Should not be confused with the game, Pathfinder
Tau Pathfinders are Tau infantry teams with long range reconnaissance capabilities. They sneak in ahead of a Cadre to relay strategic information and guide armies in battle. They use their markerlights to assist Fire Warriors on the ground and to call in seeker missile strikes. They are often deployed in a Devilfish for mobility and assisted by Remoras and Piranhas for protection. They can sometimes be seen using rail rifles and ion rifles, but their standard weapon is the trusty pulse carbine.
Pathfinders tend to be younger and more zealous defenders of the Greater Good, who have no cripes with offering their life in support of the Empire. They have a sole function in their Cadre, which is to point their Markerlights at nearby troops who then either are blown into chunks or gets butchered like fish in a barrel. No, carrots in a barrel. They are some of the most devoted Tau infantrymen, who would gladly sit tight while Tyranids advance on their location, just so their little laser lights can support someone else in the Cadre. That's loyality that even Imperials can get behind.
The Imperial Infantryman's Uplifting Primer states that they are 'runtish and dimunitive' and have a 'very low survival rate', which is partly true for the latter, and might serve to inspire Guardsmen to hunt the Pathfinders without having to actually teach them the tactical importance of it.
Pathfinder teams range far ahead of Hunter Cadres in search of enemy forces. They maintain a watch on the foe while remaining hidden, reporting details of the enemy’s nature and disposition by way of encrypted and undetectable communication systems. Pathfinder teams are also deployed in the role of aggressive patrol groups, maintaining dominance over a wide area around a stationary Hunter Cadre and detecting any enemy forces that attempt to approach. Occasionally, an entire Hunter Cadre of Pathfinders is tasked with a mission, such as exploring a newly discovered planet and ascertaining if it is suitable for colonisation.
Pathfinders are equipped with a range of specialised equipment to aid in their mission. Every member of the team wears Recon Armour and carries a Markerlight, a laser designator device attached to his firearm that projects an almost invisible, highly focused beam of light at a potential target. The Markerlight is networked to a support weapon platform such as a Hammerhead gunship, and transmits precise targeting information in order to guide the fire of such units. When used to guide the armour-piercing Seeker Missiles carried as additional weapons on many Tau tanks, the Pathfinders are able to remain hidden as they call in devastatingly powerful and unerringly accurate fire right onto the target. Many Imperial troops have come to fear the small, red dot of light that appears on the body of those about to be slain, and some refer to it as the "Valkyrie’s Mark." Pathfinders are called to sacrifice themselves more often then their basic Fire Warrior counterparts, though recklessly wasting lives is always anathema to the Tau. However during the early days of the Great War of Confederation, Pathfinder teams sustained casualty rates of 84% or higher. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Fire Caste academies are overflowing with volunteers wishing to be Pathfinders.
The Devilfish troop carriers used by Pathfinder teams are fitted with a larger variant of Markerlight technology called a Marker Beacon. This is used to designate a position to which jump troops and orbital insertion craft can be guided, allowing units such as battlesuit-equipped Crisis Teams to drop directly onto their target. Each individual Pathfinder is equipped with a Pulse Carbine, which is fitted with an underslung Photon grenade launcher. The grenades are used by the Pathfinders when they react to sudden and unanticipated contact with their enemies, and they are adept at rapid deployment using their anti-grav carriers. Some Pathfinders replace their carbines with Rail Rifles, sniper weapons as accurate and deadly as any similar weapon the Imperium is capable of fielding. Others use experimental Ion Rifles.
On several occasions, Pathfinder teams have held back while observing an infiltrating force, only calling in fire when their enemy is too far forward to extricate safely. When facing Tau forces likely to be accompanied by Pathfinder teams, the Deathwatch takes exceptional care to ensure mission security, equipping Kill-teams with all manner of sensor and countermeasure devices.
On the Tabletop
The Pathfinders have the exact same statline as the standard Guardsman, bearing a Leadership of 8, and are outfitted with the standard Pulse Carbine, which is a simple S5, AP5, Assault 2, Range 18" weapon, but what most will notice right away is the cost: 11 points. That is a lot for a model significantly weaker than a Fire Warrior, a Troop choice that's 2 points cheaper and equipped with better armor and the more deadly Pulse Rifle, everybody's favorite plasma sniper rifle. So what is the deal with these blue dudes?
Well, first of all, Pathfinders are not there to deal damage or weather attacks, and if you use them for such things you will be gravely disappointed. They are there to use their markerlights. Each Pathfinder not outfitted with a rail rifle or ion rifle has a markerlight fitted on his pulse carbine, which they can use to light up other units for the rest of the Cadre, and as a unit of Pathfinders can have as much as 10 Pathfinders, this amounts to a relatively high amount of markerlights. The tradeoff is both unit durability, as the Pathfinders are ridiculously easy to wipe out (T3 and 5+ Saves—they're Imperial Guardsmen) and they tend to be placed in areas where they can see the entire battlefield, and mobility, because markerlights count as heavy weapons, so the unit must snap fire (i.e., at BS1) if they want to move and use them in the same turn. Otherwise they have to stay put. That said, they are still one of the most universal units of the Tau Empire, simply because of the amount of other units who can use their support. They also have the Scouts rule, which might help out with those mobility problems.
When fielding them, consider how much you need their abilities. Though markerlights are very important to most Tau forces, you can get them in various other ways, like Marker Drones, which can be added to Crisis Suits squads and have better toughness and armour saves, or the Tetra, a small vehicle with an extra powerful markerlight. If you value versatility over volume of markerlights, you can use the Skyray, which, though a bit maligned by the community, can support troops and blow up someone else with missiles while it's at it. Also consider if you're going to be able to keep them alive; if not, then you might want to pick something else, as most players know to target and cripple the markerlights, as it can often jeopardize the entire battle for a Tau player.
|Forces of the Tau|
|Command:||Cadre Fireblade - Ethereal - Tau Commander|
|Troops:||Drone Squadron - Fire Warrior Team - Pathfinder Team - Stealthsuit Team|
|Auxiliaries:|| Great Knarloc - Gue'vesa - Kroot Carnivore Squad - Kroot Hound |
Krootox - Lesser Knarloc - Nicassar - Vespid Stingwing
|Battlesuits:|| Battlesuits (XV02 Pilot Battlesuit - XV15 Stealthsuit - XV22 Command Suit |
XV25 Stealthsuit - XV46 Vanguard Void Suit - XV-8 Crisis Battlesuit
XV88 Broadside Battlesuit - XV9 Hazard Battlesuit - XV95 Ghostkeel Battlesuit
XV104 Riptide Battlesuit - XV107 R'varna Battlesuit - XV109 Y'Vahra Battlesuit
KV128 Stormsurge Ballistic Suit - KX139 Ta'Unar Supremacy Armour)
|Vehicles:||Devilfish - Hammerhead - Piranha - Sky Ray - Tetra|
|Flyers:||Barracuda - Manta - Orca - Razorshark - Remora - Sun Shark - Tiger Shark|