It's been a busy six weeks here at Bark and Byte Towers, so apologies for the recent lack of updates. Other than just the standard travails of work keeping me away from the blog, I've also been pouring my energies into an Elite: Dangerous novella. The first draft is done (what's this? a FINISHED creative writing project? HERESY!) and is currently out for creative consultation and feedback with a few friends on the E:D Google+ community. It's going to be a little while before I let it out into the wild, but I'm mostly happy with it - I'd describe it as an energetic romp through the E:D universe, rather than highfalutin' SF literature - though it will need a bit of editing for typos and a good re-write before I publish it in some form or another. Anyway, I presume you're here because you want some tips and ship builds on how to be an assassin in the Elite: Dangerous universe, rather than listen to me witter on about why I haven't been posting lately. Or maybe you're just here to stare wistfully at pretty pictures of spaceships, like this one... (Ice White, incidentally, is my new favourite colour for ship paint jobs, as you'll see on my Flickr account)
I'll assume that you're really here to learn about the assassin's trade, however. The pretty pictures will just be a bonus. Assassination, then. It's a profitable, high-risk business that's marginally legal, if a tad unethical. Space-murder for profit and political influence, essentially. There are plenty of groups out there who will pay you a handsome fee for boiling people that have become too troublesome or have simply outlived their usefulness to a particular faction. Assassination missions are now limited-access, by which I mean that there are Combat ranking restrictions. If you're a Novice with only 100 kills to your name, you're not going to be able to be trusted to take on a 250,000 Credit mission to whack a Federation General flying around in an Elite Anaconda with a couple of Cobra Mark IIIs in tow. So you'll need to have proved yourself in combat before you can undertake the most profitable assassination missions. Other than money, the best reason for being an assassin is that it's a good way of earning reputation and influence with factions that can help you progress upwards in the Naval rankings. Assassination missions are also more challenging than regular combat, so it's quite a fun profession, too. (AND IN THE GAME!!!!1!LOL)
In terms of the kind of modules you're looking for, you really need shield cell banks and/or hull reinforcement modules to give you more durability in combat (especially since you might be flying up against multiple opponents), plus a good balance of thermal and kinetic weapons to take down targets and subsystems quickly. Also useful are frame shift interdictor and frame shift wake scanner modules, just in case your quarry decides to make a run for hyperspace. In terms of combat tactics, you need to be wary that assassination targets very often carry missiles (so point defence turrets or ECM modules are quite handy), and the big ships pretty much always use turrets, so if you have enough utility slots, bring a chaff launcher. And always, ALWAYS, kill the wasps before going for the hornet. (That's a metaphor. No matter how tempting it is to focus on the Big Bad, get rid the little guys first, because if you don't the cumulative affect of those little guns will still kill you.)
Assassin Eagle - 2,070,257Cr
Weighing in at a smidge over 2MCr, this is not exactly a cheap starter kit, but since most assassination mission require you to be have a Combat rating of at least Novice, this is about the standard of ship you should be flying by then. There are several advantages of using the Eagle as an assassin's knife. One, it is the most manoeuvrable ship of all, which makes you very hard to hit, if you've learned how to dodge turret tracking: full throttle at all times, use yaw and the strafing thrusters at random to throw the turrets off the scent, and if at all possible, stay within 200m, right on their tail thrusters - if the turrets can't see you, they can't hit you. Put four pips to shields and two to weapons, and you should be able to hold out easily against most singleton targets. The second advantage is that if you do screw up and get boiled, at least the insurance is cheap... The disadvantages of the Eagle are obvious - the paper-thin shields and hull, plus the relative lack of stopping power from the three Class One hardpoints. The Eagle, even with hull reinforcement, will not hold out against an Elite Anaconda on its own (unless you are very smart about staying in the turret blindspots - trying to run away to recharge your shields is not a good strategy - they'll be gone again before you finish the closure manoeuvre to re-engage), let alone an Elite Anaconda with friends. Shield cell banks are also not really a feasible option for the Eagle, because of the power requirement - you'd have to skimp on your modules somewhere else, and the Eagle relies on having A-rated thrusters and shields to make it viable in this role. If you stick to contracts that only have you facing a single target, however, the Eagle will make you a lot of money and provide you with a good reputation boost.
Assassin Vulture - 25,659,922Cr
The aspiring mid-level assassin is probably going to want to be flying around in something like this. The Vulture's not my favourite ship - I find it a bit too functional, and like the Eagle, it suffers from an undersized power plant, which severely limits your ability to bring everything you'd like up to A-spec. You're always compromising somewhere with the Vulture, but I think this build is about as good as you'll get for assassination missions. The FSD range is a little on the skinny side, but you can compensate for that by targeting the frame shift drive of your target to stop them running away. An alternative at the mid-tier level would be an Imperial Courier. It's a lot cheaper (10MCr), has slightly better shields, is much faster than the Vulture and you can A-spec everything that matters (FSD, thrusters, power distributor, shields) without going over your power budget (provided you only run one shield cell bank at a time - which is normal practice anyway). Of course, it does require you to have a Naval rank with the Empire to buy one, which may be a deal-breaker for some, but I do like the Courier - for its size, the shield strength is just ridiculous.
Assassin Python - 172,251,447Cr
At the high end, unless you're really on a mega-budget (in which case, see below), the Python is undoubtedly the ship of choice. Big, powerful and well-armed, this is a ship to be reckoned with. You can even haul a little cargo on the side while you're taking down your target... You could fill the space with hull reinforcements or extra shield cells or hull reinforcements, but you'd have to be wary of the hit you'd take to your FSD range, should you have to chase targets down across hyperspace. The power plant is capacious enough to run with rail guns instead of cannons, so this spec is ideal for popping power plants nice and quickly. You don't really get that much of a boost in shield strength compared to the Courier or the Vulture, but you do get a massive increase in stopping power. An angry Python is truly something to behold in combat.
Assassin Anaconda 688,305,340Cr
What better ship to take down Elite Anacondas with, than another Elite Anaconda? The ultimate assassin's ship is the one you're trying to kill. Don't expect it to come cheap, though...