Over the past several months I have spent a lot of time "FC'ing" small gangs for our corp. By "small" I mean anywhere between three or four ships up to as many as a dozen. Generally I get stuck in this position not because I am the best qualified or experienced but because everyone else is lazy as shit and doesn't feel like it. It has become such habit now to act as FC that when others are leading fleets that I am in, I begin yelling out suggestions and primaries without really even thinking about the fact that I am not supposed to (and without thinking about the fact that it is rude and disrespectful of me... oops).
So I am not an expert. I don't know it all. Maybe I'm not even good. Regardless, I have decided to share my knowledge of how to lead a small pirate gang around lowsec with this guide...
THE SUPER AMAZING LOWSEC PIRATE FC GUIDE:
PART 1: THE DEATHINATING OF BLOOD OF DEATH
PART 1: THE DEATHINATING OF BLOOD OF DEATH
Now if that title picture and it's subtitle don't get you pumped up then perhaps this guide is not for you and you should find a blog about running grav sites instead. Also, this isn't actually "Part 1" as there are no additional parts. I just thought putting that would make it look more badass. If that name did get you pumped, then read on! This blog entry is only about 57 pages long and should keep you busy for the next week and a half:
(1) Setting Up A Small Pirate Fleet -
- Using The Fleet Finder Tool: If this post had been put up a few weeks earlier, the instructions to "Form A Fleet" or "Set Up A Fleet" would be some confusing crap about having everyone ask the fleet boss (person who forms the actual fleet in game) to send an invite one-by-one or how to generate a link in a chat channel that lets people click on it for an invite. Instead, thanks to Dominion, we get the fancy new fleet finder! The fleet finder allows you to create a fleet, advertise it to a certain set of individuals (most likely your corp or alliance) and then let them join it on a whim and even tell what system you're in. No more "X UP PLZ!" or "WHAT SYSTEM R U GUYZ IN???" in chat every five minutes. Fleet Finder has got your back broseph and here is a quick and simple guide on using it to make and advertise a fleet:
Click This Button:
Click On Form Fleet:
Set Your Advert Details:
This Is What Other People Will See:
- Determining Fleet Makeup: As the commander of your mighty fleet, you have the right to deny people when they ask "Can I bring my Tristan to your battlecruiser gang???" and you should exercise it. If you are worried about your fleets effectiveness or survivability, it generally makes sense to make sure that all your ships engage in combat at similar ranges and their roles complement each other. If you allow small easy targets to roam with your large super-tanked gang, you give your opponents something to easily primary and gank early on in the fight with almost no repercurssion. If you bring a big lumbering battleship along with some frigates, you risk having that person get caught by a enemy gang that the rest of your fleet can otherwise avoid easily.
I won't go too in-depth here because there are simply too many ways to consider how different ships and their types compare. Just try to use common sense and think about how different ships and setups will interact and work within the confines of your current gang during a fight. If it seems like it won't work, don't be afraid to tell your gang members to grab a more appropriate ship.
- Determining Where To Go: When I set out to roam with a fleet, I generally choose a destination that I already know is populated and that I am familiar with. Sometimes we take larger ships only a short few jumps to the busiest areas where we are most likely to find another large fleet to match up with (you don't usually want to put yourselves in too much danger by moving large, lumbering ships over dozens of jumps). Other times we take smaller ships that are relatively safe from gatecamps and other roaming gangs so that we can move quickly and cover lots of ground.
You probably want to find some sort of busy hub system and try roaming the systems around them or in a pipe between them. Some of my personal favorite systems to visit are Mara, Tama, Old Man Star, Amamake and Evati as well as the systems that surround them. Other well-known pirate/PvP systems in lowsec include Rancer, Decon, Nalvula and Hevrice. I am certain there are many more missing in the list and it is up to you to ask your pirate friends or simply learn from roaming yourself about what systems and pipes may hold targets and what kind of targets they might be.
One last option to finding a good system or route is to simply use the in-game map. The Star Map (Press F10 in game to open) lets you view certain statistics per system. If you click the "Star Map" tab and then the "Stars" sub-tab and then the "Statistics" header, you can choose from several useful stats such as "Ships Destroyed in the Last Hour" and "Average Pilots in Space in the Last 30 Minutes". This will let you know what systems are both active with pilots and active with explosions.
- Gathering and Aligning: It is extremely helpful to have a number of safe spots in a system you frequent. It is a fantastic idea to go to these systems in advance and create safe spots that are "deep" (off-scan from all celestials by being at least 14.3 AU away), spots that are "pounces" (very close but not on grid to the gates and stations) as well as "scan spots" (in a centralized location that can scan most of the system in one sweep by being within 14.3 AU away from most locations in space). When you need to move your gang to safety and you don't want to sit in an easy to locate spot, you can move to a pounce near the next gate you are traveling to. If you are planning on staying long, you can move your gang to a deep safe where it is less likely you will be probed out.
Regardless of where everyone is, it makes sense to try and keep your gang gathered and aligned towards some spot in space so that if trouble appears you can instantly warp the entire gang away with no fuss. Ships warp when they hit three-quarters of their maximum speed and are aligned directly at their destination in space. Having your ships already in this state (AKA "Aligned") means they can instantly warp away to escape trouble or to pounce on top of a target that has been tackled somewhere in system by your scout/tackler.
- Scouting and Intel: This could almost be a separate guide in itself as generally you will have one person acting as your scout, intelligence gatherer and tackler. I will try to quickly gloss over this very important role in a roaming gang:
You don't want to jump an entire gang blindly into a system where it could become blobbed by an opposing force and you also don't want to scare off potential fights by suddenly filling up local and scan with a bunch of new, scary ships. This means that it makes a lot of sense to send one person as a scout through to the next system in your roaming route. You should have faith in this person to be good with the directional scanner, to be able to convey important information quickly/succinctly and they should be in a ship capable of escaping danger and holding down a point. Obvious and effective examples would be an interceptor or a cloaky Force Recon Cruiser. Lastly, having your scout bring probes is a BIG PLUS as many targets will not be at an object you can warp to. Being able to locate and drop on them unexpectedly is a huge advantage (and tons of fun).
- Traveling: Everyone probably does this differently but I have always preferred the method of having your gang warp to a gate or gate-pounce and then letting the scout go in alone to search for threats or targets. It can be a little boring for those that sit on the gate waiting for clearance but if you have a decisive FC and a competent scout then it can move very quickly. Getting to know which systems, regions and gates are busiest also helps you decide whether or not to move quickly with less caution or slowly with more. Certain gates are rarely ever busy and others are almost always deathtraps (ie: Heydielies<->Old Man Star, Dal<->Amamake, etc).
It is good to learn what ships and gangs can handle sentry fire so that you know if you can handle certain ships or gangs jumping through into your group. Additionally it is good practice to have the scout echo back to everyone what the names of the pilots, corps and alliances are in local along with their potential ships and activities. It isn't difficult to tell using the directional scanner, security statuses and corps whether or not there are helpless carebears or nasty pirates hanging around in the system.
- Voice Communications: This is an area that becomes more difficult as the gang grows. A small gang of a few pilots can generally say whatever they want over chat and it will not be too distracting or cause confusion. When you start growing to half-a-dozen or more, you start having people yelling random information that is not relevant, sometimes not even related to the game. Add alcohol into the mix and it gets downright loud and obnoxious. My personal feeling is that it is OK for people to joke around and have a good time (that is the point of a video game) but when anything serious is about to go down, all pilots except for the FC and scout are to shut up and pay attention. 95% of your gang-mates will probably follow this order to a T and never be a problem. It is just the rare few that cause issues and you shouldn't be afraid to boot them from the gang and/or mute them on your voice communications if they become a problem.
In other words? Have fun, but don't let disorganization and lack of focus during an important moment cause poor communication and confusion among your fleet.
(3) Engaging In Combat With A Small Pirate Fleet -
- Deciding Whether Or Not To Engage and Warping In The Fleet: You've located a potential target ship or fleet! You should consider whether or not you want to engage based upon several factors such as whether or not they have potential cloaked ships with them, whether or not they have powerful E-War/Logistics ships that are big force multipliers (ie: a Falcons, Guardians), etc. Consider your own forces and your opponents and try to imagine how a fight might go. If they have the perfect counter to what you're flying or they simply have much higher numbers, don't be afraid to skip it. Additionally, don't be afraid to try using baits or moving around in an effort to split up a larger force. When your own fleet is organized and another is not, that alone may be enough to turn the tide significantly.
When you do decide to engage, it is almost always best to have all of your firepower arrive on the field at the same time (except for rare situations where you are trying to hide parts of your force until the enemy has committed). One of the most devastatingly negative things you can do for your gang is to have them arrive one-by-one or in groups. This splits up your DPS and makes things way less confusing for your enemy. I like to consider this the "movie ninja" move and just like in the movies, arriving in a linear fashion instead of together may very well result in a massacre (not the good kind). In addition to this, you should know what ships are in your gang and what range they operate at. If you have certain ships that need to warp in at a different range in order to be effective (snipers, electronic warfare, logistics, etc) then make sure you do not accidentally gang warp them into the center of the fight where they will be quickly primaried and destroyed.
- Calling Primaries: This is easily one of the more confusing elements of leading a gang that a FC will have to deal with. You never truly know how another ship is fit without a ship scanner and even if you had one with you, you would not really have the time to scan each ship of your opponents to determine what to hit first. The FC has to pretty much make a split second guess based on several factors to decide what target to hit first. Some of these factors are:
- Gank vs Tank: If a ship generally has a very big tank but does not put out much damage (ie: Prophecy, Maller, all Heavy Interdictors, etc) then they are a very poor choice for a primary early on. They do not cause much threat but will soak up massive amounts of damage. Instead, look for ships that are known to have a large amount of DPS but only small/medium buffer tanks (Thorax, Brutix) or even just a moderate active tank (Myrmidon, Astarte). These ships will be easier to take down and you will be cutting away a large portion of your opposing gangs effectiveness once they are gone.
- Pilot Age: Younger pilots generally have crappy skills and cannot use the best modules. They may die very quickly and the faster you can remove ships from the field, the more of an advantage you give your fleet.
- Ship Cost: You can't win every fight. Hell, most of us don't even want to win every fight. You may be involved in engagements where you know that you will not hold the field at the end of the encounter but you want to inflict as much damage as possible before you go down. Engaging ships that are expensive (T2, T3, Faction) allows you to take something significant down with you as your entire group goes down in flames.
- Ship Threat: Certain ships are a much bigger threat than others and I don't just mean in terms of damage output. Logistics and electronic warfare ships can literally make or break a fight the instant they show up on the field and are usually referred to as "force multipliers" due to the way they enhance or decrease the effectiveness of other ships on the field. In many situations you will want to destroy or at least drive off these gamebreakers the instant they uncloak or warp in (ie: ECM ships, Logistics ships). It is a rare situation where I do not primary a Falcon or Blackbird immediately.
- Distance From Your Gang: This is a really important one. So many times you may have fleet members ask as you are warping into a fight: "What is primary???". I rarely want to answer the question as I don't know until I land and see how far each ship is from where we arrived. If you see a great primary but it is 50 kilometers from your gang, you are going to be asking everyone to split themselves up and come under enemy fire as they move that entire distance to engage. Your gang will be shot up and destroyed before you even reach your victim. Make sure to factor in what is close and call primary on something that is actually within reach. The amount of DPS and other combat capabilities you bring makes absolutely no difference if you are not in range to apply it on a target.
The bottom line is that you want to remove as much of your opponents strongest capabilities from the field as quickly as you possibly can. The first ship or ships to be primaried in a fight have an exponentially large effect on the rest of the fight as it goes on. Many even or closely matched fights are literally decided by this during the first few seconds of the engagement. It is important to select a target quickly, clearly state it to your gang and then stay decisive about it. Not communicating clearly or switching targets constantly before others have been destroyed is confusing and wastes precious time. Even worse, it will result in splitting your damage and enhancing the effectiveness of your opponents who are still able to field ships that should already be dead. Don't worry if you don't make the perfect call every time on the first try. Try to make a choice, call it out and then repeat it clearly to your gang so there are no mistakes.
- Watching Local, D-Scan and Deciding Whether Or Not To Bail Mid-Fight: Lots and lots of "targets" in lowsec are actually bait. It is important to have your entire gang keep a close eye on both Local Chat and their Directional Scanners during a fight. It can be hard to do this while also focusing on the fight and following orders but if you want any chance to notice a local "explosion" or new ships on scan that are warping in then you have no choice. Depending on how many numbers enter local once the engagement has begun and what ships you begin to see on scan, it may make sense to tell your gang to flee the fight. Again, be decisive if you decide this and make sure everyone understands whether you are staying and fighting or turning and leaving the scene. It can make sense to simply cut your losses and only lose a couple ships instead of your entire gang. Easy to say but hard to judge.
- To Ransom Or Not To Ransom: In a situation where the target is high-value, your gang isn't too large and you are sure that you are safe, ransoming is a wonderful pirate activity to partake in! Open a conversation with your victim and offer him a chance to save his ship. I generally ask for large amounts to begin with and then let the victim talk me down if they are interested. Always be keeping an eye on local, scan and other indicators that they may be stalling you while friends come to the rescue. Also, don't be silly and start ransoming a ship that can kill you as you sit around trying to converse! In the end, most of the time a ransom is much more profitable than the loot from a wreck so always consider it as an option.
- Post Fight Smacktalk: Regardless of how a fight ends up, don't be afraid to converse with your aggressors afterward in local chat. A simple "gf" might suffice. If you are feeling sleighted, accusing them of cheating or bringing too much ECM or logistics is a great way to get people angry and is so much fun. Remember that if you do something or bring a certain ship, IT IS OK, but if anyone else does it, IT IS BULLSHIT AND THEY HAVE NO SKILL! Enjoy the resulting smack!
This is easily the longest post I've ever written and still I barely covered many of the topics that are important to FC'ing in lowsec alone. Nullsec and/or very large gangs are a whole different beast that I have very little experience with and some or all of these points may not even apply in different situations or types of space. Additionally, I am far from an expert but I wanted to provide my points of view and experiences over the past several months acting as an FC for a smallish pirate group. Please feel free to share your own experience, tips, additions or even disagreements with what I have said in the comments below so that I can refine the information contained within.
Lastly, thanks to Andrea Skye for a majority of the MS Paint pictures that accompanied this article. His talents are truly spectacular and deserving of some sort of award... or something.