Thursday, December 29, 2011

For Texas and Miss Lily

"Judge shot him.  Dead.  Dead, dead.  Then he fined him for some other crimes.  And then later we hanged him."
     - The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean
There is a scene in the western "The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean" in which an albino desperado/gunslinger named Bad Bob (played by Stacy Keach) rides into town, terrorizes the townfolk, and then calls Judge Bean out for a gunfight. When the Judge doesn't show himself, Bob resorts to all manner of insult and smack talk. When direct insults don't draw the judge out, Bob begins to insult Lily Langtree, whom Roy Bean is known to idolize as the best and most beautiful woman in the world.  Finally, Bad Bob shoots a poster bearing Miss Lily's image through the heart.

Thus provoked, Judge Bean, who has used this time to hide himself in a church steeple with a high powered rifle, shoots Bad Bob in the back from long distance. Kills him on the spot.

The judge's men, while not long on virtue themselves, are a bit off-put by this as shooting a man in the back, even so vile a villain as Bad Bob, violates the code of the West. 
Fermel Parlee:  You call that sportin'? It weren't a real standup fight.
Judge Bean:      Standup? I laid down to steady my aim.
Fermel Parlee:  Well, I mean he never had a chance.
Judge Bean:      Not at all.  Never did, never would have.  I didn't ask him to come here.  I don't abide giving killers a chance.  He wants a chance, let him go someplace else.
Which sums up my philosophy of PvP very nicely.  In fact, this is one of the few aspects of the game in which my point of view and Mitten's overlap almost entirely. War in New Eden is not about e-Honor. It's not about "good fights". It's about ruining the play experience for the other side; a deliberate peeling away of any enjoyment the enemy gets when they mess with you. It is a war of attrition on fun. A good fight, to me, is when I kill the enemy in as efficient and merciless fashion as possible with minimal danger to me and mine.

It is a pragmatic and, I will be the first to admit, soulless view of PvP.

Of course, my point of view is anathema for many small gang PvPers for whom PvP is an end in and of itself; the very reason for playing the game in the first place. Such players are very passionate about what they do and can be a bit defensive when it comes to their play style. Small gang PvPers tend toward an almost knee-jerk dislike for "fleet" PvP.  They are quick to sneer at it and state that it isn't "real" PvP; that outfits like Eve University do new players a disservice by teaching them fleet tactics as opposed to the more nuanced skills needed to be an effective solo or small gang pilot.  

In truth, they are the gunslingers, the samurai of Eve Online.

For these players it's all about the kill list and the good fight. They rail against the fleet doctrine because it is closely associated with the blob. Skilled though they may be, most small gangs are not a match for an ably led fifty ship fleet of more modestly skilled pilots. Winning by application of overwhelming force does nothing to burnish one's PvP reputation and those who win in that manner are not deserving of respect. Dueling with blobs of t1 battlecruisers does not generally fall under the small gang PvPer's definition of a good fight.

Carebears, on the other hand, are not constrained by such delicate considerations.

A carebear is, generally speaking, not terribly interested his or her PvP reputation. They are a pragmatic lot. If the small gang pirates and griefers don't enjoy blob fights, the bears are well advised to blob with a will. As I mentioned in Creatures of Light and Darkness, nullsec bears became very adept at hemming small fleets of interlopers into kill zones and then exterminating them. Executing the same tactics in lowsec, of course, assumes fleet PvP numbers, know-how and coordination that most highsec carebear corporations and alliances lack. Further, assets in lowsec have, by and large, either been impossible to secure, or not worth the investment an organization would need to make in order to project a sphere of influence into lowsec space.

With the advent of Player Owned Customs Offices (POCO), this has changed. POCOs offer a structure that can be claimed by an organization and generate a number of revenue streams. Of course a prerequisite for optimizing revenue from such a structure is that they be reasonably accessible to those allowed to use them, and that they be defended if attacked. Thus, carebear organizations have been provided a rationale for projecting power into lowsec.

Of course, as most faction warfare players will know, lowsec space is difficult to lock down. Not only are there no in-game mechanics to facilitate this, lowsec mechanics tend twork to impede such efforts. Thus, a lighter touch is needed; the development of a sphere of influence as opposed to outright territorial control. The goal of a sphere if influence is an area of nullsec in which hostile traffic can be minimized enough to allow a profitable degree of allied industrial activity by friends and allies. This is, at present, beyond the ability of most high sec alliances. Therefore, if they wish to extend their operations to lowsec and have the wherewithal to protect their investments, they are going to have to form coalitions.

To date, lowsec coalitions have been a very different breed of cat from their nullsec cousins. Nullsec coalitions tend to be highly public, with well known list of member alliances, defined borders, common diplomatic standings and a clearly defined administrative structure. Lowsec coalitions, on the other hand, tend to be smaller, much more secretive and more informal. Most are PvP/Industrial hybrids and have no interest in calling undue attention to themselves and tend to locate themselves off the beaten path. 

However, there are indications that a new type of lowsec coalition is waiting to step out into the spotlight. It bears a much closer resemblance to a nullsec coalition and that's not surprising; a key constituent of these emerging entities are former nullsec bears. Unlike many highsec bears, nullsec bears tend to be well grounded in how to fight in fleet, how to coordinate defense of their space and how to spoil a roaming gang's evening out. Some are passable Fleet Commanders as well.

Whether and how quickly these bear coalitions catch on and whether they survive for long is an open question. There will be a trial and error period, them we'll see. While I don't expect them to stand off a concerted attack by Pandemic Legion, Legion of Death or their nullsec ilk, the bears should be able to hold their own against the usual assortment of lowsec pirates and griefers. However, the winners or losers in this fight will not be measured in ships or ISK lost. It will be measured in fun denied.

For Texas, and Miss Lily.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Mittens and Markets

I spent a few weeks observing the Goonswarm interdiction of Gallente ice. Ironically dubbed Goonswarm Shrugged by Mittens, chair of the CSM and Beloved Leader of Goonswarm, the interdiction's stated objective was the ruination of the Eve economy.

Now, it would seem a bit far fetched to some, the idea that interdicting a single commodity could bring New Eden's artificial economy to its knees.  However, it must be borne in mind that Mittens had an awful lot of bored Goons wanting occupation as they waited for the Winter Supercapital Nerf.  Like Border Collies, if you don't keep Goons busy they'll start eating the sofa cushions and herding the household cats. Or the other way around. Both are messy and involve constant clean up.

Anyway, you might well ask how I know Mittens wasn't planning on breaking New Eden's economy. The answer is that Mittens told me so. Well, not directly. Well, yes directly, but not in so many words.
All of EVE depends on fuel, and an extra-special amount of EVE depends on Oxygen Isotopes. These are the fuel for the most popular types of supercapitals, the Rorqual industrial ship, and for Gallente towers, which are the backbone of moon mineral reaction chains and thus of T2 production all across EVE.
See, as Mittens put it forward in his mission statement, this means that by systematically griefing Gallente ice harvesting in high sec space, his Goonswarm could bring industrial New Eden to its knees. An obvious lie. Therefore, Mittens did not plan on bringing the economy of New Eden to its knees. QED.

How do I know it was a lie? His lips were moving.

But that aside; the holes in this theory/plan from an economics standpoint are absolutely, unbelievably huge. To announce such a goal Mittens would have to be either made of two parts stupidity to one part hubris, or lying. So ask yourself this: Is Mittens stupid? See? Lying.

Oh, I won't say he doesn't entertain some secret dream of holding all of Eve hostage to his whims. We all need a dream. But there is more of Machiavelli than super villain in Mittens. No, this was an exercise in keeping the kiddies busy while engaging in a little market manipulation.

While it couldn't achieve its stated goal, the announcement of the interdiction by itself would cause oxygen isotope prices to spike due to market speculation by in game traders and the accelerated consumption of the isotopes needed to support the ongoing stockpiling of fuel cells. If the interdiction were successful in causing a production decline in overall oxygen isotope production, that would be bump the expected price spike further. But the impact of the actual interdiction was all gravy. All Mittens had to do was invest in the isotopes up front, announce the interdiction, and then cash in as the price rose. If the scam kept his troops well occupied while they waited for the winter war, all the better.

Of course, Mittens' announced goal of a complete 23/7 shut down of highsec ice production was never realized. I spent a good bit of time moving from one ice belt system to another observing the interdiction in operation, reading reports from sources on the ground and watching the supporting metrics. The effort was generally successful in the few designated staging systems, however enforcement of the interdiction elsewhere became sporadic after the initial excitement with the operation passed. Several systems appear to have been largely untouched after the interdiction's initial push. It wasn't uncommon to sit in a system for hours on end, watching a fleet of happy (if watchful) miners making little icebergs out of big ones - no doubt thanking Mittens for their the additional profit margin.

On Sunday, of course, Mittens called an end to the interdiction. He cashed in his isotopes at a nice profit and sent his goons into Branch to devil the Russians for a time. War against a neighboring nullsec power tends to hold the Goons attention better than war with mining barges.

An interesting byproduct of the venture was the degree to which some the miners worked to adapt to the Goon threat. Normally a miner will simply shut down operations and blue-ball a persistent griefer. In this case, without an expected end to the Goon campaign, and with the uptick in isotope prices making mining Gallente ice worth more risk, miners began experimenting with means of foiling the Goon attacks, or at least minimizing the related financial losses. Further, kill hungry PvE players began to haunt the ice belts in t1 PvP fit ships, waiting for an attacker. Knowing the Goon ships were fit for all gank and no tank and that their focus would be on the mining barges, it was a rare opportunity for the highsec PvE players to rack up some low risk Goonswarm kills.

I won't go into the precise tactics developed by the carebear side. Hulkageddon is just around the corner, and it will be interesting to see if the lessons learned by some of the carebears in the Gallente Ice Interdiction of 2011 get carried over and refined when the Hulk hunters come calling.

As ever, it's an ill wind that blows no one good.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Stabbed Up: POCO Wars

As of  December, Stabs is back in business at his blog Stabbed Up. He's published a nine-episode set of posts called POCO wars that involves adventures and misadventures with Player Owned Customs Offices in wormhole space. A good read and I recommend them.

Stabs is a thoughtful writer (A librarian over on the UK, so I understand. Jenny would approve.) who's held forth quite intelligently on Eve over time. I'd dropped him off my blog list as he'd stopped writing about Eve for a while and then stopped writing altogether in the Fall. However, it looks like he's returned and giving Eve some press, and I'm happy to see him back with us.

Some of you have already noticed his return. For those who haven't, stop in and give him some blog love. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Golden Hour

In emergency medicine, the golden hour refers to a time period lasting from a few minutes to several hours following traumatic injury being sustained by a casualty, during which there is the highest likelihood that prompt medical treatment will prevent death.
                 - Advanced Trauma Life Support
If you hang out in nullsec long enough, there's going to come a day when the barbarians get inside the walls. They're going to pillage and burn. They're going to perform unnatural acts with the livestock. They're going to laugh at you and call you all manner of impolite and impolitic names.

It's never a good day.

Defeat and retreat are part of the ebb and flow of fortunes that make nullsec what it is. However, unless you're role-playing Aeneas,  being driven from your nullsec home and into the wilderness with your fellow exiles is never fun. And, as I say so often that you're probably rolling your eyes and mouthing the words as you read this, if your guys aren't having fun, they'll soon be somebody else's guys.

So, while you don't have to like it (in fact you shouldn't), you do need to be mindful of the possibility that you'll be overrun and have to make a strategic withdrawal and plan against that eventuality. If and when it comes to that, the last thing you want is everybody rushing for the exits in panic, leaving their fellows and most of their high-value assets behind. Nor do you want the veterans of nullsec bug-outs reading the writing on the wall and quietly moving their assets out on the sly, leaving the less experienced players holding the bag. Your pilots should be confident that, in the event the unthinkable happens, an organized evacuation plan is in place and will be executed in stages if the strategic situation begin to decay.

"But Mord," you might ask, "Doesn't an evacuation plan deliver the wrong message? Won't my pilots fight harder if they have to hold their ground or lose everything?"

In a word, 'Stalingrad'.

If your goal is for your organization to live and fight another day, you need to make sure your retreat doesn't turn into a rout. You want your guys to know you've got exit options covered so they can focus on the fight and not on finding a jump freighter pilot willing to move their stuff out of harms way.  The more in the way of high-value ships and equipment you can save, the faster your pilots can regroup and get back in the game.

So, create a plan that balances the needs of your alliance and your corporation. Update your plan periodically in order to accommodate changes to your organization's pilot roster and equipment inventory. Circumstances will vary and there is no one-size-fits-all plan. A non-sov holding entity that has no military obligations (such as a nullsec renter) can pretty much pick up and move at the first sign of trouble. On the other hand, a member of a sov-holding alliance, or a renter who aspires to graduate to membership in said alliance, has to lock shields with the rest of the defenders and hold the line as long as is reasonable. Combined Indy/PvP organizations should plan for both sides of the house.

Most evacuation plans should allow for execution in phases. For Example:

Threat Level 1 - The bad guys have established a beach head in your area and you are subject to probing attacks. You believe your system(s) is a target, but they haven't arrived in force.  Travel routes are still open. Pack up non-essential industrial and PvE items and move them to safety. 

Threat Level 2 - The bad guys have broken out of the beach head and are on their way. Your territories are under direct threat and your system or key access points to your system are being routinely harassed by enemy gangs/fleets. Non-essential and "vanity" PvP ships should be moved to safety. Capital PvP ships not involved in the evacuation of non-essential ships should be moved a safe staging area behind friendly lines.

Threat Level 3 - You are in imminent danger of being overrun. Gate pipelines and jump-bridge networks are heavily interdicted by the enemy. General evacuation underway. Remaining ships, equipment and supplies not being used for rear-guard actions are evacuated by jump-ship and carrier. If the alliance is falling back to a secondary (or tertiary) defensive line and you're redeploying in support the alliance should have provided a system to use as a fall-back point. If you are evacuating alliance space altogether, a preselected rendezvous  location should be designated.

Now, the moment when the greasy, bandy-legged barbarians crash through your gates and undertake a literal approach to animal husbandry is usually the culmination of a series of lesser misadventures. Your troops will likely have been fighting the rising tide for a while and been losing a lot more than they win as the siege went into end-game. Despite their stiff upper lips, vows of return and loyalty to the cause, morale is going to be low. They are going to be tired, discouraged and, in many cases, cash and equipment poor. 

At this point you might think a leader could wipe the sweat from their brow, put their feet up, declare it Sapporo time and tell the kids to go out and play for a while. Alas, quite the opposite. From an organizational standpoint, this is the golden hour. What you do upon arrival in safe harbor will likely make the difference between whether your organization rises like a phoenix from the ashes of defeat or tumbles ignominiously into the abyss of failscade.

The first instinct of a lot of CEOs and directors is to cut the team loose and give them a couple of weeks to rat and kick back while the leadership team regroups and considers the the next move. Don't go there. At this point, structure is your friend. Keep the troops well occupied. Provide organized roams, ratting expeditions and training sessions. Set them to work restocking consumables like jump and POS fuels and ammunition. Find out who needs to be made whole and make doing so an organizational project.

Even before your last jump-ship makes its escape from the barbarian horde, start planning your organization's future and making preliminary contacts with future friends and allies. Let the rank and file know there are plans in motion. Once in safe harbor, set them to preparing. Spy missions, diplomatic outreach, recruiting, setting up logistics for the upcoming move are all tasks that will keep their eyes on the next big adventure and make it harder for other organizations to lure your best players away. 

Like as not, nullsec's going to get pretty chaotic for the next quarter or two. That means a lot of small corporation CEOs will have to lead their people out of the wilderness to rebuild and reorganize. Whether or not their organizations survive and return to the deep thereafter will depend on the planning those leaders put in up front.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

When Stories Collide

"Comedy, love and a bit with a dog - that's what they want."
               Tom Stoppard, Shakespeare in Love 

Unless your audience is made up of folk who consider themselves dedicated to serious literature (or summoning forth the Cthulhu), comedy should be one's first instinct when it comes to competitive writing such as the Ultimate Blog-Off of Destiny.  

"Well, Mord," you might well ask, "If you knew that, why did you cast comedy blithely aside try to turn out a 1,500 word flash-fiction adventure/drama piece for said Blog-off?"

Ooh. Good question. 

The story that ended up being Post Mortem began as a comedy. Think Eve Online meets Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, sans the more serious social commentary elements. Just the funny bits, thank you. 

It started off well enough. Thomas and his stuffy, high-society mother (think Margaret Dumont) have words over his taste in fiances.  Here mother has gone to the trouble of sending her son to the "right" schools where he can meet the "right" sort of girl, and he rewards here attention to his future well-being by bringing home a coarse, near psychopathic Minmatar killing machine. (The fact that she's Minmatar got left on the cutting room floor as I whittled the story down to the requisite 1,500 word limit.)  Emma Javix, like any respectable Gallentean is all about freedom, self-determination and social justice. However, social justice has just landed at her dining room table and sunk hooks into her son in the form of this...this woman.  

Comedic hijinks ensue

See? Funny stuff. Until I got to the 'hijinx' part.  

For that I needed myself a near psychopathic Minmatar killing machine for Tomas' finance. And I know what those of you who've read the Interlude episodes of this blog are thinking: Mord has a thing for chicks in tight clothes carrying high powered guns. Nonsense. Mord is far too jaded and world-weary to be drawn to such things. However Mord knows his audience. The Science Fiction, Amime, Graphic Novel and Ships in Space culture is all about chicks in tight clothes carrying high-powered guns. So is the Fantasy culture, except those chicks carry swords, and are usually a bit more...ahem...gravity defying than their SF counterparts. 

The comic possibilities of this hard-drinking, dockside-brawling, man-ravishing, borderline insane capsuleer dropped into Mrs Javix tidy, well insulated world is neigh limitless. I mean, we have the bit where she attends book-club with Emma Javix and does limericks, the sudden tendency of the household appliances to curse at Mrs. Javix in Minmatar, the accidental shooting of the fluffy family pet with explosive rounds.

So I send a call up to central casting with the character specifications; and who do they send me, but Molls.  And Molls is not just another pretty face toting a large caliber side-arm. Oh, no.

Sometimes a character speaks to you; arrives fully formed and tells you his/her story. Writing about them is almost like taking dictation. Words flow and the presence of the character practically jumps off the page. Molly is such a character. 

Trouble is, she was the wrong character for the story I was writing.

Molls is an Odysseus-like character who is not merely touched by fate, but grabbed up in its full embrace. She survives both the slaughter of her fleet and, impossibly, the loss of her pod. She fights her way across the length of New Eden;  baffling pursuers, stepping over bodies, finding help in unlikely places, until she makes her way home. Only to find that, unlike Odysseus' Penelope, her own love has moved on to a new edition of herself.  

"Geez Mord," you might say, "What's with all the drama? Why didn't she just buy, borrow or steal a shuttle and get back to her home system before mid-day mess call the next day?"  

My, you're full of questions this morning. Unfortunately, to answer this one I have to take a brief side-trip down one of the rabbit holes of my imagination. Hang on, and and be sure to keep your arms, legs and other appendages inside the car until the ride has come to a complete halt.   . 

Now, in New Eden, we assume that the transition of "you" from your pod to your medical clone is foolproof; that surviving pod-splat after your memories, et al are transmitted to to your medical clone simply can't happen.  In fact the systems that facilitate the transition are specifically designed to make sure you don't accidentally survive.  Of course they also make sure pod "you" doesn't suffer unduly after the transition to med clone "you" has been accomplished. Personally I think the latter is a secondary use of the specialized bit of pod technology that hits you with a lethal injection to the brain.  It certainly sounds a lot better than saying you're being killed so you don't become a legal "inconvenience" for your newly woken up self. 

You see, not only your memories, skills, personality and such get transferred to your clone.  Your legal identity is transferred as well. So, to ensure smooth continuation of the capsuleer economy and culture, it's important that any loose ends be (ahem) taken care of.  And you, out there in the middle of the deep and trying to breath vacuum as your pod loses integrity, represent a profound loose end.  Hence the needle.  After all, we can't have two (or more) of you wandering about.  Quite messy for the legal, economic, and theological institutions alike.  Confusing for spousal units and offspring. And don't get me started on the security risks. 

No, there can be only one.

And if there is the needle, there must be other safeguards as well in the wildly unlikely event that the needle, the ordinance tearing your pod apart and the vacuum of space don't quite do the job of ensuring your demise. With your identity legally transferred to your clone, you would effectively become a non-person, unable to legally participate in any aspect of New Eden that requires identity.  No bank account. No medical system.  No legal protection.  You can be killed by the locals without legal repercussion.  The genetic mapping associated with any attempt at acquiring such services or a new identity would immediately tag you as an illegal clone of your legal self, i.e, that medical clone who assumed your identity when you "died".  Notified by such attempts to re-enter the system, the authorities would quickly locate you, bring you in, and take humane measures to ensure a dignified end to your suffering. 

And yes, that's a euphemism for sticking a needle full of neuro-toxins into your brain.

That's the essence of the situation Molly's dumped into at the beginning of her story arc, the driver of its central conflict. So, as you see, she was simply the wrong character for a spoof of Gallente high society - faction warfare meets the Marx brothers. And there was no question of adapting her to the story. With characters like Molls one has some latitude for change, subject to the character's approval. But there is a certain truth to such characters and if you force them to follow directions beyond certain bounds, they go limp and lifeless in your imagination's eye.  You end up with a sock-puppet of a character with no spark of life or literary ring of truth. 

So I dismissed Molly and set about the task of summoned up a more comedically suitable ingenue.

Molls wouldn't leave.

Try as I might, I wasn't able to get her out of the story. I was going to write about Molls, or I wasn't going to write.  Character persistence is an interesting variation on the "earworm" phenomenon, where you can't get a tune out of your head. You can either wait it out, or sing the song out loud a few times, thereby satisfying whatever part of your brain that's latched onto it. Same with character persistence. You wait out the character, or you give in and write about them.

With my 24 hour deadline ticking down, I was in poor a negotiating position. Thus, Postmortum was born; an awkward collision of two wildly different stories with Molly acting as the glue holding things together.  If you go back an look closely at the story carefully, you'll see the places where the "true" Molls peeks out and where she's just reading the lines I fed her.

Molly and Postmortum will go into my desk drawer for a while. I don't know that I'll ever write Molly's story. What with the restrictions the commercial Eve paradigm places on plots, characters and such, not to mention the intellectual property issues, I've no plans to write Eve fiction beyond the odd throw away piece. Molls' story is novel-length, and if I put that much work into a project, it needs to be satisfying to write and have a potential pay-day once it's completed.

But, after some time has passed, I'll sit Molly down in my mind's eye and see what she has to say to me. If her character's drifted enough be able to tell me her story in a setting outside the Eve universe, it could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. We'll see.

It's all up to Molls.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Girl-fight in Outer Passage

The much-anticipated fraternal brawl between Legion of Death and Solar Fleet has gotten off to an uninspiring start.  Solar Fleet has taken two systems (UC-8XF and MC4C-H), however those are from the renter alliance, Shadow of Death, and neither are station systems.  One of the two systems to change hands, UC-8XF, appears to have done so with minimal, if any resistance.

As Steve alerted me to last night, a few fleet battles of some size finally erupted in the neighboring station systems J-OKB3 and 4AZV-4. Solar Fleet seems to have shown up with a combined Maelstrom and Drake fleet. The other side looks to have been primarily DRF renters: Shadow of Death, Voodoo Technologies and a sprinkling of others.

Yeah. DRF versus DRF tenant nullsec bears.  I won't bother reporting the outcome.

Of course, Legion of Death was represented.  They sent along a contingent of Baddons and the inevitable Drakes to add some meat to the hash of ships the renter alliances brought to the line, but anyone who's familiar with DRF fleet fights can tell it wasn't a serious effort. And there doesn't seem to have been a single capital ship, let alone a supercap, in sight.

In the nullsec scale of things, this was the equivalent of two milkmaids out in the meadow slapping each other and pulling each others' hair.  

So, let's walk down events to date. Much grumbling and resetting of Legion and Solar over renter stuff. A couple of low-value renter systems change hands. Token fleet fight in renter station systems, in which the renters get slapped around by their landlord's brother in law.

War and Peace it ain't.

In fact, one could wonder whether Legion of Death and Solar Fleet are genuinely at odds with each other at all. A fight between two alliances where only renters get hurt is hardly a fight at all. Especially when it's not like the renters can go anywhere else, what with the DRF owning 70% of nullsec.

Given events, I'm beginning to think the alleged falling out among the DRF is a bit of shadow play; yet another prelude to the dance to come.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Great Sitzkrieg of 2011

There have been some preliminary bouts out in nullsec. I consider these sparring matches; warm-ups as a number of alliances such as Against All Authorities, Gypsy Band, The Initiative, Brick Squad, Test Alliance and Pandemic Legion exercise various aspects of the Crucible changes in fleet fight mode. The main event has yet to come, but the long and tedious Great Sitzkrieg that occupied the better part of 2011 is finally coming to a close.

Letting slip the dogs of war sooner rather than later must be tempting. It has been a long, dry season of waiting for the Winter Supercaptial Nerf, and there is a restlessness bordering the nullsec space presently held by the DRF, their vassals and their tenants. Even so, I expect the opening skirmishes to continue through December. The Winter holidays loom, and any invasion begun now will soon stall as capsuleers abandon the fleets in order to man the carving board, travel and spend time with family. Only when they return, well fed, over-socialized and wiping the last smears of plum pudding from their chins, should the battles begin in earnest.

Alas, the holidays may be cheerless for poor Morsus Mihi. Toward the end of November they had redeployed from Delve along with Gypsy Band and Brick Squad to nullsec's NPC Curse region in anticipation of a post-supercapital nerf invasion of DRF space. They may not make it past the dessert buffet at the latke party . At the turn of the month, with the end of the 2011 Sitzkrieg in sight, four key corporations (Fusion Enterprises, Oberon Incorporated, Macabre Votum and hirr) which comprised fully half of MM's membership bolted for the door.

Even Crucible's bundle of spaceship love can't overcome Mord's Maxim: If your guys aren't having fun, they'll soon be someone else's guys.

In this case, Macabre Votum and hirr, the two largest PvP corporations exiting MM have become Against All Authorities' (-A-) guys. That move should dampen any early celebrations of MM's misfortune of the part of the DRF. -A- has spent the Sitzkrieg substantially improving the quality of their nullsec fleets. Adding two seasoned nullsec PvP corporations to those fleets, each with over three hundred accounts, will not be a cause for joy in the DRF board rooms.

The termination of the 'logoffski' mechanic, which allowed supercapital ships to escape if they could endure 15 minutes of inbound fire, has added a new layer of risk to deploying supercapitals. Likewise, a number of changes to the ships themselves have made them more vulnerable to subcapital fleets.  Initially this may favor the DRF more than their enemies as the Drone Russians should have a sizable stockpile of supercaptials left over from the NC campaign and, given the vast income that comes of holding 70% of nullsec's large-bore Isk faucets, will have likely added to it during the Sitzkrieg. 

In a RL military, the equipment involved is normally the property of the state. Sending an aircraft carrier or a platoon of tanks into harms way may risk the lives of the soldiers and sailors manning the equipment, but the loss of the equipment itself does not put the personal wealth of said soldiers and sailors at risk. In Eve the opposite is true. Fleet pilots killed in action simply wake up in their clone vat, but the loss of a ship, along with its fittings and the implants needed to effectively fly it, represents a personal financial loss to its pilot. In the case of supercapital pilots this loss is profound, both in terms of personal wealth and future revenue. Thus, a supercapital pilot may well be risk-averse when it comes to committing his or her property to combat.

Of course, well-heeled nullsec alliances typically offset this risk aversion by offering replacements for supercapital ships lost in combat (usually with a don't-be-stupid clause voiding replacement if the ship was lost due to pilot idiocy). However, in the case of supercaps a financial reimbursement may be insufficient to bring a new ship to the line if no actual replacements are available. Despite their post-Crucible vulnerabilities, the supercapitals the DRF has stockpiled should allow their FCs to be aggressive in their deployments of the ships as they can afford losses their enemies couldn't begin to absorb. Meanwhile, enemies without such reserves will be even more tentative about deploying supercapitals in post-Crucible Eve than before.

However, the DRF paradigm, based on a relatively small number of elite and highly mobile supercapital pilots, depends heavily on the ability of large supercapital fleets to operate in relative safety against subcapital fleets unsupported by their own supers. With grouped Titans unable to target Hictors, Command, or Logistic ships, or instapop enemy fleet commanders, subcapital fleets will have the opportunity to make the DRF pay big any time they play the supercapital card too aggressively.

If the DRF is challenged on many fronts, their ability to properly support supercapitals with subcapital fleets will be diminished. In that case, the likely response will be their usual tactic of giving ground on selective fronts and letting their enemies spend their strategic momentum in reducing undefended stations and sovereignty infrastructure while the DRF deals with more immediate threats elsewhere.  However, that tactic could work against them this time. Even non-supercapital alliances now have the opportunity to take space as long as their fleets are well supplied with Heavy Interdictors and have the DPS needed to grind through a supercapital's defenses. By giving ground too early and too easily, the DRF could encourage alliances that might have stayed on the sidelines to enter the fray.

Of critical importance now will be the diplomatic maneuverings that occur between now and the new year.  Information will flow freely, wound about and shot through with disinformation. Offers and promises will be made; some sincere and some intended to be broken. This is the true great game of nullsec; the prelude to the coming dance.

Eve at its Machiavellian best