No, you haven’t stroked out and you aren’t suffering delusions. Why don’t you have a seat so we can talk. I think you have a problem.
Over the course of the past few days, I've been traveling through Guristas space hunting for ratters, miners, and other assorted PvE players. I talked about why I chose Guristas space in my last post, but as I started writing it, I realized I needed to do a separate article about best practices when ratting. I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least try to help.
Having spent about four years in the CFC, I did a lot of Guristas ratting, first in Pure Blind, then in Tenal, Deklein, and Vale. I have three Tengus fit for Guristas ratting that allow me to run cosmic signatures and escalations solo (including Mazes and No Quarter III). So, I know a thing or two about fitting for kinetic tank. You really only have to avoid roaming gangs, and I’m about to tell you how. Lean in close. Are you ready? The process is complicated and incredibly advanced.
Step 1: Don't go afk.
Yeah, it's literally that simple.
When you’re paying attention to the game, you can do the things you need to do to survive. You stay aligned to a celestial and change your alignment as you start to drift too far. You instantly identify when new pilots enter local and who they are. You can check info on pilots to assess their possible threat level based on their sec status, profile, and corp history. You can plug names into zkill to check how likely they are to engage you. You dscan constantly when other pilots are in local, anticipating them dropping on you.
Ratting comes in one of two situations; either you’re ratting within your own alliance’s space or you’re ratting in hostile space (ie. everywhere else). Ratting in hostile space is, paradoxically, easier, since every new entrant in local is a potential threat. You learn to identify the change in local, you live in your dscan window – swapping between your probes and hostile ship tabs – and you assume nothing as to your safety. In other words, you’re flying the way you should fly in low-sec or null-sec.
When you’re ratting in your own space, it’s much easier to overlook possible threats. You start to think you’re safe because your alliance mates are in local, and assume they can get to you in time (even though you aren’t in a fleet). Maybe local is so full that you don’t notice that pilot named zzzDeadlyPilotzzz because you couldn’t see his name at the bottom of the list. When you dscan, you see so many ships that you can’t immediately identify the interloper. And, worst of all, you fall victim to the “home turf” trap, thinking you’re somehow safe simply because you’re used to flying through that system.
But that’s a psychological factor. The mechanics you face don’t change because of the system you’re in. That’s not true for the type of ratting you do. The particular option you choose –belt, anomaly, or signature – have drastic consequences to your survivability.
For the sake of completeness, I’ll mention belt-ratting, which involves warping from belt to belt killing select rats. One variant includes hunting faction and officer spawns, in which case you don’t kill anything until you find a high-value target, then you kill it. The other is in “chaining” rats, by killing only the battleships in each belt. After a time, those battleships will re-spawn; cultivating a 15-belt system like this allows you to go from belt to belt killing only battleships at each, which respawn by the time you return. Few folks spend the time to do this anymore, both because it takes time to set up and because any pilot can warp to you and attack you. The fact that’s it’s so uncommon gives you some protection, though. Most hunters assume ratters are in cosmic anomalies rather than belts, and may overlook the possibility initially, which can buy you some time.
By far, the most common type of null-sec ratting is anomaly ratting, where you run one Forsaken Hub, Sanctum, or Haven after another in endless progression. These ships tend to live and (eventually) die within the same system, killing an endless supply of pirates in continuous succession. You see a lot of heavy, expensive ships running these sites. Rattlesnakes, Marauders… anything that can provide a maximum of dps to clear the sites quickly.
The advantage of this type of ratting is predictability; each systems spawns the same number of these anomalies, and a new one spawns the moment you warp out of the old one. For those with a lot of time on their hands – or a deep passion for the mind-numbing nature of ratting – this is the way to go. The goal here is speed – get in, kill everything to clear the site, and move on to the next. Carrier ratting (and formerly carrier-assisted ratting) tends to work this way.
The second method is my preferred method: running combat cosmic signatures. You scan down a sig, warp to it, and do the minimum work necessary to get the drops and escalations (which provide further drops). For this kind of ratting, you want faction and deadspace loot, not isk/hr from bounties. This kind of ratting also features the smallest corporate ratting tax; because the bounties are incidental, your main source of revenue – loot – isn’t taxable. The kind of sigs is the Tengu. You can fit for scanning, then drop a mobile depot, refit for combat, and put out 700+ dps with missiles and a focused tank of a couple thousand hp/s, all with a fairly small signature radius.
This method of ratting is much more hit-or-miss, as you a) need to have combat sigs around, and b) need to do some work to find them. A lot of people don’t waste their time with them, which leaves you with plenty of fodder, if you can find it. Unlike anom ratting, you also have the advantage of being somewhat protected. For a PvPer to find and kill you first requires scanning down the site (which would cause probes to appear on dscan) and then warp to an acceleration gate, before re-warping to your location. Some combat sites have multiple rooms (for instance, Guristas Military Operations Complex), each of which requires burning to an acceleration gate and warping again. In short, you have plenty of time to warp away, assuming you followed the incredibly complex strategy for staying alive I mentioned earlier.
So, that’s the landscape.
Let’s talk about my approach to hunting ratters. When I’m hunting ratters, I start with a maximum range, wide-angle dscan, looking for ratting ships. If I see one, I’ll try to narrow the range down to within 1 AU before checking possible anoms in that range. Sometimes, that’ll pinpoint my target, I’ll warp to him, and start engaging.
If my target isn’t at an anom, I’l check moons and belts at that range. If there are belts at that range, I’ll pick one at random and warp directly towards it. While in warp, I’ll narrow my range to 5 degrees and click on each nearby belt in sequence, looking for my target. If I can’t find him, I’ll move on to the moons. By this point, though, I’ll pretty much give up on catching him; very, very few ratters idle at a random celestial that doesn’t have a tower.
If I have combat probes, I’ll follow the same process, but will drop probes once I can narrow my target down to 1 AU. My goal is to do as much work as possible before dropping probes, so I can get a 100% hit in one cycle, pull them, and be in warp before my target notices I dropped them. There’s a separate art to that.
You can see that the safest way to rat in null-sec is by running only cosmic signatures. They require your hunters to have probe launchers to find the sigs, and depend upon you being extremely negligent. Between a neutral entering local and reaching you could be as much as two minutes. That’s a long time to be paying no attention.
But, regardless of how much time you have, there are a few things you need to do to keep yourself safe:
1) Never take a break. Active ratting is hard work. It’s incredibly boring, but the moment you let your attention wander is the moment you’ll be attacked. Checking reddit or TMC.com? Yeah, that’s the time a single pilot will slip into local unnoticed. “AFK ratting” is certainly a thing, and you can definitely do it, but unless you’re trying in Deklein and have a cyno fitted, expect to suffer ship losses from time to time.
2) Always be watching dscan. I mean always. I keep dscan up with a “ships only” filter selected at all times, and immediately start spamming “scan” when I see a neutral. And that’s when I run cosmic signatures. You can have up to five overview tabs; on mine, I have Ships/Drones, Celestials, Reds Only, Loot, and Probes/Bubbles. I keep “Active Overview Tab” selected on dscan and switch overview tabs to track probes and hostile ships regularly. Since I do signatures, I have to first see the probes before anyone can warp to me. But none of that works if I’m not watching dscan.
3) Stay aligned. There’s a reason Cearul made a song about it. An interceptor can dscan, warp, land, and point you faster than a battleship can align and warp even if you respond the moment he enters local. Remember that neutral that warped through a moment ago? Yeah, that’s his alt, and he has a bead on you. Stay aligned and you stay alive.
4) Stay in a fleet if you have friends nearby. Standing fleets are sensible for a very good reason; if you do happen to get caught, you’re going to want allies to be able to warp to you quickly. It can take five minutes to create a fleet, set up permissions and post an advert – and that’s before anyone can actually join, get on comms, and get sorted to rescue you.
5) Fit your ship intelligently. I understand the appeal of fitting only EM and thermal resists to your Sansha ratter, but don’t forget to factor in the likelihood of getting caught; a purely focused signature ratter is probably okay, but if you’re running anoms or belts, you’re going to be caught eventually. This pilot fit his ship intelligently and got me down to 48% hull before he popped. After the fight, he pointed out that he should have abandoned his ratting drones and immediately launched new drones to hit my likely weak resists; he very well could have killed me.
6) If you get caught, don’t panic. Just because one ship catches you doesn’t mean you’re absolutely dead. If you’re fighting with sentries, for instance, pull range from your drones to try to lure your attacker far enough that you can hit him. Keep in mind that when he activates ewar on you (including a scram or point), he’s going to raise his threat level in the eyes of rats, and may draw their aggro, which can help you significantly. Keep your wits and you can survive some situations that panic would deny you.
7) If you do die, learn from it. If you die while ratting, you did something wrong. It may have been small, or it could have been a slew of mistakes. People may troll you in your corp/alliance. Bear it with grace; they’re likely right in criticizing a dumb decision you made, even if their approach isn’t ideal. Regardless, take it as a learning opportunity. Remember what you did wrong and don’t do it the next time. Change your fit, change your habits, pay more attention… just apply that brain that makes you better than a machine.
Ultimately, PvPers like me will only be as good as we need to be to catch our prey. We want you to improve so we can improve as well. Don’t make it easy on us. Make us work for it. That’s how you improve, how you deepen your engagement with the game, and how you eventually learn to become one of us.