The Tycho Conventions clearly and without quibbling point out and ban the use of combat robots in the Cosmic Era. The world powers signed and went on making their battle bots without giving the treaty a second thought. Some nations made a show that their robots were in logistics, or support positions, not out mowing down insurgents and combatants. Some nations made efforts to make their combat robots look humanoid, often creating human appearing androids for military use. Then there are the Skeletrons, the sort of robot that the Conventions set about to make sure didn't show up.
The Skeletron is a minimally designed robot, it is human sized and shaped, but this is simply because the vast majority of weapons and vehicles used in warfare are designed for humans. Skeletrons are as their name implies, very skeleton looking, with exposed servos and pistons wrapped under light armor carapacing. Their heads are very skull like, with exposed teeth, glowing red eyes, and the sort of organic aesthetic to their design that keeps luddites and technophobes awake at night with cold sweats.
Skeletrons have a minimalist construction pattern, making them relatively cheap and easy to manufacture. Rather than creating heavy armored Skeletrons, the corps that make them instead will put skeletrons into power armor suits made for human soldiers. While there is more maintenance required on both systems, a destroyed power armor will often protect the soldier or skeletron inside, whereas a heavy combat robot is much more likely to be damaged to the point of being scrapped.
Skeletrons are found across the world and are manufactured by a variety of corporations. Rather than representing a single specific robot, the term skeletron covers a variety of machines that share common aesthetic designs and combat usage, such us using human designed weapons and armor rather than integrated systems.
The largest Skeletron producer is Coltan Technologies of South Africa, and it produces tens of thousands of their C-600 series heavy skeletrons to augment the SAUR Heavy Infantry and SAUR Iron Grenadiers units. These large skeletrons carry infantry support weapons, and work as fire support units for power armor squads, defensive support units, and in peacetime can be used for rescue and repair operations. The C-600 has been copied and is limited production in the Republic of California and Nippon.
UAC in the Commonwealth of New England produces the successful T7 TechnoTrooper. The T7 has a very limited cognitive function and the vast majority are slaved to controllers through encrypted CogNet connections. While this makes them incredibly effective in combat, it also makes them vulnerable to being cut off from Command and Control, and they can be remote hacked or ghosted by elite cybersecurity ops. T7s do double duty in hazardous industries and in military operations. The T7 is mostly used in the Atlantic Federation Afrika Corps, and the European DMZ.
Amerikka Command has been a long time supporter of Skeletrons, with the relatively sophisticated but cheap Mobile Battle Armor Trooper (MoBAT). The MoBAT is largely made of inexpensive plastics and then clad in SLAB armors or standard power armor suits. MoBATs provide the bulk of AC infantry forces and were effective enough in combat that the Atlantic Federation created the Wolfhound Power Armor suit for the sole purpose of anti-robot warfare. Likewise, the Federation T7 is often armed for exclusive anti-robot warfare.
The Skeletron is a pragmatic answer to the need for cheap and expendable soldiers. History has proven repeatedly that despite their awesome firepower, battlemechs, aerospace craft and flying warships don't win wars, boots on the ground win wars. The Tycho Convention was drafted in the early days of the Second Renaissance, and the Ban against Combat Robots was grounded in centuries of literature and media that portrayed robots as the destroyers of mankind. The fear of the Terminator Robot was strong enough at that point to prompt most nations into signing onto the ban.
As years went by, attempts to bolster the population met with mixed results. The constant low level war that occurred first within the nascent superstates, and then later between them, sapped the efforts of growing the population. While there was a military shift away from unlimited warfare to a more medieval sort of chivalrous combat between mecha and greater importance placed on special forces, there was still that basic need for the soldier with a rifle, and lots of them. Clones work to an extent, but the time and resources required to grow and train a clone are high, plus clone rights along with media coverage of clone troopers being butchered limited their relative value.
Early combat robots were designed as specific purpose machines; Squad support robots, artillery robots, laser and plasma weapon mobility systems, and the like. These machines did their work as well as they could with their purposely limited intelligence, but they proved expensive, required large amounts of maintenance and there were serious contractor issues. Contracts were floated and different companies were building robots for a cohesive federal military, and the machines had limited to no compatability. A German manufactured Koensayr-Krupp Bruno Mortar-bot and a Confederate Rocketdyne Laser Lancer robot were incompatible to the point that the only thing the two machines could share was paint. This was a common problem across almost all of the superstates.
It would be Amerikka Command that broke the mold with their first and second generation MoBATs. These cheap mass produced robots were specifically designed to use human weapons, human armor, and human vehicles, creating a readily replaceable military force. Other nations at the time were developing specialized integrated weapon systems, and manned vehicles to move the robots around on the field. The MoBATs picked up fallen weapons, worked with battlefield salvage operations, and when not being used for combat, the MoBATs could be used in industrial applications.
Amerikka Command disseminated their MoBAT technology around the world through their allies, Armas, the Python Patrol, and Shadow-Law. This sharing of technology saw the utilitarian design fall into superstate hands, where it was doled out to the federal military contractors who immediately started 'improving' the initial MoBAT concept. Some designs have done well, with better LAI cortices, or improvements in basic manufacturing. The majority are 'improved' to the point that they become expensive to make, or time consuming.
Strength - The typical skeletron is stronger than a human being, but not massively so. They are able to move heavy objects, heft large weapons, and control vehicles lacking power assistance. But they are not peeling back armor plating with their bare hands. They can fairly quickly rip apart SLAB armor and other assembled armor but this is more violent removal than defeating the armor.
Agility - As low end cortex users, Skeletrons are more deliberate than agile. While they can move quickly, they don't duck, dodge and feint in combat. This is typically how one on one encounters against skeletrons can be swung in a human's favor.
Endurance - Most production model skeletrons use a long duration dimensional cell battery giving them a stand-by time of 3-6 months, passive low power operations of 1 month, and 5-7 days of high intensity activity. Most have energy regeneration systems built into the legs so that movement power can be recaptured.
Intelligence - Low, skeletron cortices are made on the cheap, and they can be fooled by clever disguises, traps, and so forth. They are unable to speak, other than acknowledging commands or reporting back easily answered questions. Skeletrons are accurate shooters, and rather than spewing out barrages of firepower, they tend to conserve ammo. Unless the machine is fairly certain it will hit what it aims at, it won't fire. While not a function of intelligence, most skeletrons have enhanced optics, and many have low light, thermographic and other advanced but relatively common upgrades.
Wisdom - Rather counter-intuitively, Skeletrons have a fair degree of wisdom. While they can be fooled by cleverness and cunning, they cannot be argued into logic loops, or tricked into things like marching off cliffs. Soldiers working with skeletrons in field liken them to working with mules or other pack animals. Not the smartest of creatures, but they know how to avoid doing stupid things.
Charisma - None, they look like mechanical skeletons. Skeletrons are not able to perform social interactions beyond the most basic. Contrary to the holovids, they don't pause for dramatic effect, laugh, take pleasure in killing, or show fear when outclassed.
Speed - Same as human. Military equipment, strategy, and doctrines are built around the fact that a human being moves at a set pace. Skeletrons have the same overland movement rate as humans. They can move in quick bursts, but such movement drains their power supplies much more quickly than walking at a moderate pace.
Hit Points/Health - High, Skeletrons are made of durable materials, and their vulnerable components are often individually armored. Taking one out requires destroying the power pack buried in the torso (the heaviest constructed part) or the cortex. Unfortunately, the cortex sits under and behind the power pack inside the torso. The head has the primary sensor systems, but does not contain the robot brain. A headless skeletron linked in a network with other bots can provide fire support via triangulation.
Why Does Any of This Matter?
In the 80s Saturday morning cartoon genre there was a need for easily smashed foes that could be destroyed in such a manner as to not offend the censors. I've read articles that discuss how what was acceptable changed from week to week. One week it was okay to punch someone in the head, other weeks it wasn't. But if the foes weren't human, if they were robots, then the censors didn't have much to say about it. GI Joe had Cobra fielding battle android troopers, TMNT had the Foot Clan soldiers inexplicably turning into peanut headed robots, and so forth. The Skeletron is a light robot designed on a meta level to be the easily smashed foe, like the battle droids from the Phantom Menace.
Skeletrons are the diet version of Terminators.
I am also amused by saying Skeletrons. Skeletrons.
Charge of the Light Brigade - The PCs are doing a mission, likely armed to the teeth. They are accosted by a large number of skeletrons, firefight ensues while the PCs start comparing their kill counts on the 'clankers'.
Skeletron Sabotage - The PCs are hired to shadowrun a skeletron factory, which is heavily defended by skeletrons. They can be there to steal new plans for the next gen bots, test the defenses or just inflict as much damage on the facility as possible.
Skeletron NPCs - Skeletrons can be purchased as demilitarized models, which are popular for highly expendable bodyguards, parts of entourages and other public uses.
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? Responses (6)
Why make one highly advanced mechanoid when you can make several dozen bare-bones robots which can overwhelm your foes for the same price? I nice writeup with plenty of background information - I think the Skeletrons are great!
It seems only logical too, that the Skeletrons would exist - especially in 'poorer' nations where advanced bots could rarely be afforded, i'm sure these would definitely be the norm. Why risk sending out your 100 million dollar advanced creation when you can just churn these out pretty much on production lines.
Another advantage, if you suit your skeletrons up in normal soldier kit, and send them out, your enemy isn't going to break out round one with their anti-robot weaponry, instead shooting their anti-personnel weaponry first. In mixed companies, skeletrons will take the most dangerous positions, like point, and will carry the heaviest gear, like the support weaponry. Thus, leaving your human doods free to do their agile rapid thinking thing while directing the skeletrons to lay down covering fire (they are good at this) working as meat shields (good at this too) and general tactical leadership for the bot squads.
I could not help but think of the Skelebots from Rifts when I saw this one, but they fit in so well with your world.
Now that I think of it, the Rifts system would fit the Cosmic Era very, very well.
They remind me of skelebots as well, accept better fleshed out and with more practical uses and depth.
With a little alteration they can be easily added into nearly any high-tech/sci-fi setting for variety, and to replace the traditional flesh and blood mook.
this is a fun one, everything you need right here