Greetings, Deathwatch fans!

Today, we’re pleased to offer a designer diary by Andrew Hoare, in which he delves into the Tau psyche and shares insights into the type of campaigns a GM can create with the upcoming Mark of the Xenos . Thanks, Andrew!

A Dynamic expansion

The collectivist Tau represent a major threat to the Imperium’s ambitions in the Jericho Reach. In fact, the Achilus Crusade was originally conceived to expel the Tau Empire from the once prosperous region. It was once hoped that the Tau might be pushed all the way back to their home worlds, opening a new front and defeating them once and for all.
Tragically, the Imperium’s crusade to reclaim the Reach ground to a halt when its worlds failed to welcome their liberation from anarchy or xenos oppression. Worse still, entire human-populated systems took arms against the Emperor’s sanctified warriors and declared themselves for the Ruinous Powers. With the Crusade forced to deploy its armies against this unanticipated threat, the push into Tau-held space stalled and a bitter stalemate ensued. To make things worse, another xenos species has since reared its ugly head in the Jericho Reach, and one that may in the long run force the Imperium to make a very difficult decision indeed. With the arrival of Hive Fleet Dagon, will the Imperium continue to prosecute its war against the Tau, redirect those assets to stall the Tyranid invasion, or will it attempt to fight both at once? Those of a radical bent whisper in dark places of a third option – perhaps elements of the two species might join forces against the extra-galactic Tyranids…

Decisions, decisions

The Tau then represent a wealth of gaming opportunities for GMs looking to broaden the horizons of their campaigns. There are several main ways they can be used, and doubtless GMs will come up with many more.

The most obvious use for the Tau in games of Deathwatch is as the bad guys, plain and simple. Equipped as they are with a staggering range of exotic and devastating technology, Tau forces are a challenge even for the most experienced Kill-team. They are also very different from the slavering bio-constructs of Hive Fleet Dagon, in that they eschew close combat in favour of a lethal combination of firepower and agility, calling for a different approach in combating them.
The second use is far subtler, but allows many engaging narratives to develop. While the bulk of the Canis Salient is engaged against the Tau, fighting a bitter war across dozens of worlds, there are times when the crusade’s supreme leaders have deemed it necessary to circumvent local commanders and sent contact missions to the Tau. While many such missions have resulted in bloodshed and recrimination, some have led to cooperation, albeit hidden from the Imperium at large. Embroiling the player characters in a situation where they are forced to parley with the Tau makes for some truly memorable encounters.
The last use for the Tau is as an outright ally, with the Deathwatch’s finest actually fighting side by side with the collectivist xenos. Obviously, this doesn’t happen often, but when it does it should be a really big deal. There’s even a named Tau leader – Commander Flamewing – who espouses the belief that his Empire and Humanity should pool their resources to defeat the Tyranids, before both are consumed by the unending waves of slavering xenos!

Know thy enemy

Mark of the Xenos contains a wide range of Tau Masters, Elites and Troops, as well as detailed rules for some of the species’ most iconic weapons and equipment. In addition to Tau adversaries such as Ethereals, Broadside Battlesuits and Pathfinders, the supplement describes the troops of several of the Empire’s subject races, including Kroot, Kroothounds, Great Knarlocs and Vespid. Each entry includes an Adventure Seed box, presenting the GM with one or more ideas that can easily be expanded into a full adventure.

The blue peril

Some amongst the Imperium’s most senior leaders would say (in private) that the real danger the Tau represent to Humanity is nothing to do with their rapid expansion into the regions of the Eastern Fringe. In reality, the Tau Empire is miniscule in comparison to the vast Imperium. Indeed, it has been argued that had Hive Fleet Behemoth not descended upon the Eastern Fringe, the Damocles Gulf Crusade would ultimately have conquered the Tau home worlds. While the species does not represent an existential, military threat to the Imperium as a whole, it does however represent something far more insidious. By necessity, much of Humanity exists under a brutal yoke, subject to the most totalitarian of regimes ever to have existed. Mankind is jealous and hateful of other species, and would, were it possible, cleanse the stars of any potential rivals to their destiny. The Tau Empire however, does not oppress its people, and welcomes all who would submit to it, regardless of species. The peoples of the Tau Empire appear content to serve their Tau masters, and will make the ultimate of sacrifices not because they are forced to or have no other choice. Rather, in the Tau’s collectivist and inclusive doctrines they see something truly worth fighting for and spreading across the galaxy to include every species that will submit. 

For the Imperium, there can exist no greater xenos threat than one that fights not for territory or resources, or even for racial survival. The Tau fight to enlighten the ignorant, to recruit them into the truth of the Greater Good.

Stay vigilant, your chance to know your enemy is imminent. Look for Mark of the Xenos to appear in the Jericho Reach in the second quarter of 2011!

Deathwatch is a roleplaying game in which players take on the roles of the bio-engineered super-soldiers known as Space Marines. United with their battle-brothers, players will complete extraordinary missions involving some of the greatest heroes and deadliest opponents the Warhammer 40,000 universe has to offer.

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