The State of Necromunda: A Round-Table Discussion

Badzone Enforcers Credit: @co.rius

The modern version of Necromunda turns seven this year — pretty darn old, in Goliath years.

The game is now pretty mature: there are scores of rulebooks, White Dwarf supplements and Apocryphas. It all adds up to a lot of content.

As we await the next expansion, the Necromunday team got together to discuss the state of the game, what we think is working and not working, and what our hopes are for Necromunda’s future.

As always, these are just our opinions. If you want to add your own, email us at If we get enough interesting comments in, we’ll do a “readers respond”-type piece.

Big Picture: What do you think about the state of Necromunda?

Manofwaaagh: It’s great, but it’s a mess. Necromunda is an incredible sandpit, and is frequently a joy to play, but there’s an awful lot to take in — particularly for new/curious players. I think it’s reasonable to call it a nearly “complete” game, and perhaps the best thing now is to take lessons forward for the next similar RPG-ish skirmish game that GeeDubs may someday decide to produce (cough Mordheim). Another FAQ would be really nice too though.

Genghis Cohen: I fully agree with that, and I don’t think it’s at all a controversial opinion. There is a huge variety of cool stuff available to players, but that in itself generates the problem — new arrivals to the Underhive are always asking “Where do I start?”.

Fowler: Onboarding is absolutely the issue here. The 2023 core rulebook revision has put the bones of the game in a fantastic position. The issue is that getting people their first bite of the game without subjecting them to wholesale weapon trait fatigue.

Primaris Kevin:  Necromunda feels more like a RPG than a cohesive skirmish game. This means that the Arbitrator has a huge influence on the quality of the experience, in the same way that a GM drives a RPG campaign. I can’t recall the last time I played a Necromunda campaign that didn’t include house rules to streamline or clarify gameplay, and even major structures (campaign structure, mission selection, how to use Tactics Cards) vary wildly. This is crucial because Necromunda is such a huge mess that it’s trivial for players to have a Very Bad Time if things aren’t curated. 

An underhive clash Credit: rokksville

What do you think of Games Workshop’s approach to releases?

Genghis Cohen: While I welcome the Apocrypha rules, I do think that GW could do a lot more by unifying the rules into an app and/or a series of PDFs that are kept current. Other, smaller games companies use this system of ‘digital first’ rules and it’s much, much better. I think the hardback print rulebook format is looking increasingly creaky for rules. By all means sell these books as fluffy, and include rules in them, with the understanding that updates will be online. But it’s ridiculous that the rules one needs for a full Necromunda campaign can easily go into double digits of books.

Manofwaaagh: Rules are spread all over the place, and there are several holes that still need plugging. As one small example of many: we’re coming up to two years on from the release of the Ash Wastes expansion, but several gangs still can’t hire their own crew. And, once they can, no gang will have all their distinct rules in one book (some are closer than others). It’s a tough proposition for anyone looking to get into the game: the opening proposition is a gang box, a rulebook, the gang’s book, and probably another book on top of that. GW have also (despite some efforts) been unable to make any N17 rules release totally obsolete — just try to find the rules for getting trapped in a door! All that being said, the release of so many rules for free via the Apocrypha Necromunda series has been wonderful.

Primaris Kevin:  I’m getting sick of it. It’s great to see such amazing support from GW, but it feels like there’s nothing approaching a cohesive vision. I used to be the kind of person who purchased every book he could get; I’ve given up on that. I don’t want to have to carry a book for the core rules, my gang, the book that my gang’s vehicle comes in, the campaign that we’re using, the other book for that hanger-on I really like, and a deck of tactics cards from six different sources. It’s a mess, and if any game could benefit from an app it would be Necromunda.

At the very least, we need a few living documents that can serve as universal references. For example, give me one PDF for weapons. Their stats, their traits, and most importantly a single point of reference for what those traits actually do. Another PDF for post-game actions; the trading post, experience, skills, doc visits, vehicle repairs, etc. Provide us with concise, easily followed, and constantly updated references to ease the burden and improve the player experience. Ideally this would also be in an app, but it’s not a heavy lift to see it in as a series of PDFs.

Fowler: You do not need all of the rules! That’s something I’m trying to be better about. 


Necromundan Enforcers Credit: jp_miniatures

We now have 16 gangs, including the immensely versatile Outcasts, and a whole variety of further rules for corrupt and crusading gangs. Who rules the roost, and do you think the game is in a good state of balance?

Primaris Kevin: I’m biased towards Van Saar because I have the most experience with them and, frankly, multi-meltas should not be in the game, but it’s heavily subjective and dependent on the campaign. Terrain and setting plays a major role; the difference between a Zone Mortalis and Ash Wastes game is huge. I think the snowball effect is a far greater influence than the efficacy of a single game; a top tier starting gang can easily be on the bottom of the heap (and stay there) if they end up with a bunch of losses in bad missions. A big part of that is just the nature of how Necromunda works; it’s hugely variable with big spikes and very deep chasms. 

Manofwaaagh: Considering its rules sprawl, and the fact that it’s not designed as a competitive game, I’d say Necromunda is remarkably balanced. Yes, some gangs are generally more powerful than others — all else being equal, I’d vaguely put Cawdor, Van Saar and Corpse Grinders at the tip-top — but everyone is viable. It’s a fantastic state of affairs in many ways — as long as people self-police on the absolute bullshit.

Genghis Cohen: I am way less optimistic here. I do think that any gang can be built to be scary. Most top-notch weaponry and equipment is available to all via the Trading Post, most gangs have access to at least some great Skills which enable strong fighter builds. So the capacity for broken gangs has a lot more to do with how savvy the player is, than it does with which gang they’ve chosen. This doesn’t just cover list building, it’s how you play the campaign layer, targeting territories/rackets/trade routes, what you spend credits on and in what order, how you try to affect scenario choice, and of course how well you play the game. With alternating activations, I think victory in Necromunda is actually very highly determined by player skill, but of course it’s a highly random system as well. Given how widely the circumstances vary between campaigns, I don’t think it’s easy to say X gang is good, Y gang is bad. That sort of analysis is rooted in competitive games where there’s a common baseline of symmetrical scenarios and equal size forces. 

That said, it’s just naive to suggest that all gangs are equal. A Chaos Helots gang can be optimised and pretty scary, but the methods aren’t as obvious, or the ceiling as high, as for a Van Saar gang. Some gangs have unique mechanics that are potentially super powerful (e.g. Goliath Gene Smithing) and some have mechanics that are only OK. But it really does depend on the player and circumstances. I’ve met people who think Slave Ogryns are a really weak gang, because their non-trading post options are so limited. But let me tell you, there is nothing weak about a bevy of Lobo-Slaves with incendiary charges, especially once they start to add Las-Cutters.

So I think a much bigger issue that inter-gang balance, for Necromunda, is balancing the relative effectiveness of different skills/ weapon/ equipment combos within gangs. Many effective combos can transform the game into rocket tag. When a new player gets charged by a Corpse Grinder leader from 20″ away, it’s not really very helpful to tell them that their gang also has routes to beardy effectiveness, if they follow a specific series of choices, which may not appeal to them thematically or aesthetically.  

An Urson Grimjarl proxy and a Claim Jumper for Ironhead Squats Credit: @manofwaaagh

It’s nearly two years since the Ash Wastes launched, providing rules for vehicles and games set outside the hive cities. What do you think of the Ash Wastes expansion?

Genghis Cohen: I think it’s great! I have had loads of fun converting vehicles, and I think the random chaos of vehicles sliding around the table, colliding and potentially rolling, is really what Necromunda is all about. Definitely some balance issues (Ridgehaulers are just too far beyond other vehicles in terms of resilience and campaign benefits) but I think it’s a great way to play the game.

Manofwaaagh: A bit of a miss for me. Ash Wastes games can be fun, but the reliance on complicated tables makes it rather less fluid and frenetic than I’d hoped.

Primaris Kevin: I would say it’s good when properly curated. For example, you need to make sure every gang is on a fair playing field in terms of what crews they can bring. You also need to do something about the egregious imbalance between different vehicles; the Ridgehauler being a perfect example. There are also a number of blatantly obvious upgrades that everyone “should” take like smoke vents. So like most things in Necromunda the answer is that it depends on what the Arbitrator does to fix things. The other problem with Ash Wastes is that it’s very easy to end up in situations where the weapons needed to kill vehicles make taking out gangers a trivial exercise. It might be interesting to run a campaign where players are limited to light vehicles so that it’s closer to Mad Max than a tank roller derby.

I really wish GW would release an Apocrypha to let people use the Ash Wastes rules for Gorkamorka. I think that would be amazing.

The recent books have had a grand narrative that has somewhat majorly shaken up the lore. Are you happy with the direction things are going in and how this has been handled?

Manofwaaagh: Soooo much plot armour. Sometimes (whisper it) characters who have rules should be allowed to die in the narrative.

Genghis Cohen: Yeah, to me the players’ own models, and characters mentioned in brief blurbs of rulebook text (usually meeting a sticky end) are the epitome of Necromunda. They emphasise the theme that life under the hive is nasty, brutish and short. Powerful characters who invariably survive multiple brushes with death are the opposite of that to me. That said, I am intrigued to understand exactly what House Aranthus is.

Credit: Dylon

What’s Necromunda’s biggest strength?

Genghis Cohen: The sheer breadth of options. Absolutely any hobby project can be made into a workable Necromunda gang.

Primaris Kevin: The ability of the game to make anything into a powerful narrative. Necromunda has been a game of highs and lows since the beginning, and that can easily translate into epic moments. There’s a reason I come back to this silly game time and time again, and it’s entirely because you can do SO MUCH with it. 

And its biggest weakness?

Primaris Kevin: Tactics Cards, because I think they serve a perfect microcosm for the overall flaws in the game. They are poorly balanced, they require you to put in a lot of effort to source them, nearly every campaign implements them in different ways, different gangs have access to wildly different levels of efficacy, every mission seems to use them differently, and if you don’t have an Arbitrator curate things some players are going to have A Bad Time. Each of those individual problems has impacts elsewhere, but for some reason Tactics Cards just sums it up perfectly for me.

Manofwaaagh: For me, close combat. I don’t think they got it quite right: the game has a handful of opportunities for nuanced melee fighting, but too often it’s made irrelevant by the presence of fighters who steamroll everything they touch. Gorshiv Hammerfist, in Cinderak Burning, is the epitome of this — he is so strong in melee that it’s basically impossible for him not to kill his target — but there are plenty of other examples (Spektors, Clawghuls, Death Maidens and Stimmers being the obvious examples). They’ve also recently made melee less nuanced lately by forcing chargers to attack — removing the option of swamping a target.

Genghis Cohen: Interesting one, I see the same trends and definitely agree that chargers should be allowed to not attack — currently there’s no way to overwhelm a puissant melee fighter with multiple weaker dudes. But I would say the biggest weakness is the number of rulebooks and the lack of clear lists of what rules sources are available to each type of gang, and in each campaign.

Some friendly-looking Cawdor Credit: @co.rius

What’s the most overlooked part of the game?

Manofwaaagh: Gang terrain! Modelling opportunities, tactical value and some interesting rules! Why do so few people use it? If I were a Delaque or Escher player I’d be all over that stuff. (Also it would be fun to see some unique terrain options added for non-house gangs)

Genghis Cohen: True! I have an Orlock road relic and have never used it on the table. For me it’s the potential for more elaborate scenarios. My group has often exhausted its collective inspiration by the time we’ve built our gangs, broken free of other commitments in life for a few hours, and gathered round the table. So we end up playing a straightforward Border Dispute or something. I think the rulebook method, a lacklustre 2d6 table of fairly dull options, is crap. But there are some absolute bangers of special scenarios in the published material, and the best games I’ve had have been things like Caravan Heist, with custom terrain and objectives. I loved making custom terrain pieces for territories like the Workshop and Drinking Hole. There’s so much scope for Arbitrators to customise scenarios, or assign players a thematic one, rather than make them roll on that damned scenario choice table.

Interestingly, that chimes in with what I saw as the biggest weakness. There are so many scenarios, they’re all scattered between books, and so many of them are broken by certain skills (looking at you Infiltrate) or unless the table, terrain and objectives are set up in a certain way (rarely specified in the text). You need a very active Arbitrator who does a lot of research. It would be so simple, in a digital system, to maintain an FAQ’d list of say 10 basic, straightforward, fairly symmetrical scenarios, 10 sufficiently simple asymmetrical ones, and then a reference guide on where to find the more elaborate ones. 

Primaris Kevin: I completely forgot gang-specific terrain even existed so clearly that’s the answer.

What would you most like to be changed?

Primaris Kevin:  I would like an app and a new edition where the rules better reflect that the game is supposed to be this desperate fight between gangs who can barely scrape by instead of the quasi-paramilitary tactical skirmishes that seem to be the current flavour. 

Genghis Cohen: A full balance pass on every fighter, piece of weaponry, equipment, and skill in the game, bringing the outliers in effectiveness towards the mean, and then repricing all of them accordingly. It’s a pipe dream however, the designers don’t seem to have any interest in that.

Manofwaaagh: Exotic beasts. The leash rules produce weird interactions (I fully believe nobody is playing them Rules As Written), and most pets are either wildly overcosted (RIP to the pre-nerf Hardcase Cyber-Mastiff), or are just glorified armour upgrades. They could be fun, instead they’re just janky. Except the Giant Rat. All praise to the Giant Rat. 

Necromunda Grapplehonk
Grapplehonk & Cyber-Badger. Credit: Fowler

What gangs do you want to see added to the game?

Primaris Kevin:  I don’t think we need any more gangs. I would rather see things be consolidated. Something like a universal gang set that has everyone on the same starting page but with enough flexibility to let people branch out in flavorful and fun ways.

Manofwaaagh: Not a proper answer but I’d like to see the Chaos corruption rules reworked to be usable by all gangs, and to be more interesting (more mutation, less blanket immunity to Insanity).

Genghis Cohen: This might be a bit dull but I’d like to see expanded rules for Imperial forces. Some mix of planetary defence forces, actual Imperial Guardsmen, Arbites or even Inquisitorial Agents. Some of those would probably have to be individual augmentees to existing gangs for them to have the appropriate level of elite training. I agree with my colleague though, some more universal rules for infecting gangs with Chaos or Genestealer Cults (currently this can only be done for the six classic house gangs) would be nice. 

What other rules would you most like to see added?

Genghis Cohen: They have already done a (fairly limited) set of rules for boats on the Sump, via the Apocrypha Necromunda, and that’s something I definitely feel could support a whole supplement, with more unique wargear and skills. 

Manofwaaagh: How about a space environment? They could call it Eye of something…

Genghis Cohen: This isn’t really a new rule, but what I would like to expand is the role of wargear that’s not directly related to combat. There’s plenty of RPG-style kit — respirators, drop rigs, blind snake pouches — which is cool and fun to model on your fighters, but marginal in the game. I would like to drastically drop the price on almost all wargear that doesn’t directly affect combat, and try to give these pieces of kit rules that offered campaign benefits alongside tabletop ones.

Manofwaaagh: Actually yeah I want to copy what Genghis said.

Primaris Kevin: I would like to see more rules on the campaign side of things that would give more tools to the Arbitrator. Right now the missions and campaign are largely isolated, with campaign progression largely falling to a win or loss in a mission. If I recall correctly, the biggest exception to that is the redheaded stepchild that is the Outlander Campaign where the homestead can affect the missions and the missions partially dictate how much stuff you get to play with. Unfortunately, that campaign has its own issues. 

Orlock Outrider Quads
Orlock Outrider Quads. Credit: Fowler

Arbitrators seem to have an increasing amount of work on their hands. Has the ruleset become overwhelming, and what can be done?

Genghis Cohen: I’ve already laboured the point about rationalising where and how the information is available. Right now I think it’s manageable if the Arbitrator is quite an obsessive person (as they tend to be) and critically is at least as into the cruft as all their players (which, again, tends to be the case). I think it’s better for the amount of options to be over- than under-whelming. Arbitrators who don’t have time to, or don’t want to, keep up with the whole ruleset should feel free to give their groups a clear limit up front — e.g. “We are using the Core Rulebook and the ‘House of…’ books only. Online resources and any other books, you need to come to me and ask.” Simple. 

Manofwaaagh: I think it’s still just about manageable for engaged players, but there is a lot to consider. Again, an FAQ would help on several points, and frankly it’s poor that we’ve been waiting so long given the number of errors and inconsistencies in this ruleset.

What in your view is the future for Necromunda?

Manofwaaagh: Like many players, I hope we’re heading into space at some point. If we don’t, I’m not too fussed: Necromunda is a great game, and there’s plenty to explore as it stands. At this point, more than anything I’d like them to tie up some loose ends, and to see lessons taken from Necromunda about what should — and shouldn‘t — be done with future games.

Genghis Cohen: I really think that like many successful, established games, they need to stop cultivating and start harvesting a bit. I think the right move would be clarifying the rules, consolidating where they are held, and revitalising neglected options via rebalancing. But what I think will happen is another splatbook with new fighters, environmental rules and some similar-but-different scenarios and campaign rules. And I’ll still buy it, because Necromunda is awesome.

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