Laying Low

Screenshot_0001.bmp Boucher Terminal, 84 Ceti

There’s a bit of a shakeup going on, and it’s really harshing my buzz.  I have a Grand Vision for myself, to get to Sol and see the ancient sights, but this damned war is getting in the way.  The Feds are in an uproar, with Spaceship One having been blown out of the sky, and various senior polis jockying for political advantage.  The crisis in the Federation has maybe triggered more unrest in the Alliance and Empire.

Work is coming in from all over the place; the best way to get ahead is to curry favor with one of these factions.  Those that do not, I’m hearing, are having a harder time of it than they used to.

My dilemma here is that if I pick a side, my travels may be somewhat constrained. And that’s going to make it harder to curry favor with the Feds. Unless I side with that weasel Hudson … and that’s gonna take a pretty thick rug. So, in a way, I’ve unpicked a side, haven’t I?

All this stupidity comes on top of some major changes that are taking place on the technology front. Right now, we should be enjoying some new toys, but it’s all tainted by the changes taking place.  I hear about little cargo-retrieving drones, improvements in mining technology, and even the GalNet interface has been updated.  The Galaxy map even has new shineys – I swear, I saw a button that would point out known black markets in the area.

But no – we gotta focus on the gritty underpinnings of this galactic bruhaha.  Okay, fine.

First of all, it really did feel like the pinch was on; bounties were smaller, rewards were smaller, and the smiles were less frequent and of lower than usual quality. But, on the other hand, business was brisk. I can’t complain.

I fit a third beam laser on the new heap, upgraded to homing missiles, and went out and asserted myself. The verdict is: keep trying.  The problem with beamers is that they share a common energy pool.  What this translates to is: more beamers = higher burst damage, but you use up your juice a lot faster.  If I keep this configuration – or go with four – I’ll need to change my tactics somewhat.  If I keep the missile launcher, I’ll need to upgrade to something with more oomf. It’s nice to use as filler in between laser cooldowns, but it would be nice it was more … decisive.

While I’ve been romping all over the galaxy like I owned the place, it’s important to realize there are bigger fish out there.  I was served that lesson anew when some goon in an Imperial Dropship got the drop on me (c wut I did thar) and I was lucky to escape – though, I must say, I was in a lot better shape when I escaped than last time I encountered one of these terrors.

Well, I have a lot to think about as I cozy into a nice warm hostel and look at the litany of misery that is the GalNet newsfeed, run power distribution simulations on my wristpad, and try to figure out where I should stand in the big picture.

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Pip Dancing for Fun and Profit

Sometimes the art of flying any ship is the art of Pip Dancing.

Cockpit Pips “Pip Dancing” is the practice of modifying your power distribution settings effectively to match the situation you are in.  It is so called because most ship power distribution displays represent the power distribution biases as three little pips below the power bus status bars. The more pips illuminated, the higher the power distribution bias is to that subsystem.

There are three major subsystems

  • Systems, which affects shield recharge rates among other useful things.
  • Weapons, which most notably affects energy weapon recharge rates and possibly reload rates (YMMV).
  • Engines, which (no surprise) most notably affects engine capacitor recharge rates and total thrust availability, as well as your turning “sweet spot” on the throttle.

Your skill in manipulating these three settings can affect the outcome of an encounter tremendously.

There are generally four controls associated with these settings – a “reset” button that returns all controls to defaults (two pips each), and then one button to increase the level for each of the three systems.  I generally bind these to buttons that are easy to get to. In current conditions, there are six buttons surrounding the joystick, so I’ve delegated three of those to subsystems, one to reset, and one to reverse thrust (unrelated).

The tricky part is that there is a maximum amount of energy to be distributed, represented by the six pips.  If you crank one system up to maximum (four pips), the other two will decrease equally to compensate.  So, for example, if you set Weapons to three pips, then increased Engines to four, then Weapons would decrease to two and Systems to zero.

Anyway, it’s good to keep these four controls mapped to easy-to-find buttons, so that you can adjust things appropriately.

Let’s run some scenarios.

  • You materialize in a group of highly skilled, heavily armed pirates.  You’re going to run, but you need to survive the onslaught as well.  Initially bias to four Systems, two Engines, zero Weaps.  After you survive the initial onslaught, drop chaff and crank Engines to 4.  Run like the wind, engage jump drive, and pray.
  • You materialize in an area that is full of weakly armed, inept wanted pirates.  Boost Weaps to 4, Engine to 2, let Systems fall where they may.  The need for efficiency overcomes the need for safety when your opponent can’t hit you.
  • Your opponent realizes he’s going to die and runs for the hills.  If you don’t stay in firing range, he may escape. Crank up Weaps and Engines and hope for the best.

Generally speaking, if I’m fighting smart (i.e., against an opponent that can’t pod me), I’ll be less concerned about incoming fire and more about shutting her down before she decides to jump out of the system. Therefore, I’m going with three weaps, two engine, and one system. If they have decent weaponry I might bias more towards systems than engines, but I keep weaps as high as possible.

These are the fundamentals. As with all things, learning comes with practice.

You have all the weapons you need. Now, fight.

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Getting to Know You

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Wafer Terminal, Shenich System

My first major expedition in Star Fury was all about getting to know the ins and outs of a Cobra and the new toys that were afforded me.

The first order of business: the fuel scoop.  I equipped this device as a hedge against hitting a big void in the population plot. I didn’t like getting stranded.  And it works fine. But there’s a fine line between maximum fuel intake and burning to a crisp that I’m still trying to suss. Still, after a few jumps I felt I had the fundamentals in place. The rest, as they say, is finesse.

The weapons package was another matter.  The two beam lasers were familiar enough, but it turns out that dumb-fire missiles are about as useless as a Nerf cannon. Out of my entire loadout, I got exactly one hit, and that was at point blank range.

The torpedo, on the other hand, hit with a mighty BLAM, helping me bring down a far superior foe in seconds. Unfortunately, with its limited capacity (one round per mount point), it really doesn’t fare well on a medium sized ship like a Cobra.  Unless you had a mission that required a hard, heavy hit right off the bat, this weapon is either a massively unrealized potential, or a wasted hardpoint.

So I also swapped out for a scatter gun.  Less said about that, the better.  I’ll investigate ballistics further, but I’ve drawn my conclusions on this one.

The next leg of my journey will have me evaluating homing missiles, which are a lot more accurate but have significantly less OOMF. And maybe another kind of ballistic. 

The great thing is, it’s great to have the freedom to evaluate without sacrificing the ability to defend myself.

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Star Fury

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Chaudhary Hangar, Mboyan System

The final few jumps of my journey to 47 Ceti were uneventful other than the occasional pirate giving his life for my buy-a-Cobra fund. No suitable missions, but plenty of hungry pirates just dying to get a piece of me.  I was not happy to oblige. But I enjoyed the bounties.

By the time I got to 47 Ceti, I had accumulated my goal of 500K and change.  They weren’t selling Cobras there, though, so the best I could do was stare at the poster taped to the bulkhead over my bunk. 

Oh, right, like you don’t do that, too.

Looking over my navcomp, I elected the Aegaeon system for my next destination.  Loading up two tins of Aepyornis Eggs, I headed out in search of a system some 40 jumps away.

A few systems away, I lucked out and found not only a good shipyard, but a good outfitter. I was also very pleasantly surprised to find out that Wild Heart was so well equipped that they practically gave me the Cobra in trade, plus 10,000 creds.  That left me with 500K+ to outfit with.

Here’s a sad truth: if you’re going to buy a Cobra and outfit it, it’ll cost you close to $800K creds.  As it turned out, I escaped with around $150K of my nest egg intact.

A little paint job, a christening ceremony, and she was mine. May I present Star Fury.

Screenshot_0006.bmpBy the way, you’re not seeing things. That is indeed a “Competent” combat insignia on the bow, not “Mostly harmless” like Wild Heart was wearing. Not sure how that happened. I hear there’s a navcomp patch coming out to give us a progress report on that sort of the thing in the near future.

But anyway – Cobra!

My first order of business was to take her out on a trial run just outside the station’s no fire zone.  And here’s where we all raise our hands and shout out “Hooray for testing!”.  As I deployed my weapons for the very first time, all the lights went out. And the life support. And the shields.

Turns out that while the Sidewinder is kind of bulletproof when it comes to outfitting – you just can’t overload it because there aren’t that many ways to suck power on it – the Cobra is a lot less forgiving, and it turns out that four beam lasers were too much of a draw on the power system. As was two beamers and two ballistics.  I eventually went with two beamers, a missile launcher, a torpedo launcher, and a bigger power plant (twice the weight as the Class A I had gone with initially). That took me from 10.6 K to 11K capacity, which brought the needles back out of the red.

So far, me and Star Fury have only experienced combat in one situation that was over before we even got started, but we’re getting to know each other.  For now, I’m going to spend a couple of days sanding down the rough edges and enjoying the amenities of a well-stocked space station.

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Recovery

Kennicott Holdings, Gautama System

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The Gautamian Flu is pretty nasty, so don’t get it. It keeps you down for a while. Except when you’re up. And on the Imperial Throne, if you take my meaning.

Having burned off a slice of my bankroll on antibiotics, hookers, and blow (well, one out of three ain’t bad), I staggered into Wild Heart’s cockpit for the first time in two weeks (plus change) and realized that she needed dusting in a serious way.

Two hours and a ten-pack of respirator mask filters later, I was finally ready to run the pre-flight checkout and check the Board. Just like old times – gold buyers, gold buyers, low-value courier missions, take out The General, miserable military missions, and zero cargo going my way or nice, clean anti-piracy missions.  Well, we’re getting close, at least.

So my first trip outside of medbay in over two weeks was into the Big Black without a mission but with at least a vague idea of where I was going next. I had to get inventive, though, because the next leg of the journey was into a void space that really didn’t have a lot to offer in terms of habitable systems – i.e., places to refuel.  But I spotted one system just one jump off my path that had all the amenities one could ask for.  I plotted my course and set off.

Even though I had forgotten to seed my cargo bay with some honey (i.e. pirate bait), the pirates were so happy to see me that I hardly had to work at it to get a few nibbles along the way. A procession of Asps, Eagles, Sidewinders, and even the occasional Cobra provided easily handle-able targets from which to glean a moderate living, and by the time I arrived at my ultimate destination, I’d accumulated around 50K in immediate bounties, plus follow-ups if I made it into Imperial or Alliance space. Not bad for a fella just stepping out of his own coffin.

The fuel situation concerns me.  Considering that I’m not toting cargo right now, maybe I should swap in a fuel scoop and stretch my range out.  On the other hand, I’m so close to my Cobra, I might just wait for that acquisition before doing so.  If I keep my head about me, and make sure to check for the availability of fueling points, I should be okay.

Which means we’re all waiting for the penny to drop, doesn’t it?

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Temptation

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Chernykh Works, Gami Musu System

Anti-piracy patrols aren’t all that bad if you remember the rules.

Rule number 1: tote a warrant scanner.

This device will give you credit for the kill in multiple juristictions.  It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Rule number 2: You don’t have to be the fastest ship in the sector. Just faster than the slowest ship in the sector.

While it’s tempting to enter a system with a full four pips on the engines, having a couple on systems will keep you alive long enough to point at the slower ship and go, “Hey – he’s LOADED!” and then run like you stole your own ship.

Rule number 3: salvage isn’t worth it.

When them pirates panic and dump their cargo in an attempt to distract you with shiny things, it’s really tempting to load up on that sweet ejecta. But the truth is, you’re probably not set up for smuggling.  You need lots of cargo room, and a known place to drop your ill gotten booty. It’s hard enough avoiding the rozzers when they show up every time you blow up a pirate; giving them another chance to scan you at an unknown space station is just asking for trouble.

Rule number 4: don’t bring a switchblade to a baseball bat fight.

Cargo scanners, a wet bar, entertainment systems, and other fluff are great if you’re running a passenger liner or actually engaging in piracy, but when your main objectives are to (a) go places, (b) see things, and ( c) blow pirates up, be sure to dress for success.  Upgrade your stuff, and make sure you’re equipping stuff designed to meet your objectives.  Especially if you’re flying a Sidey – these little beer cans aren’t made to multitask.   You compromise with these little ships, and you’ll be sucking vaccuum.

It isn’t get-rich-quick by any means, but I’m within 100K of my goal so I’m really not regretting the less aggressive pace.

For now.

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Marked

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Bulleid Beacon, Ngauningin System

After the rocky progress (i.e., no progress at all) of my last foray in the direction of 47 Ceti, I decided to take it a little more carefully this time around. I was missing my cargo, but I could still collect bounties if I played my cards right.

One of my quarry had a hold full of military blueprints, so I dipped my toe in to the pool and added a couple to my hold.

Bad idea.

I had taken out exactly 20% of my quota at this points, and failed to factor in that many of the pirates I would come across were fighting the rozzers … who, naturally, would scan me and notice the forbidden cargo in my hold.  So while I managed to, in many cases, shift the balance in their favor, they ultimately turned against me and started peppering me with fire.

Honestly, I’m not sure that’s what’s got them going on or not, but I do know that I’m getting damned tired of laser fire. So far, nobody’s presented me with an option to pay off my fine, or I would have by now, believe me.

The GalNet’s starting to chatter about these odd artifacts that have been showing up here and there. They say that these can be found around strong signal sources when scanning … I’m fancying a look at one myself.  They say there’s a message embedded in there somewhere.  Probably in some odd dialect that nobody today knows how to interpret.

We live in interesting times.

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Friendly Fire Isn’t

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Bowen Dock, HR 8061 System

Missions to hunt down pirates are becoming fewer as I go along. I’m not sure why, but I’ve found that hunting them is still a viable and profitable venture.

I am easily bored, however, and decided to take on a mission into a conflict zone.  I haven’t gotten the knack of these yet, and as usual I ended up huffing vacuum, all over a 10K  reward. I’m either lousy at picking factions, or just not in the right league to be engaging such events.

But the pirate hunting was good. System after system, I collected nav data and shot up pirates, and it was good.

And then there was the ship being flown by a minor lord of the local aristocracy, being hunted by pirates and doing a lousy job staying out of the way while I saved his royal bacon.  As a result, I got a minor bounty for taking him out, and a warm welcome at the next station I stopped at – warm as in the hot end of the lasers.

Total tally is that I gained around 50KCr while having to pay over 40K insurance deductibles.

Oh, bother.

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Targets of Opportunity

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Picard Settlement, Yenada System

For a mining outpost, Picard has a pretty lively Board. Unfortunately, when your best choices are between going after traders or Rozzers, you know you’re in the wrong part of the galaxy.  Pay my bar tab, fuel up, and I’m gone.

The next few systems were echoes of Yenada with variations. But, there were plenty of targets of opportunity along the way, as I investigated any signal source that didn’t look like a trap. The bounties have been small but plentiful, and I’m gradually closing on my 500K goal.

Some of these encounters are real heart breakers.  Take out the cargo hatch and see a virtual rain of cargo come spilling out … and just as you get ready to scoop a few up, the Rozzers show up.  None of the usual smuggler tricks work in this situation. If they scan you here, you don’t stand much of a chance of getting away without a fine.  So not worth it.  But, still.  Couldn’t they wait for five minutes more?  I did all the actual work, here.  Respect.

I’m starting to see offers from the Royals to turn coats and work for them.  I’m not really wearing a Fed coat to turn, but I want to visit Sol before I turn things around, and associating with the Empire just doesn’t sound like it would put me in good stead for a Sol permit, so I’m keeping them at arm’s length for now. 

This last encounter was one of those that usually ends up with you podded, flushing all that lovely nav data down the drain.  Caught a whiff of a signal, dropped out, found a freighter that was just skipping out.  Noticed the two other ships that where there were fairly high-powered, so turned my nose away and started my jump cycle up.  Before I knew it, theyd’ closed on me and were pummeling me like a sparring dummy.  I got out with my usual 18%, wincing at ever crack and pop the canopy made along the way. 

Never get complacent.  There’s always a bigger fish out there, waiting to pounce.

The mechanic tells me it’ll take a couple of days to fix all the holes, so looks like I’ll be inhabiting the nearest watering hole for a while. Suits me just fine. My nerves are still jangled over that fight.

Like my pappy used to say, sometimes you get the bear, and sometimes the bear gets you.

I have no idea what a bear is.

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Not the Greatest Judge of Character

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Haxel Dock, Asegezites System

Good news: I’d left the foul grasp of the Feds and re-entered civilization, where my precious Evil Juice was no longer considered the Worst Thing Since Dark Matter. The bad news was, Haxel wasn’t happening. 

You know when you look at the vid guide, and you decide to hate-watch that show that you constantly mock people for watching because everything else that’s on is even worse?  Well, that’s the Bulletin Board on Haxel.  There was a choice between going after The General (again), or going after traders.

I’ve always had problems with this kind of mission. Pirates are easy to figure out. If they’re wanted, or they shoot at you first, you’re pretty much guaranteed to collect a bounty. Trade interdiction missions are a lot harder to figure out.  And in this case I didn’t do any better than before.  Found a lone Hauler, took a shot, got a fine.  Finished the job, got a bigger fine. Didn’t get credit for the kill, so OBVIOUSLY I had it wrong.

So I slinked off to the nearest station to pay off a whopping fine so I didn’t end up with the rozzers up in my business. Going after traders is clearly not my strong suit.  Note to self: for now, let’s stick to pirates.

Another lesson learned in this general part of the galaxy is the difference between Combat Rating as a guide and Ship Type as a guide.

Lemme essplain.

You’re flying a Sidey and a Cobra manned by a Mostly Harmless pilot jumps your shit.  If you’re armed fairly well, you stand a decent chance against that Cobra. Play your cards right, and you’ll collect a bounty on this clown.

On the other hand, a Harmless-rated pilot flying an Imperial Courier starts the fight out around 2-3 times better off than that Cobra ever dreamed of being. Better armor, better shields, better power plant … assuming you land nothing but solid hits and your opponent lands one out of three glancing blows, your shields will STILL go down before the Courier’s. If you press this fight, you’re probably going to lose.

Know when to run.

Having fulfilled my anti-piracy obligations, and tallied my bounties, I limped in to port with 6% left on my hull integrity field, jumping at every crackle from the canopy. A few minor upgrades were purchased, but I’m happy to report that even after all that, I’ve cracked 300K in my savings.

The plan right now is to wait until I hit 500K before even shopping for a Cobra, because the chassis is just the beginning. I also have to pick the right place to buy it, because where ever that is will more or less become my new home port – either because I have a halfway-equipped Cobra parked there, or because I have a sweetly decked-out Sidewinder parked there.

I mean, sure, I could park a ship somewhere and travel to it on a regular passenger liner.

But I’ve seen the kind of people out there plying the spaceways. No way I’m going out there with anything less than a Class B beamer.

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