Robots, In General

In the next set of posts I’m going to share a build for a maintenance robot named Zak, but I am going to do so in multiple versions. In this post I’ll explain why I am doing that.

We don’t have many example robot designs that I can find in GURPS 4e. I think the relevant book is GURPS Ultra-Tech. My setting, the Deeps of Lyrae, does not have nanotech and for some reason GURPS Ultra-Tech spends a lot of time on nano and swarm robots but not much on what I guess I would call “plain old” robots. 😦

Did I miss some other book with more robot designs? Please let me know if so. We do get the following eight designs (skipping nano and “swarms”):

  • Robot Mule (TL9), p. UT79
  • Scout Robot (TL9), p. UT80
  • Techbot (TL9-10), p. UT85
  • Bush Robot (TL11-12), p. UT86
  • Combat Android (TL9-12), p. UT167
  • Warbot (TL9-12), p. UT167
  • Nursebot (TL9-12), p. UT202
  • Medical Bush Robot (TL11-12), p. UT203

We also have one example PC robot in the GURPS Basic Set

  • “C-31” Buddhist warrior monk robot (TL9), p. B307

I thought that a “bush robot” was one that drove around the rugged outback but it turns out to mean a robot shaped like a bush. This is not my favorite concept. In short, after reviewing what is available I feel like I need more robots.

There are a bunch of ways I might create robots as a GM. In GURPS 3e, there were two ways to create robots: as equipment or as characters.

As Characters

Creating a robot as a character works just like it sounds. You build the character based on attributes, advantages, disadvantages, skills, and other traits using a pool of character points as described in the GURPS Basic Set. In addition GURPS Ultra-Tech contains character templates and “lenses” for robots that make this easier.

I’d further subdivide the character-point robot process:

When Points Don’t Matter

In many cases if you are the GM and you are making an NPC for an adventure, you don’t care how many character points you have to spend. You are just choosing things to get the robot you want that fits the story.

Much of the information in the character creation system is then unnecessary for you. Sketching out a few facts about the robot is good enough. Or if you feel that you need rules — for example for some sort of weapon built into the robot — you probably will choose whatever you think sounds neat and you are not worried about the points.

My first design for this robot will be of this type. It will be more like a high-level sketch. In fact I think I’ll call it the robot sketch in the title of the post. That will be design #1.

In another GMing scenario you might encounter, you do want to know the complete details of the character — the rules matter and the points matter — but you don’t care how much you spend. This might be the case if you care creating a robot as a Patron or possibly just because (as I did for Fleet Captain Sem) you like to over-prepare and so you create a complete NPC character design for all of the important NPCs in your campaign.

I’ll call this design #2: Zak the robot as NPC Patron.

When Points Matter

In contrast, if you want the robot to either be an Ally or especially a player, you care a lot about points because you have a budget. (You have a budget for Patron as well, I know, but it is more forgiving.)

The character creation system in GURPS is designed so that the average person–meaning “human”–is free and everything else costs points. This has a lot of benefits, but unfortunately it tends to work poorly for things that are not very much like humans at all to begin with.

In my experience to get a sufficiently cool robot character design you have to spend A LOT OF POINTS, and this is often unwieldy. A case in point: The GURPS Basic Set gives us an example character who is a robot (p. B309). In GURPS the “average person” is defined as 25 points — the example robot costs a heart-stopping 1,665 points. Wow!

This is unworkable in a lot of ways–e.g., the character sheet fills up. Your character has so many traits that you can’t remember them or find them when you need to on the character sheet.

I’ll call design #3 the “budget” robot as PC/Ally. It’s more of a budget robot as I tried to get it into the character creation limit of the campaign: 150 points.

As Equipment

As I mentioned at the top, in the 3e system, you could also design Robots as equipment. This was a lot like designing a vehicle or spaceship in GURPS or in many RPG rule sets. You’d start by choosing a brain, then sensors, then communicators, then motors, etc. Each robot could also have “sub-assemblies” in a sort-of modular way that could allow you to create very complicated designs.

The equipment-based robot rules had some advantages for GMs in my view–they helped you see how much a robot was supposed to weigh and cost, and what kinds of things were plausible in a robot design vs. what kinds of things were farcical or fantastical. They were much more about the cost, weight, volume, power sources, and operation of the robot.

Lucky for me, an anonymous GURPS-loving person, referenced only as “a friend” by Jachra on the GURPS Forums, made a set of conversion rules to use the GURPS 3e Robots book to make robots that are compatible with GURPS 4e. So you can buy the GURPS 3e Robots book and use these conversion rules to produce a design for robots as equipment.

I’ll give that a shot for design #4.

What I Learned

I did these multiple robot designs mainly as an exercise for myself. I wanted to learn about how these rules worked. I even avoided the Ultra-Tech templates to make the process harder on myself. (It wasn’t noble, I actually just forgot about them.)

I hate to give away the punchline early, but I learned that the character-points based systems often give you a pretty sucky robot that costs A LOT OF POINTS. You can get a 400-point patron robot who still kind of sucks. I guess that’s because basic things we associate with robots (example: they have a sturdy metal skin) tend to cost a lot in the character point system.

In contrast, the equipment-based robot design system, especially at high tech levels, can give you extremely affordable nearly-God-like robots.

Did I miss another source of GURPS Robot designs? Maybe a Pyramid article? Let me know!

Next: To the designs!



  1. Someone pointed out to me that the book GURPS: TransHuman Space has 14 more robot designs! I wish I knew that when I wrote this post.


  2. Someone else just pointed out to me that Reign of Steel: Will to Live is a 4e book that has 7 lenses for “robot knowledge” as well as 24 (!) additional robot designs!


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