I should probably preface this article by stating that this is just my way of doing things, and it's naturally going to be biased towards the kind of PVP that I do. Most of the information in here should be applicable across the board, but particularly when it comes to fitting and module suggestions this doesn't necessarily represent the only way to do things, or even necessarily the best - just mine.
There are many things that go into making an effective tackler, but three in particular that I believe are fairly crucial. The three sections below will look at each of these in turn.
Since you're naturally going to be one of the fastest ships in the fleet, anything that you can do to slow down your target so your fleetmates can get on top of them is going to be appreciated. In addition to a warp scrambler, a Stasis Webifier can be very nice to have - this will cut your target's speed by roughly half, and has a range of 10km. Webs are a natural choice if you're already carrying a warp scrambler, since the two modules have similar ranges and their effects are complementary.
If you're carrying a warp disruptor, fitting a Sensor Booster will allow you to lock targets further away and/or more quickly, depending on the script you load into it. The benefit of fast locking is obvious, particularly if you're trying to catch targets coming through a stargate. Locking range may seem less useful given that most frigates can already lock out to their maximum warp disruptor range, however it comes in very useful when you're flying towards them to get tackle. Rather than having to get into range, lock, and then tackle them, you can start locking while you're still on the approach and be ready to go as soon as you hit the necessary range.
Capacitor is needed to keep your tackle modules running, and particularly for low skilled characters this can be a source of difficulty. An easy solution to this is a Nosferatu (AKA 'Nos'), a high slot module which drains capacitor from your target and gives it to you. Nos have a fairly short range of only 5-6km so won't help unless you're orbiting quite close, however the capacitor that they provide can be incredibly valuable. Other capacitor-generating modules such as Capacitor Boosters or Capacitor Power Relays can also be useful, however unlike a nos these take up valuable mid or low slots, both of which are in high demand on your tackler frigate.
Not all targets are going to be within your tackle range right from the start, and even when they are they're probably not going to stay there if they can help it. As a tackler you need to be fast enough to out-pace your targets, catching up with them before they can flee and staying in range once you're there. Thankfully frigates are already naturally fast, and with a little help they can be made even faster.
The first step is to fit a MicroWarpDrive or an Afterburner, known collectively as Propulsion Modules. A MWD provides a massive speed boost, increasing your top speed by roughly 500%*. MWDs have some significant downsides however - they consume capacitor quickly, and also increase your Signature Radius by 500% too (one of the major factors determining how easily people can hit you)! Since frigates are naturally fragile and have fairly weak capacitors, MWDs on a tackler are best used to cover long distances quickly, and then disabled once you no longer need them**. This is particularly true given that as a tackler you will often be fighting ships larger than yourself, where avoiding damage is key to your survival.
Afterburners provide a much smaller speed boost than MWDs, somewhere between 110% and 170% depending on the module and your navigation skills. This is still enough to put an afterburning frigate at a similar speed to a MWDing battlecruiser, and afterburners have some definite advantages over their speedier counterparts. Firstly they consume far less capacitor, allowing you to keep them turned on without fear of your tackle modules running dry. Secondly, afterburners do not affect your signature radius at all. This means that while an afterburner will not get you places as quickly as a MWD, it will let you take significantly less damage when under fire. Finally, the lower speed of afterburners gives you a little more time to react to your surroundings, which can be a useful thing if you're out tackling for your first time.
Both modules are viable choices for a tackler, although slower frigates may have difficulty chasing anything down with an afterburner. In most cases I recommend going for an MWD for a dedicated tackler, however in small gang combat or when your gang already has an abundance of MWD tacklers, an afterburner might be the right choice for you. It's actually possible to fit both modules and switch between the two as necessary (known as 'Dual Prop'), however this requires some careful micromanagement and isn't recommended for a rookie tackler.
You can further enhance your ship's speed by fitting Speed Mods (not to be confused with Propulsion Mods mentioned above). Foremost amongst these are Overdrive Injectors and Nanofiber Internal Structures, both of which are low slot modules. Overdrives give you a straight speed increase of around 10-12%, while nanofibers (AKA 'nanos') give a slightly smaller speed boost in addition to improving your ship's agility, as the expense of your structure HP. Agility determines how quickly you can reach your top speed, as well as how tight an orbit you can hold and how quickly your ship can react as your target changes direction - both very valuable attributes for a tackler. Inertia Stabilizers come at the other end of the spectrum, improving agility without affecting speed. These increase your signature radius, and are not really recommended for PVP - in most cases you're better off with a nano if you want agility.
All three of these modules have related rigs, offering a similar but smaller modifier to the same attribute(s): Auxiliary Thrusters for speed, Low Friction Nozzle Joints for agility, and Polycarbon Engine Housings for a combination of the two. These all have the same drawback (a small penalty to armour HP), so you're free to choose whichever suits your needs best.
While speed is very important to a tackler, it's not the be all and end all, and I'd caution against focusing too much on it. I often see people cover their tacklers with speed mods at the expense of all else (usually, I see them via a killboard). This brings me nicely on to my third point...
* Note that these are percentage increases, so a MWD's 500% increase puts your top speed to 6x your base speed, while the ~150% boost from an afterburner leaves you at around 2.5x your base speed.
** The exception to this is when used on a t2 interceptor or assault frigate - these ships get a bonus which reduces the sig radius penalty of running a MWD, and as a result they are generally more survivable with it turned on than off.
By far the most under-appreciated aspect of your tackler is its tank. It doesn't matter how fast you are or which tackle modules you're packing if your target can simply kill you and warp off. Tacklers should definitely be considered disposable in the sense that they will sometimes need to die to ensure (or get a decent chance at) a kill, and you shouldn't be too attached to then when that happens. However that doesn't mean they have to be suicidal, and a well fit and well flown tackler should be able to rely on more than just the whim of its opponent to determine whether it not it survives.
In all but a few cases, the most effective way to tank a tackler is with a buffer tank. Buffer tanking refers to maximising your HP and damage resistances (the combination of which is known as your 'Effective HP' or 'EHP') so that you can remain on the field for as long as possible, rather than attempting to actually repair the incoming damage. This is based on the principle that in most PVP engagements you'll be taking damage far more quickly than you could realistically repair it, and the extra time it takes your opponent to chew through a buffer tank will keep you alive for longer. In the case of a tackler, it can buy vital time either for you to escape, or for other tacklers to get your target locked down.
The most basic feature of a buffer tank is a Damage Control. This low slot module has virtually no drawback, and increases your damage resistances right across the patch including a huge 50-60% to structure resists (the only module to grant any resistance bonus to this layer of defence). Even if you fit no other tank mods at all, go ahead and treat yourself to one of these; this module alone can almost double your effective hitpoints.
After a damage control, you'll need to decide whether you want to tank armour or shield. Armour tanks are built around Armour Plates, supported by resist modules such as the Adaptive Nano Plating. These modules all use low slots, leaving plenty of room for tackle. The bad news is that fitting an armour plate reduces your ship's speed and agility, which conflicts with the tackler's need for speed. Armour rigs also come with a speed penalty. While this is fine for brawlers, it makes armour tanking less than ideal for a high speed tackler.
For a shield buffer tank, you'll want a Shield Extender. Since most shield tanking modules are mid slot items, it's generally best to leave it at that and save your other slots for tackle, particularly since the only shield hardener to give omni-reists (the Adaptive Invulnerability Field) is also pretty capacitor hungry. Thankfully shield resistance rigs such as the Anti-EM Screen Reinforcer are very cheap, and these will help boost your tank to a reasonable level. Both shield extenders and rigs will increase your ship's signature radius, however the increase is small enough that they remain easily worth it. The great thing about a shield tank is that it preserves your speed - in fact it even leaves most of your low slots free to fit plenty of speed mods! Because of this, shield tanked tacklers tend to be much faster than their armour counterparts.
Whether you're fitting a shield or armour tank, the golden rule of buffer tanking is to go big! 50mm or 100mm plates and small shield extenders are simply not worth it in most cases - aim to fit a 200mm plate or medium shield extender if you can, and don't be afraid to switch out modules or drop guns to do it. The shield extender may require you to fit a Micro Auxiliary Power Core in order to generate enough powergrid, however the HP boost it provides is definitely worth giving up a low slot to do it.
There are some situations in which active tanks (that is, tanks which use modules like an Ancillary Shield Booster or Armour Repairer to actively repair damage) can come in handy. While they won't turn away anyone's full damage output, they can be quite effective when you're already able to avoid most incoming damage but just not all of it, for example when your target is unable to hit you directly but you're still taking fire from their drones. While a buffer tank could only hold on for so long before you'd need to bail out, an active tank can potentially repel this level of firepower indefinitely. This is quite often the case in very small scale PVP, but less common as the fights grow larger. Shield buffer tanks actually perform a similar role to an extent, due to the way they actively regenerate over time. While they won't restore HP as quickly as a shield booster without a very specific fitting, it can be enough in the right circumstances.
While many skills will benefit you as a tackler, the most important skills to train are those which fit into the three categories mentioned above. In other words:
- Skills which improve your ability to tackle targets
- Skills which make you faster or more agile
- Skills which strengthen your tank
- [Your Race] Frigate - Determines the ship's per-level bonuses
- Navigation - Increases your base speed
- Evasive Manoeuvring - Increases your agility
- Acceleration Control - Increases the speed boost from
- Afterburner - Reduces afterburner cap use, required for High Speed Manoeuvring
- High Speed Manoeuvring - Reduces MWD cap use
- Propulsion Jamming - Reduces cap use of tackle modules
- Targeting - Lets you lock more targets at once
- Signature Analysis - Increases scan resolution, allowing you to lock faster
- Long Range Targeting - Increases targeting range, required to fit a sensor booster
- Energy Systems Operation - Speeds up capacitor regeneration
- Energy Management - Increases total capacitor (and as a result, speeds up cap regen)
- Electronics - Increases CPU, making it easier to fit tackle and tank
- Engineering - Increases powergrid, making it easier to fit tank
- Shield Upgrades - Required to fit shield extenders
- Shield Management - Increases shield HP
- Hull Upgrades - Increases armour HP, required to fit a damage control and speed mods
- Mechanics - Increases structure HP
Optional but recommended:
- Energy Emission Systems - Required to fit a nosferatu
- Jury Rigging - Required for shield rigging
- Shield Rigging - Required to fit shield rigs
For the rookie tackler, a tech 1 frigate is perfect - they're fast, cheap, and versatile. However, not all t1 frigates are created equal. Some frigates are designed as exploration, electronic warfare, or support vessels and aren't well suited to the kind of combat that your tackler frigate will be exposed to.
Arguably the best choices for this role are the 'attack' frigates: the Slasher, Atron, Condor and Executioner. These ships were quite literally designed with tackling in mind; they're the fastest and most agile frigates out there, they lock incredibly quickly, and each of them has at least three mid slots leaving plenty of room for tackle modules and/or shield tanks. Most importantly, all four of these ships receives a fixed 80% reduction to the capacitor need of tackle modules, meaning they can run long ranged warp disruptors without fear of running dry too quickly. The main trade-off of the attack frigates is their fragility; even when properly tanked, these are far from the toughest ships.
The alternative is to fly one of the 'combat' frigates: the Merlin, Rifter, Punisher, Incursus or Tormentor*. These ships are built to brawl; they're slower but tougher than their more flighty cousins, and many feature a bonus to tanking in some form. Without the bonus of the attack frigates these ships are ill suited for long ranged tackling with a warp disruptor, however their toughness can come in very useful when going in close with a warp scrambler and stasis web. Some of these ships are quite low slot heavy, and are much more as armour tankers. This makes them less than ideal for a fleet tackler, but they can still be very effective in a small gang environment.
The ship you choose really depends on the style of tackling you want to do. For darting around and catching targets at range before they can escape, the attack frigates are a no brainer. If you're more interested in diving in under someone's guns and holding them in place until backup arrives, a combat frigate may be better suited. That's not to say you have to fit into one niche or the other; you might want to fly a close range tackler with a scram, but choose the speed of an attack frigate to help you chase down fast targets. The important thing is that you understand the advantages and disadvantages of the different ships, and can choose the one that's right for your task.
As your skills and wallet balance develop, these two groups of hulls diverge into their own t2 ship classes - interceptors and assault frigates respectively. Along with interdictors and recons, these are the staples tackle ships of any serious gang.
The fits below provide you with some potential examples based on the guidelines that we've already discussed. I've included the full EFT window so you can see how each of these ships is likely to perform. Consider these just as guidelines - they're not the right or only way to fit these ships, they just give you an idea of some of the possibilities. Don't be afraid to try out your own fits, and figure out what works best for your style of flying.
For each setup below, you'll find:
- A 'beginner' version using t1 modules*. Stats are based on a newly rolled character with starting skills, plus all the above recommended skills trained to III (approximately three days training with the new player bonus to training speed). If additional skills are required, I'll note them in italics.
- An 'advanced' version using t2 or high meta modules. Stats are based on a character with perfect skills. This should give you an idea of what to aim for as your skills improve.
One important thing to note is the weapons on my long ranged tacklers. We'll talk a little more about how you use them later, but in general it's not worth trying to squeeze long ranged weapons onto your long ranged tacklers - they're typically difficult to fit, and doing damage to the ship you're tackling is not one of your main concerns. Stick with whatever weapons you can mount without compromising the rest of your fit, even if that means none at all!
Long Range Tacklers
- Slasher (Long Range Tackle): Beginner, Advanced - The Slasher is fast and agile, with excellent locking speed. Autocannons leave plenty of room for fitting.
- Condor (Long Range Tackle): Beginner, Advanced - The Condor is a little slow but has excellent targeting range. Fit requires missile skills.
- Executioner (Long Range Tackle): Beginner, Advanced - The Executioner's strong powergrid removes the need to use a MAPC, although you may have to use autocannons in order to do so. With two overdrive injectors, this is an exceptionally fast ship.
- Atron (Long Range Tackle): Beginner, Advanced - The Atron is a fast ship, and is naturally tough compared to its counterparts thanks to its high structure HP.
These fits are designed to latch on to something and slow it down by disabling its MWD. Warp scramblers are their primary tackle module, with stasis webs and a nosferatu included where possible.
- Merlin (Close Range Tackle): Beginner, Advanced - The Merlin's shield resist bonus makes is very tough, while its four mid slots leave plenty of room for tackle and tank. A great choice.
- Rifter (Close Range Tackle): Beginner, Advanced - The Rifter is fast and versatile, although it's a little fragile for a combat frig. Its spare high slot is an excellent place for a nos if you can fit one.
- Punisher (Close Range Tackle): Beginner, Advanced - With only two mid slots, the Punisher is automatically an armour tanker. This ship really needs armour rigs and a decent level of the Amarr Frigate skill to shine, but once you have those it can be very resilient, albeit also very sluggish. Better used in smaller gangs.
- Atron (Close Range Tackle): Beginner, Advanced - The Atron remains strong for close range tackle, with great speed and the ability to fit a nos in its spare high slot. Beginner fit requires Engineering IV, or take a gun off.
- Executioner (Close Range Tackle): Beginner, Advanced - The Executioner remains strong for close range tackle, with good speed and the ability to fit a nos in its spare high slot. Beginner fit requires Engineering IV, or take a gun off.
- Slasher (Close Range Tackle): Beginner, Advanced - The scram Slasher performs very similarly to the Rifter - it's a little faster but also a little more fragile. Unlike the rifter, it has a spare mid slot for a web.
- Condor (Close Range Tackle): Beginner, Advanced - The Condor is pretty hard to fit as a scram tackler, and is much more fragile than the Merlin. It is however a little bit faster, and able to fit a nos. Fit requires missile skills.
- Incursus (Close Range Tackle): Beginner, Advanced - The Incursus isn't that much tougher than the Atron when shield tanked, but its extra low slots mean it's not much slower either. There are better uses for this ship, but it will do the job if needed. Fit requires drone skills - not essential.
- Tormentor (Close Range Tackle): Beginner, Advanced - The Tormentor is only marginally tougher than the executioner when shield tanked, although it's not much slower thanks to its extra low slots. Probably not the best choice for fleet tackle, but will do the job if needed. Fit requires drone skills - not essential.
The fits below demonstrate some of the fun things you can do with tacklers if you want to be a little more creative. These aren't recommended for rookies since they're generally harder to fly and involve quite a lot of micromanagement, but they can be very effective if used right. Only advanced versions of the fits are included.
- Merlin (Dual Prop): Advanced - Dual Propulsion can be incredibly effective, and the Merlin does a great job of it thanks to its four mid slots and innate toughness. This particular fit is designed for small gang use, so sacrifices some speed and tank for extra damage output.
- Slasher (Dual Prop): Advanced - The Merlin isn't the only one that can pull this trick, in fact most frigates with three or more mids can do it (although four are required unless you want to armour tank). The Slasher is much more fragile, but very fast. Think of it as a baby Dramiel.
- Incursus (Dual Rep): Advanced - This is what the Incursus is really designed for, and it performs brilliantly. The bonus to armour repairers lets it tank an incredible amount, and a cap booster keeps those reps flowing until its cargo is empty. Strictly a small gang fit, but a great one. Also works very well with an afterburner and neutron blasters.
- Merlin (Dual ASB): Advanced - Similar to the Incursus above, this ship features a crazy tank using two Medium Ancillary Shield Boosters. The tank only lasts until cap charges in the boosters run out, but until that happens it can shrug off surprising firepower. Again, strictly a small gang fit.
- Condor (Multi Point): Advanced - Sometimes, you just can't tackle enough ships at once. Then you fly something like this Condor, and you can. Keeping track of multiple targets (not to mention staying within range of them) can be tricky, but it's a great party trick when you can pull it off.
As a tackler, you really have two goals. First and foremost, you're there to tackle things for your fleet. They're relying on you to grab and hold targets so that they can kill them, and without you tackling that won't happen. Your second goal is not to be dead. After all, a dead tackler is much less effective than a living one.
Unfortunately these two goals don't coexist easily - to tackle things effectively you can't really afford to be cautious, you need to act quickly and take risks. However there are some things that you can do to improve your chances, starting before you even encounter your target. Learn what you can about the different ships that you might be fighting, and try to get an idea of what you can probably tackle safely, and what's likely to be more difficult. Fast turret ships with medium guns, drone boats, and anything with energy neutralisers will present a particularly large threat to your fragile tackler. As you gain experience in the role, you'll start to get more of a feel for what you can take and what you should avoid.
When you encounter a target, make sure you keep moving - this will keep you harder to hit and reduce any damage that you do take. In fact, it's a good idea to be moving at all times even when no target is around - when you're sitting on a gate waiting to tackle something, try orbiting it at 500m rather than sitting still. If you have to fly towards someone when in order to get tackle, avoid flying directly towards them - practice flying manually by double-clicking in space, and approach at a slight angle. This means you'll always have some Angular Velocity, preventing them from hitting you too easily while you're giving chase. You can learn more about this technique from my Tracking & Spiralling video.
Once you've got your target tackled (or ideally before), you need to decide what range you want to orbit at. Usually the closer you orbit, the harder it will be for your target to hit you; even if you're carrying a long ranged warp disruptor you'll quite often be safest orbiting right under their nose at 1 or 2km. Orbiting further away can help you avoid damage if your target is very close ranged (for example a blaster ship) and prevents you from getting webbed or scrambled, making it easier to disengage if you need to. Bear in mind that even though you're not webbed, you'll probably still be easier to hit at longer range simply because your angular velocity is lower.
If your target is clustered within a group of ships, your main concern should just be keeping your speed up rather than orbiting at a specific range from your target. After all, they're not the only one who can shoot you. Orbit fairly wide, watch out for ships which present a significant danger to you, and be ready to disengage if things get too hot.
Remember that if you're running a microwarpdrive, you should turn it off once you don't need it any more - this will save capacitor, and keep you from taking too much damage due to your bloated signature radius. If you need a burst of speed to switch targets or escape from a bad situation, you can always fire it up again. Afterburners on the other hand can be kept running all through the fight, and doing so will help reduce the damage that you take.
If things go south and it looks like your ship is going to go down, you have a choice to make. You can either stick with it to the end, giving your gang the chance to get the kill, or you can try to bail out. This is a call that only you can make, and it needs to be made quickly and early - if you think there's a reasonable chance that your sacrifice will get the kill or will give someone else time to get that target tackled, then you're probably best off sticking with it and going down fighting. If not, there's no point losing your ship if you can help it. The best way to disengage from a fight is to pick a planet, belt, or other celestial which is roughly in the direction that your ship is already travelling, and start flying towards it - this prevents you from suddenly slowing down while you change direction and taking more fire as a result. If you're not scrammed but you are tackled, fire up your MWD to get you out of tackle range, and then start spamming the warp button. To reiterate - you need to make the call to get out earlier rather than later if you're going to do it. If you start trying to bail once you're already taking armour damage, you almost definitely won't make it. If you decide you're going to commit, commit.