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.