Monday, December 2, 2013

Blog Banter 51: Other People's Cargo

Blog Banter #51, via Kirith Kodachi and Druur Monakh:


EVE Online can be a game of heart-pounding, palm-sweating, adrenaline-fuelled ecstasy or agony. Sometimes over the years those reactions dim and what was once a panic inducing situation becomes commonplace routine. For some, the shakes never go away.

From Druur Monakh (Twitter: @DruurMonakh) we get the topic of this banter: what was your most nail-biting experience in EVE Online so far? It could be PvP in a 1v1 or 1000v1000, your first fight or your latest one, a scam so close to being uncovered too soon, a trap almost sprung on an unsuspecting victim or the roles reversed and you desperately try to escape.


Oddly enough, I can't think of many nail-biting, nerve-wracking experiences I've had in EVE.  In fact, only one recent incident comes to mind, and it didn't even involve a single shot being fired.

Part of it comes from the fatalistic attitude EVE forces on people: when you undock a ship, consider it lost, right?  Never undock something you can't afford to lose?  Well, that's all well and good when it's your own ship and your own cargo you're putting on the line.  But when you're doing a favor for a friend, everything changes.

One of the old corp members was coming back from a long hiaitus, and was trying to consolidate his belongings which had been scattered about when he walked away for a while.  Simple enough ... only his effects included an Eos command ship.

Which he'd bought in low-sec.

Now, if it had been a flat-packed cruiser, even a Tech-III, that would have been dead easy; my alt's not part of any militia, so I could go to any station in a Viator and then bug out, using my main as a cloaky scout to provide a rough insta-warp point.  But of course, it couldn't be that easy.  No, the Eos is 15,000 cubic meters flat-packed, which meant it was time for another option.

I knew I'd had a reason to buy my alt a Mastodon.

Using the MWD-cloak trick, and a Buzzard scout, I brought the hauler in, jump by jump, until we were both in Nisuwa, one of the Gallente fortresses in Black Rise, probably with pirate presence on top of the Gallente patrols.  A neutral in a deep space transport would probably be considered a juicy target, especially with an Eos in the cargo hold worth over three hundred million ISK ... one which wasn't my property, that a friend was trusting me to bring safely out of hostile territory.

My hauler was ready to undock, ready to warp to my ad hoc warp-out point - the alt corp's never put together bookmarks in Nisuwa, and it's been hostile territory almost as far back as I can remember - and my main was camped outside, cloaked, far enough to provide a warp point but close enough to still be on-grid with the station.

Station clear, undock - wait!  Gallente warping back from out-system.  Cancel!  Stand by!

Station clear, undock - wait!  Pirates on the undock, looking for prey.  Dock up - hurry!

Station clear, undock - wait!  More Gallente, a gang this time.  Dock up!  Hurry!

Again, and again, I had to abort the undock, because I needed for the station to be clear before I risked undocking my friend's multi-hundred-million-ISK cargo.  Finally, I got a window where the undock was clear, and I managed to warp the Mastodon close by the Buzzard - but not too close, so I wouldn't decloak.  Then came the Mastodon's standard cloak, just in time as another scout dropped by, and then a waiting game until the grid was clear once more - had I scheduled this cargo run in the middle of a Gallente strategic op or something?

Finally, the grid was clear.  Finally, I could warp the Mastodon clear and get underway.  But because I wasn't in a covert-ops ship, every jump was a cue for the nerves to start again.  What if the next jump is camped?  Have I had enough practice with the MWD-cloak maneuver?  What if they've got more points than the Mastodon hull can overcome?

Out to Kedama, then dog-leg to Reitsato - Tama was the shorter route out of low, but it's also dog-eat-dog even at the best of times, and there was no way I was going to jump in wearing metaphorical Milk-Bone underwear - then the next nail-biter, Okkamon.  My corp and alliance had called Okkamon home, once upon a time, but then a couple of pirate gangs moved in, which as far as the militia was concerned, was the equivalent of a termite invasion, coupled with a fire ant swarm.  I'd already lost one Viator to the Okkamon pirates, and once I'd cleared Nisuwa, this was going to be the riskiest jump of the entire journey.

The route through Okkamon was clear.

I didn't waste a moment, posting the scout on the far side, warping the Mastodon gate-to-gate, and charging through.  Out of the frying-pan, out of the fire, welcome to Asakai - home of the legendary battle, still low-sec, but friendlier territory by a long chalk, a Caldari base, and only two jumps from safety.

Then came Ikoskio, one of the choke-points into the Black Rise war zone, but oddly, not routinely camped by the pirates for some reason.  Not like Kinakka or Akidagi, at any rate - not a place where you would routinely expect a kill-box on the low-sec side of the transit.  And not that it mattered, because even if there were gate-campers, the transit into high-sec was safer than the other direction - all you have to do to get to high is crash the gate and jump right out.  Even if there were smart-bombers on the gate, the Mastodon had a fair shield tank, enough to absorb a few bomb shockwaves before jumping.

There was no gate camp.

The Mastodon jumped into Samanuni ... and I was able to breathe again.  The job was done; my friend's ship was safe.

And as I docked up the Mastodon, I found myself hyperventilating, and praying I wouldn't have to do that again for a long time to come.

(There was one similar incident, last winter, when I felt a similar dread while flying a ship; again, it was because the ship didn't belong to me, but had been loaned by a friend.  I'd lost a ratting Apocalypse, and had been loaned a Navy Issue Apoc until the next corporate jump frieghter shipment arrived, but I only flew it once, and gave it right back.  Improved ISK efficiency wasn't worth the stress.)

Monday, November 25, 2013

The man makes some fine roast chicken

(Title courtesy of Order of the Stick #467.)

My corp is probably the smallest one in my alliance; aside from myself, it was practically in mothballs earlier in the year, but then there was a combination of an old ally coming back and a veteran pirate looking for a change of pace, and suddenly I'm The Boss.  At any rate, when we fly, we make for a small combat element, practicing two- or three-man tactics.

A major part of that is, of necessity, identifying escape vectors if a tactical situation goes haywire on us.  Is it cowardice to have an exit strategy?

The pattern often goes something like this: if two of us see a singleton in a faction plex, we'll warp in and be ready to engage (all too often, the singleton warps away).  If we see two, we discuss tactics, who to primary, and then if it looks doable, we'll engage.  We won't hurl ourselves into a two-versus-four, two-versus-six, or worse.

If we're the ones set up in the plex, we generally stay ready to bug out.  Not because we're risk-averse (my usual plexing call is "hey, want to go get blown up?"), but because there's no point in being slaughtered senselessly.  We see a singleton come in on us? Of course we'll engage, but stay aware of what's going on with short-range d-scans.  2v2? We'll take it.  2v3? Depends on the makeup (3 frigates? Doable. 3 destroyers? Probably not so much if we're in frigates). Hold 'em, probably. 2v5? Fold; walk away.  2v11, when the 11 include logistic ships and jammers and stuff built to shred frigates with impunity?  Run.

But if we're caught, try to give as good as we get.  Let 'em know they've been in a battle.

And as we go, we learn.  We discover new tactics, learn new ships (I never realized that a Condor could make a half-decent Wild Weasel setup against a Griffin - provided that my auto-targeting missiles don't get fixated on a plex rat), learn how to compensate for each other's strengths and weaknesses.  The whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

Faction warfare is belittled, derided, laughed at.  But it's actually a good place to learn the sort of things that don't really make the news.  The real fights in places like Black Rise aren't the thousand-strong battleship fleets, but the two-to-six-strong light combat craft brawls, where things happen too fast for a structured, steady strategy.

It's not chess, or Risk, or Diplomacy.  It's more like Ping-Pong.

Except that the ball is explosive, and sometimes you've got to run.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Blog Banter #49: "Rich" Means Not Having to Worry

(or: "How I got poorer when my net worth increased, and richer when it dropped")

The question was posed:

What is "rich" in EVE? Is it simply having more ISK than most everyone else, is it measured in raw numbers of some other ethereal quality? Can you actually be poor? Have you ever lost nearly everything and had to claw your way back? If you are rich, how do you know and how did you get rich?

"Rich", like "poor", isn't a number to me; they're states of mind, security versus danger.  To me, in EVE, as in life outside, "rich" means the peace of mind that comes from knowing you can experiment with something you've wanted to do but weren't certain you could do properly, and that even if it all goes horribly wrong for you, it won't substantially harm the other aspects of your life.  Simply put: in EVE, anyway, "rich" means you've got a comfortable safety margin, while "poor" is the lack of that safety margin.

And you can go from rich to poor in a heartbeat without your wallet or asset numbers dropping at all.

It can happen with a move to a new area of operations, or enrollment with a new corporation or a new alliance.  A change in fleet doctrines can annihilate your safety margin in a heartbeat.  It happened to me last year, when my corp joined a faction warfare alliance, and the posted doctrines demanded each pilot have at least two PVP-fit battleships ready to fly at the forward operations base at all times.  The only way I could make that happen would have been to liquidate the assets I'd kept in hisec to support me if things went wrong; conforming to the doctrine would have wiped out my fallback plan and emptied my wallet into the bargain, so all of a sudden, I was deep on the "poor" side of the line.  The only way I could think of myself as secure was if I flat-out ignored that part of the doctrine.

Then the move to null.  By then, I thought I was, if not well-and-truly rich, at least possessed of a comfortable safety margin if I had to withdraw with my tail between my legs.


There were jump freighter fees, jump freighter replacement fees, I had to get an appropriate ship for ratting and have the ready cash to replace it if-and-when it got ganked, and I was running among people for whom my entire net worth at the time was pretty much just fiddling pocket change.  I'd ask for suggested fits for one task or another, and I'd be given setups costing three billion ISK ... on tech-1 battleship hulls, no less.  I'd comment that I'd have to find a way to reduce the shininess of the fit - I took to calling it "parkerizing", and I've still got a lot of "parkerized" fits in my EFT files - and be scolded for it and informed that one had to spend money to make money.

The easiest way to make two billion ISK in profit is to have three billion ISK available to invest, I suppose.

Then there were the fleet doctrines - I was in the HBC, shortly before it imploded, and one of the major doctrines was the Foxcat, based on Apocalypse Navy Issue hulls, thankfully with less-shiny standard Apocalypse variants which were acceptable but not preferred.  Oh, and a goal in the corp I'd joined to get into null was to have everyone own and be able to fly carriers, for logistics purposes (in the traditional sense as opposed to the fleet repair role).

Life in sov-null?  Yeah, not exactly cheap.

It also worked at higher levels, with space-richness being measured in the natural resources commanded and the military power to defend or claim said resources.  That was the first domino to fall in the HBC, actually; a larger, richer alliance looked at the resources my alliance controlled, talked to the coalition higher-ups, and basically said: "Nice moons.  We'll take 'em."  And suddenly, our alliance's financial security, along with a lot of its industrial capacity, was gone.  And by now, the alliance itself is pretty much gone.  And the HBC?  Didn't last much longer.

I withdrew back into Black Rise, and found myself less stressed, less paranoid, and less apprehensive about things going wrong.  Flying frigates, cruisers, the odd battlecruiser, assault frigates, interceptors, covert ops birds, stealth bombers now and again, flying with people I could talk to without worrying with a knife getting slid between my ribs...

My wallet had bled the entire time I was in nullsec.  I was less wealthy in absolute terms than I'd been the day I'd left for Delve and Querious.

But I wasn't in jeopardy any more.  I could relax.  I could enjoy travelling, fighting, mixing it up.  I could put ships on the line, frigates, cruisers, battlecruisers, and so on, secure in the knowledge that I had the resources to replace them and go back out and put them on the line all over again.  I didn't have to worry about alliance higher-ups threatening to hunt me down and pod me and blast me back into noobships for not conforming to a whim on their part.  I could talk with people, shoot the breeze, and not have to worry about holding back secrets from them.

I didn't have to worry.

With less money and fewer assets to my name than when I'd left, suddenly I was rich once more.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Pardon the dust (not 514)

Real Life's been throwing regular salvos of 1400's at me.  Trying to see if I can tank them.

(I know, I know, I'm so irregular that absence is more common than presence.)

A few thoughts will be coming once I have the time to scrape them together.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Some days/weeks/months the bear gets you

Sometimes you get on a roll.  Sometimes it's not a good roll.

August wasn't great - I was away for a good chunk of it, offline for the most part, and when I was online I wasn't very effective.

September was a near-complete washout, although it ended with an LP dump that left me with substantial asset value (though LP dumps invariably are accompanied by market crashes, so the assets remain illiquid for the time being), and one good fight that may have been envisioned as a chess match, but ended up as a bar brawl.

Well, actually, it didn't strictly end with that fight.  The real end came when I rolled out my mission bomber to gather a few more LP for the dump, and collided with a pirate's heavy smartbomb shockwave at the outbound gate in Abune.  Stealth bombers react to faction smartbombs about like a bug trying to power its way through a windshield, so two seconds later, I was back in the hangar at the medclone station with my learning and maneuvering implants blasted out of my skull.


Then a couple of days later, I got asked to do a favor for an alliance-mate whose security rating wouldn't let him get to Jita to buy fittings for some ships.  I rolled out my trusty Viator transport, assembled the materials he wanted, and set off for the low-sec base via the Nourvakaiken/Tama route.  The cloaky hauler had always managed to get me through gate camps before, so I was fairly confident.

Except for several problems.

One: a pirate group operating in Tama, on friendly status with our alliance, had set up a gate camp on the Tama side of the Nourv/Tama gate.

Two: they had heavy boosts to lock speed thanks to a Loki cruiser with fleet bonuses, so in the time it took for me to transition from the cloak everyone hides under right after a jump to the cloak generated by my own ship, I was locked and tackled.

Three: they opened fire with heavy artillery without checking whether I was a friendly.

My ship and its cargo were gone in less than three seconds.

They must have realized what had happened pretty quickly, though, because there were shocked exclamations in the local channel when it dawned on them that they'd just blown up an ally for a quarter-billion-ISK loss.

The pirate alliance chief ended up compensating me for his subordinates' trigger-happy ways, so I got into a shuttle to head back to Jita, from where I needed to buy a brand-new Viator and another pile of equipment for the alliance-mate.

I stopped off 100km from the Nourv gate in Tama, to look at what was going on with the gate camp.

And one of the campers shot my shuttle out from under me.

A few days later, I lost a plexing ship in an anomaly, but that was my own fault for running the anomaly while too tired to see straight.  I wrote it off as an expensive lesson.

Haven't made it into a fleet since the beginning of the month, and haven't been in a combat situation that didn't resemble a curb-stomping, so my killboard stats look nightmarish.

Some corps and alliances will throw out members based on poor killboard performance.

Thankfully I'm not in one of them.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Travel fits, fail fits, and...

The paired Tech-II warp-core stabilizers did more than save my personal bacon last night.

The fleet that was up in militia wanted high-DPS ships, preferably Tier-3 battlecruisers, to roam around and bust infrastructure hubs.  I don't know about POSes, but hubs can absorb an awful lot of damage, and the night before last, we were throwing a couple of dozen stealth bombers at hubs and not making much progress at all.  Stealth bombers are great for sneaking in and out of hostile territory, and for sneaking up on targets and laying down a lot of pain, but for extended damage-dealing, they're less than ideal - lower damage potential, and more importantly, limited ammunition reserves.  We had someone in a blockade runner camped in a safe spot dispensing additional torpedoes, but we were on the edge of running out of ammunition (and my sojourn in the Manticore ended with its shot locker basically empty).

So for this one, I brought out my bunker-buster ship: an Oracle.  Only Tech 1 lasers, but the best meta lasers my sketchy bank account could accomodate, with multifrequency crystals that deal max damage at short range (and can essentially fire forever; the crystals don't degrade, and my Core Capacitor Elite certificate means I can make this fit capacitor-stable), rigged for pure firepower with three heat sinks in the low slots, a microwarp drive and a cap recharger in the mids along with a shield extender, and three more slots to play with.  Some people use inertial stabilizers, others use tank modules, others will just put nanofibers in the lows.

Last night, I fitted two Tech-II warp-core stabilizers, and left them in the lows.

The only real difference between them and their Tech-I counterparts is lowering of the penalties - 40% reduction in targeting range and scan resolution, per unit, as opposed to 50%.  Normally crippling, but since my guns were going to be shooting at a stationary target, and their range would only be about 20km or so, chopping targeting range to 30km was an acceptable sacrifice.

We were hitting hub after hub - I joined late, but they'd managed to knock over a bunch already, and I was there for about three system flips, and we were working on a fourth when pirates started to drop in on us.  One hostile came to the hub we were bashing, flying a Tengu.  We'd lost a bunch of ships as the EU timezone claimed their pilots for sleep, so I was the last Oracle on the field.

I guess that made me the juiciest target.

The fleet coordinator called for everyone to warp out; my corp had saved a safe spot in-system, a while ago, so I was aligned and ready to roll.  Off to the side in the overview, the Tengu pilot's line showed up ... with the little blue warp scrambler icon.

But there was no corresponding alert in the lower center of the HUD.

My shields dropped by about a quarter - the Tengu had decided that the Oracle was the highest-value kill on the field, and had started launching missiles at me - but then: "Warp drive active."

I'd tanked the salvo, slipped the tackle, and gotten away clean.

The FC asked: who got killed?  Because when a hostile drops into tackling range, especially an armed-to-the-teeth strategic cruiser, usually one person gets left behind, tackled, unable to run, helpless as the rest of the fleet warps away.

Not this time.  Everyone had escaped - because I'd drawn the point, and the incoming fire, shrugged them all off, and in the time it would have taken for the Tengu to switch targets and scramble someone else, everyone was gone.

Essentially, we'd decoyed the Tengu with a travel-fit banana boat.

And when an aggressor comes away from an ambush without any kills, I mark that down as a win.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Honorable profession

I've been back in the game for about a year now, and getting involved with a good corp has made life a lot easier, but I remember how hard it was to grind when I renewed my subscription after four or five years away.  Back before I got a new job and moved to a new continent, I'd been in a small corp that had done some low-sec and null-sec mining and manufacturing operations, so I'd ended up with one jump clone way out in null-sec, some scattered assets all over the place, and for some reason I couldn't even remember, I was parked in a dead-end 0.6 system deep in Gallente space with a mining-fit Exequeror, a Vexor, an Iteron Mark V,  a few million ISK, a pile of unallocated skill points, no corp, and no idea of where to go.

So I did what any number of newbies do when they don't have a clue.

I started drilling.

Now, back when I'd first signed up, there hadn't been any such things as mining barges, so that was my first clue that things had changed - there was a specialized ship for doing what I was doing, more efficiently, but I needed a new set of skills for it, and those skills cost money, and the barge would cost more money ... so I had to start out small.  Drill with the Exequeror, refine down the ore, and maybe make invest in a blueprint or two.

For a while, I made ISK by making medium-sized antimatter charges, and it was enough to scrape by, invest in a destroyer to run some missions and hopefully improve my financial status some more.  I didn't know any better, and since I'd been signed in way back when, I didn't even have the benefit of the tutorials until I finally got around to running career agent missions.

So I drilled.  I got can-flipped.  I drilled some more.  I bought cargo expanders that turned out to be in Rancer, got my destroyer ganked at a gate camp while trying to pick them up, my pod ransomed for 75 million - several times my total worth - and got podded when I was too slow to respond.  And I drilled some more.

I wasn't sure what I wanted to do ... and then I saw a bunch of people roll into my belt, in mining barges and a big mothership-type boat that "Show Info" identified as an Orca.  I was worried that these guys - who were obviously well-organized - would roll over me for mining in their patch, but when I checked their info, it seemed they were open to new applicants.  I convo'd the guy in the Orca - or maybe he was in one of the Hulks - explained I was sort of at odds, looking to join a corp, and lo and behold, I was accepted.

The corp got hit with a war declaration something like a week later, if I recall.

But the point was, up until then, I'd needed some way to build up reserves for the inevitable combat, some way to keep my head above water.  Mining and manufacturing was it - and I wasn't someone in a max-yield Hulk; I was really a newbie all over again, scraping by.  I was a high-sec miner because that was what I was able to do.

And I was providing goods that people needed - why else would anyone buy the ammunition I was running off?

I know that null-sec and wormholes are where the real money's supposed to be - that people out there, sitting on twelve-figure bank accounts, with dozens of Titans and supercarriers on call, want to dictate how everyone else plays the game.  I know that there are people out there who see high-sec miners as a blight, a stain on their vision of New Eden as an objectivist paradise, where the fittest prosper and can impose their will on the lesser folks.

But when you're at the bottom of the food chain, or you've been wiped out and have to start over, you need some way to start.

If I hadn't been able to mine, I'd never have gotten my foot back in the door.