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...