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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Email In - Do I REALLY need Pathfinders?

Image by Slipgatecentral from Deviantart
Help, I *hate* Pathfinders Kirby! Say what? lol

I know they’re a mainstay in every single Tau lineup, and I can appreciate their usefulness, honestly, but I can’t stand them. And I’m amazed that almost every single player worth their salt says “take a squad of 8”. Why? As you might have guessed, I’m new to the Tau, but am pretty well seasoned with Tyranids, Orks, and Necrons. But returning to the Pathfinders, my problems with them are:

1. They can’t even attack without an upgrade—and even then, can only have a few choice shooters that are only really effective against troops.

2. They can only fulfil their intended purpose if they stand still. Any movement renders their markerlights useless for a turn.

3. They all have to target the *same thing* unless their leader is upgraded, and even then, you only get one chance at spotlighting something else. I mean, does *one* unit in the opposing army need to be tagged half a dozen times, leaving you to “spray and pray” while shooting at the rest?

How’s this for a possible alternative? I know markerlight drones are *very* expensive, but taking one or two with a Crisis suit puts them with a jet pack unit, that also takes advantage of the Relentless special rule. That sounds like a winning combination to me: move, tag, hide. A few such pairs would be expensive, but a real pain in the rear for opponents. You could have five pairs of two markerlights at best—more than enough to spread the benefits around a little bit. You wouldn’t need Pathfinders at all, and better still, could *choose* to concentrate markerlight hits where necessary, by aiming your hybrid-outfitted Crisis suits at what you wanted to paint.

Couple that with a few seeker missiles mounted on the odd vehicle or two (since I think the Sky Ray is a huge waste of points, when for half the price I could just spread six seekers around my army), and suddenly you have the potential to unleash a lot of firepower from turn one.

Does any of this sound viable to you? Sometimes there’s a very fine line between genius and crazy: which side of it am I on?

Hi there Matt, welcome to 3++. Short term answer to your email is yes, you can run a list without pathfinders. I'd say it's best done at higher point values where you simply don't care about your crappy BS you've got so many shots (and 3 squads of Piranhas) But its not easy.  Pathfinders bring markerlights, and markerlights cure a lot of the ills with the Tau codex. The main use for them is buffing ballistic skill. In most Tau lists (good ones anyways) you will be bringing 7+ Fireknife suits (Thats plasma/missilepod multitracker). These are your hammer. They can happily suppress light armour from range, but its within 12" that the Fireknife really shines. Getting 6 Str 6 Ap2 and 6 Str7 AP4 shots within 12" (so an 18" threat range with your JSJ) can put the hurt on anything from TH/SS termies to Tervigons, in short order. This power is mitigated, however, by your average BS of 3. So out of thos 12 shots, you get 6 hits. Which give you 4 wounds. Which your opponent will save 2 of. Thats not great, if your relying on your XV8's to stop your opponent hitting your lines. 

How can you fix this? The Pathfinders. The reason for using 8 Pathfinders on a single enemy unit is it allows you to WASTE said unit with plasma fire and missiles. 8 Pathfinders averages 4 hits, which is why you want to max the squad. Out of those 4 hits, you can raise your BS by 2 (so now hitting on 2's) and either decrease your enemies cover save (IE shield of sanguinius, or turbo boosting bikes, or just marines in cover) by 2, or raise a second units ballistic skill by 2 to finish off the squad. Now your looking at 10 Hits, 8+ wounds, on a unit of your choice, that only allow a 6+ cover save at best (unless your opponent had a 2+ or 3+ cover save), or no save at all. Yeah, thats a squad of ASM, or close to it. Thats one less unit thats going to hit your lovely kroot wall, and one less target for your firepower before your lines fold, and you die to assaults from guardsmen (they are better than you at CC, its terrible.)

Thats the basic reason you need Pathfinders. Want more proof? Okay, no worries.
a) they give you a free Devilfish to put your 6 man squad of firewarriors in, making it a reslient scoring vehicle, something the Tau dont have a lot of.
b) they can scout, meaning unless you do something really wrong, they will be in a postion to markerlight what you need on turn 1, and not have to move from that spot all game. You really should not be moving them except for that scout move, its a reposition, nothing more.
c) Nightfighting. Added to the scout move, its possible to light up enemy targets at a MUCH further range than your units walking onto the board during DoW can usually see, even with acute senses.
d) Removing cover saves, and not just for fire knives. Say for instance your opponent places a land raider, with a Libby/Rune priest inside it, generating cover for all the vehicles behind it. By removing the cover save, and increasing ballistic skill, you are denying your opponent basic tactic, which can then be exploited by railguns. This can often mean that outlying vehicles in a mech army no longer get their psychic power induced cover save, as they are further than 6" from the actually caster, as opposed to the vehicle.

So why pathfinders over marker drones etc? Simple. Point for point, they are the most efficient way to get markers on the table. By using the fish for another unit, your actually taking the cost of it way from the P'finders, and increasing their value. Marker Drones also only generate 2 marker shots a turn, from their markerlight. So out of 2 shots, you score 1 hit, which allows you to diddly vs any individual unit. Why tie up shooting from several different sources when you can do it with just 1? Marker drones are expensive, and not worth the time IMO. Yes your only lighting up one target, but if you can light up and exterminate one unit per turn, you've probably won.

So can you run a list without pathfinders, is your original question, and the answer is yes. But you have to realise they are a force multiplier. If you dont take markerlights, you have to take a lot more guns to perform the same tasks that a marker-buffed unit would perform on its own. 

IE - 3 Broadsides generate 2 hits on a predator. out of those 2 hits, 1 pens, and the pred makes/fails its cover save. (approximately 25% chance to score a damaging result, lets say, my percentages are roughly accurate, not perfect, you mathhammer nerds!)
Smaller unit, with marker support - 2 Shots, 2 Hits, 1 Pen, no save - damage result probability around 50%.

So by spending less points on the broadside unit, you still achieve a better result, by using the marker hits. If you dont take the markers, you need more shots to achieve the same outcome. 

Hope that makes the markerlight issue clearer. Onto a much simpler topic - Seeker missiles are -HORRIBAD-. There is no excuse for them, in any Tau list, ever. Believe me, I tried. Line of sight is drawn from the vehicle unloading the missile, not the firer, so your opponent will frequently get some sort of cover save. Not only that, but its actually a very poor chance to score a hit, if you take into account a 4+ from the markerlight, then a 2+ from the missile itself. Single shot weapons like this are only effective if the hit rate is high, and they add some damage. HK's on razorbacks add an additional shot, so it becomes a Str7/Str8/Str9 combo, at 24", meaning more chances to get a damaging result. Seekers dont add anything, they are a terrible relic from an old codex. The Stormraven proves how stuff like this can be effective, with 4 x Str8 AP1 shots fired from a mobile BS4 chassis, but seekers simply do not cut the mustard.

If you could send in a copy of the list you are intending on using, I would be more than happy to help you develop it, seeing as you are new to Tau.

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