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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?
Warhammer transmissions at Malediction Games

OG sixth edition: 20 / 6 / 21
comeback tour: 5 / 0 / 4
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!
Naked Metal - my very own hobby blog. Go on, give it a visit, don't be shy!
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
Warhammer transmissions at Malediction Games

OG sixth edition: 20 / 6 / 21
comeback tour: 5 / 0 / 4
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!
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