In the future, we’ll all have super cool robot human bodies. With laser eyes and chainsaw hands.
Okay, we may be a ways off from that yet, but hopefully not too far (roughly 33-ish years).
Cybernetic implants are a staple of the Cyberpunk genre, and a big part of Scifi in general. In Neuromancer, Molly had a slew of neat tricks from implanted goggles to embedded razors under her nails. Another character had holographic emitters implanted into his body. Neat! In a wider sense, though, we see Bucky with a metal arm in Captain America, Geordi sporting some sort of tiara on his face in Star Trek: TNG, and then there’s Steve Austin, the 6 Million Dollar Man.
In Project 2050, we want to embrace cybernetics with two snaps up. However, we want to make sure they are presented in a balanced way. This is actually a trickier proposition than one might expect, because there is already a system in 5e for items enhancing a character’s ability: magic items. Enchanted gear is the medieval fantasy version of advanced cybernetics. In 2050, magic items will still exist, so we have a bit of a quandary: cybernetics must be useful enough to need, but not so good that magic items become pointless. I think we’ve got a handle on it, but only time will tell.
The Cybernetic Augmentation System
Dad and I went back and forth (I know, big surprise) about how to handle cybernetics. When we were first hammering out OSRIC/2050, we were very adamant that technology and magic were mutually exclusive phenomena. That meant that a glut of cybernetic implants in a person would severely limit what they could do with magic. It was a neat concept, but in the end, it felt very onerous, especially for a supposedly campaign-neutral set of rules.
However, all was not lost, as the rules and dynamics from those original hashings evolved directly into the system I’m going to present here (and add to the Project 2050 SRD). And yes, it is a system. I can imagine what the little diagram will look like on a 2050 character sheet…
Here’s how it’s gonna work:
Cybernetic implants are self-sufficient machines with internal power sources and computers. While they will link to the brain (more on that in a sec), they will not be easily accessed externally; you’ll have to use maintenance access ports surely located in inconvenient places. In 2050, hacking and digital security is always a concern, so good cybernetic equipment will be “dumb” enough to not connect to the Net. And really, why does your mechanical arm need to check the weather anyways?
When I say “link to the brain,” what I mean is that there is a neurological implant component to all cybernetic augmentations. These implants aren’t necessarily in the brain itself, but they are connected to the nervous system, and allow the brain to talk to the augmentation. For example, a cybernetic arm will be interfaced to a cluster of nerves in the shoulder. The wearer does something with his arm, his brain sends signals like it was the original meat arm, and the neuro-interface translates the movement into SAGaN for the arm. Meanwhile, various sensors in the arm pass back information to the brain that it interprets as arm position, movement speed, sensations on the skins, and so on. Easy-peasy.
Cybernetic limb and organ replacements are common in the year 2050. They’re used to restore full functionality after illness or injury. However, ‘normal’ cybernetic implants only restore normal function, they do not provide enhanced functions or abilities. There are cybernetics with enhanced capabilities, but under under normal operating conditions, they function like the normal limbs and organs they replaced. Unless and until you activate the enhanced function, your enhanced cyber arm doesn’t make you stronger, your enhanced cyber legs don’t make you faster, and your enhanced cyber bladder doesn’t give you super peeing.
Cybernetic devices are powered by onboard micro reactors that put out enough energy to power the device for normal daily operation and to charge a capacitor that will allow use of an enhanced function twice a day. Twice a day your cyber eye can see in the dark or zoom out to telescopic distances, your cyber arm can give you super strength, your cyber legs can run fast, your cyber pee can cut steel plate, etc. Each enhanced function use will take one charge from the onboard capacitor, which will require a short rest to recharge from that single use. (This may get changed to a long rest to recharge both, but playtesting will determine that).
The downside to these micro reactors is they emit electromagnetic radiation, sort of like a cellphone that’s inside you and always transmitting. Individually the signals are weak enough not to harm the body; but the effect is cumulative, and several implants can cause issues. To reflect this, we have the following equation:
Max cybernetic implants = 2 + CON modifier.
You can exceed this limit, but you probably shouldn’t. For every implant beyond your max, you will gain a level of exhaustion every 24 hours. Here’s a reminder on what happens as your exhaustion level goes up:
|1||Disadvantage on ability checks|
|2||Speed is halved|
|3||Disadvantage on attack rolls and saving throws|
|4||HP maximum is halved|
|5||Speed is reduced to 0|
|6||You're dead, carrot cake|
A long rest reduces the exhaustion level by 1. Yeah, this means that if you want to live dangerously, you could theoretically get away with having one implant over your max as long as you take a long rest every 24 hours. But, if you miss that even once (and a good DM will make sure that happens), you’ll be on a slippery slope right to death.
And no, you can’t just switch them off or remove them when you please. The micro reactors are constantly active and the neuro-interface is permanent. They’re going to produce energy – and EM radiation – regardless of what the implant is doing.
Death by cybernetic-induced exhaustion means that only a True Resurrection or a Reincarnate can bring you back. If you’re brought back this way, the new body is without implants (but you get all your original limbs back, so there’s that).
Here is the ‘so far’ list of cybernetic implants. This is absolutely not an exhaustive list, and any fan of cyberpunk will be able to come up with a half-dozen things to add without even trying. It’s a start and a demonstration and we encourage DMs and players to share their thoughts.
|Mk II Eyeball||-||2||Spend 1 charge to grant advantage on Perception and Investigate checks for 10 minutes or grant 30/60 Darkvision for 1 hour. If you have two of these installed, you may spend a charge from each to grant the skill advantages for 30 minutes or 30/60 Darkvision for 3 hours.|
|Intracranial Processor||-||2||Spend 1 charge to grant advantage on Intelligence or Wisdom checks for 10 minutes. If you have two installed, you may spend a charge from each to grant these advantages for 30 minutes.|
|Powerplant||-||2||The powerplant's charges may be used as charges for other cybernetic augmentations you have installed.|
|Cyber Leg||-||2||Spend 1 charge to increase speed by 10 feet or jump distance by 10 feet. You may also spend a charge to grant advantage on Strength checks requiring leg-strength for 10 minutes. If you have two of these legs, you may spend 1 charge from each to increase your speed by 30 feet or increase jump distance by 30 feet, or grant advantage for Strength checks requiring leg-strength for 30 minutes.|
|Cyber Arm||-||2||Spend 1 charge to grant advantage on all attacks which can use STR as the modifying attribute until the start of your next turn. You may also grant advantage on Strength checks which require arm-strength for 10 minutes. If you have two of these arms installed, you may spend a charge from each to grant advantage on Strength checks requiring arm-strength for 30 minutes or impose disadvantage on Escape attempts for a target that you are grappling.|
|Reflex Wiring||-||2||Spend 1 charge to grant advantage on all attacks that can use DEX as the modifying attribute until the start of your next turn. You may also spend 1 charge to grant advantage on Dexterity checks for ten minutes. If you have two installed, you may spend a charge from each to grant Dexterity check advantage for 30 minutes.|
|Cultural Database||-||2||Spend 1 charge to grant advantage on Charisma checks for 10 minutes or gain fluency in one language for 1 hour. If you have two of these installed, you may spend a charge from each to grant Charisma check advantage for 30 minutes or gain fluency in one language for 3 hours.|
|Subdermal Armoring||-||N/A||Your AC can't be less than 16, regardless of what kind of armor you are wearing.|
|Skeletal Reinforcement||-||N/A||+1 AC. Take 2d6 less fall damage.|
|Networked Power Conduit||-||N/A||With this installed, a charge on any augmentation can be used for any other augmentation.|
|Neural Jack||-||N/A||With this installed, a character may directly plug a computer into an interface at the base of the skull. While connected, the character has advantage on all computer-related tasks.|