Robots & Rapiers

A lot of independent roleplaying games are designed with a very narrow narrative scope in mind, much to their advantage. I’ve complained before that the use of a universal system like d20 turns out less than optimal games. Focusing on a genre or subgenre allows you to work in mechanics that reinforce the kinds of stories you want to tell. Games like Sorcerer and My Life With Master take this concept even further—the stories those games are designed to create are constrained tightly by setting, characters, even (and especially) theme.

Another example of this type of game is currently in the works. Ralpha Mazza, co-author of the excellent storytelling game Universalis, has released a playtest version of his new RPG, Robots & Rapiers. It’s a game of android Musketeers. Sort of. The game takes places in a realm called Auvernais, which is your basic Alexander Dumas / Court of the Sun King milieu, except that it’s inhabited entirely by robots who are programmed to believe that they really are the colorful characters they’re portraying. But a small number of robots (including, naturally, the player characters) are slowly becoming aware that they inhabit nothing more than a gigantic, ultra-immersive theme park designed to entertain the humans, who haven’t visited in a century because the planet Auvernais has been out of contact with the rest of the galaxy due to war. The robots keep up their roles in their fictional world because it’s what they’re programmed to do. The story of the game is the story of the characters gradually breaking free of their programming, attaining true sentience, and then deciding what to do about it.

It’s so wacky, and yet so clearly defined, that I suspect it’ll make a fine game. It incorporates some clever mechanics, especially the the counterbalanced traits of Role and Self-Awareness. Robots, it turns out, make great RPG characters, since the necessity of boiling down a personality into a bunch of quantifiable attributes isn’t near as egregious when you’re dealing with a mechanical entity in the first place. Definitely a game to watch—the current version is definitely a rough draft, but one full of potential.