Necromunday: Spyrers in the Underhive

Welcome scummers! This weekend’s Warhammer Preview included the reveal of a new season called Hive Secundus, featuring one of the most feared threats in older versions of Necromunda; the Spyrer!

Players of the 1995 version of Necromunda will recall, sometimes fondly and sometimes not, the infamous Spyrer gang. This gang was originally released in 1996 in the Outlanders Supplement along with several other Outcast gangs, and the rules were written by Jervis Johnson and Andy Chambers. The Spyrers were unique in every possible way, from their armour and weapons to how they progressed and interacted with other gangs.

A selection of Spyrers from the old GW site. Credit: Games Workshop

Scions of the Great Houses

The original version of Necromunda had a very, very different feel from what we play now. Gangs were poor and equipment was hard to come by, with a random trading post and a vibe closer to the Lost Zone supplement we put together a few years ago. Where the modern game of Necromunda feels closer to a series of well-equipped House kill teams performing tactical operations, the original version was much more about gangs of nobodies fighting desperately for survival. When the Spyrers were introduced they brought about a completely different way to play.

In the original game Spyrers were the noble children of the Great Houses who lived beyond The Wall in the Spire above Hive City. The houses of Greim, Ulanti, Ty, Ran Lo, Catallus, Ko’iron, and of course Helmawr existed in a completely different world from the Hive City and the Underhive, living literally above the clouds. In order to demonstrate that these scions were worthy, they would be equipped with incredible suits of armour and sent down in the Underhive to perform a certain vow. That vow could be to kill a certain number of gang fighters, earn enough experience, or survive for a particular number of gangs. As they murdered their way through the depths of Hive Primus, their hunting rigs would unlock new abilities and they would become more and more powerful. They did not need credits, they did not trade in weaponry, and they did not care who they killed. Hunting teams of around 4-5 Spyrers would venture into the Underhive together and either achieve glory or die in the attempt. Worse yet, those that achieved their vows and returned to the Spire may have developed such a test for death and violence that they would return to perform another vow.

Spyrer hunting party featuring (L-R) an Orrus, Yeld, Malcadon, and Jakara hunting rig. Minis by Artel W. Credit: Kevin Fowler

The Hunting Rigs

Spyrer hunting teams consisted of aspirants equipped with one of four hunting rigs, each featuring a very different style of play. The Orrus hunting rig is heavily armored and features a combination piston-powered fists and racks of bolt launchers to brutally slay and dismember anything that lies in its lumbering path. The Yeld is a winged nightmare equipped with razor-sharp wings, heavy laser guantlets, and the ability to conceal itself. The Malcadon hunting rig allows its wearer to climb across the terrain of Necromunda without effort, using a combination of climbing spines and web spinners to ambush their prey and trap them before ripping them apart with metallic claws. The Jakara is the opposite of the Orrus, leveraging speed and dexterity instead of armour and destruction. Jaraka hunting rigs are equipped with a monomolecular sword and a mirror shield which can absorb incoming energy blasts and reflect them back at the enemy.

Once per period while the hunting team is fulfilling a vow, the Spyrer player can also summon a Spyrer Matriarch and Patriarch. The Matriarch is an exquisitely equipped reaper, wielding a chain scythe and monomolecular blade while protected by a chameleon cloak that allows her to ambush undetected. The Patriarch is heavily armored and equipped with pulse lasers and power claws that allow it to cut through foes at range or in melee. Both the Matriarch and Patriarch will only show up if the hunting team is facing a threat with a higher gang rating.

How They Played

Spyrers played completely differently from other gangs. You only played with the models that you started with, if a model was killed there was no way to replace them, and outside of the one-use opportunity for a Matriarch and Patriarch the hunting teams were completely on their own. Instead each Spyrer gained power through Advances and Power Boosts based on the number of Experience Points they had. New hunting teams could pay 5 credits per point of XP, and at certain thresholds (6, 16, 31, 51, 76, 101, etc) the Spyrer could roll on a random table that would either give them a random power boost, a new skill, or a stat increase.

The end result was a gang that was really fun to play, but could easily be a nightmare to play against if the player knew what they were doing and had lucked out on advancement rolls. The way a Spyrer hunting team played was very close to how a modern Necromunda gang plays, with well-equipped models able to reliably shoot or slay their targets and use a variety of tricks and wargear to strip away agency from the opponent. Imagine a highly tooled Van Saar gang going against a poorly equipped Helot Cultist gang and you can get a sense of the power disparity.

Credit: Games Workshop

Spyrers in Hive Secundus

Given their history and how easily a wildly imbalanced gang can drastically alter campaigns, we were very interested to see how Games Workshop would utilize Spyrers in the next season with Hive Secundus. While information is scarce, we do know a bit from Studio Designer Rob in the reveal video.

The Orrus Spyrer harks back to the early days of Necromunda and the Outlanders supplement, and is bringing them in to the modern game of Necromunda. So their main thing now is they’re all the scions of the Imperial house, so they are all part of House HelmaWr. In order to prove yourself worthy of taking on a position of authority and leadership within this great house you have to prove your own personal prowess by going down into the depths of House Secundus in order to slay Genestealers and build your kill count and show how powerful and great a combatant you are against the toughest foes of Necromunda. They go in there with the Tech Hunters of the Van Saar, and it’s quite a symbiotic relationship. They both need each other to go down there. The Van Saar are desperate to go down there to plunder the riches and the wealth and the knowledge, while the Spyrers need to draw out the Malstrain Genestealers so they can actually attack them and kill them. And so the Tech Hunters are there as bait for them… that’s also reflected in the campaign of there’s the Spyrer and the Tech Hunters with slightly different things they need to achieve in the game. They still need to work together or both will fail.

The reveal article also confirmed that Spyrers would advance in a similar manner to the previous edition, with their suit unlocking new abilities and powers as the kill count increased. Presumably we will see the other Spyrers in future releases.

What’s Next?

How will Spyrers play in the new season? It’s difficult to say without more information, but that won’t stop our team from rampantly speculating!

Primaris Kevin: This almost looks like Games Workshop is going to create a campaign format where players start with some kind of Brute or Hired Gun equivalent. The fact that the Orrus and Van Saar are aligned but not necessarily a cohesive force suggests that the campaign might see Spyrers go once their kill count is achieved. It will be interesting to see how new Spyrers are released and fit into the campaign. Is the Orrus the “Van Saar” Spyrer or will any gang be able to have one come along for the ride? The latter makes sense given how there’s no reason why a particular Spyrer would want to associate with a single lesser House. Given how… challenging balance has historically been with Necromunda I hope that we don’t end up with an obviously superior Spyrer that everybody wants to take.

Assuming that the Hive Secundus campaign really is about gangs taking a big friend into the depths I would worry about what this means for the less-supported gangs like Chaos Helots, Slave Ogryns, or Outcasts. Do they get to bring more fighters to offset not having a Spyrer? Will Games Workshop completely forget that Ash Nomads, Corpse Grinders, and Squats exist? Or would it make sense that they wouldn’t venture into Hive Secundus at all? It’s going to be interesting to see what happens next.

Genghis Cohen: I agree that balancing the powerful Spyrer models will be the key challenge in any new rules or campaigns released. But it’s a valid point that most of Spyrers’ infamous historic strengths can be equalled by well built leaders, special champions or brutes in the modern game. I’d predict that active Arbitration will still be required. While Spyrers might be balanced with a high credit cost, that’s notoriously vague as a balancing mechanism. A good Arbitrator could do a lot by recommending certain missions, or giving their Spyrer-less players free hired guns – a set of vengeful bounty hunters seeking revenge on the blue blooded menace. As well as making games equal enough to be fun for both players, I think it’s important to ensure the narrative isn’t as simple as the Spyrer player(s) are the protagonists and those without are simply NPCs and heels.

Personally, I’m most excited by new terrain – ruined Zone Mortalis sets can go directly to my wallet and take what they need. In terms of fighters, I’m most interested in the Yeld. That’s a cool design with some awesome conversion potential. Even these Orrus’ beefy power armoured suits, I predict will be popping up in a lot of 40k conversions.

Credit: Games Workshop

Fowler: Just two days after the big preview, GW spilled the beans on modern re-do’s of the other three Spyrer types – the Jaraka, Yeld, and Malcadon. This preview article also let us in on the secret sauce for balancing the spyrers: they get two activations of two actions each per turn. I’ve attempted to roll out Spyrers as a foil in campaigns before, and the issue tends to be that superior numbers will inevitably overrun any level of gear and toughness… and obviously your average ganger may have access to some incredible firepower. Regardless of how beefy four fighters are, their eight collective actions could be offset even by a crowd of paper-thin gangers with stub guns. Giving the crew four actions each per turn is fantastic… and splitting them between two activations means that it’s (potentially) not as feelbad as an Overseer‘ed champ suddenly having a threat range of two full tiles. The hapless opponent will actually have a chance to counter in the middle.

I’m excited to see what both the Spyrer-led and Oops-All-Spyrers gangs bring to the table. In my wizened age I am enjoying asymmetrical scenarios in Necro more and more. The reimagined Spyrers are exactly the new seasoning I want to sprinkle on an upcoming campaign.

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