First Games Workshop started releasing the End of Times series. It was a bold, ambitious new attempt to revitalise their Warhammer Fantasy setting, and everyone loved it....
... except me. I myself want nothing to do with it. Where everyone else seems to adore it, and where it's brought them back into Warhammer Fantasy, or drawn them to start it, I've had the exact opposite reaction - I don't like it one bit, and it's all but destroyed my enthusiasm for Warhammer Fantasy. You see, when I first started up Warhammer Fantasy, so many moons ago (well ok just under two years), I began to create the background for my Wood Elf army and it's allies and enemies with the assumption that the official parts of the Warhammer setting would remain largely static. Sure, some things would be changed or retconed, but the overall setting, including the point of time that was it's present would remain largely the same. And that's how I liked it. Because it left me with the freedom to take that setting anywhere I wanted. And I did - I created an entire miniature world within a world, a rich extensive backstory filled with characters and factions and events.. and it's own future end-state. And, in short, that end-state is fundamentally incompatible with the End Times series. So now all my background, which I greatly prefer to the official material from the End Times, has now had it's validity seriously compromised. And no, I'm not going to change mine, partially because I'm a stubborn old soul, but mostly because it's largely complete in my head, background is extremely important to me, and, like I said before, I like my background more than the latest official one.
I think a lot of my frustration with it is from the End Times series' popularity - if there were more like-minded individuals out there who rejected the End Times backstory and were happy to go on as if it never existed, then I'd probably feel a lot better about it, but as it stands it seems to me that in an rare occurrence the silent majority and the vocal minority are in unanimous total agreement that the End Times background material is the best thing since coca-cola, which leaves me all by myself in my background vision, with no-one to share it with (which isn't too bad, it was after all written for me first and for others second, but it's still nice to share it with others and have them like it), and leaving me feeling kind of alone in a crowd.
I think I might now know how fans of the Old World of Darkness felt when White Wolf rolled out the Time of Judgement and the New World of Darkness.
Anyway, this post isn't really about ranting and bellowing out to the heavens in outrage. Because (again, in what seems like the total opposite of the general trend in the Warhammer/40k community at the moment) while my interest in Fantasy is almost dead, my interest in Warhammer 40,000 has skyrocketed, and I've been very busy with my beloved Battlefleet Gothic. Since last posting, I've finished up my squadron of Tau Castellan class escorts, Lacuna Squadron.
And more recently an Emissary class starship, the Sharon Den Adel.
And I wrote up some background on Tau Orbitals and my fleet's flagship. Enjoy!
Vessels of the Kor'vattra
Part 8: Orbitals
For almost all of its history, the cornerstone of the Tau Empire's space capability has been its Orbitals. Indeed, some argue that the network of Orbitals that honeycombs the Tau Empire are the true backbone of the Tau fleet and indeed even the empire itself more than any starship. The tried and true SX-8 modular Orbital station remains the most common of these and, despite being an aging design and no longer as well known as newer forms of orbital stations and platforms, continues to be a vital link in Tau supply chains and communications relays. Much like the Kor'vattra series capital ships that are of the same vintage, the SX-8 owes much of its success to the versatility and simplicity of its modular design. The Orbital core and ancillary modules are easily transported via a Gal'leath or Il'fannor class starship, and can be quickly set up in a variety of configurations, ranging from habitat stations to defence platforms to docking hubs and anything in between. Indeed, SX-8 Orbitals can be found across the Tau Empire fulfilling almost any role imaginable, including defence stations, habitats, manufacturing plants, trading posts, communications centres, engineering bays, dockyards, medical aid-stations, science and research facilities, observation posts, command centres, starbases and much more besides. The modular nature of the SX-8 also enables them to be quickly and easily dismantled, either for redeployment to a new location, or to withdraw the orbital in the face of an imminent overwhelming attack.
As well as providing all the main command, communication and sensor facilities and systems for the Orbital, along with the Orbital's primary power-plant and habitation for all its core staff, the core module for an SX-8 Orbital array also incorporates a standard long range deep-space communications suite, featuring all the communications systems, computer networks, communications transponders and transmission broadcast relay antennae needed to relay messages across the Tau Empire, forwarding them onto other stations, ships or even Sept Worlds as required, although dedicated communications stations will often have additional communications equipment. The SX-8 Orbital system is also fully capable of operations in both deep-space and planetary orbit. An SX-8's habitat modules, while somewhat Spartan compared to those in an Air Caste orbital city or Fortress Station, are nonetheless comfortable enough and can hold an astonishingly large number of inhabitants, and SX-8 Orbitals outfitted as habitat stations house a considerably large portion of the Tau Empire's citizens, especially the Air Caste. Indeed, those citizens that are Orbital based are more likely to live on an SX-8 than the more well known Orbital Cities, which are usually only built around the most established and developed Sept Worlds and are thus comparatively rare.
Without the need for forward thrust, an Orbital does not need to power immense fusion drives like those commonly found on starships, and so instead the extra energy can be used to improve the performance of the various systems and equipment on the Orbital, especially any weaponry or defence systems, where the additional energy can be used to give extra-drive to auto-loaders and rapidly charge capacitors, allowing railcannon turrets on an Orbital to achieve a massive rate of fire, firing far faster than those mounted on a starship, which lets Orbitals lay down a vicious hail of fire far greater than what would be thought possible of their comparatively few anti-ship weapons. Such barrages surprised Imperial fleets on numerous occasions during the Damocles Gulf Crusade, most notably during the famous ambush over Pra'yen where Orbital fire crippled a number of Imperial capital ships and destroyed numerous escorts. SX-8 Orbital arrays are still able to deliver more firepower than newer purpose-built Security Orbitals, with their multiple hardpoints allowing for a larger number of weaponry, though even the most heavily armed SX-8 Orbital possesses a far lighter armament than that of the massive Ta'Shiro Fortress Stations. SX-8 Orbitals also often feature more extensive hanger bays than Orbital Cities, being able to hold, deploy and support naval fighter and interceptor wings as well as Manta strike wings.
Finally, the SX-8 modular Orbital station system is also used as the basis for the majority of the deep-space Waystations that can be found liberally scattered across the Tau Empire. Arguably even more important than full-scale Orbitals, Waystations are small outpost stations, usually consisting of little more than a core module and a single defensive security module, positioned in deep space between Septs and colonies, and perform essential functions for passing ships, including repair, resupply, medical treatment and acting as a cargo delivery and transfer point, as well as relaying long-distance communications between Septs. Much like the crews of Kir'qath class starships, the small, tight-knit group of staff manning a lonely Waystation is an endearing and iconic image in the Tau Empire, and has given rise to a number of Tau media products, including a popular text publication series and an unrelated but equally popular video broadcast series.
Though older and less glamorous than newer designs such as the Air Caste Security Orbitals, Orbital Cities and Fortress Stations, the reliable SX-8 modular Orbital station remains at the heart of the Tau Empire's space-based infrastructure, and like the Kor'vattra vessels that are its close relatives, it will continue to serve alongside its newer counterparts for many Tau'cyr yet.
Common Orbital Configurations
Class 1 Orbital: habitat stations consisting of a core module and four habitat modules. These are the most common Tau Orbitals, providing additional living space for the citizens of the Tau Empire.
Class 2 Orbital: an orbital or deep space defence platform consisting of a core module and four security modules with gunnery weapons systems, either railcannons or ion cannons in any combination. Later examples of these Orbitals are often highly automated, featuring only a small detachment of Shipboard Security Firewarriors and a skeleton crew needed to oversee, monitor and direct the various drone controlled systems onboard.
Class 3 Orbital: a general purpose Orbital consisting of a core module, at least one habitat module, at least one security module, and at least one capital-scale docking port including a grav-hook. This configuration lacks some of the advanced systems and extensive docking facilities of the Class 4 Orbital, but is more economical to produce and maintain, and as such is a widespread configuration, especially on fringes and backwaters of the Tau Empire where resources are not quite as plentiful as other areas.
Class 4 Orbital: a general purpose Orbital consisting of a core module, one security module with gunnery weapons systems, one manufacturing and research module, one capital-scale docking port including a grav-hook and one docking facility and launch bay for small craft. This is considered the standard Orbital configuration template, able to fulfil a wide range of roles, and many can be found throughout Tau space.
Class 5 Orbital: a heavy-duty port for capital and escort ships, consisting of a core module and four capital-scale docking ports including grav-hooks. These are commonly found in orbit around Tau Sept worlds and colonies to facilitate the transfer of cargo and personnel between starships and the planet surface, but can also be found in deep space where they act as resupply points for starships, as well as cargo transfer points. These can also be used as trading posts.
Class 6 Orbital: a starbase for small craft up to Manta class, consisting of a core module and four docking facilities and launch bays for small craft. These are most common in orbit above Sept Worlds and colonies to accommodate small craft assets and facilitate the transfer of cargo between starships and the planet surface using small transport craft. They are less common in deep space, as it is unusual for small craft to travel that far independently of a larger carrier ship. These can also be used as trading posts.
Class 7 Orbital: a production site consisting of a core module and a combination of habitat modules and manufacturing and research modules, often including a docking port and grav-hook or docking facility and launch bay. These are industrial and scientific stations, often acting as manufacturing plants, research laboratories or even shipyards, and can be found in equal numbers around worlds and in deep space. This class also includes dedicated Orbital medical centres and aid stations.
Class 8 Orbital: a messenger station consisting of a core module and advanced communications centres and facilities or observation and surveillance equipment and long-range sensor arrays. These Orbitals are used to relay communications across Tau space, to observe distant locations or as an early warning station against enemy invasion.