Friday, December 7, 2012

Coming Back From the Brink pt. 14: The Renegade

I needed an excuse to post this.
Greetings Gentlereaders,

We're going to be talking about the stars of the Tau Empire, the named characters who are meant to bring some diversity to your Tau armies.  There are hundreds of fire caste commanders and ethereals, but the named characters are the equivalent of celebrities in the empire.  I can't say I've been running any of these characters as they do suffer from being as expensive than most space marine characters while being much more vulnerable and questionably less effective.  To be fair, these are some of the more interesting unique characters in 40k, as they have good sides and bad sides.  I'm going to go into each character's background, try to find a tactical use for them, and try to see the good and bad in each of them.  Unfortunately, in order to cover each in appropriate detail I'm going to separate this into three posts.  More after the break.

Let's start with who each of these characters are and how they relate in the history of T'au.  While most codices can use multiple characters to represent a single military group (e.g. multiple Ultramarines) or the merger of two groups (e.g. White Scars and Raven Guard or Cadians and Catachans), the tau codex contains two group that will never co-operate.  These are the "core" of the imperial forces lead by Commander Shadowsun (O'Shaserra) and Aun'va, and the renegade Farsight Enclaves let by Commander Farsight  (O'Shovah).  This schism is based on the actions of O'Shovah during the Second Sphere Expansion.

After the Damocles Gulf Crusade, O'Shovah and other commanders reconquered  Tau worlds that were  conquered by the Imperium, however, he fortified and severed of the worlds under his coalition's control after the death of the coalition's ethereal.  There is a discrepancy that comes in when trying to include O'Shovah with the other characters: the crusade fleet withdrew to face Hive Fleet Behemoth after peace talks in 742M41, while Aun'va and O'Shaserra launched the Third Sphere Expansion on 997.997M41.  Adapting the dating system that means there's about a 250 year gap between the two events.  Accommodating the career needed to reach command levels, that would mean that O'Shovah would be nearing 300 years old as of present day 40k.  Since T'au have a comparable life span to humans, this gap makes it extremely unlikely that O'Shovah is still alive.

Yep, +255 years old and still kickin'
However, O'Shovah is alleged to still be alive by the Imperium.  This leads to the obvious comparison you see to the left, but it has deeper implications for the Enclaves.  Besides being the political leaders of the Empire, the ethereals are its spiritual nexus, with most tau willing to give their lives for the ethereals at a word.  With O'Shovah's rejection of the ethereals, the tau under his command could have gravitated toward a cult of personality revolving around O'Shovah and establishing his identity as a mantle of leadership that is transferred to each sucessor, a la the phoenix lords (minus the possession) and the salamander's forgefather.  If only GW would be inventive enough to make that canon.

While I do love his story, I have little love for O'Shovah's rules representation.  Godfrey and Corvus illuminated me on the comparison between a shas'o and a marine captain and the reasonable parity between the two, we have not had the chance to discuss O'Shovah and I would be interested in hearing their take.  To start off, we have a stat-line that, while similar to the shas'o stat-line has three major deviations: +1 weapon skill, +2 initiative and -1 ballistic skill.  While the least noticeable in performance, the ballistic skill debuff is an interesting example of how character design has changed from fourth edition to fifth, but may becoming back with sixth edition and the Axe of Blind Fury's weapon skill debuff.

Operation Meteor is go
O'Shovah is entirely unique in his effect on the force organization chart; while other characters unlock units for use as troops (e.g. Belial, Logan, Dante, etc.) to represent the forces they tend to lead, O'Shovah represents his faction by denying and restricting units.  When he turned his back on the philosophy of the greater good (Tau'va), O'Shovah also rejected the non-tau within the empire, represented by the kroot and vespids, and had to do without the established forges of the empire.  To represent this, O'Shovah may not be in the same force as O'Shaserra (more on her next time), any ethereal (the time after that) or any vespid or kroot.  Additionally, his cadres can field no more than one of each of the following types of units: stealth suits broadside battlesuits, pathfinder team, piranha, hammerhead or sky ray.  In compensation for these limitations and to show the effects of his long campaigns against the orks every model that can access the armory receives a bonding knife free of charge and all models receive the Preferred Enemy rule when fighting Orks.  Specifically, they get the general rule rather than PE:Orks, unintentionally extending O'Shovah's hatred of orks to anyone who would ally themselves to his nemeses.

So, why would you want to take O'Shovah when he limits your choices, something I personally hate?  Well, besides the divergent flavor or O'Shovah, his restriction can be minimized by adopting a different, oddly more adaptive, philosophy.  Rather than simply trying to bring the strongest units in each slot and overwhelming your opponent with raw power, O'Shova's restriction forces you to take a variety of units, each specializing in eliminating different targets.  While my general Tau heavy support consists of  three broadside teams, whereas I would take a broadside team, a hammerhead and a sniper drone team and be better prepared to deal with a mass light infantry army than I had been before for one point less. The restriction does harm your ability to deal with mass heavy tanks, but there are still melta outlets to compensate, though piranhas have been restricted also.

Do you think you're better off alone?
While I do enjoy vespids and relied on kroot as protection in fifth edition, O'Shovah's restriction is not felt as dearly as it was now that fire warriors have benefitted from sixth edition.  The loss of vespids means you should never have a full fast attack selection unless you take gun drones. Your lack of an alternative troop to fire warriors means that you should not be short of weapons to kill light infantry, allowing your elites to dedicate themselves to dealing with the threats they have an absolute advantage in dealing with.  This is more akin to the Eldar mindset, but being a fellow xenos army tau tend to lack generalist units able to deal with both infantry and tanks relatively efficiently, outside of the supremely maleable crisis suits.  In a pure Tau army, O'Shovah forces a somewhat restrictive change in mentality, but it is when he joins his battle brothers outside the empire that he comes into his own.

If the Tau are the allies, O'Shovah's restrictions are completely nullified, unless you wanted to run a unit of vespid, stealth suits, or kroot, as you can only have one unit from each non-troops slot.  If you have a small Tau force and want to run them I would suggest this option.  If, however you have a small marine force to supplement your Tau, especially if you run a more close combat oriented marine force.

O'Shovah is one of the few characters who retained his close combat prowess from fifth edition due to his Dawn Blade being specified to ignore armor saves and roll 2D6 + 5 against vehicles.  However, he does have serious issues going up against characters who can swing at strength eight and survive his onslaught (e.g. Logan, Lysander).  If he can join a durable unit, e.g. terminators, or one that can deep strike he can probably reach his destination and cause some havoc.  O'Shovah has about a 0.74 probability to dunk an opposing thunder hammer sergeant if he gets charged.  On the charge he has a 0.92 probability to get the kill on the first round of a challenge. Characters without an invulnerable save should make way for O'Shovah.  Rare for a Tau commander, O'Shovah comes with a shield generator so he can save against power weapons and possibly finish a challenge on the second round.

O'Shovah is not your typical commander and does not operate in the same way they do.  This radical difference in mindset is what pushed me into a seething hatred of O'Shovah.  In writing this I'm not sure whether I am entirely comfortable with playing him, though that is a major change for me.  I've arranged to trade models for an O'Shovah, as he is currently unavailable and sadly still not ginger finecast and I should be playing him tomorrow at Bloomington's annual apocalypse event.  I will say he's not as bad as I thought he was, but I'm not sure if he is good, though I may be giving him a run in a test list.  If I can, I'll get you a battle report on it.  Let's end with some words from the man himself:

"Learn to shorten your reach!  If your foe can come close enough to negate your striking power, all stratagem is lost and when all stratagem is lost, the battle is lost."

I'm Underground Heretic and I get to live with that every day!


  1. One of the most amusing things to do with Farsight is use his ability to take a 7 man bodyguard team. Outfit them all with plasma rifles and missile pods and targeting arrays and a shield drone each, cuz its cheaper than taking a shield generator, and equip one with the Last Stand device thing that allows the unit to escape close combat. Throw in 4 Target Locks and you are set.

    Turns 1-2, target enemy light vehicles. turns 3-4 vaporize something in midfield with 16 plasma rifle shots that hit on 2+ (Farsight) or 3+. Fill in holes made with Devilfish transporting Fire Warriors.

    People reply by saying the unit will be killed turn 1. Really? How to you get through 8 Shield Drones in 1 turn of shooting? It is much harder than people realize. And death stars will only get to kill 1 suit while the rest run away, and then charge up their plasma rifles. Good times.

    Yeah, it's expensive, but fun to play. Marines hate it.

  2. Terminator, I am so glad you commented, we've been having to fight off a spambot for a week and am really glad to see a humanbeing!

    I've never been a fan of the bodyguard as it is such a points sink for models that need massive investments to be decent. Sadly, Farsight forgot how to shoot and is only BS4, I'd love to see him BS5, but that's life. I don't know how to get through that many drones, but I don't know how much else would be on the table to absorb fire when each suit looks like 92 points. That squad should be around 800 points and that doesn't leave much for your expensive troops, though it is killy.

    I wouldn't want to get the team into cc as the failsafe only triggers after a combat you lose, so you would be getting hit before you could blow up and get away. I may have to try it some time.