Sunday, October 20, 2013

Null-Sec 101: Finding and Catching Targets (Solo-PvP Edition)

Null-sec 101 is a series of articles meant to teach new players about null-sec, with a focus on PvP and daily life.

In low-sec, it’s not uncommon to enter a system and see fifteen or twenty people in local, usually from a mix of corporations and alliances.  If you’re in a faction warfare system, you have the advantage of seeing FW sites in your overview, which you can use to narrow down your list of potential targets and their likely locations.  Once you have that info, you can decide whether you want to engage.  Most likely, FW pilots will see you hit the acceleration gate and warp off before you can reach them.  Sometimes, you get lucky.

In a non-FW system, you’ll likely need to probe down your targets, warp to them, and hope they aren’t checking their dscan for probes.  If you land on them, you can proceed to engage.

But finding targets in sov null-sec is less forgiving.  Most systems are empty, and when you do find targets, you stick out like a sore thumb in local: you are likely the only one who doesn’t have positive standing towards them.  In most alliances, your presence and ship type will be reported in their intel channels, too, and pilots in neighboring systems will be looking for you to appear.  They’ll dock up or POS up when you enter, and only return to their ratting or mining after you leave.

In NPC null-sec, the residents tend to be more PvP-oriented, and may reship to fight you.  But they will tend to know who lives near them, and your unfamiliar name in local will draw nearly as much attention as in sov null.  They may be more accustomed to operating with neutrals in system, but doing so will tend to make them smarter and more alert.

There is no way for you to catch an alert pilot who stays aligned to a safe at all times, is watching local, keeps himself unscrambled by rats, and warps off the moment you enter local.  Only when your enemy screws up in one of these areas can you successfully kill him.  But even when that happens, you still only have a small window of opportunity to reach him and kill him.

But how do you do that?  You need to know what you’re looking for and act quickly.

Your Targets

Your targets will likely fall into a couple categories, and the tools you use will vary depending on what you’re hunting.

Anomaly Ratters – Some ratters prefer quantity over quality, and will consistently run the various cosmic anomalies that appear in systems.  Your dscanner identifies anoms automatically, so the task you face is determining which anoms are likely to have a ratter in them.  Generally speaking, null-sec ratters only run hubs, havens, and sanctums.  In particular, forsaken hubs are popular among afk-ratters, particularly Ishtars.

Complex Ratters – Ratters who prefer to maximize their efforts will scan down (with probes) combat sites (plexes) and run them.  Pilots in non-drone space tend to ignore drone plexes and focus on faction plexes.  These ratters tank their ships for the type of damage done by the rats of their region, often leaving themselves weak against other types.  A Tengu operating in Guristas space, for instance, can active-tank kinetic damage forever, but will quickly crumble under EM damage.  While this is true for all ratters, it’s far more likely in plexes.  These ratters tend to be more vulnerable once tackled than anom ratters, but are harder to reach, since you need to use probes.

Relic and Data Site Runners – These pilots attempt to run data and relic sites to gain the rewards for successfully completing them.  Their ships tend to have little to no tank and are often fitted with Covops cloaking devices.  However, while playing the mini-games associated with these sites, their attention is diverted from local.  If you jump, scan down a plex, and warp to it quickly, you may be able to catch them as they try to crack open and loot the sites.  They tend to have no tank, but may be warp core stabilized.

Miners – Nearly all mining occurs in ore or ice sites which, after Odyssey, now appear as anomalies when you first enter a system.  Some corp and alliance mining operations involve both miners and defenders, so you need to use your judgment on whether you’ve stumbled upon a flock of miners or an armed mining op.

Planetary Interactors – These pilots will be at customs offices gathering PI production, usually in a hauler.  If you see a Epithal, it’s doing PI collection.  If you catch them, you’ll likely do so at a gate or at a customs’ office.  If you’re hunting this type of pilot, be sure to have customs offices – not planets – on your overview.

Travelers – Some systems on supply routes will see lots of traffic.  If you’re hunting pilots traveling through, then instead of you finding them, you hope for them to find you.  They could be flying nearly anything, from an interceptor to a stablized covops T3 to a lumbering large turret battleship to a freighter.  You should expect to have some way of halting these pilots’ travel, which usually involves a scram and web, a bubble, or overwhelming alpha dps.

The Tools of the Trade

There are several in-game and out-of-game tolls you can use to help you quickly warp to a target after entering a new system.

Directional scan (dscan) – Your ship’s scanner is surprisingly useful at identifying the distance of targets and their likely locations.  When you enter a new system, your scanner identifies anomalies and the number of cosmic signatures (with their general locations), and allows you to warp to anomalies immediately.

But it also allows you to scan for ships, structures, and objects.  You can choose to filter your scan to match your overview settings.  For instance, I have one overview for only ships; if I switch to that overview and dscan, the results will only show me ships.  You can adjust the range to whatever you like up to 14.4 au (1 au is roughly 150 million km) to narrow down the location of enemies.

But you can also focus your dscan by scan radius.  Maybe you think a target is near a particular anomaly.  You can face that anomaly with your camera and adjust the scan radius to 30 degrees instead of the usual 360 degrees.  If you set the range of the anomaly and narrow the radius, your scan can confirm the target’s location – if he still shows up, your guess was correct.  This trick is particularly useful for finding fleets in conjunction with probes.

Sovereignty Level Indexes – In your toolbar menu in the upper left of your screen, under “Social” is a Sovereignty button.  If you click on this button, you’ll see the sov index levels of your current system, all the systems in your constellation, and the average levels of each constellation in your region.  High military levels indicate that the owners rat in the system frequently.  High “industry” levels indicate they mine frequently.  Systems with higher indexes are more likely to have pilots (ie. targets) in them.  When planning your roam, use these indexes to determine where you want to go, depending on who you’re hunting.

In-game Map – If you press F10 and pull up the map, switch to the Star Map.  Under the Star Map tab, Stars subtab, scroll to the bottom, “Statistics”.  If you click the “Average pilots in space in the last 30 minutes”, “Number of pilots currently docked and active”, or “jumps in the last hour”, you’ll see the most recently active systems.  This tool is a great way to identify possible target systems for your nefarious endeavors, both in the planning stage of your roam and while on-the-fly.

F11 – An often under-used tool is the map mini-tool that pops up when you hit F11.  Of particular value is the solar system map that pops up at the very bottom.  This tool lets you see the direction you’re pointing, as well as what celestials are nearby.  This tool is wonderful for identifying the distribution of anomalies when entering a new system, both for finding targets and for navigation.

Dotlan – Dotlan not only has maps of every system, but updates those maps with delayed information about the number of jumps, the number of kills, and the number of NPCs killed.  Remember to use Dotlan to identify possible hotbeds of activity, as well as show you the sovereignty of a whole region.  Alliance A’s home defense fleet is unlikely to chase you deep into Alliance B’s territory, for instance, though they may chase you several jumps through their own territory.

Bubbles – If you’re setting yourself up in a pipe system, you need an anchorable bubble or an interdictor to catch your targets.  T1 bubbles take 2 minutes to online, while T2 bubbles only take one minute.  You can only fit so many anchorable bubbles in your cargo hold, though, so think carefully about where you deploy them, and try to recover them if you can.  By placing stop or drag bubbles on one or both ends of a pipe system on a route to empire, it’s just a matter of time before you catch something worth killing.  If you have tactical bookmarks that are at least 150 km off of both the gate and the bubble, you can choose your fights.  This will also let you warp directly to the gate if the enemy uses his own tacticals to bypass your bubbles.

Entering a New System When Hunting

Let’s say you’ve brought your Cynabal (fast ship that can successfully kill quickly) to a hostile region and want to hunt some carebears (as you’d refer to them, since you’re hunting them, after all).  You hit “jump” to a system that has had a lot of activity the past 30 minutes, and wait for the vortex effect to end.  You don’t have probes.  What do you do?

Your targets will know you’re entering system before you load grid, so you’re already a little behind.  Your first action should be to pull up your scanner, if it isn’t already up, and hit a dscan at maximum range.  If you find miners, switch to your anomaly list and warp straight away to the largest ore site, if it’s within 14.4 au from you.  You may have a chance of reaching it before your targets warp off if you’re fast.

If you find ratters, though, check that anomaly list for any appropriate anomalies – hubs, havens, or sanctums.  If there’s only one in range, warp to it.  If there are multiple ones, re-run your dscan, reducing the range until you can pinpoint the enemy’s distance from you.  When you have the range, warp to the anom that matches it.  If he wasn’t paying attention or just got a new spawn, you may reach him before he notices your presence.

But what if nothing shows up on that first dscan?

First, check your anomaly list.  Is there an obvious target?  Perhaps there’s only one anomaly that’s outside of your dscan range.  Feel free to ignore any anoms that are within your range (they’re empty, with nothing on dscan, after all) as well.  If you’re fast enough that your ship can warp to an anomaly and escape before being attacked by the rats, feel free to do so.  As you approach, continue to hit your dscan to get a ping on any targets.  When you land, have your next warp destination ready, engage it, and escape – assuming you didn’t guess the right anomaly!

Whatever you do, don’t talk in local, even if another pilot calls you out personally.  Even if a pilot sees “Hello Talvorian Dex” in local from one of his corp mates, he may not know it means I’m there if he’s only half-paying attention.  But if you start responding, he’ll see your unfamiliar name pop up with every comment, and eventually he’ll realize you’re a neutral.  Besides, with scanning, warping, overheating your warp disruptor, and scouring the anomaly list, you shouldn’t have time to talk in local.

If you don’t catch your target, you have the choice of moving on or staying put.  There are two reasons to stay put now that you’re in a system: waiting for defenders or cloaky camping.

Fighting the Response Pilot(s)

Ratters that dock up or safe up generally don’t post much of a threat to you.  However, by the time they safe up, you’ve likely been reported in intel.  And when there’s a neutral reported in intel, within a few minutes, you’ll usually find a response fleet.

Now, let’s recap the situation.  You’ve attempted to kill a miner or ratter, and your ship type is known, and a response fleet is on its way.  You’re deep in enemy territory, they have intel channels reporting movement throughout the region, and they likely have plenty of safe spots in every system.  They know that once they show up in force, you’ll likely try to run towards home.

Sometimes, a single pilot will come to rescue his corp/alliance mate, providing a perfect target for you.  Based on his ship type, you can determine whether to engage or retreat.  But more often, your enemy won’t undock unless they have a whole blob.

This is where your knowledge of the enemy systems and jump bridges can come in very handy.  Before they can blob you, they first need to converge, and by understanding the systems through which they must travel, you may have the opportunity to pick off enemies one at a time at critical stargates.  If you have bubbles, deploy them as stop bubbles and watch dscan when new neutrals enter local.

If the point is to find targets, you’re about to get more than your share.  Keep your dscan open and active, watch your range, and have fun.  Bug out when necessary, or when you run out of ammo.

Cloaky Camping

*deep breath*  Yes, I am going to discuss a tactic that annoys a lot of null-sec players.  We’re drilled to dock/safe up when a neutral enters local, unless we’re actively hunting the neutral.  So a cloaky pilot who remains in local for hours is infuriating, as it can bring isk-making to a halt for a long while.  It really is infuriating.  And at first, it’s boring for the camper, unless you like harvesting tears in local.

But, the reason it’s so annoying is that every alliance knows it’s just a matter of time until their pilots grow used to the camper and they resume their normal ratting.  They’ll start with a tentative foray into an anom with a PvP-fit ship like a Tengu or Drake.  But eventually, they’ll decide they’re safe sneaking a quick PvE-fit Ishtar ratting session in.  “He’s probably afk, anyways”, they’ll say.

When they get comfortable again, that’s when you strike.  You can even farm a system for a while, then switch to a nearby system.  “Was he camping HB-, or R-Y?” they’ll ask.  You’ll be so ubiquitous, they won’t remember.  If you’re fit with a cyno generator, you can even take on defense fleets that come in post-kill to clear you out, with a little help from your friends.  It’s not very honorable and it’s time-intensive, but it’s effective.

It’s the Eve equivalent of bare-hand fishing by holding your hands still in the water so long the fish grow used to them being there.


When solo roaming, speed is your greatest advantage, and not only the speed of your ship.  You need to think and act quickly, or risk missing the opportunity for kills.  Move quickly, act decisively, and you’ll see your roams become much more successful.

Have fun.  I look forward to fighting you.


  1. Great article. Both finding and catching targets on your own is indeed mostly all about how quickly you can analyze a situation, draw the correct conclusions and react accordingly.

    Keep up the good work.


    1. I appreciate the visit and the read. I also like your site. I'll keep up with it as you continue posting.

    2. In that case we have both gained a regular reader ;)

      All the best.

  2. Very cool article. Its a great Guide for new pvpers like me, that did a lot of home defence and want to start roaming by themselfes, too.