Monday, November 30, 2015

Strange Stars A-To-Z: "R" Is For Robots

Robots. Mechanical women and men have been a staple of science fiction from Karel Capek's play R.U.R., where the term "robot" was introduced. (Capek credited his brother with coining robota as play on the term for serf or corvee labor.)

Soon enough there was Maria of Metropolis, a machine woman with the powers of illusion and mesmerism:

Then there's some of my favorite 1960s space toys, the Zeroids:

And soon enough, these cute poker-playing drones from Silent Running appear on the scene:

So where might one find robots among the Strange Stars? First of all, when I use robots in the Strange Stars universe, they are a lesser kind of intelligent mecanical life form. Some robots may be full sophonts with unique personalities, deep individuation, and complex behavioral repertoires. Others have more limited intelligences conforming to one of several generic personality templates; these are designed for specific (if broad) productive roles in society. Still others lack all but the most rudimentary intelligence, and are designed for very specific menial roles.

Robots are non-self-replicating, and their intelligence (however individuated) is an emergent property of their immediate physical media (e.g., the result of a functioning positronic brain). Unlike moravecs, robots aren't quasi-immortal life forms passed down from the copied mind of a biologic, a Jupiter brain, or some other transcorporeal intelligence. True to Karel Capek's original vision, most robots in the Strange Stars setting are intended for labor - usually in its most tiresome and repetitive forms, including household services, guarding facilities, industrial production, or mining.

Robots are owned; they're tools for getting jobs done.

Unfortunately, they all have failure modes, and some rebel.


Quick and Dirty Robot Rules

Robots for Strange Stars can be built using Fate Accelerated as a framework. Our assumptions with this design are that most robots are human-sized or smaller. 

ASPECTS: All robots have at least two Aspects, an Assignment and a Failure Mode
  • Assignment represents the robot's current or ideal-typical function. Examples include: 
    • Sturdy mining robot
    • 12-eyed sentry robot
    • Idle household servant
    • Faithful but lonely agricultural drone 
  • Failure Mode is just what it sounds like; it represents the most likely to cause this robot to malfunction, cease to operate, or rebel. This aspect is often not obvious to casual observers, although characters with engineering, science, or hacking abilities may find ways to Create and Advantage and figure this out. Exmples include:
    • Not properly programmed for the job
    • Ethical protocols altered
    • Lonely and resentful
    • Out of spare parts
SKILLS: Robots have six basic skills. Bush league robots will have a +1 in one skill, and a zero in all the rest. Middling models will have +2 in one or two skills, a +1 in another, and zeroes in the rest. Advanced robots will have one skill at +3, two at +2, two at +1, and one at zero.
  • Tend: This skill represents the robot's ability to dig, gather, and forage, as well as maintain and repair simple machines (moisture 'vaperators, for example). Agricultural drones lead with this skill; so do mining robots, and robots responsible for routine repairs.
  • Build: Robots designed for construction, assembly, and complex engineering tasks have this skill.  Industrial robots are good at this. Robots with this skill are also good at a range of physical tasks including moving heavy objects and climbing. Build can be used to defend against physical attacks. 
  • Guard: This represents a robot's ability to attack and defend against other machines and biologics. Sentry robots are good at this; people wishing to deploy a cheap, obedient military force often go this route. Robots with a skill above zero are familiar with a range of weaponry. 
  • Scan: Notice for robots; this skill represents a robot's basic abilities to scan and interpret its surroundings. This skill includes standard biologic senses such as hearing and seeing, and more rarely includes chemosensory apparatus. Most robots are able to percieve a broader range of sound frequencies and electromagnetic radiation than biologics. If build by a culture that uses the Metascape, the robot will generally have access to the Metascape as an additional "virtual" sense. 
  • Solve: The robot's skill with abstract thinking and problem-solving. This skill is the robotic equivalent of Academics and Science.
  • Serve: The robot's facility in interacting with infosophonts, moravecs, and biologics. This skill is the robotic equivalent of  Empathy, Rapport, and Will. It is generally the lead skill for robots designed as personal servants, interpreters, and protocol droids.
STUNTS: A robot whose highest skill is +2 may have one stunt; a robot whose highest skill is +3 may have two stunts. Here are just a few stunts a robot might possess:
  • Danger, Will Robinson!: The robot has developed particularly keen insights into sophont motivations and behaviors. Take +2 to Serve skill to anticipate who presents the greatest danger to someone who you are programmed to protect.
  • Kawaii: Your physical form is small, or otherwise percieved as "cute" by most biomorphs. You trigger their protective/parenting instincts. Take +2 to Serve to persuade biologics that you are harmless or worthy of protection.
  • In Their Best Interests: You can persuade other robots that you have the best understanding of how to serve a sophont master. Take +2 to Serve skill to make another robot obey you in performing some action.
  • Infiltrate: Because you were programmed for stealth operations, you take +2 when using your Guard skill to move into or through an area without being detected by sophonts.
  • Impersonate: You have learned how to imitate moravecs and infosophonts inhabiting machine bodies. Take +2 to your Serve skill to persuade others that you are really a moravec or an infosophont.
  • Personal Force Field: A robot with a force field takes +2 to its Build skill to defend against ranged attacks.
  • Mass Wins Out: Because you are solidly built, take +2 to Build to intimidate an sophont in a social contest.
  • Mesmerism: Your programming has given you unusual persuasive capacities. Maybe its your sleek plasteel exterior; maybe you have learned The Voice. Spend 1 FP to compel a group of sophont Extras to follow a one sentence command.
  • Metajammer: Robots with this stunt can interfere with the local operation of the Metascape. They take +2 to their Scan skill to increase the difficulty that others face in accessing the local Metascape. 
  • Operate Vehicle: Robots with this stunt may use the Tend skill to pilot vehicles  including spacecraft. Because hyperspace nodes have psi-sensitive components, however, bad things often happen when robots pilot ships through hyperspace nodes.
  • Protocol Droid: Due to its special programming, the robot takes +2 to its Serve skill when attempting to create a favorable first impression with a sophont. 

  • A robot whose highest skill is +1 has one or two stress boxes and is taken out once these boxes are filled.
  • A robot whose highest skill is +2 has two OR three stress boxes, AND can also take a Mild Consequence before being taken out.
  • A robot whose highest skills is +2 has three stress boxes and can take a Mild and Moderate Consequence, OR has three stress boxes and can take a Mild, Moderate, and Severe Consequence.


  1. Your taste in references and inspirational sources is impeccable.