How Should Markerlights Work in 9th?

In my article last week, I discussed the problems with the Markerlight system. I focused on the challenge of getting five Markerlights on a target and the different options that T’au players have when it comes to this issue.

This week, I’m going to discuss how the system itself could change. There is, of course, plenty of overlap between these two discussions, so I’d recommend reading my article last week if you haven’t done so already.

To begin, let’s take a look at the Markerlight system as it currently works. T’au players fire Markerlights at enemy units in order to gain benefits for other T’au units when they shoot at the same target. There are five benefits, and they are cumulative. The benefits are as follows:

  • One Markerlight on an enemy target allows all other T’au units firing at that target to re-roll hit rolls of 1.
  • Two hits allows Seeker Missiles to be fired at the model’s Ballistic Skill (otherwise Seekers would hit on 6s).
  • Three hits allows the firing unit to ignore the target’s cover.
  • Four hits allows the firing unit to move and shoot Heavy without penalty and advance and fire Assault weapons without penalty.
  • Five hits allows the firing unit to add 1 to hit rolls.

There are some great effects here, and there are some that are somewhat negligible. Re-rolling 1s to hit and adding 1 to hit rolls are both excellent bonuses, and these bonuses make T’au units far more accurate than they otherwise would be.

However, as I said last week, it’s not always so easy to get those five hits on a target. I think that the system should change in order for more fewer hits to grant more benefits, but we’ll come to that in a moment.

Three Markerlights allows T’au units to ignore cover, which is another solid bonus — there is a lot of cover out there in 9th edition — but it’s the two-Markerlight and four-Markerlight bonuses where we see less utility.

The Seeker Missile effect is fine — but only if the T’au player is taking Seekers. At the moment, most T’au lists contain few if any Seeker Missiles. The Skyray isn’t particularly popular at the moment, and we tend not to see Seekers attached to Piranhas because they tend to be destroyed quite early on. Broadsides can take a Seeker each, which isn’t such a bad idea, but, generally speaking, T’au players Seldom take Seekers.

The bonuses to moving and shooting that four hits grants are, again, fine, but T’au players rarely need to take advantage of it. The big boys — Riptides, Ghostkeels, Broadsides — can move and shoot their Heavy weapons without penalty and the smaller chaps — Crisis Suits, Stealth Suits — can’t take Heavy weapons and seldom need to advance and shoot Assault weapons. Of course, it’s a nice bonus to have, but I think that the opportunity cost is too great. It should be replaced with something more appropriate to 9th edition.

With that in mind, what would a Markerlight system fit for 9th edition look like? Let’s get into some ideas.

If we’re going to stick with a table of cumulative bonuses — which we certainly wouldn’t have to — how could we make it more effective and less troublesome to get the best effects? Here’s one idea: make the Markerlight table itself smaller. What would this look like in practice? I think we could have a Markerlight table that works much the same as it does now, but that only grants three bonuses.

This way, we could keep the models that take Markerlights broadly the same — again, these models need an update, but let’s just presume for a moment that they stay mostly the same — and take advantage of better effects with fewer Markerlight hits.

How about this:

  • One Markerlight hit allows all other T’au Empire units to re-rolls 1s to hit when shooting at this target.
  • Two Markerlight hits allow all other T’au Empire units to ignore all negative hit modifiers when shooting at this target.
  • Three Markerlight hits allow all other T’au Empire units to add 1 to hit rolls when shooting at this target.

This system would make Markerlights a completely different beast to the way they are played now. The way Seeker Missiles work would have to change, of course, but that would be a small trade-off for such a powerful system.

How would this system affect the faction? Put simply, it would solve the issue of average Ballistic Skill. Indeed, T’au Battlesuits wouldn’t need to have a Ballistic Skill of 3 if this were the Markerlight system. This would be the case because it would be so much easier to get that magical +1 to hit rolls with this system. With our current stratagems, we could get three Markerlight hits with one Markerlight hit and two stratagems, Aerial Targeting and Uplinked Markerlight — I talk about both of these stratagems in my article last week, so go check it out if you need a refresher on how they work.

Of course, this would necessitate that these stratagems aren’t removed from the next T’au codex and that they don’t change for the worse, but we can only speculate on what will happen with our stratagems, so let’s just presume that they don’t change for the purposes of this exercise.

Now we have a reliable way of getting our key assets to hit their targets in the shooting phase. This one change would, I think, significantly improve the performance of the faction. It wouldn’t be a panacea, but it would go a hell of a long way.

Ignoring negative hit modifiers should be a part of the next Markerlight system, whatever it looks like, because the T’au need to be able to rely on the shooting phase to get their business done, and even one negative hit penalty can throw a spanner in the works for the T’au player.

This is essential because, at the moment at least, the T’au have no other way of dealing damage. We have no play in the Psychic phase. We have very little play in the Fight phase. If we have a bad Shooting phase, the wheels can very quickly come off. Whether this be in the form of a new Markerlight system or a new stratagem or something else entirely, I would argue that T’au players should have a way to ignore negative hit modifiers on at least one target.

The above Markerlight scenario, then, would be a simple, easy fix that would solve some of the faction’s key problems. But what other ideas could we bring to the table? Could Markerlights grant one-off bonuses in addition to or instead of the bonuses from the Markerlight table? For example:

  • For the cost of one Markerlight hit and in place of all the effects of the above table, one T’au Empire unit may make an additional shot with all Rapid Fire weapons at -1 AP when shooting at this target.

I think that this kind of effect might have some play. Of course, we could change the type of weapon that it affects, the number of shots it adds, and the modifier to the AP, but the fundamental idea remains the same: in place of increased accuracy, take more, higher quality shots on the unit’s weapons. I can’t imagine that it would be as popular as the Markerlight table that I discuss above, but it would be an interesting alternative in certain contexts.

This would, for example, be a great option for danger-close Fire Warriors supported by a Cadre Fireblade: four Pulse Rifle shots each at -1 AP would be a tempting choice for many T’au players.

Let’s continue down the path of one-and-done bonuses. Here’s another idea:

  • For the cost of one Markerlight hit and in place of all the effects of the above table, one T’au Empire unit may re-roll wound rolls of 1 when shooting at this target.

Again, such an ability wouldn’t be as popular as the accuracy that the table above grants, but it would be another interesting alternative. Indeed, if fewer Markerlight hits are available, T’au players may prefer to re-roll wound rolls of 1 for one unit than re-rolling hit rolls of 1 for all units that shoot at the target in question.

Let’s check out one more for good measure:

  • For the cost of one Markerlight hit and in place of all the effects of the above table, one T’au Empire XV25 Stealth Suits unit may shoot twice this phase. However, all of the XV25 Stealth Suits’ shooting attacks must target this unit.

Again, we could apply such an ability to a variety of T’au units — Crisis Suits, Fire Warriors, probably not Riptides — and we would have another interesting alternative to the above table. Stealth Suits shooting twice for the cost of a Markerlight would certainly be good, but it wouldn’t be too strong. Of course, the Stealth Suits will probably change with the next codex, so we’ll have to see how viable an ability like this would be.

As a side note, I think that the T’au really should have a double-shoot ability. At the moment, we have one that is Sept-locked, applying only to Vior’la infantry. As I’ve mentioned a few times, the Vior’la Sept doesn’t really get a look-in in competitive T’au lists, only T’au Sept and the Enclaves do, meaning that at the moment double-shooting T’au infantry are rarely seen.

There are many different directions that the designers could take with the Markerlight system. Something similar to that which I describe in this article would be an excellent update for 9th edition, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty more interesting ways to take the system.

Moreover, the new Markerlight system needs to fit in with the new codex as a whole. If the T’au Empire becomes a mostly Ballistic Skill 3 army, there is significantly less need for a Markerlight table similar to the one I discuss above. Indeed, something like that would probably be too good: Riptides and Broadsides hitting on 2s and re-rolling 1s at such a slight cost isn’t a good direction to take the faction.

But I’m very much open to the T’au remaining at Ballistic Skill 4 — if the new Markerlight system makes our units more accurate at a relatively low cost. The army should be able to shoot straight, and whether we get there through Markerlights or through a stat-line is immaterial.

There’s plenty of scope for an interesting Markerlight system that is unique to the faction, providing engaging gameplay opportunities within the scope of a new, updated army. Let’s hope that the designers knock this one out of the park. I’m confident that they will.

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About Rhys Jenkins

Software developer, T'au player.

5 Responses to “How Should Markerlights Work in 9th?”

  1. Dakkath October 26, 2020 4:05 am #

    Personally I’d like to see the tau suits and vehicles with bs3+ and change the highest benefit of markerlights from ‘+1 to hit’ to ‘reroll all failed hit rolls’.

    I definitely agree that ignoring negative modifiers should be part of the table.

    I think a 4th entry on the table allowing seeker missiles to be fired at the target out of line of sight would be welcome. Maybe also let them ignore invul saves while fired this way.

  2. Spera October 26, 2020 5:25 am #

    I like that table,its simple and effective. Cutting it down to 3 bullets is good enough. The question is do we want to keep it as debuff(because this what markerlighs are now, they debuff enemy unit) and that have scaling problems in itself. Ideally it would be mechanic that would work on all levels of points, patrol, strike force, incursion an bigger, equally well. I can tell you, in combat patrol, this 3 marker table would be op as fuck, since you are probably focusing one enemy unit at time anyway. Super strong in incursion, good in strike force, and again almost op in bigger formats because now pricier units start appear again, and debuffing unit worth 500 pts vs 200 is obvious advantage.

    We had older system that scaled better depending on points, because for each unit targeting you were spending marker point, and that marked it so to buff few units in patrol you needed less marker sources than for full strike forces points.

    if we stayed with tables solution, I would personally hybridize your solution, and ad two more tiers, with the last one being empty, and instead every unit got its own benefit on datasheet for hitting something with 5 markers on. This would give us nice spread, 1 marker for general everyday reroll of 1’s, 3 for solid buff that enables us to focus units effectively, and 5 for screw that guy and delete him from the surface, with 2 and 4 being nice and useful bonuses. 5 as even now require dedication, and it should give nice dilemma of how many markers should i bring to my list and should I apply 5 to one unit and some to others, or maybe 3 and 3. Bring to many, and you will compromise your effectiveness, chose wrong split and you may get less then satisfying results.

  3. Earl October 26, 2020 5:30 am #

    I like the idea of options in the mechanic. Where some benefits don’t expend a markerlight, and some do. It also means that some options (like seekers) that are army list dependent are fine to include. I think having some overwatch effects would fit in as well.

    But, there is still a problem on delivery platform. Neither pathfinders or marker drones are great. Too fragile and inaccurate. Just fixing the mechanics isn’t the whole answer.

  4. Yarium October 26, 2020 9:39 am #

    I don’t like cumulative effects that just reward shooting even more without dealing with the other problems that T’au have. I do think that Markerlights should be a major part of the T’au’s identity, but I also think that they have to be rebalanced in much the same way that Necron’s RP got re-balanced; it needs to do more when it’s bad, and it needs to do less when it’s good. Here’s my thoughts:

    #1 – They don’t require a hit roll. They just work.
    #2 – They aren’t shooting; they’re an action that occurs during the Shooting Phase. They don’t work on Overwatch. Using this action applies a Markerlight Counter to a chosen unit in LoS.
    #3 – A markerlight counter can be spent for any of the following effects, but then are lost if not used by your next Command Phase;
    – A unit within Engagement Range with this unit may change their weapon types to Pistol, and may shoot this unit (and only this unit) this turn instead of Fighting.
    – A unit shooting at only this unit may change their weapon types to Assault for this turn.
    – A unit shooting at only this unit may change their weapon types to Rapid Fire for this turn.
    – Change the marked enemy unit’s weapon types to Heavy until your next Command Phase.
    – A unit shooting at this unit ignores the benefits to the target’s armour save for Light Cover this turn.
    – Ignore up to one to-hit penalty for one of your units shooting at this unit this turn.

    In this way, the T’au get to show off their advanced technology; the right weapon type always for the job. They can remove penalties to hit. They can remove cover. Importantly; you can paint targets that you plan to fight (and yes, this can be used offensively; paint a target then charge it and shoot as Pistols!).

    What doesn’t this do? It doesn’t bring your army to BS3+. If that’s a possibility, it’ll make Markerlights simply a factor of math; are you getting more shots to hit with more Markerlights or more shots to hit with more models. It’s not interesting. The above IS interesting, because you don’t NEED them. You’ll be better with them, but it’ll change how you’re able to move and shoot, rather than just making you better. Sometimes Markerlights won’t be needed at all, and other times they’ll feel vital.

  5. LP October 26, 2020 2:09 pm #

    So providing we ignore almost the entirety of your previous article, markerlights could be good? You haven’t done anything to one of the fundamental problems – delivery systems.

    There’s heaps you can do with makerlights to make them worth taking:
    * Give all models armed with Pulse Carbines a free light (that will give some incentive to use carbines, for one thing)
    * One or more free lights on a Hammerhead or Devilfish
    * Make the Tetra/High Intensity Markerlight something other than terrible

    You’ve suddenly got the capability to bring a lot of lights to the table. People might start taking them.

    Then you need to work out how to activate them:
    * Use them in the Command Phase, with the effects lasting until the end of turn.
    * Use them in the Movement Phase, instead of moving.
    * Use them in the Shooting Phase, making them Assault 1 weapons (like the Prototype System).

    In conjunction with whatever option you take above, have the firing unit ignore modifiers (+ and -) to hit. Applying hit modifiers to markerlights compounds the relative worth of them: hitting at -1 suddenly means that one third of your normal _hits_ (assuming BS4+) will miss the target. Due to this effect you need more lights on the table for the same effect.

    Now we need to look at the benefits of the lights. I personally didn’t see the problem with the system used from 3rd to 6th ed: “spend” a markerlight token to get a benefit (+1 to hit and ignore cover were the two big ones). That way you’ve got some resource management to consider. However, if you’re really keen on using a scaled table for the effects, make it useful. There’s some good suggestions in the comment from Yarium above which I don’t need to reiterate.

    Some other ideas that aren’t all about shooting the bad guys:
    * Target a visible point on the table (such as an objective) to allow one unit to move towards it in the Charge Phase without declaring a charge (still can’t get within 1″ of the enemy).
    * Target a visible point on the table (such as an objective) to allow one unit to deep strike within 6″ (whatever value that may be) of an enemy unit.
    * Enemy units with x number of markers halve their move and/or charge distance.
    * Enemy units with x number of markers shoot as if their target is in [hard/soft] cover.
    * Enemy units with a rule that allows them to not take more than a set number of wounds per phase can take one more wound per markerlight hit.

    There’s heaps you can do with markerlights that isn’t just slapping a band-aid on an already gaping wound. They need revising from the ground up.

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