Cybertech in HARP SF

Copyright Nicholas HM Caldwell © 2006

Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion

As this month's TGC editorial has been taken over by an explanation of the ransom model and how we plan to apply it to The Guild Adventurer, I decided that this month's preview of HARP SF warranted an article of its very own. Those who have been following HARP SF's evolution may also like to download the preview that was broadcast as a podcast from Richard Denning's itstime4games site (http://www.itstime4games.com/Portals/0/sound/itstime4games32.mp3).

Cyberware, in the sense of augmenting human bodies with physical implants and replacements, has been around in science-fiction in one form or another for a long time, and predates the whole cyberpunk genre. SF role-playing games, such as ICE's own Cyberspace, have incorporated cyberware to a greater or lesser extent, and it was only natural that HARP SF should also include this technology.

In HARP SF, cyberware items may be minor enhancements or major replacements. The archetypal "minor" cyberware augmentation is the "neuralware" implant. This is a nanotech device injected into the host's bloodstream where it eventually coalesces to form a central processing hub in or near the host's brain. Tendrils from the hub then extend throughout the host's central nervous system providing a neural linkage to any and all other implanted cyberware. The neuralware implant is a prerequisite for many other items of cyberware (hardware and software). Anyone equipped with a neuralware implant can connect wirelessly to external computers and data networks as well as communicating with others possessing similar implants by short-range radio.

More overt and major cyberware involves the replacement of organs, hands, complete limbs or even more with cybernetic equivalents. The replacement parts are almost always stronger, faster, and more durable than the biological originals and frequently have additional capabilities.

Characters who want to receive cyberware augmentation or replacement must have the correct physiology (either innately or via treatment) to accept implants successfully. In game terms, characters will have to buy a Cyber Compatibility Talent - cyberware replacements require the greater Cyber Compatibility Talent, which costs more DPs. Characters can take either of these Talents at any level, not just first.

Receiving an implant is not simply a matter of handing over the credits to a dealer. It takes time to have a cyberware augmentation implanted; such procedures will take between six hours and a couple of days (this includes the implantation itself and any recovery time.) Replacing an organ or a limb requires a major operation and characters should expect to be out of action for several weeks.

Role-playing game designers have to worry about game balance; if cyberware is available in a setting, what's to prevent every character from gearing themselves up to the max? Some games impose psychological limits - the more chrome you have, the less human you become in terms of empathy, emotion, even sanity. HARP SF is high adventure role-playing, so such limiting factors seem ill-suited to the ethos of the game, and to be honest, the players most likely to max out the cyberware are frequently the players a SysOp would least want to be running cold-blooded psychopaths.

Instead, HARP SF imposes its game balance where it really hurts - in Development Points for learning how to use the implanted cyberware. Geared-up characters will have to spend Development Points to buy skill ranks in the Cyber Control skill in order to use their new toys. A standard cybereye requires two skill ranks in Cyber Control (Senses) just to use it like a normal eye. Accessing and interpreting its thermal imaging mode requires two more skill ranks. The Cyber Control skill is like the Armor maneuvering skill - you pay the points to fulfil the requirements, but never have to make an actual maneuver using the skill. Almost - a stunned character does have to make a Cyber Control maneuver to operate cyberware - don't forget the -50 penalty!

Heroes with cyberware may also find it useful to buy ranks in Resistance: Electronics, the skill for resisting the effects of electromagnetic pulses and radiation on electronic and cybernetic equipment. More Development Points!

The complete Cyberware chapter gives full rules for installing, upgrading, maintaining, and repairing all types of cyberware as well as rules on how it may be damaged. There are more than a score of core cyberware items and dozens of optional extras for them in the technology listing so the wannabe cyborg hero will have plenty to look forward to in HARP SF.