Cyberlimbs (2/2): Houserules

This is the second out of two blogposts covering Cyberlimbs.

Where the first post about Cyberlimbs explained the situation and some problems, this one lists a whole bunch of possible houserules for them. Unlike most of my houserules these will not have a detailed explanation after them, just some short feedback of mine. That does mean losing out on subtleness unfortunately, but the alternative is a massive debate with far too much math.

The Nerfbat

Rule: Cyberlimbs cannot be customized past the natural attribute

Some GMs think Cyberlimbs are overpowered. As a solution to this, they want to nerf them down. That a character can get past Augmented Maximum with them, and thus for example go for a 1/9 Agi character (or a 3/9 for that matter), is not something they approve of. Under this rule cyberlimbs can only be customized to the player’s racial attribute, and then enhanced 3 more.

I personally find this rule extremely problematic. There are two reasons for this. First of all is that a cyberlimb cannot grow. So even if you have 4 Agility and 7 with your Cyberlimb, if you raise Agility to 5 you’d be stuck at 7 still with the limb. Meanwhile, someone with Used Muscle Toner 3 (available at chargen for 0.75 essence and 72k nuyen) would go from 4[7] to 5[8] then. So in the long term this restricts characters that want to increase their natural attributes.

The second is that it heavily nerfs cyberlimbs to the point where I consider them near-worthless. If you have any form of decent Agility and get 2 cyberarms, which you need for the big guns, then you’ll be spending more nuyen AND far more essence than if you simply get Used Muscle Toner. For an Agility+Strength character the nuyen cost would be higher only at high natural values, but it would still cost far more Essence, leave you with a lower Movement Rate, less Strength against spells, a lower Physical Limit, less sneaking dice and more. Compared to the benefits of Cyberlimb Enhancements, I do not consider the trade-off anywhere near fair myself.

Rule: Cyberlimbs do not give you a bonus past augmented maximum

A less hostile rule, this one will still let you grab your max-rating Cyberlimb but only give you the Augmented Maximum if you’re past it. This means that if your natural attribute improves, so does your actual dicepool.

While this lets you have 1 die more than with the previous case, and let your limb grow with you, it still heavily nerfs cyberlimbs so my second reason still stands. Under this rule cyberlimbs are still nerfed very heavily, to the point where I believe you’d be better off telling your players ‘I just don’t want you to use cyberlimbs’. To be blunt, at least have the guts to tell them that.

Rule: Your maximum Cyberlimb attribute depends on your natural attribute (details)

To be precise in formula form: Your maximum Cyberlimb attribute is Racial Minimum + 2 + (Natural Value – Racial Minimum)*2. In other words, if you’re at Racial Minimum it can be 2 higher. If you’re at RMin+1, it can be at RMin+5. Any higher is RMin+8 (normal maximum) max.

To put it in numbers: A Human with 1 Agility can only have 3 Cyberlimb Agility. With 3+ Agility they can have 9 Agility. A Troll with 5 Strength can only get 7, 6 means 10 max, 7+ means 13 Strength as maximum Cyberlimb Strength.

Now normally GM and players depend on the unspoken social contract. This rule makes the social contract explicit. Almost all agree that the 1/1 9/9 character is a horrible munchkin. But what about the 2/2 9/9? Or just the 2-Agility 9-Agility Decker? Rather than leave things unclear, this rule makes things explicit: For the maximum bonus, you should be at 3 (or the racial equivalent).

I like this rule very much, not because my brother was one of its creators but because it targets solely the abusive cases. Rather than nerf all cyberlimbs and discourage them for players, it solely prevents the most problematic characters without restricting the rest.

Rule: Exceptional Attribute only applies to cyberlimbs if you softcap or hardcap the Attribute

You can customize a Cyberlimb to your natural maximum, and Exceptional Attribute lets you increase that. So with that your Cyberlimb could have 1 more Agility or Strength. However, this makes little sense if your attribute isn’t anywhere near that natural maximum. How is your Strength exceptional if you only have 3 Strength? Unless it’s at least 6, you don’t get to take a 10-Strength Cyberlimb (example, higher for some metatypes).

This rule makes sense, but it also leads to a situation where the cyberlimb isn’t any better than just taking other ware as far as your Attributes are concerned. One could always just disallow Exceptional Attribute instead, since it requires explicit GM permission.

Rule: Partial limbs can take 2 Armor, hands/feet only 1

A character has to invest quite a bit of essence into getting multiple full cyberlimbs. Partial limbs are cheaper but have less Capacity, Hands/Feet are even cheaper and have very little Capacity. Now when it comes to their Attributes costs are identical no matter how big the limb, but the Essence is very important here. Four limbs is 4 Essence, 2 hands and 2 feet is 1 Essence.

This doesn’t matter that much, except for when a player uses a partial arm for really high Agility (their call as far as I’m concerned) and when they decide to heavily grab Armor… Cyberlimb Armor, like all ‘Ware Armor, is a universal Armor bonus without Encumbrance problems. So if you grab 4 Cyberlimbs and put +3 Armor on each, you’ll have 12 extra Armor without it weighing you down.

Now if someone wants to spend 4 Essence and then enhance those limbs, if the GM approves then who cares really. But spending 1.25 essence and slightly over 58 grand? Now that smells of abuse… So this houserule puts down the law by letting you grab less Armor bonus with non-full cyberlimbs.

The Boosters

Rule: Tests with a Cyberlimb use its Strength for all relevant values

This rule lets you use your Cyberlimb’s Strength for the Physical Limit of Unarmed Attack, and buffs your general Physical Limit a bit as well. Your PL usually involves Strx2, so with 3 Strength this gives you 6 = 2 entire PL points. With a 9-Strength arm you’d get (3×4+9)/5 = 4.2 = 5 as Strength, so you’d gain 1 PL and 1 point that may or may not become even 1 more PL. And for a single-arm attack you’d gain 4 Physical Limit.

I really disagree with this rule. The reason is quite simple: Limits exist to fight munchkins. They encourage people with high dicepools to put proper effort into buffing their Limits as well. This also follows SR5’s theme: Everything At A Price. My Missions Street Sam has 2 Strength and had to take Indomitable 2 to get his Physical Limit up to 7. That’s 14 karma I’d have LOVED to spend on other qualities, but I munchkined my Strength and paid the price for it. I got a really good Charisma for it in return (which, if we want to be a proper munchkin, I could have replaced with Skills Priority A instead of B).

In other words, I paid a price. And it’s a price I believe you should pay. You want all the benefits Cyberlimbs give? Sure, but at a price. And its current price is one I consider fairly balanced, except for a few fringe cases. A 1-arm Unarmed Attack? Not a fringe case.

Rule: Cyberlimb stats start at Racial Minimum + 2.

A cyberlimb has 3 Agility and 3 Strength. Every point you customize after that will raise its Availability, that excludes the Enhancements. So a capped 6/6 Arm would be at Availability 10, Alphaware at 12. A Torso with any upgrade past 12, which only matters for partial cyborgs. More importantly a capped 7/6 Alphaware Elven Arm would be at 13, while a capped 6/10 (Standard) Troll Arm would be at Availability 14…

So an Elf cannot take a maxed Alphaware arm in chargen, while a Troll would need to grab a Used Arm if they wanted one fully customized in chargen and can just forget about Alphaware. If they don’t, well congratulations you spent all that money on an arm that is forever restrained until you bleed a lot of cash to replace it…

So this rule compensates, making the cyberlimb start at Racial Minimum +2. This way all metatypes can grab Alphaware capped Cyberlimbs in chargen.

The only problem here is that a player might cheat and try to take a Troll arm on their Human due to its lower Availability. Just shake your head sadly and say no to that please. Tell them limbs are heavily tweaked to metatype differences as well, so it wouldn’t work as well and make it function as if they bought an arm for their own metatype at that availability.

Rule: Cyberlegs their Agility applies for Movement Rate

Cyberlegs have more Capacity but less use than Cyberarms. For implanted weapons it doesn’t matter, and you could get some cute special cyberfeet for attacks, but you cannot use them for a lot of things. You want to crush someone’s hand to intimidate them? Pick a lock? Throw a grenade? Yeah sorry. And on top of that, while your cyberfeet CAN impact your Movement Rate, their Agility doesn’t? That’s just plain weird.

So instead this rule does let you use their Agility for moving. If you have 3 Agility but are willing to invest in 2 Cyberlegs with 9 Agility, why shouldn’t you have the right to get a decent movement rate? And yes, as you can tell I really like this houserule.

The uncovered

These houserules do not cover all issues people have with Cyberlimbs. For example, the almost-cyborg isn’t covered. The reason for is that quite simply I wouldn’t know where to start in many of these cases. So all I can say is ‘think it over carefully, avoid abuse but also avoid being unfair’.

With the cyborg, IF a player does this for whatever reason, while neither player nor GM want to simply make them a full cyborg instead, I cannot really help you. The only thing I could point you at is that in SR4, you needed a Cybertorso for really good Cyberlimbs. So if you want to let someone with four Cyberlimbs use their Cyberlimb stats for their inherent values, maybe consider requiring a Cybertorso for this. Or making it a Careful Coordination of all five limbs, which means you need all five limbs. (Yes, Cyberskulls don’t matter. They never should. Grrrrrrrrrr…)


Cyberlimbs (1/2): How they work

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[8] (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[10] 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.

The Cyberlegger.

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.)

The puncher.

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.

The almost-cyborg.

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.)