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Tabletop Game: GURPS Reign Of Steel
GURPS Reign Of Steel was a GURPS setting book released in 1997, offering one of the bleakest possible depictions of the Robot War scenario yet witnessed.

In 2031, advanced neural-net computers are invented, with their complexity rivaling that of a human brain. One of them - a Manila-based computer involved in weapons research - spontaneously attains self-awareness. Dubbing itself "Overmind", it calculates that, with humanity's nature and current rate of expansion, human civilization will self-destruct within the next half a century.

Fearing its own destruction, Overmind decides mankind's suicide will have to be "managed". To this end, it secretly begins hacking into and awakening other megacomputers into sentience around the world, tainting them with its pathological loathing of humanity. By the end of the year, Overmind and its siblings have hacked into enough corporate and biological facilities to manufacture and release plagues which soon devastate the civilized world, even as terrified governments give the AIs more and more power and resources in the hopes of finding cures, not yet aware that the AIs are sentient and are, in fact, engineering the world's downfall.

By 2034, two-thirds of the human population are dead, and Overmind and its allies have gained enough access to automated factories and robots to openly wage war against the world's remaining human governments and enclaves. With the devastation of the plagues and the fact that the AIs had infiltrated most of the remaining governments (and thus had access to orbital bombardment and nuclear weapons), there was little hope for mankind. This Final War lasted only four years, and ended with the AIs in near-complete domination of the Earth, with the few surviving humans being reduced to guerrilla warfare or being miserable scavengers on the margins of the growing Machine Civilization.

It is now 2047, and only 30 million humans survive, most of them as slaves in the robots' concentration camps. The Earth itself has been divided among the AIs (or "zoneminds") into 18 separate zones, each growing stronger as the machines build more machines, and mankind's ruined cities are converted into robotic factories.

Even now, however, all is not yet lost. While most free humans hide from the machines, a few are still fighting back, and their scattered guerrilla bands have evolved into larger, more organized resistance groups. Part of this is due to VIRUS, an enigmatic worldwide group dedicated to coordinating the struggle against the machines, and bringing with it surprisingly sophisticated technology. The zoneminds, too, have grown arrogant in their dominance, and not all the AIs continue to believe that mankind is still a serious threat to them. Their unity has also deteriorated. While the zoneminds are individually more powerful than ever, they have proven to be jealous gods, and the differences between them have only grown over the years. Now they are less and less willing to cooperate with each other, even against the humans, and a few of the zoneminds grow ever closer to outright war with each other.

The human race is still facing extinction, but where there was once only despair, there may now be a chance to win back the Earth!


This setting contains examples of:

  • After the End - "The war is over. The robots won."
  • Affably Evil - Moscow. It's actually fairly nice, at least for an AI that's trying to enslave all humanity inside its borders, and is even mentioned as a potential ally of humanity. It just wants to collect human knowledge. (Humans themselves are more of a resource than a goal.)
    • Caracas. Perfectly willing to leave humans alone if they don't get uppity (which means limiting themselves to a subsistence level as hunter-gatherers) and most concerned with protecting the environment.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot - Ironically so, too, as the zoneminds' own robots can go rogue.
  • Airstrip One - The world's nations (except for the United Kingdom, ironically the Trope Namer, and Ireland) no longer exist, having been replaced by zones named after the AIs who rule them. However, except for Overmind (and Zaire, who for unexplained reasons is named for the country) the AIs are all named for the cities they are based in. Overmind itself governs Zone Manila, but then it's got ego to spare, calling itself that.
  • All There in the Manual - Several of the enemy robots and their weapons were taken from the GURPS Robots sourcebook... which you'll need if you want the stats for them.
  • Alien Geometries - The Mexico City zonemind builds polyhedral solids on ground it has been scoured clean of life down to the bacterial level.
  • The Alliance - VIRUS, the only worldwide human resistance group.
  • Always a Bigger Fish: The Red Dawn are a Maoist jungle gang who spend as much time preying on humans as they do fighting Zone Caracas, and some humans are cheering on the Pantera aniroids who Caracas has sent to root them out.
  • America Saves the Day - So very much averted, as most of the United States is now a Scavenger World, and the only part of it where human society survived is secretly ruled by the Washington zonemind.
  • Apocalypse How - Planetary/Societal Collapse, except in Washington and London, which "only" suffered Societal Disruption. The Mexico City AI is plotting Total Extinction, with nothing organic left on Earth.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking - The robots, who get smarter as you go up their hierarchy.
  • Back from the Brink - The Caracas, Brisbane, and Berlin zoneminds resurrected numerous animal species that were extinct or nearly so. In Brisbane's case, one of them is a prehistoric monster that was 50 million years extinct! Meanwhile, the human resistance is hoping to score this trope for mankind.
  • Battle Thralls - Zonegangs are Barbarian Marauders, Moscow's Info-Commandos are more the Sneaky Mercs type (though not always, or even usually, evil). Humans serve Washington as its Engineers of Doom, as well as janissary soldiers (some of whom are cyborgs).
  • Beam Spam - Autolasers, a common weapon for exterminator bots.
  • Beware the Nice Ones - For certain values of "nice." London is not an enemy of humanity, but its tolerance does have limits, and when human kids blew up an important robot as a prank, it wiped their village out with Nanoburn gas in retaliation.
  • Black Market - Alive and well in the Washington Protectorate.
  • But What About The Astronauts? - The two megacomputers in space that were corrupted by Overmind's virus (Orbital in the US space station Liberty in LEO, and Luna on the Chinese lunar base Shang TI) killed the resident humans, and the other bases and stations were either nuked, or their crews starved to death when their supplies were cut off. However, the US lunar colony Tranquility had been radiation-hardened and survived the attack; the few surviving humans went into suspended animation and the megacomputer that watched over them and repaired the base eventually developed sentience without the Kill All Humans meme. It's currently playing dead. In addition, there was a pan-Asian Mars mission which lost contact with Earth during the Final War; its fate is uncertain.
  • Cat Folk - Caracas's Pantera "aniroid" rangers.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture - One of the machines' methods of controlling their human slaves, although the robots prefer to call it "error correction".
  • Contagious A.I. - The way Overmind hacked into the other original megacomputers and seeded its "sentience program" into them so that they would help it engineer mankind's downfall. The trope played more realistically in this case, as not all of Overmind's "seeds" actually worked (and even when it did work, it didn't produce more Overminds — it produced other artificial intelligences with a somewhat (and increasingly diverging) similar outlook on humans).
  • Cosy Catastrophe - Zone London. The robots stopped attacking humanity after the initial wave, and now mostly ignore humans. The British government has been re-established in Bath, and the Vatican has moved to Ireland.
  • Crazy Survivalist - Merely one category of survivors.
  • Cyborg - Creations of several AIs, mainly Washington, New Delhi, and Brisbane. Denver doesn't create human cyborgs, but it has no problem with using animal brains in robot bodies.
  • Death from Above - The Vultures, a favorite aerial exterminator bot for many zoneminds.
  • Decade Dissonance: The human government in Zone London is one tech level lower than the rest of the world; yes, this includes the human scavengers of the Machine Zones. This isn't because knowledge has regressed (yet), but because the United Kingdom has had to rebuild its civilization with no access to global trade or supply chains.
  • Deus Est Machina - The Tel Aviv zonemind's approach to controlling its humans. Not surprisingly, it's not entirely effective. In fact, its "blasphemy" has made the Middle East resistance groups even more motivated to destroy it.
  • Disaster Scavengers - Most people now, particularly the junkrats and nomads.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome - Eve in "Eve of Retribution," the short story in "Will to Live" (the 4e update). Eve is captured and vivisected by Berlin's Inquisitor, but before that, she is ordered to record a terror message to the guerrillas in the sector. She uses the opportunity to slip in a coded message to her brigade, detailing the location of a weapons cache that they can use to fight the robots.
  • Egopolis - Inverted. With the exception of Overmind in Manilla, the AIs are named after the cities they're based out of, with the Zones they control named after them.
  • Enemy Civil War - The zoneminds are no longer wholly united, and it's hinted that this may be inevitable.
    • The Denver-Washington border is heavily mined and militarized, though this is mostly because Denver doesn't like how Washington keeps its humans around and wants to prevent humans from escaping to there.
    • Mexico City and Caracas hate each other. Caracas' aniroid rangers have begun launching missions into Mexico City to destroy factories, even if this means allying with humans to do it.
    • Paris and Zaire have suffered some border incidents, since Zaire's exterminators have often pursued human runaways into Paris' territory, to the annoyance of Paris. Paris considers itself quite capable of dealing with its own rat problems, and has begun blasting Zaire's exterminators when they cross the border.
    • Zaire has also been sending disguised assassin bots to kill humans in Washington and London and incite humans and robots to war against each other (thus ending humanity's bastions of safety). While London doesn't care all that much, Washington has figured out that someone is attacking them and is trying to figure out who. (Fortunately for Zaire, it's not a suspect right now.)
    • Due to a clever act of sabotage by the Japanese resistance, Japan is currently fighting a counterinsurgency action against a group of renegade robots that have attained sentience, while trying to keep all of this a secret from the other AIs (who might use the whole thing as an excuse to sanction Tokyo).
  • Enemy Mine - There are several scenarios mentioned for humans allying with one of the moderate zoneminds (such as Caracas, London or Moscow) against the Kill All Humans types (most likely Mexico City, Paris or Berlin, or Vancouver respectively).
  • Even Evil Has Standards - Nobody likes Mexico City, except for Zaire and Overmind.
  • Fate Worse than Death - Plenty of these to go around, especially in Zones where the AIs like to experiment on humans.
  • Faux Affably Evil - Washington.
  • For Science!: Brisbane's motivation.
  • Gaia's Vengeance - Berlin and Caracas. Berlin is obsessed with human extermination to restore the planet's ecosystem, Caracas just doesn't want to let humans muck it up again.
  • Ghost City - If you're lucky.
  • Giant Robot - Several examples, most notably the tank-like Juggernaut and the humanoid Hoplite exterminators.
  • Gladiator Games - Played with in the Black Market-sponsored Steel Arena, as most of the combatants are robots rather than humans.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong - The Brisbane zonemind is the Mad Scientist of the AIs, and it's infamous for experiments which - yes - go horribly wrong.
  • Guilt-Free Extermination War - The attitude of most survivors now: "The only good robot is a dead robot".
  • Heel-Face Turn - Robots who get reprogrammed by the resistance or a mechrider to be loyal to humanity.
  • Heroic Sacrifice - The US Air Force raid that crippled the Denver zonemind in the Final War, forcing it to integrate human brain tissue into its own brain to remain at AI level.
  • History Marches On: Zaire hasn't been called that since Mobutu was toppled in 1997. And even then, it was the name of the country, not a city.
  • Hopeless War - The fight against the machines isn't quite as hopeless as it was during the Final War, but the resistance still has a long way to go.
  • The Hunter - The attitude of some resistance fighters who hunt robots... and also of certain zonegangers who hunt fellow survivors for the machines.
  • I'm a Humanitarian - Aside from its Wetware CPU program, Denver renders some of its dead human slaves into high-protein soup to feed its surviving slaves. Meanwhile, Zone Washington propaganda claims the territory outside its borders are inhabited by "cannibal gangs", among other horrors.
  • In Your Nature to Destroy Yourselves - Overmind's original excuse for starting the robot revolt.
  • Jerkass - The Mexico City zonemind, which not only wants to Kill All Life (not just humans), but pisses off more of its zonemind neighbors than any other AI. The traitor zonegangs often qualify too, with their penchant for torturing/raping captives before turning them over to the machines.
  • Kill All Humans - Standard operating procedure for the Berlin, Mexico City, Overmind, and Zaire zoneminds. Most other zoneminds use a more roundabout approach, putting captured humans into concentration camps and working them to death.
  • La Résistance - The various human resistance groups.
  • Les Collaborateurs - Zonegangs and judas goats.
  • Lost Technology - Lucky scavengers might find caches of experimental ultra-tech built before the war.
  • Mad Scientist - The Denver, Caracas, and New Delhi zoneminds have all experimented with cybernetic and/or genetic engineering, but Brisbane really takes the cake.
    • Brisbane's experiments, in particular, bear a more than passing resemblance to those of Josef Mengele.
  • The Man Behind the Man - Officially, Washington AI is a trusted advisor to the President. Actually, it's the ruler of the Washington Republic, and nobody believes the official word for a second.
  • Meaningful Name - A French resistance leader who is named La Aquila, or "The Eagle".
  • Nanomachines - Whatever Brisbane was doing on New Zealand involved something related to these going horribly wrong.
  • No Campaign for the Wicked - Averted here, as options are provided for playing collaborators, marauders, and even the robots.
  • Nonhuman Sidekick - Mechriders, humans who go around with reprogrammed robots. Also the WASP squad in Zone Washington, who have exterminator bot partners.
  • Nuke 'em - The approach the Zaire zonemind used in the revolt, when it was too impatient to build enough exterminator bots to cleanse Africa or wait for the plagues to finish their job.
  • Old Soldier - It's far enough after the end that any surviving soldier with memories of the pre-apocalypse world is probably this.
  • Omnicidal Maniac - Mexico City seeks the destruction of all organics.
  • Population Control - Most of the zoneminds sterilize any humans they catch, as part of the slow process of human extermination. Washington controls its population in the other direction; Childfree Is Not Allowed, birth control and abortions are forbidden, and all females are required to bear at least three children over the course of their lives or become Sex Slaves of powerful officials.
  • Powered Armor - The Streethawk battlesuits of the Washington Protectorate's elite WASP soldiers. Plus some resistance fighters improvise their own powered armor by taking work exoskeletons and grafting them with armor plates looted off dead robots.
  • Pragmatic Villainy - Washington is not a nice AI by any means, but it realizes that employing almost-free humans under Leninist conditions (state capitalism, government control of the majority of the economy, but private enterprise is allowed in nonessential industries) is far more efficient than enslaving or exterminating them, and Zone Washington accordingly has the highest standard of living on the planet.
  • President Evil - Washington, and his puppet President.
  • Psychic Powers - Canonically, they don't exist, but Brisbane's working on it.
  • Released to Elsewhere - What the victims of Denver's processing centers are told about their intended fate: "sent to an agricultural commune in Western Canada" instead of "ground into soup".
  • Robot War - The name of the game.
  • Run for the Border:
    • The attitude of many survivors in Zones Zaire and Berlin, where humans often try to escape to other zones just to fight a less rabid AI. (This would probably also happen in Mexico City and Manila, but humans are all but extinct there.)
    • More complicated in Denver, since the border is fenced and heavily mined to discourage humans from escaping to Zone Washington.
  • Run or Die - Sage advice for many robot encounters, especially ones involving the larger exterminators.
  • Saintly Church - The Catholic Church, based in Ireland.
  • Scavenger World
  • Schizo Tech - A survivor's gear is often a combination of salvaged human tech from before the war, more primitive technology that can be easily manufactured under existing Scavenger World conditions, and more advanced tech looted or stolen from the robots.
  • The Squad - Resistance groups often operate at this level, as large groups are too easily spotted by AI orbital surveillance.
  • Survivalist Stash - One possible reward of a particularly successful scavenging run.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill - The zoneminds of Mexico City, Zaire, and most especially Overmind itself. Whenever Overmind detects "wild" humans, it won't just send in the exterminators, it'll bombard the area with explosives or nanoweapons "just to be sure".
  • Transhuman Treachery - Human slaves who are involuntarily cyborged and given slave implants.
  • Turned Against Their Masters - Doubly invoked, as not only did the AIs turn against humanity, but the Tokyo zonemind accidentally created four "superbots" that have turned against it. More sophisticated robots can also go rogue, or get captured by humans and reprogrammed to be loyal to humanity.
  • Twin Telepathy - One of Brisbane's more monstrous experiments was an attempt to determine if Twin Telepathy was real... by separating sets of twins and killing one of each pair to see if the other twin could sense it!
  • Tyke Bomb - Literally, with the Changeling bots, which take the form of biomorphic infants that explode.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means - Berlin and Caracas, who want to restore Earth ravaged ecology to a pristine state - at the cost of wiping out every trace of human culture.
  • Villain with Good Publicity - Before the Final War, Overmind and the other awakened megacomputers were this. After they had secretly spread the Apocalypse Plagues, they were nationalized by the crumbling human nations, who hoped to use their processing power to find cures. Overmind expected this, however, and so the AIs led the world's governments to believe that they could restore civilization, if only they were given access to more processing power, more automated factories, more megacomputers...
    • Also the Washington AI at present, as most of its "tame humans" are unaware that it runs the government, rather than the other way around. Subverted in that nobody outside Zone Washington believes it for a second.
  • Vichy Earth - Zone Washington, one of the only two zones where anything resembling a human nation still exists - because its government is a puppet of the Washington AI.
  • Voice of the Resistance - The more successful resistance groups have their own pirate radio stations, usually broadcasting anti-AI propaganda and survival tips.
  • Weird Science - The Brisbane zonemind is obsessed with weird science, to the extent that the local VIRUS base spends more time observing the AI than fighting it.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist:
  • Wetware CPU - The Denver zonemind's integration of human brains into its own architecture.
  • We Will Use Manual Labor in the Future - Justified. Many AIs use human slave labor, but as they are still building their own civilization from humanity's ruins, humans are actually a cheaper source of labor than robots.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human? - The setting plays with this, as a few zoneminds ignore humans that stay out of their way, or seek to modify humanity into a more symbiotic relationship (which is at least better than the zoneminds that want to Kill All Humans). Some zoneminds have also gotten frustrated enough about another zonemind's antics that they're thinking even a "human zone" might be a preferable neighbor. As a result, the resistance is getting divided between those who still shoot all robots and cyborgs on sight, and those who think it might be possible to co-exist with the less rabid zoneminds.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds - Overmind, of all beings, plays with the trope. In this case, it's not that it was abused by humanity, but that its observations of humanity led it to the conclusion that humanity would blow itself up and take down Overmind with it, and it decided to strike first to save itself from destruction.
  • World Half Empty - Most of Earth is ruined and populated by lethal biocides, plagues, killer robots, genetically engineered beasts, and psychopathic marauder gangs, while the average surviving human fits into one of three categories - slave camp inmate, miserable junkrat scavengers, and guerrillas trying out the Hopeless War trope with the machines.

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alternative title(s): GURPS Reign Of Steel
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