Happy Monday, Scummers! Do you ever feel like your gang is missing something? Maybe you’ve lost a few fighters over the course of your campaign, or one of your opponents lucked into some serious weaponry, and you’re lagging behind. Fear not, for there’s a quick and easy way to get caught up: Alliances. This week, we’re kicking off a multi-part series where we do a deep dive into one of the most controversial and powerful aspects of our favorite game.
Previously the domain of those mad kit-bashers and conversion artists, the optional rules for Alliances were mostly a browsed-past novelty to players and Arbitrators alike. Now, with spiffy new official models for the Mercator Sanguis and the introduction of Strong Alliances in House of Chains, more players are becoming interested in dabbling in the system. There’s a ton of depth to these rules, both on the narrative and gameplay side, so we’re going to be devoting a decent amount of time to Alliances. For today, let’s drill in and figure out how the whole thing works!
Allies: An Introduction
Gangs and Houses aren’t the only organizations in the Underhive. There are mercantile guilds, criminal enterprises, and scions of wealthy nobility, all with agendas and goals. Occasionally, these goals can temporarily align with those of a common street-level gang, and a mutual understanding can be struck.
Entering an Alliance
On their own, entering into an Alliance is pretty straight forward – just do it! Assuming they haven’t been restricted by an Arbitrator, players may start off a campaign in an alliance of their choice or sign on to one before the beginning of any game. If the alliance is broken (either willingly or unwillingly), though, the player will be restricted from entering into another or reforming the failed compact until at least the next campaign phase. These guys are the big leagues, and they require dedication!
Alternately, in a Law and Misrule Campaign, certain Rackets will automatically form an alliance with a designated guild when gained. These alliances aren’t automatically broken if the player loses control over the racket, but will provide the guaranteed option to field that faction’s in-game retinue of Guild Representatives whenever desired. These rackets are of lesser use to players already in a different alliance or of the wrong alignment in the campaign (Guilders won’t work with Outlaws, go figure!), but in that case a consolation prize of free Hive Scum and Bounty Hunters helps lessen the embarrassment.
We’d assumed for the longest time that it was all an excuse to kit-bash up some insane conversions and get as close to the rad concept art as our bits boxes would allow, but it turns out that all of these factions bring some potentially game-changing buffs to the battlefield, and some occasionally crippling penalties when you don’t follow their lead!
When they’re happy, we’re happy. All Alliances offer a blanket bonus to their associated gang, provided that they’ve been following the rules and obeying orders. Certain Alliances grant easier access to rare Xenos weaponry, offer bonus credits for every scenario won, or even full re-rolls on all Lasting Injury rolls! Depending on a player’s gang and desired playstyle, and especially considering that a campaign can be started with an Alliance already active, narratively minded players can even lean in and build their gangs around these buffs, fully intending to claim each victory in the name of their eternally beloved patron.
Those abilities are only part of the carrot for most players, as Alliances can also allow their own representatives to take part in a battle as a sort of Retinue. These extra fighters provide the muscle and guile needed to advance the alliance’s interests in addition to a gang’s usual complement of crew (certain restrictions apply, for some). Functioning as their own subgang, these retinues bring extremely on-brand fighters with their own leaders, champions, and unique abilities. The Flamer-toting Pyromagir of the Promethium Guild is a terror in his own right, but when the retinue uses their ability to hit the lights and cause the Pitch Black rule? Now we’re talkin’!
- It’s worth mentioning that every one of these Retinues are completely free, and add nothing to the crew rating of a gang fielding them, despite potentially allowing up to four extra fighters on the table. Depending on the scenario, this can sometimes result in one player having twice the models as their opponent, in a manner that doesn’t even trigger any Underdog Bonuses in accordance with Rules as Written. It is an issue.
We’ve mentioned the carrot, now it’s time for the stick. As willing servants to the Bigger Picture, every Alliance comes complete with their own quirks and stipulations. While allied, gangs are completely forbidden from taking advantage of Sub-Plots and from rolling on the House Favors table, as their new benefactors frown on their wards having split loyalties. Gangs lose a measure of free will in situations where they’d elsewise be allowed to choose a scenario, instead being compelled into guarding a VIP on an Escort Mission or babysitting a loot-filled Caravan under the watchful supervision of a mandatory allied retinue.
This is in addition to each Alliance’s unique drawback, which ranges from a minor credit tithe after a victory, to their opponents gaining a free Bounty Hunter each game to use against them. These downsides can be severe, but typically the good heavily makes up for the bad. Besides, if you’re feeling cheeky, you can always just tell ‘em to get stuffed and Test the Alliance instead!
Saying no to your superiors can have hefty consequences, especially if you intend to make a habit of it. Choosing to disregard a drawback, or declining the (secretly not very) optional assistance of a retinue in a chosen-on-your-behalf scenario, may trigger a d6 roll on the Testing the Alliance Table.
Initially, the odds are in a player’s favor that they’ll merely let it slide with no effect. On a 5+, however, for the gang’s next battle all Benefits are shut off, leaving only the Drawbacks active as a harsh lesson on disobedience. Further tests become increasingly difficult, as players add 1 to their rolls for each time they’ve tested before in that cycle. At this point as well, the Ally may just up and leave, breaking the Alliance immediately and permanently on a 7+.
The Fixer Hanger-On can provide a small buffer, subtracting 2 from Alliance Test rolls, making them a wise investment for gangs willing to play fast and loose with the terms of their contract. In general, though, it’s probably better to just follow the rules – surely the Alliance has your safety and best interests in mind!
If your gang has a Strong Alliance with a given sub-faction, the first test of a cycle is automatically passed. This currently only applies to Goliaths when allied to the Slave Guild, the Narco Lords, or House Greim, but we’d expect each gang to gain their own preferred trio as the rest of the House of Chains-style books come out.
Between Benefits, Drawbacks, and Retinues, there’s just way too much to cover with Alliances in a way that we’d be able to do ‘em justice in a single article. We’ll be covering each of these factions in depth in upcoming articles and linking back through here soon. For the first two, at least; it’s going to be a while for the Noble Houses to fill up!
The Guilders are what you’d get if you crossed a corporation with a civic organization like a police force. They own their trade, and they have the right to permanently neutralize anyone who interferes with it. If you’ll looking to form a bond with the Merchant Guilds, check out our full breakdown of all six factions Right Here!
The Water Guild (Mercator Nautica)
- Water, just like in real life, is absolutely essential for life on Necromunda. The Guilders of the Mercator Nautica control every drop of water inside a hive from the tip of the Spire to the depths of the Underhive. In some poorly-supplied badzone settlements, the Water Guild represents continued life, and a late caravan can spell doom for the poor souls who live there.
The Promethium Guild (Mercator Pyros)
- The Promethium Guild holds power over all combustible liquids on Necromunda. If it is a fuel source, then it has been delivered and installed by the Mercator Pyros. The Pyre Makers are extremely jealous of their dominion over power and frequently enter into conflict with the Electro Guild (who are not represented in-game). The Guilders of the Promethium Guild are almost religious in their worship of fire and flame, and even consider the eternal flame to be an aspect of the God-Emperor of Mankind.
The Corpse Guild (Mercator Pallidus)
- Most Necromundans get only one meal their entire lives: corpse starch. Corpse starch is reclaimed protein that has been reconstituted into something that doesn’t hint at its origins. Those origins, of course, are the bodies of fellow hivers. Without the Corpse Guild, disease would run rife through the hives, as millions die each day. Due to their grisly task, many in the Underhive view the Corpse Guild with extreme levels of suspicion and fear.
The Slave Guild (Mercator Sanguis)
- If you haven’t yet figured it out, life really sucks on Necromunda. Most of the population is born into bondage to one house or another, and the Slave Guild is responsible for tracking, buying and selling these unfortunate souls. Slavers also run the majority of fighting pits and gambling from their network of gladiatorial arenas. A Slave Guild entourage always carries plenty of chains and shackles to serve as a bleak reminder to hivers of what will happen if they step out of line.
The Guild of Coin (Mercator Gelt)
- The Guild of Coin functions as Necromunda’s Department of Transportation. They maintain, traverse, and police the roads and gates between levels of the hives and even the hives themselves. Most Necromundans never leave the level they are born on, and the Guild of Coin is there to make sure that if they do, they’re paying for it.
The Iron Guild (Mercator Munda)
- The House of Necromunda generally don’t get along, so they need a go-between when it comes to arms and raw materials trading. In steps the Iron Guild. Additionally, Iron Guilders often step into the wastes or into collapsed domes in search of raw materials that they can stake a claim on. They’ll then sell that claim to one of the more industrious Houses, like Goliath or Orlock. Their position as the middle-men of Necromunda is often dangerous, though, and Iron Guilders walk the Underhive heavily armed.
Necromunda is nominally a planet ruled by Imperial Law, but those remits fall short in many parts of the Underhive. There are any number of criminal enterprises ingrained within the hives, and less-scrupulous gangs will quickly make alliances within the dark underside of Necromunda.
- The cold in their namesake is, of course, the cold of the void. Cold Traders are off-world smugglers who deal in alien and heretical technology. Sneaking such contraband past the many layers of bureaucratic impediments is an expensive and difficult endeavor, but such is the appetite for exotic tech. Some Cold Traders exclusively supply goods to the noble families of the Spire, but many are more than willing to sell their goods in the Underhive, where there are more, and more desperate, customers.
- Imperial Society is built atop a mind-numbingly bureaucracy with more than 10,000 years of unbroken tradition. Titles and ancestry carry with them immense power and influence in such a society. Imperial Imposters are the identity thieves of Necromunda, creating entire noble houses out of thin air, and then stealing as much as they can while their disguise is still working. Identity theft, counterfeiting, and forgeries are the work of such recidivists, and their interests are rooted deep within the Underhive. Also, Imperial Imposters have one of the coolest allies: the Master Charlatan. Rare to see one in action, but when you do, you won’t soon forget it.
- The Adeptus Mechanicus is extremely strict about the production of goods on Necromunda. Almost all goods are the product of Standard Template Construct (STC) printouts, and are considered holy relics by the church of the Omnissiah. Still, some criminals wish to produce their goods away from the watchful eyes of the techpriests, and do so with stolen or copied STC Archprints. These rogue manufactorums supply those who cannot match their punishing quotas, or those who are too desperate to care where their gear comes from.
- Drugs, chems, and stimms are all important parts of life on Necromunda. But the Guilds set a high price on them, and there are many who would rather not pay Guilder tithes. Additionally, while stimms and chems are common in Necromunda, there are still dangerous and illegal substances traded in Black Markets all throughout the hives. In the dark spaces between the writ of Clan House and Guild, Narco Lords build their empires of violence, fear, and drugs.
- Not all Noble Houses started out noble, and not all Noble houses stay noble. The Fallen Houses are scions of outcast nobility, vying to reclaim their spot amongst Necromunda’s elite. They carry with them a great hatred and bitterness towards the Merchant Guilds and Imperial House, and will stop at nothing to regain their “rightful” spot in Necromunda’s pecking order. In game terms, an alliance with a Fallen House will give a gang use of a Rebel Lord: a truly fearful and potnt warrior.
- If you know anything about the Imperium, then you know it is precariously balanced on the backs of billions and billions of sacrificed psykers. Obviously, these individuals with psychic abilities are intensely regulated. On Necromunda, there are some individuals who do trade in the most dangerous and terrifying arena of them all: untrained, raw psykers. There is no greater offense on Necromunda than trafficking in psykers and psychic foci, so you can imagine that the criminals who do engage in such business are hard men and women indeed. A gang allied with the Psi-Syndica will have mysterious and terrible powers at their disposal, to the detriment of their enemies.
As of the writing of this article, in May of 2020, there is only one noble house to ally with. House Greim was outlined in the House of Chains book, and we expect that in each gang-specific book that we see in the future we will see more and more of the noble houses of Necromunda.
- House Greim specialize in providing private security and personal armies to the obscenely rich. Members of House Greim style themselves after military officers, though no child of such a noble house would ever deign to set foot upon a real battlefield. Still, House Greim has excellent tactical minds within their ranks, and these sons and daughters of Greim will sell their abilities to Underhive gangs, if the gang can afford it…
Arbitrators: Balance Concerns
When you consider how mutable and prone to constant modification a typical Necromunda campaign already is, it’s especially telling that the game’s designers have made sure to put disclaimers in each book, stressing that all of these rules are completely optional. They’re not wrong to do so! Alliances are a load of fun, and bring even more variety to the table, but they’re not a system to be implemented lightly.
In all honesty, there’s plenty of valid reasons why some Arbitrators may decide to eschew Alliances entirely. Free buffs and bonuses are always going to contribute to a massive power spike across an entire campaign, even if every player chooses to enter into one. Some of the choices offer outsized bonuses to their gangs and provide devastating retinues, with drawbacks that are laughably minor. Games drag on longer with model counts ballooning to 150-200% the intended crew size of a scenario.
And of course, provided a player meets whatever meager requirements the Alliance calls for, all this is completely free, both in credits and gang ratings. Put two identical gangs in a fight, and then swap out a juve on one side for two champions and two Ogryns, and that other gang is going to have a real bad time.
There’s a discussion in the community that having an Alliance should incur a raised Gang Rating while active, in order to at least allow those other gangs to invoke Underdog Bonuses when fighting crews with extra abilities and hordes of bonus dudes. We think that there’s some merit to this idea, and we’ll be exploring a variation of this when we get into the individual factions and figure out what they’re worth, but we’re not sure that this is the full solution.
Fellow Arbitrators, help us out here! If you’ve been using Alliances in your campaign, either straight-up or with some modifications let us know how it’s been working out for you and your group. Hit us up with your stories, or if you’ve figured out some tweaks to make it all flow a bit more smoothly!
There’s no conclusion because we’re not done with Alliances yet, Scummers! This is just the first of five (wait five?!) articles on what we feel is one of the most compelling aspects of campaign play in Necromunda. Next week, we are going on a deep dive into the Merchant Guild alliances. We’ll explore their benefits, drawbacks, and, of course, look long and hard at their retinues.
Did you enjoy this article? Have questions? Did we miss anything? We want to hear about it! Drop us a line over at firstname.lastname@example.org! We’ll see you next week, Scummers, and don’t forget to check your six!