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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Adventure Bots!

I would like to take a little time to talk about the upcoming Adventure Bots! article that will appear in Issue #13 of the Star Frontiersman.

I first conceived the notion of a robots article around the time Bill asked me to proof his sentient robots article two years ago (Wow. Has it really been that long?). I had later planned to expand the robots section of Alpha Dawn for my 25th Anniversary Edition and had asked for help in that matter, though none was forthcoming at the time. But when Bill and I previously discussed robots for the article he wanted to write, he seemed only interested in sentient robots, at least for that article, and I got the impression that he didn't see non-sentient robots as playable. So I determined that I would write a robots article that teaches how to roleplay robots, but I lacked the inspiration at the time, and later I got busy working on several different publications for the game and a couple of other articles, so I pretty much didn't allow myself to focus on it with the attention that was needed.

Now two years have passed and I have had the joy of working on the article for the last two months, but now I'm at the finishing stages of the article where I fill out the remaining tables and examples. Examples! Oh the drudgery! I have been procrastinating doing those examples for some time now. I hate doing examples. It's much the reason why I started writing the Futuresports article as well as getting back into writing the Beta Dawn and Gamma Dawn supplements and had several other fresh ideas to set up as well as setting out my planned publications list and this blog. All because of those stupid examples.

Well, onto the article. The article should be pretty playable as is. I plan on putting it to the test when I'm done and getting rid of anything that feels like too much. I did quite a bit of RPG research on robots. In fact, in my procrastination I have also been collecting many, many old RPG's to help me in my research. I now have over 5GB of RPG's and supplements stored on DVD and my computer. I even found the first 100 issues of Dragon Magazine, minus Issue #59 (If you have a copy of that, please scan it and send it my way). Anyway, in so doing I collected a lot of really good information on roleplaying robots. But despite that research, I felt more was needed, so I added several points to expand the robot's personality and playability as well as expanded the quirks I found in the Droids book from West End Games' Star Wars RPG (That was a fantastic find!).

The one thing I really want to bring across in the article is that robots aren't just toasters on wheels (or legs), but are decision-making automatons with the ability to surprise and entertain. When you think of R2-D2, while you know it has an advanced A.I., you still know it's a robot, though you may inadvertantly call it "he". The same goes for C-3PO. But unlike Threepio, Artoo has no emotion or advanced personality matrix. All that Artoo does is based upon what it has learned over the long time it has gone without a memory wipe. When it seems like Artoo is expressing emotion, is he really expressing emotion? Or is he just accessing an appropriate response based upon external stimuli? It's a valid question. The fact is, Artoo is a non-sentient robot programmed to behave in some ways like a sentient, but reacting in calculated, but independent ways.

So this was the premise of the article and I gave much attention to helping the player remember that their reactions should be systematic, but deliberate, obedient, but unique, finite, but adventurous. I also provided new mechanics for helping the robot to improve its operation and for interacting with its master.

In short, it was quite fun working out the article and I can only hope it is well-received and that at least one playgroup uses it. After reading a draft of the article, Bill Logan has already asked if he could include some of it in his FrontierSpace rules with credit. I find that very encouraging and I hope that at least one playgroup benefits by the inclusion of a robot as a part of their playgroup.

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