Designed as a comprehensive resource for robots within a science-fiction game (and Bulldogs! in particular) this is not just a list of bolt-on parts, but an analysis of what sort of things fictional robots might do, how the sentient ones might think and what sort of folks design and maintain them.
The first chapter looks at the various roles in which robots can be found within the Bulldogs! universe (much of which is, of course, applicable to any space-faring game in which extensive use of robots is to be made). It starts off by describing the discovery of Self Improving Nanocircuitry, the breakthrough that enabled robots to become sentient independent beings, rather than programmed machines. Created at the behest of a casino-owning crime lord, their captive inventors ensured that they learned the true nature of their master and eventually turned him in to the authorities - spawning undercurrents of fear that these new robots were disloyal and bent on taking over! Much research and investigation followed before any more were made, and restrictive legislation was put in place. With almost 200 years of history behind them, modern methods for constructing these SIN-based robots are discussed and their role in the contemporary universe discussed... all in a delightful quasi-academic tone.
There is still plenty of religious and political debate as to whether a SIN-based robot is genuinely 'alive' - as nobody's determined just what a soul is, it's a bit hard to tell whether a robot has one or not. However a few are able to break free of their programming, becoming 'awakened' or fully independent... these are generally hunted down by the authorities and eliminated as a threat. Some extremist groups even seek greater rights for robots. Be this as it may, while a robot can undertake virtually any task, their main use includes 'dirty' jobs (in environments unpleasant or toxic to biological life-forms), entertainment (frequently the, um, more improper sort that could be deemed demeaning for a performer or as gladiators who can be directed to rip each other to shreds without ethnical consideration), hospitality (as again, they do not feel 'demeaned' by being required to attend to another person's needs, and can be relied upon to be constantly attentive without daydreaming or disloyalty or even some time off), information processing (especially roles that need attention to detail over long periods like air traffic control) and of course warfare.
Next comes a detailed treatise on the laws applying to and about SIN-based robots, including the variations prevalent in different societies within the Bulldogs! universe. This includes comprehensive detail on the ramifications of each piece of legislation. There's a bit about the specialist law enforcement organisations and techniques used, and on the fate of rogue robots. The chapter is rounded off with an introduction to several organisations that take a particular interest in the subject. Overall, this first chapter ought to be read by anyone running a science-fiction game in which robots feature, Bulldogs! or not.
Chapter 2: Form v. Function, looks at the physical components of a robot. Again, while written with Bulldogs! in mind, this information will be useful to anyone wishing to use robots in a game and wanting to go further than picking them 'off the shelf' from one of their chosen system's equipment books.
After an overview of the various components that go into a robot, the chapter settles down to more detailed design - with a reminder that robots always are the result of conscious design on someone's part. Robots may be designed as player-characters or NPCs. PC ones are likely to be 'androids' - man-like robots - while others may be androids or 'mechanicals' - robots whose form suits their function. The various races within the Bulldogs! universe naturally tend to make androids that look somewhat like themselves, and there are more detailed notes on the particular proclivities of each of the main races. However, this chapter is still general discussion rather than actually getting down to the nuts & bolts of robot construction.
Next comes Chapter 3: It's Just a Machine... Right? This chapter examines the programming and behavioural aspects of a robot's character. A robot's operation centres around its code: the rules that govern its behaviour in terms of what it may and may not do. Often this refers to external codes - such as an imperative to obey the law of the world or location in which it is - but does not contain the external information, which is held in its intellectual memory. Naturally, some robots have their programming deliberately amended to allow them to commit criminal acts or acts of violence, both of which are specifically excluded by normal, legal factory programming. This is followed by a discussion of some of the roles which robots might occupy: assassin, bounty hunter, engineer, fighter, ship's gunner and so on, looking at the strengths and weaknesses of using a robot rather than a living person in each one.
The next chapter is entitled "Software Sale" and comprises a well-commented list of all the skills available to robots within the system. It also includes the interesting innovation of providing hardware and software upgrades during play using feats, as well as the more conventional use of them to reflect an individual's abilities. Programming languages in common use are also discussed (although many robots are designed to accept commands verbally in whatever language their owner speaks).
Chapter 5 is called "We Have the Technology!" and looks at the potential for live meat people to enhance themselves with technology, cybernetic style. It starts by discussing the cultural and scientific implications before moving into more rule-based material explaining what can be done and how... again with extensive use of feats as a way of implementing the enhancements. As with robots themselves, there is a considerable body of law relating to the possession of cybernetics (particularly inbuilt weaponry), although 'cyborgs' themselves, being living beings, are not as strictly controlled as are robots. There's also a discussion of the (mostly illegal) procedure for creating a complete map of someone's brain - which can be used for various purposes such as interrogration or personality transfer.
Next, Chapter 6 - "Never Eat... Never Sleep... Never Stop!" - covers all the other rules pertaining to robots and cyborgs in play. This includes viruses, combat rules and how to moderate the repair of robots and cyborgs; as well as new items of equipment.
Chapter 7: Custom Jobs looks at prestige classes, both those open to robots themselves and those which are in some way robot-related (such as the Bio-Engineer, who combines medical and engineering knowledge to develop the skills to create cyborgs). As robots may be designed to begin with the prerequisites for a given prestige class, it is open to the GM to allow one to be used as a core class should he so wish.
Finally, Chapter 8: Deus ex Machina looks at three of the major corporations that manufacture robots, and the things they do with them; and at ideas for using robots as NPCs or interesting things to throw at PC robots in your game.
Overall, as well as system-specific material (which could be adapted to any D20-based game), this product contains a lot of background discussion about the very nature of robots and is highly recommended to anyone wanting to use robots in a game, irrespective of the game mechanics used.
Return to Robots page.
Reviewed: 12 March 2006