A short RPG for playing robots

A Short RPG by Simon Forster

Sometime last year, while messing about with RPG mechanics (because I really want to write my own, and one is indeed in progress) I put together a short RPG based on playing robots. I didn’t finish it, but the basics are all done, and I’m posting them here in case anyone is intrigued or fancies playing it. Enjoy the freebie.

Simon.

bots

You are a robot. You are a servant to the humans. You belong to them and their community. You are their protectors, scavengers, allies. You are also their slaves.

The world lies in ruins. A war devastated the land, destroying the cities, vaporising the rivers and lakes, boiling away the seas. Humanity clings together in small communities, competing with each other as often as they work together. Most humans stay in their settlements, safe behind the walls, shaping the future of the community. They send out their robots, artificial intelligent creations enslaved to their human masters. These ‘bots, as they are known, scavenge the ruins for supplies, are sent to raid other communities, or act as messengers and envoys to neighbouring settlements.

Some ‘bots are maintained, cared for, are treated almost as equals. Others are slaves and nothing more. Most are somewhere in between. There are rebels out in the ruins, ‘bots who have broken their programming and fled their masters, intent on surviving. Some want to wage war. Others want to rest in peace.

This is the world of the ‘bots. This is your world. Welcome to servitude.

Basic Rules

Roll 1 to 3 d6s; Good attribute is 3d6, Average is 2d6 (default), and Bad is 1d6. Need a 5 or 6 to succeed; more successes have increased effect under certain circumstances.

Programming are attributes

Humans etc. have two characteristics: Fight and Flight; to confront or avoid obstacles.

Your Robot

Creating your ‘bot

Choose (or roll) five different aspects to build your robot.

Programming

5 attributes; assign ranks for each: 3 Good, 2 Average, 1 Bad.

Control, Reason, Articulate, Technical, Expertise (C.R.A.T.E)

Robot Type

4 types of robot

Upgrades

3 upgrades: e.g. armour, weapons, scanners, tools.

Possessions

2 possessions: personal item, found or gifted. Randomly rolled (1d6+1d6)

Name

1 designation, name

Robot Types

  1. Humanoid: default and standard robot, built to resemble a human in shape and size, although rarely in a realistic fashion. Basic, most versatile type.
  2. Labourer: larger, slower, more robust robot with tracks instead of feet. One arm ends in an attachment that modules can be added to (see Upgrades), the other ends in a three-fingered claw. (Fast speed, Slow reactions).
  3. Canine: also known as best-friends, these robot dogs were originally designed for companionship but are now used primarily for scavenging. Dog-shaped, no arms, unable to speak, but equipped with a powerful bite and claws (1 bonus success for damage, Fast speed).
  4. Battle: armoured robot, humanoid in shape, with one arm ending in a weapon’s attachment (see Upgrades), the other a pincer. (Armour 1, Fast reactions,Slow speed).

Upgrades

Special abilities or enhancements, separated by type, but can choose any three. Six in each category, with locations that the upgrade is part of in ()’s.

Humanoid

  1. Dedicated Circuits (head): choose one programme (attribute); this can never be improved, but success is now on a 4, 5 or 6.
  2. Multi-speak (head): a vocaliser that allows the ‘bot to speak in different voices, mimic animals and natural sounds, and converse in code with other ‘bots that have the same upgrade.
  3. Jetpack (torso or legs): short-ranged jets, short jumps of 100-metres (two turns, first turn reaches apex/halfway, end of second, lands). If used at lower setting (no more than 25-metre) can be taken as a single Move action, and can be combined with a charge action. Limited fuel.
  4. Bioscanner (head or arm): detects organic life with a 25-metre radius; Technical roll to pinpoint exact location, otherwise just general direction and approximate range. An Expertise roll can be made to determine what type of organic life it is (human, animal or plant) Blocked by a few inches of lead or a few feet of solid stone, concrete etc.
  5. Bypassed Laws (head): one of the three Laws of Robotics has been bypassed; this may cause problems if it becomes common knowledge. This upgrade can be chosen multiple times to bypass the remaining laws.
  6. More Human Than Human (all locations): designed to look like a human, with fake skin, hair, and clothing. Will pass for human under most circumstances, unless damaged or examined too closely. This upgrade can only be applied to Humanoid types.

Labourer

  1. Multi-tool (arm): one arm ends in a multi-tool attachment, wide variety of tools for any situation.
  2. Heavy-loader (torso): fitted with a detachable container that can hold multiple items or even carry a humanoid (organic or ‘bot). Only labourer types can have this upgrade.
  3. Multiscanner (arm): calibrated for non-organic materials, short range of 25-metres. Gives general direction and distance, but a Technical roll will pinpoint location exactly. Further details can be gathered with an Expertise roll.
  4. Heavy Drill (arm): primarily used to drill through rubble to aid salvage, this heavy drill can also be used as a deadly weapon: reduces reactions to slow, deals a bonus success for damage, double against organics. When used for its primary purpose, can excavate a metre of rubble with an action.
  5. Heavy Hydraulics (arms): increases strength of the ‘bot, enabling it to lift and move heavy objects. Any physical attacks also deal an additional bonus success for damage.
  6. Shielded (all locations): protects against low-level radiation, electrical surges, fire, and blocks scanners. Provides Armour 1 against electrical attacks, radiation and fire.

Canine

  1. Sniffer (head): fitted with an olfactory module, can track by scent. Allows re-roll when tracking or searching by smell.
  2. HandsforFeet (legs): the ‘bots forelegs have hands instead of paws. Only Canine types can choose this upgrade.
  3. Prehensile tail (torso): has a flexible, articulated tail that can extend to 2 metres and grab items, acting as a limited use hand.
  4. Chameleon Circuits (all locations): fitted with circuity that allows blending into surroundings by colour changes and scanning of immediate surroundings; allows ‘bot to be effectively invisible so long as they do not move too quickly. To detect the ‘bot is an opposed roll of Reason against the ‘bots Expertise.
  5. Nightvision (head): infrared and low-light sensors allow perfect vision in the dark.
  6. Audioenhancement (head): increased hearing, able to hear a pin drop 250 metres away, detect radio waves, scanner signals, and even heartbeats within 10 metres.

Battle

  1. Ablative Armour (all locations): armour is replaced by ablative layers, reducing speed and reactions to slow but adding Armour 2; each hit negated destroys a layer, when the first layer has gone, the ‘bots speed and reactions increase to average, when both are gone, both increase to fast. This armour can only be replaced, not repaired. Only Battle types can have this upgrade.
  2. Rocket-launcher (arm or torso): weapon; 150-metre effective range (double range at Drop 1d6, triple at Drop 2d6), dealing a bonus success for damage to all in 3-metre radius; single-use ammo.
  3. Zapper (arm): weapon; electric-arc projector, 3-metre range, ignore 1 point of armour; self-powered.
  4. Spitter (arm): weapon; flame-thrower, in short spurts, 6-metre range, difficult to aim (Drop 1d6 for attack), deals bonus success for damage versus organics only; limited fuel.
  5. Slugthrower (arm): weapon; fires bullets, 50-metre effective range (double range at Drop 1d6, triple at Drop 2d6), deals bonus success on successful attack; limited ammo.
  6. Blade (arm): weapon; retractable blade, close combat only, deals a bonus success for damage.

Possessions

Roll two d6s: first digit plus second digit, e.g. 1, 3 = 1+3

1d6+1d6 Item 1d6+1d6 Item 1d6+1d6 Item
1+1 Cuddly toy 3+1 Bucket 5+1 Lighter !
1+2 Playing cards 3+2 Sack 5+2 Candle !
1+3 Picture of child 3+3 Messenger bag 5+3 Oil lamp !
1+4 Old book 3+4 Backpack 5+4 Electric torch !
1+5 Pot plant 3+5 Carryall 5+5 Night-goggles
1+6 Leather bag 3+6 Trolley 5+6 Flares !
2+1 Long scarf 4+1 Pet cat 6+1 Bolt-on plates @
2+2 Fez 4+2 Pet pigeon 6+2 Heavy hammer #
2+3 Flat cap 4+3 Pet rat 6+3 Ancient sword #
2+4 Poncho 4+4 Pet cockroach 6+4 Spear %#
2+5 Wig 4+5 Pet spider 6+5 Crossbow !#&
2+6 Painted mask 4+6 Pet rock 6+6 Pistol !#&

! items have limiteduse.

# items inflict a bonus success for damage.

@ items provide Armour 1, one location only.

% ranged weapon, 15-metre effective range (-1d at double, -2d at triple range).

& ranged weapon, 50-metre effective range (-1d at double, -2d at triple range).

Name

Then choose a name or designation, nickname or calling sign that sets you apart from the other ‘bots. This name can be one given to you by your human masters, a name given to you another ‘bot, or what you call yourself.

Asimov’s Laws of Robotics

All ‘bots are governed by three core programming imperatives, the Three Laws of Robotics:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

However, some ‘bots have been re-programmed to bypass one or more of these laws (especially Battle ’bots) and others, through damage, neglect or tampering, have bypassed it themselves. Such ‘bots are more dangerous than others, and are monitored carefully or hunted by humans (and their loyal/enslaved ‘bots) to keep them under control.

Specific Rules

Base Rule Reminder

Roll 1 to 3 six-sided dice (1d6, 2d6, or 3d6) depending on attribute. Score 5 or 6 to succeed, only one die needs to score for a success. However, additional successes may have additional effects (especially in combat).

Special Rules

  • Re-roll (sometimes noted as r-d): allows the player to roll their dice again, but the new result replaces the old one even if it is a failure or worse than the original.
  • Re-roll 1d6 (sometimes noted as r-1d): partial re-roll; roll one of the dice again, keeping the new result.
  • Drop 1d6 (sometimes noted as -1d):roll one less d6 than normal. Effectively reduces attributes from Good to Average, from Average to Bad, and from Bad to inactive and unable to take any actions.
  • Inactive: unable to take any action on that turn.
  • Bonus Success (sometimes noted as +1s): gain an additional success if the action succeeds (in other words, so long as the action roll has at least one success, add another success to the total).
  • Automatic Success (sometimes noted as +AS): the action roll has an automatic success, either adding to any other rolled successes, or simply allowing the action to succeed without having to make a roll.
  • Limited: short-lived consumables, such as ammo or fuel; when a roll fails with all dice showing the same score, the consumable is consumed (i.e. weapons run out of ammo or fuel). When action rolls aren’t necessary, roll 1d6 at the end of the situation or encounter where the item is used; on a 1 or 2 it is consumed and must be refuelled, replaced etc.
  • Singleuse: use once and its gone. Self-explanatory.

Combat

Each combat turn (a few seconds) a character can take a single action.

Characters act in order of reactions: characters with fast goes first, then average, then slow. Equal reactions go simultaneously; roll all actions before applying results.

Action examples:

  • Attack/Defend
  • Charge
  • Dive/Duck for cover
  • Move
  • Quick-fix
  • Activate Item
  • Grab or drop item

Attack/Defend

Make a Control roll to attack or defend. Successes count as extra damage, or negate damage. Armour adds an automatic success to a defend roll; weapons add bonus successes for damage only on a successful attack.

Attack

Roll Control: each success equals potential damage inflicted; add weapon bonus to any successes.

Defend

Roll Control: each success negates potential damage; armour grants an automatic success. If all damage is negated, then no damage is dealt. A successful attack that dealt no damage due to a defend roll results in a knock-back instead.

Knock-back

A character who suffers a knockback is pushed back a number of metres equal to the damage that would have been inflicted.

Charge

Run and attack with a bonus success if the attack is successful, but leaves character open to attack and unable to defend on their next action.

Dive/Duck for Cover

Dive or duck behind or under cover (within Move range) to gain temporary Armour 1 (or more, depending on the type of cover), lasts as long as the character remains in cover.

Move

Characters can move a number of metres per turn depending on their speed. For most characters, with an Average speed, a move action covers 2 metres or 4 if running.

For characters with Slow speed, the distance covered is 1 or 2 metres; for Fast speed characters, 3 or 6 metres.

Immobile characters cannot move without assistance.

Running

Characters can run, sprint, push themselves to double the movement distance; this makes it harder to take an action on the next turn (action rolls: Drop 1d6).

Quick-fix

A quick patch of a ‘bots damaged component: temporarily restores either 1 point of Armour or 1 hit. After combat is ended, the temporary fix breaks down. Destroyed parts cannot be quick-fixed.

For humans, the quick-fix is a spot of emergency first aid, restoring a single hit until the end of the battle.

Activate/Grab/Drop Item

Press buttons, pull levers, grab an item off the floor or drop something safely (items can be dropped without taking an action but may lose or break the item dropped).

Hits

Attacks deal damage against body locations: head, torso, left and right arms, left or right legs (tracks).

Each location can take 1 or more hits before being rendered useless or destroyed. Limbs can take 1 hit, the head takes 2, and torso takes 3 before being useless; an additional hit against a useless location destroys it.

Armour can take a hit to prevent a location from being rendered useless, but the armour is then destroyed. If the location is destroyed, any armour is treated as an upgrade in this case.

Condition: Useless

  • Head:    ‘bot is shut-down and inactive until repaired. For organic characters, they are    knocked unconscious.
  • Torso:   ‘bot is inactive but still able to see, hear and communicate.
  • Arms:    limb is unable to be used and any associated actions are inactive.
  • Legs*:   limb is unable to be used and any associated actions are inactive; also unable to run or charge, and may be unable to move (speed drops a step: fast to average, average to slow, slow to immobile).

Condition: Destroyed

  • Head:    ‘bot is destroyed, although any remaining locations can be salvaged for parts or                upgrades. For organics, this means death.
  • Torso:   ‘bot is destroyed, limbs and head are rendered useless if not already; if already useless, then they too are destroyed. Parts and upgrades can only be salvaged with a successful Technical roll. For organics, this means death.
  • Arms:    limb is removed, any attachments are also destroyed and cannot be salvaged. Organics lose limb and fall unconscious.
  • Legs*:   limb is removed, speed is reduced a step permanently, otherwise as useless. Organics lose limb and fall unconscious.

*Also refers to tracks or other form of locomotion.

Recover/Repair/Replace

‘bots recover hits by being repaired. At the workshops of a community or settlement repairs are automatically successful and any useless or destroyed parts are fully restored (any destroyed upgrades, however, are not replaced).

Outside of the community, repairs must be made using whatever materials and tools are available. Assuming parts can be salvaged or are otherwise available, and the ‘bot has some tools, a technical roll is needed to repair any damage: 1 success restores 1 hit. A location is no longer useless if it recovers a hit.

Destroyed locations cannot be repaired, but need to be replaced instead. If a useable replacement part is available, then a Technical roll is again needed to fit the new part.

If a head location that was destroyed, then replacing it with a new head effectively creates a new character: reassign the five attributes as desired, and adopt a new persona if the player wishes to.

Armour can be repaired or replaced in the same way, as can any damaged items or weapons.

Salvage

‘bots (or other characters) can attempt to salvage parts from other robots or machines. To do so requires an Expertise roll and 1 or more successes: 1 success is needed to salvage parts or upgrades from abandoned robots or machines, 2 successes are needed to recover parts from a useless robot that has been damaged during a fight, and 3 are needed for recovering any parts from a destroyed robot.

Action Rolls (Programme/Attribute roll]

When attempting an action that has a chance of failure, and the result of that failure would have significant consequences, a roll is made using one of the five (or two, in the case of organic characters) attributes (called Programmes, for ‘bots); as long as one of the dice rolled is a 5 or 6, then the action succeeds.

  • Control:               rolls made during combat to attack or defend, physical actions.
  • Reason:                rolls made for knowledge, puzzles, critical thinking or recalling facts.
  • Articulate:          rolls made for social situations, speaking, signing, communicating.
  • Technical:           rolls made for using, repairing, altering mechanical and electronic items,                               fixing ‘bots, and installing upgrades.
  • Expertise:           rolls made for any skilled actions not covered elsewhere, using computers,                         operating on organics, building, painting, and other skilled activities.

Prolonged Actions

Sometimes an action may require more than 1 success to accomplish, either due to the complexity of the action or because it normally takes more time. In these cases multiple successes are required before the action is completed: each success then counts towards the total, so multiple 5 or 6s on the dice are added together.

Opposed Actions

Sometimes two characters may be working against each other, a tug-of-war. Each character makes the appropriate action roll and compares successes: the highest wins.

Group Actions

If two or more characters are able to work together on an action, they can combine their successes.

Experience and Character Development

‘bots are fairly fixed in their programming, but can be improved by upgrades. They also learn from their experiences, and can use that knowledge to increase their chances of success.

Experience

Every session a character gains an experience, awarded at the end of the session, based on a situation or encounter during that session. This experience is a short sentence that sums up the situation or encounter the character was part of.

Each time the character is in a similar situation, their experience grants them a bonus success; if the situation is identical, then they gain an automatic success on any action rolled in that situation.

Development

‘bots can improve and develop through upgrades. These increase their ability or add new abilities to their repertoire. The ‘bots programmes (attributes) can be improved, but require a reprogramming upgrade that can be difficult to obtain.

Upgrades can be either rewards for a completed mission (if their human masters are generous) or, more usually, scavenged from the ruins or other robots. A technical roll is needed to install or replace an upgrade. To improve a programme from an upgrade requires an Expertise roll.

Self-reprogramming

A ‘bot can attempt to improve their programming themselves, using their experience as a source of new information. In game-terms, this exchanges a number of experiences for an increased attribute.

To increase a Bad attribute to Average requires 10 experiences and an Expertise roll to succeed; if the roll fails, half of the experiences are lost (the five oldest).

To increase an Average attribute to Good requires 20 experiences and an Expertise roll; again, failure wipes out the ten oldest memories.