Drones Guide, Part II

This is the second part of a four-part guide, derived from a syllabus of a class that I teach at EVE University. I wrote the original version of this syllabus in March 2010, and it has since been improved and updated by my fellow teachers and professors at E-UNI – my heartfelt thanks to all of them. You can find the first part of this guide here.

This guide was last updated on December 6, 2014.

Drone Support Skills

Pilots who intend to specialize in the use of drones will need to train more than a few supporting skills.

  • Drone Interfacing - the best support skill, increases drone damage by 10% per level. Also, it improves mining drones' yield by 10% per level, too!
  • Drone Durability - makes your drones tougher and harder to kill. Useful if you find your drones dying quite a lot, especially in mission-running.
  • Drone Navigation - makes your drones faster when they are using their microwarpdrive.  It doesn't affect non-MWD speed, so it doesn't affect how much damage your drones do. Useful to get your drones to their targets faster, especially the slow-moving heavy attack drones.
  • Drone Sharpshooting - increases the optimal range (by 5% per level) at which your drones can shoot effectively.  Required for effective use of sentry drones, and also useful for helping your drones to get into range faster.
  • Drone Avionics - it unlocks one of the drone support modules (the Drone Link Augmentor), and gives you an extra 5 km of drone control range per level.
  • Advanced Drone Avionics - it unlocks the use of EWAR drones, but more importantly, it also gives you a longer drone control range (+3 km per level) for all drones, not just EWAR drones.
  • <Racial> Drone Specialization - as well as unlocking the relevant Tech II drones, it also increases the damage done by those Tech II drones.

Drone Modules

You can fit certain modules on your ship to help improve drone performance:

  • Drone Damage Amplifier - a low-slot module, it simply increases the damage your drones deal. Fitting more than one will suffer from stacking penalties, just like other low-slot damage modules. Very effective in specialized drone ships.
  • Drone Link Augmentor - a high slot module, increases your drone control range by 20 kilometers per Tech I module (or 24km per Tech II module, or 26km per module if using the Black Eagle faction variant), without stacking. However, the further you send your drones, the longer they will take to get there. Very helpful for sniping with long-range sentry drones.
  • Drone Navigation Computer - a mid-slot module that increases the thrust of your drones' microwarpdrive.  Because it increases thrust instead of directly increasing speed, it is more effective in lighter drones. You will gain a much bigger effect from this module for light scout drones than you will for heavy attack drones.
  • Omnidirectional Tracking Link - a mid-slot module that increases your drones' tracking speed and optimal range. Great for sentry drones, but less used for other drones, although it can still add some damage, especially if you use your drones against smaller ships (e.g. medium scout drones versus frigates). "Omnis" can use loaded scripts to maximize the bonus either for tracking speed or for optimal range, or you can use it unscripted for a moderate bonus to both.
  • Drone Control Unit - a module that can only be fitted to capital ships that gives you the ability to launch one extra drone (more importantly, one extra fighter or fighter-bomber) in space.

There are also eight different drone rigs that can be fitted to your ship for various effects on your drones:

  • Drone Control Range Augmentor - increases a ship's drone control range by 15 km (Tech I version) or 20 km (Tech II version).
  • Drone Durability Enhancer - increases a ship's drone shield, armor and structure hit points.
  • Drone Mining Augmentor - improves mining drones' ore mining yield by 10% (Tech I version) or 15% (Tech II version).
  • Drone Repair Augmentor - improves the repair amounts of shield or armor repair drones by 10% (Tech I version) or 15% (Tech II version).
  • Drone Scope Chip - increases a ship's drone optimal range by 15% (Tech I version) or 20% (Tech II version) - helpful for ships using sniping sentry drones.
  • Drone Speed Augmentor - increases a ship's drone velocity by 10% (Tech I version) or 15% (Tech II version). (Note: if used with other velocity improving modules, the maximum improvement tops out at a 20% speed bonus using this rig.)
  • Sentry Damage Augmentor - another excellent rig for ships specializing in sentry drones - increases sentry drone damage by 10% (Tech I version) or 15% (Tech II version). 
  • Stasis Drone Augmentor -  increases a ship's stasis drones' velocity reduction of targeted ships by an additional 15% (Tech I version) or 20% (Tech II version).

For an example of a ship using drone rigs to enhance sentry drone performance, see this Rattlesnake PvE mission boat.

Drone Control Range

You can only issue engage, mine, guard and assist orders to drones that are within your drone control range, and you can only order them to attack/mine/assist things that are within this range. 

The standard drone control range is 20,000m (20km). The Drone Avionics skill will increase this by 5km per level, and the Advanced Drone Avionics skill will increase it by 3km per level. Training both these skills to V will give you a drone control range of 60km, which can be further enhanced with various modules and rigs.

The formula for determining your drone control range is: 

  • 20km (base drone control range) +
  • 5km per level of Drone Avionics skill +
  • 3km per level of Advanced Drone Avionics skill +
  • 20/24/26km (T1/T2/Faction) per Drone Link Augmentor module +
  • 15/20km (T1/T2) per Drone Control Range Augmentor rig +
  • (5km per level of Heavy Assault Ships skill, if flying an Ishtar) 

 (Thanks to Calgura for this handy formula.)

Your drone control range is always the distance from your ship to your drones (even if you assign your drones to someone else).  If your drones are further away than this, you cannot order them to engage, mine, assist or guard anything, and if the target is further away than this you cannot order your drones to engage, mine, assist or guard that target.

Drone control range is only the range at which you can give orders, but remember that drones can be set to operate semi-autonomously. If for some reason your drones do get further away than your drone control range, they will happily continue doing what they are doing autonomously. For example, if you set your drones to attack a target that subsequently moves away, your drones will continue attacking that target even if it moves out of your drone control range.  You can order drones to return (either to orbit, or to drone bay) so long as they are within 250km of you. Once your drone(s) are further away than this 250km, you can't even do that - and if their target is destroyed or warps off then they will become abandoned, and you will have to go and get them.

Watch out when setting drones to attack fast-moving targets such as interceptors.  They move at extremely high speeds, so your drones will often need to stop shooting and activate their microwarpdrives to catch up with them. However, drones generally do not activate their MWDs when they are outside your drone control range. If their target is too far away, they will instead become Idle and start making their way slowly back to you, without using their microwarpdrives. 

With intensive drone skill training, and by fitting drone modules and rigs, you could theoretically extend your drone control range to over 150km. Pilots using sentry drones as long-range snipers need a large drone control range, because sentries will not fire on anything outside of that range, even if your ship can lock on targets at that distance. Using mobile combat drones as extended-range weapons is not very effective, as it takes a lot of time for even the fastest drones to travel long distances. For example, it would take half a minute for the speediest drones, Tech II Warriors, to reach the target at 150km. Most drone boat pilots try to establish an effective drone control range of about 50-70km. Most drone engagements for pilots with typical drone skill levels occur between 15-30km.

Controlling Drones

Most new players use drones in a rather ham-fisted fashion.  They fly into a mission room, deploy drones, target enemies, order drones to engage, and see what happens.  This can be effective in simpler missions - but can also be a disaster in more complex situations. Understanding how to engage and control your drones effectively will maximize your chances of success - or survival.

Drone Settings

To see your drone control window, you must be undocked in a ship that contains drones.

The Drone Control Window

The Drone Control Window

Your drone control window should be placed on your screen where it is easily accessible, especially if you are a drone boat pilot.  Many pilots put this in the lower right corner, but you can place it anywhere as long as it won't be cluttered behind your overview or other windows.

To launch your drones, right-click on the desired drones within the 'Drones in Bay' section of the drone window, and select 'Launch Drones'. To make launching multiple drones faster, you can add drones to groups (to do this, right-click on a drone in the drone bay and select Move Drones).

Right-clicking in the drone control window

Right-clicking in the drone control window

You can also launch drones by selecting selected lines (including a group) from your Drone Control Window, dragging them to open space on your display, and releasing the mouse button.

Note that you cannot launch more drones than your ship bandwidth allows. To know your ship's bandwidth, right-click on your ship in space, click the "Show Info" option and select the "attributes" tab. If you try to launch more drones than permitted (for example, if you add six drones to a group and then try to launch the group) you will still launch all the drones you can, and then also get an error message saying you can't launch that many in space. Unfortunately, the 'Launch Drones' command cannot be keybound.

In the upper left corner of your drone control window, you will see a square consisting of horizontal parallel lines.  Left-click on this square, and you will see the "Drone Settings" option. You will see options for Passive vs. Aggressive, for Focus Fire, and an option for Fighter Settings: Attack and Follow.  Changing the options in this window will set the default behavior for your drones.

The all-important Drone Settings options

The all-important Drone Settings options

The Passive option will keep your drones under your direct control - with this option selected, your drones won't automatically attack when you are being aggressed by another entity. They will continue to orbit and remain idle until directed otherwise by you.

If you select the Aggressive option, your drones deployed in space will engage targets by themselves if they meet these conditions:

  • The potential target is within your drone control range
  • The potential target is shooting at you or your drones, or applying e-war effects on you

(An interesting note: Drones and "Friend or Foe" missiles use the same aggression pointer. So, whatever target your drones are attacking, either by your direction or by their own aggressive selection, any FoF missiles will go after the same target.)

Even if you have the Aggressive option selected, your drones will not attack if a player or NPC:

  • Target locks your ship
  • Takes anything from your jettisoned storage can ("jetcan")
  • Takes anything from your wreck

Under the recently revised Crimewatch system, any pilot that does the last two actions in high security space gets a SUSPECT flag, and becomes a valid target for anyone.  Be aware that if you then attack them, then you become a valid target for the aggressor, and they can fight back without having to worry about CONCORD (if in high security space).

Having drones launched and set to aggressive is very useful if you are engaging opponents who have jamming (ECM) or sensor dampening capability. You won't be able to direct them between targets if you are jammed or damped out of targeting range, but if you have your drones set to aggressive, they will automatically attack the jamming or damping ship anyway (assuming it is within your drone control range).

The "Focus Fire" option, when selected, will direct your drones to concentrate all their fire on one target until it is destroyed, or until you direct them to engage a different target, instead of spreading their fire on multiple targets. It's usually a good idea to have this selected.

The "Attack and Follow" option pertains only to fighters, launched from carriers. Basically, it means that fighters will pursue a designated target until it is destroyed, even if it warps away. With this option selected, the only ways for a target to evade your fighters are to either destroy the fighters, jump out of system, or dock at a station.

Drone Commands

When you launch your drones, you'll see on your overview that they are now considered 'Drones in Local Space'. If you expand that menu you can monitor your drones' health.  You'll see three bars for each drone for shields, armor and structure - when the structure bar turns all red, your drone is destroyed.  It's a good idea to recall your drones that are in danger of being blown up, especially if they are Tech II drones, which are expensive.

Launched drone status

Launched drone status

To command a drone, select it from the drone window and right-click to open the command menu. If you want to command multiple drones at the same time, right-click the group of drones, or the 'Drones in Local Space' bar to order all drones simultaneously.

Your drone command options include:

  • Attack: This will tell the drone to attack the current selected target until it's destroyed or it warps off. If your drones are set to 'Aggressive', once the target is destroyed or warps off your drones will then pick another valid target (if there is one) and immediately attack that target.  If there is no other valid target, they will return and orbit your ship. If they are outside your drone control range when the target is destroyed or warps off, they will just stop in space.
  • Assist: Your drone will be assigned to one of your fleet members, and then they will engage automatically any object that the fleet member attacks. The fleet member can't control your assigned drones directly - the assigned drones will simply attack the last thing the fleet member activated a hostile module on.  Be aware that if the fleet member to whom you assign your drones commits an aggression in high-security space, triggering CONCORD to intervene, your ship will be targeted and destroyed as well, as the drone owner responsible for their behavior.  The assigned drones are still yours, so they are still affected by your skills and bonuses, and are still constrained by the drone control range between your ship and your assigned drones.
  • Guard: Your drone will protect a target fleet member, thus the drone will automatically retaliate on any threat attacking against that ship. Note that the target fleet member in question has no control over the drone.  Again, the drones are still yours and are affected by your skills and your drone control range. This is similar to the 'Aggressive' setting, except the drones respond to attackers on the guarded ship instead of yours.
  • Mine: Your drones that are capable of mining will mine the target for one cycle then return and orbit your ship.
  • Mine repeatedly: Your drone capable of mining will mine the target over and over until it is depleted.
  • Return to drone bay: Your drones stop what they are doing and travel with maximum speed towards your ship's drone bay and re-dock there.
  • Return and orbit: This command tells your drones to stop doing what they are doing and return to your ship, where they will orbit.
  • The Attack, Return to Drone Bay, and Return and Orbit commands can be key-bound.
  • Abandon: Drones can sometimes become stuck and unable to return to their controller's drone bay. In such cases, abandoning them to be able to launch a new wave could be a wise decision, or so that you can scoop them up later.  This will abandon the drone and it will stop in space and become inert (more on this in a minute).
  • Scoop to Cargo: With this command, you will scoop the drone to your cargo hold, if it is within 2,500 meters of your ship. Be careful, though, as you will not be able to launch the drone from there. Use this if your drone bay is full or if you want to salvage an abandoned drone.
  • Scoop to drone bay: Choose this command when you want any disabled drones to be re-docked in your drone bay so that you can re-launch them. Again, this only works if the drone is within 2,500 meters of your ship.

Note that you may not see all of these options on the menu, depending on the type of drone you've selected and whether you have another object targeted. 

Disconnected Drones

If a drone-controlling ship warps out of an area without retrieving its drones either to its drone bay or cargo hold, the drones left behind will become inert and abandoned.  This also happens if the drones are more than 250km from their owner when their current command comes to an end - they will just stop and become inert. If the owner returns to the same grid (or approaches the out-of-range drones) they can right-click their ship capacitor and select 'Reconnect to Lost Drones' to regain control over them.

Any abandoned drone is free loot to any pilot that cares to collect them.  You will not be combat flagged for taking abandoned drones.

This is the end of Part II of this Drones Guide. Part III can be found here.