Sunday, 26 December 2021

Evolution of The Tau - Part 2

 My favourite TV show of all time is Firefly

It didn't start out that way of course. I actually discovered Firefly in reverse, getting into it at the end and working back. You see, it all started when, one fateful night, I went down to the local Video Ezy. And when I say I went there, I mean one of my parents took me because while nominally old enough to walk around to the local shops I was raised in a household Police State by parents a little too paranoid about my wellbeing for my own good. And I certainly didn't have the purchasing power to rent media anyway, let alone snacks to have with them. But I digress. 

So I went to the local Video Ezy and came back home with a couple of these newfangled DVD things to watch. I no longer remember what titles they were. But what I do remember, is the trailer on one of them that preceded the film. A trailer for some film that promised a slick wild ride of spaceships and anti-gravity vehicle chases and gunfights and mystery. Needless to say I immediately wanted to know where I could find this brilliant thing, but I missed the name of the picture being advertised - I was only 11 or 12 at the time. 

Like Warhammer 40,000 before it, I very nearly forgot about the whole thing until about a year or so later, when I returned to the local Video Ezy and happened upon a DVD whose covers and screenshots next to the blurb seemed to match that fun cool science fiction trailer I had seen before. Intrigued, I immediately put it on the top of the list of titles to get out on this trip. 

The DVD was called Serenity

And on the Third Year did Firefly arise from death. Truly it is The Messiah of Television shows. 

My first outing with Serenity didn't go quite according to plan. It was during my birthday party that year, and while promising my friends were completely thrown off by its nested opening sequences. I actually was too, but I was prepared to press on. However I was distinctly in the minority, so we settled on a different DVD to watch instead. The next day however, free from the burden of democracy, I gave Serenity another watch. Once again I was somewhat baffled by the opening, but I was also just entering adolescence so I was strangely intrigued by the funny feelings I was getting from watching Summer Glau on screen (they shared a lot of similarities with the funny feelings I got from Lts. Zofia and Eva whenever I played through Red Alert 2 at that time), and that was enough to get me through to where the film proper began. 

Which I am very glad of, because it was GLORIOUS

It quickly rocketed to my number 1 favourite movie slot, and remained there until I discovered that there was in fact an entire TV series of these characters in this setting before it.I managed to borrow a copy of this show, called Firefly, from one of my parents' friends, and was hooked from the start. Now is, however, not the time to delve too deeply into the unforgettable characters and their fantastic dialogue and electric chemistry, or the moments that made me feel things in my very core, or even the profound impact it had on me as my life took a screaming nose dive into hell from which it still hasn't quite recovered, but suffice to say that Firefly helped me through some very hard times. Indeed, it was one of the biggest pillars keeping me going until I discovered symphonic metal and figured out how to make friends again. 

So earlier this year when I happened to be going through some similarly dark stuff at the same time as I was - by an astonishing coincidence - house-sitting for those same people who had kindly lent their DVD set of the show, I decided to take the opportunity to give the whole series a watch-through once more, which I hadn't been able to do in a while because many of the discs in my own box set have since lost their minds. Once again, it helped me through and reminded me that there is still beauty in the world (and in the case of a couple of episodes, that there is ugliness in the world beyond myself). Naturally one of the first things I did upon returning home was then load up my DVD of Serenity - which still works - and complete the story. 

Only, that was where the problems began. That was when the colour began to fade. 

Now don't get me wrong here. I can still recognise that Serenity is a brilliant film and great in its own right, and in all honesty is probably about the best conclusion to the show that we could have realistically got. But... it's just not quite the same as Firefly. Watching it again right next to the series, I couldn't help but feel like... something was missing. 

Sure, it was bigger than Firefly, glossier, with slicker production values, and the movie-scale budget meant it could pack in a few giant flashy centrepieces that would not have been possible with a 2000s TV budget. Sure, it has all of the same ingredients as Firefly. And yet... something felt off about it. It's darker than the TV show, both literally in its visual aesthetics as well as in its overall atmosphere. The characters were always a little dysfunctional in the show, but here they fight more often than give friendly hugs and pats on the back, and they actually fight more than the bickering they did in the show, and I just did not feel like these were the same spaceship crew that would laugh endlessly together about all kinds of silly stuff. They did that all the time on the show - often about something that got brought up off-screen - but I don't remember them doing it once in the movie. Hell, I'm not sure I even remember them laughing much at all in the movie. Even the soundtrack is darker and deeper, more theatrical and less space western for the most part. And, most of all, the movie just seems to be missing that same overall innocence, feeling of love and sense of good honest FUN that the show had (the exceptions of course being the first caper at the start of the film and almost every scene with Mr Universe in it. I suspect it's no coincidence that those parts also tend to stick in the public conscious most). 

Again, I understand that a lot of that isn't really the movie's fault. A lot of it is almost certainly just the inevitable collateral damage that comes from squeezing one or two 22 hour TV seasons' worth of content, including character and storyline development, into just one 2.5 hour feature film. There was always going to be stuff that was lost in that translation. Like I say, I'm aware that the movie is probably the best conclusion anyone could have realistically expected. But that doesn't change the difference in look and feel between the movie and the show, which only grows starker when you watch them back to back. 

And that, then, is where this finally relates to the Tau in Warhammer 40,000. Because it was in thinking on this and reaching these conclusions that I finally at long last understood my issues with Codex: Tau Empire. 

In the Grim Darkness of the Far Future, there is only BROWN!

Codex: Tau Empire was originally released in April 2006, about five years after the original Tau release and two years into 4th edition in what turned out to be the mid-point of the editions period of GW support. It was in most respects a pretty conservative book, especially by later GW standards - most of the army rules were left unchanged from Codex: Tau, with the few things that were changed being largely small but significant. It was accompanied by a somewhat more ambitious lineup of model releases that were centred around importing two Forgeworld vehicle kits - specifically the Skyray SAM TELAR and Piranha patrol speeder - into mainstream 40k plastic form. 

The best feature of the book by far is the expanded armoury section. Andy Hoare and the rest of the writing team on this project took the opportunity in this codex to expand the wargear armoury lineup of Codex Tau - which in fairness is... spartan to say the least - especially the Battlesuit Wargear section, which affords Tau characters with a similar level of options to what armies like Witchhunters have already been enjoying. Indeed, between the new wargear options and the Battlesuit equipment system already in place, Tau characters in Crisis Suits can start to rival even 3.5 Chaos Space Marine characters in their complexity and wealth of options. And with a very generous points budget of 100 for every character, and the most expensive item being 30 points, it is possible to load down a single Crisis Suit with every single item in the entire Battlesuit Wargear list - provided, of course, you did not take Shield Drones to escort them. They'd push you just over the limit, so you'd have to give up something for them. 

You couldn't do it for every Tau character in a Crisis suit though, because almost all of these new Wargear items were tagged with a new rule for this codex - Special Issue. The Special Issue items here mark the start of the tradition of new Tau books introducing brand new cutting edge prototype technology that you could equip certain units - usually characters in Battlesuits - with, and means that any item listed as Special Issue is restricted to one for the whole army. This effectively leaves you with the choice of either piling all the Special Issue stuff onto one single Super Prototype suit, or distributing it around the various Battlesuit characters in the army like a boring person. 

Most of these new Special Issue items were largely fun extras, like the Ejection System or the Failsafe Detonator, while a couple - namely the 2+ Armour Save Irridium Armour and the wound-canceling Stimulant Injector - were very potent and quickly became very popular amongst Tau players. But the crowning jewels of the Special Issue addons weren't Wargear items - they were the two new Battlesuit Support System options included in this book, the Command and Control Node and the Positional Relay. 

Of all the things in this book, the Command and Control Node and the Positional Relay are the two things I miss most about it these days, and the two things I would most strongly consider salvaging from it. Right off the bat they have two very powerful abilities - letting nearby units use the character's leadership for Target Priority tests and getting a single Reserve unit onto the table on a 2+ dice roll regardless of what turn it is, respectively. But more than that, when put on a Shas'El or Shas'O commander they really emphasise their role as leaders and highlight their ability to, well, command things, making them actual command units instead of just fighters with really hardcore stats. Not only that, but they also highlight two different levels of military command - the Command and Control Node, with its effects on on-table local fire control, emphasises command and leadership at the Tactical level, while the Positional Relay with its control over key Reserve deployment reflects command and leadership at the Operational level. It's beautiful. 

The final Special Issue items of note are two new Battlesuit weapon options, the Cyclic Ion Blaster and the Airbursting Fragmentation Projector, both of which got modeled as metal components that are exceptionally cool looking even now. The Airbursting Fragmentation Projector in particular is the best addition from this codex next to the aforementioned support systems, and is an auto-include on my commander in every game not played using Codex: Tau (a rare thing, and getting rarer as time goes on), being essentially a self-guiding cluster bomb launcher that functions as a short-range Mortar on crack. 

In addition to all this, the codex features a new kind of alien auxiliary unit in the form of the Vespid, a new heavy weapons unit in the Sniper Drone team, some expanded options for Stealthsuit teams, a smattering of minor rules alterations here and there, and two new named Special Characters. The first of these is Aun'Va, billed as the head Ethereal that all the other Ethereals in the Tau Empire answer to. In later books his character was taken to some pretty absurd places in the name of pandering to rabid anti-Tau fans (we'll be back for them), but here he's presented how he should have always been as the sagely non-combat Leader type that's a staple of so many RTS escort missions, and while the initial seeds of the later takes are plainly there, its a refreshing image from before the GW writers went Full Putin with him. The second is Commander Shadowsun, conceived as a foil for Farsight, and is essentially a Tau version of Sarah Kerrigan from Starcraft - even right down to the red topknot, thanks to the 'Evy Metal team - something only reinforced by some honestly pretty badass illustration artwork of her out on a covert mission in the middle of a moonlit wilderness. Shadowsun also debuts the XV-22 Battlesuit so beloved of later Tau players, even though I still think it's one of the uglier battlesuit designs; it's the helmet that kills it for me, something that I was very grateful to the Relic team for fixing in the Tau campaign of Dark Crusade

Also, speaking of artwork, Codex: Tau Empire features some more artwork by the legendary Karl Kopinski, in whose breathtaking illustrations Warhammer 40k came of age, and who has easily done the best job of capturing the Warhammer 40,000 universe in visual form (fight me 2nd Edition grognards). Currently featured on the gallery section of Karl Kopinski's website is this spicy little collection of little page doodads. 

Image sourced from All credit for artwork goes to Karl Kopinski. Seriously, check out all his artwork, he's really good!

Right away it's pretty easy to spot the influence of the Lord Of The Rings Strategy Battle Game page doodads creeping into the visual style, particularly in the shading techniques. But what I find really interesting about this collection is that not all of these made it to the final codex. Not counting the baby doodle (which judging by the very different visual tone was never seriously intended for codex publication), only half of the doodad pieces featured here were featured in the final published book. The ones that GW elected not to use are interesting, because I actually like some of them a little more than some of the final choices. Particular standouts to me include the cityscape at night and the hunk of meat with a knife plunged in it, which would have been a nice bone to throw for the Kroot aspect of the book (pun intended). 

But while Codex: Tau Empire has some fun features, it also harbours some big problems, and indeed carries the seeds of many of the later problems that would surface in GW's direction of the Tau, as well as a couple that would reflect greater problems in GW's direction of 40k itself. To start with, not all of the rules changes were good ones, with many of them being well-meaning but ultimately problematic. Take Flechette Dischargers for instance, easily one of my favourite Tau vehicle upgrade options. This book changed them from being an offensive tool, granting a bit of insurance against Death Or Glory counter-attacks when plowing the vehicle into infantry units, into a defensive tool that inflicts a bunch of moderate strength hits on infantry attacking the vehicle in close combat. Which is.. it's fine from a purely mathematical point of view, but it completely misses the point of what makes Flechette Dischargers so special and important in Codex: Tau - namely that by allowing Tau vehicles to (mostly) Tank Shock infantry units in safety, they provide Tau armies with an alternative to Kroot for clearing opposing troops off of objectives and important locations, which in turn makes the option of a pure Tau army with no alien auxiliaries in it more viable (while at the same time leaving Kroot a relevant option because they can still handle the counter-assault niche better and are better at digging opposing troops out of REALLY dense areas). 

But it goes deeper than that, because the big problem with a lot of the rules changes in Codex: Tau Empire, especially with the existing wargear upgrades, is that they were changed in ways that sacrificed something really fun and special in the name of supporting bog-standardised Pitched Battle Pick Up Games and Tournaments. The Battlesuit Sensor rules and Sensor Spines vehicle upgrade are both good examples of this - in Codex: Tau they give all Battlesuit units and any vehicle with Sensor Spines the equivalent of an Auspex/Scanner for the purposes of detecting Ambushes in Jungle scenarios and Lictor Secret Deployment. The Sensor Spines also give a bonus to navigating minefields. But in this book they give all Battlesuits the Acute Senses special rule, and vehicles the ability to make use of cover as if they weren't skimmers, respectively. 

Which is... again, I get that those effects are both more universally useful, and in particular more relevant to bog standardised Pitched Battle Pick Up Games and Tournaments, so it's great if you're the sort that mostly does that anyway, but it feels soulless. It misses out on something special. The fact that those fun special scenario and environment rules are so fundamentally baked into the DNA of its scenario mechanics is one of the best things about 3.5 Edition Warhammer 40,000, and even one of the very few parts of that core rule set I enjoy more than 4th Edition Warhammer 40,000, and the fact that here we are, with a whole unit special rule and standard vehicle upgrade right there making direct reference to those, that's something I really love. So I don't feel right seeing it gutted and replaced with.. a Universal Special Rule and a generic movement gimmick. 

(as an aside, it's also why the special Daemon World rules in White Dwarf #313(AU) are one of the best things about 4th Edition Warhammer 40,000) 

And of course there's the Markerlights. Codex: Tau Empire marked the beginning of Markerlights being Flanderised by GW writers from being a fun interesting little side quirk of the army into a crutch that's integral for the army to function at all. See, in Codex: Tau, Markerlights are very much a supplemental thing, a little bit of sauce on the side. They are by no means an integral must-have thing, and not only is it entirely possible and very common to build a fully viable Tau army without a single Markerlight in it, that's actually what Games Workshop writer Pete Haines did in the very first inaugural White Dwarf battle report featuring the Tau, and he won that game. Point is, Markerlights in Codex: Tau are a cherry on top that's there to help your assault and heavy weapons hit That One Big Threat That Has To Die Right Now. The trick here, is the magic of the Ballistic Skill 3 stat. Because Ballistic Skill 3 means always hitting on a 4+ with every gun, every shooting attack has a flat 50/50 chance of hitting, which is very easy to plan around. But on top of that, every major Tau weapon carrier has an organic way of improving those odds. Vehicles can take Targeting Arrays to make them Ballistic Skill 4, Battlesuits can take twin-linked guns (and Broadsides in particular even have their guns conveniently already twin-linked to give the player a hint about this), and everything else can effectively throw out so many shooting dice that you're guaranteed to get enough through regardless. 

In that context, Markerlights are not at all essential to a successful Tau army. But in Codex: Tau Empire that all changes. In this book, instead of just making guns hit on a flat 2+ or guiding in Seeker Missiles on a flat 2+, Markerlights provide a range of shooting related bonuses that include ignoring Night Fighting, ignoring Target Priority, improving Pinning chances and, most crucially, ignoring cover saves for the first time. On top of that, this book marks the first place where two of the most widely-used and powerful Markerlight abilities - better shooting accuracy and ignoring cover saves - are stacking modifiers that are very moderate individually, but get exponentially better the more of them are combined. This makes Markerlights enough of a force multiplier as to distinguish Tau armies into "Have Markerlights" and "Have Not Markerlights". Consequently many many more Tau players began including lots of Markerlights (helped by the introduction of a new Markerlight carrying Drone option), which in turn encouraged Games Workshop to double down on their significance in following rule sets, in a vicious cycle that continues to this day. 

Mere rules changes are one thing though, but altogether worse was the shifts in aesthetics and lore. There are many small examples of this scattered throughout the book, but perhaps the biggest one is what happened to the Ethereals, which is emblematic of one of the worst design decisions that GW went with for the post-2004 Tau. 

You see, looking at the Tau media and models ever since the release of Codex: Tau Empire, it is very readily apparent that at some undisclosed point between 2001 and 2006, someone at Games Workshop sat down one day, watched Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, and then said to themselves, "YES! This, this right here, THIS is what we need for our new Tau game faction!" 

Because since then, with every major iteration, GW seems to be hell-bent on injecting more and more aspects and tropes of the Star Wars Prequel antagonists into the Tau game faction. And the epitome of this trend is the Ethereals, and their models in particular, which each edition seem to get more and more like the Neimoidians in the Star Wars Prequels - especially The Phantom Menace. And it all started with this 2006 Tau release wave, and this Codex: Tau Empire. The Ethereal models released for it represent the most obvious visual links between the two. I mean, just look at them next to each other: 

Real subtle there, GW

I'm using the particular 4th Edition Ethereal sculpt that's closest to those exact costuming designs to illustrate a point. There are about three other variant sculpts that are a little more distinct, but not by a lot. Likewise there was a later plastic Ethereal model released in 2017 which breaks from those characters visually, but this just replaces that with 1) just being a very boring and ugly model in general and 2) only really treating the symptom and not the disease. 

That's because while they started to cut some of the visual ties to the Neimoidians from the Star Wars Prequels, they only doubled down on the characterisation ties. This ones a little hard to explain without lots of video clips, which is a form of techno-sorcery beyond my primitive TV writer brain, but suffice to say that a lot of the major attributes exhibited by the Neimoidian characters - being unscrupulous, greedy, devious and ultimately cowards - are all attributes that are increasingly exhibited by Ethereal characters in post-2005 Tau fiction, both from Games Workshop itself and Black Library. Which is bad not just because it's a very lazy and tired way of characterising authority figures, but also because it's Problematic for the same factors that make the coding and characterisation of the Neimoidian characters in the Star Wars prequels Problematic. A subject on which there's already been plenty of discourse elsewhere. 

In all deadly seriousness, what my creative writer's instincts are telling me happened was that this particular example at least is a case of Convergent Evolution. I suspect that when designing the models, and writing the fiction, the Games Workshop team went to all the same root sources of inspiration that the Phantom Menace production crew did for the Neimoidians, asked all the same questions they did, went through the exact same creative and workshopping processes they did, and thus inevitably came out with an extremely similar end product that has all of the same flaws. 

But then I look at the style of Tau buildings depicted in the themed terrain sets used in all the model shoots (sure, there was a little of the style in the 2001 Games Day board themed around a Tau city, but not with nearly as many weird slim fin-like elements everywhere), and I remember that this 2006 era of the Tau is the same era that produced Dark Crusade, a game that infamously gave Tau drones "Roger Roger" style robot voices, and I cannot help but wonder if someone in Games Workshop circa 2004-2005ish really did watch too many Star Wars prequels. 

But it goes even deeper than that. All throughout the book there's just this creeping darkness, and creeping murkiness, that pervades everything. The new artwork is less bold and vibrant in its shading. The graphics are more sinister. There's the first creeping appearances of the vectors with which Games Workshop will later inject Grim Darkness into the Tau game faction to appease the 1d4chan crowd. In Aun'va's lore blurb they even mention Tau on a crusade for gods sake. Tau! In a crusade! That's the kind of language you'd expect from an Imperial codex, not a Tau one. And all those beautiful 1950s Space Opera throwbacks about exploring the cosmos are thin on the ground, replaced by talk about binary join-or-die expansionism that was never really much of a thing in the earlier material and invariably painted as freak outliers when it did happen. 

Even the cover illustration is bleaker. Just look at the cover art for Codex: Tau, bursting with bold vibrant colour and life, promising a world of adventure and excitement and dynamic progress: 

Nothing says "Space Opera adventure!" quite like a desert battle beneath an aggressively blue sky

And then compare it to the bleak drab murky tones of the cover art for Codex: Tau Empire

In the Grim Darkness of the far future, there is only BROWN!

And all in all the whole book feels pervaded by, well... a sense of innocence lost. 

Which brings us full circle to the conclusion I've reached, the voice I've finally been able to give to my reservations about this book. You see... 

Codex: Tau Empire is to Codex: Tau what Serenity is to Firefly. 

Sure, it's bigger than Codex: Tau, and glossier, with slicker production values, and the 2006 GW budget meant it could pack in a few giant flashy centrepieces that would not have been possible with a 2001 codex budget. 

And sure, it has all of the same ingredients as Codex: Tau. And yet... something feels off about it. It's darker than the original codex, both literally in its visual aesthetics as well as in its overall atmosphere. The characters were always a little expansionist in the first codex, but here they fight more often than explore the wonders of the cosmos, and they actually fight wars more than the border disputes and peaceful coexistence they practiced in the original lore, and I just do not feel like this is the same love letter to Supermarionation and 1950s - 1970s Space Opera that would solve problems with intelligence more than violence. They did that all the time in the original fiction - often running rings around some hapless human diplomat from the Imperium - but I don't remember them doing it once in Codex: Tau Empire. Hell, I'm not sure I even remember the Imperium sending diplomats to negotiate with the Tau at all in the post-2005 material. Even the cover artwork is darker and deeper, more gritty and less space opera for the most part. And, most of all, Codex: Tau Empire just seems to be missing that same overall innocence, feeling of love and sense of good honest FUN that Codex: Tau has (the exceptions of course being the Wargear Armoury and Special Issue Weapons. I suspect it's no coincidence that those parts also tend to stick in the public conscious most). 

And I'm aware it's not the book's fault. The things that concern me in this book are almost entirely due to flawed creative processes and attempts to pander to the 1d4chan segment of the Warhammer 40,000 player base. But that doesn't change the difference in look and feel between Codex: Tau Empire and Codex: Tau, which only grows starker when you read them back to back. 

It's a reasonable enough book, especially from a purely mechanical point of view, but whenever I look through it I can't help but feel like there's something missing in it, something intangible but very important nonetheless. And it took my first tabletop love from me. 

So that then, is why I invariably give Codex: Tau Empire a pass these days, and use Codex: Tau instead whenever possible, especially in 4th Edition Warhammer 40,000, because that book brings a smile to me more in much the same way that Firefly warms my soul more than Serenity these days. 

GW can't take the sky from me...

Sunday, 14 November 2021

Evolution of The Tau - Part 1

 Twenty years ago today something happened that changed the face of Games Workshop, and Warhammer 40,000 in particular, forever. 

OK, so it wasn't exactly today. It was actually staggered out over 3 months in 2001, beginning in October and continuing through to December, but this year does mark the 20 year anniversary of the greatest game-changer of GW history (fight me Oldhammer and 1d4channers), and certainly the greatest game-changer in the history of Warhammer 40,000 (again, Die Mad Oldhammer and 1d4channers). If nothing else, it is certainly the most underrated game-changer in the history of Warhammer 40,000, which is objectively provable by way that I have observed virtually no-one on the Internet seems to have even mentioned it this whole month. 

(Now granted, as previously established last time I do live under a rock on a cold dark planetoid orbiting a Black Hole approximately 42 billion light years away from the Earth, so if this isn't the case and there has indeed been a lot of discourse about this on Reddit or Tweet-Tok or whatever the devil it is that young people use to talk about tabletop games on the Internet these days then please do correct me on this in the comments. But my initial Google Search for 'Tau in 40k 20 Year Anniversary' produced precisely two (2) results that were relevant to the topic, so I'm going to assume it's just not being talked about as much as it should)

I am, of course, talking about the introduction of the single most underrated game faction in Warhammer 40,000. 

The Image that got me into tabletop games.

The Tau, in case you aren't aware, are one of the major game factions in the Warhammer 40,000 tabletop game. The short gist of them is that in the game universe they are a high-tech alien civilisation that controls a quickly growing empire in the eastern edge of the galaxy, which includes both Tau planets and numerous other alien civilisations that have joined the Tau peacefully and now coexist with them. In the grand scheme of things, where the various Warhammer 40,000 game factions represent different science fiction tropes, the Tau are your classic Space Opera faction. 

Originally the Tau were planned to be introduced to the game and its players at the end of 2001, but as the release date drew near an executive decision was made to bump them up ahead a month, so they were released on the faithful month of October instead of November. So the legend in the White Dwarf first covering them goes at any rate. 

Clearly someone at Games Workshop knew exactly how brilliant their new creation was. 

Thus it was that this time 20 years ago the world was introduced to the first Tau models ever released by GW - the Fire Warrior infantry troops, the Kroot Carnivore auxiliary troops, and the Gun Drones, along with a Battleforce box set that included all of the above and a group of Crisis battlesuits. Plus the Tau codex itself, of course. 

The following month, November 2001 saw the release of the Broadside battlesuit, the Devilfish and Hammerhead hover tanks, the Pathfinder reconnaissance scouts, the Kroot Hounds and Kroot shaper leaders, the Ethereal leader, and the special named characters of the codex, Aun'Shi and O'Shovah or Commander Farsight as he's more commonly known. 

Finally, December 2001 featured the last Tau releases, the XV15 stealth troops, the Krootox and Crisis Battlesuits as an individual item, leaving every unit in the codex with model representation. It should be noted that as well as the Crisis suits, the Broadside suits, Devilfish, Pathfinders and Krootox were all released right from the start in October as part of an army box set deal, because as BOLS points out some things never change. This army box set also included a special edition Ethereal model that was just about never released as a standalone model, which was a thing that all of the army box sets at the time did because GW in 2001 was just that awesome. 

FUCK. YEAH. (Image taken from Worthpoint)

The written material for the Tau was similarly staggered, with an Index Xenos lore piece and basic rules for Fire Warriors included in White Dwarf #261(US) for October 2001, and the bulk of the release content a month later in White Dwarf #262. It is here that the Designer's Notes for the Tau were first published. They are still available on the original GW website, accessible through the Wayback Machine internet archive, and are strongly recommended reading. 

It is in these Designer's Notes, penned by the God Emperor of 40k Andy Chambers himself, that the origins of the Tau are revealed. In the tail end of the 1990s and the dawn of the 2000s (presumably, given the average 2-year production cycle of these things), the decision was made in Games Workshop to add in a brand new game faction for the Warhammer 40,000 franchise, something fresh and unique to shake up the status quo of fantasy civilisations in space that had largely crystallised in 40k by around half-way through 2nd edition, more or less. The only trouble was, the Games Workshop designers had no idea what it should be. They had an enormous list of possible concepts to develop, and even after extensive narrowing down they became deadlocked on two options: either expanding on the Kroot, a minor alien civilisation briefly referenced in the 3rd edition 40k Rulebook, or developing a total clean sheet alien concept called the Tau. 

It was at this point that 40k developer Rick Priestly stepped in, and made like the girl in the Old El Paso ads. 

Rick Priestly, circa 1999-2000, probably

And so the two factions were developed simultaneously, with the Kroot evolving into one of the most important alien allies of the Tau, and foil for them conceptually and aesthetically - one is a bright altruistic unified force of high-tech aliens, one is a scattered species of semi-nomadic tribes and warbands of brutal but technologically limited aliens, TOGETHER! They save the universe! 

I'd certainly watch that show. 

At the heart of the Tau concept was a determination to have a clean break from the rest of the Warhammer 40,000 setting. The Tau were envisaged from Day 1 to be a direct foil to the other 40k factions, an island of good honest positivity in a sea of Grim-Dark despair and horror. In the words of Andy Chambers: 

"In contrast to the other races, we wanted the Tau to be altruistic and idealistic, believing heartily in unification as the way forward."

And if it were up to me, that quote would be laser-etched into the cover of every Tau-related product Games Workshop ever released. It would also be burned into the front door of whatever department or writer was tasked with working on them, and perhaps tattooed onto said writer's forehead as well for good measure. 

For the purposes of growing the franchise and keeping it relevant, this concept was a stroke of genius, and also perfectly filled a notable thematic hole in the setting to boot. You see, up until 2001 40k had always been missing a Space Opera faction in its lineup. Not a Skulls and Candles gothiced up Space Opera faction like the Imperium, no I'm talking a real Space Opera faction - no skulls, no candles, no hoods or ominous latin, no religious dogma, just good old fashioned Enlightenment ideals and good honest science and technology and innovation, populated by good honest explorers and scientists and artists and intellectuals all striving to solve problems with their heads (and the occasional death ray or nuclear missile or 10) rather than a chainsaw. 

For the first decade or so of 40k's existence there wasn't anything like that - the Imperium and Space Marines in particular kind of skirted around the periphery of it in Rogue Trader but dropped any pretense of trying to appeal to it VERY quickly and the last vestiges of that were largely gone by the middle of 2nd Edition. And this is particularly painfully conspicuous because until 2001 40k had just about damn near every other flavour of science fiction civilisation in existence featured in some shape or form. Space Bugs? Check. Mad Max scavenger punks? Check. Crystal-powered science fantasy? Check. Cyberpunk? OK that one sort of slipped through a little as well but the Imperium still retained a lot of that long past Rogue Trader. Check. 

Everything except an honest normal good ol' fashioned 20th Century Space Opera civilisation. The Tau filled that niche wonderfully, completing the full spectrum of Science Fiction Trope Deathmatch that is Warhammer 40,000. 

"Now you see here, you no-good bleeding heart snot-nosed little Simp Cuck fake fanboi," I hear from the festering pit of hate that is the comment sections of the internet, "40k got on just fine without any of this honest wholesome Space Opera stuff for 20 odd years, and it can get on just fine without it now!" 

Well Mr (or Ms, but with language like the above who are we kidding here) 2nd edition worshipping Dankhammer Keyboard Warrior, that brings me to the second aspect of the genius behind the design and inclusion of the Tau. 

See, 40k fans like to talk about themselves as the centre of the pop culture universe, or at least the science fiction pop culture universe, but the bitter truth is even within that very specific niche of a niche we're a minority (a vocal minority at times, but a minority nonetheless). There are a lot more Star Trek and Star Wars fans than there are 40k ones, for example, and I'd wager there are probably more Starcraft fans than 40k ones as well. And that, in no small part, is because the bitter truth is that 40k is pretty niche even by science fiction standards. Let's be honest here, it takes a very specific mindset to fully get into the groove of a lot of 40k, to fully appreciate the concept of fantasy Orcs with guns and spaceships or gothic lovecraftian chainsaw insanity, and a lot of people just don't get it. I know this because I've learnt it the hard way in my ill-fated attempts to get people interested in the tabletop games I enjoy, where I have had a precisely 0% success rate and a precisely 100% incidence of confused but well-meaning smiles and nods and "Oh yes that's... very interesting." 

The bitter truth is, in the grand scheme of things most people, even most sci-fi enthusiasts, just aren't that interested in playing games as skull-encrusted medieval lunatics with chainsaws in space cathedrals. And that gets even more apparent when you step into the vast endless abyss of people who aren't major consumers of science fiction. 

Enter then, the Tau. A 40k faction for the normal sci-fi fan, a 40k faction for the normal tabletop gamer, nay, a 40k faction for the normal pop-culture consumer given the leaps and bounds science fiction has made in breaking through to the mainstream. By existing in the 40k setting as this nice good-natured progressive Space Opera faction, the Tau provide a gateway into the 40k franchise for a whole range of people who could be interested in science fiction tabletop games, but are put off by the other 40k game factions. And this is a very good thing for two reasons: 

1) It means more customers, thus growing the business and getting the game company (GW here) more money. 

2) It means more people playing Warhammer 40,000, thus growing the player-base and making it easier to find gaming opponents and connect with people over this tabletop thing. 

The technical scientific term for this situation, used by leading experts and Industry Veterans alike, is a Win-Win. 

And there's concrete evidence for this working. You're reading it right now. The truth is, if the Tau hadn't been created there is no question that I would have given 40k a hard pass, never gotten into it, and by extension probably never have gotten into Tabletop gaming at all. Somewhere out there is a Millitant in a parallel dimension where the Tau were never created, writing comfortably about the sad state of computer gaming from his tricked out custom PC rig created from parts purchased with all the money he never spent on tabletop games. Either that or he plays electric guitar and writes about that. Or he works on cars or motorcycles or something I guess. Point is, in that parallel dimension where the Tau were never created for Warhammer 40,000, the Millitant that inhabits it does NOT have anything to do with tabletop games. 

I am exactly one of those people who the Tau were aimed at, and it worked like a charm. And where there's one case of that, it's almost certain there's more. 

But it's not just about real world Doylist considerations. The Tau as a bright happy genuinely noble and altruistic good guy force enriches the wider Warhammer 40,000 setting enormously as well. Right off the bat they act as a moral counterweight to the rest of the setting, a kind of safety valve for avoiding burnout from Darkness-induced apathy, because even if you are into it Grimdark gets exhausting after a certain point. It is a horrible irony that all to often I see comments online about people clamouring for something lighter in 40k for a break in the grim darkness, despite the Tau being RIGHT THERE. 

It goes deeper than that though, because the presence of the Tau as genuine legit good guys also enhances the grim darkness of everything else. Part of this is the juxtaposition between the Tau and everyone else - after all you can't really have darkness without light to contrast it against. But it's more than that, because the very existence of the Tau as these good guys also has extremely grimdark implications for everyone else's actions. Because their presence proves that classic good guys can thrive in the Warhammer 40,000 setting, it takes everyone else's horrible actions from being born out of simple necessity to deliberate, purposeful choices driven by character flaws - in other words, classic tragedy. 

Think about it. how much more grimdark is it that, after uncounted thousands of years of unrelenting horror and bloodshed, when the powers of the galaxy are, at long last, finally presented with a genuine legitimate bona fide way out of this nightmare, their reaction is to ignore it and continue on with their unending bloodbath, possibly going so far as to try and stamp out this way out if the opportunity arises - all because they're too cowardly to take it, or too greedy, or too prideful, or too stubborn, or because it would mean they can no longer reap the benefits of the utterly broken systems that are the status quo, or even just because they're simply too institutionalised to the suffering; that after 40,000 years and countless generations of unending slaughter they're just no longer capable of adjusting to or even comprehending a reality that isn't drowning in horror and death. After all: 

"It is not the Horror of War that troubles me, but the Unseen Horrors of Peace."

So much more Grimdark and interesting than "herp derp they have sterilisation camps after all" (We'll be back for you later). 

But themes and concepts alone don't comprise a tabletop faction. Being a tabletop miniatures game made by a tabletop model company, the Tau needed a strong coherent visual style to produce a range of fantastic looking models so that lots of people would buy them. The GW studio designers more than delivered, creating a range of beautiful models with a completely unique aesthetic design. Even so, all art is a process of evolution, with all artistic creations inheriting from the influences that first inspired them. The Tau are no exception, and there is one source of inspiration behind the Tau style that shines through more than any other, a source material whose fingerprints are unmistakable and clear for all to see on the design style of the models and even the thematic tone of Tau lore. 

There can be only one classic pillar of science fiction to which I am referring to, a unique and easily recognisable visual art form from an Island Nation, a visual art form that is beloved across the world and renowned for its bold striking style and dynamic futurism. I am, of course, referring to... 


The genesis of the Tau. 1960s, Colourised

In case you live in one of those savage backwaters where its glory was never syndicated, or if you have the misfortune of not existing until after the shows were aired, SUPERMARIONATION is a screen media format created in Slough, England by Gerry Anderson with the help of Sylvia Thamm (who he later married). It was primarily made for Television broadcast, but also produced a couple of films as well. It consisted of building the most breathtaking, jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring model scratch-builds and kitbashes ever conceived by human minds...

... and then BLASTING THEM TO KINGDOM COME on camera. 

Oh and there was usually some stuff about characters portrayed by puppets thrown in to string the model explosions together into a coherent story too. 

But aside from the monstrous explosions that put Michael Bay films to shame (and since these shows were made before computers were much of a thing, they were all practical too - every time you see something in these shows explode, they blew it up for real), the thing that stands out about Supermarionation is its distinct art design and visual style, a design aesthetic that has never really been seen before or since. It's a striking design language, full of dynamic futuristic architecture and vehicle designs with lots of clean Utopian future technology. 

Now why does that sound familiar? 

Even as an 8-year old kid, the Supermarionation influence on the Tau design was obvious to me from the moment I first laid eyes on the models. In fact, the first time I ever saw pictures of the Forgeworld Tau aircraft my first reaction was: 

"Oh my god, they're like the planes in Thunderbirds!" 

In the beginning it was the intakes that first cued me in. Those huge square intakes with their solid grating in the inside remain one of the most easily recognised parallels between the Tau and Supermarionation designs. Just look at one of the best examples of these in Supermarionation, the prow intake pods of Skyship One from the film Thunderbird 6

The anti-gravity zeppelin my childhood was built on

In case you missed what I'm talking about, here it is again with the big square intakes and their solid grills highlighted. 

And here they are again on the Tau Tigershark aircraft. 

The Tau aircraft diorama my Warhammer 40,000 is built on.

Like I say, when I was looking at that thing on the Forgeworld Website (and its little brother the Barracuda), Thunderbirds and Skyship One was immediately the very first thing that came to mind. And the fact I watched Thunderbird 6 on VHS a hundred times when I was in Primary School can't take full credit for that. The design cues are there. 

And there are certainly more of them. For a very long time I couldn't quite put my finger on them exactly, I simply had a vague gestalt awareness that these models had an obvious Supermarionation influence. But recently I've finally been able to identify what it is - a common visual design language. 

See, the Tau models - and by extension Tau technology itself - are built on a very simple but effective visual style at their core. At the heart of the Tau aesthetic is a body of hard solid angles, that are punctuated by a few sleek curves. This design language crops up everywhere in the Tau model range, from the Fire Warrior infantry to the battlesuits and all the way up into the vehicles that are the stars of the Tau range. 

And it's the same visual design language used throughout Supermarionation shows - hard, solid angles punctuated by a few sleek curves. 

In the case of the Tau vehicles specifically, they also share another unifying feature - a pod like control centre or cockpit, semi-inset with a raised superstructure, with a slit-like forward vision block, and normally located in the centre of the vehicle's front. This is important, because, surprise surprise, the same feature shows up in a lot of Supermarionation vehicle designs too. 

Just compare the Martian Space Probe transporter from Thunderbirds

Or Thunderbird 4 itself 

Alongside the Tau Hammerhead Gunship: 

Tau in 40k are GO...

Admittedly it's not quite as blatant when you can't get the angles on the example shots to match perfectly, but hey I have to work with what the Internet gives me. Point is, the visual design and style influences are clearly there to see. And of course they are, because it makes such perfect sense given how closely the Tau dovetail the themes, atmosphere and tone of Supermarionation shows, especially Stingray and Thunderbirds.

Now none of the GW studio people ever explicitly mentioned Supermarionation when discussing the Tau in the Designers' Notes for them, but they don't have to because it goes without saying. I know that Supermarionation was a huge influence on them, because they were (mostly) British lads who grew up in the UK post-Supermarionation, and it was one of those game-changing phenomena that colour everything that comes after them. It's the same reason why it's a big influence on me and a lot of my science fiction stuff outside 40k, because there was just no escaping it in 1990s Aotearoa either. 

And what a legacy to incorporate! 

Right then, that about wraps things up for this instalment! The Tau have been a fixture of 40k for 20 years now, and it's fair to say they've earned their place as one of the key iconic factions of the setting. Next time on this blog we should be back to showcasing some painted models that I've finally at long last finished so be sure to come back for- 

What's that?

Eh? what? 

What do you mean? 


Ugh. Fine. 

I suppose we probably need to address that other artistic medium that gets brought up all the time, if we really must. 

So for most of their lifetime as a game faction the Tau have been commonly labelled "The Anime faction". This mostly stems from their use of large bipedal robot walkers, which are a common staple in science fiction Anime, and some references in the Tau Designers' Notes. I mean... I can see where people can come from there, but the label has never sat right with me at all. It feels like a big disservice to the Tau in rendering them down into a single one-dimensional concept, and ultimately lies at the heart of some problematic decisions GW has taken with the model range in recent times (again, we'll come back to this later). Ultimately I can't help but feel like far too many people allow a couple of off-the-cuff throwaway lines from the Designers' Notes to do their thinking for them. 

And they ARE off-the-cuff throwaway remarks. How do I know this? Because the GW studio designers themselves downplay them in the very Designers' Notes they feature in: 

"[The Tau Battlesuits] had obvious Manga influence, but we tried to steer away from any one inspirational source, gleaning our ideas from a wider range." 

Those are Jess Goodwin's own words. It's the same with the Ashigaru influences on the Fire Warrior infantry armour - they're downplayed in the same sentence they're mentioned. 

"The Fire Warrior armour was suggested by Japanese Ashigaru foot soldiers, but we only wanted a subtle influence to come through."

Emphasis mine in both cases. The GW studio designers who originally worked on the Tau clearly never intended them to be only a shout-out to science fiction Anime and Manga. Indeed, the message that shines through in the Designers' Notes is that what the GW studio designers DID intend for the Tau was to be a beautiful creative maelstrom of different influences and ideas coming together into an organic combination that produced something both fresh and inventive and greater than the sum of its parts. 

"It had been agreed that the Tau were to be a high tech race, and, with this in mind, I tapped into a wide variety of science fiction elements to come up with my first concept sketch. This was the basic premise behind what was eventually to become the Battlesuit." 

(So even the Battlesuits themselves were born from so much more than just Anime and Manga)

"Although the initial sketches bear some resemblance to the final product, the Tau were born from an amalgamation of ideas that worked off each other to produce the final range.

"One of the best aspects of designing the Tau force was that we were all working on pieces at the same time. This resulted in a wide range of individual's ideas which all pulled together.

And Jess Goodwin is right here. There is so much more to the Tau than 'Anime shoutout', and even a cursory glance over the model range reveals so many more core pillars of their premise than that - I've highlighted the obvious Supermarionation influence already, but even that doesn't even touch on the enormous obvious influence that classic 20th Century Space Opera had on the Tau, both in their visuals (many Tau models, ESPECIALLY the Kor'vattra starships, would be right at home on the pages of Mechanismo or Terran Trade Authority) and their lore, with its strong emphasis on exploring the cosmos and abundance of characters who prefer to solve problems with their words and wits over violence, as well as the very strong Enlightenment ideals that science, reason and technology can solve any problem that are baked into the Tau DNA, and the Tau operating on an overall somewhat harder level of science fiction than the rest of the 40k factions. 

It's the same with all of the 40k game factions. Like the Tau, each one is to a greater or lesser extent the product of a wonderful fusion of different influences and inspirations and ideas that's more than the sum of its parts, and rendering any of them down to a single root concept cheapens them. The Necrons are far more than just Undead in Space, they're just as much a love letter to the Faceless AI machine overlords in science fiction and H.P. Lovecraft. The Orks are far more than just Tolkien Orcs in space, they're just as much a love letter to Mad Max post-apocalyptic scavenger punk science fiction and Punk subculture in general. The Eldar are so much more than Tolkien Elves in space, they're a love letter to the mythic Planetary Romance Science Fantasy subgenre and classic 1900s - 1940s space opera, and even had strong Anime and Asian pop cultural influences long before the Tau arrived on the scene. 

So it is with the Tau, as much - if not more - a love letter to classic 1950s - 1970s space opera and Supermarionation as they are an Anime shoutout (as well as having a little bit of 1980s-1990s cyberpunk thrown in for good measure). 

And with that, we can at last finally come to the conclusion of this thrilling first part into a deep dive of the Tau, who have now been conquering the 41st Millennium for 20 years and with any luck will be conquering it for many more to come.

Saturday, 21 August 2021

Hot Take: Fear And Loathing In Battletech

 Did... did I do the algorithm click-bait right? Is this how you click-bait algorithms? 

OK, so I guess we're doing this now. And just when I thought I had been doing so good at keeping positive on here. 

So lately there's been a lot of talk within a certain science fiction tabletop game's fanbase, who are currently very disgruntled and angry with the company that makes it (which I'm having a hard time with managing my schadenfreude about. I mean seriously people, what did you expect?). They are, it seems, proposing a mass boycott of this one science fiction tabletop game, and to migrate over to a certain other science fiction tabletop game that once was almost as popular, but has since fallen into decline (we'll get to that later, maybe. If there's time after lunch). 

And by 'lately' I of course mean that this whole drama seems to have largely wrapped up weeks ago, because I live under a rock on a cold dark planetoid orbiting a Black Hole approximately 42 billion light years away from the Earth, so if the electromagnetic image wave-forms of this whole debacle are only just now reaching me then I can only assume everyone involved has since largely moved on with their lives. 

Which naturally means this is the perfect time to cash in on the trendy thing! 

Except that's not really what this post is going to be about. Well, I mean it sort of is, but only in a very tangential way. See I'm doing that thing again where I talk around a thing for a little bit before cutting into the main thrust of the post. So no, what this post is really going to be about is a story, a story that has been festering and corroding for some time now, and it seems like as good a time as any to finally vent it out into the depths of the internet to be forgotten so I can get back to moving on with my life. 

This is the story of a sad little nocturnal parrot and his long journey to find a Tabletop home. It is largely still ongoing, for said nocturnal parrot has not really had much success anywhere. And it's also probably going to get lengthy and symbolic and maybe even a little trippy (no Tricia Helfer though, sadly - there wasn't enough in the budget to hire her), so I dunno maybe go to the bathroom or get a snack or something before strapping in. 

Alright then, let us begin. 

Once Upon A Time, a long time ago in a Living Room far far away, I had sat down like many 7-8 year olds in the Pre-Internet era to watch Saturday Morning Cartoons (historians debate whether the show in question was actually on Saturday mornings or Sunday mornings, but regardless it was a weekend morning cartoon show of some description). In late-90s/early 2000s Aotearoa these particular weekend cartoons were packaged within a larger children's show called Squirt, which was glorious and centred around the misadventures of a human presenter, a CGI fish and a CGI penguin as they roamed the universe in a CGI spaceship doing kid's show stuff. 

This was a common format for weekend kid's TV in late 90's/Early 2000s Aotearoa, and it's important here because they also included a few features around the cartoons. 

One morning one of these features included a review of a bundle of videogames. They all centred around a common theme of giant piloted robot walkers, so naturally as a ravenous consumer of all things science fiction and explosions (I was around 7-8 years old, remember) that got my attention. But the commentary about them went straight over my head, because what I IMMEDIATELY fixed on was the visuals - the pre-rendered trailer footage they ran the commentary over, which gave a glimpse into a world of giant heavy metal stomping machines blasting the tar out of each other

Naturally this mysterious video game world rocketed up to the top of my things to obsess over in the way that children do, and hovered there for a good few weeks or so (which is a long time by 7-8 year old standards). It was a shame then, that in my excitement I completely failed to pick up on what these video games were called. It was something like Mach-fighter or Mechwarrior or something... 

So without any further context to go on, that world of stompy robot action eventually faded from memory... until about a year or so later. This time I was sitting in a waiting room for a Doctor's Appointment, because I got sick a lot as a kid. But we had been referred to a different Doctor from the one I usually went to. This is important, because it meant I was now sitting in a waiting room where the range of old magazines on offer was LEGIT. What was arrayed in front of me to pass the time? Was it outdated tabloids? Home decor magazines? Oh no friends, what was splayed out on the side coffee-desk of this waiting room was nothing less than an array of PC gaming magazines. 

Fuck. Yeah. 

I only got to leaf through one, but it was enough. Because nestled in there, in between the reviews of Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds and pieces on Tiberian Sun multiplayer and Mechcommander 2 coverage (wait what? Never mind now, we'll be back for you!), there was a computer game advert that would change everything. I no longer remember the title it was advertising, though in hindsight I can narrow it down to either Mechwarrior 3, Mechwarrior 4, or Mechcommander 2 (or an expansion pack for one of those). But what I do remember was the centrepiece of the ad. It was an image for a giant piloted robot, but one dramatically different from any I had ever seen before. Up until now all the giant stompy robots I had seen were essentially some flavour of 'human man, but made out of metal. Add face to taste'. They looked something like this: 

Alas the world will never know my awesome plans for a live-action Stars and STRIPE

Or this: 

Good 'Ol Mechanismo strikes again

Or very occasionally this: 

Though we never actually got Macross or Robotech over here

The only exceptions to this rule were the AT-ATs and AT-STs from Star Wars, the aforementioned video game trailer footage, and an obscure RTS computer game called Robo-Rumble that was the first video game I ever played. 

My fondness for reverse-joint legs and shoulder guns started early

But this new stompy robot that I beheld in this PC Gaming magazine ad, this one turned all that on its head. Unlike all those others there was nothing even remotely humanoid about it. Like the AT-STs it had reverse-jointed legs, ending in wicked-looking three toed feet. But where the AT-STs had this big awkward head-like box on top of their legs, this thing had a sleek cockpit with glazing like the TU-4, my favourite piston-engine bomber. There were no weird humanoid arms with silly oversized novelty hands on this thing, just a pair of out-rigger like appendages that had more in common with a Krokodil's wings than any ape's limbs, each one tipped with a gun-turret like pod holding an arsenal of energy weapons - one was firing a stream of colour in the image. And the whole thing was topped off with a pair of massive shoulder-mounted missile launchers. 

I didn't know it then, but I had just had my first sighting of a Timber Wolf. 

It's hard to properly convey just how much impact this chance event had on my formative self, but to use a historical analogy it would have been roughly equivalent to the launch of HMS Dreadnought in 1906 - sure, there had been metal boats with guns on them before, but never like this. It completely changed the entire way I thought about giant stompy robots. From then on, when I thought 'Giant Stompy Robot', my first mental image was that thing. From then on, when I scribbled out crude drawings of Giant Stompy Robots, they were in that style. 

After that this mysterious giant stompy robot I had spotted became something of a White Whale for my childhood self. Every time it had begun to fade from memory, I would suddenly come across another depiction of it - a screencap here, another advert over there. Yet no matter how hard I tried I could never seem to find any additional information on it - what was it, who made it, what was the story behind it? Sometimes there would be a modest blurb about the computer game it was appearing in, but those almost invariably left me with more questions rather than any answers. Thus, this giant robot next door remained an enigma to me until well into my teens. 

That was when I finally got Mechcommander 2 to work. 

I had gotten a copy of Mechcommander 2 for Christmas one year when I was a kid - I think I must have been around 8 or so, it was either just before or just after I had (re)discovered 40k. I was really excited about it at the time, not least because I recognised it as one of the components of that giant robot video game bundle I had seen on Squirt so long ago (I had since spotted the box at a video game store and inspected it), but my aspirations were quickly dashed when it turned out to be a little-bit too resource intensive for the household PC at the time, and refused to run at all on the PC that succeeded it. 

But when I was around 14 or so I suddenly remembered it and, on a whim, tried installing it on the trusty old hand-me-down laptop I had been given, and it worked like a charm. The game itself was great fun, and I enjoyed it for a good couple of years before the disk lost its mind and refused to run. But the really important breakthrough here was that game featured this little mini-encyclopedia bible thing as well that talked about all of the different game units. And it was there, at long last, that I finally began to learn about that awesome looking giant robot I kept seeing pop up. Granted, it wasn't a great overview - not least because they gave it the wrong name - but it was enough to start making serious google headway, and it was enough to point me to 

It was at that I finally learnt the machine I had been seeing was called a Timber Wolf, and that it was a 75-ton ass-kicking machine built by some group called Clan Wolf. This Clan Wolf intrigued me and I tried to research them a little more, but following that rabbit hole again ultimately left me with more questions than answers as most of the information went over my head. It did however point me to some of the other hardware fielded by this 'Clan Wolf', most notably the Jagatai space fighter and the Mars and Huitzilopotchli tanks, and so after discovering the Iron Wind metals catalogue I decided they had enough cool looking models attached to the name to warrant a possible tabletop army project at some point in the future. 

But eventually the setting they were all native to reared its ugly head. It turned out that all these cool things inhabited a world where a rigid centrally-dictated metaplot ruled with an iron fist, a world filled with massive piles of in-universe quantitative information that left nothing to chance, with every last Timber Wolf being accounted for. Such structure for a tabletop universe was and remains utterly anathema to me. I guess it's not a problem for the type of Historical-style tabletop gamers that were clearly the target audience here, but as discussed before such creative straight-jackets are something I just cannot accept. No, the truth is I didn't really want to build a Clan Wolf tabletop army, I wanted to build a tabletop army for my own Clan, my own invention with my own backstory and identity, and one that also made liberal use of the Timber Wolf. But there was very clearly just no room for that, in either the game's background fluff or the player base, so after several years of desperately trying and failing to like any of the existing game factions I finally gave up and washed my hands of the whole thing. The fact that I was by now mired in University work was a factor too. 

For years afterwards the world of the Timber Wolf barely even crossed my mind, until one day just a couple of years ago. I had stopped in at the local second-hand bookstore to check for any 40k or Warhammer material that had been traded in there - I've had some pretty amazing finds there in the past. There weren't any army books or codexes or rulebooks there though. What I found instead was this: 

If ever there was a real-life Helm Memory Core, this was it

That wasn't even the entire pile either - there was a bunch of RPG gamebooks there too that I ultimately passed on since I didn't think they'd prove relevant to my needs. I was initially hesitant to adopt any of them, having been burned before by that setting, but their price wasn't terribly unreasonable so I decided that if they were still there by June I'd take it as a sign from the universe to give the franchise a second chance. Sure enough they stayed there for a good couple of months, so come May I dropped a few hints to the people around me and arranged for them to come in as a birthday present that year. They were later followed by a few others I had missed in amongst the RPG books. 

And it was through them that I finally discovered Battletech. 

I immediately fell in love with the setting of Battletech, the war-torn future of 3025, where the remnants of humanity's once-great space empire now exist on the fringes of the universe following a cataclysmic civil war, the survivors having fled the pan-galactic nuclear firestorms and reorganised themselves into a civilisation of warrior Clans that feud among themselves with genetically engineered warriors commanding giant robotic fighting machines armed to the teeth, getting into adventures and fighting each other within a careful framework of limited tabletop-friendly warfare strictly regulated with a rigid code of honour. 

What an amazing space for a table-top game! A cool, fun pulpy science-fantasy setting with a fresh twist of not having any extraterrestrial alien game factions, just groups of human heroes and villains getting into adventures in the unknown expanses of the Kerensky Cluster for prizes and glory. With cool looking giant stompy robots and spaceships and powered armour and stuff. Sounds like a lot of fun to me. After all these decades, everything had finally clicked to me. It all made perfect sense. All of it. The history of the exodus to the Pentagon Worlds, the outsourcing of all armed conflict to a specific group of genetically engineered fighters that would never leave any grieving loved ones behind when their luck finally ran out (it helps there are a lot of times where I wish I had just been grown out of a gene-tank and sprung out into the world fully formed with abundant resources at my fingertips). The drive to use restraint and avoid collateral damage wherever possible. 

Even the tenets of Zellbrigen combat all added up to me. For a long time one of my favourite factions in Warhammer has been Bretonnia, the faction of honourable chivalrous knights backed up by faithful if humble retainers and supporting troops, loaded down with the best weapons and armour available, practicing a strict form of honourable fighting and getting into all kinds of exciting adventures. And now here was the chance to have Bretonnians in space, with giant stompy robots instead of horses, and laser cannons instead of swords and lances. AWESOME!!

And that was even before I fully discovered the sheer amazing meta-coolness and relatability of the Jade Falcon clan, an entire civilisation of bitter disgruntled tabletop grognards. Just like me! Such a shame they don't really do Timber Wolves though. 

I was totally pumped to give this whole Battletech thing a go, building up my own Cluster to conquer the galaxy for myself - sure I might run into some problems with that stupid metaplot nonsense down the line, but it looked like the Battletech community was so fractured along era lines that I could probably just play around in this cool open-ended 3025 setting and ignore anything afterwards without anyone making too much of a fuss about it. 

If you're particularly familiar with the intricacies of the Battletech player-base, you may have been able to guess where this is going about a couple of paragraphs ago. It turns out that divisions of era are one thing, divisions of tech base are another altogether. 

There's a special kind of prejudice that I've observed in tabletop circles over the years. It includes and is deeply connected with Gatekeeping, but the two things do not entirely overlap - a lot of what goes on with this phenomenon is a kind of Gatekeeping, but not all Gatekeeping that goes on in tabletop circles is the same as this. There's plenty of the other regular toxic-fan Gatekeeping that can be found in depressing quantities throughout most nerd circles (above a given population level at least), which is directed at targets not always in alignment with what I'm describing. What separates the two, I think in part at least, is that this special kind of prejudice I'm describing is altogether far more ridiculously petty than even 'vanilla' Gatekeeping, yet - from firsthand experience at least - hurts much the same. 

What's particularly frustrating about this kind of prejudice is that it seems to have slipped under the radar of public discourse. This is pretty understandable, since Tabletop Games are a tiny niche within the already niche world of traditional 'nerd pursuits', and Tabletop Miniatures games moreso as they live under the shadow of D&D dominated Tabletop RPGs in the wider pop culture eye. The aforementioned pettiness doesn't exactly help either. The problem here is that this means that this particular phenomenon is actually talked about and addressed so little that it doesn't really have a specific name, when it really probably should. 

So for now let's call it 'The Meg Faction', so named after the character Meg in the cartoon sitcom Family Guy. If you are at all familiar with either American TV from the last 20 years or internet meme culture for the last 10 years, I probably shouldn't have to explain much about the concept of Meg. For everyone else out there (both of you!), Meg Griffin is a main character on the show. She was first voiced by Lacey Chabert (who is otherwise probably best known as either Eliza Thornberry or Gretchen from Mean Girls), but today is better known as being voiced by Mila Kunis. In the show Meg is the nominally teenage daughter of the protagonist family, and for much of the series' run she has been singled out by the showrunners as a lightning rod for all kinds of venomous vitriol. 

I think my favourite lowlight of this was when during one episode one of the other main characters, upon the reveal that the episode's plot was going to focus on Meg, immediately halted the story to address the audience with the line "Yes, that's right. This is going to be a Meg episode" before expressing his understanding if the audience wishes to leave now. Seriously? I'm interested in a Meg episode, she doesn't get a lot of screen-time normally so I want to see where this one goes. You can probably tell by now that I'm one of those people who never found this particular aspect of Family Guy's humour funny. 

Anyway. The Meg Faction. As I was saying I've noticed this weird pattern of factional prejudice in a lot of the tabletop games I follow. In all the tabletop games I look at, there always seems to be one game faction that's singled out as a target for wildly disproportionate levels of shade from the bulk of the player-base. It becomes normalised to hurl vitriol at the faction, in much the same way that it's become normalised on Family Guy to hurl vitriol at Meg. 

In Warhammer 40,000, the Meg Faction is the Tau. We'll talk more about that in a future post. In Battletech? There are around 20 or so Meg Factions, and together they comprise the Clans. 

It's telling, for instance, that while each of the 20 or so Clans in Battletech is in fact a distinct faction in its own right, in my observations most Battletech fans lump them into one generic category - it's always 'The Clans' in discourse, despite it never being 'The Successor Houses' when talking about the major groups of the other part of Battletech's setting. There's a lot of these other weird double-standards around the Clans with a lot of the player-base too. 

Consider one of the core premises of the game: a universe where the fate of whole worlds (or similar high stakes) is often decided by one pivotal confrontation of a small handful of mechs. This is something I've seen lauded as fun and cool in the game's Succession Wars setting. Except when the Clans are doing it, they're silly and ridiculous because it makes no sense to just send in a tiny handful of mechs to decide the fate of something so high-stakes. 

Similarly, having regulation in-universe to mitigate collateral damage during the many armed conflicts that take place. It's a laudable and pragmatic thing to do. Except when the Clans do it, at which point it suddenly becomes a threat to a lot of peoples' suspension of disbelief. 

Or how about the concept of Mechwarriors themselves? Long, proud distinguished lines of skilled and cunning warriors, uniquely able to expertly pilot the setting's titular giant mechs, often ending up forming hereditary positions within the space militaries they serve. I've often seen it lauded as a cool concept and fun aspect of some of the more space-feudal elements of the game universe... except when the Clans do it. 

There's a bunch of other examples, but this post is already turning into an epic and I'm sure you get the idea. Point is, when you get right down to the nuts and bolts of it, when you sieve it through the finest sieve, there is very little if any difference between the world of the Succession Wars and the world of the Clans, outside of semantics and cosmetic surface details. So why is it that the one is lauded as a gold standard for the game, and the other is dragged through the mud? 

And dragged through the mud the Clans are, by much of the player-base. I recall one post in a facebook group - now lost to the mists of time no doubt - from a (presumably) newcomer asking for recommendations on what Clan to start out with in Battletech. The wording was pretty specific that they were interested in the Clans. You would think, given the nature of the question, that the post might have received comments giving some insightful overviews on how the various Clans differ from each other in outlook and preferred combat doctrine, maybe a few notes on what their different colour schemes were like. Instead, the vast overwhelming majority of the comments consisted of various permutations of the following 3 themes: 

1. "Pick an Inner Sphere House instead" 

2. "Go Merc instead" 

3. "Oh no not another Furry/Nazi/Incest Freak" 

Yikes. Guys, the poster was clearly interested in starting with the Clans. That they were the main entry point of choice was pretty evident from how the question was worded. Yet a good nine tenths - at a conservative estimate - of the Battletech fans responding still insisted on proselytising parts of the game setting that were clearly not asked for. The rest of the social media discourse I encountered wasn't much better. Whenever the Clans did get mentioned, it was almost always as a collective, and almost always to say something mean-spirited about them. Incest allegations and Furry accusations were popular. Allegations that the players who enjoyed the Clans were either horrible people or not true Battletech fans were not far behind. The other times were largely to sling stale Tex memes at people who enjoyed the Clans. 

Ah yes, Tex. The star of the BlackPantsLegion Youtube channel. Recently involved in some unpleasant controversy around a certain unpleasant 40k commentator, as I am led to understand. Tex is in many ways symptomatic of a lot of the problems the Battletech fanbase has (and I should add that it is far from without its good points - there are reasonable and decent Battletech fans out there, and I was even able to observe a couple in the wild - but that does not mean that the fanbase is without its problems or above reproach). Not because of the whole ArchWarhammer debacle mind - I'll leave that whole drama for those more educated on the matter to assess. 

No, the thing is... Tex is just sort of, well... Basic. 

Don't get me wrong, the videos have their merits. There's clearly a lot of effort put in to giving them high production values, and while it seems there's very little information within them that can't be found on, I'm sure there are a lot of young whippersnappers out there who appreciate it being collated into a digestible video essay format, so it's providing something good that way. No, the problems stem up more in the framing. For one, there's a very visible anti-Clan bias that permeates a lot of the content - most notably the feature on the Clans themselves, which lavishes enormous amounts of run-time going over the exodus of the SLDF in meticulous detail, only to spend a fraction of the run-time glossing over the Clans in their 3025-3055 'modern' states. But more than that... in the videos I've watched the conclusions drawn to the information presented are all takes and angles that were old 10 years ago. I know that because I found them combing through archives of forgotten Battletech discourse from 10 years ago, and they had already passed into Popular Consensus even then. 

And this wouldn't be a problem - after all it's pretty clear that the BlackPants folks just happen to agree with those angles, and that's fine - except that they seem to be the only conclusions that circulate through most of the Battletech fanbase, and is compounded by many fans religiously pointing everyone they can to those videos for their primer. I've observed a kind of creative sterility at work among a lot of the Battletech fanbase, which seems in my eyes to be in rather dire need of some fresh new thoughts and takes on things. Heck I'd be happy enough to supply a few myself, if it weren't for the fact that I lack the resources (recording and editing equipment for youtube videos, and a large online platform otherwise) to do it, and I'm almost certain I'd get immediately buried under an avalanche of commenters relentlessly pontificating on how I'm not a true fan and don't know what I'm talking about, or how I'm a horrible person, or how I'm out to destroy the thing they love. 

Because the thing is, my first tentative contact with the Battletech player-base wasn't welcoming. I didn't feel accepted by them. In fact, my first tentative forays into the Battletech player-base also ended up being the first time I felt genuinely AFRAID of online interaction. It was the first time I felt genuinely SCARED to write something online. It was the first time I felt actual, real, genuine honest to god Maisie-Williams-In-Cyberbully FEAR when talking tabletop stuff online. Even at the nadir of my feelings around the course Warhammer and 40k have taken, even during the release around the 8th edition Wood Elf book, I'd never felt fear of posting online before. Which is why it took several months for me to finally deduce why it was that I started hesitating around clicking refresh buttons, and why I was getting a weird knot inside whenever I saw online notifications, and why my general productivity was taking a particularly noticeable downward slump despite no obvious real-life cause. 

Posting all this up is in part at least an attempt to face that fear. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't even now a little worried about what might become of it. 

"But Millitant!" you say, "So far you've only looked at the social media and youtube discourse! Obviously you're going to be in for a bad time if that's your only exposure to a fanbase, everyone knows social media and youtube are both festering pits of toxic depravity! Surely there must be better, more open discourse out there!" Well that's true. There is much more to any fanbase than the pit of Chaos that bubbles up to the surface on social media and youtube. So let's look at the official forum for this game system. 

There's a discussion thread on the Battletech forum titled Does Anyone Else Dislike The Clans. It was wisely locked down by the forum Moderators a little over a year ago, but it's a fairly good microcosm of the sentiment expressed throughout a lot of forums talking about Battletech whenever the Clans come up. The first thing to note is that it's a lot more, well, civil than the social media comments - there's far less crude insults thrown around - but a lot of the underlying attitudes remain. I've been silently looking through the Battletech forum for a little over 2 or 3 years now, and the impression I've been left with is still that, as someone who enjoys the Clan side of Battletech exclusively over the other parts of its setting, I am not welcome there. That I, as an enthusiast of all things Battletech and Clan, do not belong. 

The rationalisations are a lot more developed though. They can be largely broken down into four categories: 

- The Clans do not fit the setting 

- The Clans are silly make no sense as a concept 

- The only purpose of the Clans there should ever be is faceless guilt-free NPC bad guys to beat 

- The Clans are overpowered in the game rules, which breaks the game 

Well gee Carl, maybe I think the Successor Houses are pretty silly and make no sense as a concept. I dunno Steve, maybe the only purpose the Inner Sphere should have is to be a faceless NPC to conquer that's only good for yielding Isorla and Bondsmen. Maybe I think all those gritty down-to-earth Mercenaries don't fit my larger-than-life pulpy Space Fantasy setting, Carol. What if all that BV-cheap, spammable Inner Sphere tech is overpowered and breaks down my nice fast-playing Clan games, Shannon? 

Yeah, I don't buy it either. I don't buy it because I see most of these same sentiments levelled at the Tau in Warhammer 40,000 too, almost word-for-word sometimes. If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say the Tau don't belong in 40k, I'd be able to afford multiple Forgeworld 40k-scale Manta models. With change left over. This can't be a coincidence. After almost a decade of observing the patterns at play here, I'm convinced there's something deeper at work. Something very deep and dark and ugly, nestled somewhere at the heart of tabletop fandoms, perhaps even at the heart of traditional nerd circles themselves. Not unlike Derry in It

The Fanbase's not right, is it? 

There's a website called Whitemetalgames that featured an article titled Why Do Tau Players Get So Much Shade Thrown At Them. It's a very good read, and I strongly recommend it if you're more interested about the phenomenon of Meg Factions in tabletop gaming, particularly in the context of 40k. Among the many true words spoken in the article is this little gem of a passage: 

'And when I read or hear about people deciding to wash their hands of the hobby completely… sell off the minis and the armies that they spent all that time and resource on… then it’s very much NOT okay. That’s literally toxic fandom gatekeeping others out of the community and the pastime. And without new people and new ideas, the pastime and the hobby is a doomed one. “Oh yeah. I heard of that game. Unless you play a certain faction, you get a bunch of crap. No thanks.”' 

Well, a little under a year ago I reached the stage of washing my hands of Battletech (again). Not completely mind - I still value that pile of game-books as an academic collection, and I'll likely still paint up a Timber Wolf model or 5 just as a promise to my childhood self. But at this stage I don't see much more Battletech in my future. I've pretty much abandoned my plans to grow a scene of it in my local FLGS, and my plans to build an entire Cluster's worth of models to game with have been slashed to a token Star of Timber Wolves at most.  

And the truth is, I'd still like to come back one day, look over the forums and other online discussion space, and see a whole flourishing community of other Clan enthusiasts out in the sun, talking about cunning applications of Zellbrigen and the latest exciting adventures of their Novas, and whole waves of people waxing lyrical about just how awesome and iconic of Battletech the Timber Wolf is. I'd love to look over there one day and see the part of the franchise I love the most openly treated as an equal and integral component to the Inner Sphere side of things. I'd love to see just as many people enjoying 3025 Political Century games as there are enjoying Succession War settings. I'd love to see room for my cool fun ultra-violent Space Bretonnians. 

But I'm no longer holding my breath for it. 

The great tragedy of Meg Factions is that they're often a case of cutting off the nose to spite the face, because often these designated Meg Factions can be gateways that introduce the franchise to a whole new audience and thus grow the player-base quite a lot, which is a win-win for both the players themselves (more people to play games with and talk about the franchise with) and the companies producing the tabletop games (more customers buying their product). The Tau for instance, can and do introduce 40k to a whole range of people who might have otherwise given the setting and franchise a hard pass - I know this because I am one of those people. 

Which brings us back to the recent talk among disgruntled 40k fans about jumping ship to Battletech. See, from the point of view of capitalising on this sentiment and using it to grow the Battletech player-base, now is the perfect time to embrace the Clans and elevate them in both the franchise and the fanbase. Why? Because, from the point of view of attracting 40k fans, you could not ask for a better gateway to Battletech than the Clans. 

Think about it. Think about 40k - larger than life, revels in being over-the-top, hard on the Space Fantasy end of things, dripping with overdramatic pathos yet also at its heart a heavy-metal powered vehicle for power fantasies involving blasting bad guys to kingdom come with an arsenal of sci-fi death. Just like the Clans! 

Consider the Space Marines, the flagship of the 40k franchise. A force of genetically altered superhuman warriors, governed by stern codes of honour, armed to the teeth with weapons and equipment that are the bleeding edge of human technological achievement in the setting, roaming the stars getting into adventures. Consider that the archetypal 40k player probably has that as their central point of reference. When one of these 40k players comes over to your Battletech discourse, expresses interest and says that in 40k they started with and played a lot of Space Marines? You'd have to be crazy not to point them towards the Clans! It would be a slam dunk to steer them in the direction of the Clans. 

But hey, what do I know. I only studied Communications and Marketing at University. 

Which is why, a couple of days ago, I was so saddened when I came across a youtube video titled 40k Fans Are Coming Over To Battletech! Should We Be Worried? I was a little disappointed that, over the entire 24 minutes of the video's run-time, not only were the Clans not mentioned once, but that instead the commentary specifically warned that "There's no fantasy aspect really in Battletech", and that "If you like being a non-human with like its own weird wacky culture, you're not gonna find that in Battletech", and "If you're looking for the science fantasy aspect, if you're looking for those sorts of things like the Primarchs and all this other heavy metal type of stuff then you're probably not gonna find that here", and then suggesting the closest point of reference to a 40k-style character as Victor Davion of the Federated Commonwealth. 

In the immortal words of housewives and mothers everywhere, if I take a look and find something closer than that to 40k and its weird wacky science fantasy cultures.... 

But as disappointing as that was, it wasn't the thing that really finally drove me to write this thesis novel. No, what did that was the comment section below the video. Yes yes, I know reading youtube comment sections is like reading the mind of the talking cat in Rick And Morty, but look that video was 24 minutes long and my wifi is ass (I live under a rock remember), so I had to pass the time while it loaded somehow and the comment section was fairly short. Here are the ones that stuck out at me: 

"I'm giving you a fair warning this mass Exodus will bite your community ass in the long run. The parasites and vipers that are taking down 40k will come for Battletech. How Tex's community treated him is evidence that these people already inside.

Gatekeep the shit out any of us 40k guys and make sure we know and adopt battletech for battletech. Don't let any of the new people try to change your community.

Good luck to you and the wider battletech community. You people are going to need it."

As well as: 

 "Yes, gatekeep very very carefully as there are a lot of wokists that will come with them and will seek to make battletech something its not, just as they have been trying to do to 40k for years now.

Other than that be welcoming"

And then there was: 

 "As both a WH and a BT fan, my advice is: KEEP YOUR GUARD UP.

Yes, embracing the new fans is good and all, but watch out for those trying to change things to be "more inclusive". I hate to admit he is right, but when Arch advocated for gatekeeping, by now even i recognize he was right..."

Emphasis mine. 

I know that youtube comments should under no circumstances be taken as representative of a given fanbase, but dear god I wish these ones represent a tiny impotent lunatic fringe of the 40k and Battletech fanbases.  If my 24ish years of being into traditional nerd pursuits has taught me anything, it's that Gatekeeping is never the answer. It's part of the problem. It's the whole reason why a lot of people find us off-putting and why the fanbases for these things stay small. 

Look, I get it. There's a lot of tabletop stuff I'm really passionate about that I hold as a Sacred Cow. I was so dismayed by the 8th Edition Wood Elf book for Warhammer that I practically denounced modern GW overnight. I love Battlefleet Gothic so much that I cringe with dread every time there's mention that GW might be making a different game with that name. Even now, what I really wish I could do more than ever when it comes to tabletop games, is play some games of Early 4th edition Warhammer 40,000, with all the right codexes (that would be the 3.5 ones, for those playing at home), on a table full of cool-looking homemade terrain made from odds and ends with some Jungle Trees and Gothic Ruins scattered around and two armies of period-authentic early 2000s 40k models. 

But the thing is, I also have no real serious expectations that these games I play will ever return to the mainstream ubiquity they once had. I've largely resigned myself to the fact that I'm going to be left with a tiny niche of a tiny niche forever when it comes to the tabletop games I'm into. As much as I'd love to one day wake up and discover that there are hundreds of thousands of people out there who are just as passionate about Battlefleet Gothic, 3.5/Early 4th edition 40k, 6/7th edition Warhammer and all things early 2000s GW, I'm fully aware that the chances of that happening are negligible at best. 

Battletech though? That has a real shot at growing its fanbase. There's a real chance to gain some wider appeal and build that franchise up more. And I'm glad to see people excited about that. But you have to remember that you just can't grow any fanbase, for anything, without making at least a few compromises. Change, for better or worse, is the inevitable cost of that growth. For me, those compromises typically take the form these days of being fairly flexible about what models gaming opponents bring to my 3.5/Early 4th edition 40k outings, or my Warhammer and Battlefleet Gothic ones, and biting my tongue whenever I see online discourse around Gloriana battleships and Battlefleet Heresy and post-2008 GW fiction. I have to do these things if I want to have any chance of keeping the games I love in peoples' minds. 

For Battletech? Well, a good start for those compromises would be giving the Clans and their enthusiasts a bigger place in the sun. Because like it or not, the Clans are one of the better - or at least more underrated - gateways to the franchise. It's no co-incidence, for example, that the introduction of the Clans in 1991ish resulted in the apex of Battletech's popularity and success (for now at least), nor is it a co-incidence that Mechwarrior 2 was the computer game that launched Battletech's setting into mainstream video game discourse. As much as many crusty old Battledroids Warhorses might be loathe to admit it, the truth is if it weren't for the Clans Battletech almost certainly would not have survived to the present day (not least because that whole Harmony Gold business would have been even more of a problem for FASA, since there'd be less of their own original robot designs populating the setting). 

People often talk about what killed Battletech. About why it failed to find the same success that Warhammer and especially 40k did. After my experiences with the Battletech fanbase, I can't help but wonder just how much of that maybe, just maybe, might have been a self-inflicted wound. But there's a big chance now for Battletech to grow, and that means there's a big chance to fanbase to learn from their past mistakes. And if they do that, I might just revisit those plans to build a full Cluster of my own. 

So that about covers it, I think. At long last we have reached the end of the tale. I wish there are some important things that can be taken away buried in my raw emotional venting. I don't really wish to scare anyone off Battletech, or to rain on the parade of these disgruntled 40k fans, merely to release my own experiences out into the ether to provide, perhaps, a different perspective on these things, a vision from the Other Side. And to explain why, for the moment at least, I probably won't be among those jumping ship. No, instead I feel more and more compelled to press on through the cold empty void of today's Tabletop Industry and continue my search for the shining lost 13th Colony of 3.5/Early 4th edition Warhammer 40,000 (even if it's without the help of Tricia Helfer in a sharp red dress). 

But whatever else, one thing is for certain - the Timber Wolf is one hell of a badass giant robot.