What are the T’au? – The Young and Ambitious Xenos Race of the 41st Millennium

T'au Fire Warrior

T’au Empire: The Young and Ambitious Xenos Race of the 41st Millennium

The T’au originated on the planet T’au, where Adeptus Mechanicus Explorator ships first discovered them in the 35th Millennium. At that time, the T’au were a primitive species, having just mastered fire and the wheel.

However, before the Imperium could cleanse and colonize the planet, a violent warp storm erupted, cutting off the T’au from outside influence for millennia. This isolation allowed the T’au to develop unimpeded by external threats.

Key Takeaway

The T’au Empire is a young, dynamic, and rapidly expanding power in the galaxy of Warhammer 40,000. United by their belief in the Greater Good and guided by the enigmatic Ethereal Caste, the T’au have risen from humble beginnings to become a major player on the galactic stage.

With their advanced technology, progressive ideology, and ability to integrate other species into their ranks, the T’au offer a unique and fascinating perspective in the grim darkness of the far future. Whether you’re a veteran Warhammer 40,000 player or new to the hobby, the T’au Empire is definitely a faction worth exploring.

The defining moment in early T’au history was the Mont’au, or “The Terror“.

This was a dark age when the T’au’s homeworld was engulfed in warfare between the tribes of the various castes, each vying for dominance. It was during this tumultuous time that the mysterious Ethereals first appeared, preaching the philosophy of the “Greater Good”.

The Ethereals were quickly able to unite the fractured T’au under their guidance and end the Mont’au. This heralded a new age of rapid technological advancement and expansion for the T’au.


The T’au Empire is governed by the Ethereal Caste according to the philosophy of the Greater Good, which teaches that everyone has a place in society and must work together for the betterment of all. The Caste System defines the roles each T’au plays in their highly structured civilization:

  • The Ethereal Caste (Aun) are the spiritual and political leaders.
  • The Fire Caste (Shas) serves as the military.
  • The Earth Caste (Fio) consists of laborers, engineers and scientists.
  • The Water Caste (Por) are merchants and diplomats.
  • The Air Caste (Kor) crews the T’au space fleets.

The T’au are humanoid in appearance, with gray-blue skin, hoofed feet and faces flat and wide around the eyes. Interestingly, the physical characteristics of each caste have diverged over time due to selective breeding.

For example, the Fire Caste tends to be the strongest and most muscular, while the winged Air Caste have hollow bones and membranes allowing them to operate in zero gravity.

An intriguing aspect of T’au physiology is their lack of psychic ability and presence in the Warp. This is both a drawback, limiting their FTL travel and communication, and an advantage, providing some innate resistance to Chaos and psyker attacks. The T’au make up for this with highly advanced technology in all fields from weapons to propulsion.

Militarily, the T’au prefer long-ranged, mobile warfare utilizing advanced pulse, rail, and ion weaponry along with wide use of Battlesuit technology. They employ allied alien auxiliary troops like the Kroot and Vespid in secondary roles, especially to counter their own weakness in close combat.

Tau military forces are known for precise, combined arms tactics and markedly “clean” and high-tech aesthetics.




T’au Sept Worlds

The T’au Empire is divided into a number of septs, each based around a primary sept world. While all T’au septs share a common culture and belief in the Greater Good, each has its own unique history, traditions, and even dialect. Some notable sept worlds include:

  • Vior’la: Known for producing some of the finest Fire Warriors in the Empire, Vior’la is a harsh and unforgiving world that breeds toughness and discipline.
  • Sa’cea: This densely populated sept is known for its strong adherence to tradition and respect for the Ethereal Caste. Sa’cean T’au are often seen as the “model citizens” of the Empire.
  • Bork’an: A major center of learning and research, Bork’an is home to many of the Earth Caste’s most prestigious academies and laboratories. T’au from this sept are known for their technical expertise and innovation.
  • Dal’yth: This prosperous sept is a major hub of commerce and trade, with large numbers of Water Caste merchants and diplomats. Dal’yth was one of the primary battlegrounds of the Damocles Gulf Crusade.
  • T’au’n: The birthplace of the T’au species and the spiritual and political heart of the Empire. T’au’n boasts the largest Air Caste presence and is home to the Ethereal High Council.

Each sept has its own unique Sept icon, color scheme, and markings which are proudly displayed on T’au armor and vehicles.

A Different View..

Unlike most 40k factions, the T’au are generally open and tolerant of other species, at least those that accept the Greater Good. The T’au Empire hosts a growing population of allied and client races, most notably the Kroot, Vespid, Nicassar, Demiurg, and even some Human Gue’vesa. This is part of what makes the T’au unique and provides an interesting contrast with the xenophobia of the Imperium of Man.

The T’au Empire has expanded its borders over six thousand years through a series of Sphere Expansions. In this time they have come into conflict with most of the other major factions, though the Imperium represents the biggest challenge to their growth.

The Damocles Gulf Crusade and the Taros Campaign were two major clashes that demonstrated the T’au’s ability to hold their own against the Imperial war machine through superior technology and unconventional tactics.

In recent centuries, the Tyranids have also become a threat, with hive fleets encroaching on T’au space. The T’au suffered greatly in their battle against Hive Fleet Gorgon and have become painfully aware that their Empire is but a mote in the face of such cosmic horrors. There have even been rumors of Necron Tomb Worlds awakening within their borders.

No discussion of the T’au is complete without mentioning the most famous (and infamous) of their kind: Commander Farsight.

This legendary hero broke away from the Empire to found the Farsight Enclaves as an independent T’au realm. Speculation abounds as to his motivations, with some even whispering that he has unlocked the secrets of immortality through his fabled relic, the Dawn Blade.

Notable T’au Characters

  • Aun’Va: The supreme leader of the T’au Empire, Aun’Va is the oldest and wisest of the Ethereals. He personifies the T’au’va and shapes the grand strategy of the Empire.
  • Commander Shadowsun: Peerless student of Commander Puretide and one of the greatest living T’au commanders. Shadowsun has mastered the art of the Kauyon and has led the T’au to victory in countless battles.
  • Commander Puretide: The most famous T’au military leader, Puretide wrote the book on modern T’au military strategy and trained many of the Empire’s greatest commanders. Though long-dead, his teachings live on.
  • Aun’shi: A venerable Ethereal with centuries of experience, Aun’shi has served as a chief diplomat, adviser, and spiritual leader. His wisdom and guidance are legendary among the T’au.
  • Darkstrider: An unconventional and unpredictable Pathfinder team leader, Darkstrider uses his mastery of stealth and infiltration to sow chaos and disruption behind enemy lines.

To dive deeper into the lore of the T’au, I highly recommend checking out the Warhammer 40,000 novels by Phil Kelly such as “Blades of Damocles”, “Farsight: Crysis of Faith”, and “War of Secrets”. These books really bring the setting and characters to life. Also be sure to visit the official Warhammer Community site for the latest T’au news and previews.

Farsight Enclaves

The Farsight Enclaves are a breakaway faction of the T’au Empire, founded by the legendary Commander Farsight. Farsight and his followers reject the rule of the Ethereals and operate as an independent power, still following the core tenets of the Greater Good but without the rigid caste system of the Empire.

The exact nature and current disposition of the Enclaves is shrouded in mystery, as contact with them is extremely limited. Some say Farsight himself has unlocked the secret of immortality, while others whisper of dark powers at work in the Enclaves.

T’au Technology

The T’au are known for their advanced technology, particularly in the fields of pulse, rail, and ion weaponry. Some key examples of T’au military tech include:

  • Pulse Rifles and Carbines: The standard weapons of T’au Fire Warriors, pulse weapons use electromagnetic induction fields to propel lethal micro-bursts of plasma over long ranges.
  • Railguns: Mounted on T’au battlesuits and tanks, railguns use linear accelerator technology to fire solid projectiles at hyper-velocity speeds, easily punching through heavy armor.
  • Ion Cannons: These powerful weapons fire streams of high-energy ionized subatomic particles, vaporizing flesh and metal alike.
  • Battlesuits: The T’au are masters of Battlesuit technology, from the versatile XV8 Crisis Suit, to the heavily armed and armored XV88 Broadside and XV104 Riptide. These humanoid war machines greatly enhance the strength, firepower, and survivability of the T’au warrior within.
  • Drones: A ubiquitous sight on T’au battlefields, drones are disc-shaped AI units that provide support functions like shielding, markerlight targeting, and additional firepower.

The T’au constantly strive to improve and adapt their technology, and their Battlesuits and vehicles are continually upgraded with the latest Earth Caste innovations.

T’au Tactics and Strategies

The T’au employ two main tactical doctrines in their military operations:

  1. Kauyon (Patient Hunter): This defensive strategy involves carefully preparing the battlefield with traps and fortifications, luring the enemy into a killing zone, and then annihilating them with precise, coordinated firepower.
  2. Mont’ka (Killing Blow): An offensive strategy that relies on rapid mobility and surgical strikes to cripple the enemy’s command structure and eliminate key units, sowing chaos and confusion.

On the tabletop, T’au players can leverage these tactics by using their mobility and range to control the flow of battle, setting up advantageous firing lanes and picking apart the enemy at a distance. Careful use of marker lights to coordinate fire and increase accuracy is a key component of T’au tactical play.

Auxiliary Forces

The T’au Empire is a multi-species collective, and the T’au make extensive use of allied alien auxiliaries in their military. Key examples include:

  • Kroot: These avian humanoids serve as scouts and melee specialists. They are fast, agile, and utterly fearless, able to keep pace with T’au Battlesuits.
  • Vespid: Insectoid aliens that form airborne infantry units known as Stingwings. They utilize neutron blasters and are highly mobile, often deployed via Manta dropships.
  • Gue’vesa: Human auxiliaries, either volunteers or former Imperial Guard units that have defected to the T’au Empire. They provide additional infantry support.

These auxiliary forces provide the T’au with a range of specialized capabilities and help to offset some of their weaknesses, particularly in close combat.

Ethereal Control

One of the most intriguing and controversial aspects of T’au society is the role of the Ethereal Caste. It is posited that the Ethereals exert some form of pheromone-based mind control over the other castes, enforcing absolute loyalty and obedience.

This theory helps to explain the remarkable unity and cohesion of T’au society, but also raises disturbing questions about free will and individual agency. The Farsight Enclaves’ rejection of Ethereal rule lends credence to this theory, as does the fact that only the presence of an Ethereal can quell a rare T’au uprising or revolt.

However, the exact nature and extent of Ethereal control remains a mystery, and one the T’au themselves seem unwilling or unable to address. It is a secret at the very heart of their society.


  1. What is the Greater Good? The Greater Good is the central philosophy of the T’au Empire, emphasizing the importance of unity, selflessness, and the collective well-being of all. It teaches that every individual has a duty to work for the betterment of society as a whole.
  2. How do the T’au differ from the Imperium of Man? Unlike the xenophobic and stagnant Imperium, the T’au Empire is generally more open, tolerant, and accepting of other species. The T’au also embrace change and technological progress, whereas the Imperium is mired in superstition and tradition.
  3. What is the T’au Caste System? T’au society is divided into five distinct castes: Fire (warriors), Earth (workers and engineers), Water (merchants and diplomats), Air (pilots and crew), and Ethereal (spiritual and political leaders). Each caste has a specific role to play in T’au society.
  4. How do T’au Battlesuits work? T’au Battlesuits are advanced powered armor that enhances the wearer’s strength, speed, and firepower. They are equipped with jetpacks for mobility and can mount a variety of heavy weapons. Battlesuits form the elite backbone of T’au armies.
  5. What are the Farsight Enclaves? The Farsight Enclaves are a breakaway faction of the T’au Empire, founded by Commander Farsight. They reject the rule of the Ethereals and operate as an independent power, still adhering to the principles of the Greater Good but without the strict caste system.

On tabletop, the T’au are a sleek, elite force that plays unlike any other in Warhammer 40k. Focused on mobility and shooting, they require finesse and clever play to get the most out of their advanced guns, battlesuits, and vehicles. If you prefer a less “in your face” playstyle and enjoy a heavy sci-fi aesthetic, the T’au may be just the army for you! Head over to Warhammer Community to find out how to play them on tabletop!

In closing, the T’au Empire is one of the most versatile and uniquely placed factions in Warhammer 40k. With their rapid rise to prominence, high technology, progressive ideology, and distinct cultural identity, the T’au provide a refreshing counterpoint to the often regressive and stagnant Imperium of Man.

While still an upstart power in the galaxy, it’s clear the T’au are an up and coming force to be reckoned with. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for these plucky xenos upstarts.

For the Greater Good!


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