Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Finding Fights in Wormhole Space

Wormhole Space Population

Although the vast majority of class 1 and 2 wormhole systems and many class 3 wormhole systems are occupied, it can often be difficult to find potential targets in wormhole space. The relative scarcity of active pilots is due to a number of factors, from the way wormhole links work to the normal forms of combat in wormhole space.

In wormhole space there is a very significant driver towards having corporations that are only active in a single time zone - trust. Because of the issues with security in player owned stations, it is typical for only pilots that have been thoroughly background checked to be let in and even after the background checking their movements and actions will be scrutinized by other corporation members for anything that is suspicious. This oversight is clearly not as easily applied when a new pilot is online at different times to those that are already present, so expanding a corporation into a new timezone can be a very risky proposition.

Another limit on the number of pilots that are encountered is the nature of wormhole links and the space itself. Compare the speed of moving from one system to another between wormhole space and known space. In known space, you select a gate from the overview and you press 'jump'. You will warp to the gate and jump through it. In wormhole space, you need to launch probes and scan down a significant number of signatures to identify where the links are. Then you need to warp to the link and make a precise bookmark and (if you are being cautious) wait for the bookmark to show up for the rest of your corporation before jumping through the link, in case backup is needed.

Not only is the time to move from system to system significantly higher, but the risk of doing so is higher as well - polarization timers and short kick-out ranges when jumping mean that a practiced group has a much better chance of managing to decloak covert ships than they would in known space.

Yet another driver that encourages pilots to stay in the vicinity of their home system is the volatility of wormhole links; time limits are imprecise and encourage pilots not to jump through wormholes with less than 25% of their life left. Mass limits open up the very real possibility of a third party closing off the route home without any knowledge of a group that is out roaming - less of a problem for larger groups but a real risk for smaller wormhole corporations.

Getting Fights

It may sound obvious but in order to get fights in wormhole space you need potential targets to leave the relative safety of their POS forcefields (clearly this is ignoring sieging the POS as a way to generate a fight - generally beyond the capability of most small wormhole groups). The reason for leaving the POS can be generated by the players themselves due to their needs, or it can be generated by an external presence that they feel they have to respond to.

Internal drivers for pilots to put themselves at risk are quite self explanatory;

  • Doing planetary interaction for profit or POS fuel components
  • Hauling POS fuel / ice products in from known space
  • Hauling loot out to known space for sale
  • Scouting the wormhole chain
  • Running sites either in the home system or other systems in the chain
The challenge then becomes getting into position and intercepting the pilots without them realizing they are being hunted until it is to late.

External drivers for pilots putting themselves at risk are simple in concept, but in practice is significantly more complex. You need to provide a compelling reason for them to abandon the safety of their POS force field and put their ship(s) into a combat situation; fundamentally you are trying to bait them into a fight.

The correct bait for a group can be very hard to determine; what will cause one corporation to rally everyone into combat ships and engage will cause another to flee the system entirely. Killboard records can be very useful for building up a picture of what a corporation is likely to engage or not. Some key points to look for are:
  • Look at their kills; do they try and pick off haulers and miners, or do they take engagements against combat ships?
  • If they lose scouts semi-regularly, they are probably fairly active in scouting their surrounding systems. Less obvious bait in an adjacent wormhole system may be more likely to attract their attention
  • Do they attack site running ships? Look for example kills on their killboard and look at what their favoured targets are, or what ships they've been burned by in the past that other groups have used as bait against them.
  • Do they avoid more robust targets like Tech 3 ships?
There's a significant degree of gut instinct on what should be used to tempt potential targets into the open. The only way to cultivate that instinct is to try it again and again, and try and work out why it works when it does, and why it doesn't when it doesn't.