Strategic Battlecruisers: the Spiders

This post is part of the EVE Blog Banter, a monthly EVE Online blogging extravaganza created by CrazyKinux. Any questions about the EVE Blog Banter should be directed to him. The eleventh topic comes from Joe Brusati, who asks us: "CCP states that T3 Strategic Cruisers are just the start for the T3 line-up. In future Eve expansions, what would you like to see as the next T3 ship type?"

The Spiders: fleet support ships
This article imagines a new class of Tech 3 ships called the Strategic Battlecruisers, or Spiders. They would share the hull size of their battlecruisers cousins (between cruisers and battleships), but would pack considerably less firepower and tanking ability than command ships... unless they are integrated into a fleet structure. When a Spider supports a gang of non-capital ships, she is the cornerstone of the fight... as long as capacitor lasts.

Battlecruiser hulls
A battlecruiser is a Tech 1 ship: cheap, insurable, and highly versatile; the everyday choice of many pilots. It can sport gang assistance modules but this comes almost as an afterthought and many pilots do not fit one.
A command ship is a Tech 2 ship: expensive, not really insurable, and excelling in very specific domains: tanking and using gang assistance modules.
A strategic battlecruiser is a Tech 3 ship: extremely expensive, modulable, unpredictable. This is one of the shiniest toys in the game and any loss of one can indeed be deemed strategic.

Spidertanking like never before
While Spiders can be used for solo tanking or leadership roles, this is not where they excel. In fact, they perform less efficiently than command ships in these domains (though much better than battlecruisers). Spiders can sport leadership modules, but do so less efficiently than command ships. Also, they cannot tank as well as command ships when on their own. But, integrated within a gang which actively supports it, a Spider can tank a lot better than a command ship, thanks to a unique type of spidertanking.
Spidertanking is a gang strategy which relies on multiple battleships or carriers remote repairing each other. It does not currently function well in big fleets due to massive alpha strikes destroying ships before any repairing can take place, but it shines in small or medium-sized gangs, up to the point that the mechanic is considered by some to be "broken".
- diminish the role of ECM, traditional counter to spidertanking, because they do not need to target the ships they repair;
- incite the enemy fleet to focus on the Spider, in order to completely break the spider tank, provided the Spider can first be found;
- incite the enemy to spread the damage on every ship in the fleet, because the Spider can only repair one at a time.
Hopefully it can make for more dynamic battles, with pilots enjoying the combat almost to the end even if they are primaried, but with a definite end due to unsustainable capacitor drain for the spidertanking fleet.

The "Flow"
Technology in the Eve cluster already allows information to flow instantly through countless light-years; the next big step is the seemingly miraculous transportation of energy and nanobots. Specifically, reverse engineering Sleeper artifacts allows modern scientists to design Flow Master Modules and Flow Slave Modules.
A Spider can use its Flow Master Module to take energy from and instantly restore shield, armor or structure of any ship both equipped with a Flow Module (Master or Slave) and in the same fleet structure. The repairing takes place at the beginning of the one-second module cycle and automatically stops when the target is fully repaired; the nanobots are that good. Shield is repaired first, then armor, then structure, up to the repairing capacity of the module and provided that enough energy is available.
The Spider does not need to target the ship; it can instead use the watch list panel -obviously, it means that the optimal number of ships to be supported by a Spider is 10. With proper subsystems (see below), a Spider can also repair out of targeting range, out of grid and even out of system.
Flow Slave Modules come in different size, each allowing a certain amount of repairing per second. It opens spidertanking as a viable option to frigate or cruiser gangs.

The drawbacks
- A Spider cannot repair a ship unequipped with an active Flow Module. This module basically gives the keys to your capacitor to the Spider pilot. Even when no repairing takes place, the module slowly drains the ship's capacitor. However, the module deactivates when the capacitor goes below 25%; the Strategic Battlecruiser skill reduces that malus by 5% increments.
- Flow spidertanking is not a zero sum process: using a Flow Master Module drains a capacitor a lot and, by that, I mean huge quantities of it. Thankfully, the Spider automatically takes this power from ships with a Flow Slave Module on. The farther a Spider is from the ship she repairs, the bigger the loss. More energy is lost if Spider and repaired ship are not in the same grid, a great deal more if in different grids but in the same system, enormously more if separated by a stargate. Traditional spidertanking is much more cap efficient.
- The Flow Emitter Module on a Spider can only redistribute a given amount of energy, which practically means it is not capable to properly handle the needs of a cap fleet.
- The longer a Spider repairs a ship, the louder its own cosmic signature, up to the point when basic astronomic scanners can pick severe electromagnetic disturbances. It means that, after thirty seconds of uninterrupted repairing on the same target, a Spider will appear on the cluster map as an Unknown Phenomena. After one minute, the Spider will appear in the overview as a warpable point.

Low firepower
High slots would be very limited, up to 3 or 4, one of which would need to be dedicated to the Flow Master Module. Medium and low slots would be more abundant. The drone bay would be non-existent or of limited size (0 to 50), for pilots wishing to retain some anti-tackler capability.

Warp bubble-negating subsystem
One subsystem available to each racial Spider would be the Warp Bubble Destabilizator. Its function would be to negate the effects of any bubble in a ten kilometers radius around the ship. A Spider with this module could be used to help capital fleets escape. The effect is permanent and passive, but the module is very heavy and makes the ship a lot less manoeuvrable.

One billion apiece
Due to my very limited industrial experience (producing a few hundred thousands of small antimatter hybrid ammo), I can only propose a cost without entering into the specifics of manufacturing a Spider. A Strategic Battlecruiser should cost about one billion. Since it is designed for use in closely knit teams, this can be a strategic investment for a corp which wants to protect its cap fleet or surprise a gate camp with an indestructible scout.

Spidery names
The names would be variations on the spider theme. For example: Arachnea or Mygale (Gallente), Tarantula (Minmatar), Spinne (Caldari), Ragno (Amarr).

Check other Eve Blog Banter articles on the same topic.

Depopulate, repopulate. Lololol.

CrazyKinux's latest blog contest proposes this exercise: "The goal is to write an article on planetary control and how that would be implemented in EVE. Your article needs to cover what features, game mechanic, game design you would like to see implemented if (or when) planetary control/exploration/exploitation becomes available in EVE."

1. No taxes!
"No taxes. It means exactly what it says. Your own house, plenty of time for the family. Rich in twenty months, retired in twenty years. Think about it, take your time. This is the best opportunity of your life, and all you need is to sign here."
So the recruiter told me from behind his big, shiny desk. He looked sincere. They all do, at some point. Maybe they are. They have to, when they talk to educated and bright people, the engineers and scientists who are the most important cogs of this world of machines.
Of course, there was a catch. A few months after signing in with the Delve Expansion Project, I learned its name.
Planetary control.
You see, in the Scope reports, it all looks like a giant show. Planetary control just does not happen in Empire space. Every authority with a modicum of common sense will not allow wars to be settled by planetary invasions. But deep 0.0 space is ruled by a different breed of people. They are no more ruthless as our emperors and presidents, I will give them that. Truth be told, they may even care more about the rednecks who live their average, tax-free existence on some forlorn planet. But at the end of the day, at decision time, given the option to terminate a whole planet, they will do it without remorse, while human beings in Empire space have laws, traditions and media to shield them from the most insane and barbaric decisions. Capsuleers will push the red button. They can do it because they are immortals and behave like any conflict, no matter how small or big, is just some kind of game to them.
Planetary control has taken my family, but I pay no taxes. The new overlords don't like taxes either. They need the people to rebuild. I can be happy, I can be sad. It makes no difference, in Delve. Sometimes, you have to pay with your blood, and you get to admire nuclear blasts.
There is no such thing as no taxes.

2. How to invade, defend and exploit a planet
This sketchy proposal excludes, at this stage, the possibility for a planet to be possessed by multiple parties, and focuses on the interaction between space powers and the object determining ownership on a strategic scale, leaving space marines or planetary revolts for further developments.

Planets in space.
Planets need to actually appear in space as physical bodies. Warp to 0 leads to the upper atmosphere, 100km from the surface.

Atmosphere. Atmospheric-enabled ships include everything from capsules to cruisers. Battlecruisers and bigger ships are mostly restricted to space. They can temporarily enter the planetary atmosphere but must deal with fast and massive capacitor loss as their engines try to compensate, up to the point where the capacitor is depleted and structure is lost instead. This phenomenon affects all ships proportionally to their mass. Due to bumping issue, the capital ships used for planetary attacks always make sure to stay at range from the atmosphere.
Atmosphere decreases the range of missiles and reduces the tracking efficiency of guns, making any attack on mobile targets difficult.

Player corporations can conquer, hold and declare ownership over planets located in null-sec space. Planets in high-sec and low-sec space cannot be conquered and appropriated by player corporations. To own a planet, you need to own its control bunker. A planet without control bunker cannot be owned and exploited by space-holding powers. The planet information panel displays the identity of the owner and other relevant information: geographical and geological data, population and tax level.

Advantages of ownership. Each planet has a given number of industrial slots, which depend on its natural potential (size, geology) and actual population. Corporations can establish factories and other buildings using these slots. (Ships bigger than cruisers cannot be built on planets.) One of these buildings is the tax center, which provides direct isk income to the owners of the planet. Another one is the social center, which accelerates population growth.

Population. Heavily taxed population will decline in numbers. Lightly taxed population will remain stable. Very light taxes or no taxes will result in positive demography. It is possible to accelerate the process by investing isk into recruitment centers in Empire space, which is simulated by negative taxes. In case of an attack, population decreases in proportion to the structure points of the control bunker below 75%: if the control bunker gets to 74% structure, the planet loses 1% population, due to collateral damage and exodus. Full scale genocide is just a planetary bombardment away.

Control bunker. This building can be erected for minimal cost and time or for larger amounts of isk and materials. It is possible to build a bigger control bunker to replace a smaller one, which allows to colonize a planet in multiple steps. The building appears on the surface of the planet at a fixed location. Any number of capsuleers can dock there in atmospheric-enabled ships.
Control bunkers, like control towers, have shield, armor and structure values and can be hit by ships at range, provided that the shield is not in reinforced mode. Control bunkers do not require fuel to function, but their shields do. These planetary shields are odiously expensive to maintain. Their main purpose is to give defenders time to regroup by preventing any ship without access code from entering atmosphere. They enter reinforced mode at 25%.
If the defenders fail to fuel the shield at all times, it dissipates. When a shield is being refueled, it does not function and any attack against the control bunker directly damages its armor. Once the shield is down, it is also possible to target and attack other buildings, such as factories and land-to-space missile batteries.
Once a control bunker loses all its armor to hostile assault, ownership of the planet is lost: no more taxes are perceived and all the buildings, including weapons, stop functioning. If the control bunker is empty, any one capsuleer can dock there at this point and claim it for his or her corporation. The process of claiming a control bunker takes ten minutes and any interruption in the process expels the capsule from the bunker. (No ninjaing planets.)
However, it is impossible for the invader to dock into the control bunker until every other capsuleer has undocked. Defenders of a control bunker with 0% armor can elect to stay inside until the structure is depleted to under 25%. At this point, their capsules will be forcibly expelled and invaders will need to repair the bunker up to 25% before they can dock and claim. Such a victory will have cost the planet the majority of its population. Defenders can thus choose to defend "to the end", hoping to be rescued by allied forces or to deny assets to enemies. It also gives them leverage to negotiate with the invader. At 50% structure, it becomes impossible to dock or undock with anything else than a capsule.

Orbital defence. Orbit space can be defended with space mine fields, space-to-space weapons (satellites, ships, outpost guns) and land-to-space armaments. Using small ships to infiltrate the planet's atmosphere far from the control bunker and locate and destroy buildings is a valid strategy.
Space mine fields (multiple racial types) can be deployed up to 100 km above a planet's atmosphere. Navigating inside a mine field without using proper access codes triggers waves of damage able to break any sub-capital tank and to endanger carriers and dreadnoughts given time.
Military satellites function similarly to mine fields but can attack at range and can also be attacked and destroyed.

Dedicating a lot of resources to planetary-based defence, augmenting the control bunker's resistances and multiplying land-to-space armaments, is more efficient when the goal is to win the battle at all costs. However, the planet and its population may be ravaged in the process. Privileging the expensive planetary shield and the orbital defence system, which includes mine fields, military satellites and an outpost, allows to better protect planetary assets, but at greater operational costs.
Since the planet's resources can be damaged by the invasion, diplomacy becomes meaningful as invaders try to avoid a Pyrrhic victory. Atmospheric limitations allow small ships to contribute to planetary warfare by providing intel, attacking weak targets and preventing the refueling of the control bunker.

Worlds of Darkness 5: market and currency

A market to optimise game fun
In Eve Online, like in the real world, money matters a lot. (If you don't think it does, please grab your wallet and get in touch with me asap.) It facilitates life in a big way. "Isk" provides access to ships and modules, ammo, skillbooks, clones, fuel, minerals, mercenaries, safe passage. On a strategic scale, it allows alliances to buy the materials to build titans, motherships or outposts, and to reimburse ships lost to enemies. On a personal scale, it allows dedicated players to buy plenty of shiny toys and gadgets to their characters. It even allows a player to acquire skilled characters. Isk is a measure of success and freedom and, though it does not equate with fun, it does help.
In contrast, in the pen-and-paper World of Darkness, money does not matter that much. It does not buy the truly important stuff. Elder vampires or werewolves scoff at it; they don't need to buy shiny toys, they are deadly on their own. Sure, money can come handy sometimes, but there is no way you will be able to use your cash to buy blood or to bribe a spirit. Some things are just more precious than money and, frankly, money also makes you into a target. In the context of a war between supernatural creatures, money is just an asset among many.
CCP, by all accounts, seems satisfied with the current business model of Eve Online. This system is, at its core and origin, subscription-based. You pay a subscription, you play. You can pay your subscription time with a straightforward bank debit or with game time cards. Game time cards are distributed by stores which buy them from CCP. At this point, the system strays from the dominant Western MMO subscription-based model. Game time cards can be converted into game objects (called PLEX) and sold for isk to other players, effectively introducing legit RMT (real money transactions) into the game. It allows players with a lot of time on their hands to play for free by selling their isk to players willing to spend real money on game time cards... for example, one hundred thousand dollars according to The Mittani. The system optimises income from the playerbase far more than a classic subscription model (excluding poor players and not exploiting rich ones beyond the multi-accounts phenomenon) would allow. After all, some people are very rich and only the gambling industry seems to consistently accept the challenge of entertaining them for millions. Thus, it makes sense for us to expect CCP to reuse this business model with World of Darkness, in order to cater to both the penniless students and the aluminium magnates, and every shade of wealth and free time in-between.

My kingdom for a PLEX
The question is: which currency would we use to acquire in game the WoD equivalent of a PLEX, and base an economy around? We need a system to acquire this currency, a system to trade it and, of course, we need this currency to be actually useful for both groups of players (replacing losses) and individual players (shiny toys). What is the new isk? Here are some options.

A suggested above, dollars or euros are not something I expect a vampire or a mage to really care about. Nevertheless, money is a concept you do not need to explain to anybody.
- Acquisition: characters could grab instant cash by taking part into heists, robberies and bank attacks; they could also gain access to regular income, by investing into companies for example, provided they still have a legal existence.
- Trade: a virtual Wall Street environment will do the trick.
- Utility (replace losses): supernatural wars could be made by proxies and money could be needed to pay these proxies, mercenary thugs or corrupt politicians.
- Utility (shiny toys): cars, planes, mansions, security systems, retinue, etc.

In a social environment like the World of Darkness, what matters is sometimes not what you are but who you know.
- Acquisition: characters could earn influence points by performing the equivalent of Eve Online's missions and ratting.
- Trade: the most powerful non-playing characters could broker influence and act as notaries while people and organisations exchange favours.
- Utility (replace losses): as for money. Influence points would allow to temporarily acquire the services of pawns, the fodder of every supernatural war.
- Utility (shiny toys): earning influence points would give access to special items and services (the nature of which would be linked to your creature type and allegiances), in a fashion similar to Faction stores in Eve Online.

The physical incarnation of supernatural power can come by many names, but Essence, rather than Mana, seems to me to be a good catch-all.
- Acquisition: for example, a vampire could transform 1 Blood point into 1 Essence point by spending 1 Willpower point. Blood could be acquired by hunting mortal preys and Willpower could be acquired by fulfilling one's Virtues and Vices in story-heavy gameplay. Werewolves would get Essence out of the spirits they hunt and kill. Hunters would get it from supernatural victimes. Et cetera.
- Trade: supernatural marketplaces seem difficult to integrate in an isolationist and secrecy-shrouded environment. Strange rituals might be devised and designed to replace the market.
- Utility (replace losses): wars would result in aggravated wounds, lots of them. The only way to heal them quickly would be the use of Essence.
- Utility (shiny toys): essence would fuel powerful rituals, infuse objects with magic, create exceptional servants (such as ghouls, servant spirits or wolf-blooded), etc.

La famille c'est sacré

Les Soirées-Enquêtes jadis éditées par Siroz étaient des scénarios prêts-à-jouer offrant la possibilité de passer une soirée déguisée et ludique, chaque participant endossant un rôle bien particulier et tentant d'accomplir des buts qui étaient propres à son personnage.

Le contexte du jeu de rôle français Thoan, inspiré de la Saga des Hommes-Dieux de Philip José Farmer, se prêtant bien à ce genre d'exercice, j'avais écrit une Soirée-Enquête en prenant pour modèle celles de Siroz. Mes interlocuteurs Marc Nunès et Croc m'avaient donné la permission de publier à titre amateur et gratuit cette adaptation, qui fut téléchargée plus de 1600 fois sur un autre site. Je n'ai pas écrit les passages de "Qu'est-ce qu'une soirée enquête" à "La fin", directement repris du modèle original.

J'ai fait jouer une version agrandie de cette soirée-enquête, pour une vingtaine de joueurs. La soirée fut un grand succès.

La famille c'est sacré

Worlds of Darkness 4: stakes of death

You die, the end?
The World of Darkness is a meanie. It kills you in a dark alley, raises you from the dead and kills you again. If fear of dying does not linger in the back of players's heads as if they were lone women at night in Whitechapel in late 1888, the whole show might look like just a big superhero party.
Before suggesting ways to make death meaningful, it is necessary to evaluate what could be at stake, especially regarding the most precious commodities such as character experience and skills. The current Eve Online format gives each player three character slots by account, one of which can passively earn experience at any given time. What about giving to three characters per account the possibility to passively and simultaneously earn experience while creating two kinds of passive experience?
The first one would be the one we know: your main character, a supernatural creature or gifted mortal, earns experience, and he can lose some amount when he is defeated in combat or dies as described below, but the accumulated value of experience (the number of skillpoints in Eve Online parlance) can be transferred to a new main character. Let's dub it the Account Experience Pool.
The second kind of experience would be entirely losable on death. Your two secondary characters, mere mortals, would earn experience this way. If they live long enough, they can grow into formidable assets... but fragile ones. Let's call what they earn Fragile Experience.
More character slots on the account could allow the use of characters with low skills and no experience gains. Those would be the 'grog' of the game -in the Ars Magica roleplaying game, 'grog' are the supporting cast -the lowly guards.

The concept of permadeath is a mythical dead horse beaten again and again by some of the players who enjoy player-versus-player combat. Even in Eve Online and Darkfall, which position themselves on the pitiless side of multiplayer gaming, there is no way for you to lose your character. The most you can lose is his or her belongings and some values on his or her character sheet. Developers do not want to alienate their customers, and who would not feel upset and disappointed after permanently losing a beloved character to a spike of lag or an exploit-based tactic?
However, there are no clones in the World of Darkness. Not yet! Each supernatural race might conceivably be given a way to escape Final Death, especially if designers accept to alter the current canon. Here is a set of propositions for the three 'main races'.
Vampires, even hacked into tiny pieces and sunburned, do not die. They just fall into torpor and begin to regenerate. Even diablerie (soul-sucking) only diminishes their Blood Potency, without permanently killing them. Provided somebody pours blood over them, they can regenerate more quickly.
Werecreatures, on the other hand, die. Except they can instantly reincarnate by merging their soul with another creature, provided the proper ritual is performed. For example, Joe the Werewolf would reincarnate inside a wolf, which would subsequently shapechange into same old Joe.
Mages could choose among a number of methods to avoid Final Death, including regeneration (Life Arcana), reincarnation (Mind, Spirit), cheating death (Fate, Space) and, of course, clones (Matter, Time) -here they are.

Forms of death
First of all, mortals die, and for good. And when a mortal you control dies, you lose everything you possessed through him or her: information, influence, resources, assets, access. If the mortal was not your main character, you also lose with him his accumulated experience (Fragile Experience). Mortals are the victims who pay the price for the actions of reckless supernatural masters. If the mortal was your main character (hunters, for example, are mortals), he can still die, but the Account Experience Pool is made available to the next character you will put in the main character slot.

Secondly, a World of Darkness is not Grand Theft Auto with fangs. Personal horror can touch the player if he knows he can lose his or her character to the Beast or the Abyss due to degeneration. If a character behaves like a monster, he can become a slave to dark passions without recourse. When the morality score (Humanity for vampires, Harmony for werewolves, etc.) reaches 0, the final price must be paid.
The character would then be retired from the account and become a raving monster, a non-playing character that escapes into the World of Darkness, to be found or hunted down and then put to the Final Death by any other character, possibly anywhere in the game world. Such a degeneration would deprive the player of the character's identity and effective control, but not of his accumulated experience (Account Experience Pool), which could be passed along to a new main character.
(Unprovoked attacks against other characters could thus entail meaningful consequences.)

The last 'form of death' I have in mind I am a bit unsure about. I would like it to be possible for player characters to create prisons (collective endeavours) and imprison captured player characters. Player-controlled guardians would be necessary and escapes would be possible, but I can see how difficult it would be to balance the system to make sure that recovering a captured character is not too frustrating nor slow. There are a great many potential issues with captures; depriving a player of the control over his character is a big no-no. But if a player can use other characters with his one account, and if guarding a prisoner is impossible for anything but a main character, with escape being easy if unattended for...
The system would aim to promote a sense of risk: players would need to choose whether to expose their bigger guns (their main character, the only one worth being captured) in any battle, risk a mortal with some Fragile Experience (avoiding the threat of degeneration) or just use a random thug ('grog') with no experience. Interesting stories could happen about supernatural creatures acting as baits, fights between a handful of them and a throng of mortals, organisations trading prisoners of war, players burning resources and secondary characters to rescue their main character, etc. Jacob Skinner from Night Horrors: Immortal Sinners would really enjoy the feature, for sure!