“Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.” — Sun Tzu
There are two kinds of player-versus-player combat in New Eden: fights, in which both participants willingly commit to the engagement, and ganks, in which one side is attempting to avoid combat. Ganking ratters and miners can be a satisfying and profitable occupation in its own right, but as a solo combatant, finding hostile pilots or gangs that are both willing to engage and possible to engage can be a frustrating experience. There’s a simple reason for this, of course: pilots and gang leaders won’t usually take a fight they aren’t convinced they will win. Since you as a solo pilot also want a victory, you must somehow conceal your strength to draw an overconfident opponent into a fight. In solo engagements, your greatest asset is therefore being underestimated.
A Trip To The Junkyard
Let’s have a look at one of the most consistently underestimated ships in the game: the Stabber. A 5% rate-of-fire bonus for medium projectiles, giving us a total of +33% damage with Minmatar Cruiser V, and a 10% falloff bonus (also for medium projectiles), giving us +50% falloff overall. The hull’s base speed is also a stunning 290m/s, compared to 240m/s on the Thorax, 235m/s on the Omen, and 230m/s on the Caracal. Since the damage on autocannons is lower than any other short-range weapon system, we’re left with an extremely unimpressive 293 dps on paper with the largest-caliber weapons and two gyrostabilizers, using short-range faction ammo. For comparison again, the Omen puts out 339 dps under similar conditions, the Caracal with assault missiles fitted dishes out 395 dps, and the Thorax deals a stunning 468 dps with Neutron blasters. Given the slim effective HP on the Stabber (21,300 with double large shield extenders and resist rigs), on paper, we’re looking at a thoroughly unimpressive ship, and one that any of the other attack cruisers should happily engage one-on-one.
The key to the Stabber lies in the falloff bonus and the base speed. Using 220mm autocannons, even short-range ammunition has its first falloff at nearly 20km, and Barrage ammunition reaches to nearly 30km before first falloff. It’s also extremely fast when fitted for it: with a microwarp drive and a single nanofiber internal structure fitted, the Stabber can go a blistering 2664m/s, a speed that puts it on par with many combat frigates.
Choosing The Battleground
If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. — Sun Tzu
Let us take a moment to imagine an engagement: on one side yourself, the noble Stabber pilot, and on the other side a small gang — for the sake of argument, let’s assume five, composed like so: an Atron, a Coercer, a Vexor, a Rupture, and a Dominix. It ought to be obvious that you can’t engage this gang head-on: three of these ships (the Vexor, the Rupture, and the Dominix) can handily defeat you in terms of damage output and tank by themselves. The opposing gang leader will also be well-aware of this. Since you can’t take this gang, size up the individual members. The Atron you can easily kill if you can separate her from the gang; the Coercer you can probably also defeat, and the other three you can’t really engage at all. So how to separate the Atron and the Coercer from the rest?
The secret lies in your speed. Of these ships, only the Atron is faster than you. To draw her away from her gang, warp in at a distance (100km), and begin to align away from the mass of their gang. Unless he is quite cautious, her fleet commander will likely order her to burn after you and establish tackle, assuming rightly that if he can get his gang atop you, he can kill you easily. Once the Atron begins to burn after you, she begins to separate from her gang (who are all substantially slower than she is). She’s faster than you, so she will catch you eventually, but — and here’s the key — to do so, she has to chase more or less directly after you with her microwarp drive on, blooming her signature radius dramatically and reducing her transversal against you. Loading your longer-range ammunition, you can begin applying significant damage even with her at 50km or more. At this point, three things can happen: the Atron pilot can warp off when she starts taking significant damage, the Atron pilot can get on top of you, or the Atron pilot can lose her ship.
At this point things begin to get interesting, so let’s look at a fleshed-out Stabber fit: http://pastebin.com/dkPadLXB. Every part of this fit has a role to play in this fight, but in particular, our secret weapons are in one of our utility high slots and in our cargo bay. The medium neutralizer we have drains 180GJ of capacitor every 12 seconds, emptying the Atron pilot’s capacitor (if she has perfect skills and starts at full capacitor!) in just two cycles. Without any capacitor, she can’t use her microwarp drive or any tackle modules she may have fitted, which preserves our ability to escape from the fight. Our other weapon against her is Titanium Sabot ammunition (faction, naturally), which provides a 20% tracking bonus compared to regular ammunition. With the bonus from this ammunition provides, the guns on the linked fit have a tracking speed of 0.199, or about a third of that of a frigate, so we still can’t track the Atron pilot up close, although it helps. Our last ingredient is a bit of fancy piloting: as long as we can keep some distance from the Atron, we can pull her back into a tail chase, which will reduce her transversal and increase our damage application. Unless she’s inside 12km or so (which is our neutralizer range), she can’t apply any sort of hard tackle to us, which dooms the rest of her gang to being slower than us. Of course, if the Atron pilot is very skilled, she may still get atop us and establish hard tackle, at which point it’s more or less game over for us unless we can get away before the rest of her gang lands, but sometimes so it goes.
Baiting For A Fight
If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. — Sun Tzu
His tackle lost, the enemy commander may at this point decide to simply leave you be; an Atron is a fine kill but not terribly impressive for a cruiser pilot. At this point, the hostile gang leader will be somewhat frustrated with having lost his tackle, as he now has no ship capable of chasing you down. To turn your one kill into many, you need a way to apply pressure to force him to fight while you pretend to be killable. My personal favorite way to apply pressure is simply to be in a popular ratting system at a highly visible location (say, a couple hundred kilometers off the station undock), aligned towards a safespot. The enemy commander has two choices to engage you: he can attempt to chase you down with a faster ship again, letting you replay the same engagement, or he can attempt to probe you down and warp heavier ships atop you directly.
You already know how to deal with a chasing tackler, so let’s address probes. On its face this seems like a dangerous counter to your tactics, since it negates your advantage of distance, but there’s a critical weakness in it which you can exploit: all ships which can warp while cloaked, except for stealth bombers, have a delay after decloaking before they can lock you. If you are aligned, you can easily warp before any non-bomber can tackle you after decloaking, or before any conventional gang lands on you — but suppose a bomber does tackle you. It is unusual for bombers to fit hard tackle, so most likely you will find yourself only pointed; a quick cycle of your microwarp drive will take you out of danger and then you are faced with a slow, undertanked frigate-size target 30ish kilometers from you, which you should be easily able to handle by now. As such, be always vigilant for combat probes on your directional scanner, but do not worry overmuch about them; repeatedly warping right as his heavy assets lands will frustrate the enemy commander and make him careless, as will losing bombers if he tries to use them to tackle you before you can warp out.
Talking In Local
In order to encourage the enemy to engage you, it is useful to be insufferable in Local; do not let the enemy forget your presence, and always remind them of your inferiority. It is usually unwise to be negative; instead, play the honourable pirate, offering a “good fight” in Local after every enemy ship dies. It is likely the enemy will tire of you and begin insulting you; when this happens, further kills are at hand, for frustration makes a commander overly aggressive. In all cases, be relentlessly cheery and friendly, and be forthcoming about your own weaknesses; by admitting to gaps in your own skills, or discussing your previous losses, you build your opponent’s confidence while helping keep your own ego detached from the fight. Remember that you want him to underestimate you to draw him into a fight he cannot win.
Time To Leave
This particular style of combat is versatile and can be made to work against many opponents, but there are certain situations you should be careful to avoid or to exit as rapidly as possible.
- Cynabals and Vagabonds: these are the grown-up versions of your ship; faster, tougher, and more deadly. They can catch you, and having caught you they can kill you.
- Huginns, Rapiers, Arazus, and Lacheses: these recons can apply hard tackle to you at positively horrifying ranges, preventing you from outrunning a heavier gang — and given their own relative toughness, once one of them lands hard tackle on you, you can’t likely kill it before the rest of their gang catches up.
- Crucifiers, Arbitrators, Pilgrims, and Curses: the bonused tracking disruptors on these ships will destroy your damage projection from far out of your own range and (at least in the case of the Crucifier) you cannot outrun them either.
- Many (3+) interceptors: you may kill one of them, but the other two are likely to be on top of you, and you will have only a matter of seconds before the rest of their gang will join them.
- Skirmish links: if the enemy has Skirmish gang links and you do not, you cannot kite effectively; enemy ships will be much faster and more agile than you. Enemy skirmish links put you into the unpleasant realm of being caught by hostile combat cruisers, which are easily a match for your own ship.
Despite its poor paper statistics, I hope this brief guide has made it clear that the Stabber can be a deadly weapon in the right hands for engaging even multiple heavier enemies.
But Wait! There’s More!
A friend points out I’d forgotten to list my cargo, so here it is:
- Ammo: 1920 (4 reloads) each of Barrage, RF EMP, RF Titanium Sabot, and RF Fusion.
- Repair Equipment: 100 Nanite paste, 5 spare Warrior IIs, small armor and hull repairers.
- Utilities: a mobile depot (for repairing armor and hull and reloading drones) and a prototype cloak for long-distance travel.
- Deployables: a small anchorable bubble.