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NINO: Necrons in Name Only (Part I)

NOTE: This review was written when Codex: Necrons was first released in 2011, during the 5th Edition rules.  Many of the objections raised in this and subsequent articles were addressed under the 6th Edition rules; please see this addendum to this series (October 2013).  You can find the review for the 2015 version of Codex: Necrons here.

There’s a moment in the animated film Madagascar where a group of penguins, intent on escaping life in captivity, take control of a ship and sail to Antarctica, only to find, after their long wait and many preparations, that they are less than delighted at achieving their goal.


Upon reading the new Codex: Necrons, which came out recently, I felt the same as the penguins.  I—and my shelved collection of ‘bots—had waited literally years for the new book, but what I found were a series of unpleasant surprises.  If the latest Codex: Dark Eldar might be the best one ever written, then the new Tome of the Toasters might be one of the worst.

I’m not going to talk about everything in the new book, just stuff that jumped out at me.  Usually when I do a codex review, I discuss all the stuff I liked, then the stuff I didn’t, then what I’m ambivalent about, but not this time.  No, the new Necron guide is such a mess that I have to tackle it section by section, starting with the beginning and working my way through to the end.  But first…

A Pre-Review Review, or, A Look at the Previous State of the Necron Nation
For you new folks, or those veteran gamers who nevertheless aren’t familiar with Necrons, let’s talk about previous versions of the ‘bots.  Necrons first appeared at the tail-end of the 2nd Edition days, in the mid-1990’s.  Their unit choices consisted of Lords, Warriors, Destroyers, and Scarabs: that was it.  The rules for them were not very developed, though Scarabs could destroy tanks by swarming over them and eating them—seriously!  Mostly, the first incarnation of the Necrons was for gamers who wanted to experiment, or who liked the models (inspired by the T-800 endoskeletons from the 1984 sci-fi classic, The Terminator), or both. 

Necrons were included in the army lists given with the 3rd Edition main rulebook, and were finally fleshed out (so to speak) with their first codex, published in 2002.  The Necrons were characterized by:

  • Extraordinary resiliency.  Your basic Necron Warrior had T4, a 3+ Save, and the “We’ll Be Back” rule (another Terminator reference) that allowed Necron casualties, under most circumstances, to return to play on a 4 or higher on a d6.  More advanced Necron units (Lords, Immortals, Pariahs, Destroyers and Heavy Destroyers) had Toughness 5.   
  • Short-ranged firepower.  Most Necron units (Lords, Warriors, Immortals, Monoliths) lacked any kind of firepower past 24”.  Standard ‘bot strategy was to form up into a phalanx and tramp into weapon range, relying on their natural resilience to protect them from incoming fire.
  • Phase Out.  The key to defeating Necrons was to knock their total number below 25%, whereupon the rest of them would “phase out,” disappearing from the battle and causing the opponent to automatically win the game.  Canny Necron players loaded up on Warriors, one of the cheapest actual “Necron” units (Scarabs and a few other units didn’t count for Phase Out), to bulk up their numbers. 
  • Plenty of vehicle-killing.  Most Necron guns were “gauss weapons,” meaning (as it still does) that rolls of “6” to penetrate any vehicle, no matter its Armor Value, would result in glancing hits.  As even your basic Warrior packed a gauss flayer, opponents quickly learned not to get their vehicles too close to the ‘bots—or even to take vehicles at all when facing the Necrons.
  • Vehicles?  Necrons only need one.  Necrons had Destroyers and Heavy Destroyers, jetbikes which were massively over-armed compared to their equivalents in other armies.  The only true vehicle they had, however, was the aforementioned Monolith, a pyramid-looking floating tank that had all kinds of freaky abilities, including an annoying resistance to lance- and melta weapons.  Plopping down a Monolith elicited groans from opposing players; using two or three Monoliths was sure to ruin their day.
  • The nigh-mandatory Orb + Veil.  Necrons had limited choices for wargear, but that didn’t matter much.  It was a shock to see a Lord with something besides a Resurrection Orb (for allowing “We’ll Be Back” rolls even if casualties were suffered from Instant Death or power weapons) and a Veil of Darkness (for teleporting the Lord and his associated unit around the battlefield, especially out of close combat).    
  • God(s) on their side.  The Necrons were the emotionless slaves of the C’tan, immensely powerful “star gods,” two of whom—the Nightbringer and the Deceiver—could be fielded in games.  Opponents not experienced in fighting ‘bots would waste firepower on the intimidating C’tan; canny opponents ignored the slow-moving and massively expensive deities, focusing their energies on the rest of the army to force Phase Out. 

Bear these characteristics in mind as I discuss where and how the new codex has gone horribly, horribly awry.             

The Warhammer 40K 5.0 Software Snafu
The 5th Edition rules made two changes that kicked Necrons right in their metallic junk.  The first was to change the vehicle damage tables so that glancing hits could no longer destroy vehicles; this neutered gauss weapons.  Technically, it is still possible to destroy a vehicle with glancing hits, but one must immobilize it and destroy all its weapons before it counts as such.  To do so with gauss flayers, one must be in range, then roll hits (3+ for BS 4), then roll “6’s” to glance, then roll “6’s” to immobilize and “5’s” to destroy weapons.  All of which is easier said than done.

The second, more devastating, change was to force losers of assaults to make Morale checks at a -1 Ld penalty for each wound their side had lost combat by.  Most Necron units were slow (I2) and rarely had more than 1 Attack; thus, they usually lost combat.  Under the previous assault rules, which didn’t have such steep penalties, this wasn’t a problem: Necrons usually held, made some “We’ll Be Back” rolls, and continued the fight, displaying more of that “extraordinary resiliency” I mentioned earlier. 

Under the new rules, Necrons almost always failed their Leadership, forcing them to fall back, which (because of their low Initiative) usually resulted in them being caught in a Sweeping Advance and destroyed.  Whereupon there were several factors involved (chief among them being the proximity of other Necrons) that might or might not allow the unit to use the “We’ll Be Back” rule to resurrect themselves.

 

Thus, the new rules knocked the legs out from under two key Necron characteristics: killing vehicles and toughness.  Necron players found it extremely difficult to stop enemy transports before the passengers could assault the ‘bots and easily wipe them out (which, of course, made Phase Out even easier).  Accordingly, many players whom I know shelved their Necrons in anticipation of the new codex, which, in my opinion, needed to address these glaring weaknesses (much as how the new Dark Eldar codex addressed that army’s frailty and all-around suckitude of splinter weapons).

There were a number of ways that the game designers could have strengthened the Necrons to make them competitive again and to give them back some of their character.  To address the difficulty in killing vehicles, gauss weapons could have been made Rending, perhaps with a point increase for all units bearing gauss weapons.  To address being easily destroyed by Sweeping Advances, Necrons could have been made Stubborn, or even Fearless (after all, what are unemotional robots afraid of?), again, with possible point increases, if necessary.

Instead, the game designers addressed the problems like so: gauss weapons would stay as they were (and even get worse in some cases), and shiny new Necron vehicles would provide the ‘bots with anti-armor capability.  And as for getting massacred in assaults?  The designers punted, telling Necron players straight up, on page 64 of the new book, that “Necrons locked in melee are often Necrons about to be removed as casualties.”

And to pile on, Necron Warrior armor saves went from 3+ to 4+, and “We’ll Be Back” went from 4+ to 5+ (albeit with less restrictions).  But not to worry!  Warriors just got much cheaper!  So now you have more points to bring all the new, nifty tank-killing vehicles you’ll need.  Ye [star] gods and little fishes….


And for only $49.50!  Taxes, tags, title, and other charges may apply

Necron Background Part I, or, Whose Fluff Is This, Anyways?
With that out of the way, let’s dive into the new codex and talk about the first section, entitled, aptly enough, “The Necrons.”  For a while, the background story, or “fluff” of the Necrons plays out much like it was presented in the previous codex: the Necrontyr are an alien race blessed with magnificent technology but who are cursed by cosmic chance to have short, miserable lives.  They learn of another race, the nigh-immortal Old Ones, and driven by jealousy and hatred, the Necrontyr war upon them. 

The war goes poorly for the Necrontyr, until they enlist the aid of the C’tan, godlike beings of pure energy.  In addition to using their vast powers against the Old Ones, the C’tan grant the Necrontyr a supposed “boon” by providing them the means to exchange their frail, mortal bodies for metallic ones.  Thus are the Necrons created, and with the C’tan, the Old Ones are defeated.

At this point, the fluff from the new codex diverges greatly from what came before.  In the previous version, the mighty C’tan—now the masters of the Necrons—seal away themselves and their robotic drones in Tomb Worlds until the galaxy, almost emptied of the life-essence that the C’tan feed upon, repopulates itself.  In the new version, the Necrons revolt against the weakened C’tan, shattering their hold over them—and then the surviving ‘bots take a 60-million year nap. Because, you know, war is very tiring.

Now, I’m not a fluff purist by any means: I am, after all, the poster child (for good or bad, depending on your point of view) for allowing female Space Marines, so take my opinion here with an industrial-sized salt lick, if you so desire.  But does anyone else find it odd that early on in the Necrontyr-to-Necron conversion project, the evil, treacherous, and tyrannical star gods wouldn’t have had this conversation?

The Deceiver: You know, if I were these guys, I’d be pissed when they find out that we’ve eaten their souls and made them our slaves.  While we’re designing these new metal bodies for them, how about we install a modified version of the Three Laws of Robotics in them, so that their programming won’t let them attack us?  Or at the very least, let’s have some way to instantly, simultaneously shut them all down in case they act up.

The Nightbringer: Yeah, let’s do that, just in case they get rambunctious.  Not to mention, it’ll keep *some* of us from trying to use these dudes to screw over the rest of us.

The Outsider: Uh, huh.

The Dragon: Tell me about it.

The Deceiver: Why’re you all looking at me like that?

The codex explains away the overthrow of the C’tan as hubris: “In their arrogance, the C’tan did not realize their danger until it was too late.”  Really?  So apparently, you get to be an evil, all-powerful star god by stupidly underestimating your minions.  I don’t buy any of this for an instant.  The idea that the Necrons would be able to hide their intentions from and actually defeat a race of star gods is…well, even more ludicrous than most gamers believe female Space Marines to be.  It would be like contemporary human civilization being overthrown by our coffee makers. 

Anywho, after turning the tables on their C’tan, the Necrons realize they cannot defeat the Eldar (Maybe they should have held off on that whole “overthrow-the-evil-star-gods” dance number until after they had sicced the aforementioned evil star gods on the Twinkies), so the Necrons decide to hibernate and wait them out.  Do they wait 6000 years, longer than any real-life historical human civilizations?  No.  60,000 years?  I mean, 60K is an awfully long time: if you’re talking about Earth history, 60,000 years ago puts us in the Ice Ages.  But that apparently is too short a time for the Necrons: they think that the Eldar will still be an insurmountable problem 60K years in the future.

600,000 years?  Child, please.  6 million?  You’re thinking too small.  No, the Necrons voluntarily decide to KBAR (Kick Back and Relax) for 60 million years.  Meaning that within a few million years after the dinosaurs on Earth bought the farm (in real-life Earth history), the Necrons decided to take a siesta that would last until the end of the 41st Millennium. 

Really?  I mean, the original fluff—that the C’tan powered down the Necrons because they figured it would take the galaxy 60 million years to refresh the salad bar for them—was a stretch to believe.  But the new fluff—that the Necrons would choose to do nothing for that long—is just silly. 

Necron Background Part II, or, Tanned, Rested, and Ready to Party
All right, well, fine.  Regardless of what happened before, the Necrons (as the fluff of the new book tells us) are back online.  And what do they want?  In the old book, they were attacking and slaying all other lifeforms to feed their vampiric masters.  That’s pretty scary, mostly because you can’t deal with people (to use the term loosely in this context) who want you dead and turned into C’tan Chow.  When dealing with the “old” Necrons, it was kill or be killed. 

In the new book, the Necrons don’t necessarily want to kill anyone, they just want their old empire back, and then some.  That sounds so…human, you know?  So…reasonable.  You can negotiate with “people” who just want territory: human history is full of examples.  Imagine, if you will, this scene from the 41st Millennium:

Governor Habeas Corpus felt a moment of fear as he strode into the meeting room and came face-to-metallic-face with Phaeron Upzidaizius of the Sukitup Dynasty, whose warships hovered over every city on the Governor’s planet.  “What can I do for you, my good…man?” the Governor stammered.

“I am told you are nominally in charge of this sector of space,” Upzidaizius hissed.  “The nearby worlds your Imperium calls Rak, Shak, and Beni must be returned to my people, who held them 60 million of your years ago.  Agree, and my legions spare this planet.  Decline, and the survivors will envy the slain.”
 
“One moment, please,” Governor Habeas Corpus replied.  He turned to his aide and, in his best Captain Kirk impression, barked, “Report.” 

“Our archeotechs say that 60 million years ago, Rak, Shak, and Beni were verdant worlds capable of sustaining billions of higher lifeforms,” the aide replied, reading off his iPad history-thingie box.  “Then their star went white dwarf and now they’re worthless hunks of ice.” 

“Consider it done!” the Governor said, extending his hand to the Phaeron. 

“I’ll also need Bieber tickets,” the Phaeron croaked.  “For my daughter, you know.” 

“I’ll see what I can do,” the Governor replied.

Like humans (specifically the ancient Egyptians that the Necrons are patterned after), the “new” Necrons have Dynasties, noble houses who squabble and ally and vie for power and fight amongst themselves (wait, don’t Dark Eldar have something similar with their Kabals?).  The Necron special characters are your stereotypical:

  • Power-Hungry Military Commander (Imotekh the Stormlord),
  • Mad Scientist (Illuminor Szeras);
  • Treacherous Underling (Orikan the Diviner);
  • Eccentric Academic (Trazyn the Infinite);
  • Dotty Old Military Man (Nemesor Zahndrekh);
  • Loyal Defender (Vargard Obyron); and,
  • Maverick Commander (Anrakyr the Traveller).

The Necrons wish to bring order to the galaxy…just like the Tau do.  And if you thought that the role of Arrogant, Technologically-Superior Alien had been filled by the Eldar, well, you were only half right, as indicated by several of the quotes from the Necron characters, such as:

 “You have ruled this galaxy for ten thousand years, yet have little of account to show for your efforts.  Such failure must be as depressing to bear as it is pathetic to behold.”

—Imotekh the Stormlord.

 …and:

“It is a source of constant consternation that my opponents cannot correlate their innate inferiority with their inevitable defeat.  It would seem that stupidity is as eternal as war.”

—Nemesor Zahndrekh

 …and:

 

“With a dozen legions of Immortals at my command, I could humble the stars themselves.  One will be more than sufficient to crush your pathetic world.”
—Imotekh again, who obviously didn’t read how gauss blasters got nerfed.

 
There’s nothing unique in the new characterization of the Necrons, and it suffers greatly compared to the previous vision of them as silent, emotionless drones that existed only to kill (“That’s what they do!  That’s ALL they do!” Reece would have screamed) in service to their Lovecraftian gods.  Now, we have Trazyn writing a sarcastic “thank-you” note to an Inquisitor and Nemesor Zahndrekh suffering from robot dementia, unable to tell the difference between Orks and an army he fought 60 million years before.  Really?  Did someone actually get paid to write this?    

I’m all for injecting some character and personality into the Necrons (I did so when I wrote up some fluff for my Necron army), but not at the expense of making them more human and less scary, with their idiosyncrasies and pithy comments.  You’re not supposed to be able to relate to them: they’re freaking space skeletons!  Games Workshop has done to Necrons what Twilight did to vampires: take something terrifying and make it ridiculous.  It’s a wonder that Imotekh doesn’t sparkle.   


Yeah, I'm talking about you, "Eddie".  What are you going to do about it?


NINO (Necrons in Name Only), Part II
NINO (Necrons in Name Only), Part III
Necrons Renewed: An Overdue Addenudum


Posted November 2011.  Necron  images copyright GW 2011.  Used for review purposes.

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Fighting Tigers:
Codex <> Tactics <> Gallery <> Allies and Enemies <> Tales of the Tigers

Other Pages:
Main <> What's New <> Site Index <> The Tiger Roars <> Themed Army Ideas
Events and Battle Reports <> Campaigns <> Terrain <> FAQ <> Beyond the Jungle