Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Where The Pirates At, Man?

Suppose you're captaining a free trader, as one often does. You jump in system and roll an encounter: bing! There's another pirate. BOO!

Now, what's going on here? If there's an encounter, It's more than saying "there's another ship in this system." It's saying "there is a ship sufficiently close to my vector that we can interact." It means that the ships are close enough in relative velocity to stay on each other's screens for enough time to either be of help, or be a threat.

Unless the navigator says otherwise, ship A will arrive in-system stationary relative to the target world, and fairly close to the jump limit. Those ships encountered at that part of ship A's journey will probably be:

1) accelerating, moving towards the world, and away from ship A
2) decelerating, moving away from the world and towards ship A

Ships going elsewhere - for example, accelerating away from the world towards another location in the system, or approaching the 100D limit in a different direction - will be on vectors that differ sufficiently in degree or length that interaction would not likely occur.

Encounters upon leaving jumpspace are not likely to be planned. Nobody knows when a ship is coming out of jumpspace until it does: the 100D limit is a large swath of space: a poor bottleneck. A ship waiting there isn't going to encounter many ships, and yet it will be conspicuous to whatever patrols or detection systems a world might have.

A ship loitering at the 100D limit should always appear suspicious. An A or B port could be expected to have sufficient detection in place to spot such ships and direct patrols to intercept. C ports aren't as well patrolled, but if there's a T in port, it'll likely note a loiterer and engage it. D, E and X ports are less likely to spot a loiterer - but again, the 100D limit is a bad spot for a pirate to go fishing: it's conspicuous and a waste of time. It's possible: a pirate might hang out here until he gets rousted by the local patrols, or until he's convinced that no such patrols exist - but without first clearing a system of defenders, a pirate won't have much time to plunder anything unlucky enough to drop out of jump.

When a ship's under way between 100D and close orbit (or landfall,) it's moving on a long vector. If the object is to harass a ship and prevent it from decelerating to orbit, as a naval defender might, an interception here might be worthwhile. But it's a lot of work to match a long vector. A ship waiting at a dead stop has a lot of catching up to do: a ship already on a similar vector will have been spotted long ago (probably at 100D) and ships on parallel but opposing vectors might intercept for a brief time but will probably not be able to match vectors in a timely fashion.

Which leaves a third option: sitting in orbit. First of all, it's the ultimate bottleneck: anyone visiting the world has to contend with what's in orbit. Second, it's the only cover there is: a ship staying quiet in orbit will see a ship on approach well before it is seen. Most ships approaching will be low on fuel and will be decelerating to make orbit themselves: they're the easiest targets.

It's difficult to do, though. It's impossible for anything less than a navy force where there's an A or B starport: they're too well patrolled and defended, and there are too many targets to contend with.

If a pirate is equal to the task of defeating a handful of merchant craft simultaneously, though, it might be able to overwhelm a C port's orbital capabilities: a D or E port might not have any defenders of its own at all: it depends on how well patrolled by another world's navy it might be. Any merchantmen that can flee, probably will. A type T or C, moving decisively and using its small craft as pursuit ships, might be able to successfully take orbit and hold it. If any of the fleeing merchants get away to report the attack, no responder will arrive until two weeks have past at a minimum. Patrols may or may not arrive in the interim: but so might a fat merchant or two, decelerating unaware into a trap. Next up, let's think in terms of a play-by-play.


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