Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Nuts & Bolts #81 - Hacking the Cypher System - Cybernetics

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I've seen people ask for ideas & rules for cybernetics in Cypher System a number of times since the CSR was released so I figured I'd throw in my $0.02.

Cybernetics are, without getting too technical, machine implants that augment human capabilities or replace parts of the human body. These can include replacement limbs, sometimes intentional replacements, modifications to existing organs to improve or expand function, and entirely new additions that add function for utility or combat.

Cybernetics are manufactured components, artificial constructs that are purchased from  doctors or specialty vendors and installed by surgical means. Because they are unnatural additions or replacements cybernetics often have drawbacks that limit the number a person can receive or in some way detrimentally impact the receiving individual. This can be a physical drawback, or a spiritual one, or there may be little if any drawback other than the cost to purchase and the downtime of the surgery and recovery.

There are a couple of ways to approach cybernetics for Cypher System games. Depending on the themes of the game and the flavor you are looking for you will want to use different rules to suit your taste. As usual I recommend discussing your intent with players so that everybody can agree with the implementation of these rules.

Character Advancement

The easiest way to deal with cybernetics is to treat a character's advancements, type abilities, and possibly focus abilities, as the result of cybernetic enhancement. Gaining a new point of edge, a new type ability, and similar could all be described as the result of a new implant, or a new capability added to or unlocked from an existing implant. This has the advantage of not requiring an entirely new set of rules to build and learn and balance. Unfortunately this may not fit well for some players, GMs, and game styles. Regardless, it is the simplest and most direct method.


The next easiest way to deal with cybernetics is to use the artifact rules. The CSR doesn't have extensive lists of artifacts, but the "metabolism bud" artifact in the CSR (pg 255) is a good example to start with. Similar artifacts probably exist for character Might and Intellect pools, and likewise could be used to increase edge, or give training in skills, or possibly armor or other features and abilities.

Because the Cypher System is fully compatible across its game lines I'd suggest taking a look at Numenera (core), The Strange (core), Sir Arthour's Guide to the Numenera, or the Encyclopedia of Impossible Things; all of which have tons of cyphers and artifacts that you can use with some legwork to create your own cybernetic artifacts. Of these the Encyclopedia of Impossible Things is probably the best resource for the CSR using GM as it covers many different genres and has both artifacts and cyphers that can fit most any game the CSR could be used for. Sir Arthour's Guide is probably the second easiest to review as it is a similarly sized book that contains almost entirely cyphers and artifacts. These two will yield the best bang for the buck.
Editor's Note: Check out Nuts & Bolts #81.5 Suggested Cyphernetics for some ideas from these books.
Many forms of cybernetic artifacts will have no depletion so GMs would be advised to careful with how many of these they bestow on characters. On the other hand cyber-weapons will need to have depletion rolls to account for ammunition or energy charge. Some of the larger implants that have special functions might also need depletion rolls when used. While your players may not accept the idea of the batteries in their cyberarm going dead during normal use they should accept the idea that using a special "crushing strength" ability built into a cyberarm probably will risk depletion.

It should be noted that when using artifacts as cybernetics the GM should not award experience for these items. They are an integral part of the setting and while perhaps not commonplace they are something that character's can purchase with enough money. In general I tend to lean heavily on the 3 Exp "Wealth" long term benefit as a good reference for pricing objects of this kind. It gives a good indication of the relative value conversion rate for Experience vs. Currency, and can help GMs align appropriate end of session/adventure rewards of both.

Trade Offs

In cyberpunk type games cybernetics are limited by the capacity of the body to accept the foriegn implants. Each cybernetic implant counts against an attribute that relates a character's bodily or spiritual well being (or possibly both). Using this as an inspiration a GM could allow character's to gain certain abilities at the cost of permanent points from their pools.

For example a dermal armor graft could give the character +1 armor at the cost of reducing Might pool by 3 points permanently. Another implant might accelerate a character's nervous system and give them +1 speed edge, but reduce the character's Intellect pool as they find it difficult to focus on tasks as a result.

Much like using Artifacts this allows characters to further develop their characters to their taste. This method also has an in built drawback that the GM can use to ensure character balance to some degree. GMs can opt to have implants all have a cost associated with a single pool (probably Might) or they can choose to spread the costs out across all three pools as appropriate for the cyber-technology involved.

You'll have to pardon my lack of a comprehensive list (or even a partial list) of cybernetic options, their effects, and their costs. Depending on the tone and theme of the game and the way the GM intends to implement cybernetics there are countless possible options that could apply and numerous others that would be inappropriate. It should come as no surprise that I feel a GM should work with their players to establish what kinds of cybernetics are available.