Robots used to be fairly common, back before the war. They would work in places humans couldn’t, augment security and military forces, and act as pets and servants for the wealthy. Built in all kinds of shapes and sizes, they existed to serve and protect humanity.
Unfortunately, few of them were properly shielded against wide-scale electromagnetic pulses. When the bombs fell, and the ionosphere was altered, most of them stopped working. The nanoparticulate matrices that made limited artificial intelligence possible were too delicate for this new, irradiated world. Save for the shielded military units, robots were turned overnight from useful and helpful servants of man, to elaborate and expensive statues.
Most of them got recycled for parts. But the ones that could still function often got reprogrammed for other purposes…
During the start of the corporate wars, a few of the smaller corporations in the conflict specialized in robotics. They fielded autonomous war machines, in the form of self-motivated tanks, aerial hunter-killers, and humanoid mechanized infantry. The biggest of the robotics corporations was an outfit known as Midwest Positronics, a ruthless and ambitious group with designs on the newly created wasteland.
Their mechanized infantry enjoyed the most success overall, as it was able to adapt to rough staging areas such as the Appalachian mountains, and the swamplands of northwest Hio. For a while, it looked like they might be a credible threat to Hall-Mart’s Cleveland enclave.
Then magic returned to the world, and the dragons woke up. In the chaos that followed, one of MP’s competitors, Warhound Incorporated, managed to capture their corporate headquarters and force a merger. MP diehards out in the field fought a short guerilla war, but eventually joined with their new bosses, or saw it was a hopeless fight and fled to better prospects.
However, Warhound did not see any cost-effective way to recover the hostile and scattered robots left in various staging points across the Wasteland… And so forty years later, metal men still walk the wastes. Their programming is obsolete, and their weapons are broken more often than not. They are out of factory-made parts, and have been forced to fix themselves with whatever salvage they can find. Their positronic brains have degraded more often than not, and they have been forced to go far, far from their original programming.
Occasionally one will stumble out of its staging area, following some ancient orders, or misread invasion schedule, and attempt to complete some long-forgotten objective. This often results in anyone encountered being flagged as “Enemy” by the robot’s malfunctioning FoF systems, and attacked. Since even old warbots are tough and hard to kill with bullets, they’re seen as a serious threat and usually hunted by local authorities whenever they surface. More often then not, they’ll attack anything they detect. And the ones that don’t might glitch at a later date and cause serious damage to any bystanders.
These deadly war machines are commonly known as “Rusters.” There will come a day when none of them are left in the wastes.
Not all rusters are ruled by their programming, however. Some models managed to find loopholes for their old programming, or had their brain damaged in ways that wiped out some of their directives. Forced to adapt to new situations and times, their positronic brains rose to the challenge. They learned, they adapted, and ultimately they survived. They’re in somewhat better shape than their flawed, aggressive brethren.
In fact, some of them have learned how to interact with humans. Some of them have even developed personalities, and earned acceptance in tolerant communities. Others have learned to disguise themselves, and travel from settlement to settlement, finding validation in the acceptance earned from their deception.