Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Robots as Spaceships: Theory and Systems

spacecraft spaceship by  https://www.svgrepo.com/svg/217230/spacecraft-spaceship
GURPS has a lot of templates for robots and drones, scattered in various products and series.  Reign of Steel features menagerie of robots meant to hunt down and kill humans. Ultra-Tech presents robots with an aim for utility, from a simple porter to the bizarre bush robot. Transhuman space dazzles us with a  bewildering variety of shells for purposes both general and niche, exotic and everyday. But none of them have a "system" for building robots and drones. Either a book has a template for that size and shape of robot, or you build the template yourself. Sometimes tweaking a template will get good results, but more often than not I find myself needing things very different from existing templates.

Robot 1 by Diversity Avatars. http://www.iconarchive.com/show/avatars-icons-by-diversity-avatars/robot-01-icon.html
Now, the fact that Gurps lets you make up stats in an intelligent manner is awesome. The book advertises "Anything you can Imagine", and I love that promise. But I still feel that there is room for a robot design system. Something between a handful of templates and the wide solution space of building from scratch.

So What do we Mean by 'System'?

If we're going to do the work to build this system (me writing, and you reading), its a good idea to understand why we want a system and what we want out of it.

Game systems exist to provide predictability, and to eliminate or simplify judgement calls. They can be very complex, but all that complexity is for increasing predictability while simultaneously reducing judgement calls. A system allows everyone at the table to agree on the exact percentage of the time a given bullet penetrates a dragon's scales, and then allow them all of them to agree on whether or not the bullet penetrated the dragon's scales this time. And even if the GM keeps the dragon's defensive stats a secret, the players can still make predictions about how other weapons will behave against the dragon.

For Robots, we need a simple consistent way to determine the hit points, speed, DR, cost, and weight of a given robot. We don't want the GM to spend time agonizing over every model of robot. We don't want him to hand-wave inconsistent stats for each robot. And we need players to know how powerful of weapon it will take to defeat a robot even before they see it.

The ultimate motivator for this system was to allow my players to build custom robots.  My setting concept required robots, drones, and teleoperated shells to be everywhere. I needed guidelines for my players. I needed guidelines for myself. The setting is hard science fiction, and consistent robots are very much a part of the feel. So I built this system.

Spaceships and the Tech Books

We won't invent this system from scratch. Gurps has a system for building vehicles in fourth edition. Its called spaceships, and its been slowly adapted to handle more and more situations. Once, it only handled large objects in orbit, but it has been slowly expanded, and the tools we will use were published several years ago. Our core books are the first Spaceships book, The Seventh (divergent spaceships), Pyramid 34 (Alternate Gurps), and the Fourth Spaceships book (fighters, carriers, and mecha)

We will need to keep in mind the equipment from the high tech and ultra-tech books. At some point, someone is going to want to mount a grenade launcher on Kitty Killbot, or take apart their pistol and incorporate it into a little hover-drone. The equipment from the tech books have a power level similar to our creations, and hopefully we'll be able to equip robots with gear from those books.

The Test Case

This system was created for a specific game, and though we're hoping for it be to generic, the play testing will be focused on that game. The specific game is set on a Future Earth on the "Cyberpunk" path. Material and weapons technology will be TL8, but robotics, computing, and cybernetics will be TL10. This is actually a fairly common technology paradigm for fighting robots: it covers robot uprisings as well as cyberpunk. It lets us focus on robots rather than the full breadth of ultra-tech.

I will emphasize indoor machines in urban environments, though the principles should scale well. We'll want robots that roll, walk, fly, and float. Mecha are of particular interest, both as individual combat bots and as power armor. We'll be exploring robots from the size of remote control cars to the size of classic automobiles.

Analyzing Spaceships

As a by product of our work, We'll get some insight about the spaceships system. We're going to push it to its limits, and watch it break. We're going to extrapolate it to sizes it wasn't designed for. We're going to make some very diverse and un-spaceship like vehicles with it. And we're going to compare it against stats in the tech books at comparable sizes.  And when we fix and adjust things, we'll take a little time to see if those fixes don't apply to bigger spaceships.

Lots to Do

This system will take a little while for me to post. At the end, I hope to condense it all into one document, but its likely to be a big system. I also find the theory around why we're making these changes fascinating, and I hope you will too. Understanding why a rule exists is often as helpful as the rule itself. At the end of this, we will have a nice stable full of robots. I'll see you next week.

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