Adventure Bots

by [[CJ Williams]]

Part One: Roleplaying Robots 

Author's Note: In the article Star Questions by Penny Petticord and Ed Greenwood in the December 1984 issue of Dragon Magazine (Issue #92), it says “Robots and cybots cannot be player characters; they have personalities but have no free will. Freedom of choice puts excitement into the game. No one would want to run a character that could only do what someone else told him to do.”
Is this true? Are robots unplayable?

Special Thanks: Bill Logan for his invaluable input. 

Can You Roleplay a Robot? 

The above articles made a presumption that overlooks one thing: even entities with free will follow orders, so following orders and free will are two different things. Thus, two different robots with two different groups of programs and experience will do the same task two different ways. 

A corporation could give commands and programs to a robot that will benefit a party of characters, but that robot will act within its orders by the corporation instead of the characters, and will act as a unit with free will in the company of those characters because it is under orders by an entity that is not in their presence.Even if one of the characters in the group owns the robot, the robot will still only be subject to that character, but will act with free will in regard to the other characters where such free will does not contradict orders from its master. 

Also, when you consider the opportunities to raise havoc with a robot character, you see there can be lots of fun in roleplaying a robot. Just because your brain is made of microchips does not mean you can’t make decisions. Just because you have no emotions to call your own does not mean you can’t be responsive. Just because you serve a master does not mean you can’t express individuality. Such restrictions only affect how you express your robot’s uniqueness, but have no effect on whether you can express that uniqueness. 

Finally, not all robots are designed for simple functions. Many robots, in fact, are designed with a limited interactive A.I. This A.I. allows them to interact with sentient beings and respond within certain set parameters through programmed personalities and simple reasoning, even learning to some degree. This allows them to demonstrate unique characteristics that may be roleplayed. While it does not make them sentient, it does make them more present and interactive. 

This information not only helps with roleplaying robots, but it can also help the Referee with roleplaying computers, as computers may also have varying personalities and quirks, though such is not typically necessary, unless some kind of social interaction is appropriate to the computer’s purpose. 

It’s a Robot’s Life 

Robots are property, that’s unavoidable, but just as one might come to have affection for a pet or even a servant, one can come to have an affinity for their robot. Even still, most robots are incapable of reciprocating friendship beyond their programming. On the other hand, loyalty to its master, personal assistance, and useful advice often comes to be a comfort to a robot’s master in a similar way to friendship. 

A robot performs tasks that are normally too laborious, tedious, or dangerous to sentients. Except for their upkeep, they make life easier and may even save lives. Their many and varied uses put them in high demand anywhere high technology can be found and even in many low tech environments. Robots are also a status symbol dependant on its program level. 

What’s Different About Roleplaying Robots? 

Robots have several advantages and disadvantages over normal player characters: 
  • Need no sleep, but do need to recharge their parabatteries. 
  • Do not develop any mentalist abilities and are immune to most mentalist effects, but can be equipped with things that simulate mentalist effects. 
  • Can be reprogrammed and repurposed. 
  • Can be disabled by EMP’s. (Note: Star Frontiers robots have moved beyond magnetic storage, using solely three dimensional laser storage, so their memory is not affected by the EMP pulse.) 
  • Can have its memory easily wiped, making it a basic model of its type, causing it to lose all information and bonuses from programs and experience.
  • Are immune to all organic effects, such as disease, poison, radiation, and suffocation, but can suffer water damage, electrical damage, viruses and worms, rust, rot, disrepair and foreign particles such as dust and sand. 
  • Feel no pain, but do experience the ill effects of hardware damage and program corruption.
  • Can’t improve their physical or mental abilities, but can be upgraded or altered with new parts.
  • Do not gain skill levels through training, but must be programmed with skill-equivalent programming, and their experiences may mildly improve their operations. 
  • Must be carefully balanced against the party to prevent preferential desirability as characters.

In addition to these differences, robots actually need more detailed character information than normal characters for the specific ways of dealing with its environment. Developing and maintaining your robot character's distinct characteristics is an important part of robot character design and roleplaying. 

Who Roleplays the Robot 

As with pets, the Referee usually controls the robots. That is, the Referee dictates its actions. However, the Referee should also know how the robot responds to its master. The Referee may also choose to assign the robot to a willing player different than the player of the robot’s owner if the Referee does not feel comfortable roleplaying the robot or if another player expresses interest in doing so. 

With the Referee’s approval, a player may create and roleplay a robot, but one of the other players must be its owner, though the Referee may choose to let the robot be the property of a corporation or other nonpresent entity. This will give the robot more freedom and autonomy within the adventure. Robot Personalities 

A robot does not need a personality matrix to express unique traits that give it a distinction from other robots that have the semblance of personality. Being experienced with a variety of mechanical objects, you know that devices do not always act the way they are supposed to and even sometimes seem to act in a way as if it knows what we’re saying or thinking. That is why people tend to personify inanimate objects, especially old cars. This would become even more pronounced with an autonomous robot, especially when you throw in the quirks that can arise in a computer’s programming. The one playing the robot is in charge of how the robot’s personality is expressed in the quirks, sayings, directions, and predispositions. 


Try to come up with some lines and catch phrases that a robot of its type would likely use liberally. This will help distinguish the robot. 

Robots of levels 2-3 will always react the same way to the same stimulus regardless of situation. (If your robot is programmed with emotive expressions, write down its pat reactions.) Level 4 robots will have a small library of responses to choose from at random to express each situation, but the library is still easily recognizable and not always the most appropriate, but simply what is available. Level 5 and 6 robots with emotive programming will be able to select responses most appropriate to the circumstances. See Example 1. 

Do not be random. Have a distinguished time and circumstance at which the robot says its queue. This doesn’t mean you need to be predictable. On the contrary, if you queue from obscure, but specific reasons, your robot can respond in ways that fellow players might not expect. 

What can make it further random is queuing not from a long-term command. This is done when the player playing the robot’s master gives the robot a specific command indicating that the robot will need to follow that command in all future instances until the command is rescinded. See Example 2.

Command Triggers 

Command triggers are keywords and phrases that trigger the robot’s functions. These do not have to be spoken by the robot’s master to trigger the function. Think of some words or phrases that trigger the robot’s functions. The master should be familiar with these terms, and so should the one playing the robot, but they should not be shared with other players. These triggers can also lead to the occasional humorous confusion. See the example robot character at the end of this article. 

The trigger must be programmed by a robotics technician for robots of levels 1-3; when first operated, the owner will be asked to speak the commands for voice recognition. But with robots levels 4-6, the command trigger can be inputted through a voice command by its owner. See Example 3.

Example 1

Carol creates a level 4 ERoL-9 Servebot with emotive expressions. She then writes down 6 pat expressions to reference:
  1. Encouragement. “Very good, sir/ma’am.”
  2. Unexpected result. “That is most curious.”
  3. Interrupted. “How rude.”
  4. Protecting master. “Ma’am, there is a ___% chance that you will [Most gruesome description possible]. Perhaps you should…”
  5. Options present. “Ma’am, I have calculated several options that I think will be optimal for success…”
  6. Reply to appreciation. You are very welcome sir/ma’am. Is there anything else I can do for you today?
Then, during the game, she uses those expressions liberally. During one such instance, when confronted by a sentinelbot, the robot says to its master, Varik: “Sir, there is a 23.4% chance that you will be torn limb from limb and pulverized into a fine sludge. Perhaps you should turn around now and find a new route to the city.” 

Example 2 

Xarin commands Exthree, saying: “If you or I are ever in danger, and I have not already acted violently to the situation, and we are outnumbered, make me sound impressive. It may be our only chance to get out alive”.

On one such occasion, as Xarin and Exthree are menaced by three pirates with various weapons in hand, Exthree recognizes that the situation is dire and its master has not acted violently in response. Thus Exthree speaks up, saying: “Sir, perhaps it is time for you to do that thing you do like where “Jagged – The Golorian’s” spleen ended up in a jar on the nightstand at your home and you shoved ‘Goro – The Vile’s” T-.48 Gyrojet in an unmentionable place on Goro’s person. And I just don’t know how to describe what you did to the mouthy one that was with them. Tsk. Poor chap. I calculate a 112% chance of repeating that circumstance within 14.8 seconds, if you are up to breaking your record, that is. Should you do that, we can get on with our task more expediently.” Exthree then steps aside (just far enough for it to jump in the way should a pirate attempt to attack his master) in order to appear as though it is giving its master enough room to do battle without its assistance. 

Example 3 

Similarly to Example 2, Xarin commands Exthree, saying “When I make a ‘psst’ sound, you take up position behind me. If I also hold up a finger and shake it back and forth, you must also bring your audio receptor near to my head in order to receive a statement.” Some time later, when they are in Colvera’s study, Exthree is pooring tea and Colvera and Xarin are seated. Xarin is frustrated at a mistake that Colvera has just made him aware of. Xarin goes “psst!” And Exthree looks to see that it is his master, and then walks over and takes up a position behind his master. Xarin then shakes a requesting finger backward and forward at Exthree who bends down to Xarin to listen to his next statement. Xarin then slaps Exthree on his cranial plate, and Exthree stumbles back slightly. Xarin says, “Tthat’s all”.