Shapers and Bots

Shapers and Bots is a role-playing game for children age 8 and older inspired by Dungeons & Dragons, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and every animal that ever walked upright and wore clothes (including 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 all the other characters, who are called extras. The Director can be an adult, but children age 10 and older can also be Directors.

These rules focus on storytelling rather than realism. Dice rolls are kept simple, and there are no complicated tables showing how much damage a broadsword does compared to a katana. My thanks to the Pip System, the PDQ system, Tiny Dungeon, Engine Heart, and to the high school lunch-hour gang.

Background

Centuries ago, the Makers mixed their DNA with those of animals to create dozens of thinking species, then vanished, leaving behind a world full of marvels: half-human creatures with strange powers, robots that are now their own masters, and a gathering evil that now threaten both.

In Shapers and Bots, you play a young animal adventurer or a newly-awoken bot in search of adventure. 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.

How to Play

Before the game begins, the Director will either create an adventure or find one that someone else has created. Each player can create a character, or the Director can create characters for them.

Once the game starts, each player determines what their character does. When the player speaks, the character speaks in the game world; when the player says, “I’m going to kick down the door,” their character tries to kick down the door. There are no takebacks—you can’t un-kick down a door—and if the players spend two minutes arguing about what to do next, that’s what their characters are doing in the game world.

Character Features

Every character has strengths and weaknesses that determine what they’re good at and what they aren’t. We describe this by giving every character a rating for seven features:

  • Size (abbreviated SIZ): how large the character is. If the character is exceptionally short or exceptionally skinny, the Director may allow the character to list height and weight separately.

  • Fitness (FIT): how strong and coordinated she is. Characters with a high fitness are good athletes.

  • Dexterity (DEX): how good the character is with her hands. This determines how well she can pick locks, play musical instruments, or perform surgery.

  • Intellect (IQ): how good she is at book learning and abstract reasoning. A character with a low Intellect isn’t stupid—she just isn’t good at logic puzzles.

  • Awareness (AWR): How well the character notices things in their surroundings, which depends on eyesight, hearing, sense of smell, and actually paying attention (which any parent can tell you is very different from just seeing or hearing). If the character has exceptionally good or bad eyesight, hearing, or a sense of smell, they may have a separating rating for that, just as they do for height and weight.

So what is a rating? It’s simply a number: 0 if the character is average, positive if they’re higher than average, and negative if they’re lower. A positive rating is sometimes called a bonus, and a negative one is sometimes called a penalty.

Example: Gertrude is big and healthy, so she has bonuses for Size and Fitness, but not good with her hands, which means a penalty for Dexterity, and like most elephants is somewhat near-sighted, which means a penalty for Awareness. Her ratings are:

  • Size: +3
  • Fitness: +1
  • Dexterity: -2
  • Intellect: 0
  • Awareness: -1

Every character also has a feature called Strength (abbreviated STR) which is the sum of their Size and Fitness ratings. Big characters tend to be stronger than small ones, but characters who aren’t fit aren’t as strong as characters who are.

Example: Gertrude’s strength is +4. Her cousin Norwin, on the other hand, has a Size of +4 (he’s bigger than Gertrude) but a Fitness of -2 (he never exercises), so his Strength is only +2.

Challenges

A challenge is something a character might want to do, like climb a wall or pick a lock. Every challenge has a rating as well: difficult challenges have negative ratings (penalties), while easy challenges have positive ones (bonuses).

If a character tries to do a challenge, the player rolls three dice, adds up their results, and then adds their rating and the challenges’s rating as well. If the total is 10 or less, they have failed; on 11 or more, they have succeeded.

Example: Gertrude is trying to take apart the clockwork timer on a small bomb. The challenge’s difficulty is -1, and her Dexterity is -2. She rolls 3 dice and gets 5, 4, and 2, for a total of 11; after subtracting 1 for the difficulty and 2 for her poor Dexterity, her total is only 8, so she has failed.

We often write “3D+X” or “3D-X” to mean “three dice plus or minus X”, so the roll above would be written “3D-3”.

Example: Panicking slightly, Gertrude decides to try smashing the timer. The Director decides that the difficulty is 0 (it’s neither particularly tough or fairly fragile), and her Strength is +4, so Gertrude needs to get 11 or more or 3D+4. She rolls 3 dice and gets a total of 11 once again. After adding 4 for her Strength, her total is 15, and the delicate clockwork is now so much scrap metal.

If the total adjustment for a challenge (i.e., the character’s rating plus the challenge’s difficulty) is positive, and the outcome isn’t critical to the game, the Director can decide that the characer gets an automatic success. For example, suppose Gertrude wants to lift a crate of chocolates. Gertrude’s Strength is +4 and challenge’s difficulty is -1 (the crate is larger than average, but not remarkably so) for a total bonus of +3, so the Director decides the player can skip the dice roll. This rule helps keep the game moving.

Flukes and Fumbles

Sometimes it may seem like a character has no chance at all of doing something, but since Shapers and Bots is a story-telling game, there is always hope. If a player rolls a total of 17 or 18—that is, two 6’s and a 5 or three 6’s—their character automatically succeeds, but probably not in the way they expected. This is called a fluke roll.

Example: Zitter had never even seen a laser pistol before today, but as the deranged one-eyed crocodile pirate charges toward her, she picks up the one she just found and frantically starts pushing buttons. The Director decides that finding the right combination of buttons has a difficulty of -10. Zitter rolls a triple 6: somehow, her fumbling fingers found the right buttons and she put a neat hole through the surprised crocodile.

A moment later, another crocodile pirate comes around the corner, sword in hand. Zitter rolls again and gets 6-5-6, for a score of 17. The Director rules that her lucky shot has gone wild and brought a branch crashing down between her and the angry pirate.

Fluke rolls work in reverse as well, because it’s always possible for something to go wrong. If a player rolls a total of 3 or 4—i.e., three 1’s or two 1’s and a 2—they automatically fail at whatever they were trying to do, preferably in some hilarious or embarrassing way. This is called a fumble.

Example: Another day, another angry crocodile pirate… Zitter still hasn’t figured out how to use her laser pistol, but when she tries to take a shot, her player rolls a 3. “Self-destruct initiated”, the Director says in a mechanical voice. “Ten… nine… eight…”

Contests

A situation in which one character is trying to out-do another is called a contest. In this case, both players roll dice and add their ratings, and whoever has the higher score wins. If there is a tie, the Director rules on whether the contest continues or whether something unusual happened.

Example: Gertrude and Norwin are arm-wrestling. Gertrude rolls 8, giving her a total of 12 (since her Strength is +4). Norwin rolls 10, giving him the same total (since his Strength is only +2), so the Director decides that they are still locked in combat. When they re-roll, they both get 11’s. After adding their Strengths, Gertrude’s score is higher, so she wins.

Species

Every living character belongs to a species. They all stand upright, speak, and have hands and fingers, but they also have fur (or feathers) and their feet look like animals’ feet. Different species have different default values for the seven features, which are shown below.

All animals are either vegetarian or omnivores; those marked as “carnivorous” simply have a particularly strong liking for meat. Eating intelligent animals is considered cannibalism.

Bear

SIZ FIT DEX INT AWR
+2 0 -2 0 -1

Bears are deeply spiritual animals, apt to halt in the middle of combat and ask, “But truly, what is the point of such strife?” Of course, if you were this big, you could afford to be philosophical too.

  • Fur counts as natural armor (but without any attack penalty).
  • Claws and bite count as small weapons.

Bison

SIZ FIT DEX INT AWR
+2 0 -4 0 0

Bison are rarely found on their own—in fact, most suffer from acute isolophobia (a fear of being alone). They are naturally protective of weak members of their “herd”, which can include their workmates, neighbors, and fellow adventurers.

  • Thick hide counts as natural armor (but without any attack penalty).
  • Horns count as small weapons.

Crocodile

SIZ FIT DEX INT AWR
0 0 -2 -1 0

Crocodiles are slow moving, except when they’re not, and incredibly patient—particularly when it comes to their favorite sport: revenge.

  • Carnivorous.
  • Thick hide counts as natural armor.
  • Can hold their breath for 15 minutes.

Crow

SIZ FIT DEX INT AWR
-4 +2 -2 +2 +1

Crows are the fast-talking deal-makers of the animal world. Their feathered appendages make them somewhat clumsy, and they are fascinated by shiny objects. Crows cannot fly by default, but are able to learn.

Eagle

SIZ FIT DEX INT AWR
-2 +4 -2 0 +3

“As proud as an eagle” is a common saying, and is usually not meant as a compliment. Natural aristocrats, eagles are quick to take offense, and their keen eyesight makes them natural guards and scouts. Eagles cannot fly by default, but are able to learn.

  • Carnivorous.

Elephant

SIZ FIT DEX INT AWR
+3 0 0 +2 -1

Elephants naturally form a matriarchal society: females are in charge of government and business, while most adult males skulk around the sidelines trying to find ways to be useful. Young males often go on quests to try to win glory; they are natural story-tellers and have exceptional memories.

  • Can use their trunk as a clumsy extra hand (though it’s considered rude to do so in company).

Fox

SIZ FIT DEX INT AWR
-2 0 +2 +2 0

As cunning as crows, foxes are nimble-fingered, quick-witted, and always looking for their next deal.

  • Carnivorous.

Goat

SIZ FIT DEX INT AWR
0 0 0 0 0

Goats are completely average in every way except for their horns. (Telling them this is a good way to upset them.)

Kangaroo

SIZ FIT DEX INT AWR
0 +2 0 -1 0

Kangaroos are the happy-go-lucky clowns of the animal world. Townies often dye their tails in bright colors; those who live in the wild will camouflage theirs instead.

Lion

SIZ FIT DEX INT AWR
0 +2 0 0 0

Like elephants, lions form matriarchal societies, and their young males often go adventuring to try to win enough glory to attract female attention.

  • Carnivorous.

Monkey

SIZ FIT DEX INT AWR
-2 0 +4 +2 0

Smart, curious, and mechanically minded, monkeys are constantly tinkering with gadgets (or breaking them). They are often less respectful of robots’ personal space than they should be.

  • Can use their tails as a clumsy third hand.

Parrot

SIZ FIT DEX INT AWR
-4 +4 -2 0 0

The only birds still capable of actually flying.

Rabbit

SIZ FIT DEX INT AWR
-3 0 0 0 +1

It’s easy to make fun of rabbits’ small size and near-sightedness, but nobody who has ever seen a fluffle of rabbits go bersek in battle is likely to do so. Whenever a rabbit is wounded, it loses control on a roll of 4, 5, or 6 on one die. After that, it gets an extra action each round which it must use for attacking and gains +2 on all attack rolls, but does not defend itself.

Raccoon

SIZ FIT DEX INT AWR
-3 0 +4 +2 0

Raccoons are the only competition monkeys have for the title “most likely to get themselves into trouble”. They are very inquisitive, but sometimes have trouble concentrating on—hey look, a butterfly!

Rhino

SIZ FIT DEX INT AWR
+3 +2 -4 0 -2

They are not the largest animals, but they are certainly the grumpiest. Like bison (the only other animals they have much time for) they prefer to stay with their herd, and are fiercely protective of its weaker members.

  • They can charge their enemies (treat their horn like a small weapon).
  • Their sense of smell is +1, not -2.

Sloth

SIZ FIT DEX INT AWR
0 0 -2 +4 0

Slow-moving but quick-witted, sloths are sages and healers. Some trim their long claws to improve their Dexterity, but most accept their lot philosophically and return to thinking about deeper things.

  • If a Sloth is a shaper, they start with a Low rating instead of Very Low.

Tiger

SIZ FIT DEX INT AWR
0 +2 0 0 +1

As proud as eagles, tigers are scornful of creatures that live in herds or packs, including lions—especially lions.

  • Carnivorous.

Turtle

SIZ FIT DEX INT AWR
-2 -2 +2 +2 -3

Slow-moving and short-sighted, turtles are natural shapers.

  • Shell counts as natural armor (with no attack penalty).
  • If a Turtle is a shaper, they start with a Low rating instead of Very Low.
  • Can hold their breath for 15 minutes.

Wolf

SIZ FIT DEX INT AWR
0 +2 0 0 +1

Fast, strong, and brave, wolves usually travel in packs of half a dozen, and their alphas are often community leaders.

  • Carnivorous.

Zebra

SIZ FIT DEX INT AWR
-1 0 -2 0 0

Zebras have a remarkable ability to hide themselves, which is described below under “Skills”.

Customizing Characters

Animals of the same species can be quite different from one another. When a player creates a character, she can spend a total of 5 points raising the character’s ratings. She can do this by adding 2 points to two ratings and 1 point to a third, or by adding 3 points to one rating and 1 each to two others, and so on, so long as she doesn’t raise any rating by more than 3 points.

Players can get extra points to distribute by lowering ratings as well: they may lower any rating by 1 or 2 points, so long as the total lowered is no more than 3 points.

Example: Garree is a 15-year-old goat. Her default rating is zero for everything, but her player decides to lower her Size by 1 point and distribute 6 points evenly across Fitness, Dexterity, and Intellect:

SIZ FIT DEX INT AWR
-1 +2 +2 +2 0

Example: The same player makes different decisions for Garree’s brother Gruff. His Awareness is reduced 2 points and his Intellect by 1 point, which gives him 8 points to distribute to other features.

SIZ FIT DEX INT AWR
+3 +3 +2 -1 -2

Choosing Skills

Every character has skills. Some are automatic: for example, almost everyone can try to throw a rock. Others are not: trust me, nobody can play the oboe if they’ve never seen one before.

Just like features, skills have ratings. Positive ratings mean that characters are better than average. negative ratings mean that they find even simple tasks difficult. Some common skills are listed below, along with a character’s initial rating:

  • If the initial rating is “None”, the character has no initial ability at all, and must rely on fluke rolls to accomplish tasks.
  • If a number is given, the character starts with that rating.
  • If a feature is given, the character’s initial rating in the skill is equal to their rating for that feature. For example, every character’s initial rating for Brawling is equal to their Fitness.
  • If a formula is given, their initial rating is whatever the formula calculates. For example, if a Fox has a Size of -2 and a Fitness of +1, their initial rating for Acrobatics is +3, which is Fitness minus Size. (Being small is an advantage when doing flips and walking a tightrope.)
Skill Rating Explanation
Acrobatics FIT - SIZ jumping, walking a tightrope, doing a somersault, etc.
Animal Handling INT calming a frightened horse or an angry wolverine
Boating -3 managing a small boat or canoe
Brawling STR hand-to-hand combat without weapons
Camouflage -3 disguising objects
Camping -3 setting up a tent and making a fire
Charisma INT talking people into things, fooling them, and acting
Climbing FIT - SIZ walls, ropes, and what-not
Computers None handling anything with a digital brain
Dancing FIT being graceful on the dance floor
Driving None wagons and motorized vehicles alike
Escapology DEX getting out of ropes or handcuffs
Farming -3 growing food
First Aid -3 handling broken bones and wounds; see Medicine
Gambling 0 cards, dice, and bluffing
Hiding INT - SIZ not being noticed when not moving
Hypnotism None putting people into a trance
Mechanics None making things, fixing broken ones, and picking locks
Medicine None handling disease and infection; see First Aid
Navigation None finding your way by the stars and other signs
Picking Pockets DEX - 3 taking things without being noticed
Riding FIT bicycles and horses
Sailing -5 handling a large ship
Singing HER - 3 making music with the voice
Skating FIT - 3 handling yourself on metal runners
Skiing FIT - 3 handling yourself on lengths of wood
Stage Magic None juggling, sleight of hand, etc
Stealth FIT - SIZ moving without or being noticed
Swimming STR - 3 keeping your head above water
Throwing FIT how far and how accurately
Trapping -5 making traps that work
Tunnelling -3 digging tunnels that don’t collapse
Ventriloquism None throwing your voice

It’s usually worth figuring out a character’s skill at the skills marked in bold, since they come up so often in adventures. Note that some skills like Climbing, Hiding, and Stealth get better if the character is smaller. For example, if a character’s Fitness is +2 and their Size is +1, their Stealth is +1, but if their Size is -1, their Stealth is +3.

Example: Garree’s features are:

SIZ FIT DEX INT AWR
-1 +2 +2 +2 0

so her initial ratings for the commonly-used skills are:

Skill Rating
Brawling +1
Climbing +3
Hiding +3
Stealth +3
Swimming -2
Throwing +2

Skill Categories

These four “skills” are actually categories. Specialties within each must be mastered separately:

Skill Rating Explanation
Craft None sewing, woodwork, baking, metalwork, etc.
Fine Art None sculpture, drawing, painting, music, etc.
Lore None history, a language, mathematics, etc.
Weapon FIT - 5 sword, spear, pistol, bow, etc.

Finally, someone’s initial skill in Tracking is the best of their Sight, Hearing, or Smell.

Choosing Skills

When a player is creating a character, she can spend INT+10 points improving the character’s skills. For example, if a character has an INT of +3, they have 13 points to spend on raising skills. If their INT is -2, on the other hand, they only have 8 points to spend on skills (they’re a slower learner).

  • Raising a skill from None to -4 costs 1 point.
  • Each raise thereafter costs 1 point, up to an increase to +3.
  • Every raise after +3 costs 2 points.

Example: Garree’s features are:

SIZ FIT DEX INT AWR
-1 +2 +2 +2 0

so she has 12 points to spend on her initial skills. Her adjusted ratings for the common skills, and her ratings for other skills her player has chosen, are:

Skill Initial Adjusted Points Spent
Brawling +1 +3 2
Climbing +2 +3 1
Hiding +2 +3 1
Stealth +2 +4 3
Swimming -3    
Throwing +1    
Bow -4 -2 3
First Aid -3 -1 2

The Director may occasionally allow players to choose Skills that are not in the master list. For example, piloting a hot air balloon is different enough from Boating and Driving that the Director may decide it’s a skill in its own right.

Leveling Up

After each adventure, the Director may allow a player to raise a skill they used in that adventure by one level. A player may also find a teacher to help them learn a new skill. It is usually pretty easy to find someone who can teach the lower levels of common skills, though lessons may come at a price. Finding someone who can teach a character how to raise a skill beyond +5 can be a quest in its own right.

Species Skills

  • Crocodiles and Turtles start with a Swimming skill of 0.
  • Kangaroos have a natural Jumping skill of 0, and automatically get +1 on Brawling (they’re great natural boxers).
  • Parrots start with a Flying skill of 0. Crows and Eagles start with None, but can raise it using the usual rules.
  • Parrots also have a starting level of -3 in Ventriloquism.
  • Sloths have a “sixth sense” that warns them of danger. (It’s hard to imagine how they’d survive without it.) Their initial rating is -3, and they can improve it with practice.
  • When Zebras are standing still, they can change color from black-and-white stripes to almost anything else in order to blend into their surroundings. This gives them an extra +2 Hiding at no cost.

Combat

Shapers and Bots tries to keep combat simple. Once a fight starts, everything happens in turns that are 5 seconds long in game time. In each turn, characters act in order of Fitness, with highest Fitness going first. (If two or more characters are tied, use a contest roll once at the start of the fight to see who goes first for its duration.)

In their turn, a character can take two actions. Each of the following counts as a single action:

  • Attack someone.
  • Defend against an attack (see below).
  • Pick something up. (Dropping something doesn’t count as an action.)
  • Draw a weapon.
  • Run from one place to another (see below).

Reloading a weapon counts as one or more actions depending on the type of weapon. For example, getting another arrow from a quiver counts as one action (so archers can fire one shot per turn). Reloading a crossbow, on the other hand, may require several turns.

Each attack is treated as a contest:

  1. The attacker declares who or what they are attacking.
  2. The target says whether they are going to use one of their actions for defense.
  3. If the defender isn’t using an action for defense, the attacker succeeds if they roll their rating with the appropriate skill.
  4. If the defender is using an action for defense, the attack succeeds if the attacker makes their roll and the defender misses a roll. This is different from a regular contest roll. the attacker doesn’t have to beat the defender’s roll—the attacker has to succeed and the defender has to fail.

There are a few special cases:

  1. If an attack is a complete surprise, the defender doesn’t get a defense roll.
  2. If the target hasn’t had their turn yet, their defense uses up an action for that turn (i.e., if they defend themselves against an attack, they can only use one other action when their turn comes around).
  3. If the target has already used all of their actions, they can borrow an action from their next turn to use for defense. In practice, this often means that the character with the higher Fitness gets two attacks in the first turn, then one attack each turn after that (since they’re borrowing actions from future turns for defense).
  4. If someone is attacked three or more times in a turn, then the only defense against the third and subsequent attacks is a fluke roll.

Health and Injury

Every character starts the adventure with a number of health points (HP) equal to 3 + their Strength. (If a character’s Strength is -3 or less, they still get 1 HP.) Every time a character is injured, their character must win a challenge roll with their HP before the injury as a bonus and the amount of the damage as a penalty. If they fail the roll, they have been knocked out. Regardless of the roll’s outcome, they always lose that many HP.

A character is killed when:

  • Their HP goes negative.
  • They fail an injury challenge roll by 4 points or more.

Example: Alouenne is a kangaroo with a Strength of +2, so she has 5 HP. As the tunnel collapses around her, she is hit by a falling rock that does 1 point of damage. She needs to win a roll with a +4 bonus (+5-1) to stay conscious. She rolls 9 on 3D, winning easily, but is now down to 4 HP.

A second, larger piece of the ceiling now drops on her head and does 2 points of damage. She needs to win a roll with a +2 bonus; rolling 8, she fails and is knocked unconscious. She is also now down to 2 HP.

The rocks keep falling. The next one to hit her does another 2 points of damage. She needs to win a roll without any bonus at all to stay alive. She rolls 12, but is down to 0 HP. One more big rock, and Alouenne will be out of the game…

Pietro rushes in to save Alouenne. He is already down to 3 HP after a previous fight, and a particularly big rock lands on him before he can reach her. It does 3 points of damage, so he needs to win a challenge roll without any bonus. He rolls 5, missing the required 11 by 6 points. Pietro is a goner.

Weapons

Weapons do damage (that’s kind of the point). A one-handed sword swung by an angry goat with Strength 0 does the following damage:

Roll Damage
3 0
4 1
5 1
6 1
7 2
8 2
9 2
10 3
11 3
12 4
13 4
14 4
15 5
16 5
17 5
18 6

Every other weapon is given a bonus or penalty depending on its size. This is added to the roll, not to the damage:

Weapon Bonus Example
Punch -5 Includes kicking and throwing plates
Small Weapon -3 A knife or slingshot (or punch from someone with martial arts training)
Medium Weapon 0 One-handed sword or ax
Large Weapon +2 Two-handed sword or ax
Huge Weapon +4 A big spiked club swung by an angry elephant

Example: Gertrude swings her big spiked club and hits one of the bots attacking her. She rolls 9, adds 4 to get 13, and looks at the table: she had done 4 points of damage. Her companion Li Meng stabs with her knife. She also rolls 9, takes off 3 to get 6, and has done only 1 point of damage.

Armor

Any armor the defender is wearing acts as a penalty on the damage roll:

Armor Bonus Description
Thick Fur -1 Bison fur, crocodile skin, turtle shell
Leather -2 Something like shoe leather, often reinforced with studs
Metal -4 Metal plates or chainmail

Healing

Someone who is knocked unconscious can try to regain consciousness once per minute by winning a challenge roll with their Strength as a bonus (or penalty). It’s up to the Director to decide if they have to keep making injury rolls because of their wounds.

Example: While Priti is going through Doi’s belongings to see if she has anything worth stealing, her player rolls three dice and gets 13. After taking off 1 point (her Strength is -1), she still has 12, which is enough for her to regain consciousness. Quietly, she picks up her bow and gets off one more shot. Priti goes down—but the Director has ruled that Doi’s wounds are still bleeding, so she needs to make another challenge roll to stay conscious. She fails and passes out once again, losing 1 HP as she does so. Things aren’t looking good for our little fox…

Shaping

A small number of animal characters have psychic powers that let them control or shape the world with their mind. Characters who can shape typically start with a rating of Very Low, which improves with practice and training. The six known kinds of shaping are:

  • Earth: dirt and stone. Very experienced earth shapers can also shape metal.
  • Air: wind and sound.
  • Light: create (silent) illusions and wrap themselves in shadows.
  • Water: in its liquid form. Very experienced shapers can also shape ice. Using water shaping to control a living creature is extremely difficult and also a very serious crime.
  • 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.)

It is extremely rare for someone to be able to do more than one kind of shaping.

Example: Larrapin is an air shaper. Before her grandfather passed away, he taught her what little he knew, so her score is now -5 instead of none.

The Director must decide case by case how hard it is to shape something. As a guide:

Shaping Easy Task (+3 bonus) Hard Task (-3 penalty)
Earth Slide a pebble across a table Open a hand-sized hole in a brick wall
Air Puff of air to blow out a candle Gust of wind to knock someone over
Light Dim light to read by Illusion of a tree
Water Slosh water around in a cup Wave capable of swamping a canoe
Luck Increase next roll by 1 point Lower enemy’s roll by 3 points
Time Take initiative in combat round Four actions in one combat round

These bonuses and penalties assume that the shaper is concentrating hard and doing nothing else.

Bots

The Makers built bots to do everything from cleaning floors to mining the ocean floor. Since they disappeared, the bots have repaired themselves however they can to keep themselves going, and made new bots whenever they can find the right parts. 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 Average ratings for Size, Dexterity, Intellect, Sight, and Hearing. Only a few bots have any sense of Smell (most regard smell as slightly icky, and would prefer that living creatures didn’t talk about it so much). Bots also have Average Fitness, which in their case means structural integrity: a bot with Low Fitness is probably rusty or missing parts, while one with Very High Fitness looks brand new (and will therefore be a target for other bots in need of parts). Bots can raise and lower one feature by one level, or two features by one level each if one feature is lowered by a level, just like animal characters. (As with animals, Sight and Hearing have to be lowered two levels to raise some other feature by one level.)

By default, every robot character has either tracks, wheels, or legs to move with, two arms (which don’t have to match), cameras, a microphone (for hearing), and a speaker (for communicating). The player can then give it two more features from the list below, or three more features as long as it takes a penalty from the second list.

Robot Features

  • Accelerator: can move very quickly for brief periods.
  • Arm: each extra arm counts as one feature.
  • Armor: hard to damage.
  • Camouflage: hard to see (depends on environment: jungle camouflage is pretty noticeable in the desert).
  • Cart: some kind of large bin to carry things in.
  • Coldproof: able to function in extreme cold.
  • Cutting laser: counts as a small weapon, and drains power quickly.
  • Display screen: useful for displaying maps and other pictures as well as communicating.
  • Drill: can be small or large.
  • Electromagnet: for picking things up (such as armored opponents).
  • Extensible arm: good for reaching into difficult places.
  • Fireproof: able to withstand flames.
  • Flotation: airtanks or some sort of inflatable attachment.
  • Furnace: allows the bot to run on wood or alcohol.
  • Gas bag: when inflated, allows the bot to fly.
  • Grapple: a hook on a winch.
  • Grinder: counts as a small weapon.
  • Heavy equipment: a bulldozer blade, hydraulic jack, or some other kind of construction gear.
  • Legs: additional ones.
  • Liquid storage/dispenser: a spray and a bottle.
  • Microphone: super-sensitive hearing.
  • Power leech: can drain energy from other bots.
  • Powered flight: helicopter rotors, fan blades, or retractible wings and a propellor. All drain power very quickly.
  • Radio: for silent communication with other bots that have radios. Does not work underground or under water.
  • Sawblade: counts as a small weapon.
  • Searchlight: useful at night, underground, and for blinding opponents.
  • Solar panels: fold-out panels for recharging.
  • Submersible: not just watertight, but capable of “swimming”.
  • Speakers: in addition to the default ones.
  • Tracks: heavy-duty tank treads (in addition to whatever is chosen by default).
  • Vacuum: for sucking things up—usually extensible.
  • Wheels: in addition to the default means of getting around.
  • Windmill: a retractible wind turbine for generating power.

Robot Penalties

  • Armless: no way to pick things up and manipulate them.
  • Blind: no cameras.
  • Buggy: will freeze or behave inappropriately under stress (e.g., in combat).
  • Cannot communicate: no screen or speakers.
  • Conspicuous: very noticeable (e.g., squeaky, or brightly painted).
  • Deaf: no microphone.
  • Fragile: flammable, parts easy to break off, etc.
  • Immobile: no way to move around on its own.
  • Not waterproof: and therefore susceptible to shorting out.
  • Obedient: programmed to follow orders from anyone or anything with a keyword or controller.
  • Slow: cannot move quickly.
  • Top-heavy: unable to right itself once turned over.
  • Weak battery: needs frequent recharging.

Example Characters

Syvia

Syvia is a teenage fox. She has worked on her parents’ fishing boat since she was a child, so her player raises her Boating from Very Low to Average (2 points) and her Swimming from Low to Average (1 point). Since there are pirates in these waters, her player also raises her skill with a bo (a long staff that counts as a small weapon) from Low to High (2 points), and her skill at Mechanics from High (her Dexterity) to Very High, which uses up her final point.

Feature Rating | Skill Rating
Size Low | Boating Average
Fitness Average | Swimming +2
Dexterity +2 | Quarterstaff +2
Intellect +2 | Mechanics Very High
Sight Average |  
Hearing Average |  
Smell +2 |  
HP 5 |  

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 5-liter storage tank built into its back, and has modified the water jets on its arms to squirt almost any kind of liquid. Rhymes With Orange’s battery was damaged years ago in an accident that also robbed it of most of its memories. It can only go 3-4 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.)

Feature Rating | Skill Rating
Height +2 | Climbing Very High
Weight Low | Acrobatics Very High
Fitness Average | Gambling Very High
Dexterity Average | Squirting +2
IQ Average | Mathematics +2
Sight Average | Navigation +2
Hearing Low |  
Smell None |  
HP 6 |  

Non-Player Characters

If an extra is important to the plot—for example, if they are a player character’s sidekick—the Director may give non-player ratings for two more features:

  • Courage (CRG): how brave the character is.

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

Player characters don’t have ratings for these features because being brave and telling the truth (or not) are part of the game.

Glossary

Automatic success: accomplishing a task without bothering to roll dice.

Bonus: a positive rating.

Challenge: something difficult that a character wants to do. The result is determined by the sum of three dice plus the character’s rating and the challenge’s difficulty.

Character: an animal or bot in the game.

Contest: a situation in which success depends on beating another character’s dice roll (plus appropriate ratings).

Difficulty: how hard a challenge is. The difficulty determines the target for a challenge roll.

Director: the person running the game.

Extra: a character played by the Director.

Feature: an intrinsic characteristic such as fitness or dexterity.

Fluke: a roll of 17 or 18 (automatic success).

Fumble: a roll of 3 or 4 (automatic failure).

Health point: how much damage a character can take.

Penalty: a negative rating.

Player: someone who is playing the part of a character in the game.

Rating: a bonus or penalty for a character’s feature or a challenge’s difficulty.

Shaping: the psychic ability to control one of the six elements.

Skill: a character’s ability to do something.

Species: a kind of intelligent living character.