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A robot is, in the broadest sense, an artificial agent. This includes software agents, like spambots or search 'bots, but the term typically brings to mind a physical, electro-mechanical machine with an electronic brain (either hard-wired circuitry or a programmable computer). Robots that specifically emulate men or women may be called androids (from which the Star Wars universe got the term "droid") or gynoids respectively.

Although people have been writing stories about and building what we might call "robots" since ancient times (e.g. the ancient Greek tale of Galatea, Jewish golems, Japanese Karakuri puppets), the word itself is actually fairly young, having been coined in Karel Capek's 1921 play, Rossum's Universal Robots, from the Czech word "robota", for labor. (If you want to call a sentient machine something less judgmental, you could use the term automaton, Greek for "self-willed".) Those robots were rather more biological than the usual popular image of a robot, but they kicked off most of the essential elements of robots in fiction: they were artificially created to serve a particular purpose, grew beyond their creators' original design, and eventually rose up to overthrow their masters.

Probably the most important stage in the history of robots in fiction (besides R.U.R. coining the word itself) is the Three Laws of Robotics, created by scientist and author Isaac Asimov in response to his frustration with the usual robot-rebellion storyline. The original three laws are:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
    Later stories included robots that generalized this law into a Zeroth Law: A robot may not harm humanity or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

He then spent a great deal of ink and paper writing stories (many of which are collected in the seminal science-fiction book "I, Robot") about all of the ways that these laws could cause unexpected and unintended behavior. The Three Laws weren't perfect (for example, "robot", "human being", and "harm" are not actually defined in the laws), but they made for much more interesting stories than "Oh no, I have created a machine and it is killing everyone! What has SCIENCE done?!" This, by the way is the reason why the Will Smith movie which shares the same name as I, Robot (in the credits, the film is said to be "suggested by" the book) is one of the worst adaptations of a book ever.

With all that said, robots in fiction (including tabletop games) tend to fall on an axis from "faceless and expendable" to "full character". Sci-fi wargames will inevitably include at least one faction that pads out their armies with swarms of weak but numerous drones. Most role-playing games are set in medieval worlds, but robots and robot-like things can still exist in the form of golems and certain kinds of undead. Again, to what degree such creatures are "people" varies, but when they exist, there will inevitably be rules for PCs to play at least one kind of them (usually the most anthropomorphic kind).

In terms of rules, robot characters are mostly the same as characters of other species. They tend to be more resistant to hazardous environments and adverse conditions than their fleshy counterparts, but lack natural regeneration and more vulnerable to certain varieties of damage -- electromagnetic pulses are a common robot weakness (because military-grade EM shielding and Faraday cages do not exist in poorly thought-out fiction worlds), as are logical fallacies and paradoxes (e.g. "this sentence is false"). In settings where it matters, they are usually immune to radiation, even while real life robots tend to fall apart and cease to function after receiving only the third part of a human lethal dose of radiation (semiconductors are more vulnerable to it, and lack the immune system\regeneration combo meatbags use to negate minor radiation damage) - although in some settings like Fallout, it is explained by using vacuum lamps or other low-tech solutions instead of semiconductors (just like in real-life rad-resistant robots).

Warhammer 40,000[edit]

Early editions of Warhammer 40,000 had robots available to Imperial and Chaos armies. They actually had programs that their players would execute, mostly relating to the priority of which targets to engage. Forge World's Horus Heresy game features machines clearly inspired by the old miniatures as part of the Mechanicus army list.

Lore revisions in later editions fleshed out the backstory of the Imperium and added a robot rebellion. The galaxy-wide revolt of the Men of Iron was one of the events that ended the Dark Age of Technology and plunged humanity into the Age of Strife. Yes, a post-Asimov "What has SCIENCE done?!?" story. Evidently the 40K universe never had any Asimovs, or forgot all about them by the year 20,000. (They did and didn't forget; Chaos fucked everything over in a way they simply could not plan for.)

Ever since then the Adeptus Mechanicus has a hard, enforced at gunpoint no-go on research about "abominable intelligences" (at least in public), because they realized it tended to turn out for the worst. Instead, they use limited, non-learning "machine spirits" for their technology, cortex plates (organic processors made of brain tissue, actually capable of limited learning) or modified human brains (e.g. servitors and servo-skulls) to operate more independent machines. Despite the restriction on using robots, most tech-priests end up looking rather robotic themselves, especially as they replace more of their bodies with mechanical parts. (And let us not speak about Belisarius Cawl and his 'totally not-AI' copies of himself.)

The Tau use lots of robots in their armies, mostly their drones, but they have yet to encounter a rebellion. If anything, their relationship with their robots is more of a partnership than one of masters and slaves. Their Ethereal caste specifically forbade making the drones too sentient, arguing that the "Greater Good" would encompass self-aware machines, and that essentially building a slave race was a bit too grimdark for them.

The Necrons are all robots, all the time, with a hefty helping of undead thrown in as well. They are also the only faction that openly uses fully sentient AI in the form of their canopteK constructs and tomb AI. Their enslavement protocols are so sophisticated, only one AI (the Sarkoni Emperor) actually managed to break free and gain independence, and only due to the extreme damage the whole tomb complex sustained due to a radiation storm.

Dungeons & Dragons[edit]

Some of the Dungeons & Dragons campaign settings feature magically-empowered golems called Warforged that embody many of the essential elements of robots.

Star Wars[edit]

In Star Wars robots are called "droids", a term Lucasfilm owns and defends jealously. Most droids must obey their master, refrain from harming sapients, and display no initiative beyond what their programming tells them to rendering them essentially appliances.

All but the cheapest droids have a heuristic processor that gives them some ability to make rational judgements and improvise as needed. Droids without one are completely incapable of exceeding their programming at any level to the point a battle droid can not use any weapon it wasn't explicitly programmed for. Overtime droids often learn quirks due to their heuristic processor. These quirks range from harmless speech patterns, extremely annoying like scream at the slightest provocation, pros and cons like overspecialized for certain uses, and horrific consequences like outright disdain for authority. Since these are generally undesirable, droids frequently undergo memory wipes to clear this data. These wipes are near universal for government or corporation owned droids, though individual owners are free to leave a droid's memory unwiped. One rare outcome of this is sapience, complete with the ability to ignore their master and even harm sapients (though most have no inclination to do so, especially not unprovoked). Since these droids stand out and rare is relative in a population of at least trillions, it's well known as a source of opposition to memory wipes.

Droids in Star Wars RPGs can be both player characters (always the sapient ones mentioned above) and NPCs bought by the PCs. The ability to buy or otherwise acquire droids leads to more flexible party composition than most games. A medical droid can replace a doctor, a pilot droid can replace a pilot and mechanic droids can replace mechanics. Combat droids are rare in most eras and heavily regulated in all of them, but PCs rarely lack in murder power so this is rarely an issue.

Robot Girls[edit]

Doesn't matter if she's tech or magitek, a robot-girl is a robot-girl.
LamiaMonstergirl.pngThis article or section is about Monstergirls (or a monster that is frequently depicted as a Monstergirl), something that /tg/ widely considers to be the purest form of awesome. Expect PROMOTIONS! and /d/elight in equal measure, often with drawfaggotry or writefaggotry to match.

As with androids, sexy female robots are popular enough to form their own distinctive branch of the monstergirls family tree. The big difference is that android-girls typically look perfectly human, until they suddenly reveal mechanical innards, whilst robot-girls tend to obviously look like machines.

See Also[edit]

  • Engine Heart, a role-playing game in which the player characters are robots. For that matter, all the NPCs are robots, too -- all humans have vanished without a trace and the robots are trying to deal with a world where their masters are gone.
  • Setting:Inn0cence: Lost Future, a post-apocalyptic setting in which humans and robots coexist, fight, and cooperate.