How Do You GM Great Droids?

Droid Tips
GMing Droids Well Is Tricky

In RPT #512 RND(axe) asked for help on running interesting droids in his Star Wars game. I received the following two great responses:

Keep Droids Tools

From Mark of the Pixie

When I run droids, I stay focused on their purpose.  Droids are tools, not characters (helps stop them outshining PCs).  It colours their outlook on everything.

If you want to make them comedic, you need only take this narrow perception to an extreme.  An example would be a repair droid who keeps trying to fix everything, including a PC’s poor pronunciation, or the captain’s failed marriage.

By keeping droids as tools, it allows PCs to use droids to do things and still have the PCs shine.  Apply the same to NPCs, and the assassin droids become just an extension of the villain.

Give Droids One Interesting Quirk

From David K.

In the first Star Wars campaign I played in, the GM had a droid he called ML-58. My character, a Jedi Investigator, and the rest of the party were trapped on a space station, so we borrowed one of the docked starships to escape to the planet below.  ML, or “Mel” as we called him, happened to be on that ship.

We didn’t think much of him until our first battle of the campaign when I found I no longer had my light saber.  After the battle, I learned Mel had stolen and disassembled my light saber and, after the exchange of a few blows, he was my eternal enemy for the rest of the campaign.

Despite my continuing hatred of Mel, I think he proves a good example of an interesting droid character.  Whenever anything mechanical was left unattended near him, he would compulsively tinker with it. In this way, I was:

  • Assaulted by my own cargo mover droids, which he reprogrammed
  • Flamethrowered by my own astromech, which he reprogrammed
  • Held hostage and crammed unceremoniously into a packing crate by the above cargo movers

Through just one personality trait (compulsive tinkerer), this typical protocol droid became a memorable NPC.

Give droids one interesting quirk and run with it.  Some examples I’ve used are:

  • Shuts down when he sees a battle droid, stormtrooper or other enemy
  • Cannot tell a lie, and cannot avoid telling the truth (this is great in negotiation encounters, especially if the droid is a translator)
  • Is romantically interested in one of the PC’s, and brings them little gifts (such as the daughters of political figures and stolen jewelry)
  • Likes to instigate disagreements with unpleasant people (which often turn violent)

Some famous examples of these are Marvin (the depressed robot from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), HK-47 (refers to non-droids as “Meatbags” and takes a bit too much pleasure in killing them), and even R2-D2 (who always has a new trick up his sleeve since we last saw him).


What about you? How do you GM great droids?

  • Tynam

    I think of GMing droids as much like GMing spirits in a game like Werewolf: They have one thing they do well, and their personality is all about that.

    Which doesn’t mean you can’t give them depth and surprise. For one campaign, I had a recurring NPC smuggler/crime lord for the party to deal with, and some bodyguard droids in the form of protocol droids – specifically, butlers. Spending a couple of adventures setting up the polite, deferential butler waiting in every scene involving my crime lord was worth it for the players’ reactions in the finale… when the attacking stormtroopers got cut down using a repeating blaster with the same calm precision the droid usually used for dinner trays and com call interruptions. Especially as the players suddenly realised how close *they’d* come to real trouble on previous occasions.

    • http://www.roleplayingtips.com Johnn

      Nice setup. Great NPC contrast twist!

  • josh

    I have not run too many droids, but in a long star wars campaign i ran we have an A.I. that was hardwired into the groups starship. They named her Vicky, and she started out as a typical Artificial intelligence, similar to Cortana from the Halo games… but as time went on, she took on some more human tendencies, as she was designed to learn from her experiences. In the campaign, it was considered typical protocol to “reset” the AI after a few months so that they would not become too “human” for their own good… but the party became so attached to Vicki that they never reprogrammed her. She actually became a sort of vital NPC that the players would go to great lengths to protect and save… and i dare say that she pulled them out of some tough situations too! It was very cool to watch the players bond so well with an NPC that was not even technically a human.

    • http://www.roleplayingtips.com Johnn

      Nice campaign element there with the reset. Great idea. Characters get torn about at the time of reset, and if the PCs do not reset then perhaps authorities are notified…. And then, after a year or so, how does the AI evolve?

      • josh

        Also, what if the robot/AI, instead of just becoming more “human” like, instead takes on some more evil tendencies? The main computer from the movie I Robot is a good source of inspiration here… her task was to do what was best for humans, and she took it so far that she sent out armies of droids to place humans under house arrest so that they would not hurt themselves! So, how far will a computer/robot go to fulfill it’s task? Even worse, how do players deal with a powerful, manically disturbed or chaotic robot, especially if they have emotional ties to it?