Monday, July 28, 2008

The burden of command

I've commanded small fleets of T1 cruisers or interceptors before, but today I found myself flying a Gankerax in command of a fleet that included a Blackbird, an Arazu, a Huginn, a Malediction, a Hurricane, a Merlin, and a Stiletto--all piloted by blood-thirsty members of the Ministry of Destruction. Ignoring the odd frigate or destroyer up to no good at an asteroid belt, I charted a course for adventure.

First we dipped our toe into Old Man Star, a known hangout for pirates and cutthroats. Our scout in the Malediction spotted several juicy targets, including a Taranis that was dogging his steps as he warped from vantage point to vantage point. I instructed the fleet to stand by on the gates into the system, and told the Malediction pilot to linger longer at his next stop; when he felt the Taranis was on his way, he gave the word and we all jumped into the system and warped to his location. Unfortunately, the Taranis webbed our scout and popped him in short order, and while a couple of our fleet members managed to web and jam him, the Taranis made it out before anyone could disrupt his warp engines. MOD 0, bad guys 1.

I set a course for Oulley, and we hunted our way in that direction. Local bad boys from the Dead Parrots and Starbucks kept a low profile. The other combat corps seemed to be taking it easy in well-defended space stations; I like to think they were quivering in fear of our mighty fleet, but it could be they were simply sleeping off a party from earlier encounters where they ruled the field.

Then our scout reported a gate camp on the Agoze gate in Vey; an Armageddon, a Harbinger, a Hurricane, and a Tempest from the ParadoXon alliance. Our Blackbird had all racial jammers except Amarr, so I laid out a plan wherein he would jam the Hurricane and Tempest while the rest of us primaried the Armaggedon. Inexperienced as I was, I opened the floor for alternative suggestions, but none were put forward. On my command, we jumped through the gate; once everyone was in, we dropped cloaked and put the plan into action.

Immediately, things began to sour. Have you spotted my fatal mistake yet?

Pilots began to spam comms with reports of taking heavy damage and imminent death. I ordered a stop to those reports, pleading for useful intelligence. Then it came, perhaps 30 seconds into the engagement: people were taking fire from sentry guns. I had ordered the fleet to open fire on neutral ships at a jump gate! Our Arazu went down, then the Blackbird. I ordered all pilots to get out immediately; I myself was primaried by this time, and could only pound my command console as my warp engines and impulse drives were scrammed and webbed. While my Thorax was doomed, I was at least able to pilot my escape pod out of the engagement before any of those lucky ParadoXon dogs could claim the bounty on my head.

I don't know if you can imagine with what heavy heart I pondered, sitting at a lonely spot in Vey space, the damage I had done this day to my mates in the Ministry of Destruction. Their professionalism was reflected in the fact that they executed the plan with full trust in their fleet commander, initiating hostilities against ships protected by the powers that be. Ships fit to levels I couldn't afford were turned into scrapmetal, pilots with skills I can't fathom found themselves waking up in some cold clone vat bay.

I hope someday to become a pirate fleet commander of some repute. May I find the fortitude to endure the burden of command. And may I learn more from the mistakes of others.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Could've - would've - should've

Is PvP about quick thinking? Or is it more about training (deeper thought, trial and error, practice) paying off during combat? If it's one or the other, I'm hoping it's the latter, after being ganked tonight by a Sacrilege.

One of the exotic dancers on board my Thorax was inappropriately intruding into my concentration on the hunt; eventually I had to dock up in a space station in a hostile system in order to gain a measure of safety while I gave her my full attention. Big mistake. The station was full of hostile pilots, and when ultimately the dancer was dealt with and I undocked to resume my hunt, a Sacrilege was circling the station, waiting perhaps for me. Sacrileges are fearsome heavy assault cruisers, and I had no intention of messing with it. This is where my basic training came into play.

I did not panic. I sat there for a moment and considered my situation, knowing that for a few seconds I would be protected by the station's defensive shields. Any overt action on my part--whether to warp away, engage in combat, or even return to the space station--would terminate that protection. I decided my safest course of action would be to re-dock immediately; a sound decision, I still believe. Accordingly, I refrained from any hostile act against the Sacrilege, in order to avoid any sanctions from the station that would prevent me from docking. My mind set, I then issued the command to dock, simultaneously engaging my damage control system and microwarpdrive.

The Sacrilege targeted me at just that point and began his attack; lasers flashed, and a few drones began buzzing angrily around. This is where my basic training fell short.

The Sacrilege rammed me, knocking me out of docking orbit around the station. I tried warping away, but of course I was scrammed. What I should have done was probably to launch my ECM drones, hoping to break the Sacrilege's lock long enough to warp away. Instead, pushed beyond the limits of my training, I froze in the heat of my enemy's laser fire. Nudged further and further from the station, I never deployed my drones, never webbed my foe, never fired a single round of Void. I was stuck on "when planning to dock or jump, do not engage in a hostile act." I double-checked that my microwarpdrive was engaged; I issued the command to dock again and again. Sadly, what didn't work before continued not working.

Success in combat is at least as much a matter of combat experience as ship, fitting, or skills. Someday, I hope to be a veteran, seeming to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat; for now, I have to learn the lessons such a veteran would know. Tonight's personalized lesson: when jumping through a gate into a gate camp, or when undocking from a station to face a station camp, have not just one good plan, but two or three.

And don't cruise dangerous space with exotic dancers aboard.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Myrmidons to the left of me, Feroxes to the right!

As I continue to invest training time in basic skills, I am enjoying the growing confidence I feel in piloting ships I already know how to fly. The Thorax is a case in point: when I first flew it, I felt rather uncomfortable. Whatever advantage it gave me in terms of firepower, I felt insecure, as though a large target was painted on me. I still fly a new-pilot-fitted Thorax, with small neutron blasters and heavy armor. But now, with my cap skills and navigation skills and gunnery skills and drone skills and mechanic skills and electronic skills and other un-sexy skills all honed to a high degree, when flying a Thorax I feel a sense of calm assurance. While high-tech scout drones help make any Thorax a DPS machine, when flying solo the combination of Thorax + EWAR drones for jamming one's enemy is a winning one.

This confidence is reflected in my choice of ships to attack. I do not hesitate to attack any assault frigate, and have never lost a cruiser to one. I will engage any T1 cruiser. My confidence is not in final victory, to be sure, but rather in the probability that I will either prevail or escape--often bringing my EC drones with me.

A couple of days ago I spied a suitably inexperienced Myrmidon pilot ratting in Ouelletta. After being very sure of the other pilots in the system--for Ouelletta's reputation as a pirate fishing barrel is gaining luster as an anti-pirate fishing barrel--I set a course for his belt. In moments, my target was webbed and scrammed, and my work was begun. As I had hoped, he only managed to field four T1 drones against me; a competent Myrmidon pilot, with a full complement of T2 drones, would have run me off. Shrugging off the guns of his drones, I began slowly working through the battlecruiser's shields, armor, and structure. I made some inquiries along the lines of ransom, but true to form, my target's decision to fly a battlecruiser into lowsec for a little ratting coincided with the depletion of his financial resources.

A battlecruiser, however, has a lot of shields, armor, and structure to work through--even when piloted by a rookike; soon I was out of cap. Carefully husbanding my energy resources to keep the supremely-important point on my target, I eventually wore him down, at times firing just a single blaster, at times none at all.

Now don't be thinking any Thorax can kill any Myrmidon--I had quite a different experience earlier today. This time I warped to a Myrmidon at a belt in Hevrice; this time the Myrmidon was well-fit and well-flown. I was greeted by five T2 drones, none of which seemed to have any trouble tracking my Thorax and giving it what-for. Not long after getting into armor and seeing how useless my armor repairing was going to be, I started trying to warp away. Nope, scrammed. Still scrammed. Half armor, still scrammed. Quarter armor, still scrammed. Finally, as the last of my armor gave out, my Vespa EC-600's met with some success, and my warp drives engaged. Once it looked like I was getting away, I recalled my drones, and was gratified to see them all make it back snug in their bays before my Thorax got out of Dodge. I barely scratched this Myrmidon--seriously, he had more than 95% of his shields left when I fled--but I was glad to be flying a ship that could get away.

A drone boat like the Myrmidon is a formidable opponent to a Thorax with ECM drones, but gunboats don't have a weapons system independent of their targeting ability. For this reason I've been especially keen on finding a target such as a Hurricane; today, I got something almost as good--a Ferox. I first encountered the ship at a gate, where I pretended not to see him; as an outlaw, I'm fair game at gates, while the sentry guns would take his side should I shoot first. He didn't shoot me, so I pretended I wasn't hunting and warped through first. In the next system, I noted the Ferox's presence, and so in the next; I nosed around a little at the belts, but didn't see the Ferox make itself vulnerable.

Finally, I jumped into Murethand--and there the Ferox was, at the only asteroid belt in scan range! I sat on my hands, though, not touching the controls as a recon ship was at the gate; but as soon as it warped out of the system, I was warping to that belt. I tackled the Ferox and deployed my drones, but he got off a nice alpha strike against me, wiping out most of my shields in a single volley. I was committed, and all I could do was wait and see whether my ECM drones could shut him down long enough for me to do my dirty work. The pilot was not part of any combat organization I recognized, so I crossed my fingers, set a close orbit, and hoped for the best. Remembering my Myrmidon kill, I watched my cap closely, and turned off my stasis webifier once it was clear my target wasn't going to be running off.

In the end, I needn't have worried; I may have taken one more volley of damage, but it wasn't nearly as devastating, and I still had plenty of cap left when the Ferox exploded. As usual when I attack a battlecruiser with a small-blaster cruiser I had plenty of time to raise the subject of ransom; and as usual when I find a battlecruiser at an asteroid belt in lowsec, my target was broke. I locked the capsule and killed the pilot, sending him perhaps to a clone in a galaxy far, far away.

I'm still aiming to be a fully-specced heavy assault cruiser pilot, but that's not going to happen for 3-4 months at least. For now, I'm glad I went back and gave the cheap and effective Thorax-class cruiser another chance. And you! The guy waiting until you can fly a battlecruiser before you go to lowsec! I'm looking for you!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Who got the short end of this stick?

I spied a Brutix, working his magic at an asteroid belt in Ouelletta. That's right, Ouelletta--the system I most warn my readers about. Take any T1 ship battlecruiser-size and down to a belt in Ouelletta, and you'll surely be attacked within minutes, perhaps even within seconds. I felt no hesitation in sending my Thorax, armed with small neutron blasters and ECM drones, into warp drive in that Brutix' direction.

As soon as I was in a comfortably tight orbit around the Brutix and my drones had him jammed while my blasters plinked away, I opened up a private ransom channel. When my target joined the channel, I informed him I was demanding 15 million ISK in ransom. 15 million seemed like a modest ransom to me; new Brutices go for over 20 million in Verge Vendor, and on top of that one must factor in weapons, modules, and the time spent in going from system to system gathering it all together in one place. My target, apparently, didn't see things the same way; his response was to simply shut off communications with me. I set my mind on killing him.

As I got the Brutix into structure, though, a Megathron showed up on the scene. His first volley made it clear to me that I wasn't going to get away from this battleship with just a little fancy footwork. Since it took just a few seconds, I finished off the Brutix; then, ignoring his capsule, I sicced my ECM drones on the Megathron. In spite of working my high-tech small armor repairer overtime, I couldn't prevent the Megathron from munching his way through my armor, lickety-split. Every few seconds, hoping I'd managed to break his lock, I tried warping out to a safespot; every few seconds my hopes were shattered. Finally my Thorax lost integrity, and I managed to speed away in my own capsule. "GF," (good fight), I sent on an open communications channel; I received a gf for myself in response, as well as respect for tackling a Brutix with a Thorax.

A few minutes later, I came out of a space station in the Ouelletta station, dodging sentry fire ineffectively in a Taranis. I took the risk to check on loot; the battleship pilot had left the system. I was filled with greedy joy in discovering that neither the wreckage of my Thorax nor that of the Brutix had been picked over. It took me several trips to shuttle what I could recover from both wreckages to a safe spot in space to wait for things to cool down between me and the authorities. But what amazed me was the discovery that the Brutix--whose pilot couldn't be bothered to pay 15 million in ransom--had gone down with three expensive rigs, worth well over 30 million, and not covered by any insurance.

Pay me the ransom, boys!