A rambling about cybernetics


General Discussion


I woke up with some ideas and I'm going to try to get them down here before I run out of energy or become to miserable to do so.

The role of cybernetics in a future society

Different societies may look on kinds of cybernetics very differently. In some, augmentation may be all-pervasive, seen as no more unnatural as you see your smartphone. Integrating technology into yourself to make life easier, healthier and all around more convenient may be utterly the norm. Such a society may have a highly-regulated and widespread cybernetics industry. The tradeoff of easy access to the technology is that you are wired into their global (or even interstellar) system. This might not be a Facebook you can opt out of; Those without all the latest augments may be locked out of modern conveniences like someone without email and a phone. For most, this is fine. Adventurers might prefer not to use commercial grade gear if they want to keep their activities under cover.

Another option is that cybernetics are available only to those that can afford them: The tools of the elite that elevate them even further above the unagumented populace. The rulers look out over the masses through digital eyes, augmented ubermenches defending their high stations with exclusive technology. Their militaries may be likewise heavily augmented, mechanical superiority the reward for (perhaps chip-enforced) loyalty. This kind of equipment would be quite superior and possibly even unethical in the R&D methods used to produce it. This kind of high-end cyberware would be ideal for adventurers, if difficult to obtain.

The reverse is a society that sees cybernetics as ugly, crude tools for keeping unskilled workers relevant in an age increasingly dominated by automation. Such devices may be very obvious, unfashionable and even grotesque. Still, an adventurer might find the capabilities of a living bulldozer quite applicable to his or her work.

Of course, these are just three of many possibilities. I don't expect the Starfinder universe to be uniform in its take on cybernetics in society.

Cybernetic installation limitations

I have been thinking about how to go about balancing cyberware for characters in a way that doesn't leave the unaugmented left out.

One option is that cyberware is simply the 'Big Six' of Starfinder. You don't go without it. A 20th level character is a synthetic god. Or that it simply competes with magic items for the same position, granting non-stacking bonuses. Is there room for someone that wants neither technology nor magic?

In the same way, it could simply be treated as equipment. How much difference is there between a suit of armour and dermal plating? Both do exactly the same job. That armour can be removed easily may be both an advantage or a disadvantage. It is hard to say which is better. Pay the price for whichever one you want and you aren't charged anything more than money and perhaps a proficiency feat for it (if those still exist); armour proficiency or cyberware proficiency. Such a cyberware proficiency could come in similar grades of 'none', 'light', 'medium' and 'heavy'. A technomancer might begin with heavy cyberware proficiency whereas a mystic might have light or none.

I certainly don't want cyberware to be limited by specific character stats, as that locks cyborgs into a very narrow range of characters. Look at the cast of Ghost in the Shell. Almost all of them are cybered to the nines and yet they each have their different way of operating and unique skillsets.

If it is limited by con, every cyborg must be the tough guy. If it is limited by int, every cyborg must be the smart guy. And so on.

Perhaps then, something abstract like level or hit dice might be required to limit it? That might feel weird.

Making room for more machine

I've also been thinking about the possibility of reducing function in some areas in order to make more space for cybernetics. For example, removing your entire digestive system to put in a powerplant and some fancy gadgets: You haven't removed your need for food, and must now subsist on a synthetic nutrition fluid produced externally.

Drawbacks in exchange for cybernetic 'slots' or whatever might lead to drastically more characterful cyborgs; they have the choice to become even more machine than ever if they are willing to sacrifice normality.

Gain vulnerability to hacking in exchange for more mental upgrade space. Gain vulnerability to a technomancer's 'control robot' spells to gain more motor systems. Etc.

After all, do we want cyborgs to simply have exactly the same requirements and lifestyle as ordinary sophonts?

Scarab Sages Developer, Starfinder Team

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This is exactly the sort of thing that also needs to b considered in terms of how the setting of the game is supposed to work. Especially since we're going to have things like magic, does it matter if a character has a permanent dark vision spell, or cyber eyes? Do we want only one of those to be an option? If they re both options do we balance them on cost? Availability? Drawbacks? None of the above?

We don't have anything ready to discuss in that regard, but they are certainly things we're considering.


I'd suggest not splitting magic and tech like the primitives in Arcanum. That way lies madness, especially when one has so many options to consider.

FIRST though: make certain you have decided exactly what the average (say, 10) stat MEANS in the light of all those options, especially genetics!

Gene-Mods:
You're not sporting any augments yet you're born well above what long ago used to be the average for your species. In fact, this may be the norm for advanced cultures as a whole; As it gets more and more common, the basic genepool's improved to the point where unless your parents are so poor they could not afford basic prenatal care you're probably born near the peak of what's possible for your race.

It's even possible to primitives coming in from lesser worlds, but the price of doing this with an adult in a way that won't result in cancerous systemic failures in a few years can be rather devastating... But even you're doing it for the children! Just, not the ones you've already had, sucks to be them.

Electromechanical Cybertech:
Oldschool 'chrome' but no one actually does chrome except maybe along with piercings and tattoos in their rebellious phase, or the occasional out-of-touch richass person who thinks they're "slumming it retro" or something.

Electromechanical Cybertech is direct physical augmentation. Not actually all that likely to be as-is in a setting where magic is pervasive; so many minor details and functions can be done on the cheap by the latter (including having a good sense of touch and less invasive mental control over the gear) that personally I'd be willing to bet any actual adventurer running around with this stuff is a dedicated antimagic suite user, sporting a couple of casting-jammers and an AMF Generator.

Cheapest version probably IS pure magic: an animated block of 3d-printer material animated by some interns is a lot cheaper than just about anything short of a matter-energy-conversion replicator system's work (mostly it's the replicator itself that's hideously expensive).

Grafted Bioware:
The icky version of electromechanical: Bits that aren't QUITE you are grown, and replace what used to be. Has advantages of being biomatter, and unless bought at a cheap chop-shop is probably at least keyed to your own genetics so you don't reject it anywhere near as badly. However, it's not easy or cheap to get the same resilience; your body has no damn clue what to do with a cut that demands adamantine to feed new cells; but at least carbon and iron are parts of our diet (but the new cravings will be pronounced)

Nanotech:
People usually imagine just blood-nannies, but in fact this stuff is probably how the above two are installed and integrated to you in the first place. Additionally, this could go so far as to allow for full 'coating' of organs or outer surface, or even outright replacement and "ascension" (probably what some call doing so...) into something a bit more akin to a T-1000... Or B-3B2 starfighter given enough mass to play with!

There's of course the purely magic augmentations, but the reality of it is magic already tends to enhance things; If you replace your strength with already +2 above race using hydraulics, a +2 enhancement enchant on them might give those cheapo pistons your work insurance screwed you over with a decent level of power, while also letting you get feeling out of them and allowing finer animated-object motion than the 'claws' were supposed to let you do.

Likewise, magic that lets you control swarms could easily be adapted to friendly, willing nanocolonies within your body; save yourself the macros and programming interface with direct will interface. Utterly amazing... but you might get form-locked in an AMF. Not a problem for the average person though, and even for adventurers a fine bonus above and beyond the more advanced systems most of the time.

Let magic make life easier, rather than be separate. Cheap, minor enchants where they do the job better than a complex piece of equipment, and other things where they so easily perform acts that magic gets expensive for. Antigravity might be rather special to a wizard, but on some worlds that's nothing but a pallet-lifter for your warehouse workers!

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