Saturday, 22 March 2014

Strategic Scouting in Wormhole Space

This post will be looking at gathering intelligence on possible targets in wormhole space, which is  complicated by cloaked ships and a lack of the 'local' channel. This post will not cover the ins and outs of probing mechanics and hunting target ships in wormhole space systems; that will be left for another, later post

Why is gathering intelligence important?

Gathering intelligence about potential hostile forces lets you know what you are likely committing to when you are starting an engagement. It can guide your force composition and how you go about engaging the enemy to draw more enemy forces in or avoid taking losses.

It's particularly important in wormhole space because who your opponents are is non-obvious. Because of the lack of pilots in the local channel there may be precious few clues as to who inhabits a system. A large percentage of the pilots that are in wormhole space will be cloaked, so direct observation of (at least parts of) hostile forces is impossible and you instead need to infer the likely presence of hostiles in the system.

Does everyone in wormhole space do this?

No. There are many groups, especially in higher-class wormholes, that will engage almost regardless of odds and often with minimal or no scouting. The massive jump in income between C1-4 and C5-6 wormholes is certainly a factor in this; although people living in lower-class wormhole systems are rarely too low on ISK they are no-where near as free to throw expensive ships away at a whim. Even in lower-class wormhole systems there are some groups that will be much more aggressive about engaging with little intelligence on their potential targets; there is nothing wrong with doing so - it is just not my style of play or the style of play that this blog is about.

How do you gather intel in wormhole space?

Gather what intelligence you can from d-scan

Data from the directional scanner is the first thing you are likely to get from a scout when they enter a target system, and although it seems elementary, there are many important pieces of information that you can get from it. Tactical information such as wrecks showing that potential targets that are running sites and the like will be covered in a later post on tactical scouting.
  • The nomenclature and consistency of nomenclature of any ships. Many well known wormhole corporations use consistent sets of symbols in front of their ship names so they can readily identify themselves on directional-scanner, and hostile ships in the system stand out more. You can use this to your advantage if you keep track of which groups use which symbols. Multiple different sets of symbols in front of ship names means that there may be multiple different groups in the system.
  • The number of active and inactive player owned stations. If a corporation has a large number of active stations in the system, they are likely well funded with a large number of active pilots, and have a reasonable internal security system to prevent corporation thefts. Some groups will put an active or inactive tower on every moon in a system, preventing any potential invading forces from anchoring their own tower for invasion without taking down one of the inhabitants' towers. This tends to suggest careful planning and a paranoid outlook.
  • The names of capsules or ships. Often pilots leave their capsules (and sometimes ships) with default names - if anyone has been sufficiently careless, this can get you a pilot name and associated corporation

Look at Player Owned Customs Offices (POCOs)

You can right click on a POCO and select 'Show Info' regardless of range. This reasonably often will provide you with information about the inhabitants of a system. Be aware that some wormhole groups will use an unaffiliated holding corp to own the POCOs.

Use out of game tools

The tool at that was formerly hosted at is the single most useful site for providing information on the likely inhabitants of a system by analyzing killboard information. It also provides information about recent NPC, pilot and pod kills in the system and data about whether capital ships have been deployed in combat there or not. Known inaccuracies include an issue where systems that are unpopulated or populated with relatively inactive pilots may show up as being occupied by another group if that second group has had a number of kills in the system over a couple of months. is a alternative source of information about the system itself, and can be used to try and manually identify the system's inhabitants if you suspect that the data on is incorrect

Identifying if you want a fight and how to get one

The main tool from here on out will be to look at the kills and deaths of the group in question. Killboard data and some intuition can allow you to identify whether they are a force you are likely to be able to engage, what the best way of getting that engagement is likely to be and what good force compositions may be to win the fight.
  • Look for kills that the corporation(s) have taken part in; do they typically field a composition that you are capable of countering, or at least matching? If they prey on lone Drakes and field a triplet of Falcons as backup when they do so, trying to provoke an engagement when you only have two pilots available may not be a good plan.
  • When working out whether you have enough forces available to take a fight against a group, pay attention to the times that their kills and losses occur. Try and draw correlations between the time and the number of pilots that are on kill mails - can you identify their peak playing times, and if so, use that information when assessing how many pilots they are likely to field.
  • If they tend to use non-cloaked ships when fighting, and you cannot see any idling at their POS, there is a reasonable chance that they don't have too many ships available as backup.
  • On the other hand, if they regularly field cloaked ships, bank on there being more hostile ships present than you can see on your directional scanner.
  • If they field a relatively small number of pilots it may be viable to add them to your contacts watch list to identify how many of them are online. Of course, more pilots can always log on later.
Once you've worked out whether you think you can take an engagement with a particular group (and assuming that you can), you need to work out how to trigger the engagement. Killboard information as well as general corp information can provide you with some pointers in this respect.
  • If the corporation's kills are low or made up of primarily engagements against ships that are running sites in their home system, running sites with a bait ship may well draw them out.
  • If the corporation looks a little more circumspect about engaging bait ships but aren't a full blown PvP corporation, you may need to try more subtle baiting behaviours. A later post on The Excession will cover baiting and taking bait in detail.
  • If the corporation is a PvP focused group then much less overtly bait-orientated movements will likely draw their attention - they are looking for a fight.
The last part is the simplest; look at what they generally use on their killboard and ensure that you have counters to the ships they usually field. If they use Curses, make sure you have some missile based ships with passive tanks to avoid the effects of tracking disruptors and energy neutralization. If they like their Falcons then slap ECCM on a couple of your longer ranged ships.

It is generally not a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket and go all out on hard counters to the ships that a group normally brings, simply because if they don't bring those ships, you have a reasonable chance of looking like an idiot and then dying in a fire.

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