This is the first out of two blogposts covering Cyberlimbs.
Cyberlimbs are tricky in how they work. Furthermore, they occasionally are the subject of heavy debate, which often includes possible houserules to deal with issues people have with them.
To cover this complicated subject, I am doing two blog posts on the matter. This one explains how they work and what some of the problems are people have with them. The second one covers a big list of potential houserules.
What are Cyberlimbs?
Cyberlimbs are mechanical replacements of natural limbs. They can be arms or legs, or partials (lower arms/legs, hands/feet). Cybertorsos and cyberskulls also exist, but these are shells rather than full replacements. They have Capacity which you can use for modifications. This can be extra Agility/Strength/Armor, cyberguns, Sensor Arrays and a few other stuff. Chrome Flesh introduces modular limbs for even more options, but those aren’t relevant for the debate at hand.
How do they work?
Cyberlimbs have their own Strength and Agility ratings, and their attributes are used for tests. These attributes start at 3, can be customized up to Racial Maximum and then enhanced with maximum +3 on top of that. So you can get up to Racial Maximum +3.
If you use a single limb for a test, you use that limb’s attributes. If you use multiple limbs (no matter whether cyber and non-cyber) in a test, you average them. So for example if your right arm is a 9-Agility Cyberarm and your left arm is a 4-Agility natural arm, an attack using both hands would roll (9+4)/2=6.5->7 Agility. If a task requires careful coordination, the lowest of limbs would be used (in the earlier example this would be the natural 4).
Partial limbs are only used for tests directly involving them. So if a test involves the entire body in general, the partial limb is irrelevant.
Cyberlimbs also give you 1 extra Physical Condition Monitor box per cyberlimb you possess (hands/feet don’t count, partials count as half, and round up as always).
What are the upsides?
A VERY important detail here is that Cyberlimbs ignore your Augmented Maximum. So while normally as Human with 4 Agility your maximum value would be 4 (even if you combine spells and ware that are compatible), a Cyberlimb can let you roll 9 Agility instead.
As a result, someone with low natural stats can use a cyberlimb to compensate and score higher dicepools than with other ware. A 9-Agility 3-Strength Cyberlimb even only costs ¥49.500, which is about as expensive as Rating 2 Muscle Replacement (for half the essence) or Used Rating 2 Muscle Toner (for a bit more essence), both giving +2 Agility and the first giving +2 Strength. This makes cyberlimbs very popular with Deckers and Faces, who can then focus on their other Attributes and still have a decent attack dicepool available.
Cyberlimbs can also be enhanced with a few things such as Armor, which acts as extra Armor for the player without complications (asides from you having an armored cyberlimb that is). They can contain concealed guns, and with Chrome Flesh there are even special cyberlimb options that, amongst many other things, can let you move faster.
What are the extra complications?
Well you only use their attributes for tests. This has been taken to mean by many that this excludes any other values. So while your Physical Limit and Movement Rate are based on Strength and Agility respectively, they do not care about your Cyberlimbs. So an attack with a 9-Agility 9-Strength Cyberlimb will use that 9 Agility for the roll and 9 Strength for the damage, but use the natural Strength for the Physical Limit.
Another is that while you can bypass Augmented Maximum with Cyberlimbs so get a higher attribute than through other means normally, this does not apply in 1 fringe case: Someone whose attribute is already at Racial Maximum will have a higher Augmented Maximum than they can enhance a cyberlimb to. A Human cannot get past 9 Agility with a Cyberlimb, while if they had 6 Agility they could hit 6 with ware or magic.
You also cannot grow a cyberlimb: While you can increase your natural Attribute with karma, you cannot further customize your cyberlimb. You can further Enhance it, but if you haven’t customized to Racial Maximum when you bought it then it will never be as good as possible.
How many limbs? Minimum or average?
The rules also do not specify two veeeeeeery important things. First of all, when does a test require careful coordination? Does lifting? Firing a gun? Swinging a sword? Sneaking about? Lockpicking? This is all left up to the GM, which means the player and GM have to communicate and make sure both sides work under the same assumptions.
And how many limbs do you have anyway? Does your torso count? Does your skull? Why does a bloody skull have Agility and Strength anyway. The general consensus seems to be 2 Arms, 2 Legs + Torso if you use your entire Body and who gives a devilrat’s ass about the skull’s stats.
One more issue: how many limbs do you use for attacking? When is a gun 2-handed? SR4 said ‘rifle-sized or larger’, but is a shotgun rifle-sized? (As far as I can tell most GMs say yes there by the way, based on a mixture of it being a Longarm, being listed after Assault Rifles in the gear section which kind of seems to follow size, and having the same concealability modifier as an assault rifle.)
And even if you agree a gun is two-handed, do you then use both limbs for the attribute or just one? HeroLab goes ‘one limb leads the attack, so no matter the weapon we only use the stat of 1 limb’. I disagree with this myself, considering it a clear case of multiple limbs being involved in the test. I personally say you’re only leading an attack with 1 hand if it’s a 1-handed weapon, such as a punch, Pistol, SMG or Sword.
These complications, combined with some other involving player abuse, lead to quite a handful of issues people note. Below is a short list of some problematic characters:
The 1/1 9/9 character.
A player takes 1 Agility and 1 Strength as natural stats, then takes 1 (or 2) Cyberarms with 9 Agility and possibly 9 Strength. (Or they take 1 arm at 9/9 and another at 9/3.) This way they have the maximum 9 Agility for their attacks, without investing any Attribute Points / Karma in these two attributes.
This is an extreme character example. It normally is solely brought up by people arguing Cyberlimbs are overpowered. Only once have I seen someone argue that this kind of character should receive more of a boost, rather than be nerfed down with a nerfbat.
Note that under the complications listed above, this kind of character does have a big weakness: They can only run 4 meters per Combat Turn without Sprinting, and their Physical Limit is rather low. (4 Body and 7 Reaction would still mean only a Physical Limit of 5.)
The 12 Armor character.
This player takes 2 Cyberhands and 2 Cyberfeet, puts 3 Armor in each of them and has +12 Armor as a result. Now with an Armor Jacket someone has 12 Armor. Adding some augmentations and a helmet to it will get someone up to roughly 21 Armor. Adding 12 Armor to that, which scores 4 extra soak hits on average, has a very significant impact on the game balance. If the cyberlimbs are Used and 1 hand is boosted to 7 Agility, it costs 1.25 essence and ¥58.125 and is possible in chargen.
A Cyberleg-character pays Essence and nuyen for extra capacity but less use than Cyberarms. After all, a cyberleg cannot wield a non-cyberweapon or a lockpick. On top of that the Agility doesn’t help their movement rate, despite upgrades existing that let his feet make him move faster. (Even if you increase your movement rate, it will still be based on the natural Agility.)
While most weapons have their own Accuracy, Unarmed Combat attacks always use Physical Limit as Accuracy. As noted before this means that someone with low Strength but a very strong Cyberlimb will do full damage but have a lower limit to their attack.
No matter how many cyberlimbs you have, whether it’s 1 or all 4 + Torso (+ Skull if you’re that much of a freak), your Physical Limit does not change. So you may have 9 Agility and 9 Strength on all your limbs, if your natural attributes are only 3 then for inherent values your Strength counts 3. This means that even if your entire body is cybered to a specific Strength, you still get held down by your weak meat underneath the shells. (Which will most often matter on your Sneaking limit and your Recoil Compensation.)