Tau Codex Review: Elites: DX-4 Technical Support Drones

“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.

Overview

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.

Uses

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?)

Countering

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

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About abusepuppy

AbusePuppy is the one who has been ruining 40K for everyone this whole time. He is also searching for the six-fingered man and is one of the three people who know the secret recipe for coke (not the soda, the illegal drug.)

9 Responses to “Tau Codex Review: Elites: DX-4 Technical Support Drones”

  1. Kevin Lantz January 16, 2019 5:43 am #

    If they had made the remove cover ability apply to attacks from a unit within x inches rather than the target of the attack having to be so close, they would be super useful.

    • abusepuppy January 16, 2019 7:30 am #

      Yeah, that’d make it a ton more helpful. As it stands, it’s not completely worthless, but I think I’ve only ever used it… once, maybe?

      Still, any Forge World unit that offers a legitimately unique and interesting option with appropriate costing is nice to see.

  2. Hotsauceman1 January 16, 2019 10:33 am #

    With wanting to use the riptides Nova reactor every turn, this does help negate that.

  3. happy_inquisitor January 16, 2019 11:02 am #

    I think it is worth noting that along with other abilities which do not specify “friendly” phase the repair ability of the DX4 drones works in both player’s shooting phases. Over a game, in the unlikely event that your opponent leaves those drones alone, that can really add up. Wounds on a Riptide cost around 20 points each so if your unit of DX4 drones manage to heal 2 or more wounds before getting deleted they earned their keep in your list.

    Realistically the only way to keep your DX4 drones alive to do their thing is to hide them in a devilfish and jump them out when you have wounded battlesuits needing healing. They then get to roll in your shooting phase and in the opposing shooting phase which usually be their last. Unfortunately devilfish rarely have much of a place in battlesuit-heavy lists which leaves no good place to hide those drones until they are needed; one of the reasons why I find them awkward to include in lists.

    The other issue with them is of course kill points, an issue they share with the other specialist drones (such as the Pathfinder drones and Guardian drone). In the CA18 missions this is hardly an issue of concern so go ahead with all those funky drones if you want to spice up a list, in ITC it is an issue as it can hand your opponent easy VP in both the primary and the secondary missions.

    • abusepuppy January 16, 2019 11:42 am #

      It’s true, although I would be shocked if any TO allowed it to work that way; it’s pretty clearly supposed to be used in your own shooting phase. But if you can get away with it, more power to you I suppose.

      Tau tend to play for elimination anyways, so while you often bleed kill points on turns 1, 2, and sometimes 3, by the time you’re getting to the mid- or late-game stages, you hopefully have blasted most of the enemy’s relevant units off the table and can let your battlesuits keep working unhindered, at which point you should start to pull back ahead. (Of course, that’s in ITC, but Nova and Renegade are fairly similar; it’s really only in rulebook missions that it’s a major problem.)

      • happy_inquisitor January 16, 2019 12:05 pm #

        The FAQ was pretty clear on the subject

        Q: If an ability does not state its effects take place in a ‘friendly’
        phase or ‘enemy’ phase, does that mean it works in every such
        phase (e.g. Mortarion’s Host of Plagues ability, which takes effect
        ‘at the start of the Fight phase’)?
        A: Yes.

        Now if it was me that may have got a different answer but this is the GW answer so if a TO tried to overturn it I would be a little shocked.

        • abusepuppy January 17, 2019 12:15 am #

          I’m aware of the RAW on the subject, I just don’t expect that is what Forge World intended to rule to do. There have been several other abilities that have had “on your turn only” text added to them, and I think this one fits that mold more closely than it does something like Mortarion’s aura.

          • happy_inquisitor January 17, 2019 12:48 am
            #

            Like I said, I personally would not have written the rule that way. GW wrote the rule and the FAQ.

            Where I differ is that I do not think a TO should be picking and choosing which abilities they think this should apply to. There cannot be an argument that it is so obviously broken that they cannot possibly have meant what it says – on a unit that by your own description is far from great. Nor can we say that having a repair ability work in both player turns is fundamentally broken, other repair abilities/stratagems exist which work exactly like that without breaking the game.

            Until GW issue an errata this is what the rules say, play it according to the rules. If you run into a TO who tries to ban it, do not waste your time and money on their events in future for they clearly have issues.

          • abusepuppy January 17, 2019 3:23 am
            #

            I don’t think it’s a matter of liking or not liking what TOs do- whether you agree with it or not, TOs often make such ruling based on RAI. I don’t think it’s feasible to play 40K purely RAW, even in 8th edition; there are too many ambiguous wordings, awkward omissions, and flat-out contradictory sources.

            Most people also don’t have the luxury of completely avoiding events that don’t rule everything the way they want it to be, most especially for their local tournaments (to say nothing of events like LVO.) While there certainly should be a threshold for making such a decision, disagreeing with a single, fairly ambiguous case probably isn’t it- I mean, I personally feel the “enclosed ruin” rules are detrimental to the game, but I’ll still be going to it because that alone isn’t enough to drive me away even though it is an outright alteration of the rules of the game.

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