Sunday, November 28, 2010


The fall of 68FT-6 in Impass to Against All Authorities (-A-) and the Southern Russian Coalition last week appears to have broken the back of organized resistance in the region by Circle of Two (CO2) and The Initiative (INIT). CO2 subsequently ordered a stand-down in Impass and its pilots appear to have pulled back to CO2 holdings in Providence. Meanwhile, -A- operations in Impass appear to be meeting little resistance on the part of The Initiative, indicating that INIT is writing the region off for the moment; using the time it will take -A- to consolidate their gains in Impass to rest and re-organize INIT forces along a new front.

The most likely concentration of INIT forces will be near the entry-points to Catch. Long the seat of -A- power, and currently the region boasting the highest concentration of INIT forces, Catch is a natural flash-point for both sides. INIT forces striking -A- forces in Impass will come from there. -A- forces looking to take back their old seat of power will strike at those entry points.

While tempted by the emotional importance of Catch, -A- is not likely to overlook Teneferis. As it was for -A- before it, sleepy Teneferis is a source of great wealth for the alliance that holds it. The Initiative has followed -A-'s example of seeding the region with renters who provide INIT with a tidy source of revenue and, no doubt, capital ships.

-A- would do well to begin a secondary offensive in Teneferis either before, or in tandem with an attempted invasion of Catch. If INIT chooses to defend the region, that will draw forces away from the Catch front. If INIT declines to defend (and to some extent, even if it doesn't), many Teneferis renters will shut down operations and the region will quickly dry up as a source of revenue and supply.

Further, the impact on morale of many systems (even renter systems) falling quickly to the invaders should not be overlooked. This is precisely the tactic INIT employed to good effect during its invasion of -A- space earlier this Fall. If The Initiative hadn't been so confident of an -A- failscade soon thereafter, INIT might have taken the lesson and developed their own renters into a meaningful regional defense force. However, if INIT relations with their PvP vassal alliances is any indication, the The Initiative hasn't taken any such trouble and is, like -A- before them, content to use their renters as little more than an ATM. 

Should the Southern Russians successfully invade Teneferis, they should be open to Initiative Associate renters wishing to cut a deal with the inbound -A- forces. Recall that a number of Initiative Associate corporations were, in fact, AAA Citizen corporations before INIT took over the space. As I've written elsewhere, for many of these corporations renting space is a transaction, not a matter of loyalty. Allowing an apolitical renter to occupy the same space merely by switching alliances is simply good business. It saves the renter the need to move or lose valuable infrastructure. It brings the revenue-generating potential of the renter's systems back online as soon as hostilities move past those systems. It saves the invader the headache of recruiting new renters and jump-starts the income flow from the conquered space. Some selective outreach here works to the invaders tactical advantage as well. A renter with no reason to fear the new landlord is less inclined to assist the old landlord in defense of rented space.

How matters resolve themselves between INIT and the Southern Russians going forward will depend on timing and the numbers both sides can bring to the fight. The Initiative and -A-, on their own, are pretty much at numeric parity. Their return as the new lords of Impass should bolster -A- membership and, possibly, bring some seasoned veterans back to the fold. However, Initiative Mercenaries, based out of Catch, is a sizable block of pilots, tipping the balance in favor of The Initiative. Barring a convenient collapse in INIT's morale, -A- is going to need their Southern Russian brethren in the fight if they hope to retake Catch.

While taking Catch will have enormous emotional importance to -A-, it may be less of a priority to Stain Empire and Red Overlords who, having pushed The Initiative and its minions off their doorstep, may be content to consolidate their gains rather than launch another offensive.  Red Overlords in particular may be reluctant, as White Noise is still a presence in Feythabolis, and must be dealt with before that region is secure and Overlords are placed to assist -A- in Catch.  

Then there are the usual wild cards to consider; Pandemic Legion and IT Alliance.

Pandemic Legion seems well occupied in the North where the Drone Russian Coalition (RUS) have hired them to perform enfilading attacks to take Northern Coalition pressure off RUS forces in Etherium Reach. Barring RUS canceling that contract, or The Initiative making PL an offer RUS is unwilling or unable to match, a significant PL presence in the South is unlikely.

Aside from sending a 200 ship fleet to the defense of 68FT-6, IT Alliance has had only marginal involvement in the fighting between The Initiative and the Southern Russians. However it's important to recall that IT Alliance, rushing to the aid of the victors, opened up a second front on the last pockets of -A- resistance when INIT invaded Catch and then turned the conquered -A- systems over to The Initiative. Having taken an IT Alliance shiv in the back, -A- is unlikely to be kindly disposed toward their former allies.

The prospect of a potentially hostile -A- parked on the borders of Querious and Delve may move IT Alliance to take a substantive role in the defense of The Initiative's holdings in Catch. However, throwing the full weight of IT Alliance behind INIT at a time when an impending Goon invasion is building against IT elsewhere is a high-stakes enterprise. If The Initiative falls the resulting appearance of weakness would do much to encourage the growing notion that IT Alliance is a paper tiger - the Hapsburg Empire of New Eden.

As leader of the largest PvP alliance in New Eden, SirMolles's actions since IT's failed invasion of the North early this year seem risk-averse. He has focused on small, low-risk offensive actions that occupy IT Alliance pilots, but the success or failure of which are of little consequence to the alliance at large. With more to lose that to win in most engagements, SirMolle's actions of late seem hesitant - chosen with an eye to protecting the BOB/IT Alliance brand and legacy rather than taking the storied alliance someplace new.

An invasion of Catch by the Southern Russian Coalition will test that hesitancy and put IT Alliance's leadership in the position where passive, low-risk choices are no longer an option.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Fire Upon The Deep

Say what you will about the Dominion sovereignty rules, there are a lot of good fights going on in nullsec these days and a lot of territory changing hands.

Down in Providence there's a three way donnybrook going on, with CVA, Ev0ke and a coalition of resident alliances going at it - kicking and gouging in the mud, the blood and the beer.

The Southern Russians have pushed The Initiative's minions from Feythabolis and are stomping around Impass in hob-nailed boots; all the while preparing to take the fight directly to The Initiative in Catch and Teneferis (more on that next time).

With the Kalevala Expanse all but overrun by NC, they and the Drone Russian are gleefully bashing away at each other in Etherium Reach - both sides apparently enjoying mayhem writ large.

The old Goons versus BoB/IT Alliance show seems to be regaining some of its old shine over in Fountain and Dekline. At the same time IT Alliance is occupied with propping up SysK in Period Basis and sent a 200 ship BS fleet (about half of which was destroyed) to the siege of 68FT-6 in Impass.

With smoke rising from so many nullsec regions, I'm wondering how nullsec Carebears are managing. Even traditionally stable areas are now subject to changing hands and the related invasion or counter-invasion. For carebears, that's got to be driving a lot of change.

To some bears, like Against All Polish Authorities in Teneferis, the invasion amounted to little more than the need to keep one's head down during the change in landlords. Others pack up shop and head for empire when the winds of war blow.

Still other bears transform into PvP bears. Dominion rules and the recent discovery of the Drake as a viable fleet platform have upped the demand for nullsec pilots and made alliance fleets much more welcoming of nullsec bears looking to get into the scrum.

It will be interesting to see how the current level of conflict transforms the nullsec bear. They may revert to their old ways, renting the space and making the monies. Then again, maybe they'll claim a little patch of space to call their own, set up mining and production, but keep their weapons close at hand against the coming of the wolf.

Or it could be that the quiet life of mining and making will pale after the taste of so much blood and many will give up carebearing altogether. This could leave nullsec with a larger population of PvPers than it once had, all quick to become bored when the current flames of nullsec die down, and prone to building new wars in the ashes of the old.

Friday, November 19, 2010


As nullsec regions go, Impass is on the small side. It has a mere 51 systems, and of those only six boast a station. When The Initiative took over the space during their invasion of Against All Authorities' (-A-) empire, they handed the region over to their vassal alliance, Circle Of Two (CO2).

To be put in charge of an entire region is a rare distinction for a relative newcomer to deep nullsec. However, CO2 has, to my mind, justified The Initiative's faith in it so far. Post-war operations in the South were expected to be a mopping-up action followed by a low-grade brush war against a few stubborn hold-outs while the rest of -A- evaporated like unto Atlas Alliance. Instead CO2 has found itself in a stand-up sovereignty war against the South Russian Coalition (SRC) of -A-, Stain Empire and Red Overlord.  Though hard-pressed, CO2 has hung in the fight and held the line where its fellow vassal, Dead Terrorists (DT), could not.

Even when dealing with a small geography like Impass, putting all systems and station in reinforced mode is no mean feat. Yet, that is precisely what the SRC did November 17. And in so doing they struck CO2 and The Initiative with three blows all at once:

First of all, the action stood as an announcement of the Southern Russian intentions and ability. The determination, turn-out and coordination required to pull off the action announces that the Southern Russians are back. It demonstrates that they have the ships, pilots and commanders to pull of large scale operation. Stain, -A-, and Overlord are not some dead-enders who got lucky, but a fighting force to reckoned with.

Secondly, it has to be a huge morale hit for CO2 and The Initiative. To reinforce that much space at once the SRC had to be able to move pretty much at will in Impass. And when you wake up in the morning, pour your coffee and look out your window to find your entire region in reinforced mode, it's bound to make you reconsider your strategic situation.

Finally, the SRC are leveraging the Dominion sovereignty mechanic to their advantage. Those mechanics require that systems under attack be actively defended. CO2 and The Initiative must pick and choose which systems to defend and position their forces accordingly. The Southern Russians, being on offense, can attack whatever systems CO2/Initiative are poorly positioned to defend. 

An obvious CO2/Initiative strategy is to leverage what they hope is a numeric advantage during the US time zones. Assuming they can pull together superior numbers, by making all systems in Impass potential targets the Southern Russians may well have offset that advantage.  Stain and company can throw feints at vulnerable systems, forcing CO2/ Initiative to commit forces to their defense. If the CO2/Initiative forces refuse to engage, the South Russians get those targets on the cheap. If the CO2/Initiative forces do respond to the feint, the main South Russian forces can strike the actual targets.  Not an easy operation to pull off, but Stain, -A- and Overlord have just shown they're capable of this sort of coordination.

The chatter in the forums does not bode well for CO2/Initiative. While CO2's membership numbers have held admirably during this time, CO2/Initiative fleet numbers seem to be dropping. CO2 players, while loyal to the alliance, are feeling less dedicated to the Impass cause and are finding reasons to be elsewhere. Ethereal Dawn appears to be cutting their losses and moving out of the region. At the same time, The Initiative seem oddly reluctant when it comes to the Impass fight. It may be they, already holding more space elsewhere than they can effectively manage and defend, are more inclined to let Impass slip away than go all in to hold the region. 

Talk now centers on two things: If /when the SRC takes Impass, will they stop at that? And will IT Alliance join the fight on The Initiative's side?

The answer to the first is, I think, no. In the absence of some back room deal between The Initiative and -A-, I'd expect the SRC to push into Catch after a brief respite to consolidate their new holdings.

As to the second, while we might see some token elements of IT Alliance in the fight for Impass, I'd be surprised if they joined the Impass end game in any numbers. As I've written elsewhere, the bff relationship between The Initiative and IT strikes me as overstated. Further, IT Alliance is presently occupied with skirmishes elsewhere at the moment, and their patterns of behavior these days suggest they won't be sending significant forces a full region beyond their borders to open up a second front. Finally, like Rick from Casablanca, IT Alliance sticks their neck out for nobody. In a number of recent conflicts, IT Alliance has only joined in once the outcome was decided; rushing to the aid of the victor. And, right now, CO2/Initiative are not looking like winners.

In short, it's not looking good for CO2 in Impass. Elvis may not have left the building, but his limo's pulled up to the service entrance and the driver is honking the horn.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Full Disclosure

Full Disclosure: Ol' Mord is now a member of RAGE alliance; and that will mean a few changes at Fiddler's Edge.

My previous corporation, The Disc, returned from Nullsec during the short interlude between the fall of Atlas Alliance and the start of the Catch offensive by The Initiative and White Noise. As often happens, key members were of different minds as to our future direction, and the decision was made to go our separate ways.

It's been interesting watching the diaspora. Some of my friends have gone off to become lowsec pirates (watch you back, Mynxee) and some have started industrial and courier firms in highsec.

About half of us have returned to nullsec. One block has joined Against All Authorities and their South Russian allies as they try to take back some of the territory lost to The Initiative and their vassals. A few have joined the Goons, and suddenly developed very Goon-like personalities in our shared channel. The conversation's been much more colorful since.

For myself, I've returned to nullsec as well, though by my own path. The beauty of Eve is that New Eden's vast, and there's always something new under its many suns, and I've written elsewhere that my knowledge of the Northern Coalition's ways and means is quite limited. I judged this a good opportunity to head North and experience something new.

Fiddler's Edge isn't meant to be a propaganda organ for blues, or an intel source for reds. As most of you know, I avoid commenting on goings-on in my own corporation/alliance. That policy will continue and I won't be publishing analysis closely associated with the inner doings or motivations of RAGE or NC. 

I will also avoid analysis that might be interpreted as RAGE or NC spin on events. There's already enough of that going on in the forms and blogosphere. I sometimes step in to deflate the hyperbole of partisan debate, or to illuminate and interesting bit of the metagame. Going forward, if I've a big dog in the fight, I'll bite my lip and stay out of it.

It's all about the trust.

I'm going to miss commenting from the comfort of an obscure corporation with no ties to the major players in New Eden. Still, I'm looking forward to seeing the great game up close and personal.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Interlude Secundus

I was setting up the quires for a new manuscript when the door from the library burst open and the United Express delivery guy staggered into the room. He had his hand over his mouth and nose, and turned his face from me as he stumbled toward the exit at Fiddler's Edge. Nevertheless, I noticed the blood streaking his fingers and dripping from them onto the floor.

The front door slammed behind him and I sat blinking. After a moment, I put my work down and walked over to the still-open library door, my mind turning toward thoughts of OSHA, liability and umbrella policies.

Inside, Jenny, my research librarian, was on her hands and knees next to her desk. In one hand she held a spray-bottle of cleanser. The other held a large wad of paper towels she was using to soak up a puddle of blood next to the desk.

"Jenny," I said quietly, "What happened to the delivery man?"

"Oh, him," she said without looking up. "I had to shush him."

"Shush him?"

"Mmm-hmm. Hand me the some more paper towels."

I handed her the roll of paper towels sitting on the desk.

"The guy was bleeding," I said.

"Duh," she said, gesturing at the stain on the rug. "Of course he was bleeding. I slammed his face into this desk."

"You just said you shushed him! Slamming peoples' heads into furniture is not shushing!"

"Well of course it is," she said, spritzing more cleanser on the rug. "'Shushing' is professional librarian-speak for any etiquette-related correction delivered to a library patron. It covers everything from wagging a finger to gun-play."  

"Library etiquette?"

"Yeah. Etiquette. You know; no eating or drinking, no loud talking, respect your fellow readers. No touching the librarian's ass without permission."

"Wait, I'm sorry," I shook my head. "He did what?"

"He put his hand on my ass."

"On your..."

She sat back on her heels and brushed a stray lock of hair back from her forehead.

"I was up on the ladder putting the Icelandic manuscripts back into climate control. All of a sudden I felt someone's hand on my ass. I look down that there's the delivery guy grinning up at me."

"You were groped by the United Express guy?"

She gave a thoughtful look.

"Well, I am wearing the grey wool suit today. It's a bit of a librarian cliche. Fits a little snug in the skirt; a real turn-on for the librarian fetishists."

"Librarian fetishists?"

"Sure, you'd be surprised how many mouth-breathers hang around libraries nursing fantasies of a romp in the biography section with a smokin'-yet-repressed librarian.

"So," I summarized, "Inappropriate touching, librarian fetishist, and then you kicked his ass."

"Shushed him," She said sternly, holding up an admonishing finger.

"Then you shushed him," I corrected myself.

"Well, first I asked him if he'd read any Proust."


She looked at me over her glasses.

"Yes, Proust. French writer? À la Recherche Du Temps Perdu?" 

"I know who Proust is," I growled. "But what does he have to do with this?" 

"Well, I'll forgive a man who reads Proust an awful lot."

"I see," I said. "Had he? Read Proust, that is?"

She rolled her eyes and held up the wad of bloody paper towels.

"So," I said. "No Proust."

"Goes to show," She said as she turned her attention back to the rug, "Ignorance is a dangerous thing."

Monday, November 15, 2010

Legio Pandemic Delenda Est

One can do anything with bayonets except sit on them - Thomas Hardy
If there wasn't a war going on, Pandemic Legion (PL) would have to invent one.

As the largest, and arguably the most effective mercenary entity in New Eden, Pandemic Legion makes its living by taking sides on the various wars going on in nullsec. They are costly to the point that only the major alliances or coalitions can afford to hire them for any length of time. Which means that nullsec warfare, with its new-found dependency on large fleets of titans and super-carriers, has taken another step toward becoming a rich man's game.

Pandemic Legion made the decision to give up any sovereign nullsec space it owned earlier this year and dedicate itself entirely to mercenary Sov conflict. It was a key player in the fall of Atlas and the roll-back of Against All Authorities (-A-). It is presently occupied in an enfilading attack against the Northern Coalition (NC) in an effort to relieve pressure on the Drone Russians (RUS) who have effectively lost The Kalevala Expanse in their current war with the NC.While they are ostensibly open to being hired by anyone, Pandemic Legion shows a marked preference for hiring out to certain preferred clients.

Having no nullsec space of their own, Pandemic Legion is like a malevolent lily of the field; neither toiling nor spinning, but happily living in the space of one or two frequent patrons. This makes them particularly hard to counter. Dominion Sov rules favor being on offense, and having no territory of their own, Pandemic has no need to defend unless it's in their contract; and you'll note Pandemic has yet to sign up for a defensive fight.

With no sovereign space of their own, Pandemic Legion has only one thing to fear, and that's an end to the current destabilization in nullsec. Without lucrative wars to fight it would quickly tear itself apart. The Pandemic Legion culture thrives on conflict and its pilots would quickly become discontent and prone to internal mischief if not provided a steady diet of external mayhem.

This makes Pandemic a threat even to those with pockets deep enough to hire it.

Eventually, one of three things must happen: 1) Pandemic Legion will be betrayed and destroyed by one of its preferred patrons. 2) Pandemic Legion will betray one or more of its preferred patrons in order to "reset" an overly stable nullsec map. 3) Pandemic Legion will reach a point where it can no longer maintain cohesion and split into a number of separate entities.

Before that happens, I expect PL will do a great deal of damage to the nullsec game, acting as a prop to rich alliances and coalitions that normally would contract or fall due to internal weakness or external threats. Even those who currently benefit from hiring Pandemic Legion are, in the long run, threatened by it. New Eden cannot wait for matters to run their natural course.

Pandemic Legion must be destroyed.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Noblesse Oblige

Let's talk a little bit about the nullsec lord-vassal relationship.

Back in the early Autumn, things were going very well for The Initiative alliance. With a bit of help from White Noise and a lot of help from Pandemic Legion, they were merrily rolling through the territories formerly occupied by Against All Authorities (-A-) and their renter alliance AAA Citizens.

And that, my friends, was a lot of space.

It's so much space, in fact, that The Initiative went in knowing they couldn't digest the whole thing. Not all at once, anyway. So, they did what smart invaders like William the Conqueror have done since time immemorial. They went out and found some ambitious fighters looking to upgrade their circumstances and offered them land in exchange for their support during the invasion and their fealty afterward. In this case, The Initiative chose two alliances; Circle of Two, a nullsec dwelling alliance from Providence, and Dead Terrorists (DT) a lowsec PvP alliance as their prospective new vassals.

As the fighting wound down and -A- was ejected from its territory, Co2 was installed as the new lords of Impass. For its loyal service, DT was granted the western half of Feythabolis, space taken from Red.Overlord during the -A- invasion, with the eastern half of the Region going to White Noise.

With -A- ejected from their former holdings and South Russian alliances largely pushed out of the desired regions, it looked like Miller time for the invaders. Nothing left to do but mop up the last pockets of resistance and wait for -A- to failscade. Surely, the leadership at The Initiative thought, a job our trusty new vassals can manage on their own. So, The Initiative turned its attention to consolidating its hold on Catch and settling into its vast new holdings, released Pandemic Legion from its contract and left DT and Co2 to manage post-invasion clean-up. So far, so good.

Or so it seemed.

Much has been written as to why -A- lost its territory so quickly. Much of that commentary dwells heavily on the "-A- decayed internally and, like a tree hollowed out by rot, broke and splintered when the winds of invasion blew" school of thought. Even today you'll hear reference in various forums and blogs to the Atlas and -A- failscades. However, -A- did not failscade. Facts on the ground suggest that, while the invasion occurred at a time when -A- was weakened by internal conflicts, it was by no means a dead-on-its-feet alliance.

It appears that the -A- leadership saw early on that their pre-Dominion fleets were not a match for the invading forces, particularly those of Pandemic Legion. Further, the invaders were leveraging the Dominion sov rules and attacking on many fronts, denying -A- the opportunity to concentrate their defensive forces save in a few pockets. Faced with this reality, -A- leadership gambled that they would be able to hold their forces together despite a loss of territory. Instead of spending their forces grinding out a system by system defense, the -A- forces largely withdrew to NPC nullsec and Stain Empire's sphere of influence. Thus, while The Initiative and their allies took -A-'s space with relative ease, -A- finished the invasion with their forces largely intact, on good terms with their Southern Russian allies, and within striking distance of The Initiative and their vassals Co2 and DT. 

Rather than recognize the degree of threat this represented, The Initiative appears to have made the mistake of believing their own propaganda. Not only did they expect their new Vassals, one of which was new to nullsec, to deal with the seasoned Southern Russian coalition forces, they appear to have utterly mishandled the lord/vassal relationship.

Nullsec is not lowsec. Nullsec sovereignty wars run at an entirely different scale and tempo than anything that happens in lowsec. Even a good lowsec PvP outfit with some experience in the occasional POS bash is going to go through an adjustment period when they move into nullsec. If they're lucky, they get a little breathing room in which to settle into their systems and make the transition. If they're lucky, their host alliance will keep a close eye on them and make sure they're not getting overwhelmed during their transition.

DT was not lucky.

Once Pandemic Legion finished out its contract and left, the Southern Russian alliance began an offensive against DT and Co2. In one of the early engagements at AZN-D2, DT lost thirteen carriers, two supercarriers and a Titan. Despite their vassals being obviously outmatched and calling for assistance, The Initiative seemed slow to respond. Meanwhile, -A-, Stain Empire and Red.Overlord continued to tear at the DT and Co2 forces. By the time The Initiative mobilized forces to support their vassals, DT was reeling and showing the symptoms of near-collapse from a morale standpoint, with pilots failing to show for Calls To Arms (CTAs), failing to support coalition strategic objectives and, in some cases, demanding that the alliance return to lowsec.

This is the point where a smart warlord would recognize that they'd underestimated their enemies and overestimated their vassals. Obviously, some morale-building was in order. Both DT and C02 had been through the meat grinder. Co2, having cut its teeth in nullsec Providence had weathered the pressure better, but both Alliances were hurting and in need of back-up along with a little war-lord love and give-em-hell encouragement.  

What they got was a big dose of blame and humiliation.

It a textbook example of how not to lead in a crisis, Initiative co-leader Codin Plaks excoriated his vassals, wondering why The Initiative should bother riding to their rescue given their incompetence. Most readers of The Edge will have seen the transcripts, taken from a coalition leadership convo. DT's Count Atreidies is pointedly singled out for public humiliation, effectively guaranteeing DT's withdrawal from the coalition. When DT did attempt to leave shortly after, they were declared KOS by The Initiative and hunted down by their former allies. 

The above actions, while possibly satisfying for Plaks in the short term, have done The Initiative more harm than good. A leader who behaves in this way in a crisis is a leader not in control of the situation. It is a surprising show of weakness that will not have escaped the notice of the wolves of nullsec. Further, this undermines the loyalty and morale of The Initiative's other vassals and allies, who may doubt The Initiatives' willingness to follow through on promises of support, and leave Co2 wondering if they'll be hung out to dry the next time Plaks has a fit of temper. 

While I've advocated bringing in vassal alliances to help control one's sphere of influence, I caution against assuming that the Lord/Vassal relationship is pretty much a one way street: The lord saying "Vassal, get thine spotty nether regions thence, and fetch unto me my croissant and coffee." And the vassal, falling at the lord's feet and cringing in a manner most pleasing to his liege, saying "I'faith, oh most potent of potentates, wouldst thou have a plain croissant, or a pan au chocolate?"

To be successful, the relationship between nullsec warlord and vassal must be reciprocal. This is New Eden, after all, and you have vassals only so long as they choose to serve you. Your relationship is not institutional as it is in the military, nor is it forced on one side or the other by accident of geography. It is a personal relationship in which obligation flows both ways, and it works best when each side trusts the other. A vassal who will tolerate your scorn is not a vassal worth having. If The Initiative continues in this vein, that is the only type of vassal they'll be able to attract.

Friday, November 5, 2010


Early in their present conflict with the Northern Coalition (NC), it was widely assumed that the Drone Russians (RUS) would quickly spank the NC forces and bounce them from the Drone Regions. However, weeks later, the invasion of that space continues with the NC pressing the Russians on several fronts.

In the Kalevala Expanse, RAGE, Cold Steel and Brick Squad are in possession of roughly half the region and appear to be tightening the noose around R10-GN, while at the same time striking targets of opportunity in the remaining Legion/Shadow of Death and Bloodbound systems. Ratting activity is virtually flat-lined in the region with the exception of the three terminus systems of the 78-6RI constellation held by Shadow of Death, where the single threaded pipeline gives ample warning of any NC forces approaching; Colossal Cube is apparently banking as much ISK as they can in anticipation of a long winter.

While the NC fleets in Etherium Reach continue to harry RUS forces and renters in that region, they have not taken systems beyond LXQ2-T. The key market hub of R-6KYM in the outpost-rich 6-TT8Z constellation is an obvious next target, and there's been a healthy level of combat activity in that area. However, NC may be biding its time; picking up some good fights in a target rich constellation and applying pressure in Etherium Reach to pin down the RUS super cap fleet while NC forces in Kalevala finish off conquest of that region. That would free up sufficient NC forces to hold LXQ while attacking multiple RUS outposts in the Reach simultaneously.

For their part, the Drone Russian forces seem a bit conflicted of late.

On one hand they are a well financed coalition made up of seasoned PvP alliances. They are collectively in possession of the largest Super Cap fleet in all New Eden. At the same time, those ships represent significant financial asset and Legion of Death, Red Alliance, et al are wisely cautious about committing them where a target's value isn't an offset to potential losses. Further, the concentration of power represented by that fleet is, well, concentrated, while the combination of being on defense coupled with the diffused nature of their NC opponents ' forces doesn't allow RUS an obvious place to employ that power without the danger of it being drawn into a high-risk lag-fest.

While RUS forces in Kalevala and the Reach would certainly like to deliver a major blow to the invading forces, I don't have the sense that the coalition at large is overly concerned with NC's invasion. Their take-down of Atlas Alliance and AAA has given them additional, richer territories beyond the Drone Regions. As their forces and renters spread out to occupy this new real estate, the NC attack on the old neighborhood may carry less urgency than it once did; more an opportunity for good fights than a genuine threat. Otherwise, White Noise (though always a bit of an outlier in the coalition) would not be off attacking Systematic-Chaos in Period Basis, IT Alliance's back yard.

There are likely factions within the RUS coalition of the opinion that NC will eventually get bored and go home, after which the Drone Russians will simply reoccupy their space and reinstall their renters. However, once relocated to other systems in RUS space, those renters may be reluctant to return. Legion/Shadow of Death were losing renters even before the invasion. Memories of the high rents and hardscrabble ways of Etherium Reach under Legion will not have their former tenants yearning for a quick return.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Perceived Polarity

The World has changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was, is lost. 

In his latest blog post, The Tri-Polar Galaxy, the Mittani laments what he perceives as a collapse of nullsec's formerly diverse landscape of power and politics.
2009 saw the apex of the traditional bloc as an entity. At on point, there was Pandemic Legion, Goonswarm, IT Alliance, The Northern Coalition, the 'Drone Russians' (Solar Fleet, Legion of Death, Red Alliance), Atlas Alliance, the 'Southern Russians' (AAA, Red Overlord, Stain Empire). Each of these entities had roughly independent political destinies, different leadership styles, and was a force to be reckoned with in their own right.
Now, according to the Mittani, that beautiful dance of powers has collapsed into a tri-polar galaxy. There, three monstrous power blocs, The Drone Russians, The Northern Coalition and  IT Alliance, hold sway over New Eden. We face, he says, a future without political diversity in nullsec, with a fixed set of players hunkered down behind static borders.

As usual in Mittani-land, the source of this bleak future is the Dominion Sov mechanics which, he asserts, makes defending space far too easy and quashes diversity. 

Piffle, I say.

Now, while I don't piffle the Mittani lightly, in this case he needs a serious piffling. In order to make the case that nullsec power has been consolidated into the hands of a very few at the expense of the many, he has to dispense with much that is evident in the current political churn - to filter out obvious facts and trends that don't support his line of reasoning.

First of all, the Mittani's case for a static, tripolar universe assumes Dominion favors the defender more than did the old POS-based sovereignty model. In fact, as I wrote in Paradigm Shift, the opposite is true; and the pace and volume of combat-related territory turn-overs since Dominion bears this out. The Mittani suggests that alliances like Atlas fell because they had rotted from the inside. However, if Dominion so favors the defender, even a weakened Atlas should have been able to defend itself. In fact, the alliances that have fallen so far did so because their combat tactics and command structure had not adapted to the up-tempo Dominion paradigm.

Secondly, the idea that we are down to only three nullsec power blocs doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

The Mittani lumps The Initiative, which owns large swaths of former AAA space, into the IT Alliance coalition. He gives no real reason for this alignment and, aside from the cooperation shown at the end of the Catch Invasion against AAA, there's no reason to think that their current non-aggression is so much a matter of common cause and political unity as it is mutual convenience. The Initiative, Systematic-Chaos, Circle of Two and Dead Terrorists, known collectively as the Central South Coalition, meet all of the Mittani's criteria for a distinct power block, separate from IT Alliance.

Consider Atlas Alliance and Against All Authorities. The corporations that comprised Atlas have not simply evaporated. For the most part they have formed or joined new alliances. Meanwhile, though deprived of nearly all its space, AAA is still is a viable alliance. It and the rest of the Southern Russian Coalition are diminished, but still a non-trivial force in nullsec.

Any discussion of Goonswarm as an entity separate from the Northern coalition is dismissed by the Mittani as "...tedious and irrelevant to a practical analysis". This is analyst-speak for "I don't have a succinct counter-argument and it messes up my central thesis".  It's hardly a compelling line of reason, and somebody please slap me if I ever use it. Whether or not Goonswarm and Test Alliance (aka the Deklein Coalition) constitute an independent power bloc remains an open, arguable, question.

Pandemic Legion is dismissed from the ranks of nullsec power blocs by the Mittani, despite the fact that they've been playing King-maker in the post-Dominion nullsec, because they hold no territory. Holding territory is apparently central to the Mittani's definition of a "traditional" power bloc. This seems to say more about the inflexibility of the Mittani's definitions than it does about whether PL is a power in nullsec. A power bloc definition that excludes an entity whose support is a key factor in any major nullsec conflict is not a terribly useful definition.

Finally, having said all this, let me agree with the Mittani that we are seeing a shift away from the traditional power bloc structure as he knew them back in his pre-Dominion days.

However, I don't see influence coalescing for any length of time around a few actors. I think just the opposite is occurring. We are seeing the the breakdown of the old power bloc system into something much more fluid - pocket coalitions of smaller alliances that coalesce into larger political entities, break down and then reform into new entities; constantly shifting in response to political, military and economic conditions.