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Drones in 5th edition
Old 09 Oct 2008, 05:40   #1 (permalink)
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Default Drones in 5th edition

Firstly I'd like to say I haven't played Tau since 3rd ed, and know absolutely nothing about 4th ed. I gather it was... published? So I can't compare drones now with 4th ed drones. But judging by what I've read, there have been some major changes that affect the way shield and marker drones work, so perhaps a completely fresh look is a good thing. Anyone who can provide a comparison is another good thing. I will try to talk more about rules that I've seen people talk about as if they've changed since 4th ed, though.

Firstly, some

Key concepts

The main thing to remember about drones is that they don't only shield, gun, or mark. They also add another body to their team, for as little as 10 points - cheaper than buying gun drone squadrons. This not only affects the unit's morale, and endurance, but also maneuverability, use of cover and close combat performance. Yes, close combat performance. More on all that later.

All drones:

- count as a member of the unit they are in
- fight in close combat using the same (weak, but usable) stat line, aside from:
- toughness: a drone will have T3, unless they're a shield drone attached to a non-stealth 'suit, and
- save: a shield drone also shares its owner's armour save
- provide an extra wound to the team, but die if their controller dies
- provide a fresh batch of targets
- increase the unit's size
- have the same unit type as their controller: no JSJ or Relentless unless attached to a jet 'suit!

The first thing to remember about drones is that they are wholly part of their unit. Two broadsides with four shield drones are below half strength when the drones are destroyed. Bonding knives are an important backup for lots of ablative drones.

Tau players are used to using drones as spare wounds and screening troops, but most avoid close combat so diligently that it's worth drawing special attention to the less witnessed power of the drone. Shield drones and marker drones may not have guns, but all drones can fight in assaults with something that few other Tau units have: initiative 4. Gun drones are naturally better because they can shoot going into the assault, and also as soon as you regroup. However, so can marker drones. The amount of firepower a battlesuit team with full drone complement can pound into a unit that they mark, shoot, then assault, can be phenomenal. You want to pack enough charging attacks to wipe the enemy out, and stay away from charges yourself, naturally. Aggro Tau has a good account of Tau close assault strategy, and if you want to get the most out of a drone-heavy army, give it a read.

Most drones have toughness 3, and (non-stealth) suits have T4, this can create issues with the majority toughness wounding rules. The exception is covered under shield drones.

Although the drone can absorb a wound, it is also removed if its controller dies. From a RAW standpoint it's necessary to track which suit controls which drones. Unless you feel like either fudging or recording all that information, you might like your drone-heavy XV teams so most suits are identical. Remember to use drones to prevent their owner's last wound at all costs!

At the other extreme, the 5th ed wounding system can be exploited heavily to field large, very Complex Units. Each new drone type you add to the team, and each unique suit configuration, gives you a new batch of models that you may allocate incoming wounds to. I'm not in favour of it, it'll be tedious for you and annoying for your opponent, but the powergamer in me says let the dice fall where I want them to.

See the wounding rules on page 25 of the core book, and read Elliot's FAQ, for more on wounding rules in 5th edition. Drones can make your team's behaviour towards wounds complex and dynamic.

The effect of drones on the size of the unit cannot be understated. With up to 2 drones for every battlesuit, they can triple the team size if you let them. This will affect the behaviour of morale, including bonding knives and ability to actually break off close combat with effective forces remaining. This dimension of team endurance should not be overlooked; drones are more than just extra wounds, they are also extra bodies.

The battlefield footprint of the team will also change, becoming potentially very large and unwieldy. Because jetsuits hug terrain and certain target range brackets, fitting all those models into the team's desired footprint can get hard. Fortunately there's a few ways around it.

Shield drones, for example, can sit anywhere in coherency. They don't need to be close to give close protection or to shoot weapons. When you move 6" forwards to shoot, they can dawdle at the back, meaning no need to cram them in closer to the enemy. Marker drones can do the same, with their 36" range, though LoS is still important.

It's worth mentioning the stealth field in this context. Range is measured from individual models, to visible targets (p 17), so drones on stealthsuits are less of a liability. A stealth swarm, which I am working on refining and which is driving most of my drone research, can be up to 18 models strong. It becomes quite hard to JSJ stealth suits with that many models, but the marker and shield drones can be about 30" away from the enemy by the end of my assault phase, while the closer models try to have harder cover.

Lastly, drones all have the same unit type as their controller. This means sniper drones aren't Relentless, nor are marker drones on firewarrior or Broadside teams. Drones only have the use of their jet packs if their controller is jet infantry.

Now because there's hardly any mention of them and they got such huge buffs with Relentless, let's move on to:

Marker Drones

I love these guys. They're just so damn expensive. But there are ways to reduce that cost, and get bonuses thrown in. Let's review the basic qualities that make marker drones so special.

- can be Relentless, thus joining the skyray as the only other mobile markerlight
- provide one markerlight hit per 60 points, plus the cost of the model that's mounting them - or a hard-wired target lock
- have to fire at the same target as the rest of the team
- use networked markerlights, so can buff their own team's shooting

For an excellent (non-5th ed) article on the markerlight, follow this elegant and finely-crafted link.

Marker drones are most useful when attached to teams that may find themselves operating without pathfinder support. In smaller points games, marker drones may be your only source of markerlights, as a pathfinder Devilfish might not be justifiable in some armies. However, as the article linked above points out, pathfinders are by far the cheapest source of markerlight hits. Marker drones are therefore more likely to be worth it on free-ranging or deep striking units that may move out of range or LoS of the relatively static pathfinders. Fortunately, battlesuits fit that description exactly.

I disagree with the cost quoted for marker drone hits, by the way. The controller can often act independently to their drones, to some degree. Even if this requires team leader status and a hard-wired target lock, that's still only 10 points plus 2 gun drones = 70 points. Depending on whether the drones are meant to buff their own team, call in seekers, or whatever, that's competitive with the cost of ML-equipped Firewarrior shas'ui, but gain Relentless (!!!) when attached to jet suits. Being able to move and fire makes some of the timing elements of markerlight usage easier, though the lower number of lights compared to a pathfinder squad also means that the timing of many actions will be dictated by the drone's BS3.

In a case where a full team of stealths have a few marker drones supporting them, I would argue that the drones cost 60 points per ML hit, as they fit the role of 6 targeting arrays on average, for the same approximate cost and some other approximate benefits.

While you can equip the team to fire independently of the drones, this can get expensive. And if the drones are marking targets for a different squad, you should consider committing some pathfinders to the operation. It is most efficient to have marker drones fire at the same target as their squad and buff their shooting, though some tactics will favour flexibility over efficiency.

Assuming that marker drones will buff their controllers' team, an approximate value of the drone can be calculated. On a BS3 model, a markerlight hit will give you 1/3 more hits. So marker drones are worth using (for that one purpose, on points alone) if they will be buffing more than triple the cost of one hit's worth of shooting... honest. On a BS 4 controller, the math hurts my head a little more, and on a twin-linked gun drone it's about a 25% buff.

Let's review. A markerlight hit with marker drones can cost as little as 60 points. On a team of 6 stealths, that will give 3 more hits per turn - the same as if we'd bought two more stealths for... 60 points! When the math works out like that, you know you've done well out of your drones. +1 BS on a gun drone changes it from T-L BS2 to T-LBS3: twin-linked math hurts my head more! If it were just gun drones, you'd need 12 to get marker drones to pay themselves off. However, if gun drones are mixed into a squad of battlesuits and marker drones, the math starts to feel more like those migraines from Pi. What I generally do while costing is assume 2 gun drones = 1 stealth suit for the purposes of seeing if marker drones pay themselves off.

So it can be hard to make small teams' marker drones cost-efficient, and 30 points is a lot. As with all markerlighting, the more models you buff, the more value you're getting. Marker drones for small or limited-use teams should only be considered for mission-critical tasks. Otherwise, just buy more:

Gun Drones

Ok, not on Sunforges, maybe. But for anything that'll be kiting infantry, gun drones can be a worthwhile investment (and even Sunforges have to kite infantry! With target locks the drones can try to pin while the Crisis dart in for the kill - thanks emmagine). They

- come as wargear, independent squads, and as vehicle wargear
- can provide rapidly-mobile cover
- can use a monat controller's target lock to force pinning checks on nearby infantry
- are light units with a strong gun - competitive with a stealthsuit, point for point!
- have twin-linked BS2 - this comes out as slightly better chance to hit than BS3

Independent squads are fairly self-explanatory skirmishers, with the added bonus that your Ninja'O can join them and lol down his CIB and AFP at the enemy. Padded with shas'vre bodyguards, shield drones, and marker drones, this can deep strike as a unit. Remember, the more models, the cheaper marker drones make themselves! The only downside with independent drone squads is that it's 20% more expensive than the other two ways of fielding them.

As vehicle wargear, we see perhaps the neatest aspect of drones in 5th ed. Any shooting through a unit allows a 4+ cover save! The 2 drones, once detached, can form a highly mobile 4" screen that costs the same as the shield generator, but can shoot and be shot at, and benefit multiple models. A piranha squadron can create even larger drone screens. Don't do this in Annihilation; they give away victory points. But in the other standard missions, they may be joyously flung across the battlefield to contest objectives in the other standard missions. Sau1us (in his post below) suggests another of several devious drone tactics featured in this article, which features a Mech army entirely obsessed with winning on points.

On any monat (lone wolf) suit, a cheap target lock allows the shas to use the drones to try to pin infantry as the suit gets near. Especially on 12" suits, the longer range of the gun drone allows the shas to test for pinning on infantry a little before committing to a strike. Monats' second drone has a hidden cost though: the bonding knife that gives him the will... to... go on! when his little drone buddies have gasped their last.

Attached to anti-infantry teams, gun drones shine. Point for point, their shooting is more effective than an XV15! A theoretical anti-infantry Crisis suit gets even more points-efficiency out of gun drones. Just make sure their intended range fits: CIB, AFP, Burst Cannon, Pulse Carbine perfect, plasma rifle sure. Helios and Sunforge can try to use pinning to cover their 12" activities, and Deathrain suits can use them to help kite infantry once their primary objective is achieved.

Ignoring sniper drones, which are pretty self-explanatory, we finally have:

Shield Drones

Ah, shield drones. I don't think I've ever succeeded on an invul save for these little guys. Oh well, I'll be making even more 4+ saves this edition because shield drones:

- fare badly in comparison with the abundant cover on 5th ed battlefields (including gun drone screens)
- have the same armour and toughness as their controller, and so they:
- are better on 2+ save units
- can help adjust majority toughness for wound rolls
- do increase the squad's resistance to heavy weapons, and even though my luck's terrible I still take a few

So yeah. 4+ cover saves for all, that 4+ invulnerable isn't looking so worth it these days. I would mostly take shield drones to protect suits that are likely to leave cover to perform their role.

Having a drone with a 2+ save is twice as good as having one with a 3+ save. Especially because the natural response, termie-killers, have to eat the drone's 4+ save instead. And then maybe kill a drone. Especially on Broadsides, these extra, hardened wounds can soak up the sparse heavy weaponry that can get range and LoS, and extend their lifespan by several turns. On iridium suits, it can work, but the expense had better be worth it.

They can also be used to harden up a team of any size by ensuring that the majority toughness is always 4. Monats pay more for this than larger teams, and duats get to make exactly half the squad T4 (so pay least).

I have a jaded view on shield drones, because they fail me time and again. But the odds putting them on your broadsides or iridium suit are actually really cool.

Remember all drones can fight in cc

Battlesuits are likely to be your crisis (ha!) management teams, or the spearhead of a mont'ka. Overwhelming force means just that, overwhelming, and a final charge with S5 battlesuits and a drone swarm can be just that last bit of local carnage a Tau general needs. If you think of marker drones and shield drones as giving up a weapons slot, you're almost, but not quite, correct.

Infantry squads

I am not a huge fan of attaching drones to infantry. Firstly, you give up their jet packs, which automatically makes it less worthwhile than attaching them elsewhere. Carbine Firewarriors can already buy enough guns to fill their transport, and carbine pathfinders have markerlights > pulse carbines. Shield drones could conceivably be used to toughen infantry, but who cares? You can only field 2 per team so generally, cover is better. Get the infantry behind a drone shield from a vehicle. Marker drones don't belong on infantry. Maybe putting them on pathfinders is worth it, but they'll cost the same amount elsewhere in your army and they'd be more valuable on your elites.

Conclusion: stealth teams are the winnar!

Drones work best in battlesuit teams, rather than on infantry. Gun, shield, and marker drones can add spot functionality to any suit, but they gain different advantages based on the exact combination. In small numbers, drones add a fairly linear buff to the squad: shield drones absorb two heavy wounds, gun drones add half a 5/5 18" hit per turn, marker drones give you a few more hits. As total (firing) team size increases, though, marker drones become cost-effective, and shield drones become more valuable.

Shield drones should protect high-value targets through heavy weapon mitigation and majority toughness sploits. On any other controller, a gun drone is a cheaper ablative wound.

Gun drones can project short-range anti-infantry fire and pinning tests. They should be paired with a team who will be using these capabilities.

Marker drones should be placed on any team that has more than about 180 points invested in shooting, to force-multiply, or on lone-wolf style units to paint targets of opportunity for other force elements.

In small teams, drones should be used to advance mission-critical tasks: shield drones can protect your positional relay, marker drones can allow your flankers to paint seeker targets and occasionally buff their shooting. If using them for shooting, take as many team members as you can afford (both points-wise and in terms of unit footprint).

As team size increases, drone buffs can multiply with each other and get seriously cost-effective (but expensive! expensive but powerful!). Gun drones + marker drones... wait, no: gun drones x marker drones.

To exploit this synergy to the fullest, it is best to match the gun drones up with a controller who has the same effective range and preferred target as they do. Crisis suits rarely carry burst cannons or the like, though Aurora and Bladestorm suits can benefit. If I'm running gun drones with Crisis suits, it's generally on a Command Team sporting CIB, AFP and some Aurora. A cheap, brutal anti-infantry team with cheap extra endurance from 4 gun drones and 1 shield drone.

Stealth teams, though, have a gun with an identical stat line, and the same per-shot cost. The synergy is perfect. However, buying 3 gun drones instead of 1 stealth shas'ui brings extra wounds, pinning, and all the other drone stuff. They also gain the stealth suit, gaining even better value. Finally, stealth teams may have the most models in them out of any battlesuit team, and can thus abuse marker drones the hardest. While you might not want to use a full 18-model squad, once you have 6 stealth suits and some gun drones marker drones essentially pay for themselves plus a profit.

Feedback plz ^_^ i'm especially interested to know how big a change this is from 4th ed.
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Old 09 Oct 2008, 08:37   #2 (permalink)
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Default Re: Drones in 5th edition

interesting breakdown, not sure I agree with everything presented here but I do agree with most of it.

You seem to be saying that a seeker missile fired at a target, when the marker light comes from behind will hit the rear armor? Am I understanding you here?

My other point: You have to consider the loss of pinning from the cheaper gun drones when taking maker drones for these lone wolf squads. for 5 pts you can set them to a different target. If you get lucky and pin a unit that would otherwise be causing your team a great ammount of stress the next round, it could be worth the loss of the networked markerlights. Particularly when you consider the gun drones would be 25 points cheaper, after paying for being able to target something else.

Other than that, the article looks sound.
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Old 09 Oct 2008, 09:14   #3 (permalink)
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Default Re: Drones in 5th edition

Just for the record, the direction the markerlight comes from is irrelevant. Which facing is hit by the seeker missile is entirely dependant on where the launch platform is.

EG: Stealth Marker team mark a vindicator on the side and that light is used to launch a seeker from a devilfish sitting in the targets front arc, it is the front armour that is impacted, not the side.
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Old 09 Oct 2008, 09:21   #4 (permalink)
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Default Re: Drones in 5th edition

right, hence my curiosity if he thought it hit from the side of the marker
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Old 09 Oct 2008, 11:55   #5 (permalink)
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Default Re: Drones in 5th edition

Originally Posted by emmagine
You seem to be saying that a seeker missile fired at a target, when the marker light comes from behind will hit the rear armor? Am I understanding you here?
No, sorry, that wasn't clear. I hope the new wording doesn't suggest that anymore.

I was thinking about the tactic I had in mind, that combines a marker drone on any suit with a Piranha, for a first or second turn tag-team tankbusting. What I was trying to suggest was that the utility of a mobile markerlight must be considered against it's high cost. The new wording emphasises that the 'light is now Relentless.

Originally Posted by emmagine
My other point: You have to consider the loss of pinning from the cheaper gun drones when taking maker drones for these lone wolf squads. for 5 pts you can set them to a different target. If you get lucky and pin a unit that would otherwise be causing your team a great ammount of stress the next round, it could be worth the loss of the networked markerlights.
Nice, thanks. I've included your suggestion and made a bunch of other edits that it inspired.
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Old 09 Oct 2008, 17:55   #6 (permalink)
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Default Re: Drones in 5th edition

While my search turned up no hits, I am certain that someone has brought this up before (or maybe it was ATT). In any case, since this is such a drone centered topic I have my own little use for my gun drones (be it a full blown squad or a pair that left its vehicle). No tactic works 100% in the field, but if you see this opportunity, take it.

I believe they called it 'drone sniping'. In objective based games, the enemy must be close to their objective to hold it. The simple maneuver is to use some 'spare' drones (the enemy is unlikely to shoot at a pair of drones) to assault the enemy squad trying to hold an objective. This works best when you have last turn. While some of you are saying, uh huh good job you contested an objective, I remind you that "defenders react"! This means the enemy moves up to 6 inches to get into combat. Therefore, that squad of Orks that is spread out over an objective to avoid hammerhead templates undoubtedly has at least 1 Ork who is not within 3 inches. When you assault him, his boyz all rush to his aid, and off the objective.

Bear in mind this doesn't work with HUGE troops defending (30 Orks go whack whack and your two drones are now drone pizza). I was very pumped when I pulled this off against a unit of marines though, the look on his face was priceless.
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Old 09 Oct 2008, 18:01   #7 (permalink)
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Default Re: Drones in 5th edition

OUTSTANDING!!! I love this plan....I'm glad to be apart of this new fad!!! ;D
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Old 10 Oct 2008, 13:44   #8 (permalink)
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Default Re: Drones in 5th edition

Ah yes, I have found the original article. Written by Fio'O Yr'Doran on Advanced Tau Tactica. He calls it charge sniping. As well he has written (and other members have discussed) tactics associated with objective nabbing in mind.

Glad to finally have a source .
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Old 10 Oct 2008, 16:18   #9 (permalink)
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Default Re: Drones in 5th edition

I have a ton of drones waiting to be painted. I plan on using them with my stealth team (damn the point cost) and field a cloud of them also. Rather then use Kroot, why not deep strike a pod of twin linked carbines for around the same cost?
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Old 10 Oct 2008, 17:10   #10 (permalink)
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Default Re: Drones in 5th edition

Thanks guys, I've included your points and tracked down a link to that article you mentioned. Also a host of minor clarifications, and the addition of information on morale, objectives and kill points, and the fixing of a major error where I said that vehicle's drones aren't worth kill points! Oops!

Originally Posted by Col.Angus
I plan on using them with my stealth team (damn the point cost) and field a cloud of them also. Rather then use Kroot, why not deep strike a pod of twin linked carbines for around the same cost?
You could strike drones in, and in a lot of situations you might want to. But if you want them supporting your stealths, just add more to the squad! That way you ensure they come down together. If you already have a full 18-model stealth swarm, you probably don't need more drones. Probably.

48 points of gun drones also works well with the positional relay manipulation to buy yourself an extra turn of delay at the expense of a fast attack slot. I'm going to try it but in larger points games I'd rather get strong mobile assets on early. At low points though, your whole army can stay safe til turn 4 or even 5.

The big advantages to Kroot are their assault skill, their forest bunker and the fact that they are Troops. They can also enter the table more safely, but without the flexibility of the gun drones. Overall I'd say there is no clear winner; it depends on your army build. I'd tend towards Kroot, but then I'm also the guy reminding you to stomp face with close-assaulting marker drones.
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