Advanced Drone Handling

Last updated: 06.08.2018

Hello and welcome to this guide. It will be all about drones and how to use them.
Here is a list of points discussed in the following:

  1. What are Drones?
  2. Differences between T1, T2 and Faction
  3. The “best” Drone
  4. Drone Boats
  5. Useful Modules
  6. Sentry Drones
  7. Utility Drones
  8. Essential Skills
  9. Organisation & Keybindings
  10. Managing NPC Aggression
  11. Lost them?

1. What are Drones?

Drones are basically mobile guns in space. Just like ships they have structure-, armor- and shield-hitpoints. Like turrets they have an optimal range, speed; tracking, different damage profiles; maximum velocity and – very important – a damage modifier. And some nice advantage over turrets: They don’t need ammunition.

2. T1, T2 and Faction – What’s the difference?

If you compare all those attributes you can see that the ‘Augmented’ drones are the ones with the biggest damage potential as they have the highest Damage Modifier. Also the ‘Augmented’ and ‘Integrated’ variations deal mixed damage which makes them more versatile when fighting different types of NPCs. ‘Augmented’ drones are also faster than their T2 counterparts.
The variant of the respective empires however have the better tracking, coming into play when you want to hit small and/or fast targets like Elite NPC Frigates.

The following comparison of light combat drones are ordered after the Damage Modifier from highest to lowest.

hobgoblins comparedhornets comparedacolytes comparedwarriors compared

3. The “Best” Drone

As always in EVE – it depends. First on your skills, then on how much money you can spent, what you want to shoot, and how likely it is to loose the drones.
But if money was no concern you can order the drones from best to worst like that:

‘Augmented’ > Navy/Fleet > T2 > ‘Integrated’ > T1 

The reason I rank Navy/Fleet drones over T2 are more hitpoints and tracking, and – in some cases – higher speed than their T2 equivalents.
The same basically applies to every size of combat drone. You can get light, medium and heavy combat drones. The larger, the slower but also more base damage and slower tracking.

Steve is special

And then, there is Steve. Well, you can name your Gecko however you want, but Bjorn named his Steve.
A Gecko is a very special drone. It is considered as a heavy drone, but needs 50 Mbit/sec bandwith. This limits the amount of Geckos used on most ships to only one or two.

heavy drones vs gecko

But the Gecko makes up for this. For a heavy drone it has pretty good tracking, deals equal of every 4 damage types and is quicker than most of the other heavy drones available. Basically it is a light fighter made usable for sub capitals. The ship that probably benefits the most from using this drone is a Rattlesnake, the Guristas Battleship.

4. Drone Boats

“Drone Boats” is no official term but is widely used to describe ships that rely heavily or exclusively on drones for combat.
Most of the time, those ships have bonuses that increase the damage, health, speed and even mining yield, which is a relic from the days before the ORE-ships where introduced. They also usually have a larger drone bay than the average ship, making different flights of drones possible.

The most common drone ships are from Gallente and Guristas but also the Sisters of Eve and some Amarr hulls can use drones efficently.

If you want to get started flying drone boats have a look at the Tristan (Frigate), the Algos or Dragoon if you can fly Destroyers and the Arbitrator or the Vexor for Cruiser sized vessels.


Strength & Weakness

The strength of Drone Boats is also their weakness: by choosing different flights of drones, damage types can be applied according to what suits the situation best. But other than weapon turrets, drones can be targeted, attacked and killed. In PvP it’s often referred to as “to de-fang” your opponent by killing his drones. To avoid this drones can be recalled into the ship to break the target lock on them, just to be launched again and sent  back onto the target.
The weakness is of course the health of your drones. If they get killed, you loose the potential to deal damage.

5. Modules

There are a few modules that can help improve your drones performance. Let me know if I have forgotten anything.

High Slot:

  • Drone Link Augmentor: Increases drone control range.

Medium Slot:

  • Drone Navigation Computer: Increases the maximum velocity of drones by X% – not orbiting velocity, continue reading to see why that’s important.
  • Stasis Webifier: Reduces the speed of a targeted ship which can help your drones to track it.
  • Target Painter: Increases the size of a targeted ship which can help your drones to track it without slowing it down like a Webifier would.
  • Omnidirectional Tracking Link: Can be loaded with different scripts for tracking range, tracking speed or used without them to increase both.

Low Slot:

  • Drone Damage Ampilfier: Increases drone damage by X%.
  • Omnidirectional Tracking Enhancer: Increases drone tracking speed by X%.


Why a Stasis Webifier isn’t always a good choice

If a heavy drone is orbiting a very slow or even still sitting target, the drone might not be able to track and hit the target. Why? Because drones will always try to orbit at their optimal range and at the maximum speed possible. This has influence on the tracking of the drone. The reason why is the relativ traversal speed from drone to target. If the target sits still, a heavy drone like the Ogre II can “get under their own guns” and can’t track as good as it could  as if the target would be moving. A moving target is overall reducing the relative traversal speed to the drone.

Said easy: The drone is getting under their own guns.

You might think that ships like the Algos with a 25% bonus to drone maximum velocity might increase that problem. In fact that’s not quite true. The maximum velocity of a drone is not the same speed it tries to orbit a target with. Maximum velocity of a drone just says something about how fast the drone reaches a target and if it can keep up with very fast ones. That’s why Warriors are very often used for fighting small, fast targets.

Increasing Drone Tracking

How can you compensate that? You could go crazy and web your own drones. But that’s not really practical apart from a theoretical szenario of a brawling Rattlesnake using a single Gecko. Aslo webbing your own drone increases the chance that it get’s shot.
A more practical option is an Omnidirectional Tracking Link. Or you can train the skill Drone Sharpshooting.

Here is a screenshot of light, medium and heavy tech 1 drones where you can compare the their individual “Turret Tracking” values.

drone attribute comparison.JPG

So basically your drones use the same mechanic as turrets do in EVE. Turret tracking is somewhat complex and leads to far, so I’m not discussing that here.

6. Sentry Drones

“Space artillery” would be also a very fitting name for this special kind of drone. They hit hard and far, but are basically stationary. Which can be a huge problem if you suddenly need to move. This is a reason why they are very rarely used in PvP szenarios.

Like every normal loot to access you need to be 2500 meters or closer to the thing you want to scoop up.
A common strategy using sentry drones is to use a Micro Jump Drive to get distance to the NPCs, then sit still, deploy sentries and shoot the incoming NPCs. Because they travel in a relatively straigt line to the drones they can track them well and can hit hard. When hositles com to close, recall drones and jump again. Not the fastest way to clear sites, but a very reliable one.

Sentry drones have also very different ranges they can apply damage within. Gallente Garde Sentries track the best and have the hightes Damage Modifier, but have the lowest range. Caldari Warden have the longest range but track the worst and also have the lowest Damage modifier. And like every drone they deal different types of damage.

T1 Sentry Drone Comparison
Keep in mind that those opitmal ranges are wihtout any bonuses from skills or ships! They will increase dramatically when e.g. used on a Dominix.

7. Utility Drones

Problably the most used drone type apart from combat drones are ECM drones. While some pilots consider them dishonorable, they are often used to escape warp disruption when a fight goes sideways.

Also more or less common are repair drones. Just like the modules there are variants for hull, armor and shield and are mostly used as logistical backup in larger fleets.
There are also target painting and webbing drones. I can’t actually remember if I have ever seen those in use apart from market orders.

8. Essential Skills

Basically everything that can be found under the drone section in your character sheet. But here is a list of really important ones:

  1. Drones
    It’s essenial to get this at level 5 since it allows you to field +1 drone per level. Five drones are also the maximum most ships can handle at once. It’s also required for tech 2 drones.
  2. Light and Medium Drone Operation
    Increases the damage of +5% per skill level. It should both be at 4 ASAP and 5 is required for tech 2 which should be goal mid-term. Any drone ship will use lights and mediums and starting out they’re the bread and butter.
  3. Drone Interfacing
    Take this to 4. Get it to 5 as soon as you get a chance. It will give your drones +10% damage per level. This is a lot!
  4. Drone Navigation
    Gives your drones +5% maximum velocity. Faster drones take less damage and get to reach their targets faster.
  5. Drone Avionics
    This increases the control range of your drones by 5000 meters per skill level. This is helpful when kiting NPCs but not crucial when you are just starting.
  6. Drone Durability
    Increases the overall tankyness of your drones by 5% (shield, armor and hull). Especially on faction drones combined with Gursitas ships this can make your drones pretty tanky.
  7. Amarr/Caldari/Gallente/Minmatar Drone Specialization
    Increases the damage by +2% for every drone requiring this skill and are needed for T2. This can be skilled late, when you have already most other skills high up.
  8. Sentry Drone Interfacing
    +5% Damage for Sentry drones. This get’s interesting when you can effectively fly a ship that has bonuses for sentry drones like the Dominix or the Isthar.

Keep in mind that this is not a full list!

Also don’t underestimate the bonus per skill level of the ship your are flying. For example, every level of Gallente cruisers gives you a 10% bonus on drone damage and hitpoints when you are flying a Vexor. At level five that’s 50% more drone damage!

9. Organisation & Keybindings

  • You can manage your drones by assigning them into different groups. Very handy if you have more than one flight of drones in your drone bay. Just right click in the drone window when you are undocked.
    organizing drones
  • You can also set a shortcut for your favorite group of drones you want to launch with the klick of a button.
    set favorite
    Alternatively you can just drag & drop, or right click on your drones or drone groups to launch them. Drag & drop also works for recalling them. The default key binding to recall drones is space is Shift+R.
  • Got to ESC > Shortcuts > Drones to set your own keybindings.
    drone shortcuts
  • In the drone window you can click on the burger menue (the stacked bars in the upper left corner) to set the behavior of the drones to “Agressive” or “Passive”. When set “Agressive” the drones automatically attack everything that shoots – and hits – your own ship. But the aggressor has to be within the drone control range of your ship. These settings are vital for AFK-Ratting. Focus fire tells all drones to attack one target at a time. In practice this does not always work, so keep an eye on it.
    set aggression

If you feel like you didn’t fully understand some of the things I explained in this article you can look at these pages from EVE University: Drones, Drone 101 and Drone 102
They are much more detailed and explain basically everything there is.

10. Managing NPC Aggression

Wheny you use your drones in PvE you sooner or later will see them beeing shot.
In theory CCP has rules for what NPC ships are targeting: Frigates and destroyers are supposed to shoot at light drones, cruisers & battlecruisers shoot at medium drones. Battleships shoot at heavy drones and sentrys.

I’d like to add that there are numerous cases of NPC breaking CCP stated code so basically any drone can be targeted at any moment.

Akuma Tsukai

What can you do to keep the NPCs from shooting your drones?

In general: Be active an harass them. Every kind of E-War has been proven to be effective. Not with a 100% reliabilty, but it sure helps. Very popular are Target Painters which increase the signature of the targeted ship and help your drones to track it better. Other E-War modules are:

  • ECM (note that every faction has their own targeting system & ECM types)
  • Weapon Disruptors
  • Sensor Dampeners

But those three are not very common in PvE because they mostly work on single targets which is not that usefull if you have to deal with a whole fleet of hostiles. And since that is the most common szenario, you rather want to kill as fast as possbile.

But Wait!

… there are more methods to avoid negative impact on your drones healt bars:
Patience. After entering the site, wait until the NPC ships have locked your ship before you launch the drones. This way you can at least avoid some initial damage on them. It might proove usefull to do this between different waves too. So the NPCs are basically forced to go for you first, because the drones are just not there.

After that you should activate your target painter, fire your guns or even remote repair your drones if you can. Those actions will always help keeping NPCs interested in your tanked ship instead of your damage dealing drones.

If you are in a site with multiple waves, recall your drones after every wave until the NPCs have started to shoot you.

There are also elite NPCs frigates you might encounter. Those are especially nasty, hard to kill and often give a flying f*** about your E-War. They just go straight for your drones. In this case the only way to safe them is to call them back into your drone bay. If you wait long enough then, the NPCs should start to shoot the ship, deploying your drone then might give it a few moments before the elite frigate goes back to shoot the drones.

11. Lost them?

If you have lost your drones because you might have warped off before recalling them – don’t worry, that has happened to everyone – you can do three things:

  1. Abandon them. And risk that they turn into rogue drones looking for purpose in the cold dark space where you carelessly have left them, you monster.
  2. Or, get back on grid when you can:
    Then you right click at your capacitor and select “Reconnect to lost drones” and your little friends will reconnect to your ship and come back like good boys, orbiting it.
    Don’t leave them out for to long because everyone else could scoop them up. NPCs  sometimes also shoot them.
  3. If you left them somewhere without a point to warp back to, you can scan them out with combat probes. This can be a very profitable activity in systems where people run a lot of missions or incursions, some people just forget their shiny Geckos.

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