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!