This post has been updated since its original publication to reflect points changes in CA2018
Though somewhat small and non-imposing, most tactical drones are equipped with pulse weaponry that can easily destroy unsuspecting enemies. They are able to operate outside of direct Fire Caste control and are often utilized on “seek and destroy” type missions. When used in conjunction with other T’au forces, namely those that are actually alive, Drones embody the Great Good. They are programmed with Savior Protocols and give their “lives” for other T’au Empire members readily.
On the tabletop, Tactical Drones come in three variants: Gun, Shield, and Markerlight drones. Units of Tactical Drones must include at least 4, but up to 12 total drone models of any combination of the three types of drones.
MV1 Gun Drone
MV4 Shield Drone
MV7 Marker Drone
Each Gun Drone is equipped with two Pulse Carbines (each Assault 2 S5 AP0 D1). Each Marker Drone is equipped with a Markerlight (Heavy 1 that operates by the Markerlight table).
- For the Greater Good
- Allows units within 6″ of a charged unit to fire overwatch as if they were the target of the charge, at the cost of not being able to fire overwatch again that turn.
- Manta Strike
- Able to deepstrike up to > 9″ away from an enemy unit
- Savior Protocols
- If within 3″ of a T’au sept <Infantry> or <Battlesuit> unit when that unit is wounded by an enemy attack, roll a D6. On a 2+ that wound is transferred to the unit of Drones and the damage is changed to a single mortal wound instead of the normal damage.
- Stable Platforms
- No penalty to moving and firing a heavy weapon
- Shield Generator
- Shield Drones have a 4+ invulnerable save. Each time they lose a wound roll a D6, on a 5 or higher, that wound is negated.
- Drone Support
- Drones included by being taken with other units take on the battlefield role of the unit that took them. The drones become a separate unit after being set up in coherency with the unit that took them, during deployment.
- Threat Identification Protocols
- During the Shooting phase, Gun Drones can only target the nearest visible unit.
Whether you’re taking a unit of Tactical Drones separately, or accompanied by many of the units that can take them (Firewarriors, Cadre Fireblades, Stealth Teams, etc. etc. ), they pretty much always reference this data slate and these rules, so it’s worth really knowing this information well for both T’au players and opponents alike. As an important little quirk, these Tactical Drones (when taken with other units) gain the battlefield role of the unit they were taken with. That means that although the data slate of these Tactical Drones is Fast Attack normally if they were taken with something like a Broadside, the drone unit functions as a Heavy Support unit when it is deployed, splits off, and goes about its own thing. This becomes important in missions where the role is important like Big Guns Never Tire, etc. It’s also worth noting that if you take them with Troops, the <Drone> keyword specifically doesn’t get the objective secured special rule, which is a bit disappointing.
Staring with the Gun Drone, we have a fairly efficient unit. A two-point reduction from Chapter Approved 2018 has resulted in these being an attractive alternative choice to the Strike Team – the golden standard of T’au S5 shooting. The Gun Drone has better toughness than a Firewarrior, but can’t gain access to cover bonuses as easily thanks to the lack of the <Infantry> keyword. It’s also got a BS5+ compared to the Firewarrior’s BS4+, but with more ways to improve it and more shots per model even in ideal circumstances for the Strike Team. As a result, it’s definitely comparable to the standard Firewarrior carrying a pulse rifle, but unsupported, it’s just not quite as good while being slightly more expensive. T’au Sept Gunn Drones effectively get a second shooting phase while firing overwatch, thanks to hitting on 5’s and 6″ in both phases.
In order to take full advantage of Gun Drones, as with most T’au units, you’re going to have to really synergize well. To do this, consider taking a Cadre Fireblade (you were taking this anyway, remember?), a Drone Controller, and lots of markerlights. By doing so, you can improve the BS5+ to a BS3+, rerolling 1’s To-Hit, and fire 6 shots per drone at less than 9″ (thanks to a recent Codex FAQ clarification that the Cadre Fireblade grants one additional shot per weapon when firing a specified pulse weapon at half range). At just 10 points a model, this is formidable and doesn’t require too much above and beyond anything you wouldn’t normally have at your disposal.
They can be taken as their own unit if you wanted, but in order to try and reduce your number of drops, it’s sometimes done to take these Gun Drones as accompanying drones to another unit. This ends up with potentially more units, a drawback with ITC missions. It’s not a bad decision to take these alongside something like a Stealth Team or Hazard Suit in order to give them a ready source of Drone Controller, which in most cases can be worth the point investment when you’re taking Gun Drones in sufficiently large numbers.
It’s good to pay attention to their limitation in unit targeting, namely that they have to target the nearest enemy unit when shooting, especially if you’re heavily investing in them. Careful positioning will be required to ensure that you’re focusing your firepower appropriately.
Due to their sheer number of shots (which is notable at 4 for a single low-cost unit), Gun Drones can end up being effective on overwatch too. When taken as T’au sept, Gun Drones are just as accurate during overwatch (hitting on 5’s thanks to T’au sept rules) as they are during the Shooting phase. As the T’au sept brings a lot else to the table, so much so that you’d probably consider at least a detachment of them anyway in most lists, this can be a good way to add some defense to your list against charges.
Moving on to Marker Drones, I’m less inclined to recommend them. It goes back to the same premise as Gun Drones: unsupported Marker Drones are worse than Pathfinders at doing their job – getting markerlights. They’re also less-resilient than <Character> markerlight sources. Yes, the Marker Drones are tougher and have a better save, but the Pathfinders will hit more often unless they move and then both Pathfinder and Drone are hitting on 5’s so it’s a wash. Pathfinders are more versatile and, unsupported, better. I need my markerlights to support my other units, I don’t want to have to support my Marker Drones in order to get the markerlights needed to support my other units.
Marker Drones’ BS can be increased just like Gun Drones’ BS can be increased, namely by a Drone Controller or other markerlights. This is a bit beside the point because you’re assuming you have 5 markerlights on something that you’re shooting with more markerlights, which would never be the case. I’d much rather fill out markerlights with Marksmen, Fireblades, and Pathfinders rather than any other solution that involves Marker Drones, simply because of the lack of versatility and near requirement of support that the Marker Drones need.
If you want to a tougher source of markerlights and don’t mind supporting them, taking markerlights alongside a Stealth Team equipped with at least one Drone Controller is the way to go. This will allow them to remain mobile but still hit half the time. Either that or some mid/backfield suit that can take Drone Controller like Broadside or Riptide (though there are definitely better support systems for the Riptide to buff it).
And then there was one: the Shield Drone. This is the most useful tactical drone in my opinion and the only one I can honestly recommend taking unaccompanied. A 4+/4++/5+++ is a beast to get through when you combine with large unit size and hide out of line of sight. Shield Drones exist for savior protocols and they perform amazingly here. They have no weapons so they never need LoS to anything. As a result, you should be hiding them within 3″ of something like one of your Riptides but out of enemy LoS. This will result in your opponent having to commit valuable LoS-ignoring weapons to take them out, taking some heat off your other units. And the best part is that if they don’t have enough firepower, it’s very feasible for you to shrug off their damage via the invulvnerable or FnP saves. A large unit of 8-10, even visible to most of the enemy units, can end up requiring more firepower than expected for your opponent to take out. This will keep your other units alive longer and buy your overall army more time. One of the best ways around to spend 10 points.
Shield Drones pair well with anything that you want to keep alive and can utilize savior protocols. Riptide can’t actually take Tactical Drones, instead only being able to take Shielded Missile Drones, so this is where I routinely take a unit of 4-6 Shield drones as a Fast Attack unit in order to protect my Riptide firebase. 6 Shield Drones per Riptide is too much as it invests too many points in keeping your Riptides alive and turns out to be too expensive. Instead, I think somewhere around 6-8 for three Riptides or 4-6 for 2 is about right. You’re mainly wanting to ensure the Riptides live to turn two to keep them putting the hurt on your enemy, not guaranteeing they never take a wound all game. Investing more points in Shield Drones than that has ended up unnecessarily reducing firepower.
Remember that Savior Protocols is sept-locked, meaning that both the drone and the saved unit have to be in the same sept. When building multi-sept lists, make sure that you’re not incorrectly rolling Savior Protocols from a drone that doesn’t match a battlesuit’s sept. Most of the time, I’m wanting to start the Shield Drones on the table (either taking with a unit or as a separate unit) in order to be present to take advantage of Savior Protocols, but there are some instances when you might want to deepstrike them. If you’re playing some battlesuit that is hyper-aggressive (Y’Vahra for instance) and you feel you might outrun or quickly outlive your surrounding few Shield Drones, being able to Manta Strike in a unit of Shield Drones to replenish their protection is tactically advisable.
As they are all T4, you’ll need above and beyond the standard bolter to reliably put a dent in Tactical Drones. Mortar Teams (also S4) taken in mass could be effective at clearing out hard-to-reach Tactical Drones, as with other weapons with similar tactics. Gun Drones require substantial support to be a threat (Cadre Fireblade, markerlights, Drone Controller, etc.) so by taking out those supporting units, you can quickly reduce the efficiency of the Gun Drones. Marker Drones are the same. The real threat posed by Shield Drones is their resiliency and the toughness they provide to their surrounding <Infantry> and <Battlesuit> units. Mass shots/attacks are definitely the way to go here, as they are definitely resilient with their invuln and FnP saves. Clearing out the Shield Drones first before trying to tackle a Riptide is necessary though and will prevent you from wasting valuable high damage shots on Savior Protocols. They can suffer quite severely from poor leadership and morale losses if your T’au opponent doesn’t have an Ethereal nearby (which they should most of the time), so use that to your advantage.
Tactical Drones in all variants may not be a current staple of T’au units, but at least a subset of them are namely Shield Drones. It’s important to understand your enemy – what they can and can’t do – in order to plan against it. Tactical Drones and Shield Drones, in particular, bring a boost to an already strong mechanic – Savior Protocols, that can result in downright dirty games should the T’au player’s dice be hot. Understanding how to crack the Tactical Drones is important to be able to understand how to crack the remainder of the T’au army.
Do you use all types of Tactical Drones or just a subset?
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