As promised, its back to pretty model pictures, for now at least. The latest addition to my revitalised Tau army is this Pathfinder weapons team.
Unlike most of the previous units so far, there is no historical analogue to this unit from my old Tau army, as it is the first entirely new unit (not character) for the modernised force, without a counterpart. There is a Pathfinder team in my older Tau army, but we'll be looking at them at a future date.
The reason for this is because this is only a secondary Pathfinder team. In the buildup for this project I bought two new pathfinder boxes, one to build the real Pathfinder team in the army, and one to harvest for markerlights to equip my infantry team leaders with (I figured the extra stowage bits would probably come in handy too). This however left a bunch of spare Pathfinder bodies and weapons, so I thought I'd put them to good use and use the surplus bits to make a small team armed with ion rifles.
It may seem odd at first to build a minimum-strength Pathfinder team purely for special weapons fire-support, but there is a method to this madness. The first reason behind it was simple practicality - I bought the box for markerlights to distribute to other units, so using them up in more Pathfinders would be counter-productive. The main reason however was learning curve. You see, I've planned out the order of units in the project with an eye towards learning the rules - like I mentioned earlier, I've been on 40k hiatus for the last 5-6 years while I focused on Battlefleet Gothic and Warhammer Fantasy (and this year I started back into 40k for 6th/7th edition just weeks before 8th was announced. I can't help but wonder if I'm cursed...) so I'm trying to prioritise units that will help me ease back into the system. It's part of why the first units I finished were my basic two Troops and an HQ unit, and part of why both were the most simple options available; basic infantry models with minimal special rules that I can learn the core game with before working my way up to more complex things.
Thus, the decision to build this unit next was an extension of this philosophy - a simple way for me to start getting my head around different kinds of weaponry besides S5 AP5 pulse guns (as well as some fun with blast templates should I feel so inclined), without any extra movement or unit rules to worry about on top of that.
There's also a more personal reason. For this project I've decided to approach it using the old guidelines on collecting an army found in the 3.5 edition codexes and the 4th edition rulebook. The sage wisdom contained in those little collecting sections was always a big influence on me, and while I ignored almost all of it as a kid (mostly because I didn't actually get the books until after I started collecting models) it has stayed with me ever since. I still remember the wonder I had while reading them and how much they drove and motivated me in my hobby projects. I still get warm fuzzy feelings when I read over them years later. Thus, I'm honouring as much of them as I can with this project (the only point in them I've ignored so far is the part about acquiring an army one small piece at a time, but since I'm only interested in older models that are now critically endangered I've had little choice). Incidentally, I've also always been deeply influenced by the two army spotlights that were featured in the 4th edition rulebook ('Collecting Space Marines' focusing on a Blood Angels army and 'Collecting Tyranids' focusing on, well, Tyranids), and have similar feelings towards them. It'll probably sound pathetic, but I kind of always dreamed of one day having one of my armies featured in a spotlight article containing my own commentary about them in a rulebook like that, or a White Dwarf, and that one day some new hobbyist in the future might look through their first rulebook, read my commentary and see my models, and be inspired by them in the same way that those spotlight features inspired me.
Finally, as also established previously, I'm a big C&C enthusiast, so it pleases me to work my way up the tech tree with this project.
This unit also gave me an opportunity to test out some of the modelling ideas I've had for the Pathfinders. While I can appreciate the separate markerlight pieces that the new kit offers, I still like the older metal Pathfinder models (especially their awesome special forces style arm patches) much much more, so after a series of comparisons between the two I came up with plans on how to modify the newer Pathfinders into the style of the old. This isn't that hard to do, and mostly involved cutting off the shoulder guards and knee-pads on the newer Pathfinders and greenstuffing cloth in their place. The arm patches were made by cutting off thin slices from the sticky-uppy bits of spare flying stands and pressing them into the greenstuff on the arms while it was still soft. I also cut off the fin on top of the Shas'Ui's backpack, as I think all the excess fins that are on the newer Tau models look silly. Finally I added some spare stowage onto the models' legs to break up the large areas of undersuit on them.
Painting-wise it's nothing new, the only real thing to note was that the entire team was painted simultaneously using a production line method. I thought I'd give the production line another try for the sake of fairness, reasoning that the smaller unit size would make it less tiring. There was also some historical precedent in the decision too - I always found in the past that the supporting units in my Wood Elf army like Wardancers and Eternal Guard worked well in a production line (in no small part due to them being single-piece metal models), so I figured it would be the same here. I was wrong, and ended up in a long tedious grind that lasted over three weeks - normally I'd paint that many infantry models in just one. The production line method has served me well in the past, but whatever the reason I just don't feel like it suits me anymore.
I'm also fairly pleased with how the power crystal on the second ion gunner turned out. I pondered for a while before starting on them what colour to paint the ion rifle crystals, torn between the 6th edition codex's depiction of a green crystal and the blue-purple crystals on the GW studio examples. In the end I went with a rich green - given my fondness for the Command and Conquer computer games and the background behind them it only made sense to paint it like a Tiberium crystal.
There's also some background material this time, to test the waters.
Hunter Cadre Da'Anuk - The 42nd T'au Guards Cadre
Black Knife Pathfinder Teams
Following its official reformation in the aftermath of the First ATT Orbital Incursion, Hunter Cadre Da'Anuk faced a baptism of fire when it was dispatched to the threatened world of Doran'Cha. A well-developed First Phase colony towards the galactic south of the Tau Empire, Doran'Cha had fallen in the path of a splinter of Hive Fleet Corrupter,
or Hive Fleet Jabberwock as it is known to the Imperium. Upon the first detection of Tyranid vanguard activity the system was swiftly evacuated and, sensing an opportunity to prove the efficacy of their newest Guards Cadre, the T'au Council of The Highest dispatched Shas'O'T'au Kais'Ka'Eoro'Da'Anuk at the head of a Command of over 72 Hunter Cadres, including his own, along with a full complement of supplies, equipment and support elements with orders to hold the Y'he on Doran'Cha until a full fleet response could be mustered and dispatched to neutralise the swarm in space, and a secondary directive to test equipment and tactics against the Y'he in order to devise effective countermeasueres, which was a growing concern amongst the Tau Empire's leadership in the face of increasing Tyranid contact following the conflict with Hive Fleet Gorgon.
The resulting engagement saw Da'Anuk co-ordinate a fearsome defence against the Tyranids, centred around the colony's network of cities to offset the especially pervasive xenoforming capabilities displayed by Hive Fleet Corrupter.
In the Kai'rotaa of ferocious urban warfare that followed, itself the subject of multiple publications, casualties amongst Pathfinder teams began to run high as they fought frequent encounters with Y'he infiltration organisms such as Genstealers and Lictors attempting to undermine the Tau's situational awareness. In many instances Pathfinder teams would be reduced to below combat effectiveness. Towards the later stages of the conflict, as Da'Anuk began to be faced with more of these remnants than could be properly merged into effective full-strength Pathfinder teams, he decided to make use of the stragglers by organising them into small teams and issuing them with ion rifles to form hunter-killer parties. Christened Da'Myr or 'Black Knife' teams, these small bands of hardened street fighters would be sent out on search-and-destroy missions against key targets, often Tyranid leadership strains as part of Da'Anuk's strategy to cripple the Tyranid onslaught by eliminating their synapse control system (often known as "Shoot the smart ones" to Gue'vessa serving in the conflict). Due to the dwindling numbers of operable transports towards the later phase of the conflict and priority of their use going to full infantry teams, Black Knife teams usually operated on foot, relying on stealth and an intimate knowledge of the city they were stationed in to reach their targets.
Like the famous image of a Vior'la Mon'at battlesuit operator, the Pathfinders that made up the Black Knife teams had a tenancy to be Tau with grudges. All volunteers, these warriors had all seen many of their friends and bond-mates die, and it was rare for one to have not been through at least one instance of close-quarters combat with Tyranid organisms. Black Knife Pathfinder teams soon gained a reputation for ruthless determination as well as fearlessness and self-sacrifice. It was common for a Black Knife team returning from a completed mission to lend their support to nearby Tau forces, and there are several confirmed instances and numerous anecdotes of Black Knife teams deliberately drawing attention to themselves to divert Y'he swarms away from other Tau units. While the Tau leadership, growing increasingly conscious of mounting losses and their relatively low manpower reserves, generally discouraged this latter practice unless absolutely necessary, Black Knife teams performing such actions doubtlessly saved many lives.
Much like the other tactics and practices used by Da'Anuk's forces in their defence of Doran'Cha's capital, the use of Black Knife teams radiated out to Tau forces operating in other cities on the planet, and in turn many Black Knife teams operating in the capital were formed from surviving warriors that had escaped from cities that the Tyranids managed to overrun. Following the eventual Tau victory at Doran'Cha the forces of Hunter Cadre Da'Anuk have made use of Black Knife teams only infrequently. The practice was generally seen as a product of the fighting at Doran'Cha, and is listed in the T'au Book of War only as a temporary arrangement where proper support is impossible. In the opening stages of the Tau intervention on Port Magellan Pathfinder teams in a similar configuration to the original Black Knives accompanied Hunter Cadre Da'Anuk's infantry patrols to lend fire support as they scoured the surrounding areas of the planetary capital for Imperial rocket batteries used to indiscriminately attack the local starports while the Tau heavy equipment was still being transported to the surface. Likewise, such teams were deployed during the Third ATT Orbital Incursion where the restrictions placed on available technology meant that the limited supply of ion rifles they were armed with was often among the heaviest support weaponry available.
Black Knife Pathfinder equipment varies little from that of the regular Pathfinders in Hunter Cadre Da'Anuk. Like the regular Pathfinders, Black Knife warriors are equipped with lightweight recon armour incorporating the advanced 'Lar'Shi' infantry combat system standard to all Tau infantry operating in Hunter Cadre Da'Anuk, including wrist and helmet integrated tactical computers and a direct link to the cadre tactical battle network for full situational awareness and command and control. In addition to this Black Knife warriors share the practice common to Pathfinders in Hunter Cadre Da'Anuk of carrying a number of additional supplies on their person for extended independent operations. One notable difference is the use of a standard back-mounted lightweight power-pack common to most Pathfinders in Tau Empire service, rather than the advanced recon power-pack used by regular Pathfinders in Hunter Cadre Da'Anuk.
Black Knife Shas'Uis are armed with a Pathfinder-issue PX-14 pulse carbine with integrated markerlight as standard, and commonly sport a sidearm as well as extra surveillance equipment to aid in effectively directing their team's fire. The principle offensive capability of a Black Knife team however lies in the three IX-18 ion rifles carried by the remainder of the Black Knife team, able to deliver firepower directly comparable to a missile pod for maximum medium-range destruction of light vehicles, armaments, heavy infantry, medium sized creatures and materiel targets. Black Knife Pathfinders are trained and instructed to use the standard fire power setting in almost all circumstances, which not only helps preserve the lives of the ion gunners and the service life of the ion rifles themselves, but also increases the longevity of the enriched-iridium fuel pallets used by the ion rifles and in turn allowing for longer periods of time between replacing spent fuel pallets. This minimises the danger of exposure to the high radiation levels given off by the fuel pallets, and puts less strain on logistics for the ion rifles.
Despite their potent stopping power, the IX-18 sees little use in Hunter Cadre Da'Anuk. Regular Pathfinders in Hunter Cadre Da'Anuk generally prefer the safer, more reliable and longer-ranged RX-16V rail rifle as a support weapon, limiting the ion rifle's use to Black Knife Pathfinder teams in most circumstances. Combined with doctrinal employment of Black Knife teams and Da'Anuk's well-known preferences for operator safety and the well-being of the troops under his command, this generally results in Hunter Cadre Da'Anuk's supply of ion rifles remaining in the armoury, however it is not entirely unknown for them to be seen in the hands of Black Knife Pathfinder teams from time to time.
That covers about everything for now I think. Exunt.