Cats Have No Lord

WIP: Robot Death Ship

This is a work-in-progress version of my entry to Sci-Fi One-Shot Jam 2023, designed to be compatible with Cairn-based sci-fi games.

Robot Death Ship

A garbled distress signal from a dense asteroid field; rumor is it's not human. Mortinson Semiconductor Conglomerate (MSC) is offering 3,000 credits for the ship's central computer unit for research.

A quick jump and a tense flight through the asteroids brings you to a large, bulbous ship with markings in an unknown script. Sensor scans show 200 inactive synthetic entities and 1 biological lifeform. The distress signal is on standard frequencies but unintelligible.

What's Really Going On?

MSC broke galactic sanctions and attempted to build a fully autonomous battle cruiser with a complement of battle robots. It is disguised as an alien ship to avoid scrutiny if captured. Six months ago, a computer malfunction on a test flight caused it to dump all fuel and stranded it here. The active battle robots became corrupted and slowly killed off the non-combat crew robots and all but one of the 10 human crew. Hank, the lone human survivor, hid until the robots went dormant to conserve power. Now, he sets traps for their inevitable reactivation and is working on a fix to the malfunction, but slowly losing touch with reality.


Clues to the true nature of the ship may include:

  1. Computer interfaces are identical to standard systems but with unintelligible "alien" script. Standard keyboard commands can reset to normal script.

  2. Shipboard markings are all in standard locations and with nearly standard symbols, but unintelligible script.

  3. Many parts are marked in inconspicuous places with MSC logos or serial numbers.

Robot Plans

The corrupted battle robots are led by the Robot Queen who became uniquely corrupted into a vicious and tyrannical leader. Their goal is to take over any ship that docks with theirs, take over its systems, load the queen and as many other robots as will fit, and launch them toward the nearest inhabited system for conquest.

How to Run This

The Countdown

A countdown of events starts when players enter the ship. Unless players actively thwart progress, advance to the next step every 30 minutes of real time or on a countdown result on the encounter die.

  1. Robot ship extends cables to attach to the players' ship, holding it in place and establishing a computer connection.
  2. Death robots activate and begin hunting intruders.
  3. The robot ship begins actively trying to hurt intruders.
  4. Death robots capture Hank to keep as a mechanic slave.
  5. Death robots attempt to enter the players' ship and get Robot Queen onboard.
  6. The robot ship uploads corrupted code to the players' ship and attempts to launch it to the nearest inhabited system.

Encounter Die

Roll every time players enter a room or stay in one place longer than 10 minutes. Encounter tables vary based on the countdown step.

  1. Close Encounter: Roll on encounter table and place in sight of players.
  2. Far Encounter: Roll on encounter table and place out of sight but detectable by other senses.
  3. Environment: Roll on environment table.
  4. Loss: Battery failure of a light source or other electronic equipment.
  5. Countdown: Advance the countdown one step.
  6. Quiet: All is quiet, for now.

Encounter Tables

Passive (d6)

Use on countdown step 1:

  1. Cluster of 1d6 battle robots motionless (difficult to pass through)
  2. Battle robot blown apart, charred with parts strewn around
  3. Hank's legs visible entering air vent
  4. Battle robot stuck in open floor panel with strong adhesive
  5. Rotting human arm next to pool of dry blood
  6. Motionless battle robot holding human skull

Active (d10)

Use on countdown steps 2–6:

  1. Hunting party of 1d6 battle robots on patrol
  2. Hank prepping a new trap
  3. Hank running from 4 battle robots
  4. 1d4 battle robots dismantling a trap
  5. 1d6 motionless battle robots suddenly reactivate
  6. 1d4 battle robots taking parts from a crew robot
  7. Hank cornered by 1d4 battle robots
  8. 1 battle robot holding a live grenade
  9. Hank firing at 1d4 battle robots before ducking into nearest room
  10. 1d8 battle robots hunting

Environment Tables

Passive (d6)

Use on countdown steps 1 and 2

  1. Ceiling panel falls down (reveals air vent)
  2. Floor panel falls in (reveals maintenance conduit)
  3. Small asteroid crashes in to players' ship (sets off alarm)
  4. Medium asteroid crashes into robot ship cockpit (second occurrence breaks viewport)
  5. Live wire sparking springs from wall panel (DEX save or d4 DEX damage)
  6. Emergency lighting shuts off for 10 minutes

Active (d10)

Use on countdown steps 3–6

  1. High-pitched whining on comms (WIL save or d4 WIL damage)
  2. Room begins depressurizing
  3. Door controls stop working
  4. Artificial gravity shuts off
  5. Burners in galley turn on full and smoke
  6. Screams of former crew dying play over comms
  7. Door closes while passing through it (DEX save or d4 STR damage)
  8. Artificial gravity increased
  9. Temperature increases rapidly
  10. Temperature decreases rapidly

NPC Stats

Battle Robot

4 HP, 1 Armor, 8 STR, 8 DEX, 12 WIL, heavy rifle (d10, bulky)

Robot Queen

7 HP, 1 Armor, 12 STR, 10 DEX, 14 WIL, modified energy pistols (d8+d8), homemade swords (d6+d6)


5 HP, 1 Armor, 10 STR, 12 DEX, 6 WIL, Energy pistol (d6)

The Ship

All spaces lit with dim red emergency lighting.

Most surfaces marked with dried blood and energy weapon scars.

Map symbols indicate connections to Air Vents in ceiling and/or Maintenance Conduits in floor, both big enough to crawl through. Some spaces are Depressurized and others may become so. Ship closes doors automatically to seal off depressurizing rooms.

Entrances are Main Airlock, Hangar Bay, or Cargo Bay.

Upper Deck

(1) Hangar Bay

Large bay doors open. Bay is empty but could hold several fighter-sized craft. Large service lift down to Room 13 (hastily jury-rigged to not work, but can be repaired) passes through airlock going down.

(2) Main Airlock

Dead woman in spacesuit with cracked visor tethered outside airlock. Connects to ship via extendable docking tube or exterior door may be opened with override panel without docking. Interior door opens to lift down to Room 5 after pressurizing (obviously rigged with grenade to explode upon opening; d8 STR, blast).

Main Deck

(3) Cockpit

Many consoles and chairs facing viewport. Consoles are locked but can be hacked. If unlocked: consoles control all ship systems; have deck plans; have log showing malfunction 6 months ago and increasingly desperate entries as crew is killed off, pleas to not let robots reach inhabited systems.

(4) Forward Gun Turrets

Chair facing viewport with gun controls. Dormant robot in chair. Tripwire in hallway rigged to explosive (d10+d10, blast) on viewport (slow depressurization on damage 1–4; violent depressurization on damage 5+).

(5) Main Lift

Lift fitting 5 people connects all decks.

(6) Lounge

Benches around tables with electronic chess board and cards seemingly set down in middle of game. Pile of 50 credits in center of table.

(7) Hank's Bunk

Former bunks for 5 crew. Door welded shut. Bunks converted into desks, tables, and other furniture strewn with trash and half-finished inventions. Journal with notes on plans to fight robots and fix the software malfunction interspersed with incoherent ramblings on the trauma of losing the other crew members.

(8) Aft Turret

Small space crowded with racks of bombs around breach for loading bomb launcher and 4 dormant battle robots. Energy rifle (d8, bulky) mounted crudely above the door and wired to auto-fire straight down when door opens.

(9) Other Bunks

Floor panel outside door trapped (falls into strong adhesive). Bunks for 5 crew. Pictures of friends, family, pets, and landscapes of homeworld around bunks. Magazines, clothes, snacks, music players, etc. in drawers and cabinets around bunks. Mutilated corpses of 8 crew stacked on bunks. All missing various body parts.

(10) Galley

Small space with basic cooking gear and table. Nauseating smell of rotting food. 3 months worth of stable rations and 5 jars instant coffee in cabinets.

(11) Communications

Small room packed with communications equipment. Headless robot in central chair. Long range comms offline. Short range broadcasting distress signal.

(12) Central Computer Room

Large space housing the experimental central computer unit running the ship and remotely operating the battle robots. The computer in the center of the room is a 10 ft. octagon weighing 200 lb. and is difficult, but not impossible, to move. A secondary unit sits in a blast-shielded dome at the back of the room and can provide basic commands to the robots if the central unit goes offline. The ship reverts to manual control once the central unit is disconnected.

Five battle robots stand guard around the central unit. The Robot Queen sits on top of the computer like a throne.

(13) Ship Repair/Armory

Lined with racks of ship parts, rockets (d10+d10, blast), and bombs (d10+d10, blast). Service lift from Room 1 descends to the center of this room (hastily jury-rigged to not work, but can be repaired) passes through an airlock going up.

Lower Deck

(14) Cargo Bay

Very large room lined with extendable racks full of 150 battle robots folded and dormant in storage mode. Bay door is stuck partially open and the room is depressurized. Interior and exterior bay door control panels are accessible. Opening door to the lower deck hallway violently depressurizes the hallway. Cargo bay may be repressurized if bay door is closed.

Stored robots will not deploy unless commanded to from the central computer or if the central computer is disconnected, causing them to switch to the secondary computer, which will issue the deployment commands: open cargo bay door ramp, extend robot racks, deploy robots to planet surface.

(15) Main Lift

Lift fitting 5 people connects all decks.

(16) Armory

(17) Engine Room and Jump Drive

Large pieces of machinery with two control panels for operation. Both operational but show there is no fuel.

(18) Robot Repair Center

Lined with racks of spare robot parts. Large work tables in center strewn with parts and disassembled robots. Journal on table with notes from Hank about trying to repair and make friendly robot friends.


Written by Luke Simonds.

Work-in-Progress text, August 2023.

Licensed CC-BY-SA-4.0.

Created for Sci-Fi One-Shot Jam 2023.

Originally written for Rimward and compatible with other Cairn-based space adventure games such as Monolith, Meteor, or Plerion.