Markerlights are laser pointers with attitude, and a key component of Tau strategies. Not to be confused with the angry flashlight, which is a useless pile of shit, and therefore the opposite of a markerlight. Every Tau player should be campaigning to make Rule 34 apply to markerlighting, though I'm probably woefully innocent and it probably already does.
Whereas most armies in 40k
are were really loosely based on older medieval themes (Black Templars on the Crusades, most Chaos on Viking pillagers, etc.) the Tau are vaguely based on modern military tactics and technology. In this regard, markerlights are based on laser designator technology, which send pulses of near-invisible lasers in specific sequences that can be interpreted by friendly electronics and guided munitions. As these pulses normally cannot be seen without special equipment (or a very keen eye) and can be used at long distances; they are an extremely subtle and effective tool for infiltrators to mark priority targets for elimination, without giving away their position.
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Markerlights hits are put on enemy units by Tau units that are equipped with markerlights, who 'fire' them using their Ballistic Skill as if they were lethal weapons (which, as every Tau player with a serviceable IQ should know, they totally are, indirectly speaking). They're functionally laser designators, and each hit puts a markerlight counter on the target. Markerlight counters can be removed to do one of the following:
- Improve one of your units' (which is firing at the markerlighted unit) BS by one (with no cap as of 6th Edition). So basically, your standard Fire Warriors can potentially become as accurate as the FUCKING AVATAR OF KHAINE.
- Ignore the cover save of the markerlighted unit (by spending two markers) so that FUCKING UNIT OF CAMO-COVERED BASILISKS BEHIND THAT DAMN AEGIS CAN'T HIDE ANY MOAR! Ahem...back to the Greater Good.
- Fire a seeker missile from a vehicle with BS5, Ignores Cover and Homing (no line of sight required), and it doesn't count toward the amount of weapons that vehicle can fire per turn. The rest of the weapons on the vehicle have to fire at the same target, however. This one is awesome when that 8-point Devilfish seeker missile blows up a 250-point Defiler - yes, I have seen it happen.
And due to the fact that the markerlight does not inflict wounds on its target, the target does not get to save against the markerlight hit—no Cover Save, no Invulnerable Save, no Armour Save. This might not seem all that great until you realise that when you hit on a BS3 and your opponent has an Invulnerable Save of 4++, that's half your squad hitting, and half of those hits doing damage, on average. With markerlights you can, and will, make all of those shots hit before any further saves are made, effectively doubling the danger that one Fire Warrior squad poses to any enemy squad.
The only few exceptions of this are Eldar Super Heavy and their "reroll to hit with 4+" holofields.
Luckily, you aren't going to face this bullshit unless you're stupid enough to play a sorry excuse of a game, which current Apocalypse is. Escalation says hello.
And that's not even the full extent of it!
Suffice to say, this is awesome and a component of what makes the Tau fun to play, since the markerlight support is so versatile and useful. Hell, entire combat styles can be built around the strategy of mass-markerlights and using Skyrays as artillery pieces, which, frankly, is sweet. There's also a lot of ways to get markerlights on the tabletop, from the heavily-armored Skyray, to the mobile Tetra skimmer and stealthy Remora drones, to the lowly Pathfinder. Markerlights of any stripe act as a force-multiplier for the Tau, so if you play Tau, you want to keep them close enough to target the enemy but with enough breathing room to pull back when targeted in turn. Contrarily, if you are playing against Tau, you want to kill those damn little target-painting blue commies as quickly as possible and make the entire Tau strategy fall apart. Just make sure it is not another damn lure.
For the Tau players, remember that almost all sources of markerlights (except the commander bomb and Skyray with its AV13 front armor) are really squishy and will go down like a sack of wet shit if targeted properly. If you are going to use them as a distraction then make sure they're in thick cover.
Yeah, we told you why and how markerlights are the goddamned center of your strategy. Now it's time to explain how you're going to get them out onto the battlefield to light up your life. (Note: This is limited to units and wargear from the base Codex, so if someone wants to add the Forge World stuff later, please do so.) Now with Forge World love.
Fire warriors do have access to markerlights, but they're permitted only one per squad. By upgrading one Shas'la to a Shas'ui (squad commander) he is allowed to take a markerlight and target-lock package deal, in total costing 34 points (9 for the Warrior, 10 for the Shas'ui upgrade, 15 for the markerlight and target-lock). One markerlight per squad might seem pointless, but it's the target-lock you want to look at. Your Shas'ui can now fire at another unit on the table seperate from his own unit's current target, effectively chaining his markerlight for another squad to fire at or to launch a desperate seeker missile. Not the most reliable tactic, but it's important to remember, especially for low point battles (500 or less).
Crisis suits don't have access to markerlights of their own, but they do have the option to take up to 2 drones each, meaning a squad of 3 Crisis suits can have up to 6 markerlights firing at BS2 (BS3 if you take a drone controller, though to be honest there are better ways to use that item). This choice is helped by the low cost for Crisis suits (22 points each), meaning you just got a 146-point (66 for suits, 72 for drones, 8 for controller) deep-striking blob of markerlights ready to drop wherever you want it. Alternatively, Stealthsuit team commanders can gain access to the marker light and target-lock combination the Fire Warrior Shas'ui can get, except with them you can have 2 per team and a higher degree of survivability. Having not tested this out yet, I can't speak to the effectiveness of this tactic, but Infiltrate, a 3+ Armour save, a 4+ cover save and a stimulant injector on your Stealthsuit Shas'vre commanders makes for a much more durable and aggravating target than some poor sap in the rank and file.
Pathfinders. Pathfinders are the main source of markerlights in your army, and you need to remember a few facts about them: one, these guys are appreciably squishier than your Fire Warriors; two, they have (usually) inferior standard weapons without special drone support; three, they're scouts, meaning you can, and will, move them about before the battle begins. Seriously, these guys are the third squishiest unit in your army (the squishiest being the Kroot and Ethereals) and you are going to want to keep them behind cover and out of charging distance. Don't worry about them using markerlights on enemies in cover though; as long as you can draw line of sight, you can hit with a markerlight as your opponent gets no cover save against it. Also, they're infantry, so if you want them to move about the battlefield you are going to need to get them a Devilfish so they aren't arriving a day late and a dollar short. Next up, drone squadrons: how do they do in comparison to Pathfinders? Not badly; while they've got a higher base cost, worse leadership, lower BS, and can't take both a weapon and a markerlight, they've got better armour (4+), higher Toughness, higher Initiative, can deep-strike, and are counted as jetpack infantry (jump-shoot-jump), meaning if they do get in combat you might actually get lucky and pull them out without getting completely fucked by a lone Guardsman. You've also got the Sun Shark Bomber, a flyer with pulse bombs, two unique drones and a NETWORKED markerlight. Why did I highlight 'networked'? Because you can fire it and the unit that fired it can benefit from it. Duh. This is especially useful for a high-speed bomber as you can use it to reduce the scatter of your bombing run, take out opposing fliers with ease or just assist the efforts of the footslogging masses below; this gives your relatively average flyer a wealth of tactical versatility, something the Tau already have in droves, but should never pass up. This thing force-mutiplies itself, and considering how the game is becoming more flyer-heavy, this is a good way to make sure that your flyers retain their aura of danger. You've only got an AV of 11 on the front though, so don't get too carried away.
For a section entitled Heavy 'Support' there are not many markerlights here—only 2 sources, and neither of them can put out a decent volume of markerlight hits. First up we've got the Skyray Missile Defence Gunship, a modified Hammerhead that carries 2 networked markerlights and 6 seeker missiles, and that's it's selling point. This thing is the producer of first turn Macross Missile Massacres, as it can deliver its entire payload on the first turn provided you have enough markerlight support, and if you play with a group of people who allow you to have infinite seeker missiles on your Skyray, then this is a cheesetastic hate machine, providing missile storms every turn that will cause much hurt in the butt of your opponent. Granted, the only people who offer that rule have something to gain from it as well, so be careful lest your glee turn rapidly to pain and tears, but it's fun while it lasts. Another fun tactic is to give your Skyray a velocity tracker (which grants it Skyfire), meaning that its networked markerlights allow it to fire two BS5, S8, AP3 missiles at enemy aircraft, leading to fun times. (As of 6E, the velocity tracker comes as standard.) The other source of Heavy Support markerlights are the Firesight Sniper Drone teams, which consist of 1 controller and 3 Sniper drones. The controller is equipped with a pulse pistol, a drone controller (meaning your sniper drones fire at BS5) and a markerlight, letting him help his less accurate footsoldier brethren in a variety of ways. You can have up to 3 marksmen in a sniper team, but at 13 points each, it's an expensive method of getting markerlights. They are well-suited to mop-up duty, letting their drones shoot first, then hitting the remains of the enemy squad with their markerlights for any other units to clean up what they don't shoot dead.
There's a reason this section is left for last. Most of the markerlight strategies for your HQs are built off of the strategies that your other units use. For example, both Darkstrider and the Cadre Fireblades have access to markerlights, but Darkstrider is basically just a souped-up Pathfinder, and the Cadre Fireblade is just a souped-up Fire Warrior Shas'ui (he even comes complete with his own target-lock). A unique method for HQ markerlighting comes from the XV8-05 Crisis Battlesuit Commander. What you're probably going to do if you want to flood the table with BS5 markerlights is to take him with a drone controller, 2 Shas'vre bodyguards, and 6 marker drones, and then attach him to a drone squadron made of marker drones, making for a total of 14 (as the commander won't be able to join both his bodyguards and the drones) BS5 markerlight hits dropping out of the sky into your opponent's backyard. A good way to make your opponent shit bricks.
Now Forge World has given the Tau new ways to get markerlights in the HQ section. Commander R'alai and his Blacklight drones and the XV84 crisis suit.
R'alai is a pretty good HQ choice but not for markerlights. You can read more him on main Tau Tactic page. But he does come with two blacklight marker drone. Don't get excited all they are are markerdrones equipped with a blacklight filter. They ain't even networked. In short get R'alai for R'alai and accept the drones as a free bonus. If you want more markerlights you are better off getting somewhere else.
The XV84 Crisis suit is a signature sysyem crisis suit. For a flamer and a plasma pistol you get a networked markerlight and a target lock. Before you slap this in your commander or his bodyguard that it is a weapon system and the muti-tracker only let's you use two weapons. It's not a bad system but needs a unique suit build to get the most out if it. A body guard armed with this system, shield generator, stim injector and your favorite suit weapon might be the best way to go. Makes for a useful whipping body that still fires two weapons a turn.
We've covered how you can get your markerlights onto the field. Now let's talk about using them to get your opponent off the field.
Now I hate repeating myself and repeating what other people have said, so go look at the top of the page and see those 3 bullet points. That's what you can use markerlights for. Read those bullet points and familiarise yourself with them; you're going to need to.
First things first: you are playing Tau. You're a shooty (
arguably the shootiest in 40k) army, you can outrange most people, and you can put out a suprising amount of fire and firepower at those ranges. None of that means shit, though, if you can't hit shit, and despite their style of warfare, the Tau are not naturally amazing at aiming. They are merely good at it. BS3 means your Fire Warriors and Pathfinders are only going to hit 50% of the time, and a S5, AP5 basic weapon means that most things are going to be able to save against their weaponry, even if it easier for them to wound than most other basic infantry. So with 50% of your shots hitting and a little more of those remaining shots causing wounds if you're fighting other basic infantry, at full range that's only around 3 or 4 wounds, even from a full Fire Warrior squad of 12 firing 12 shots. After Armour Saves, you'll kill maybe 2 or 3 guys on average, which seems like it should be a higher number coming from an army that specializes in ranged combat. Even with armies that field endless, teeming blobs of fodder for their Troop choices (Tyranids, Imperial Guard) whose basic troop saves you'll ignore anyway, you want more than just half of your shots to hit. Seeing as there is no limit on how much you can boost your units' BS with markerlights, if you want to, you can make those Fire Warriors BS 10, making that 1 in 2 miss chance a 1 in 36 miss chance on 12 shots at 30" and on 24 shots at 15". What this means is that without markerlights, you have an army of dudes who wouldn't completely embarrass themselves at the weeaboo gun range, and with them, you have an army of blue Annie Oakleys who could repeatedly shoot cigars out of an Ethereal's mouth without incident.
What this also means is that your opponent is going to target your markerlight units, and he is going to kill some of them, probably with concentrated fire and a shit-eating grin as he thinks he has just disrupted your entire strategy. If he has just wiped out all of your markerlights, then what the fuck is wrong with you, you had all of them out on the table straight away. Keep a couple back in reserve and then place them away from the assembled masses that your opponent just used to wipe out your lure(yeah, I got all your weaboo laser pointers WHY ARE YOU SMILING LIKE THAT OHGOD). They should be safe as markerlights max out at 36", outranging most Tau weaponry itself. This way, you can have your opponent zigzagging all over the table trying to decide which markerlight squad to take out first.
Next up is Ignoring Cover, the most expensive ability of markerlights. This allows you to nullify your opponent's cover saves for 2 markerlight tokens. If I need to tell you why this is a good thing, then obviously you haven't been paying attention to recent waves of cover-based FPS vidya games. Let's just say that having a Hammerhead railgun salvo smash through the METAL BAWKS that your opponent is hiding behind and turning your target into a fine cloud of red mist is never a bad thing, mostly because you want your Hammerhead to be dealing with enemy armour, and Jink is fucking annoying on skimmers, jetbikes and flyers who usually have lighter armour than most other things, meaning that your S10, AP1 railgun just got that much more useful in dealing with those poncy space elves, Doom-Croissants, Smurfs on bikes, and defectors from the Greater Good.
Lastly, there's your seeker missiles, which are like buttholes (or whatever weirdass alien ANALogue is applicable—I see what you did there) in the Tau army—everything has these, everything. Your Devilfish has these, your Hammerhead has these, your Broadsides have these, your Skyray comes loaded to the teeth with these. So what's the point of these? Simple: if you don't want a free BS5, S8, AP3 attack with unlimited range that ignores cover and line of sight for the cost of one markerlight token, then don't bother with these. If you do (and you do, stupid), then take as many of these things as you can on everything that can take them. At 8 points for one missile, they're cheap, reliable and can easily be fired first round for a quick Macross Missile Massacre, before you fire ze railguns or drop ze bombs, without costing you one of your two weapon attacks per shooting phase. Just remember that seeker missiles are single use only, so save one or two for late game in case your opponent decides he wants to drop a superheavy on your ass from reserve.
Lights Out: The problems with markerlights
In an unexpected plot twist in the story of Games Workshop's rulemaking, markerlights are not the broken, be-all-end-all of a Tau army. Unlike several other units, they have a few distinct problems, and knowing about these will help you in the long run. Firstly, they count as heavy weapons (one of the few infantry heavy weapons in the mostly fluid Tau weapons list), meaning your Pathfinders have to stand still to use them at full BS, or otherwise move and fire off Snap Shots at BS1, which, spoiler alert, will generally not be helpful in your war effort. Drones, as jetpack infantry, have the Relentless universal special rule, allowing them to fire at full BS with heavy weapons even when they move; have fun with that, but drones start at a lower BS, so use a drone controller if you can afford it. Your opponent is also going to gun for them, hard, and while you might be able to have your Pathfinders ducking about the table with the aid of a Devilfish, if your opponent gets to them, expect them to drop fast as he unloads his entire army's ammo stocks at them. Any units who are not Pathfinders or drones can only field an extremely limited amount of markerlights, meaning that you suddenly have to properly ration them out, make proper target prioritization choices, and pray that you don't botch your rolls.