Monday, July 16, 2012

Coming Back from the Brink, pt. 1: The Fire Warrior

It's time for a retrospective and an early prospective on how the Greater W...Good is faring in the new edition of forty thousand shots.  So sit down and strap in because this will be a multi-parter.

First things first, how have Tau been faring in the last days of 5th edition?  I heard they were faring decently well, just not around my neck of the woods.  The popularity of MSU armies and the rise of necrons with massed armor value thirteen vehicles allowed Tau to have relatively favorable match ups.  While most missile armies were floundering in attempting to crack ghost arks and douche canoes, the railguns still enjoyed the ability to pen on a four plus and then would wreck or explode on a three or better.  When grey knights brought fearless MSU purifiers with two psycannons in each squad, target locks allowed each broadside to possibly kill a psyback each turn and the crisis suits still killed purifiers like any other marine.  The presence of paladins did make Tau rather sad, but I never heard of a strategy that would defeat paladins in standard missions besides tabling them.  And then 6th edition happened...

Let's start with the heart of the armies of the Tau empire. The much maligned fire warrior, especially hated by myself in 5th, may actually have a role in the army of the greater good now. With undeniably horrible close combat ability, the fire warrior must tactically withdraw (read: run) if the enemy is nearing. In fifth edition this mean the choice between moving back and shooting 12" or staying put and hoping they can shoot down the enemy with their mediocre shooting. In most cases this was solved by throwing six of the gents into a devilfish and moving them forward to take a point. Now, the fire warriors have been doubly buffed: they can now fire at full range if they have moved and can fire twice at half range (15" rather than 12"). Now that fire warriors can protect themselves through retreating while still contributing to the army with their firepower, having more than the minimum six total is something I would recommend. I am not sold on teams larger than the minimum six per team, but having multiple teams on foot allows for more firepower and reasonable mobility. While the devilfish is still a reliable vehicle, Tau are one of the few armies where their main transport is more expensive than a minimum team it might be protecting. So instead of buying a devilfish and attracting more anti-tank firepower for less firepower output, I have been getting decent results with bringing more fire warriors in small teams. The advantage of small teams is that it is easier to overkill them and use firepower less than optimally.

The BRB changed the rules for regrouping and placed an emphasis on sergeants and other 'characters' within an army, so it's time to look at the Tau sergeants. Be aware that a fire warrior shas'ui team leader or a battlesuit shas'vre is considered a character, but a battlesuit team leader is not considered a character unless (s)he is a shas'vre. Only characters can accept challenges, but remember this is Tau, the one race in the game that views melee combat as barbaric and would not seek to prove themselves in melee combat. Challenges can only be issued if there is a character in the opposing squad (p. 64), so no challenges can be made against battlesuits that do not have an IC or a shas'vre or against fire warriors without a shas'ui. Some may say that this is a bad thing because the potential challenger can run rampant in the opposing squad, but again this is Tau we do things differently. In the case of fire warriors, it is definitely preferable to allow the team, if engaged in melee combat, to be killed wholly rather than risk it staying in close combat and dying during your turn while protecting their killers from shooting.

                                  ***DANGER: Probability ahead***
The shas'ui does bring a welcome leadership buff, but even then only raises them to the level of marines without a sergeant (ld 8), for a 17% increase in points cost. While leadership seven is poor compared to other units' leadership, it is both probable to succeed (58.34%) and the point of diminishing returns for leadership. The probability of rolling a seven on 2d6 is 0.1667, while that of rolling a six or eight is 0.1389, five or nine 0.1111 and four or ten is 0.0833. Therefore, the value of each additional point of leadership increases up to seven and decreases afterwards, so the value of the leadership buff from a shas'ui is greater than that of a marine sergeant for the same price, but the value of the marine's extra attack is much greater than that of the shas'ui so it balances out. As far as the question of is the shas'ui a worthwhile purchase, excluding his extra attack and obligation to accept challenges (which you don't want to), we need to compare the increase in price and leadership. At leadership seven the fire warriors pass 58.34% of their morale tests while at leadership eight they pass 72.23%, an increase of 23.81% and a melee damage *lol* output increase of 16.67%. In two aspects, neither of which are particularly necessary, yes, the upgrage to a shas'ui is worth it's points. However, if you want more firepower, you could get a 16.67% increase for the same price. Note that the points efficiency of the leadership increases and the extra attack increase and decrease respectively in proportion to the increase in the fire warrior team's increase in size. So at a full team the leadership buff is still a 23.81% increase, but the additional cost is only an 8.33% increase, while the melee attack is an 8.33% rather than a 16.67%.

Now let's look at arguably the most iconic piece of tau wargear, and the most common on shas'ui team leaders, the bonding knife.  The entry was changed by the 6th edition FAQ to read "A unit that contains one or more models equipped with bonding knives can always attempt to regroup using its unmodified leadership value."  Because the shas'ui or an attached IC are the only models that have access to bonding knives, the team will be testing at no less than leadership eight.  Assuming the team is operating without an independent character we can calculate the effectiveness of this piece of wargear.  In the BRB, units attempting to regroup may do so at their normal leadership unless it has fewer than 25% of its original models remaining (p. 31).  If it has fewer than 25% remaining, it must roll insane heroism to regroup.  For a maximum size team to qualify for testing at insane heroism it must have two or fewer models remaining.  For the bonding knife to be effective, one of these models must be the shas'ui team leader.  The bonding knife would increase the probability of passing this test by 2099% when compared to a team without a bonding in the same situation.  Not bad for five points ;).  However, the bonding knife is only available if the team already has a shas'ui, so to acquire one the cost from is closer to fifteen points, as the shas'ui provides no benefit beyond access to the knife under the circumstances in which the bonding knife is effective.  The bonding knife's cost would only benefit two models, so it would increase the cost of the reduced "team" to thirty-five points rather than twenty.  It is only an increase of 75% cost to massively increase the probability of saving that unit.  The question comes down to whether the probability of recovering two fire warriors is worth the additional cost of the bonding knife and how likely it is that the squad will be reduced to two models or the shas'ui, but not wiped out.  For me it is a small enough chance that I would not.

Finally we come to the question of  weapons: rifle or carbine.  During fifth edition there was some debate as to which weapon fire warriors should be carrying and whether or not to mix the two in a squad.  I was always a purist and disregarded the pulse carbine because of its shorter range and what I judged as the negligible odds of pinning my marine opponents (16.67%).  In fifth edition, a pinned unit would receive a bonus to its cover save, but could take no voluntary actions and could only fight in cc if it was assaulted.  In sixth edition, the pinned unit may fire snap shots in the shooting phase and may fire overwatch, but is otherwise unchanged.  This is a nerf to pinning weapons that, when combined with the ability for rapid fire weapons to fire at full range when moving means I find very little reason to take a pulse carbine if you have the option to take pulse rifles.  Pathfinders do not have the option to do so, but that is a different unit and a different discussion.  As I can see it there are two viable ways to run fire warriors, barring the shas'ui's access to the infantry armory, which will be discussed later.  They can be run as either six shas teams with no upgrades to provide fire support or they can be run as twelve shas teams with team leader with bonding knife.  The first option is sixty points and the second is one hundred thirty-five points.

Not sure what I'll talk about next, but I hope you prosper as T'au shall.



  1. Great write-up. It's fairly along from what I've been seeing in my own games. I'm glad to see the math behind the bonding knife done for me now too.

    I would like to add one thing and make one small correction.

    First - I think the Shas'ui upgrade on the Firewarrior has one other benefit when combined with all the other options: the access to the Blacksun filter. With nightfight rules being more prevalent, the ability for that bit of wargear to extend out to the rest of your unit may be invaluable.

    And the small correction:
    "Be aware that a fire warrior shas'ui team leader or a battlesuit shas'vre is considered a character, but a battlesuit team leader is not considered a character unless (s)he is a shas'vre"

    According to the FAQ "The Team Leader or Shas'vre is Infantry (Jetpack, Character)"

  2. Also on the team leader for Fire Warriors. While the buff to leadership may seem only slight, there is an increasing number of abilities, wargear, psychic powers, etc. that force leadership tests. Having that addition boon to leadership may be the getting better if the number of tests required to make raises above the simple moral test.

    On 6 man teams. I'd agree that there is a level of strategy that involves overkill, but the number required to force leadership is much easier to reach, and the units benefit less from overwatch. Just my out look on that one.

    Overall, not a bad read.

  3. Brian, I stand corrected, very nice catch. The black sun filter should add a nice benefit against armies that rely on cover saves as their primary saves. I have been playing against either guard or a marine/eldar alliance so I haven't seen the benefit yet, but I can see your point.

    Godfrey, from my understanding most of these powers (e.g. fear of the darkness) and wargear items (e.g. trophy racks) apply a negative to leadership. That would make the increase from the shas'ui even more potent, though it would not save the unit from being more likely to fail the test than to pass. Until the tau have a way to overwatch at their native ballistic skill, I would say the increase of one hit is pretty negligible.

    1. Wouldn't it be two hits. Since you can rapid fire, the extra 6 guys would yield 12 shots correct? And while we plan for dice amounts, rolling more dices gives the chance of getting more sixes. And when it comes down to stopping something in heavy armor, even terminators, the more saves you make them take, the better imo.