The Drone Boat Starter Guide

There are a lot of ways to make a living in New Eden. PvE Combat is one of them. And in combat, drones have proven to be a very effective weapon system. In this guide, I will give an example of how you can start out with a character that does well when flying drone boats. Intended for both Alpha and Omega characters in their first couple of weeks.

DISCLAIMER: This post will include some broad generalizations that are intended to make things easier and understandable with limited background knowledge. Please keep that in mind while reading.

Topics covered in this guide:

  1. What are Drones and Drone-Boats?
  2. Fitting Examples:
    1. Frigate: Tristan
    2. Destroyer: Algos
    3. Cruiser: Vexor
  3. Shield vs Armor Tank
  4. How to fly a Drone-Boat in PvE
  5. Skill plans & Cheat Sheet – what to train first so you don’t have to sit around idling
  6. Ships for Later

1. What are Drones and Drone-Boats?

A drone is a bunch of thrusters with a gun strapped on top of it. Or compare it to a fighter jet and your Drone Boat with an aircraft carrier. That’s probably the easiest way to describe it. You can load and launch different types of aircraft depending on the spaceship you are flying.

If you want to know more details about the drones themself, you can have a look at one of my previous posts that describes the mechanics in-depth. But for now, let’s have a look at the probably most accessible little drone boat out there: The Tristan.

2. Fitting Examples

WARNING: The following fits are intended to get you started in highsec PvE. If you want to run abyssal sites, you want to have a fitting tailored for the flavor you picked. If abyssals are your goal, have a look at before you go in.

2.1. Frigate: Tristan

The Tristan is a Gallente Frigate that uses drones as its primary source of damage. When you start out, you only need to skill Gallente Frigate to level one, to be able to pilot it. More on skills later. For now, let’s have a look at the fitting:

[Tristan, Passive Shield Tristan]
AE-K Compact Drone Damage Amplifier
AE-K Compact Drone Damage Amplifier
AE-K Compact Drone Damage Amplifier

1MN Monopropellant Enduring Afterburner
Medium Azeotropic Restrained Shield Extender
Compact Multispectrum Shield Hardener

75mm 'Scout' Accelerator Cannon
[Empty High slot]
75mm 'Scout' Accelerator Cannon

Small EM Shield Reinforcer I
Small Core Defense Field Extender I
Small Core Defense Field Extender I

Hobgoblin I x8

Antimatter Charge S x3400

This is a ‘passive’ shield tanked Tristan. This means you do not need many capacitors to actively boost your shields up. Instead, you want to stay out of harm’s way and use your afterburner to keep your distance and transversal up. Basically, orbit something at ~20km or more, activate the Multispectrum Shield Hardener and Afterburner, launch your drones and let them go to work. When something comes close, shoot it with your rail guns.

2.2. Destroyer: Algos

As you would expect from a ship of the next size, the Algos is the bigger brother of the Tristan and packs more punch. It is still very affordable for newer players and a ship you can get in rather early. Its drone bay and bandwidth enable it to make use of two medium drones alongside three light ones. A very balanced slot layout enables the hull to be fitted with a shield or armor tank.

[Algos, Passive Shield Algos]
AE-K Compact Drone Damage Amplifier
AE-K Compact Drone Damage Amplifier
F-89 Compact Signal Amplifier

1MN Monopropellant Enduring Afterburner
Medium Shield Extender II
Compact Multispectrum Shield Hardener

75mm Compressed Coil Gun I
75mm Compressed Coil Gun I
75mm Compressed Coil Gun I
75mm Compressed Coil Gun I
75mm Compressed Coil Gun I
Drone Link Augmentor I

Small Core Defense Field Purger I
Small Core Defense Field Purger I
Small Processor Overclocking Unit I

Acolyte I x5
Valkyrie I x2
Hobgoblin I x3

Antimatter Charge S x3000

This Algos-fitting works pretty much the same as the Tristan. It’s basically a direct upgrade. However, since it’s a bigger ship, it will be a bit slower but can make up for it, with the extended range. You will be able to engage targets at around 50km distance, which is a very safe place to be for most beginning PvE.

2.3. Cruiser: Vexor

If you liked flying around in an Algos, the chances are high you will enjoy the Vexor too. It’s again a step up on the ladder of the Gallente ship tree. The Vexor has a bit of a crazy bandwidth of 75mbit/s. This allows it as one of the few cruisers to effectively use heavy drones:
You can launch up to three heavy drones. Or you can mix them like this: two heavy, two medium, and one light drone from the Vexor for the most damage potential. But to be fair, in most PvE scenarios you will find yourself in at that stage of your Eve Online career, a full flight of five medium or light drones will usually be the better choice. That’s why the following fit has only medium drones in it. You also want to have some decent support skills for heavy drones. Otherwise, they won’t hit a thing.

[Vexor, Passive Shield Vexor]
Damage Control II
AE-K Compact Drone Damage Amplifier
AE-K Compact Drone Damage Amplifier
AE-K Compact Drone Damage Amplifier
N-JM Compact Omnidirectional Tracking Enhancer

10MN Monopropellant Enduring Afterburner
Large Shield Extender II
Large Shield Extender II
Enduring Multispectrum Shield Hardener

Dual 150mm Carbide Railgun I
Dual 150mm Carbide Railgun I
Dual 150mm Carbide Railgun I
Dual 150mm Carbide Railgun I

Medium EM Shield Reinforcer I
Medium Core Defense Field Extender I
Medium Core Defense Field Extender I

Infiltrator I x5
Hobgoblin I x5
Hammerhead I x5

Tungsten Charge M x3000
Antimatter Charge M x3000

Again, a passive shield-tanked Vexor. If you rather want something that can actively repair against a site, you can have a look at this Armor-fitting posted on reddit.

2.4 Honorable Mention: Arbitrator

If you are more into the Amarrian ship line with sturdy armor tanks, have a look at this nicely done video by CadePlaysGames, and how he fits a long-range Arbitrator for Level 2 missions.

3. Shield vs Armor Tank

The quick and dirty answer is Shield for PvE. If you want to know why continue reading.

Yes, Gallente ships are intended to be used with armor tanks. And they are very solid at that. But if you want to get the most DPS out of your ship, you rather want to go with a shield tank, especially if we keep the Guristas ship-line in mind, which we will have a look at later in this post.

The answer why is rather simple: An armor tank requires low slots to fit, but so do the modules that increase the main source of your damage output: Drone Damage Amplifiers. If you use up low slots for your tank, then you can simply fit less of them. This is one of the biggest reasons why most ships that are used for higher-end PvE content are flown with a shield tank.

So despite Gallente as a faction leaning towards armor tanks, it can be very valid to go for a shield tank when flying a Gallente Drone Boat in PvE. In PvP that’s a very different story because you often need the mid slots for your tackle modules, which makes fitting a shield tank more difficult on hulls that have not that many of them. But that’s something for another guide.

P.S.: Please don’t take this the wrong way: Armor fits can be very viable for PvE and I’m doing a lot of generalization here. Be aware of that. This is intended for newer players, not the veterans running T6 Abyssals. 😉

4. How to Fly a Drone Boat

In Eve, most people distinguish between two styles of combat:

  1. Going in close and personal, usually referred to as “Brawling” or
  2. Keeping at a distance and applying damage from afar: So-called “kiting”.

The latter is the one you should aim for when flying a drone boat at the beginning. Your skills won’t be as strong as those of a veteran and your tank won’t be as efficient. You will deal a bit less DPS and take a bit longer. In this situation, it is wise to stay out of harm’s way and let your drones do the work for you.

When you want to kite, you also want to have a propulsion module like an Afterburner (AB) or a Microwarpdrive (MWD). An Afterburner It won’t make you go as fast as a Microwarpdrive but it will also use less capacitor and won’t increase your ship’s signature radius. Having a high signature radius is bad because it makes the NPCs you fight hit you more easily. But you usually don’t keep your MWD running all the time like an AB. You “pulse” your MWD until you reached the desired distance and then turn it off to save capacitor and keep your signature low.
Deciding if you want to use MWD or AB depends a lot on your personal preferences and the type of combat you intend to do. Both can be valid choices – some people even like to have both. Up to you and what you want to use the ship for.

Kiting with a Drone Boat:

  • Warp to a distance if you can. This way, you can start kiting right from the start. 30km is usually a good distance, since you also want to be in range to lock and send your drones in. What warp-in is good for what site and situation will come with experience.
  • Once at a safe distance turn of your MWD to safe capacitor. But keep at an angle towards the NPCs to reduce incoming damage. If you have an AB and enough capacitor to keep it running, do so. More speed = less incoming damage.
  • Don’t fly too far! You have a limited range you can control your drones and you need to stay within range to lock a target. Otherwise, you won’t be able to effectively assign drones.
  • In missions or some other sites where you have to use an acceleration gate to enter, this may not be possible. There you want to use your propulsion module to gain distance from hostiles quickly.
  • Wait a second before you launch your drones.
    This has to do with managing NPC aggression. Your ship tends to have a much better tank than your little drones.
    If your drones are getting shots by NPCs, they can be killed! Recall them if they take too much damage. You can use the default keybinding Shift + R to do so. You can also set more keybindings to help command your drones.
    F is the default key to send the drones to attack a target.
  • Light drones go on frigates, medium drones will hit destroyer-sized targets and bigger. If you chose to bring heavy drones, only use them when you are shooting at cruisers or bigger. Heavy drones will have a hard time hitting anything smaller because of their tracking mechanics. More on that in the guide linked at the End of this post.
  • Set drones to “focus fire” and to “aggressive” via the burger menu in the drone window.

5. Skill Plans & Cheat Sheet

What to train first so you don’t have to sit around idling. The “Gallente Mission Runner” Skill Plan is a really good start to get you going in the Algos. Here is a copy&paste textfile of it: Gallente Mission Runner.txt

You can also find this in-game under Skill Plans > Certified Plans > Enforcer > Gallente – depending on the size of your window, you might need to scroll down to see it.

It all comes down to specialization. Especially if you want to keep playing with an Alpha-Character for a while. Focusing your skill training in this direction is a viable way to do it. Just a fair warning: If you want to kite in PvP with a drone ship that’s bigger than a destroyer, drone travel time can become a problem. Drone-Boats are usually a bit better off as brawlers when it comes to PvP. But if you are more into PvE, drones are a great choice.

The following graphic gives an overview of what ship skills are required to fly what hull well and what skills synchronize well with each other.

Overall you can say that:

  • Amarr utilizes drones and missiles plus armor-tank.
  • Sisters of Eve ships do best with only drones and armor-tank.
  • Gallente utilizes drones and turrets, mostly with armor-tank, but most hulls have enough mid-slots to also make a shield tank possible.
  • Guristas utilize drones and missiles, but with a shield tank.
You can get a much larger size of this image as PDF here.

After the Vexor you kind of need to decide what hull you want to specialize in. If you play alpha, I’d actually recommend going for a Vexor Navy Issue (VNI) and refining your skills that benefit the hull and support your drones. That way you can end up with a very strong ship while having spent only 6m skill points.

If you want to progress into bigger hulls the Myrmidon is the Gallente Battlecruiser that would be the logical choice after the Vexor / VNI.

Time-wise you would probably be in a Tristan for the first couple of days. After at most a week, you should be able very comfortably upgrade to an Algos, and when you kept continuous skills training, then after two-three weeks the Vexor should perform decently well for you.

Ready to Learn More about Drones?

Then check out the following guide diving deeper into details and the many nuances that come with drones. After reading that, you will also understand what drone is good to use against which target.

6. Ships for Later

6.1. Sisters of Eve Ships

The secretive Sisters of Eve (SoE) faction mixes Amarr and Gallente tech on their hulls and adds handy buffs for exploration. Their main offensive capabilities come from their large drone bays. The Astero is after the Tristan one of the only frigates that can launch a full set of light drones. The Stratios is the SoE cruiser that can fit a Covert Ops Cloak like its little sister. The Nestor is unique in it’s class as it is a battleship-sized armor logistics ship. It also can fit a Cloak – but not warp cloaked. Basically a Black Ops Battleship without the jump drive.
Another unique trait of the Sisters of Eve is their low mass, which benefits their use in wormhole space. The Stratios in particular is an interesting hull for pilots who are interested in doing combat exploration: Scanning down a cosmic signature and destroying the pirates in them to loot valuable faction and DED-space modules. Its slot layout is also one of the most flexible. You can make use of its built-in armor resistances or sacrifice some utility but gain a decent shield-tank doing so.

6.2. Guristas Pirate Ships

In Eve’s lore the Guristas Priates are a pretty bad-ass bunch of criminals that pulled off more than one heist to steal tech from the Caldari State and mixed it up with Gallentean drones. I greatly recommend looking into the lore around the founder of this infamous pirate group. Some very entertaining stories. If that doesn’t convince you: they also have a skull with bunny ears as a logo.
But back to topic. There are three sub-capitals Guristas hulls: Worm (Frigate), Gila (Cruiser), and Rattlesnake (Battleship);

All of them have the mid-slots to sport a beefy shield tank. This is great for PvE, as it leaves the low-slots open to be equipped with modules to increase damage output. The highslots are meanwhile used for launchers that get a bonus to kinetic and thermal ammunition. One of the most unique bonuses of these hulls is however that they focus on fewer drones: A Worm can launch up to two light drones, a Gila two medium drones, and a Rattlesnake up to two heavy or sentry drones. But to make up for that, these get a huge damage bonus as well as buffs to their hit-points.

Of course, all of these faction vessels come at a steep price. That and the fact you need the skills of two different empires to fly them well makes them worthy mid- and long-term goals to look out for.

If you think this post was useful to you, feel free to send it to your fellow capsuleers.
Thanks for reading. o7

Further References:

2 thoughts on “The Drone Boat Starter Guide”

    1. Hello recursivetree. This guide is primarily aimed at PvE. If that didn’t get clear, I might need to re-write some parts.

      You are right, in PvP a kiting Tristan won’t work well with an Afterburner. o7


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