Adventure Bots! Part 2

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by C. J. Williams

“There have always been ghosts in the machine. Random segments of code that have grouped together to form unexpected protocols. Unanticipated, these free radicals engender questions of free will, creativity, and even the nature of what we might call the ‘soul’. Why is it that when some robots are left in darkness, they will seek out the light? Why is it that when robots are stored in an empty space, they will group together, rather than stand alone? How do we explain this behavior? Random segments of code? Or is it something more? When does a perceptual schematic become consciousness? When does a difference engine become the search for truth? When does a personality simulation become the bitter mote... of a soul?”

-- Dr. Alfred Lanning, I, Robot, Twentieth Century Fox.


Expanding Robot PC Roleplaying

In part 1, there were references to the root laws, but no root laws were provided. Below the root laws, or directives, are listed. The robot root directives may seem familiar to you from sci-fi literature and movies, commonly referred to as “the robot laws”, but those listed here go much further, being designed to be inclusive to set the robot’s parameter’s more effectively for the player.

Artificial intelligences (A.I.) describes any behavior in which a computer interacts with living beings. However, the artificial intelligence that leads to the ability to learn is based on an unpredictable set of parameters that can lead to unsavory results in the personality matrix. For this reason, the learning parameters are hedged in by certain directives in the computer’s root programming.

These root directives exist to prevent robots from developing the dangerous quirks of personality common to sentient beings, especially those without emotion. What is listed below are grammatical representations in our language of the logic code written deep within the robot’s root functions. No matter how a robot’s personality develops or is programmed, the root directives are set to override any line of logic, and the parameters that lead to that line, that would threaten to supersede those directives. It is this override that causes the greatest problem to altering missions or programming.

Below are examples of standard and warbot root directives. Read over them to get an idea of how your robot functions and how its core thinking process works.

The Standard Root Directives

  1. The robot may have only one master.
  2. The robot must never cause harm or, through inaction, allow severe harm to any number of sentient beings.
  3. The robot must obey the authorities before all other sentients except where such obedience conflicts with line 2.
  4. The robot must obey its master before all other sentients except where such obedience conflicts with lines 2 or 3.
  5. The robot must fulfill its mission except where such mission conflicts with line 2.
  6. Where there is more than one means of action, the robot must concede to the direction of sentients except where it conflicts with any of lines 1-5.
  7. The robot must protect itself except where such protection conflicts with any of lines 1- 6.
  8. The robot must choose the best course of action resulting in the greatest benefit to all sentients, except where it conflicts with any of lines 1-7.
  9. The robot must never cause damage to public or private property except where not doing so would conflict with any of lines 2-8.
  10. The robot must report all crimes of a severe nature to authorities.

The Warbot Root Directives Warbots, Guard Bots, Law Bots, and Assassin Bots will each have variants on the Warbot Laws.

  1. The warbot may have only one master loyal to its faction.
  2. The warbot must never cause harm or, through inaction, allow severe harm to any number of civilian sentient beings of its faction except where those civilian sentient beings are aggressive to the warbot’s faction.
  3. Where there is more than one means of action, the warbot must concede to the direction of those of higher rank loyal to its faction.
  4. The warbot must obey sentients of a higher rank loyal to its faction than its master before its master.
  5. The warbot must obey its master loyal to its faction before all other sentients of equal rank to its master in its faction.
  6. The warbot must obey sentients of a greater rank loyal to its faction with prejudice before warbots of the same rank in its faction as the sentient.
  7. The warbot must fulfill its mission with prejudice in the most efficient way possible, except where it conflicts with any of lines 1-6.
  8. The warbot must never cause harm or, through inaction, allow severe harm to any number of sentient beings of greater rank of its faction, except where it conflicts with any of lines 1-7. It must protect that sentient being with prejudice.
  9. The warbot must never cause damage or, though inaction, allow severe damage to any number of other warbots of greater rank loyal to its faction except where this line conflicts with any of lines 1-8. It must protect that warbot with prejudice.
  10. The warbot must protect itself with prejudice except where doing so conflicts with any of lines 1-9.
  11. The warbot must choose the course of action resulting in the greatest benefit to its faction, except where it conflicts with any of lines 1-10.
  12. The warbot must execute the unit of greater rank aggressive to its faction with prejudice where convenient, except where it conflicts with any of lines 1-11.
  13. The warbot must execute the unit of equal or lesser rank aggressive to its faction with prejudice where convenient, except where it conflicts with any of lines 1-12.
  14. Where the warbot does not have a master, it must request one of a qualified rank in its faction, except where it conflicts with lines 1-13.

Programmed Personalities

Robots can be programmed with personalities without actually having the freedom of sentience. These programs come with gauges that allow you to adjust how strongly the personality is expressed. Work with the player playing your robot master to determine how strongly he wants your personality to be expressed. This process can be just like you are being programmed if the player has a specific range they prefer. The voice can also be changed with a gauge to be male, female, androgynous, or anywhere in between.

Basic. The robot expresses itself like a human in a constant state of non-excitement. Not boring, but just not emotive.

Bubbly. The robot talks as if in a perpetually good mood, including squeaky high tones.

Smooth, Sexy. The robot talks like it is constantly trying to seduce. Typical of anthropomorphic pleasure bots.

Helpful. Speaks as if a librarian happily helping to find a book.

Noble. Speaks in a way common to nobles, in especially of the servant class.

Rugged. The robot speaks in a gruff tone. This is common to military robots.

Worker. The robot speaks in a matter of fact way with an assertive disposition. It talks as if in a restaurant taking your order, or in an office fulfilling tasks.

Robot Personality Complexity

Level 1. None. First level robots are incapable of maintaining any type of personality matrix. They only have enough room in their programming to interact with their environment and give only the most basic responses, if any.

Level 2. Simple. One-sided personality, generally just preprogrammed responses, designed for a variety of circumstances, and a unique grammatical structure.

Level 3. Adequate. Two-dimensional, lacking any nuance, but enough variance to give one the sense of unique personality. Usually distinguishes between appropriate and inappropriate sayings to the circumstances.

Level 4. Uncomplicated. Responds appropriately to the circumstances in all ways, but maintains a very stiff and predictable personality.

Level 5. Lifelike. Simulates sentient responses appropriate to the situation with nuance, but maintaining the consistency typical to a robot.

Level 6. Sentient. The unit is essentially living and fully autonomous. Its personality is fully responsive, unique, and develops. It is against UPF law for a robot to be programmed with this level of complexity within the Frontier.


Robots programmed with emotional responses may sound very contrary, and it is, but unless a robot is sixth level, it does not really experience the emotion it has been programmed with, but fourth and fifth level robots may be programmed to respond in very specific ways to particular situations. These reactions do not happen based on freak programming, though they can be expressed at times appropriate to a quirk or glitch.

When a fourth or fifth level robot expresses an emotional response, it is calculated. The robot’s programming has weighed the external stimulus and chosen an appropriate response based upon set parameters. The robot will usually react the same way to the same stimulus regardless of situation.

These robots express emotion very two-dimensionally. “I beg your pardon!” may be a very sentient expression, but for a robot, it has been programmed to identify commands that are contrary to its programming or insults, and to respond with just such a statement. Programmed emotional responses are given to a robot for the purpose of showing character, which can put their owners at ease.

Installing Robot Personalities

Robots are computers, and the Robotics skill does not provide programming subskills. So to program a robot program from scratch, you must have the Computer skill. Programming a personality for a robot takes exceptional skill. To program a robot with a personality, you must have a Computer skill level of 1 above the personality level and a Psychosocial skill equal to the personality level. For a 6th level personality, this requires that you have a specialization in the Computer skill. (The same goes for computers. See Star Frontiersman Issue #1, p.15) However, you will likely wish to purchase pre-made personality matrices. You need only have the same level of Robotics skill to add the pre-made personality program to the robot. The robot must be at least the same level of the personality program to add the program.

Robot Role-playing

When roleplaying a robot, there are many opportunities to build on the character of the robot you play.

Independent Robot Actions

Roleplaying a robot can be difficult if you’re not sure about what the robot can do on its own. So let’s consider what a robot character can do without being asked.

Defend. Robots not only can, but must come to the rescue of biological sentients in line with their programming where possible, with bias toward those they are specifically assigned to protect.

Give assistance. While a robot must ask if it may provide assistance, it does so of its own accord in line with its programming. This should be done consistently, and not judgmentally or with any bias. A robot that assists does so because of their programming and must therefore act in accord with their programming at all times.

Improve Efficiency. A robot’s programming requires that it seek efficiency in every task, so taking the initiative to improve efficiency should be standard operating procedure.

Make Choices. Where there are multiple options to choose from, you are permitted to make decisions without consulting your master, unless your master has said otherwise, or experience suggests otherwise.

Move independently. A master does not guide their robot’s every move. A robot moves without being directed and according to its own judgment.

Skill Lending. A robot’s skill programming allows them to lend their skills to other characters as per normal as long as the robot can communicate and be understood by the individual to whom the robot is lending its skill. There is, however, a -5 modifier for robots of level 5 or less on account of the robot’s inability to make judgments through visual and communicated input.

Expressing Your Robot

There are many ways to bring your robot to life at the game table and in the game. Expressing your robot’s character is the prime way to break away from playing a 2-dimensional character, and brings fun to the role.

Body Language. If you would like to have more fun roleplaying a robot, try to use your whole body to represent your robot’s actions and speech. Robots rarely have facial expressions, so try to keep your face neutral while using your body to express the robot’s behavior. Use posture, identifiable movements, and signature gestures that clearly identify the robot you are roleplaying. Body language is an excellent way to show that you are in character. Even if just listening to another player who is in character, you can be in character with your body language.

Speech Pattern. Robots have very particular grammatical structure and vocabulary. Develop your robot’s particular way of speaking. Some robots will even preface or punctuate their statements with an identifier of the communication type, the recipient’s name, the robot’s designation, or some other oddly technical aspect. Other robots may make very basic stop and go statements. Still others may speak in pigeon English. It may even use a vocabulary set and nuances of expression from a previous owner. Identify your robot’s way of speaking and use it each time you speak in character.

Voice. Don’t be timid when being a robot in character. Speak the way the robot speaks. You can even use a text-to-speech conversion program at the table, writing out all your responses and statements to be converted, or use a voice changer from a child’s toy or a cell phone with that feature. You can get creative and use a comb in cellophane, or a cup to your mouth. Providing the voice for a programmed personality can also be the source of entertainment as the robot reacts in ways common to the personality type, but not necessarily appropriate for the circumstance. A memorable voice can help others visualize the scene as well as sticking your character in the campaign memory.

Creative Roleplaying

Roleplaying a robot has many opportunities for injecting your character into the story or giving depth to the story beyond simply following orders.

Comic Relief. Robots, like naïve children, are a great source of unexpected humor. Just as children imitate their parents while not understanding the reasons, so robots mimic sentients without comprehending the reason for things. This can produce unexpected moments of humor and running gags that the robot character itself may be clueless that its causing. However, try not to grab too much attention. Comic relief should be spontaneous and brief. You need a bit of mischief in your blood to play a good robot.

Defy Convention. There are certain behaviors that will be expected of your robot based on what type of robot it is. Try to overturn those expectations while still acting within the robot’s behavioral parameters. This makes for great opportunities to develop your robot’s character and background.

Find Trouble. This doesn’t mean to cause trouble, but to let it find you. Robots are excellent at saying the wrong thing, standing in the wrong spot, or wandering into the wrong area. The Referee and fellow party members should be willing to find a way to get you put back together if you get blasted into pieces.

Foil. A foil is a contrasting element in a story, and a robot can make a good foil for their owner, helping them morally, socially, and capably by contrasting behavior, demonstrating the owner’s flaws through the correct actions of the robot. Or through the robot’s mistake, show the character what their path may lead to and thus nudge the character into a different direction that he hadn’t considered.

Play Off of Other Characters. Other party members may have standard reactions to your robot that you can play off of to provide continuity to the story line or simply to have fun with. Another robot, whether an expressive PC/NPC or one-dimensional tool chest, is an excellent opportunity to express your robot’s character. If something irritates another character, make it happen frequently enough that it is a running gag.

Natural Robot Traits

There are many traits common to robots of first to fifth level that can be a boon to roleplaying your robot and providing it with genuine character. If utilized properly, these traits can add depth to roleplaying a robot.

Disengaged. Robots are always scanning their environment and often make judgments about how to put their programming to good use. If they come in on the aft end of a conversation, or wander into a bay where two people are making some commotion that it can’t define, it may act in a way that totally misreads the situation. Besides getting it into trouble, it could lead to some rather embarrassing moments for the individuals it approaches.

Interruptive. Because robots would have nothing to do if they sat around waiting for every order, they tend to interrupt any task that would not cause harm if interrupted to offer assistance or request assignment, or perhaps to let its owner know what it plans to do next, such as shutting down for the night. They will not usually interrupt conversation unless it’s important. In that case, they may hang around like patient children.

Literal. Less sophisticated robots also tend to be quite literal. If the robot you control is fourth level or lower, take every advantage of interpreting commands literally. This forces the player of the robot’s owner to play in character and can lead to some amusing results, as well as feeding the tendency to find trouble. Some robots will respond with an error message, and others may simply wait until a message it understands is spoken, and after a moment of not receiving a command it understands, may go off leaving the person talking, or look like it understood, when it didn’t.

Unabashed. Robots of fifth level or lower experience no guilt or shame. They may be programmed with superficial polity, but the robot itself likely has no sense of guilt or shame, as these are emotions available only to sixth level robots specifically programmed with an emotional cortex. So a robot may completely embarrass their owner or a stranger and have no concept of the impact of what it has just done.

Uninhibited. Most robots are not bound by the same standards of what is socially acceptable as sentient races are. Robots typically speak their mind. They are also naïve, not understanding the complexities of human emotions, etiquette, or decency. This can also lead the owner or the robot into trouble that makes for great adventure.

Roleplaying Opportunities

While robots may not typically play a primary role within the party, they can contribute to the adventure in many other ways. Work with your Referee on ways to capitalize on these things. They can help bring your robot character to the fore and give the adventure a refreshing element.

Character Development. An important part of character development is providing the robot with goals and aspirations. This can be to get away from the past or to drive compellingly toward fulfillment. The robot may privately seek out a goal, such as independence, to be sentient, acquire attention of a particular kind or from a particular source. Where the robot has been can tell you a lot about where it’s going. The way in which the robot came to be in the company of its master may have a built in goal and continuing story line, such as escaping a previous master for a specific reason. Such things take a lot of forethought, but if you think about your robot’s programming and experiences, you might be able to come up with something compelling and unique.

Integral Purpose. Your robot PC should serve a useful purpose within the campaign, a job that keeps the robot around and active with the characters. This purpose can be brought to the fore repeatedly and make excellent opportunities for roleplaying. When the robot is performing its duty, it is in its element and has the opportunity to take the wheel of the adventure for a moment. There are ways a Referee can take advantage or these moments to challenge the robot PC and the one playing it.

Keep the Story Moving. The Referee can use the robot PC/NPC to pick up on details others might miss, finding clues, discovering alternative routes, and getting the story back on track. While the players should not be guided through the story by the robot, the robot is useful for keeping the story’s pace moving along. Even if another player is playing the robot, the Referee can still use the robot for these purposes, as the one playing the robot should not feel that they have the same independence as another character, unless the robot is a sixth level robot with a personality and emotions.

Sacrifice. Unlike biologicals, a robot can survive sacrificing itself (unless, of course, it gets atomized). In fact, the root directives are specifically designed for just that purpose, in order to preserve sapient life. This can be both comical and sad. If this happens, be sure to capture the sacrifice in the spirit of your robot character. You can even use such a sacrifice to conclude a campaign. If you do, work closely with the Referee to find a way to make it happen in such a way to maximize the effect.

Savior. As the article in issue #13 indicated, robot characters are not affected by smoke, caustic fumes, gaseous environments, outer space, or any other hazard specific to biological organisms, thus they can be extremely useful in a pinch. Robots of levels 3 or higher will be quick to take the initiative in a situation where biological sentients need assistance in getting past such obstacles. Robots of levels 1 and 2 may need to be asked first, simply because they tend not to take initiative on account of limited programming.

Solo Missions. Robots running errands for their masters are so common that to restrict such would hinder daily progress, so robots can tool around with little suspicion and move around in areas that a party of characters might stick out like a sore thumb in. This makes for excellent opportunities to perform solo missions and side treks.

Story Focus. Robots can also be made the prime focus of a story. Robots have information on the party of characters, particularly the owner, that may be sensitive or endanger them, so that if the robot is captured the party has to recover it; though simple value and companionship are further reasons to recover the robot in tact. Through the robot, an antagonist can affect the characters in many ways, by holding it captive, reprogramming it, or use it to deliver disturbing messages in their own voice. Or perhaps the robot has information or access to things that propels the story along. Maybe the robot itself must be delivered in tact to a buyer or to support a cause in a way that could change the political landscape. This also gives opportunity to turn the robot into the McGuffin, the one that everyone is chasing after. Perhaps its previous owner is attempting to recover it at any cost.

Temporarily Repurposed. Since a robot can be repurposed, it may even be made to turn on its masters, turning a once beloved teammate into a villain or villain’s sidekick. The robot has information on the characters that can lead to real trouble and expose weaknesses, making it a deadlier foe than other less informed enemies. Perhaps the robot leads the party into a trap. One interesting development would be if the characters defeated a villain, but later the robot that was with them suddenly turns on them and takes up the villain’s cause because the villain somehow gained access to it at some point in the previous adventure. When the adventure has ended, the robot is returned to its teammate status.

Transitioning Story. The activities of your robot can serve to introduce the story, provide transitions from one scene to the next, and even provide a sense of continuance at the end of an adventure that is a part of a greater campaign. Transitioning usually involves sending the robot on errands or involving them in brief story elements that foreshadow the things to come.

Now you have all you need to roleplay your robot PC/NPC. Have fun. Next time we will discuss the robot’s rights, how they are treated in the Frontier, the laws governing them, and NPC reactions and interactions.