As any science-fiction fan knows, there's a lot you can do with robots... so why shouldn't you be able to do the same in Traveller? The Introduction floats a host of ideas to start you off including the intriguing one of actually playing a robot character. They can make good adversaries too, or perhaps the party fancies owning a few, anything from a cute pet-bot to a hulking monster that stands guard... or does the laundry. There's a wealth of possibilities here... and Asimov's Laws of Robotics to keep things in check!
The first section, Robot Generation, presents a complete process for designing robots. At this point it doesn't matter how you intend to use them, this is the system for actually coming up with a concept and design, and putting it all together, starting with the fact that robots consist of two elements: hardware and software. For those creating a character robot, there's a system to ensure some measure of game balance by limiting how much you have to spend on your design in comparison to number of terms served. If your robot is going to have a career of its own, you take that into account during your build - but cannot use money raised during the career as part of basic build costs. Then we get down to detail with different frames and all manner of other parts that can be used - after all, robots do not have to be humanoid in form. But if you do go down that route then you can pick a cyborg (augmented humanoid) or an android (completely mechanical, just looking like a person). Gearheads will love this!
Next, You, Robot is for all those who want to play robot characters, providing them with hints and tips, new careers suited to robots and modifications to existing careers to accommodate them. In some respects - abilities, skills and characteristics - a robot fresh off of the assembly line is as able as a flesh and bones character: but it has no background, no past. Unless you want to play it thus, you might want to run it through a term or more of a career path to give it some experience before you start play. As robots are primarily created to serve their creators, there's a new Service career to model the sort of jobs that the robot might have undertaken. Androids may, if preferred, attempt any career open to a flesh and bones character... but with some negative DMs and the chance of being 'found out' (this presumes that the android is operating covertly rather than owning up to its nature). A neat concept of Ages is used to model how society's views on robot rights changes from them being treated as good and chattels through slaves and second-class citizens to having full and equal rights with anyone else. It's up to you where along that scale your universe is... and it may vary from place to place, of course. Robot careers fit in well, with Fugitives and Activists as well as Service robots being possible. The section ends with modifications to existing careers to involve the use of robots by the people undertaking that career, giving them the skills and experience that they need.
Then, The Science of Robotics looks at the game mechanics necessary when incorporating robots into your game. Included here are robot abilities and stuff that is particularly hazardous to them. It looks at robot 'intelligence' which falls into two categories: command algorithm and personality program. Command algorithms result in drones which follow commands, often showing considerable versatility as they work out the best way to accomplish the task set but never deviating from it. The personality program enables robots to make judgement calls, something a drone cannot, and the most complex ones are difficult to distinguish from a sophont. Naturally with this increasing complexity there is the chance that the robot will become self-aware, and achieve sentience and, you guessed it, there's a table to roll on to see if this happens. There's a lot more here which will help you to build a vivid picture of how robots fit into your campaign setting.
The next section, Microbots, introduces the concept of swarms of tiny robots. These swarms are made up of autonomous machines that work together... and I'm thinking of showing this section to my boss here at the university, as he actually researches into machine swarms! Here they are viewed as potent combat devices, but it's easy to come up with more benign uses. Perhaps they clean house for you...
Finally, Robots and the Universe explores the social aspects: how robots and humanity interact, what a robotic society might be like and all manner of other ideas. It draws together the strands already introduced to enable you to integrate robots - at all levels of independent capability - into your universe, perhaps as an integral part that's barely noticed, or perhaps as something quite unusual that only is found in a few worlds. It's up to you.
In some ways, robots are a mainstay of science fiction, so if you want to put them on a sound game mechanical footing rather that describe them in passing within your game, this book will be ideal. Playing a robot is an intriguing concept, whether it's an overt android like Data in Star Trek: Next Generation or one who perhaps even the rest of the party do not know is a robot. The possibilities are endless!
Return to Mongoose Traveller Book 9: Robot page.
Reviewed: 12 June 2015