Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Dark Arts: Stalking the Mission Runner

Disclaimer - I make no claim to be an authority on this or any subject, rather I'm just a noob-at-heart documenting my experimentation with the Dark Arts of EVE Online and inviting you to share my journey. Commentary and advice will be appreciated.

So, since my last post I have created my alliance, built my corp a bit more, and had some successful PvP ops. Most of this has been funded from my own wallet up to this point, and the well is beginning to run dry. Reluctant to resort to carebearism, I've decided lately to go full pirate for awhile in an effort to raise some isk the fun way. This will probably be the first of a series of articles exploring my efforts and lessons learned.

The Target: Mission Runners
You all have seen these guys in local if you have spent any time in highsec. They have 5.0 security status and fly around solo in battleships, often blinged out with faction modules, and without any kind of point to trap you. Most of these people are completely antisocial, will not reply if you address them in local, and are never on comms with anybody. Even if they have corp-mates in local, they may not be in contact with them in any practical way. Obviously these fellows are juicy targets. Even if they won't pay ransom they may very well drop loot that more than pays for your ammo, to say the least. The trouble is - they hide behind the shield of CONCORD much of the time and have enough EHP that suicide ganking is a costly endeavor.

Habitat of the Mission Runner
Minor mission hubs with adjacent lowsec systems
The average mission runner lives in deep highsec. They can be located easily by using Dotlan. Choose a highsec region and filter the map to NPC kills. Large numbers of NPC kills in highsec usually come from either mission runners, and to a lesser extent from ice miners. When you locate a system with high numbers of NPC kills, click on it and on neighboring systems to figure out where the Level 4 Security Agents are located. To a lesser extent you may be interested in Level 3 agents if you are targeting battlecruisers. The ideal hunting grounds for you as a pirate will not be the biggest and best mission hubs, where there is more competition, but rather those a bit off the beaten path with moderate levels of activity and adjacent lowsec systems. Check the lowsec systems for both NPC kills and Ship/Pod kills. The higher the ratio of NPC kills to ship/pod kills the better.

Highsec Tactics
There are several tactics that I have heard of. In highsec systems you have basically three options.

  1. Wardec mission running corporations. Ultimately this may be the most profitable but requires a significant investment in time and patience to pull it off.
  2. Suicide ganks. Unfortunately, mission boats often have a significant tank. This may be profitable if you have staked out a target and ship scanned him, so that you know that he is carrying expensive faction or officer modules. The technique is simple - scan him down, plug his fit into EFT to figure out what kind of tank he has, assemble a fleet that has the DPS to take him out before CONCORD arrives, locate him in a sensitive position (like in the mission pocket), gank him and have a friend loot the field. Divide the spoils. I haven't tried this with mission runners yet, but it is an undeniably effective tactic when you know that the loot is likely to be worth the expense.
  3. Bait the mission runner to attack you first. I've attempted this a few times without success, but I have heard of it being done. The idea is to scan down a battleship signature with combat scanner probes, get in a combat ship and warp into his mission pocket, then loot one of his wrecks so that you go flashy, and perhaps taunt him in local or a private convo to get him to shoot you. Then defeat him in combat, ask for a ransom and/or blow him up, loot the field and run away.

Lowsec Hunting

This has been my most successful tactic. Basically, you need to find a good lowsec system. Ideally it has no stations, nobody lives there, it isn't connected to the wider network of lowsec systems and there is no piracy activity there to speak of. And it is adjacent to a highsec system where a significant number of people run level 3 and 4 security missions.

The Mission runner may look ferocious,
but is a docile and foolish beast.
Once you have found a good system, get yourself a scanning alt. Mine flies a Probe with a Prototype Cloaking Device and combat scanner probes. Put him in your lowsec system, park his ship about 100km from the entry gate and cloak up. Then alt tab over to your main character and go about your business, just make sure that you and any friends who might want to come along stay within a jump or two of your hunting grounds. Form a fleet with anyone who is available to come and make your scanner alt the FC.

Once you are set up like this, just be patient. I keep the sound on for my alt so I can hear the gate flash if anybody jumps into my lowsec system. Eventually, a mission runner will show up, thinking he is safe to run his mission.

When he does, observe his ship type and the direction that he warps off heading to his mission pocket, Then quickly get your probes out and alert your fleet to get ready to jump in. Probe him down as quickly as you can and get your probes back in. I've found that most mission runners are blissfully unaware that there is such a thing as d-scan, so your probes probably won't alert them to danger. Sometimes they do, and he runs  away, and you just have to wait for the next one.

Once you have the signature, jump in with your fleet, have your alt fleet warp everybody to the mission runner and do your thing. I like to do this in cheap T1 frigates with lots of ammo in the cargohold. Get in close so that his guns can't track you, warp scramble him and shoot down his drones, then turn your guns on him and chew down his tank. Extract ransom and/or loot and run away.

Oh my, the tears...
The best part of all this is the reaction of the mission runners themselves. This is the main reason why I like to use T1 frigates for this, apart from their disposable nature and low cost. When you warp in on a battleship or battlecruiser and take him down with a handful of frigates (or even just one), it takes some time to get it done while you converse with your victim. These are long minutes of quality gameplay. The reaction typically starts alon g the lines of "WTF haha frigs," progresses to "F%#@ off kids," then transitions to "Please I don't have isk for ransom," and then to "HELP ANYBODY THEY"RE KILLING ME!" This is hilarious good fun for almost everybody involved. Mission runners almost never carry smartbombs, neuts, or points, so if you kill their drones quickly there is little to nothing that they can do to a frigate but watch you buzz around them like flies as you whittle their tank away. This also means that week old noobs can participate in this form of piracy almost as well as older characters.

So far the isk hasn't been great. I'm still working out what the best value is for a ransom. My first battleships I've been asking for 200 million and then negotiating down as far as 125, but nobody has been paying. I think maybe I'll have to shoot lower, like 75-100 million. With BCs I've been asking 50 mil, but that's probably too much as well. The loot that I have been harvesting has been fair, 10 mil per wreck or so, but not enough to give decent isk/hour. I have hopes that I'll get a good jackpot officer drop or something, but it seems like setting relatively low ransoms is the best way to maximize profit. Perhaps I should leave it unsaid, but you will make more isk if you accept a ransom and blow the fellow up anyway (not that I would ever do such a thing, of course).

Good luck and fly dangerously.