Saturday, 31 December 2016

Merchant Madness

Ok GW, I take it back, I stand corrected. That is now three good things you have done recently. 

My local GW store was giving these away for free on... Wednesday (it would have been Boxing Day, but Christmas was on a Sunday and the store is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays) for free if you made a sufficiently large purchase. Apparently they were officially sent out from GW HQ itself and were presumably distributed to other GW stores as well as an officially sanctioned giveaway. It's a complementary bag of loose bits (y'know, just like the old White Dwarf subscription bonuses the Mail Order Trollz used to put together), and it is the most rock thing they have ever given away at a special occasion since the giffle bundles I've showcased before on here (which I estimate to have given me a rough total of 1000 pts of free Tau overall). The standout best inclusion in it by far is an almost-complete metal Daemonhunters Inquisitor (he's missing a hand and a base, but that's easy to solve), the very same one in fact that I've wanted for years for an Ordo Hereticus conversion I had planned. 

Other highlights include a classic metal Bestigor standard bearer (minus the standard top, but again it's not too difficult to fix) and a Lord of The Rings Easterling cavalryman (minus a horse), as well as the front of a Death Company Dreadnought. There's also a few Tau bits (I've identified a newer plasma rifle and missile pod, half a stealthsuit burst cannon and half a rail-rifle), some Skeleton parts, most of two Skinks (they're both missing shield arms) and some Eldar jetbike weapons, amongst other things. 

The purchase that got it was this. 

A brand new Crusade figure case to facilitate my grand plans of conquest for this year (they share more than a passing resemblance to my grand plans of conquest for last year, but 2016 ended up becoming a 'lost year' and so they never materialised). I also put a special order through, but that's still in the post. 

In the meantime, I've been working through the last few Tau ships still sitting in my build/paint backlog, starting with a pair of Merchant class starships. 

I don't remember if I've told this story or not on here, but there was originally only supposed to be one Merchant. Back in 2013 when the Specialist Games genocide began I quickly scrambled to rescue as many Battlefleet Gothic ships as I could. My top priority was to get at least one example of every Kor'vattra Tau ship made (the Kor'O'vesh ones from Forgeworld were valued targets of opportunity, but outside of the Emissaries were largely considered less important), and since I already owned one Merchant class starship I initially only planned a second one (to be my flagship) plus a blister of Orca gunships to accompany it. This, however, left me with a surplus two Orcas, since they came in blisters of four and the Merchant only has two gravitic hooks (and I already had enough Orcas for the other ships I owned), so I decided to quickly get another Merchant while I still could to make sure I would be able to transport the extra two into battle if needed. I first went to the UK GW page (the NZ/OZ page having largely run out of Battlefleet Gothic Tau by then) and placed an order, but a processing error meant that the order never showed up as being completed. Thinking that it had fallen through, I searched around for another Merchant class in stock and found one on the Japanese GW page, which I promptly ordered from. 

However, the UK Merchant order had in fact gone through and shipped, and so I ended up receiving it shortly after the Japanese Merchant arrived. I wondered what to do about it for a long time, but in the end there was only one real option - keep both of them! I'm never one to say no to more Battlefleet Gothic models*, especially if it's my favourite model in the entire game (which the Merchant is, in case you didn't know), so they both ended up finding a home in my fleet, though I now have two gravitic hooks without Orcas to go with them. 

Although if I happened to come into two more Explorer class starships and 8 more Orcas... 

While on the subject of Merchant class starships I also came up with some experimental homebrew rules for two alternate Merchant configurations. I've mentioned them before on ATT (and possibly on here as well) in the Merchant class background I wrote, but there are a whole slew of different Merchant class configurations besides the two listed in Battlefleet Gothic: Armada that I've come up with. These two in particular were originally conceived as a solution to a disconnect in the original Tau background in Battlefleet Gothic and 40k. The account of the Damocles Gulf Crusade, found in Codex: Tau, describes the Tau fleet in the Hydrass System as consisting of "Seven Tau warships of approximately cruiser displacement" and were apparently "Capable of launching powerful torpedo salvos at long range". It also describes them launching 'escorts' (attack craft really) from the capital ships. 

Now, on it's own this doesn't sound too out of the question, except that going by Battlefleet Gothic: Armada the only cruiser-sized ship the Tau Kor'vattra has that can launch torpedoes and attack craft is the Hero class starship, which wasn't invented until after the Damocles Gulf Crusade. The only cruiser-sized ship the Tau would have had available at the time this supposedly happened is the Merchant class, and the two configurations in the official Kor'vattra fleet list are both gunboats, without gravitic launchers or launch bays. The Bork'an configuration of the Explorer class starship can fire gravitic missiles (the Tau equivalent to torpedoes) as well as launch attack craft, but the Explorer class is most certainly not cruiser displacement - it's very definitely in the Battleship size range and it's hard to mistake it for a cruiser (seriously, the Explorer class is massive). The solution then, is simple - another two Merchant class configurations, perhaps older setups that were phased out after the Damocles Gulf Crusade. 

Thus, I present the Il'fannor T'au configuration and the Il'fannor Vash'ya configuration. 

Il'fannor (Merchant) Class Starship - T'au Configuration . . . . . . . 155 pts

Though almost unheard of in modern times, the T'au configuration of the Merchant class starship was once one of the most widespread and illustrious variants of the Merchant class starship, and promised to be the future of Tau naval combat. 

Towards the end of the 1st Sphere Expansion, the Tau Kor'ar'tol high admirality had begun to develop a better understanding of the space combat tactics employed by the Orks that were at the time the largest major power the Tau had encountered with frequency. Over the course of their many encounters with Ork ships and fleets, it was observed that the Greenskin craft were most dangerous at close ranges, a distance which their speed and tough front prow armour and shielding enabled them to reach with relative ease against the railcannon armed vessels which formed the bulk of Tau fleets at the time. Kor'Os and analysts theorised that the optimal solution for fighting Ork fleets would be to keep them at extreme range, where their offensive output would be reduced to sporadic torpedo and attack craft strikes. 

The Tau Earth Caste began a program of extensive research and development into new standoff weapons that would be able to engage the Orks at such extreme ranges, which culminated in the development of the first Tau gravitic missiles. While the Tau had made use of unguided missile weapons on warships in the past, the new larger missiles were able to perform sustained flight over far longer distances. Fired from a newly developed gravitic launcher, itself created by expanding the standard naval railcannon design to an immense size and linking the firing sequence to the ship's gravitic field, and equipped with the latest advanced drone guidance processors, the missiles were also able to reach extreme speeds and perform sophisticated course-corrections in flight to ensure a successful attack. Early testing against target drones and mockups of enemy warships proved highly promising, and initial field testing showed the new weapon system to be highly effective. 

Impressed with the results, the T'au Council of the Highest authorised the development and production of a new Il'fannor model armed with the gravitic launcher system. The end result featured two gravitic launchers to maximise both redundancy and tactical flexibilty by allowing the ship to attack multiple targets simultaneously. The new Il'fannor variant was readily adopted by the T'au Kor'ar'tol, and quickly spread to the fleets of other Septs as Tau analysts and the Tau admiralty predicted it would render all traditional gunnery-based space combat, and ships configured for it, obsolete. The T'au Il'fannor configuration quickly proved highly successful in fleet actions against the Orks during the tail end of the 1st Sphere Expansion, most notably in Por'O Dal'yth Kiv'rai's famous expedition to the Kroot Worlds and the Place of Union. For a while, it seemed as though the Kor'ar'tol's vision of space warfare dominated by standoff attacks with guided missiles would prove to be a reality. 

All this changed when the Tau encountered the Imperium of Man in strength for the first time. As the Damocles Gulf Crusade drove into Tau space, flotillas of T'au configuration Il'fannors suffered heavy losses. The lengthy reloading time for the gravitic launchers, combined with the immense speed of the Imperial Navy warships, meant that while the T'au configuration Il'fannors could initially inflict considerable damage, they were incapable of sustaining such attack power long enough to prevent the Imperial ships from entering close range, where their limited gunnery armament proved insufficient. Ultimately, the Tau had succeeded in creating a capital sized Cobra Destroyer, which lacked the speed and small profile of an escort torpedo-boat, and while this might have been good for a support ship, it made for a lacking mainline combat vessel. In light of the new developments the T'au configuration Il'fannor was largely phased out of service following the Damocles Gulf Crusade, especially as the more modern and capable Lar'shi and Kir'qath class starships began to circulate through the Tau Empire. Most were converted into other Merchant class configurations, and design features and data from the type would end up providing a major contribution to the development of the Bork'an configuration Gal'leath, but a few mothballed examples can still be found occasionally in Tau fleet reserves. 

Il'fannor T'au Configuration 

 Cruiser/4            15cm         45°               1                    5+                    2    

ARMAMENT                         RANGE/SPEED     FIREPOWER/STR       FIRE ARC
Prow railgun battery                          45cm                              2                    Front/Left/Right 
Port gravitic launcher                Speed: 20-40cm                     3                             Front 
Starboard gravitic launcher       Speed: 20-40cm                     3                             Front 

The T'au configuration Il'fannor may combine its two gravitic missile salvos into a single strength 6 salvo fired to the ship's front arc. Alternatively, it may fire two separate strength 3 salvos. If one of the gravitic launchers is damaged, the ship may only fire one strength 3 salvo until the damage is repaired. 
Later examples of the Il'fannor were produced with a drastically superior hull structure, constructed by methods only recently discovered by the Tau. Il'fannors of any configuration may therefore increase their hits from 4 to 6 at a cost of +15 points. 

Il'fannor (Merchant) Class Starship - Vash'ya Configuration . . . . . 155 pts 

The Vash'ya Il'fannor configuration is one of the oldest variants of Merchant class starship to have been employed by the Tau. It is heavily derived from the basic cargo freighter Il'fannor configuration, and was originally conceived as a medium sized colony transport. As conflict with the Orks became increasingly widespread and commonplace however, the Vash'ya configuration Il'fannor was pressed into military service, with its extensive cargo space re-purposed to support launch bays so the vessel could act as a light carrier for attack craft. Initially this was intended to provide a more economical alternative to the gargantuan Explorer class starships serving as fleet carriers, but the Vash'ya configuration Il'fannor ended up complimenting and serving alongside the venerable Gal'leath to ensure the Tau maintained space superiority amongst attack craft, which was proving to be one of the few areas where they had an advantage over the Greenskins. 

In addition to providing attack craft support in fleet actions, the Vash'ya configuration Il'fannor also proved useful outside of fleet actions. Its considerable cargo capacity and extensive support facilities allowed the Vash'ya configuration Il'fannor to act as a makeshift waystation for communications, repair and resupply purposes, and the variant was a vital link in the Tau command and control system until the Tau network of orbitals and waystations was strengthened and the Skether'qan class starship was introduced. 

A number of Vash'ya configuration Il'fannors were part of the Tau fleet that first encountered Imperial Navy vessels in the Hydrass system, and it was these ships that formed the rearguard while the Tau fleet disengaged, screening the other ships' escape with their Manta squadrons. The Vash'ya configuration Il'fannor would continue to serve the Kor'vattra for the rest of the Damocles Gulf Crusade, but mounting losses discouraged the Tau and the type was gradually phased out of service as the Lar'shi class starship  began production. Like its contemporary, the T'au configuration Il'fannor, a small handful of mothballed examples can still be found in Tau reserve fleets from time to time.  

Il'fannor Vash'ya Configuration

 Cruiser/4            15cm         45°               1                    5+                    2    

ARMAMENT                         RANGE/SPEED     FIREPOWER/STR       FIRE ARC
Prow railgun battery                          45cm                              2                    Front/Left/Right 
Port launch bay                          Barracudas: 25cm         2 Squadrons                       - 
                                                   Mantas: 20cm
Starboard launch bay                 Barracudas: 25cm         2 Squadrons                       - 
                                                   Mantas: 20cm

Later examples of the Il'fannor were produced with a drastically superior hull structure, constructed by methods only recently discovered by the Tau. Il'fannors of any configuration may therefore increase their hits from 4 to 6 at a cost of +15 points. 


So there you have it, two alternate flavours of Merchant class starship for use in games of Battlefleet Gothic. If you have a Tau fleet and wish to use either of these then be sure to let me know how they perform, I am happy to accept feedback for my experimental rules writing. 

*Unless GW releases a wave of new 'Battlefleet Gothic' ships with obscene new designs. Then I probably will say no to them (but never to classic Battlefleet Gothic ships!).

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