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Evolution of the Necron
jonathan e
So in my last thread of pretentious drivel, Kakapo42 wrote:

Note that one of the key elements of the 5th edition Necron codex, and those that have followed it, was turning the Necrons from a menacing existential threat to life as we know it into just another species existing in the galaxy. This retcon made a lot of people very angry and is widely regarded as a bad move.


And I said:

I am one of the tasteless buffoons who can take either flavour of Necron quite happily. Upon rereading the old third edition Codex it's certainly atmospheric, but the fifth at least offers the space and nuance for 'Your Dudes' (in the parlance of our times) and is a bit less monotonously nihilistic, even if it is terribly on the nose and by the book in a lot of aspects (especially all that bunk about the return of a Silent King). I think perhaps it was dialled a little too far, and if the concept that Necron Lords retain some shadow of their former selfhood had been extended more cautiously there might have been more... harmony.


Since then, I've attempted to re-read both of the books as I idly contemplate picking up some of the new Necrons and playing them in a rules system that I own and doesn't give me hives. And here's a thing, brace yourself: I was wrong.

I like the new unit types introduced in the fifth edition Codex. I had good times playing with that Codex. But rereading it with a few years' distance, it does fall rather flat compared to the cyclopean horror of the first Codex. I think it's a question of revelation: we all worked out what the Necrons' game was in third edition, but we had to put two and two together to do so, and there was a difference between knowing what they were doing and figuring out why they were doing it.

Had things been left there, with a short-term and perhaps pardonable act of metaplot to introduce them to the setting and then allowed to die off and leave the setting as a setting rather than a story, would things have been fine?

I'm not entirely sure. At the time of release, the Necrons were being compared to the Warhammer Undead, with the C'tan occupying the niche of the powerful vampire or liche at the heart of the army. Except... they were Special Characters, inclined to be disused because of the prevailing "with permission only" convention. And there were only two of them. Compare that to the wealth of options and powers available to the Warhammer Vampire, the customisable "your dude" option there, and there is something missing.

I wonder if, hypothetically, the 'shard' concept might have done the job. Your C'tan is a Shard of the Nightbringer or the Deceiver or the Outsider or whatever, and can pick special rules from corresponding lists, maybe with a little bit of overlap. Something that combines the strong visual and thematic character of the C'tan figures with the space to choose and project personal character in there.

Whaddaya think?
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Kakapo42
To quote one of The Prequels That Shall Not Be Named, "This is getting out of hand. Now there are two of them." I may have to write an 'Evolution of the Tau' thesis if this keeps up...

Personally I point to the 'c'tan shard' concept as one of the greatest mistakes of the 5th edition Necron retcon. From a purely storytelling perspective, it revealed too much of the horror villain in one shot, as it were, and coming off the billing in the 3rd edition codex it felt (and still feels, to me at least) very anticlimactic.

In theory this could have been compensated with menacing Necron Lord characters, which is almost certainly what Matt Ward was aiming for, but unfortunately that effort was fatally undermined by another of the 5th edition codex's greatest mistakes; Necron characters that ultimately ended up being more bad Star Wars Prequel villains than sinister lovecraftian menaces. Ultimately this meant that the existential horror of the 3rd Edition Necron lore, with the C'tan as an interesting foil to the Chaos Gods, was gutted and replaced with nothing, creating a kind of 'dramatic tension vacuum'.

In hindsight, I doubt that even the most skilled writer could have pulled off such a gambit well. The trouble is, at the end of the day, the Necron Lords are, well, limited. They are ultimately singular individuals with finite resources at their disposal (sure, they may be very large and impressive finite resources, but they are finite all the same). That would have perhaps been adequate enough if that is what the Necrons were fleshed out as from the start, but as a follow-on from the existential horror of the 3rd edition Codex, full of "WHO KNOWS WHAT LURKS OUT THERE", it feels somehow... smaller, emptier, like that moment when, after all your life as a child looking up at the ceiling of your bedroom, impossibly high and appearing forever out of your reach, you suddenly one day as an adult reach out and touch it without even having to jump much, and are suddenly confronted with a feeling of "That's it?"

I don't know, maybe if The Chronicles of Riddick (which is very clearly a not insignificant influence on the current GW Studio's design for the Necrons) were released a few years earlier and thus had enough time for the GW Studio team to digest them before starting on this grand new Necron project the whole problem might have been averted. But it was not to be.

However, all that said I do agree that a little more room for "Your Dudes" would not kill the 3rd Edition Necron lore. As someone who has openly shared their frustrations with the inflexibility of the Empire lore in Warhammer, I feel I can perhaps relate on some level.

But I don't think breaking the C'tan up into bits is the answer. Instead I feel the answer lies in a Missing Link between the C'tan and the Necron Lords (who under the 3rd Edition paradigm really are basically Warhammer Wights in space). What that Missing Link might be is an open question, but personally I feel the best solution lies in a little-known and oft neglected passage from the 4th edition Apocalypse book:

Platinum Commander. No Platinum-level commander has yet been encountered, and its existence is only hypothesised observing the actions of Gold-level Necron Lords. It is a subject of much speculation whether the Platinum Nodal Command is some creation hidden on a Tomb World, or might perhaps be the Tomb World itself. Techpriests are confident that the Platinum-level Command is not representative of the C'tan, who do not directly interact in the Nodal Command structure in any discernable way.


Underlined emphasis mine. The concept of Tomb Worlds themselves having some kind of intelligence or sentience and holding dominion over Necron Lords is one that really should have been explored further (though given the track record of GW in the years since 2005, perhaps it is for the best that it never was). This concept was exactly what I latched onto as a solution for injecting my own Character into the Necron forces I invented for my background lore (and hypothetical army project, pending availability of the necessary models), and making the Tomb Worlds that Missing Link between the C'tan and the Necron Lords works well, especially given that the aforementioned Apocalypse background means that the infrastructure for employing it in tandem with the 3rd Edition codex is already in place.

Thus, under this concept, your Necron Army would be but one of many identical Necron phalanxes under the control of your own Tomb World, serving one of the big existential C'tan in their unimaginable designs (or not), with your Necron Lord being an avatar for your Tomb World's consciousness. The personal character comes at the army level rather than the individual character level.

That's how I would approach solving it at any rate.
Death to metaplots!
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jonathan e
Kakapo42 wrote:

To quote one of The Prequels That Shall Not Be Named, "This is getting out of hand. Now there are two of them." I may have to write an 'Evolution of the Tau' thesis if this keeps up...


Not to meme on those... things... of which you speak, but: do it.

Regarding Shards: perhaps it was too big a step in one go, but when we start talking about "storytelling" in Warhammer 40,000 or any tabletop game I feel we've skipped over the core problem. A setting is not a story, and doesn't demand the same presentation. I understand that there needs to be a... pace of revelation, for the sake of the players who already know what was in the third edition book and need something new from the fifth. Perhaps the jump needed to be a step: from "there are two C'tan that we know of" to "there are more than two, oh crumbs." It's that output of "a powerful and customisable centrepiece model and projection vessel" that I want - the ironmongery is certainly open for debate.

I find it difficult to argue with your estimation of the new Necron "special characters" as a step down from existential, grand-scale cosmic horror. Perhaps there is no revelation that isn't ultimately a disappointment: "you meet God, and you may ask him d3 questions," and so on.

Re: your proposed missing link between incarnate gods and Wights In Space (that hadn't occurred to me, but you're very right)...

I have to admit that the term "Platinum level" made me retch: reminiscent of colour-coded Daleks, it made me prepared to dismiss the concept, but that was the First Thought. The Second Thought, the non-visceral one based on reading what you wrote, is... what I ended up doing when I had a Necron army (inherited from third edition, and modernised for fifth and early sixth). The only difference is that I had a named Necron Overlord with "backup personalities" to account for the stupid stupid stupid randomised Warlord Traits introduced by sixth edition - it was a good bit of protective rationalisation, but I still resent it having been called for.

I wonder if that would be enough to satisfy the reflex of the gamer for whom "what does not exist in system is not true", and who wants some sort of rules embodying the theirs-ness of their dudes? This is a hypothetical though: I can hardly poke holes in your suggestion when it's what I did and what kept me perfectly happy for a good two years.
Edited by jonathan e on 09-01-2021 04:04
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Kakapo42
jonathan e wrote: It's that output of "a powerful and customisable centrepiece model and projection vessel" that I want - the ironmongery is certainly open for debate.


I have to admit I the phrase "Powerful and customisable centrepiece model" produced a similar reaction in me to Platinum Levels and colour coded Daleks - one of the big motivational factors in me going back to 3.5 and (very early) 4th edition 40k was to get away from all the powerful centrepiece excess of 2010+ GW.

At any rate, here we start to brush up against a dichotomy in the Necron faction identity that is perhaps the root of at least some of this friction.

See, the thing is, as much as Warhammer fans like to talk about the Necrons being Warhammer Undead In Space, the truth is that's really only half the story. The Necrons - at least in their 3rd edition Oldcron form - are just as much (arguably more) a love letter to Skynet from the Terminator films, the Cylons from (the old-school 1970s) Battlestar Galactica and even CABAL from Command and Conquer Firestorm as they are the Warhammer Undead translated into 40k. Yes, they have Space Wights and Space Tombs, but they are also the vast faceless machine threat, the omnipresent artificial intelligence that has no real face or form, but commands innumerable legions of robotic killing machines slaved utterly to its will.

"Listen to the screams... listen. That is the sound of your extinction."

Personally, this is the main selling point of the Necrons for me. Some of my favourite memories from my (very terrible) early adolescence were playing through Command and Conquer Firestorm, commanding my band of plucky remnants on the run from the all-consuming cybernetic horrors hunting them. It helped get me through some pretty dark stuff, and it's the reason why I latched onto the "All-powerful Tombworld runnign the whole show" concept, because the opportunity to be the faceless omnipresent AI mastermind for a change had a certain appeal. In truth, when I want an army with more personalisation, I will in all honesty normally look beyond the Necrons.

But I digress. The rub appears to me to come from this dichotomy, because looking past the terminology that GW has appropriated into buzzwords, it seems to me that what you seem to be looking for is a Space Vampire Count to go with the Space Wights. Which is certainly a reasonable enough request (Necrons do still have that Space Undead side to them after all), but runs into the serious challenge of trying to reconcile the two conflicting influences on the Necron faction identity; Vampires, after all, have since the 19th Century become one of the most famously individualistic and personalised monsters in all of Western English-language Horror (it's no coincidence that a certain RPG publisher in the 1990s singled them out for their flagship RPG system), but at the same time killer AIs are one of the least personal and individualistic monsters in all of Western English-language Science Fiction (the only serious contender for that title being killer Space Bugs).

Is it possible to find a happy median of co-existence between the two concepts? Perhaps, but I struggle to think of one, and I can certainly understand why GW's solution was "Just Don't". At the end of the day, I find the relative lack of powerful customisable Necron Centrepiece Characters a feature rather than a bug, so it's difficult to find any solutions that my feral TV writer brain does not reject as coming at the expense of my beloved faceless cyclopean horror.

Perhaps the solution again lies in coming back to the concept of the Tomb Worlds themselves as a missing link between the C'tan and the Necrons. Maybe a set of rules for crafting a specific style of Necron army to reflect the unique patterns of the Tomb World controlling them, something in between the Imperial Guard Doctrine and Tyranid Genetic Modification systems, making the army itself be the customisable centrepiece (and giving something for the gamers that demand mechanical rules for their dudes) might be the right direction, but even that may not be quite enough for those who really want robot Vampier Counts in space.

But then, my Necron needs have always been completely satisfied and fulfilled by the 3rd edition Codex, so of course any deviation from it is going to raise my suspicions.
Death to metaplots!
Naked Metal - my very own hobby blog. Go on, give it a visit, don't be shy!
 
jonathan e
Hm.

A hit dog is currently hollering, because while I am very much aware that the Necron has sources outside "the Games Workshop Hobby" I have also apparently let "the Games Workshop Hobby" do a number on me here. The whole equivalence to Warhammer Undead In Space is from the designers' notes on that third edition Necron Codex, and I now realise it's an off the cuff remark that is doing far too much of my thinking for me.

It's interesting that you bring up The Certain RPG Company From The Nineties, and also the chance to be the faceless AI nemesis for a change, because... work with me here. There's something to be investigated here, about protagonists and antagonists. The protagonists of vampire stories aren't the vampires themselves but the people victimised by and revenged upon them, and That Vampire Game has always had something of a problem in flipping the script and making vampire protagonists work. Hence all the cod-mafia-movie politics, katana fights on rooftops, increasingly convoluted fictional history to explore etc. etc. - it's things for the vampires to do with themselves that make them work as RPG protagonists. And that work doesn't necessarily have to be done in a "strategy game" kind of experience, where there isn't as much "like a story, but" baggage involved, and where the top-down position of "faceless overmind controlling the little people" is where the player is actually located. There's much more room to be the antagonist, and I've certainly said as much when asked why I never had a proper army of Space Marines. Someone's got to be the baddies, might as well be me. I wonder now if projecting yourself into the little dude who leads your army is actually what Most People Who Play Warhammer do at all, if I'm perceiving an equivalence that doesn't actually exist.

Do I actually want what I think I want? Is what I want actually a thing at all? Have I been blindsided by my memories of CABAL and playing far too much Tiberian Sun as a young 'un?

I like your suggestion for some variance in Necron armies, something on the level of the Ork clans where a unit moves around the Force Organisation Chart or there's a special rule applied across the board (nothing silly like Infiltrators, but True Grit or something). I don't know if it would quite scratch the same itch as Your Own Personal C'Tan would, but it would be a design space to play in, and I think that's all that's really called for here.

A closing thought. When third edition 40K rolled out, it had those very elegant, very puritan army lists in the books, and the minimal and atmospheric 48 page army books, and those were fine. By the time the Necrons came out, if memory serves, we were into the age of Index Astartes, and the poster boys were getting those defined and fully mechanised "paint your Marines like THIS to receive THAT bonus" options. The Necrons feel more 3 than 3.5, for all that they have the bigger book with the black border, and seem to have been released at a transitional moment for the game as a whole, which might explain the lingering lack of cohesiveness in what is, on the surface, a very monolithic bit of design.
Edited by jonathan e on 19-01-2021 05:17
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Kakapo42
It's alright, I do that myself sometimes - Andy Chamber's throwaway line in the Tau designer's notes that they wanted the Tau to be altruistic and idealistic in contrast to the rest of 40k is still a mantra that I hold onto with all my strength.

The key here is that in the end NONE of the 40k factions have a single direct influence. Even the explicit Warhammer Fantasy port that was the Orks was - post Gorkamorka at least - only half 'Fantasy race transported to science fiction', while also being equal parts a love letter to Mad Max and other post-apocalyptic sci fi. The meme-centric gamer culture side of the GWsphere loves to rend GW factions down to a single 1-dimensional concept, but at the end of the day the factions in Warhammer and Battlefleet Gothic (and Battlefleet Gothic's spinoff games like 40k) are much more complex than that.

It's why I always have to grit my teeth whenever someone starts talking about the Tau as "The anime faction" or some permutation thereof, because it's such a disservice to all the many many other influences and sources that went into them (most notably 1950s-1970s Space Opera). But I digress.

The dichotomy of the faceless RTS commander vs the RPG little dude leading the army is also at the core of the problem, because the answer to your questions is "Both" (not least because the concept of Most People Who Play Warhammer is ultimately a constructed illusion - consider that 'Most People Who Play Warhammer' includes many tournament types who put nowhere near as much brainpower into things like faction identity or what their general represents as we're doing now).

I've actually been on both sides at one point or another. When I first started tabletop games and 40k as an 8-year old in 2002, I very much treated the enterprise from a point of view that assumed I was some faceless over-mind running the show from afar, because not only did I also play a lot of Tiberian Sun as a young 'un (amongst many other C&C titles and RTS computer games), but I was also the kind of RTS player whose first and only response to being given a special Hero Unit in a game was to unceremoniously dump it in the middle of my base (built with enough fortifications and defense systems to make an Iron Warrior blush, naturally) and forget about it while I cleared the entire map with more expendable units.

It's because of this that an HQ unit of any kind at all was the absolute dead last item on my 40k army shopping list, and why for the first decade of my 40k experience I treated the HQ slot as a kind of 'dump stat' and seriously struggled to comprehend why it even existed in the first place. There's even a vestigial trace of this line of thinking present in my Wood Elf army, which is noticeably very character-light for even a 6th edition Warhammer army.

But at some point during the 2010s I transformed from a dissonant RTS general into a tabletop commander much more invested in their little metal troops (incidentally it was also around the same time I finally started to appreciate those Command and Conquer missions where you have to navigate the map with just a few infantry units and an engineer or two). And since then I can understand that regardless of how many People Who Play Warhammer do it, projecting yourself into the little model who leads the army is what GW intends most of them to do.

The point here is that there are undoubtedly people playing Warhammer who adopt both approaches, and there should consequently be factions that support and appeal to projecting yourself onto the little metal general and factions that support you seeing yourself as a faceless mastermind throwing monolithic legions at anything that stands in your way. The thing is I've always lumped the Necrons into the latter category (along with the Tyranids), which is why a lack of personalisation has never really bothered me and why I often get confused by people demanding more room for their own individual Necron characters, because it sort of sounds like wanting named individual Tyranid characters and my reptilian First Thought is invariably "But.. but... isn't a faceless wall of monotonous automatons what you signed on for when you decided to start a Necron army?"

Evidently I am at least in part underestimating just how diverse the appeal of the Necrons is (the great irony being that this is despite pontificating endlessly about how factions in other, non-40k games can have diverse appeal and so game developers should cater to all of them).

I will however say that comparing the Necron army list to those for Space Marines (non-spiky or otherwise) is almost certainly a mistake, because comparing any non-Space Marine faction to the Index Astartes-era Space Marines seems to me the 40k hobby equivalent of someone considering themselves ugly because they don't look just like an airbrushed photoshopped actor or model.

For better or worse, NO-ONE is ever going to have quite the same level of mechanical rules options as the Space Marines, and it is for better or worse unrealistic to expect otherwise from GW - it's just a lost cause at this point. Personally I'm not fond of it myself, and if it were up to me the Space Marines would have never had more than two variant army lists at most each containing just a couple of Force Organisation Chart tweaks and maybe a unique unit or two. But I recognise that a glut of Space Marine content is just the world we live in, and I'm prepared to forgive the extra variant lists in 3rd edition because they're a good compromise to keep the base 3rd edition Space Marine codex relevant in the 6.5 edition environment without publishing a 6.5 Space Marine codex instead of a more interesting army book (and looking back I can't help but admire the discipline of GW corporate in NOT making a 6.5 Space Marine book). I'm tolerant of the Eldar Craftworlds supplement for similar reasons.

My point here is that Space Marines having an abundance of "paint them like THIS for THAT bonus" rules from Index Astartes does not and should not take away from the 3rd edition Necrons being a fantastic army list in their own right, not least because when you take the poster boys (including the spiky ones) out of the equation the Necrons don't really have that many less options than any other 3.5 era army list. As a comparison, look at their closest developmental neighbour the Tau - Codex: Tau had roughly the same amount of rules options and scope for mechanical variation (give or take a Force Organisation choice here or there), but still managed to foster an enormous amount of creativity amongst Tau players in crafting their armies and making them unique, as evidenced by the Golden Age of Advanced Tau Tactica.

Index Astartes supplements and customisation mechanics aren't everything when it comes to making an army yours.
Death to metaplots!
Naked Metal - my very own hobby blog. Go on, give it a visit, don't be shy!
 
jonathan e
Kakapo42 wrote:It's why I always have to grit my teeth whenever someone starts talking about the Tau as "The anime faction" or some permutation thereof, because it's such a disservice to all the many many other influences and sources that went into them (most notably 1950s-1970s Space Opera).


Evolution of the Tau. You know you want to.
I put my hand up to calling them "weeb shite for weebs" when they came out, but that was eighteen-odd years ago, I wasn't as media-aware as I am now, and I was driven to distraction by the sort of tiresome spod who will not shut up about anime, katanas being the best, how they can take anyone with their martial arts skills but sensei taught them not to... you'd think all that self-discipline would have taught 'em to wind it in sometimes. Anything for a cheap shot back. But likewise, I digress.

Your point about the HQ is interesting. In the Vampire Counts, Ork and Chaos armies that defined my teenage gaming, I went hard on the commanders (the Ork army with a quarter of its points sunk into the retinue was a particular low). I'm not sure if this comes down to my parsimonious "points per pound" penny-pinching - lacking the budget for lots of figures, I didn't have much of a choice. As I age I want them more simple and supportive: I've never been a great one for the wombo-combo chain of rules effects but I do want the entity at the top to do something definitive, to turn the battlefield around them. I don't think I've ever treated characters as an afterthought.

On this subject of simplicity and characterisation: part of my loathe-on for Warlord Traits is that they are, on paper, a simple system for giving your HQ a bit of personality that's reflected in their rules and I'd be very happy with that if it wasn't randomly generated. I gather current 40K has given in and let players select their psychic powers and traits and I think that's ultimately a good thing.

And those C&C missions were always my favourites. The Hammerfest one in Tiberian Sun where I tried to take over as much of the GDI base as I could on the way out was a particular charmer.

Kakapo42 wrote:I often get confused by people demanding more room for their own individual Necron characters, because it sort of sounds like wanting named individual Tyranid characters and my reptilian First Thought is invariably "But.. but... isn't a faceless wall of monotonous automatons what you signed on for when you decided to start a Necron army?"


I suppose the difference is the biomorphs and selectable psychic powers which made Your Tyranid Army play differently from My Tyranid Army. I think they went a bit far with the whole "mutable genus" thing in third edition but the idea of tinkering with small parts of the faceless horde works. I'll come back to this at the end because I think it speaks to your point about the Tau.

On the topic of Marines: to be clear here, I am also resigned to there being two levels of 40K design philosophy, and one of them being Marines. BUT, and this is where I get a bit defensive and say that I am not making the classic fanboy fallacy, in third edition it wasn't just the Marines that got this treatment. At least, not in the smudgy transitional period we call "3.5". I'm using "the age of Index Astartes" as a shorthand for a whole period of design in which Guard regiments, Traitor legions, Eldar craftworlds and Ork clans got their own list variants, special rules, supplementary Codexes etc. etc. The Marines had more of them, but not many more. I realise I'm shifting the goalposts here: that's my fault, I didn't expand the point properly when I first made it, mea maxima culpa, may I be martyred in space.

The armies which really stand out against that trend are the Tyranids (I think they had that Mycetic Spore list, after a while?), the Tau and the Necrons. And I think you're doing the Tau a disservice by this comparison, here, because when I came in I thought "sure, Tau had a lot of customisation, but it was all battlesuit kit, the rest of the army was about on par with the Necrons." Except - no. Rifles or carbines? Ox or Hounds? Ion cannon or railgun? Gun drones or shields? Almost every Tau unit has at least a binary choice built into it, a shift in its role. The tanks get vehicle upgrades like everyone else's.

Necrons? Here's the unit, like it or lump it. If you're feeling VERY daring, you can buy displacer fields. Big whoopty. Everything but the Lords is like that. And while I agree that it resonates with the "you signed up for a faceless monolith" feel, I will die on the following hill: Gauss or Tesla is a choice; shield or scythe is a choice; Ghost or Doomsday is a choice. When you look at that fifth edition Necron Codex, barring the basic Warriors, Destroyers and Flayed Ones, pretty much every unit has a flip-switch like... well, like the Tau book from three editions earlier. And I think that's fundamentally a good thing, because -

All right, cards on the table time. What does not exist in the rules is not there. While there's a great deal you can do in making your army yours that doesn't touch on anything to do with gameplay whatsoever, it's not reified and it's just something to whittle on about on your blog (and please, not in my ear when I'm trying to get a game played).

This is I suspect deeply subjective, possibly to the point where there isn't a useful conversation to be had, but let me stake out the rationale anyway. I detest painting and only bother with it because I like playing with a painted army. I've never had the luxury of collecting for the sake of it. Cases full of things I own and don't use feel like a waste of money. I'll happily accept that rules aren't everything, but they're something fundamental and indelible.
Edited by jonathan e on 20-01-2021 06:26
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Kakapo42
jonathan e wrote:

Evolution of the Tau. You know you want to.


Coming this Fall...

jonathan e wrote:

The armies which really stand out against that trend are the Tyranids (I think they had that Mycetic Spore list, after a while?), the Tau and the Necrons. And I think you're doing the Tau a disservice by this comparison, here, because when I came in I thought "sure, Tau had a lot of customisation, but it was all battlesuit kit, the rest of the army was about on par with the Necrons." Except - no. Rifles or carbines? Ox or Hounds? Ion cannon or railgun? Gun drones or shields? Almost every Tau unit has at least a binary choice built into it, a shift in its role. The tanks get vehicle upgrades like everyone else's.

Necrons? Here's the unit, like it or lump it. If you're feeling VERY daring, you can buy displacer fields. Big whoopty. Everything but the Lords is like that.


And now it's my turn to say I was wrong.

After reading this I actually got curious and gave the two books a quick page comparison. It turns out that, while both books come in at precisely the same page count (65 pages, including the back cover infographics), the actual army rules section in Codex: Tau is about 60% larger than that of Codex: Necrons, with 16 pages to the Necron book's 10.

I can only conclude that I was thrown off by the abundance of special rules the Necron unit entries contain (especially the Monolith and Elites Units like Pariahs), which gives the illusion that the 3rd Edition Necron army rules are more expansive than they are (I like to think the Deciever would be proud). In contrast, a lot of the army list entries in Codex: Tau come off as little more than a statline and a couple of gun options... because most of the fancy special rules for the Tau are covered in a separate section from the army list, and the army list entries typically just tell you to refer to that rather than spelling everything out.

The other thing I suspect threw me off was that the Necron codex contains a nice two-page spread of suggested campaign rules and scenario concepts (something shared with its close cousins the 3.5 edition Inquisition books) that the Tau codex lacks, but in objective fairness these aren't really relevant to the bulk of games played so shouldn't really be counted, and certainly don't add anything in the way of extra stuff for the army list.

In the 3rd edition army list's defence I will suggest that, from a pure souless game design point of view, while the Necron units have no real options a combination of those unit special rules and generally decent stat lines across the board means that most of the units as presented are fairly multi-role, so I can understand the logic of "A shift in a unit's role is not strictly necessary when that role is already 'kill everything'".

Nonetheless, you've certainly helped me to understand better some of the frustrations Necron players might have with the 3rd Edition book, and I can sympathise with "What does not exist in the rules is not there" - one of the key things that put me off the 8th Edition Wood Elf book for good (and onto the path of retrogaming that ultimately brought me here) was that it never included the Lore of Athel Loren in any form, and no amount of access to the other Warhammer spell lores could make up for that to me. Of course, by the same token I don't think I will ever truly be able to forgive Matt Ward and the 5th edition Necron Codex for removing Pariahs, no matter how many other options it added in.

That said, I will die on the hill that it is possible to have too much background/rules crossover, leading to the scenario where it stops becoming Your Army and starts becoming The Game Designers' Army That You Just Happen To Be Taking For A Spin. The excesses of Post-7th edition 40k with its diseased 'Chapter Tactics' equivalents for everyone are my case in point here, and they - in particular the 'Sept Tennets' foistered on the Tau - were a major deciding factor in my break with contemporary 40k rules, because they ultimately harm player/hobbyist creativity rather than help it.

All too often since 8th Edition 40k was released I've seen posts on Advanced Tau Tactica saying some variation of "I really like the lore for Sept X, but it's not competitive so I have to paint my army up as Sept Y instead" or "I really like the lore for Sept X, but it doesn't support the units I want to use lots of so I have to paint my army up as Sept Y instead" or the reverse "I don't really like Sept X that much, but its rules are the most competitive so that's what I'm painting my army as" and worst of all "No no no NO! You CAN'T paint them with that accent colour and have them Sept X, Sept X's colour is THIS. THAT'S Sept Y's colour, and you can't mix them up because they have different rules!" and it breaks my heart whenever I read them. I don't want to see that kind of attitude amongst the factions that aren't Space Marines and Craftworld Eldar, it's bad enough with them already.

But then I also seem to be approaching things from the exact opposite place you are. I love painting models (in much the same way that an overworked stressed-to-the-brink parent theoretically loves having kids), will readily collect armies for the sake of it (though these days I will if pressed justify it with the pretext of considering it an investment in my mental health, which I am aware sounds very Millennial of me), and often feel something's missing or out of place if I don't know about the backstory of the army I'm facing.

At any rate, I circle back to the concept of some kind of system of 'Tomb World Construction Rules' as a good potential solution precisely because of the Tyranid rules you mention. As 3rd Edition Necrons occupy much of the same Faceless Monolith niche that the Tyranids do, it stands to reason that some sort of system that makes the army itself the big customisation centrepiece should in theory be a good compromise - after all, if it works for the Tyranids then it should work for the Necrons, quiaff?

At the same time though, your talk about the lack of options in the 3rd edition Necron army rules - and giving said rules another lookover myself - has given me another idea that could be worth further evaluation.

Earlier you talked about wanting a customisable C'tan equivalent as a kind of step up from the Necron Lords, but I wonder if perhaps the opposite approach might be a good compromise - a customisable step down from the Necron Lords.

Hear me out here. One of the things that jumped out at me as I was looking through the 3rd Edition Necron army list more closely was that it does have a lot of cool fun characterful wargear options, but they're all bottled up as exclusive to the Necron Lords only. This stuck out at me because it occurred to me as I was comparing the Necron and Tau army rules that one of the most basic and fundamental vectors for unit customisation and personalisation in Warhammer 40,000 is the Squad Leader Character with access to the Wargear Armoury, which is of course an option that Necron units do not have.

Now, obviously just giving Necron units organic squad leader character options is going start conflicting with that 'Monolithic Legion of Faceless Automatons' shtick that the 3rd Edition Necrons have, and in turn will enrage the Nocturnal Parrots who actually like their Necrons to be faceless and monolithic, but...

... a lesser Necron character option as a 'missing link' between the Necron Lords and regular Necron units, that could take wargear options and be dropped into squads as needed, is another matter.

A sort of 'Necron Noble' if you will, a cheaper character option with, say, an Immortal's stat line and access to the Necron Lord wargear options - or perhaps watered down versions of the same, since a closer inspection of the Necron wargear in the 3rd Edition Codex suggests that several of those items appear to have been balanced with the assumption that there would never be more than one or two of them on the table and would be pretty bonkers if fielded in numbers.

At any rate, something like that, that a Necron player could buy 0-5 of as an HQ choice, for example, or even a system where you could buy X of them per Necron Lord and then either keep them together as an HQ Retinue or divvy them up as unit leaders as a sort of dark mirror to Eldar Warlocks, could be a good way to inject some variety and options into a Necron army without compromising that 'mass of mindless automatons' feel. Maybe also throw in the option to make any 'Necron Noble' a Pariah or Flayed One instead, with the appropriate stat line changes and special rules and maybe some wargear restrictions, for an appropriate points cost.

The 5th edition Necron book experimented a little in this direction with the Crypteks, and while I still feel the execution of them was deeply flawed (not least because I think 'Cryptek' is a very silly name that gives me Bad Star Wars Movie vibes), the basic concept of a lower level Necron character as a vehicle for options and diversity does perhaps hold some merit.
Death to metaplots!
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jonathan e
Kakapo42 wrote:In the 3rd edition army list's defence I will suggest that, from a pure souless game design point of view, while the Necron units have no real options a combination of those unit special rules and generally decent stat lines across the board means that most of the units as presented are fairly multi-role, so I can understand the logic of "A shift in a unit's role is not strictly necessary when that role is already 'kill everything'".


Oh, I agree. The book executes its concept well, it's just the concept is a little... monotonous. As a contrast I'll point to something as simple as the Tesla/Gauss choice for Immortals in the later book: you're essentially choosing what happens when you roll sixes to hit, which is just enough variance on that strict multi-purpose shooting elite, the Immortal, to keep me awake. (Even if I always went for Tesla because, er, the Gauss weapons looked different in the newer kits and that sort of thing just had me ragin'.)

Funny you mention Wood Elves (again, a point of order, and I like how you and I seem to come upon these mutual tangents despite quite different motivations bringing us there). I'm Wood Elf curious at the moment and the Lore of Athel Loren always seems like the aberration. I'm used to them having access to colour magic from fourth and into eighth edition, and it's that book in the middle that blips into giving them their own lore. Admittedly it's a very long blip that lasted almost until the end of the product line, and I can see why you'd be so strongly attached to it - it's just funny how things matter or don't to either or both of us, you know?

And yes, I also miss Pariahs. I'd love it if Pariahs had been expanded upon with the kind of "new kit and here's a vehicle!" attention that the silly Triarch overplot brought to the table.

Kakapo42 wrote:That said, I will die on the hill that it is possible to have too much background/rules crossover, leading to the scenario where it stops becoming Your Army and starts becoming The Game Designers' Army That You Just Happen To Be Taking For A Spin. The excesses of Post-7th edition 40k with its diseased 'Chapter Tactics' equivalents for everyone are my case in point here, and they - in particular the 'Sept Tennets' foistered on the Tau - were a major deciding factor in my break with contemporary 40k rules, because they ultimately harm player/hobbyist creativity rather than help it.


Absolument. You can have much too much of that sort of thing, and when it leads to the anguish you describe later in your post or the terrible "so what do your Marines count as this week, Win-Chaser McGee?" shenanigans that were common when I was playing fifth edition, the variant lists have detached themselves somewhat from their purpose.

I like the idea of archetypes as decoupled from specific colourschemes, so one might have the Flayed Necrons who have all gone a bit flesh-mad and move that unit into Troops, or the Swordwind Eldar who can come from any Craftworld with a surfeit of Aspect Warriors on hand for this engagement. Archetypes that open up playstyle choices without restricting hobby opportunities and creating that conflict of interests you describe.

Kakapo42 wrote:... and often feel something's missing or out of place if I don't know about the backstory of the army I'm facing.


If you asked me about mine I could tell you. At somewhat awkward length, because I'm not used to being asked and expect mockery around every corner... but I do think about these things, at least in broad strokes that inform how the army looks and plays. It's just all pretext to play, and a lot of the time the concept is loose and constantly reshaping around the play in hand.


Regarding your "Necron Noble" concept - that's essentially the non-Cryptek half of the fifth edition Royal Court, isn't it? I think it could work very nicely. Restrict some objects (the Veil of Darkness and Resurrection Orb... apparently I can't close this parenthesis naturally without a cartoon phizog overwriting me, tush and fie!) to what would be called Necron Overlords in the fifth edition book, and let the more personal kit like phylacteries and tachyon arrows have their day on bespoke squad leaders: conduits for the will of the Tomb. It wouldn't take a great deal to implement: take a basic profile for a unit, add a Wound and an Attack and a list of wargear options, and you're basically there.

Oh, and 'Cryptek' had me rolling my eyes too. As did 'Canoptek' - I understand the value in distinguishing the automata that service the Tomb from its actual Necron inhabitants, but it's the same impulse that leads to everyone in modern Warhammer calling a spade a Balehewn Soiltraumatiser, and I have very little patience for that sort of thing. Classifying Scarabs, Spyders and Wraiths with the same "automata" special rule would have done the job as far as I'm concerned.
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Kakapo42
jonathan e wrote:

Funny you mention Wood Elves (again, a point of order, and I like how you and I seem to come upon these mutual tangents despite quite different motivations bringing us there). I'm Wood Elf curious at the moment and the Lore of Athel Loren always seems like the aberration. I'm used to them having access to colour magic from fourth and into eighth edition, and it's that book in the middle that blips into giving them their own lore. Admittedly it's a very long blip that lasted almost until the end of the product line, and I can see why you'd be so strongly attached to it - it's just funny how things matter or don't to either or both of us, you know?


I suspect this may be something of a generational thing. I only got into GW and by extension tabletop games in general in 2002, and only started becoming Warhammer Curious towards the tail end of 6th edition, then started into Warhammer in late 8th Edition a little before the 8th edition Wood Elf book, so for me 4th and 5th edition Warhammer was always ancient history and the Lore of Athel Loren was the magic lore Wood Elves had always had (I mean, it was even on their wikipedia page, which never mentioned anything about High Magic, gosh).

To circle it back to Necrons, I imagine if I was one of those no-good punks without causes who enjoy the rock and roll and got into 40k post-5th edition I would probably be a lot more accepting of the 5th-edition onwards style of them (and not nearly as attached to the plastic green rods, instead of the current "If it doesn't incorporate a transparent green plastic rod somewhere on it then I want nothing to do with it!" stance towards Necron models. Metal Flayed Ones, Wraiths and C'tan excepted of course).

jonathan e wrote:

Regarding your "Necron Noble" concept - that's essentially the non-Cryptek half of the fifth edition Royal Court, isn't it? I think it could work very nicely. Restrict some objects (the Veil of Darkness and Resurrection Orb... apparently I can't close this parenthesis naturally without a cartoon phizog overwriting me, tush and fie!) to what would be called Necron Overlords in the fifth edition book, and let the more personal kit like phylacteries and tachyon arrows have their day on bespoke squad leaders: conduits for the will of the Tomb. It wouldn't take a great deal to implement: take a basic profile for a unit, add a Wound and an Attack and a list of wargear options, and you're basically there.


Right, the 5th edition Royal Court (that I keep forgetting exists because I don't recall ever having seen anyone make use of it), with the option to distribute them across units like Warlocks, or alternatively a deal like Imperial Priests where you buy up to 5 in addition to other HQ choices and then assign them to units.

Give it an Immortal statline with an extra wound, attack and pip of Initiative and access to the armoury, and then give them a different name like 'Nodal Relay' or 'Control Heralds' or 'Focus Nodes' or something, that emphasises how they're still just another cog in the Tomb World/C'tan's machine, albeit one with access to the wargear armoury.

It may come from spending too much time with 6th edition Warhammer army books, but I also sort of like the option of giving them a different base statline and special rules for an appropriate points cost. So you start with the base Nodal Herald that's a souped-up Immortal, but then for X points you could, for example, make them a 'Mod II Pariah' with a souped-up Pariah statline and Pariah special rules, possibly with more restricted armoury access.

Or just cut out the middle man and make the sub-leader option 0-5 Pariah characters. The more I think about it the more a 'Stage 2 Pariah' makes sense in the niche of a low-end character option leading squads around with unique wargear options. They are supposed to be a big part of the C'tan's plans after all, and part-human (so with a little more room for individuality) to boot.
Death to metaplots!
Naked Metal - my very own hobby blog. Go on, give it a visit, don't be shy!
 
jonathan e
Re: Warhammer - The Next Generation, I think you're absolutely right. I came in the month before fifth edition WFB dropped and I have a similar reaction to first and second editions. I'm only adjacent to third because I happened to play WFRP at lot at school, during its weird legacy phase when it was the last pre-Kirby product on the shelves.

Kakapo42 wrote:
Right, the 5th edition Royal Court (that I keep forgetting exists because I don't recall ever having seen anyone make use of it), with the option to distribute them across units like Warlocks, or alternatively a deal like Imperial Priests where you buy up to 5 in addition to other HQ choices and then assign them to units.


That's weird: that was how you got the Crypteks into the lists back in fifth, and goodness knows I used it a lot (it also gave me an excuse to field my Pariah models as Necron Lords in exactly the way we've been discussing, a warscythe-swinging upgrade for a Warrior squad). It was a good setup, in any case.

Of those names I like "Heralds", as a step down from the "Lord." I also like the idea of making them a bit like Wood Elf Kindreds or High Elf Honours or what have you. But of those suggestions I like the Pariah one most of all, since it evokes some fond memories of the delightful Thomas Maccabee in Dawn of War: Dark Crusade. I believe we're veering close to consensus on this point...
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Kakapo42
jonathan e wrote:

That's weird: that was how you got the Crypteks into the lists back in fifth, and goodness knows I used it a lot (it also gave me an excuse to field my Pariah models as Necron Lords in exactly the way we've been discussing, a warscythe-swinging upgrade for a Warrior squad). It was a good setup, in any case.

Of those names I like "Heralds", as a step down from the "Lord." I also like the idea of making them a bit like Wood Elf Kindreds or High Elf Honours or what have you. But of those suggestions I like the Pariah one most of all, since it evokes some fond memories of the delightful Thomas Maccabee in Dawn of War: Dark Crusade. I believe we're veering close to consensus on this point...


I suppose I probably didn't register it because they were used in the bespoke squad leader capacity rather than an HQ and retinue running around as one unit, perhaps. From memory I can recall seeing a lot of singular Necron Lords on foot, and a lot of Command Barges, but not Necron HQ retinues running around together.

But then maybe that's just how they did it in my local area and I'm getting sample bias.

At any rate I'm still digging the Pariah character concept, but there's still a niggling voice asking "But what about the Necron players who don't like Pariahs?" that's leaving me inclined to somehow keep the option for a 'pure' Necron Herald around.

What I do find weird though is why GW never did anything like that concept themselves before 5th edition. A low-level Necron Herald 0-5 character type seems like the perfect subject for a White Dwarf/Chapter Approved add-on, especially since 3.5 Edition was also in the era of "We don't intend to ever make a model for this but here's some lore and rules in case you feel like kitbashing one yourself" type units.

Come to think of it I don't remember the Necrons getting much love in the Chapter Approved/White Dwarf area. Tau got rail-rifles for Pathfinders, Chaos got Daemonettes on Steeds, Witchhunters got I-Can't-Believe-It's-Not-Frateris-Militia Zealots... the Necrons seem like an ideal candidate for a similar little add-on unit or option, but I don't recall ever seeing something like that for them in White Dwarf or Chapter Approved. Maybe I'm just missing an issue where it was featured?
Death to metaplots!
Naked Metal - my very own hobby blog. Go on, give it a visit, don't be shy!
 
jonathan e
I don't recall such a unit appearing in White Dwarf or anything, but I have to admit to not looking very hard. I mostly trawl the old mags for WFB content so that's what sticks in the mind.
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