40K Fluff: Tau are not NICE!

A guest article by Whitedragon.

I really like to explore 40k fluff.  I don’t care what anybody says, Warhammer 40,000 has some of the richest fluff and the biggest area to explore out of any other TT game (and many other genres).  There are just so many things going on, and with the entire galaxy at stake there are countless numbers of stories that can be told.  Heck, with the way the Warp interferes with travelling, you can even do crazy time travel shenanigans if you want.  There are also a myriad of alien races that add countless numbers of characters and civilizations to explore.

Some will argue that out of all the races in 40k, the Tau are the most one-dimensional.  They do everything for the “Greater Good.” and they appear to be 40k’s only token good guys.  (Ultramarines notwithstanding).  In my opinion distilling the Tau down to such a simple stance does them a huge disservice.  The Tau have the potential to be explored quite a bit further than to just say, “Oh they are good guys because they fight for the Greater Good.

I don’t know about all of you readers out there, but I’ve always thought of quotation marks whenever I read “The Greater Good.”  Who is it really good for?  The Tau?  Well certainly, but what does that really mean.  Let’s look at them a little further.  The Tau are ruled by the Ethereals, who just sorta appeared out of thin air one day, and then told the Tau to stop fighting.  And then, miraculously, the Tau did just that.  I’ve always thought there was a more sinister purpose or design behind the Ethereals, and that even if Games Workshop doesn’t want to admit it, it always seemed to me that the Ethereals were using some sort of mind control, or other sinister something to control the different castes.

This same feeling can be seen with the way the Tau Empire “welcomes” new races into the fold.  Take the Vespid for example.  Their squad leader wear’s a special helmet to communicate with the Tau forces.  I’m sure there could be a case made to show a more sinister purpose then just communication.

The Tau Caste system itself is pretty rigid, and doesn’t really allow much social mobility for the Tau.  If you’re an Earth Caste, that’s what you are for life.  I can’t imagine that somewhere in the history of the Tau there hasn’t been a story of a disenfranchised worker than tries to jump his caste/station.  Maybe such things exist but the Tau are really good at covering it up?  That would make for a really interesting story I think.

Have I convinced you?


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11 Responses to “40K Fluff: Tau are not NICE!”

  1. IronfrontAlex July 11, 2012 1:04 am #

    Wasn’t O’Shava a disgruntled commander so he and his force went AWOL

  2. Kraggi July 11, 2012 4:15 am #

    Yes you have convinced me.

    Good Article

  3. Kynth July 11, 2012 6:10 am #

    Not only do I read “The Greater Good” in quotation marks, I also hear the Sandford Neighbourhood Watch chanting it every time I read it!


  4. Puretide July 11, 2012 8:09 am #

    No but you do make good points to be honest tho It is strange how the ethereals came and save tau from wiping themselves out, saying that GW can always change fluff when they want to.

    But compared to all the over races in the game we prefer to talk over going to war with other races and try and show them the benifits of the greater good we also value all life their are no
    expendable people in the empire and we still let humans worship the emperor aslong as it dosn’t get in the way of the greater good.

    So compared to over races are we good yes are we but we can still be evil when need to be.

    • whitedragon July 12, 2012 8:56 am #

      Thanks for the comments!

      However, I think you may be glossing over some of the “dark spots” on the Tau Empire’s ledger, as well as maybe taking what they say too literally. Sure it sounds all nice for the “Greater Good”, but “who’s” good is it? If it’s just for the Tau themselves, than that’s not really “good” for anyone else, and I’m sure the Tau have no problem escorting you off their planet at gunpoint. (That is if they haven’t already shot you.)

      Nobody is saying the Tau are “evil” mind you, but I’m also of the opinion that no faction/race in 40k can be summed up as being “pure good or evil”.

      I’m definitely convinced that “The Greater Good” goes only as far as the picture taken for the recruitment poster!

  5. Resv July 11, 2012 8:17 am #

    If your interested to learn a bit more I suggest taking a look at the book “Fire Warrior.” Yeah it is the novelization of the PS2 game and some of the writing can be kind of weak, but the book does shed some light into the society and philosophy of the Tau.

    There are plenty of mentions of “re-education camps” where Tau citizens might be placed should they get along in the system. Also, the notion of the “machine” where each Tau is nothing but a cog, part of the greater whole sort of deal. The Tau are prejudiced and racist, but not as violently so as Humans, but more in the “we pity your existence” sort of way. They look at other races as nothing more than children and savages that have yet to realize the worth of the greater good. There is little effort to hide the view that Kroot and the like are nothing more than second class citizens, though they are not treated as slaves, just less than Tau.

    The most interesting bits I found were the parts about how important the media is with the Tau, admittedly propaganda, but that there is a thriving practice of journalism in Tau society. Also, the effects of having an Ethereal around, even speaking near by, has on Tau. It isn’t so much like a drug but rather a super powerful trance where Tau become very focused at the task at hand. I don’t think so much that the Ethereals have brainwashed the rest of their race but rather have some sort of ability to make each Tau realize their purpose in life.

    The “Greater Good” can come at a high price though, and some times massive sacrifices are made in its name. So I agree the Tau are not benevolent at all, but are much more reflective of Daoist, Confucian, or even parts of Maoist Communism.

    • whitedragon July 12, 2012 8:53 am #

      I completely agree. Tau certainly have alot going on that leads one to raise the eyebrow.

      Being “in the Tau Empire” and not as a Tau can’t be all that exciting, although for humans maybe the choice between the soul crushing Imperium makes it an easy decision. But yes, a human Tau Empire citizen will never hold office or do anything more than be a simple laborer. Same is true for any race.

      The ethereal question is another thing that is very…odd. I would love GW to explore this a little bit more, but on the other hand, having some mystery is part of what makes it so exciting. Whatever “power” they have over the other Tau, I just can’t help but think its for nothing other than selfish interests.

      Great comments!

  6. benji July 11, 2012 9:09 am #

    Never really read Tau fluff, I always just assumed they were blue space communists….

  7. Puretide July 11, 2012 12:21 pm #

    we are not evil just misunderstood 😛

    • Chris a.k.a. Ozymandias July 13, 2012 10:02 am #

      That’s just what evil space communists WOULD say! 🙂

  8. cultis party May 29, 2013 1:35 pm #

    Nice is a poor descriptor. The greater good is more of a basic concept, SURVIVAL OF THE WHOLE. This philosophy is what allows the Tau to see past the petty differences of race and theology. This is what makes them so powerful (despite folks thinking them squishy). However the greater good may not always be morally acceptable. for example the time may come when they are forced to exterminate a planet or race that is a terminal threat the empire.

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