Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Post the Raven? Nevermore

Sometimes (though not as often as I might like) a good fight never gets posted to the killboards. And so it happened yesterday in two separate Tusker actions against Ravens.

Early in the day, I was roaming in an ad hoc Tusker gang when Suleiman Shouaa spied a Raven and a Loki in Hulmate. They actually fired on him as he undocked from the station! "These guys want to play. I'm going to try to draw them off the station," he reported. (Tuskers generally don't fight at stations or gates, as the sentry guns have a grudge against us and almost always choose to support the other side.)

So Suleiman flew his ship (I think it was an Arbitrator) to a planet while the rest of us--I in an Ishtar, Ronan Jacques in a Rapier, and new Tusker Ian Morrolan in an Ishkur--took position at the Hulmate gate in Onne. I should tell you that at this point all I was thinking was, "We're seriously trying to engage a Raven and a Loki? Dang, I'm going to lose my Ishtar." But of course, I wanted to seem cool and brave in front of my corp mates, so I went along.

For better or for worse, Suleiman managed to get a tackle on the Raven at a planet. The rest of us jumped in and sped to his aid. At first, the fight went well. The Raven's drones were hurting Suleiman, so we killed them; after that, we had no problem staying under the Raven's long-range guns.

And then the Loki showed up on our 360-degree scanners. "Get ready! Here comes the Loki. Primary the Loki when it arrives!" So we all got as ready as could be.

But the Loki didn't come. It disappeared from our scanners.

Turning my attention back to the Raven, I was happy to see his tank would not be a problem for us. With a little effort we had him out of shields. Should we ransom him? "Let's ransom him. Everyone stop shooting," I ordered. "Wait! I see a capsule...he's ejected! Stop shooting!" Suleiman interrupted. But still the Raven's hull was taking damage. Someone was still shooting at a ship we now considered our own. "Stop shooting! Get your drones off!" By the time everyone most assuredly did call in their drones and disengage their turrets, the mighty Caldari battleship has barely 50% structure left...just enough for the air machines to keep up with the leaks.

Now our problem was what a set of pilots specced for Amarr, Gallente, and Minmatar combat vessels should do with a Caldari workhorse. Ronan Jacques had to leave, so the rest of us opened up our black books and got busy. First, we confirmed that no fellow Tuskers we could get ahold of knew how to fly a Raven. Next we turned to the Tusker public channel--a dodgy sort of place populated by hopeful recruits, professional contacts, and intel-gathering opponents. It was with a sigh of relief we learned that Drummond, a pilot who was in the process of applying to our corp, was willing to help and able to sit at the con of a Raven.

So there we were, three pilots in small ships with global criminal timers, orbiting a prize ship at a celestial in the middle of Hulmate. Our savior Drummond was on his way but had about a dozen systems to navigate getting there. We began to look over our shoulder. In our eyes, every frigate was the scout for the Raven pilot's friends, every cruiser was the vanguard of a counter-attack. Nervously now and then one of us would ask Drummond for a status update. We counted our ISK (What bounty might be in the Raven's hold? With what faction modules might she be fitted?) and we counted pilots in local. Drummond was almost here.

The Loki showed up again on 360. A battlecruiser showed up on 360. Both ships stayed on 360. Local spiked. My heart pounded. "Hurry man! They're about to rain destruction and ruin on us all and take the Raven back!" Drummond docked up and left his ship in the hangar. Drummond undocked and warped our way. "Stop shooting the Raven; let's let it build up its shields a little now that Drummond will be flying her," I said. Suleiman was more helpful: "Stop targeting the Raven altogether, otherwise Drummond won't be able to board." Finally the Raven's transponder blipped and now Drummond's name was on the tag.

I warped our gang (now including a Raven) to a safe spot, imagining teeth nipping at my heels. We all did whatever pilots do to relax--had a smoke, sipped some coffee, or got a back rub from an exotic dancer. Still greedy at heart, we queried Drummond on the Raven, learning it was T2 fit but not for PVP, and that only cap boosters and ammo were found in the holds. Still, she was triple-rigged, and none of us announced his intention of turning down the loot split. Our criminal status notched down, the Raven's shields at full, we scouted her home to Hevrice. I began speccing for Caldari battleships (I already had the textbooks and manuals, just had never got around to peeling off the shrinkwrap) with the idea of fitting hull reppers on her later and saving us some ISK; in the meantime Suleiman fit some remote armor repairers and saved us a lot more. So that's why there's (temporarily) a refurbished Raven in my hangar.

The second story, I'm sure you'll be relieved to hear, is shorter. "There's a Raven at one of the belts in Old Man Star. Are any Tuskers nearby?" Issamailkin is an impatient and foolhardy Tusker but he does wrap himself in glory. As it turned out, there were no Tusker pilots nearby, but several of us were near Hevrice and announced our intention of fitting out proper ships with which to address a battleship and head his way. I organized a fleet and headed towards Old Man Star in a Blackbird.

Old Man Star is the Wild West of the Essence region. Mighty Gallente and Caldari fleets clash there often, and when they don't have each other to shoot at, they don't object to shooting at anything else with a warp drive and an airlock. Cocky pilots looking for a reputation prowl the first asteroid field around planet V picking fights. Gangs of pirates and vigilantes organize raids and traps. It is common to find oneself in a three- or four-way fight, with each side trying to figure out who to primary, who to smile at, when to loot, when to cut one's losses, and when to just worry about one's implants.

In the middle of all this was Issamailkin, sitting at the con of a destroyer and shadowing a Caldari battleship. "It looks like he's ratting. He just warped to another belt. How far away are you guys? This belt is out of scan range from everyone else in the system center." This worried me. Issamailkin has a tendency to rush in where angels fear to tread. Worse, the angels seem to like him for it. As a fleet commander, I've used Issamailkin as bait on many an occasion, and find it unnatural how he'll often annihilate an entire gang with his T1 cruiser before his backup can warp to his position from our hiding place. "I'm two jumps out! I'm approaching the Ladistier gate in Aeschee now!" I reported. Another Tusker was just one system behind me. I started muttering to myself..."Issa, be patient. You're in a destroyer and that's a battleship we're talking about. We're almost there. Steady, Issa, steady..." But to no avail.

"I'm going in for a point. Hurry up guys." I hadn't even landed in Ladistier yet.

On our way!" I confirmed, as I landed and immediately gave the command to warp to the Old Man Star gate.

"Point!" That's right, Issamailkin had tackled a battleship with his destroyer. "Oh, good, he's not hitting me at all. I'm under his guns." Based on past experience, I now feared not for Issa's safety but that the Raven would be dead before I could ninja the killmail. Of course, another part of me, based on a different past experience set, couldn't see how this would be possible. Nevertheless, I tried stalling him: "Maybe you could ransom him. Tell him you have a gang on its way." I was dropping out of warp at the Old Man Star gate.

Issamailkin liked the idea of a ransom. "How much should I ask?" he wondered. I think I suggested 50-75 million ISK, figuring the Raven was insured but maybe the pilot had implants. As I finally began warping to Issamailkin, he reported "He's going to pay. So don't shoot him if you get here in time." (That's right, he said "if" not "when.") My blackbird dropped out of warp 50 km from the action, and as fast as I could I began trying to jam the Raven.

"Is he still targeting you?" I asked. I wanted Issa to know I'd made it on scene and was Providing Combat Support.

"Yeah," was the response. "I just got him to pay me 120 million ISK. Let him go."


"Roger that" was all I could say as, seconds after engaging the Raven, I warped to a safe spot in space.

"Ka Jolo, do you want any of this ISK?" Issamailkin was being both hopeful and gracious.

"You're darned right I want some ISK. I'm a greedy pirate. But whatever you think is fair; I barely made it there in time to get one jam cycle in." It turns out Issamailkin is generous and gracious.

May there be many more days like yesterday, where I post not a single Raven killmail!

Friday, November 20, 2009

A trip down memory lane

In your face, Wensley! That's right, another solo Rifter kill in my Incursus. Jolo's still got it!

Some of us Tuskers in T1 frigates and destroyers were chasing a former Tusker around Hevrice in his Rifter while keeping an eye on a menacing Thrasher also in system. We weren't having much luck, and in fact we never managed to engage either target. But as I warped to a random factional warfare outpost, apparently this Rifter pilot was warping to the same destination.

I landed a second or two before him, and had little trouble getting him locked down. At point-blank range I unleashed whatever fury my Incursus could muster, waiting to see what would develop. "Warp to Jolo! Warp to Jolo!" I let my gang in on what was going down, not wanting to deprive them of some excitement in their dull lives.

What developed was the Thrasher showed up on my overview, blinking an angry red. My damage display was also getting redder by the second. Certain I would be dead in moments, I calmly selected a destination to warp my capsule to. Hmm. The damage against my Incursus' armor was slowing, while the Rifter was literally falling apart before my eyes. "Primary the Thrasher!" I broadcast, with ever-growing hope I would be able to kill the Rifter before being killed in turn.

The Rifter finally went dead in space, leaving me with 30% of my armor left. I didn't stick around to recall my drone or scoop loot; there was still a chance I could save my ship if I bugged out fast--and lo and behold, I did. Ah, what a great feeling: a solo Rifter kill, and I saved my Incursus from the evil clutches of the Minmatar destroyer.

My smugness was dampened somewhat as it turns out the destroyer had been sitting 100km away the whole time, a detail I hadn't registered in the fog of battle. Seeing my backup arrive, he simply warped to safety. My mates arrived too late to ninja the Rifter kill, but they managed to tackle the pilot's capsule. Sheepish at having fled from an imaginary threat, I returned to the scene, scooped my Hobgoblin, and struck up a conversation with the Rifter pilot. He had some implants in his clone, so we let him go free in return for a modest consideration.

I love it that a simple T1 frigate fight still does it for me.

I mean, don't get me wrong: three-sided fights like the rolling skirmishes yesterday in Adirain and Aeschee--involving battleships, HAC's, logistics ships, and recons--really get one's adrenaline pumping. I hope for more and more good fights like that. But I'm glad my joie de vivre can come from a simple T1 frigate fight just as easily.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Silent Service

[Thank you, all my loyal readers who have sent me encouraging notes and donations of various sorts. Be assured I have not abandoned this blog!]

Unbeknown to many a hapless pilot in New Eden, there is a whole world of intrigue lurking in space, undetected by your ship's scanners. I'm speaking of the world of cloaked ships.

Just about any spaceship is able to equip a cloaking device. My "friend" uses a cloaking device on his Bestower, hoping thereby to escape gate camps when hauling a load through pirate-infested lowsec. In fact, many a hauler faced on jumping through a gate with a gang of pirates in heavily-tanked combat vessels has mastered this art: (1) Align toward the destination stargate or space station; (2) Immediately engage the microwarpdrive or afterburner; (3) Immediately engage the cloaking device. For a few precious moments, your ship is invulnerable to being locked by the enemy, even as you slowly gain speed approaching that needed to warp. But at any moment your cloaking device will shut off the microwarpdrive; as soon as that happens, (4) Disengage the cloaking device and issue the command to warp. Aligned and at speed, with any luck at all your hauler will be able to warp away before the pirates can lock and tackle.

But I digress. We can disregard any number of haulers in the universe cloaking for a few seconds to get away from gate camps. Similarly, we can set aside the smart miners and ratters that, at the first sign of a stranger in the solar system, warp to a safe spot and cloak for the duration.

You see, many a space pilot has died because he did not realize the apparently empty solar system he was traversing held invisible stalkers. Right now, as you read this, a scout for some pirate corporation could be approaching your ship, transmitting your location to his gang so they can warp in on top of you. Nowhere is safe--not a deadspace complex, not a "safe spot," not even a deep safe spot. There are many ways clever pilots use cloaking devices to their advantage (e.g. Stealth Bombers or Black Ops battleships), but I want to talk about just two of them. Both types will be using a special "covert ops" cloaking device, which cloaks their ship not only under impulse power but also during warp.

First is the Force Recon pilot. This pilot and his high-tech cruiser is able to hunt you down just as any other cruiser pilot might--only you don't see him coming. By the time a Force Recon ship shows up on your overview, chances are he's in range and has already issued the order to lock you as a target. You might see a Rupture at a nearby planet as he tries to resolve the exact asteroid belt you're mining, giving you time to call in your drones and warp to safety--but you'll probably not see a Pilgrim until he's within his weapons system's optimal range, ready to unleash a firestorm of destruction on you from his deadly drones. You may view your odds against that battlecruiser as favorable--only to pound your console in helpless desperation as a Falcon appears on your overview and jams you blind. You may count on your speed tank to dance around your adversaries--but not when a Rapier reaches out and touches you. You may count on your range to keep you safe from your foes--until an Arazu suddenly appears, tackling you from across the battlefield.

Force Recon ships are the ace up the sleeve of many a small gang. In many parts of New Eden, "Because of Falcon" is a colloquial expression meaning something like, "We had every advantage, in numbers, in firepower, and in support--but then it all crashed down upon us." Fortunately, in spite of their unique advantages and their shared ability to use covert ops cloaking devices, Force Recon ships are not particularly hardy vessels. A prepared pilot or small gang does have a shot at killing a Force Recon vessel when it appears--and losing a Force Recon ship hits hard in the wallet. Furthermore, covert ops cloaking devices have the weakness that they interfere with targeting systems. For a few seconds after they disengage their cloak (the more skilled the pilot, the shorter the delay), they are unable to target anything smaller than a Class 5 star. Use those precious seconds wisely, whether to make your escape or neutralize the new threat.

The second sort of invisible foe I want to discuss is the Covert Ops pilot. His Covert Ops frigate is, frankly, weak and puny. All it really has going for it is its speed, agility, and invisibility. Unfortunately, that's often all it needs. You may think your hauler is slipping through a system unnoticed, but a Covert Ops pilot may already be shadowing you. You may think your trap is well-laid, not realizing a Covert Ops pilot is scant kilometers away from your backup in the next system, reporting to your supposed prey the composition of your fleet and the identity of your pilots. You may think life is "business as usual," never suspecting that a Covert Ops ship is sitting 50km from your home station, recording names of your corporation's pilots, what sorts of ships they command, and what time of day they typically sortie--information of great interest to that corporation that just declared war on yours. The "eyes" of a well-organized combat gang are often a team of Covert Ops pilots.

Did I say all a Covert Ops frigate has going for it is speed, agility, and invisibility? I should have added "and the ability to find you anywhere in space." For Covert Ops ships are purpose-made to sport scan probe launchers that can pinpoint your exact location, whether you're in mid-warp, at a safe spot, exploring a deadspace complex, or regrouping 1,000 km. off a stargate. Many ship classes are capable of fitting scan probe launchers, of course, but at such a cost that they become good for little else (though watch out for certain Force Recon pilots); Covert Ops ships, with little purpose in the first place other than to observe and report, fill that role even more excellently when among the information they can report is the location of your safe spot.

What frequently happens is a Covert Ops pilot picks up your ship on his on-board scanner, and quickly realizes you are not at any known celestial body. He determines your range by limiting his scanner to various limits until he knows at which setting you can be detected and at what range you cannot be detected. He notes the general direction you are in in relation to his location or the location of known objects. Next, he launches a flight of combat scan probes (perhaps warping someplace out of range of your own scanner, so you won't see him as the launch of his probes briefly decloaks his ship). Within just a minute or two, any competent scanner will have the ability to warp directly to your location.

Now, if that was all there was to the matter, this would not be such a big deal; in fact, most pirates would welcome the sudden appearance of a Covert Ops vessel within range of their weapons. The problem is that there is all too often a gang that goes along with the Covert Ops pilot, and when they show up close enough to read your ship's ID number with the naked eye, why, they're generally prepared to lock you, tackle you, and have their way with you--were it not so, they would not choose to warp to you in the first place.

I hope this tale has given you something to think about. The next time you lay a trap, but nobody takes the bait...the next time your hauler, full of valuable cargo, just happens to be the one that gets ganked while a moment before your scout reported the gate was clear and the two other haulers you jumped through with escape unmolested...the next time you're tempted to warp to a "safe" spot and set your ship on autopilot while you grab a bite to eat--well, take another look at local and think invisible.