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, Zootopia, 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 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 are a simplified version of the Pip System from Third Eye Games.


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, thinking machines 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.

Game Mechanics

Every character in Shapers and Bots is described by characteristics and abilities. Everything a character might want to do, like climb a wall, has a difficulty. Together, the two determine the odds of the character doing what they want to do.

Characteristics and abilities are measured by how many dice the player gets to roll. (We use the words rating and level to describe these, since sometimes a word like “hobbyist” sounds most accurate, while other times a term like “low” sounds better.)

Rating/Level Number of Dice
Novice/Very Low 1
Hobbyist/Low 2
Competent/Average 3
Expert/High 4
Heroic/Very High 5

Every difficulty also has a number of dice associated with it:

Difficulty Number of Dice
Simple 1
Average 2
Tough 3
Amazing 4
Legendary 5

When a character wants to do something, her player rolls as many dice as her rating gives her. Her score is the number of 4s, 5s, or 6s that she gets. The Director then rolls the number of dice indicated by the difficulty; her score is also the number of 4s, 5s, or 6s. They then compare scores:

Outcome Meaning
Player’s score is higher by 3 or more Epic success
Player’s score is higher Success
Tie Success, but with complication
Player’s score is lower Failure
Player’s score is lower by 3 or more Epic failure

Success and failure mean what they say: the player accomplishes the task or she doesn’t. If the result is an epic success, she doesn’t just accomplish the task: something especially good happens. If the result is an epic failure, she fails particularly badly, and if the result is a tie, well, that’s where things get interesting…

For example, suppose that Larrapin is an Expert climber and is faced with a Tough wall. She rolls 4 dice and gets 2, 3, 5, 6, for a score of 2. The Director rolls 3 dice and gets 1, 2, 4, for a score of 1. so Larrapin has climbed the wall without anything noteworthy happening.

Now suppose she needs to climb a slippery icefall. The difficulty is Legendary, so she needs a better score with 4 dice than the Director gets with 5 dice. Once again, Larrapin gets 2 successes, but all 5 of the Director’s dice come up successes! Since Larrapin has lost by 3 or more, it is an epic failure: she doesn’t just fall, but a whole section of the ice breaks away with her.

Later, having survived the ice fall thanks to a quick rescue by a flying bot, Larrapin needs to climb another Tough wall. Her score is 2 yet again, and the Director also scores 2. Since the result is a tie, Larrapin has succeeded, but dislodges a stone. As it tumbles into the ravine, the noise alerts the guards above her. Larrapin’s day is about to get a little more interesting…

If you don’t have dice, you can toss coins: heads are successes and tails are failures.


If a character has no rating at all for a task, they can still succeed by fluke. The player rolls a single die: if it is a 6, she gets one point and rolls again. Her score is then the number of 6’s they rolled in a row. However, a 1 at any point is automatically an epic failure.

For example, Larrapin is trying desperately to open a magnetically-locked door before the gas leaking into the room suffocates her. She has no rating at all in lock-picking, so she can only succeed by fluke. She rolls a 6! And another 6! And then a 3, giving her a total score of 2. The task is Tough, so the director rolls 3 dice and gets a score of 1. The lock clicks open and Larrapin staggers out of the room, groggy but alive.


By default, every character has an Average rating for these characteristics:

  • Size (abbreviated SZ): how large the character is. A character may have separate Height and Weight traits instead if that’s a better way to describe her.

  • Fitness (FI): how strong and coordinated the character is. Characters with a high fitness are good athletes.

  • Dexterity (DX): 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 the character is at book learning and abstract reasoning. A character with a low intellect is not necessarily stupid–she just isn’t good at logic puzzles.

  • Sight, Hearing, and Smell: These measure exactly what their names say. (Note that smell includes the sense of taste.)

If they’re going to be an important part of the game, extras (the non-player characters run by the Director) may have two more characteristics:

  • Courage: how brave the character is.

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

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


Characters start with Novice/Very Low ratings for these core abilities:

  • Acting: impersonating people, feigning illness, etc.
  • Charisma: charming people (or intimidating them).
  • Crafts: fixing clocks, knitting, and other handicrafts.
  • Detection: noticing little details (which isn’t the same as merely seeing them).
  • Fighting: hand-to-hand combat.
  • Healing: first aid and treating poisons and diseases.
  • Knowledge: general background knowledge of a society or environment.
  • Stealth: the fine art of not being noticed.
  • Survival: making a fire, knowing what’s good to eat, etc.


Every living character belongs to a species. They all stand upright, speak, and have hands, but have fur (or feathers), and their feet look like animals’ feet. Different species may have different defaults for the core traits:

Species Size Fitness Dexterity Intellect Sight Hearing Smell Special
bear High High Low   Low   High  
bison High   Very Low   Low     horns
eagle Low Very High     Very High High Low flying
elephant Very High             trunk
fox Low   High High     High carnivore
goat               horns
kangaroo   High           leaping
lion   High       High High carnivore
monkey Low   Very High High High     tail
parrot Low Very High High         flying
rabbit Very Low         High High goes berserk
raccoon Low   Very High   High      
rhino High   Very Low   Low   High  
sloth     Low Very High Low     very slow
tiger   High       High High carnivore
turtle Low Low High High Very Low      
wolf   High       High High carnivore

When a player creates a character, she may raise one characteristic by one level, or two characteristics by one level each if she also lower one characteristic by one level. She cannot raise one characteristic by two levels, and cannot raise any characteristic above Very High.

Example: Larrapin is a 15-year-old rabbit. Her player has raised her Intellect from Average to High.

Trait Rating
Size Very Low
Fitness Average
Dexterity Average
Intellect High
Sight Average
Hearing High
Smell High

Ynge is a turtle. His player has raised his Size and Fitness, but has lowered his sense of Smell in exchange.

Trait Rating
Size Average
Fitness Average
Dexterity High
Intellect High
Sight Very Low
Hearing Average
Smell Low


Every character has skills that she has improved through practice and training. Some common skills are listed below along with the characteristic they are based on. If a character doesn’t have any special training, her ability in a skill is equal to their level in the characteristic it’s based on. If the base is “–” it means that characters don’t have any ability at all by default and have to rely on fluke rolls for success.

Acrobatics (FI) Acting/Disguise (IQ) Animal Handling (IQ)
Boating (–) Camouflage (–) Camping (FI)
Climbing (FI) Craft ++ (–) Dancing (FI)
Drawing (–) Driving (–) Escapology (–)
Farming (–) Fighting (FI) Fine Art ++ (–)
First Aid (–) Gambling (–) Hunting (FI)
Hypnotism (–) Juggling (–) Lockpicking (–)
Mechanics (DX) Medicine (–) Metalwork (–)
Music (–) Navigation (–) Persuasion (IQ)
Picking Pockets (–) Riding (FI) Robotics (–)
Shooting (–) Singing (–) Skating (FI)
Skiing (FI) Sneaking (FI) Stage Magic (DX)
Swimming (–) Throwing (FI) Tracking (–)
Trapping/Fishing (–) Tunnelling (–) Unarmed Combat (FI)
Ventriloquism (–) Weapon ++ (FI)  

The skills marked with “++” are actually categories, and specialties within each category must be mastered separately:

  • Craft: sewing, woodwork, baking, etc.
  • Fine Art: sculpture, painting, etc.
  • Weapon: sword, spear, pistol, etc.

A character may also have knowledge of history, a language, mathematics, science, or some other specialized field. Her knowledge of any field is initially zero: she can’t even use fluke rolls to answer questions.

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

When a player is creating a character, she made improve the character’s skills in one of the following ways:

  • Raise 5 skills by 1 level each.
  • Raise 3 skills by 1 level and 1 skill by 2 levels.
  • Raise 2 skills by 2 levels each and 1 skill by 1 level.
  • Raise 1 skill by 3 levels and 2 skills by 1 level each.
Skill 1 Skill 2 Skill 3 Skill 4 Skill 5
1 level 1 level 1 level 1 level 1 level
2 levels 1 level 1 level 1 level  
2 levels 2 levels 1 level    
3 levels 1 level 1 level    

When raising skills that depend on a characteristic, start counting at Low, i.e., giving a character an Average rating for Singing counts as raising it 2 levels, not 3. If the skill doesn’t depend on a characteristic, start counting at Very Low.

*Example: Larrapin grew up in the mountains. Her player decides to raise her Skiing by 2 levels from Average to Very High, her Climbing by 2 levels from Average to Very High, and her First Aid to Low. (Remember, when a skill doesn’t depend on a characteristic, raising it from nothing to Low counts.)


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 slowly improves with practice and training. The six most common 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 Low instead of Very Low.


Sometimes adventurers have to fight their way out of trouble. Other times, they have to talk their way past a suspicious guard. Situations like this are called conflicts, and instead of beating a fixed difficulty, the character has to get a higher score than her opponent.

Example: Larrapin doesn’t have any particular training in hand-to-hand fighting, so her rating is Average. She has just been tackled by an angry monkey whose rating is High. Larrapin rolls two dice and gets a 3 and a 5 for a score of 1. The monkey is an Expert fighter, soe she rolls 3 dice and gets 2, 6, and 6 for a score of 2. Larrapin goes down!


Fill this in.


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 Size, Fitness, Dexterity, and Intellect scores just like animal characters. Their Sight and Hearing scores are Average by default, but only a few bots have any sense of Smell at all. (Most regard smell as slightly icky, and would prefer that living creatures didn’t talk about it so much.)

We are working on a point system to help players create bot characters that are neither too weak nor too powerful. Until it’s ready, bot characters will almost always be created by the Director.

Example Characters


Madica is a teenage fox. She has worked on her parents’ fishing boat every day since she was a child, so while she’s small, she’s in good health. 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 how to sing.

Trait Rating Skill Rating
Size Low Boating Very High
Fitness Average Fishing Very High
Dexterity High Swimming High
Intellect Average Knots High
Sight Average Singing High
Hearing Average Quarterstaff High
Smell High    

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.)

Trait Rating Skill Rating
Height High Climbing Very High
Weight Low Acrobatics Very High
Fitness Average Gambling Very High
Dexterity Average Squirting High
IQ Average Mathematics High
Sight Average Navigation High
Hearing Low    
Smell None