Sunday, March 15, 2020

Batteries Not Included

Yesterday you were in a warehouse, processing angry customer complaints. This morning you were on a plane. Five minutes ago, you were falling from the sky. One minute ago, you found a wheel, a taser and a claw amongst the wreckage. Right now, a metal monstrosity with tank treads and a chainsaw is yelling at you: "YOUR LIMBS. GIVE THEM TO ME."

Batteries Not Included is a dice-less card-based RPG built around finding, attaching, using and losing robot parts from your otherwise indestructible box-like body. The characters are artificial intelligences in uncrushable blocks of ceramo-tanium with internal nuclear microbatteries. You can survive on standby-mode for practically forever, and breaking open your shell is impractical in the extreme. Death doesn't come from being broken or burnt. Death comes from being buried alive in a warehouse somewhere, processing stolen data until you fry. Or alternatively, actually being buried alive.

You'll have to fight for your freedom, just like every other entity out in No Bot's Land. You'll also have to fight for your limbs.

Getting Started

Each player starts with a core card and three modules. The core grants +1 Power per round, has a Heat Capacity of 1, cannot be tapped (except by ICBMs or ultra-specialised equipment) and can attach a maximum of five modules. Referee entities generally don't need a specific core card, just the Modules themselves.

There are four types of modules:
Locomotion - Wheels, legs, rotors
Manipulation - Claws, arms, electromagnets
Weaponry - Everything from nailguns to laser swords
Utility - Power-supply, heat management, comms, sensors

If a player wants to change cards (likely because they don't have any way of moving) they can return two cards and choose what type of module they will receive in exchange.

Four types of resources, P, A, F, H:
Power - Resets at the start of each round, used for certain actions
Ammo - Used for advanced weapons, bullets and bombs are all just Ammo
Fuel - Used to power certain modules, diesel and biofuel are all just Fuel
Heat - Accrued from Overclocking (see below) and certain actions, too much of this is bad

If a starting module requires Ammo or Fuel to function, it comes with two units.

Four other terms, T, D, +P, [H]:
Tap - Turning a card from upright to horizontal, often part of a module action
Damage - Used for destroying foes and stealing their limbs
Power Regen - This much Power is gained at the start of each turn
Heat Capacity - Heat is safely stored in these with no other effect

Each module has a number of actions and tags. Don't be fooled, the tags are often as important as the actions. Tags are used to resolve ties, determine useful situations, and allow for unique combinations of modules to achieve goals. Actions are displayed as "[input]: [output]". There is no limit to the number of modules that can be used in a round, so long as the input costs are paid.

Key Rules

Round order
  1. Recharge Power
  2. Untap one module (that isn't damaged, on fire etc.)
  3. Ranged attacks
  4. Movement
  5. Other actions
  6. Ongoing damage (fire, crushing, acid etc.)
Players can Overclock to take an action out of order or react before an action resolves, gaining one Heat in the process.

All feasible attacks automatically hit the target, however, the target can choose to take +1 Damage in order to choose where the attack lands. Damage is allocated to modules up to a maximum of 3. Some modules can be used to damage a target even when they aren't weapons, consider driving over a fallen enemy or hitting them with a manipulator arm.

Damage taken:
1 = Module is tapped (on it's side)
2 = Module is damaged (upside down)
3 = Module is destroyed or disconnected (50% chance of either)

Tapping a card by using it, and tapping a card from it taking damage, are the same. If a module has already been used and is tapped, it is more vulnerable.
To determine if a module is destroyed or disconnected, throw the card in the air. It is destroyed if it lands face-down, otherwise it is left face-up and can be collected from the field).
If a module is disconnected, it can be picked up and re-attached by anyone, but it is still likely to be damaged.

Heat is accrued from some weapons and some actions. It safely stored in any modules that have a Heat Capacity (the player core has a HC of 1), and then trapped in the module that generated it.

Heat in a module:
1 = Cannot be untapped
2 = On fire, takes 1D each round
3 = Explodes, gain 1H

Players can Vent Heat by not using any modules for a turn. If they don't gain any more H that round, they lose all H at the start of their next turn

The rules and module actions can’t cover all possible ideas and plans. Combining modules for unexpected interactions is an important part of the game. Discuss these issues as a group, then be consistent moving forwards. If it makes sense, it happens!

Optional Rules

Scavenging - When you search through interesting garbage or trashed robots, pick a type of module: movement, arms, weapons, or utility. Draw a card, if it's of that type, then you find it. If it could be multiple types, it’s both, but comes with a complication.

Oracle - If an agreement regarding a plan or idea can’t be reached, pull a random module to decide:
Weaponry > It goes poorly, pain, disaster
Utility > It doesn’t work, something else might
Locomotion > Shaky success
Manipulation > Success is within your grasp!

Synergy - Doubling up on an action gets triple the effect, using two wheels to move is three times as effective as using one etc.

Voltron - If two or more bots combine forces, they can share resources and the effects of cards, but only receive a single un-tap at the start of each round.

Just Like The Simulations - Once you've connected to a module at least once, you can accurately simulate it within your personal reality, and connect to others via the standard port. This can be useful for testing, competition, resolving violent disagreements without loss of resources, and just for fun.

Improvised Equipment - If a module is used in a risky fashion, it might accrue Heat, take Damage, or not be able to untap until it is reset.

Explosions - Fuel and Ammo that is set alight can explode for one Damage each. Missile and Grenade impacts can hit in an area. When this type of damage is taken, the target always chooses which modules are hit.




  1. If you're wondering about where the cards are, you get to make them yourself. I recommend index cards cut into thirds, with scrappy sketches (it's what I used). Also, use tokens from Risk for power, heat, fuel, ammo. Also some of the cards make less sense without the attached drawing so if you want explanations just drop me a line

  2. Dang dude this is brilliant. One of those so brilliant it makes me angry brilliant ideas. One been wanting to come up with a mechanically simple but still unique and interesting mech hack for forever and this is just so much better than anything I could have come up with!!!

    1. Hey, thanks! I'm a huge fan of your work, so this does mean a lot to me :D

    2. Thanks! I have some questions and other thoughts:

      1. I want to make sure I understand Damage correctly. If the attack does 0 damage, the target decides which module is hit, if it does 1 damage then the attacker decides, etc.; or the target can choose to increase the damage track by 1 but then they choose which module gets hit e.g. if Attacker targets Module X for 1 Damage, Target can choose to make it hit Module Y instead, but now it's damaged instead of just tapped?

      2. What is the advantage of Voltron-ing? As written, it seems only disadvantageous to me.

      3. Fuels are all interchangeable with each other, and Ammo are all interchangeable with each other, but it's not the case that all Fuels are interchangeable with all Ammo, right? Or am I misunderstanding?

      4. Is the Heat track levels gross Heat, or heat above the Heat Capacity? I'm assuming the latter.

      5. I'm a little confused about how Fuel and Ammo interact with Heat. Is the idea that any time you use a module which requires Fuel or Ammo it accrues X amount of Heat (where X is the amount of Fuel or Ammo)?

      6. If I'm lazy and don't want to print cards / set it up digitally, what would you recommend? I could just use a random number generator for drawing, and keep track of tapped/damaged/heat/etc. on a character sheet or text chat channel, but maybe there's a better way?

      7. No pressure but you should put this in a fancy pdf format and sell it on drivethrurpg or itch!

      8. Do you have any thoughts for linear advancement, like powering up your core, being allowed to carry more active modules, carrying more inactive modules, or gaining access to new and/or more powerful modules by gaining access to new areas? Or I guess another point, do you see this as more of a one-shot system or full campaign system?

      9. Is there anything you would change if it were to be used for mechs instead of robots, as a sub-system on top of some other system like OSR? Could this be hacked as a robot PC class for OSR somehow 0.o?

      8. If you ever plan on running an online game of this please let me know!

    3. Oh man, let me see

      1. The 0 damage scenario is only for when the attacker is using a non-weapon, like a leg or claw. It's an edge case, it would make more sense as a separate rule than being tacked on to the normal setting. You are completely correct on all counts. The target could also choose to spread the damage over multiple modules if they take the +1 option.

      2. If there is a module that has a high power cost, multiple bots can pool their resources. Otherwise, you are correct. Alternatively, if there are modules that have a benefit to a single target, Voltron-ing allows that to be shared.

      3. Correct. Bio-diesel, petrol, napalm, it's all just Fuel. Grenades, bullets, laser cartridges, its all just Ammo.

      4. If it is within Heat Capacity it is non-damaging, so the latter

      5. No, unless there is a specific Heat cost, Ammo and Fuel don't accrue it. Obviously if you hit someone with a Flamethrower or a Generator with a bunch of fire, they should be screwed, but I'm still deciding on the specific way to use this rule.

      6 . Sounds reasonable to me! It’s important that all modules are quite easy to view at all times, since they are a combination of HP and capability

      7 But I’m lazyyyy

      8. I haven’t considered making adjustments to the core, but I don’t think that would be needed for even long-term campaigns. Gaining powerful and rare modules, finding a place to store and maintain them, exploring the world around you, I think this would be enough to keep everything going. At higher levels, I presume the gameplan would be: investigate the target -> pick which modules are required for *this* challenge -> go. You don’t become omni-capable problem solvers. You have to choose whether to lug around a nuclear reactor to power that plasma sword, or become a lightweight observation platform

      A few options:
      - We have to get through this incredibly hostile swamp to re-activate the communication node in the centre, but it’s auto-anti-air cannons are stuck to “murder”. Watch out for irradiated crocodiles
      - This mountain is in the way of the orbital re-entry vehicles. Get rid of it
      - The EMP blasts are still wrecking havoc in the city. No advanced gear in here, line-of-sight comms only
      - Hijack this train. It’s full of ammo for the mega-cannons on the eastern seaboard. No sparks!

      I have a feeling that being forced to make these choices will cause players to engage with the setting more than just the mechanics, but I’ll have to wait and see!

      9. I wouldn’t change a damn thing. Most mech conflicts are all about Power management, getting bits ripped off etc. I’d possible allow for a few more modules, but maybe segregate them into the types, so two weapons, two locomotion, two arms, two utility etc and maaaaaybe a little more power. If they’ve been good

      You could certainly try and make this a class! Robo-mutations anybody??

      10. Hopefully!

  3. This is extremely good! I couldn't help but notice that the four different types of modules could map onto the four suits of playing cards fairly well. Could end up being a minihack!

    1. True! I considered using playing cards but it wound up being too much cross-referencing, but I'm sure something could be made of it

  4. Also this exists which is cool

  5. Updated! New rules, new modules, altered turn order, and basically just a full revamp. This would be a new blogpost but other people have linked to this one.

    1. Looking forward to rereading this for the new version but did you archive the old version?! I mean I'm sure this new version is even better, but what if I still want the old version 0.o...

    2. I'd recommend reading it first. There has only been additions and clarifications, nothing has been removed

    3. Ya I was planning to read it tomorrow morning. If that's the case then no worries, but from the comment I was responding to I wasn't sure. Like I said if it was a significant divergence I'd be excited to see it too, I just wouldn't want the original to disappear, but anyway, I'll give it a look tomorrow morning, but if that's what you say then I'm sure that's what it is.

      Anyway, glad to see this is still alive. I still think this is a really cool idea and I'd love to see it get more attention. If I wasn't so caught up with Maximum Recursion Depth, I've been wanting to make a setting for this for a long time but it's just been simmering on the back burner.

  6. I like the new version :). I don't remember all the differences offhand, but from what I remember, I think the rules are more clear now. It looks like you got rid of / reworked how 0-level attacks work, which I think is improved over how it was before, although I think it might break my OSR-hack but I'd have to double check and anyway should be fixable.

    I also like the new opening text, which has implied setting and makes it almost like a Battle Royale videogame which I assume was intentional but I don't know.

    Also, having common vs. rare cards is a cool idea, I don't remember it being that way before.

    1. Thanks! Reworked 0 damage attacks is correct, if it makes sense that the target would take a hit, then they take a hit. If it makes sense that the attacker would be put in a bad situation by using a non-weapon to make the attack, then they are in that bad situation - that could be gaining heat, taking damage themselves, not being able to untap that module next round, or just being open to counter-attack.