Saturday, 31 December 2016

Merchant Madness

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

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

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

The purchase that got it was this. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Il'fannor T'au Configuration 

 Cruiser/4            15cm         45°               1                    5+                    2    

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

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

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

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

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

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

Il'fannor Vash'ya Configuration

 Cruiser/4            15cm         45°               1                    5+                    2    

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

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


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

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

Monday, 26 December 2016


++++Orbital repairs complete++++
++++Central computer and AI systems purged: zero foreign code detected++++
++++Internal reconstruction complete++++
++++Primary reactors powering up++++
++++Atmosphere levels: optimum++++
++++Gravity levels: optimum++++
++++Running final systems check. All systems functioning optimally++++
++++ATT orbital online++++

In case you've never heard of it before, Advanced Tau Tactica is an online discussion forum specifically focused on the Tau faction in Battlefleet Gothic (and Battlefleet Gothic's spinoff games like Warhammer 40,000) . It has an illustrious history of providing exceptional-quality content for Tau players, especially tactics advice, and several famous Tau tactics have had their start either there or on its immediate predecessor Mech Tau Tactica (such as the infamous Fish of Fury). Run by tabletop hobby extraordinaire Sebastian 'Tael' Stuart the site has a reputation for harsh order in some circles, but by and large is a fantastic place to go if you're a Tau player.

It also happens to be the very first internet forum (and indeed the very first internet communication website) that I ever joined, ever, when I was just 15 years old. I think it's been something of a heavy influence on my internet conduct.

The other thing to note about Advanced Tau Tactica is that the site has an extensive mythos within it, centred on the ATT orbital, an in-universe reflection of the forum. The ATT orbital has had a few different incarnations over the years (not entirely unlike just about everything else in Battlefleet Gothic's universe), but it is consistently an illustrious Tau military academy where some of the Tau Empire's best military minds gather to discuss and examine strategy and tactics, and learn from the masters. In other words it's sort of like a Top Gun program for Tau military forces. It's been subjected to a few attacks from other Battlefleet Gothic forces as well - you can see the details here (look for the threads listed as 'April [Date]', they should be stickied at the top).

Way back in 2013 when I was frantically scrambling to rescue as many Battlefleet Gothic models as possible I ordered a number of items from Forgeworld. One of them was an Air Caste Orbital City. I had always wanted to paint an Air Caste Orbital City as the ATT orbital (though originally it was only going to be one of multiple Air Caste Orbital Cities...), especially after Embrace Change, so when the Specialist Games started to get discontinued I made sure to pick one up along with the Forgeworld Tau ships I wanted so that I could at least salvage that minor dream. 

I wanted to keep it an absolute secret so that I could surprise everyone on there when the time was right. Exactly when that would be changed quite a lot. At first I planned to have it finished shortly after the Custodian (see April 2015's post for the details about that - Ed), but the university workload became too much and so I had to put on hold almost literally everything not related to university work in order to withstand the relentless avalanche of assignments. When I finished university and looked towards restoring my life there wasn't enough time for everything, and painting priority went to the Warhammer Fantasy models that I had started just before the big freeze. After they were finished my free time went towards rebuilding my shattered blogging activity, and so it wasn't until about a couple of months ago that painting on it could begin in earnest. Initially my plan was to finish it in time to reveal it just after Advanced Tau Tactica completed the major upgrade work that had been scheduled for this year, but that happened much sooner than I anticipated, and painting the model took far longer. The final deadline was Christmas, with the release scheduled for just afterwards (as I didn't want it being overshadowed by Yuletide festivities). After this painting went smoothly, and I was set to be right on schedule until some idiot D'yi decided it would be fun to drive a car into a transmission pole which knocked out the power to my neighbourhood for the rest of Christmas Eve. I painted like a man possessed, but in the end as dusk fell I ran out of available light with which to paint by, and so was forced into yet another delay, with the orbital finally being finished on Boxing Day. 

In hindsight (as you will see with the other pictures, and might possibly be already able to guess) it is easy to see why it took so long to paint. The Forgeworld designers weren't kidding when they called it an orbital city - the vast majority of the model is covered in an immensly detailed and intricately designed layout of a cityscape. The bottom piece even looks a lot like a Hive City spire if you turn it upside down. This makes for a fantastic rendition of a model (and also provides the best depiction I have seen of what a Tau city would look like from altitude), but also means that the bulk of the model is covered in a nightmarish twisting labyrinth of surfaces and edges that all need to be painted. If the Custodian was the painting equivalent of trench warfare, then this model was the painting equivalent of urban combat, and my work flow quickly devolved into a gruelling quagmire as I slowly painted it street by street, building by building, room by room, highlight line by highlight line. 

The dark mechanical 'city bits' of the orbital were painted the same way as the dark mechanical areas on the Custodian. After an undercoat of Abaddon Black I applied a heavy drybrush of a 50/50 mix of Abaddon Black and Dawnstone for a base colour. Originally I had planned to layer it like I had done on the Custodian, but that quickly proved to be horribly inefficient. A series of drybrushes provided the same effect much more quickly. The Layer Painters' Union was deeply angered at this decision, but was appeased by the assurance that they would still get the glory of working on the outer rim areas. Once the basecoat was down the 'city bits' were highlighted using Dawnstone, followed by a final highlight of Administratum Grey on the exposed areas. Veteran members might recognise this as the same method written in the original 3rd edition [i]Codex: Tau[/i] for painting the dark mechanical areas of Battlesuits, which is where I got the idea from after noticing the similarities between that and the colours used for the mechanical areas on the Forgeworld demonstration image of the Custodian. Finally, the lights were picked out with White Scar and Evil Sunz Scarlet. 

The outer rim areas were more experimental. I looked at several sources of inspiration for them, including the official ATT avatar artwork and the old forum colour scheme, but by far the main reference material I used was the old Thread Locked Mantas. After staring at them for some time and checking the Citadel colour range I worked out the best fits and some ideas of how to use them. I started on the lower concourse with a basecoat of Fenrisian Grey, followed by layers of drybrushing using a 50/50 mix of Fenrisian Grey and Celestra Grey and then highlighted with Celestra Grey. My original plan was to use blending to get a smooth transition between the colours so that the outside of the orbital would have a gradient effect, the required mastery of advanced Phased Blending technology proved to be beyond the grasp of my scientists at present, so I instead devised a solution using multiple successive drybrushes that I call a layered drybrush to achieve the effect. This process was repeated on the upper concourse, but using colours a tone lighter, so the basecoat was the same 50/50 Fenrisian Grey/Celestra Grey mix that was then given a layered drybrush of Celestra Grey and highlgihted with Ulthuan Grey. This was also done on the command deck, with a basecoat of Celestra Grey and a layered drybrush of Ulthuan Grey (also applied to the rim as edge highlights) and a final layered drybrush of a 50/50 mix of Ulthuan Grey and White Scar as a highlight on the apex. I was advised by Tael to look for a steely blue for the sept colour, and after cross-checking reference sources I decided the closest match was Thunderhawk Blue, which was used for the panel lines and sept markings. Once again, the lights were picked out with White Scar and Evil Sunz Scarlet. 

I also documented the model itself, as part of my A-Z archive of Battlefleet Gothic models. If you were to order an Air Caste Orbital City from Forgeworld, this would have been what you got. 

And the assembled model, ready for painting. 

Welcome to the ATT Orbital

STAGE 1: Orbital Power Core and Engineering 

- Primary orbital reactors 
- Orbital gravitic field generator 
- Main orbital engineering bay 
- Primary orbital engineering control centre
- Main Kor'vessa hangers 
- Primary capital ship docking facilities 

STAGE 2: Lower Concourse 

- Research and Development labs
- Experimental painting centres
- Experimental modelling workshops 
- Exemplar Galleries 
- Project log archives 
- Research and Development Resource article database 
- Library 
- Main habitat dormitories 
- Commerce sector 
- Recreation sector 
- Primary capital ship docking facilities 
- Primary outer rim launch-bays 

STAGE 3: Upper Concourse 

- ATT Fire Caste Academy campus
- ATT Air Caste Academy campus
- Academy article database
- Cadre building recruitment centre and supply depot 
- Tactica halls 
- Rules of Engagement conclave chamber 
- Field Experience archives 
- Internal battledomes 
- Fire Caste barracks 
- Enemy Units and Alternate Systems Intelligence centre 
- Secondary outer rim launch-bays

STAGE 4: Command Deck 

- Orbital control bridge 
- Orbital command centre 
- Orbital space traffic control centre
- Main orbital communications array 
- Orbital staff membership primers orientation centre 
- Orbital staff member profile database 
- Visitor help desk 
- Information desk 

Additional launch bays and hangers are scattered across the orbital's internal cityscapes. Not listed: Secure Ar'tol command centre. 

Not a bad grand finale for ATT's 10 year anniversary, if I might say so myself. Now then, time for a well-deserved break. There's still some Yuletide trifle left with my name on it...