The Special Edition Tau Ethereal. I love this model and he’ll make a great objective marker (you catch my drift). The model is surprisingly quick to paint as it’s not very complicated or large. Smaller models can often be more fun to paint because they’re quick so you don’t lose interest. Sometimes larger models that take longer tend to bore me as I am staring at the same model for too long.
The color scheme on this uses cool colors offset by the warm colors of the skin and gold bits. It never seemed right to me that a race originating from a dry arid world of savannahs and deserts would have evolved bluish-grey skin. Instead I took inspiration from Babylon 5 aliens and went with warm colors.
The formula for my Tau skin: basecoat with Vallejo Model Color (VMC): Gold Brown. Wash with Ogre Flesh Wash. Highlight again with VMC: Gold Brown. Then add Bleached Bone to the gold brown successively for highlights. Then mix golden brown with a little black for paint the spots and marking on the head. Start large and get progressively smaller as you get closer to the face.
The off-white of the inner robes was achieved by using white mixed with VMC: Stone Grey and purple and brown washes mixed together for shading. The cape is simply Shadow Grey highlighted by adding white.
In game terms, the Ethereal is rather disappointing. You get a large boost to your leadership but this is only important if you are fielding lots of Fire Warriors on foot and other static elements. Unfortunately, adding an Ethereal to your list builds in a serious liability. If he’s killed, your entire army must take leadership tests or fall back as per The Price of Failure special rule. That coupled with his poor armor, low toughness and lack of an invulnerable save, you’ve just purchased yourself a 50 point weakness that could lose you the game. Even in Imperial Guard Codex fluff, there is a story about a Ratling Sniper defeating an entire Mobilized Hunter Cadre with one-shot to the head of an Ethereal. Ridiculous! Who would go to war with such an important figure as that walking around? It’s not like George W. Bush went to the front lines in Iraq, did he? Why would an Ethereal?
How could GW improve the Ethereal in the future? If they keep The Price of Failure, they should make him tough to kill. Increase his toughness to 4 and give him an built-in invulnerable save of 3+ or better. Then they have to make him an attractive choice for players. This could be done in two ways. Make his Inspiring Presence special rule apply to all Tau on the board, not just those that can see the Ethereal. Then go on to another ability. Say he makes Crisis Suits Troops or allows you to field Honor Guard as troops. Alternatively, the fluff says that the Ethereals do the majority of the military planning for the Tau Empire. In game terms this could translate into having the Ethereal influence reserve rolls or even allowing a unit to outflank.
In the meantime, Ethereal models will be condemned to a life on the shelves of Tau players the world over, rarely, if ever, seeing action on the tabletop.