Thursday, March 31, 2011

Social Stuctures in The Black Desert III

         Apologies for not posting before now...I have spent this week either in the doctor's office, on the road to the doctor's, or just plain sick and wishing that the fantastic meds in my setting were available now.  I just want a new pancreas, is that too much to ask?

           Anyway, as I mentioned in the last post on this subject, there are other unconventional models for society available besides tribalism.  While the general assumption among SF authors is that in order to keep a habitat or spacecraft running in space one must adopt the military model of organization, I am forced to wonder if another naval model would also work. 

            I am referring, of course, to the piracy model.

            Not the crime of piracy itself, to be sure; I agree with Rick Robinson that the lack of stealth in space will make barratry much more lucrative and that all hijackings will be brazen and in the open.  What I want to look at today is piracy as a system of organization, as codified in the many Articles of Piracy used in the golden age of high-seas mayhem in the Caribbean.

             While I am well known for my pro-Air Force stance on space military debate, it is a fact that spacecraft are similar to navel vessels in that both are not only weapons platforms, but homes for their crews.   Given the necessity of having every major system on a spacecraft in working order (or you all die), it would seem that a suitably disciplined system of organization would have to be adopted.  That being said, a look at some actual Articles of Piracy and historical context yield some rather surprising information.

              First of all, the famous Captains of the golden age of piracy were only in command of their ships during raids; the rest of the time, the ship's chief navigator was boss.  Also, the crews of pirate ships voted on who was to be Captain in between raids.  Pirates also created the first - as far as I know - retirement system for wounded seamen.  The details of Articles of Piracy varied from ship to ship; a couple of extant copies of the Articles can be found here.  Since for our purposes these Articles are only useful if they can be used in space, let's see if they can be adapted for use on a spacecraft, and go from there.

Ship's Articles (stolen adapted from Bartholomew Robert's Articles of Piracy): 

I.  Everyone gets a vote on current events, and an equal share of any fresh provisions until such provisions run out.

 II.  Anyone who tries to take more than their fair share of profits and provisions will be expelled from the ship's company as soon as possible.

III. No person to gamble for money or resources among the ship's company.  Fleece the passengers all you want.

IV. All of the ship's company will keep their personal gear, weapons and equipment in working order.

V. Relationships among the ship's company are not permitted.
VI. Desertion or dereliction of duty during combat or other disaster will be punished by expulsion.  If the desertion results in the death of another of the ship's company, the offender will be executed.

VII. Interpersonal conflicts will not be tolerated; two who are quarreling will submit their grievances to the Captain, or other superior.  If a resolution cannot be reached, both will be expelled from the ship's company.

VIII. Contracts will be made among the ship's company for a specified period (usually two years).  Any member of the ship's company who choses to break their contract will forfeit all back pay and be expelled.  Any who must retire early due to illness or injury may leave the ship's company with back pay and a special bonus based on donation from the rest of the company.

IX. The two Flight Commanders receive two shares each out of all resources above what is needed to maintain the ship.  The Flight Engineers receive one and a half shares and all other crew receive one share apiece.  These shares are over and above the 75 LSU/day minimum expenditure.

           Keep in mind that the above is an extremely rough draft; any comments or suggestions will be appreciated.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Social Stuctures in The Black Desert II

         Yesterday, we discussed why the traditional social models seen in science fiction - Libertarian, Corporate, and Military - are ill-suited to the development of permanent space colonies.  I hope I didn't crush your dreams too terribly much, RocketFans, with that bit of cold water.  If it makes you feel better, I didn't much like the news when I first heard it either.  But let's remember our Hard SF motto: when confronted with an ugly fact, change your plot to account for it not the other way around.

         Fortunately, I had the idea for New Romani already.  My intention with the NuRom was to make a space-faring culture in a different model from what was normally seen, which is good, since the normal social structures don't seem to cut it.  The NuRom in The Black Desert are a loose collection of IPV "Vardos" That are made up of those craft's original crews and their descendants and any new people accepted into the clan.  These Vardos are loosely affiliated with Asteroid Colonies that were abandoned or damaged in the War and have now been made into homes for NuRom families and a place to maintain their ships.  The NuRom rarely if ever trade, but the Vardos gain resources for the colonies by transporting cargo and people around the Black Desert at lower costs than most corporate or military IPVs can match.  All that's just fluff, however.  The point of the NuRom in this post is to offer us a different social model, one that combines the traits of a vibrant, sustainable culture with the amount of hierarchical authority necessary to keep a group of individuals organized and focused on the task of keeping the society as a whole alive.

          In a word, Tribalism.

         A tribe is a rather ambiguous organism; the definition has changed over the years as the cultural biases of 19th century colonialism are slowly phased out.  For our purposes it is important to note that tribal societies are no longer considered to be less evolved socially than state-based societies, anymore than a Panda is less highly evolved than a human.  For purposes of their environment, Pandas are actually more highly evolved than we are, because they are perfectly adapted to their ecosystems, where as we must constantly modify ours.  The fact that Pandas will go extinct because they cannot adapt to human activities fast enough is immaterial.

         Trust me, I'm a Biologist.

         Objectively, a tribe can be characterized as emphasizing strong social ties, being ethnically homogeneous, parochial, and stable.  Stability and strong social ties are the key factors that would make a tribal society in space logical.  The integration of individual ideals and goals with what will benefit the whole tribe is  needed to indoctrinate and raise children in an environment where one's life so obviously depends on others.  The stability issue is also paramount, as the resources in space are limited.  Capitalism, as practiced today in the US, will never be viable in space, so it is pointless as a Hard SF author to consider it.  Think about it - 1% of the American population "earns" 95% of the Gross Domestic Product annually.  There is now way that a space colony can support 99% of the population with only 5% of its resources.  So forget free enterprise; egalitarian economics will be the only way to survive.

         As for ethnic homogeneity,  this would with the NuRom be more along the lines of the "us vs. them" mentality - you either are NuRom or you aren't, and if you're not, they don't care who you are.  There will be rivalries between different Vardos, to be sure, but in a pinch, any NuRom will support another against an "outsider" without hesitation.  Parochialism, a narrow and provincial mindset, will also be likely among the Gypsies of space as a consequence of this homogeneity.  Ecological devastation on Terra, Dysonite scheming on Venus, Martian high-handedness - it's all their problems.  As long is someone wants passage and has something useful to trade for it, the NuRom don't care. 

         Due to the nature of space, there will have to be a form of hierarchy at the head of a space-tribe.  The NuRom in their Vardos will be organized in much the same as the IPVs always have; there is, after all, really only one way to run a rocket.  Being a tribal society, however, means that those in command, the Boros(as), are elected for their talents and experience, not appointed by command back on Terra.  The Boro may be still be a jerk, but he or she will be their jerk, not HQ's.

         This model offers a reasonable explanation for whole families living in space as well.  The officers of the IPVs that chose to desert after the nuclear strikes on Terra would make every attempt to get their surviving families out as well.  With so many dependents, the IPVs would simply have to secure an abandoned asteroid colony or two in order to house them and see to their safety.  The Romani parallels may have started as an affection, but would, over the decades evolve into a distinct culture with a romantic reputation.  This reputation would, of course, come from the literati of the Expatriate movement, who would use the Vardos as cheap travel to Mars.  The governments of Terra would not really be able to to stop the Vardos and their crews of deserters; they have their hands full with the collapse of the home world's ecosystem and the Vardos are essentially the only thing keeping trade in essential raw materials open in the interim.  The Treaty of Mars, of course, recognizes the NuRom's independence and grants amnesty for their crimes of mutiny and desertion.

And yes, this leaves Mars with the bulk of military IPVs in the solar system, with the nations of Terra holding on to maybe two or three apiece. This military disparity is what keeps both Terra and the Dysonites from trying to acquire Mars.  Mars, for her part, has enough AI integrated into society that any aggressive military action against any of the system's other powers is considered both impractical and unnecessary.  That's the beauty of AI - ego, paranoia and greed are not motivations for policy.
          This tribal model isn't the only viable one, of course, but it is viable.  Next week, we'll discuss other social models, or the economics of a NuRom Vardo, which ever strikes my fancy.  Tomorrow there will be no post; it's my wife's and my eleventh wedding anniversary, and I've got other things to do...

            BTW, for those of you keeping track, this is our 99th blog post.  I plan on spending the weekend cooking up something special for the 100th.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Social Stuctures in The Black Desert

         In the comments for our post on the crew requirements of the Missile Craft, I mentioned a group called the NuRom; the New Romani.  The NuRom are an example of a different kind of social stucture that could develop in space, one that takes into account the environment and the absolute necessity of cooperation between people in order to stay alive.

          The NuRom are one of the older ideas in development of The Black Desert.  They came originally from a desire to explore different societies that could grow out a human presence in space.  In a lot of early science fiction, especially the works of Robert A. Heinlein, you see a definate libertarian influence; the idea that the wide open spaces of the American frontier will be replaced with wide open space.  These older stories use space as a backdrop for the triumphs and sorrows of the pioneer, a place where rugged individualism has the freedom to grow.

          The problem with this is that it's wrong, by at least ten thousand to one.

          Space, as we've seen repeatedly in the last 60 years, is the last place for "rugged individuals".  The "rugged" is certainly a positive quality, but the "individual" is completely out.  Crews in space are picked for their ability to cooperate, work together as a team, and resist the urge to beat senseless their crew mates whose personal quirks have gone from cute to annoying to grounds for justifiable homicide.  The crotchety old codgers you see in Heinlein's fictions, who will lase trespassers and  simply want to be left alone, will not make it into space; and those that do will not survive in that most hostile of environments.  For more depressing information on why libertarianism is maladapted for space travel, you can visit Rick Robinson's Rocketpunk Manifesto here, here, and here.

         With the pioneer pretty much discredited in the circles of Hard SF (and my own circular logic - why send a man to do a robot's job?), we are left with the corporate and military models.  These two social structures seem on the surface to be adequate for space travel; they are cooperative (in the sense that workers and soldiers follow orders), stable, and rely offer a certain level of motivation to the populace, whether it be the illusory job security of a business or the inherent discipline of the military. 

          I have a couple of problems with both of these models.  The main problem with the business model, from a practical viewpoint, is that it simply isn't cost effective to develop space, and it may very well never be.  For companies to make the multi-trillion dollar investment in space infrastructure, there would have to be something out there that is valuable enough to make the capital costs worth it to conservative thinkers.  And company towns will not evolve into true civilizations in vacuum either, as most corporate employees will be on contract; they'll work a specified period, then go back home to spend their paychecks in places were there is actually something to buy.  Even the McGuffin of Helium-3 will not make permanent space colonies viable, anymore than oil deposits in the Gulf of Mexico lead to permanent underwater habitats.

          Now, I have introduced space colonization that is not motivated by economics, with the Destiny Foundation and their Conestoga colonies, but the original colonists of these outposts mostly lost their shirts when the asteroid economic bubble burst.  Most of these original colonies were either destroyed in the Great War, abandoned when they could no longer support themselves, or converted into military bases.

          Speaking of the Great War, the military social structure suffers from some problems as well.  The Great War itself, from a military standpoint, was stupid.  Much, much more money was spent trying to defend or take over Asteroid Cyclers than they were worth.  But this happens in War; the Pacific is full of worthless, god-forsaken islands that were bitterly contested because of their strategic value as forward bases.  In The Black Desert, the asteroid's potential as shipyards that would swing back to Terra's orbit in a couple of years with a brand new fleet made their capture and destruction a priority.

           Now, unlike corporate outposts,  military bases do have a history of spawning towns in their wake.  In space, however, this will not be case.  Military bases in places like the American frontier meant security for areas of prime agricultural land and trade routes, which is why settlers developed towns in their shadows.  We didn't see a bunch of pioneers flock to the Solomons, or even to the Philippines and Okinawa, after WWII, so we shouldn't expect the Asteroids to suddenly gain a big influx of fresh colonists after the Great War. 

          Another reason that the military model will not support civilian colonies is just that - support.   In this case, life support.  Militaries in The Black Desert use robots extensively.  As I mentioned in the post on Crew Requirements, you can get away with a crew of 80 or so for an IPV that has landing craft and a detachment of Espatiers.  In modern Navies, it would take over 800 people to fulfill the same mission, which is a 90% reduction in crew.  Add to this that these IPVs are themselves space stations, albeit mobile ones, and the justification for colonial supports is further reduced.  A small crew supervising a hoard of robots that mine raw materials and then fabricate war matériel is the logical choice for an asteroid base controlled by the military.

           It would seem that I've logic-ed myself into a corner.  I've managed to explain how it doesn't make sense to have asteroid colonies, yet the whole setting of The Black Desert is built on the idea that there are indeed permanent colonies in asteroids that cycle between Mars and Terra.  But why are they there?  How do they live?  And most important:  How do they govern themselves?

           I hate to be a tease, but we'll discuss the alternatives tomorrow ;)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sorry about yesterday...

         ...I was given a doctors appointment with less than stellar notice.  I've had the flu for the entire weekend, and a lover-ly headach caused thereby today.  I'm at a loss for a pithy topic, so I will wait until tomorrow to write something that I'll actually be held accountable for.

          Forgive me, RocketFans.  See you later.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Why I write Hard Science Fiction...

          It's Friday again, RocketFans, and I thought I'd close this week out by talking a little about why I chose to write Hard SF as opposed to the Space Opera I grew up loving.

          As much as I've enjoyed the Star Wars franchise over the years, I have a problem with it.  It's not that I've lost my love for that galaxy far, far away, or that the prequels have soured me on the whole thing like they have for others my age.  The problem is, no matter how believable the "used future" design ethic was on the silver screen, The world of Star Wars can never happen.  Space travel will never be that fast, ships in space will never move like galleons on the Spanish Main, and no mater how cool they are, I can never be a Jedi Knight when I grow up.  This has been in my adult years a great disappointment to me.

         There comes a point when escapist fiction of any kind becomes a liability, because it makes you wish for things that can never happen.  This is, perhaps, especially true of science fiction, because when science says you cannot do something, like have stealth in space or travel faster than light, it is not being arbitrary or trying to ruin your fun; science is simply pointing out that if you were able to do these things the sun would stop, because the laws of physics are that interconnected and fundamental.  No amount of wishing or plausible work-arounds or hand waving can make it so.  So to wish that a soft SF setting could be real is worse than useless; it is a waste of dreaming.

          Now, I'm not running down soft SF; it is a way to tell to stories that get people's attention and makes them dream big dreams, and there is nothing wrong with that.  What I'm saying is, wouldn't it be nice if our dreams actually could come true, someday?  Or at least be able to come true? 

          Interesting thing; a lot of the people who worked on the Apollo program for NASA back in the day say that they were inspired to get into aerospace and science by the works of Robert A. Heinlein.  Heinlein may not be considered Hard SF today, with his descriptions of jungles on Venus and three-legged Martians, but back in the forties and fifties he was, and his work inspired many Americans to want to go into space.  There is actually a transcript available of the Apollo XV astronauts wanting to sing Heinlein's "Green Hills of Earth" while on the Moon, at Rysling Crater no less, which was named for the songs fictitious author.  That is what science fiction can do, as opposed to mere space opera or fantasy; it can inspire a future reality while shedding a unique light on the present.

          It can also do the opposite, however.  I think one of the reasons that space travel is not catching fire in the public consciousness the way it could is that real space travel has almost nothing to do with space travel as Hollywood has shown us over the years.  What the crew on the ISS experience on a day-to-day basis is so far removed from what most people think of as "space travel" it hardly registers as the same thing at all in many people's minds.  And it isn't; real space travel is full of strange and wondrous phenomena that are unique in the realm of human experience.

           What all of this means to me is that when I had the opportunity to write my own science fiction, I wanted it to be as true to real-life space travel as I could make it.  I wanted the technology to match what we have, or at least could have someday.  I want my fiction to inspire kids the way Star Wars inspired me, but in a way that lets them imagine a world that could actually happen.  The world of The Black Desert will never come to pass, of this I have no doubt.  That being said, it is my hope that it may, in some small way, inspire the worlds that will come to pass. 

           Whatever dreams may come from this setting, I want those dreams to be achievable.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Spacecraft Spotlight #4: The Vojagi Commuter

A Vojagi in commercial livery.
        Sorry this is late, RocketFans; I hope you enjoy!
Imperial Japanese Aerospace Lines Vojagi 

        With the success of the Vojagi Orbiter among the  private elite of the Siberian Empire, Imperial RKK Energya decided to release a commercial version for general use.  The Vojagi Commuter can be seen in aerospaceports around Terra and in orbit, ferrying passengers to and from the Empire's holdings.


          The main differences between a Vojagi Commuter and its luxury sister ships are the accommodations and number of passengers. The Passenger Deck on the Commuter is the location of the First Class compartment.  While fairly comfortable as far as public transportation goes, there are no private cabins or lounges.  Passengers sit in two rings facing the outer wall of the Vojagi's dorsal hull, opposite the spacecraft's viewports.  There is a basic galley as well, and a variable gravity lavatory.

First (above) and Standard Class

         The Standard Class passengers occupy two decks built into what would normally be the Vojagi's Cargo Bay.  The access tube to these decks is not offset as it normally is in the Vojagi's luxury variant; the extra space to the dorsal side of the tube holds the galley and lavatory facilities on these decks.  Accommodations are more cramped on these decks as well, and passengers here do not have windows.

           Comfort, even for those in First Class, is simply not a priority.  Rockets of any kind are expensive to fly and maintain, therefore the largest number of passengers must be carried to offset costs.  That being said, the physics of high acceleration require a minimum of size and padding, so the seats on a Commuter are decent if not extraordinary.  Flights typically only last a couple hours for inter-continental flights and it takes at most a day to match orbits with most space stations in Low Earth Orbit, so any discomforts are short lived. 


         The Vojagi Commuters are a simple way for starting PCs to move about Terra and her orbits if they do not possess their own ship.  Their large passenger capacities and global itineraries allow GMs to introduce virtually any NPC their campaigns require.

         Being the twenty-third century equivalent of a 747, the Vojagi Commuter can be used an any adventure that uses commercial aircraft with a little modification.  These include classics such as crash landings and hijackings, but can also include more creative ideas, such as medical emergencies, military attack, and any of the complications that can strike a craft in the vacuum in space.

Craft: Imperial RKK Energya Vojagi 2 Commuter
Type: Light Passenger Orbiter
Length: 22.5 meters
Skill: Spacecraft Operation: Vojagi Orbiter
Crew: 2 (NuApes)
Passengers: 20 first class; 52 standard, 72 total
Cargo Capacity: 5 metric tons
Safety Threshold: 5
Consumables: 110 crew days
Fusion Power? No
Acceleration: 1g
Delta V: 25
Hull Strength: 2D
Damage Range: 6
Avionics: +1D

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Vojagi Officially on Sale...Later Today

          Because of yesterday's hectic schedule, I didn't get the proofreading done on the Vojagi text until eleven at night, at which time I was simply too exhausted too work on the layout.  Today is a new day, however, and I  should have the PDF available for sale later this afternoon.  I will make announcements on Facebook and Twitter when the Vojagi goes live. 

          This of course also means that the Spacecraft Spotlight will be postponed until Thursday. 

         If you'll excuse me now, I have to get to work.  Se you tomorrow, RocketFans!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Vojagi graphics done!

         The time has come, once again, to stop writing lengthy blog posts and start writing lengthy deck plan write-ups for Blue Max Studio's next offering.  The good news is, that this means that the maps are (finally) done!  So here's the eye-candy!

          In other news, I have a very early doctor's appointment tomorrow in a city an hour and a half away.  After that, I will be devoting all my time to getting this rocket's PDF layout ready and all that jazz; so there will be no post tomorrow. On the bright side, there will be a Spacecraft Spotlight on Wednesday, complete with an extra deck plan!  I'll see you then, RocketFans!

Friday, March 11, 2011

More on the Missile Craft, and some Q&A

          I got an email today from long-time fan Trey Palmer, AKA "Pilgrim" that asked a lot of very good questions.  Rather than fill up the comments section with my lengthy response, I decided to use today's post.  Besides, I didn't have a good topic to blog about today...

         Here is the comment, reprinted for your convenience:

         "I can see the medical types reporting to the LSO, but I'm not sure the LSO would be a medical type. From my (admittedly limited) understanding, life support is a mix of biology and engineering to keep the larger system alive and inhabitable. The doctors and any support team would be invaluable in helping diagnose life support problems and fix the crew from their impacts, but I think the training would be in different directions.
         "Occupying colonies - yes, I get that the espatier unit woud have a large number of force multipliers in the form of robots in the cargo hold, plus new ones fabbed up on site, plus whatever they could suborn and be useful in occupying the site. However, you're going to need human judgement behind those bots and surveillance feeds and with no to minimal light speed lag. The ideal goal is to keep the locals from wanting to sabotage your efforts to rebuild their colony into a FOB for whatever power. So, I think the human touch would be very useful.
           "Now some questions - you've provided an illustration of the general purpose 'bot. But what are some of the broad types in the BD setting? Bush bots? Human imitators? 
           "What is medical treatment like in the BD? Is tissue engineering common for replacing organs and limbs? Or is it cybernetics all the way? Or some mix? I'll bet telemedicine is taken to a level that would boggle us. Doctors and nurses making house calls through teleoperated robots, or being on call at a hospital 200 miles away while staying in your living room are two that immediately come to mind.
           "The medical question brought up some demographic questions for me. IIRC, the three major PC types are human, AI and nu ape. So, what are their typical ages? Lifespans? Causes of death?"
          Whew!  Where to begin... First off, combining life support maintenance with direct medical intervention in the job of LSO is, admittedly, a matter of convenience.  I justify it as an analog of how old Destroyer Escorts had corpsman as the ship's chief medical officer (or Pharmacist's Mate, in those days) and maybe one actual doctor per squadron.  Of course, the IPV is itself a squadron-level (or rather, wing-level in Air Force parlance) asset, so it should have at least one dedicated medical doctor.  We'll make that two, doubling up as usual, giving us a nice round eighty for our Missile Craft's compliment.

          As for the warm-body to robot ratio of Espatiers, I am deliberately making it as low as possible to save Life-support.  Robots are easy; just rack 'em up Episode I style and do maintenance checks, assisted by the IPV's Payload Load Officers.  This gives us a full Espatier battalion, three companies, between 220 and 440 robots they can deploy at one time, and expect the command staff of 20 humans to maintain total tactical control.  This is a ratio of  1:10 to 1:20, which sounds high, but is really not when you consider the ratio of officers to enlisted in real life.  Of course, robots are not as intelligent as the enlisted marines of the present day, so there may be some conflict.  Robots do have the virture of staying on-task, not requiring sleep (just one hour to charge), and of course, they use no life-support and can be stationed in vacuum for extended periods.  You take the good with the bad either way.
           As for the question about the different types of robots available in The Black Desert we will be releasing a Core Book free-source excerpt that covers the robot rules in April.  As always, there will be fluff to give everyone a feel of how robots work.
           Medical treatment is a huge topic that I haven't fully fleshed out (ahem) just yet.  Replacement organs can be grown much more effectively than they are now, and it is possible to clone an individual.  The process used to download people's memories into a QOOR processor can be used in reverse, but its something of a crap shoot as to how much the clone is like the original.  

           One thing that BD has that I'm excited about is nano-biotics. These replace antibiotics with nanotech; the benefit being that bacteria cannot build up an immunity.  There will also be nano-virals, that do the same for viruses.  While these two wonder drugs would seem to cover the bases as far as disease goes, the fact that bacteria and viruses are at least twice as virulent in space makes it a little less effective.  In game terms, we really don't have to worry about infections in game terms.  It's a work in progress.
           All of this adds up, however; Humans live about 150-200 years without trying very hard, and they do not cosmetically or physiologically age much until they're into their hundreds.  The social ramification of this are significant, not the least of which being that scientific advancement has slowed to a crawl.  The old fuddy-duddies that will not accept any theory that is not the traditional one (the major brake on scientific advancement for...ever) simple will not die; they live twice as long as they used to.  This is why BD tech is not very much more advanced than what we could be seeing in the next thirty years or so; that generation of scientist are still alive.

           AI, and by extention Transhumans, don't have life-spans; their consciousness is not biological.  Theoretically, they could a dozen millennia or more before the carbon micro-tubules in their processors break down.  Transhumans, who don't care if they are an original or a recording, can last forever.

          NuApes don't have it so good; they live shorter lives than mainline apes did before they went extinct.  NuApes are not an actual species;  they are cloned apes that are surgically altered and have proto-QOOR processors implanted where their enormous jaw muscles used to be.  As a consequence, NuApes have to eat essentially baby-food, as they barely have the strength to hold their massive jaws shut, much less chew.  This leads to digestive problems, poor nutrition, and other chronic health issues that make them die young.  Being so close to human, they could live longer, but their creators aren't concerned with longevity for disposable troops and laborers.  Free NuApes will be strongly motivated to extend their life-spans, modify their jaws, and other things like that.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Space Combat in the Black Desert: Crew Requirements of the Missile Craft

           While the primary in-game use of the Missile Craft design is actually going to be its civilian equivalent, I have already stated that most logical way to get a feel for the civilian IPVs is to design the military one.  Today's post will deal with how many people we can expect to see on one of these spacecraft, and what they will be doing.

           If you'll recall, the most important design consideration in a spacecraft is it's mission.  Since we're in "in-game" logic mode, this means the Missile Craft's military mission.  I gave a brief description of this in a previous post, but to expand on that, the mission of a Missile Craft IPV is to travel at high speed on extended patrols (about a year) around the Black Desert.  If called upon, the Missile Craft can travel to an asteroid node, attack it, and secure it as a base for their nation's military.  This can be done through interdiction; by filling the sky with debris from your missiles, or by threat.  Once the orbital space of an asteroid is secure, the outpost itself will be occupied and the asteroid's resources put to use.  The question is: how many eating, breathing and excreting people will this take? 

           The nature of realistic space travel is one of absolute minimalism: No space agency will design accommodations for two crew members when one will serve.  As a game designer, I would like to have as many potential NPCs for Players to interact with as possible, but as a Hard SF designer, I understand that I have to keep that number at a minimum in order maintain a plausible setting.   

           So, what's the minimum, anyway?  In reality, it's actually pretty minimal.  No matter where you stand on the "Future Space Force = Air Force or Navy" debate, the fact remains that the crew requirements on a spacecraft will be similar to that on aircraft.  For example, no matter how many people travel on a plane, be it the Air Force's most long-range command and control craft, or a 727 commuter, the number of crew needed to actually fly the plane is about 3 or 4.  I have sort of extended this in BD to five core crew positions: Flight Commander, Pilot, Flight Engineer, Life Support Officer and  Payload Officer.  Payload Officer is the current euphemism for a military officer that is assigned to civilian spaceflight in order to launch classified satillites and such; in The Black Desert, this antiquated term is used for a rocket's chief cargo handler, robotic operator, and weapons officer. 

           In the spirit of redundancy,  there will be two of these core crews on duty at all times.  In order to preserve the chain of command, there will also be a Mission Commander and a Deputy MCOM, raising the minimum to twelve.  Since IPVs have spin gravity, and connecting spin segments to the rest of the craft is a maintenance nightmare, I am going on the assumption that there will be a total of four core crews; two on watch at a time in a 24 on/24 off type of rotation.  The on watch crews will be in the free-fall sections of the craft, while the other crews will be in the spin habs.  These crews will still be on duty for a portion of the day, working on keeping the ship habitable and all systems in working order.   This type of watch bill will raise our minimum crew to twenty-two.

          Missile Craft, like all IPVs, have to have auxiliary spacecraft in order to move cargo and personnel from the ship to a planet's or asteroid's surface.  The minimum number of rockets needed for this will be two.  That being said, we could simply assign the off-watch crews to man these rockets if needed.  If we do that, however, any casualties suffered on the Missile Craft could not be replaced with fresh personnel, so I believe that the inclusion of additional crew will be considered a necessary expense.  Two more crews will raise our total to thirty-two.

          I've also stated that Missile Craft carry espatiers.  Assuming a company-level unit assigned, which should be enough to secure a medium-sized asteroid outpost, we will need a minimum of six more warm bodies as passengers.  Why so few?  In The Black Desert, robots are always used instead of people if possible.  So an espatier company will have one Major as Company Commander, a Captain as their deputy, a pair of Lieutenants as Platoon Commanders, and a pair of Sergeants as their deputies.  The rank-and-file soldiers in the company will all be combat robots that are coordinated and, if necessary, directly teleoperated, by the few human espatiers aboard.

          Six espatiers will raise the totals to thirty-eight.

          So, will there be anyone else aboard?  No one else is needed to run the Missile Craft or help it complete it's primary mission, so logic suggests no.  However, the Missile Craft does have a secondary mission; once an asteroid has been successfully secured, it must them be occupied and turned into a productive forward base.  This will require additional personnel.  I have no idea how many, really, but I kinda came up with a ballpark of forty or so, thus doubling the compliment of the Missile Craft for a grand total of seventy-eight.

          This is a lot of people; Rick Robinson would be vexed with me.  That being said, the primary restraints on high crew counts on a spacecraft have to do with the cost of supplying said ship for a mission.  The Black Desert solves many of these problems with the L-Drive; cost per kilogram of supplies lifted to orbit is not very high compared to now.  In addition, a year-long deployment is past the break-even point of 145 days where the inclusion of greenhouses and algae tanks is more cost effective that transporting additional cargo.  These two factors put together make such a high number of crew possible; and the nature of high military budgets in the face of less than cost effective solutions make the possible just this side of plausible.  I hope.

           Of course, plausible from a military perspective is different from a civilian one; will such a high compliment of organics be viable for the Missile Craft's privately owned and operated analogs?  I would think so; since passenger transport is a paying proposition, the cost of supplying so many people would be subsumed in the cost of their tickets.  This is no chump change, though; we're talking some serious price tags on express tickets to Mars.  Just how much is an economic issue, however, and will be covered in another post.

            Any comments on this topic, of course, are welcome.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Announcements and Game Designer Advice

          As promised, RocketFans, I will be making some brief announcements about our upcoming projects.

          As you already know, the March offering in our Ships of the Black Desert line is the Vojagi Orbiter.  Coming up in April we will be continuing with both the Black Desert line and our Ships of the Galaxy. In addition, I will also be releasing a new excerpt from the Core Book on Robots in the Black Desert, which will coincide with my article in the next D6 Magazine.  So April is going to be a big month for us.

           As if this weren't enough, I might be doing a collaboration with the folks at Wicked North Games on their newest offering, a Steampunk SF game called Westward.  I'm not sure what that will be specifically just yet, so stay tuned for more updates on that.

           It gets better: Sean Fannon, the editor of DriveThruRPG's and RPGNow's newsletter, had agreed to publish our Spacecraft Spotlight series bi-monthly!  In addition to the extra exposure, which I am enormously thankful for, but I will also be getting an bonus in Product Promotion Points for use in on-sight advertising.  I'm excited; all of these side projects go to help get our brand out there and get even more people interested in The Black Desert and Blue Max Studios.

           Aspiring game designers please take note: I cannot stress enough how important all of these kinds of projects are to getting much needed exposure and helping you hone your craft.   It can literally mean the difference between actually making it or not.

           It's like this: If all I did was work on the Black Desert core book, then all I'd be is some guy working on a game.  No matter how many forums I posted on, or how many blog posts I made, I'd still just be some guy working on a game.  Considering how much work is involved, and how little reward I'd get until the game was actually done, odds are good that I would never finish.  If by some miracle I did finish the game, few people would know about it and less would be willing to take a chance and spend money on something from an unknown that has no prior publishing experience.  I have a sinking feeling that many aspirants try this route, and never make it to sale.

           I could be wrong; all I know is that I would never have made it.  Instead of going that route, I obviously tried a different approach.  I started with deckplans, because that's what I draw when I'm bored anyway, and I know how.  I didn't worry about a potential market - it's the Internet, and I knew someone in the world is going to be into what I'm into.  So I just made rockets and wrote what I would like to see in a gaming product.  Then I did it again, on a regular schedule, and never, ever, missed an announced deadline.  So now when I'm on forums and blogging about Black Desert, I'm not just some guy; I'm a publisher with a body of work, awesome reviews, experience in the field, a reputation for not letting fans down when new products are announced, and I have a full game in development.

          See the difference?

          I'll stop preaching now, RocketFans; I'll see you tomorrow with more on our Missile Craft.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Designing Spacecraft for RPGs: Why the Missile Craft?

          This is a question I've been asked before.  It makes sense; after all, unless one is planning to run a military campaign, what do you need a huge, Interplanetary Missile Craft for, anyway?  The answer to that has to do with the compromises necessary in a Hard SF setting, and the ways to make those compromises fun in a role-playing game.

          First off, there is one rule to Hard SF that has caused more heartache and headaches to the authors of such fiction than any other.  Nevertheless, this rule is set in the stone of physics and therefore must be followed.  We'll add it to the list:

           11. "There is simply no stealth in space.  Period."

         I'm terribly sorry, but it's true.  This point has been argued ad nauseum an many different forums and venues to no avail.  If you think you've found a work around, please check it here before you mention it.  Please.

           Notice, however, that this only refers to pure detection; basically, you will been seen coming.  You're heat signature and acceleration will probably also give away your rocket's type, size and other information.  There is nothing one can do about this.  In Hard SF, as I've mentioned before, the solution to problems like these is not to ignore them, but to work with them and around them.  That's what future military planners will have to do, right?

           The only plausible work-around I've found in my research is in one of Rick Robinson's post on Rocketpunk Manifesto, which basically states that while "everyone can see everything" in space, you may not understand what you are seeing.  This point was used to good effect in the design of our Heinlein rocket.  The Union of the Americas (otherwise known as "Brazil and everyone else"), solved the stealth in space issues by making their civilian and military craft as close to identical as possible.  That way, you may see a bunch of ships, but you don't know whether those unknown rockets are a convoy hauling food and medical supplies, or an attack wing hauling missiles and laser drones until it's too late to maneuver.  This puts IFF tech into the fore, but that's for another post.

            The another thing we must take into account when designing any craft in a Hard SF setting is travel time.  To add yet another rule to our list:

            12. "All spacecraft travel at the speed of plot."

            In most mainstream sci-fi, this means that Hyper-Jumping-Warp-Drives or some other species of magical FTL will move the ship and it's characters in the time the space of a scene change or, at most, in between episodes so they can rendezvous with the planet of the week.  In Hard SF, it means that the plot takes into account travel times measuring weeks and months.  This is why most Hard SF novels deal a lot with the interpersonal relationships of the crews of such craft.  Some of these are great, some are a turn-off for me, but all take into account the large fraction of "down-time" between planets.
            In SF games, this is often either ignored, glossed over, or fixed with magical FTL.  Traditionally, ships in most RPG settings are seen as mere transportation, and are not an adventure location per se. In a Hard SF game, we need to change that.  So in The Black Desert, I'm trying to make Interplanetary craft larger, more cosmopolitan, and above all, more interesting.  They are not just ways to get to the adventure, but an adventure location in their own right.

            So, back to the original question, why Missile Craft?  Because in The Black Desert, civilian craft are identical to military craft, and because of the long travel times, they must be large enough and exciting enough to function as adventure locations.  By designing the Missile Craft, I am also designing locations for PCs to have adventures.

             The rest of our articles on the Missile Craft will be handled either this series, the Space Combat in The Black Desert series or our series on Economics, as all of these factors are interrelated.  In order to make it easier to follow the thread, I'll tag each post, so that one link will bring them all up.

            Tomorrow, I'll be making some announcements about upcoming projects, and then we'll get back to this topic Thursday, hopefully.  See you tomorrow, RocketFans!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Manic Monday

          Sorry, RocketFans; I've had one of those hectic days that result in little or no time to make a post.  Instead, I'll show you some of the new artwork for this months Ship of the Black Desert.  BTW, the ship is called the Vojagi and is the first of our rockets to come out of the afore mentioned Siberian Empire.  Hope you enjoy:

Friday, March 4, 2011

Spacecraft Spotlight #3: The Angel

          Sorry about the delay....:)

Doc-Woc” and the Angel

One of the more notorious forms of smuggling in the galaxy is drug trafficking. Next to slaving, no field of illicit commerce is as reviled as supply of harmful pharmaceuticals to the ne'er-do-wells across the planets. But not all who practice this trade are villains; as the forces of tyranny continue to oppress sentients throughout the stars, there are many who choose to smuggle not deadly drugs to fuel the underworld, but medicine.

Dr. Chigga Jaquin is one such smuggler. Once a successful physician, Dr. Jaquin was forced to watch as his prosperous home world was ground down under the heal of Imperial brutality. Never one to take arms, Jaquin instead worked as a surgeon in one of the many refugee camps that had come into being.
Even such horrid places were not exempt from the conquering empire's cuelty; when the camp's warden ordered a mass-execution because in response to the rumors of insurgent recruitment, Dr. Jaquin quietly left his world and vowed to alleviate the suffering he had seen anyway he could.

For the last three years, “Doc-Woc” has smuggled pharmaceuticals to refugee camps and insurgent units throughout the sector in a modified Starwell Tanker. He has numerous contacts among rebel groups and despite not being formally affiliated with any of any of them, he is generally trusted and can depend on them for help just as they depend on him for medical supplies.

GMs can use Doc-Woc and the Angel in a variety of ways. If PCs are a member of a rebel group, then Doc-Woc can, of course be a supplier vital to the war effort. If one or more of the PCs grew up in a refugee camp, or spent time in one, then perhaps Doc-Woc helped them more directly in the past. Alternately, Doc's trusted position as an independent means that in the event of his capture, rebel groups would most likely mount a rescue operation.
If the PCs are smugglers themselves, a character like Doc-Woc can provide an example of a fringer that still does their part to help save the galaxy. Starting PCs can be shown the ropes by Doc-Woc, who has learned quiet a few tricks and has many contacts in the galactic underworld.

Dr. Chigga “Doc-Woc” Jaquin

All stats 2D except:
Blaster 2D+2, Dodge 3D
Medicine 5D, Streetwise 3D+2
Starship Operation 3D+1, Starship Gunnery 2D+1
Stamina 2D+2
Character Points: 15
Move: 10
Equipment: Starwell Tanker (Angel), Blaster (3D), datapad, comlink, first-aid kit, 2,000 credits


Craft: Universal Transports CL-3 Starwell
Type: Light tanker craft
Scale: Starfighter
Length: 22.5 meters
Skill: Space Transports; Starwell Tanker
Crew: 1
Crew Skill:
Passengers: up to 4
Cargo Capacity: 700 metric tons (liquid; 75 tons in
hidden compartments; up to 18 tons other)
Consumables: 3 months
FTL Multiplyer: x1
FTL Backup: x2
Astrogation Computer: yes
Maneuverability: 0D
Space: 4
Atmosphere: 480;800 kph
Hull: 4D
Shields: 1D
Passive: 10/0D
Scan: 25/1D
Search: 40/2D
Focus: 2/3D
Laser cannon
Fire Arc: turret
Crew: 1
Skill: Starship Gunnery
Fire Control:2D
Space Range: 1-3/12/25
Atmospheric Range: 100-300 m/1.2 km/2.5km
Damage: 4D

        I'm sure you've noticed that this month's spotlight lacks Saga Edition stats.  After getting some advice from an old master, I have reluctantly decided to forgo violating the Lucasfilm license even with freebies.  As a publisher, I cannot afford any hint of legal douche-baggery.  I apologize.
         Have a great weekend, RocketFans!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Why I chose D6

          I thought the reason I picked D6 as the rules engine to power The Black Desert was simply because I knew it backward and it was free.  That's still true- but there is more to it than that.

         The excellent Jeff's Gameblog, had a post that really struck home about this topic for me.  To steal sum-up, Jeff states that games like D&D will never have the generational following of some of the classic games of yore (like the 80-year-old) Monopoly, in part because we keep changing the rules every few years.

          This spoke to me.

          I didn't experience this kind of frustration until I started playing WotC products.  Before that, I played D6 Star Wars almost (with the exception of Vampire) exclusively and was happy.  If West End Games hadn't lost the license, I would never have switched systems.  Why should I?  I had zero interest in learning a whole new set of rules; I had mastered the D6 rules to the point that I didn't need to roll-up NPCs and I could improvise entire campaigns without cracking a book.

           Alas, it wasn't meant to be.  The result?  I got D20 Star Wars, then D&D 3rd, then D&D 3.5, Star Wars: Saga Edition, and finally D&D 4e.  That's literally dozens of books, thousands of dollars, and (count 'em) five core rules systems.  Five.  And if my math is correct, I haven't played or ran as many games in those five systems put together as I have in the single version of D6 I possess.

           My point is fundamental enough that I'll highlight it rules style:

           "Once again, Table Top games are NOT Video games.  They do not become obsolete with age."

         I assure you, I do not need a new core book every five years.  If I bought the game and I like, changing the rules will only depress and/or frustrate me.  I would rather have a steady stream of source material for the same system than a new system.  I know that most gaming companies feel that they must put out a new edition of the rules either to stay current, make more money, or both.  But I don't have to like it.

          And, I don't have to put up with it, either.  Now that D6 is free to the world, Several companies as well as myself are putting out content that may have rules variations, but still be cross-comparable thanks to the core mechanic of that most common of dice.  Now, if my kids want to play table-top, they can play classic Star Wars, The Black Desert, Azamar, Septimus, and any of the dozens of other products in development now that have pretty much only one thing in common: the D6 Mechanic.

         That's gonna be fun.

         On a meta-note, let me remind everyone that the new email address is  You can follow us via RSS feed  (above), email (to the right) and (also to the right) that collection of tiny heads that say, "Followers" Also, we have a Facebook group now, and we are in fact on Twitter @bluemaxstudios.  There is a gadget to the right that will allow you to share our posts via these sites if you'd like.  Also, if there is enough interest, there may be a Yahoo Group in the future.

          See you tomorrow, RocketFans!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Ships of the Black Desert March Reveal...

          Introducing the first of our designs from the Siberian Empire, The Vojaĝi-Rocket!
That not actually a window; it's the avionics.

          This is also the first of our spacecraft that was designed in 3D.  It was a necessity; the curves were complex enough that I wanted to make sure that everything would fit together.  These are low-poly images made using the shockingly advanced free program Blender.  I highly recommend getting this program if you want to learn CG art/animation without spending thousands on Maya.  Because it's free; did I mention that?
Window's under the chin, facing the belly.

       Anyway, I haven't managed to bet my email unlocked;rather than moan an complain, I've simply made another one!  You can reach us now at  which should be easy to remember for all us, myself included.

           That's all I've got today, RocketFans; tomorrow should see the next "Spacecraft Spotlight" and then we'll get working on some more SF ship-like goodness.  See you later!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Starwell Officially on Sale!

         It's the first of the month RocketFans!  That means that our latest Ships of the Galaxy, the Starwell Tanker, is on sale at DriveThruRPG, and RPGNow!  Hooray!

          I had originally intended to have the "Spacecraft Spotlight" segment up and running this morning, but some stuff came up.  I found out that I'm losing my medical insurance and my email account has been suspended.  I freely admit that this is not the best way to start one's day.

          Anyway, I'll try to have the "Spotlight" up Thursday, and then we'll start back on the Missile Craft development and other bits of Hard Science-ness-ness.  See you then!