One of Games Workshop’s biggest mysteries they’ve been sowing for many years is the origin of the Tau species. In universe, many hints have been dropped, and not very subtle ones at that, that they, or at least their Ethereal leaders, were artificially created by some other player in the universe, ostensibly to create a weapon immune to, and that could be used against, chaos.
This includes the sudden appearance of the Ethereals following ‘strange lights in the sky’ (Tau Codexes, and the Fire Warrior novel), and hints of biological engineering in the book ‘Xenology’ regarding the origins of the Ethereal’s ability to control other Tau.
A couple of these hints – references to floating machines and coloured gems and colourful clothing – can be interpreted to mean the Eldar or perhaps specifically the Eldar Harlequins. Certainly only the Eldar likely have the technology to do this. But as old timers who know the 40K lore all the way back to the beginning we think there’s another explanation.
In real life we know the Tau won an internal ‘new race design beauty contest’ with the concept of their assimilation of partner races like Kroot being used to integrate other race concepts that weren’t strong enough to hold up on their own (like Kroot!).
We should also consider that the Tau are a race that didn’t directly draw on one of the existing fantasy races:
Elves = Space Elves
Orcs = Space Orks = Orks
Undead = Space Undead = Necrons = Space Tomb Kings
Dwarves = Space Dwarves = Squats = Demiurg
Only Genestealers/Tyranids previously held that and even then could be argued to be derived from Skaven, albeit with the rodent element removed – just witness the style of play of the new Genestealer Cult rules for evidence of this.
Or are they? The Tau don’t just draw aesthetic elements from Japanese anime mecha and samurai armour, look for example at this set:
Doesn’t look particularly japanese does it? But looks very Aztec. Tau have also been described as fishmen before, which isn’t a million miles away from lizardmen is it? They certainly look amphibious. Kroot also share a lot in common with lizardmen in design, and anyway aren’t birds descended from dinosaurs? We think it’s likely that in real life Tau derived from some concept work to bring lizardmen into the 40K universe, even if they then deviated substantially from that through iteration and refinement. Just take a look at this:
This is a Slann, an ancient frog like creature. It’s easy to imagine how in the real world that design evolved into the Ethereal ruler Aun’Va and his bodyguards. Invariably in Warhammer background Slann are described as either the Old Ones themselves, or the first child race created by the Old Ones. It’s deliberately not clear which precisely to add some mystery to them. Certainly they are known to have powers of magic and science to create new lifeforms – including the lizardmen of warhammer.
That brings us back to the original question – who created the Tau? While more modern Warhammer fans will attest that it is no longer canon, once upon a time it was fact that the Warhammer world was actually a warp storm encircled world in the Eye of Terror. It has to be really, since Slaanesh was created by the fall of the Eldar which didn’t happen until nearly M30. Games Workshop gets a lot of stick for supposedly retconning background all the time, but the thing about Warhammer and 40K, is that if you have been involved and following it from day one, you recognise that it’s been entirely internally consistent for the entire time, and what newer fans see as retcons are often callbacks to older, forgotten lore, or simply filling in of the gaps. Since much of the background and rulebook content is written ‘in universe’ too, then it’s entirely possible that information given in universe is based on theory and assumption and sometimes new and better information comes along.
Our supposition therefore is that it was the Slann that created the Tau, possibly working with the Eldar who have been known to hang around with Slann and transport them around.
What do you think?