40K Lore: The C’Tan – Enemies of Life

Draw the curtains Loremasters and lock the door – today we delve into the dread deathless enemies of life itself – the C’Tan

The C’tan (Eldar Yngir) are said to be the oldest beings in existence. Once beings of God-like power they were overthrown by their followers, the Necrons, and most exist now only in the form of the C’tan Shards.


It is said that the C’tan were created at the very beginning of the universe, spawned from swirling gases and enormous amounts of energy, and as such are etheric creatures by nature. In their natural form they are vast beings and spread themselves over the surface of a star, sucking at its energy to feed themselves. After a time, they learned to use diaphanous wings to travel to other stars to continue their consumption. The matter around them was so insignificant that it didn’t even register to their voracious appetites.

After several million years, the race known as the Necrontyr discovered a being feeding from their very sun. The Necrontyr, under the leadership of Szarekh, “the Silent King,” managed to communicate with this being, naming its species the C’tan; which in native Necrontyr means “star gods,” or “star vampires”. Eventually the Necrontyr built physical bodies for the C’tan made from Necrodermis or living metal. The C’tan were then transferred, supposedly across an “incorporeal starlight bridge,” into their new bodies – thousands of miles of energy creature compressed into comparatively tiny bodies.

The C’tan made use of the Necrontyr’s hatred of the Old Ones to wage war and collect bodies to consume, which they enjoyed far more than their old diet of star energy. They also found a love of worship, or more accurately, of others worshipping them. They were revered by the Necrontyr as gods and forced them into complete slavery. The C’tan eventually tricked or convinced the Necrontyr into leaving their bodies and entering shells of living metal, becoming the Necrons.

In the war between the C’tan and their slaves the Necrons, against the Old Ones and the younger races, their red harvests slaughtered millions upon millions. Not long after that a plague of Enslavers emerged, which apart from finally destroying the Old Ones, also depleted the red harvests further. It was then that Szarekh, realizing the error he had made by dealing with the C’tan, led a Necron revolt against their masters. In their arrogance, the C’tan did not realize their danger until it was too late and the Necrons shattered the C’tan with weapons that focused the unimaginable energies of the living universe. Since then, the C’tan have been shattered into shards, utilized by the Necrons in battle.

Transcendent C’tan

 Transcendent C’tan’s are C’tan’s bursting with pure elemental energy. Each Transcendent C’tan is a collection of anywhere between a dozen and a hundred lesser shards, and its power far surpasses the sum of its parts.

Shards of these mighty creatures are used by the Necrons as weapons by entombing them in Tesseract Vaults and controlling them with a Canoptek Sentinel and energy shackles designed by Svarokh.Should the situation become dangerous enough, the Necrons may release the Transcendent C’tan from its prison to rampage across the battlefield. This however is often as dangerous to the Necrons as is it to their foes.


Known C’tan Abilities

  • Antimatter Meteor – The C’tan Shard gathers an orb of roiling antimatter, before hurling the crackling projectile into the midst of the foe.
  • Cosmic Fire – At the C’tan Shard’s gestured command, a pillar of black fire streaks down from the heavens.
  • Seismic Assault – Stone fractures and ores flash burn into silvered steam as the C’tan Shard drags up tides of magma from deep below.
  • Sky of Falling Stars – Savagely beautiful orbs of coruscating light plummet from the cold depths of space, growing to roaring bale-stars as they approach.
  • Time’s Arrow – Mutating the flow of causality and remoulding the temporal stream, the C’tan erases its foe’s very existence from space and time.
  • Transdimensional Thunderbolt – The C’tan Shard projects a crackling bolt of energy from its outstretched palm, blasting its foe into oblivion.

Relationship with the Warp

The major weakness of the C’tan is their inability to comprehend the warp. It is speculated that they find it impossible to survive in it and are particularly susceptible to warp-spawned magicks and psykers. They had a plan to block off the warp forever in an attempt to remove their single greatest threat.

It is also speculated that they have set up a series of pylons on Cadia, possibly for this purpose. Whether these pylons have anything to do with the Eye of Terror is unknown, but it is unlikely, as the Eye was not opened until after the C’tan were in their stasis tombs.

There is also a Necron object on Armageddon in the central region of the planet.

Other Instances of the C’tan

During the Great Crusade, it is known that the Imperium encountered a suspected C’tan device known as the Vortex field generator which would later be relocated to Jericho fort and making that site invulnerable to orbital bomardment. The armies of the Imperium are known to guard the Gates of Varl from the quiescent perils of the Ctan.

Members of the Imperial Assassin Callidus Temple use a weapon called the C’tan Phase Sword. It is unknown what specific relation the weapon has with the C’tan themselves, but when it comes into contact with a C’tan’s body it is absorbed as if it is a piece of its body returning home.

Previous Editions

The fate of the C’tan differed from current lore in previous editions. Prior to the publication of Codex: Necrons (5th Edition), the C’tan were described as having been in an aeons-long slumber from which they are only now awakening, rather than having been shattered into the C’tan Shards.


How many C’tan Can You Name?


  • BT

    Stupid Space Ghost.

  • UnpluggedBeta

    Man, I miss the old necrons; despite being one dimensional killing machines bent on the genocide of all life, they felt like they had more character than the current pot pourri of space pharaohs. I also really liked how they made the new kids on the block c’tan into credible “third threats” to the warp which met or exceeded the chaos nightmare fuel depending on your point of view.

    Now… pokemon.

    • euansmith

      That original release was pretty much perfect; codex and the cool model range were slim and focused rather than limited.

      • Evil Otto

        I like the new models, but the fluff isn’t as interesting. I still play my ‘crons as killing machines. They aren’t out to expand their dynasty… they just want to end all life.

      • benn grimm

        Dunno about perfect but they nailed the horror vibe for sure. I miss pariahs, those things were scary…

    • Evil Otto

      While I miss the old “we wanna kill all life” necrons, I’m not sad to see the c’tan reduced to pokemon. I always thought they had no place on the tabletop as they were presented lore-wise in earlier editions… they were supposed to be gods, a credible threat to even chaos. T8, 6 Wounds isn’t exactly going to make Khorne shake in his armored boots.

      I thought that the necrons should have been so nihilistic that they turned on the beings that made them. It would have made them even scarier… “You can worship your gods if you like, mortals. We had gods once as well… and we consumed them.”

      • benn grimm

        Gods to the ones who they dominated yeah, not actual gods, like yknow Jesus or Zeus or the Emprah or something…;)

        • Knight_of_Infinite_Resignation

          Jesus was just a guy, but hey, Zeus was a proper god. Thunderbolts, shagging, changing into animals, castrating his dad, the business.

          • LordKrungharr

            No, Jesus was not just a guy, but both God and Son of God, much like the Ctan after they got put in their metal bodies.

          • Knight_of_Infinite_Resignation

            You say that, but he didn’t change into any animals or have any really super muscley kids so I’m not convinced 😉

          • UnpluggedBeta

            All flash and no substance; kinda like everyone’s favorite ‘just as planned’ chaos god.

          • Frey Jepson

            Ohh, boy.

          • ieyke

            Jesus and Zeus were both just The Emperor trying out different guises with which to rule mankind.

          • benn grimm

            Oooh controversial…;)

      • euansmith

        “The Klingon Gods are dead… We killed them.”

      • UnpluggedBeta

        Yeah, on that point I agree. For supposed star gods that were absolute masters of the material and beyond the understanding of anything, it was odd how manageable they were on tt.

    • Keaton

      Eh. Doesn’t the 40k universe have enough “want to end all life” factions? That’s Tyranids and everything in chaos. It would be the end result of an Ork galaxy too.

      • Golden Yak

        Orks don’t want to end all life. There’d be nothing left to fight!

        • UnpluggedBeta

          Now that you mention it… if you think about it, barring any black library weirdness, orks are the secret good guys of 40k.

        • Keaton

          They can fight each other!

          • Golden Yak

            Orks count as life too!

      • UnpluggedBeta

        Huh, barring any retcons I missed, I was always under the impression, that chaos was more about being worshipped by all of creation moreso than ending it all. Because of that, Necrons always struck me as a more unique threat in 40k.

        • Keaton

          Chaos wants the materium to stop exisiting, for everything to be “the warp”. Which effectively means the death of everything.

          • ieyke

            Including the death of Chaos. Since the Materium is solely responsible for the Warp’s existence.
            Without material creatures there are no daemons.

            Chaos can literally never win.

          • Keaton

            True enough. Didn’t think of that.

    • EndreFodstad

      It was a pretty hefty retcon. What was sad was that the original background was an interesting expansion to the 40k “deep background” with, as you say, the C’tan and their minions as a different kind of threat to the galaxy.The new one just made the necrons into egyptian robot space marines. Yawn.

  • wibbling

    Always thought the way to deal with the Tyranids is to have the Necrons fight them.

    As there’s no organic matter to consume, the Nids starve. As the Necrons can be constantly rebuilt, they don’t. In a war of attrition, the Necrons win and nobble the Tyranids.

    • Frey Jepson

      The Tyranids simply ignore the necrons for the most part and the Necrons have no need to fight them.

  • benn grimm

    Just plain old misunderstood star parasites…)

  • davepak

    Anyone even remotely interested in Ctan or the history of the necrons – get the old codex (pre-ward) the fluff is much better.

    The whole “shard” thing was just poor writing and justification to not make them all powerful in the game rules – there were much better ways – but a lack of creativity lead to this.

    They don’t fear or “fail to comprehend” the warp – they just did not like chaos – part of their old war.

    Also, it was never that they “hated” life – they were these timeless immense immortal beings – just how much does one care about ants?

    • Severius_Tolluck

      Not that they hated life either. They were just pre programmed in masse to harvest life matter to feed the few ctan that were awake.

      • Severius_Tolluck

        Although on second hand in some lore, mainly the book Xenology, the necrons sent a warrior to learn about other species and how to best destroy them by tricking an inquisitor to do all the dirty vivisection work for them. There was also.. what book was that, where they meet a Lord (still pre ward dex) an he liked being a lord, and hated living beings and had full memory of what came before.

    • UnpluggedBeta

      Yeah, I didn’t believe the matt ward hate until I actually came back and read the newcron book. If you compare it to the old one, the stark difference in tone just makes the new stuff that much more cringey.

  • Sonic tooth

    Always found the necronC’tan and tyranids far more interesting and scary then plot armored chaos yawnfest. I just wish gw did too.

    • UnpluggedBeta

      I’m with you about Chaos, especially after their annoying habit of completely ignoring worldwide campaign results in favor of pushing “chaos == the true threat” narrative. I forget which one it was, but it got so bad where campaign results had such lopsided imperial win results that it implied they were basically settling the eye of terror.

  • Jay Mort

    Bleh, the new background is so boring… A bunch of has-beens somehow overthrown by beings soul-bound to them whom could be nommed at any time by their masters turned into batteries for a couple of tiny, fragmented, feuding micro-nations…

    At least before they were an actual threat to the Galaxy.

  • Douglas Nelson

    I like Newcrons. 3rd edition didn’t have that 40k “flaw” (where a faction infights itself more than external threats. The only “unified” faction should be Tyranids.) I also thought each Necron Army had to belong to a C’tan.

    I miss Pariahs though.