Robot Rules Revised


Robots in Star Frontiers range from simple work-savers to artificial brains, but the rules describing them are very limited. This works for easy game play but begs for some elaboration to make the topic work well in the role-playing environment. Below are some optional rules for adding equipment, sensory devices, and programs to robots.

Adding Equipment
Page 41 of Alpha Dawn (AD) Expanded Rules lists certain equipment that can be added to a robot for the cost of the equipment plus a 10% installation fee. Page 46 states that "special items can be added at additional cost" but doesn't elaborate on the rules limiting this practice. Finally, page 47 says that every two additions picked from the Special Program, Altered Movement or Extra Limbs tables increase the size and cost of the robot's body by 10%. But just how much equipment can a robot hold?

It makes sense that body type and robot level would play a part in how much equipment could be added to a robot. Larger body types would accommodate more equipment, and higher-level robots could reasonably coordinate more pieces of equipment. In this way every robot has a number of spaces for add-ons, listed in Table I below. Each kilogram of weaponry or equipment takes up one body space. Weaponry or equipment that have no listed mass count as 1/4 space. Each robot can have two manipulative limbs and one mode of movement without counting against their equipment spaces. Additional limbs and modes of movement do take up space as listed in Table II. Note: Zebulon's Guide (aka Zeb's) allows for computers, robots, and skill levels to go up to 8, whereas all other systems account for a maximum of 6.

Table I. Spaces Available For Equipment Add-Ons

Robot Anthro. Standard Heavy Duty Level Body Body Body 1 4 5 6 2 5 6 7 3 6 7 8 4 7 8 9 5 8 9 10 6 9 10 11 7 10 11 12 8 11 12 13

Table II. Space Taken up by Limbs and Modes of Movement
Limbs Equipment Spaces Taken Up
receptacle for tools mechanical arm heavy duty mechanical arm 1 (heavy duty bodies only) computer link arm 1/2 arm with fine-touch hand 2 pretensile coil 4

Modes of Movement Equipment Spaces Taken Up mechanical leg 1/2 wheels (set of 3) or 2 treads 1/2 propellor (underwater robots) 1 rotor fan 2 gas jets (zero-g only) 2 (treat as normal rocket pack) set of vrusk legs 4 pressor beam hover 4

Sensory Input Devices
A robot must be equipped with devices to allow it to see, hear, and talk. The maximum number of sensory input devices on a robot is also dependent on its level. This is shown on Table III. Any combination of devices is allowed: visual, aural, tactile/vibratory, gustatory, and olfactory. Enhancements such as infrared or magnification vision count as equipment add-ons (see below). Adding more senses than allowed costs an additional equipment space and 3 points per device from the PCR. Unless otherwise indicated, robots normally possess sensory devices in this order: visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, and gustatory.

Table III. Sensory Device Capacities
Robot    Number of 
Level    Sensory Devices
1     1
2     1  
3     2
4     2
5     3
6     3
7     5
8     5

Robot Programs
Robots can feasibly be programmed to perform almost any chore. However, AD only described six basic programs and most of these are combat-related. One solution is to convert computer programs (called progits in Zeb's) and character skills into robot programs. This requires setting guidelines for which programs a robot can learn, how sophisticated the programs can be, and how many programs a given robot can hold.

A robot's level determines the number of programs it can retain, and to what level. This is the robot's Program Capacity Rating (PCR) and is listed in Table IV. This is similar to AD computer rules, where function points of computer programs determine the computer's level. However, a robot's capacity is fixed. Unlike computers, adding programs does not increase a robot's level. The robot's PCR is its level squared. This is the maximum number allowed when all the levels of all its programs are added together. (For example, a 3rd level robot has a PCR of 9 (3 squared) which can be used for nine 1st-level programs, or four 2nd-level programs and one 1st-level program, or three 3rd-level programs, and so on). A robot can have a program of a level higher than its own, but this ends up costing the robot a disproportionate amount of its memory and should only be used for highly specialized robots.

Robot programs cost 100 credit per level of program.

Table IV. Program Capacity Rating
Robot           
Level    PCR   
1     1        
2     4           
3     9        
4     16       
5     25    
6     36       
7     49       
8     64

Programs for robots
Computer programs described in AD are available to robots for twice their cost (2 x their level when counting against a robot's PCR). The reason for this is computers are dedicated calculating machines while robots must be programmed to move, analyze sensory input, and communicate. Because of this, a computer program could not be as powerful in a robot as it is in a computer of the same level.

Bodycomp and vehicle progits are described in Zeb's. They are available for 1 point per level when counted against a robot's PCR ('A' progits are considered 1st level, 'B' progits are 2nd level, and so on). All accompanying equipment takes up the appropriate number of equipment spaces.

Character skills are available as "emulator" programs. They count one point per skill level against the robot's PCR. Success resolution is rolled normally under AD and Zeb's rules. Any bonuses or column shifts are based on the skill's program level and not the robot level. For SF2K rules, the attribute to use for any skill is the robot's level times 10 and is not halved like normal attributes. Because many skills involve perceptions unique to living organisms, some emulator programs may carry limitations on actions taken by the robot and may be limited to merely the knowledge this skill holds. Referees should use their discretion in this area.

Programs for computers
Robot programs are not available for computers. Computers use the robot management program to control robots and remote weapons systems.

Progits are available for 1 function point per level, with each letter being one level higher (A progits are considered 1st level, B progits are 2nd level and so on). All accompanying equipment adds to the mass / structure points of the computer itself.

Character skills are available as "emulator" programs. They each have function points equal to two times their level. Success resolution is rolled normally under AD and Zeb's rules. Any bonuses or column shifts are based on the skill's program level and not the computer level. For SF2K rules, the attribute to use for any skill is the computer's level times 10 and is not halved like normal attributes. Because many skills involve perceptions unique to living organisms, some emulator programs may carry limitations on actions taken by the computer and may be limited to merely the knowledge this skill holds. Referees should use their discretion in this area.

Special Considerations
Characters with robotics or computer skills receive a modifier to their success rolls when working on emulation programs that are based on skills they themselves possess. This is in addition to the normal modifiers. For every level the emulator program is lower than the character's level in that skill, the character receives a +10 bonus (+1 column shift in Zeb's). If the emulator is of a higher level than the character's skill, the modifier is a flat +10. This is also true for computers or robots working on emulator programs on other computers or robots, as long as they share the same emulator programs.

Example 1: Grath has level 3 in the computer skill Program Manipulation. He is trying to get a 3rd level computer to cook his favorite meal by altering its Chef emulation program, which is 1st level. Success is normally determined by his skill level minus the program level. However, Grath is level 2 in the Chef character skill. So he will receive an additional +10 to his roll (Chef level 2 minus Chef emulation level 1 = 1).

Example 2: The computer Desna/Ordo/7 has an emulation program of Robotics: Alter Functions level 6 and is trying to alter the programming of one of the station's robots, which is a level 2 security drone. Normally Desna would have a +4 column shift for having a "skill" level higher than the level of the robot (6 minus 2). The function it is altering is a 4th level security program. Desna has a security program level 2. Desna has an additional +10% added to its chance to alter the robot's security program because it has the same emulator program in common with the robot.

Modifiers
- Computers with emulator programs in the field of Computer or Robotics Skills receive a +20% to all Computer skill rolls and +10% to Robotics skill rolls. - Robots with emulator programs in the field of Computer or Robotics Skills receive a +20% to all Robotics skill rolls and +10% to Computer skill rolls. - Computers and Robots receive a +10% to skill rolls dealing with machinery only if electronically linked to them: Acoustics, Bionics, Cybernetics, Engineering skills, Machinery skills, Optics, Security Systems skills, and Vehicle skills

Below is a list of skills not recommended for use as emulator programs due to their organic or sentient nature. This isn't to say they could never be used, but referees should consider what modifications would have to be made for a robot to use these skills.

agility                 charisma          endurance       persuasion
animal taming           communication     entertaining      psycho-pathology
animal training   disguise                haggling        pumping federanium
bluff                   dramatics         hypnosis        ride mount
body speak        empathic understanding  intelligence    running

Discussion of these rules:
Why can't character skills be programs in robots? And why can't progits be handled by computers? Or robots for that matter? On top of this is the problem of stating which could work where, and to what extent. It seems reasonable that a simple progit could be handled with ease by a computer. And a character skill would only be so effective if executed by a robot. And would a character with a specific skill have an easier time accessing a computer program that emulated that same skill? This article is an ad-hoc attempt to lay the groundwork for rules in this area. Use these rules as they enhance your campaign.

The simple solution is to make every skill, program, and progit covered in the three books (Star Frontiers, Knight Hawks, and Zebulon's Guide, as well as some mentioned in game modules, magazine articles and ones made up for SF2K) available to computers and robots alike as native programs. These could be treated like normal computer and robot programs. "Emulator" programs are character skills made available to robots and computers. The other programs are made available by modifying their cost in terms of storage capacity.

Naturally there will be limitations. The main purpose of this move is to give more depth to what computers and robots can do. What's so fun about robots if they can only "restrain" or "search and destroy"? Hopefully these new programs will put names and origins to the varied tasks computers and robots would perform in an exciting sci-fi environment. Of course there should be limitations. I've included a table of skills / programs not feasible for use but the final word is up to the referee. For example, I don't think a computer or robot would have the Disguise skill as a program since that is a rather organic skill. But who's to say the police computer wouldn't have this program so it could help re-create features of disguised criminals caught on video tape? Or can't a robot learn to disguise itself so a robotics specialist couldn't use the Identify skill to identify it? The possibilities are endless. Use your discretion.


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