Thursday, 12 February 2015

Wanton Gods pt.II: A Modest Proposal

This post is the second in a series; you can find part one here.

"...having turned my thoughts for many years upon this important subject, and maturely weighed the several schemes of other projectors, I have always found them grossly mistaken in the computation." - Swift, A Modest Proposal

Two years ago Ripard Teg tackled the topic of in-game ship crews, a notion that's been on the table at CCP, and in the dreams of players like me, for a long time. Ripard rightly pointed out that there were some fundamental problems with a lot of the ideas that have been put forward to date; to paraphrase:

(1) - it would be too easy to game any experience system by "giving [an] alt 100 T1 cruisers and blapping them slowly with fighters";
(2) - it would further widen the gap between veteran and novice players (already huge because of maxed-out skills, boosters, bling, etc)
(3) - it would funnel high-end crews towards high-sec PvE at the expense of PvP;
(4) - it would tend to increase risk-aversion in PvP.

He'd never seen a workable proposal that addressed these concerns, and neither have I - but I where he sees a problem, I see a game design challenge, so since reading that post I've been chewing, on and off, on a way to make crews work. Here's my proposal: tell me why I'm wrong.

EDIT: Sugar Kyle very kindly commented on these ideas, in a post where she expressed her own misgivings about the notion of crews disturbing her congenial shipboard solitude. The comments went off on various pleasing in-character tangents, prompting a follow-up from Sugar that had me chortling.


Nearly every ship will require a crew to undock; larger (more expensive) crews are required for larger ships, and more skilled (more expensive) crews are required to use advanced ships and high-meta fittings. Basic low-skilled crews will be quite cheap.

When a ship is destroyed, its crew automatically and safely ejects in a pod, which appears off-grid. The crew can then be rescued by the owner, or by a contracted rescuer - or kidnapped by hostiles and re-educated for re-use or re-sale. Crew rescue and kidnapping requires ships to be in space and provides various opportunities for piracy.

Crews gain experience through PvP (kills and losses) under strictly limited circumstances, which then allows them to be trained to a higher skill level. Recruitment of low-skilled crews is only possible through PI on temperate planets in low-sec space; training and re-education is carried out in POS modules or mobile deployables which cannot be anchored in high-sec.

Design goals:

I have tried to:
 - ensure that any increase in crew value through experience is always less than the associated value of destroyed ships, so that grinding for crew experience would always be a loss-making activity (see 1 above);
 - impose additional costs for veterans' toys, such as extravagant fittings and very large ships (see 2);
 - limit additional benefits beyond those already accruing to veterans to be minimal or zero (see 2);
 - avoid increasing, and tend to mitigate, the cost of subcap ship loss in PvP (see 3 & 4);
 - provide a new source of income for small-gang and solo PvPers, especially in lowsec (see 3);
 - recruitment & training should tend to transfer wealth from high-SP to lower-SP characters (PI and FW are both an example and a warning, with due respect to Malcanis' law);
 - create a new, accessible profession for players who enjoy fast-paced, short-spell PvE with an element of risk;
 - create new ways for pirates to ambush other players and generally ruin their day by doing horrible things to their beloved crew;
 - avoid making ship fitting choices any more complex than they already are (but see pt.III to follow);
 - avoid the need for obviously difficult or expensive development (unforeseen difficulties are always possible because of legacy code weirdness);
 - offer the simplest possible system that meets these goals.

In pt.III I will suggest modifications to this core system which would offer increased complexity and more interesting gameplay choices.

Lore hand-waving:

Crews are tradable commodities because their contracts can be bought and sold, a bit like football players. Some members of Amarr crews might be slaves, but others will be paid employees. Staff turnover, salaries and so forth are not modelled by this system; salary costs are assumed to be negligible and/or included in contract fees. Recruitment is possible only from temperate planets in low-security Empire space; direct recruitment by capsuleers in high-sec is illegal in all empires, and planets in null-sec and wormholes are too sparsely populated to sustain recruitment efforts.

Crew size

Crews come in five sizes (small, medium, large, capital, supercapital) and five skill levels (I-V). Demobilized (packaged) crews can be stacked and traded on the market, combined with other crews of the same size & skill level to form larger crews, or split into multiple smaller crews, retaining their skill level. Once mobilized (assembled), crews can be assigned (fitted) to ships or exchanged via contracts, separately or as assigned to an assembled ship. Mobilized crews not assigned to a ship can be demobilized at any time; this causes the loss of any experience they may have gained (see below).

Apart from rookie ships and tech 1 frigates, all ships require a crew; ships without the minimum required crew cannot undock. Crews are assigned to ships via the fitting window; most ships have two or three crew slots, each of which takes a crew of the appropriate size - as with rigs, except that there are "supercapital" crews.

This roughly matches the crew sizes outlined here.

Ship typeCrew requiredCrew slotsCrew sizeCrew vol.Escape pod vol.
Shuttle, Rookienonenone---
Tech 1 Frigatenonetwosmall - 5 individuals10m340m3
All other frigatesonetwo
Cruisers, Mining Bargesonetwomedium - 25ppl - smallx550m3200m3
Battlecruisers, Industrialstwothree
Battleshipsonetwolarge - 100ppl - smallx20200m3800m3
Carrier, Freighteronetwocapital - 400ppl - smallx80800m34x800m3
Dreadnought, Rorqualtwothree
Supercarrieronetwosupercapital - 1600ppl - smallx3203200m316x800m3

Only the most skilled ("primary") crew has any direct effect on the ship; any second or third crew assigned is "secondary". Secondary crews can gain experience (see below), and are required for some ships (see above), but have no other effect.

Crew skill

Crews of all sizes come in five skill levels (I-V). Only the primary (most skilled) crew of the ship have any direct effect on performance.

The effect of crew skill is to cap the effectiveness of advanced ships, equipment, boosters and implants. A lvl I crew is sufficient for tech 1 ships with tech 1 or low meta equipment, with synth boosters and no implants; more advanced alternatives require more highly skilled crews as follows:

Skill levelShip typesModulesBoostersHardwiring implantsPirate implants
ITech 1Tech 1 & low metaSynthnonenone
IINavy FactionTech 2Standard1-2%low-grade
IIITech 2 & Pirate factionFaction & storylineImproved3-4%mid-grade
IVTech 3DeadspaceStrong5-6%high-grade
VTournament & special edition (Emergency Responder etc)Officer---

Legacy code permitting, crew skill could also limit the effectiveness of fleet boosts and mindlinks.

Advanced ships cannot undock without a primary crew of the required skill level. If a pilot uses modules, boosters or implants that are beyond the skill level of the crew, they are reduced in effectiveness to match the most advanced module/booster/implant compatible with the crew's skill. Fitting requirements and skill pre-requisites are not affected.

Example: Spike Azabuyer has optimistically fit a faction shield booster to his Navy Raven, but has only assigned a lvl II crew, so it functions as a Tech 2 shield booster instead. He probably ought to stick with Tech 2 until he can train or buy a better crew. However, the faction module is easier to fit and has lower skill requirements, so he might choose to fly it anyway.

If the crew's skill is higher than the minimum required for the ship, boosters and implants, and higher than the minimum required for fitted modules of a given category, the ship gains corresponding bonuses. This allows high-end crews to improve the performance of more modest ships & equipment, without giving additional advantages to pilots who are already making full use of other bonuses. The following is based on an idea by Neville Smit.

Offensive (weapons): 1% bonus to rate of fire per additional skill level
Propulsion (including agility mods): 1% bonus to speed
Defensive (all tank modules): 1% bonus to hit points
Electronics (including EWAR and sensor mods): 1% bonus to targeting range & EWAR range
Engineering (including all cap & fitting mods): 1% bonus to capacitor recharge

Example: Frosty Tuskerson is flying his beloved Navy Hookbill with a lvl III primary crew, which is one level better than the minimum required for the ship. His fit is mostly tech 2, but he has fitted a faction point and afterburner. As such, his crew gives him a 1% bonus to rate of fire, hit points and cap recharge. The crew are only adequately skilled for his faction prop and EWAR mods, so he gains no additional bonuses to point range or speed. If he takes an improved booster or flies with a mid-grade pirate implant, he will lose these bonuses.

Frosty also uses the same crew when flying his Hawk (Assault Frigate) and Dramiel (Pirate frigate). This crew has the minimum skill level needed for these ships, which gain no additional bonuses as a result.

Escape & Rescue

When a ship is destroyed, the crew automatically escape; this can be explained in the lore as new technology powered by a single-use emergency warp drive. Crew escape pods of an appropriate size appear in space off-grid after a short delay, around 1 million km from the wreck (similar to log-off warp spots). Secondary crews have separate pods. There are no capital escape pods; capital and supercapital crews are divided between multiple large pods (see above), which all appear in separate locations. Additional crews carried in the cargohold do not escape through these mechanics, they are randomly lost or remain in the wreck, as for other loot. Mobilised crews retrieved from wrecks are automatically demobilized, but kidnapped crews retain their kidnapped status (see below).

Once in space, escape pods can be found only with combat probes. By default they are very difficult to scan down:

Large escape pod: requires an optimised scanning ship with near-perfect skills to get a 100% warpable hit.
Medium escape pod: requires a perfectly optimised Covert Ops ship with perfect skills.
Small escape pod: requires all of the above plus mid-grade Virtue implants.

However, the crew's owner gains a substantial bonus to signal strength on their own escape pods, making them scannable with basic skills and a tech 1 scanning frigate fitted with tech 1 equipment; the aim here is that even new characters should be able to rescue their own crew.

On warping to the signature, the owner lands 25-50 km from the pod, and needs to slowboat to it; this creates a window of opportunity for pirates and kidnappers. The pod is not warpable, and the distance here is selected to prevent MJD from being used to cut the journey short. Once within normal cargo transfer range (2500m), the owner can transfer the crew to their cargohold. This takes up the volume required for the crew only; the empty escape pod disappears from space like a jetcan.

Escape pods disappear from space after 12 - (5 x (truesec +1)) hours, e.g. 2hrs in 1.0 highsec, 6.5hrs in 0.1 lowsec, 12hrs in -1.0 nullsec. The crew's subsequent fate is as follows:
Empire station systems: crew has a truesec/1 chance of being rescued and taken to the nearest station; if so they are demobilised and their contract put on the market as an NPC sell order at market average +5% to "defray rescue costs". This is a potentially significant ISK sink. Crews not rescued are lost.
NPC nullsec: crew is lost, possibly killed or abducted by local pirates (see pt.III for further ideas).
Nullsec outpost system: a sov upgrade could allow the sov holder to appropriate lost crews for resale.
Non-station system: crew is lost.

Crews lost through these mechanics should provide a sufficient "crew sink" to prevent runaway inflation, but if necessary, the chance of automatic rescue in station systems can be reduced, and higher rates of crew attrition can be added to the training mechanics to sustain demand (see below).

Crew Kidnapping

All crews carry tracking implants that broadcast a status signal, so pilots are fully informed of the fate of their crew through the notification system. Rescue, loss, kidnapping or murder are all immediately communicated to the pilot. If the crew are kidnapped and taken to another system, the owner is notified of which system they are in at any time.

Example notifications:
  • Your crew <Newbiecrew2> have escaped the destruction of your ship in Nennamaila and await rescue within 8.5 hours. Create rescue contract?
  • Your crew <Freighteralt's large crew 4> in Niarja have been rescued by local authorities. Their employment contract has been placed on the market to defray rescue costs.
  • You have rescued the kidnapped crew <HelplessKittens> belonging to Rainbow Flash. Create ransom contract?
  • Your crew <Newbiecrew2> in BG-B0Y have been kidnapped by ScaryPirate94! Create ransom contract?
  • Contract cancelled: rescue contract for <Newbiecrew2>.
  • Newbie Bravekid has offered a ransom for their crew <Newbiecrew2>. Click to view contract.
  • ScaryPirate94 has demanded a ransom for your kidnapped crew <Newbiecrew2>. Click to view contract.
  • Your kidnapped crew <Newbiecrew2> have been taken to VFK-IV.
  • Your kidnapped crew <Newbiecrew2> are being re-educated in VFK-IV. The process is expected to take 72hrs.
  • Your kidnapped crew <Newbiecrew2> have been murdered by NastyGoon746! Click to view camera drone footage.
  • Contract cancelled: ransom for <Newbiecrew2>.

There are two ways for players to kidnap unfriendly crews from their escape pods:

1. If a player successfully scans down and warps to another player's escape pod, they land on-grid 25-50km from the pod (as for the owner), but the pod will be moving at 1-3km/s (see above) in a random direction in a 90 degree arc away from the landing point. As the pod is not warpable, it will need to be chased down, e.g. by a fast MWD-fit frigate. Stasis webifiers can be used to reduce the speed of the escape pod. 
The escape pod can be shot and destroyed, killing the crew (a criminal act in high- and low-sec), or hacked using a data analyser. Starting the hack gives the player a suspect flag in high- and low-sec. If the hack is successful, the pod stops moving; the escape pod can then be loaded as cargo into any ship within 2500m (note the larger cargo size of escape pods). If the hack is unsuccessful, or if the pod leaves grid, it warps to a new location within 1m km and must be scanned down again. 
2. Alternatively, once the crew's owner has initiated warp to the escape pod, the pod will stop moving, and become directly accessible without hacking. Anyone else warping to the signature will then land 25-50km from the pod as usual. This makes it possible to kidnap a crew from under the owner's nose, and to ambush rescue ships.

Once captured, a kidnapped crew cannot be immediately used in other ships; they must first be re-educated. Meanwhile, they must be kept in a secure facility, which requires additional space; the in-game effect is that they remain in their (bulky) escape pod until re-education is complete. Re-education requires the use of a mobile deployable or POS module, and takes several days. The owner is notified when re-education begins and the system where the crew are being held, giving them the opportunity to mount a rescue operation if they wish.

If crew are removed from a re-education center or facility by a third party before the re-education process is complete, they remain unfriendly to the rescuers; they can only be re-educated or returned to their original owners via the contract system. If the re-education process is interrupted for any reason, it fails and must restart from the beginning.

Mobile Re-education Facility - mobile deployable
Capacity: 200m3 (one medium or five small crews)
Reinforcement timer as for Mobile Depots, with a 48-hour recovery window.
Re-education time: 72 hrs
Cannot be deployed in high-sec, or inside a POS shield.
Access: Facility must first be reinforced; it can then be accessed by hacking after 24hrs, or destroyed after 48hrs. Can be scooped at any time by the owner.
Owner is notified of hacking attempts, but there are no attack notifications.

Re-education Center - POS module
Capacity: 3200m3 (four large crews, equivalent to one capital crew)
Reinforcement timer: none; depends on POS shield for protection.
Re-education time: 144 hrs
Cannot be deployed in highsec.
Access: open to all; this would normally be deployed inside a POS shield for security.
Owner is notified of all access, including viewing, adding or removing crews.
Once re-educated, captured crews become a demobilized crew of the same size and skill level as before, and can be traded and used by any capsuleer. The previous owner receives a final notification that the re-education process is complete:

  • Your former crew <Newbiecrew2> have been successfully re-educated in VFK-IV. Their employment contract has been annulled.
  • Contract cancelled: ransom for <Newbiecrew2>.

Crews and escape pods carried as cargo cannot escape; if the ship is destroyed, they may be lost, or remain in the wreck as loot. Looted crews are automatically demobilized, meaning that they can be used by any capsuleer without the need for re-education. Kidnapped crews looted in their escape pods remain hostile to the rescuers, and must be re-educated or returned to the original owners via the contract system.

Trade & Contracts

Demobilized crew can be freely traded on the market. Any crew, including mobilized crew (with or without experience) and kidnapped crews (in escape pods) can be transferred through item exchange contracts. Kidnapped crews, if transferred, remain unfriendly to their new owners, and must be re-educated or returned to their original owner.

Rescue contracts: The notification system offers the pilot the option to create a rescue contract for any missing crew. This is similar to a courier contract; it can be public, private or corporate, the owner sets a destination station for the crew, there is an option to set collateral (to prevent crew theft by "rescuers") and a fee to the rescuer. Anyone accepting such a contract (and paying the collateral) can rescue a crew from space as if they were that crew's owner; the collateral is returned to them when the crew is delivered to the destination station. Rescue contracts are automatically cancelled if the crew is kidnapped by a third party; if the contract has already been accepted, the rescuer loses their collateral. As a consequence, rescuers will want to accept rescue contracts only at the last possible moment, when they are ready to scan for the escape pod.

Ransom contracts: Kidnappers are offered the option to set up a private ransom contract with the crew's owner - the owner can choose whether to accept or reject this. Owners of captured crew are offered the option to set up a ransom contract for their return; this contract is visible to anyone holding the crew in question.


New lvl I crews are recruited only through PI on temperate planets in lowsec space. Capsuleers can recruit crews by placing a Recruitment Center on any such planet where they have installed a Command Center.

Recruitment Center (RC)
Build cost: 2,000,000 ISK
Powergrid: 8500 MW
CPU: 7000 tf

Note that a level 2 Command Center is sufficient to run a Recruitment Center, but due to the high powergrid & cpu costs, it is never possible to operate more than two RCs on the same planet.

An RC recruits crews at a standard rate (~20 small crews in 24 hrs) which varies with security status; lower sec planets recruits faster, as the population are more desperate. If more than one RC is placed on the same planet by any player, all RCs on that planet suffer stacking penalties according to the usual formula (2 RCs operate at 86.9%, 3 RCs operate at 57.1%, etc). As a consequence, multiple RCs on the same planet recruit more crew in total, but each RC is less productive.

Storage Facilities are not designed to accommodate crew; the additional facilities required mean that the crew takes up additional storage space, equivalent to escape pod volume (40m3 per small crew) rather than the normal crew volume. Crew cannot be transferred to Customs Offices from a Launchpad; they must be launched into space in shuttles (cans) from the Command Center.

It would be possible to enrich the gameplay of this system, presumably through a more comprehensive reworking of PI in general. The main aim here is to concentrate recruitment in low-sec, and to include an element of risk (ships in space) in the process.

Training & Experience

Recruits cannot immediately be used as crews; they must first be trained off-planet in a Training facility.

Mobile Training Facility - mobile deployable
Capacity: 200m3 (20 small crews, 4 medium, 1 large)
Reinforcement timer as for Mobile Depots, with a 48-hour recovery window.
Training time: 72 hrs
Cannot be deployed in high-sec, or inside a POS shield.
Access: Facility must first be reinforced; it can then be accessed by hacking after 24hrs, or destroyed after 48hrs. Can be scooped at any time by the owner.
Owner is notified of hacking attempts, but there are no attack notifications.

Training Center - POS module
Capacity: 800m3 (4 large crews, sufficient for one capital)
Reinforcement timer: none; depends on POS shield for protection.
Training time: 144 hrs
Cannot be deployed in highsec.
Access: open to all; this would normally be deployed inside a POS shield for security.
Owner is notified of all access, including viewing, adding or removing crews.

All crews are highly trained in the relevant disciplines, using the most advanced techniques available, but only testing in the heat of battle can uncover their true mettle. To train beyond lvl I, crews must first gain experience through PvP.

Once trained to lvl I, crews gain further experience in two ways; through ship loss, and by destroying other ships. Capital and Supercapital crews do not gain experience under any circumstances. Several other conditions must be met:

Ship loss
The crew must not exceed the skill level required for the ship and fitted modules. If any crew skill bonuses apply (see above), the crew cannot gain experience. If crew skill bonuses would apply, but are lost due to implants or boosters in use, the crew cannot gain experience.
The ship must be destroyed in PvP, i.e., at least one player character must appear on the lossmail. Crew do not gain experience if the ship is lost to rats, faction police, etc.
CONCORD must not appear on the lossmail.

Ship destruction
All the above conditions must apply.
The ship must appear as "top damage" on the killmail (crews of assisting ships cannot gain experience).
The skill of the crew on the destroyed ship must not be lower than the skill of the attacking ship (no experience from fighting less-skilled crews).
The destroyed ship must be equal to or better than the attacking ship in size and in technology (no experience from destroying inferior ships).

The effect of all this is that crews gain experience only when flying a ship that matches their skill level, and only when that ship, or a comparable ship, is destroyed in PvP. This sets a hard cap on the potential for gaming the system; for example, lvl IV crews only gain experience (allowing advancement to lvl V) when a tech 3 ship (their own or someone else's) of equal or greater size is destroyed. There's nothing to prevent players from shooting their alts, but this would bring them no financial benefit, as the cost of the ships lost would still greatly outweigh the value of the crew experience gained.

If all these conditions are met, the crew have a chance to become "experienced". The base chance could be around 70%, potentially modified by e.g. Charisma and/or Leadership skills (see also pt.III). Only mobilized crew can gain experience; once demobilized, any experience is lost. Experience does not have any immediate effect, but it allows the crew to be trained to the next level.

The training process brings together multiple experienced crews of equal size and skill, and uses detailed analysis of crew actions during their career, combined with rigorous further testing, to identify those with the potential to progress further. In the process, the most promising individuals are separated from their teams, and reorganised into new crews, distilling their excellence from the rest of the cohort. At higher skill levels, the training is so gruelling that lives are lost in the process. The outcome of the training process, if successful, is a single demobilized crew of a higher skill level; the other (surviving) crews are also demobilized, remaining at their previous skill level and losing their "experienced" status. If the training process is interrupted, all crews from the original cohort are demobilized; there are no deaths, but no progression is possible, and all experience is lost.

The training cohort can be composed of identical crews of any size, as long as the entire cohort fits within the available capacity. All crews in the training cohort must be the same size and skill level, and all must be experienced.

Training cohortOutputDeaths
3x lvl I1x lvl II, 2x lvl Inone
4x lvl II1x lvl III, 3x lvl IInone
7x lvl III1x lvl IV, 5x lvl IIIone lvl III crew
15x lvl IV1x lvl V, 11x lvl IVthree lvl IV crews

The limited capacity of a Training Center makes it impossible to train large crews beyond lvl III; in effect, large crews cannot benefit from experience beyond this level. Medium crews can be trained up to lvl V in a Training Center, so the lvl IV medium crew of a Tech 3 cruiser can still benefit from experience. A Mobile Training Facility cannot train large crews; medium crews can be trained up to lvl III, and small crews up to lvl V.


Jimbob Newbro is a two-week old player who flies tech 1 frigates and destroyers. He can't even fit tech 2 mods yet, so he's fine with a basic (and very cheap) level I crew. He gets one assigned to him at the start, and can get more by completing the career tutorial missions.

A month later, Jimbob can fit tech 2 modules in some slots, so he needs level II crews for the destroyers and cruisers he's flying now. If he's taken care of the small crews he started out with, and taken the plunge into lowsec, he could have several trained up to this level by now; if not he may need to pay a little extra for them.

After three more months, Jimbob is ready for tech 2 frigates. He's not scared of lowsec, so he has a couple of level three crews to fly these ships, but when his shiny new Interceptor gets destroyed, he'll need to make sure he rescues or ransoms the crew, or they will be a bit expensive to replace. He can also fit faction mods to his cruisers, but a level III cruiser crew is a lot of money for him, so this may be a risky choice.

Meanwhile, if Wormy Sleeperbait wants to undock in his blingy tech 3 cruiser, he'll need to invest a decent amount of money in a level IV cruiser crew. It's not all that much for him, but it makes the crew a tempting target for kidnappers if he gets popped.

Finally, Blobster McGoon's Titan alt has to spend tens of billions on a lvl V Supercapital crew in order to make the most of his ridiculously high officer resists. If the ship does finally go boom, the kidnappers will be on them like sharks on chum.


Hopefully nobody will grind for crew experience - not because it would be impossible, but because it would cost money. The system is intended to put money in the pockets of subcap PvPers at the expense of (a) capital and supercap pilots, and (b) people who fly blinged-out ships. It should offer a new source of income for lowsec-dwellers, and open up a new career accessible to newbies who enjoy a dash of risk. Kidnapping, and ambushing rescuers, should also create entertaining and potentially lucrative opportunities for resourceful and well-prepared pirates.

I hope it's also not too nightmarish to implement; there are a few new bonuses and penalties to consider, but nothing that doesn't resemble existing systems. Escape pods in space would probably be the hardest part to program, but even this should be a much quicker job than creating a typical exploration site. "Camera drone footage" of crew killing might also be fiddly, but could be gloriously ghoulish fun if implemented. It may not be possible with existing systems to use hacking modules on a moving target; if it isn't, kidnapping could be tweaked in any number of other ways to make it a non-trivial challenge.

Thank you (both?) for reading this far! I would love to hear your thoughts. Tell me why I'm wrong.

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