Necromunda is an amazing skirmish tabletop game. But it can also be incredibly hard to get into. This is why I have created this Necromunda Beginner’s Guide. By the end, you should know what you need to get started!
[Note: This article has been updated to correctly reference the Core Rulebook 2023 as the source of most rules for the game]
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DISCLAIMER: If you’re looking for a guide to playing in the Ash Wastes or in the Aranthian Succession campaign, go here, and if you want to see what gangs are currently available for Necromunda, go here.
Introduction to Necromunda
Necromunda is a tabletop skirmish game by Games Workshop set in the dystopian future of the Warhammer 40.000 universe. In the game, you play as one of the gangs fighting over territory and resources in a city of billions on the wasteland planet Necromunda.
Each of the fighters in your gang can be outfitted with a great variety of weapons and wargear, and as you play through campaign missions against other players, you gain new weapons and territory, but you will also lose fighters permanently, and some of them will have to fight on with injuries, amputations and prosthetics.
The detailed lore of the game and the level of customization available to your gang is part of what makes Necromunda stand out from the crowd of skirmish games: A lot of the time, it almost feels like playing a tabletop roleplaying game as much as a tactical skirmish game.
This also means that there is a lot to keep track of: Which gang should you choose? What gear should they bring, and in which rulebooks do you find it? Which missions are available to play in a campaign, and what rewards can players gain from completing objectives? How do I make my gang fit the lore of the House they represent? – And so on.
To help you get started with Necromunda, this guide covers an overview of the lore of the game, covers the basics of the game’s rules, considers the pros and cons of the game’s rules and products, and helps you choose what to buy to get started with the game.
It also gives you a short overview of the gangs available to play in the game, which we plan to expand into full guide articles for each gang in the future.
Necromunda is an amazingly engaging experience if you can gather a couple of friends for a campaign. You grow attached to your fighters and mourn their deaths when they are taken out, and your cheer for them when they manage to survive and improve.
The game is also a hobbyist’s dream, as you can basically field any conversion or kitbash you can imagine if you have a cool backstory and the in-game credits for it, and the plastic kits available for each gang are of high quality and full of equipment options.
The game’s terrain rules are made for verticality and dense, cluttered gaming tables, so if you like building and painting terrain and custom scenery, Necromunda is perfect for it.
Necromunda is similar to Warhammer 40k Kill Team, but also very different. You can see that from just scrolling through the Kill Team factions here.
Basics of Necromunda Lore
Necromunda is set on a planet where billions of humans live in gigantic spire cities called Hives under horrible conditions. Unless you live at the top of these hive cities, you rarely taste fresh air or enjoy natural sunlight.
Since the societies of Necromunda have exhausted the natural resources of their planet thousands of years ago, everything is recycled or imported from off-planet. The focus on recycling makes everything a commodity that can be exploited for financial or political gain: someone has to control air supply, food production, waste recycling, even the gathering of corpses of dead citizens, as well as the industrial production neccessary to have something to trade for the goods coming in from off-planet.
This means most of the hives are governed by a futuristic version of a medieval feudal system: Different clans and houses control different trades and areas, and below them, gangs and industrial workers owe allegiance to those houses. At the top of the feudal pyramid, Lord Helmawr, the ruler of the planet, presides over this great struggle between warring factions, and intervenes whenever conflicts aren’t playing out as he wants them to.
As a player, you play one of the small gangs trying to carve out a space for themselves pretty far down the social ladder.
About half the gangs you can play owe allegiance to one of the great Houses:
- Van Saar
These Houses have a presence in all the hives across the planet, and each of them has a unique history and culture, as well as fighting styles and weaponry.
The other half of the gangs available to your represent other powers in the world of Necromunda: You can play as bounty hunters, law enforcement, Chaos cults, slave rebels, and even as followers of an alien uprising.
Your gang fights for territory, wargear, and the recognition of their own House and that of Lord Helmawr. The game doesn’t have a fixed storyline, but the Necromunda Rulebook has a detailed overview of the Hive cities, the history of Necromunda and the different factions of the game. In addition to this, each of the House gangs have, or are about to get, a dedicated book that goes into even more detail about their lore, notable characters of the House and a ton of rules for playing gangs from that House.
Instead of having a fixed storyline, the game makes use of an Arbitrator when you play a campaign. An Arbitrator is akin to a Game Master in a pen and paper role-playing game, as she sets the scene for the campaign, keeps track of everything going on, and tells the story of the campaign in a newsletter or in recaps as the campaign progresses. This is a super cool feature, that I personally look to implement in other skirmish games.
Necromunda’s lore is very detailed, and there’s a good chance you’ll only scratch the surface of it in your first campaigns. If you like the storytelling aspect of tabletop gaming, however, there are few games out there that offer the same “almost an RPG” feel as Necromunda.
You can read more about the lore of each gang/House in the gang section below, but for now, let’s have a look at how the setting of Necromunda translates to the rules for the game.
How To Play Necromunda – a rundown of the rules
The core of any Necromunda game, whether you’re playing a campaign, a single skirmish game or a tournament, is a mission where two or more gangs of miniatures fight against each other on a three-dimensional battlefield, using dice to determine the outcome of attacks and abilities, until one gang has accomplished its objectives.
In this section, we explain how to play Necromunda by covering all the main aspects of the game’s rules. All the basic rules for the game can be found in the Necromunda Rulebook, whereas the rules for gangs, equipment and missions are spread across a number of books detailed at the end of this section.
Building a Gang in Necromunda
Each player in a game of Necromunda commands a gang crew made up of models to represent the fighters on the tabletop, and fighter cards to show their statistics, skills and equipment.
Credits for buying fighters and gear
When you start a game, you are usually given an amount of credits that tells you how expensive your fighters are allowed to be in the game. Different fighter types cost different amounts of credits, and all weapons and wargear have a price as well.
The credits pricing system is the game’s way of making sure fights are balanced. If you have previous experience with Warhammer 40,000 or even other similarly customizable skirmish games, you’ll feel right at home in this system. However, if, like many of the readers of this site, you usually play Warcry or Age of Sigmar, having to calculate the points costs of both the fighters and their wargear can make it much more difficult to assess the strength of your gang relative to the strength of your opponent’s gang.
The great thing about such an advanced system compared to the pre-built fighter cards of Warcry is that you can really make a gang unique to you and the ways of playing the game you prefer. Even if it isn’t the most competitive option, you can equip everyone with shivs and clubs if you want, or make a character wielding dual pistols that you have a special backstory for.
There are so many opportunities for storytelling in this system, even on the hobby level: you literally build the model with the weapons and gear you’ve put on its fighter card, which means you can make use of all sorts of bits and kits to build just the fighter you imagine should be part of your gang.
Every fighter has an array of statistics that determine how it works in the game. It has a Move statistic and a Wounds statistic like in most other Games Workshop games, as well as a Ballistics skill and a Weapons skill like what Warhammer 40,000 players are used to.
In fact, most of a fighter’s statistics are recognisable to Warhammer 40,000 players, but Necromunda also uses a Cool, Willpower and Intelligence statistic, which helps the game simulate stress, fear, mental fortitude and skill in much greater detail than in the larger tabletop games.
Leaders and Champions usually have better statistics than gangers or juves, which are gang prospects you can hire at a much lower credits cost than other fighter types, but the fighter types also vary in their access to different weapons, and in their access to skills. What fighter types and skills are available varies from gang to gang, so we will cover that in the dedicated gang articles in the future.
There are 8 skill sets in Necromunda (as well as one unique skill set for each gang that has it’s own dedicated book), and any fighter type that gets a free skill at the beginning of the game has specific skill sets it can choose from.
The skill sets help you pick skills that fit the playstyle of your fighters: Agility skills such as Catfall help you move more freely on the battlefield, Shooting skills improve your abilities in ranged combat, Leadership skills let you improve nearby friendly fighters, and so on.
They are an interesting layer of specialization to any gang, and they often give pretty substantial bonuses to your fighter, such as extra attack actions, ways to avoid damage, or brand new actions to make on their activation.
Weapons in Necromunda are almost little characters in their own right when it comes to their rules and statistics: They have Range and Accuracy (both split in a Short and Long value), Strength, Armour Piercing, Damage and Ammo.
Close combat weapons lack some of these statistics, of course, but all weapons also have traits, which are rules that determine how they work in combat, such as Rapid Fire, Knockback, Backstab, and so on. This means that you don’t just pick weapons for their damage value, but also for the ways in which they can give you tactical advantages in different situations.
Between weapons, skills, statistics and fighter types, your gang can almost feel more like an adventuring party from a role-playing game than a squad of soldiers from a tabletop game. To some players, this will be too much complexity, but if you like the storytelling aspects of tabletop games, few games currently available give you as many options as Necromunda.
Some gangs even allow psykers – the magic-wielding mutants of the Warhammer 40,000 universe – into their ranks, which opens up another set of systems for using “wyrd” powers, dueling with other psykers and so on. This is detailed in the Necromunda Rulebook.
Other additions to your gang
As if the variety of fighters you can create wasn’t enough, Necromunda also offer the option to field different kinds of special characters for your gang.
Hive Scum are cheap fighters that you can use to fill out your roster. You can equip them with simple weapons, their statistics aren’t great, and they don’t gain experience like the rest of your gang: You only hire them for a battle at a time.
Bounty Hunters are also hired for a battle at a time, but they are much more expensive and unique, their ranks including mutants, psykers, weapons specialists and even squats, a futuristic abhuman species that look just like fantasy dwarfs.
Hangers-On are fighters that give your gang bonuses useful outside of combat in a campaign, such as better resources, healing and advantages during the setup of a battle.
Brutes are monstrous fighters, such as the robotic Ambot or the Escher Khimerix, which add both character and fighting power to your gang. Each of the House gangs has a Brute unique to them.
Exotic Beasts are pets and smaller creatures, cyborgs and robots that you can add to your gang as well. They can only be purchased by leaders and champions as a kind of wargear, but have fighter cards of their own. They fill the role of pets for your best fighters, showing off your wealth and experience.
It’s worth noting that the imagination of the rules writers for Necromunda far exceeds the company’s capacity for producing miniatures, and while many of the different additions to your gang detailed in this section do have miniatures, often produced by GW’s sister company Forge World, many others have rules but no models yet. Feel free to use any model you have that could fit the decription of the mercenary or creature you want to field in your gang.
This is very different from the more mainstream GW games, where they are moving towards only having rules for things if they actually have a miniature that can represent it and the equipment in the rules. For some this will be odd and a bit scary. For others, it will be one of the greatest strengths of the game!
In addition to fighters and their fighter cards, your arsenal for any game of Necromunda also includes gang tactics, which you can either use from a list in your gang’s dedicated rulebook (if it has one) or purchase as Tactics Cards to help you keep track of them in game. These are special abilities tailored for your gang, which can help you gain advantage in a variety of situations.
The Goliath gang, for example, has a tactic called Unleash the Fear, which forces all enemies close to your fighter to make a Cool check (see the rules section below). If they fail, they become Broken, which means they must flee your fighters until they have time to calm down.
In each game you get to choose a specific number of gang tactics to bring, so they become a sort of mini-deckbuilding game within the larger game of Necromunda.
All in all, there are so many aspects to building a gang that it can seem like an insurmountable task at first. It’s worth it, though: If you take the time to understand the different systems, you can end up with a gang full of character and interesting tactical options.
Ways to Play Necromunda
There are primarily two ways to play Necromunda: Single games called Skirmish Games, and many consecutive games where the outcome influences the composition of your gang called Campaigns.
In a skirmish game, you simply create a gang for a pre-defined credits cost, add some additional skills to them to simulate the game taking place when the fighters have some experience, and then you pick any scenario to determine the victory conditions for the game. This type of game is great for just enjoying the tactical gameplay of Necromunda, as well as for tournaments, but a lot of the charm of the game lies in your fighters changing and progressing across a campaign, so it’s not what the game was primarily designed for.
The rules for running and customizing Skirmish games can be found in the Necromunda Rulebook.
Campaign Games in Necromunda
A campaign is a series of games where each player grows their gang in contest with other players, grabbing territory, buying new fighters, finding interesting loot and trying to become the winner of the story being played out.
The most common campaign type is the Dominion Campaign, in which players fight over a predetermined number of territories. Each territory gives a gang a bonus, and as you win games, your gang grows in wealth and reputation, which determines what new wargear and fighters it can purchase.
On top of this, gangs can capture fighters of other gangs, try to free captives, buy new equipment at the trading post and assault strongholds.
The campaign is presided over by an arbitrator who keeps track of everything and ensures everyone is part of an interesting story.
There are other campaign types as well, such as the Law and Misrule campaign from the Book of Judgement, where law-abiding gangs fight outlaw gangs. This campaign type can be combined with the Dominion Campaign, which makes everything pretty complex, while also adding many other ways to improve and customize your gang than if you were playing just one campaign type.
In campaign games, the effects of the “metagame” outside of battle is divided into a pre- and post-battle sequence, where you apply resources to your gang before a game or treat injuries and collect rewards after a game.
Campaigns in Necromunda are meant to take place over several weeks or even months, so they are best suited for players who live close to a gaming shop or club, or who have wargaming friends living close by. The system is not as flexible as, for instance, the Warcry campaign system, where who you play against doesn’t matter to your warband’s progression, but it is also far more complex and role-playing-like.
But if you are looking for a skirmish game with a campaign system that has a bit more “crunch” and depth, look no furhter than Necromunda. It is amazing!
A lot of scenery is needed!
A game of Necromunda can be played on any gaming table, but the game has so detailed rules for scenery, as well as some amazing modular terrain kits available, that you should try to build as interesting a battlefield as possible. The game can be played fairly horisontally, with you fighters running through narrow corridors and ducking behind crates and barrels, or you can go in the opposite direction and conjure up residential areas or factories full of towers, walkways, ladders and walls. The game has rules for falling damage, cover, line of sight, locked doors and so on, so you can make up almost any battlefield you can imagine.
Some scenarios have specific rules for how to setup terrain, and otherwise the game uses two scenery rulesets, Zone Mortalis and Sector Mechanicus, which are detailed in the Necromunda Rulebook (seriously, that book is amazing)
Turns and Activations
Every game is made up of rounds, which are made up of three phases:
- The Priority Phase where players roll off to see who goes first
- The Action Phase where players take turns to activate one of their fighters (also known as an “I go, you go” system) until all fighters have had their activation. Before the activations begin, players roll to see if any of their fighters flee.
- The End Phase where players roll to see if their fighters recover from wounds, regain their morale or get closer to fleeing the battlefield.
Each activation, a fighter who isn’t impaired by status effects can make two actions. Basic actions, such as shooting or fighting, can only be taken once per activation, while simple actions such as moving or reloading, can be done twice. Double actions are actions that take up a full activation. There are many action types depending on the status and position of your fighter, and this is where the complexity of the Necromunda rules really begin to set in: There is so much you can do in a turn. You can also open doors, carry boxes of loot, climb, crawl and so on. We can’t cover it all here, but let’s just look at how the shooting and fighting actions work.
One thing that really shows the “it’s almost a role-playing game” character of the Necromunda ruleset is that your are not allowed to measure distances between models whenever you feel like it. This means, that when you want to use a shoot action, you have to be pretty confident that you are within range of the target, since you can only measure the distance after having declared who you are shooting at. This gives a super old-school feel and was the way Warhammer games where played “back in the days”.
You can even waste ammo in this way, since you have to take the shot no matter if you are within range or not – the game only cares that you decided to take the shot, not if you have any chance of hitting it.
Shooting is done by rolling a dice and trying to roll equal to or higher than your Ballistics skill. You have to shoot the closest visible target, and all sorts of rules for cover and line of sight apply.
If you score a hit, you compare your Strength (that of your fighter or the weapon fired) to the Toughness of the target to see how hard it will be to wound the target, and then roll another dice to check if you succeed. Players of Warhammer 40,000 or Warcry will be familiar with this system.
Finally, the target can roll a dice to see if their armour saves them from the wound.
Melee combat is similar, but if any target survives your melee attack, they get a free reaction attack to fight back.
As with everything in Necromunda, fighting and shooting is much more complex than what we describe here: You can take aim to hit enemies far away when you shoot, make coup de grace attacks against prone targets, and if you throw a grenade, you can even use a special scatter dice to see if it rolls off in the wrong direction before detonating. The rulebook does a good and very thorough job of explaining these rules, though, and they have also been adjusted by an FAQ document after release, which is available to download here.
Wounds, Injuries and Dying
When any of your fighters lose all their wounds (for instance, if a fighter with 2 Wounds takes 2 damage), you have to roll an injury dice to see what happens to them. They can either be removed from play immediately, with a risk of actually dying after the game is over, get a serious injury or fight on with a flesh wound that decreases their Toughness. If you avoid rolling the symbol that takes your fighter out of the game, they have a chance to recover in the end phase.
Nerve Tests and Fleeing
If one of your fighters is taken down close to any of your other fighters, those have to roll a dice to see if they become Broken, demoralized by seeing a comrade fall. If they do, they have to run for cover and can’t be activated in that round. In the End phase, you also have to roll to see if any fighters flee.
This system serves a couple of purposes: First, it adds a layer of strategy to how you position your fighters, and which enemies you target. It’s awesome to see the resolve of the enemy break because you took down one fighter in the middle of their ranks, and everyone else started running for cover. Secondly, the possibility of a game ending by one side fleeing the field can also mean that more of your fighters survive to fight in the next game of your campaign instead of being taken out of action or injured.
Winning a Game
Each scenario has it’s own victory conditions, but many of them end the game when one player has no more fighters to activate on the battlefield. Afterwards, victory points are scored, and a winner is declared.
Improving your Gang
When playing a campaign, your fighters gain not only wealth and territory after a game, but also Experience which can be used to develop them further as characters and as fighters.
Fighters gain experience points when they take enemy fighters out of action or complete scenario objectives, and these can be used to buy advancements, such as a specialist role for the fighter, improved statistics or new skills. This roleplaying-like progression system is only made more interesting by the fact that you never know if the fighter you just promoted gets hits by a stray grenade and dies in the next game you play. You have to be careful who you send on a mission, and this makes you even more invested in the fates of your fighters.
What do I need to get started with Necromunda?
The customizable nature of Necromunda, where almost any kind of terrain and any kind of model or weapon can be used with some kind of rules means, that you basically only need the correct rulebooks to get started, as well as whatever models you can find, but in this section, we go through what options you have if you want the full Necromunda experience in as few purchases as possible.
Currently, there are two options available if you want to buy a starter set with everything you need in order to play the game.
Necromunda: Hive War
Hive War is a slightly older starter set, but it has everything you need if you just want to play a self-contained game with two players in the Underhive. It contains:
- A Hive War Rulebook – it’s not as updated as the most current rulebook, which is the 2023 Core Rulebook one described below, but it has all the most neccessary basics.
- Dice, ruler and templates – perhaps the most important thing of all, Hive War contains all the special templates and custom dice you need to play the game.
- Tactics cards, fighter cards and tokens for playing the two gangs in the box
- Zone Mortalis scenery and game board – this terrain is basically just walls and a few barricades and props, but it’s also more than enough to make a tactically interesting battlefield with plenty of cover and some good chokepoints created by the corridors you can make with the walls.
- a Delaque gang of 10 fighters
- an Escher gang of 10 fighters
Necromunda has evolved a lot since Hive War was released, and there are no Vehicles or gang expansion models in the box, but it’s a really great place to start. If you want to expand on the Escher gang, you’ll need to buy the House of Blades book, and if you want to expand on the Delaque gang, you’ll need to buy the House of Shadows book, but you can absolutely have fun games with them played straight out of the Hive War box.
Necromunda: Ash Wastes
The Ash Wastes set is the most current and complete starter set for Necromunda. It heralded the current “season” of the game, where many fights take place outside of the Hive cities in the Great Equatorial Wastes, with fighters riding vehicles and raiding settlements. You can read all about this new season of Necromunda in our Ash Wastes guide here.
The box contains:
- The Ash Wastes core rulebook, which is a Core Rulebook with added Vehicle Rules and Ash Wastes content. As of July 2023, it’s a bit outdated, but it still works alright with the contents in the box set it comes with.
- A booklet with basic rules for the two gangs in the box.
- Ash Wastes scenery and game board – the scenery is pretty amazing, featuring raised hab-blocks and walkways, but it’s also very Ash Wastes-specific: It doesn’t at all look like something you would find inside a Hive City.
- Tokens, dice, cards and templates – the box has all the peripherals you need in order to play the game, including the vehicle dice that, for some reason but pretty typical for Necromunda, you can’t seem to buy anywhere outside this huge starter set.
- a full Orlock gang, including two Orlock Outrider Quad vehicles
- a full Ash Wastes Nomads gang, including four Dustback Helamite mounted fighters
Ash Wastes is such a great box, with excellent value for playing Necromunda in its current state. The only downside to it is that the ruleset for playing Vehicle-based Ash Wastes games only really came into its own in the Book of the Outlands book, which was released afterwards (and as of July 2023, their current version is actually in the new Core Rulebook instead). Book of the Outlands also includes the full “gang book” ruleset for Ash Wastes Nomads, so it’s almost a must-buy on top of the starter set. If you want to expand the Orlock gang in the box, you’ll need the Book of Iron book. You can read more about how to expand on this box in our Ash Wastes guide.
Starting without a starter set
If you’re not into any of the gangs in the starter sets, or you’re going to play as part of a gaming group in a campaign game where an Arbitrator has taken care of scenery and the like (the best way to play!), here are the basics you need to build and play a gang for the game:
- The New Core Rulebook: In July 2023, a new, consolidated Core Rulebook was released for Necromunda. The new Core Rulebook contains a (slightly) updated version of the original rules for the game, but it also gathers a ton of different content for the game which was previously spread across other books, such as Vehicle Rules, rules for Psykers, the Dominion Campaign rules, and even the entire Trading Post list of weapons you can buy in the game. This means that, while you previously needed the Core Rulebook, the book with the rules for your gang and all sorts of smaller supplements to get access to all the rules and gear, as of July 2023, you mostly just need the new Core Rulebook and the book with rules for your gang. This doesn’t mean that’s always the case, though: Plenty of characters for your gang might only be available in campaign books, and the new Core Rulebook doesn’t in any way contain all the missions you can play in the game, but this is the easiest it’s been to get going with Necromunda in terms of rules since the game launched in 2017.
- Necromunda Dice. The game uses 6-sided dice, but some of them are special dice that are used to show how ammunitions work, how grenades scatter and so on, so while you can just draw stuff on regular dice, having a bespoke set of Necromunda Dice is great.
- Fighter Cards. These can be copied from pictures of them in the Core Rulebook, and the starter sets contain a set of them as well.
- Tokens, tactics cards, etc. Having the correct tactics cards and tokens for the rules your gang has can be a great time saver. Some of the most used tokens can be downloaded as a PDF here, and some universal Tactics card available as a free download here.
- The rules for your gang. This is where things can get a bit messy, but the most important rule is: If you’re playing one of the main House gangs, they have a dedicated “codex” gang book, called “House of (X)”:
- Goliath: House of Chains
- Escher: House of Blades
- Orlock: House of Iron
- Van Saar: House of Artifice
- Cawdor: House of Faith
- Delaque: House of Shadows
Beyond that, things get messy: Rules for smaller gangs are all over the place, and rules for fighters and rules that are revealed after the “House of (X)” books are also pretty scattered. You can consult our Necormunda Gang Overview to see exactly which books you need to buy.
What gangs or Houses are available in Necromunda, and where you can get their rules?
When you have all the basics ready for getting into the game, you can start building your gang. This is the best part of the game (apart from actually playing games, of course), and there are so many options.
You want a gang of corrupt policemen who are secretly aliens planning an insurgency? You totally can! Fancy yourself a gang of dispossessed on the run from the law, aided by occultist psykers? No problem! The options are endless, but also a bit of a mess to get your head around. Luckily, we now have a Necromunda Gang Overview, where you can see exactly what kinds of gangs are available, what books you need for them, and which models they can use.
Pros and Cons of Necromunda as a Skirmish Game
+ Deep backstory
+ Extreme freedom to create and customize your gang
+ Complex but fun to play rules that simulate a ton of different aspects of futuristic gang warfare
+ great campaign systems
+ awesome miniatures and scenery available, but also the freedom to use whatever you want
– a couple of book purchases are necessary to play the game
– the location of the rules of various gangs, mercenaries, scenarios, weapons and game systems across the many books available can be difficult to figure out
– some important game aids such as fighter cards don’t seem to be in production
– quite a few special fighters have rules without models available to represent them