Saturday, May 11, 2013

Hunter Cadre, pt.3: Shields, Markers, and Guns...

Beep Boop Gentlereaders,

One of the most unique aspects of the Tau codex's portrayal of their way of warfare is their wide implementation of artificial intelligence to assist their forces.  In the early days of the game daemon engines were preceded by chaos androids, but those were essentially robotic vessels for daemons rather than AI.  Similarly, eldar employ wraithbone vessel for their fallen warriors, but the closest equivalent to true AI outside the Tau codex would be the dark eldar's talos and chronos engines.  All of these act as independent units, while only Tau drones are integrated into other units.  Let's look at this unique part of the greater good.

In the previous edition of the codex there were four types drones: gun, shield, marker and sniper.  Any model with access to the armory could purchase up to two drones in any combination of the first three types.    These drones had their own uses and cost ten, fifteen and thirty points per model respectively.  Now they are universally a dozen points and have changed statistics and rules.  I'll leave a discussion of the sniper drones for their unit, because it has changed enough to warrant it's own article.

Gun and marker drones had the same save and toughness as tau infantry, while shield drones assumed those stats of their controller.  They now are all toughness four with 4+ armor.  They gained Supporting Fire and can now survive their controller's death as drone controllers are no longer necessary to take drones.  Drones squadrons can still be purchased independently, but are no longer strictly gun drones.  Any of these types of drone can be part of a drone squadron for an additional two points.  Gun drones have the improved pulse carbine, while marker drones now have standard markerlights.  I won't complain about either the increased price or loss of networking for the doubling of output and over-halving of price respectively.  Their tactical applications have changed much more however.

As I mentioned, drones are most commonly seen as part of another unit.  Whenever a unit with drones buys an upgrade on a "whole unit" basis, drones cannot purchase the upgrade and do not count as models in the unit for the cost of the upgrade.  While marker drones can't be expected to improve their own squad's ballistic skill, but as with the shas'ui's markerlight, it can help your army by benefiting subsequent units.  If there are units in your play area you expect will survive multiple teams' fire consider investing in one per team.  Your teams will cost no more than they did previously.  Additionally, if you don't use devil fish for your fire warriors, I would suggest using drones because of their interaction with the bonding knife ritual.  The ritual normally only has an effect when there are two models remaining in the team, adding a drone to a full team pushes the 25% threshold above three models, allowing an additional model to benefit from the ritual.

Shield drones still benefit from an iron halo, but that is essentially their only purpose.  In most units, these serve only to protect if they are placed on the front line.  In a crisis bodyguard team or a stealth team to which O'Shassera is attached, drones benefit from the effects of the Sworn Protector rule, meaning the independent characters in the squad automatically pass their Look Out, Sir rolls.  This means if the drones and commander are placed at the front, the commander can take those saves he wants and pass of any especially dangerous ones, provided another model is within six inches.

Gun drones provide efficient fire support and excellent mobility on their own.  Gun or marker drones are exceedingly mobile and astonishingly effective if joined by a commander with a drone controller.  Imagine if you will, fourteen markerlights jump-shoot-jumping around the battlefield firing at ballistic skill five or 28 carbine shots at twin-linked ballistics five.  Both of these are possible with drone squads.  Or you could have a warlord floating around with fourteen iron halo wounds, if you just want to never give that point up.

Two new drone variants have been added, the missile and shielded missile drones.  These are exclusive to broadsides and the riptide, respectively and both carry missile pods.  While the missile drones provide extra firepower, I would only use them with HRR broadside teams or in areas where armor thirteen is prevalent.  Otherwise the volume of missiles broadsides can put out is so massive a team can hull point most targets down.  Shielded missile drones on the other hand are toughness six and bring riptides up to seven effective wounds while contributing a four plus invulnerable on two of those wounds and two additional missile pods.  Those come at twenty-five points per model, but are well worth the cost.

There's a rundown of Tau AI, barring the sniper drone unit, but those are quite different and unique.  I look forward to examining them and hearing from you all on these.  Did I miss something, am I incorrect in my assessment?  Till next time folks.


  1. What are your thoughts on the fact that bringing shielded missile drones for the riptide would possibly result in a failed morale check due to a drone getting smoked?

    I guess that monstrous creatures normally dont have to worry about this, but a three man unit is exceptionally susceptible to morale tests...

    I fear the day that my riptide breaks and falls back off the table edge as a result of a drone dying...

    1. At leadership nine the riptide is still one of your bravest units and as a three model unit, it can never be forced to regroup on snake eyes. It is something to be concerned about, but if you aren't afraid of advancing into the enemy (>18" from your table edge), the riptide can have about a 93% chance of not falling off the table from a failed morale test.

      If you do fall back AND out of range of your weapons, using the thrust power should get you back into position quickly.

    2. Ok, I can buy that the risk is small but I would still rather buy my riptide the feel no pain trinket, than extra wounds through missile drones.

      Im inclined to say that it would be funny to see my opponents face when I tell him that its a shooty drone with T6 and a great save, but honestly... the riptide is already looking OP.

  2. "... but the closest equivalent to true AI outside the Tau codex would be the dark eldar's talos and chronos engines."

    Power of the Machine Spirit?

    Also, this post doesn't address any of the drones used by the pathfinder teams. I'd like to see some thoughts on those. Some of them are actually quite potent.

    1. I'd bet those will be covered in the pathfinder article.

    2. Corvus is right on the pathfinder drones.

      Seeing as PoTS doesn't have any versions, at least represented in game term, of autonomy besides perhaps drop pods. Drop pods weren't anything to write home about until 5th changed them and all other vehicles have crews operating the machine.

    3. False actually. Power of the Machine Spirit is not representative of the crew powering the machine, but rather the machine taking it's own actions in addition or in the absence of crew actions.

      There is a story of a Land Raider from the Crimson Fists during Rynn's World invasion (actually pictured on the old 3rd edition box) depicting the land raider in action. The story mentions the land raider actually coming to life with no crew inside and fighting off Orks until it was destroyed. This denotes that either at any time, or in times of dire need, the machine is capable to powering itself.

      Depending on your definition of A.I., I'd say this is far closer than the Talos or Cronos, given the unique nature of those being formally sentient beings turned machine.