Return of The Tribots

April 25, 2019

MS. Journey Bot in Watercolors - J Ryan Buller

When I was a young lad of preteen years I had sufficient lack of funds and a blooming desire to play tabletop RPGs. So, in order to have a game to play, I got out my pencils and spiral notebooks and wrote my own. It was a simple game about robots at war heavily inspired by Transformers and other robotic beings from the 1980s and 90s. These robots were called the Tribots and they had broken into factions on their planet of metal and continually met each other in brutally epic confrontations. The game was only played by myself, my brother and a few friends, but it taught me a lot about world building and being a game master. The best part was that it included a magnificent map which was comprised of many pieces of graph paper all taped together and upon which was drawn quite an extensive maze of corridors, rooms, and great open cities. The Tribots lived beneath the surface of their planet which was essentially one giant mega-dungeon. I had never played D&D but I had somehow intuitively channeled many of its elements for my own game.

That map and those rules are long gone now. It’s been over 25 years since I visited the world of the Tribots. I sometimes wish I still had the map but the rules are probably best lost to time. Eventually, I became a teenager with a part-time job who was able to afford published games and moved on to play those instead.

I still look back at Tribot with a lot of feelings of nostalgia. I consider it my first RPG and to be honest, a part of me has always wanted to breathe life back into it but just wasn’t sure exactly how. For starters, the name Tribot was the random invention of a young boy who had put no meaning behind it. Creating that meaning would be challenging. Also, on a whole, I’ve always been greatly dissatisfied with the mechanics for robot characters in most RPGs. They are either grossly overcomplicated or just shoe-horned into an existing system made for organic beings. To me, certain stats just aren’t applicable for a creature of steel and logic. If I am going to re-write the Tribot game I would want to address those issues and build a game where players felt like their character was an actual machine.

The desire to reclaim a fun part of my childhood and my general dissatisfaction for robot character mechanics has been enough reason for me to try and put a few rules down on paper (AKA Evernote) and see what I could come up with. There are also some general principles I’ve followed as a kind of guide. There are a few goals that the game will need to meet.

The first and most important goal is that I personally need to like this game. Most would slap this at the end of the list but for me, it’s really the only goal that truly matters. If I don’t like the game, then I’ll lose interest. It is equally as important I don’t allow the personal preferences of others who may eventually read my rules to sway the game into a place I don’t enjoy or agree with. I must always remember that this is my project and hobby and not necessarily something I’m worried about publishing or making money off of.

The second goal is to address my issues with current robot character mechanics in a way that achieves the right feeling but also isn’t overly cumbersome to the player (AKA me). For this, I’m making choices based on the first goal. What kinds of mechanics am I okay with? What kind of rules do I want to see come to the forefront of a game that depicts robotic characters? I don’t like the term “crunch” because I think it’s a descriptor used by people to poop on rules they’re just not interested in learning. But I do like numbers, especially numbers that jive with each other. It means creating stats and abilities that interact and move together like a machine. The internal systems of a robot all rely on each other. Every piece is important and affects all the other pieces. I want to accomplish this in a simple fashion that allows for quick character creation and easy play at the table.

The final goal is the one I’m still working on the most. It is to create a world for the Tribots that is unique, fun and is something I would enjoy exploring if I were to play the game (back to the first goal again). The environment needs to jive with the characters mechanically and not just be a bunch of flavor text. It needs to be a part of who they are. Offering up exploration opportunities and mysterious dangers that keep a player engrossed and changes how the game plays. It’ll be connected to the character improvement mechanic (as there will not be levels) by offering up ways to customize your character, making your Tribot unique and interesting as you adventure. For me, this is the hardest of the goals to achieve but I believe it will be the most rewarding to make a reality.

I’m writing about this now because I already have quite a bit of it drafted and I’ll be posting about it as I continue to work on it. I plan on releasing it all under the OGL to the DiY/OSR community as I’ve taken so much inspiration from other game designers that I feel it’s very important that I contribute back. White Hack, Into the Odd, and Dungeon Crawl Classics have been major contributors to the rules I’ve already put down and I think you’ll see their influences almost immediately. Hopefully, my spin on these ideas is an interesting one to read about and if I’m really lucky, fun to play as well.

So, that’s one project I’ll be working on here. Another is an idea that recently came to me at a marketing conference I attended. I’ll elaborate more on this later but the basics will be using my blog to help people in the DiY game industry get better at Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and marketing themselves using Google’s tools. In my opinion, it’s something not discussed very often by independent designers and writers. I’ll be optimizing my own blog and sharing my journey so other’s can learn to do the same. Should be fun! More to come!


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