Thursday, January 31, 2008

Taranis: Day One

Yesterday I qualified to pilot Gallente-built interceptors, and had several Taranis-class 'ceptors brought down to my hangar in lowsec, with all the fittings. Although I carefully considered flying a short-range, high-damage blaster Taranis, in the end I listened to my advisers who recommended I start in the longer-range railgun version; these promise more survivability, allowing me to fly outside of stasis webifier range. Earlier today, I took the helm of a completed Taranis, and undocked into uncharted territory.

First a mate and I went to a quiet spot deep in space so I could familiarize myself with the feel of my new boat. I orbited at different ranges, with and without my microwarpdrive engaged. I found to my surprise that I couldn't hit my ally's ship at all with the railguns in my preferred orbit, unless I disengaged the microwarpdrive engines. There's still a lot I can learn about small turret tracking, but apparently many Interceptor pilots don't use their guns when they are orbiting at high speeds. Of course, the flip side of this coin is that the target vessel is just as incapable of hitting the orbiting interceptor.

My corp mate and I then proceeded to cruise through some nearby star systems, looking for ships we could safely attack, out from under the watchful sentry guns at jump gates and space stations. Soon enough we spied a Kestrel-class Caldari frigate, and warped to the asteroid belt where he was ratting. Although the Kessie fired missile after missile at me, in my high-speed orbit they had little effect. I didn't bother with my railguns at that speed, but sent in my two T2 light scout drones. The kill went slower than I'm used to with my Incursus; at one point I ran out of capacity, slowed down, and started taking damage from the missiles. Because I was outside of his web range, however, and because my ship's light weight and powerful engines, I easily warped away for some emergency repairs. The Kessie was still pinned down by my partner, and still alive by the time I warped back to finish him off.

Later, I baited a Moa and Thorax into firing on me at a jump gate. Because I am an outlaw, they could do this with no fear of the sentry guns. I took more damage than I was comfortable with right at that moment, but again I was easily able to get away. The team foolishly went to an asteroid belt in the system, however, any my mate and I attacked them freely. We focused on the Moa, but made little headway against his shields with just my two small drones. However, within a few minutes other members of our underworld corporation began to arrive on the scene, all flying interceptors. Occasionally one or the other of us would collide with an asteroid or get caught between the two targets or take too much enemy fire; when that happened, we would simply warp away to a safe spot in space, make some quick repairs, and return to the fray. The Moa was going down; just as I went to move my warp disrupter from the Moa to the Thorax, however, the Thorax abandoned his colleague and fled the scene. We offered to let the Moa's capsule go for a ransom, but he declined.

Now, I can't take a great deal of pride in taking part in killing either the Kestrel or the Moa; I've killed both types of ship in my T1 Incursus, solo, and in much less time. However, I'm starting to understand the advantage of interceptors--the freedom to leave the scene of a fight when it starts to go bad. In my earlier frigates, by the time I realized I wouldn't prevail, it was generally too late to get away.

At the end of my first day as an interceptor pilot, a Caracal-class cruiser appeared on my scanner's display. I tackled it easily, and noted with satisfaction that my speed prevented his missiles from doing much damage. As before, he likewise had little to fear from my puny DPS. The difference between us was that I could leave whenever I wanted, while his warp drive was out of commission from my warp disrupter. Even though he may have had me scrammed as well, I could easily power my way out of range of his electronic warfare equipment.

And then the Sleipnir appeared on my computer overview, just a few kilometers away. a powerful Field Command Ship. Tricked-out battlecruisers, Field Command Ships are capable of large-scale battles against multiple targets; this one didn't even break a sweat with me. Within moments I was seeing red--red lights saying my shields were gone, red lights saying my armor was vaporized, red lights saying the integrity of my hull itself was in jeopardy. I powered away from combat, but caught between the two ships, with my little experience I had no chance. I considered myself fortunate to get away with my escape capsule.

I assumed the Sleipnir and the Caracal pilots were friends, but as I monitored local communication channels, I found I was mistaken. The Caracal pilot was thanking the Sleipnir all right--he managed to escape in the moments after my ship exploded--but the Sleipnir had tried to tackle the Caracal and claim the prize for itself.

So, my first day flying an interceptor I could take part of the credit for two kills, but I also lost my own ship. Although I had looted some nice stuff, worth more than 10 million ISK, I have not yet achieved my goal of profitability in interceptor piracy.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Grace (but not brains) under pressure

As I look back over my short career, I see a road paved with noobish mistakes. Forgetting to deploy my drone...targeting an asteroid instead of my opponent...waiting just one second too long to enter the command to warp out...thinking I can kill the bait before the trap is sprung...I'm far from the galaxy's most efficient pirate.

And then there was earlier today. A friend reports a lone Punisher in the system. I've bumped into that Punisher pilot before, and he's a nasty pirate who always seems to get the best of me. In spite of his winning track record, he always manages to come up with some new ploy to get me to engage. So today, I checked local carefully; none of his friends were there to interfere (that's how they got me last time). My ally remarks that a Punisher, with only two mid-slots, probably won't have a warp disruptor--I should be able to run away if things go bad.

That tipped it for me. I've fought Punishers in the past, and while none of them have ever killed me, there were some I just couldn't kill, either. Rather than waste all my T2 ammo on them, I ended up just letting them go. But now my gunnery skills are even higher, and I really, really want to get this guy. So after missing him at a couple of belts (I think we were both trying to jump each other and kept passing each other in deep space), I just sat at a belt and waited for him.

I didn't have to wait long. At first, things were going my way; I brushed aside his shields, and although his pulse lasers were nothing to sneeze at, they were taking longer on my defenses. I chewed deeply into his armor; he nibbled away at mine. And then things turned south. His armor started regenerating, then held steady; my armor continued its slow but steady decline. When I decided enough was enough, I engaged my warp engines.

Only to discover that I was scrammed.

I died.

As my pod warped to a nearby space station, I remarked to my scout that I had lost the engagement--the Punisher had had a warp disruptor after all. "Well, if he had a scrammer, he didn't have a MWD or web. Why didn't you just MWD out of scram range and get away?" my friend asked.

Good question.

Your money or your life!

I just want you all to know that if you pay me an agreed-upon ransom, I will honor it. The "agreed-upon" part is important; just transferring some ISK to my account and calling it a ransom looks more like a donation to me. But if I ask for, say, 20M ISK within 30 seconds, and you transfer 20M to me within that time, I'll turn off my warp disruptor and you're on your way--until the next day, of course. If you pay the ransom and I don't see it and I kill you anyway, I'll return the ISK (I've done this once already). But if you pay the ransom, I leave, and 5 minutes later some other pirate comes in and kills you, you don't get a refund from me even if my name shows on the killmail (killmails include the names of anyone who has "attacked" you recently, not just those who press the attack that actually turns out being fatal).

We talk about ransom a lot in the underworld. What should we ask for? When shouldn't we bother? It's all more of an art than a science. First, there's your ship. We can try to guess how much it's worth to you, but all we can do is guess. Sure, we may know how much the hull costs--but we don't usually know whether it has T2 fittings, best named modules, or junk; we don't know if it's insured or not; we don't know if it's rigged; and we don't know what's in the cargo hold. So we kill you without even asking for ransom when you're in a T1 frigate with a hold full of skill books and blue prints, or we may ask for 100M ISK thinking your empty hold is full of such treasure.

Next, we consider your clone. Are you wearing implants? We have no idea. Some assume new players don't have implants, while more experienced pilots are wearing at least a set of +3's. Once I asked for (and received) a small ransom from a moderately experienced pilot, only to find out later he had some pricey implants and I could have asked for much more; another time I killed a new pilot with very expensive implants, and he pointed this out to me after the fact. Most of the time, though, when I ask for ransom I'm told to forget it.

If you do have a valuable ship, cargo, or set of implants, and your pirate doesn't ask for a ransom, feel free to offer one. There are pirates that don't honor ransoms, but they are in the minority. Just know that by offering a ransom, you may as well say, "Hey, I have an extraordinarily valuable ship, cargo, or set of implants." The pirate may demand a higher ransom than he might otherwise be inclined; only you can decide if it's worth it or not.

Some pirates make a fine living off of ransoms; I'm not really there yet, as most of my targets are too inexperienced to have much wealth to protect. I'm told that in small gangs, whenever the leader tries to ransom a target someone else in the gang often doesn't get it and continues firing on the hapless victim until his ship (or his capsule) vents its gases and expires. And then there are the organized pirate gangs that offer a menu of services in exchange for various prices: they'll leave you alone for a day, a week, a month, even forever--if you pay the appropriate price. I'm not so sure this sort of ransom is worth it--there's always another pirate (or a dozen) waiting to disrupt your affairs when they leave.

Finally, there are those creative pirates who ask not for ISK but some sort of humiliating act--a post on some forum, for example (this can get the poster banned from the forum), extolling the pirate's prowess, or the recitation of a poem on the local communications frequencies. Some have asked difficult trivia questions, with the target's life dependent upon a correct answer. And some even pay an inexperienced victim more than his ship is worth, after taking some time to discuss the encounter and encourage the victim to make further forays into lowsec space. You should be so lucky!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Which foot forward?

Once again, I have transferred my allegiance to a new corporation. My former corporation had a proud history and a proud name, but seemed to me to be in advanced decline. I had joined it with visions of fighting in small gangs and listening to grizzled veterans tell stories of glories past and arcane wisdom, but most of those grizzled veterans left or were leaving the corporation. My former mates were amiable and competent, but my opportunities to learn and grow were too few. After only a couple of days, I have already received more personal attention in my new corporation than I ever received in the old. My new corporation is smaller and relatively unknown, but I personally appreciate very much that one of the veterans took me out into deep space for some one-on-one instruction in high-speed Interceptor tactics.

I wanted to impress my new mates with my hunting prowess, but instead I'm afraid I rather embarrassed myself my first day. My new base of operations is just a couple of jumpgates away from the old, and I thought I'd fly my Myrmidon-class battlecruiser over. I am barely competent to helm that fine ship, and thinking back now I remember resolving not to fly it except in a gang. But just two jumps away! So I took one of my most valuable ships, threw in some quite valuable cargo including spare T2 drones and some skill books, and headed out.

As I came through the second (and final) gate, my heart sank. Two battleships, a battlecruiser, and a cruiser were waiting there; they flashed red on my tactical display, indicating they were known criminals. Oops. I employed the tactic that has worked for me in escaping from gate camps in one of my cruisers--I headed straight back for the gate I just came through, microwarpdrive set on full, and turned on my active armor hardeners. In the past, I've been able to tank whatever damage hit me long enough to jump out, all I needed to do to escape, as my attackers would not be allowed to immediately pass through a gate after initiating hostilities.

But this time I didn't make it.

My speed reduced to a crawl by four sets of stasis webifiers, unable to warp to my base space station just a few astral units away, and receiving the concentrated firepower of four ships' guns, blasters, missiles, and drones, I quite simply disintegrated. Protected in my escape capsule, I targeted my home space station and repeatedly issued the command for my small pod to warp...but nothing happened. Just as I was sure it would finally warp away from the carnage, my ship log (transmitted in a final intelligible burst) indicates my capsule, too, was vaporized. Total value lost to me: over 59 million ISK. Not the best thing to have splashed all over the operations board in the ward room back at base. But there it was.

You can imagine my relief, then, when the very next day that week's data was removed from the operations board and a new week's set of statistics begun. And how good it felt to post the first kills. Piloting my trusty Incursus, in a single engagement I killed a destroyer, two frigates, and an industrial ship--and managed to send one of the pilots to his med clone while I was at it. But that's not how it started....

I jumped into the Covryn system and hit paydirt on my first scan. Two Navitas-class frigates showed up, plus an Iteron-class industrial ship. I assumed the indy was en route to or from some station or gate, but knew there was a good chance I would find at least one of the Navitas's at an asteroid belt, especially since I also detected a couple of mining drones on scan. Sure enough, as I took a narrow reading on the fourth asteroid belt, I found the mining drones and the Navitas--and the Iteron as well!

I quickly initiated the process to warp to the asteroid belt; I wanted to get there before they could recall their drones and warp out. In warp, I determined that the Iteron was my primary target; it was more likely to have valuable modules fitted, plus it could have something interesting in its capacious cargo hold (though it would probably just have ore). Coming out of warp, I quickly closed range, tackled the indy, and began the kill.

Suddenly, a Catalyst-class destroyer appeared on the scene. Destroyers were built to be frigate-killers, so I instantly made him my primary target rather than the indy. I figured the indy and the Navitas would get away while the getting was good, but no--they stayed. After a minute, it was clear that this particular Catalyst was no frigate-killer, at least it wasn't a Jousting Junebug-killer; I obliterated him, and once again locked my warp disruptor on the Iteron (and my guns, and my webber, and my drone). He went down. Still the Navitas hadn't fled; as though he were offering himself to me, he buzzed around ineffectually. I locked him, pinned him still, and destroyed him. And this time I had the luxury of stopping his capsule and vacuum-freezing that specific iteration of his corporeal existence.

I went first to the wreck of the destroyer to scoop some loot, anxiously scanning in all directions to see if anyone higher on the food chain was coming in to snatch my prizes and at the same time reloading my blasters and recalling my drone. Next I looted the industrial, and finally the Navitas; all the while, I was unmolested. Just as I scooped up the frozen corpse and set a course to a safe spot in deep space, though, a Tristan-class frigate screamed in.

Now, the Tristan was built for combat, unlike the Navitas. I could expect to face some blasters and missile fire from a well-armored opponent (hey, that's the pilot from the Iteron!). We closed with each other, and orbited one another, going toe-to-toe. Unfortunately for my opponent, I had a lot more to dish out, and in a real hurry. Pausing a moment to recover some usable modules from his wreckage, I finally relaxed as my ship warped to safety, just as an Ishkur appeared on my scanner's display.

Back at my new base, I eyed the wardroom operations display over a cup of coffee. A new week, and a fresh leaf for me. I nodded in approval at the four kills listed under "Ka Jolo." Quite an improvement over the big red battlecruiser loss that was up there the day before. Now, just a few more kills and maybe I'll have made back what I lost....

Friday, January 18, 2008

A familiar lesson hits home

One important lesson I've learned is that all the little skills a pilot can learn add up. Sometimes it depresses me, when I make a list of all the skills I need just to maximize myself as an Incursus pilot: gunnery skills to make me more accurate, faster, and deal more damage; drone skills to make my drone faster, stronger, more damaging, more accurate, and to extend its range; engineering skills to give me more options on what to fit, and to let me always have the energy to use the modules I do fit; navigation skills to make my ship faster and more agile; mechanic skills to increase my ships' durability; electronic skills to let me target more ships, faster, to engage in electronic warfare, and to do it all on less energy; and frigate and spaceship command skills to enhance my ship's maneuverability and effectiveness. Put it all together, and to maximize my effectiveness in a t1 frigate would take over a year.

I'm already "pretty" effective in a lot of that stuff--there's not much I can still learn in each area. Still, there are a number of areas I can learn in, and those last little bits of knowledge are the most arcane, the most complex, and take the longest to learn. Is it really worth it? Yes it is, as a recent encounter illustrates.

I was sitting at a vantage point that let me scan most of the asteroid belts in a high-population lowsec system, and noticed another Incursus nosing around. I couldn't identify the pilot, but it seemed to me he was hunting me; as he jumped from one direction to another, I sensed he was trying to get a fix on my position. Fortunately, he wasn't equipped with the probes he would need to scan me down. Anyway, I decided to let him get his wish--I plotted a course to the last asteroid belt he jumped to, and engaged my warp drives.

I landed in a good position, less than three kilometers away. Quickly I set my ship to a tight orbit around my enemy, launched my drone, and engaged my warp scrambler, stasis webifier, and guns. I had the jump on him; by the time he got a lock on me in return, I was already within optimal range and had him tackled.

And then I watched in shock as my shields evaporated and my armor simply melted away. By the time I scooted out of there in my pod, my opponent was still smug with over 60% of his armor. What the heck happened?

After limping into my home station and fitting out a new frigate, I did some research on the databases available to my gang of pirates. I found that the pilot who killed me was quite a bit more experienced than I; fair enough. I've killed my share of very experienced pilots (after all, as the hunter I'm the one who usually gets to choose who I'll fight and in what ship), but it's to be expected that they could have a few tricks up their sleeves. But it's what I discovered next that impressed me: my opponent was known to fit three Light Neutron Blaster II's on his Incursus ships. I was impressed, because I can only fit three Light Ion Blaster II's. If I tried to swap out one of my Ion blasters for a single Neut, my entire CPU would freeze. This guy had three.

I took another hard look at the skills that would decrease my consumption of CPU and energy grid resources--quite a handful of them, actually--and let out a sigh of admiration for my more capable foe and of appreciation for the task ahead of me.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Indulge me in a little self-pity

I haven't been having the greatest luck with the pirate corporations I've been joining. Certainly I've been able to get into some prestigious corporations with outstanding reputations--but not during their finest hour. Currently I'm in a well-known corporation and alliance, but I'm not encouraged to see how many experienced pirates are leaving the corporation, amidst little evident action to rectify things. Personally, I'm too inexperienced really to know what the problems even are. All I know is I've had little opportunity to learn from more experienced pirates throughout my short career. Being in an east Asian timezone only compounds the situation. I rely so much for my guidance on intelligence I can glean from various forums.

Having said that, I have had several chances lately to take part in group pirate activities--camping gates and probing out mission runners in deep space. This has helped me to think about qualifying for and fitting out ships more appropriate for such activities (battlecruisers and battleships), and that's been a good thing. But, although I hear tell of hot action and generous shares of plunder from rich merchant vessels and faction-fitted warships, I'm not getting appreciably more action than when I prowl star systems solo, hunting sometimes for hours before catching some unwary prey at an asteroid belt.

First, I spent some hours gate-camping in a Myrmidon. This involved several hours of forming a gang, sharing bookmarks at various distances from a gate, setting up a cloaked ship to relay intelligence from the other side of the gate, discussing strategy, and telling stories of "that time when...." Unfortunately, our camp was turned against us; a rival corporation sent a lone battleship through the gate, and then when we jumped in on him, several more battleships arrived, causing our fleet commander to order retreat. Unfortunately for three of us, we were warp scrambled and watched relatively helplessly as our ships were savaged. Although I have ordered more battlecruisers, that Myrmidon was the only one I had at hand, and I was relegated to participating from that point on in a cruiser. And cruisers can't take so much of the sentry-gun fire that always goes with gate-camping.

Then another time we tried our hand at probing down mission-runners in deep space. While I didn't lose any ships during that venture, it did end up being a fruitless several hours; each time we managed to get a fix on a target's position, the target either got spooked somehow, finished its mission and returned to safety, or was so far from the acceleration gate that we couldn't make the tackle before the target escaped.

Now, I am patient. I am not frustrated with what's happened. I know my comrades have been on plenty of successful gate-camping and mission-probing adventures. I even learned a lot in the course of setting up and getting ready. What I yet lack, embarrassingly, is simple experience in either nefarious activity.

Here's hoping for more gangs, successful adventures, and a healthier bottom line in the ledger.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

A Temporary Marriage of Convenience

I'd been having a slow couple of days. Finally today I got some action, but any gains were countered by losses; I killed a Retriever and an Osprey, but lost an Incursus and a Vexor in the process. Going around my hunting circuit one more time, I spotted a Stabber at an asteroid belt all by itself. I warped into the belt at a distance; I wanted to get close enough to identify the pilot and reckon my chances. I really shouldn't be taking on Stabbers all by myself in an Incursus, but if the pilots are inexperienced I'll do it anyway. I recognized the pilot, all right; he was a pirate I've tangled horns with before. This was definitely not something I wanted to do in my Incursus. Quickly, I warped to a station in the same station, and emerged moments later in a Thorax. The Stabber was still at the same belt; when I'd seen him before, he'd been some distance away from the asteroid belt, so I charted a course a little bit out from the belt, hoped I'd be out in the right direction, and engaged my drives.

We kinda looked at each other for a few moments. My adversary was over 100 kilometers away; neither of us could warp to the other, and I didn't want to try to close at impulse speed, as the Stabber has a much better optimal range than a Thorax like mine. At about the time I decided I'd have to warp out, and maybe come back at a different distance, a whole gang of ships jumped into the belt. There was a Blackbird (an electronics warfare cruiser), a Tristan, a Rifter, who knows what else--I set a destination for the first thing that came up under my cursor and got out of Dodge. I'd narrowly avoided a trap!

Then the Stabber pilot contacted me on a closed communications channel, proposing that the two of us join forces to go after the small fleet. I immediately suspected a trap; wasn't he sitting there all by himself at the belt as bait? Hadn't the fleet jumped in as soon as I appeared, not realizing I'd be some distance off from the belt? "I don't hang with non-flashies," he said, and that's what gave me pause. For while the Stabber had indeed been flagged as a criminal on my computer display, flashing red, the gang had shown as neutral or at worse low security status. What the heck--nothing ventured, nothing gained!

We bumbled around at first as a two-man gang. First we couldn't find the fleet, then we warped to different places. Finally the Stabber pilot warped in on them, back at the original belt, and called for me to warp to the belt. We agreed to go for the Blackbird first, as his EW capabilities could be crucial to the fight. I was nervous in warp; was I about to be stabbed in the back?

No. The Stabber pirate was true to his word. I quickly locked the Blackbird and sent my T2 Hammerheads his way; even though he soon broke my target lock, those drones would not leave him alone. Within a short time he warped away. Next I turned my firepower onto the Omen, as my ally grappled with a Tristan that had tackled him. Occasionally I shifted my warp scrambler or stasis webifier to another target, as the Stabber suggested, but he killed the Tristan and things were looking good. The Blackbird came back, and I sicced my drones on him again, and he left again. The Omen died, and I killed a Kestrel as my comrade powered our direction. The rest of our opponents scattered, warping out and leaving us some wrecks to loot--and we managed to take out one of their capsules while we were at it.

Before we could finish looting, the survivors were back--and this time there was a Myrmidon with them. Myrmidons are tough Battlecruiser-class drone boats; Stabber and I warped out quick. But almost as quick, the Stabber had second thoughts. He'd managed to get an ID on the Myrmidon pilot, and thought we could take him. So we agreed to go back for more; again, we would set the Blackbird as our primary target before engaging the Myrmidon. My ally wanted me to stay back out of the Myrmidon's web range, but I said I'd be going in close, under his guns. That was within his optimal--but mine, too, and there was a good chance he'd have larger guns and thus a harder time tracking me. We lost our foes, but I located them at a nearby planet. I warped in at range to verify their position; then Stabber warped right to them while I warped out and back.

As before, we targeted the Blackbird first; this time, when he fled, he didn't come back. The Myrmidon was next, and his tank held up well; but not well enough. Though it took a few minutes, the Myrmidon fell. The Tristan was back, this time in a mere Velator, and Stabber and I practically one-rounded him. Any enemies still alive warped away, and once more the field of battle was ours.

I had to make several trips from wrecks to a jettisoned cargo can to loot all the ships, and afterwards I met up with Stabber in a local space station to divvy things up. We'd knocked out a Myrmidon, an Omen, a Rifter, a Kestrel, a Tristan, and a Velator. By my estimate, Stabber and I should each be able to sell our share for over 9 million ISK.

The next time we meet, that rascally pirate might gank me, or I might send death and destruction screaming down on him. But just for today, two pirates with a dark history worked together, and were glad they did.

Update: Strive Nails of Death's Legion, the Stabber pilot, caught some of the action on film! You can check out the video here. Don't blink, and you can see my purple icon on his overview at 1:20 and 1:38.