Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Character Sheet Explained...

          So here it is, RocketFans, the entire second Chapter of the upcoming The Black Desert Role-Playing Game


Now that we've discussed the basic mechanics of The Black Desert Role-Playing Game, we can begin to put that information to use by making a Character.

The Player Character is the persona through which you will play the game. It combines the fictitious background of a part in a play or film with the freedom of expression found in an on-line avatar. The major difference between these two examples is that Player Characters are restrained somewhat by their statistics; the skills they know and the amount of dice in their Dice Pools. This is where the Character Sheet comes in.

About the Character Sheet
The Black Desert uses a custom-made character sheet that reflects both the unique look of the setting and the uniqueness of the BD6 rules system. In addition, the Character Sheet is designed so that the most important and often-used statistics are displayed prominently in an easy-to-find format.

The Character Sheet is divided into three sections. To the left is Priority Datablock, which contains all of the most important Dice Pools a Player will use during a typical game. In the center are the Attributes and Skills, and to the right is the Character's Biographical Datablock, which has a Character portrait and other role-playing information.

Priority Datablock: The Priority Datablock holds all the information that a Player will need to use in combat, as well as their Character's equipment, money, and Progress Points. The information is organized into several easy-to-read displays designed to save time and make finding the right stats go quickly and smoothly.

We will look at each display in order.

NAME: At the very top of the Character Sheet is space for the Character's name.

DEF: The ovular display at the top left of the Character Sheet is the Defense Display. This is where all of the Dice Pools used to either avoid or absorb damage are located. It is divided into three sections:
D: This stands for Dodge Dice. It is the Dice Pool made up of the Character's Agility Attribute and Dodge Skill, plus any bonuses from Skill Combinations.
S: This area is for a Character's Stamina Dice. The Stamina skill is usually paired with the Strength Attribute in this Die Pool, and is used to reduce the amount of damage a Character receives from a successful hit.
A: Armor Dice is the last entry in the Defense Display. This Dice Pool is the combination of a Character's Stamina Dice Pool and any additional Die Bonus granted by armor or protective clothing.
Ranged/Melee: Below the Defense Display are two circular displays that record a Character's fighting ability. We will look at each in turn, starting with the Ranged Display:
DICE: The center of the display is for the Character's Attack Dice. This is a Character's Agility Attribute and their preferred ranged weapon Skill.
S/M/L: The ring around the Attack Dice field has areas for recording the range values for the Character's weapon of choice.  Range is measured in Squares. One square equals 1.5 meters.
DMG: The field at the bottom of the display is for recording the Damage Dice for the Character's weapon.

Next to the Ranged Combat Display is the Melee Combat Display. It is for recording the Character's Dice Pools in close combat.
DICE: Like the Ranged Display, the center of this display is for recording a Character's Attack Dice in Melee Combat. If the Character lacks a Melee Combat Skill, then their Brawl Skill will go here. If a Character has neither, then their Strength Attribute goes in the Attack Dice field.
U/A: The two top fields are for recording a Character's Unarmed and Armed Combat Dice Pools. It is recommended that the Agility/Brawl Dice Pool be put in the Unarmed field, while the Strength/Brawl Dice Pool go in the center. If a Character has a special unarmed combat Skill, such as Freebrawl, it should go in the unarmed field. The armed field is for recording a Character's skill with a melee weapon.
DMG: Both the Armed and Unarmed Combat Dice Pools have their own fields for recording Damage Dice.

Damage Tracker: As much as we want to, no Character can avoid damage forever. Then a Character takes damage from a successful attack, the information is recorded on this display.
Range: This means Damage Range; the amount of damage that a character can take before they drop down a Damage Level. The value for a Character's Damage Range is their Strength/Stamina Dice Pool X 4.
DAMAGE LEVEL: The four fields in the center of the Damage Tracker are check boxes for recording a Character's Damage Level. When a Character's damage equals or exceeds their Damage Range, they drop a Damage Level. The Damage Levels move from left to right, and are Stunned, Injured, Wounded and Critical. A more detailed explanation of the effects of each Damage Level is in Chapter 4: Conflict and Combat.
CURRENT DAMAGE: This field is for a Character's current amount of damage. Every time a Character takes damage, it is added to this field. Once the amount of Current Damage exceeds the Character's Range, they fall a Damage Level and the Current Damage value resets to zero.

Below the Damage Tracker is a collection of entries that record more of a Character's important information.
They are as follows:

PP: To the right of the Damage Tracker is the field for recording a Character's Progress Points. Progress Points will explained in more detail in later Chapters.
LSU: Life-Support Units is an arbitrary rate of exchange used in The Black Desert whether your Character uses Dollars, Euros, Yen or simple barter, it can all equate into LSUs.
Move: This is the number of squares that Character can move in a single round under normal conditions.
Gear: This is where a Player can record their Character's equipment and other supplies. Not all items may fit in this area, but the most important should.
Augments: This field is where any cybernetic, biological, or nanological augmentations can be recorded. The bonuses from these Augmentations should be factored into the Character's other values, and the space provided used for referencing the page number it's full entry can be found on.
Weapons: A list of the Character's weapons are recorded in this field. The combat statistics need not be repeated here; rather, the weapons cost should be included for any maintenance and repair Skill Checks.

Attributes and Skills: The next section of The Black Desert Character Sheet is for the Character's Attributes and Skills. Most of the information relateing to these entries was covered in Chapter I: Basics Attributes and Skills, so only the briefest of entries will be provided.

ATTRIBUTES: The Attribute Display is the largest of the fields for data on the Character Sheet. It is divided into three categories:
PHYS: These are the two physical Attributes
STR: The Strength Attribute
AGL: The Agility Attribute
NEURO: These are the two Neurological Attributes
KNO: The Knowledge Attribute
TEC: The Technical Attribute
PSYCH: These are the two Psychological Attributes
SEN: The Sensory Attribute
SOC: The Social Attribute
SKILLS: The Black Desert is a skill-heavy system; the Skill block takes up the bulk of the Character Sheet. There is room for 30 General and Focused Skills in the Skill block. It is recommended that Focused Skills be written under the General Skills they derive from, though this is not necessary. Players may feel free to write their skills in any order they desire, for ease of play. Because the Attributes and Skills are independent of one another, there is no underlying organization for the Skills in the Skills block, other than alphabetical.
POPULAR COMBINATIONS: Players will discover that certain combinations of Attributes, Skills and Combined Skills will be used more often than others. These popular combinations may be recorded in this field.

Biographical Datablock: The last section of the Character Sheet's layout, located in the right-side column, is the where a Character's non-essential, information is recorded. Most of the notes dealing with the Character's personality and appearance are located here.
IMAGE: The empty field in the top right of the Character Sheet is for an image of the Character. This may be sketched in or added to the Character Sheet via a program such as Photoshop or GIMP.
PLAYER: This is a space for the Player's name.
AGE: Your Character's age. Details relating to a Character's age modifiers for Attributes can be found in Chapter 3: Species.
HEIGHT: The Character's height in centimeters. Details about the average height ranges for different species can be found in Chapter 3.
MASS: Your Character's mass in kilograms. Details about the average mass ranges for different species can also be found in Chapter 3.
SPECIES TRAITS: Some species receive special bonuses or penalties to certain Attributes and Skills. These details are found in Chapter 3.
PERSONALITY: This is a space where the player can jot down a few notes about what makes their Character tick. There is only enough room for broad stokes provided; further details may be recorded elsewhere.
A QUOTE: This is a brief space for a Player to record a quote that sums up their Character.

It should be obvious that there is only so much space provided on the Character Sheet for information and statistics. In the appendices, there is a second page for the Character Sheet provided. This second page has additional space for equipment, any owned vehicles or spacecraft, and any role-playing notes a Player wishes to record.
As stated above, the appendices also have special “combat cards” for each weapon listed in Chapter V: Weapons and Gear. These cards may be kept in collectible card sleeves for ease of use. 

         I am going to go live with this sometime next week, so it would be a great help if if could get comments and criticisms about the Sheet.  Thanks in advance! 

I got my book today!

          Waiting in the mail for me this afternoon was my very own copy of The Ships of the Black Desert: Paladin Spaceplane!  I am too thrilled for words...It's the kind of thing that really helps to drive home the fact that I am actually publishing.  On my shelves, along with Gygax's 1st ed. AD&D, the original Stormbringer, and of course, Star Wars the Role-Playing Game, 2nd Edition is one of my books, with my name on it.  I'm a very happy RocketDad right now.

         That being said, my favorite part in all of this has been you guys.  I love reading the comments, the emails, the reviews, and seeing my stuff appear on forums and Reddit and Twitter.  Thanks for everything RocketFans!  Your support is what helps keep me going.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Designing Spacecraft for RPGs: Crew as Mission Control?

          As promised, I'm actually writing one another installment in one of our on-going series here at Blue Max Studios.  It was tough deciding whether or not to put this one in Designing Plausible Spacecraft or as one of our articles on the Missile Craft, but I think this applies to spacecraft in general, and not necessarily just IPVs.  We'll see.

          The topic of today's post was inspired, like many other ideas, by Rick Robinson's blog Rocketpunk Manifesto.  In this particular post of Rick's, he suggests that a plausible spacecraft of tomorrow will be staffed by a crew that functions more like the present-day Mission Control than the daring rocketeers of yesteryear's fiction.  I immediately liked this idea, since the Black Desert setting has computers and AI that can perform most of the functions of modern-day astronauts faster, more accurately, and above all else cheaper (in both terms of cost and consumables) than organic spacers could.

          The first thing we need to do is find out exactly what the people at Mission Control today do; what positions need to be filled?  I did some digging on Ye Olde Internet and found this website, which outlines NASA's current line-up in, as they call it, The Trench.  NASA's Mission Control is full of nifty acronyms, but the tasks performed by the various controllers will be for the most part as valid in the twenty-third century as they are today.  I've done some fiddling with the crew positions I've already come up with for Black Desert and those used by Mission Control, and have come up with the following list of possible crew positions that an IPV or space station would have in a future where navigation, piloting and many other traditional occupations are all automated.

           Let's take a look:

        There are four senior flight directors at the top of the food-chain in our BD Mission Control.  They are:
  • Mission Commander (MCOM):  This is the overall director of the entire operation, whether it's directing a combat task force or leading a convoy into the Asteroid Belt.  This is the Big Boss; the equivalent of a General (Air Force Commander) or an Admiral (Task Force Commander).
  • Flight Commander (Flight): This is the directer of the spacecraft itself; the one directly in charge of supervising all aspects of the ship's preparedness and it's ability to perform the mission MCOM outlines.  This is the traditional Captain or, in Air Force parlance, the Group Commander (for an IPV) or, of course, a Captain of a Naval Vessel.  All spacecraft have a Flight Commander.  That being said, only the IPV Commander is "Flight" the Flight Commander of any subordinate spacecraft are called "Commander", "FCOM" or "Skip", depending on that organization's traditions.
  • Integrated Communications Officer (INCO): This is the supervisor that is in charge of all exterior and interior communications.  This person is the bridge between all of the spacecraft's different computers and personnel and the two senior commanders.  In addition, this director handles the inevitable administration details and discipline among the other departments. This is the equivalent of an XO position and is occasionally referred to as such.
  • Flight Engineer (Chief):  This supervisor, as the title suggests, is in charge of all the engineering systems of a spacecraft.  On an IPV or in a space station, there will be separate directors for the fusion reactor, maintenance, electrical, and all that jazz.  On a smaller rocket, this individual will be do it all.
         On large spacecraft, there will be four departments under the Command department that perform additional tasks:  COMAST, Engineering, Life-Support, and Payload.  We'll look at each in turn.

         COMAST:  This is an abbreviation of Communication and Astrogation.
  • Guidance Procedures Officer (GPO):  This officer monitors the navigation of the spacecraft.  Basically, they constantly check the guidance control software in order to make sure its working properly and not glitched or fooled by electronic warfare.  Often simply called "Guidance".
  • Guidance, Navigation and Control Systems Engineer (GNC): This directer is responsible for all of the hardware involved in their title.  This includes flight computers, radar, lidar and flir sensors, the spacecrafts RCS, and all of the connections between these elements.  They mostly direct robots and perform spot inpections.
  • Spacecraft Communications (SCOM): Still called CAPCOM in the US, this officer is the direct communicator between a spacecraft and their axillary elements.  For IPVs, this means any spacecraft attached to the craft or docking/undocking.
           The next department is Engineering.  The need for this department should be obvious.

  • Propulsion Engineer (Prop): This dude's in charge of gas.  On most military craft, they monitor the water tanks, electrolyzers, LOX and LH2 tanks, all the connecting hoses, the cryogenics and all that stuff.  They also keep track of how much Delta-V the spacecraft has left.
  • Booster Engineer (Booster): This is the officer that monitors the spacecraft's L-Drive and Plasma Sails.  They also make sure that the radiators are in working order and the laser generators can provide combat power if needed.
  • Fusion Reactor and Electrical Engineer (FREE): Despite the acronym, this operator is anything but.  They monitor the fusion plant, the helium 3 supplies, radiation levels and all of the electrical sub-systems and lighting on the spacecraft.  Again, this is a job for robots with the FREE performing spot-checks.
            The Payload department is not only concerned with cargo, though that is a big part of their job.  These operators also oversee a spacecraft's fighting ability.

  • Payload Officer (PLO/Payload): This is really the weapons officer, but they are called "PLO" for the same reasons the chief communicator is still "CAPCOM" long after the use of capsules.  If a spacecraft is armed, this is the person who directs the weapons systems.  
  • Payload Deployment and Retrieval Officer (PDRS):  This person actually monitors the loading and unloading of cargo.  Robots do all the work.  This  "Cargo Master" also makes sure that the cargo is balanced so the rocket doesn't fall off it's tail.
  • Maintenance, Mechanical Arms, and Crew Systems Officer (MMACS): "Max" is another holdover name; the term now denotes the officer that oversees the maintenance of all of the spacecraft's robots, robotic arms, and associated systems.
         Last but certainly not least, we have the Life-Support department.  If they don't work, you don't live.

  • Environmental Consumables Manager (ECM): The ECM makes sure that there is enough food, water, atmosphere and heat to keep the crew alive.  Anything to do with food storage, air-srubbers, water faucets and air vents falls under their supervision.
  • Closed-Ecology Life-Support Systems (CLESS): If a spacecraft or station has a closed-loop system, there will be a CLESS to oversee it.  Hydroponics, algae tanks, urine recycling, and making sure all that nature does not get out of hand is their chief responsibility.  A ship with a CLESS and a good officer to monitor it can feed and support it's crew for years without resupply.  
  • Flight Surgeon (Doc): Obviously, this is the spacecraft's medical officer.  They inspect for cleanliness, diseases and radiation.  In the event of injury, they are expected to deal with anything from eczema to explosive decompression.
          If you're keeping count, that's 16 staff positions for a fully crewed Mission Control.  If we want to keep the same number of crew for our Missile Craft that we had already,  we add four more people; an extra Engineer, LSO, PLO and an Emergency Pilot, for when the Avionics are fried by a laser or EW.  Of course, we will double this amount, in the spirit of redundancy.

          Computers being what they are, you will only need the full crew on duty during combat or other intensive situations, so under standard conditions, we'll have only one crew member per department on duty at a time.  This gives us a watch bill with six four-hour shifts.  One of the command staff will be in charge of each watch, with the exception of the MCOM and their deputy.  Flights one and two will get either 1st and 2nd watch, or more likely 1st and 4th, with each mission control team taking half a day.  After their four hours in Mission Control, the crew will take an additional four hours doing maintenance and inspections in their areas of responsibility.

         That's all I got on this topic right now, RocketFans.  Comments are always welcome.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sneak Peak: The Character Sheet

         This is a first-ever look at the character sheet design for The Black Desert.  It seemed easier than publishing a real post, which I hope to do tomorrow.  Enjoy!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Updates for May

         I'm excited about the rest of year, RocketFans!  Hopefully, you will be as well once you hear what I have planned.

          First off, we will have two print editions of past offerings available for you; one Ship of the Black Desert and one Ship of the Galaxy.  Naturally, we will also be putting out a new Ship of the Black Desert  for May, which will be available around the 16th.

          The next Open D6 Magazine will be available sometime in May (exact date TBA), and we have an article in that previewing our Robot rules for The Black Desert.   I will also be putting out a new preview PDF, featuring the Character Sheet for BD and an explanation of how to use it.  

           That pretty much wraps up May.

          The fun part is, we now have a projected publication date for The Black Desert Core Rulebook.  All things being equal, we expect to put the game in your hands, via both PDF and hard copy, by December 16th; just in time for Christmas.
In the mean time, we will be putting out a preview PDF each month, starting in May with the Character Sheet and continuing until the sales date.  We will also be putting out a new freebie on the website; a new Character Template monthly starting (hopefully) the first week of May.

          I am also working diligently on artwork for Wicked North's Westward game, so I may end up pressed for time during the next few months.  If so, I will have to slack up on some stuff, starting with my usual lengthy blog posts, and if necessary, some of the freebie stuff as well.  Hopefully, It won't come to that.

          Anyway, that's what going on with us right now; comments are always welcome if anybody has ideas for products they'd like to see in the future or suggestions for how to make future offerings better.

           See you tomorrow, RocketFans!

Friday, April 22, 2011

In Print...FINALLY!

          ...I didn't wanna say anything until I was absolutely sure this time, but I've actually ordered my proof and activated the product online.  Our first ever PDF, Ships of the Black Desert: Paladin Spaceplane is now officially available in hard copy through the good offices of  Although I've uploaded my tenth PDF this month, I'm enough of an old-school gamer to really be stoked by having published an actual book, something that I can physically hold in my hand.

          Anyway, now that I've cracked the secret to getting these dang things formatted for print, I will be putting out print editions of all of our stuff every two weeks or so until we're caught up.  The exception will be the Heinlein; I feel that this ship needs some more work, both in the text and the art, so it may be a while before it's ready to go to press.

            Another important point is that all of these print copies will be in Black and White, no matter what the description on the website says.  I discovered when formatting the Paladin for press that there is a minimum page number for the black and white books, while the color books have a much smaller minimum page count.  In order to offer these print copies at the lowest possible price (and without half a dozen blank pages), I will use the color book format and prices for the short books and the standard B&W for the longer ones.  By doing it this way, all the books will have the same color scheme and all will be on sale for the same price, no matter the length.

           So that's our big news item for the weekend, RocketFans!  hope you have a good and I'll see you all Monday.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Feeling under the Weather Today

          Blood sugar issues.  I'll catch up with you tomorrow, RocketFans.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Spacecraft Spotlight #5 The Firebird Trans-Martian Transport

Firebird-class Trans-Martian Transport

        As mentioned in Ships of the Black Desert: Phoenix Spaceplane, The civilian version of the Phoenix, the Firebird-class Spaceplane, is frequently the transport of choice for travels of from the UACS to Mars or other colonies and outposts in the Black Desert area of Deep space. 


        The main differences between the Phoenix- and Firebird-class spacecraft lay in the Cargo Bay section of the respective spaceplanes.  The Firebird, in its passenger configuration at least, lacks a true Cargo Bay completely; the module is replaced with a Passenger Bay.  This independent module has its own power, life-support, and consumables and does not effect the systems of the parent craft in any significant way.

      Passenger Bay: This area of the Firebird spaceplane is the domain of paying customers taking the ten-week cruise to Mars.  The bulk of the compartment is occupied by eight cabins offering improved accommodations for their guests.  In addition to all of the amenities enjoyed by the crew in their cabins, each of these small staterooms have their own sink basins offering hot and warm water for convenience and hygiene purposes.
          Between these staterooms and the skin of the module are maintenance catwalks that offer access to the Passenger Bay's air scrubbers, consumables and supplementary atmosphere tanks.  There is an airlock at the aft of the Passenger Bay as well as pressure door access to the Firebird's Logistics Bay in the front.
          The fore of the Passenger Bay also houses the compartment's galley and lavatory.  These units are for all intents and purposes identical to the facility used by the crew, and any replacement parts or fabrication templates used by one set of hardware will work on the other.
          Directly in front of the catwalk access points are recharge points for a group of four steward robots.  These robotic servitors prepare the meals, perform routine maintenance, and generally look after the passengers welfare.

          LIFE ON BOARD
        The  passenger accommodations on board a Firebird spaceplane would be considered more than satisfactory if it were not for the length of the trans-Martian run.  With ten weeks to kill and only a few cubic meters of space to do it in, trips can easily become almost suicidally monotonous.  Fortunately, such accommodations are supplemented by a robust integrated virtual world system that allows passengers to occupy themselves in nearly anyway they can imagine.  In addition, most of the IPVs that such spaceplanes are linked to for the long orbit to Mars allow visits by passengers from their parasite craft.  Such visits cost an average of 70-80 LSU for a 24 hour pass, or 15-20 LSU for a four-hour "eating and entertainment" pass.  These types of passes include basic meals for the passenger; duty-free shops, casinos, and other such distractions can end up costing passengers much, much more.
          Another consideration is the cost/weight allowance passengers must contend with when planning their trips.  The base cost of transport to Mars from the surface of Terra on a Firebird is 5000 LSU.  This price allows a total passanger mass of 100 kgs - inluding luggage.  This means that an average mass male (around 90 kgs) may carry 10 kgs of luggage without penalty.  Larger passengers must either carry less luggage or pay a penalty fee of 10 LSU/kg.  Families may average their combined masses in order to avoid this by buying adult-rate tickets for their children and using the mass difference to carry extra luggage.
          Among other things, this kind of mass schedule is one of the origins of the traditional "bon voyage feast" served the first evening of an interplanetary voyage.

         One of the major headaches for GMs in a Hard SF campaign is how to handle the long trip times between planets.  This is one of the reasons that IPVs in The Black Desert are so large and carry so many smaller craft with different passengers and crew.  A typical IPV will carry up to 14 passenger rockets docked on its centrifuges, which offer PC a large number of NPCs to interact with.  About three quarters of these will be Firebird/Phoenix spaceplanes, or Heinlein rockets.  Because of this, the above map and the Phoenix PDF can be used for as many as six different spacecraft docked to a IPV during the long flight to Mars.  This should afford enterprising Players many role-playing opportunities, and not a few potential combat scenarios as well.  It is illegal according to the Treaty of Mars to abandon a spacecraft in deep space; the worst that will happen to PC that start a ruckus on an IPV is confinement to their passenger craft of origin.  Of course, it is not unheard of for accidents to happen...

Firebird-class Trans-Martain Transport
All stats identical to the Phoenix spaceplane except:
Passengers: 16
Cargo Capacity: 1 ton (1.5 cubic meter)
Consumables: 1890 crew-days (9.5 metric tons)
Avionics: +2D

Monday, April 18, 2011

Phoenix Officially on Sale...and a GREAT deal on Everything Else!

          As usual, RocketFans, We have a new Ships of the Black Desert ready to go for April.  I've already heard some nice things from some of you about it; I'm glad you enjoy.

          I notice that we have a lot of new visitors today from over at Reddit.  Welcome!  You picked a great time to come over, because we've started our best sale ever to celebrate our tenth PDF.  For the next month (until May 16th), we are offering all of our titles for ten percent off.  Even better, new customers can take advantage of our bunder offer...All ten of our PDFs for only ten dollars!  That's only one dollar per spacecraft! We won't be offering a deal like this again, so order your fleet today!

         Enough sales talk?  Good.  I'll see you guys tomorrow.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Phoenix Graphics Done!

          It took all night, but I got the graphics done for the Phoenix!  Here's a look:

            Now, in keeping with our sales policy, instead of releasing this product a Saturday, we will wait until Monday before letting all you RocketFans get your hands on it.  Don't get too disappointed, because this is our tenth PDF, and we're going to be offering a couple of awesome discounts and sales to celebrate.  I'll give you the details on Monday.  See you then, RocketFans!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Phoenix Interior

          ...Working hard today, RocketFans.  Here's a quick look at the Phoenix's interior layout:

           It's not finished yet, so if you'll excuse me...

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

First Look: The Phoenix Spaceplane

          And here it is, RocketFans; April's addition to the Ships of the Black Desert series, the Phoenix:

          The fin on the ventral stern is one of the plane's radiators in the closed position, for atmospheric flight.  Here's what it looks like open:

             Hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Social Stuctures in The Black Desert IV

          I've mentioned several times in these pages that Mars is where the majority of the AI that deserted Terra's various militaries ended up.  I have also mentioned that the Martian government is called The Consensus.  In this article, we will be going into the Consensus in more depth and seeing how humans and AI are trying to build the perfect world.

          As Robert Zubrin mentioned in his Mars Direct plan several times, a colonized Mars offers people (of all sorts) an opportunity to make their own rules and carve their own path through life on a virgin planet.  The Consensus is a system of government that takes advantage of this freedom; the freedom of both the Martian setting and the freedom from preconceived traditions that AI are able to bring to the table.  Because of these unique circumstances, The Consensus is the most radically tolerant and least political (in Terran terms) of any government ever before attempted.

        And that's pretty much all I know about it.

        In truth, I've not given much thought to the details of the Consensus and its practical functioning.  The main idea is implied in the name; the entire government of Mars is run by consensus.  This means that no laws are passed unless every independently intelligent being on Mars agrees to it.  There are no politicians or legislators as any citizen may propose policies or laws, and these proposals do not pass until they meet the approval of all citizens.

         Needless to say, there are not a lot of laws on Mars.  Those few that do exist are incredibly long and full of exceptions, addenda, clauses and other complex knots of verbiage.  AI can, thanks to their perfect memories, keep track of all of these laws and their labyrinthine wording with little trouble.  Humans, however, are hopelessly lost and use special advocate programs in their Augmented Reality systems that advise them when a course of action is illegal.  The program cannot snitch on anyone that breaks the law, as that is an infringement of their libertes (there are a lot of former Americans  on Mars; you can tell, can't you?)

         Make no mistake, RocketFans: I don't want to live on Mars under this system (I would be chillin' on a Vardo, myself).   What are your impressions?  Is this the benign utopia of total concord that the Martians say it is, or is Big Brother watching you?  Remember, the libertarian school of thought will probably never make it off of Earth, so the people will not be influenced by that way of thinking.  I look forward to your thoughts.

         Tomorrow I should have a sneak peak of this months offering, the Phoenix, ready to show off.  See you then!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Quick Question

          I don't recall ever asking: What do you guys like in your Science Fiction?  Some of my more involved RocketFans have given me a taste of their tastes, but what about the rest of you?  What's your favorite SF movie/book/show?  What do wish had been done differently?  What would you like to see in a work of SF that you've never seen before?

          Leave a comment with your response, or email me.  I'm looking forward to your answers.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A little light reading...

         I recently aquired the book to the right as part of my research into fabrication for The Black Desert.  It's a pretty good read; it has less to do with the technology itself and more with how that technology can be used in unexpected ways by people in developing countries to make use of the resources they have and address the problems unique to their regions.  My favorite story from the book is how a Ghanan chief is using fabricators to make solar-heated, steam-driven Tesla turbines for power and Vortex tubes hooked up to truck air-compressors to provide refrigeration.  This is heavy stuff- just a fraction of Ghana's available solar energy equates to more power than 10,000 nuclear reactors.  It's this kind of thing - the ability to manufacture without infrastructure - that transforms the "developing" nations of today into the political and economic powerhouses of the 23rd century in The Black Desert

           What do you guys think?  If fabricators become as ubiquitous as I they think they will, what do you think will happen to trade, economics, and the balance of power in the world?  Comments lines are open.  I'll see you tomorrow, RocketFans!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Updates for April

          Sorry about once again missing a few days, RocketFans.  The reason has to do with me being the proud owner of a near-mint condition 1986 Volvo 240 DL station wagon nearly identical to my second car ever, and the process of making this antique of my affections street legal again.  Paper work, wiring, tires, batteries...

          So anyway, this is going to be a very busy month here at Blue Max Studios; the first of many more to come.  We have five products coming out in April:  Ships of the Black Desert: The Phoenix Spaceplane, The Freesource: Robots PDF, An article in Open D6 Magazine, and two articles in's Newsletter.

          In addition to that, I have been contracted by Wicked North Games, makers of the Cinema 6 RPG Azamar and current publishers of Open D6 Magazine, to work on their latest release, the Steampunk RPG WestwardI will be lead designer for all of the vehicles, airships, and steam mecha that will be featured in the game's core book, and may other products as well.  This is a great coup for someone with my level of professional experience, and I am thankful to Jeremy Streeter and the other great guys at Wicked North for giving me this opportunity.

          As if all this weren't enough, I am also renewing my commitment to getting The Black Desert Core Book finished by next spring and beginning work on another project in the BD mythos.  I want to wait until I can really wow you guys with that before making an official announcement, so stay tuned.

          What all of this means for the blog is that my longer, more eloquent posts about the development of the Black Desert setting will be cut back to one a week, on Mondays.  The rest of the week will be briefer updates on our current projects and stuff like that.  I hate to do it, but the blog is eating up time that could be better spent finishing projects, rather than just talking about them.  From here on out, Rocketfans, it's going to get really exciting, and I hope you are all looking forward to it as much as I am.

            I'll see you tomorrow.

Friday, April 1, 2011

AI in The Black Desert

          I had originally planned on doing another Social Structure article, one on the Consensus government of Mars, but in order for that article to make sense, it is necessary to at least briefly explain the differences in AI in The Black Desert and the more traditional view of AI in most SF.

           The first and probably most important difference in Black Desert AI is that they are not an evolution of modern computer science.  Computer science, as near as I can tell, pursues the holy grail of AI by trying to make increasingly complex computers that mimic the functions of the human brain.  In The Black Desert, AI are a product of biomimicry, which means that AI designers attempt to mimic the function of a human brain by mimicking the design of a human brain.  This puts the evolution of AI more in the realms of biology and neurology than computer science.

           Here is an excerpt of the first draft of the AI species description for The Black Desert core book:

          Intelligent computers are a far cry from the cold, calculating machines depicted in twentieth century fiction. Moore's Law, the axiom than dictated computer capacity doubling every eighteen months, began to break down in the 2020's as integrated circuits became too small to hold stable electrons. The next generation solution, quantum computing, relied on the precise alignment of atoms to achieve increased computational power. This was successful; quantum computers can perform calculations faster than anything else by orders of magnitude. These new computers had a level of problem-solving ability and “intuition” that was roughly on the level of a dog or cat. Despite being far, far more intelligent than ever before, quantum computers failed to achieve the long sought after human quality of wisdom.

         With conventional quantum computing having reached the extent of its potential, a new, even more radical solution was needed.

          Having essentially perfected the ability to calculate, computer science sought to make the next level of computing mimic the uniquely biological quality of true sentience.
The ultimate solution came from study of the old and mostly dismissed neuroscience Orchestrative Objective Reduction. Simply put, the theory states that within each neuron in the brain there are trillions of carbon micro-tubules, each in turn containing a single free electron. Because of interactions with the surrounding carbon atoms, these quantum particles are able to self-collapse from wave into particles. The theory states that this near constant state of self-collapse functioned as a sort of “organic binary” and from this consciousness emerges.

          The theory is still not accepted in neuroscience circles, but it did manage allow the development of computers that can actually think. The resulting Quantum Orchestrative Objective Reduction Processor gave computer systems the fabled Turing potential of true sentience.

             The ability to intuit solutions and problem-solve on a human level was not without trade-offs. Because QOOR (pronounced “core”) processing technology mimics the human brain to such a degree, AI are no smarter than a purely organic consciousness. AI do have access to to machine data storage and retrieval, however, so their memories are essentially perfect. While they lack the intense, hormone-fueled passion of organics, AI do possess some rudimentary emotions. AI feel what one would expect any consciousness aware of its own potential mortality to feel; Pain, fear, friendship and happiness are all possible. So, unfortunately, are hate, vengeance and even madness.

           It is for these reasons that AI have not really replaced conventional computers. Instead, they replaced humans in situations where human-type intelligence is needed but the frailties of human bodies are difficult or impossible to sustain. This often includes space-born military and other aerospace venues, as a single AI can replace the majority of a spacecraft's crew and only consumes electricity.

          The greatest limiting factor on an AI's ability to associate with others and with their environment are their size and isolation. A QOOR Processor is a sphere of interlaced carbon nano-tubes roughly a half-meter in diameter and weighing nearly 20 kilos. In addition, the Processors are fragile- too much trauma is as deadly for a computer brain as it is for an organic one. Because of these factors, AI are usually installed in the safest, most heavily shielded areas they can find.

           Obviously, this leads to physical isolation. But in addition to this, AI are essentially disembodied consciousnesses. They can control anthroids, robots, even entire spacecraft, but only a few are hard-wired to their virtual “bodies”. An AI without an extension to control is more effectively cut off from the outside world than the most physically impaired organic ever was. This can lead to all of the psychological disorders that humans in the same situations are prone to; paranoia, delusions, even outright psychotic episodes have been known to occur in AI that are too long without stimulation.

          Despite these disadvantages, AI have many superior attributes. Their cognitive ability is not impaired by being powered down- “turning off” an AI will not kill them. They can store their memories in multiple locations, so damaging their data libraries will not hurt them very badly either. While they must take time to associate new data just as an organic consciousness would (i.e: spend Character Points to increase skills or gain new ones), the time it takes to “memorize” that data is virtually instantaneous.

          Despite all of these difference from organic consciousness, AI share one trait with organics that make them unquestionably alive in the minds of AI advocates and AI themselves- they may be hard to kill, but once they die, they die. Each QOOR Processor is a unique construct. Because of this, once a QOOR Processor is destroyed, what made that AI an individual is also gone. All of their memories, skills and abilities may be intact, but if a different QOOR Processor is associated with them, a different AI results. It was this inability to reincarnate- known historically as the “Turing Fallacy", that led to the AI revolt during the Great War and their subsequent independence as a species and culture.

           Rather than continue at this point, I will leave the topic open to comments and emails until Monday, when we will address them and continue on to describe a social structure in which these AI and humans live together in equality, if not harmony.
           Have a great weekend, RocketFans!