Monday, 28 November 2011

Fleet roles: Scouting

The Tuskers have had a couple of fleet roams into 0.0 that I want to post about, but lack of time (and internet issues) means I’m not getting a report up today. However, there are a number of spin-off topics I want to post about, and this is one of them.
This is not a “how to” on fleet scouting; I’m not Azual, and I can’t claim anything like his expertise on fleet warfare. Instead, these are simply my observations on certain fleet roles after participating in a number of Tusker fleets. Take from that what you will.

That said, it seems to me that every fleet needs two kinds of scouts; pathfinders and rangers. While the roles are similar, they require different skill levels and ship setups, and the success of a roam can be made or broken by the quality of the fleet’s scouts.


These are what I would call entry level scouts. Their role is typically to stay one or two jumps ahead (or behind) the fleet as they travel from point A to point B. They are the eyes and ears of the FC and are practically under his remote control; they go where they are told, and only where they are told. The FC needs to know exactly where they are and what they see.
Almost anyone can fill this role in a pinch. Typically, it helps if they are flying a fast ship so that they can move at the fleet’s pace, rather than forcing the fleet to move at their pace. And being cheap with a fast align time means that the FC can fearlessly send them into potential traps; they will either escape, or their destruction is no real loss. Interceptors and many T1 frigates make ideal pathfinders.
These same ship qualities also make for excellent light tackle, and since the pathfinding role ends when the fleet stops moving, pathfinders often double as the dedicated tackle for the fleet, giving them a role in combat as well as on the move.

Because new pilots usually fly fast, cheap ships (although they don’t feel cheap to the new pilot), they are often given the role of pathfinder. It’s also a good way to integrate them into the fleet; it keeps them busy and talking to people when they might otherwise not know anyone during those long spells of just sitting on a gate, waiting for intel. And because the role comes with a fair degree of micromanagement from the FC (depending on the FC and the circumstances, of course) a new pilot will feel fairly confident that they are doing the ‘right’ thing, whereas they might flounder if left too much to their own devices.


These scouts are the ones sent out to actually find the enemy, and they require a very specific skill set. Because an entire fleet is (literally) waiting for them to do their job, they are under constant pressure to find a balance between accurate information and fast information.

This is somewhere I go very, very wrong. A good ranger has a natural feel for the information coming in through his overview and his d-scan; he knows that Drake is at a POS without jumping to the POS to take a look, he quickly deduces that the Maelstrom is outside a station, and he can tell that the Merlin in the belt is bait.
I, on the other hand, don’t do ‘feelings’. I roam the way I fly – focused and meticulous. I excel at anything that requires these skills and my fights are won through management of my ship: cap management, heat management, module management, range management, and so on. There is nothing ‘magic’ about what I do; I’m just working the numbers.
So when I roam, I start by jumping around so I’ve quickly d-scanned the entire system, and then start narrowing down every target that I’m interested in, starting with the highest priority and working down the list. I won’t conclude that a ship is sitting on a station until I’ve seen it with my own eyes, or had it on 5 degree d-scan with a range check.

This is fine when roaming solo, and has gotten me many kills that others would have missed (while probably costing me at least as many fights that I would have found if I’d moved on the easier targets). However, it is needlessly time consuming for fleet work. Equally, though, I get very uncomfortable when trying to rush this process, which makes me a poor ranger.

On the other end of  the spectrum you have pilots like [name removed by request] (who is one the best rangers I’ve ever flown with in my  - admittedly limited - fleet experience), who can seemingly jump into a system and tell you where everyone is and what they are doing before he’s even loaded grid.

Of course, what he’s really doing is exactly what I would be doing in his place: bouncing around the system using d-scan. The difference is that [name removed] processes that data faster than I do, and is able to come to (correct) conclusions based on less information. And ultimately, that’s what makes him a better ranger than me.

Ship choice for rangers is a little more wide open than it is for pathfinders. While a ranger needs a certain amount of speed to find the enemy, there are different ways to start the fight. So one ranger might fly an interceptor to warp in and point the enemy, while another might fly covops to provide warp-in info for the pathfinders. Yet another might fly a bait ship. Ship choice will depend very  much on how the FC intends to bring the enemy to battle.

Practical Applications

Moving, with some trepidation, from observation to theory, it seems to me that it is important for an FC to know (at least informally) who his pathfinders are and who his rangers are.

Pathfinders, by and large, are not going to make good rangers. The fleet will move more and hunt more slowly, letting targets escape and increasing the chances that the locals will have time to organize effective resistance. Everyone loses - except the enemy.

Rangers, on the other hand, make perfectly decent (even excellent) pathfinders, but it’s a waste of talent. If someone needs to run into an insta-lock bubble camp, let it be one of the disposable pathfinders, otherwise you are down a ranger and forced to use someone else in the role they would have filled.


  1. Flattered. Sincerely.

    But please could you take my name off, it's a little embarassing...

    Also, rangers are great for sending in to groups of arty canes to get alpha'd before any fights occur :(

  2. Done. I'll be sure to only talk you down in the future. :D

  3. I noticed that really good scouts, can narrow the target down with d scan really fast. I may have them at 90 degrees and general area. But i know guys who jump in scan and say planet 3 or belt 3 etc at small angles and they are usually right. Partly it is from experience. I am more like you though. Even i don't see I don't confirm it's there.

  4. I did originally have a much longer reply set up, but it was starting to turn into a scouting guide, so I'll either make it into a blog post of my own or skip it entirely. Before anything else, though, I have to post what I consider to be the best intel report ever.

    This is an interesting way to divvy up the more specific roles behind simply "scouting". Scouting for a fleet is a very different proposition from scouting solo, obviously; I don't tend to use the term "scouting" as it applies to solo, but only because I see the act of gathering intelligence as separate from the decision-making process that it's linked to (I typically think of soloing as FCing a one-person gang).

    Scouting is, in my experience, a constant battle between precision and speed. I've struggled with that myself in a few cases, since I tend to scout the same way you do - I want to know everything that's in system, whether it's a target, whether it's a threat, numbers, types, positions, names, and so on. Unfortunately, I also want to know all of that information now, which tends to be limited by how quickly I can re-focus my D-scan and how quickly I can warp. Eventually you do find a balanced medium, but that balance is different for every person.

    One thing I do completely agree on, though, is that scouts can make or break a fleet. I'm sure most of us are familiar with the results of bad scouting ("Why didn't you TELL me there was a bubble on gate?!"), but effective scouts can have just as much of an impact.