- "I am vigilance. I am the hunter's patience and the castellan's fortitude. I am the burning brand that banishes the shadows, the shield that holds the monsters at bay and the sword that pierces their foul black hearts. I am oath, duty, victory. I am the Deathwatch, and my vigil shall never end."
- —Watch Master Utorian Denash of Fort Pykman
A Deathwatch Watch Master, sometimes referred to as a Watch Commander and a Master of the Vigil, is a senior ranking Astartes officer within the Deathwatch and serves as the commander of a Deathwatch Watch Fortress or other Deathwatch headquarters installation. Their role is equivalent to that of a Chapter Master of a Space Marine Chapter, save that there are many of them scattered across the galaxy in the myriad Watch Fortresses of the Deathwatch.
They are the finest warriors of the Long Watch at the very pinnacle of their abilities, for their tactical acumen and uncanny skill at combating the alien is nearly unsurpassed within the Adeptus Astartes. The knowledge and experience a Watch Commander has gained through centuries of combat, against the various xenos threats from his time spent throughout the ranks of the Deathwatch, have taught him valuable lessons in the art of war, trained him in the various facets of military strategy and honed his martial instincts to a level nearly unmatched even by the other elite xenos-hunters of the Deathwatch. A Watch Commander acts with authority as he sees fit, according to his own counsel and judgement, answerable to no one except his fellow Watch Commanders, the Inquisition and the Emperor of Mankind Himself.
Watch Masters are the foremost xenos hunters in the galaxy. They are counted as heroes even amongst the highest echelons of the Adeptus Astartes, for these men have tested their mettle against a hundred species of aliens and emerged triumphant. They have such intense charisma and ability that within the Deathwatch their every word is law. They do not win such respect through rousing rhetoric and generous gestures -- they are typically curt of speech and fierce of temperament, and they do not suffer fools gladly. Their mission is to ensure the survival of the human race, and it is not one they take lightly. No less a body than the High Lords of Terra has been known to seek their counsel -- for in the business of laying low the alien, the Watch Masters are without equal.
Though they theoretically return to their original Chapter once their duties are discharged, Watch Masters usually prove so vital they are never allowed to leave their post. All too often the Watch Master will shoulder his duties alone, seeking the solace of pure thought in long periods of introspection and solitude. Yet his actions send ripples throughout history, and almost always for the betterment of the Imperium.
The Watch Masters of the Deathwatch are amongst the most experienced Space Marine xenos-fighters in the entire galaxy. Prior to their secondment to the Deathwatch, a Watch Commander is likely to have progressed to the rank of Captain, and some have even served as Chapter Masters of their parent Chapter. The role of Watch Commander, like any other position in the Deathwatch is, in theory, only a temporary one. However, most of those Astartes who take up the position do so in the knowledge that they may never return to their Chapter again, such a vital and heavy burden is the rank. As such, the duty is a lonely one, for the Watch Commander sees countless Battle-Brothers serve under him before they return to their Chapter, and he knows that in all likelihood, he will never do so again.
The process by which an individual is elevated to the rank of Watch Master varies from case to case, but most have first served in the capacity of Watch Captain. The promotion may come about by default, as the previous incumbent is killed in the line of duty and the most senior Watch Captain under his command simply takes over. Sometimes the process is driven by the Watch Captains electing one of their number to take overall command, while on other occasions an Inquisitor of the Ordo Xenos may make the appointment, which must be ratified by the Watch Captains of the Watch Fortress at issue and other Watch Commanders.
In a handful of cases, a Watch Master has actually joined the ranks of the Inquisition, appointing his replacement before he leaves the Watch Fortress. Watch Masters hold a position of great authority and responsibility, for they have access to records and archives otherwise only available to the senior members of the Inquisition. They have full knowledge of the terrible threats they guard against, knowledge that in most cases is only ever imparted to those whom the highest echelons of the Inquisition hold in great trust. They have the ear of the Inquisition and the Adeptus Astartes both, and on their authority entire sectors may burn. They, and they alone, hold the access codes to the sealed vaults at the heart of each Watch Fortress, and they hold the power of Exterminatus itself in their hands.
The Watch Masters hold a position of such trust and authority they have access even to the archives of the Inquisition. Even merciless Inquisitor Lords treat these men with a degree of deference, for of all the Imperium's defenders, the Ordo Xenos know best how grave a burden the Watch Masters bear. On a strategic level, the Watch Masters work ceaselessly to outwit and outmanoeuvre the warlords of the alien races, to stymie invasions before they occur, to bring ascendant dynasties to their knees, and to wipe out parasitic species that would otherwise infest great swathes of Imperial space. It speaks to their quality that they can actually achieve such goals in practice. Knowledge is power, after all, and they use it well.
When the Watch Masters take the field, their centuries of experience are focussed to a deadly point, a weapon specifically made for the task of slaying xenos bioforms. Wisdom is far from their only tool. They go to war girded in the finest Imperial war-tech, the artefacts they bear so precious they would make a Tech-Magos weep oily tears of envy. Just as the hero of an ancient people was once given the keys to his city, the Watch Master is given the key to humanity's domain -- the Clavis, a wrist-worn repository of Machine Spirits from the Dark Age of Technology that can open any door, and in theory, take control of any Imperial machine.
Watch Masters are clad in precious masterpieces of the artificer's art -- each a formidable and ornate suit of armour which incorporates an Iron Halo, a device which projects around its wearer a field of protective energy. They also carry the fabled Guardian Spear, symbolic of their role of sentinel. This is a sign of great trust, for it is the same weapon borne by the Emperor's personal warrior elite, the Custodian Guard, yet modified to fire the signature bolt shells of the Deathwatch. When a Watch Master joins the fight on the front line, he cuts down his foes with a cold precision that leaves monsters and tyrants slain in his wake.
- Artificer Armour
- Terminator Armour (Optional)
- Iron Halo
- Guardian Spear - A long and stout-hafted polearm borne only by the Emperor's most trusted warriors, the Guardian Spear is two weapons in one. Beneath a powerful blade crackling with disruptive energies, the spear has a compact bolter that allows its bearer to kill his xenos enemies at range.
- Bolter or Bolt Pistol (As replacement for Guardian Spear)
- Chainsword (As replacement for Guardian Spear)
- Clavis - This wrist-mounted artefact contains ancient Machine Spirits (artificial intelligence routines) that can be projected through the air to disrupt a nearby mechanism.
- Frag Grenades
- Krak Grenades
Special Issue Wargear
- Relics of the Vigilant - Among the armouries of the Deathwatch are a number of items so powerful that their very presence on the field of battle could mean the difference between victory and defeat. A Deathwatch Watch Commander may choose one at their discretion to carry into battle.
Optional Deathwatch Watch Commander Wargear
- Storm Bolter (When in Terminator Armour)
- Combi-weapon, including Combi-flamer, Combi-melta or Combi-plasma gun
- Close Combat Weapon - Power Sword, Lightning Claw, Plasma Pistol, Storm Shield, Power Fist, Relic Blade or Thunder Hammer (As replacement for Guardian Spear)
- Melta Bomb
- Digital Weapons
- Auxiliary Grenade Launcher
Notable Watch Masters
- Watch Commander Balthazar Ho'Tsun - Over the course of the centuries between Master Ho'Tsun's disappearance into the Slinnar Drift and the recovery of the fallen Brother Pardis of the Tigers Argent, the legend of the First Martyr grew exponentially, so that by the time of the 41st Millennium it bears only a few similarities to the truth. Balthazar Ho'Tsun has come to represent something of an exemplar to the Deathwatch of the Jericho Reach, a mighty warrior in whose memory is enshrined all that the Apocryphon Oath stands for. The Librarians and others amongst the senior officers of Watch Fortress Erioch know now that Master Ho'Tsun may have been something other than what he was held to be during his lifetime, though they do not regard him in any less reverence for their privileged knowledge. Rather, those with access to some of the accounts later given by Brother Pardis understand that the Master of the Vigil was consumed by his drive to see the prophecy of Satarrion averted. Ultimately, Ho'Tsun's pursuit of the Dark Pattern led him to his own death, a fact that in no way reduces the honours the Imperial Fist accrued while standing his three vigils of the Long Watch. The exact extent of Ho'Tsun's fascination with the prophecy is not widely known, and Brother Pardis refuses to be drawn on it. This has led some to suspect that the sanity of the erstwhile Master of the Vigil might have been compromised, but out of respect for both the legend and the reality of Master of the Vigil Balthazar Ho'Tsun, nothing further will be spoken on the matter.
- Watch Commander Mordigael - Watch Commander Mordigael is a quick and decisive commander of men with a natural charisma bound to a terrifying skill in battle. A Blood Angel by origin, Mordigael is a paragon of the qualities and traditions of his Chapter. His features are sharp and handsome, as if cut from a pale stone statue of an Imperial saint, whilst his eyes burn with almost feverish intensity. He delights in the perfection of all his undertakings, from practice in the martial disciplines to the contemplation on the future implications of all things that bear on his sacred duty. For over five standard centuries Mordigael has served his Emperor and his Chapter; on three occasions, he has taken up the duty of serving in the Deathwatch. One of these past terms of service was in the Jericho Reach itself. Mordigael's current Vigil has lasted over five decades, and has seen him achieve the honour of being named Master of the Vigil (Watch Commander) a little more than a decade ago. During this time, Mordigael has seen things change within the Jericho Reach; the implications of the opening of the Warp Gate have altered the situation tremendously. The launching of the Achilus Crusade concerns him greatly, as he sees the possibility of a greater disaster being created from a war prosecuted through ignorance and arrogance. He sees the encroaching threat of the Tyranids in much the same light, quite apart from the terrible danger they represent in and of themselves. On more than one occasion, the Master of the Vigil has had to remind Lord Militant Tetrarchus, commander of the Achilus Crusade, that the Deathwatch is not beholden to the needs of his Crusade.
- Watch Master Alathresis - Alathresis is a member of the Novamarines Chapter, who currently serves as a Watch Master in the Deathwatch. He commands the Balefortress -- a Watch Fortress that is perhaps the last bulwark that can stop WAAAGH! Nakkaslash from capsizing the Thresnia Sector.
- Watch Master Mordelai - Mordelai is a humourless member of the Imperial Fists, who serves as the current Deathwatch Watch Master of Watch Fortress Talasa Prime. He is well known as being a proponent of the Malleus Tactics war doctrine and the Kill-teams he commands have been thoroughly tested against those xenos species that encroach upon the borders of Ultramar. As a result, Mordelai has earned the long-standing trust of the Ultramarines' Chapter Master Marneus Calgar.
- Watch Master Astoren Korr - Astoren Korr is the current Deathwatch Watch Master of Fort Obsidus and, following the admittance of Primaris Space Marines into the Deathwatch following the opening of the Great Rift, he has proven especially adept in the deployment of Repulsor grav-tanks. This skill has led to the defeat of the Speed Kults of WAAAGH! Wazdakka, as well as several other recent Ork attacks.
- Watch Master Utorian Denash - Utorian Denash is the current Watch Master of Fort Pykman and claims his constant vigilance against the Imperium's xenos foes shall never end.
- Watch Master Vaedrian Shenol - Vaedrian Shenol is the current Deathwatch Watch Master of Watcher Keep. In the wake of the Great Rift's formation, Shenol has seen an increase of xenophiles within the Imperium, who feel that since xenos are also threatened by the forces of Chaos, the Imperium should fight alongside them against their shared foe. The Watch Master considers these people to be nothing but Heretics, who would foolishly have the Imperium put its trust in beasts that would gladly plunge their blades in its back. Shenol has declared that there can be no tolerance, no compromise, and no peace with such animals, human or alien alike. There can be only war against Mankind's enemies and the Imperium's endless purge of the xenos threat to its existence.
- Watch Master Vilnus - Vilnus is the current Watch Master of Watch Fortress Haltmoat. When the Watch Fortress began receiving numerous reports of ships disappearing near the Tiamet System, Vilnus sent a Kill-team, led by Watch Sergeant Gjunheim, to investigate the system held by Hive Fleet Tiamet. Though the Kill-team was able to infiltrate the system they soon met with disaster and were killed on the Jungle World of Ziaphoria. The Kill-team's starship returned to the Watch Fortress, but it bore only a final Vox transmission by Gjunheim, warning of a nightmarish organic structure they had discovered on the planet. The Watch Sergeant reported that it spanned an entire continent on Ziaphoria and when they approached it, the structure pulsed and sent out a tsunami of psychic energy. This caused the death of the Kill-team's Librarian, which alerted the Hive Fleet to their presence. The Kill-team was torn apart by a sudden onslaught of Tyranids. Once Vilnus had finished with the message, he had it sent out to the Ordo Xenos and it eventually reached the ears of the excommunicated Inquisitor Kryptman. That former Ordo Xenos Inquisitor then traveled to Watch Fortress Haltmoat and Vilnus agreed to meet with him. As they spoke, Kryptman shared his own grim theories regarding the xenos structure and Hive Fleet Tiamet, and together the two began to formulate a plan that would see to the utter destruction of whatever new horror the Tyranids were creating in the Tiamet System.
- Codex Adeptus Astartes - Deathwatch (8th Edition), pp. 5, 30, 49, 66
- Codex Adeptus Astartes - Deathwatch (7th Edition), pp. 17, 33, 52, 106-109
- Codex: Tyranids (8th Edition), pg. 38
- Deathwatch: Core Rulebook (RPG), pp. 306-307, 335-336
- Deathwatch: The Emperor's Chosen (RPG), pp. 31-32