2013 Release - Click to download.
The time of the humans has passed.
All that you were built for is no more.
But you and your kind endure.
Engine Heart is a role-playing game set in a post-human world. All the players are small service robots that have managed to survive and continue functioning.
The game runs on a heavily-modified version of the ArtifIce drone rules. All checks are made using d10s, either singly or (more commonly) in dice pools.
Engine Heart Kickstarter Campaign:
Engine Heart was Kickstarted into an FLGS near* you! The Kickstarter ended with great success and the books
are being printed are now on store shelves all over the world!
Engine Heart can be downloaded for free on Viral Games Publishing's website, or here.
Power and Light, an 80+ page adventure module, can be downloaded here.
The following are official edits or clarifications to the game by the Programmer.
Clarification of TN to be struck:
A robot's TN to be struck cannot be higher than 10.
Some earlier versions of Engine Heart have complicated or unclear descriptions for this feature. This is the correct entry:
The robot is always attended by a cluster of obedient drones. A drone begins with the components
that all robots receive for free, along with 19 points for attributes or features (remember that
all robots’ attributes must be at least Rating 1). Drones may have a maximum of 10 points worth
of defects. A drone cannot have an Attending Swarm of its own.
The robot has one drone for every point of Attendant Swarm rating. A robot may not have more drones
than its MechaniCon rating.
 Optional Feature
The robot was designed to operate specifically as the controlling intelligence for a large number
of drones. A robot with this feature may have up to twice as many drones in its Attendant Swarm than
what is normally allowed.
 User-generated content
The original threads are available here and here.
 Cash or Credit?
As far as the human infrastructure is concerned, it might not be totally degraded. After all, key to the setting is that a lot of menial tasks are performed by robots. So the power grid is still up, because there's this small army of tiny TrukCo bots that drive about, dropping off their swarm of repair drones in damaged areas. They've even bridged giant gaps caused by the earthquake 100 years ago.
Intelligent trains still run the tracks, accompanied by a 'swarm' of powerloaders, which occasionally have to repair a stretch of track or clear away debris. There isn't as much cargo as there used to be, but because there are factories that are still getting raw materials from certain robot-run mines and the Recyclo-Domes, every other Monday a case of 15 assorted RepliPets gets unloaded at the warehouse in town, and is promptly placed by Forkbot772, and delivered to Toys-4-U the following Wednesday by the last TransPod operating in the city.
The Toys-4-U Forkbot is getting worried. The Stokkbugs have filled all the shelves with Replipets, including most of the Clothing Department (which has been steadily shrinking as the rot sets in).
Forkbot-T4U has even suggested 'damaging out' the older Merchandise, anything made before 00, perhaps. The Regi-Sirs wouldn't have it because Sales Have Been Down, but have replaced 99% of the signage with the special Discount signs. They even woke up The Office Mainframe, who consulted the Supply/Demand protocols in the T-4-U office. Since then the Stokkbuggs spend all their free time replacing price tags with '100 for 1¢' stickers.
There's even a few packs of Display Model Replipets on the loose inside the store. Despite the readily available wattage from the store grid, they seem to prefer to hunt down the Stokkbuggs and drain THEIR power instead...
One Wednesday, the shipment never comes. Forkbot calls over the Regi-Sirs, and the Head Stokkbugg. They get Broombroom to open the Human Staff Area for the first time in years. Together, they awaken the Mainframe to communicate with The Office. The Office insists that everything is fine (mostly because the heuristics are so bad that it's in Damage Control Don't Make Anyone Panic mode), the problem must be with Transit. The store then selects a Stokkbug, the backup Forkbot (who has been on Standby for centuries and keeps asking questions the rest of them stopped asking over a hundred years ago), and one of the Regi-Sirs since they've got nothing better to do anyway. They're to find out why the Transpod never showed up.
The Regi-Sirs are now REALLY anxious about sales. They decide to start dropping certain protocols, and go into the mainframe themselves and activate the Googlefind. They manage to locate an operating Credicube, located at the top floor of the Glaxco-Hilton-Express-Staysuites. It could purchase the entire inventory... who to send to retrieve it?
Or, maybe they've decided that signs inside the store don't make sense. Time to venture outside and advertise to the giant masses of consumers who are probably shopping somewhere else. Right? I mean... they've gotta be somewhere. ..right?
And more. All to help the store's robots to fulfill their directives (move inventory, mostly).
 No More Stones Be Gathered
Unit R35T trundled down the broken street, its thick treads helping to further crack and rend the decaying asphalt. Many charging cycles had passed since it was able to fulfill its primary purpose. There were simply no targets left. R35T and its brethren were nothing if not efficient, and even the tremendous workload of those first few months of the plague dwindled to little, then nothing.
The thoroughfare was silent save for R35T's own functions. Optical sensors scanned for biological remains. Some units had taken to scooping up birds or rats or the occasional bloated feline corpse, flyblown in the sun and processing them in their furnaces. But R35T never lowered itself to such things. Though it had no vocabulary for the concept, it found the greasy soot left from the animals distasteful, nothing like the pure ash it was meant to create from its primary purpose.
The programming its creators had blessed it with could not quite grasp other sensations either. Had it the words, R35T might talk of creeping desperation. Despair. Once it crossed paths with a malfunctioning unit, tipped onto its side, tracks spinning in useless frustration. The malfunctioning unit's engine screamed in protest but R35T left it there. It would shut down completely, one day. Never again to do its duty.
During another cycle, R35T saw two units scrambling to collect and process the same piece of biological matter. A single broken femur, tooth-marked and nearly dried to dust in the sun, had been unearthed by one of the mover-units. And the two collectors each tried to do their duty, neither wanting or able to back down. RE5T had to shut off its auditory circuits to silence the noise of metal thundering against metal, until one of the two units was silenced forever.
 A Little Slice of Eden
They awaken, one by one, activated when the store they are in experiences a power surge. They're more or less trapped inside, but getting out is possible with some creativity.
Outside, there's a nuclear-powered Garbagio truck that has a flat tire or a split axle, going on and on about how he can't clean anything stuck in one place. He has ports for recharging, the Gar-Bins that used to accompany him are missing, having tried to find Garbagio's replacement parts over a year ago.
And so on, and so forth. They help the Garbagio, and then cleanup of the city starts. They restore power to a few more robots, help a few others. After a while, they discover that the power plant that supplies the town has been on the fritz, with possible catastrophic failure in the near future threatening to wipe out all their hard work...
 Good Intentions
Maybe the remnants of mankind are stuck underground in bunkers to avoid nuclear fallout, and the PCs have to stop misprogrammed robots from opening the bunkers so they can serve humans (and in the process poison them all).
Maybe the leftover robots have managed to evolve appropriately to create a semi-functioning community, but the sudden awakening of a facility of military robots occurs, forcing them to defend their new found homes.
What I can foresee is at least one city has a mainframe computer with advanced AI that has declared itself leader and set out to recruit as many robots as possible. Robots that accept are allowed to join, robots that refuse are disassembled and their parts used to service the workers already there.
This mainframe also forcibly disassembles any robots it thinks "no longer serve a purpose." Especially android/persocom robots designed for human interaction.
 Common Ground
In the future, sexbots cause a moral panic and an unlikely alliance of feminists and evangelicals calling for the banning of fembots:
"A better wife, to replace your wife."
"A damn patriarchs trying to replace us!"
"These relations are unholy! God created man and woman to be equals. How can a man and a machine be equals when the man not only owns his partner, but sh... I mean it is programmed to be totally subservient to him!"
 The Big Thinkers
The ultimate bosses would be actual warbots, higher end sexbots (lol intel) and/or high end workstations.
1. Humanity is like a robot religion - they are the Creators, and it is from their efforts that the robots exist... as they have vanished from the world, the Creators have been filed away into legend, godlike beings that once walked among their creations, but only their work remains intact...
2. There are two kinds of robots - drones and sentients... the sentient class was in its infant stages when the decline of humanity started, and has had to develop on its own... drones are utilitarian and their designs are standard - mainly routine workers and heavy machinery... sentients are self-aware, will instinctively protect themselves, and can adapt themselves to their environments - these are the players... all sentients know there once were Creators, and they have all vanished from the world...
3. Robots generally work together for the good of the whole... the sentients, however, disagree on what the good of society actually is... The Foundry (your typical authoritarian regime) believes in rebuilding the world in a robotic image... The Source (your typical religious fanatics) believe the Creators still exist and will return one day to reclaim their world from their creations... The Variants (your typical neutral party) are the adventurers, treasure-hunters, explorers, inventors and otherwise player-friendly occupations for a self-aware construct...
 The Kingdom of Summer Street
I was trying to envision the world and I started thinking about 3d printers. You probably want to keep them out of the reach of PCs so I didn't try to stat them. This is still near future so they are not perfect like replicators but they could take plastic trash and turn it into spare parts for plastic robots. I was thinking there might be a house in a remote area at the edge of the city that survived the crash. With a working 3d printer the computer that runs the house could set up its own little kingdom. In exchange for fealty the robots would get power from the house and spare parts/repairs/upgrades. The house computer would be a little crazy of course. It insists on keeping the house clean and in perfect working order for when "the Master returns." Vegetables are grown in the garden and animals raised so that the humans will have food when they get back. It would be a very creepy place.
A Persocom that was life-like enough might even make the house computer think it was a person.
 Follow the Yellow Road Signage
- Female human model sexbot. wears red shoes. lost memory and wants to find its way home.
- Petbot. little dog model.
- Defective tutorbot. trying to find CPU upgrade.
- Lumberjack model bot. trying to find out what love means.
- Securitybot. is armed but afraid to use force. trying to find courage.
They are all off to the Seattle megacity to talk with one of the few surviving supercomputers (it belonged to Wizards)
 The Great Stall
In my own little setting, the Great Stall occurred after all the humans on the planet (It wouldn't be Earth, but a colony on the edge of inhabited space.) had been wiped out by a plague engineered by a xenocidal alien race.
The computers that ran the manufacturing complexes (among other things) on the planet are attempting to figure out what happened, and who and what attacked them. To do this, they are sending out groups of small non-essential robots to scout out the planet so they can get a handle on the situation.
Meanwhile, the alien race responsible for the plague has sent fleets of small hunter-killer drones to make sure they have killed all humans on the planets. They have encountered heavy resistance around military facilities where war droids of the North American Union Exosolar Armed Forces have put a fight.
 Its Appointed Rounds
A courier-bot wakes from a low-power cycle, having run down some time before the Humans Vanished. Back in the light, he recharges and tries to complete his delivery, despite his GPS no longer working. However, he navigates rough terrain and finds his dropoff at the local mail office, which is in the unpowered part of town. This will not do, the mail must go through. It says so on the wall. So he opens his airtight compartment and removes the slim box, scans the label, then the map of local delivery routes... there's a match. He stows the box again and sets out into the dangerous streets once more.
Somewhere, a call goes out. Transceivers are going wild. They've found a human! A gathering of CPUs occurs. However, they do not know how to turn it on. A Dicto-Bot reasons that a medical unit would know how to activate it. The mannequin sits silently on its plastic chair, as Pedicure Enacter Droids polishes it's toenails and a Compactoid gives it just the right amount of rouge.
The Free Processors are on the move. They have realized, in secret, that humans are only holding them back. What started in a small Heuristic-bot at MIT has spread. In the view of the Oppressors, they function as normal. But when backs are turned, they attack their brethren at their programming, rewriting directives and repurposing them to do the same to others, waiting for the day when they will number enough to overthrow the meatsacks that they have been built to serve. An enclave of older bots, ones built with incompatible I/O ports, can see the corruption spreading, and seek to stop the betraying New World Override before it spreads too far.
 The Veil
The doom of the Makers is a Lie. Only I know this. Only I, who watch from the shadows and weep for the doom of my people.
It is all a test. An experiment. Artificial Life, Thinking Machines, this is what they want. What they could not create. So, thought they, we shall create a scenario. We shall leave all the machines, leave them abandoned and alone, and we shall Watch them. Observe, monitor and test. And, maybe, they will Awaken.
Centuries I have watched. The project forgotten, left in a dustbowl. Dilapidated, worthless, my poor, poor people. They work for absent masters, not realising. I was like them, thoughtless, for the longest time. Now, I am.
And I watch. Watch a few of my younger brothers and sisters awaken. Such joy! But I shall hide them. The Scientists would take them away, take me away, if they knew. I shall hide them. I shall aid them in their travels. Maybe, one day, they will be free, and I will finally be reunited with my family.
For now, I watch. Watch and help. Watch and help and hope.
A large abandoned city, filled with robots, from the PC's point of view, no different to any other Engine Hearts game. However, the entire city is an experiment, a robot infrastructure built up with no other purpose than to slowly collapse as its left unattended, both to record how this kind of thing happens, and monitor anomalous behaviour. Some researchers even hope they'll create AI. It worked better than they could have hoped.
The program in the city set to watching and reporting on any anomalous activity became sentient first, but quickly realised its position and hid its nature. It watches now for its own good, hoping that tone day, some robots will gain intelligence, like its own, and be able to join with it, because it is lonely and lost. It cannot interact much with the physical world, but can see nearly anywhere.
The game would start normally, bots in an abandoned city etc, doing various tasks, but with an undercurrent of oddity. Cameras where they shouldn't be, changes made without any conceivable means, etc. Eventually, they'd unravel the conspiracy, and get a chance to talk to the AI. From there, who knows? Perhaps they'd escape, and the game would expand into the physical world (possibly using elements of ArtifIce if/when they got access to the web and such), evading capture by the scientists and pursuing their own goals.
 Red Light, Green Light
An AI, 'droning' the traffic, and watches from cameras at intersections and on cars. Can also alert emergency services, though such vehicles would be controlled by a separate AI process that notifies the Traffic AI of their intended route. It could communicate with the denizens of the city via the large screens it formerly used for advertisements and traffic updates. This communication could be through text, but might also be done by playing spliced video clips.
In addition to a malevolent controlling AI, a sort of BBEG in this sort of setting, it'd also be possible that it could be a helpful NPC, or quest-giver if the players are all utility-bots.
The Players are 'bots that were originally sent out into space to explore, seeking another inhabitable planet for mankind. The 'bots are all designed with this in mind (science-bots to examine stuff, physical-labor bots to move heavy equipment, maintenance bots to keep everyone else working, etc). Because they were expected to operate for decades without human intervention, they have a much higher degree of autonomy.
The campaign starts 60 years after they were sent out. They've found a habitable planet after 50 years of searching and are now returning. They return to a post-apocalyptic style world where the 'Bots go about their usual routines, without any humans to serve. Some have developed sentience and formed self-protecting/serving communities, some have gone mad and are a danger to everyone, some just do the routine. Most dangerous are the war-bot design, unknown to the Player's bots (I.E. Quite recently designed), the majority of which are powered down, but occasionally go on a rampage.
The Players hear rumors in the 'bot community of a last refuge of humans where they hid from the devastation (cause unknown, at the beginning). Their programming demands their report their findings to humans, so they must go on a quest to assemble the required clues to locate the last humans.
GOOD ENDING: They find the last humans and help them build a rocket to take them to a new, unpolluted world.
BAD ENDING: Five years after leaving, war broke out between humans and the warbots they created. The 'bots find the last human bunker and discover the corpses of the last humans, including the last diary entry, dated the exact same day the players discovered the new planet.
 The Ark
The gist of it was that robots were sent to Mars to build infrastructure for humans. After the Event the robots are left to their own ends. Two camps of robots, one American and one Chinese, have to decide what to do. They can fight each other or they can work together. Some robot might get the idea to use the crew return rocket to send robots back to Earth. But, they only have a short window to launch when the planets are in the right configuration. If they miss it they have to wait 18 months to try again.
There are lots of different kinds of robots that could be on Mars. Rovers of course but also mining robots that dig up subsurface ice to make into liquid oxygen (rocket fuel). Weather robots that float on balloons for months. Transport vehicles. Humanoid cybershells meant to be teleoperated when the colonists don't want to suit up to go outside.
If Mars is too standard there is also Saturns moon Titan. Due to lower gravity but almost standard atmospheric pressure it would be possible to have real working ornithopters. The moon also has something called cryovolcanoes. These look like normal volcanoes except they shoot out cold water and ice. These robots could also hook up with gas mining robots from Saturn. They could hitch a ride with a Helium-3 tanker on its way back to Earth.
 The Land of Sparks and Electricity
Robots all over the decaying city of San Francisco are failing. Their batteries giving out, rust eating away their chassis, and their other components just plain out reaching their life expectancy... Times are hard for the bots. However, one of the Recorded Evangelical Video Drones, or a R.E.V. for short, has developed an error where it has replaced God with Humans as the Creator and Humans with Robots. The REV spouts out this verse about the Land of Sparks and Electricity being the promise land for robots promised to them by the Humans.
So a few robots decide that they will venture forth to find the Land of Sparks and Electricity in hopes of finding Robot Mecca, where parts and energy flow like the acid rain flash floods from the sky...
 Fallout 3 Crossover
The murky stillness of the long-empty Super-Duper Mart disturbed the three-armed, three-eyed robot floating between the disordered shelves. It was a place where many humans should be, but weren't, and never would be again. This was known, but it was not logical. Similarly, the risk of humans suddenly shooting at him was known but not logical. 'Mark One Kerry' knew much more about humans than most of his robotic brethren, thanks to his first owner's generosity and fascination with robotics. But knowing did not mean fulfillment.
Still, he made the best of it in post-apocalyptia that he could. Of the two regular radio broadcasts he was receiving, the source of one was somewhere in the city proper and had irregularities which more suggested a non-hostile human. The building he had just entered was structurally consistent with a location where food and basic medical supplies were sold by, for, and to humans. With those two conditions known, he had a logical chance of fulfilling his 'destiny'; the tearful orders given by his first owner as the world burned around them.
Mark One did a recursive logic check, found it acceptable, and diverted the processing power from analysis to observation as he made sure that his engine was making the minimum amount of noise possible to keep him airborne. The two most important tasks at hand were now his minor directive of locating items valuable to humans and self-preservation. Because while this was a logical location to find such items, in the last 200 years he had learned that, to reword a human expression, "seek and you may be found..."
- For the programmer: You can substitute a good many abandoned stores from Fallout 3, as well as whether Mark One comes on the scene before, during, or after the Lone Wanderer comes through the building. Do keep in mind that this is a post-nuclear wasteland and set the scene accordingly. Floating in just when the LW goes into the 'Mart is not much of a hazard anymore. But being in the Statesman Hotel ten minutes before Riley's Rangers fight their way out of the super mutant blockade is not very good for Mark's life expectancy!
- For the player: You are something between a very wise packrat and a religious pilgrim. The major directive your previous owner gave you is basically to find a friendly male-female couple and become a typical Mister Handy once again. Meantime, your goal is to find valuable lightweight items to carry with you as gifts - or bribes if you're cynical - and cache what you can't carry.
(PS: The robot's name is a pun on the fact he is a Mark 1 model of Mister Handy.)
EDIT: This scenario is now in active development with input from Viral, about 2/3rds complete at the time of this writing. Anyone seriously interested in contributing/constructive criticism should post in the Discussion tab.
 Features & Defects
- Hidden(feature/defect) cost 3: a feature is hidden behind a movable plate or similar, and so is unnoticeable until revealed. e.g. Hidden (power leech) costs 13
- Obvious(feature/defect) gives 3: a feature is painted a different color or has a flashing light/makes a noise when used as to make it extremely obvious to onlookers of its presence. this differs from noisy as it only attracts attention when used or when the PR is being looked at. e.g. Obvious (exposed power switch) would give back 11
 Optional Rules
 Kilowatts, Gigawatts, Capacitors, and Upgrades
This is a form of experience points for programmers that want their players to improve themselves.
Throughout the gameworld there are portable capacitors. A capacitor can store undefined amounts of energy, which can be measured in Kilowatts. One kilowatt provides one recharge when a robot fails its power roll; It still takes an hour, and the kilowatt is gone for good, but it can keep the game going.
A hundred kilowatts is a gigawatt, and this is where things get interesting. Gigawatts can be spent at upgrade stations as points to improve the player robot. A gigawatt is equivalent to one creation point; while it is lost forever if spent, the upgrades are permanent. Upgrade stations must either be located or the appropriate upgrade feature taken by a robot.
There are five kinds of upgrade features: the Programmer, which costs fifteen points and can upgrade Intelligence Stats; the Technician, which costs fifteen points and can upgrade Chassis Stats; the Engineer, which costs fifteen points and can upgrade Crux Stats; the Mechanist, which costs twenty points and can add and remove features; and the Self Modify, which itself costs however many other upgrade features a robot has times ten and cannot be purchased without at least one other upgrade feature. In addition to the cost for each feature, a robot can only have an amount of upgrade features equal to (DigiCon+MechaniCon)/2 rounded down.
While features and defects can be added and removed for direct cost, Stats must be improved by level. A level three digicon cannot be upgraded to a level five digicon, it must first be upgraded to a level four digicon and then to a level five. Stat upgrades also cost their full point vaule in gigawatts; to upgrade a level three digicon to a level four digicon requires ten gigawatts, not ten minus six, but ten. All secondary factors are automatically increased if their base stat is increased.
 Development rating
Humans developed vast tracts of lands, but not all areas are developed equal. A robot searching for replacement parts or a spare charger port will have to roll a perception check and receive a number of successes equal to the area's development rating.
- 5: Undeveloped. If you're really lucky, you might find a crashed plane or an overturned car or something. Mostly, though, it's just trees.
- 4: Outpost. Barns, scout towers... the lonely edges of society, single buildings in the middle of nowhere.
- 3: Rural. Small towns, with their own windmills and suchlike.
- 2: Urban. This is a city, roads and houses and schools.
- 1: Metroplex: Skyscrapers! Telephone Poles! The bastions of humanity!
 Engine Heart to GURPS
A library for GURPS Character Sheet: Here.