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... 











SUPERMARIONATION!





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? 

Really? 

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 Sarna.net. 


It was at Sarna.net 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 Sarna.net, 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.


FUCK. YEAH.


 

Sunday, 19 April 2020

Crisis Contained

And now finally for some new models!

What a journey it hass been. When I last updated this blog with some newly painted models I had expected to have the better part of a healthy 1500 points of Tau for Warhamemr 40,000 done by now. I was... very wrong.

However, at long last I can finally share some very exciting news for my Tau project, having finally finished not only the first unit of multi-wound models for the army, and the first unit unit of medium-sized models for the army, and the first unit on bases larger than 25mm (flying bases don't count) for the army, but also my first battlesuit models in almost a decade.

This is a groundbreaking milestone, and the latest in a long and often turbulent history. For you see, I have a dark secret. Beneath all my many layers and masks and acts upon here, at the very heart of my psyche is a hidden canker, a deep-buried heresy so heinous as to be incomprehensibly anathema to other Tau enthusiasts, a blasphemy ruthlessly suppressed and uttered only in hushed whispers. You see...

... I've never really been all that fond of Tau battlesuits.

If you've been following this blog from the start, you'll know that I'm a rare breed in that I was never drawn to the Tau for their battlesuits. It was always the grav-tanks and Fire Warriors that attracted me the most, and even to this day I consider battlesuits in much the same way that many might view the drone units - an important and interesting component of the Tau army and model range, but a secondary one, a side-show to the grav-tanks and Fire Warriors that are the real main event. The exception to this of course is the Stealthsuits, which are close enough to the Fire Warriors that I have always considered them to be separate to the XV-8 family, a kind of 'honorary infantry' if you will.

The Crisis battlesuits were always hit the worst by this. As I mentioned in the first post about my big Tau 40k reboot, one of the first Tau models I had my eye on was a Broadside battlesuit, which I could always appreciate because of their proportions - something about those massive shoulder-mounted guns always seemed to balance them out wonderfully in my eyes. The Crisis Suits, with their comparatively dinky weapons always seemed somewhat lesser to me in comparison. This was only further compounded by the nature of the weapons the models were armed with and my age at the time - the broadsides were very clearly carrying some kind of missile launcher, very easy to both identify and understand for an 8 year old boy with an acute fascination with all things modern military and science fiction, and while a railgun was far less comprehensible at the time, a pair of gigantic intimidating looking cannons was certainly not. The Crisis Suits, on the other hand... well my 8 year old brain just couldn't wrap itself around what a fusion blaster or plasma rifle was supposed to do (it took my 9-10 year old brain to start making progress on that one).

This all added up to seriously stunt my battlesuit forces, until I eventually made a decision to eschew them entirely. I have always had a massive rebellious non-conformist streak, so naturally after a few years of being constantly bombarded by GW's marketing on how much I as a Tau player should love battlesuits, and exposed to how many other Tau players loved them, I decided that I would not include a single XV-8 based battlesuit in my entire Tau army. The Crisis suits I had already obtained would be kept for completeness, but from that day forward whenever my Tau were to do battle they would fight using only infantry, grav-tanks, drones and stealthsuits. "Pfft, who needs battlesuits!" I thought, "I've got pulse guns for dealing with infantry, and railguns and seeker missiles for dealing with tanks. What more could I possibly have use for?"

It was around early 2010ish when that all began to change. After looking again at Crisis Suits, and having begun to get a better grasp of some of the nuances of the Warhammer 40,000 rules (not least among them being the rules for equipping Crisis Teams themselves, something that always been far too byzantine for my primitive child brain to grasp), I began to wonder if we had perhaps gotten off on the wrong foot. This was shortly followed by a growing realisation of the importance of assault weapons in Warhammer 40,000. Then the two came together when after reading more closely through the original Tau Designers' Notes by Andy Chambers I had a sudden Eureka moment and realised that the purpose of Crisis battlesuits was to act as mobile assault weapon carriers for the Fire Warriors.

And perhaps the most profound factor in this change of thinking was that about a year or two earlier I had discovered this strange and wonderful website all about my favourite 40k faction called Advanced Tau Tactica, and had been steadily digesting the wealth of tactics articles hosted on there ever since.

However, this growing revolution in military affairs ultimately failed to materialise any practical changes, as the nascent modernisation of my Tau army was cut short in the tail end of 2010 when all my hobby efforts were redirected towards building my Tau fleet for Battlefleet Gothic, and later a Wood Elf army in Warhammer.

Nonetheless, theoretical consideration and planning continued, in anticipation for a renewed modernisation of the ground forces at some undetermined point in the future, and was only accelerated in 2013 when I was sucked into the buzz surrounding the Tau releases of the time. The profusion of utility afforded to Crisis battlesuits in the 6th edition codex accelerated the development of my battlesuit doctrine considerably, and quickly cemented an important niche for Crisis teams as the key source of essential assault weapons in my future Tau army, with the mobility to get to where they were needed in order to deal with targets that the Fire Warriors could not - just as the original designers of the Tau intended!

Which at last brings us to today, with the first brand-new Crisis Team of my rebooted Tau army. But first, as is tradition, let's step back a way to see where this all began. My first ever XV-8 Crisis battlesuit was this guy.





It also has the distinction of being the second Warhammer 40,000 model I ever owned, and the first ever plastic Warhammer 40,000 model I ever owned (not counting drones). I got him during a visit to the same local GW store where I gained my faithful metal Stealthsuit Shas'vre (see this post), where I was able to play my second ever game of Warhammer 40,000 - an intro game arbitrated by a staff member that saw me trying to rescue an Ethereal from a small force of Space Marines commanded by a family friend we were out shopping with at the time. Unfortunately I fared worse than in my first glorious triumph, and was unable to stop the Space Marines from carrying off the captive Aun - in no small part because of some poor reserve rolls for the Devilfish-mounted reinforcements I was promised which I had made a crucial part of my plan. But this was also my second game ever; tactical mistakes were inevitable.

But I digress. After the game I was once again allowed to take home 'one small thing', this time on a slightly bigger budget that would afford a small boxed model rather than a blister pack. I still wanted that Broadside battlesuit, with its awesome looking shoulder mounted guns and arm mounted missile launchers, but it was still deemed too expensive, so I settled on the only other small Tau box there was - an XV-8 Crisis battlesuit kit (and with the fantastic box artwork found on the 3rd edition kits too no less). It was either that or this other weird looking battlesuit carrying a sword called 'Rebel Commander Farsight' or something, but I decided to go with the box that had the cool artwork on it.

Now, it's important to note here that at the time I was 8 years old, and I had not yet read either the Warhammer 40,000 rulebook or the Tau codex. This is important, because they were both major factors in colouring my perception of the Crisis battlesuit kit when I got home and started inspecting it more closely. Being 8 years old, I had never encountered multi-part model kits before, save for a Chinese-made sci-fi robot toy that fired balls when assembled (in theory), which had been put together by one of my parents without my observation. The closest experience I had thus far had been the plastic model sprues in the Lord of The Rings Battle Games In Middle Earth part-book magazines, but they were almost entirely single-part models with a few push-fit arms and shields.

You can perhaps imagine, then, my total bewilderment when I encountered the Crisis battlesuit sprue for the first time. I had assumed that the Crisis battlesuit would be something like one of the action figures I had played with for years, or perhaps at most something like the Lord of The Rings plastics, with a simple push-fit assembly. The Gun Drone that came with my Stealthsuit seemed to reinforce this idea, being mostly push-fit itself. At first the Crisis battlesuit with its snug-fitting chest piece and many ball joints seemed to meet these expectations, but it soon became apparent that this was misleading - the ball joints at the hip and on the head were deceptively loose, and were quickly found to be impossible to hold in place without glue. The arms and ankles were left unglued for a while, but in time they too were fastened in place with adhesive. I had thought I had stuck the aerials on the helmet, but archaeological analysis suggests that these were left off - presumably my 8-year-old self decided to leave them dry-fitted and they fell off, never to be seen again.

The other point of confusion, which plagued me for years, was the weapon fits. Since my funding was limited, I had prioritised getting models over books and so had yet to read the Tau codex, and consequently I had not the faintest idea what the various bits of wargear included in the kit were supposed to do. My information about the Tau and the setting had thus far come from the GW website, but the Tau unit guide they had up on there at the time contained only vague mentions of "an array of deadly weaponry that can meet almost any threat and neutralise it" in regards to what Crisis battlesuits actually did or how they fought (it should be noted that this descriptive line did not help their reputation in my eyes - as an 8 year old I didn't want to neutralise threats, I wanted to kill, destroy and annihilate them!).

In the absence of any information, I gravitated towards the burst cannon, missile launcher, flamer and shield generator as my first picks for equipment - I had seen the name 'burst cannon' used in several places on the GW and Forgeworld webpages in regards to the Gatling guns featured on Tau units, and as an 8-year old boy interested in science fiction and military hardware I was already fairly familiar with what Gatling guns and missile launchers could do, and it did not take much brainpower to deduce that the funny looking gun with a pilot light on the end and what looked like a fuel tank on top of it was a flamethrower of some kind, likewise that the device which looked like a shield was some sort of energy-shield generator. The other pieces, especially the poor maligned target lock ("Why would I want to put a tiny little extra head on this battlesuit instead of another gun?"), were largely maligned, except for the plasma rifle, which I adopted as a 'cool sci-fi energy weapon' option for the Crisis Suit (because as a keen enthusiast of science fiction computer games I knew you always had to include an energy weapon of some kind along with all the guns and rockets).

At first all of these options were simply push-fit into the various hard-point slots on the battlesuit model, so that I would be able to swap them out between battles. The pieces seemed to fit well enough without glue, and I still wanted maximum variety and flexibility with my battlesuit. Eventually though as I came to favour the above choices over others they were glued in place, resulting in the loadout you see today.

Being the second Warhammer 40,000 unit I ever owned, this Crisis battlesuit shares much of the same history as the metal XV15 Stealthsuit who directly preceded him, and went through much of the same changes in colour scheme, many of which can still be seen on the model in places. At first it was painted in a massively thick coating of sunburst yellow - much like the Stealthsuit, I wanted my Tau to have yellow armour just like the box artwork for Firewarrior that had first drawn me to Warhammer 40,000 in the first place. The exception of course was the mechanical areas, which were left black to mimic the dark gunmetal areas on the GW studio battlesuits.

Then when I had my ill-fated idea to have an army of gold-plated Tau it was hastily repainted with a coat of Mithril Silver followed by a coat of Shining Gold. You can still see how this colour scheme looked on the burst cannon amongst other areas. After a short while I realised I had made a mistake and repainted all of my non-Stealthsuit Tau units at the time (both of them) to the sandy desert camouflage scheme from the GW studio army, starting with a thin (by my standards at the time) coat of Vermin brown and later adding a white helmet. I no longer remember if the white helmet came when I finally got my hands on Bleached Bone paint, or if the off-white cream colour is simply the result of Skull White over Vermin and Vomit browns in sufficient quantities.

The other feature of interest is the Jerry Can glued to the base. While I quickly abandoned conventional basing in my childhood years, I still liked to add objects to my models' bases when possible. This came from seeing the Space Marine my friend at the time brought over one day when I was 8, just before I got into Warhammer 40,000 for the first time. The Space Marine model had a spare bolter glued to its base, and I thought it looked so cool I tried to emulate it myself with other objects. For a while my Stealthsuit had a spare shield drone antenna glued to its base (back when I thought they were rifles and not aerials), and later I decided to mark out my sole Crisis battlesuit by sticking down the Jerry Can piece from the Battlefield Accessories kit I had got some time earlier (which it must be said is a fantastic set of terrain and easily one of my two favourite GW terrain products alongside the Jungle Trees).

Being the only Crisis battlesuit meant that for some time this guy was also the de facto commander of my Tau army for some years, before I finally got an Ethereal in to relieve him of his command duties. He then served as a Monat for a short while before being retired in place of these guys.



This was the trio of Crisis battlesuits that came with the Tau battleforce I got for Christmas when I was about 10, if memory serves. By this time I actually HAD read the Tau codex (and would get a copy of the brand new 4th edition core rulebook to read through not long afterwards), but this did little to enlighten me on the subtleties of equipping Crisis Teams and ultimately ended up raising more questions than it answered in that area. However, I had also read the new interactive flash guide on battlesuit weapons and support systems that was now on the GW website (and can still be found through the Wayback Machine archive), which was vastly more helpful for my primitive childhood brain. This was very strongly reflected in the choice of weapons loadout I gave them - you will immediately note an abundance of plasma rifles, now in vogue because the interactive flash guide suggested they were the best Crisis battlesuit weapon. Of course, like any good military my army had plenty of institutional inertia within it and so there was at least one battlesuit loaded down with burst cannons and missile pods, because you never know when you might need a Gatling gun and a missile launcher. 

The other thing you probably noticed immediately is that this Crisis Team was originally built with four weapons or support systems equipping each battlesuit rather than three. The reason for this is very simple - there are four hardpoint slots on the Crisis battlesuit model, so my 8-9 year old self decided it was only logical that they carry four weapons. I also admired - and still do - the symmetry of having two items on the shoulders and two on the arms (another reason why I always liked the Broadside battlesuits with their twin-linked weapons more). Even after reading through the codex I still thought it made sense to stick four guns and/or wargear items on them because of that - my response to seeing the rules in the codex was "What? Three? That can't be right, it doesn't make sense. They have four slots on the models! Why would they say they you can only take three items when there are four slots on the models?" 

To this day I still cannot help but wonder if once upon a time taking four weapons/wargear items was a feature on the Mk.I-IV Crisis battlesuits that never made it past playtesting to the codex and was never mentioned by Andy Chambers in the Designers' Notes for whatever reason. 

It took me years to realise that the fourth hardpoint slot was really just there to give you some options for visual variety. By that point I had also begun to start giving some serious thought into tactical roles for Crisis Teams instead of just piling on whatever guns or wargear I thought looked cool. I had also started digesting more tactics articles on the internet (not least among them the ATT Academy articles, as mentioned earlier). At this time the classic Fireknife team configuration was in vogue, and so I constantly heard about how the Fireknife was the best Crisis team layout for general combat, especially against Space Marines. So in early 2010 when I was faced with the prospect of my first game of Warhammer 40,000 outside of a GW store against a Space Marine army I immediately concluded I needed to get some Fireknives up and running. 

The trouble was that my funding was still limited, so rather than take resources away from the Broadside battlesuit production that was going on at the time I made the decision to modify my existing Crisis battlesuits to a Fireknife loadout. This was done by the crude and brutal method of simply cutting off their existing weapons and replacing them with plasma rifles, missile pods and multi-trackers, using those already featured on the models where appropriate. Using the Swiss Army Knife I had recently gotten as a Christmas gift to cut through the plastic joins, the process was long and extremely bloody (I went for a few weeks in High School with at least one band-aid on almost all of my fingers), but eventually I succeeded in getting the extraneous weapons off, then blue-tacked the Fireknife wargear in their place as seen in the other image. 

That was how the Crisis Team was equipped for the three games that turned out to be the only time they were ever used in anger. They performed reasonably well, though did nothing particularly spectacular. The plan originally was to glue the Fireknife weapons on permanently and paint them, but I ultimately never got around to it as I put more and more hobby time into Battlefleet Gothic, then Warhammer. So it was that instead they quietly languished in one of my more out of the way storage spaces, silently guarding a collection of bitz piles and boxes while falling into a dire state of disrepair (in actual fact the damage was a result of the rigours of combat - the Crisis suit with the shield generator had its feet break off at the ankles during one game, while the one on the flying stand had its arm broken off in a related accident. They were temporarily repaired with copious amounts of blue-tack at the time, but then left in that state after the pivot towards other game systems). With their front-line duty now fulfilled however, I saw it fit to repair them fully in honour of their faithful service, and then decided to fully restore them to their historical wargear loadouts. 

Of course, even at the time sticking down new weapons and painting them was only ever seen as a temporary stopgap until completely new Crisis battlesuits could be procured, as by this point they had begun to grow on me considerably. It was always planned that replacement battlesuits would inevitably arrive, and fitted with a wider selection of weaponry to handle a wider array of mission types, likely at some time in the near future. The arrival date for these new Crisis suits was pushed further and further back as Battlefleet Gothic and Warhammer became the dominant tabletop games of my hobby, meaning that it was not until 7 years later that things finally started to shift from the purely theoretical. 

But now the new Crisis suits are finally here. At long last, I can proudly present a whole new generation of XV-8 Crisis battlesuits, a total ground-up revamp that takes my battlesuit corps to the next level, a revolutionary advanced design that is every bit the bleeding edge of modern technology and design, radically different from anything that has come before. 

















Surprise!

If you've been following this blog for some time now, then the images above will have come as no surprise at all to you. Otherwise if you're very new to the Tau and 40k, these are the original XV-8 Crisis battlesuit models, which I have grown very fond of. After everything I've said about them, it should be noted that even when my fondness for battlesuits was at its lowest point I still thought the models looked phenomenal, just not as much as the Devilfish, Hammerheads and Fire Warriors that I did not think were getting their fair share of the limelight. I still think that they are by far the best Crisis battlesuit models GW has ever produced, and vastly prefer them to the 2017 versions released some years ago. Because of this I made sure to build up a healthy stockpile of the older kits as I was acquiring my new Tau army, alongside a healthy stockpile of the older Fire Warrior kits I love so much (the fact that both kits were included in the Tau battleforce box alongside what were effectively free Piranhas and Stealthsuit sprues was very convenient), enough to make all of the Crisis Teams I had originally planned on. 

I take enormous pride from the fact that there is not a single model sculpt newer than 2013 in my entire Tau army (both planned and painted!).  

Of course, that does not mean that the Crisis battlesuits were left completely untouched - they have had a whole host of modifications applied to them under the hood. The first and perhaps most important feature is the ankle joints, which have been reinforced with metal pins to prevent breakages. But more dramatic still is that these are the first Crisis battlesuits that I have magnetised. 

Magnetising Crisis battlesuit hardpoints is a practice that I had been familiar with for a very long time - ever since first reading about it in the spotlight article on Sebastian Stuart's Tau army featured in the first issue of White Dwarf I ever owned - but had always dismissed as being impractical in the past. I was unaware of any magnet suppliers in my local area, and lacked the tools with which to install them on models. This began to chance in 2013 as I first gained some reasonable spending money for the first time and began to expand my collection of hobby tools as I began to get more and more invested in conversion work, but I still lacked a viable source of magnets until around 2017 or so when I finally performed a google search and found a convenient magnet supplier located within public transport distance, which then turned out to have very affordable 1mm magnets. 

The next challenge was working out how to install the magnets. Most battlesuit magnetisation I've seen has simply glued the magnets into holes drilled into the model's surface, but that approach was quickly deemed unacceptable - I really loved these older models and wanted to preserve as much of their aesthetic design as possible including every last detail I could save. At the same time, I also wanted to preserve the mounting plugs on the battlesuit weapons and support systems, because I've actually always really loved those details and the really nice utilitarian look they bring to the components. 

The solution I came up with was to not install magnets at all in the weapons and wargear pieces. Instead I drilled out the inside of the mounting plugs and inserted lengths of magnetic wire into them, before sealing them in with greenstuff. Then I installed magnets in the hardpoint slots on the battlesuits themselves. This setup preserves virtually all of the aesthetic details of the models, allows any weapon or support system to be placed on any battlesuit hardpoint, and conveniently halves the number of magnets needed to fully magnetise the entire unit. 

The magnets themselves are small 1mm x 2mm square magnets. My original plan was to simply drill out the bottom 'floor' of the hardpoint slots and slot the magnets in place, but they proved to be just a touch too big to fit. This wasn't a problem for the shoulder hardpoints, since it was a fairly simple matter to drill out the floor of the slot while the jetpack pieces were separate, then slide the magnets in before gluing the two jetpack pieces together. The arm hardpoints were considerably more challenging and ultimately required me to completely excavate the hardpoint slots before reconstructing them over the embedded magnets with greenstuff. 

The result is a Crisis Team that can be equipped with any of the weapons and support systems available, as seen below in the classic 'war machine with its entire arsenal of payload options splayed out in front of it' picture. 


Although they are pictured above in what is anticipated to be their default loadout, a team configuration of my own invention. I have always been a huge proponent of versatility and multi-role capability in my units, since that way no matter what the enemy brings and no matter what the battlefield situation is they will always be able to do something useful. This philosophy mixed with my realisation that Crisis Teams are the only source of several key assault weapons in the entire Tau army to produce a flexible multi-role loadout that provides my army with all three of the core essential assault weapons - melta weapons in the form of fusion blasters, plasma weapons in the form of plasma rifles, and flamers for template weapon support. In the process it also produces a team that can deal with almost any threat on the table and handle any mission I throw at them. 

The core loadout was originally conceived during the 6th edition codex (another factor in wanting as many different assault weapons on the same team as possible, because at the time there was a very real possibility that I would only have enough Elites slots for one Crisis Team at most), where it was imagined that the organic hard-wired multi-trackers Crisis battlesuits have in the 6th edition rules would allow them to choose the best two weapons for the situation and thus still yield an enormous amount of firepower. I was somewhat concerned that it may not be viable in 3.5 and 4th edition play, until I remembered that 3 assault weapons is actually the normal amount of an elite unit and adopted the approach of "If 3 assault weapons is good enough for the Imperial Guard, Chaos Space Marines and Orks then it's good enough for me." 

The painting was an entirely different matter to their construction, and was the reason this post was so long in coming. If my Custodian was the painting equivalent of Trench Warfare, and the ATT Orbital was the painting equivalent of Urban Combat, then this unit was the painting equivalent of Afghanistan. All those sharp corners (prone to paint chipping or sliding at the slightest provocation), many many panel lines to highlight, hard to access areas and my obsessive perfectionism made for a lethal combination that kept me trapped in a nightmarish quagmire for over two years and a quarter. It got so bad that I actually gave up - stripping the paintwork I had done with Simple Green and starting over from scratch (I actually ended up doing this twice). Even after I started getting paint results I was content with I still had to contend with the tedious process of carefully working over the waterslide decals with layer upon layer of Micro-Sol until they finally looked nice enough, and the additional challenge of painting up the entire supply of weapons and wargear. There was also another altogether more insidious complication, for in the journey into the Heart of Darkness in the centre of my soul that painting these things became, I also came to a sudden dark epiphany: 

I really don't like painting battlesuits. 

It's not that I don't like the models, or the concept of the unit or the lore or anything like that - like I say I never really hated any of those parts about them to begin with, and they've only grown on me over time. No, rather I discovered that I find painting battlesuits a chore in much the same way that many appear to find painting Fire Warrior units. It seems that where others hold distaste for painting their Fire Warriors and treat themselves by painting battlesuits, I am destined to hold distaste for painting battlesuits and treat myself by painting infantry units (or possibly vehicles, depending on how that turns out...). 

Speaking of waterslide decals, this also marks the first time I have used any in my new Tau army, and indeed the first time I have touched them at all in over a decade (literally in fact - the decals used were from my old Tau army, which I was sure to restore with a coat of Microscale Liquid Decal Film before using). It is also the first time I have ever created and used custom decals of my own devising in the form of the warning markings near the jetpack exhausts, which I painted freehand onto a sheet of Testors decal paper procured from a local scale model hobby store.  The only freehand markings painted directly on the battlesuits themselves were the ID numbers on the shoulders and the red unit markings on the Shas'Vre. 

The paint scheme of course is as close as possible to the colour scheme of the original GW studio Tau army scheme, with the sole exception being the helmet colouring. Back in 2010 when I was first starting to seriously explore the idea of battlesuit units in the army I came up with the bright idea of colour coding my battlesuit teams based on intended mission role. The idea stuck fast, not least because it would give me a chance to play around with some different colours while still keeping the overall army scheme intact. The practice has been applied to all my battlesuits since then, including these ones. Gold Team here is to be one of my general purpose combat units, with no particular specialisation in mind and thus they have no special helmet colour, just the base maroon markings that will be common to all my new armoured units (incidentally also their first appearance in the army). The 'Gold' designation is simply a close approximation to the main colour and sounds a lot more impressive than 'Sandy Coloured Ochre Team'. 

That said, there is by a somewhat uncanny coincidence a very poetic Full Circle with this paint scheme, as it is ultimately the direct application of the very first ever colour scheme I wanted to paint a battlesuit in. Long ago when I was getting into the Tau and Warhammer 40,000 for the first time I was enthralled by the cool desert camouflage the 'Evy Metal studio Tau were painted in (in no small part because it was what the Firewarrior artwork was based on), but I was somewhat baffled by the odd-looking 'bald' white headpieces that the battlesuits had been painted in, which did not really look quite right to me at the time. I instead wanted to paint mine in the same desert camouflage scheme, but with ochre coloured headpieces which would fit much better visually in my eyes. This resulted in a very interesting exchange between me the schoolyard chum who had also gotten into 40k alongside me, when one day I brought up my desire to paint the heads of my battlesuits Vomit Brown in the middle of my excited talk about my new Crisis battlesuit. 

"What! No, you can't do that! You have to paint it how it is on the box!" 

"The Games Workshop staff person said I could paint them however I wanted." 

"But not when there's an 'Evy Metal on the back of the box, then you have to paint it that way!" 

"Not if I don't want to." 

"Yes you do! That would be like me painting my Space Marines red!" 

"But there are red Space Marines. I've seen them myself." 

"Look, trust me, I'm trying to help you here. Do you know what's going to happen if you paint it Vomit Brown, and bring it into a Games Workshop store? They'll all go 'Eeeww, did someone vomit on your battlesuit?'!" 

Needless to say I felt thoroughly vindicated upon reading all the passages in the rulebooks and codexes about how you should paint your army in whatever colours you like. And before you judge that schoolyard colleague too harshly, do remember that he too was only 8 years old or so at the time and just as new to the tabletop hobby as I was. And the colour guides on the back of the model boxes did hold a lot of sway over us at the time, to the point where even I eventually caved to their guidelines and painted my battlesuit heads white, as you can see in the pictures earlier. 

After all that, I like to think I've done my 8 year old self proud with these Crisis battlesuits. But now my forces have grown so large that they now stretch the current command structure to the limits of its capacity. If I am to proceed any further I will need to significantly expand the leadership and command and control of my new Tau army. 

Perhaps I can find more use for that battlesuit hangar...