A watch fortress is a fortified Imperial installation that serves as a fortress, archive, garrison, command station and training facility to support the operations of Deathwatch Space Marine Kill-teams in a particular region of the galaxy.
A watch fortress differs from a watch station in that while watch fortresses are large complexes and relatively rare, watch stations are far more numerous and smaller, less potent Deathwatch facilities.
Such places can take a great many forms; some are mighty deep space void stations, while others are imposing, fortified keeps maintained on a planet's surface.
Some are impenetrable installations many kilometres below ground, while others still are hollowed-out asteroids bristling with weaponry and protected from prying eyes by arcane cloaking systems.
The watch commander of a watch fortress often coordinates the monitoring of a hundred different threats to his region of space; or his attentions might be focused exclusively on one single, overriding concern towards which all of his efforts are turned and which the watch fortress was built to confront.
The watch commander is assisted in his duties by a cadre of specialists, some of whom are Adeptus Astartes, such as Techmarines, Apothecaries and the likes, while many more are the equivalent of Chapter serfs. Some are specialists seconded from the staff of one or more Inquisitors, while the greatest number are mono-task servitors.
Amongst the most important members of the watch fortress' staff are the astropaths, several of whom are always present in any fortress. At all times, at least one Astropath is locked in an armoured saviour-chamber (sometimes referred to as the "ebon coffin") with its own life-support system, which is isolated from that of the fortress.
In the event of the facility being overrun, it is intended that this Astropath will survive long enough to transmit a telepathic message to the nearest Inquisitorial bastion or Space Marine homeworld.
Getting such a message out is far more important than the Astropath's survival of course, and many have committed suicide rather than fall into enemy hands, once reasonably certain their message has been received.
That being said, one Astropath in the service of the Inquisition is known to have survived for six solar months within his saviour-chamber, while hideous Drugh slithered around the fortress and rasped ineffectually at the chamber's armoured hatch. By the time the fortress was retaken, the poor soul was quite insane, and put out of his misery soon after.
The number of Kill-teams stationed in any given watch fortress varies enormously. Some are home to only a handful of Battle-Brothers, while others host several dozen Kill-teams.
Despite the small number of Astartes warriors stationed on even the largest watch fortress, it would be suicide for an enemy to attempt an attack on one, even if its location could be determined.
Each bristles with weaponry, much of it controlled by hard-wired Servitors or fired remotely by the Watch Commander's staff. Some are even said to be protected by great cannons and banks of missiles controlled by autonomous Machine Spirits (artificial intelligences).
At the heart of each fortress is to be found a sealed vault, containing the most sensitive and valuable of assets. It is said that some of these vaults are encased within stasis fields; that time stands still within and even the most ancient and crumbling parchments can be preserved.
Other vaults are said to be encased within quantum-displacement fields, so that they are not actually located in the watch fortress at all, but exist out of phase with it and the rest of realspace so that even should the fortress be destroyed the contents at its heart will survive.
Exactly what is kept within these vaults depends upon the mission of the fortress and the threats it guards against. Some contain vast libraries of forbidden texts, knowledge so terrible they may only be consulted when the very fate of Humanity itself hangs in the balance.
Alien artefacts of unknown or devastating potency might also be sealed within the vault, affording the savants of the Ordo Xenos the opportunity to study them whilst they are kept out of the hands of those who would use them for the detriment of Mankind.
Some watch fortresses even maintain a stock of the most exotic of weapons, which are kept safe in the vault and only brought forth in the most dire of situations.
Here are found the warheads of the Cyclonic Torpedoes used to enact Exterminatus upon a world. Some weapons are unique and so potentially devastating they may never be disturbed, the singular relics of the Dark Age of Technology.
This includes such artefacts as the anti-baryon detonator held in a watch fortress at the heart of the Ghoul Stars, and the super-massive "starbane" vortex cascade generator secreted within the eon-locked Ormand Repository near the Ring of Fire. Aside from these sealed stocks of weaponry, each fortress contains vast stores of more conventional arms and ammunition.
Sufficient stores to last for Terran centuries without re-supply are held in the watch fortresses, as well as all of the heavy equipment normally utilised by the Space Marines such as artillery and vehicles. Many of the weapons are venerated relics, crafted by long-dead master-artisans whose names have become legendary amongst the Space Marines.
The larger of the watch fortresses are home to all manner of training facilities. In vast domes, unique environments can be recreated in which the Battle-Brothers can perfect their battle drill and rehearse their missions.
Some of these domes have been stocked with alien life forms, such as Death World flora and fauna, in order to create the most realistic training conditions possible. It has even been known for captured aliens to be set loose in the training domes, to be hunted down by the Kill-teams in deadly, live-fire mission simulation exercises.
Although no resource is spared the Kill-teams, it is usual that each Battle-Brother lives an austere existence in the watch fortress. It is common for each to maintain a personal shrine, at which he undertakes the devotions and rites particular to his own Chapter.
A Battle-Brother seconded from the Ultramarines Chapter, for example, might maintain a simple chapel dedicated to the Primarch Roboute Guilliman, while one drawn from the Mortifactors Chapter might keep vigil before the flensed skulls of a hundred slain enemies.
When not engaged upon a mission or a training exercise, and not meditating at his own chapel, the Space Marine may rest in a cell which is seldom more than a bare, stone-walled chamber. Space Marines require little sleep however, and most of the their time is spent either in battle, or preparing for it.
In addition to the Watch Commander, Watch Captains, and the Kill-teams, a great many, though not all, watch fortresses are host to an Inquisitor of the Ordo Xenos. It is the role of this individual to communicate the strategies of the Inquisition and to coordinate them with the missions of the Deathwatch.
The Inquisitor is more of an ambassador than an overseer, and has no direct control over the Watch Commander or his Astartes. Rather, he provides a link between the two organisations, ensuring that the ancient pact between the two bodies remains in place, for the defence of all Humanity.
Notable Watch Fortresses
- Balefortress - Located in the Thresnia Sector, the Balefortress is perhaps the last Imperial bulwark left that can stop WAAAGH! Nakkaslash from capsizing the sector.
- Castilos Nullifact - This watch fortress is located in the Ultima Segmentum.
- Damaroth - The Damaroth is a watch fortress that takes the form of a vast artificial ring constructed around a glowing moon. It is the centre of Deathwatch operations in the Centaurus Arm of the Ultima Segmentum. The artificial structure was not built by Human hands, and in fact predates the Imperium. It is one of six such structures found so far, each one converted by the Ordo Xenos into a watch fortress. No trace of the beings that made them has been found.
- Doombreak - Doombreak is a watch fortress located on the border between the Segmentum Solar and Segmentum Tempestus.
- Eye of Damocles - This watch fortress monitors the borders of Imperial space with the T'au Empire in the Segmentum Ultima. Its Kill-teams specialize in vertical assault.
- Eye of Octos - Nothing is known about this watch fortress.
- Fort Ajax - Nothing is known about this watch fortress.
- Fort Excalibris - This watch fortress is located in the Segmentum Obscurus. In the late 41st Millennium, its Kill-teams were stretched to the breaking point as they dealt with multiple ongoing xenos threats. This included the Drukhari redoubling their attacks around the Crucible of Tales, the push of the Necrons of Icnarus towards the Gothic Sector, and the Hrud infestations discovered throughout the Kuypax Reach. Fort Excalibris was commanded by Watch Captain Barradan, one of the few Primaris Space Marines to have risen to that rank in the Era Indomitus. He has already distinguished himself in many battles with xenos forces.
- Fort Nexus - Fort Nexus is a watch fortress located in the Ultima Segmentum.
- Fort Nullifact - Forces from this watch fortress once assaulted a seemingly undefended Jokaero star-frame, only to be met by a fleet's worth of firepower.
- Fort Obsidus - This watch fortress is located in the Segmentum Solar. It is currently commanded by Watch Master Astoren Korr. Following the admittance of Primaris Marines into the Deathwatch in the Era Indomitus, he has proven especially adept in the deployment of Repulsor battle tanks. This skill has led to the defeat of the Speed Kults of WAAAGH! Wazdakka, as well as several other recent Ork attacks.
- Fortress Omega - Fortress Omega, also called Fort Omega, or just "Omega," is a watch fortress that was assaulted by Eldar Corsairs who sought a rune-carved Aeldari artefact called the "Doomsday Sphere" kept within the fortress' null chamber. The corsairs found only Venator Tactics Kill-teams within the fortress, who promptly ambushed the aliens. Hundreds of the xenos raiders died before the last of the corsairs reached the chamber. The sphere did not actually exist; it was in fact a myth spread by Human mercenaries working for Black Shields to lure the xenos into the open.
- Fort Prescience - In the 32nd Millennium, this watch fortress in the Segmentum Tempestus saved the worlds of the Shantoria System when its Kill-teams destroyed a band of Harlequins whose trickery and raids nearly caused the system to erupt in a civil war. Millennia later, the fortress has found particular success in its battle against Hive Fleet Leviathan by combining Primaris Marine Reivers from the Raven Guard, Hawk Lords and Lamenters Chapters into a single force and using them as dedicated synapse-beast hunters.
- Fort Pykman - Located in the Ghoul Stars of the Ultima Segmentum, this watch fortress watches for Barghesi and Necron threats. The Deathwatch of Fort Pykman favours the tactics of the Ordo Malleus, demolishing ancient sites should there even be a flicker of alien activity. The current watch master of Fort Pykman is Utorian Denash. Danash claims his constant vigilance against the Imperium's xenos foes shall never end.
- Fort Starshield - Fort Starshield was a Deathwatch starfort that was located in the Kadus Sector and was commanded by Watch Master Valesnus in the aftermath of the Great Rift's creation in the Era Indomitus. However, the starfort was destroyed by the Ork WAAAGH! of Ghazghkull Mag Uruk Thraka, whose grennskin hordes also killed all of the Deathwatch Astartes who dwelt within it.
- Fort Volossia - The Deathwatch forces stationed on Fort Volossia were overrun by the undying legions of the Necron Overlord Zhanatar.
- Furor Shield - This watch fortress oversees the Octarius Sector, and its Astartes are ready to stand against whoever prevails in the Octarian War between the Orks of the sector's Ork Empire of Octarius and the Tyranids of Hive Fleet Leviathan.
- Haltmoat - This watch fortress in the Segmentum Obscuras is currently commanded by Watch Commander Vilnus. When the watch fortress began receiving numerous reports of voidships disappearing near the Tiamet System, Vilnus set 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 ship returned to the watch fortress, but it bore a final vox transmission by Gjunheim that warned of a nightmare biomechanical structure built by the Tyranids that they had discovered. The watch sergeant reported that it spanned an entire continent on Ziaphoria and when the Astartes approached it, the structure pulsed and sent out a tsunami of psychic energy. This pulse caused the death of the Kill-team's Librarian, which alerted the hive fleet to their presence. The Kill-team was subsequently torn apart by the Tyranids. Once Vilnus finished the message, he transmitted it to the Ordo Xenos and it eventually reached the ears of the excommunicated Inquisitor Kryptman. The former Inquisitor of the Ordo Xenos travelled to Watch Fortress Haltmoat and Vilnus agreed to meet with him. As they talked, Kryptman shared his own grim theories regarding the purpose of the unknown Tyranid structure on Ziaphoria and Hive Fleet Tiamet, and together the two began to formulate a plan to utterly obliterate whatever the Hive Mind was planning.
- Keep Extremis - Keep Extremis is a watch fortress located in the Segmentum Obscurus.
- Indomitus Point - Indomitus Point is a watch fortress located in the Segmentum Ultima.
- Mortguard - Mortguard is a watch fortress located in the Segmentum Ultima.
- Null Breach - Null Breach is a watch fortress located in the Segmentum Solar. Its Kill-teams have assaulted the Ork World of Calverna several times. During one of these incursions, Watch Captain Daxis was killed when he was crushed by a rampaging Squiggoth. He was avenged when the Intercessor Lyone, who single-handily killed the massive creature with pinpoint fire. Lyone had made quite the reputation for himself while fighting the Orks, and avenging Daxis' death earned the Primaris Marine his predecessor's rank of watch captain. Even before his ascent, Lyone had become fearfully known to the Orks as "Da Black Butcha," while his own Battle-Brothers began to call him "Orksbane." Lyone has excelled in the role of watch captain since earning the rank.
- Onyx Patrol - The Onyx Patrol is a mobile watch fortress used by the Deathwatch. Essentially a fleet of warships, the Onyx Patrol constantly searches for nomadic Aeldari craftworlds. It most frequently operates in the Segmentum Solar. Since its inception, Aeldari sightings in the Imperial core have become much more rare.
- Praefex Venatoris - This watch fortress keeps watch over a string of Webway portals used by the Drukhari in the Segmentum Obscurus. Its Astartes are always on high alert, seeking to save the Human worlds of Syracia Thrive from alien piracy and enslavement.
- Ramugan - The watch fortress called Ramugan is also close to an Inquisition substation, which is also known as Ramugan. Both are located near the Eye of Terror in the Segmentum Obscurus.
- Sentinel IX - Sentinel IX was the watch fortress from which the Iron Hands Deathwatch brother Ennox Sorrlock operated. Sorrlock is a merciless, pragmatic killing machine known for his cold, calculating logic. He suffered horrific wounds to his flesh after a Drukhari attack, and his right eye and left leg have been replaced by bionic replacements. Ennox Sorrlock took part in the purging of a Genestealer Cult on Ghosar Quintus in the late 41st Millennium as part of Kill-team Cassius under the command of Ortan Cassius that marked the first confirmed Imperial interaction with that Tyranid menace.
- Talasa Prime - Talasa Prime is an Imperial Fortress World on the Eastern Fringes of the Ultima Segmentum in the Realm of Ultramar controlled by the Inquisition's Ordo Xenos. Talasa Prime is home to a large Inquisitorial fortress most notable for housing the watch fortress that essentially serves as the headquarters of the Deathwatch.
- Watch Fortress Erioch - Watch Fortress Erioch is a massive Ramilies-class starfort that serves as the headquarters for the Deathwatch operating in the Jericho Reach. It is constructed around an ancient and enigmatic vault of secrets known as the Omega Vault.
- Watcher Keep - Watcher Keep is a primary watch fortress located on the border between the Segmentum Pacificus and Segmentum Tempestus. It is currently commanded by Watch Master Vaedrian Shenol. In the wake of the Great Rift's creation, Shenol has seen an increase in the number of xenophiles within the Imperium. These are Humans who feel that since xenos are also threatened by the forces of Chaos, the Imperium of Man should fight alongside them against their shared foe. The watch master considers these people to be Heretics who would foolishly have Humanity put its trust in inhuman monsters that would gladly betray Mankind at the first chance. Shenol has declared that there can be no tolerance, no compromise, and no peace with aliens -- only war and the Imperium's endless purgation of the xenos threat.
- Zarabek - Zarabek was a watch fortress that was also the location of the last stand of the Muhlari, a xenos race exterminated by the Deathwatch in a series of actions culminating in the Purgation of Zarabek. Zarabek proved to be both strong and well-hidden, a perfect location for a new watch fortress, so it was cleansed of its xenos taint and taken over by the Deathwatch. Among its officers was Watch Captain Ska Mordentodt, a Deathwatch Black Shield of an unknown Chapter.
- The Alien Hunters (Short Story) by Andy Chambers
- Codex Adeptus Astartes - Deathwatch (8th Edition), pp. 5, 22-25, 27, 30, 34, 40, 49
- Codex Adeptus Astartes - Deathwatch (7th Edition) (Digital Edition), "The Heraldry of the Honoured," "Watch Fortresses of the Imperium," "The Vigil of Aeons," "Watch Fortress Talasa Prime," "Knights of the Long Vigil," "The Structure of the Shield"
- Codex: Tyranids (8th Edition), pg. 38
- Deathwatch: Core Rulebook (RPG), pp. 307-309
- Deathwatch (Novel) by Steve Parker, Act 1: The Call, Ch. 12, pp. 50-51
- Deathwatch: Deadhenge (Short Story) by Justin D. Hill
- Warrior Coven (Novel) by C.S. Goto, Ch. 2
- White Dwarf 109 (2016), "Kill Team Cassius"