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Shorehammer Report: “Mystery of the Necrons”

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The Skitarii of Abnightus fight the Necrons on a burning refinery tower during a playtest of “The Mystery of the Necrons.”

“The Mystery of the Necrons” is one of eight narrative games that the Corvus Cluster is hosting at the Shorehammer Convention in Ocean City, Md., Nov. 21-24.

These narrative hames are being offered as an option for attendees who have a few hours to kill during the convention and want something more than a pickup game to play.

Each narrative game is two to three hours long, and each is a self-contained story of a “historical” event in the Corvus Cluster, a five-year-old narrative campaign run by the Wednesday Night Gamers of Alexandria (Va.).

Players will get a short background of the battle, all the characters and charts they need, and a quick lesson in the rules (they’re very easy). Then they will influence history in a quick, easy-to-play but tactically challenging fight with fellow Shorehammer attendees—a fight that will actually affect the future of the campaign.

The Scenario

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In “the Mystery of the Necrons,” players will command Mechanicus or xeno forces in a battle that may determine the fate of the planet Tophet.

On the industrial world of Tophet, the Necrons have awaken from their underground tombs and have invaded the surface. The xenos re slowly winning the war, but the Planetary Defense Force (PDF) is putting up a fierce fight, hoping against hope that their calls for rescue have been heard by Imperial authorities—and that help is on the way.

As the war on Tophet rages, a mysterious Adeptus Mechanicus vessel arrives in orbit and releases a number of shuttles that descend to the surface.

The shuttles contain a Skitarii detachment led by Abnightus, a mysteriously independent genetor who is studying the Necron species. In fact, he created the threat when he visited the quarantined world of Stigmata and, in prodding about the planet’s ancient xeno ruins, triggered the defenses of the Necrons asleep underground.

The Necrons have now awoken, and they are beginning to seize Imperial worlds that once belonged to their long-silent empire.

Abnightus cares little for the fate of Tophet. He seeks knowledge about Necron technology. He knows that damaged or destroyed Necron warriors and vehicles “phase out”—using some form of teleportation—to prevent their technology from falling into the hands of lesser species, but the Tech Priest believes that no technology is infallible.

Statistically, some piece of Necron technology will suffer damage that results in a malfunction of the “phase out” technology. The Tech Priest is on Tophet to take advantage of such a malfunction.

After several weeks, his hopes are proven correct. A Tomb Blade crashes in “no man’s land,” and its wreckage remains on the field. This comes to the attention of Abnightus, who rushes immediately to the scene. The Necrons, of course, have no intention of allowing a human to gain access to their secrets.

Playtesting

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The initial stages of the game table’s construction. Shhh! The big reveal will be at Shorehammer.

The original plan for this scenario did not work. The battle was supposed to begin with Abnightus in control of the Tomb Blade, with the Necrons seeking to stop him from crossing the battlefield and boarding his prize on a shuttle.

Alas, the first playtest revealed that there were no tactics at play. The Necrons fired; the Skitarii advanced, dying as they shielded the transport carrying the xeno vehicle across the table.

Victory depended solely on how well the Necrons shot. Boring.

Well, that wouldn’t work. A fun scenario requires players to make tactical decisions—and to be rewarded for good tactics. So, a change of plan was in order.

Subsequent playtests put each side on opposite sides of the table, with the wreckage in the center. Although it was possible to rush to the objective and drag it away, it was problematic. If you’re dragging away the wreckage, you’re not shooting . . . but the other side is.

This revised scenario has resulted in some interesting battles. One side rushes the wreckage, screens the salvage crew, and wins with little troops remaining. Both sides seek to seize high ground, and weaken the other side before grabbing the objective at the last minute. In one instance, both sides went for the kill—and both withdrew with heavy casualties (two failed Morale Checks).

The scenario is now ready. There are many tactical options for the players, which is exactly what is needed for a vibrant, exciting game.

Oh, by the way, the rules will be Shadow War: Armageddon. I find the dynamics more “realistic” than Kill Team, and players will know how to play within minutes of starting.

Terrain Board

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To improve the look of the table, the foundations of the building will be “sunk” into the board. To achieve this effect, an outline of each building’s base was cut out of a thin layer of foam that was glued to the table. A little rubble will hide any seams.

The Corvus Cluster promised a dedicated, highly detailed board for these narrative games. So, there’s been an inordinate amount of work been put into building the %=&*^#*# table.

(Not that I really mind. The attendees of Shorehammer are great, and it’s exciting to offer something new for them.)

I’ve included two photos from early in the process. (Don’t want to give too much away.) But, as these games will be skirmish games (10-12 figs a player), there are going to be a lot of details on the board. (Look for the Mutant Wanted posters.)

A few details might be interesting.

• As the board must be carried in a SUV, it’s been built in two parts. But I hope to hid the central seam with a “dry stream” of gravel, bits of rubble, buildings, and other little tricks, so the table looks like a single 4-foot-by-5-foot battlefield.

• A lot of small LED lights have been purchased to add some lighting effects. In the Necron scenario, we’ll have flashing welding lights, burning fires, and maybe some glowing Necron monoliths.

• For storage purposes, the taller buildings can’t be built into the table. But I’ve a cunning plan. I’ve put shallow indentations into the table surface so the building bases can be lowered into the table, and any small flaws along the edges hidden with rubble. This should, hopefully, make things look a bit more realistic.

The goal is to provide a truly detailed game table—one that’ll be a joy to play on. It’s an ambitious undertaking, but it’s what I want to share with the Shorehammer crowd. They were the best part of last year’s show.

The Combatants

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The Necron lord known as Netocris.

What’s to say? It’s Necrons versus Adeptus Mechanicus.

But, wait, this is a narrative game. It’s not just a scenario to play. It’s a story, and the characters are important.

On one side, we have Abnightus. He’s a cold, analytical protagonist who is determined to seize xeno technology at any price. If Tophet falls, that is simply an unfortunate detail.

The Tech Priest is a powerhouse of a character, with all manner of weapons and powerful defenses. He is supported by his expendable Skitarri, armed with all manner of arc and galvanic rifles, and a small, more offensive detachment: the Deathwatch.

The xenos are led by a powerful Necron Lord, Netocris, who loathes inferior species and views the attempt to seize the Tomb Blade as an affront. He is cunning, and he is even more fanatical than Abnightus in his determination to take possession of the Tomb Blade.

He leads a party of Immortals, warriors, and other xeno horrors to deal with Abnightus.  His force boasts a lot of firepower, but a handful of Lychguard provides a heavy counterpunch.

Now some background

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Some of the buildings being constructed for the scenario.

The world of Tophet first came to the attention of the Corvus Cluster citizenry when rumors spread that the all communications with the planet had ceased some months ago. What added fuel to those rumors was when the industrial planet was included as part of the Dryilian Quarantine Zone, an area of space where all Imperial shipping was forbidden to enter.

Why the quarantine zone exists hasn’t been explained by Imperial authorities. But some know the truth: Two years earlier, Abnightus visited the world of Stigmata, a world quarantined by the Ordo Xenos centuries earlier. In violating that quarantine, the Tech Priest woke the Necrons from a 60-million-year sleep.

With military forces spread thin, Imperial authorities are leaving the Necrons alone, hoping that they’ll awaken slowly and allow the Imperium time to settle with more immediate threats.

That may not happen. The Necron threat became more worrisome when an Imperial warship, Litany of Hate, reported spotting a mysterious xeno ship on the edges of the quarantine zone. The unidentified vessel soon disappeared—in the direction of Tophet.

There has been some effort to discover the fate of the world. But the Necrons have used their technology to cut off communications with the rest of the Imperium, so no military assistance has yet been sent to the beleaguered world. (There have been some attempts by the Imperial Navy to check on the silent world, but none of the ships came back.)

How Abnightus found out about Tophet’s military situation remains unclear, but the Adeptus Mechanicus don’t share all its technology with the Imperium.

Bottom line: The Necrons actually are still relatively weak as they continue to “wake up,” and they’ve bitten off more than they can chew in invading Tophet. While their technology is overwhelming, the PDF forces on Tophet are far more numerous—and they are putting up a good fight.

What Next?

Will the Tophet hold? Will the Imperium ever send help? Will the Necrons conquer the world—or be repulsed?

I can’t say. The Corvus Cluster is a five-year-old narrative campaign where things take on a life of their own. Someone in my club may decide they want to send their army to Tophet. Or the world may be ignored as we fight in other military theaters.

One thing I am certain of. The fate of Tophet will be affected by the small skirmish involving Abnightus. If he is successful in deciphering the Necron technology, it will aid the Imperial defenses against the xeno threat.

If Lord Netocris wins the day, it’s possible that Tophet will fall, and some other world will be next in line for conquest.

This is  for the players at Shorehammer to decide.—TheGM

Click here to visit the Shorehammer Convention website.

Click here to go directly to the Corvus Cluster’s narrative games at Shorehammer.

The Corvus Cluster is a Warhammer 40K blog documenting our gaming adventures in the fantastical sci-fi universe of Games Workshop.

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