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.