Necrons are the undead of the Warhammer 40,000 universe (their name itself an obvious reference to Greek nekrós, 'dead body'). They are a once-mortal humanoid species whose souls now inhabit synthetic skeletal bodies. Necrons are truly ancient, predating even the rise of the Eldar, and their technology is miraculous, defying the laws of nature as perceived by contemporary species. Their goal, unfortunately, appears to be the destruction of all sentient life in a strange worship of their gods, the C'tan.
The species originated as the Necrontyr, one of the first sentient races in the Milky Way galaxy. The Necrontyr developed on a remote world warmed by an unstable star. Their lives were short, plagued by cancers and other illnesses related to the high levels of ionizing radiation given off by their sun. Their cities were built in anticipation of early death, as the living were only brief residents living in the shadow of the tombs of their ancestors. The greatest monuments were always built for the dead, never the living.
Unable to find peace on their own world, the Necrontyr blindly groped outward into the universe. Using stasis crypts and slow-moving sub-light spacecraft – clad in a living metal known as "necrodermis" – the Necrontyr began to colonise distant worlds and encountered the Old Ones. Their colonisation had been much swifter with their Warp mastery, and they were blessed with practically immortal lifespans as well. This birthed a deep jealousy which hardened into hatred, and the Necrontyr turned their entire civilisation towards destroying the Old Ones and all of their spawn across the galaxy.
The terrible war that followed, known in Eldar myth as the War in Heaven, was decided before it began. The superior Necrontyr technology was consistently neutralized by the Old Ones' mastery of the Webway. The Necrontyr were pushed back until they were just a minor irritation clinging to their irradiated world among the halo stars, exiled and forgotten. Their fury slowly transformed into an utter hatred towards all other forms of intelligent life and an implacable determination to avenge themselves upon their seemingly invincible enemies.
Necrontyr scientists had always been engaged in stellar studies to protect themselves from their own sun's energies. After bitter centuries of search for some power to unleash upon the Old Ones, they discovered unusual anomalies in the oldest, dying stars of the galaxy. In the complex skeins of the energetic plasma of these suns, the Necrontyr found a sentience that was more ancient than any corporeal species, entities of pure energy that had spawned during the birth of the stars. These entities had little conception of the rest of the universe when the Necrontyr first found them, feeding upon the solar flares and magnetic storms of these bloated red giants.
The power of these star-born creatures was incredible, the raw energy of the stars made animate, and the Necrontyr called them the C'tan or "Star Gods" in their own tongue. The C'tan were dispersed across areas larger than whole planets, their consciousnesses too vast for humanoids to comprehend. Understanding that such diffuse minds could never perceive the material universe without manifesting themselves in a material form, the Necrontyr forged physical shells for the C'tan to occupy, cast from the same necrodermis metal that they had once used for their colony ships. Eldar legends tell of translucent streamers of electromagnetic force shifting across space as the star vampires coiled into their new bodies across an incorporeal bridge of starlight.
Incomprehensible forces were compressed into the living metal bodies as the full power of the C'tan at last found form. As the C'tan became more aware of their new existence, they came to appreciate the pleasures available to beings of matter. The deliciously focused trickles of electromagnetic energy given off by the physical bodies of the Necrontyr awakened a new hunger in the C'tan. It was not long before the C'tan were being worshipped as gods. Perhaps they had been tainted by the material universe, or perhaps this had always been their nature, but the C'tan proved to be cruel and capricious, reveling in worship and feasting upon the life energies of countless mortal slaves.
The birth of the Necrons
Armed with weapons of god-like power and starships that could cross the galaxy in the blink of an eye, the Necrontyr stood ready to resume their war against the Old Ones. But the C'tan had another gift. They offered a path to immortality the Necrontyr had always craved. Their bodies would be replaced with the same living metal used for the C'tan husks, freed forever from the weaknesses of their hated flesh. Whether the Necrontyr realized the price they would pay is not known, but their species was purged, their essences fused with robotic bodies. The Necrontyr became the Necrons, cursed to eternal servitude, and the C'tan feasted upon the entire race's life energies even as they made the transfers. The process destroyed the Necrontyr's consciousnesses, leaving only ghostly echoes. Only a few of the most strong-willed retained their self-awareness, and even they were but shadows of their former selves.
The Necrons cared not; all that mattered to them was that they would live forever without disease or death. Only one thing truly remained of the Necrontyr – their burning hatred for all the other living, intelligent species of the universe. Legions of the undying warriors set out into the galaxy in their Tomb Ships and the stars burned in their wake. The Old Ones' mastery of the Warp was now countered by the C'tan's supremacy over the physical universe and the ancient enemies of the Necrons suffered greatly in the interstellar slaughter that followed.
The C'tan now dominated the galaxy. The last bastions of the Old Ones were besieged and the other intelligent races became cattle for the hunger of the C'tan. The Necrons and their Star Gods were cruel masters, harvesting populations at will to feed the C'tan, who demanded adoration and fear in equal measure. For unknown reasons, the C'tan ultimately began to fight amongst themselves for both sport and out of spite as they unleashed destructive forces beyond mortal comprehension. In the course of the struggle, planets were razed, stars were extinguished and whole solar systems were devoured by black holes. New cities were built and then smashed down once more. As the "red harvests" grew thin, C'tan eventually devoured C'tan, until only a few were left in the universe and they competed amongst themselves for a long age.
Eventually the Old Ones became desperate and started to genetically engineer races with even stronger links to the Warp, hoping to create servants capable of channeling psychic power. They nurtured many potential warrior races, among them the Eldar and possibly the Orks. Millennia passed as the creations finally bore fruit, while the C'tan continued to extinguish life across the galaxy.
The tide turns
The Old Ones' psychic servant races spread across the galaxy, battling the Necron technology with their Warp-sorcery. Facing this new onslaught, the C'tan empire was shattered, as the Warp forces were anathema to these soulless entities. For all the destruction they could unleash, they were unable to stop the younger races' relentless advance across the stars.
The C'tan, unified by this great threat, sought a way to defeat the soul-fueled energies of the younger species. They initiated a plan to permanently seal off the material universe from the Warp. Yet before it was complete, the constant Warp disturbances brought an unforeseen cataclysm. The maelstroms of souls unleashed into the Immaterium by the carnage of the War in Heaven coalesced in the previously formless energies of the Warp. Older entities that had existed within the Warp transformed into terrifying psychic predators, tearing at the souls of vulnerable psykers as their own environment was torn apart and reforged into a realm of Chaos.
The Enslaver plague
Warp creatures clustered at the cracks between the Immaterium and the material universe, seeking new ways to enter the physical realm. The Old Ones brought forth new genetically-engineered warrior races to defend their last strongholds, but it was already too late. The Webway was breached from the Warp and lost, their greatest works and places of power overrun by horrors their own creations had unleashed. The most terrifying were the Enslavers, Warp entities whose ability to possess the minds of psykers and create their own portals into the material realm brought them forth in ever greater numbers. For the Old Ones, this was the final disaster. They were scattered and lost their power over the galaxy once and for all.
The Necrons were now triumphant, but it seemed that the last of their own masters' food supply would be lost along with the younger races decimated by Enslavers. The C'tan had a solution. They would allow the Enslavers to take what was left of the sentient life, and let the galaxy become an interstellar wasteland; the psyker races would die away and in time new lifeforms would evolve for the C'tan to consume. It would take millions of years, they would be there to take advantage of it.
The C'tan descended into sealed stasis tombs on Tomb Worlds purged of all life, machine slaves and Necrons guarding while they slept. Only when they were disturbed by a sentient species with the correct characteristics, suitable to be mastered and consumed, would the Star Gods re-emerge into the galaxy. And so the Imperium of Man found them, 65,000,000 years later.
Necrons in M41
The Necrons are still a shadowy presence rather than a full-fledged force in the galaxy of the present time. They strike out of nowhere without warning, wreak havoc and leave before any major reinforcements can arrive. The origins of these various attacks and their motives are unknown, though it is known that the current Necron forces in the galaxy are only soul harvesters, not the full-fledged fighting machines of the C'tan.
They seem to attack from nowhere, often simply appearing at any location in the galaxy, no matter how well-defended. The forces come from Tomb Worlds as yet uncharted by the Imperium. In defeat, Necrons "phase out" and return to their associated Tomb World for repairs. It is believed they can be totally annihilated beyond reanimation, but often so little survives that scientists have nothing to study.
The Necrons may have infiltrated the Imperium to an extent. Their elite anti-psyker troops, the Pariahs, are an unholy cross of human mutant and Necron technology. It is unknown if the Necrons developed the Pariahs by themselves or with the help of Imperial traitors. Either way, it is believed by Mechanicus savants that the C'tan engineered the Pariah gene into human evolution on purpose. Additionally, some suspect that the Machine God of Mars is actually the C'tan Void Dragon, entombed there in the very heart of the Imperium.
- Winter Assault/Necrons -- Necrons in Dawn of War: Winter Assault
- Dark Crusade/Necrons -- Necrons in Dawn of War: Dark Crusade
- Soulstorm/Necrons -- Necrons in Dawn of War: Soulstorm