BoLS logo Tabletop, RPGs & Pop Culture

Warhammer 40K: Birth of the T’au – 22 Years Ago

4 Minute Read
Feb 28 2023

22 years ago, GW launched the Tau, and the game has never been the same. Take a look at their original minis and unexpected concept art.

We are headed back 21 years to October 2001 and White Dwarf 262.  Games Workshop was looking to shake up the game and had a very different army in mind that was unlike anything that resided in the Grimdark. The Tau were an entirely fresh concept. Unburdened by the legacy of previous editions of Warhammer 40,000 or even Warhammer Fantasy.

It was clear that  GW was looking for a very different aesthetic. One that drew heavily from Japanese influences, both culturally and in their legacy of manga and mecha.  Cracking open the cover, we get the initial Tau launch miniatures.

Tau Original Minis

Here they are in all their glory. Let’s run these down:

  • Tau Codex
  • Etherial
  • Kroot Shaper
  • Kroot Carnivore Squad
  • Kroot Hounds
  • Devilfish
  • Pathfinder Team
  • Pathfinder Shas’ui
  • Fire Warrior Team
  • Tau Battleforce
  • Tau Army boxed set

Note the Crisis suits, Broadsides, Hammerheads, and teensy Original XV-15 Stealth Suits would be along soon, but not this very first month. Even back in 2001 you had the “get models early in the big army set” thing going on.



First Impressions

The army was amazing, with a super high level of quality and detail for the era. The Kroot Carnivore kit, for example, was dripping with detail and still holds up to this day. The suits and vehicles had that manga hard tech look that was quite different from the organic-looking tech of the Eldar, and made the Imperial stuff look crude by comparison. GW had a long designer’s article where they laid out some of their design goals, and a lot of very interesting formative concept art from Jes Goodwin and John Blanche

Tau Concept Art

Here we see some Jes on the left and Blanche on the right. I have to say Blanche makes the meanest most brutal-looking Tau I’ve ever seen – with a little samurai overtone!

It is interesting to note the overt desire for a Manga-hard edged design for the Tau with the Kroot range designed as an in-faction counterpoint.


Here’s more Blanche working out details of the old original (and teensy) Stealth Suits – that were about the same size as Fire Warriors.

Pathfinders with some super complex helmet designs that were scrapped. Also, note that funky walker that never made it off the drawing board on the far right background.

The original Fire Warrior, that the entire infantry range is built upon.  My biggest surprise in the White Dwarf was the very early internal GW conversation on the entire Tau range. They liked both the Tau and Kroot ranges, but went back and forth over which one would be the main “Tau race” with the other as the minor allies. If things had gone the other direction, Warhammer 40K today would have a giant Kroot faction with a handful of Tau allies. Wow!

Some original vehicle designs. These look very spacecraft-y to me, with a lot of things that look like they could have flown right out of Star Wars’ Mos Eisley or Battletech’s Inner Sphere.

In this panel we see the Devilfish taking shape – still perhaps with some Star Trek vibes …but it’s getting quite close to its final form.


~And there you have it. I can’t believe the Tau turn twenty two years old this year! We’ve come a long way since 3rd Edition!


  • Warhammer 40K: Karandras, the Shadow Hunter