as easily as they think as long as the game master uses it properly – but it’s almost impossible to run a good game with any system while dealing with a bunch of players who want to wreck the game.

        They do trust themselves. It’s just that they trust themselves to be cranky.

        There are only a few possible ways around that besides waiting for them to get bored. An intentionally short-term (or at least starting that way) game where you provide the character writeups (presumably of exotic types and with unusual abilities) will often work; that’s a classic way of introducing a new system. Talking to them individually about characters they’ve never been able to build properly – and then building them – sometimes works. Once they have a shiny new character that they’ve never gotten to play the temptation to try them out tends to build. If you have some who do take a lot of pride in their system mastery asking them to help you convert an exotic Eclipse build into class-and-level d20 accurately can work nicely.

        And once they’re actually looking at something, you just answer questions.

        I can’t guarantee that those approaches will work, but I’ve had some success with them.

  2. […] Thoth was asked for a Space Marines conversion. He developed his version from the Fantasy Flight Games DeathWatch book into d20, going back and […]

  3. […] ECL Mamluk / “Space Marine” Template (and the +3 “Direct Conversion” version that doesn’t actually […]

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