The Story-Telling Animal, Now With More Pictures and Sound

One of the things that I think is so exciting about the continually-increasing power of the personal computer is the way it opens up the field of personal creativity.  Sure, a basic word processor is fine if, like myself, you do your expression through the written word.  But what about those who want a little more audio, a little more visual?  What about graphic artists, and visual artists, the budding director or animator or cinematographer?  Well, more and more nowadays, the personal computer is just as capable of letting them express themselves as me and my word processor have been since, well, since as long as I've ever had a personal computer.  Word and Notepad and the like aren't exactly the most processor-heavy programs out there, after all.

One of my favourite movies is a short anime from a few years back, called Voices of a Distant Star.  It's a story about love and separation and long-distance relationships, and since this is anime, it's also a story about space battles and giant robots and invading aliens and a schoolgirl.  It's a really beautiful piece, and I most certainly recommend it to anyone who's willing to embrace a certain quiet sorrow in their entertainment; it's not for everyone, but what is?  But the most interesting thing about Voices of a Distant Star is that, while it looks just as pretty as plenty of studio-produced anime films, it was the work of one guy, in his garage, using nothing more than off-the-shelf computers and programs.  Granted, some pretty expensive off-the-shelf computers and programs, but still.  Although no more than a student film, in terms of the funding and technical opportunities available, Voices of a Distant Star was so masterfully done that it was licensed for distribution by ADV, one of the biggest names in anime outside Japan, and got a manga adaptation and a soundtrack release.  Outside of Kevin Smith's Clerks, which cost Smith tens of thousands of dollars and would've bankrupted him if it hadn't been picked up, I can't think of anything else to compare it to.  But I suspect, in the coming years, I probably will find a few new alternatives.

Which is, actually, all just a long-winded way of introducing this video.  It's very impressive visually, though the voice work is a bit rough and the walking animation for the Inquisitor makes him look a touch jerky.  I can't wait to see what comes of this when it's finished; it's already far more interesting than Ultramarines ever managed!



The Prettiest Little Loser

So, the 2-Day 40K event has come and gone, and as predicted, it was a little more of a '1-Day 40K' event for me. The top half of the competitors from the two tournaments on Saturday went on to face each other Sunday, and given that I placed ninth out of ten, that sort of left me well down the line for coming back. But it wasn't a total loss; I was runner-up for 'Best Sportsman', and after a long string of runners-up I actually got 'Best Presentation', as voted by the other players there, which comes with a nice warm feeling and, hey, twenty dollars in store credit. Nothing to sneeze at.

Round 1: Jamie Goddard (Imperial Guard)

Army List:
Company Command w/Master of Ordinance, Officer of the Fleet, 2 x Body Guards, Camo Cloaks, Vox-caster
Platoon 1:
Command w/ Vox-caster, 2 x Flamer
Infantry Squad w/2 x Melta, Vox-caster, Melta Bomb
Heavy Weapon Team w/3 x Lascannon
Heavy Weapon Team w/3 x Autocannon
Platoon 2:
Command w/Vox-caster, Flamer
Infantry Squad w/2 x Plasma Gun, 2 x Vox-caster, Melta Bomb
Heavy Weapon Team w/3 x Lascannon
2 x Leman Russ w/Heavy Bolter Sponsons, Lascannons
Leman Russ Demolisher
Colossus w/Enclosed Crew Compartment

Deployment: Pitched Battle
Major Objective: Seize Ground
Minor Objective: Call Your Shots

First of all, sweet Christmas! I mean, I run a battlesuit-heavy list, so being outnumbered isn't hugely surprising to me; some Marine lists can have more guys on the field than I do. But this? This was madness! I've never seen so much AV14 ranged against me before, with so many Instead Death For Suits guns on them, nor have I ever had to deal with groups of lascannons that can make me re-roll my cover saves. Gah!

So, it should come as no surprise, given that little opening, that things did not go well for me. We were playing on a fairly terrain-heavy board, with lots of ruins and buildings and an L-shaped river segment dividing a quarter of the board from the rest of it, with two bridges across it. Jamie set his tanks up about equidistant from each other, the Russ squadron on my right and the other two on my left, both of them hidden behind enough cover to count as obscured. In front of those he scattered a variety of troop units, with his heavy weapon teams hiding out behind the cover of a landing platform's armoured edging and his infantry squads running around on the little island-quarter. I set my XV88s up so they could get shots on the Russ squadron, one on each side of the board, and sent my Piranha, Deathrains and Shas'el to deal with the Colossus, Demolisher and heavy weapon squads while my infantry, supported by Devilfish and my two Fireknife squads, went after the infantry.

To say I was out-shot would be the grossest understatement. That Colossus blew suits to pieces with casual ease; heavy weapons teams under orders blasted my XV88 to pieces, despite its cover; and on the island, despite the best efforts of my fire warriors, I simply could not kill enough Guardsmen to shift so much as a single unit. I did manage to run a squad into the ruins I'd hidden my objective inside on the last turn, claiming it, but Jamie got to go second, and those six poor little buggers didn't stand a chance when he dropped a S6 AP3 large blast ordinance weapon that doesn't allow cover saves on them. Gone, in a heartbeat, along with my Shas'el, both XV88s, my Hammerhead, one of my Devilfish and my Piranha, which died without getting to fire a shot. And in return I managed to down most of a command squad, some of an infantry squad, and one heavy weapon team. It was a major loss, but one I think I've learned from.

See, I don't deep strike my suits. I feel it's pointless, since nine times out of ten I need those guys on the board from turn one, shooting as hard as they can. But with only four guns in my army capable of penetrating AV14, and two of those unreliable at best (the Hammerhead and Piranha), this is that one time where deep striking would've come in handy. It would've been risky, particularly since he had his tanks backed up pretty well against the table edge, but I should have dropped my suits round the back of his tanks, and gone for rear armour shots. Their firepower wouldn't have been missed much on the board, since they rarely had decent targets to engage, and the loss of even one of those tanks could've changed the way the game went, particularly if it had been that Colossus; with it gone, nothing else could have killed my well-concealed fire warriors on the objective, and it would've been a tie.

A word on the minor objective for this game. The way it worked was, before the start of the game both players roll off, and the winner nominates one model from the enemy side that he intends to kill. Then the loser nominates two models he intends to kill. They go back and forth, at two models from then on out, and either one can stop calling his shots at any point. To claim the minor objective, you have to kill everything you called out, and if both players succeed in that, then whoever called more targets wins. Neither of us really understood this, so rather than just pick, say, one thing and make sure it died, we rattled off a half-dozen targets each, and failed to accomplish the secondary objective.

Round 1: Matt Towes (Chaos Space Marines)

Army List:
3 Terminators w/2 x Combi-Melta, Heavy Flamer, Champion w/Chain Fist
4 x Terminators w/Autocannon
4 x Terminators w/2 x Combi-Melta, Heavy Flamer, Champion w/Chain Fist
5 x Marines w/Icon of Chaos Glory, Melta, Rhino
5 x Marines w/Icon of Chaos Glory, Melta, Rhino
2 x Obliterators
Heavy Landraider w/Extra Armour

Deployment: Spearhead
Major Objective: Annihilation
Minor Objective: King of the Hill

Okay, I want to say something. I don't usually talk about luck. I find it usually balances out; one unit's spectacular failure against another unit's unbelievable success. Sometimes you have a run of bad dice, though. And sometimes, you have Matt Towes' Landraider. I must have put a dozen railgun shots against that thing, and the total result was one turn stunned, and one destroyed lascannon array. I couldn't hit; when I hit, I couldn't penetrate; when I penetrated, he got his smoke launcher saves; when I actually penetrated and there were no saves, I rolled almost exclusively 1s. That thing survived five straight turns of being the only target for two XV88s and a Hammerhead, almost without a scratch!

That being said, though, I played this game atrociously. My continued failure to kill that Landraider gave me tunnel vision, which absolutely got me killed. Matt started with the Rhinos (with Marines), the Landraider (with Abaddon and 4 Terminators) and the Defiler on the board, while I had everything but my fire warriors, since I planned to de-mech his army then have my shas'la come on and fire at the exposed Marines trudging across the field. Unfortunately, with my railguns otherwise occupied, I managed to lose my Piranha first turn to the Defiler, along with a Fireknife squad second turn, while my other Fireknives were out of range at first and then busy killing a teleporting squad of 3 Terminators that wiped out my Pathfinders, and my Deathrains were badly positioned behind the Hammerhead and took their sweet time getting clear. The end result was that the Rhinos went unmolested the entire game, which cost me my Devilfish and one of my 9-tau squads, while Abaddon, the surviving Terminators and the Obliterators teleported into my deployment area and proceeded to lay the place to waste. In an orgy of multimelta blasts, daemon weapons, autocannon rounds and powerfists, those eleven models (Matt never fired the Landraider's guns, and the Defiler actually got forgotten about, hanging around in mid-field with nothing much to shoot at) proceeded to kill both XV88s, the Hammerhead, my Deathrains, my surviving Fireknives, my Shas'el, and two fire warrior squads. In return, I put a single wound on Abaddon with thirty rapid-firing pulse rifle shots, and that was that. I was tabled by the end of turn 5, and in return I'd killed three Terminators, blown a lascannon sponson off, and done one wound to the architect of the Black Crusades. A major loss, and well deserved.

Round 3: Aaron Plate (Orks)

Army List:
Warboss w/Power Klaw, Cybork, Warbike, Attack Squig
Big Mek w/Power Klaw, KFF, 'Eavy Armour, Cybork, Attack Squig
7 x Nobs w/Warbikes, Cyborks, 3 x Power Klaw, 4 x Big Choppa, Painboy, Waagh Banner, Bosspole
30 x Boyz, Nob w/Power Klaw, 'Eavy Armour, Bosspole
30 x Boyz, Nob w/Power Klaw, 'Eavy Armour, Bosspole
10 x Kommandos w/Snikrot
5 x Loots

Deployment: Dawn of War
Major Objective: Capture and Control
Minor Objective: Big Game Hunter

Yes, it's the infamous Nob Bikerz! Not a full list, but enough to cause me some serious trouble. Winning the roll-off, Aaron deployed first, and put his squad of bikerz right up on the mid-field line, with one squad of boyz behind them. In return, I left everything off the table, to walk in on Turn 1, save for my 6-tau squad. He brought his army on, leaving the bikerz along the middle and with a Mek-protected squad of boyz on the objective, while I went for an armoured wall; my Hammerhead and one Devilfish plugged a gap between two pieces of terrain, while the Piranha extended the line on my left, and the Devilfish dithd the same on my right, nearly up against the edge of the table. I opened up with everything I had, but the nigh fighting rolls weren't especially kind, and all I really managed were a few dead boyz, and the odd wound on his bikerz. With the two armies on the field, Aaron went on the offensive; the bikerz charged through a door in a section of the wall in front of me (a slightly dodgy claim, but I agreed to it), while the kommandos and Snikrot came at me from the back, both of them pushing against my left flank. It mostly devolved into a slaughter there, with Snikrot's kommandos and the bikerz chewing up a unit a turn, each, while I tried to pour enough fire into the bikerz to put them down. Sadly, my two Fireknife squads were the first casualties, and the Pathfinders went after them, meaning I was well down on ways to beat a unit full of wound allocation shenanigans and protected by 4+/4++/FNP. Though in fact, I should've put several more bikerz down than I did; I kept forgetting that the melta on my Piranha doesn't allow FNP rolls, which saved more than one wound, and that the bikerz are only T4 when it comes to Instant Death, which would've doubled the damage of those aforementioned un-save-able melta shots. Well, live and learn.

And live I did. For all the ferocity of the Ork assault, at the end of the game I had my 6-tau squad on the objective, the aggressive boyz mob wiped out to the last, more than half the bikerz gone, my Piranha, one Devilfish, one 9-tau squad, both my XV88s and my Hammerhead still in one piece. I had my objective, and there literally weren't enough possible turns for him to charge through and kill everything between his bikerz and my objective. I had mostly played the mission, rather than the enemy army, though I should've used my Piranha to contest his objective, and the end result? A draw.

Well, sort of. See, the minor objective kind of screwed me. Big Game Hunter gave you points for every Monstrous Creature and vehicle with an AV12 or higher you destroyed, and while Aaron only managed to kill one of my Devilfish (after it flechette discharged the bejeezus out of his boyz mob, then blew up and killed even more of them), that was one more vehicle than his entire army contained. Which means, of course, it was literally impossible for me to compete with him on that one. So, with that one lucky Power Klaw attack, he managed to secure a minor win for himself, and force me to take a minor loss.  But not a loss in spirit.

Overall Result: 9th, of 10 entrants


The Latest Iteration of the Shining Long Strike Cadre

Well, after no small amount of back-and-forth, I've finally settled on what I'm taking to the tournament on Saturday.  And there's no going back, now; I've already printed my lists!  Truly, the Rubicon has been crossed!

Seriously, though.  Here's what I'll be taking with me:

Shas'el w/AFP, Missile Pod, Multi-Tracker

3 x XV8 w/Twin-Linked Missile Pod, Flamer

3 x XV8 w/Plasma Rifle, Missile Pod, Multi-Tracker

3 x XV8 w/Plasma Rifle, Missile Pod, Multi-Tracker

6 x Fire Warriors w/Devilfish, Disruption Pod, Flechette Discharger

9 x Fire Warriors

9 x Fire Warriors

5 x Pathfinders w/Devilfish, Disruption Pod, Flechette Discharger

Piranha w/Fusion Blaster, Targeting Array, Disruption Pod, Flechette Discharger

XV88 w/Advanced Stabilization System

XV88 w/Advanced Stabilization System

Hammerhed w/Railgun, 2 x Burst Cannon, Disruption Pod, Multi-Tracker

My strategy is going to be fairly straightforward, I think; I'm not yet experienced enough to get fancy.

My heavy support choices have basically never let me down, so I intend to go right on using them the way I always do.  My XV88s will be deployed on opposite ends of my zone, to get at least one of them a good field of fire on anything running around out there, with as much cover as I can find for them.  My hammerhead, meanwhile, will set up fairly openly, to extend the first-turn cover for my infantry units with its AV13 front and disruption pod, since its multi-tracker will allow it to fire like a 'fast' vehicle, making it pretty safe from close combat and capable of getting into position to drop its pie plate on pretty much anything on the field.

My elites and headquarters choices have been a little less reliable, though that's in part because I require so much more of them.  I plan to attach my shas'el to the Deathrain unit, since BS4 and BS3 twin-linked are close enough to make them work well together, and if they get close to anything three flamer templates and the AFP large blast should force so many saves even Marines will have to worry about failing them.  The Fireknives will largely operate independently, hunting down whatever most requires AP2 to remove; best case scenario, they'll chip away at MEq threats from range and then close to wipe out survivors, worst case scenario, the two squads will combine their fire to deal with a particularly tenacious unit (probably deepstriking Blood Angels assault squads with a Priest/FNP), throwing everything they have at it.

In terms of my fast attack choices, their arms and equipment pretty much defines their roles.  The pathfinders will be deployed a fair way inside my zone, since pretty much every enemy will want to close with me, and with 36" range they should be able to light up whatever I need them to while staying safer, longer.  I don't intend for them to keep their Devilfish, so they'll probably just get deployed or dropped off first turn, while the tank goes off to block, provide cover, and act as a bunker on objectives (if they last long enough).  The Piranha, on the other hand, has a little more flexibility.  As a fast skimmer with a fusion blaster and a targeting array, it can do solid duty hunting heavy armour hiding out in cover; at the same time, with its wide front profile, disruption pod and flechette discharger, it can shield other units and seize chokepoints, as well as contest objectives (again, if it lasts long enough).  Plus, it comes with a pair of gun drones, who will be dropped off early on for the two games that aren't kill points-based, to offer another little source of harassment and mobile unit cover.

Finally, my troops choices.  I have to admit, these aren't units I've got a lot of experience in using; up until now, I've basically taken three minimum-sized fire warrior squads, put them in reserve to either deny kill points or protect them for objective grabbing later, and hoped my dice wouldn't betray me and bring them running on second turn.  But I'm pretty sure that's a part of why I've been struggling, tournament after tournament.  Because what that strategy really amounts to is voluntarily handicapping myself, slicing a hundred and eighty points out of my army and hoping that I can beat often-stronger codices with an already-weakened force weakened further.  So, instead, I'll leave the 6-tau squad in reserve, while my two 9-tau squads operate more aggressively.  Of course, 'more aggressively' than hiding in reserve still leaves a lot of wiggle room.  What I'm planning is to set the two squads up, fairly far apart from each other, and just shoot and shoot and shoot; force as many saves as I can, because the dice giveth, and the dice taketh away.  They're also going to be available as roadblocks to give my battlesuits an extra turn of shooting, and I'm going to try to link them up with the pathfinders' markerlights whenever possible, especially if they're in rapid fire range; 18 S5 shots at BS5 can definitely wreck someone's day.

So, that's my strategy.  Basically, it's a more mobile version of the Tau gunline, using the hulls of my tanks and Piranha to shield my battlesuits and fire warriors, while they blast away at whatever I can find for them to concentrate their fire on. Focused fire, I have to keep reminding myself, is absolutely essential; even terminators and FNP marines will go down, if you force them to make enough saves.  I just have to keep up the pressure, and keep forcing those saves.  And if I run into someone like Guard, or Orks, or Tyranids, who don't have those saves to begin with in the face of superior Tau weapons technology?

Well, so much the better...


Prep the Mantas, Shas'el, We're Going In!

So, I'm off to my FLGS this weekend for their '2-Day 40K' event. It's a pretty big thing, actually. There are two different tournaments happening on Saturday, one from 10-4 and one from 4-10, and then the winners in those two tournaments face off against each other on Sunday. Personally, I have no real hope that it'll be a '2-Day' event for me; I firmly expect to go in there, get my battlesuited backside kicked up one side of the table and down the other, and have a great time doing it. But hey, miracles do happen!

I've been tweaking my list a bit in the run-up, inspired by my performance last time around. Helpfully, it's the same points total. One of the things I noticed was that, despite being an apparently cheap army, I actually found myself outnumbered on several occasions. Once by old-Codex Necrons, of all things! And while the firepower I had, almost exclusively mounted on my battlesuits, was solid, I didn't have nearly enough of it. With more guns, even more inferior guns, I could have had a solid chance of forcing the Necrons to phase out for a win in Game 2, and possibly shot my way free of those all-encompassing Tyranid swarms in Game 3. Now, I love my battlesuits, but if those dozen-odd battlesuits are, not my central striking power, but my sole striking power, something's gone wrong. Fire warriors may not be the best troops stats-wise, but those 30" S5 AP5 Rapid Fire weapons aren't bad, and torrenting is a recognized anti-MEq strategy. So I'm going to drop the two HQ bodyguard battlesuits, and in exchange for their six shots (eight within 12") and four wounds (two of which will be lost to every S8+ weapon that hits them), I'll either be picking up a dozen shots with a dozen wounds each and some spare points to upgrade my 'el, or six shots with six wounds and a fully-loaded Piranha.

I haven't entirely decided which way to go, yet. On the one hand, with twelve more fire warriors I could bump two squads to the full twelve, and still have a six-tau team to wait off the board for late-game objective grabbing, plus buy a plasma rifle for my 'el to give him serious variable utility (missile pod, plasma rifle and airbursting fragmentation device; any two of these will pretty much always be useful) and maybe throw something else in there with the last couple of points. On the other hand, a Piranha with fusion blaster, targeting array, disruption pod and flechette discharger is simultaneously a solid roadblock and a decent tank-hunter, along with providing another unit of drones to contest objectives and a hull to hide my battlesuits behind. Increased protection and a potentially-vital fast-moving melta-weapon, or increased output of firepower and bodies on the field to bubblewrap my battlesuits?

Decisions, decisions...


Will It Be Unironically Full of Lens Flare, This Time?

So David Yates, the director of the last four Harry Potter movies, is working with the BBC on a big-screen Doctor Who adventure. The kicker? It won't have a damn thing to do with the Doctor, any of the versions of the Doctor, who's made the series so successful that the notoriously cheap BBC is willing to shell out enough for a major motion picture. According toYates,

"It needs quite a radical transformation to take it into the bigger arena. [...] "Russell T. Davies and then Steven Moffat have done their own transformations, which were fantastic, but we have to put that aside and start from scratch."

I can't tell you how tired I am of this song and dance. Time and again, a genre property will get popular enough that the movie studios will take notice, and what happens? As a reward for it cultivating a successful brand, that brand is stripped to the bone and a whole host of random new elements are included. In the best case scenario, we can end up with something like the Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter movies, something that's strange and not quite right, but still enjoyable. More often, it seems, we get Dragonball Evolution, or the Resident Evil series, or Michael Bay's Transformers, or Roland Emmerich's Godzilla, or the upcoming live-action Akira film. No matter how closely the BBC is working with Yates and whoever else on this project, it's hard to see this as anything but a prelude to a story that is Doctor Who in name only, trading on the name but desperately trying to distance itself from everything that's made it so popular in order to appeal to the sort of people who wouldn't know Doctor Who from Doctor House.

Not that that's all bad...

And honestly, a reboot? I just can't look at this as anything but J. J. Abrams' Star Trek all over again, a needlessly complicated and unsatisfying re-write of the established mythology, failing to either tell an interesting new story or take the fans back into the pleasantly familiar universe. Star Trek was particularly brutal about this, wiping out an entire universe (sort of) in order to free Star Trek up to do 'new' and 'different' and 'interesting' things that, apparently, they couldn't do otherwise. And the new, interesting, different story they want to tell for Star Trek 2? Something with Khan Noonien Singh. You can't make this stuff up. 

So what does a reboot mean for Doctor Who? Well, the script isn't done yet; Yates isn't even talking about having this thing ready before a few years from now, and hasn't even settled on a writer yet. But it's hard not to worry, and worry with some cause, that this is going to be some sort of elsewords-Doctor, unconnected with anything from the show, and one that uses the reboot excuse to change his character. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see the Doctor having a romance with his Companion, or firing a gun (repeatedly), or even having a space battle with the TARDIS. You don't reboot a series, after all, if you intend to play the pre-existing characters and themes straight. We saw this in Abrams' Star Trek, with Kirk's thoughtless bro-ishness turned up to 11, and Scotty as a work-shirking chucklehead, and the Spock/Uhura romance. So why would we expect something different from a Doctor Who that 'puts aside' everything people actually like about the series so they can 'start from scratch'?

Like this but, y'know, moreso...

Sigh. I used to wish that the movies would do something new, or different, or interesting. Now I just wish they'd stop redoing old, familiar stories so damn badly.

The Fourth Sphere Pt. 7 – Wrap-Up

So, we've gone through Codex: Tau Empire slot-by-slot, and taken a look at the worst units in each. Sometimes it's been a worst-by-default kind of situation, like the basically solid XV15/25, and sometimes the worst has just jumped straight off the page, like the Ethereals and the Vespid. Suggestions have been made about how to improve these specific units, but what about the codex as a whole? Codex: Tau Empire was published in 2005, over six years ago, and is old enough it still contains references to 4th edition rules. Since then the 5th edition codices have set a new standard for the game, and while some have been a bit lacklustre, like Tyranids and to a lesser extent Imperial Guard, the codices for Space Wolves, Blood Angels, Grey Knights, Dark Eldar and Necron have brought a variety of new options to players of those races, and gone some distance towards changing the conception of 'good enough' in Warhammer 40,000. Blood Angels and Grey Knights have made mobility and close combat even more decisive, while elevating survivability almost to the point of lunacy, while Space Wolves and Necrons have set the standard for mid-range, high-volume, highly-dangerous shooting. So where does that leave the Tau Empire as a whole?

Well, so far as I can see, it leaves it full of fragile units holding expensive guns they can't shoot very well, the most heavily armed and armoured of which can't fight their way out of a grot-pile and none of which have any psychic defences.

Now, one of these weaknesses is manageable, but two of them put a serious squeeze on a player, and the four of them together are just inexcusably poor codex design. It's hard to think of any other codex that has been specifically crafted to leave the best-possibly-designed army list struggling desperately to participate in one of the three phases of the game, or deal with basic issues like psykers. The railguns and plasma rifles and jump-shoot-jump capabilities may seem impressive at first, but at the end of the day you have an army that cannot fight, and therefore absolutely needs to shoot their enemies down as they charge across the board, but whose elites shoot no better than basic Imperial Guard troopers and who are as expensive as they are limited.

So, what should change for the next book? Well, obviously, a lot of things.

First thing's first, if Tau are going to live and die by their shooting, that shooting needs to be absolutely devastating. In terms of elite/anti-heavy infantry shooting, battlesuits should be BS4 standard across the board, and that includes XV15/25s and XV88s, and the jet pack units should be made truly Relentless. Plasma rifles should drop in points, given how essential they are to an army with no power weapons. An equivalent of the frag/krak missile launcher should be introduced; the Tau have very few weapons that can force Instant Death on a T4 model, and most of those are dedicated anti-vehicle weapons, of which Tau cadres never have enough. Some sort of anti-psyker munition should be available, something like the Necron's entropic strike that reduces or eliminates a psyker's ability to use their powers after successive hits. And as for infantry support/anti-light infantry shooting, if the Devilfish is meant to reinforce fire warrior squads it really needs a decent variety of load-outs; instead of a choice between various S5 AP5 18"-24" guns, where's the equivalent to the assault cannon, or the multi-melta, or the heavy flamer? Pulse carbines should be Assault 2, burst cannons should be AP4, and Smart Missile Systems should be assault weapons. Heavy gun drones should be introduced, not as a heavy support choice, but as upgrades to fire warrior, pathfinder or gun drone squads. The AFP should be made standard issue, and dropped in points; it's the only decent anti-horde weapon you could take multiples of without crippling the ability to respond to other threats. And all those are just off the top of my head!

But we can't spend all day talking about shooting, much as it would be a very Tau thing to do, so let's move on to fragility. Now, the Tau, and particularly the absolutely essential battlesuit squads, are fragile in three ways; low toughness, low numbers, low leadership. The first makes them very vulnerable to fairly common Instant Death-dealing weapons, particularly missile launchers and meltaguns, the second makes them vulnerable to constantly being forced to take break tests, and the third makes them vulnerable to routinely failing those tests they're constantly taking. There is a perfectly simple fix for those; increase battlesuits' T to 5, and increase all units' LD by one. Right there you've made them a significantly more hardy army, which is good, because losing a good chance at losing 186-point Fireknife squads to an 18 point Marine with a 15 point missile launcher is devastating. There's also an alternative, to lower the price and increase the size of units, so you could field four or five XV8s instead of just three, and get units of nine or ten fire warriors onto the field instead of units of six. I'm less enamoured of this, as getting XV8s into cover is often tricky as-is, and the armed forces of the small but dynamic Tau Empire are supposed to play as a moderately elite army, not an IG/Tyranid swarm.

With regards to pskyers, the lack of warp presence is, as they say, a design feature, not a bug. The Tau are supposed to be relatively cut off from the whispers of the Warp, so while the easiest recourse would be to drop some Nicassar or gue'vessa psykers into the book, it does somewhat dilute the flavour of the army. A better choice would be to have the Tau counter psykers technologically, trusting to their science over their enemies' superstitions. The aforementioned entropic strike-esque anti-psyker gun would be nice, for instance. As would a warp-dampening field generator that works like a psychic hood, something you could buy for battlesuits, or perhaps ethereals to finally give them some actual utility. And a piece of bespoke wargear that can go through psychic saves would make dealing with things like the Doom of Malantai or Eldar farseers significantly more reasonable. Psychic defences are perhaps the easiest problem to fix, because you can largely re-purpose other races' abilities, attach them to a piece of wargear, and call it a day.

If psychic defence is the easiest problem, though, close combat is the most thorny. After all, the Tau Empire's military high command disdains close combat, and the Tau themselves are famously awful at it, being shorter and weaker than the average human, with lousy depth perception to boot. But what is the point of auxiliaries if not to shore up weaknesses in the conventional Tau military? I mentioned, while looking at them, that giving the Vespid Rending and Hit and Run would make sense; they'd remain an at-best mediocre combat unit, but with some decent tricks and the chance to really participate. Well, there are other auxiliaries out there who can offer some help, too. The Kroot have a certain quality in their quantity, but making their guns Assault 2, or even just a basic one-shot assault weapon, would go a long way. What's the point of an assault unit that can't soften the enemy up with some shooting? And the gue'vessa, humans living within the borders of the Tau Empire, could lend a hand, as well. Load them up with pistols and close combat weapons, give them some decent armour (5+ minimum, 4+ ideal) and the option of special weapons and equipment, and turn them loose. And all of these choices, it should really go without saying, should be able to get access to assault grenades. Lastly, there are rumours of demiurg being included in the new codex, and if the rejuvenated space dwarf concept lends itself to anything, it's a tarpit unit. 3+/5++, T5 and W2 would go a long way towards giving the Tau something they can block dedicated close-combat units with, at least something that won't just evaporate as soon as the enemy looks at them sideways.

So, there are a host of suggestions for dealing with the various weaknesses Codex: Tau Empire has. Should all of them be implemented? Any of them? I haven't playtested them myself, so I can't speak very well to that. But if nothing else, these sorts of things are at least moves in the right direction, attempts to make the Tau Empire a little less vulnerable to being absolutely rolled over by certain, not-uncommon armies.


Big Eyes, Small Mouth, Huge Heart

Is anime the quintessential medium for telling science fiction stories?

Isn't it obvious?

The question sprang to mind the other day, after checking out one of my absolute favourite movies, Summer Wars. What's that, you say you've never heard of Summer Wars? Well, that's no surprise, since it's an anime and, unlike Evangelion, hasn't ever played on a big screen in North America. On the surface, Summer Wars is about the omnipresence of technology, and the threat of a rogue AI. Or, actually, it's a young man's coming-of-age story. Or a family drama. Or a love story? A comedy? A meditation on the role of the elderly? A warning about the depersonalizing nature of modern society?

Really, it's all of those things, and probably one or two more that I, having already watched it several times, haven't quite managed to catch yet. And that is why, I think, anime may be producing the best science fiction stories at the moment, certainly the best on film or video. Partly there are obvious reasons for that, like the simplicity of depicting non-terrestrial locations or biologies in animation, or the relative cheapness of fantastical effects. But there's more to it than that, and I think what it comes down to, in the end, is the trouble I had in explaining exactly what Summer Wars is 'about'.

This is Summer Wars, for the record.  Yeah.  Both of them.

See, that's not a problem you get in North American science fiction. Think of the big science fiction movies. What are they about? In Time is about how awful capitalism is, and a bit of a love story. The various Avengers lead-in movies are about superheroes doing classically superheroic things, like learning humility and punching Nazis. District 9 is about racism and prejudice. The Matrix series is about a war between humans and machines, and also fate vs. free will. I Am Legend is about isolation and the need for human contact, and if you've got the version with the better ending, mutual respect. The Transformers films are about two movies too many. Simple.

Now, what is Ghost in the Shell about, exactly? Or The Girl Who Leapt Through Time? Or Akira? Or Voices of a Distant Star? All of these movies have an obvious plot, just like North American films do, but they've got not just one sub-plot running, but several, and usually they're quite well done, too. And sadly, that's not really something you see in North American science fiction anymore. The Matrix, the first one, might justly be hailed as a stylistic and technical trend-setter and a relatively deep man vs. machine/man vs. society story, but Neo has no real character growth, nor do any of the other characters, all of whom are basically interchangeable and forgettable, and the love story is, frankly, embarrassing. If it weren't for Hugo Weaving, I'm not sure the whole thing would've got off the ground.

I kid, of course, but only about that last part. The more North American science fiction I consume lately, and I'm talking largely about films but television doesn't escape this either, the less impressed I find myself. Or, perhaps I should say the less challenged. It just seems as though the storytellers can't be bothered to really stretch themselves. Story after story, lately, is the same; a not-too-young disaffected/outcast male who finds himself pushed to become some kind of decisive figure, usually with a love story tacked on there and perhaps with a token bit of character growth. Where are the family dramas? Where are the meaningful love stories? Where are the comedies? The funny ones, I mean; Bay's Transformers absolutely do not count. And yes, I know there are exceptions, and that even some of those films that aren't exceptions are great films, just because they managed to do the one or two things they did really, really well. I still stand by my accolades for In Time, absolutely. But, for instance, why was Sylvia Will's age, instead of being his grandmother's age? It wouldn't matter in terms of casting, or the aesthetics of them as a couple on screen, but that small change could add such an interesting extra little touch to their admittedly formulaic relationship. It's those sorts of small things that science fiction seems to miss, time and again, to the detriment of their stories.

Behold, the romance of the summer (blockbuster)!

For all its translation and localization and dubbing issues, and for all its very real problems in terms of the portrayal of women, anime is simply the superior medium when it comes to telling science fiction stories. And the reason seems to be, at the end of the day, that anime directors and producers actually still care about telling really good stories that just happen to be science fiction, rather than science fiction stories that just happen to be good.

It's such a tiny thing, but it makes all the difference in the world.


A Fine Time, Indeed

In Time is high concept science fiction, and I don't hesitate to say that it's high concept science fiction at its best. It takes a single, simple idea, though one that could nevertheless fundamentally change the way human beings understand their lives, and uses it to hold a mirror up to modern-day society, to comment on some particular peculiarity of modern life.

 No, it's not on the new trend of day-glo tattoos.

The conceit in this film is two-fold. On the one hand, at some point in the past a technology was developed which stopped the physical ageing process at 25, offering immortality (barring violence, accident or disease) and some slight confusion when meeting a new person as to whether or not they're a peer. On the other hand, at an equally unspecified point, a system was put in place whereby life-time became money, obliging people to literally work to live and solving what some characters claim would be the problem of an ever-expanding number of immortals draining the earth's resources. So between the two, we have a world in which everyone looks young and beautiful, but one in which poor people die in the street when they 'time out' and the immortal rich are deathly afraid of risk and chance.

One of the trickiest things, when constructing a world that has changed in some fundamental way, is to create a coherent image of society. Pleasantly, the writers of In Time appear to have devoted some considerable amount of time to the issue. There are all sorts of little things throughout the movie that reflect the very different relationship the poor and the rich have to time. The poor run everywhere, they scarf down food, they never sleep in or show up late, and they're not especially afraid to do apparently crazy things, like jump from second-storey windows or play 'strong-arm', a game actually seen in the background well before it becomes a plot point. The rich, meanwhile, walk slowly, drive slowly, eat slowly, gamble huge amounts of time in casinos (though never enough to actually risk their own lives), live in fear of mischance, surround themselves with bodyguards and hoard eons. The poor ghetto is rough and dirty, but full of a certain vibrancy, while rich New Greenwich is drab and clean and monochrome, a subtly appropriate aesthetic since it's populated primarily by the very old. In fact, the lack of more science fiction elements (there aren't even cell phones) initially struck me as silly, but then I wondered; in a society in which the most powerful are the most directly concerned with maintaining the status quo and can do so for decades, even centuries, how quickly would technology advance? Particularly since the social system is built on isolation and segregation, both within areas like the ghetto and New Greenwich and between the 'time zones' themselves.

Justin Timberlake does a solid job as blue-collar Will Salas, a member of the working poor who suddenly finds himself with over a century on the clock after a run-in with a wealthy man who's grown tired of living. After one too many of Will's close associates dies in the street, succumbing to a system that is explicitly stacked against their survival, he decides to head for New Greenwich, with the intention of taking that self-same system for everything he can. In New Greenwich he meets Vincent Kartheiser and Amanda Seyfried, as Phillipe Weis and his daughter Sylvia, and just as importantly has his first run-in with Cillian Murphy's Raymond Leon, a law enforcement officer (Timekeeper) investigating the death of the man who gave Will all that time. The intersection of Will, Sylvia and Raymond sets the plot in motion, and from there it unfolds in ways both expected and surprising, constructing a solid chase narrative that keeps the film absolutely humming with energy. The romance never overtakes the story, pared down to just one or two small, intimate scenes that convey the connection between the two characters without becoming semi-pornographic, and the obvious social commentary never becomes preachy, remaining entirely within the bounds of the world constructed at the beginning of the film. This is a world where time is literally money, and that almost primal drive suffuses the film from start to finish.

The characters are, for the most part, fairly stock, but very well-played stock. Will is the good-hearted, quick-witted boy from the bad side of the tracks, and Sylvia is the naive, sheltered but ultimately well-meaning rich girl who falls for him, with Phillipe perhaps the ur-example of the controlling and heartless rich father. The real stand-out is Cillian Murphy, and his Timekeeper Raymond Leon. Throughout the film, I found myself vacillating on just what, exactly, Raymond was. He refuses to be bribed, and seems dogged in his pursuit of Will not because he dislikes him, but because Will is suspicious and eventually an outright criminal, and Raymond is an officer of the law. And he's not a bad person; he appears to be relatively well-liked by at least some of the ghetto's inhabitants, even having a small, friendly back-and-forth with a prostitute. But he shows no apparent interest in apprehending the local Minuteman, Fortis, a gangster who steals time from those in the ghetto and kills two people over the course of the film itself, and there's a suggestion that in coming out of the ghetto himself, Raymond is working to make sure nobody else can follow after him. I didn't necessarily buy that moment, but it does exist in the film, and it's part and parcel of the pleasantly complicated character that is Raymond Leon. He's easily the standout character of the piece.

I mentioned, earlier, that the lack of cellphones seemed strange, and initially it does. This is a world in which some sort of techno-organic engineering has taken place to produce functional immorality and an off-switch in the human body, after all; surely an iPhone isn't beyond them? But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. Technologies like the internet and cellphones are trans-temporal; they compress space and time. In our world, a world in which the greatest amount of utility must be wrung from an extremely finite amount of time, that is a definite value. But that isn't the world of In Time. Instead, their world is one in which a potentially infinite amount of time must be whittled away to nothing for the vast majority of the population. Of course there are payphones on street corners, and not a cellphone or laptop to be seen in the ghetto, these technologies would be explicitly contrary to the entire thrust of the culture in those areas. The system would want to force the poor to spend minutes on awkwardly-positioned payphones, or run home to meet up with someone, because that burns away a few more of the minutes the system can't abide them having in the first place. In Time is one of the better, subtler representations of the systems of control that make up society cinema has provided us in quite some time.

Though it may be bad form, there is something I'd like to say about the end of the film. I'll try to avoid spoilers as much as possible, but if you are thinking of going to see In Time, you should probably stop reading here, and come back once we're both on the same page.

So. I went to see In Time with the lovely Madam Meagan, and after the film she expressed a certain dissatisfaction in the resolution. It wasn't that it was badly scripted or acted or shot, but rather, that it wasn't a total resolution. In a science fiction film, in particular, she prefers when things end in a way that is decisive and all-encompassing; the Good triumph, the Evil are destroyed, and Everything Is Fixed. I wouldn't have had any objection to such an ending myself; indeed, as an outside observer it seems almost silly that the characters didn't push for that last great step towards total victory. But, and this may just be the aftereffects of a recent bout with Herbert Marcuse and his theories, not only was I untroubled by the ending as presented, it actually rang truer to me than the alternative would have. Of course the ending doesn't produce a fundamental change in the status quo, of course it doesn't. It couldn't. For all that Will is out to take the system for everything he can, he is still, ultimately, operating under the constraints of the system. He can't fundamentally challenge it, because he, like the vast majority of human beings, is simply incapable of really understanding what it would take to produce that level of change. Yes, he hates the system, yes, he thinks the rich are parasites, yes, he balks at immortality for a few at the cost of death for the masses, but he is still, at the end of the day, incapable of conceiving a challenge to the system itself. His solution is redistributive, rather than reconceptual, because Will, like most people, cannot break free of the systems into which he is born, because that system defines the horizons of his experience.

That, more than the vicious representation of naked capitalism, was what felt to me like the true philosophical heart of the film. In Time is, more than anything else, an exploration of the inability of humans, even those with the most powerful motivations and best of intentions, to truly force the world to take the shape they desire of it, or even understand what, exactly, they desire in the first place. The timing of this film, coinciding with the Occupy Wall Street protests, is particularly interesting. The OWS protestors are likewise incapable of really challenging a system that is specifically and purposefully designed to exploit the greatest number of people for the good of the smallest number of people, because they are still defined by the boundaries of it. They aren't calling for communism or socialism, for the radical redistribution of wealth to create a truly level playing field, or for a reordering of society such that the utility of a McDonald's counter girl is equal to that of an elite banker. And why not? After all, that McDonald's girl is more useful to a greater number of people than that banker, and McDonald's staff have never crashed the economy. But the OWS protestors are a product of their society, a society that is viciously anti-communist, -socialist and even sometimes -socially just, so they can't make the leap from a system that is steadily failing more and more people to one that might work better for more people.

Almost nobody can. And maybe recognizing that limitation, even if we can't bring ourselves to transcend it, is the true value of In Time.

Though, the gunfights and chase scenes are pretty cool, too.


The Darkest Hour - Trailer


This is by far the most imaginative alien invasion scheme I've seen in some time, and the Russian setting lends it a pleasantly different feel from aliens continually invading Washington or New York.  Here's hoping the script can hold up under the demands of its creative premise.  It's scheduled for release in December, just two days before Christmas in fact.  Might be a pleasant way to pass Boxing Day?

The Fourth Sphere Pt. 6 – Special Characters

Traditionally, as far as the format of these articles are concerned, I would pick one of the three Tau Empire special characters to take apart and put back together again. But I'm going to break with my own tradition, and see what I can do about all three of them. Because, unlike every other slot on the Force Organization chart, and frankly unlike every other codex out there I can think of, the special characters section of Codex: Tau Empire really has no redeeming features. At all. The best of the best are 'not awful', and it just goes downhill from there.

To start with, let's think out loud a little. What should a special character be? Back in 2nd and 3rd edition, special characters were heroic powerhouses, pricey but more than capable of making their cost back by the sheer amount of damage they could personally do to the opponent's forces. In 4th and 5th edition, however, the emphasis has been more on building an army rather than directing a hero, so with some exceptions special characters are meant to impart some sort of characterful improvement to their army. That's why Ghazghkull lets you take Nobz as Troops, and Kayvaan Shrike gives your units Fleet instead of Combat Tactics. It's not so much about the special character itself, any more, but about how it can improve the performance of the army, either directly (unit buffs) or indirectly (FOC swapping).

So, what do the special characters in Codex: Tau Empire offer? Not much. Aun'Va is worth more dead than alive, since alive he only offers a pretty lousy conditional bonus while dead he makes Tau at least theoretically capable of accomplishing something on the charge, though his refusal to affect the only three units who would really benefit from it (Kroot, Vespid and Gun Drones) offsets even that. O'Shovah pays an extra 70 points for a few stat increases and a power weapon, the only one in the entire codex, but his seven-strong bodyguard squad is largely useless because you simply won't have the points to actually field it (O'Shovah and seven Deathrains, the cheapest useful suit, would be 569 points on their own), his earlier 'Ork Fighter' rule has been downgraded to the very particular Preferred Enemy: Orks, and his 'Breakaway Faction' restrictions mean that in the games large enough to actually make use of O'Shovah's big bodyguard you'll be incapable of fielding a decent army to back it up. O'Shaserra is the aforementioned 'not awful', but even there you get a muddle of a character; the stealth field suggests staying back, her Command-link drone suggests hanging out at midfield, her 12" guns suggest getting up close, and she doesn't even count as an Independent Character until her Command-link Drone and two Shield Drones have been shot away from her, that is, until she's had to take at least, and possibly three, break tests. Like I said, she's not awful, but she's hardly a must-have.

Now, what don't we see? Three things. First, we don't see anyone offering to swap FOC slots. If I take O'Shaserra, why can't I take a unit of XV15/25/22s as troops? If I take O'Shovah, where're my XV8s as scoring units? If I suffer brain damage and decide to actually pay for Aun'Va, why doesn't he let me take an Honour Guard or two in place of a regular Fire Warrior Squad? Nobody changes up the FOC or unlocks new potential for existing units, which puts Tau Empire special characters at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to comparing them to others, or just justifying them against what those points could buy otherwise. Second, why doesn't everyone affect everything? The idea behind the Tau Empire is that not just the Tau, but various other alien races, are working and fighting together. So why do the two buffing units, Aun'Va and O'Shaserra, ignore Kroot and, in the case of the former, Vespid? And why does O'Shovah strip out not just the weak Vespid and the useful Kroot, but all sorts of pretty essential general Tau Empire stuff? These guys are cripplingly specialized in a way nobody else's special characters are, and it shows. How many Marine special characters, with their army-wide upgrades and unit-enhancing buffs, do you see, compared to how many overcosted and underperforming Tau Empire special characters? And third, why doesn't anyone enhance what Tau are supposedly good at, or at least blunt what they're particularly terrible at? Isn't that what special characters do? Tau have more weaknesses than any other army in 40K; they can't fight in close combat, they don't have psychic powers, they can't stop other people's psychic powers, they have low LD, they aren't very good shots, they're fragile, and they're often in pretty small units. And none of the special characters actually address any of these deficiencies in any kind of useful way. It's as maddening as it is mind boggling.

So. Let's start with the worst of them; Aun'Va, Master of the Undying Spirit. First thing's first, this guy needs a shirt. It was ludicrous when generic Auns were running around with no armour, but it's inexcusable when the 'supreme Ethereal within the newly won septs of the Third Sphere' can't be bothered to throw some carapace over his withered frame. And no, a cover save doesn't do it, because all it means is that in addition to having no protection at all in close combat, all it takes is a flamer or two and this unit is toast. And unlike the regular Auns, Aun'Va can't even buy shield drones! So, give Aun'Va and his two bodyguards at least 4+, and throw in a real 4++ save while we're at it. And speaking of his bodyguards, what's this 'two' nonsense? A regular Aun can be accompanied by a dozen elite Fire Warriors, but Aun'Va only gets a couple of guys with axes? If they're going to do this, they might as well go all the way and throw another two or three models into the unit, and either make Honour Blades count as power weapons or two close combat weapons, because as it stands the guys with no guns who are supposed to protect this venerable old troll hit last and hit lightly, assuming there're any of them left. If this unit is shot at, it will probably die, and if it's charged, it will definitely die. Can you think of any other special character who is so unbelievably fragile?

As for his special rules, I mean, good gods. It's like someone looked at Aun'Shi from Codex: Tau and decided that nonsense was just absolutely inexcusable. Aun'Shi joins a unit and makes it Fearless, gives it +1I and +1A, allows it to stay a scoring unit, and allows every Tau unit on the table to re-roll all morale checks; Aun'Va only grants a bonus if you can draw line of sight, and it's affected by Night Fighting, and it's just Stubborn. Comparing the two it's no contest, and that's before adding in Aun'Shi's 4++ save, his photon and EMP grenades, his 'no armour saves on a to-hit roll of 6', his parrying ability, or his greater WS, I, W and A values. And, just in case it wasn't blindingly obvious who the better Aun is yet, Aun'Shi does all this for a hundred points less! It's just... I mean, my gods, how did anyone look at Aun'Shi, and then Aun'Va, and decide the latter was a reasonable character to include in Codex: Tau Empire? But I said I'd fix Aun'Va, so I guess we'll give it a try. Let's start by expanding his 'inspiring presence', so that Aun'Va allows all Tau and Drone units to re-roll all LD-based tests, and recover if they're below 50%, just for starters. He's also so important a character that he's only seen with elite cadres, so taking Aun'Va means any and all Fire Warriors can be upgraded to Honour Guards, +1BS for one point per model. And let's face it, the Tau Empire badly needs some psychic defence on the table, so let's say Aun'Va's 'Paradox of Duality' is actually some kind of anti-warp field emitter, that works like a psychic hood with a 36" range. With an invulnerable save to protect him, no need to draw LOS to Tau squads, an effect on at least one type of non-Tau unit, the chance to upgrade Fire Warriors to actually being seriously useful and the only provider of psychic defences, Aun'Va suddenly looks like he might be worth taking, after all. He can even keep 'Ultimate Price of Failure', since at least now it's a real price.

Next up, O'Shovah. Like pretty much every Tau special character, he's going in too many different directions at once, so let's see if we can't give him some focus. Giving bonding knives for free is a little thing, but a useful one, and the restriction on Vespid make sense, so they can stay. Kroot makes less sense, though, since they're mercenaries who have been known to work against the Tau Empire if the pay is right. But the restrictions on vehicles and non-XV8 suits is just awful. It's got to go. This is a character you can't take below 1500 points, and at that level one unit of Piranhas, XV88s and a single Hammerhead are not going to do it. When you force a player to seriously consider Sniper Drone Teams, you've done something wrong. His 'Preferred Enemy: Orks' special rule is also awful. It was at least moderately useful in Codex: Tau, when it let you upgrade your WS and I for 5 points, but limiting it to just re-rolling to-hits when he's fighting Orks makes it so specialized as to be worthless. As for his gun, the plasma rifle is good and all, but O'Shovah is a special character, why not give him a special weapon like the Imperial Armour commanders? At least make it Assault 2, or Str 8, or twin-linked, or something!

Now that we've torn him down, let's build him up again. O'Shovah has decent stats, a 4++ save and the only power weapon in the codex; clearly he's intended to get in there and mix it up, especially since an O'Shovah army can't have Kroot. So let's give his bodyguards a chance to actually help him out. Give the unit Furious Charge, and let them buy some kind of power weapon of their own, some slightly inferior copies of the Dawn Blade. Boom, all of a sudden the unit's capable of fulfilling not just the role GW apparently envisioned for it, but one that no other unit in the codex can. If for no other reason, O'Shovah suddenly becomes a useful special character. As for his special rules, like I said the restriction on Vespid, and even Kroot if we must, work well enough, but the 'XV8s are 1+' is just silly. Who isn't going to have at least one squad of XV8s at 1500 points? Instead, let's make his focus on battlesuited warriors a little more useful, and say that taking O'Shovah allows you to field XV8 units at a strength of, say, 2-6. A lot of players find it very easy to max out the Elites section, since it usually consists of a whopping nine models, so this is actually an improvement. And to represent his ferocity and commitment to fighting on the front, O'Shovah, and any unit he's attached to, is a scoring unit, while to represent the close-knit militarism of his enclaves every unit gets a bonding knife and +1LD. This makes an O'Shovah army play very differently from a regular Tau Empire cadre, but not in a bad way, which is how O'Shovah affects the army currently.

And last, and in the scale of terribleness least, O'Shaserra. She's got the least to take apart, because she's got the least there to start with. Her gear makes decent sense, though the 'close vs distant' battle between her guns and her stealth field is even worse than for a regular XV15/25 squad. The Command-link Drone is potentially useful, the 4++ save is solid, and the ability to engage two units at once is interesting. The only things I don't like about her is that she must come with three drones, which means one casualty and she has to take a break test and that she can't join a unit until they're all dead, and, well, that's pretty much it. She's not that bad, and it means there's not a lot there to dislike. Unfortunately, there's not a lot there to like, either, because she is so basic. For the cost of not-quite-two Shas'Els with a fusion blaster, targetting array and shield generator you get two fusion blasters, an 18" leadership-granting bubble, and a Shas'o in a stealth suit with a shield generator and a couple of shield drones. The phrase 'that's it' springs rather quickly to mind. O'Shaserra needs an upgrade, and fast, if she really wants to be able to compete with, well, anything.

So, first, because 5th is all about manipulating the FOC, let's say that taking O'Shaserra allows you to take one unit of XV15/25s as Troops. Not only does it give the army a moderately solid scoring unit, it's also pretty much the only way GW is going to sell XV15/25 models, since as-is they're so totally beaten out by XV8s that almost nobody bothers with them. Then, take out the two shield drones, and fold the Command-link drone into Shadowsun's armour, making her an actual, independent character. The model can stay, but like the Watcher holding Azrael's helmet or the Grot oilers accompanying a Big Mek, it doesn't actually do anything. There, now she can join other units and actually help out, rather than just staying back with her bubble-edge brushing a squad. And let's give her guns at least a little more oomph; say, 18" Assault 1, or perhaps 12" Assault 2? And speaking of, you don't give someone two fusion blasters unless they're serious about taking down big problems, so let's open up some big alternative solutions. EMP grenades; nobody bothers with them because they're expensive, but what if they came free, or at a point per model or five points a squad, in an O'Shaserra-led cadre? And you could get them on battlesuits? Suddenly vehicles are even less safe than they thought they were facing a twin-linked missile pod- and railgun-equipped force, which given the emphasis on vehicles in 5th is no small thing. And since O'Shaserra is leading the most advanced cadres in the Empire, perhaps all markerlights count as networked, and all special-issue wargear is universally available. Again, it's all about making an O'Shaserra cadre fight differently from a regular one, and this would definitely fight differently.

So, as far as I can see, that's what it would take to make Tau Empire special characters worth taking to the field. And frankly that's not even getting into what kinds of other special characters should be there, like Kroot or Vespid or elite Fire Warrior shas'ui. More than any other, this section needs so very, very much work...