Scummers, we’ve spent entirely too much time buried in our rulebooks as we’ve worked on this column, and we’ve come to an shocking conclusion: Necromunda is not a perfectly written game. That’s alright and that’s okay, because this week we’re talking about House Rules!
While Necromunda is undoubtedly fun, engaging, and most importantly, unpredictable, there are some significant holes in its rules writing and balance. This labyrinthine sprawl of mechanics and interactions is absolutely part of the overall charm, but when you’re dealing with over 700 pages of rules (so far) it’s almost inevitable that some issues will slip through here and there.
Fortunately, none of these issues are game-breaking, and Necromunda players come from a long and proud tradition of tinkering with the game itself! For decades, players have been using House Rules, non-official rules designed by an Arbitrator or play group intended to fix perceived problems. These alterations generally fall into one of two categories:
How can we make this thing work?
How can we make this thing better?
Now, when we say make it work, we’re usually referring to things that don’t interact properly, or do so in a way that just plain feels bad. Take Smoke Grenades (at least before they were fixed in the 2019 FAQ) as an example. If we were to go off of the verbatim Rules as Written (RAW), we’d see that the item has the Grenade and Smoke traits. The Smoke trait generates a Blast template, but technically since the item specifically lacks the Blast trait, it wouldn’t be eligible to scatter on a miss like almost every other grenade. It just vanished!
For us, and many other groups, house ruling scatter back in was an easy fix that made sense, and seemed to be more in tune with the Rules as Intended (RAI); the gist of what the developers had meant for an item or ability to accomplish, despite it getting snagged on the intricacies of RAW along the way. Smoke Grenades were later errata’d to have the Blast trait, so now it officially works for everyone, but you get the idea.
If you come across a scenario where it absolutely seems like something should work if it didn’t butt awkwardly against a specific phrasing or a seemingly out of place keyword, ask the other players in your group and/or your Arbitrator! We’re here to be angry miners and creepy spymasters and insane cannibals, not contract lawyers.
If there’s something that’s standing in the way of your game and your story, come to a consensus in a way that makes sense to your group and get on with the fight!
Before we dive into this, we should note that Goonhammer is absolutely not an authority on this and Games Workshop has invested no power in us to make rulings. We’re just trying to give arbitrators tools to work based on our experience. As we said above, if your group’s arbitrator feels (and rules) differently, that’s fine too.
Making it Work
The Easy Fixes
We’ve said it before: the FAQ was a godsend. Still, there are a couple of unresolved issues that may or may not rear their heads in your group. The common response to most of these is “Well, duh”. If your group chooses to go a different route though, that’s alright! Everyone’s Underhive is different, and that’s totally okay too.
Ceramite & Scrap Shields: A fighter can be equipped with a shield in addition to a suit of armor.
Both of these items are listed in the armor section for equipment, meaning carrying one of these shields would prevent a fighter from also wearing Mesh or Flak or any other manner of clothing. Adding in the same exceptions granted to the Overlay and Undersuit just makes sense.
Melta Bombs: The Melta trait on this item can be triggered at Long Range.
The Melta trait trait triggers only at Short Range, but the Grenade trait specifies that the item “has no Short Range.” This one’s easy, friends. If it had Blast we’d likely only allow it for targets under the center hole, but it’s a point target like a Krak grenade or the old Stuns.
Scarce/Limited Ammo: Failing an Ammo Check on one of a weapon’s profiles does not trigger Scarce or Limited on its other profiles.
Straight from the Rulebook, “Should a weapon with more than one profile fail an Ammo Check for one of its profiles, it is considered to have failed an Ammo Check for all of its profiles.” Unless it makes sense to you that your Autogun jammed so hard that all of your Warp Rounds fell out of your pocket, maybe add this one in so you have a chance to at least load them in.
Chaos Spawn: Cannot be Pinned, even when it would elsewise be affected by the Seismic trait.
We’ve long ruled that there’s just no keeping this bad boy down. Partially because we feel that Seismic’s wording seems tailored to specifically negate Nerves of Steel and wouldn’t override the Spawn’s more universal pin immunity, but also because the poor guy doesn’t have any rules that would let him stand back up!
Guns Before Ammo: The first profile for a weapon listed in the Trading Post is the weapon itself, and must be purchased before additional ammo types can be bought.
Thanks to what we feel is an obvious formatting oversight, weapons like Grenade Launchers and the Combat Shotgun don’t quite follow the same listing style as the Stub Gun and its Dum-Dum Rounds. We think it’s reasonable to say that gangers aren’t going to be chucking Firestorm ammo at their enemies for a Strength 5 Blaze template unless they have a Shotgun first!
The Trickier Rulings
If you’re an Arbitrator, eventually you’ll likely have to deal with some of the real ambiguous gaps in the rules, where both players are firmly convinced that they’re correct (and often can both cite rules and examples in their favor)! The intent of the official rules team is often pretty unclear in these cases, so err on the side of the golden rules of arbitrating: “What would be the most fun outcome?” and “What would enable the best story?”
Versatile Weapons: When attacking with a Versatile weapon, other weapons/sidearms without the Versatile trait do not count for the purposes of extra attacks and/or available profiles.
Versatile weapons have been a bit of a mess since inception. Fortunately, in the December 2019 FAQ, the Engagement question was finally answered, but there is still ambiguity over what weapons can be used when a fighter with a Versatile weapon uses it to attack. Some folks think that the versatile attack opens up the opportunity for the character to use all of their weapons, and some people disagree. It’s a good idea to clear this up for your players beforehand. To us, a fighter attacking with a versatile weapon may only make attacks with versatile weapons that are within range as a part of that activation.
4-5-6 Blaze It (Thanks, Badcast!): A fighter affected by the Blaze trait performs the Blaze actions in place of their normal choices when activated.
Blaze saw a gigantic boost to its potential for havoc when the trait was rewritten for the 2018 Rulebook, but certain aspects of the ability became a bit ambiguous in the update. Thanks to other interactions such as the Murder Cyborg and the Faith Through Fire tactic card, we’re confident in our call here. Additionally, we add that if a fighter ends their activation within base-to-base contact with a model with the Blaze condition, that fighter must take a Blaze check as normal. That last part isn’t really part of the initial ambiguity, but it’s fun and we like fire entirely too much.
Post/Market Integration: Common items for the Trading Post and Black Market may be purchased without having to send a fighter to visit.
While we do feel that it’s more likely that the RAI in play here was designed to encourage full separation, we also feel that shutting Outlaws off entirely from all common gear in the regular Trading Post on a failed Cool check is excessively harsh, even for Necromunda. There’s only one common item in the Black Market that Law-Abiding gangs would probably be looking for, and there’s better ways of dealing with that.
Enforcers at the Trading Post: Just let ‘em equip whatever. It’ll be okay.
…or don’t! Folks will make this their hill to die on no matter what you decide, but we’ve long since grit our teeth since the FAQ and allowed it and it hasn’t ruined any of our campaigns yet. Do you have an Enforcer player who’s excited about the prospect of converting up a rad new model with a big new gun? By all means, encourage this positive hobby behavior!
Making it Better
Sometimes things just aren’t fair to the point of being unreasonable. Necromunda isn’t like 40k, where both players will have roughly equal forces, but we think that there are ways to make the game a bit more equitable.
- Take What You Can Carry: Scenario rewards are capped at 25 credits, multiplied by the number of fighters on your Gang Roster. This includes Brutes and Hangers-On, but not Exotic Beasts, Bounty Hunters, or Hive Scum.
For most scenarios, this isn’t ever going to come into play, but this cap will allow Caravan Heist to remain lucrative without plunging into the outrageous windfall it often winds up becoming. If you haven’t had the pleasure of a player giving you a heads-up that they’re about to roll for 18D6 *10 credits, spare yourself.
The skills system in Necromunda is…less than good. It should come as no surprise to you that we did an article on it. People could spend a lifetime tweaking the skills system to make more sense, or even just making Brawn any good. We know it, and we’ve seen some people try. We don’t want to stray too far down this path, here, so we’re limiting our skills chat to Overseer.
- Overseer is Over-Powered (Ha!): Order(Double) now requires a successful Leadership test to activate.
Gangers, Overseer is really good. To the point where in early versions of the current ruleset, it was in just about every gang. We like to encourage more diverse skillsets in our campaigns, so we add a condition to Overseer’s use. This is an easy and thematic way to reduce Overseer’s proliferation without rendering it useless. Leadership stats are generally high enough that the skill is still likely to go off, without making it the guarantee that it would be otherwise. We’ve also seen a different tweak to the skill that we haven’t implemented but seems extremely promising: “Order(Double) may not be used as an action during a group activation.”
We’re also going to avoid delving too deeply into a full re-balance of equipment, since that’s both outside of our scope here and also oh god there are a lot of items. There’s two in particular that we’ve clamped down on, simply for their outsized effect on both survivability and lethality.
- Ablative Overlay: Price increased to 30 credits. When expended during a game, this item is deleted from the Fighter Card, similar to the effect of the Limited trait.
When you’ve got gangers walking around in Mesh+Overlays+Undersuits after a couple of wins, it can start to feel like those Escher are just Leopard-print clad Terminators. We didn’t want to nerf the Overlay into obsolescence or ban it outright because it does provide something neat and unique. That said, a little bit of extra tax and pseudo-Limited will make it possible for opposing gangs to whittle them down and hit ‘em where it really hurts – the wallet.
- Boning Sword: Damage reduced from 2 to 1.
When you look at all of the other Swords on the market, they’re all fairly elegantly balanced against each other, with different levels of price, accuracy, toxicity, and penetration. Then we have the Boning Sword, which, although it lacks the Weapon Skill bonus, is as cheap as the basic Sword and better than all of them. Melee weapons as a whole are already overpriced so we’re loathe to hike that lever, but without some adjustment this thing will be everywhere.
There are a few things that we do for almost all of our campaigns that aren’t in the books and don’t really fall into the others categories, but do check the most important box: they’re fun! These house rules are designed to spice things up and make things get a little silly, which is almost always a good thing.
Give Hand Flamers Sidearm, You Cowards!: Hand Flamers have the Sidearm trait.
Hand flamers are expensive, short-ranged, and not all that impactful in games. That is, of course, unless you give them Sidearm. Then they become what they were always meant to be: awesome. With Sidearm, they can be fired as a part of a Twin Guns Blazing attack (hell yes), and be used in melee. But how, you might ask? We got you, dear reader: a hand flamer used in melee will confer one automatic hit with the hand flamer’s profile. This hit will cause a Blaze check as normal.
Don’t Give It To Web Pistols Though: Definitely don’t go that far. It ends in tears.
Web is strong enough already, and Delaque are too tricksy as it is. Don’t do those sneaky bastards any favors.
Free Weapon Swapping: Equipped weapons may be returned to the Stash in the Post-Battle Sequence.
Restricting weapon changes for fighters is dumb and we hate it, and not just because we bought a ton of really tiny magnets. We think tinkering with weapon loadouts is a central part of the game, and players should be allowed to do so at their discretion.
Buying Secondaries: Non-Ganger fighters may spend 12 XP to choose a skill from one of their Secondary Skill Sets.
On paper, Secondary skills provide a thematic fleshing-out of a gang’s abilities and capabilities, but in practice they’re uselessly limited to a random draw with a 9 XP price tag. At 12 XP for a full selection, it remains extremely costly but allows for some really neat thematic builds and synergies.
Gun on a Stick: Cawdor Polearms with Autoguns have their Long and Short Ranges increased by 1″.
We’ll level with you, Merton came up with this one a while ago as a joke, but for some reason he’s refused to let it go ever since. He didn’t even have a Cawdor player in his group back then!
We’re not going to throw the baby out with the sump-water here, but we’ve spent some time rebuilding a few aspects of Necromunda into what we feel are better representations of what they should and could be. These are also full length articles in their own right, so give ‘em a click if you want to know more.
The “Goonhammer Method” – Tactics Cards: We’ve covered this topic at length, but we prefer to use the tactics card system outlined therein for our campaigns. Tactics cards are extremely messy, with about 225 cards, and only a fraction of them are any good. Give our method a shot, we think it will make your games a lot better.
Improved Scenario Tables for Campaigns: Designed to replace the standard tables for Dominion/Law & Misrule/Uprising campaigns. Curated to provide thematic options, more choices, and 100% less terrible scenarios like Show of Force.
Bounty Hunters, But Good: This one isn’t an article yet, sorry! We just really can’t stand how they’re handled in the current rules, and we’re definitely going to keep workshopping an alternative system.
None of this is an exhaustive list of fixes and changes, or even anything set in stone. All of these alterations are dials that we turned to make our games flow better, or to make more sense to us and our players. We’re futzing with it constantly based solely on intuition and feedback, so don’t be afraid to give it a go for yourself!
If there’s a single take-away from this week’s article, we’d probably say that it’s something like “Don’t let the book rules stop you from having a good time.” This is a game about stories, a sprawling epic starring a bunch of low-level criminals who (quite frankly) aren’t even that good at their job. If the Rules as Written are getting in the way of that, try to figure out what the designers were really going for, and if that doesn’t work; come up with a solution that works for you and your opponent.
Maybe tell the rest of the group about it, though. You know, so they can keep it consistent if the situation ever comes up for them!
Friends, apparently we’ve been at this for six whole months so far, and the time has flown by! We had figured we would both run out of stuff to write about by now, but instead we’re adding future ideas to our list even faster than we can cross ‘em off, and the support from the community has been amazing. Thanks a ton, all of you. We’d probably still be shouting into the void about Necromunda even if nobody was listening, but maaaaaybe not quite as often.
So, if you’ve got any questions or comments, house rules of your own, or even some rad pictures of your gang, feel free to drop us a line at our brand new email at firstname.lastname@example.org! We love hearing from you guys!