Being residents of low-security space, we quite like the idea of a bit of PvP from time to time. But being a small corporation of four active pilots, we would often find ourselves facing overwhelming numbers. So we decided joining an alliance might give us the opportunity to engage in some small fleet combat more regularly.
It fell to me to research our options with the following basic criteria;
- We would like to be able to participate in an active community in a variety of fleet operations, particularly PvP.
- We would maintain the integrity of Greenbeard's Freebooters and would not be asked to merge with another corp.
- We would not have to move our HQ and Industrial interests from the Derelik region.
Art of War had sprung up around Black Claw's Open University of Celestial Hardship training corporation. They comprised a number of small corporations, the whole concept of the alliance was PvP-focused and they operated five jumps from our home system. It was perfect. One brief chat later and our application was in.
After that began our slow descent into mistrust, deceit and betrayal. Read on and decide for yourself:
Day 1 - Giving the Wrong Impression
Our first day of membership saw me attempting to encourage my new alliance colleagues to assist me with a potentially profitable low-sec exploration site, but my candour was misinterpreted as a possible scam and the help I sought was not offered. I covered this incident in more detail in the blogpost 'Who's Running the Asylum'.
Day 2 - Moving in
In an effort to foster some kind of bond with our new alliance colleagues, I spent some time trying in vain to find any kind of fleet or activity to participate in. Nothing seemed to be happening so instead I focused on moving a variety of PvP-fit ships over to a more usefully-located system for future involvement in alliance operations.
I was concerned I was going to look like a bit of a lemon when the other Freebooters came online to find nothing but tumbleweed and dust-devils where there should be a thriving alliance community. Joining was my decision, after all.
Day 3 - The Meet & Greet Fleet
I had arranged to meet the other Freebooters online in the evening so I spent the afternoon attempting to gather interest in some kind of alliance activity. It soon became clear that I needed to take the bull by the horns and set up a Meet & Greet fleet, where myself (flying a Blackbird), Greenbeard (Rupture) and Long Jack (in an overweight Punisher with the agility of a battleship) planned to take a tour of the systems frequented by Art of War in an effort to fly with some of our new alliance colleagues.
Things seemed to be looking up when we were joined by nightshadow25 (in a Thrasher), HoboHansi (Rifter), Dead Ratt (Rifter) and Samuel Hudson (Rifter). I had hoped one of the alliance veterans might take command of the fleet, but sadly no-one was available, so it was down to my inexperienced FCing abilities.
Greenbeard left the fleet a short time later as one of the younger and over-enthusiastic OUCH pilots was becoming increasingly annoying on comms. Greenbeard has many good qualities, but he can't abide any more idiots than the ones he's already stuck with, so he took the diplomatic and less torturous option of spending the evening stroking his face with a cheese-grater.
Due to the fragile nature of our ships, the remainder of us were restricted to trawling the belts for possible combat opportunities, but for over an hour we failed to find a single target of opportunity in numerous systems. When we arrived in Irshah, the Local channel was fairly well populated, so potential targets were surely available.
Dead Ratt, who seemed quite experienced and knowledgable, suggested sending frigates out to scout. I agreed and off they went. Within a (very) short time, Dead Ratt discovered a Maller in a belt in Irshah. I held the squad at a safe-spot until Dead Ratt confirmed tackle, which seemed to take a long time (something about having to close a 50km gap), then we warped in.
The Maller had a very good armour tank and our combined DPS was looking insufficient to the task when suddenly a host of reds (Blackbird x2, Stabber, Thrasher x3, Rifter x2, Kestrel) warped in to support him. Realising it was a trap I attempted to warp the fleet away to safety but unfortunately some of our pilots were already scrambled.
We lost all three of our Rifters, but the rest of us were able to limp away to safety, even Long Jack's fat Punisher. We waited out our Global Criminal Countdown timers and retreated to safer systems.
So far, so ordinary.
Day 4 - War!
I logged in to find that the amusingly titled Clinically Insane Carebears had declared war on Art of War Alliance. It was an interesting turn-up, but given the difficulties we'd had finding PvP so far, it wasn't an entirely unwelcome turn of events. A quick bit of research showed that they had a membership of 60-odd and their description suggested they were a 'griefer corp':
"We are the outcasts of society. You know the ones I am talking about the nerds, geeks, freaks, and spazzes. We are the people everyone talks about behind their backs. We are the people that nobody can stand to be aroud. We are just plain old mean and nasty people. We get our staisfaction by making others miserable. We frame our hate mails to admire for a later date. We do have one good quality though. We treat everyone equally. Why do we do this being that we are mean and nasty people? Its really simple, WE HATE EVERYONE EQUALLY. So please keep the hate mails coming because we will never stop. We will just rejoice in your pain and suffering.
Love and Kisses,
The WACK0's Crew"
Entertainingly sociopathic, but it didn't sound like they we're all that interested in a fair fight. Oh well, beggars can't be choosers.
More interesting, however, was the fact that it turned out that our combat engagement the previous day had been against the very same corporation.
Oops, did I just start a war?
Feeling a bit responsible (although oddly pleased), I though I ought to provide details about our engagement from the previous day. I wrote a brief 'After Action Report' and posted it to the Art of War forum. A section had sprung up for all information concerning the War Declaration, with intel and discussions of war-time procedure and the like.
I read through some guidance notes posted by Black Claw containing suggestions on how to conduct normal business during a wardec, with recommendations to pack up POSs and only use alts for hauling etc. Fairly sensible and obvious stuff, but as it was a training organisation I suppose some newer players might not have been quite so aware of the risks. Instead, I decided to remove the more valuable structures from our POS whilst onlining some more defences and otherwise continued about my low-sec business as normal.
Day 5 - the Art of War Preparation
As intel continued to be gathered on the forums, I spent some time adding all known War Targets to my watch list. At least this way it would be easier to determine their peak activity times.
Of particular interest was a forum post detailing a recent chatlog between OUCH pilot Ximune and enemy CEO Doxana. In it, Doxana claimed that the reason for the war declaration was due to a multi-billion isk contract from a disgruntled third party whose offlined POS had recently been destroyed by an Art of War fleet. She claimed that the billions paid would fund a war for at least 10 weeks.
I considered this but her claims seemed very unlikely to me. The POS bash had taken place prior to Greenbeard's Freebooters joining Art of War, but apparently the value of the POS was significantly less than the payment claimed by Doxana. Additionally, the POS was offlined so the owner either didn't care about it or couldn't afford to run it. I posted a response suggesting that if the enemy CEO was so forthcoming with this information, it is most likely misdirection.
Later that day, an in-game chat with Alexia Morgan revealed that there were suspicions that one of the pilots that was on our Day-3 roam was a spy. As soon as it was suggested, it made sense to me. Dead Ratt had joined our squad quite late in the proceedings, by way of being a friend/corp-mate of nightshadow25's. It was Dead Ratt who had suggested a change in procedure on arrival in Irshah where he subsequently discovered the Maller. Although his was one of the ships destroyed in the ensuing trap, the killmail spoke volumes. His rifter was only fitted with 3 basic 200mm autocannon Is. Nothing at all in the mid- or low-slots. He clearly expected not to survive the roam.
Embarrassingly, what was worse was that after the engagement I had sent an e-mail to Dead Ratt thanking him for being "the voice of reason and experience" on comms. Looking back, whether his corpmate nightshadow25 was also in on the deception I am unsure. I spent some time after the combat on the alliance Teamspeak server talking with nightshadow about ship fittings and the use of EFT (he claimed to have never used it). An attempt at intel gathering perhaps, or just being sociable? Who knows.
Day 6 - the Art of War Avoidance
I received this rather smug and self-satisfied e-mail from Doxana, CEO of the Clinically Insane Carebears:
"Wrong Reasons Given
Greetings, Although your forum post was put together very well it was way off base. We were contracted to war dec you and have been watching all of your movements for over a month. Yes you are right to assume you are infiltrated because you are. Your roam the other day was a mere coincidence. But just so the record is straight this war will last a minimum of 10 weeks with an optional 10 week renewal policy for the contractor. Just so you dont think I am blowing smoke here is an example.
[the entirety of my After Action Report from the Art of War forums was attached]"
It was clearly an attempt to be an unsettling influence. Personally I can't be bothered with meta-gaming, which is presumably what this was, but Doxana seemed to be enjoying herself.
Having read it, I resisted the temptation to send a reply as I didn't want to give Doxana the satisfaction. Instead, I forwarded it to Black Claw/Alexia Morgan to see what he made of it. But apparently, I was not alone in receiving similar e-mails and it seemed that they had worked as intended. As soon as I returned to my Inbox, I found this message from Alexia Morgan:
"It is with Regret...
Unfortunately, I am going to have to remove your corp from the alliance, effective immediately. Please understand that this is not about you, but about the security of the alliance. This war started after your corp recently joined us, and I am forced to enact security measures to reduce the effect that spies might have on the alliance while it is at war. (Your corp is not the only corp I am removing from the alliance.) You will be welcome to re-join the alliance after the war ends, and I hope you can understand my reasoning for doing this. Please note there is a 24-hour period during which time you will still be involved in the war. One of the bonuses to this action is that after the 24 hours you will not be subject to the war, and will be able to return to an element of safety in highsec. I hope you decide to rejoin us after the war ends.
Alexia Morgan Executor of the Art of War Alliance"
So that was that. My access to alliance forums had already been revoked, I could no longer access the majority of OUCH/Art of War's in-game channels and I assume I could no longer access the Teamspeak server. I didn't bother trying.
A day or so later, nightshadow25 appeared in our OLD POND PUB channel to tell me that Doxana wanted to speak with me. She joined the channel and essentially invited us to join her in the conflict against Art of War. As disgruntled as I was, I found her conduct to be quite distasteful and I had no desire to be seen as a turncoat, so I declined. During the conversation she would not be drawn on whether Dead Ratt or nightshadow25 were her spies, but nightshadow25 was apparently "considering joining them". Nuff said methinks.
These events took place a couple of weeks ago, so I've no doubt there have been developments since although I have no idea what they might be. However the Clinically Insane Carebears had taken huge strides toward victory without a shot being fired. Through underhandedness and infiltration they had convinced Art of War alliance to thin their own numbers and effectively weaken themselves.
With regard to meta-gaming, although on one hand there is an admirable amount of planning that must go into this kind of subterfuge, I have to say I find it all a bit distasteful and pointless. The only outcome for my corporation was a complete lack of the PvP that we were seeking in the first place. Surely this kind of conduct just creates ever-decreasing circles of suspicion leading to more and more gameplay disconnects.
When did betrayal become a form of entertainment?