Helpful Heuristics to halt Hodgepodges and Half-measures


Nebulous is a complex game and the ship editor is no exception, with all the options to choose from and especially without prior knowledge, it can be hard to make ships that perform well, and I often see people make the same set of mistakes, hence the reason for this guide.

This Guide will not put a focus on specific builds, as these will change over time and going over how to competently build every archetype is both out of scope for a guide such as this and comes with so many asterisks you could probably make one just about those.

Before we begin, I would like to credit Hopefulmonster for the Idea of the first three steps.

They have proven invaluable in both designing ships myself as well as teaching others how to do so themselves, and I am thankful that he’s allowed me to use these for this guide.

Step One: Don’t Die For Free

Both in gameplay and in ship design, this is the first thing you should be striving to do.

Dying is bad, as it means you cannot accomplish anything anymore, dying for free, so dying without accomplishing anything in the process, is obviously worse.

Missiles are probably the #1 cause of dying for free due to fleet design, their reach is often hard to play around and if not countered, which in most cases will require specific equipment, they can do extreme damage in a very short timeframe.

Thus your main consideration in this aspect will usually be defending against missiles.

Of course, not every ship will need to or can invest the same amount into missile defense, smaller and cheaper units or ones that will be staying hidden more can (and may also have to) get away with less investment into missile defense.

But for most builds going without or without specific tools may very well spell doom if the enemy brings missiles into the match.

Missiles are of course not the only way to die for free, the vast majority of ways to do so however have one thing in common and that is high burst damage, which is usually balanced out with some limitation to said system.

Missiles for example can be countered by specific hard- or softkill equipment, other high burst weapons such as beams, rockets, plasma-enabled light calibers and torpedoes will have the limitation of a rather short range, so you may want to consider appropriate sensor systems and/or dedicated forward sensor ships to spot these threats before they suddenly pop up within range and ruin your day.

Giving your ships command and power generation ability and at least some dc capability also falls under this, as failing the former two has your ship immediately evacuate upon arrival into the battlespace, whereas bringing at least some DC is pretty much always worthwhile, lest a singular fire or a lucky shot disabling a vital component spell your death.

Step Two: Do Your Job

Now that you’re hopefully equipped to not die without accomplishing anything, the obvious question becomes what do you want to accomplish.

First this means picking something to do that your hull is suited to, for hulls larger than the 2 smallest on either faction this will be in the majority of cases picking a main weapon to fight with, Step 4 will elaborate more on why this the case.

Now that you’ve picked something to do, you bring first the equipment immediately necessary, e.g. Guns and the needed ammo, which is easy enough, the support equipment around these is where things get a bit more tricky.

First and foremost, the vast majority of weapon systems will be a lot less effective than they can be if you do not bring modules to appropriately buff them.

For example bringing ammo elevators if running guns, energy regulators if running rails, focussed particle accelerators (and not energy regulators) if running beams and some rapid cycle cradles if your weapon of choice has a significant autoloader.

Buffing modules stack, albeit with diminishing returns, but don’t let those hold you off from dedicating the majority of your module space to them, the difference between 0 or near 0 and 5 ammo elevators is a doubling in fire-rate for (single-shot) guns, for energy regulators the difference is a tripling in fire-rate, more on this again in Section 4 but the majority of ships only have just barely more module slots available than they’d want to spend on buffing their main weapons, so when building to fight, focus on these first and foremost.

Furthermore you may need other equipment to properly do the job you chose, for example fire control capable sensors (ones able to generate tracks accurate enough to shoot at) are needed for basically any direct-fire build, illuminators if you’re using semi-active missiles. Sometimes supporting infrastructure might even be another weapon entirely, for example a gun to finish off targets you’ve put missiles into.

Other Jobs than fighting (which are still very important) may also benefit from supporting infrastructure, though usually much less than weapons will, for example an ARR will leave scout ships better able to detect smaller targets at range and track correlators in sufficient numbers are able to make radars accurate enough for fire control (though bringing them while not getting sufficient accuracy is pointless).

If doing one job is good, then one may reason doing multiple is even better, however in nebulous this is very often not the case, trying to appropriately buff 2 types of weapons with different module requirements will in most cases just leave each one worse off, due to this and different weapons/equipment often requiring you to adapt at times radically different positioning for maximum effect, you are usually best off picking one thing for your ship to do and then focussing on that.

Step Three: Don’t Die While Doing Your Job

While death may sometimes be needed in order to win, it is still wise to avoid it if you can, and to build around this.

Nebulous very much embodies the survivability onion, and thus there are multiple ways of staying alive, which generally fall in one of four categories

"Don’t be there”; be in a position where the enemy is unable to shoot you, be it due to range or cover

“Don’t be seen/acquired”; deny the enemy information about your position that would be sufficient to effectively fire at you, this is mostly done through jamming, but ships with low signatures that can keep sufficient range can also do this through passive stealth (just being hard to detect on radar)

“Don’t be Hit”; taking various measures to not get hit by whatever the enemy does fire at you, beyond missile countermeasures covered in Step 1 this mostly comes down to dodging enemy fire, which becomes easier the higher your linear thrust is and can be reasonably done by most ships, just at different ranges

“Don’t be Killed”; If all else fails and the enemy manages to in fact hit you, then taking components with high durability or Damage control can lessen (but never negate) how impactful that hit is. Additionally, where your components are placed may also help with this, vital components in hard to hit areas will generally live longer and clustering durable components will make them more resilient to certain forms of damage.

Which one of these ways of staying alive works best will vary, sometimes drastically, depending on the type of ship you are using and the role you want it to fulfill.

Category 1 for example is pretty much limited exclusively to builds that will not be facing the enemy in direct combat, think cruise missiles able to shoot around rocks or rails able to sit at extreme range.

Smaller ships will be able to benefit from Categories 2 and 3 more, while their fragile nature means investments into Category 4 will only have rather limited benefits, Larger ships face roughly the opposite paradigm, they can be a lot tougher when hit but in return hiding from enemy sensors becomes a fair bit harder.

Category 2 can be a mix-up as smaller ships have an easier time dodging due to being smaller and having generally better acceleration, but larger ships may have the armor to resist harder to dodge munitions such as grapeshot or RPF.

Considerations for Category 4 will be further elaborated in step 4, but it helps to keep in mind that it is only going to take the edge off of damage, not negate its effects entirely, so adding more will not always provide a benefit proportional to the resources invested.

Step Four: Use Your Resources Efficiently

If not failing in properly doing Steps 1 through 3, the biggest pitfall that remains is inefficient use of resources, which can take multiple forms.

The resources you mainly have to trade off are slots and points, the former is limited by your ships, the latter by the fact it’s near universal convention to bring a fleet summing up to 3000 points on the dot, with small exceptions (usually on the order of 10pt) made for newer players. Both of these will force you to make tradeoffs and both of these are important to utilize efficiently, as else you will be unable to properly do your Job (mainly due to inefficient use of slots) or you may be able to do your job but are giving up too many other opportunities to do so (mainly due to inefficient use of points)

So for any points you spend or any module, compartment on mount you use, ask yourself the question of “is the value I am getting out of this worth the slot/points I am giving up to bring this”.

Things that tend to be the most common sources of inefficient use of points are missiles too expensive or too numerous, excessive investments into Damage Control, taking way too much ammo (the “Show Hidden Stats” mod is very useful to avoid this) or using a ship too large and expensive to fulfill a given job when a smaller, cheaper one could provide mostly the same capability at significantly less cost. The opposite however may also be true if the capability is not direct combat and requires at least a medium sized hull, if a large hull can provide the same capability while also being an effective combatant and the medium one has to sacrifice most or all of it’s combat effectiveness, the large hull may very well offer better value (the biggest example of this would be a spyglass with 4 track correlators).

For inefficient use of slots the #1 culprit is not properly buffing your main weapons, while the smallest hulls can get away without buffing their weapons, medium and large hulls absolutely have to do so (for weapons that benefit significantly) and doing so properly will take up the majority to supermajority of the module slots you have available, the rest usually being dedicated to power, drives and a search radar.

Only the Axford or Solomon of the Alliance really have the space to dedicate significant modules to something other than their main weapon, though even here significant tradeoffs must be made in order to do so, so again, ask yourself if the value those modules provide is worth the opportunity cost.

There are also components that provide negligible benefit and should thus be generally avoided, these include Analysis Annexes, Battle Dressing Stations, Crit Preventing Modules, Strobe Correlators, Supplemental Radio Amplifiers and Reinforced Thruster Nozzles.

Closing Thoughts

Once again, I would like to thank Hopefulmonster for the idea for the first Three Steps,

A way of going about things, while certainly helpful, does not replace knowledge about systems, their functions and their interactions, what might or might not be valuable to bring or help you achieve a certain capability in many cases will require game knowledge to properly understand, for this I would recommend the #new-players and #shipyard channels in the official discord, as well as the numerous resources pinned in the former.

When in doubt, just ask there and people will be more than happy to offer advice.

Finally, I hope this guide helps you with designing your ships and fleets to perform to a high standard, this game can be hard, but with a willingness to learn and outside help, it is by no means an insurmountable challenge.


More NEBULOUS: Fleet Command guilds