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40K Lore: The Evolution of Necrons

8 Minute Read
Sep 2 2011

Let’s take a stroll down memory lane and think about how Necron rules and fluff has evolved over the last decade.

2nd edition rules
I started playing Necrons when they were released at the twilight of 2nd edition, February 1998. Back then, Terminators had a 3+ save on 2d6 and it wasn’t uncommon for a single character to wipe out an entire army. Necrons debuted with a single item: the warrior boxed set, which came with 5 pewter Warriors and 2 Scarabs.

Warriors and Scarabs, 2nd Edition
By the summer of 1998, Necrons had a mostly “full” army list. Necron Warriors were the mainstay, supported by Scarabs, and Destroyers, and led by a Lord. The rules were a little different back then; Necron units tended to have a 2+ save, Scarabs had 8 toughness and were hard to get line of sight on, Destroyers were vehicles, gauss followed the rending rules against vehicles (a 6 meant roll another d6, repeat), and We’ll Be Back only worked on a 6 (1 meant the model died, and 2-5 meant the model stayed on the ground). Scarabs also munched on vehicles, reducing the armor as more Scarabs latched on to it. One of the images that sticks out most to me is that of a few Scarabs latched on to the hull of an Imperial Guard Chimera. Destroyers, when making we’ll be back rolls, came back as a Warrior. Back then, Destroyers were warriors riding a jetbike sled with a cannon mounted to it; it wasn’t the fully integrated machine that it is today.
Destroyer, 2nd Edition

Now I have to admit, I wasn’t the best tactician back then, but 2nd edition didn’t really require it. I threw Scarabs at vehicles or models that couldn’t handle 8 toughness and shot everything else. Pretty simple, but that’s what you get with an army with four unit choices and essentially no wargear.

2nd edition background
Necrons were mysterious raiders in 2nd edition. They appeared suddenly, attacked, than disappeared just as quickly. It was in 2nd edition that the Massacre at Sanctuary 101 occurred, first featured as a battle report, than written into actual background material. Essentially, Necrons attacked a Sisters monastery, leaving no one behind. It might have been the first real encounter with Necrons by the Imperium. Interestingly, one of the scenarios had to do with placing a teleportation/phase disruptor on some Necrons to study them before they vanished. Perhaps, as a game-scenario, this never made it into the fluff, or maybe the disruptors failed to work.
Lord, 2nd Edition

Necrons also had a crossover into the short-lived game Gorkamorka (yes it’s still alive, but hasn’t been mentioned in a decade). If you don’t know what it is, imagine a game where you take a bunch of Ork players and let them be Orks on table with rules somewhat similar to Necromunda. You now know what Gorkamorka is. It was hinted in some of the background material that the planet where Gorkamorka takes place on was actually a Necron tomb world.

3rd edition rules
3rd edition, if you remember back that far, completely rewrote the rules of the game. It was such a huge shift that every previous codex was rendered useless and the rulebook had to actually include army lists for every army at the time, with the exception of Necrons, so people could play the game. Dark Eldar were included, but Tau hadn’t been released yet; back then, people thought the army would be about Kroot. Necrons eventually got some love in, again, White Dwarf, with the release of Immortals. The stats then were roughly what they are now, except Lords did not come with power weapons and could only take one piece of wargear (veil, gaze of flame, or power weapon), Destroyers made we’ll be back rolls as Warriors, and Scarabs were more akin to gretchin on explosive jetbikes than flying ripper swarms. Back then, I would take two Lords with veil of darkness, two squads of 20 Immortals, two squads of five Warriors, two squads of 20 Scarabs, and a squad of five Destroyers. My tactics involved teleporting with Immortals and unleashing bucketloads of dice, not doing much with my Warriors, and blowing things up with my Scarabs. You see, Terminators did not have 3++ storm shields back then. They actually didn’t even have a standard 5++ save either. Scarabs, on the other hand, could self-destruct in close combat, dealing an automatic initiative 10, s3, ap2 hit on every other model in base contact, or 3+2d6 against vehicles. With clever placement, it was possible to have most of the Scarabs in base contact with two enemy models each, leading to something like 15-20 s3 ap2 hits that would wipe out the squad. Oh, and Scarabs were only 6 points each back then, so when a 60 pt squad wiped out 200-400 points of Terminators, people were sad.
Immortal, 3rd Edition

A little bit later, the first Chapter Approved book was released, containing updated Necron rules, Sisters of Battle rules, and various other changes like granting all terminators a 5++ save. The only major changes in this version was limiting the veil of darkness to one per army and allowing one Destroyer per squad to be upgraded to a Heavy Destroyer. At that point, my list shifted to take 10 Destroyers and 10 Scarabs, a list choice that has eerily followed me to this day. I attended my first tournament with this list and obtained two massacres, one minor victory, and one phase-out. I was playing against a very skilled player with an amazingly converted Space Marine chapter, the Star Foxes (no relation to the game). I still have the army list he printed out and gave to all his opponents! If I recall correctly, he ended up winning overall.
Then, finally, the codex was released. I preordered it and obtained a limited edition Lord, but I’ll be honest, some of the models I got in the boxed army remain disassembled. Stupid Tomb Spyders. I won’t go into a lot of detail, but as you can tell, the army changed drastically. I became disillusioned with the game at this point, probably due to heading off to university, so I stopped playing for a few years at this point.
3rd edition background
When the codex was released, the background of the Necrons was fully fleshed out. They weren’t just space cyborg raiders, they were an ancient race that once fought against the Old Ones. Their background was a tragedy, but also epic in scale. As the codex is still around, I won’t dive into details. You can find a copy and read it. However, the biggest inclusion, and the most controversial, was the C’tan. They were “shoehorned” into everything, from the Gothic War to the Adeptus Mechanicus and even the creation of the Ork and Eldar races.
Before the codex was released, a short story called Deus Ex Mechanicus appeared in the pages in Inferno. It was reprinted in the anthology Let the Galaxy Burn. This story first introduced the C’tan and hinted at the enslaver plague and the relationship between the C’tan and Necrons. It can be found online with a Google search.
Games Workshop also had a portion of their website dedicated to Necron lore for a while, but took it down after a few years. It discussed the Necrons in Eldar Mythology and how the Blackstone Fortresses might have been created specifically to destroy C’tan. It can be found here.
And finally, the book Nightbringer started off the Ultramarines series of novels and chronicled the awakening of the Nightbringer by the Imperium a really stupid Ultramarine Captain.
4th edition rules
I picked up the game again in mid-4th edition with a fresh look at the Necron codex. After crunching some numbers and playing a lot of test games, I came up with my list. I found that people in tournaments will naturally down-rate Necron players in comp scores because they get frustrated. The codex advocates using a “phalanx;” lots of Warriors, a Lord with orb, and Monoliths… and that’s about it. It’s one thing to pass a 2+ save, but it’s an entirely different psychological response to see a Necron die, then stand back up again. Especially if your lascannons are bouncing off due to the rez orb and the Monolith is granting re-rolls to their We’ll Be Back. This edition may have been the high point in Necron power, even though sweeping advance mauled entire Necron squads with ease and consolidation into combat meant that once the enemy reached you, you were toast. Necrons did well throughout 4th edition, although they were never really top tier. The only thing Necrons got in 4th edition was an alternate Lord model.
Apocalypse brought the Pylon; a giant, immobile cannon of death made to take down pretty much everything. It’s great at what it does, but somehow doesn’t seem to make up for lacking any other unit in Apocalypse.
4th edition background
Apocalypse included some background dealing with their “Nodal command” structure, which is essentially a complicated way of saying chain of command. The Apocalypse book hypes it as some crazy arcane way of command and control, but it’s just like any other command and control structure. The only thing interesting is that it brings the concept of “bronze,” “silver,” “gold,” and “platinum” level Necron Lords.
There were some other books released around this time, like Xenology, Mechanicus, and a few others, but none were really groundbreaking with new background. Xenology did show that Necron Lords have the ability to mimic other sentient races much like a C’tan does, but that’s about it.
I believe this edition also mentioned the Deceiver being responsible for Abaddon obtaining his daemon sword Drach’nyen. The Deceiver also apparently fought Cypher, but one of the chaos gods saved his life.
5th edition rules
The changes to consolidation helped, but the changes to glancing hits meant that the army’s primary method of destroy vehicles was now useless. That, along with the changes to transports means Necrons now have a very hard time dealing with transports. With no other changes to the official game in the last 9 years or so, it’s no surprise that the list is struggling.
There is one thing I would like to note; the tomb stalker from Forgeworld is amazing. Yes, the inclusion of two gauss flayers was less than impressive, but the rest of the rules were perfect. The ability to shrug off poisoned and other similar weapons is vital and makes sense; what does neurotoxin do to a giant piece of metal? In the current metagame, the massive amounts of poison is finally starting to make monstrous creatures more of a liability, but the tomb stalker would still see use if it was a “chapter approved” rather than a Forgeworld-only model. The fact that it has fleet, deep strike, and puts out a large number of attacks makes this the perfect complement to many Necron lists.
“AWESOME!” – Lolicron

5th edition background
The rulebook suspiciously fails to mention C’tan at all. With the rumors of the new codex, it seems like there will be a massive retcon that moves C’tan from leaders of the Necrons to weapons of the Necrons.
In the Space Marine codex, the Necrons appeared with a literal death star. It took an entire chapter of space marines to destroy it. That’s hardly impressive if you really think about it. I mean really, in Epic, Necrons bring a caged star to the battlefield, yet they can’t deal with 1000 men in tin suits?
This edition also brings the temporary alliance of Necrons and Blood Angels to fight Tyranids. Don’t ask, I don’t know.

I know I didn’t cover every piece of background in the last 13ish years. What are your thoughts on the changing Necron fluff? Are you still mad over the C’tan being responsible for everything? Share some stories of the Necron pre-codex days!

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