shasocastris wrote:My first thought was to take a supreme command detachment of five Cadre Fireblades and a Firesight Marksman. This is five BS 2+ and one BS 3+ markerlights which is pretty reliable. Another upside is that they are all characters and thus relatively survivable. The downside is that it's six drops and a 234 points dedicated more or less solely to markerlights.
Multiple fireblades is probably the best way of getting accurate, survivable markerlights, but that's quite the points sink for the benefit of a character's targetting immunity and increased BS. If it's worth it, go for it, but I'd like to examine whether it's possible to make "squads" of markerlights more survivable while still including some firepower in them too.
The two blocks of units I'd propose are the marker drone block, and the pathfinder block. Now, these units both seem to suffer from getting shot off the board easily by standard infantry firepower, so let's see if we can make either block more survivable. I'm only going to be looking at making them more survivable against standard infantry weaponry, as anything else shooting at them means an opponent is actually dedicating his army's firepower to wipe them out, and if you try hard enough, you can shoot ANY source of markerlights off the board. What we're looking for, is how to make the enemy work for it and not just have one infantry squad casually blow them away.
Marker drones seem to have the immediate advantage here, with a better toughness stat, and better armour, but they are more expensive than pathfinders. That said, all out units require support to operate effectively, so I don't want to compare single units against each other, but rather the blocks of units that make them effective.
The two general blocks would need to include the following units for optimum efficiency:Pathfinder block
Pathfinders (multiple squads ideal, and the block proposed in the original post included some special weapons)
Devilfish (for mobility)
Fireblade/Firesight Marksman/XV84 (the high accuracy markerlight to start the chain)Marker Drone Block
Tactical Drone (Mix of marker and shield drones)
Drone Controller Unit
Markerlight Unit to start the chain
So, let's build a sample pathfinder block, 2 8-man pathfinder teams, 3 ion rifles each, each in a devilfish, with a Fireblade to start the chain. I chose the Fireblade despite the marksman being cheaper, since he's more accurate, and I don't feel like I'm wasting a bunch of drone support abilities. He can also buff the pulse carbines in the event of overwatch, or if the pathfinders ever need to gun things down instead of lighting them up. Otherwise, the block is pretty bare bones, no seeker missiles, no special drones.
In total, that brings us to 440 points for a reliable accurate batch of markerlights (thanks to the fireblade) that have mobility and survivability (thanks to the devilfish) and can also put out some decent firepower if needed (ion rifles and fireblade buff to carbines).
Removing the devilfish would bring us down to 186 points.
Here is the marker drone block I propose that I think can do that job better, although I will need someone with more mathhammer skills than me to actually crunch the numbers I'm afraid.
Two squads of tactical drones, each with eight marker drones and four shield drones. The drone controller and initial markerlights can be provided by a stealth team. In my opinion this is the best unit to accompany the drones due to their survivability (toughness 4, power armour, the ability to use cover, 2 wounds each, and -1 to enemy to hit rolls is a very nice combo) and their mobility, since their jetpacks will actually allow them to keep up with the drones.
If the accompanying stealth team is equipped as follows: 2 Shas'ui with BC and ATS, I Shas'vre with BC, Drone Controller, markerlight and target lock, the combined block will come to a total of 344 points, and provides you with some firepower in the markerlight block.
Alternatively, the XV25s can exchange their ATS for EWO if you want an insurance policy to weaken deep striking enemies and add to your survivability.
Now, in terms of survivability, I really think the drone block has the advantage. Not only do their base stats give them an advantage, but the ability to include shield drones within their unit means that you get an additional layer of defence thanks to FNP, and that invul save could come in handy if the enemy does decide to target the unit with heavy firepower.
Sticking the pathfinders inside devilfish does give them added survivability, but at a steep points hike, and it also reduces their accuracy as they will have to disembark to fire, thereby incurring the penalty for moving and firing heavy weapons, so their survivabilty comes with the drawbacks of increased cost, and reduced accuracy.
Both can make use of cover, so that doesn't change the status quo, drones are still ahead.
In terms of accuracy, the drones are the same accuracy as the pathfinder's thanks to the drone controller on the Stealth Shas'vre. However, the drones don't suffer a penalty for moving and firing heavy weapons, so they will always hit on a 4+, whereas mobile pathfinders will only be hitting on 5+ unless you already have three markerlights on the target. This means, that as long as the drone controller is in range, drones are actually more accurate than pathfinders, and with the cloud of drones hovering around that stealth team, saviour protocols should ensure its continued survival, and the presence of 8 shield drones means that this might not even result in a casualty to you at all, thanks FNP.
Mobility is key here too, as not only are drones accurate on the move, with a drone controller that can keep up with them to ensure their accuracy remains undiminished, but this mobility can also keep them alive.
Bear in mind, we're trying to make these squads survivable against enemy standard infantry, like tactical squads or guardians, and the general range we can expect from them is either an 18" assault weapon, or a 24" rapid fire weapon. We can also assume a 6-7" move stat (this is strongly based on marine equivalent with a bit of buffer for eldar), so if we can remain 31" away or further, we're completely immune to return fire from the standard weapons of these squads. Fortunately, markerlights have a 36" range, so we still have a good 5" buffer to work with, and the drones can just move back in our movement phase to get out of range again if the enemy does move towards you as their movement of 8" should outdistance the enemy infantry.
Pathfinders could do the same thing, but their accuracy would suffer as a result. Intercessors and enemy fire warriors are still going to give you trouble, but at least you can ensure you're well outside of rapid fire range and thereby mitigate the damage somewhat, hopefully enough that the shield drones can take the hits and keep your markerlights alive.
As to leadership, pathfinders are Ld 7, Drones are Ld 6, and pathfinders can be further buffed by the inclusion of a shas'ui, so that's one point that the pathfinders win for sure. There's not much you can do here, except add in an ethereal (which would aid pathfinders too, so not really a point to the drones there) or perhaps take smaller drone squads (4 markers, 2 shield) at the expense of Force Org slots. If you include fireblades here, you can use this to your advantage to fill out more detachments for bonus command points, but I'm not sure if I'm willing to count that as a win as it might be too much investment for too little return.
Finally, firepower. This one once again goes to the pathfinders thanks to those rail rifles and the fireblade buffs. When they need it, they do have firepower. The devilfish burst cannons and gun drones should be taken into consideration too. By comparison, the drone block just has the XV25s. You can include an additional three BC/ATS stealth suits to bring the drone block up to 448 points (only 8 points more than the pathfinder block including devilfish) and 20 S5 Ap-1 shots is nothing to be sniffed at, however the pathfinder block will definitely put out more dakka, even without overcharging the ion rifles.
That said, it might be better to tool up the stealth suits with EWOs for the same points in an attempt to safeguard your drones from deepstrike assaults. This is debatable though, as the drones will probably be bubbled around your stealth team to benefit from the drone controller, so an enemy can very feasibly deepstrike within a reliable charge range of your drones, but well outside the 12" bubble provided by EWO.
In terms of assaults, the pathfinders have devilfish to tie up enemy units in CC after they disembark, which is very useful. If they are charged themselves, they aren't very durable, and even if they do survive the combat, if they fall back, they can't fire. Drones don't have the devilfish to engage problem units, but they are tougher, and they have fly, as well as shield drones. This means they are more likely to survive a round of combat, and falling back doesn't impair their usefulness in any way.
So, at the end of the day, the marker drones seem to win on survivability and mobility, as well as mobile accuracy, while the pathfinders have more firepower, and can be more accurate if the Fireblade starts the chain, and they're stationary. In my opinion, the drones make better markers, as they're just more reliable overall, but that comes at the cost of not being able to do anything else. Pathfinders can be impaired too easily by movement or assault, but they do allow for devilfish assaults and superior firepower.
That's my (rather long) two cents.