“It looks like you’re trying to increase the number of wounds your battlesuit has! Would you like help with that?” Click to read on, or check out the Tactics Corner for more reviews and strategies.
The DC-4 Technical Drone is representative of the wide array of nonmilitary drones in use by the Tau Empire; from construction and repair purposes to medical and rescue, from teaching and facilitative use to companions and therapudic roles, the Tau employ drones in practically every facet of life and have literally thousands of different types of AIs in use all throughout their civilization, especially in roles that don’t need (or would be too dangerous) for an organic presence. Unlike the Imperium, who blindly distrust artificial intelligences, the Tau are happy to employ them and have progressed significantly in their development of various kinds of “weak” AI strategies for improved learning algorhythms, though as yet they don’t have any that approach true sentience.
On the battlefield, the DX-4 is a fairly standard drone chassis with all of the usual features- toughness four and 4+ armor save make it reasonably resilient, while strength 3 and one attack make it a pretty sad combatant. Weapon skill and ballistic skill 5+ also contribute to its underwhelming combat performance, although given its intended role (in both the fiction and in the game) this should hardly be considered a major limiter. They can be taken in squads of two or more at sixteen points per model, although there is very little reason to ever take anything beyond a minimum-size squad.
Special Rules and Wargear
Like all drones, DX-4s can use Savior Protocols to protect nearby battlesuits or infantry at the cost of their own selves on a 2+; if successful, one of the drones will be slain and a single wound to the protected unit is negated.
A Technical Drone unit can also activate one of two protocols each turn, although you will almost always use the repair protocol, since that’s why you would want to bring them. The protocol is activated in the shooting phase; if repair is chosen, it succeeds on a 4+ and returns d3 lost wounds to a battlesuit. Alternatively, you can use the surveyor protocol, which targets an enemy unit within 12″ and denies them the benefit of cover until your next turn. Note that neither protocol prevents you from shooting with the drones, although you can only use one protocol (per squad) each turn.
Each drone also carries a Defensive Charge (8″ S5 AP0 Pistol 1), their nominal defensive armament. You will rarely get to fire it, as most opponents will kill the Technical Drones long before they are in range to even roll overwatch, but less actually use it in the shooting phase, but it is at least a weapon, which is better than nothing. Note that even the Tau Empire’s shittiest backup gun is a significant upgrade from the Lasrifle in most ways.
At a glance, Technical Drones are a pretty unremarkable healer unit, in line with Apothecaries, Techpriests, etc. Aside from lacking the character keyword (and thus being a lot cheaper), they are a fairly standard iteration of that type, which while useful has not proved particularly impressive overall and doesn’t generally make appearances in tournament lists. However, there are a number of important differences that we can pick out if we look at them more closely, and the fact that they are available to Tau (as opposed to other factions) make a significant difference as well.
The first thing we should note is that, while each squad can only use a protocol once per turn, there is no limitation for multiple squads to use the same protocol- so you can potentially give a battlesuit back 3d3 wounds in a single turn, if you’re rolling hot. But do remember that unlike most repair abilities, it only works at random, which means even with a CP you may not get what you want/need. Still, especially in combination with the Automated Repair Systems stratagem (which can be activated during either players’ movement phase), you can heal a battlesuit for a lot over the course of a single battle round, easily bringing them from their bottom tier back up to full.
This is important because Tau suits are generally quite vulnerable to attrition, especially Riptides; even with Savior Protocols around, you will periodically fail that 2+ to pass wounds off or simply take damage from attacks you don’t want to pass to drones- such as low-value hits like from a Bolter or the like. Beyond that, the Riptide in particular will be suffering a wound virtually every turn of the game from its Nova Reactor ability, which means you are going to lose almost half your starting wounds to your own effects. Technical Drones can help stem this bleeding by getting you back a few of those self-inflicted wounds as well as anything that slips through your other defenses, and since it is activated in the shooting phase (while the Reactor is used during movement) you can keep your Riptide topped off pretty easily with some good rolls.
Of course, this is making some very generous assumptions about what your opponent is going to do and completely ignores their impact on the table. In reality, Technical Drones (like most drones) generally die in the opening turns of the game, although occasionally the opponent will be unable to reach them or forget about them and they will survive longer. But as drone targets typically need to be eliminated in order to hurt battlesuits, I find that most of your drones will die to enemy fire (or to sacrificial acts) fairly early on in the game for the most part, which means you won’t actually get as much healing time out of them as you’d like. Hiding them behind terrain sometimes works, as a lot of armies lack indirect fire and the Riptide’s range is long enough that it can often hover near some cover to keep the drones within 3″ of itself.
Also, don’t feel bad about sacrificing a DX-4 drone in order to absorb a hit- for one, the first drone in the squad is 100% chaff, doing absolutely nothing but adding an ablative wound to the squad. For two, the job of the Technical Drones is to keep the battlesuits alive. If that means healing them, great- but if that means sacrificing themselves in the usual drone fashion, that’s fine, too. A DX-4 squad heals an average of one wound per turn to a battlesuit- so if you jump in front of that Lascannon to keep your suit alive, you’re actually doing basically three turns worth of work right there, which is perfectly fine.
(Also, on a weird side note: for some reason, DX-4 Drones can’t repair vehicles, despite that seeming like a pretty obvious thing they would be used for and Tau being the most technical and repair-minded of the factions. I guess they just… forgot how for some reason?)
Like most drone units, which exist mainly to protect battlesuits, the solution is pretty simple: you shoot them and they die. Although they are reasonably resilient to basic firepower, any kind of dedicated weapon (e.g. a Heavy Bolter) will bring them down pretty easily, and if your faction has access to indirect weapons such as mortars then that is even better. Chipping away at all the drones will usually take a turn or two before you can affect the battlesuits, but remember that the range on Savior Protocols is only 3″; if there are multiple battlesuits on the field, it is generally not possible to have all of the drone units in range to protect all of the suits, so you can focus your firepower on particular sections in order to expose some of the battlesuits to being targeted by your heavier guns. Also, as with all non-Shield drones, it is generally better to aim more powerful weapons at drone units rather than targeting the battlesuits directly while the drones are alive, as you will wound them more easily.
While most Forge World units are fairly useless these days, the DX-4 Drones are one of the small handful that can be worth finding their way into a list now and again. They’re certainly not a blowout unit, but they fill an Elite slot cheaply (always useful) and can do the main thing other drones do while also bringing a handy secondary ability to the field as well. Although they’re no longer sold on the FW store, it’s fairly trivial to convert up a set if you care to try the unit out- and if you’re running Riptides in particular, I would suggest you give them a shot at some point.
Also, remember you can get your wargaming supplies at great discounts every day from the Frontline Gaming store, whether you’re looking to start a new army or expand an existing one.