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Body augmentations

Like Hacking, cyberwares fit both in the theme and the mechanics of a cyberpunk ttrpg:

  • They raise questions about the perils of technology and about the sense of self-identity
  • They allow for crazy character aesthetics
  • They provide interesting customization options for PCs as well as NPCs

Designing cyberware

Cyberware is a staple of cyberpunk. The common issues I have are the following:

  • big equipment lists
  • lots of stats used to model the wide variety of equipments

Cyberware should be treated like magic items in D&D: every piece is unique and has its effect described using english language instead of additional stats. They might be slightly more common and even allowed for a new character but if you make them harder to get they will feel cooler for your player.

Balancing cyberware

Usually cyberware have some drawbacks in games. In shadowrun there is a cyberware body budget that limits the amount of equipment a character can install. This usually acts as a hard limit: you can spend 99% of this budget without any issue but if you go over 100% you die. I am not a fan of this kind of hard limits and would like a smoother "counter effect" to rigging yourself until you are devoid of any trace of flesh.

One interesting point about cyberware is that it is produced by the bad guy of the setting ie the corporations. So players using them are fighting fire with fire. It should not be a moral issue for most because PCs should be practical about those things. However we may be able to plug in a mechanism previously discussed: the Heat level.

You know how the police can study a crime scene and collect piece of information that can reveal information about a weapon? Not just a weapon type, but the individual model which has an entry in their database? And that this database may reveal in turn when this equipment was built and sold? I think it is fair to say that most piece of cyberware can be tracked in some way. There is an Id in each piece of equipment. And NFC chips. In every street there are cameras with thermal and electromagnetic modes.

Surely a good tech specialist should be able to get rid of this kind of signature? For the most part yes. But not entirely. That means that any cyberware is going to leave some additional trace. Which translate to more heat. If you don't want to add a "heat malus" stat, you might just make it a constant across all equipment by default. Special equipment may have "no heat malus" or "double heat malus".

The rule of cool

This one is tricky. I used to play some feng-shui where you get a bonus every time someone made something cool. It got boring quickly with a lot of forced awkward actions. However most pieces of cyberware sit in the "moderately useful, slightly stupid, cool as hell" design space. When someone thinks of something cool but you have a few minor objections, try to let it go and allow it.

This is a very subjective limit to place. It will depend on the tone of the game and the player expectations.

Cyberware samples

  • bone retractable claws: 1D6 damage. Passes normal security checks. No heat malus.
  • power legs: gives 18 strength for leg actions. Allows for higher jumps but only slightly reduce fall damage. Leg attacks like kicking or jumping on someone deals 1D8 damage. Double heat malus.
  • Rocket metal head. A small reactor at the back of the head allows the PC to perform a powerful headbutt.
  • Thermal vision.
  • Face reader: gives indicators about people's faces - stress level variation, emotion variations, etc.
  • hands propeller. The PC is able to cast his hands away. They remain attached to his arm with a cable. The pc is still able to operate his hands. Can be used for punching, climbing, or operating something remotely.