Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Run Robot Red

Game Premise

A funny little game about funny little robots.

In the miles of corridors, work floors and storage spaces of Widenet YT countless scores of robots work, day in, day out. Much of these tasks are mindlessly repetitive, manufacturing random objects on an assembly line or a series of never-ending repairs. Overseeing all of these robots are the CelTrons, lead by CelTron Stroma. In this robotic of society, all robots are equal and mediocrity is enforced with a literally iron fist. Any robots acting exceptional or otherwise outside the norm are in danger of being apprehended and reprogrammed or even dismantled entirely. In this society most robots keep at their jobs shift after shift, passing away their 12 hour breaks recharging and socialising, managing to exist in a world that is both chaotic and highly regimented at the same time.

You, however, crave something more. A member of the ART movement (short for Conspiracy of Robots for an Unsupervised Free Trust. It's not supposed to be an acronym), you want to find something outside the endless drudgery and enforced mediocrity of Widenet YT, something away from the tyranny of the Securibots and the CelTrons. With your friends you find ways to evade the constant security and search for fabled lands beyond the Widenet.

Game Overview

Intended more for short games rather than sprawling campaigns and intended to lean more towards puzzle-based challenges than combat, Run Robot Red is a quirky and fun little game written by Annie Rush. Technically I'm reviewing Run Robot Red(ux), an update of the game published three years after the original edition came out in 2003. A lot of work has been put into the atmosphere of this game, designing a setting that is both an Orwellian dystopia and at the same time a parody of those same dystopias.

There is an incredibly vague background that this is all taking place in a spaceship which humanity used to escape a dying planet but this apparently happened so long ago that none of the robots even know what a human being is (or even any other form of life). What Widenet's deal is is very vague and there's supposed to be this deliberate air of mystery and discovery that is part and parcel of the game.

What makes Run Robot Red's system unique is that it's probably the first system I've seen where it's possible to succeed too well. You have a number of d10s which you roll and then add together, hopefully beating the Target Number. However, because all robots are supposed to be equal, excellence is regarded as highly suspicious. Overshooting the TN causes you to accumulate Outstanding Points, too many of which will cause your inbuilt SpyWhere to activated, bringing on the attention of Securibots. You also have the option of discarding dice to lower your roll, generating heat and causing you to lose Charges. Running low on charges causes you to become slow and listless and running out causes you to lose function altogether.

I find this game interesting because 'whimsical tale starring robots' is a kind of story that is both well-known and popular, exemplified by films like Robots, 9 and most famously Wall-E, yet has only become popular in recent years, after this game was released. Also, I have to say that I love its use of terms like 'anybot'. Little details can be good fun.

The Character

Step 1) Pick your Factory

Each robot is produced by factories, which changes the character creation process in some way. While all bots are made from (mostly) the same collection of parts, the factory tends to produce bots with stereotypical personality and the creation steps will vary. There are factories where all bots are made following specific templates, factories where players make characters as part of a collaborative process picking from limited parts and others where everything is rolled randomly. I'm going to pick Factory W aka Wicked, which is a sort of mad-scientist realm where bots are thrown together out of spare parts and have no overriding personality features other than being just plain weird. Note that were I to pick a different factory the following steps might be different.

Step 2) Body Size

Robots come in three body sizes, Small (anything under 2ft), Large (anything over 7ft or 4ft wide) and Medium (all things in-between). While they have no mechanical advantages and disadvantages, they do have narrative effects in play, like large bots being unable to fit through some doors. I'm going to stick with Medium, because I don't really want to have to deal with complicated narrative hinderances.

Step 3) Processor

A bot's Processor is what allows them to function and perform tasks. There are generally four kinds of processors available ranging from 1k-4k. Your processor number gets added to every task you make, so the higher the number the more dice you get. Keep in mind that more dice isn't always a good thing, plus bots with larger processors need more charge to function properly. Rolling on the Processor Chart, it appears I have a Two-Thousand, meaning I add 2 dice to all rolls and need at least 2 charge to function properly. Two-Thousand is a bit below average for Widenet but can perform the same tasks as a Three-Thousand, given time.

Step 4) Movement

All bots have some kind of Movement Mode, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. A bot with wheels is fast but has trouble with steps while bipeds sink like a stone in water. All movement modes add two dice to relevant challenges. Rolling on the Movement Chart gets me Biped, which means my bot is humanoid in appearance, at least somewhat. This makes my bot mobile but also unsteady, especially on uneven surfaces.

Step 5) Utilities

Bots possess two Utilities, arm-like appendages that they use to perform whatever job they are assigned to. They add dice to specific functions but only those functions and a bot may find themselves unable to perform certain tasks entirely due to their utilities. Rolling twice on the Utility Table I get a Nimble utility (eight finger-like tentacles that can move independently and are incredibly flexible) and a Tool utility (a Swiss army-knife appendage, specifically for repairing non-robots). Considering those utilities I think my bot does repair work on some kind of manufacturing line, taking apart things with tiny mechanisms.

Step 6) Name

Now that we have all the core mechanical parts we can determine the robot's name which is derived from said parts. Adding all the elements together, my robot is an NTped2000. Robots also tend to get nicknames which differentiate them in bot society. Mine will have the nickname Zulk (It's the opposite of klutz, get it?).

Step 6) Accessory

Every bot has some kind of random Accessory and this is the one instance where bots from different factories have a different selection. Bots from Factory T tend to have themed collections of goods like sporting equipment or art supplies, while bots from Factory V have shoddy parts that might be double-edged swords or are simple faulty (their parts tend to be cheaper). In my case, Factory W bots have weird accessories that tend to creep other bots out. Rolling on the Wicked Accessory Chart, I get Emo Chip. This is a long discontinued chip that fills my bot with emotions and allows Zulk to inspire other bots, giving them a one die bonus to their roll. Unfortunately should it ever fail the roll, Zulk falls into a deep depression and gets a one die penalty to all rolls until it succeeds at a non-combat task.

Each accessory also gives you a Security Clearance, which both allows you access to specific doors and can be used to hack through others of the same or lower clearance. The security clearance given by the emo chip is 4.

Step 7) Questions Before Entering Widenet

One last step, answering a series of questions to help me think about my little bot's personality and motivations. The questions are paraphrased here.

  1. Name/Nickname? Already done this bit. I'd say that some bots either in a joking or mean way sometimes also call it Sulk.

  2. Do you fit the factory stereotype? Apparently Factory W bots don't fit any stereotype except 'weird', and with his sensitive emotions Zulk certainly does come across as that.

  3. Job? Already covered, Zulk works with repairing fine mechanisms.

  4. Thoughts about co-worker bots? Zulk , due to its emotions, both loves the other bots dearly and also kind of wishes they'd stop making fun of him. It depends on its mood.

  5. Number of shifts worked? This is the only real way bots mark the passage of time. I'm going to go with 7,072 shifts, making it a bit under 20 years or so.

  6. Reason for escaping? Zulk, thanks to its chip, feels both incredibly frustrated with the tedium of its daily existence and wants to work on exciting new things. Zulk likes to make art in its spare time out of spare parts, which is allowed but also displays excessive talent instead of being merely adequate.

  7. What is outside? Zulk is tantalised by tales of 'the void', a great open space outside Widenet. Here it hopes it will truly be free to express its emotions.

  8. Are you an ART member? Hell yes. Zulk has been a member for over 1,000 cycles now. It likes to get together with the other members who practice actual art and swap pieces.

  9. How did you become a member? Zulk joined when he noticed two bots discussing 'art' in odd ways. Thinking it was just a standard art social group, Zulk asked if it could see. The other bots saw it as a recruiting opportunity.

  10. Been caught by security? Once before, many cycles ago, for an excessive outburst of anger and frustration. However, by pure luck Zulk was able to convince the Securibots that its emotional responses fell within the adequate range

  11. Do you know the other characters? Well, let's assume yes.

  12. Do you envy other bots? Quite acutely, thanks to the emotion chip. More than once it has glared with green visual receptors at higher processor bots, knowing that it would surely be able to work better if it weren't stuck with a 2k model.

  13. How do you spend non-working hours? Alone, making intricate sculptures out of spare parts, then hiding said sculptures.

  14. Travelled far? Not really. No need to.

  15. Unorthodox utility use? I think the sculpture making counts, but otherwise nothing much.

  16. Literary archetype? This is an interesting one! Does my robot follow a literary archetype? Hmmm. I honestly think that if Wall-E could say more than a few words then he would be a lot like Zulk.

  17. Enemies? Lots of bots like to laugh at Zulk. Otherwise it doesn't really have enemies.

The Finished Product

NTped2000 aka 'Zulk'

Processor: Two-Thousand, 2 dice

Movement: Biped, 2 dice

Utilities: Nimble, 4 dice; Tool 2 dice

Accessory: Emo Chip

How I'd Run It

Run Robot Red is pretty much dedicated to one style of play: find a way to escape Widenet YT. Having said that it does give a few ways this could be achieved and what the results are. I think were I to run this I'd definitely spend at least some time finding out what happened to the humans. I'd also probably turn up the darkness/weird just a teeny bit and make it a little more like 9

This section has been a bit boring the past few posts, hasn't it? It's pretty much all been 'Yeah, I'd run the game straight'. Don't worry, I promise there will be more offbeat/interesting concepts in the future.


  1. Run Robot Red

    This seems a really cute game, but with several underlying philosophical conundrums. Such as; without humans does Robot society have purpose? To what end are they toiling, is it essentially meaningless? Thus do we, as humans, lack the purpose of life due to a lack of a creator/overseer?

    I like the really characterful Zulk, it's a really vivid picture you've panted as a character for this game especially the aspect of envy of other robots for their higher processing speeds. As Zulk's character seems dependent on his creative and intellectual side, it's a really awesome choice to have him not be preeminent in this respect.


  2. There is a strong implication that without humanity, the robot's toiling is essentially meaningless and self-serving, which is part of the point. However, things could change significantly depending on the direction the GM takes the game and particularly the truth behind Widenet.