Monday, 20 November 2017


Ok, so this time it's not actually entirely my fault that this update took so long in coming. I had originally come down with a bad case of Painting Block, but the real reason behind the delay was that the internet died.

One day about 2-4 months ago the broadband connection at my house spontaneously keeled over and ended itself. The DSL line went dead, and took the telephone landline with it. This effectively left me spending almost two months completely cut off from the modern world, since the SIM card in my mobile phone also decided to commit suicide at this time. The SIM card was fixed relatively quickly, but fixing the internet required a lengthy back-and-forth investigation by the ISP which revealed all kinds of incompetence in managing their servers and took over a month to iron out - and even then the landline still doesn't get a good connection (though the internet has improved considerably). In the meantime I decided it would be as good an opportunity as ever to shift focus for a bit, and spent the elapsed month or so enjoying some computer games, including a vacation on Alpha Centauri that was filled with memorable adventures.

As it turned out, a long break was exactly what I needed to break my Painter's Block. After the internet was restored and I returned to painting I found my hobby mojo thoroughly recharged, but was then plagued with delays for another month or so due to one reason or another.

But I digress. Before I get on to the latest round of models, I want to talk about something else for a minute. Like I said, this article has been a while coming, and the first story to warrant one was my discovery and purchase of this book.

First written in the late 1970s, Mechanismo is a relatively obscure Science Fiction artbook written by Harry Harrison. It contains a few short articles discussing various Science Fiction elements common at the time, and how they relate to the real-life scientific advances that were happening at the time. There's also a loose narrative linking across several pieces that seems to have been invented purely for the book. The main attraction, however, is of course the galleries of Science Fiction artwork contained within, organised into sections covering most of the basic pieces of technology common to many Science Fiction stories - starships, robots, time machines, space equipment, and miscellaneous vehicles and machinery. The artwork itself is a wildly eclectic mix, much of it very bizarre, but it also contains some real stand-out gems - highlights include various pieces by Jim Burns, a classic rendition of the O'Niell Cylinder space habitat by Roy Coombes and a couple of pieces of concept art for Star Wars (the first one, what most now know as A New Hope).

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is because Mechanismo has been an enormous influence on me over the years. My father owned a copy when I was a kid, so I spent a considerable chunk of my childhood poring over the artwork in it. While I've always loved Science Fiction, this book - especially the Jim Burns art pieces in it - was easily one of the biggest Science Fiction publications to impact on my formative years, and to this day all of the Science Fiction I create - whether Battlefleet Gothic/Warhammer 40,000, some other sci-fi tabletop game or something entirely of my own invention - draws heavily on it.

So naturally when I found a copy in a local second-hand bookstore, I had to have it. And I felt I ought to share it on here, since it is after all a huge influence.

So, you're probably (not) wondering what the latest thing I've spent all this time painting is. It's the first batch of gun drones for my Tau army, providing a highly mobile manoeuvre element and some basic reconnaissance and scouting capability to the cadre.

First off, as is tradition, here are the original drones from my first Tau army.

These guys came together organically overtime. GW has, to my knowledge, never released a full set of gun drones - instead they're usually included with other Tau model kits, which is something I always thought was really neat (I've also always loved the other 'freebie' units that GW did like this, the 3rd edition Tyranid Rippers and Necron Scarabs). Thus, this unit built up over time as I accumulated them in pairs from other Tau kits. Most came from the 3rd edition Tau Battleforce I got, while a couple of others came with a Firewarrior box.

The two with bonding knife decals on them were intended to be optional additions to a Crisis team. At the time I insisted on having a select few drones dedicated to being an independent squadron, and wargear drones dedicated to, well, being wargear additions to units, with no crossover of the two. This left me concerned that I could end up mixing the two by mistake (no real problem from a practical point of view, but as I said I was somewhat OCD about this at the time). Thus, I came up with the solution of marking out the Battlesuit wargear drones by putting bonding knife transfer decals on them in order to tie them into the Battlesuit teams better.

One interesting thing to note about the drones is that almost no glue was used in their construction. I quickly found out with my first models (see April's post 'Start A Revolution' for more details) that almost all of the gun drone parts fit together just fine without needing adhesive, and so I refused to glue down any of the joints in order to allow maximum range of movement on the models - this means that their guns can rotate and elevate as much as the model's design will allow them. It does mean that their guns can fall off from time to time, but I consider the extra movement range and simplicity of construction to be more than worth it. Thus, the only component glued on the model is the antenna, stuck to the drone body with polystyrene cement. Speaking of which, astute readers will note that all of the drones have their antennas on the left side. I saw the antenna attached to both of the little dimples on the drone on the original GW studio examples, but seemed to notice slightly more stuck to the left one, so I standardised on left-hand antennas early on - though it seems many others did not.

These aren't actually all the drones from my first Tau army. The ones that came with vehicles have not been pictured (they'll be presented with their parent vehicles when the time comes), and there are a further two that I pressed into service as makeshift Shield Drone proxies, hastily converting them to the role by putting them on the stand without their pulse carbine turrets. They were only ever meant to be a temporary stopgap until I could put together some real Shield Drones, but ended up soldiering on in that capacity until this rearmament program started. It should however give you an idea on what the drones in that army looked like.

Now then, here are their new replacements.

These gun drones are to be the first of many, and came as a set from one of the Tau giveaway bundles I won at the local GW store. Conveniently this batch contains enough to make a full gun drone squadron for use in games. I have since discarded my old doctrine of dedicated gun drone units, which was fiddly and would waste precious transfer decals, and have instead adopted a more modern system where all gun drones become part of a collective 'drone pool' from which I can allocate gun drones to independent squadrons or unit upgrades as needed. Thus, the gun drones will be the only unit in the army (and indeed in any of my modern tabletop armies so far) to not be named. This also conveniently eliminates the need to fiddle around with writing a name down on the tiny rim of the flying stand.

I'm still somewhat torn on the flying stands. I still really love the look of the bare flying stand bases on their own, without anything done to them - the clear base and stem combination is easily the best way I've seen to model something that's floating in the air (certainly much better looking than the ugly tacky methods of perching the model on a long extended detail or scenic base that are common on NuGW models). However, I received more recommendations to base the flying bases, and it does still look good, while hiding any scratches or smudges. I suppose I can always commandeer some clear flying bases from the older drones if I want.

Aside from that, there isn't that much special about the drones. Once again, most of their parts are dry-fitted, giving them full range of rotation, but aside form that the main difference is their much snazzier paint scheme.

There is, however, a couple of other photos of my at-the-time complete force that I forgot to post up. Since at the time I took them I just had my two Firewarrior teams and an HQ, and since it's an excellent excuse for it, here's some background lore on the Firewarriors in the army.

Hunter Cadre Da'Anuk - The 42nd T'au Guards Cadre 

Tactical Fire Warrior Teams 

"I still remember when I first encountered him. I was just a Shas'la then, posted as a guard for one of the conclave chambers on T'au. At the time there was a discussion going on about future military development, and I will never forget what he said that day. He said, "You can't fight a war without warriors." 
And he was right. I suspect that was what first set my feet upon the path to becoming Shas'nel. Something about those words seemed to resonate with me. I found myself in total concurrence with it. The truth was plain, for as long as there is war, you will need soldiers to fight it. You can delay the inevitable with aerial and orbital bombardments, gunship strikes, battlesuit attacks or drones, but sooner or later you will have to send someone into the fighting to achieve your goals." 

- Shas'Nel'T'au Kass'Ko'Vash, on his encounter with Shas'O'T'au Kais'Ka'Eoro'Da'Anuk 

From the moment of its first inception, the backbone of the 42nd T'au Guards Cadre has been its core of well-trained, well-equipped, motivated Fire Warriors. Shas'O'T'au Kias'Ka'Eoro'Da'Anuk has always held a strong appreciation for the value of infantry in warfare, and when reforming his hunter cadre in the aftermath of the First ATT Orbital Incursion he took great pains to ensure that no expense was spared in the training and rearming of his Fire Warriors. This decision resulted in the creation of a force of highly capable troops equipped with the finest of Tau wargear which has served Da'Anuk well in every major engagement the 42nd T'au Guards Cadre has fought in. From the twisting labyrinth of the ATT Orbital to the hellish nightmare of Doran'Cha to their latest conquests against the Gue'la Imperium in the 3rd Sphere of Expansion, the Fire Warriors of the 42nd T'au Guards Cadre have delivered victory for the Tau Empire time and again. 

The origin of the 42nd T'au Guards Cadre's 'Tactical' Fire Warrior teams can be found in the first Fire Warrior infantry teams that formed the core of Da'Anuk's original hunter cadre. Forming the bulk of Da'Anuk's forces and outfitted with the best equipment Da'Anuk could procure for them, these troops were instrumental in the Tau commander's first victories. They performed the bulk of the devastating night-time raids that earned Da'Anuk his title on the moon of Hoki, and proved themselves to be formidable adversaries to the Adeptus Astartes in Da'Anuk's early campaigns against the Ultramarines (famously after a Space Marine captain scoffed at the idea that they would prove effective in battle). 

By the time of the First ATT Orbital Incursion attrition had left Da'Anuk's forces spent, and the Fire Warriors teams were one of the few units to remain fully capable during this period, with a combat readiness level considerably higher than the grav-tanks and vastly higher than the battlesuits in the cadre. During the First ATT Orbital Incursion the Fire Warriors took the brunt of the fighting that Da'Anuk's cadre was involved in, especially when the combat moved into the corridors, rooms and hallways of the orbital where heavier equipment could not follow. Ever since, the 42nd T'au Guards Cadre's Fire Warrior teams have been invaluable to their contributions in the subsequent ATT Orbital Incursions. and have become intimately familiar with the troubled station's layout and defences. 

Following the First ATT Orbital Incursion and the 42nd T'au Guards Cadre being awarded Guards status, the Fire Warrior teams were rebuilt with recruits drawn from the survivors of the ATT internal security forces who had fought alongside the 42nd T'au Guards to replace the considerable losses they had sustained in the conflict. Since then the 42nd T'au Guards Cadre has recruited from the cream of T'au's Fire Caste, maintaining the standard requirement common to all Guards Cadres that prospective recruits must have a minimum of 1 Tau'Cyr's worth of combat experience before they can be accepted. New warriors are then put through the 42nd T'au Guards Cadre's comprehensive training program covering all of the special skills and equipment operation they will need when serving in the 42nd T'au Guards. 

All Fire Warriors serving in the 42nd T'au Guards Cadre are equipped with combat armour incorporating the latest model of the advanced 'Lar'Shi' infantry combat system, providing a full range of tactical information including voice, video and text communication from the integrated Cadre network, an interactive map featuring geographical and topographical data of the surrounding warzone, basic translation algorithms for dealing with alien lifeforms, objective information and waypoints and data-links to other cadre elements, as well as the standard features of Fire Warrior combat armour. A Fire Warrior can access most of the Lar'Shi features from the tactical computer built into their gauntlet, or from the display in their helmet, which also incorporates thermographic and UV sensors, passive radio detection systems and the full range of features common to the standard Fire Warrior helmet. The Fire Warrior combat armour consists of the same Fio'tak composites as standard combat armour, and is capable of fully protecting the wearer from any small arms weapon thus far encountered by the Tau. 

The primary weapons of choice for the Fire Warriors of the 42nd T'au Guards Cadre remain the PX-16 pulse rifle and PX-16-1V pulse carbine, both tried, tested and combat-proven designs in use since the Second Sphere of Expansion with only minor design refinements. Both weapons make use of the same technology common to all pulse weaponry, using an electromagnetic induction field to propel a particle that breaks down into a plasma pulse as it leaves the barrel. The pulse weapons in use with the 42nd T'au Guards cadre are fed with advanced K-type munition particles, each one only a few molecules large, allowing almost a thousand of them to be stored in the removable magazine cylinders that are a standard fit for both weapon types. The tiny K-type munition particle reacts on contact with the atmosphere, triggering a chain reaction that converts atmospheric gases into high-energy plasma, creating a pulse burst far in excess of the particle's initial size. It is this chain reaction that produces the distinctive blue crescent shaped muzzle flash of a pulse weapon. 

Quite possibly the greatest small arms infantry weapon in the galaxy, the PX-16 pulse rifle possesses a near-perfect blend of range, accuracy, firepower, reliability and ease of maintenance and supply. It's stopping power and penetration characteristics are directly comparable to Imperial bolt weaponry, but with superior range and ammunition capacity and with fewer moving parts, the PX-16 is also considerably more reliable. Firewarriors in the 42nd T'au Guards Cadre are trained to favour the fully automatic setting on the PX-16, trusting in excellent trigger discipline to prevent ammunition wastage. This requires intensive training, but provides maximum flexibility on the battlefield by allowing a Fire Warrior to change firing rates more quickly - to increase their weight of fire, the warrior needs only to squeeze harder on the trigger. 

As well as the anti-grav stabilisers and recoil compensators integrated into most Tau weaponry, the PX-16 pulse rifles used by the 42nd T'au Guards Cadre are fitted with the latest model of advanced optical sights, including thermographic and UV modes (useful as a backup in case the Fire Warrior's helmet sensors are damaged), built-in ballistic computer and full systems integration with the 'Lar'Shi' infantry combat system. The sight unit uses a wireless connection to network with the Fire Warrior helmet, where it interfaces seamlessly with the helmet display. The sight view is incorporated directly into the HUD field of view, and moves fluidly in real-time with the sight's movements. A Fire Warrior can aim the weapon just as he would without a helmet, or use the sight alongside the helmet's sensors for enhanced binocular vision. The sight feed can also be used to see around corners. 

Perhaps the most revolutionary and important feature of the PX-16 pulse rifles used by the 42nd T'au Guards Cadre is the power cells that fuel it. The 42nd T'au Guards Cadre is one of a select few Tau formations currently supplied with advanced prototype enhanced power cells. These enhanced power cells make use of the latest advancements in tri-lithium fusion technology to provide three times the energy capacity of a standard pulse weapon power cell with no increase in weight or size. Where a standard pulse weapon power cell provides enough energy for 50 shots, a tri-lithium fusion power cell can provide energy for 150 shots. Fire Warriors in the 42nd T'au Guards Cadre commonly take advantage of this by firing three-shot bursts where single shots would normally be used, but are also able to go for three times longer between reloads when conserving ammunition, and can lay down massive amounts of automatic fire if the situation calls for it. When rebuilding his forces following the First ATT Orbital Incursion, Da'Anuk made sure to use every means at his disposal to ensure his cadre was selected to be among the first to receive tri-lithium fusion power cells, knowing the advantages they would provide his troops, and they remain one of the most prized pieces of prototype technology used by the 42nd T'au Guards Cadre. 

In addition to the warriors armed with PX-16 pulse rifles, the 'Tactical' Fire Warrior teams of the 42nd T'au Guards Cadre include a small section of between three and four warriors each armed with a PX-16-1V pulse carbine. The PX-16-1V makes use of the same advanced sights, anti-grav stabilisers/recoil compensators and tri-lithium fusion power cells used on the PX-16. Its reduced barrel length means the PX-16-1V has a shorter range, but in return is much lighter and more manoeuvrable, making it ideal for short-range firefights in close quarters. Like other pulse carbine models, the PX-16-1V features an underslung photon grenade launcher. The grenade launcher on the PX-16-1V is a break-action variant, firing photon grenades from a small magazine at the rear that holds three photon grenades and can be reloaded, the bottom section swinging away on the rail-like frame that connects the grenade launcher to the pulse carbine. the launcher is fully integrated with the weapon, and synchronised to fire a photon grenade automatically with each pull of the trigger. When combined with the plasma pulse fire of the carbine itself, the resulting barrage is more than capable of pinning most enemies in place. The PX-16-1V model also features an automatic fire setting, an improvement over previous pulse carbine versions that were limited to semi-automatic fire only. Unlike those using the PX-16, Firewarriors in the 42nd T'au Guards cadre using the PX-16-1V are trained to be proficient with both automatic and semi-automatic settings, and encouraged to use their best judgement for the battlefield situation at hand. 

It is the addition of this carbine section that distinguishes the 'Tactical' teams from the other Fire Warrior teams found in the 42nd T'au Guards Cadre, and what gives them their great flexibility. In defence, the carbine armed Fire Warriors can provide close-in protection for their teammates, pinning down nearby enemies and covering the team's flanks. On the offence, they provide an effective manoeuvre and point element able to lead the team in attacks on enemy positions and room-to-room combat. Like all Fire Warrior teams in the 42nd T'au Guards Cadre, 'Tactical' teams are trained to be able to split up and operate as smaller units of six Tau, and when operating in this fashion it is common for the carbine section to be split between the two groups to afford each one it's own point element. 

In the early days of his command, Da'Anuk established in his Fire Warrior teams the system of Mission Specialists, Fire Warriors with additional training and equipment for specialised roles. Originally each team had only three such Mission Specialists; a technical or technology specialist, an honour guide and a 'Mont'yr'B'Ka' (translated to Gothic as 'Veteran Scout Marksman'). The addition of these Mission Specialists proved to greatly enhance the effectiveness of the Fire Warrior teams, and was an important factor in the success of their nighttime attacks in the campaign on Hoki. In the years following the 42nd T'au Guards Cadre achieving Guards status, Da'Anuk has added more Mission Specialists to his Fire Warrior teams. Following the First ATT Orbital Incursion, team corpsmen were included, and proved invaluable in the gruesome battles on Doran'Cha. In the aftermath of the Second ATT Orbital Incursion Da'Anuk drew on experience learned and added demolitions experts to every Fire Warrior team, which have likewise proved invaluable. The role of Mont'yr'B'Ka has been further split into two specialist roles, a team scout and a designated marksman, although some Fire Warrior Teams still have one warrior perform both roles, often when the team scout proves to also be the best shot in the team. 

One notable tradition amongst the Fire Warrior teams of the 42nd T'au Guards Cadre is that of the Team Second. The Second will often be one of the most experienced or capable warriors after the Shas'Ui team leader, and functions as both their second in command and a bodyguard. To this end the Second wears the same full-colour helmet and coloured shoulder guard as the Shas'Ui as both a sign of authority and to confuse enemy snipers. The Second's armour also includes the same Sept markings as found on the Shas'Ui painted in adaptive 'smart paint' that can be turned transparent or opaque with the application of a small electric currant. This allows the Shas'Ui and Team Second to effectively 'switch markings' as the situation dictates to further confound enemy marksmen. The Second will be a capable leader and tactician in their own right however, more than able to lead a small six-Tau element if necessary, and can fit into the role of team leader seamlessly should the worst happen to the Shas'Ui. 

The modern iteration of the 42nd T'au Guards Cadre's Fire Warrior Teams were proven for the first time in the trial by fire of Doran'Cha, where Da'Anuk's investments payed off considerably. The 'Tactical' Fire Warrior teams were again at the forefront of this conflict. Mounted in Devilfish transports equipped with rappelling lines, the 'Tactical' teams moved from rooftop to rooftop during the battle for Doran'Cha's capital city, laying down devastating fusillades of pulse fire into oncoming Tyranid swarms from their high vantage point and then swiftly redeploying to another building top when they were threatened with being overrun. Working in concert with other mobile elements, the 'Tactical' Fire Warrior teams were able to whittle away the Tyranid numbers considerably with these tactics. 

With their superb equipment, excellent training and outstanding martial tradition, the Fire Warriors of the 42nd T'au Guards Cadre are certain to remain an indispensable cornerstone of its operations. 


So then, that should do I think. Now to see about getting my Tau some more firepower...

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

The Technology of Peace

One vision, one purpose.

As promised, its back to pretty model pictures, for now at least. The latest addition to my revitalised Tau army is this Pathfinder weapons team.

Unlike most of the previous units so far, there is no historical analogue to this unit from my old Tau army, as it is the first entirely new unit (not character) for the modernised force, without a counterpart. There is a Pathfinder team in my older Tau army, but we'll be looking at them at a future date.

The reason for this is because this is only a secondary Pathfinder team. In the buildup for this project I bought two new pathfinder boxes, one to build the real Pathfinder team in the army, and one to harvest for markerlights to equip my infantry team leaders with (I figured the extra stowage bits would probably come in handy too). This however left a bunch of spare Pathfinder bodies and weapons, so I thought I'd put them to good use and use the surplus bits to make a small team armed with ion rifles.

It may seem odd at first to build a minimum-strength Pathfinder team purely for special weapons fire-support, but there is a method to this madness. The first reason behind it was simple practicality - I bought the box for markerlights to distribute to other units, so using them up in more Pathfinders would be counter-productive. The main reason however was learning curve. You see, I've planned out the order of units in the project with an eye towards learning the rules - like I mentioned earlier, I've been on 40k hiatus for the last 5-6 years while I focused on Battlefleet Gothic and Warhammer Fantasy (and this year I started back into 40k for 6th/7th edition just weeks before 8th was announced. I can't help but wonder if I'm cursed...) so I'm trying to prioritise units that will help me ease back into the system. It's part of why the first units I finished were my basic two Troops and an HQ unit, and part of why both were the most simple options available; basic infantry models with minimal special rules that I can learn the core game with before working my way up to more complex things.

Thus, the decision to build this unit next was an extension of this philosophy - a simple way for me to start getting my head around different kinds of weaponry besides S5 AP5 pulse guns (as well as some fun with blast templates should I feel so inclined), without any extra movement or unit rules to worry about on top of that.

There's also a more personal reason. For this project I've decided to approach it using the old guidelines on collecting an army found in the 3.5 edition codexes and the 4th edition rulebook. The sage wisdom contained in those little collecting sections was always a big influence on me, and while I ignored almost all of it as a kid (mostly because I didn't actually get the books until after I started collecting models) it has stayed with me ever since. I still remember the wonder I had while reading them and how much they drove and motivated me in my hobby projects. I still get warm fuzzy feelings when I read over them years later. Thus, I'm honouring as much of them as I can with this project (the only point in them I've ignored so far is the part about acquiring an army one small piece at a time, but since I'm only interested in older models that are now critically endangered I've had little choice). Incidentally, I've also always been deeply influenced by the two army spotlights that were featured in the 4th edition rulebook ('Collecting Space Marines' focusing on a Blood Angels army and 'Collecting Tyranids' focusing on, well, Tyranids), and have similar feelings towards them. It'll probably sound pathetic, but I kind of always dreamed of one day having one of my armies featured in a spotlight article containing my own commentary about them in a rulebook like that, or a White Dwarf, and that one day some new hobbyist in the future might look through their first rulebook, read my commentary and see my models, and be inspired by them in the same way that those spotlight features inspired me.

Finally, as also established previously, I'm a big C&C enthusiast, so it pleases me to work my way up the tech tree with this project.

This unit also gave me an opportunity to test out some of the modelling ideas I've had for the Pathfinders. While I can appreciate the separate markerlight pieces that the new kit offers, I still like the older metal Pathfinder models (especially their awesome special forces style arm patches) much much more, so after a series of comparisons between the two I came up with plans on how to modify the newer Pathfinders into the style of the old. This isn't that hard to do, and mostly involved cutting off the shoulder guards and knee-pads on the newer Pathfinders and greenstuffing cloth in their place. The arm patches were made by cutting off thin slices from the sticky-uppy bits of spare flying stands and pressing them into the greenstuff on the arms while it was still soft. I also cut off the fin on top of the Shas'Ui's backpack, as I think all the excess fins that are on the newer Tau models look silly. Finally I added some spare stowage onto the models' legs to break up the large areas of undersuit on them.

Painting-wise it's nothing new, the only real thing to note was that the entire team was painted simultaneously using a production line method. I thought I'd give the production line another try for the sake of fairness, reasoning that the smaller unit size would make it less tiring. There was also some historical precedent in the decision too - I always found in the past that the supporting units in my Wood Elf army like Wardancers and Eternal Guard worked well in a production line (in no small part due to them being single-piece metal models), so I figured it would be the same here. I was wrong, and ended up in a long tedious grind that lasted over three weeks - normally I'd paint that many infantry models in just one. The production line method has served me well in the past, but whatever the reason I just don't feel like it suits me anymore.

I'm also fairly pleased with how the power crystal on the second ion gunner turned out. I pondered for a while before starting on them what colour to paint the ion rifle crystals, torn between the 6th edition codex's depiction of a green crystal and the blue-purple crystals on the GW studio examples. In the end I went with a rich green - given my fondness for the Command and Conquer computer games and the background behind them it only made sense to paint it like a Tiberium crystal.

There's also some background material this time, to test the waters.

Hunter Cadre Da'Anuk - The 42nd T'au Guards Cadre

Black Knife Pathfinder Teams

Following its official reformation in the aftermath of the First ATT Orbital Incursion, Hunter Cadre Da'Anuk faced a baptism of fire when it was dispatched to the threatened world of Doran'Cha. A well-developed First Phase colony towards the galactic south of the Tau Empire, Doran'Cha had fallen in the path of a splinter of Hive Fleet Corrupter,
 or Hive Fleet Jabberwock as it is known to the Imperium. Upon the first detection of Tyranid vanguard activity the system was swiftly evacuated and, sensing an opportunity to prove the efficacy of their newest Guards Cadre, the T'au Council of The Highest dispatched Shas'O'T'au Kais'Ka'Eoro'Da'Anuk at the head of a Command of over 72 Hunter Cadres, including his own, along with a full complement of supplies, equipment and support elements with orders to hold the Y'he on Doran'Cha until a full fleet response could be mustered and dispatched to neutralise the swarm in space, and a secondary directive to test equipment and tactics against the Y'he in order to devise effective countermeasueres, which was a growing concern amongst the Tau Empire's leadership in the face of increasing Tyranid contact following the conflict with Hive Fleet Gorgon. 

The resulting engagement saw Da'Anuk co-ordinate a fearsome defence against the Tyranids, centred around the colony's network of cities to offset the especially pervasive xenoforming capabilities displayed by Hive Fleet Corrupter.
 In the Kai'rotaa of ferocious urban warfare that followed, itself the subject of multiple publications, casualties amongst Pathfinder teams began to run high as they fought frequent encounters with Y'he infiltration organisms such as Genstealers and Lictors attempting to undermine the Tau's situational awareness. In many instances Pathfinder teams would be reduced to below combat effectiveness. Towards the later stages of the conflict, as Da'Anuk began to be faced with more of these remnants than could be properly merged into effective full-strength Pathfinder teams, he decided to make use of the stragglers by organising them into small teams and issuing them with ion rifles to form hunter-killer parties. Christened Da'Myr or 'Black Knife' teams, these small bands of hardened street fighters would be sent out on search-and-destroy missions against key targets, often Tyranid leadership strains as part of Da'Anuk's strategy to cripple the Tyranid onslaught by eliminating their synapse control system (often known as "Shoot the smart ones" to Gue'vessa serving in the conflict). Due to the dwindling numbers of operable transports towards the later phase of the conflict and priority of their use going to full infantry teams, Black Knife teams usually operated on foot, relying on stealth and an intimate knowledge of the city they were stationed in to reach their targets. 

Like the famous image of a Vior'la Mon'at battlesuit operator, the Pathfinders that made up the Black Knife teams had a tenancy to be Tau with grudges. All volunteers, these warriors had all seen many of their friends and bond-mates die, and it was rare for one to have not been through at least one instance of close-quarters combat with Tyranid organisms. Black Knife Pathfinder teams soon gained a reputation for ruthless determination as well as fearlessness and self-sacrifice. It was common for a Black Knife team returning from a completed mission to lend their support to nearby Tau forces, and there are several confirmed instances and numerous anecdotes of Black Knife teams deliberately drawing attention to themselves to divert Y'he swarms away from other Tau units. While the Tau leadership, growing increasingly conscious of mounting losses and their relatively low manpower reserves, generally discouraged this latter practice unless absolutely necessary, Black Knife teams performing such actions doubtlessly saved many lives. 

Much like the other tactics and practices used by Da'Anuk's forces in their defence of Doran'Cha's capital, the use of Black Knife teams radiated out to Tau forces operating in other cities on the planet, and in turn many Black Knife teams operating in the capital were formed from surviving warriors that had escaped from cities that the Tyranids managed to overrun. Following the eventual Tau victory at Doran'Cha the forces of Hunter Cadre Da'Anuk have made use of Black Knife teams only infrequently. The practice was generally seen as a product of the fighting at Doran'Cha, and is listed in the T'au Book of War only as a temporary arrangement where proper support is impossible. In the opening stages of the Tau intervention on Port Magellan Pathfinder teams in a similar configuration to the original Black Knives accompanied Hunter Cadre Da'Anuk's infantry patrols to lend fire support as they scoured the surrounding areas of the planetary capital for Imperial rocket batteries used to indiscriminately attack the local starports while the Tau heavy equipment was still being transported to the surface. Likewise, such teams were deployed during the Third ATT Orbital Incursion where the restrictions placed on available technology meant that the limited supply of ion rifles they were armed with was often among the heaviest support weaponry available. 

Black Knife Pathfinder equipment varies little from that of the regular Pathfinders in Hunter Cadre Da'Anuk. Like the regular Pathfinders, Black Knife warriors are equipped with lightweight recon armour incorporating the advanced 'Lar'Shi' infantry combat system standard to all Tau infantry operating in Hunter Cadre Da'Anuk, including wrist and helmet integrated tactical computers and a direct link to the cadre tactical battle network for full situational awareness and command and control. In addition to this Black Knife warriors share the practice common to Pathfinders in Hunter Cadre Da'Anuk of carrying a number of additional supplies on their person for extended independent operations. One notable difference is the use of a standard back-mounted lightweight power-pack common to most Pathfinders in Tau Empire service, rather than the advanced recon power-pack used by regular Pathfinders in Hunter Cadre Da'Anuk. 

Black Knife Shas'Uis are armed with a Pathfinder-issue PX-14 pulse carbine with integrated markerlight as standard, and commonly sport a sidearm as well as extra surveillance equipment to aid in effectively directing their team's fire. The principle offensive capability of a Black Knife team however lies in the three IX-18 ion rifles carried by the remainder of the Black Knife team, able to deliver firepower directly comparable to a missile pod for maximum medium-range destruction of light vehicles, armaments, heavy infantry, medium sized creatures and materiel targets. Black Knife Pathfinders are trained and instructed to use the standard fire power setting in almost all circumstances, which not only helps preserve the lives of the ion gunners and the service life of the ion rifles themselves, but also increases the longevity of the enriched-iridium fuel pallets used by the ion rifles and in turn allowing for longer periods of time between replacing spent fuel pallets. This minimises the danger of exposure to the high radiation levels given off by the fuel pallets, and puts less strain on logistics for the ion rifles. 

Despite their potent stopping power, the IX-18 sees little use in Hunter Cadre Da'Anuk. Regular Pathfinders in Hunter Cadre Da'Anuk generally prefer the safer, more reliable and longer-ranged RX-16V rail rifle as a support weapon, limiting the ion rifle's use to Black Knife Pathfinder teams in most circumstances. Combined with doctrinal employment of Black Knife teams and Da'Anuk's well-known preferences for operator safety and the well-being of the troops under his command, this generally results in Hunter Cadre Da'Anuk's supply of ion rifles remaining in the armoury, however it is not entirely unknown for them to be seen in the hands of Black Knife Pathfinder teams from time to time. 


That covers about everything for now I think. Exunt

Friday, 30 June 2017

F.Y.I. (A rebuttal to GW and the Black Library)

Believe it or not, that's actually a metal reference in the title. I haven't really been keeping tally of how many metal related post titles I've used so far, but if one were to turn it into a drinking game I imagine it'd be a great way to erase any sensitive memories.

Anyway, as the uninitiated may have guessed before reading the above statement, this is going to be another wall of words post. The bad news then is no pretty pictures of models with mediocre paint jobs, but the good news is you get an extra post in addition to the scheduled one concerning the latest kinda-adequately painted models.

See, the other day GW posted up an article on their Warhammer Community blog penned by writer and notorious Enemy of The Empire* Phil Kelly on his newest Tau related novel Farsight: Crisis of Faith. You can find it here if you're interested in reading it. I don't know exactly what about it that it was - maybe it was that some of Phil's thoughts echoed my own, or maybe it just happened to be posted at a time when my enthusiasm for 40k is at an all-time low and my anger towards GW is at an all-time record high - but I nonetheless felt compelled to write a response to it. It did certainly trigger a long bout of introspective soul-searching (by which I of course mean a binge of TVtropes articles to reaffirm my stance and back me up. Except to see TVtropes referred to a lot in this post). So here goes another round of fevered rambling.

The first reaction I had (and I'm going through the Phil Kelly post blow by blow, addressing the points I took from it in chronological order) was that they seem to be trying to turn the story of Farsight (a Tau commander who broke ties with the Tau empire and leads his own renegade splinter faction) into the Horus Heresy with Tau. This... doesn't sit well with me. Like, AT ALL. Even without going into my feelings towards the Horus Heresy itself (which range from apathy to hatred that burns with the fury of a thousand suns, depending on how long ago I looked through Forgeworld's model ranges), the idea of taking an entirely unrelated faction and using it to make a clone of the Horus Heresy feels kind of cheap and un-creative to me. The Horus Heresy has already been done, and while opinions on its execution vary, the general consensus seems to be positive. Why do it again if you got it right the first second-third time?

But more than that, the reason this idea feels so wrong to me is that it's essentially turning the Tau into something that they're not, and I don't think were ever really meant to be. And even worse, that's unnecessary. As many fans of 40k will point out to you, the Warhammer 40,000 setting is big. Really big. Even the writers at GW and BL may not always be quite fully aware of just how enormously, mind-bogglingly big the 41st Millennium can be. I mean you might think that the Inner Sphere in Battletech is a big place with lots of worlds of adventure, but that's all just peanuts compared to 40k's setting (not that I'm dismissing Battletech's setting - it might be a little rigid for my tastes but it is still extremely immersive and 'Game of Thrones in space with giant robots' is a guaranteed recipe for awesome - but in terms of sheer scale it really is much smaller).

A lot of those same 40k fans will quickly point out to you that this gigantic setting is great for huge scale stories. But here's the thing: it also means there's lots of room for different stories. As a setting whose basic premise is essentially 'Sci-fi trope deathmatch' (as one TVtropes page so eloquently puts it), there's a faction or entity for every kind of story you could conceivably want to write. You've got Space Marines for action pulp, the Imperial Guard for gritty war stories, the Inquisition for gritty investigative Noir and cosmic horror, and those are just from the Imperium. Want to write a grand sweeping Space Fantasy? The Eldar are a perfect fit. Feel like making a Black Comedy? Da Orks have got you covered. Want to explore the darkest parts of human nature? Chaos has it on lock.

The thing to take away here is that there is absolutely no reason why you need to recycle stories across factions in the setting. Each one has a unique narrative niche to fill.

And the Tau are no exception.

I'd invite you to travel back in time to the early 2000s with me, but if you're familiar at all with this blog then you'll already know that I have unleashed all manner of dark and unspeakable forbidden powers to shatter the fabric of Space-Time so that it is perpetually in early 2000s stasis on here and the year never moves past 2008 unless I will it (though I also make an exception for Delain's post-We Are The Others albums. The Human Contradiction and Moonbathers are both kickass). So instead I will direct your attention to the period of 1999 - 2002ish. As a child, I never really grew up with Anime or Manga, unlike what seems to be just about every other Tau enthusiast in existence. Most of it was always just out of reach for me, so it remained one of those periphery things that I caught bits and bobs about here and there, but never really had any full exposure to (Dragon Ball Z and Pokemon were two notable exceptions, but I feel like their long-term influence on me has been negligible).

Instead, I grew up on a steady diet of classic 20th century Space Opera. While I did start powering through Dune books from age 11 onwards, for most of my childhood the actual content of most 20th century space operas was beyond the comprehension of my primitive kid brain (and certainly well outside its limited attention span), so I was mostly left looking at the phenomenal artwork that accompanied those stories, fantastical paintings of all kinds of spaceships and robots and laser cannons and time machines and other science fiction goodness. And oh boy was that a lasting influence. I can see with hindsight that my love of classic 20th century Space Opera was and remains a big factor in my fondness for the Tau, but with the advantage of age and accumulated wisdom I'm also able to put two and two together. The Tau, in their original 3rd edition depiction at least**, are effectively a love-letter to that 20th century Space Opera. And that is the kind of stories they're there for - those bright shining tales of adventure in the cosmos, solving mysteries and puzzles with science and technology, and embodying the ideals of the Enlightenment movement (and this is coming from someone who's a die-hard Romantic) to lead the universe into a better tomorrow. Y'know, after a whole bunch of conflict. Gotta have meaningful conflict for drama.

Thus, injecting this whole "Epic tale" that "Splits the T'au (sic)*** Empire down the middle" just feels to me like forcing a square peg into a round hole. If you want to write epic tales of betrayal and brother against brother (and who hasn't) then why not write about the actual Horus Heresy? Or another Imperial tale of betrayal?

Before I go on, I feel like I should clarify exactly what I'm talking about here. I don't mean to say that you can't make the Tau epic. Hell, plenty of those 20th Century Space Operas were epic as Epica. but I posit that there's epic and there's epic. What I mean when I say "making an 'Epic Tale' about the Tau is the wrong way to go" is using the same flavour of epic that's used in the Horus Heresy books, or late 8th edition and ET background, or the thrice-damned AOS. The kind of thing where big heroic heroes sweep in and win the day after impossible odds that would have felled ye mortal regulars many times over, but not our heroic heroes, who face off in a clash of blades and then pose proudly on the cover splash. That's certainly a gross oversimplification, one might almost call it a Strawman, but it's the recurring pattern I keep seeing over and over and over in what I've started to dub 'NuGW' and the stories it produces.

What I'm trying to say, I think, is that these statements have me concerned that they're trying to give the Tau a Horus Heresy, and I just don't see the point in that and indeed it sort of misses the point in where the Tau's real strength lies from a storytelling perspective.

Now, at the same time this touches on another issue. I've had some discussions on Advanced Tau Tactica before about bringing the Tau into the wider 40k setting. The debate here is between keeping the Tau confined to a small corner of the 41st Millennium and never really impacting on the wider setting, and bringing them into the wider setting and having them interact more with the status quo. Personally, I'm inclined towards the latter, but with specific conditions. At any rate, the crux of the matter in how it relates to Phil's article is thus; it's all well and good to try and get the Tau to play a bigger part in the grand scheme of things, but NOT at the cost of their identity. They still have to stay fundamentally as who they are. Sure, you have a bit of wiggle room for change in the face of new circumstances, but if you get to the point where you're compromising what makes them unique, what makes them the way they are, and getting in the way of where they come from, then something has gone wrong and you should probably ask yourself why the story needs to be about them in the first place.

And it's no co-incidence that I stopped making any references to Tau specifically in the last part of that paragraph, because it applies equally to all 40k factions and groups.

Let's move on shall we? Phil then goes on to make some remarks about the appeal to him in writing about the Tau. On some points, I can actually agree - the contrast between the bright and idealistic Tau and the, well, grim darkness of the rest of 40k is fascinating and fertile ground for creative stories. Some parts seem a little stupid (Space Marines aren't just "a brutal wall of muscle and ceramite" and 'monsters in power armour' to Tau, they're brutal walls of muscle and ceramite and monsters in power armour to everyone. Being a brutal wall of muscle and ceramite and a monster in power armour is literally the entire point of a Space Marine). One point in particular angried up my blood no end, but I'll save that for later. As Spider Jerusalem said to an irritating toll booth operator, "I'll be back for you".

It is this point here, however where we get to the real meat of my thoughts about all this. To quote directly from the article:

"How the T’au’s firepower and newly minted confidence fares against the ancient, the malevolent and the supernatural is a real draw for me. There’s a great contrast between elegant tech and gribbly horror, and the fact that in the darkness of that gothic universe, logic and science can be a limitation, or worse, a liability. 

You know the awful truth, of course. Hopefully you will be thinking ‘run, you fools!’ whenever the T’au, wide-eyed, walk straight into the lair of a menace they know nothing about – or bite off more than they can chew, and have to fight their way back out. The real threat to T’au society, however, is the truths they uncover as they do so."
This part here I found particularly intriguing, because I've actually been thinking much the same thing recently. There is a lot of potential in the interactions the Tau have with some of the more, as Phil puts it, "Gribbly horror" of the 40k setting. However, the really interesting part is that the conclusion I've come to could not be further from his. My own take is essentially the total opposite - that a bit of science and reason and a whole lot of high-tech firepower is just the thing that's needed for the darkness of that gothic universe, and that logic and science can be a strength, or better, the answer. 

In other words, while they're busy trying to write Supernatural, I'm busy writing Ghostbusters****. 

Upon reflection I suspect a large part of this drive comes from my time playing Diablo III, which introduced me to the simple animalistic joys of shooting demons in the face with crossbows. However, it also introduced me to the radical subversive idea of shooting immortal hell-gods in the face with crossbows. And it taught me that nothing, NOTHING is truly unstoppable. ANYTHING, whether its a giant monster or an immortal eldritch super-organism from the dawn of time, WILL go down if you hit it enough times. 

No exceptions. 


Now, that's not to say it should be easy to bring down immortal god-like entities, or that it should happen all the time. That way lies madness and Eldar Avatars in the 5th edition background. Likewise, if a random extra does it, it's going to be rather anti-climatic. But when it's done by well-written character that you care about, and done in a clever way that requires all of said character's skill and cunning, then you can get some phenomenally badass moments. One of the many, many, many moments in Buffy The Vampire Slayer that I really love comes in Season 2, after the villains have succeeded in unleashing a supposedly nigh-unstoppable monster upon the world. Said monster begins to rampage unchecked through a shopping mall, utterly confident in its indestructibility, until it turns around... 

... to face Sarah Michelle Gellar with a rocket launcher. 

What follows is about what you'd expect, and it's brilliant for subverting the standard conventions of those kinds of things being immune to humans. It's for similar reasons that I've always liked that moment in Return of The King then the Witch King confidently states that no man can kill it, only for Eowyn to throw off her helmet, point out that she isn't a man, and then stab said Nazghul in the face with a sword. My point is that while it's very fun to write grim nihilistic Cosmic Horror stories where the eldritch abominations can't be stopped and we're all just helpless playthings, it can also be just as fun when it turns out that the helpless mortals turn out to be not so helpless after all and bring the monster down in the end. Either approach can get tiring if it's overdone, and ideally you want a good balance of both. Sometimes Cuthulu just regenerates after having a boat driven through its head, and there's nothing anyone can really do about it, but sometimes shooting the immortal star god in the face with a railgun actually works. It's variety that's the key. 

That's why when I get writing some more feature length Tau stories, ideally you'll be thinking "Badass!" when they finally manage to bring down the rampaging horror. Sometimes at least. 

Now if you're a follower of the 1D4chan crowd or it's ilk (and if any of them are actually reading this, I will be a mixture of surprised, honoured and disturbed), you'll probably be in a state of shock if you've managed to get this far. After all, Tau of all things being what finally brings down the big bads of 40k must be fairly close to the ultimate heresy. That just wouldn't do at all for something that's supposed to be the epitome of grimdark. Which brings me nicely to the other big thing that's been eating me. You remember that point I mentioned above that had me seething with barely-contained RAGE that I said we'd get back to? It's time to address it. 

It's the continuing trend of trying to artificially darken the Tau. I cannot stress how much I HATE that idea. Because it totally defeats the point of the Tau. And don't tell me that that's a subjective stance, I have official word to back me up on that. In the original Designer's Notes on the Tau, published in White Dwarf #262 (US), Andy Chambers himself wrote as much: 

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

That line was ripped straight from the text. That is how the Tau should be, and to take that away is sort of missing the point of them. If you want grim darkness, then there are seven other factions you can get it in (more if you count sub-groups), you really don't need another. And here's the other thing. I'm going to let you in on a little secret, known to only a few. Here it is. 

You can have groups that aren't dark in a dark setting WITHOUT taking away its darkness. 

It's true, believe me. It is possible to have it both ways. You can have your genuinely bright altruistic good guy Tau, and if they're the only group like that in the setting, then it will still be grim and dark. In fact, when you think about it, the idea of the Tau being just as dark as everyone else really is actually pretty boring. If you take away that shiny altruism, then what's left that really makes the Tau unique? Battlesuits? Yawn. 

At that point they really just become a palette-swapped Imperium. And if you get to that point then why not just write about the Imperium? 

There's a quote on the TVtropes page for the Marvel comic book character Squirrel Girl. It's uncredited, but here is how it goes: 

"Maybe it's just me, but I'm not crazy about super hero stories where everything's all dark and moody. Personally, I like the ones where good guys fight giant apes on the moon and stuff. Remember those? I do. That was back when comic book worlds were places you wanted to escape to... not from." 

This basically sums up my stance towards 40k. Maybe it's just me, but when I'm confronted with a 40k that's grim and cynical and utterly dark without any redeeming groups whatsoever (and the Ultramarines don't count), I immediately get Darkness Induced Audience Apathy and can only ask "Why do I care about any of this?" And the answer is, inevitably, "I don't care about any of this" which is never the reaction you want to get from a story. 

And I get it. I totally understand the appeal of a grim dark setting. Truth be told I'm actually pretty grimdark myself. And I definitely don't want to see 40k get too light and have too many good guys either - that's one of my biggest criticisms about NuGW background lore after, well, it's existence. But I posit to you that it is possible to have a happy medium between the two extremes. 

So it's totally OK to have grim dark stories in a grim dark 40k setting, but please leave the blue-blooded 20th Century Space Opera homage that is the Tau out of it. Leave them for us folk who want to write about the good guys and get a warm fuzzy feeling whenever they win games. 

And if you're concerned about how non-red blood looks in artwork, then go back to black and white monochrome artwork. It looks much better anyway. 

*That's a little Advanced Tau Tactica humour in case you didn't know.
**Still the only one that matters - with one or two exceptions any background about them written since then is Fake News(TM) and should be dismissed as the heresy it is. 
***Though I feel like I'm the only person in the universe who does, I still maintain that the injection of an apostrophe into the name 'Tau' is stupid. I know T'au is the Tau homeworld, but that's like calling all Russians Muscovites. There's more to Russia than just Moscow and there's more Septs in the Tau Empire than T'au. 
****The first one, just before anyone starts jumping to conclusions. While I personally didn't find the reboot that bad, I understand it's very much cinematic Marmite. 

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Hell March

Something I've come to realise is that building a tabletop army is a lot like what I hear about raising a child - it involves lots of hard, tedious, thankless work, and by the end of it you want to smash something with a hammer, but there are those rare moments when you look at a finished unit that makes it all worth it in the end.

I had originally planned to update this thread last week, but never got a chance to. Having seen an opportunity to get at least a couple of games of not 8th in at stores before I'm prohibited (in GW stores at least - FLGSs may, perhaps, be slightly more flexible with using older rulesets), I've spent the last couple of weeks working like an Il-2 Shturmovik factory to get a legal force up and running.

This first meant a second troops choice, in this case my second Firewarrior team. I cannot stress just how much I love Firewarriors, and never want to see them change. For even longer than tabletop hobby, one of my favourite past-times has been Real Time Strategy computer games, and amongst them there is a special place in my heart for the Command and Conquer games (well, maybe not so much the more recent ones...), which were the first I ever played and remain some of my favourites to this day. A couple of years ago it occurred to me that this is an important part of my fondness for Firewarriors, as I can recognise their purpose instantly from those games - Firewarriors are the light infantry/rifle infantry/minigunners of the Tau, the basic soldier costing around $90-120 to make, and armed with a machine gun that's best against other infantry. They might be looked down upon, you might scoff at them, but when there's enough of them around they can chew through anything the enemy throws at them, and no matter what your plan is, whether you're conquering the entire map with the full tech tree or playing an infiltration mission where you have just a few guys and an engineer, they will always serve you well.

It's because of this that it always makes me sad when I see comments about wanting them to have stuff like organic special weapons.

Anyway, continuing the series on the proud and illustrious history of my armies, here is the second Firewarrior team of my first army.

While the first Firewarrior team was from a Firewarrior box, this one was included as part of the original 3rd edition Tau Battleforce, which I received as a Christmas present one year if memory serves. The 3rd edition Tau Battleforce was fantastic, and to this day is still the best one GW ever produced in my eyes. Not only did it provide you with a fully functioning army straight out of the box (and a fairly well-rounded one at that), it also provided you with something else that no other Tau army deal ever included - a set of Jungle Trees. I found the inclusion hilarious when I first looked at the back of the box in a GW store, giggling over the idea of this impressive list of formidable troops and weaponry followed by "And a set of Jungle Trees" which seemed like a classic case of Arson, Murder and Jaywalking humour, but to this day I still think it was a stroke of brilliance; not only would a new player buying the Battleforce get the nucleus of their new army, they would also get their first terrain piece. This alone is why I still consider the 3rd edition Battleforce boxes superior to all their equivalents released since.

As I already mentioned in the last post, my early experiments with basing ended up something of a disaster in my eyes, so I swore off basing models for a long time. This team comes from that period, and thus are glued straight onto unadorned bases. I thought I had included specialists in this team as well, but it seems that I either gave them totally new ones that I have since forgotten, or never applied the practice entirely this time around. Either way they still all retained their own individual personalities and characteristics, though many have been lost to the ages. It also represents a step up in painting, as I now started to experiment with actually painting the scanner displays and Tau Empire badges instead of simply leaving them black.

Together with the earlier team, this formed the core of my original Tau army, and served me well for many years. Now let's meet their successors.

Firewarrior team Lar represents the first painted Tau 40k models that I actually bought with my own money. The earlier Firewarriors that I've shown were all free of charge, as I won them as prizes in several giveaway raffles. There were several other units that I also won in this way, and these Free Men or 'Freebies' will be forming an elite core of my new Tau army. Thus, this new team represents the first mainline regular unit of the army, having come from a 6th edition Tau Empire Battleforce (which, though certainly a good deal, is still a pale shadow of what came before). Like Firewarrior team Kais, Firewarrior team Lar includes a full compliment of mission specialists, with the additional inclusion of a Designated Marksman (in Firewarrior team Kais the team's Scout is also the Designated Marksman, performing both roles). Again, conversion work was kept to a minimum, with the only real modifications (as opposed to just creative posing and assembly or crude greenstuff sculpting) being the inclusion of a markerlight and data-cables on the Shas'Ui and a spare helmet clipped to the Scout's backpack, created using the tried and tested method created by Sebastian Stuart and showcased both online and in White Dwarf #313 - incidentally the first White Dwarf magazine I ever owned, in case I never mentioned it before - with the only modification being to use a razor saw to remove the bulk of the head piece.

For the Shas'Ui I had originally planned to finally recreate the cool action pose I first created with the first team's Second so many years ago, after having finally cracked the secret behind it (a twist in the waist was the missing ingredient I had overlooked), but partway through assembling her I had a change of heart and instead decided to create an entirely new pose for her, which I suppose was only fitting given that this is a new army. It was an easy enough thing to do, with the only real change being to flip which way the pulse carbine was pointing. I find the end result just as impressive looking, and even cooler for being reminiscent of the Pathfinder artwork on pg. 2 of Codex: Tau which acted as some inspiration for it. The pose of original second team's Shas'Ui was recreated for Firewarrior team Lar's Team Second, positioning the two paired arms seperately. I think it ended up like that by accident in the original team (I remember I was trying to go for a generic action pose), but I decided to deliberately copy it this round after liking how it looked, with the arm positioning suggesting that he's reloading.

As much as I adore the Firewarrior models, I must admit that by this stage I was starting to get a bit sick of painting them. As I have learnt with working through over 64 Glade Guard models for my Wood Elves, even with amazing models you can still have too much of a good thing sometimes. Fortunately for me then, is that I won't need to paint up any more Firewarriors for the time being, as these two teams fulfil my minimum 2 troop requirements and minimum 1 Firewarrior team (which will always be a rule to me). But all armies need leaders, and so here is the first HQ choice of my new Tau army - my hard as nails Fireblade, Shas'nel'T'au Cal'Ka'Eoro.

While I always liked the idea of a Cadre Fireblade as an infantry leader for smaller scale low-cost games, I never liked the GW model as it was, especially its rather poorly sculpted face. Thus, over the years I began to work out a plan for how I would convert and modify the model to my own needs. The first step was to replace the bare head with a much cooler looking Firewarrior helmet, which also had the advantage of giving the model a communications aerial. Since the Firewarrior sprue doesn't come with any spare head antennas, I instead sourced one from one of the Pathfinder kits I obtained, and discovered to my delight that it was the perfect size once the extra bottom piece was snipped off. The size of the helmet meant I had to remove the back intake, which was unfortunate, but when you think about it it was a pretty silly feature anyway (either it was an intake, in which case it ran the risk of sucking the poor Shas'nel's hair into the backpack machinery, or it was an exhaust vent, in which case it would spew piping hot and possibly radioactive exhaust straight into the back of the unfortunate Shas'nel's head) so I suppose I can live without it. I experimented with simply reversing the vent instead, but ultimately it was still a poor fit, so it had to go. The new head also required a little bit of greenstuff work to the body to ensure a good seamless fit.

Interestingly, I decided to make use of a spare helmet left over from my earliest Firewarrior teams, as I loved the 'old meets new' symbolism it would produce. It was a shock to see how much lighter in colour GW plastic used to be.

The next step was the bonding knife, which I always thought looked dumb being waved around in the air. I decided to replace it with a grenade hand, to make it look like the Fireblade was throwing a photon grenade. This was much easier to achieve, as the knife hand is separate on the Fireblade sprue, so all I needed to do was saw off a spare grenade hand from a Firewarrior kit and glue it in place.

It was at this point that I added an old Firewarrior bonding knife to the back of the model, trimmed to fit with her cape. I am not fond of the chunky bonding knives on the newer Tau models, much preferring the elegant slender bonding knives in the original Firewarrior kit, and so I will be using those for all of the bonded infantry models in the army. I also noticed that the Fireblade model has no spare ammunition packs on it, which I thought was rather silly for a soldier, so I added a couple to her backpack as well, taken from the Pathfinder kit and cut up to fit. I also added some photon grenade packs to ensure that all of the wargear she's equipped with is represented on the model.

The next stage was the most ambitious, as I reposed her right leg. While I found the original Fireblade's pose to be adequate enough, I became increasingly enamoured with the idea of bending one leg down more to create more of an action pose, climbing forward to lead an attack or bracing against an obstacle in defence. So it was that I cut up and reassembled the model's leg, reconstructing gaps with greenstuff. I had originally planned on reposing her other leg instead, reasoning that it would be easier to do as that one was a separate component, but after seeing that the right leg was already more forward I felt changing it would look more natural instead. I also planned to build up the base more to accommodate this changed pose,  but was pleasantly surprised to find that the base would already fit if it was simply reversed.

The final changes were the addition of the ubiquitous markerlight data-cables and removing most of the Tau iconography from the model. While I can appreciate that Fireblades encompass a more spiritual side to Fire Caste tradition, I've never liked the Sigil Spam that's crept its way into the post-2010 Tau models. It always seemed to undermine their nature as pragmatists in my eyes, especially the chest logos that, as is often the case, just seem to scream out 'shoot me here'. So it was then that I carefully sliced off all of the Tau Empire logos on the Fireblade model except the shoulder guard badge, which should be more than enough to stir martial pride. Keen-eyed readers may also have noticed that I've been shaving off and greenstuffing over the Tau logos on the infantry markerlights for similar reasons (and because I like the more utilitarian unmarked look better).

I painted up Cal'Ka in much the same way as I had originally envisioned, with the main details distinguishing her from the regular Firewarrior colour scheme being the use of advanced green optics and green markings to show her status as a commander. The only real deviation from my original plan was with the cape. From the start I wanted it to be double sided, as I had grown to dislike the all-white cape on the GW studio model - I can understand it's a cultural thing, white being the (modern) sept colour of T'au, but again a giant sheet of bright white like that had a bit too much of a 'shoot me' feel to it for my tastes, so I instead settled on a compromise where the inside of the cape would be white while the outside would be a nice practical neutral tone. The difference came in the detail - I had originally intended to paint more green sept markings running along the edge of the cape's inside, but my attempt at layering white over a large scale didn't quite work out as well as I'd have liked, so I decided against further details out of fear it would make that side of the cape look too messy. The outside facing of the cape had the opposite problem - I had originally intended to paint a three-tone camouflage scheme on it, but I ended up being so pleased with how the olive drab base turned out that I didn't want to add anything more in case I spoiled it.

Despite all my years of planning, one thing I never gave much thought to was her base, and I was left somewhat unsure of how to handle the Tau details on it. In the end I decided to paint them up in the whites and reds of the new Vior'la GW studio scheme, drybrushing the main colours on to give a worn and tarnished appearance, as a subtle take-that to the new GW - clearly the new GW studio Tau have failed, and it's now up to my valiant Shas to mount a heroic rescue!

It wasn't until everything had dried and been varnished that I suddenly noticed the new pose now left the model unbalanced, with the lower barrel of the pulse rifle pushing her over to the side. Thinking fast, I came up with the elegant solution of simply gluing a spare 25mm round base to the underside of the scenic base, providing just the right amount of ground clearance and making the base look extra-special.

With a minimum legal army now up and running I have also taken it on its first couple of outings. The first was to a multi-player game at a friend's house (using one of my test models as a Fireblade proxy, as it was before I had finished painting Cal'Ka), which I sadly never took any pictures of because I only realised I had forgotten to bring my camera when I was on the train over to there. I ended up getting tabled in short order (mostly because one of the other players was packing an all-flying monstrous creature Tyranid list, and no-one else had any anti-air units), but I ended up winning the real victory when someone commented that my models were probably the best looking ones on the table.

The second outing was a foray to a FLGS nearby, which I triumphantly marched into on their late-night games day... only to find that the minimum points level for that night was 1000pts, which I don't even have half of. Thus I was left to simply spectate on the other games happening, although I did spy a rather nicely painted Sisters of Battle army in use. Since my models never left the transport case, I never took any photos here either (I was planning to do a quick shoot on an empty table once one of the games was finished, but they packed away all the scenery before I could so I decided to cut my losses and go home to enjoy some birthday chocolate).

One picture I do have, however, is the entire force so far all together, arranged in parade formation because it's the only way to fit them all onto my limited photography space.

There it is, the first core of my new Tau army, clocking in at just under 400 points with the 6th edition codex (if the Firewarriors are given EMP grenades).

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Universal Death Squad

So as my Tabletop future continues to bleed and burn, I finish the first of my new Tau army's units - a team of Firewarriors.

I'm starting with Firewarriors for a number of reasons - they're one of my three favourite Tau models of all time to start with, and they'll be a major component of the finished force. Most importantly though, I always start a tabletop army with some basic infantry units - because you can bomb it, you can strafe it, you can cover it with poison, you can turn it into smouldering glass, you can consume it with eldritch extra-dimensional energies, but you don't own it unless your infantry is on it and the other side's isn't.

First, let's take another walk down memory lane. 

This is the first Firewarrior team I ever owned, I think I must have been 9 years old when I got them. I still remember having endless fun putting them together over an afternoon. At the time I was still digesting the shiny new 4th edition 40k rulebook (which still remains my favourite 40k BRB) that I had gotten for Christmas the previous year, and I had recently started exploring the Dark Millennium hobby section in more detail. Something that had particularly caught my eye while going through it was the sections on Kill Team (real Kill Team, with one player using a Kill Team and the other controlling Brute Squads and more references to action movie tropes than you could shake a machine gun at. Ahh those were the days) and Raid scenarios with sentries. In particular, I was fascinated and immensely inspired by the various conversions of infantry models showcased in the sections, and quickly decided to take a recurring passage from the Kill Team section to heart and make every model in my new Firewarrior team unique. Some were actually given specialised roles, while most were simply just normal troopers, but I gave each one a distinct personality even if it was only in my imagination. Much of them are now sadly lost to time, but I still remember a few of the more specialised roles.

You may notice that there are two Firewarriors in the team with white markings. The story behind this is that when I had finished assembling the team I then stopped to decide which one of them should be the team leader, using the only relevant and worthwhile metric there is to a 9 year old - which one of them looked the coolest! I had of course been naturally building up one in particular with an eye towards being the team leader, but when it came time to decide I was torn between that one and the one immediately next to it, who had ended up with an awesome action pose that I have never quite been able to replicate, much to my frustration. In the end I decided to settle the matter by simply painting both of them with white leadership markings, making my first candidate the Shas'Ui team leader and the alternative choice the team's second in command, a tradition that has carried over to all of my Firewarrior teams ever since.

This Firewarrior team also marks one of my earliest experiments with basing models. I had already read through the instructions in the 3rd edition Tau codex on how the studio Tau models were based (which I've been following for this new Tau army), but at the time it seemed rather complicated, and required paints I didn't have, so instead I simply went through the more basic method suggested by the Lord of The Rings Strategy Battle Game magazines I had also been getting a steady supply of, got a bag of flock (back when GW still sold bags of modelling flock) and began to apply it to the bases of my Tau models. Since it was already green, I saw no reason why it would not yield a passable version of the typical grassy field basing scheme commonly found. The end result was less than spectacular - my child motor skills and perception abilities proved insufficient for the task at hand, and the flock ended up being applied very chaotically. Ultimately I deemed it such a disaster that I avoided basing models at all until four years ago when I started my Wood Elf army (and used the simple innovation of finishing bases separate to the models to avoid getting any basing materials on feet and shins).

At the time I was (and still am, all things considered) awfully proud of this Firewarrior team. Now let's see how their successors stack up. 

Firewarrior Team Kais (as if it was going to be called anything else given my love of the old Fire Warrior computer game) is my first new Firewarrior team in over a decade, though it is also a homage to the previously documented one and contains several throwbacks to it. Like the first team before it, I've taken the idea of personalising and special roles to heart and made the unit a sort of 'Kill Team lite', including several specialised members. Some, like the tech specialist and honour guide, have been carried on from the first team, while others, such as the demolitions expert and medic, are entirely new. Almost no component swaps or kitbashing was used to make the team - I am keeping conversion work in the army down to a minimum, because A) I already think the models look fantastic as they are and don't really feel the need to modify them too much, B) I'm looking at focusing more on getting the most out of the model kits themselves and pushing them to their limits rather than introducing lots of outside elements and C) it will make the major conversions I actually do really stand out that much more.

Thus, the only component used in this unit from another kit was the Shas'Ui's markerlight, taken from the new Pathfinder kit. I think most of all, more than anything, my favourite part about the 2013 6th edition Tau releases was the introduction of a readily available separate markerlight bit, and I have obtained an entire box of Pathfinders purely to harvest for markerlights for my team leaders (though other bits on it will be coming in handy also). It is a testament to the flexibility of the old Firewarrior kit that I was able to make all of the specialists that I wanted (5 in total) using only the parts contained within it. Plus a little greenstuff and a piece of sprue frame (and the ubiquitous florist's wire for the Shas'Ui's stylish data-cables).

The team also carries on the tradition of a Team Second painted with a white helmet and shoulder guard panel, now with an in-universe justification as a deceptive countermeasure against enemy snipers. It also allows me to split the team and field it as two units of 6 Firewarriors with minimal fuss if I so wish (I can also conveniently make both teams Bonded by simply including the honour guide in with the Second's group). Her pose is a direct reference to the first team's Second, though not an exact copy (mostly because I wanted that set of legs for another use), with the other major change being a worn helmet, as I am moving to the old 3rd edition GW studio Tau army's pattern of only one bare head per Firewarrior team. Even then all of the infantry models will have a helmet somewhere on them, as what I've read suggests that going into an active warzone without some kind of head protection is widely regarded as a bad move.

Painting wise it's nothing that hasn't been already shown on the test models, with the exception of the white panels on the Shas'Ui and his second. I experimented with them after the thought suddenly occurred to me that the erroneous colour choices listed in the 3rd edition codex's painting instructions might have been a typing/publication error (as they say, never attribute malice to what could simply be incompetence) and they really meant Bleached Bone instead of Vomit Brown. Thus, I tried a 3:1 mix of Skull White and Bleached Bone (that's White Scar and Ushabti Bone for you youngsters reading this) for the main white colour and was tickled with the results, which were much closer to the white on the studio models. The only question left after this breakthrough was how to highlight it, for which I used a 3:1 mix of White Scar and Screaming Skull followed by a final highlight of White Scar. The Shas'Ui also has a simplified pattern of team-markings on his helmet and shoulder guard, indicating his team is a 'tactical' Firewarrior Team armed with a mixture of pulse rifles and pulse carbines.

This update was delayed for a long long time as painting the team ran dangerously behind schedule. I had originally intended to get it finished before the start of the month, and was confident I would by using a production line painting method. The last army I worked on was a Wood Elf one for Warhammer Fantasy, where an overall production line was impractical on the plastic Glade Guard that formed the core of the army - units in Warhammer Fantasy are tightly ranked, and thus all the models in them must fit side-by-side, and since I was also working in sub-assemblies for maximum access during painting this meant I had to go through an entire unit one model at a time to make sure they all fit together when fully assembled (I tried keeping unpainted ones together with blu-tack at first, but that proved to be of little help as they kept falling apart or leaning over), and thus production line painting was only used for metal units. Since 40k units act in loose formation, this was not necessary, simplifying things considerably, however going through the entire unit in a gigantic production line quickly proved exhausting, and after two weeks I finally gave up and started working through it two models at a time. The end result has left me almost a month behind my initial planned schedule, and I fear the delays have meant that I will now never end up playing a full game of 40k at a GW store (unless they relax their policies on using older rules editions for games in there), as I will not use the coming 8th edition rules - I have already heard enough about them to know that they are not what I am looking for for 40k gaming.

Still, all in all it is a fine start to my Tau rearmament program. Now to give them some backup...