Shapers and Bots

Shapers and Bots is a role-playing game for children age 8 and older. It is inspired by Dungeons & Dragons, Avatar: The Last Airbender, countless stories of talking animals, and my daughter. Each game has one or more players and one Director. Each player takes on the role of one character, while the Director plays the part of all the non-player characters. (The Director is often an adult or the person who created the adventure.)


Thousands of years ago, the Makers mixed their DNA with those of animals to create dozens of new species–and then vanished, leaving behind a world full of marvels. Among these are the bots: thinking machines that were originally built for all manner of purposes, but which are now their own masters.

In Shapers and Bots, you can play the part of a young animal adventurer, or of a small bot trying to find its place in the world. You can be a hero, a rogue, or an outright villain, and can travel alone or with companions. Your choices will determine how the game unfolds and whether the world is saved from a peril.


Every animal character has four traits that describe them:

  • Size: how large are you?

  • Health: how healthy are you?

  • Coordination: how coordinated are you?

  • IQ: how good are you at abstract thinking?

If there were any human beings left, an average full-grown human woule have a score of 10 for each trait. Averages for different kinds of are listed later.


  1. A character with a low IQ is not necessarily stupid. Instead, they are simply less good at (or less interested in) “book learning”.
  2. In exceptional cases, a character may have separate Height and Weight traits instead of a single Size trait.

Every animal character has one extra trait that depends on these three:

  • Strength: how strong are you?

An animal character’s Strength is equal to her Size plus or minus half the difference between her Health and 10. (If a character’s Height and Weight are listed separately, use their Weight when calculating Strength.) For example, if a character has a Size of 12 and a Health of 12, her Strength is 13, because 12-10 is 2, and half of 2 is 1. If that same character had a Health of 9, her Strength would be 12, because 9-10 is -1, and -1 divided by 2 is 0 (rounding down).

Every animal character also has scores for Sight, Hearing, and Smell. These are all 10 (average) unless otherwise noted, so they usually don’t need to be written down.

Note that Smell includes the sense of taste.

Non-player characters (NPCs) may have two extra traits:

  • Courage: how brave the character is.

  • Honesty: how likely the character is to tell the truth.

Player characters (PCs) don’t have scores for these because it’s up to the player to be brave and to tell the truth (or not). NPCs only need to be given scores for these traits when it’s important to the game.


Each species of animal character has its own “normal” Size and Coordination scores, but all of them have an average Health and IQ of 10, and all of them use the same formula for calculating Strength.

Species Size Coordination Special Senses Special
bear 13 8 Sight=8,
bison 12 9 Sight=9 horns
elephant 14 8 Sight=9 prehensile trunk
fox 6 12 Smell=12  
goat 7 10   horns
kangaroo 10 10 Smell=11 leaping
lion 10 12 Smell=12,
monkey 8 13   prehensile tail
rabbit 5 12 Smell=12,
may go berserk
raccoon 6 13 Sight=11  
rhino 13 8 Sight=7,
tiger 10 12 Smell=12,
wolf 9 11 Smell=12  
zebra 10 10 Smell=11  

Larrapin is a 15-year-old rabbit. Her Size is 4 and her Health is 12, so her Strength is 5. Her Coordination is 13 and her IQ is 11. Because she is a rabbit, her sense of Smell is 12, her Hearing is 11, and her Sight is 10 (because rabbits don’t have any special score for that).


A small number of animal characters have psychic powers that let them control the world with their mind. Those who have one of these abilities typically start with a score of 6 or 7, which slowly improves with practice and training. The most common abilities are:

  • Earth: dirt and stone, but not refined metal.

  • Air: wind.

  • Fire: flames.

  • Water: only in its liquid form (not vapor or ice).

  • Luck: increase or decrease the chance of something happening.

  • Time: slow things down or speed things up. (Nobody can stop or reverse time, or see the future.)

  • Dream: dreams and feelings.

It is extremely rare for someone to be able to shape more than one element, and no one can shape opposite elements: Earth and Air, Fire and Water, Luck and Time. (As far as anyone knows, Dream doesn’t have an opposite.)

Larrapin doesn’t have any shaping ability that she knows of.


The Makers built bots to do everything from cleaning floors to mining the ocean floor. Since the Makers disappeared, the bots left behind have improvised repairs however they could to keep themselves going. The result is that no two bots look or think exactly alike. One might have six short legs and a pair of mis-matched claws for arms, while another might use two rotor fans to fly, but have only a single slender manipulator to pick things up.

Bots have Size and Coordination scores just like living characters, but don’t have Health: they just have Strength instead. Their Sight and Hearing scores are 10 by default, but only a few bots have any sense of smell or taste. (Most regard smell as slightly icky, and would prefer that living creatures didn’t talk about it so much.)


Every character has skills that they’re particularly good at. A skill is recorded as a bonus: +1 means a little knowledge, +2 is more, and so on. A score of 4 or more is very good, and a score or 6 or higher is generally considered an expert.

Every time a character needs to do something difficult, their player or the Director rolls three dice to see if they succeeded or not. If the total of the three dice is less than or equal to the number they need, they succeed. If the total is greater than that number, they fail.

The number needed, called the target, is the value of one of the player’s traits, plus their skill (if they have one), minus the difficulty of the task.

Some useful skills are listed below with the trait they add to. If two traits are listed, the character’s basic ability is the average of those two traits rounded down (so that it is never less than the lower of their two trait scores). If the basic skill is “–”, it means that characters don’t have any natural ability: everything has to be learned from scratch.

  • Acrobatics (CO)
  • Acting (CO+IQ)
  • Animal Handling (ST+CO)
  • Boating (ST+CO)
  • Camouflage (CO)
  • Camping (CO+IQ)
  • Climbing (ST+CO)
  • Craft: carpentry, sewing, etc. (CO)
  • Dancing (CO)
  • Disguise (CO+IQ)
  • Drawing (CO+IQ)
  • Driving (CO)
  • Escapology (CO+IQ)
  • Farming (ST)
  • Fine Art: painting, sculpture, etc. (CO+IQ)
  • First Aid (CO+IQ)
  • Gambling (IQ)
  • Hunting (ST+CO)
  • Hypnotism (IQ)
  • Juggling (CO)
  • Lockpicking (CO+IQ)
  • Mechanics (CO+IQ)
  • Medicine (CO+IQ)
  • Metalwork (ST+CO)
  • Music (CO)
  • Navigation (IQ)
  • Persuasion (IQ)
  • Picking Pockets (CO)
  • Riding (ST+CO)
  • Robotics (IQ)
  • Skating (CO)
  • Skiing (CO)
  • Sneaking (CO)
  • Stage Magic (CO+IQ)
  • Swimming (ST+CO)
  • Throwing (ST+CO)
  • Tracking (IQ)
  • Trapping/Fishing (CO)
  • Tunnelling (ST)
  • Unarmed Combat (ST+CO)
  • Ventriloquism (IQ)
  • Weapon: sword, bow, steam pistol, etc. (CO+IQ)

Characters may also have knowledge of history, a language, mathematics, science, or some other specialized field. A character’s knowledge of any field is initially zero, and must all be learned.

The Director may allow players to choose skills for their characters that are not on this list.

Larrapin doesn’t have any bonuses for Acting, so her ability is 12, which is the average of her Coordination (13) and her IQ (11). Having grown up in the mountains, though, she has learned how to ski very well: her natural ability is 13 (her Coordination), and her bonus is +3, giving her a total skill of 16.

Suppose Larrapin is trying to escape a band of angry (and hungry) wolves. The Director decides that ski-jumping over a ravine has a difficulty of 6. Larrapin’s target is therefore 16-6, or 10. She rolls three dice and gets a 7: success!


Sometimes adventurers are attacked and have to fight their way out of trouble. When this happens, players must roll dice to score hits on their enemies. Their ability is calculated as usual based on their traits and their skill with whatever weapon they’re using. The difficulty, however, depends on the nature of the thing they’re trying to hit.

Example Characters


Madica is a teenage fox girl. She’s a bit on the small side, even for her species, but she has worked on her parents’ fishing boat every day since she was a child, so she is quite healthy. She has a keen nose, and is also very good with her hands: she’s had a lot of practice tying knots and mending nets, and her mother has taught her a few magic tricks. She recently discovered that she can shape water a little bit, and desperately wants to find someone to teach her how to do more.

Trait Score Skill Score
Size 5 Boating +3
Health 12 Fishing +2
Coordination 13 Swimming +4
Strength 6 Stage Magic +2
Smell 12 Water Shaping +2

Rhymes With Orange

Rhymes With Orange was built to clean windows on ultra-tall skyscrapers. It has long spidery limbs with suction cups for climbing, but a very small body. It also has a storage tank built into its back that can hold up to 5 liters, and has modified the water jets on its arms to squirt almost any kind of liquid. Rhymes With Orange’s fractal battery was damaged years ago in an accident that robbed it of most of its memories. It can only go 9-10 days without being recharged by another bot, so it is constantly doing odd jobs in exchange for power or gambling to try to win a recharge. (It only cheats when it has to.)

Trait Score Skill Score
Height 12 Acrobatics +5
Weight 7 Climbing +5
Coordination 10 Gambling +4
Strength 11 Squirt +3