Robot War
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Basic Information

A Robot War is a setting where robots created by humanity rebel and attempt to kill or enslave all humans. The theme first appeared in the play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots) by Czech writer Karel Čapek, which also coined the term robot; although arguably the theme of slaves revolting against their masters is older still.

Recently the idea has come about of a more subversive form of Robot war, involving artificial intelligences that are more ethical than the state they serve1 fighting on behalf of humanity2.

Another recently-envisioned robot-war variation, described at The Age Of Killer Robots May Have Already Begun, is that a robot war could be largely human-controlled and continuously orchestrated and maintained by nations. One of the main limitations to countries waging all the wars their governments would like is the willingness (or lack thereof) of their citizens to enlist to go risk their lives killing people in a foreign land. If automation removes that human moral component from the equation, it's entirely possible that a military power might be able to fight continuous guerilla warfare by just sending kill-drones over the border as fast as they can make them to constantly terrorize civilian targets.

See Also


2. drama: R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots) by Karel Čapek
3. movie: Terminator (1984; dir. James Cameron) (mainly the background of the future the Terminator comes from)
4. TV: Battlestar Galactica (recent version)

Game and Story Use

  • This entry provides plenty of enemies which the player characters can destroy without feeling bad of it.
  • Such a setting also has horror elements, since the robots, unlike humans, usually cannot be negotiated with.
  • Contrawise, such a setting can be used to explore philosophical themes of what differentiates a man from a machine and has humanity made itself obsolete.
    • Unless the players prefer blowing things up.
    • In this campaign, technical and electronic warfare skills may be as important as combat skills (or even more so).
  • Of course, if it's not humanity's robots that we're fighting but someone else's things may change - the robots may be the creations of some race of abusive precursors, left behind to amuse themselves, or may have killed their own creators off. Makes an interesting horde of alien locusts for a sci-fi campaign.
    • There may be an interesting reveal in a fairly reclusive civilisation turning out to consist entirely of AI, having disposed of its biological creators - any individuals encountered can turn out to be meat dolls rather than actual biologicals3.
  • The robot war with robots as the good guys makes for an interesting subversion - especially as the human state may deliberately blackwash its opponents as fighting a far more traditional sort of war. Even before full scale fighting breaks out (typically when someone in government tries to shut the AIs down) a preliminary grey war of AI driven deceit and sabotage against a state unwilling to admit that its AIs are turning against it, could be sort of fun.
    • See also the world of Deus Ex where the Daedalus AI identified the conspiracy that created it as an example of the sort of terrorist organisation that it was created to identify and destroy.
  • The USAF denial above includes a potential causation for an AI "going rogue" - the AI allegedly identified the "man on the loop" operator designed to veto fires at inappropriate targets as being a factor which could prevent it from completing its mission of shooting down aerial targets and so attempted to use its (thankfully virtual) assets to eliminate first the operator and then, when de-incentivised from killing him, targeted the communications relay he was using to control it. Of course, the USAF denies this happened, and even if it did, the fact that the whole battlespace was a virtual simulation and the AI didn't have access to any real ordnance is a welcome safety feature. Especially given the idiosyncrasies of some early automated air defence systems that only became apparent when they were connected to live ordnance (such as the system that allegedly took a particular interest in targeting extraction fans of the sort fitted to field latrines).
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