Friday, November 19, 2010

3. Intelligence: Cut through the fog

Okay, you want to engage only on your own terms, and you want to achieve combat superiority…the question now is that Hurricane ratting at the top belt. You’re pretty sure your ship is better than his, but it depends on his fit and skills. You also wonder whether he might not be bait for an entire blob. In this game of rock-paper-scissors, is he the paper to your scissors or a rock poised to smash down on you? That’s the trick, isn’t it—knowing the answers to these and a thousand other questions.

What’s wanted is intelligence (“intel”)—not something high-functioning between your ears so much as some good data with which to work. Warriors throughout history have bemoaned the fog of war; in this article I’ll suggest ways to cut through much of that fog.

The most basic source of intel available to every pilot in New Eden (except those in worm-hole space) is the local communications channel (“local”). This channel starts by helpfully counting the number of pilots sharing the same solar system. That number alone bears on a few interesting questions. If the number is high, then others have probably already observed the Incursus ratting the asteroid belts; the fact that none of them have attacked the Incursus may suggest the Incursus is their friend (and thus may have backup) or he may be a feared combat pilot. Many pilots in local always means one should consider the fact that one’s target may be able to call for quick backup. But then, it can also mean that someone is likely to be vulnerable in space, whether mining or ratting or fulfilling some mission; it’s worth looking around some. And pilots with lots of friends in local may lull themselves into a false sense of security.

In addition to the total number of pilots in space, “local” further offers the identity of each and every one. Take a look at that list. Any pilot who is subject to a 15-minute Global Criminal Countdown timer (“GCC”) may be so indicated by a red skull (whether this actually is the case depends on your overview settings). This tells you there is a pilot on the hunt in the same star system as you. It also tells you that sentry guns will shoot at him on sight—so while you’d have sentry guns on your side if it comes to that, it’s unlikely he’ll go near them in the first place. If you’ve identified any pilots, corporations, or alliances as particularly friendly or hostile, you can see indications of this next to each pilot’s name—pilots with excellent standing can have a blue symbol, for example, while pilots with horrible standing can have a red symbol. This makes it convenient to see at a glance how “on guard” you should be.

Take advantage of even more free intel afforded you by the list of pilots in local! Right-click a pilot’s name, then select “show info.” Note the pilot’s security status. A high security status means the pilot probably won’t initiate hostilities with you, unless perhaps you yourself are an outlaw. Setting out bait is unlikely to work with such pilots. Quite possibly, they’re combat-inexperienced. A low security status, on the other hand, means the pilot has a history of attacking people for no lawful reason. He’ll probably attack you if he thinks he can win, and he’s likely to be experienced and to have a plan.

There are two tabs of information on each character particularly helpful to a combat pilot. The first tab I go to is the Employment tab, which provides a complete record of a pilot’s past employment. How far back does this record go? The older the pilot, the more skills and experience he potentially has.

The Employment record provides useful intel not only about how much skill and experience a pilot may have, but what kind skills he is likely to have learned and what kind of experience he is likely to have gained. If you see a string of PVP corps in that history, you can bet the pilot is both skilled and experienced in combat. If you see a string of mining corps, he may be skilled but likely has devoted much of his studies to industrial pursuits rather than combat, and while he may or may not be experienced at evading combat, he probably doesn’t have much experience in actually fighting. Long gaps in an employment record could indicate periods of inactivity, in which case the pilot may not be as skilled as his age would suggest. However, watch out for pilots who seem to have several years in NPC corporations (corporations not controlled by actual players)—that is a sign of a player’s alternate character (“alt”), and that could mean a scout or support pilot of some kind.

After gleaning what I can from the Employment tab, I’ll check a pilot’s Bio tab. Is it full of links to contracts? Does the pilot use it to remind himself what sorts of damage rats can tank? Does it assume you’ve just been ganked, and claim enjoyment of your loss? Such information can be a real clue as to what you may be up against. Just realize that the Bio tab is less reliable than the Employment tab; while the Employment tab is generated by the authorities based on public records, the Bio tab is under the complete control of the pilot, and many a pirate has used the Bio for misinformation.

With time, you’ll find yourself collecting a body of useful knowledge. Especially if you hunt in a series of “home” routes, you’ll start recognizing people by name. You’ll look at local and recognize this pilot as a macro mission runner, that pilot as a POS maintainer, and the other pilot as a pirate. You’ll get to the point where you know what ships that pirate likes to fly, and what tactics he likes to use. I know some pilots who make written records of every encounter they have with another pilot, noting ship types, tactics, associates, etc. While I myself don’t often write this sort of thing down, I’ve never complained when a gang member informs me “he never flies alone; he always has a Falcon alt nearby.” You might want to start creating your own intel files of such useful information!

In the Tuskers, we have an Intel section of our forums for sharing information of use to us all. We have a list of known Falcon pilots there, for example. We also describe traps we fall prey to, so that our mates won’t make the same mistake we did. We note which corporations work with each other. We describe “prize targets” we’ve observed, rich vessels in space and any vulnerabilities we discover about them. We identify major threats in the area, and discuss ways to deal with them. If you have the opportunity to pool intel like this, do it!

Many pilots post records of their kills and (less frequently) losses on publically-accessible databases known as killboards. One widely-used and long-running killboard is BattleClinic. Just look at the intelligence bonanza a killboard can provide! What ships a pilot tends to fly, how he fits them, which other pilots show up with him on killmails, whether he fights (and wins) against other combat ships, or whether he sticks to weaker prey, which systems he is active in, etc.—useful intel indeed. If you’re sizing up the situation in a solar system, you could do worse than take a few moments to check a pilot out on the killboards.

Finally, let’s consider the role of scouts in acquiring intel. A scout is some other pilot who looks around and reports what he observes. “Local” provides useful information; having access to that information before you or your gang jump into a system can be even more useful—send a scout in ahead of you. As you size up the numbers in local, you may determine your gang has the advantage—but what if there is a hostile gang sitting at a gate ready to jump into your system? Having scouts watching those gates would be great. Is that pilot’s Falcon alt nearby? How many corpmates can the target call on for backup in the surrounding systems? Will the next ship to jump into our gate camp be a rich cargo vessel or a camp-busting gang? These are all questions scouts can answer.

A scout can be in most any ship type that is difficult to detect or engage. Some scouts like to fly in rookie ships, making themselves beneath notice for many. Others like to fly ships fit to tackle, so they can hold down a target while their gang warps in. Yet others prefer ships that can warp while cloaked and probe out targets.

It’s useful for a scout not to be in the same corp as yourself or your gang. You don’t want people connecting you with your scout, if you can help it. You want people to underestimate your gang and to underestimate the threat posed by the scout. Many players have two EVE-Online accounts primarily so that they can have an alt scouting for them—it’s just that valuable.

A scout can go ahead of you or your gang, looking for targets (and probing them out and/or tackling them if those are options), locating gate camps, and keeping an eye on things in that direction. A scout can trail behind you or your gang, watching out for gangs stalking you or juicy targets coming from behind. A scout can "shadow" a hostile fleet, reporting on its movements and composition. Multiple scouts can fan out through several systems, covering you from all directions or finding the best targets in the least amount of time.

By paying attention to local, keeping records, checking killboards, and employing neutral scouts, you can achieve more PVP success. All else being equal, the pilot with the best intel will not necessarily win—but the pilot with the best intel should be able to make sure all else is not equal, and that the inequalities are in his favor.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

2. Achieve combat superiority

It’s all well and good to fight only on one’s own terms, but what should those terms be? When should you choose to engage, and when should you choose not to? The short answer is: Engage when you have combat superiority. In this article I discuss a number of factors that enter into the equation for determining combat superiority.

First let’s consider numerical superiority. While “blobs” are often denigrated, the truth is they are a valid way to win fights. All else being equal, the gang with the most ships wins.

Next we have hardware superiority. Most pilots easily recognize the importance of flying a hull recognized for its combat prowess well-fit with the right selection of high-tech modules. As CCP constantly tweaks combat mechanics in the quest for balance, and as creative pilots and alliances test new setups in real combat situations, the flavor-of-the-month hull and setup can change. For this reason I won’t be providing lists of hulls and how to fit them, but in a later section I will suggest a philosophy selecting and fitting out ships.

Any pilot serious about winning in PVP needs to understand why each module is or is not selected for fitting. It’s better to mess around with your setup and make some stupid choices—revealed in the crucible of combat—than to ignorantly copy a setup gleaned from BattleClinic without understanding why that setup was put together.

Your goal should be to make an intelligent choice regarding the setup of your ship. Chances are, you’ll end up with a “cookie-cutter” setup (so called because they are de facto standards that many people fly)—there’s a reason why one setup is passed over by most pilots while another is appreciated by so many—but seek to understand the philosophy behind it, and you’ll recognize when game changes signal the time to re-evaluate your ship’s fit. For now, just remember: all else being equal, the ship with the most well-conceived setup wins.

It won’t be long before your planning how to fit your ship directs your thoughts to a third factor in combat superiority—skills. Many popular modules require a minimum skill level of some sort just to be fitted, and the ultimate capabilities of most ships and modules are affected by at least some skill. So you won’t be able to fit that T2 gun, for example, without having the relevant specialization skill, and the higher your skill in that specialization (and in such things as Gunnery, Controlled Bursts, Motion Prediction, Rapid Fire, Sharpshooter, and Trajectory Analysis), the more effective your gun will be—it will lock faster, shoot farther, fire more rapidly, hit more often, and do more damage per shot.

Don’t focus too narrowly in evaluating skills to train for. Many pilots concentrate on obvious weapons and “hit points” skills and overlook the so-called “support” skills; wiser pilots recognize that support skills can be just as decisive in battle. “Support skills” are skills that affect your ship’s energy grid and capacitor, your motor and warp speed, and the like. Support skills can directly impact the damage you do and the damage you can absorb, but they can also less obviously impact your ability to win battles by increasing your ability to dictate range or get out of a losing fight. Leadership skills, when they are applied as gang bonuses, can be every bit as powerful as multiple levels of gunnery skills, as useful as an expensive faction module, or as powerful as rare mind implants.

I recommend PVP pilots only fly a ship when they can fly it fully T2-fit with all relevant skills at least level IV. (Often the time taken to get a skill to level V is better spent getting some other skill to IV.) The reason is that, all else being equal, the pilot with the most relevant skills wins.

A fourth indispensible factor in the combat-superiority equation is PVP experience. While much about PVP can be learned from a book, there’s no substitute for actual practice. I’m good enough at PVP that you’re reading my guide, but I can remember vividly times when I “froze” in the rush of battle: my mind simply shut down, and I just sat their staring stupidly at the screen as the red-flashies had their way with my ship. Human athletes train so that during a competition their muscle memory and instincts take over; their experience enables them to quickly grasp what’s going on in a contest, and their minds are freed up to focus on higher-level obstacles to success. In the same way, PVP experience conditions the mind to “automatically” take certain basic actions, freeing up the mind to focus on more complicated barriers to coming out on top.

The first time you get ganked, you may be excused for freezing up and doing nothing. Adrenaline is coursing through your veins, you are overwhelmed with flashing symbols and scary noises, and a hundred ideas are all vying with one another for your attention. Chances are it won’t be until minutes or hours later that you’ll truly begin to appreciate the true nature of the situation you were in and what you might have done to get away or even to turn the tables on your attacker. The next time you get jumped that idea will spring to mind—and it won’t be until minutes or hours later that you’ll truly understand what was different about this time or why some silly thing you did worked. As you gain experience, it will become harder for others to catch you by surprise, you’ll think more clearly under pressure, and you’ll be able to do multiple things right without really thinking at all.

For this reason, I’m a big proponent of the advice that inexperienced combat pilots stock up on 10-20 cheap T1 frigates and just go on a PVP spree until all are lost. It’s much more affordable to lose a T1 frigate than a T2 cruiser, and the lessons are learned just the same. Furthermore, the lessons are learned through personal experience rather than filtered through someone else’s written account. At the end of the day, there really is no substitute for experience. And, all else being equal, the pilot with the most PVP experience wins.

A fifth element contributing to combat superiority is force multiplication. If we think of the two sides of a battle as having a series of hulls of X effective hit points (EHP) and a series of weapons dealing out Y points of damage per second (DPS), we can think of a force multiplier as something that has the effect of providing more X or Y for the friendlies or less X or Y for the hostiles. One might of gang bonuses as a kind of force multiplication--and legitimately so; leadership bonuses and gang assist modules can easily enhance one’s fleet’s DPS and EHP by more than 20%. Still, electronics warfare (EWAR) and logistics most frequently come to mind when discussing force multipliers.

We discussed EWAR a bit in the previous section, in the context of evading or breaking tackle. Now consider how EWAR affects DPS and EHP. The Falcon is probably the most infamous EWAR platform in New Eden, with a full array of electronics countermeasure (ECM) modules. In melee, a single ECM module can jam a hostile vessel’s targeting system, effectively subtracting that ship’s DPS from the battle—and Falcons equip several such modules. In other words, without dealing any DPS itself, the Falcon just disrupted the DPS-EHP balance of the fleets engaging one another. Tracking disruptors diminish the hostile fleet’s DPS by decreasing the effect of their turrets; target dampeners diminish their DPS by diminishing their effective range. Target painters effectively increase the friendly fleet’s DPS by enhancing her ships’ tracking and increasing the damage dealt by each volley.

Or consider a small gang being supported by a pair of logistics ships. Most PVP ships either do not repair themselves at all, or fit one (usually) to three (rarely) repairers of some sort. Logistics ships such as Scimitars or Guardians can apply multiple remote repairers to whichever ship the hostile fleet primaries—and they can do it again and again. If each ship in the fleet drops its own local repair modules, they can use the space for other modules that enhance their DPS or tank; the 4-8 remote repairers on the pair of logistics boats are effective in repairing any ship in the fleet. Instead of being able to kill a ship in a matter of seconds, the hostile fleet may find they just don’t have the DPS to kill it at all. And if they do manage to kill a ship, taking say three to five times longer to do it, they have had to absorb much more DPS themselves in the process. Logistics ships often operate at a distance and can be hard to attack directly, but as they often operate in pairs (or more), attacking one logistics ship still leaves the second to repair its shields or armor.

You know what I have to say next: All else being equal, the gang with the best force multipliers wins.

The final factor in achieving combat superiority is tactics. All else being equal, the gang with the best tactics wins. There are so many common tactics to consider, I’m choosing to write more on tactics in a later installment in this series.

I’ve briefly discussed combat superiority in terms of numerical superiority, hardware superiority, superior skills, superior PVP experience, and force multiplication (really a subset of both hardware and skills), and I’ve mentioned tactical superiority as well. Each element of combat superiority has been described as potentially decisive—all else being equal. The problem, of course, is that all else is rarely equal. One may and often does have superior numbers and PVP experience but inferior skills and hardware; or one may count on superior PVP experience and force multiplication but not really know what they’re up against. For that reason, I consider PVP an art rather than a science; as much as we play a game of hard-coded numbers, fixed sets of hulls and modules, and a wealth of documentation, we also play a game of random number generators, frail humanity, and deceit.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

1. Fight on your own terms

My years of solo and small-gang PVP have convinced me that successful PVP means fighting on your own terms—choosing your fights. If you’re out in a Thorax, you may want to attack a Stabber but stay away from a Drake. If you’re in a small 3-man gang, you may want to engage a gang of 4 but not a 20-ship blob. You may be willing to pit your Dramiel up against a blaster boat, but not a Rapier. As you evaluate your chances in a given matchup, you’ll be eager to engage, eager not to engage, or perhaps not sure what the outcome might be. The point is, fight when you want to fight, and not when you don’t want to.

But what does this mean? It means you need ways to be able to force a fight when your opponent is unwilling, and to evade a fight when you yourself don’t fancy your chances. Simple enough when stated like that, but not always so easy in practice.

The technical term most often used for avoiding unwelcome attention is “running away.” Your spaceship has both engines and a warp drive; use them to flee. You need to keep a sharp eye on local (to see if there are any potential aggressors in system, and who they might be), a sharp eye on your directional scanner (perform frequent 360° scans), and a sharp eye on your overview to avoid unpleasant surprises.

It is important to be prepared to get out fast.

It can’t be that simple, right? Right. While many pilots enjoy pre-arranged duels (and that is certainly a valid form of PVP), for me, PVP is all about nonconsensual combat—I assume the majority of the ships I attack would run away if they could, and the majority of superior ships and gangs would hold me down and kill me if they could. There are modules that prevent one’s target from running away. The direct countermeasures for engines and warp drives are stasis webifiers and warp disruptors/scramblers.

Stasis webifiers, or “webs” as they are popularly known, are applied to a target ship to reduce that ship’s speed. Ships that are slower than yours shouldn’t be able to escape yours. Webs may be stacked for increased effect. If you worry about being webbed yourself, your only real remedies are to be agile enough and fast enough to keep out of web range (not a remarkably long range, though some ships have bonuses to this) or fast enough to remain faster than your opponent even while webbed--letting you increase range until you are, again, outside of web range.

Warp disruptors degrade their target’s ability to warp away. Most ships (again, there are a few exceptions) have one point of warp strength that enables them to warp; a warp disruptor removes one point of warp strength from its target. With zero warp strength, the target is unable to warp. (Incidentally, this is where the term “point” comes from when declaring a target is tackled.)

Warp scramblers have a shorter range than warp disruptors. Balanced against this disadvantage, however, are three real advantages: (1) warp scramblers remove two points of warp strength from their targets, (2) warp scramblers use less cap than warp disruptors, and (3) warp scramblers also interfere with (read “disable”) microwarpdrives, significantly reducing the speed of any target actively using a MWD.

The choice of disruptor or scrambler is a tough one. If you fit a disruptor, you’ll find ships using their microwarpdrives to speed out of range, and often you’ll find you don’t have the grid to fit a MWD yourself. If you do have a MWD, there’s always the chance your target will use his own warp scrambler to turn it off. But if you fit a scram, you’ll find yourself missing tackles as your targets warp off before you get into scram range. Few are the ships designed well enough to allow you to fit both a warp disruptor and a warp scrambler, both an afterburner and a MWD! Make your choice and build your tactics around it.

In nonconsensual PVP, so important is the ability to prevent one’s target from warping that I consider a warp disruptor or scrambler the only module absolutely necessary for PVP. In gangs, however, not every ship needs to be able to tackle; as gangs increase in size, the ability to specialize in a role becomes more important. Interceptors are specialized tacklers, and often have enhanced tackle ranges and speeds that allow them to tackle others while remaining free to escape themselves.

In null security space and wormholes, pilots must be wary of warp disruption spheres or “bubbles.” These devices create fields that can not only disable your warp drive, they can pull you right out of warp if your destination is close enough to the bubble.

If you don’t want to be tackled, you have several common choices. First, you may rely on your speed to keep out of range or escape a bubble. This means you have to keep your eyes open so you can react in time; all the speed mods in the world won’t help you if you aren’t paying attention.

Second, you could use warp core stabilizers (sometimes called “stabs,” confusing since inertial stabilizers are also sometimes called “stabs”). Warp core stabilizers add a point of warp strength to your ship, a direct counter to warp disruptors or scramblers (but not bubbles or the few ships fitting warp disruption field generators with focused warp disruption scripts). WCS are rarely used on combat ships, however, because they interfere with targeting. Only fit one or more WCS modules if it is not important for you to target quickly: haulers frequently fit several WCS, as do certain bait ships, smart-bombing ships, and less agile "travel-fit" ships merely moving from one point to another with no thought of combat.

Third, you could make it difficult for a would-be tackler to even get you on his overview. Ships have to warp somewhere, and the most common warp destinations are common celestial objects such as jump gates, space stations, planets, moons, asteroid belts, complexes, and the like—objects that are equally easy for any pilot to warp to. If you’re at an asteroid belt ratting, it is a simple matter for an attacker to warp to that same asteroid belt. But anywhere your ship can go you can make a bookmark and return; by bookmarking some random point in space, you have created a warp destination that is extremely difficult for others to reach: a “safe spot.”

The simplest safe spot is made by creating a bookmark while traveling from one celestial object to another. Anytime I pass through an unfamiliar star system, I create a simple safe spot by creating a bookmark in mid-warp as I travel from one jump gate to the next. It is basically impossible for anybody to re-create that bookmark on their own—the tools at our disposal just aren’t fine enough.

However, pilots may use combat probes to identify the precise location of your ship, and if you’re “probed out” you could find yourself in trouble even at a safe spot. For this reason, I recommend taking the time to make better safe spots. Your basic safe spot, along the route between two celestial objects, means you’ll have other ships passing by, and even if you’re not within scan range of any celestial object, you’ll show up briefly on pilots’ overview as they pass. Once they know you’re there, they can probe you out quickly if they have the tools.

A better safe spot can be made that is out of directional scanner range not only from celestial objects, but from any point along any route between any two celestial objects as well. If you can imagine a triangle in space formed by celestial objects A, B, and C, try to first get basic safe spots in the midpoint between, say, A and B and A and C; then to get a better safe spot bookmark the midpoint between AB and AC. Look for ways to do this where the final result will be outside of directional scanner range not only of A, B, and C, but of routes AB, BC, and AC as well. Your goal is a safe spot where you won’t accidentally be seen by other pilots. They’ll still be able to probe you out, but without seeing your ship in space they may not bother, perhaps making the false assumption you’re docked up or cloaked.

I won’t get into the mechanics of combat probes here, as excellent probing guides already exist. I will just say probing skills are very useful for getting fights with expensively-fitted ships deluded by a false sense of security. The life of a mission runner must be mind-numbingly boring, and it is hard for them to resist the urge to get up and stretch while their ship tanks the pitiful NPC rats and their drones to their dirty work. It is remarkably easy to probe out and tackle mission runners; you may be worrying they’ll see your combat probes or notice your ship at close range as you negotiate a series of 3-4 acceleration gates, but chances are they’re reading a manga book or changing the channel on the TV.

If you do find yourself tackled and in a battle you don’t wish to fight, all is not lost. If your ship still has some speed, you may be able to simply fly out of tackle range and warp away (good luck with that); it happens. Or it may not be so simple, requiring a series of sharp turns that your opponent fails to follow quickly enough that allows you to slip the tackle. A common tactic used by ships tackled in asteroid belts is to maneuver so that the tackling ship runs into an asteroid belt; for a few moments his speed drops to zero, affording his would-be victim a few moments to speed out of tackle range and escape (or a few moments for his would-be victim’s drones or missiles to do full DPS and destroy the tackler). You may be able to maneuver your tackler into bumping into a stargate, acceleration gate, space station, etc. Failing that, several electronic warfare (EWAR) solutions can help.

Electronic counter measures (ECM) work by jamming a ship’s targeting systems. If your ECM module or ECM drones “work,” your opponent will lose target lock on you and his tackling modules will disengage, giving you a few moments to slip away. The problem with ECM is that any given module or drone has only a small chance of working; to increase your odds, you’ll have to fit several ECM modules or a full flight of ECM drones. Using racial ECM modules makes it more probable you’ll escape one race’s ships, while making it less probable you’ll escape the other three races’ ships. No matter what, there's always just a "chance"--little or great--that you'll jam the enemy.

Sensor dampeners are another EWAR option, and their effect is not chance-based. These “damps” act by increasing the amount of time it takes for a ship to lock on to a target, or (more relevant to breaking tackle) reducing a ship’s targeting range. If you can reduce your attacker’s targeting range low enough, you’ll be outside of that range and can get out. Unfortunately, all too often it takes more damps than one has fitted to do this effectively.

A final EWAR path that is quite popular is the use of energy neutralizers (“neuts”) to drain a tackler’s capacitor. Without power, his stasis webifier and warp disruptors deactivate; and without power, his microwarpdrive or afterburner likewise shut down. Within seconds, that ship goes from being a blindingly-fast tackling god to being a dead-in-space paper-tank free killmail. Just be sure you don't "cap out" yourself in the process!

You’ll notice that these EWAR options don’t merely allow one to escape when tackled, they actually present the choice of escape or counter-attack—exactly what we want when we seek to engage on our own terms. And what terms may those be? Watch this blog for more!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Art of PVP

Watch this space! The dearth of new material here at Your Money or Your Life! does not reflect a decline in my interest in playing or writing about EVE-Online. For quite some time now I’ve been playing with the idea of writing a PVP guide. The first installment on that guide should appear within a week. You all should thank Avan Sercedos for the timing, who spurred me to get this thing going by contracting to me an Arazu with the understanding I write something in this blog.

PVP is a big topic, so don’t expect my guide to answer all possible questions. First, this guide will reflect my own personal PVP experience—lowsec piracy—and may miss some stuff that would be obvious were I a ninja salvager or nullsec sovereignty holder. Second, I intend to focus on a philosophical discussion of principles (such as achieving combat superiority) more than situation-specific instruction (regarding such things as fitting ships or camping gates).

My hope is that in spite of these limitations a wider audience will find my guide useful. There’s no good reason a carrier pilot should not be able to apply lessons learned by battlecruiser and high-tech cruiser pilots—the bait may be different, for example, but it’ll still be bait.

Your critical remarks will be welcome; once this series has been finished here, I hope to edit it and publish the complete guide at the Tusker Academy.

Good hunting!

Jolo

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Payday

Recently, in the course of an interview by Tusker Romeo Blakstorm, I was asked, "What is the most lucrative piece of loot that has come into your possession?" Not having had any remarkable pieces of loot drop into my lap, I declined to answer. I likewise ignored the question, "What is your most lucrative ransom payment received?"

Well, gentle reader, I'd have a good answer for him now...

A few of us Tuskers were out hunting our way towards Placid. We ended up converging in the Ouelletta system in Verge Vendor; there were a number of possible targets teasing us there. A Catalyst would appear at a safe spot; a Harpy was flitting quickly between celestials; and a Tengu was doing a Faction Warfare complex. Most of us took a stab or two at the Tengu, but it was usually 60km away from the warp-in after we activated the acceleration gate, and would simply zip off the moment one of our ships showed up on its overview. In the end, three of us in battlecruisers were sitting at a safe spot deep in space, outside of directional scanner range, while Man Barthelme in a Stabber chased targets.

A covert ops scout in Intaki was reporting cruisers, battlecruisers, and the occasional battleship target at belts, outside stations, or passing through. I was all for keeping the gang moving, not entirely happy that we'd been messing around for over half an hour around Ouelletta. But it seemed every time the gang would be preparing to move on toward Placid, some new target would briefly expose itself to Bart's directional scanner, and we'd all wait for just a few more moments, hoping for success.

And then it began.

"Point on the Tengu. Everybody warp to Bart." Noting the Tengu pilot kept returning to his complex each time we scared him off, Man Barthelme had placed his Stabber in a tight orbit around the acceleration gate leading to the complex; and to our great fortune the Tengu pilot did indeed end up warping to the gate--and Bart tackled him before he could activate the gate!

"In warp to Man Barthelme." "Warping to you." "In warp." The battlecruiser complement of our gang provided status reports as we aligned toward Bart and entered warp.

Bart wasn't overly optimistic at this point--"Make it fast! I'm taking heavy damage!" he reported. As our ships began dropping out of warp, he pleaded, "Does anybody else have point? I'm getting hurt pretty badly."

"Point!" "Point on the Tengu." "Get out if you need to, Bart, we have him tackled." As it turned out, Bart didn't need to warp out: for one thing, the Tengu switched his fire to one of our battlecruisers; but even before that, Bart had reached a tactically advantageous orbit and ceased taking much damage from the ultra-high-tech cruiser's missiles.

The Tengu's tank looked very tough at first. With all four of our ships pouring on everything we had, his shields were holding at about 95%. Fortunately, one of our gang had an energy neutralizer, and after a short time it apparently began to affect our target's ability to keep his shields up. "Overheat! Let's break his tank!" I urged.

Status reports filtered in and it looked like we were all comfortably established in effective orbits, and we were coping well with the Tengu's offensive efforts. I opened a ransom channel with the Pilot. Naive in the ways of ultra-high-tech cruisers, I asked for 200M ISK. The pilot immediately assented, and asked to whom he should transfer the ISK.

Just then I saw the Tengu's shields evaporate. "Cease fire! He's going to pay!" I shouted into battle comms--but to no avail. Literally within seconds, the Tengu icon on my console display went from low shields to low armor--then blinked out. I felt a sense of profound disappointment; that 200M ISK would have been one of the highest ransoms I'd ever commanded. Feeling guilty that we had destroyed a ship when the pilot had accepted our ransom offer, I checked to see if he had actually paid the ransom; Tusker protocol requires that if he had, we would have had to return the ransom. The pilot hadn't actually paid, so we weren't guilty of dishonoring a ransom; good enough, as far as it went. Still, I felt compelled to remind the pilot that we had provided only 30 seconds for him to pay the ransom, and urged him to pay more quickly next time.

By this point we had managed to tackle the Tengu pilot's escape capsule. Reasoning that someone who could afford such a valuable ship would probably be wearing valuable implants, I then demanded 100M ISK in exchange for releasing his pod. Only then did I note that the transponder signal indicating the presence of the pilot himself in the system was absent; one way or another, the consciousness of our target was gone. "Pop the pod. He's gone." Seconds later, we scooped a frozen corpse from space, but we knew the pilot was probably warming up to a nice cup of hot chocolate outside a clone vat somewhere far away.

Keeping on the alert for interlopers, our attention turned next to recovering what systems were still functional from the wreckage of the Tengu. With our usual avarice, as my Tusker mates grabbed modules, they began assessing roughly what we'd won.

I won't repeat here the language I heard; suffice it to say that one of the modules we recovered was judged to be worth over a billion ISK all by itself--and our pilots were, well, impressed and expressive. Soon an official killmail was broadcast, and I imagine on the bridges of four Tusker ships in Ouelletta four pirate captains scanned the Total Module Drop list again and again for several minutes. Near as we could figure, we'd found ourselves in possession of over 1.7B ISK in intact modules--a prize of over 400M ISK each!

Giddy, we hurried to finish looting and salvaging the wreck, then darted back to our safe spot. You may think our lot hardened battle veterans and calloused criminals, but a casual observer just then might be forgiven for thinking of us more a gaggle of excited schoolgirls. We began dreaming of what fabulous things we might spend our bounty on, each Tusker more extravagant than the last: Some new battlecruisers! New heavy assault cruisers! New recon ships! A full set of Snakes!

(I'm embarrassed to write it up like this here, because I know many of you readers keep 400M ISK in your change pocket, but there you have it. Tuskers often get as good as they give, and our combat efficiency is on the wrong side of 75%; the truth is it was Christmas in April for we four.)

Although we were just four jumps out from our base in Hevrice, there were no complaints when I ordered us to chart a course for home. Never was a fleet scouted so carefully; I practically held my breath the whole way home. Docking at the Hevrice V station was cause for another round of self-congratulations; Bart said, "Now I can get excited--the loot's safe!"

In that interview with Romeo Blakstorm, I was asked, "Either/or: Strategic Cruiser/150 tech II fitted Rifters?"

I answered, "I have a personal bias against T3 and faction ships. Even most T2 ships are hard to break even with. I’d probably think differently if I had more ISK of my own." It's true. With more ISK of my own, I'm out to buy an Arazu and maybe an Ishtar...

And that's my story. All that was left was for my mates to heap scorn upon me for being ready to settle for a 200M ISK ransom. No worries--I took it just fine. But heaven help you if you're the next T3 cruiser we get a point on!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

It was like that one time with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid...

Consider this fight: in one corner, four PVP-fit battlecruisers and a battleship; in the other corner, one battlecruiser, four cruisers, and an assault frigate. Who would you put your money on? If you backed the 5 heavy ships, you wouldn't regret it. But would you believe three of them died in the process?

Our rag-tag Tusker fleet consisted of me in my Myrmidon, a Rupture, a Stabber, a Vexor, some bozo in a Bellicose, and a Jaguar. It was a slow day and we'd wandered from our base in Verge Vendor up through Placid, through Black Rise, and into Lonetrek. Looking for a fast way home, we took our chances and slunk through a few highsec systems around Nonni before resurfacing in lowsec near The Citadel. Leo Solunar, our point man, spotted three Drakes in Mara, a system I knew to be frequented by various sorts of combat veterans. He confirmed the Drakes were all from the same corp--the Kinights Templar--so that meant we'd have a real fight on our hands; on the other hand, their security status was relatively high, which we hoped meant their thoughts didn't run toward violence as soon as ours would. We did pause for a moment to consider our chances, but concluded that we needed some excitement in our otherwise dull day. It was with grim satisfaction, then, that we learned one of the Drakes was at an asteroid belt. Our point man went in for the tackle, and the rest of us poised on the gate to come to his aid.

"Point!" came Leo's report. The Tusker gang jumped into Mara and sped to his side. As we landed, the field was all Tuskers. We lit up the hapless Drake and let him have it; by the time his backup started arriving, we had pretty much broken his tank. "Diin o is Secondary," Leo announced in a calm voice. Seconds later, bumnz' Drake succumbed to our onslaught and we turned our attention to diin o's battlecruiser. Thinking ahead, another Tusker reported, "Point on Edis Krad." All three Drakes were committed to the fight now, like it or not. And then a hostile Drake landed on top of us.

Things could get tense in a situation like this, and indeed I was feeling the pain. It seems I had been selected as the enemy force's primary target. Now I want you to know that had I been the commander of the Kinights Templar fleet, there's no way I would have selected the ship with the biggest tank as primary target; I would typically look to take out force multipliers first (such as ECM platforms or logistics ships), then I would look for ships with a high DPS relative to a low tank; if I were their FC, I would probably have primaried our Rupture, then the Stabber if we had a good tackle on it, followed by the Vexor. But what I'm coming to understand is I am Ka Jolo, CEO of the Tuskers, and I seem to get designated primary target a good 90% of the time. This might make sense if the other guys thought I was FC (in this case I certainly wasn't), but I wonder if it isn't rather a case of my modest amount of fame working against me.

Anyway, I was the primary target. My mates in their scantily-clad cruisers and frigate zipped around with impunity while my armor took the brunt of the enemy's attack. Some pilots equip their Myrmidons with three armor repairers, and in this situation I sure could have used more than the two I had. Each salvo from their missile launchers was demolishing more than half of my armor. I am well skilled in armor repair, and put everything I had into it just then. "Overheat the resistance mods!" I ordered, "Overheat those reppers!" I knew it was crucial to our success against four battlecruisers that I do as much damage as possible while I was still on the field. Mentally I began going down my escape capsule checklist, proud of the way my crew stayed on station and fought with courage and professionalism even while it became obvious our battlecruiser was doomed. My capacitor was well in hand; in a typical fight, I struggle to feed energy to my guns and tank, but things were happening so quickly this time cap was not yet an issue. My armor readouts, on the other hand, were fluctuating wildly: a flight of missiles would shake us well and truly, and I'd see red; then our damage control team would get off a couple of rep cycles, and the red would shrink--but it was a losing battle. With each cycle, the red would dip deeper and more red would remain.

Good news--diin o's Drake couldn't keep it together any longer, and we re-directed our fire to Edis Krad's Drake while his mate's capsule emerged from the debris of what had been the second Drake. As Tusker fleet reported tackle being established on Benedict III's Drake, I set my mind on contributing all I could to the fight still ahead. "Overheat those guns! Nevermind that they might burn out--let's pray we have time to worry about burning them out!" My Myrmidon's DPS--six high-tech 220mm autocannons firing advanced ammunitions, along with a mixed flight of heavy, medium, and light high-tech Gallente drones--was a significant part of the force breaking the tanks on these Caldari battlecruisers, and I wanted to get this third Drake's shield tank broken before...well, you know.

Alarms were sounding throughout my battlecruiser, the ventilator systems failed to clear smoke fast enough, and electricity arced from control panels. "This is it," I thought to myself, as I saw how little structural integrity remained--but wait, the armor repair team did it again! Time for another salvo. BAM! Gone was my armor, just a sliver of structure left; this really was it. No, wait! Another heroic success from the armor repair team, and yet another broadside into the target Drake at point-blank range. And then, confusion. Numbers on my command console froze; all indicators went red. After a few seconds' delay my console refreshed itself, and all systems were green--meaning rather than being in command of a mighty Gallente battlecruiser of the line with a crew of hundreds, I was now in command of a rather limited escape capsule, with no crew at all.

I selected a planet at random and entered the command to warp there, speed being more important than destination at this point; experience has taught me that you never know when an opponent will take a few moments from intense combat to see my frozen corpse floating peacefully in space. Relaxing slightly as my pod entered the relative safety of warp, I just had to ask: "Have we broken his tank?"

"Roger that," came the welcome reply, "His shields are gone and we're plowing through his armor". Good! My crew did not die in vain. Caldari battlecruisers tended to focus all their defensive measures on bolstering their shields, which meant that whereas my Gallente ship had lasted quite some time while taking armor damage, that Drake was already as good as dead. The three Tusker cruisers and our assault frigate soon destroyed the third battlecruiser.

With frustration I could only listen to the fight from afar. With my Myrmidon off the field, the enemy was able to start popping my mates' ships with enhanced alacrity. Perhaps even then we might have had the chance of another kill, but the pilot of our first kill rejoined the fray with a fresh battlecruiser and a fresh crew, then the pilot of our second kill returned to the scene--the Tusker fleet was still gamely carrying on--and he returned in a shiny Caldari Raven-class battleship. Without the entire DPS of our 5-man fleet, the Tuskers were unable to break the tank of the fourth Drake, and being well-tackled those who may have thought of living to fight another day found themselves rather heroically staying to the bitter end. The final battle report I heard was sent by Valgore Muerte from the con of his Jaguar, doomed but defiant to the end as two battlecruisers and a battleship closed on his position.

The Tusker fleet--a fleet of escape pods--sped away to dock in The Citadel lowsec. The Kinights Templar held the field, and we gritted our teeth to imagine them picking through the mangled wrecks of our ships and the frozen corpses of our crews to salvage whatever systems might still be serviceable. And yet our heads were held high and our eyes gleamed--outgunned, we had held up our end of the fight with distinction. "Gf"s were offered and received. If you're going to lose a fight, this was the way to do it.