Finding Evil

•2014/06/02 • Leave a Comment

An oft expressed EVE aphorism suggests that eventually every player becomes a pirate. Perhaps it’s only expressed by pirates, but I heard it often enough before becoming one myself. While it’s not completely true, there is a ring of truth in the expression. When you’ve done many things and found them to be lacking what remains is to be free in low-sec engaging whoever you like whenever you like. This post has a point, but first you need to hear the backstory.

I spent my first weeks happily learning how to complete missions as efficiently as possible. When I realized that EVE was a multi-player game, I sought out a corporation — and it folded during the same week I joined. My second attempt was a little better, but the members did nothing to try to include me in corporation activities because there weren’t any. I found myself in low-sec being accosted by criminals. I vividly recall how painful the first few losses felt. I wondered why all my interactions with other players ended with me in a capsule or new clone. I concluded that pirates were antisocial sociopaths. In retrospect, this was a poor conclusion.

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So with my newfound knowledge that criminals in EVE were sociopaths I set out to end them by joining an anti-pirate corporation. I pored over every recruitment advertisement for those keywords and eventually settled on a group. But eventually the weight of our convictions crushed the corporation and I found myself again looking for a new set of companions. As the first year wore on I realized that criminals were not sociopaths. I also learned that there wasn’t really much I could do to combat them. So I went to NPC null-sec where I happily created and watched explosions of all sorts until I realized I wasn’t having fun anymore. And then I became a pirate.

Of course my definition of pirate is quite different from the common meaning. Any pilot can be a criminial; the only necessary condition is attacking non-criminal ships in low-security or high-security space. My definition includes that I make my isk primarily from ransoming others or looting their wrecks. Of course I pad this income with salvage and abandoned loot as I’m able, and I take on the odd low-security deadspace signature. But mostly it’s the loot.

At the end of the day when I park my ship in a station and fall out of my capsule into a pool of pod-liquid[1], am I really any different than your run-of-the-mill criminal? I suppose the answer is generally a resolute “no” in the eyes of the players I’ve stolen from that day. Did I create this persona with the intent to victimize other pilots and take their valuables? No, but what other choice did I have?

“Eve is very dark,” confirms creative director Torfi Frans Ólafsson. “It’s harsh. It is supposed to be unforgiving. The original designers played a lot of Ultima Online, which was a fantastic sandbox game, and it allowed you to be very devious and very immoral in the way that you played. What they loved about it is that player killers, the griefers – people who just went around and killed other people – became so unpopular that other people banded together. Good started fighting evil, and without true evil you can’t have true good. So you had these bands of righteous people chasing player killers, and those player killers were the original Eve designers; they created a game about that mechanic.”

- Fire and Ice: the Cold Heart of EVE Online on Dead End Thrills

So EVE was founded with the idea that there would be true evil and its opposite: true good. First, let’s change the wording from good to anti-evil (because the word good is so overloaded). Second, while I don’t think there is actually true evil in the heart of the general EVE population, there are definitely players who perform actions others will perceive as evil. But where is the anti-evil? There is plenty between the two extremes but the bulk of activities in EVE tend toward the evil side of the scale.

There are relatively few anti-pirate groups; I couldn’t name any that have a reputation with perhaps the notable exception of Curatores Veritatis Alliance (who are slave owners or sympathizers by role-play; is that any better?). Pirate organizations, on the other hand, are quite common and many are well known. The most common rules of engagement in EVE are Not Blue Shoot It (NBSI). Most pilots will shoot you just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Many will hunt you down to ensure that you are in the wrong place at the wrong time. So if true evil (player killers) is necessary and sufficient for the genesis of anti-evil, why are there not angelic hordes of anti-pirates cleansing low-security space of the pirates? I can’t answer that; but I can start the conversation by telling you why I don’t count myself with the non-existent horde: the mechanics don’t support anti-evil activity.

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Let’s start with detailing how you come to be perceived as evil in New Eden. You destroy property, steal, scam or generally give other players a hard time. Maybe it’s because you want their valuables. Or perhaps it’s because you want them to be upset. In any case it’s generally because you can. But destruction of property is the only crime that results in a penalty to a pilot’s security status. Aside from reputation, the only indicator that a pilot has evil intent is security status. And that indicator can be “repaired” either through liberal destruction of non-player criminals or paid off with an isk fee and the right criminal tags. So pilots who like to destroy property will not necessarily have a negative security status. So any pilot pursuing these non-criminal (but evil) pilots will find a rapidly diminishing security status. And with enough of this activity it is impossible to tell the difference between the two. Who is evil and who is anti-evil becomes an unanswerable question.

Using what little information is available to answer the question only results in a partial list of valid targets: low-security pirates and high-security gankers (who are often alternate characters and do little else). Pirates with a security status lower than -5.0 (valid targets that will not lower your security status) are not as common as most think. I tried hunting them and generally became bored before finding a verifiable evil target. The high-security gankers are either alternate characters primarily used for that purpose (and may have a negative security status) or keep their security status above -5.0. Those with a negative security status who may be freely engaged spend such little time in space that it is impossible to catch them before they spring into action. And those that keep their security status above -5.0 cannot be freely engaged until they have sprung a trap.

And still whole classes of pilots remain untainted: the scammers (who primarily do not leave a station in anything more valuable than a shuttle), corporate thieves (who are not generally primary characters except in the most high-profile cases) and perpetrators of high-security wars against groups who cannot generally defend themselves. Generally the game mechanics shield those players.

There is no reward for being anti-evil. There is little opportunity to be anti-evil. So I became a pirate. I was bored into it. This is anti-climactic, I know; but the truth is the truth.

Editor’s Note: This post was inspired by comments in the many recent posts on Jester’s Trek talking about how other gamers look at our game.

Not from around here

•2014/05/30 • Leave a Comment

I was reading a post on the forums suggesting that CCP should create an “official” killboard. As I read through the points and counterpoints I kept thinking that there are reasons a player may not want an official killboard where losses and statistics were completely accurate. And as that thought ran through my mind I realized I didn’t really care at all about such a killboard, internally I was actually more concerned about the ability to instantly know everything about a character who was in the same system as me.

I haven’t written much lately, but those who follow me or have followed in the past know that I primarily fly in low-security space. So my opinion is logically tainted by that perspective. When I jump into a new system, the local chat gives me most of the information I need to determine if I’ll find a real fight, a quick kill or a swift death — especially if I’m familiar with the area and the locals.

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How is this at all interesting, fun or engaging?

Having this much information available instantly makes the game about double-clicking on a player and extracting the useful information (age, corporate affiliation and security status). Once you have those basics you probably know whether you want to try to generate a fight or not. If not, all you need to do is hop over to eve-kill and lookup the player by name to examine kill statistics. With this information it’s usually trivial to determine whether that Punisher on scan is going to be combat fit or evasion fit (hint: it’s evasion fit).

I don’t care if CCP institute an “official” killboard; but local chat as a one-stop shop has to go.

Blackmail

•2013/08/07 • 3 Comments

Well-known blogger Rixx Javix recently blogged about Low-Security Disney World. The general thesis was that there is nothing in low-security space to attract victims participants in the tapestry of the glorious space opera. He suggests that low-security space needs it’s own “thing”; something only found in low-security space. Then he put forth the idea of pirates claiming solar systems in low-security space in the name of their corporation suggesting that maybe this would lead to the ability to tax locals. I posit we already have the ability to do this, though it could always be improved.

For my tenure in Repo. I’ve largely neglected any outside revenue source. I rely on loot plundered from the wrecks of my victims and the occasional ransom. Sometimes I will try to extend my influence beyond the range of my warp disruptor by offering free passage or protection in exchange for a sum of ISK. Often my victims won’t agree to a ransom or protection fee for fear it won’t be honored. The fear is valid given the number of honorless pilots in New Eden who will take the money and open fire while their wallet icon blinks in futile protest. Though Repo members all honor ransoms and agreements, reputation will only go a small ways towards establishing trust in a place like New Eden.

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So I propose a new kind of contract be established. There must be some third party entity with the integrity to honor agreements and the unscrupulousness to hold ISK in escrow for the criminal element. That is, a new contract type available only in low-security space that pays out when the contract ends (time period) unless it has been been violated. I’m going to call this a blackmail contract.

The word is variously derived from the word for tribute (in modern terms, protection racket) paid by English and Scottish border dwellers to Border Reivers in return for immunity from raids and other harassment. The “mail” part of blackmail derives from Middle English male, “rent, tribute.”[10] This tribute was paid in goods or labour (reditus nigri, or “blackmail”); the opposite is blanche firmes or reditus albi, or “white rent” (denoting payment by silver). Alternatively, Mckay derives it from two Scottish Gaelic words blathaich pronounced (the th silent) bla-ich (to protect) and mal (tribute, payment). He notes that the practice was common in the Highlands of Scotland as well as the Borders.[11]

The contract should be drawn up so that one party (a single pilot or a corporation, we can call this the protected party) agrees to pay a specified amount if the protecting party does not destroy any ship owned by the protected during the specified time period and in the specified area (solar system, constellation, region or all regions). This in no way prevents the protecting party from engaging a protected entity — violation merely cancels the reward. Of course, the third party facilitating the contract (an NPC corporation somewhere) takes a percentage of the reward for itself; there is no artificial targeting prevention or automatic unlocking.

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I expect the specifics could be ironed out by an experienced game designer (such as those fine fellows and ladies employed by CCP). But what I’d love to see is the ability to specify a contracts for:

  • protecting an entity from another entity (to pay out if no protected entity ship is destroyed by the protecting entity)
  • protecting an entity in general (to pay out if no protected entity ship is destroyed by any player entity)
  • protecting a specific class of ships from the protecting entity or any entity (to pay out if no ship of that class is destroyed by the specified entity)
  • protecting ships belonging to an entity above a specific ISK value (using the insurance payout or bounty payout formulas) from either the protecting entity or any entity

This just formalizes the protection racket for a cost. Note: it could also be used to formalize a capsule ransom by specifying the capsule class of ships for a short duration.

Others may say this violates the sandbox principles of EVE, but I wholeheartedly disagree. Every sandbox has a frame. Every sandbox has the tools to build a sandcastle. This is just another tool.

Time to rollback the complexes

•2013/07/03 • Leave a Comment

Full disclosure: I am a pirate who often preys on plexers; most of the time I am solo, and often times I am not the victor. This is not a proposal to assure I gather more killmails.

Faction warfare complexes are a broken mechanic. ‘Plexers’ fly empty ships, warp core stabilized ships, cloaking ships and have almost zero risk in exchange for the loyalty points they are earning. They can do this with day-old characters. There is no way for another player (whether it is a pirate or an opposing faction) to stop the plexer as they can just warp from complex to complex in a single system running each one down a little until they end up back where they started. My assertion is that players who are actively taking part in capturing a complex and fly in ships capable of defending the complex should be rewarded more than players who risk almost nothing.

Empty ships are relatively easy to catch, though there is ample warning and plenty of time to escape. Warp core stabilized ships can be killed with a large alpha or multiple points, but often they will warp off. Cloaking ships can be found with enough effort. I am not arguing that there is no counter, but the effort is herculean in comparison to the risk.

Faction warfare complex timers should roll back when not actively being run down by a faction warfare pilot. The timer should roll back at half the rate if no pilot is in the complex, an equal rate when a neutral is in the complex, and double the rate when an opposing pilot is in the complex. This gives a way for the opposing faction to fight back and a general level of incentive for pilots to stay and defend their complex. I don’t even care if the payouts go up to compensate, at least the pilots willing to risk their ships will be well rewarded.

rollback-1

Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with pilots not taking a risk — they just shouldn’t earn the same (or better) Loyalty Point rewards as capsuleers who risk their ships. I’ve spoken with pilots taking advantage of the brokenness. They admit the system is broken. They admit there is no risk. I often see new characters (sometimes created that day) in faction warfare complexes — these are never brand new players; they are veterans taking advantage of a broken system. 

Thanks to Cearain who let me know you could query the EVE API for the top performers in faction warfare. Taking a look statistics for the last week, 7 of the top 10 in the VictoryPointsLastWeek section have no combat record or very few recorded engagements. Those pilots with losses primarily lose unfitted or heavily warp core stabilized ships. For example, the top character for victory points last week was Mitsuyo Ichinumi who only lost unfit Condors. Devora Dora (4th) is only 2 weeks old and has no recorded kills or losses. And Last Starfigter (7th) has no recorded kills or losses. Others have very few kills or losses, but are losing primarily warp core stabilized ships to ships with large alpha or those of us smart enough to fit multiple points and get lucky catching them.

Capture

In fact, take a minute to search for the CorpoISK corporation on eve-kill (here’s a link). kill history and members, you will see that they are all losing unfitted or warp core stabilized ships and some members are have been on both sides of the war (Pak Zeitgeist). Two of its members are in the top ten last week (Devora Dora and Last Starfigter). These guys just happen to be visible this week, but you can bet there are others doing the same thing. This is pretty obviously taking advantage of a broken system.

EVE is a sandbox, but when sand starts spilling outside the box it’s time to scoop it back in.

Note: This is a compilation of posts from the EVE Online forums into a single, cohesive thesis. Original proposal is here; if you have thoughts on the subject please take a minute to visit the thread and air them.

A fruitless tree can still be beautiful

•2013/04/23 • 1 Comment

About a week ago I mothballed all of my null-sec small to medium-sized gang toys, grabbed a handful of frigates and moved to low-sec where I joined a small but active pirate corporation. I’m seven days into my 30-day assessment period during which I must meet certain objectives: a specific number of activity points (where solo kills are double and losses are half), a specific number of solo kills, a successful ransom and earn criminal status (-5.0 or lower).

Years ago I would have balked at the idea of becoming a criminal. But during my solo experiments and now having joined a criminal organization I see how criminal status is often a catalyst for PvP. I’ve really been enjoying my time doing solo and unstructured micro-gang roams and I can see myself doing this for a long time.

I think I’ve also grown to the level where I enjoy the experience and not just the result. With small and medium-sized gang roams the reward has always been the kill(s); but with solo the hunt and fight are a big part of the reward even if it doesn’t yield a killmail. In fact, the most interesting fight I’ve had so far didn’t result in any killmails on either side.

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After several days of flying with wingmates, I decided to go it alone in a relatively tankless kiting Tristan. The fit is similar to what I posted in my last entry but I’ve reconfigured it to fit a Warp Disruptor II for the added range. I’ve had occasional difficulty keeping point and the extra 4 kilometers of range allows me a huge fudge factor. I undocked the Feitur Maður IV and headed on a lonely journey through Placid and into Black Rise and then started back again. On the return trip I passed through a busy system I might normally ignore — but having gone so far without results I gave the system a once-over.

After a few warps I located an Enyo with a five-degree scan to a small faction warfare complex. A fight with an Enyo, I thought, would be extremely one-sided; the favored side would depended on whether I could move out of scram range once I dropped out of the acceleration gate’s influence. And so with some trepidation I warped to the acceleration gate activating it as I dropped out of warp.

The acceleration gate dropped me roughly 5 kilometers from the target Enyo and I urged my ship directly away from his while activating and overheating my microwarpdrive. An instant later the Enyo managed to activate a warp scrambler and my microwarpdrive faltered, but the momentum already generated by my supercharged drives carried me out of range and the drive sputtered back to life.

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During the time it took me to achieve range the Enyo had chewed through my shields and melted half of my armor with the kinetic and thermal energy of his deadly small blasters. But range and the tracking disruptor soon began to mitigate any danger from those short-ranged weapons and his solo drone was a mere nuisance easily dispatched with my own blasters.

Five angry drones burst from my Tristan’s launch bay and began to tear into the Enyo’s shields while I frantically scanned for signs of any rescue attempt. As I gained the upper hand I began to relax, watching my drones eat into his armor faster than his nanite-fueled repair module could regenerate it. I could almost see the blinding flash as he realized he should be eliminating the drones swarming around his Enyo and began to target them; this realization coincided with the exhaustion of his nanite paste as his repairer cycled off and began a lengthy reloading process.

As one, then a second and finally a third drone was torn apart by his blaster fire I realized I should be disrupting his tracking instead of range as I had been for most of the fight so i tapped in a code to replace the tracking disruptor’s optimal range disruption with a tracking speed disruption script. The change was enough to slow the destruction of a fourth drone and allow my remaining robotic minions to compromise his structural integrity to the point I could see atmosphere venting from the once-sturdy craft. The joy of victory swept through me and I became overconfident.

Thanks to http://evelog.mikk36.eu for the damage graph.

Thanks to http://evelog.mikk36.eu for the damage graph.

Suddenly his armor level jumped dramatically, covering the gaps in what remained of his hull. Had it really been a minute since his module had gone offline? It had been more than two minutes. Seconds later he skillfully performed a maneuver that put him outside warp disruption range and out of my grasp. As soon as his own supercharged microwarpdrive had put enough distance between our two craft he warped out of the complex leaving me to collect my battered drones and mourn the victory snatched from my outstretched arms.

I spoke with the pilot after the fight and he acknowledged that his remaining structural integrity was four percent. We both made mistakes during the nearly four-minute engagement. And I think for both of us it was an exhilarating experience.

I learned a number of lessons during that engagement about how to best apply my vessel and its implements. But most of all I learned that even a fruitless tree can show a rare beauty.

With piratical intent

•2013/04/08 • 2 Comments

A year and a half ago I put some energy toward trying my hand at solo combat; I experienced mild success with a draw and a kill and soon after faded out of EVE in a wash of apathy. The apathy worked itself out and I’ve been back just over a month now. I’ve been racking up kills with our fleet operations but still would like the courage to commit to engagements on my own — I think that can only come with experience. So, having piratical intent, I grabbed the frigates I had left-over from the last experiment, stripped them and rebuilt them.

Frigates have changed quite a bit since I last saw them. Neither the Merlin nor the Tristan have the historical split weapon systems — and they fly quite a bit differently than when I started this experiment.

My first Merlin met a sad fate at the hands of local criminals[1]. The second had better luck, but only against a junior opponent (and very good sport[2]). It was during this second encounter that I gained even more enthusiasm to commit to solo — not because of my success, but because of the conversation that accompanied the kill. Taylor Caby hasn’t been playing long [this time] and still has an infectious rookie enthusiasm. On top of that, he has been doing his research and understands PvP better than most rookies — it’s a good combination that pushed me to really engage with the solo experience.

After spending some time talking with Taylor I went back to my alliance chat and got some great advice from a member of my alliance who is decorating our killboard with lots of pretty engagements. These conversations culminated with me realizing that my Merlin had a very limited selection of engage-able targets and more importantly that this was bad. The only suitable targets are other blaster-fitted frigates or cruiser-sized turret platforms — that is a huge limitation I didn’t need when trying to get my feet wet with solo. Armed with this knowledge I set out to increase my options.

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My first attempt was an Algos. It was excellent at killing unfitted ships, but performed less admirably when tangled up with an acceleration gate while being pursued by a Stabber Fleet Issue. I liked how the ship performed despite poor luck. But, having lost it, I wanted to add a frigate to my arsenal. I still had plenty of Tristan hulls laying around and something about that hull just makes me want to fly it. I worked up several potential fits, but I only felt comfortable building this drone-reliant kiting fit:

[Tristan, Feitur Maður II]
Drone Damage Amplifier II
Nanofiber Internal Structure II
Damage Control II

Limited 1MN Microwarpdrive I
Balmer Series Tracking Disruptor I, Optimal Range Disruption Script
Faint Warp Disruptor I

75mm Gatling Rail II, Caldari Navy Antimatter Charge S
[empty high slot]
75mm Gatling Rail II, Caldari Navy Antimatter Charge S

Small Polycarbon Engine Housing I
Small Tracking Diagnostic Subroutines I
Small Semiconductor Memory Cell I
Hobgoblin II x8

The fit looked like a winner, but I had to put it to the test. So I set out to find a target. This time, spurred by fellow bloggers and rookie zeal, I actually put effort into finding an engagement in the target-rich environment of faction warfare low-security space.

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I ran into Miura Bull of Brutor Bullfighter fame flying a Rifter. He warped off the gate before I could land a tackle, so I followed him toward a novice outpost; as I landed, the acceleration gate whipped him into the complex. I decided that following him in, thus landing at zero, would result in a negative outcome. After a little fruitless poking around in system, I followed Miura to a second system.

With two Rifters on scan, I picked one at random (mental note to remember ship names next time) and warped to a small complex at 20 km. I landed at the perfect distance from not Miura Bull. I applied the warp disruptor and spat out some angry drones. Mid-fight a Thorax landed and moved toward me, but I wouldn’t be denied my first kill of the night and kept at it. I was rewarded a few seconds later with this Rifter wreck. I managed to grab some of the loot before fleeing the scene.

I never did catch Miura — but I’m probably better off for that.

Several jumps later I found an Executioner who didn’t want to be caught (this seems to be extremely common with complex farmers). After chasing him around for a few minutes, I warped to a complex out of scan range. As my warp brought me near enough to scan the complex, I detected a Caldari Navy Hookbill. Landing near it, I figured I might as well give it a go. After applying point, dumping drones and orbiting for a bit, he exploded. Given his Scourge Javelin Rockets can hit out to ~21 km, he really should have been able to chase me off pretty quickly — I can only surmise that he forgot he was carrying them.

Since that night (which I would probably call the first real solo roam I’ve had), the original Tristan fit has served me well against other targets so I plan to keep it around — but I’ve diversified to keep from being too predictable. I have a couple different variants of Tristan, a new Caldari Navy Hookbill and a replacement Algos (Note: I need a replacement for the replacement).

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this new experience. But what has surprised me the most is that combat is only half of it — the rest is player interaction. These kills (and even missed kills) have sparked interesting conversations with other players of a kind I haven’t had while flying with a larger fleet. But conversations tend to make me empathize with my targets. And because of that I probably don’t make a very good pirate having given as much in isk as I’ve taken in loot. I have the piratical intent, I just don’t have the mercilessness.

[1] I knew what I was fighting and was fairly certain I would lose — but nothing else would engage so I just went for it anyway. Enough blogs have beaten it into my head that you don’t always know what’s going to happen once you engage.

[2] I didn’t catch Taylor, but during our conversation he decided it would be a good experience so he ran to get a ship he thought might match mine. He had seen the earlier loss and knew what I was flying. The battle was pretty close.

[3] All of my pvp ships bear [Google translated] Icelandic names. This Tristan’s name is “Fat Man II”, the first having died to Quake590 so long ago.

Disrupting the nerve center

•2013/04/02 • Leave a Comment

In January of 2012, a CCP developer started a thread in the Features & Ideas Discussion EVE Online forum soliciting ideas for new modules. Over a year and 87 pages later, players are still adding to the suggestions. Spurred on by my thoughts in this response to a different post, I added a few ideas to the torrent of mostly bad ideas — maybe mine should be included in that judgement. This post will look at just one of the three I posted.

Before leaving the game over a year ago I spent some energy to advocate restricting warfare links to a single grid — the grid where the link ship was flying. I did this because I firmly believe that any ship influencing the fight should be on the grid where the fight is occurring. Cloaky tech 3 link alts just make me queasy as I don’t think they really add anything to the game.

Before my lengthy break I never saw a Rote Kapelle gang that used off-grid links this way. We always brought along a command ship or combat capable strategic cruiser with the appropriate warfare links for our fleet composition. Now that I’ve returned I’m seeing this infestation everywhere. On any given night it’s about  fifty-fifty whether our links will be in a cloaking, interdiction-nullified strategic cruiser or something with combat capability. I’m also seeing these more frequently with other gangs; it’s become the go-to solution for everyone. The word on the street seems to be that CCP game designers would like to see this change — but there doesn’t seem to be any concrete evidence of this.

There is evidence that CCP is not happy with the balance between Strategic Cruisers and Command Ships when it comes to warfare links.

Regardless of whether links are restricted to a single grid, the Network Disruptor helps pilots counter the benefits of warfare links by disrupting communication to and from the target ship. The disruptor would completely negate any bonus on the target ship from nearby warfare link ships. Additionally, when used against a ship with active warfare links reduces the effectiveness of the warfare link bonuses by some percentage.

I see this as an active mid-slot module which puts it alongside other standard electronic warfare modules. The module should have a targeted effect against a single target with a very short range (~10 km, similar to a stasis webifier).

Maybe the disruptor could have the added bonus of interfering with the directional scanner — just because that’s cool and when CCP eliminates local chat as an omniscient intelligence tool it will be that much more interesting. Not that I think local is going away any time soon, but I can dream.

 
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