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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.
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
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:
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 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….
Necron Background Part I, or, Whose Fluff Is
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
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.”
“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
“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
“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:
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:
—Imotekh the Stormlord.
“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.”
“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.
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.
NINO (Necrons in Name Only), Part II
NINO (Necrons in Name Only), Part III
Necrons Renewed: An Overdue Addenudum
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