Sentient Robots

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by Bill Logan


Robotic PC/NPC’s

The Frontier is a big place, with many races and many types of technology. Jumps to voidspace, anti-gravity, and inertial control on such a level that it is beyond our understanding. Robots are very high-tech, and can be dangerous to face. But until now, robots couldn’t be intelligent enough to be a player character.

Zebulon’s Guide to the Frontier added the Mechanon race, which allowed players to play a sentient robot. These rules weren’t well-received and produced characters which were disproportional in power. Lovers of other forms of sci-fi have long imagined (or created house-rules for) robotic characters.

Improved AI


Ellie (short for “11E”) used to be a trackerbot, a synthetic bounty hunter. It had an anthropomorphic body type and was equipped with the Seach & Destroy and Security Lock programs. Its owner enjoyed the company of Ellie and the services it rendered and when he came into a large sum of money, paid for the Improved AI upgrade. Ellie resented “her” servitude and left the owner, but can’t shake its desire to hunt down criminals. But now “she” brings these criminals to justice instead of an employer.

STR/STA 55/55 IM +5
DEX/RS 50/50 PS 1d10+3
INT/LOG 45/45 RW 25
PER/LDR 20/40 MW 28

Skills: Military PSA, Projectile Weapons 1, Environmentalist 1

Equipment: Type 2 Parabattery (1,000SEU), Autopistol (20 bullets), Integrated: Chronocom, Compass.

Sentient Robot PCs and NPCs have a new "special program" that other robots lack (just like there are attack/defense programs and such) called Improved Artificial Intelligence (or Improved AI). This program includes complex circuitry and hardware in addition to the huge amount of programming required by such a large piece of firmware. It is not a program found commonly in the Frontier. It’s a rare and powerful program that includes a great deal of added technology that is cutting edge, created in unique labs here and there throughout the Frontier. The creators of this program are a secretive lot, and may not give up their beloved technology lightly (they may require huge favors in exchange for their technology).

Installing an Improved AI program means losing other technology because of incompatibility and space/power requirements. Only level 6 robots can have an Improved AI program, and it is very expensive (15,000 Credits for the program’s software and hardware and installation). The Improved AI hardware and software gives the robot the ability to adapt, grow, make decisions, have a sense of self, receipt and use of tactile sensors to have a sense of touch, approximation of sense of smell through special air receptors and membranes, and other things that define sentience. The robot will be able to ponder situations even when not directly confronted with them, has random thoughts moderated by need and current focus level, can express its thoughts imaginatively, and will wonder about its place in the universe. It will basically become a PC, with the following modifications:

Ability Scores

Installation of the Improved AI hardware and software can have unpredictable results on the performance of the robot. Each installation on a robot model will require rolling all ability scores as per normal. That is, if you take a robot and install Improved AI, you then go through the process of creating a character's statistics (except you don't select race!). The ability score modifiers are as follows (Heavy Duty robots (NPC only) have an additional 300 Stamina)


The increase to STR/STA should be fairly obvious, as standard Alpha Dawn game system robots are always found with Stamina scores of 100. Even though a PC robot has some of his superstructure hardware displaced by the Improved AI installation, it is still a durable piece of technology.

DEX/RS were given only a small adjustment because a level 6 robot normally is shown with a 90% RS score. Just as other features were cut in half by technology downsizing and displacement by the Improved AI equipment, so too were the reflexive motors and subsystems, making a robot PC typically start with an DEX/RS only slightly better compared to other races.

INT/LOG was tricky. Robots are very logical, though Logic and Intuition take more into account than mere logic. Since an Improved AI program is like giving a baby-level of sentience to a robot, starting robot PCs begin with only slightly better than average INT/LOG, and must improve them with experience points.

PER/LDR is lower due to the inability of robots to give proper body language and facial expressions, and the general lack of acceptance of robots as sentient beings in the Frontier.

Optional Rule: Cybernetic robots (“cybots,” as described on page 65 of the Alpha Dawn remastered book) that have anthropomorphic body types look very much like a biological being. They even have extra very fine motors and sensors, allowing them to simulate facial expressions. If playing a cybot, a character will cut his “PER/LDR” starting ability score penalty in half, -10 instead of -20.


Other programs the robot has prior to installation of the AI help to decide which player character skills it will have. Once Improved AI is installed, no other programs may be installed (because the robot will learn like a normal character by using experience points).

Robot Program Skill Integration
Restrain Martial Arts
Self Defense Melee Weapons
Attack/Defense Weapon skill of choice
Search & Destroy Environmentalist or Demolitions
Computer Link Computers
Security Lock Technician or Robotics

For simplicity sake, if creating a starting-level robot PC, you may select any two of these skills for free (their selection of skill is limited to the above list, basically any Military or Technological skill, no BioSocial skill except Environmentalist), just like a normal starting PC can, each at level 1. You must then select either Military or Technological PSA. Please note that you need not list the "program" - it becomes obsolete and is rolled into the skill memory bank of the AI ware.

Other Programs - Note that after conversion to sentience through installation of this rare and unusual Improved AI program, robots never again purchase programs. The new mental faculties they possess will reject the new technology, making it useless to them. They now learn like any other character. See Improvement, below.


Movement modes go unchanged, though speed is reduced because of the displacement and downsizing of components to make room for the AI ware. If creating a starting-level PC, you may select a form of movement: limb, wheel, hover, rotor, or rocket. Each has an obvious limitation and advantage. Movement rates for each type are as follows:

Movement Mode Walk Run Hourly
2 Legs 10m/turn 30m/turn 5kph
More than 2 Legs 15m/turn 35m/turn 6kph
Wheeled* 40m/turn 80m/turn 25kph
Tracked** 50m/turn 75m/turn 25kph
Hover*** 35m/turn 125m/turn 30kph
Rotor**** 25kph 150kph 25kph
Rocket***** 200kph 500kph 200kph

* Wheeled robots maneuver like a ground car.
** Tracked robots maneuver like an explorer.
*** Hover robots maneuver like a hover car.
**** Rotor robots maneuver like a jetcopter.
***** Rocket robots maneuver like an air car.

Multiple types of movement are possible (just like for normal robots). A starting-level Robot PC can select only one of these modes, however, but may consider adding gear at a later time through expenditure of earned experience and credits (see Improvement, below).

Note that depending on the creativity of the player and the design of the robot that has been converted, the movement rate and carrying capacity may or may not be identical to the rules governing regular characters. This must be determined by the Referee on a case-bycase basis, and should always be balanced by some form of limitation.

Wheeled robot movement is provided as an option here, but is not in the core Alpha Dawn rules book. Cost of such a mode of movement is the same as a standard pair of limbs: 800 Credits. Wheeled robots have certain inherent limitations: they have difficulty with some terrain, and can’t navigate stairs well.

Tracked movement is like that of an explorer or excavator – designed to handle very rough terrain (and in some cases climb very uneven surfaces – depending on the size and angles of their tracks). Tracked movement can be purchased for 1200 Credits.

Players can use these modes of movement for other robots in their games if desired.


All robots weigh 100kg if they have a standard or anthropomorphic body type, or 500kg if they have a heavy duty body (NPC only). This does not include the parabattery or installed or carried gear.


All combat stats (MW, RW, IM, etc.) are all determined like a normal PC.

Punching Damage

Punching damage is reduced by half due to the fact the robot now has simulated nerve endings and reduced damage capacity (and because certain servo motors were downsized to allow for the massive amount of Improved AI software and hardware). Thus, a standard or anthropomorphic body type causes 1d10 damage with a punch (plus PS), while a heavy duty robot (NPC only) causes 3d10 damage.


Regardless of the number of limbs, a robot PC/NPC must select a "Primary" hand. The AI software is excellent, but can't coordinate any better than other PC races. If the robot body type has more than 2 arms, it can't effectively use more than one 2- handed weapon or two 1-handed weapons at one time.

Installed Equipment

Any integrated equipment at the time of Improved AI installation is still in use, as normal. Thus, if a robot has Magnigoggles and a Radiophone before the AI conversion, he'll still have those pieces of technology integrated into his body. Generally, most PC/NPC robots have a sense of self (determined at the point of Improved AI installation), and would loathe installation of new gear that would make them not feel like themselves anymore (just like a human wouldn't generally want to cut off his own hand and install a new one with a cigarette lighter in the thumb... um whatever) see Improvement, below.

Mission & Functions

A robot is normally given a Mission "Protect the Base" and a series of Functions that define the words and methods of that mission. Functions are dropped when the Improved AI circuitry is installed. However, a robot's mission is so key to its being that residuals of that mission remain in the robot's memory and end up bleeding into the AI circuitry. The mission becomes a preference, or a morality, or a personal code, all interpreted by the player. A mission of "assist anyone looking for directions" might turn into a robot who gets enjoyment and is genuinely pleased with itself whenever it helps others find their way. This could later be interpreted by the player as a calling to do social work. Mission is just a role-playing tool in the use of Robot PCs.



Squatto took on his own name after Improved AI installation. He read the name in a StarLaw blotter, and took a liking to it. Squatto was a StarLaw police robotic mount. StarLaw officers would ride on his back and provide nice conversation and companionship to him, as well as militant backup when needed. His standard body type has a centaur-like shape (the Referee permits him to carry up to a 100kg rider without affecting his movement rate). Before conversion, he had the Restrain and Security Lock programs, along with an integrated electrostunner as a right hand.

Squatto still works for StarLaw, but isn’t an officer. He is considered property, but he doesn’t mind that. He forms a strong bond with his rider, and only allows someone he trusts to mount up. Since he isn’t paid for his work, he is actually free to come and go as he pleases. For now, he’ll continue his StarLaw life.

STR/STA 45/65 IM +6
DEX/RS 60/60 PS 1d10+3
INT/LOG 45/45 RW 30
PER/LDR 30/30 MW 30

Skills: Military PSA, Beam Weapons 1, Martial Arts 1

Equipment: Type 1 Parabattery (500SEU), Integrated: Electrostunner, Chronocom, Compass.

Ability Scores

Robot PC/NPC characters earn experience just like everyone else. They may improve their ability scores, but doing so requires a financial cost as well. Normally, it costs 100 Credits per experience point spent to improve an ability score. This represents self modification and assisted modifications in a robotics lab. For example, if a robot PC wanted to increase its RS score from 40 to 45, it would cost 5 experience points and 500 Credits. Robot PCs can NEVER spend experience points on ability score improvement during an adventure. It must always be between adventures or missions while in a city that includes a publicly usable robotics lab or the PC's own lab. It requires time and materials and tools that aren’t portable, though the Robot can basically install these modifications itself (except Logic improvements, which must be done by someone else because the robot’s AI brain must be switched off for a period of time).


Skills can be improved as per normal. This includes purchasing skills from the Medical and Psychosocial skill (normally barred from starting-level robots, see "skills" above). Purchase of skills requires no financial cost unless purchasing the sixth level of skill in any given skill. This is a limitation on the AI software... as it requires a skill memory upgrade to allow room for such advanced knowledge. This is a simple 5,000Cr purchase that must be paid at the same time the experience points are spent on the skill purchase.

Installing Hardware

When having equipment installed (such as new limbs, modes of movement, defenses, weapons or miscellaneous items designated with a "r" in the equipment tables), the robot will have the same normal aversion to self mutilation as would any other PC. If they choose to change their bodies in this way, and the normal 10% fee is paid in addition to the equipment in general, the robot will also have to spend experience points on the improvement (since it requires acquired skills and talents to use the new equipment). The cost is equal to 1 experience point per 1,000Cr worth of gear installed (minimum 1). Thus, if a robot wanted to have installed Magnigoggles, it would cost 200Cr for the gear, 20Cr for the installation fee, and 1 experience point to use it. If it later wanted to add an integrated rocket pack mode of movement, it would cost 10,000Cr for the altered movement mode (according to the Robotics table in the equipment section of the AD book), 1,000Cr for the installation fee, and 10 experience points to use it.


General Health

A robot requires regularized maintenance to keep it functional. Referees are encouraged to treat the robot as feeling ill when maintenance is not performed (the robot goes more than a month without time spent in an equipped robotics lab), receiving a penalty of -10 to all actions. Maintenance is performed by the robot himself, just like normal characters know how to feed themselves and drink liquids. Note that a robot doesn't breathe, but may sniff to facilitate a sense of smell. Robots cannot get diseased and can never be poisoned (unless you call that special brand of vile programming commonly referred to as a “virus” as a toxin, in which case you could use normal poison/toxin rules!)


A robot with Improved AI must shut down occasionally to run diagnostics. Treat this just as sleep for a normal character. If the software goes too long without running a diagnostic routine, the robot AI acts up - generally making it irritable and can even result in other symptoms identical to sleep deprivation. While running diagnostics, the robot is reduced to a lower power mode and appears like it is actually sleeping, though it can be awakened in the normal way any character can (which interrupts its diagnostics).


A robot doesn't process food or liquid, but does require power. A standard body is powered by a type 1 parabattery (500 SEU) and a heavy duty (NPC only) or anthropomorphic body is powered by a type 2 parabattery (1000 SEU), as per normal AD rules. The battery will provide enough energy to power the robot's systems through normal expected use for around 6 months. That works out to be a drain of about 1 SEU per day from a type 1 parabattery or 2 SEU per day from a type 2 parabattery. This is the food of the robot. This is to supply movement, operate sensors, power the brain, etc. Firing weapons or powering defenses will cost additional SEU and significantly reduce the parabattery lifespan, though external power sources may be used for such weapons and defenses (even if installed). If depleted of parabattery, the Improved AI goes into a hibernation mode to preserve its identity in a non-volatile memory area. If re-powered by a friend, it will be fine.


Most player’s character heal naturally or through medical repair. Robots are different, though similar. Given enough time, a robot will work the kinks and damage out of itself, and be able to tweak and repair its own damage. This simulates normal healing but assumes the robot has the ability (tools, time, spare parts, etc.) to work on its damage. Anyone with Robotics skill can repair the robot with a successful Repair Robot skill check, providing they have the time, tools, and materials. To make the playing of robots balanced against the playing of characters, there are three distinct types of robotic healing:

  • Natural Healing. This is like normal healing from any other race (that is, 1 STA per 20-hour day spent recuperating).
  • Patch Job. This is like the “First Aid” medical skill. Without a lab, time, or proper materials, this is the only kind of repair a robotics expert can perform on a robot PC. It heals 10 points of lost STA with a successful Repair Robot skill check.
  • Minor Repair. This is a repair that is lacking one but not more of the following: the time necessary, the tools necessary, or the materials necessary. It heals 20 points of damage with a successful Repair Robot skill roll. Performing a Minor Repair takes approximately 20 minutes.
  • Major Repair. This type of repair work is what a robotics expert can perform when he has the time, tools, and material to do so. A successful Repair Robot skill roll will heal all damage, but for each 10 STA repaired (or fraction thereof), 100Cr worth of material is used and 1 hour of time is spent.

Social & Legal Considerations


It’s also important to note that a robot begins life as owned property, and depending on the circumstances behind the robotic upgrade to Improved AI, the previous owner may still consider the robot property. How the robot reacts to this knowledge is left up to the role-playing preferences of the controlling player.

The Frontier views robots as helpful or harmful pieces of owned equipment. Most people will have difficulty associating with your robot PC or considering it a "friend." How a robot PC reacts to this fact is up to the controlling player. In some places, the robot won't be allowed in a building and must wait in a lobby with other robots, most of which won't be sentient at all.

The Law

The law doesn't recognize a robot as sentient, no matter how well programmed. Most psychologists agree with this, though some arguments have been made in political circles. What defines sentience? Surely, having a sense of self, showing the effects of both mental and physical distress and pain, showing creativity, learning, adapting, and communicating are all indicators. The only thing remaining is the religious implication. But the law has yet to adapt to consider a robot of any technology level as sentient and may never succeed in doing so. For this reason, a robot PC who commits murder or other crimes may be ordered to have its Improved AI ware wiped clean and force the robot to begin anew with no previous memories, or even ordering it destroyed as flawed technology that is unsafe for the people of the Frontier. On the plus side, it will never have a criminal record nor will it spend a single day in any containment facilities.

Role-playing a Robot

Character Creation Summary

Below are the summarized steps to creating a starting-level Robot PC (same steps as the AD book):

  1. Use a normal character sheet.
  2. Determine Ability Scores (using the modifiers below)
    • STR/STA +10 (NPC Heavy Duty robots have +300 STA)
    • DEX/RS +5
    • INT/LOG +5
    • PER/LDR -20
  3. Race will be "Robot" or "Anthropomorphic Robot" as desired. NPC robots may be "heavy duty robot" instead. Racial abilities are:
    • Punching Damage 1d10 (NPC Heavy Duty robots 3d10)
    • Movement (pick any one: limbed, wheeled, hover, rotor, or rocket)
    • May install robotic gear at 10% fee, but must spend 1 XP for each 1,000Cr worth of gear.
    • Improvement of Ability Scores between missions is possible, but costs 250Cr per XP spent.
    • Doesn't breathe, eat or drink, but sleeps (runs AI diagnostics) normally and requires 1 SEU per day (2 if anthropomorphic) to exist.
    • Heals like all other characters, though technicians do the repair-work instead of medics.
  4. Determine Combat Abilities (IM, PS, MW, RW) normally
  5. Determine Skills: select either Military or Technological PSA, then select one skill in your PSA and one skill in either of those two PSAs. Environmental skill may also be chosen as the second skill, but not Psycho-social or Medic.
  6. Equip your character by rolling d100+250Cr. Any purchased equipment may be installed if a 10% fee is paid, otherwise it's gear you're carrying around. Use any normal starting gear rules your Referee allows.
  7. Details: name, appearance, handedness, etc. Remember a robot "Mission" becomes a moral compass that guides it, so noting your "Mission" may be required by the Referee or desired by you.

The purpose of this article isn’t to create armies of player character robots. It’s so that an unusual player or two can accept a complex challenge of a very unique roleplaying experience. Because the pay-off doesn’t normally compensate for the cost, and because the law generally doesn’t support the existence of a sentient robot, installing Improved Artificial Intelligence should be a rare and wondrous thing.

Robots will have self-awareness thrust upon them, and they may or may not like it. Maybe it was easier being a slave to the program they were bound by. Maybe it was easier not having to weigh everything on a moral balance. Maybe being sentient isn’t easy... and the robot will regret it. Although it’s easy to assume any robot would be thankful, that’s not necessarily the case.

The robot will most likely spend a lot of its time pondering things. It will wonder on its place in the Frontier, on whether or not it’s really sentient or the result of very clever programming. It might wonder about religion. After all, many people around it will claim that wonderful things await them after death... because they will go to join their creator. Since the sentient robot is sitting there talking to representatives of its creator, then what will happen when the robot dies? Does it go to a wonderful place too? Or does some kind of big empty oblivion await it?

Some robots may rebel against its former “masters” while some may embrace them as dear friends. Some may run amok and be quite deranged. After all, natural selection seems to help ensure that normal living beings are more or less healthy, and modern medicine and scientific discoveries picks up the slack where natural selection’s occasional randomness fails to keep a species perfect. Robots don’t have millions of years of natural selection to help keep their ‘species’ on the right track.

Some robots will find themselves wanting companionship of a type that living beings can’t appreciate. Coupling with another robot, however, will prove less than satisfactory, while locating another sentient robot will prove complex. One thing robbed from them (when compared to all other races) is the ability to procreate. This is both unfair and sad – and may often lead to feelings of self worthlessness.

Note that there is no reason a robot will be a good guy. His interpretation of morality need not be in line with those around him. Many things can explain this: crossed wires, bad programming, poorly worded mission statements, or simply a sentient mind choosing evil. Referees may not permit sentient robot PCs, but you may run into one in-game as a clever and potent foe.

Whether or not you role-play your sentient robot as an upbeat being craving social interaction or a moody, self-reflective morose sulking brute pondering his worth more than his peers, is up to you. Whether you’re playing the robot as your primary character or as an NPC that accompanies your character, it will certainly prove to enhance the content of your campaign’s story depth.