Tuesday, 19 March 2013

5 Changes 6th Edition Codex: Tau Empire Needs

So between the leaked images and sudden release of several very Tau centric books from Black Library it's likely we'll be seeing an update for the Tau Empire soon. Speaking personally it's about damn time.

While the 6th edition rules greatly improved things for the current army and gave it new life it was definitely overdue a new release. The last time we saw a proper update was seven years ago with no models or characters having been created since. Furthermore the army has suffered as the game becomes more and more close combat orientated, along with mass favoritism and power creeps leaving them thoroughly outgunned.
So what are the things the army needs to improve upon from its last largely solid armybook? Well let's take a look at the top five improvements which should be introduced to it.

5 - Advancing Technology

This is a difficult one given the setting, but one thing which made the Tau Empire interesting is their constantly advancing technology. While the tyranids emphasise upon gobbling everything in sight and the orks want to just punch everything; the tau have always been defined by trying to think their way around things. While it's by no means something unique to them, yes the Imperium can actually be creative once in a while, it's one of their most defining traits. Constantly making their long-term warfare an interesting thing to explore.

Despite thoroughly screwing up the tyranids in their own codex, one of the things Rob Cruddance at least tried to do was show how the Empire adapts en-mass to a foe. While he might not have done it well, it was an approach which did try something different without jumping off the deep end and is something worth pursuing in the future. It would be fantastic to look at with extracts detailing how the tau are thinking up ways to try and deal with threats like Necron Tomb Worlds. Perhaps railgun rounds which stick to necron bodies and burn their bodies continuously, even after being teleported away. Or bio-chemical weapons which feed on ork spores to help with the continual ork Waaghs! they fight.

It's not like there aren't events which could be built upon. Their entire involvement in the Medusa V campaign related to them experimenting with technologies and potential Warp capability. While they might have abandoned that line of research due to dangers involved with it, it wouldn't be hard for a writer to include some experimental technologies which came as a by-product. Perhaps some greater understanding of Imperial Gellar fields or ideas upon how to weaponise them.

If you want a reason from the angle of game mechanics, have them develop stuff to cover the things which currently mean an instant defeat for their armies. Or in other words: Have them invent a defence against Mat Ward's game-bloody-breaking Plasma Syphon!

4 - More Characters

This is definitely something which needs to be corrected. While I might have criticised the huge number of characters in the 5th edition Codex: Space Marines that was due to the vast number originating from only one small faction. Mostly how the book had gotten so many entire armies were supposed to be built around them. The Tau by comparison have very few, with only three characters present in the last codex. Five overall if you include Aun'Shi, who was mysteriously absent from the last book, and La'Kais who was limited to a single White Dwarf scenario. Compare this to Codex: Dark Eldar which had a good six characters. Or the imperial guard which potentially have even more characters than the space marines. Hell, even the tyranids have five in their codex.

Yes the faceless swarm has more individually outstanding characters than the multicultural, racially diverse anime space communist samurai.

While this by no means some push to have the book flooded with new characters, or a criticism against the current ones, we could do with one or two more to help diversify the Empire's factions. Also to fill in roles we don't have characters for yet. Even ignoring the tau themselves, the vespid and kroot could benefit from their own heroes.

Another two or three characters would be a major boost to both the book's fluff and its strategic capabilties. Even if it's just another Ethereal or battlesuit commander, it would still be a chance to have the army try something slightly different and expand upon what we have.

3 - Expand Upon The Differences Between The Septs

Like with almost every army the Tau Empire is made up of multiple factions. Each with their own colour scheme, minor background aspects and baseline details upon what makes them different from the others. This is something Games Workshop has always done to give players the excuse to make up their own colour schemes, design their own forces and create their own personal mark on the universe. The most obvious and popular one is the various chapters which make up the space marines, with others being the dark eldar Kabals, imperial guard Regiments and so on and so fourth.
Each of them has a large amount of detail relating to where they live, the environment in which they developed, aspects of their culture and the approach they take to warfare. Some tend to go deeper than others with their histories but with most of them (well, the major ones) you will get a generally well rounded opinion of the faction and their homeworld.

This isn't the case here.

With the Tau Empire, you're lucky if you get a paragraph summing up their major details. All of which tend to give very little in the way of overall information compared to what you find in other armybooks. An outstanding example of this would be Dal'yth, which is one of the Empire's most influential septs. It's also one of its oldest established ones, serving as both a major hub within tau held worlds and where the Imperial crusade to wipe them out was driven back. And yet it has a bare-bones description effectively saying "high percentage of water caste, is cultural, fought both Imperials and ork Waaagh!"

Even the average eldar craftworld has more than this, and they're the go-to example for underdeveloped major factions. At least with them you usually at least get some defining factor to their military, a few major points in their history fleshed out to several battles and perhaps a character or two if they're lucky. The tau? Not even close to this.
This only gets worse as you go along. Dal'yth is a major part of the Empire's history, others like Sa'cea have even less with even more minor ones getting only a sentence or two at most. You're lucky if you even know the climate and biosphere of a sept in most cases.

While it's understandable that not all of these could be fleshed out to the same extent as, say the original space marine legions, they deserve more than this. What's their relationship with alien species the Empire has absorbed? What's its relationship with T'au? How stable is the region and what figureheads have helped shape the location's history and culture? What methods of war do they favour and who leads their armies?
These are not unnecessary facts to include. Even if the writers were to single out just two or three septs to focus upon and only give them a page of fluff, that would be an upgrade at this point. The tau are desperately in need or more baseline details and lack many of the fine-points present in other armies. Anything to distinguish them or even just make them seem like a more varied, colourful force.

And this is something punctuated by the next point.

2 - Make Use Of The Empire's Races And Buff The Current Ones

Another thing which makes the tau very unique is how they deal with other alien races, seemingly treating them as equals. Okay, the ethereals still run everything but they don't enslave sentients, turn civilisations into corpse laden rubble to take the territories for themselves and prefer to negotiate their way forwards. Something which has helped to focus upon this in the tabletop game and specialist titles was the inclusion of xenos auxiliaries. Aliens which fought alongside the tau fire caste and helped them to win their wars. The last rulebook featured the kroot and vespid, and Battlefleet Gothic featured the nicassar and demiurg. 

The real question is though, where are the rest of them?

The Empire is supposed to have dozens of species as a part of it yet we see little to nothing of this in the models. Every vehicle is driven by the fire caste, every battlesuit is piloted by a tau warrior and everything but a couple of squads consists entirely of tau. This doesn't suggest the diversity of the Empire and seems to only indicate that only the tau make up any sizable part of its forces. This isn't helped by the fact that the units from other species are fairly bad.

Vespid stingwings are supposedly space marine killers, but have such short ranged weapons and limited use that they jump out and then die. Plus they're expensive for a one shot unit. Kroot carnivore squads meanwhile are little more than speedbumps at best. Despite supposedly making up for the lack of close combat capabilties of fire warriors, they are overly expensive and frequently will do little more than briefly slow down attackers. It's saying something when basic ork boyz are not only cheaper but thoroughly outgun the kroot in every single possible way. To be useful they require a serious change to stats and options but as it is they're borderline useless and have few ways you can employ them. This might not be so bad if there was a greater variety of troops to help support them, or take instead, but at the moment choices are extremely limited.

Writers, you have a lot of background information on aliens to utilise. The kroot came about from you using a single image from the third edition rulebook, as did the necrons, and even some things which are now in the tyranid armies appeared in unrelated artwork first. Even before you get to that there's a lot of species already noted to be a part of the Empire who we know little to nothing of. Kill Team by Gav Thorpe listed multiple races in which had joined the Empire and Lexicanum notes many races which have been mentioned but have had nothing done with them. It wouldn't be hard to build up a new squad based around them or give new equipment originating from their technology.

This is the same as with the septs. There is a goldmine of opportunity to be had here to be expanded upon and made use of but the writers are currently doing nothing with it. Include a few more species in squads, have alien tank commanders or even include the occasional gue'vessa as a part of pathfinders. You have a chance to make the tau look like they're a part of a much bigger alliance by including more xenos so make use of it. And no, the allies system doesn't count towards this. Even if most of it didn't contradict everything we know about many factions, they're still allying with the Empire out of convenience. Not minor alien species who are a part of it.

1 -  Balance Idealism and Orwellian Influences

One great thing about the last Codex: Tau Empire was that it managed to balance the overly idealistic portrayal of the tau with hints of a grim truth. While it kept the overall tones of the original codex, showing them as an apparent force for good it kept giving suggestions of a much more sinister influence. That they were not as benevolent as they appeared and their Empire was less a Federation and more of an Orwellian dictatorship.
The current problem seems to be that while they were at first too idealised, now they're leaning far too much towards being a secret Empire of evil.

A good deal of material and fan produced content, a good deal but not all, seems to have become fixated upon this point. Presenting the tau as having "big brother is watching you!" posters everywhere, using mental conditioning on everything in sight and looking like the Turian Hierarchy if they went evil. Well, okay a bit more evil and conquering-mad than they currently are in Mass Effect. As much as I might have enjoyed the aforementioned Kill Team and Courage and Honour, both did lean towards displaying a very melevolent side of the tau Empire in their final chapters.

There needs to be a balance between the two ideas to keep them both interesting. We saw when they were originally introduced that the tau don't work as outright good guys and a purely benevolent force. They come across, at least in the codex, as one dimensional and don't fit the setting as a result. On the other hand turning them into outright bad guys removes a great deal of the interest behind them.  It's not hard to keep both aspects in the fluff with many sections of the last book featuring events or fluff which could be interpreted either as being acts of good or evil.

A good example of this balance is the vespid, with their inclusion into the Empire. To help them communicate with other races, the tau had the earth caste create communion helms for their leaders to translate orders and allow them coordination with tau commanders when leading forces into battle. It allowed them to become a part of the Empire and seemingly benefit from it.

At the same time however, hints were dropped that this could be a covert method of brainwashing used to convert the species quickly without any required subjugation. Potentially because their homeworld was extremely hostile and almost impossible to fight in via normal means.

There, great, a perfect way to suggest one thing but leave the potential open for it to be interpreted as another. Not outright saying "they're evil mind controllers!" but wording the actual extract in such a way that anyone actively reading the text detailing their race would become suspicious of how quickly they endorsed the Greater Good.

This is admittedly not so much a change to the codex as something which needs to be maintained. Yet it is something which needs to be preserved and not lost with one interpretation of the Empire eclipsing the other. Especially when so little has actually been done with them despite the decade or so the tau have been about for. I'm not saying this balance should be kept forever, but it seems a waste to lose it when there's still so much more which can be made from it.

So those are the top five changes which need to be made to the next Codex: Tau Empire. Much of this was emphaisising upon fluff details and reasoning over rules and gameplay improvements but they are still aspects which I feel need to be changed. I'd be interested to hear the opinions of anyone else looking forwards to the new release and what their own top five improvements would be to the book. As such please feel free to comment below along with any criticisms and suggestions you might have.


Warhammer 40,000 and all related characters and media are owned by Games Workshop.

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