Hammer of Math: Command Protocols

This week’s Hammer of Math takes a look at a completely new mechanic within the Necron codex: Command Protocols.

When Space Marines got their massive monofaction boost in the form of Combat Doctrines back in September 2019, it was only a matter of time before other factions would follow suit (even if they didn’t technically have the ability to sopu to begin with). With the release of their new Codex, Necrons now have access to a series of turn-wide bonuses called Command Protocols. These rules require that every unit from the army (excluding DYNASTIC AGENT, C’TAN SHARD, and UNALIGNED units) be from the same dynasty and that a NOBLE unit be the WARLORD. After deployment but before determining turn order, the Necron player secretly chooses which protocol will be active for their army during each battle round of the game, and every round must use a different protocol. At the start of each round the Necron player will select one of two directives from the active protocol to take effect and, if a NOBLE unit is on the battlefield, every eligible unit within 6″ of a NECRON CHARACTER (not near C’TAN SHARD models, sorry) will gain the benefits of that particular directive.

In terms of eligibility every NECRON unit outside of C’TAN SHARDS has the Command Protocols ability. Every Dynastic Code also has a particular protocol for which can both directives will be active for that dynasty on the battle round its active. For example Nihilakh allows units to gain the benefits of both Light Cover and Defensible Terrain when the Protocol of the Eternal Guardian is active. Custom dynastic codes do not have this ability to use both directives at once.

Today we’ll be diving into the math behind these protocols and how they can be put to use in-game.

Rockfish's Necrons
Rockfish’s Necrons

Protocol of the Eternal Guardian (Nihilakh)

Directive 1: If the unit does not make a Normal Move, Advance, or Fall Back that battle round then it receives the benefit of Light Cover, getting a +1 to its saving throws. Because of when Protocols are chosen you won’t know if you’re going first or second when you choose them, but you’ll at least be able to decide which half is active.

Directive 2: The unit gains the benefits of Defensible Terrain (even if it’s not INFANTRY), allowing it to Hold Steady (Overwatch on 5+) or Set to Defend (+1 to hit in melee but no Overwatch) when the target of a charge.

This is a really, really odd rule. Directive 1 specifically gates the benefit behind not moving in that particular round, which means that there’s a huge benefit if the Necron player goes second since they will not have made any movement in that round (as opposed to the player’s previous turn). Note that players who choose the Relentlessly Expansionist custom Dynastic Code can lose the benefit of Directive 1 even if they do go second, as the Normal Move occurs in the battle round itself.

Mathematically the nature of these modifiers depends on the original roll; the worse the target number the more impactful the change of a modifier. Depending on the opponent it may be advantageous to use this protocol in later rounds when you either expect to be charged or you’re facing Space Marines who may have weighted the majority of their attacks to a particular doctrine.

Roll Initial Probability -1 Modifier Probability Delta +1 Modifier Probability Delta
2+ 83% 67% -20% 83% +0%
3+ 67% 50% -25% 83% +25%
4+ 50% 33% -33% 67% +33%
5+ 33% 17% -50% 50% +50%
6+ 17% 0% -100% 33% +100%

Protocol of the Sudden Storm (Nephrekh)

Directive 1: Add 1″ to the Move characteristic of models in the unit.

Directive 2: Units can perform actions and still make attacks with ranged weapons.

The benefits of this protocol are straightforward, and the bonus to movement can apply to the bonus Normal Move allowed to Relentlessly Expansionist Dynastic Codes. This means that units with a Move characteristic of 5″ (such as Necron Warriors) will be able to move the full amount permitted by the code, which allows for a Normal Move of “up to” six inches but is otherwise limited to the Movement characteristic of the unit. The bonus to movement makes this protocol particularly useful in the first round when you may want to position your units aggressively.

Protocol of the Vengeful Stars (Mephrit)

Directive 1: Ranged attacks with an unmodified wound roll of 6 improve the Armour Penetration characteristic of the attack by 1.

Directive 2: Ranged attacks made against targets within half range deny the benefits of cover to the saving throw of the attack.

This is a highly situational protocol that depends on a large number of external factors. The impact of Directive 1 depends on the Toughness characteristic of the target, as the probability that the armor save is modified is a function of how many wound roll results will force a save. For example a S4 attack against a T4 hit will modify the Save roll 33% of the time, while against a T5 target the Save roll will be modified 50% of the time. Thanks to Reddit user xachariah for catching an error in these calculations previously. In terms of actual impact a Necron Warrior firing a gauss flayer will wound a Space Marine 11% more often while the improvement is 18% against a Gravis unit. While the individual probability is low, these numbers can add up with the right volume of fire. Directive 2 requires that the attacking unit be positioned close enough to get half range and also be in an environment full of Light Cover or against an opponent which receives Light Cover from an ability (such as Raven Guard). Mephrit in particular has several synergistic effects (an additional 3″ range, improved AP against targets within half range) which make this protocol more useful.

Protocol of the Hungry Void (Novokh)

Directive 1: Melee attacks with an unmodified wound roll of 6 improve the Armour Penetration characteristic of the attack by 1.

Directive 2: Add 1 to the Strength characteristic of melee attacks if the unit made a charge move, was charged, or performed a Heroic Intervention that turn.

The impact of Directive 1 is identical to the previous protocol only for melee. Directive 2 is more controllable and has the benefit of working outside of when the unit is charged. Novokh synergizes with this protocol very well as they are more likely to get a charge off and also gains a bonus to the Armour Penetration of attacks when they charge, were charged, or perform a Heroic Intervention. The best time (if ever) to use this protocol depends on the composition of your army and the likelihood of predicting when a charge will occur.

Protocol of the Undying Legions (Szarekhan)

Directive 1: Each time a unit uses Living Metal every model in the unit regains 1 additional wound.

Directive 2: Each time a unit makes a Reanimation Protocols roll you can re-roll one of the dice.

We covered the impact of this protocol on reanimation protocols in a previous article, but the bottom line is that only being able to re-roll a single die means that the impact of Directive 2 is minimal at best (only one die has a 55% chance of being successful instead of the baseline 33% chance) and makes it more impactful for larger blocks of single wound models. Whether or not to use Directive 1 depends on the level of damage your units have taken, but the fact that this decision must be made at the beginning of the round poses challenges if the Necron player goes second. Generally this is not a protocol you would want to pick on the first turn.

Protocol of the Conquering Tyrant (Sautekh)

Directive 1: Add 3″ to the range of aura abilities (maximum 12″) and increase the range of Lord’s WillMy Will Be Done, and Rites of Reanimation by 3″ (maximum 12″).

Directive 2: Units are eligible to Fall Back and shoot, but with a -1 penalty to the attack’s hit roll.

Directive 1 primarily applies to CHARACTER units as well as Canoptek Reanimators (which aren’t good), Lychguard, Flayed Ones, and The Silent King. Directive 2 obviously requires that your units be in melee which may not be desirable in the first place. Properly positioned with units which have access to Relentless March it can be used to increase the area of effect for Relentlessly Expansionist codes who make a Normal Move at the beginning of the first round, allowing players to save Protocol of the Sudden Storm for a later round.

Credit: ZuultheCat

Command Protocol Order

Establishing an ideal order for every situation is impossible due to the influence of the battlefield, mission, and opposing army. It’s unlikely that a player facing T’au will be as concerned about melee as one facing White Scars. There are a few guidelines that we can establish.

  • On a board with sufficient cover and LOS blocking terrain a player may want to save Protocol of the Eternal Guardian for later turns in which there’s a chance of being charged or having models out in the open.
  • Relentlessly Expansionist armies may want to use Protocol of the Sudden Storm in the first round to take full advantage of the 6″ allowance in the bonus Normal Move.
  • Relentlessly Expansionist armies could alternatively use Protocol of the Conquering Tyrant to expand the radius of units with Relentless March to affect more models for the bonus move, saving Protocol of the Sudden Storm for a later round.
  • Against aggressive armies that are likely to charge in a particular turn the player may want to use Protocol of the Eternal Guardian to assist with Overwatch (particularly with Canoptek Doomstalkers and Sentinel Construct) followed by Protocol of the Conquering Tyrant to Fall Back and shoot.
  • The limited bonus to Reanimation Protocols from Protocol of the Undying Legions makes it more useful to apply it on later rounds when the bonus to Living Metal may be more applicable.
  • Protocol of the Vengeful Stars and Protocol of the Hungry Void are more situational, but the bonus to the Strength characteristic of attacks makes the latter protocol very effective for aggressive armies with a melee component.

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