Star Frontiers and cyborg characters.

MrJupiter's picture
July 14, 2008 - 7:18pm
I was thinking that a discussion on cybernetics would make a great contribution to the Star Frontiers game.  The skill for cybernetics was presented in the Zebulon's Guide and future editions were to address this topic with actual rules:  those never materialized. 

There are, in essence, two types of cybernetic systems, as far as the impact to game rules are concerned; some are purely cosmetic (Low Mods) that are the equivalent to simple technology available to anyone.   Other types of cyber gear (Medium and Heavy Mods) serve to greatly enhance a character's abilities.  

Some players might like their characters to begin with already integrated cyber-systems.  Cosmetic-type cybernetic gear could be acquired by starting PCs just like other equipment:  by spending Credits.  These could be simple items like animated tattoos or sub-dermal watches that display time on the skin of the character's wrist (such technology might cost more than its hand-held equipment equivalent -- plus the surgical installation expenses -- but otherwise offers no unique benefits). 
 Augmenting type cybernetic gear (Medium and Heavy Mods) should cost a PC both XP and Credits to acquire (though a Corporation might help with the financial costs in exchange for a service contract).  The greater the benefit of a piece of cybernetic equipment the greater experience-point cost it should be to a PC.  The referee should apply a reasonable limit as to the amount of Medium and Heavy cyber gear a character should start the game with.  (I’d personally not allow Heavy cyber gear.) 

Balancing beginning Cyborg characters could be handled by reducing the amount of starting credits he/she has to purchase other equipment at character creation.  Additionally, ability enhancing cybernetics might penalize a starting PC with an XP Dept that would need to be paid off by earned experience before the character would be able to advance.   [Another option that runs along this line is that the character would only earn 1/2 xp while adventuring until the XP cyberdept is paid off.]  This could be used for starting PCs with a real starting Cyber-Advantage over the 'normal', 100% natural characters they are playing with.  This is only of any benefit in a long running campaign.
 I don't believe a PC should be penalized by having cybernetic enhancements by causing them to gradually become insane (like some kind of Cybernetic psychosis).  There are other ways that cyber technology could be balanced: 
  1. Cybernetic gear might not be too fashionable in the more civilized regions of the Frontier; thus imposing a negative (say -10%) modifier toward characters with obvious enhancements.  Maybe non-cyber NPCs might react negatively because of perceptions that a cyber-PC might feel him/her-self to be superior to the NPC (could this be perceived Cyber-Arrogance?)
  2. Since Cyber characters are more advanced character concepts they could be banned as starting characters.  Alternately, non-cyber characters could begin play with the benefit of extra starting skills or better starting equipment.
  3. Cybernetic systems might be more susceptible to damage and are more costly to be repaired.
 Here are some ideas for possible cybernetic systems.  These have not been thoroughly developed, let alone play tested.  I present these merely to initiate discussion. 

Low Mods (fashionable cyber wear – purchased with Credits only):
·        Mirrored/Colored Eyes – the conjunctive tissues covering the eyes are treated so as to appear color tinted, black or silvery and reflective.
·        Animated Tattoos – installed beneath the skin this cyber weave can project a tattoo-like image upon the character’s epidermis.  The appearance of this ‘tattoo’ can be changed at will by programming or downloading new designs.  Some models can be programmed to project animated patterns or images.  The cost varies as per the size of the ‘tattoo’.
·        Personal Player – the character has a tiny dedicated radio/music player located within their wrist/skull that plays rich, clear music and radio signals directly to the characters ear drums.  These sounds cannot be heard by others.
·        Finger-Lamp – This cyber device incorporates a small flashlight within the character’s finger.
·        Color-Change Hair – the character’s natural hair is replaced by a synthetic substitute as soft and manageable as the real thing.  This cyber wear can instantly change to any one of dozens of pre-programmed colors.  It can be styled and cut like normal hair and even treated to grow more length.
·        Natural Organ Replacement – these cyber devices mealy replace a natural organ in the body, which operates exactly as the original.  [This is offered as mere character flavor.]
·        Natural Limb Replacement – these cyber devices are designed to appear and function just as the original limb.  [This is offered as mere character flavor.] 

Medium Mods (cyber devices providing improved ability – purchased with Credit and some XP):
·        Concealed Blade – this cyber device is often hidden within a Natural Limb Replacement to provide a ready weapon in close conflict situations.  These blades are often designed to spring out of the character’s wrist, above the back of the hand.  Damage is as per a knife.
·        War Claws – as per Concealed Blade; these small blades extend from the character’s fingertips causing racking damage equivalent to a knife weapon.
·        Hammer Punch – this cyber mod enhances a character’s bare knuckles, punching score by +1d10 damage.
·        Hawk Eyes – this mod replaces the character’s eyes with the equivalent of Magnigoggles.  [Note:  Up to 3 optical enhancements can be added to a set of cyber-eyes.]
·        Night Eyes – this is a cyber item allowing infra-red night vision ability.  [Note:  Up to 3 optical enhancements can be added to a set of cyber-eyes.]
·        Cyber-View – this cyber eye incorporates Heads-Up-Display ability without the need to wear HUD goggles.  This is a useful compliment to a Cyber-Comp device.
·        Direct Link – is a cyber enhancement that allows the character to plug a Cyber-Comp device directly into an external interface device.
·        Smuggler’s Pocket – is a concealed compartment used to hide small objects within otherwise legal cyber limbs.
·        Integrated Chronocom – this cyber device is a chronocom that is fully integrated within the character’s head or wrist.  

Heavy Mods (cyber enhancements that offer significant abilities to a character – costing lots of Credits and lots more XP too):
·        Cyber-Comp I – This is a miniature Bodycomp (see Zebulon’s Guide to Frontier Space for details), but is more costly.  It can store only a total of 4 pre-installed type-A progits; but can only run up to 2 type-A progits simultaneously.  It is able to run off the power generated by the character’s body.
·        Cyber-Comp II – This is a miniature Bodycomp (see Zebulon’s Guide to Frontier Space for details).  This device is similar to the Cyber-Comp I, but can run up to 3 type-A progits simultaneously and stores a total of 5 pre-installed type-A progits.  The small battery power source used to supplement the added energy demands of this device requires it to be recharged monthly (otherwise the device functions as the Cyber-Comp I until recharged.)
·        Cyber-Comp III – This is a miniature Bodycomp (see Zebulon’s Guide to Frontier Space for details).  This high-end Cyber-Comp can run and store type-B progits as well as type-A progits.  A type-B progit is treated as if the equivalent of two type-A progits.  It can run the equivalent of 4 type-A progits simultaneously (or up to two type-B progits) and store up to 6 type-A progits (or 3 type-B).  The extra power demand of this cyber device requires that it integrates a small micro-power pack that must be recharged weekly.  If it is not recharged it will continue to operate but only equivalent to that of the Cyber-comp I.
[Note:  these Cyber-Comp devices would need to balanced a bit better against the Bodycomp considering they would need to be pre-equipped with the Brain-link progit just to function.]
·        RS Boost – hotwires the characters Reaction Speed response providing a bonus to Initiative rolls etc. (say +10%.)
·        Integrated Powerframe – this major cyber gear device supplements the skeleton with a stronger load bearing framework upon which to anchor enhanced cyber limbs.  The Powerframe ensures that normal body tissues are not stressed by the greater abilities of superior cyber limbs.  These devices come in partial (to support one enhanced cyber limb) or full-body (to support multiple limb replacements.)
·        Enhanced Cyber-Limb – is a cyber gear device that replaces an arm or leg with a stronger than natural limb; often sporting additional integrated cyber devices.  Without the benefit of a Powerframe the enhanced Cyber-Limb offers only a +10% bonus to Strength checks for that limb.  A Powerframe can provide a +20% (for a partial frame) to a +30% (for a full body frame.)
·        Skeinflesh – this cyber device appears as genuine skin but protects as though a 25pt skeinsuit.  Skeinflesh must be repaired by a qualified cybernetics technician.
·        Power Jump – this cyber device is integrated into cyber-leg replacements that provide leap assisting gear that triples the jumping distance of a character.  It can provide +2d10 damage to a well-placed kick attack.
·        Integrated Weapon System – the character has a small, integrated, and concealed weapon such as a laser pistol or needler. 
·        Armored Bodysuit – is an external device mounting to attachment points on a full body Powerframe.  It provides protection equivalent to a 150pt Skeinsuit.  It’s weight negates any STR bonuses and applies a -10% bonus to both DEX and RS ability checks. 

What are your ideas to make cybernetics a balanced and valued inclusion into the Star Frontiers game?  {Note:  My only free time for game discussion is usually on weekends so please be understanding if I do not respond to an idea or question quickly}.

AZ_GAMER's picture
July 14, 2008 - 9:32pm

cybernetics always make SF games more interesting

Imperial Lord's picture
Imperial Lord
July 14, 2008 - 9:59pm
This forms the basis of a good working system.  As stated, the balance effects are important to examine.  First of all, I would think that any cybernetics would be extremely expensive, due to the bio-effects of rejection, complex medical operations, etc.  If I was reffing this, I would price these modifications well out of the reach of starting or even intermediate level characters.

I also have a "pandora's box" concern here.  Are we to just assume that the higher level characters across the board are going to be all "cybered up" with doo-dads and devices?  What about the Sathar?  Are there any legal ramifications?  Will there be detection systems capable of finding out if Wolverine has his claws retracted?

Nevertheless, this has some very cool options as well.  Hidden cyber mods on Sathar agents can make life miserable.  Many surprises are possible - maybe the big bad guy has some of these enhancements.  So not only is he Level 6 with Beam Weapons skill and a 20 SEU set Laser Rifle, but then there is also the fact that he has various devices embedded on him.  If combat goes against him, maybe he can surrender, and then use his tucked-away cybernetic mods to escape the Star Law Detention Center.  And you PCs thought the adventure was over?

Plus there is also the chilling effect of someone who just goes too far with this stuff.  "He's more machine than man," Obi Wan said...  Warriors of White Light has elements of this with the drifting hulk scenario.  That can serve as an example of someone who took this way too far - like Joan Rivers and plastic surgery.

The dramatic effect is good, too.  As the big bad guy turns in his electronic chair to face the PCs who have just been captured by his minions, half of his head is lights and lenses and metal, flashing and blinking.  Yuck.

Rum Rogue's picture
Rum Rogue
July 15, 2008 - 7:42am
Nice write-up.  Thanks for putting it together and sharing.

Many years ago I had thought of using Shadowrun cyber-gear in my SFU.  It never got out of the planning stages.  But I was going to add a new characteristic that would reflect the amount of cybernetics a SF citizen had.  It would also influence social actions and medical treatment. For lack of imagination I was going to simply call it Cyber. Everyone starts with a Cyber score of zero.

Every piece of
cyber-gear would have a Cyber value.  This number would be added to the Cyber stat.  The higher the score, the less organic one becomes.
 The Cyber stat would effect a medics chance to heal that individual.  It could become a penalty if the medic has no training in cybernetics. “Sorry pal, You’re gonna be limping until we can get back to the ship, I only brought my Medkit, not my toolkit.”  

It will also act as a resistance towards drugs, both beneficial and baneful.  i.e.: players rolls dice equal-to or under his cyber score “HA! The telol has no effect on my character; I can make up a story to my captors.”  OR   gm rolls under the cyber score “the biocort is ineffective, you receive no healing.”

As far as social attitudes, I can see some societies treating heavy cybernetics as lower class citizens, even banning them from certain businesses and locations in the cities. A heavy-cyborg might be mistaken as a robot at times, “What do you mean I have to ride in the cargo hold?”

That is about as far as got with my ideas.
Time flies when your having rum.

Im a government employee, I dont goof-off. I constructively abuse my time.

aramis's picture
July 16, 2008 - 10:37am
Generally, most non-artificial-kidney type stuff will INCREASE drug effects, by reducing the volume in which the drug is dispersed, and thus increasing the concentrations.

MrJupiter's picture
July 19, 2008 - 8:59pm
Hey aramis, that's a great observation regarding increased drug concentrations.  I hadn't even considered the posibilities of drugs/medicine on cyber characters.  I could see the use of cyber systems to assist in toxin removal or to offer an auto-injection of Stimdose when stamina levels start to get dangerously low.  This could open up a range of posibilities both good and bad. 

As for the 'Pandora's Box' dilemma, I was hoping that forcing players to spend some of thier hard earned XP on already costly cybernetic doo-dads might help them to find other means of maxing out their characters.  After all, nearly any of the augments listed above could be had much more cheaply with equipment already listed in the rulebooks.  Some players would sacrifice experience points just for the added 'cool' factor but it would be smarter to just invest XP in better skills and abilities and buy twice as much normal equipment to do the same job (but cyber gear is just so dang awesome; don't ya' think?). 

MrJupiter's picture
July 19, 2008 - 10:18pm

I've been thinking that using a base line of terminology (a cyber-lexicon) would help to ensure all cybernetic discussion is clearer.  Here are some of the terms I was thinking could be used:

CyberMod:  as in cybernetic modifications.  Cyberpunk 2020 (the ultimate cybergame setting) uses Cyberwear and Alternity has Cybertech.  "CyberMod":  say it enough and it kind of sounds good.  (example:  "Just what kind of CyberMod is buried under the flesh of that ape enforcer anyway?")

Assembly:  as in limb assembly (partial or full) or eye assembly.  'Assembly' refers to a shell framework or housing within which other cybermods are integrated.  All assemblies come standard with one component cybermod; some with the expansion possibility of one to three additional components.

Implant:  this is the term used to describe a cybermod that is integrated into a character's body tissues.  These are considered self-contained and separate from other cybernetic gear already installed.

Component:  this is a term used to describe a cybermod that is integrated into a larger 'assembly'.  For instance, a cyber eye assembly could have both the Night Eyes and Cyber-View components integrated within its housing.

Mundane:  this term could refer to all cybermod which is only meant to serve as a direct replacement for a natural organ or body part.  These offer very little in the way of character advantage or benefit.  (As a side thought; a character would suffer no body shock at having his mundane cyber limb crushed under a blast door -- surprise and depression yes; but not the effects of trauma).

Style-mod:  a cybermod that offers more character dressing than in-game benefit.  Cost is usually moderate with no XP investment.

Enhanced-mod:  this is a cybermod that offers function for the character.  It is an augment that provides a decent in-game benefit to the character.  Many enhanced-mod cyber gear has a less expensive equivalent counterpart found in the equipment section the Alpha Dawn rulebook.  These will cost respectible amounts of Credits and XP.

Power-mod:  these are almost overkill types of cybermod, often including implants and components that require Licences/permits to legally carry (worn?) and use.  Most PCs should avoid these items as they heavily drain Credits and experience points.

Discreet:  means that an implant or component is made to appear innoculous or natural.  For instance a mundane cyberlimb would be a discreet type of Style-mod; appearing to the eye as a natural organic arm.  Though, to a skilled technician observer the piece might be readibly recognized as cybermod.

Stealth:  means that a cybernetic component has been made to resist detection by examination and scans.  Often the cybermod implant will be made to appear as natural body part (such as a bone) or to be a mundane component of an assembly.

Does any of this seem difficult for interpretation?  Are there some other terms you think might work better?  Any descriptors you think could be included?

MrJupiter's picture
July 20, 2008 - 8:35pm

Here are some other cybernetic tech ideas:

Integrated SEU-Pack:  this cybermod (implant or component) provides a ready source of power for powered weapons and equipment.  A retractible power cord is simply pulled from this enhanced mod and plugged into the socket of the weapon needing power.  It will supply 20 SEU to a device.  A more expensive model can provide 40 SEU.

Integrated Scanner:  this cybermod component offers 1 scanner function (Bioscanner, Vaporscanner, or geoscanner).  This is an Enhanced-level mod.

Shocking Grasp:  This is the equivalent of a Shock Glove and is available as an implant or component for an arm assembly.  It stores 10 SEU of power before needing a recharge.

Vice Grip:  This Enhanced-mod is used to gain a secure hold on a structure (popular among cybermod climbers).  If used upon an character it inflicts 3d10 damage (upon a successful grapple) and will continue to hold firmly until the victim can successfully break free (some kind of a STR modifier should apply -- not sure what).  Vice Grip is available only as a component system.

Climber's Fingers (needs a better name):  this cybermod, also a component system popular with climbers, equips the arm assembly with fingertip accessories that (rather like claws) can fit into very tiny holds.  Additionally, they are able to adjust (expand) to fit and lock securely within wider crevaces making it very difficult to slip from a hold.  Also, since this system is automated it does not require continued STR checks to continue to maintain a solid grip.  [Note:  I have no rock climbing experience so better description and terminology is needed for this cybermod's description; so please help!]

Rappelling Lineand Winch:  Also a popular climber's limb assemby component (combined with the Vice Grip component, above) allows a climber to lower him/her-self up to 25 meters or, using integrated motors, winch back up.  [Note:  I was thinking that a further mod, called the Hand-Thing (Addam's Family inspiration) could be used with the decoupled hand of the cyber-limb assembly to allow the hand to move, spider-like, to a target area for gripping.  I could just see a character tossing his hand over the edge of a building's roof and then feeling around for a secure object to grasp, then winch themselves up.  In some ways I like the idea but it also seems tacky to me.]

Finger Tools:  This component system turns the cyber mod character's fingertips into a virtual Techkit, or Robocomkit (only one type may be selected).  [Note:  I'm not so sure these would fit just within the fingertips of a hand assembly.  I think I'd be more comfortable if this required a whole forearm to accomodate.  I was a bit inspired by Torque (I think that was his name) from the old Spencer For Hire tv show of the eighties.  It seems a natural fit for a tech character.]

Stim-Shot: this implant/component would be activated once a character's Stamina drops to 10% of his/her STA score injecting the character with a shot of Stimdose.

Spray Hypo Injector:  This implant or component stores 1 dose of any drug (Telol, Staydose, Antitox or whatever) that can be spray-injected into another character or the NPC/PC himself.

Anti-Shock:  this implant, already described in Alpha Dawn, makes the character immune to stun attacks.

P.S.  Any suggestions for bio-assisting implants (like gas-filtering mods)?  These kinds of augments are sadly lacking form the list.  (OR other cybermods - even alternatives to those described above.  I personally think the Cyber-Comps need to be rewritten to a format more natural to the Alpha Dawn rules as Zeb's Guide is a little quirky and doesn't mesh well to the standard rules).

Sargonarhes's picture
July 22, 2008 - 7:33pm
I suppose a cyber implant of a defensive screen would be too over the top?

I've had PCs tangle with aliens that had such modifications on them. They're a rare alien breed however and have some very advance tech even going as far as many cyber and gene alterations on themselves.
In every age, in every place, the deeds of men remain the same.

MrJupiter's picture
July 23, 2008 - 7:58pm
A cyber implant defensive screen...

Awesome idea!

Yes, I would definately agree that a defensive screen implant could be done.  I would figure that each power screen is a separate implant/component.  A recharge port would be needed to rejuice the SEU when it is depleted.

My only question is how much of an SEU charge do the original screen devices each hold.  My pre-Alpha Dawn version of the rules don't say.

TerlObar's picture
July 23, 2008 - 8:58pm
The screens have to hooked up to an external power pack.  They don't hold any power in and of themselves.  They are just field generators so you'd need to implant a power supply as part of the mod. 
Ad Astra Per Ardua!
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Anonymous's picture
w00t (not verified)
July 23, 2008 - 9:45pm you could cleverly disguise a power belt pack on your person to charge the built-in screen. I wonder what side effect a screen would have on it's host?

Shadow Shack's picture
Shadow Shack
July 24, 2008 - 12:46am
Somewhere you have to draw the line between how much PC is left via bionics and how much is machine via cybernetics. Suffice to say if a cybot was powered by a biological brain (and associated life support) it would pretty much be "dead" by all accounts and thus restricted to a NPC rather than PC
I'm not overly fond of Zeb's Guide...nor do I have any qualms stating why. Tongue out

My SF website

MrJupiter's picture
July 30, 2008 - 6:38pm
Thanks for the power-pack info; that makes sense.  The small powerpack cybermod would be a helpful accessory to the screen implant as a short duration energy source when in a pinch but a powerpack would still be the better way to go (and cheaper to probably just have the screen as equipment as well.)

My take on a cybot is that it is biological nerve tissue genetically designed to provide a more flexible, adaptable, and intuitive cpu than those of ordinary robots.  These would be pure pieces of corp or government property.  I'm not sure what potential they'd have for true self-awareness.  They sound like they'd be more prone to breakdown (with mental stability issues) than the silicon version; or maybe not...

As a way of limiting cyber-character's on overdrive, TerlObar came up with a great idea of using the STA score.  It is posted on the Open Discussion forum under the topic titled "Question to Mr. Logan regarding Cronocom article in the Frontiersman #8"  Go and check it out.  I think it's a great idea.

Anonymous's picture
w00t (not verified)
July 31, 2008 - 7:49am
Just a funny thought came to mind reading the last post....

Ya know how in the ole days houses were powered by hamsters in wheel cages?
Well... your power-pack implant works much the same way, as you extend your body like running, jumping and of course typing on a keyboard the cells get recharged.

The Shadow Shack Special!

TerlObar's picture
July 31, 2008 - 9:09am
Absolutely (I seem to be using that word a lot lately Smile).  I'd definitely give your implanted power pack a natural recharge rate from the body.  I'd have it be very low though, say 1 SEU every hour or two, as an SEU is a lot of energy and your body doesn't put out that much extra.
Ad Astra Per Ardua!
My blog - Expanding Frontier
Webmaster - The Star Frontiers Network & this site
Founding Editor - The Frontier Explorer Magazine
Managing Editor - The Star Frontiersman Magazine

Gilbert's picture
July 31, 2008 - 2:29pm
  I hope you keep this in mind that the settings for SF is in the future. And, I believe that generating 10, 20, or even upto 50 seu's should be fairly easy given the technology. Because, I can take a few magnets and so disks, with some pulleys and generate a fair amount of power with very little effort. This power can use wind, water, engines, and muscle power and I can produce 110 v with about 3 to 4 amps.

Sargonarhes's picture
July 31, 2008 - 6:42pm
Just like the tech in those flashlights you can buy, with just a few shakes and you got some light. SF tech should be way above that level and more power efficient as well.

About the idea of sub-dermal chronocoms. I would think this be a cyber implant for those that want some minor cybernetic like that. After all if you got cyber eyes what would you need such an implant for when you can bring the time up on your retina like a heads up display.
In every age, in every place, the deeds of men remain the same.

MrJupiter's picture
August 3, 2008 - 8:56am

That's a great insight w00t!  It does make sense that a cyber device could generate power.  Even though a sci-fi device should be way more capable than whatever we could create with todays tech; I feel like the Star Frontiers game is almost a retro-spect view of the future.  Many things, like the Chronocom are almost pathetic when compared to a cell phone.  Back in 1980, when TSR was probably trying to put this game together, the Chronocom was revolutionary thinking (a cell phone then was a monster that needed to be plugged in) and offered even more than Star Trek's communicator.

It doesn't have to be that way for your SF universe though.  But for game balance I think that it would be fair for a cyber generator to make about 1 SEU per two hours; an enhanced version making that in just one hour's time. 

Anonymous's picture
w00t (not verified)
January 8, 2010 - 11:00am
Is MrJupiter still around?
This is great stuff, I was thinking about doing an article on cybernetics.

MrJupiter's picture
January 10, 2010 - 8:42am
I haven't checked in here for months (I've been very busy monkeying around with BASH! Ultimate Edition - an awesome superhero game).  Thankfully my email updated me to this post.

Glad you liked the ideas.  You are welcome to use any of the material I posted there for your article.  TerlObar, mentioned in one of my posts above, came up with a great way of restricting cybermods with the STA score.

Long Live the FRONTIER!