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In the fictional universe of Warhammer 40,000, the Necrons are a race and a playable army in the tabletop miniatures wargame. They are an ancient race of skeleton-like robots who are awakening from an aeons-long slumber and fighting to reclaim the galaxy from the younger races.
Tabletop game mechanics
Necrons are characterized by strong ranged firepower and tough armor. They are known primarily for their trademark "gauss" and "reanimation" abilities. As robots made of "living metal", many Necron units possess the ability to reassemble themselves after being slain and fight on. In addition the "gauss" weapons carried by their troops have the potential to damage vehicles, making Necron troops a legitimate threat to enemy armor. Being machines Necrons possess maximum leadership across all units but are also extremely slow in melee. Necron armies often prefer to use overwhelming fire power as opposed to melee, though they do have several units capable of it. While fragile, Necron ground vehicles possess powerful shields that boost their armor, but are lost upon being penetrated. Being soulless, the Necrons have no psykers (though they do have some "spellcaster-like" units), which makes them somewhat more vulnerable to psychic attacks.
The Necrons first appeared as usable units for Warhammer 40,000 as Necron Raiders. The rules for these were first published in White Dwarf Issue 216 towards the end of the lifespan of the second edition of Warhammer 40,000. At the time, only Necron Warriors and Scarabs were given game rules and the warriors were armed with Gauss-Flayer Guns. This was quickly followed up with an expanded army list in the following month's issue of the same magazine. The Necron Lord and Necron Destroyer were part of this slightly-expanded army list. At the time, the lord was armed with the Staff of Light while the destroyers were armed with Gauss-Cannons. The issue of White Dwarf also had the Necrons' first major appearance in a battle report in the article entitled Massacre at Sanctuary 101, a battle between the Necrons and the Sisters of Battle. This particular altercation soon made its way into the background material as one of the first times the Imperium officially encountered the Necrons. The first Necron miniatures, all metal, were also released during this time. In fact, a free Necron Warrior was included with issue 217 of White Dwarf.
In the release of the third edition of Warhammer 40,000 in 1998, the Necrons had no usable army list. The first, full-fledged Necron army list for the new edition of the game was printed in the March 1999 issue of White Dwarf. This first army list was very restrictive, with the Necrons having mostly one choice per force organization category. The Necron Lord, Necron Immortals and Necron Warriors were the only available HQ, Elites and Troops choices respectively. This early army list had two units for the Fast Attack selections, Necron Destroyers and Scarabs. The latter were different from their current counterparts in that the original Scarabs were controlled individually and were not swarms on a single base as they are today. The Necron Immortal metal miniature was released at the same time as the publication of the army list. In a later issue of White Dwarf, Games Workshop further expanded the Necron army list by providing different equipment choices (wargear) for the Necron Lord. Along with the Gaze of Flame and Scourge of Light upgrades, this was the first time that the Veil of Darkness wargear was added to the Necron Lord's available options.
The Necrons received their first, full sourcebook with the release of Codex: Necrons in August 2002. The book featured a wealth of background information expanding upon the origins of the Necron race and expanded the scope of the Warhammer 40,000 history by several million years more. A full army list was also introduced in the sourcebook, with heavily revamped rules for existing units and the introduction of new ones. New units introduced in the codex were Flayed Ones, Pariahs, Wraiths, Heavy Destroyers, the Necron Monolith and the C'tan. New miniatures were produced and released alongside the release of the codex. Necrons received their first plastic miniatures kit in the form of the Necron Warriors boxed set, which contained enough parts to make twelve Necron Warriors and three Scarab bases with four Scarabs each. The boxed set was a first for Games Workshop, as it was the first time that transparent, coloured parts were included in a boxed set along with the standard polystyrene parts. The transparent, green rods in this case were meant to be used as part of the Necrons' gauss weaponry. The Necron Destroyer model was also revamped and made into a plastic kit. Whereas the old, metal version was essentially a Necron Warrior riding a flying platform, the new Necron Destroyer plastic kit featured a Necron Immortal torso mounted and merged with a floating platform. The other miniatures released for the army were metal, such as the Flayed Ones, Immortals, Pariahs, Wraiths and the Necron Lord. Two more miniatures soon followed suit - the massive Necron Monolith, the largest miniature kit produced by Games Workshop at the time, and the Necron Destroyer Lord, a Necron Lord mounted on a Destroyer body.
Sixty million years prior to the events of the 41st Millennium, before the evolution of mankind, the Necrontyr were a flesh and blood race of great builders, learned artisans, and powerful rulers. Their homeworld was a harsh desert planet continuously bombarded with lethal radiation from their dying sun, giving their people short and painful lifespans. The conditions of their world forced the Necrontyr to advance rapidly in scientific development, discovering space flight and FTL travel far sooner than most other life in their galactic epoch. It was not long before the Necrontyr escaped the confines of their solar system and began to colonize the stars, eventually building a colossal, galaxy-spanning empire. As time passed, the Necrontyr were able to unlock many mysteries of the known universe. Their unlimited scientific progression gave rise to technologies far beyond the understanding of most races of their time period, having the ability to build structures that could relocate across continents in mere moments, vast engines of destruction that could destroy whole worlds with a single stroke of a hand, and pocket dimensions that could transverse the very fabric of reality itself.
But as advanced as the Necrontyr were, theirs was not a utopian civilization. Already a prideful people, the Necrontyr became more and more fractious as their empire grew, with many wars fought against those wishing to gain independence. Great interstellar civil wars were waged across countless star systems, as in-fighting between Necrontyr nobles escalated into battles of supremacy that could no longer be mediated. The Necrontyr's infighting became so intense that as time ground on, the Triarchs, the supposed rulers of the Empire, led by their Silent King Szarekh, in increasing desperation continued to seek a means to unify their people once more. Finally deciding that no means of self-unification could be achieved, the Triarchs believed that only the use of an external "threat" would accomplish what scientific enlightenment could not. To that end, the Necrontyr turned their covetous eyes towards a race called the Old Ones, the only race strong enough to hold the Necrons together as a common foe.
The Old Ones were a race that had evolved even earlier than the Necrontyr, but along substantially different lines. Where the Necrontyr developed purely on science and technology, leaving spirituality and mysticism in the dark annals of their history, the Old Ones embraced both science and their spirituality. In their alternate philosophies and mystic practices, the Old Ones eventually gained access to the primordial Warp, but not the Warp as it is known in the 41st Millennium. In the days of the Old Ones, the Warp was a shining parallel reality where emotions, thoughts, and even dreams were intensely reflected and molded together. Through natural fluency and masterful concentration, the Old Ones used the Warp to become a civilization of powerful psykers, with supernatural abilities far exceeding any other sentient race in the galaxy. These abilities gave the Old Ones a harmonious bond with (as well as control over) great cosmic forces, bestowing onto them the gift of immortality and near-omniscience. It is not known why the Old Ones refused to trade or even interact with the expanding Necrontyr empire at the time, however their continual refusal to share their knowledge, most especially on the secrets of immortality, would eventually garner the enmity of the short-lived Necrontyr. This simmering hatred was used as a basis by the Triarchs to wage war with the Old Ones.
To this end, all rebel dynasties were given the chance to share in the spoils of the war and be cleared of their crimes by rejoining the empire. The plan actually succeeded, and for the first time in their interstellar history, the Necrontyr were finally united. A galactic war the likes of which had never been seen before or since then erupted across the stars. It was a conflict that would last for centuries, consuming whole planets and even stars, the Necrontyr using their supremacy over science and technology, and the Old Ones their mastery of the Warp. So unimaginable and powerful were the weapons used by both sides during the war that for less developed races close enough to watch it unfold, it appeared as if the very gods themselves were fighting one another, earning it the name "The War In Heaven".
Despite the might of their incalculable warfleets, armies, and unmatched technology, the Necrontyr's defeat was a foregone conclusion, their very advantage being countered by the Old Ones' Webway, the crisscrossing network of focused psychic tunnels fashioned by the Old Ones within the Warp. The Webway granted the psykers an insurmountable advantage in stealth and speed. Battle after battle, the Necrontyr would respond with overwhelming force, but the Old Ones would simply strike without warning, win a decisive victory, and then quickly vanish without a trace back into their Webway portals. Or, if cornered beyond retreat, the forces of the Old Ones would unleash the totality of their psychic mastery and exact a heavy price on enemy armies before the Necrontyr could declare a victory. It was not long before the Triarch forces were pushed back to the far corners of the galaxy. With defeat imminent, the once-great empire was gripped by another wave of secessionist wars, fracturing their already fragile unity.
Desperate for any hope, the Necrontyr sought solutions in experimental technologies that traversed other realities and planes. It was then that the strange but immensely powerful beings calling themselves C'tan, later known as the Star Gods, approached the Necrontyr in their fateful wanderings. One of the C'tan, a being later to be known as the Deceiver, came before Szarekh, leader of the now hopeless Necrontyr, and promised that it would help them achieve unity, immortality, and ultimate victory over the Old Ones, telling the Silent King that the C'tan had also fought and been defeated by the Old Ones long ago, and were now ready for vengeance. All the C'tan required in return was for the Necrontyr to use their advanced technology to create for them great bodies that would allow the star gods to exist in the Necrontyr's reality. The Silent King and his fellow lords eagerly agreed to an alliance, and in so doing, forever doomed their race. The Triarch ordered their greatest scientists to fashion the bodies that the C'tan requested. These would be made of a nearly-indestructible metallic material called necrodermis, devised using an advanced form of rapidly self-replicating, self-repairing nanotechnology. As the Necrontyr opened portals that allowed the C'tan to enter their new necrodermis bodies, the Star Gods executed the first phase of their great betrayal. They taught the Necrontyr the secret of biotransference: the ability to transfer a mind from a flesh body to one made of the same material as the C'tan's new corporeal skin, and the desperate Necrontyr eagerly committed all their resources into building the enormous bioforges that would allow them to do so en masse.
Yet, even as the Necrontyr changed their bodies, the C'tan's final plan was revealed, as they feasted upon the race's souls, given to them with each transference. Too late did the Silent King Szarekh, now himself within a robotic body, realize that he had made a terrible mistake. As promised by the star gods, the Necrontyr were indeed immortal and unified, but they had lost their very souls in the process. Those Necrontyr leaders who had earlier allowed themselves to be consumed willingly, such as the Triarchs, were allowed to keep their sentience and personalities, but those that did not were turned into nothing more than emotionless, unthinking laborers and warriors for the new Necron race, and the leaders of the once-proud Necrontyr both rejoiced and despaired.
Together, the C'tan and the newly transformed Necrons eventually defeated the Old Ones. In their new forms, the C'tan were nigh-invulnerable and able to twist reality to their will; without fear of death and strengthened by machine bodies, the Necrons could now absorb any loss of military force as their metal legions marched across countless battlefields. Eventually, even the mighty Webway, the final refuge of the Old Ones, was breached by the deathless Necrons. This forced the surviving Old Ones to seed planets with species capable of helping them to fight the C'tan. The most prominent of the races they had created were the early Orks, designed to be the very epitome of the fury of life itself; ever growing, ever wanting to fight for its existence. However, even these ferocious creatures could only slow the tide of the oncoming Necrons, so the Old Ones created a race more equal to their image, the first Eldar. Yet still, this was not enough. Fortunately, there was another event that occurred in the Old Ones' favor: the rebellion of the Necrons against the Star Gods.
As the Old Ones were nearing defeat, the C'tan began to celebrate their victory to come, and that was when the Silent King used his command protocols over his people to turn and strike at all the C'Tan simultaneously. While feinting deference and gratitude for many decades, Szarekh had been secretly planning to overthrow the treacherous otherworldly beings, waiting for the moment they would be most vulnerable. Then, in a succession of climactic battles at the cost of billions of converted lives, the Necrons finally slew their own gods. Of course, the C'tan could not truly be "killed" in the traditional sense, so using his people's most advanced technologies, Silent King Szarekh ordered that all the C'Tan were to be shattered into hundreds of pieces and imprisoned in multi-dimensional stasis cells called Tesseract Vaults, as revenge for what they had done to his people. Though successful, the rebellion inflicted catastrophic casualties on the Necrons. The Silent King realized that in their weakened state the Necrons would be unable to defeat the combined forces of the Eldar, the Orks, and the remaining Old Ones. As the Eldar-led counterattacks fiercely increased, the Silent King and the Triarchs decided upon a bold plan. The Necrons would retreat back into their ancient homeworlds, now called Tombworlds, where the Silent King's people would stay in stasis and slumber deep within highly fortified subterranean chambers until a time when the galaxy would be once more ripe for reclamation. For Szarekh knew that, as with all flesh and blood civilizations, the Old Ones would soon die off, and the Eldar and their ilk could not last forever. Thus, as the Eldar assumed the mantle of guardianship against the return of the Necrons from the last of the Old Ones, the Necrons resolved to wait out countless millennia for the day they would rise again. The Silent King Szarekh, himself, would take a ship and depart the galaxy to places unknown.
Millions of years later, in the 41st millennium, the Eldar have fallen and long-dead Necron beacons begin to flash back online (in some cases due to human mishandling), ancient reanimation protocols have started to cycle through hundreds of Tombworlds, and the Necrons have finally started to wake. However, due to equipment malfunctions, some protocols have stalled or never triggered. In many cases, the programs designed to keep the Necron personalities intact have failed due to the long eons of wear and tear, creating ranks of insane destructive versions of the standard Necrons. Only the aristocracy, who were given more robust care upon entombment, survived with their minds intact. As the Necron Lords stir to wakefulness and the Silent King finally makes his way back to the galaxy, Necron armies erupt out of the barren earth of their worlds to a galaxy once more rich with life and now ripe for the reaping.
At the height of their empire, the Necrontyr civilization was composed of an alliance of powerful autocratic dynasties. Each dynasty was virtually self-sufficient and autonomous, made up of planetary systems that were each ruled by a Necrontyr lord, each planetary system having a capital world called a Crownworld. A Phaeron was a Necrontyr overlord that ruled over an entire dynasty, encompassing dozens or hundreds of lords and their systems. The collective planetary systems of a single dynasty was called a Crown Cluster. Each dynasty was capable of fielding fleets of warships and raising armies numbering in the tens to hundreds of millions, each possessing enough economic and military power to be a small empire in its own right.
Rulership of all the Phaerons fell to the Triarchy, a council of two of the most powerful overlords and a central figure called the Silent King. The last of the Silent Kings was Szarekh. This governmental system was eventually carried over to the Necrons, as the house lords retained enough self-identity to effectively rule their mindless people, and the Phaeron possessed control protocols over all the lesser aristocrats, and the Silent King in turn controlled all the other Phaerons. As it was in the time of the Necrontyr, the Triarchy's commands were enforced by a powerful cadre composed of both cunning diplomats and unrelenting elite guards collectively called the Triarch Praetorians. These still served to administer to Necron overlords who stepped outside their authority and openly disobeyed the Triarchy, though even they could not prevent the eruption of the First Secessionist Wars.
Under the necron system, all lords follow without question their overlords, who adhered completely to the will of the Silent King. The Crownworlds, though still called such by their necron populations, became known as Tombworlds by other races; places where the necrons had retreated deep within to await the time when the Eldar and their allies no longer patrolled the galaxy.
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- "Necron Rules". White Dwarf. Games Workshop. 217: 32–34. February 1998.
- "A Desperate Mission - Scenario: Imperial Guard vs. Necrons". White Dwarf. Games Workshop. 217: 35–36. February 1998.
- "Necron Onslaught". White Dwarf. Games Workshop. 218: 24–27. March 1998.
- "The Valley of Death - Necrons Background". White Dwarf. Games Workshop. 218: 73. March 1998.
- "Massacre at Sanctuary 101 - Battle Report: Sisters of Battle vs. Necrons". White Dwarf. Games Workshop. 218: 28–37. March 1998.
- "New Releases - Necrons". White Dwarf. Games Workshop. 218: 122–123. March 1998.
- "New Releases - Necrons". White Dwarf. Games Workshop. 230: 114. March 1999.
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- "Index Xenos: Resurgent Evil - The awakening of the Necrontyr". White Dwarf (UK ed.). Games Workshop. 271. August 2002.
- Chambers, Andy; Haines, Pete; McNeill, Graham; Hoare, Andy (2002). Codex: Necrons (3rd ed.). Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 1-84154-190-7.
- "Chapter Approved: Codex: Necrons designers' notes". White Dwarf (UK ed.). Games Workshop. 271. August 2002.
- "Necron Awakening: A look at the Warhammer 40,000 Necron miniatures released this month". White Dwarf (UK ed.). Games Workshop. 271. August 2002.
- "Turn One: New Releases - Necrons". White Dwarf (US) (US ed.). Games Workshop. 271: 4. August 2002.
-  @ the Unofficial Warhammer 40,000 Encyclopedia