Welcome back, Scummers! A new Arbitrator joins the team today, Orlock enthusiast and all-around great guy Genghis Cohen. Necromunda is a game of friends, where every Underhive’s own particular little meta is bound to be completely unique based on the whims of the players.
We’ve written about some of the basics before as we’ve seen them in our playgroups, but it’s time for a fresh perspective on starting out and the basic principles of building a gang that can evolve with a Campaign.
Take it away, Genghis!
The Basics of Gang Building
Today, we’ll be covering what you should consider when building your starting 1,000 Credit Gang, regardless of which House or other Faction you have chosen. There are unique choices available to different Houses, but we won’t explore them in detail here. If you’re looking for something a bit more specific, check out our individual gang breakdowns and tactics section.
This is the first in a series of articles aimed at teaching players how to wage brutal gang warfare in the far future. There isn’t too much Necromunda wisdom available on the internet, compared to the mass of writing on 40k. What there is often focuses on specific Gang builds, particularly what weapons, equipment and skills are considered optimal.
Not much is available to explain the general tactics behind the game and why option X is better than Y. These articles are not intended to teach the basic game mechanics from scratch – they assume the reader knows the core rules. Players reading these will get the most out of them if they have played at least a couple games, so they can visualize the situations referenced.
Note: House Rules and Swapping Weapons
- In the Necromunda rules, by the letter, Fighters can never delete weapons, return them to the Gang Stash or swap them with other Gang members. This makes changing your Fighters’ loadouts quite restrictive through the Campaign, as no Fighter can have more than three weapons, with Unwieldy weapons counting as two choices. This is a controversial rule, and my group like many others, ignores it completely. This article is written with free removal and swapping of weapons allowed.
My advice to all Necromunda groups is to discuss this rule and come to an agreement before starting a Campaign. Obviously, if your group decides to abide by it, that will change some considerations below – I will mention this where relevant.
Choosing Your Fighters
The bottom line when starting your Gang Roster is that you need a Leader, you should always have two Champions (or whatever maximum number your Faction allows) and your total starting strength should be as close to ten fighters as possible.
It’s important to understand the difference between your Gang Roster (the total number of Fighters you can draw on) and your Crew (the fighters you’ve picked for a game, either randomly or by selecting them). Almost all Scenarios in Necromunda limit Crews to ten fighters or less. If you cannot field close to ten fighters from your Gang Roster, you can be at a real disadvantage during some games. As we’ll see in further tactics articles, being outnumbered in Necromunda makes things really difficult. While there are plenty of Scenarios with smaller Crew sizes, you won’t always get to pick!
Additionally, once you start the Campaign and have a few of your fighters go Out of Action (OoA), some will spend some games in Recovery. Accounting for Recovery, your number of available fighters to take into a game will often be smaller than your total Gang Roster. By taking ten models at Gang creation, you are better insulated against a bad string of opening luck.
Frequently with new players, those fielding gangs from more elite Houses will try to start with as few as six fighters. Unless they win consistently and painlessly in their opening games, they can find themselves starting Scenarios with just a few fighters left, making it almost impossible to win. This sends them into the dreaded downward death spiral. Don’t risk this happening to your gang!
Try to take ten models. As long as they all have one usable weapon, it’s easier to upgrade their weapons later than to buy new fighters, especially as you’re more likely to win. Picking certain powerful weapons on your Leader or Champions is a valid choice, or for any other reason you may not be able or willing to take ten models. With nine, you aren’t really too badly off. Eight is probably my absolute lower limit.
Champions, Gangers and Juves
Most Houses and Factions have some differences with the relative stats of these categories of models. In general, Champions are the best value, which is why we recommend taking the maximum number at Gang creation. Their superior stats, notably Weapon and Ballistic Skill, varies across Houses, but almost all types have two Wounds, which is a huge deal. Together with their access to all weapon types, Champions have the capacity to be your star players. As well as being effective, using them is just more fun!
Juves are more of a problem. The relative Credit prices and stats seem likely to be revised in the future, since House of Chains (HoC), the first expansion book, for House Goliath, significantly altered how Goliath Juves (now Bullies) are balanced against Goliath Gangers (now Bruisers). But at time of writing, Juves just have poor stats. Their reduced Credit price makes more of a difference at Gang creation, when you are trying to reach ten models.
Once the Campaign starts, your Gang Rating increases and it becomes apparent that the additional cost of a Ganger is well worth it, especially since Gangers come with armor which Juves need to buy separately. There is material here for a long tangent about how Advances increase Gang Rating, but basically Juves’ ability to pick Advances and avoid additional XP costs are not sufficient to let them ‘catch up’ over a Campaign to the stats of Gangers, let alone to Champions. If they somehow did so, their cost for calculating Gang Rating would be massively higher than a Ganger or Champion with the same stats.
Overall, Juves are a poor value, and I generally take one at most. For most Houses, their only real use is with their enhanced Movement stat and the ability to pick Advances in it. Once upgraded, having a 7-8” Movement can be extremely useful for some Scenario objectives, as well as for charging Seriously Injured enemies so you can Coup de Grace them. Anyone in shape to fight back is probably not a good target for a Juve.
Honorable exceptions here to House Escher, whose Juves can stick their Toxin weapons into enemies as expertly as their Gangers can; and to House Goliath, where the HoC supplement has made the Ganger/Juve choice much better balanced.
Equipping Your Gang
It’s common for people to ask for Necromunda advice on the internet and be told that shooting is dominant over close combat. A running theme of these articles will be why that’s not really so. A good gang should have fighters equipped for close combat and shooting. It should also include some Blasts and/or Templates as these weapons are the main way your fighters can activate and attack multiple enemies at once – a very desirable thing. When building your starting Gang, two things modify that advice.
First, you pick your starting weapons and equipment from your House list. The range of good-value weapons available varies a lot between Houses. So you may need to swing more toward combat or shooting based on your House, and make up any deficiencies during the Campaign by visiting the Trading Post. A lot of Necromunda Gang-building advice hinges on building your Gang with weapons from their House list, but always remember that you are not restricted to the play style those weapons suit.
Second, the terrain available massively alters the balance of shooting versus close combat. Rules as Written (RAW), there is a line between 2D ‘Zone Mortalis’ terrain and 3D ‘Sector Mechanicus’. In practice these categories are blurred in most campaigns, even more so since the very popular Dark Uprising plastic ZM terrain, which can also build 3D tables, has been released. The more dense Line of Sight-blocking terrain your group uses, the less important long-range shooting dominance becomes.
Even more so, the size of your playing area. If your group plays on 4’x4’ 3D tables then shooting, especially at ranges over 24”, is something you need to plan for. I often see people playing on 2’x2’ tables covered with 2D or 3D ZM terrain. If that’s the norm, you obviously don’t need shooting over 24” and Templates, Grenades and close combat all become more effective. Personally I like 3’x3’ tables, but the best and fairest option might be to mix it up and play in a variety of ways throughout the Campaign.
Ranged Weapons: The Gun Show
Most Basic Weapons will fulfill your Gang’s need to reach out to targets over 12” away. Most weapons only have a to-hit bonus at <12” – this can be changed with weapon attachments (scopes) but that’s not something you want to pay for at Gang creation. At campaign start, to-hit modifiers are especially important, as your inexperienced Gangers will need the extra accuracy. Lasguns, at +1 to hit up to 18”, fill this role perfectly. As the Campaign goes on, Strength, AP and Damage all become more important as your opponents gain Advances and pile on armor.
If your group does not allow ditching or switching weapons, be aware that Lasguns, (to a lesser degree) Autoguns, and their variants, can be upgraded with Hotshot Packs and Special Ammo. Even with such improvements available, I always plan to swap them out for punchier guns as my Gang grows. Basic weapons which never offer a to-hit bonus, like Goliath Stub Cannons, I don’t think are very useful. Unless your opponent is silly or unlucky enough to end up out of cover in a position where you can Aim and then Shoot at him, you will never be that accurate with such weapons.
Consider Shotguns – in my opinion the shining diamond of Basic Weapons. Strength 4, Damage 2, 16” Range with +1 to hit within 8”. While the Gang as a whole should have some longer range available, the Shotgun is a weapon which you will keep using in your Campaign long after other options have been swapped out. Finally, Boltguns are technically Basic Weapons but I really think of them as Specials as their cost and effectiveness both exceed other Basics. They’re very much worth it.
Special Weapons often cost vastly more than Basic Weapons, but gain substantial punch in return. These are worth it and obviously most players hand them out to Champions before giving any to ordinary Gangers. You’ll be unlikely to include more than a couple special weapons at creation without compromising numbers, so feel free to consider options from the Trading Post equally with those in your House list, and just buy them during the Campaign.
Plasma Guns and Grenade Launchers are two of the most common, for good reason. Plasma Guns have an amazing +2 to-hit within a generous 12”, Damage 2 and Rapid Fire. They are the gold standard for mid-range firepower. Grenade Launchers can fire a powerful Krak Grenade or a Blast-mode Frag Grenade. As long range firepower they are very useful, due to the ability to fire without to-hit penalties from cover, and to shoot models hiding just out of Line of Sight. Grenade launchers, anyway, are a great value despite no built in accuracy bonuses. You can use the Frag to circumvent cover, and the Krak when a target is in the open and you need it dead!
Heavy Weapons are strictly the preserve of Leaders and Champions. All are expensive, so taking more than one (at the most) at creation is going to limit your numbers. In general I consider these something to buy during the Campaign. Partly due to expense, and partly because of the Unwieldy rule. Many Heavy Weapons, particularly the long-ranged ones, are Unwieldy, making shooting them a Double Action. Because of this, they require very careful tactics, positioning, use of the activation system or special skill shenanigans to be used effectively.
Skills can help with this restriction, but the most common method to return shooting to a Basic Action is to attach Suspensors, which most lack in their House list. Even for them, 60 credits on top of the expensive weapon is just too much at Gang creation. Buy Unwieldy weapons later in the campaign. If you absolutely must include them, be sure to buy Suspensors ASAP.
Overall verdict is that initially, Heavy Weapons are better left alone for Specials, which are cheaper and have sufficient punch for the early Campaign. I’d reconsider if my group played mostly on 4’x4’ tables with long lines of fire.
Templates and Blasts
I’m mentioning these separately, since both allow you to attack multiple targets with one fighter’s activation – an immense advantage, which of course also applies to longer ranged weapons with the Blast rule. Some weapons use the teardrop flame template (e.g. Combat Shotguns and Flamers), which auto-hits. This is very powerful as you can reliably inflict Pinning on enemies. Templates are commonly thought of as short range, but believe me that a 7” teardrop goes a long way on a ZM table! The more confined the terrain, the better these can be, as your targets are funneled into close groups. You generally pay accordingly, but they are worth the credits.
Blasts still roll to hit, but misses have a chance to scatter so may still affect your target (or yourself). Since the circular template is stopped from scattering when the center encounters a solid wall, these also become slightly more accurate in confined spaces. As well as the ability to hit multiple targets, remember that Blast weapons’ ability to avoid to-hit cover penalties and to target models hidden from direct Line of Sight!
Grenades, in particular, are short-ranged Blast weapons with punishing ammunition rules – but their credit price is comparatively low. Grenades roll an ammo check, which is typically a 4+ or worse, every time they are used, not just on the symbol being rolled on the Firepower Dice. They cannot be reloaded during a game. In effect grenades are one, maybe two uses per game. Despite this I think they’re worth it, since they’re the cheapest way to chuck templates about.
My recommendation is to seriously consider including at least some templates and/or blast weapons in your starting Gang. This becomes more important the smaller and denser your group’s normal tables are. If a model has a Template or Blast weapon, its primary purpose is to bring that to bear. So keep your Grenade-carriers cheap at Gang creation – a Stub Gun or something as a back-up weapon is plenty, their main purpose will be to chuck the Grenade.
One final point about weapon choices. Some readers will have picked up a common thread with my examples of effective weapons. Boltguns, Plasma Guns, Grenade Launchers and Grenades – all of these have difficult ammunition checks and/or cannot be reloaded. In my experience, this drawback is worth taking a risk if the weapon hits hard for the right price.
Over time, this can be mitigated with skills like Munitioneer, or later in the Campaign by equipment or Ammo-Jacks. But at the outset, I just risk it and see. A lot of Necromunda games will be won or lost in a couple decisive rounds. You only need your weapons to work for that long.
Melee and Sidearms
As a general rule, Fighters who are primarily geared for Close Combat should have a pair of weapons, in order to benefit from the +1 attack bonus. Extra dice are just too good to pass up in Necromunda. It is always worth having that second weapon, even if it is a budget 5-10 point option. Some Close Combat weapons are Unwieldy, so cannot be used in concert with another weapon. These should only ever be considered as options for Leaders/Champions with multiple attacks. Even then, I would recommend saving them for late in a Campaign, when these models have 2+ Weapon Skill, Close Combat Skills and/or upgraded Attacks.
A weapon’s profile has to be pretty beefy to make up for the lost chance to roll another attack dice! Flails are excellent budget close combat weapons, and Chainswords are good for a bit more. For the star players, Power Weapons, particularly Swords and Hammers, are amazing. Of the seriously cheap weapons, Axes are better than Clubs (terrible) as well as Fighting Knives.
Pistols are the clear winner as second Close Combat weapons. Compared to wielding two melee weapons, you gain the ability to reach out and affect targets. This is incredibly important. Sometimes you won’t be close enough to charge and need to try and hurt the opponent, or at least pin them this round. Sometimes you will be pinned yourself, which prevents you from making a charge when you activate, and shooting will be the only way you can affect your opponent this round. Therefore the default loadout for a starting close combat Fighter should be melee weapon + pistol.
Stub Guns, Autopistols and Laspistols all have their benefits and can be upgraded with improved ammunition later. These are overwhelmingly the pistols taken at Gang creation. For the fancy powerful pistols, remember that the Sidearm trait is required to make attacks with the weapon in Close Combat, and a Sidearm can only make 1 attack roll every time you activate and fight.
A good melee weapon will do more heavy lifting in the hands of a Champion or other powerful Fighter, because they will get multiple attacks with it. A powerful pistol isn’t always great value, I’d take a high-end melee weapon on your Leader/Champ first. Plasma Pistols are the best and certainly not a bad choice.
The Houses which trend heavily toward close combat tend to have unique weapons which are good value, like Brute Cleavers or Stiletto weapons, which can be considered. Conversely, some factions have very limited Close Combat choices available in the House list, so you’re better off giving a Fighter intended for close combat a single pistol at Gang creation, and just buying them something useful from the Trading Post after your first game of the Campaign.
Putting It All Together
A good, flexible baseline starting Gang has upwards of ten models and will probably only have budget Basic Weapons or Close Combat loadouts on most of its fighters. The Leader and Champions may have fancier weapons, including Special Weapons. The other fighters should include some Grenades or other Blast and Template weapons if points allow. In order to reach that ten model tipping point, models won’t really have mixed Close Combat and long-range weapons, or ‘back-up’ weapons – the most important thing is for each fighter to have one tool they can really use to contribute.
A Gang should have some models for long-range shooting and some models for close combat. The exact mix can flex to your House and the sort of tables you expect to use. As a point of reference, here’s an Orlock gang built using this design philosophy for starting out!
- Leader (Nerves of Steel): Stub Gun, Servo Claw, Mesh Armor 
- Champion (True Grit): Autopistol (2x), Mesh Armor 
- Champion (Munitioneer): Boltgun, Mesh Armor 
- Ganger: Grenade Launcher, Mesh Armor 
- Ganger: Combat Shotgun, Mesh Armor 
- Ganger: Shotgun, Mesh Armor 
- Ganger: Flail, Stub Gun, Mesh Armor 
- Ganger: Autogun, Mesh Armor 
- Ganger: Autogun, Mesh Armor 
- Juve: Stub Gun (2x) 
That was actually the Gang I started my last Campaign with, and it was successful. Note that my Leader and Champs aren’t actually that well equipped – some of the Gangers have more expensive kit. This is because I had a thematic plan to upgrade them all. It’s important to note that Gang Creation is just the first step – there is more freedom to spend on different things once a Campaign starts. We will revisit this Gang as an example during the next article.
Let’s look at an example Gang built using the above principles for Van Saar. They are one of the most expensive gangs so often start with fewer fighters. Additionally, due to their powerful shooting options, one often sees theoretical cookie cutter Gangs featuring multiple identical Leaders and Champs slinging plasma.
- Leader (Trick Shot) : Combi lasgun/plasma gun, Mesh Armor 
- Champion (Gunslinger): Plasma Pistol, Laspistol, Mesh Armor 
- Champion (Hip Shooting) : Suppression Laser, Mesh Armor 
- Ganger: Lasgun 
- Ganger: Lasgun [75
- Ganger: Lasgun 
- Ganger: Lascarbine 
- Ganger: Las pistol, Las Sub-carbine 
- Juve: Laspistol 
Here I had to compromise at 9 fighters. My urge to have unique load outs for fighters doesn’t work here – the Gang might actually be more effective if every non-champion fighter just had a lasgun (Las pistol for juve). This gang is just the result of a few minutes tinkering, and I can’t say I’d fancy its chances against the cookie cutter las-plas Van Saar list. But I would rather use it in a Campaign. We’ll return to it as an example of upgrades as well.
This advice is holds true across any House gang, Helot & Genestealer Cults – you won’t lose out by following it. Enforcers will be forced to take their (mostly shooting) options at Gang creation, while Corpse Grinders will start any Campaign as almost pure melee, but both can diversify from the Trading Post later on. These are guidelines rather than ironclad rules. Necromunda is a narrative game, there’s no need to min-max the optimal Gang in every Campaign you play!
If you like, start with eight or nine models and field a scary Heavy Weapon (for god’s sake buy Suspensors afterwards though). If you want to take this further, start with truly geared-up Leader & Champions, but only 6-7 models, more power to you. Just be prepared to play cautiously if you have fewer than 8 models at the start. Multiple casualties in one game will make the next an uphill struggle.
Ultimately, while this article is aimed to encourage players to make smart choices, remember that you only have to face your own gaming group. Don’t worry that your Gang will need to face a hypothetical Van Saar gang which has been over-tuned to rain down plasma death in every game. The less cut-throat your group is, the more room you have to experiment and play around with less sensible choices. If everyone you play with is in it to win it, then the guidelines above will give any House a fighting chance.
Necromunda is not a well balanced game, but by using efficient, commonly available weapon loadouts and good tactics any faction can excel in the hands of a competent player.
It’s great to have a new perspective on things, especially with a game that can be wildly different depending on your group like Necromunda! Let us know how you’ve been building your gang loadouts at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Facebook, or in the comments below. Next week, Genghis returns with his experiences and thoughts on gang development over the course of a Campaign, so be sure to swing back and check it out!