A Tau Commander is the name given by the Imperium in Low Gothic to the two highest ranks of the Tau Fire Caste -- Shas'O and Shas'El. All Tau Commanders possess the authority to lead a Hunter Cadre into combat. A Tau Commander is a hero of the Tau Empire -- he has dedicated his life utterly to the pursuit of the Greater Good. Each is wise and insightful, and an inspirational figure to his troops, whilst also being a battle-scarred warrior and a supremely dangerous foe to the enemies of the Tau. Tau Commanders maintain their heroic presence by piloting a sophisticated suit of battle armour known as a Tau Battlesuit, and whilst they may utilise similar weapons and wargear as their subordinates, their rank and importance often gives them access to more non-standard equipment, like different hard-wired Battlesuit Support Systems, Battlesuit wargear, and/or upgraded weapons systems. A Tau Commander is a fearsome adversary, a warrior that the enemies of the Tau Empire have learned to respect.
Path to Command
Serving as a Tau Commander is a position of great honour for Tau Fire Warriors. It is attained only after long years of progressing through the ranks of the Fire Caste, where aspirants must be schooled in all forms of warfare, ranging from the arts of subterfuge and ambush they learned in their service as Pathfinders and Stealthsuit team members, to the skills required to play the heavy support role of an XV88 Broadside Battlesuit pilot. However, it is only once a Fire Warrior has become skilled in the use of an XV8 Crisis Battlesuit in combat that they can truly rise up through the ranks. The mantle of command is only earned once a Fire Warrior has attained the rank of Shas'Vre and leads their own XV8 Crisis Battlesuit team. From there, they must continue to prove their worth in battle before being chosen to be part of another Tau Commander's bodyguard. At that point, proof of accomplishment in not only the tactical, but also the strategic arts of war may earn the Commander’s approval and elevation from Shas'Vre to the rank of Shas'El.
Shas'El is the second highest rank within the Fire Caste, and for a Fire Warrior to have attained this rank is to become a Tau Commander and earn the right to lead their own Hunter Cadre. However, those Shas'El who have proven themselves worthy through repeated success in the field through displays of masterful leadership, are considered for promotion to the rank of Shas'O -- the highest rank one can attain in the Fire Caste. A Tau Commander of the rank of Shas'O will often lead multi-cadre operations and larger scale campaigns, and will form part of the Shas'ar'tol (Tau High Command) in the coordination of these affairs. It is a position of great honour, and can only be attained after years progressing through the ranks - there are no shortcuts or exceptions. To be named Shas'o is to be proven a master in the martial arts, a first rate tactician and a true disciple of the art of war. Once a Shas'O has served long enough, he is given the choice to retire from active service and/or join a high council of advisors who can play a more active role in Tau politics and directing the affairs of the Tau Empire. Many Tau Commanders do not wish to play the political games so enjoyed by the Ethereals, however, and often continue to command the forces of the Fire Caste in the name of the Greater Good – serving until death. However, Tau Commanders who grow too old may also be asked to permanently join the Tau military high command, or the Shas’ar’tol, and further direct larger war affairs where their wisdom can be put to best use.
A Tau Commander is a master of the ancient doctrines of the Fire Caste, which are founded in the martial philosophy and tribal wisdom of ancient T'au, the homeworld of the Tau species. They weigh the strengths and weaknesses of their own troops, and of their enemies, so that they may strike at the most opportune moment with overwhelming force to secure victory. Tau Commanders are also formidable warriors, frequently sporting scars, bionics and disfigurements earned in their career. According to their renown, they may be called upon to command anything from a Cadre to a full Command engaged upon an entire campaign. Depending on their situation, Sept and renown, a Tau Commander can be called upon to lead anything from a cadre to a coalition. The number and size of previous commands is reflected in the rings confining their long scalp lock. Those new to the rank might be given a single cadre, a force numbering a hundred or so warriors, whilst the greatest military leaders, those whose names and victories are most honoured, can call countless millions to arms with but a single word. Shas’el will often lead their own Hunter Cadres in attacks, participating from the front and directing their forces on the battlefield. Shas’o, however, will lead larger forces consisting of multiple Hunter Cadres, or even be put in command of all Fire Caste forces engaged in a planetary campaign of assault or defence. In these scenarios, a Shas’o will coordinate and formulate the overall strategic strategy. Whilst input from lesser Tau Commanders within his forces will always be considered, it is up to the Shas’o to make and implement the final tactical plan.
Tau Commanders are experienced in battle and at commanding Tau troops, and usually lead by example. Indeed, unlike the generals of many other intelligent races, Tau leaders do not observe the battle from miles behind the lines. Instead, Tau doctrine states that the Commander must be wherever he is needed, so that if necessary, he can lead from the very front. Under normal circumstances, a general would be in great danger so near the frontline, but the use of a Tau Battlesuit provides unprecedented levels of protection, prodigious firepower, and an array of secondary support systems that aid the Tau Commander in the command and control of the units he leads into battle. The use of a Battlesuit is combined with the fact that Tau Commanders are seasoned warriors and expert Battlesuit pilots, which makes them a skilled and fearsome opponent a fearsome at short ranges when they enter combat directly. Tau Commanders will also often be accompanied by Shield Drones that protect them from enemy attacks.
There are vast differences in approach and philosophy between varied Tau Fire Caste leaders. Some Tau Commanders prefer to lead from the front -- pushing their XV8 Crisis Battlesuits to the limits of their capacities. The Commanders of the Vior'la, Tash'var and Ke'lshan Septs are particularly noted for their willingness to enter combat, often accompanied into the thick of battle by an XV8 Crisis Bodyguard Team. Conversely, Tau Commanders that hail from the Elsy'eir and T'olku Septs are typically considered more cerebral in nature; ordering their troops from behind the front lines and only entering the fray themselves upon great need. There are times when hubris gets the better of these proud military masters, and in such situations, the council of the Ethereals reins the Commanders back in. It is constantly said that "there is no substitute for victory, but this is balanced by the virtues of the Code of Fire and the Greater Good." A triumph that sustains more losses than were necessary does not service the true needs of the Tau. Personal heroics, while lauded, are never an end unto themselves. It is rare that a malk'la must take place -- a ritual discipline meted out by the Ethereals to those deemed to have erred in judgement in regards to the Greater Good.
Whilst most Tau Commanders can lead Hunter Cadres that consist of a balance of the various assets available to the Fire Caste, there are some that often specialise in certain areas. For example, a Tau Commander of Shas’el rank with extensive experience in XV88 Broadside Battlesuit tactics and battlefield engagements against enemy heavy armour will often lead a formation of XV88s. Under the expert direction of their Shas’el Commander, the coordinated fire of the Broadsides’ Railguns can demolish even the most heavily armoured target with comparable ease.
As with most Tau Fire Warriors of the rank of Shas’vre or higher, Tau Commanders will often utilise an XV8 Crisis Battlesuit in combat. The Battlesuit is usually customised to a degree to suit their personal taste. However, due to a Tau Commander’s previous experience in combat, they will be given access to "special issue" weapons, Support Systems, wargear or even prototype Battlesuits. These unusual items will often be experimental in nature or hard for the Earth Caste to mass produce. As such a Tau Commander may be called upon to field-test these items. Many such pieces of equipment may be entirely unique, and only a Tau Commander can be entrusted with the use of them. Such items range from the special issue items in the Tau Battlesuit Armoury, to signature items of rare or experimental technologies and experimental Battlesuits such as the XV22 Stealthsuit and the XV9 Hazard Battlesuit.
XV8 Crisis Bodyguard Team
An XV8 Crisis Bodyguard Team comprised of up to two Fire Warriors in XV8 Crisis Battlesuits may accompany a Shas’o or a Shas’el at all times. Like a Tau Commander, Bodyguard Team members also have access to special issue items from the Battlesuit Armoury for use in combat. Together with the Tau Commander they protect, a Bodyguard Team forms an inspirational command unit and a powerful fighting force on the battlefield.
It is customary for many Tau Commanders to choose the most experienced warriors from amongst the XV8 Crisis Teams to become their bodyguards -- their saz'nami, or literally translated from the Tau Lexicon, their "close protection officers." Only those veteran Fire Warriors with impeccable battle records and have reached the rank of Shas'Vre are considered worthy enough to serve their Commander in such a capacity. XV8 Crisis Bodyguard Teams are among the most respected of all Fire Caste warriors, for they embody the philosophy of striving for the Greater Good. It is their duty to protect their Commander at all costs, and will even take incoming shots intended for their leader. Tau battle lore is rife with heroic tales of individuals leaping in front of their Commander to confront a monstrous beast, or in order to save him from a shot from some powerful energy weapon. Should it be necessary, an XV8 Crisis Bodyguard will sacrifice his own life in order to spare his Commander from certain death. It is considered a great disgrace for a Bodyguard to survive whilst his leader is slain; any who suffer such indignity often spend their remaining lifetime atoning for that which can ultimately have no forgiveness.
XV8 Crisis Bodyguard Teams can draw upon the latest cutting-edge Battlesuit wargear -- prototypes that are still being tested for standard issue. Commander Dawnstar, of the Dal'yth Sept, keeps his bodyguard outfitted in the rare XV8-02 Crisis Iridium Battlesuits -- a luxury that few other Commanders can arrange. Not surprisingly, the bolder a Commander is, the shorter the lifespan of his XV8 Crisis Bodyguard Team. Those who favour leading from the front, such as serving as the bait in a Kauyon strategy, or as part of the hammer blow in a Mont'ka, greatly increase their own risks. The hot-blooded Commanders of the Vior'la Sept must routinely recruit new bodyguards to replace those lost in battle. In response to this habitually aggressive approach, the master strategist Commander Puretide, who always preached of the importance of balance, would have repeated his oft-quoted remark: "A wise leader must learn when and where to use his every asset to its best capability." This wisdom recognises that a Commander flanked by two elite Shas'vre warriors in Crisis Battlesuit armour is a formidable formation, more than capable of shrugging off enemy shots and dealing out prodigious amounts of firepower. However, the risk of losing such an important unit must always be weighed.
Notable Tau Commanders
Each of the Tau Empire's Spheres of Expansion campaigns had its notable Tau Commanders -- great heroes whose teachings are still used at the Fire Caste academies. Many Tau Septs also have famed Commanders whose deeds their warriors seek to emulate. A notable summary of some of the greatest Tau Commanders includes:
|Commander Brightsword (Shas'O Tash'var Ol'nan B'kak)||Commander Brightsword was a student of Commander Farsight's and led Tau forces in the taking of the planet Nimbosa and then the Tau's defence against the Imperial invasion of that world which soon followed. Brightsword was considered to make use of more ruthless combat tactics than was the norm amongst the Fire Caste, and was eventually assassinated by members of the Imperial Guard's 13th Penal Legion.|
|Commander Dawnstrike||Commander Dawnstrike, also known as the wily Desert Beast, has many exploits of feigned retreat attributed to him; feats that are often emulated but never bettered.|
|Commander Farsight (Shas'O Vior'la Shovah Kais Mont'yr)||Commander Farsight was a former Tau Commander during the Tau's Second Sphere Expansion campaign. During that time, he served as the overall commander of Fire Caste forces across the entire Tau Empire. Now, Farsight leads his own break-away faction of Tau in an area beyond the bounds of Tau space that are known as the Farsight Enclaves. The reasons for his desertion are unclear, except that it occurred after the loss of all the Ethereals who had been present in his expeditionary force.|
|Commander Flamewing (Shas'O Vior'la Suam Eldi)||Commander Shas'O Vior'la Suam Eldi, or to give him his more commonly used Low Gothic title "Commander Flamewing," is the leader of a Fire Caste Hunter Cadre currently operating on the outskirts of the Zurcon System of the Jericho Reach against the Tyranid threat. Flamewing is a comparatively young Tau Commander, yet he has seen more combat in the last standard year than many of his rank expect to experience in a lifetime.|
|Commander Longknife (Shas'O R'myr)||Commander Longknife was the Fire Caste's commanding officer on Taros during the Taros Campaign. He did not lead a Cadre in the field, but was the supreme commander for an entire Fire Warrior Command, coordinating the entire campaign to take that desert Mining World and its precious mineral resources for the Tau Empire.|
|Commander Quickstrike||Commander Quickstrike is a Tau Commander and hero of the Bork'an Sept.|
|Commander Puretide||Commander Puretide was a Tau Commander who led the armies of the Dal'yth Sept to many victories during the Tau Empire's Second Sphere Expansion campaign. Many of the Second Sphere Septs owe their very existence to the campaigns planned and carried out by this brilliant strategist and battlefield commander. After being grievously wounded towards the end of his life, Puretide became a hermit, committed to transmitting his accumulated wisdom and experiences concerning the arts of war to new generations of Tau warriors. He deeply wished that those who might learn to emulate his uniquely balanced style of warfare might continue his work on behalf of the Greater Good. Many Fire Warriors came to study under Puretide, though few, if any, proved capable of fully grasping his teachings. Many of his students went away understanding only one aspect of Puretide's teachings, and a number of different schools of thought based on these singular aspects of his knowledge came to centre on one of these individuals. Both Commander Farsight and Commander Shadowsun were once students of Puretide, and both took one aspect of his teachings and mastered it to the exclusion of the others. Some among the Fire Caste now suggest that the two Tau Commanders are opposites in other ways, as well, and that confrontation between their ideals in Tau society is ultimately inevitable.|
|Commander Shadowsun (Shas'O Shaserra)||Commander Shadowsun was the overall Tau Commander of all Tau Fire Caste forces during the Tau Empire's Third Sphere Expansion. She was chosen to take on this role by the leading Ethereal Aun'Va himself, after Commander Farsight deserted the Tau Empire to form the independent Farsight Enclaves. So far, she has led the Tau Empire to expand significantly and a string of success is accorded to her name. Commander O'Shaserra utilises a XV22 Stealthsuit rather than the standard XV8 Crisis Battlesuit.|
|Commander Skyroar (Shas'O Ja'Vra)||Following her successes in the Second Sphere Expansion War, Ja'Vra was promoted to Shas'o and given command of a Breakthrough Contingent involved in the fighting in the Jericho Reach, under the oversight of the Ethereal Aun'Roh. Commander Skyroar's tactical acumen and dogged determination saw her gain a great many victories, but also her greatest defeat.|
|Commander Sternshield (Shas'o T'au Ta'Sar)||A master of adaptive defence and a deft hand in breaking his foes before they even realise battle has been joined, Commander Sternshield has proven himself invaluable to Commander Shadowsun. He is a level-headed traditionalist driven by a simple, abiding love of his people, and has proven a dangerous foe to the warriors of the Imperium.|
|Commander Swiftflame (Shas'o Vior'la Shalas)||Speed, destruction, and a flair for the dramatic are the trademarks of the hot-blooded Commander Swiftflame. Properly known as Shas'o Vior'la Shalas, this hero of the Third Sphere Expansion is young for a Commander. Ever since his first days in the academies of Vior'la, Shalas has proven decisive and forthright in all his dealings, and quick to assert his ability to meet every challenge set before him. Those who questioned his rapid advancement through the ranks were proven wrong, and often looked foolish when his grand strategies became clear. Infamous for his conviction and self-confidence, amongst another people, Commander Swiftflame might have been considered arrogant. Despite outward appearances, however, it is not pride that drives O'Shalas, but total surety of his importance to the Greater Good and a fear of falling short of his potential. O'Shalas knows that he is a talented, swift-thinking tactician, as well as an excellent marksman and a convincing orator. All of this has come naturally to the Commander, and he has always been painfully conscious of the value of such gifts to the Greater Good. The simple truth is that every achievement in his career, every victory won and trial passed, has been motivated by Shalas' fear of failing to make the fullest use of his talents, and in doing so, failing in his duty.|
|Commander Swiftwing (Shas'O Shien)||Commander Swiftwing is a Tau Commander of the T'au Sept.|
|Commander Truestar||Commander Truestar was a famed female Tau Commander whose brilliant military career was marred by a single tragic error.|
|Shas'El Courra||Shas'El Courra lead a Manta Death Blow Hunter Cadre during the Nimbosa Campaign.|
|Shas'El K'irri||Shas'El K'irri led a night attack on a forward Imperial airbase during the Taros Campaign. Whilst successful in destroying the facility, his whole strike force was either captured or killed. His Hunter Cadre operated under Contingent El'Shi'Eldi.|
|Shas'El Kai'Aun||Shas'El Kai'Aun led a Hunter Cadre during the Taros Campaign. His Hunter Cadre operated under Contingent El'Shi'Eldi.|
|Shas'El Kai'un||Shas'El Kai'un leads the Pathfinder Hunter Cadre known as "the Vengeful Death."|
|Shas'El Lusha||Shas'El Lusha led Tau forces during the campaign to take the world of Dolumar IV from Imperial and Chaos invaders. He deployed himself and his Battlesuit Teams during the closing stages of that conflict, and rescued Shas'La T'au Kais after he defeated the Lord of Change Tarkh'ax.|
|Shas'El Phor'Yinn||Shas'El Phor'Yinn led a Hunter Cadre during the Taros Campaign. His Hunter Cadre operated under Contingent El'Shi'Eldi.|
|Shas'El Ryn'Ya||Shas'El Ryn'Ya led a Hunter Cadre during the Taros Campaign. His Hunter Cadre operated under Contingent El'Shi'Eldi.|
|Shas'El Shi'Eldi||Shas'El Shi'Eldi was part of the Tungusta Station counterattack during the Taros Campaign. He was also identified by Imperial forces to be active in subsequent actions across the entire campaign. He was the commander of Contingent El'Shi'Eldi and directed 5 lesser commanders and their individual Hunter Cadres.|
|Shas'El Sua'Ni||Shas'El Sua'Ni led a Hunter Cadre during the Taros Campaign. His Hunter Cadre operated under Contingent El'Shi'Eldi.|
|Shas'El Suvas||Shas'El Suvas led an XV9 Hazard Battlesuit Swift Protector Wing during the Second Defence of Nimbosa. Alongside Kroot irregulars, his force held off invading human forces for two hours whilst the main Hunter Cadre successfully redeployed. Sixty percent casualties were sustained.|
|Shas'el Vedai||Shas'el Vedai is a Tau Commander of the Sa'cea Sept.|
|Shas'O Kais||Shas'O Kais was the Tau Commander who led the Tau forces during the Dark Crusade. Whilst he was unsuccessful in securing the planet of Kronus for the Tau Empire, he survived the campaign. Shas'O Kais utilises an XV22 Stealthsuit rather than the standard XV8 Crisis Battlesuit.|
|Shas'O Maisos||Shas'O Maisos is a Tau Commander of the Vior'la Sept. She pilots an XV86 Coldstar Battlesuit.|
|Shas'O M'yen||Shas'O M'yen, also known as Commander Scornfoe, is a senior tactical advisor and member of the Mal'coar Shi High Command of Tau forces operating in the Jericho Reach.|
|Shas'O Or'es'Ka||Shas'O Or'es'Ka was the Tau Commander who led the Tau forces during the Tau Empire's unsuccessful campaign to take the Kaurava System. Shas'O Or'es'Ka utilises an XV22 Stealthsuit rather than the standard XV8 Crisis Battlesuit.|
|Shas'o Sa'cea Tsua'm||Shas'O Sa'cea Tsua'm was a Tau Commander who led Tau forces to the Sept world of Kel'shan. There, he made one of the first recorded Tau encounters with Chaos forces, and defeated them. He personally killed the Chaos army's warlord whom he mistakenly believed to be named Slaanesh.|
|Shas'O Tash'var D'ka Cha'ro||Shas'El Tash'var D'ka Cha'ro is a Tau Commander who serves under Shas'O Tsua'Malor'Aloh'shas Elan'nan in the D'Shas'Ka System of the Jericho Reach.|
|Shas'O Tsua'Malor'Aloh'shas Elan'nan||Shas'O Tsua'Malor'Aloh'shas Elan'nan is a young and promising Tau Commander born of the Velk'Han Sept's capital world. He is currently leading Tau forces in the D'Shas'Ka System of the Jericho Reach.|
|Shas'O Vesu'r Ra'lai||Commander Vesu'r R'alai has become a legend among the grim Fire Warriors of Ke'lshan, and is one of the Tau Empire's most experienced Battlesuit pilots. It is his leadership and innovation that has successfully led the way in the controversial tactics associated with the new XV9 close support armour, and he is a strong advocate for the Fire Caste adopting more ruthless tactics against the Tau Empire's growing legion of deadly foes. Shas'O Ra'Lai utilises an XV9 Hazard Battlesuit rather than the standard XV8 Crisis Battlesuit.|
|Shas'Vre Tsua'Malor Ren'A||This Tau Commander is a rising star in the Velk'Han Sept's Fire Caste. The Ethereal Aun'Kar hand-selected this warrior at a young age and has helped him advance rapidly. As a result, Shas'Vre Ren is unceasingly loyal to Aun'Kar above any other and full of pride to have such a renowned Ethereal's trust. Shas'Vre Ren's Battlesuit was commissioned specifically for him. The glossy instrument of war hasn't so much as a scratch on it and bears the Tau word for "victory."|
|Shas'Vre Vior'la Ahu Maau||Leader of the mixed Tau and Ghanathaar infiltration force deployed against Watch Fortress Erioch, Shas'Vre Maau is atypical for a member of the Fire Caste. Lean and compact with a quiet grace, he is deeply sardonic and has a dark intensity about him which unnerves even his closest acquaintances. While still young as far as Tau go, Maau has made a name for himself as a consummate warrior and master of reconnaissance and guerrilla warfare. With a hand-picked team of steady and quietly professional guerrilla fighters armed with Stealth suits, Maau has time and again foiled the forces of the Achilus Crusade by attacking supply lines, destroying infrastructure, assassinating important Imperial officials, and generally making a nuisance of himself and his team in the Canis Salient.|
|Wise Hunter||Wise Hunter was a great commander and conqueror of new territory during the initial expansions of the Tau Empire.|
- Codex: Tau (3rd Edition), pp. 22-23
- Codex: Tau Empire (4th Edition), pp. 13, 32, 44-47
- Codex: Tau Empire (6th Edition), pp. 34, 41
- Codex: Tau Empire (7th Edition), pp. 19, 48, 54, 56, 75
- Deathwatch: Core Rulebook (RPG), pp. 355, 365-366
- Deathwatch: The Jericho Reach (RPG), pp. 70-71
- Deathwatch: Mark of the Xenos (RPG), pp. 8-10
- Deathwatch: Rising Tempest (RPG), pp. 17, 75
- Imperial Armour Apocalypse (2nd Edition), pp. 84-85, 88
- Imperial Armour Apocalypse 2, pp. 59-60
- Imperial Armour Volume Three - Taros Campaign, pp. 74, 76-77, 96, 267-268, 283
- Dawn of War - Dark Crusade (PC Game)
- Dawn of War - Soulstorm (PC Game)
- Fire Warrior (Novel), by Simon Spurrier
- Fire & Honour (Graphic Novel)
- Rogue Trader: Twilight Crusade (RPG), pg. 92
- War Zone Damocles: Kauyon (Digital Edition), pp. 43, 47