GURPS101: Cybernetic Distortion


I got to thinking about cyberpsychosis and cyberpunk (since that’s popular again). Here is what I thought of.

New Rule: Cybernetic Distortion

All implanted cybernetics have a chance to cause issues in the form of nerve damage, overstimulation, and other neurological issues. This is Cybernetic Distortion. A disadvantage-like mechanic that balances the fact that cybernetics are bought with cash, not points. This increases the permanent capabilities of the character, but has a chance of causing other problems. Each cybernetic implant inflicts a minimum of 1 point of distortion, otherwise every 2 full character points an implant is worth as an advantage inflicts 1 point of Cybernetic Distortion. Use the final cost of the cybernetics including any disadvantages it adds with mitigator or similar. For example, a Bionic Hand is worth 1 point as a packaged trait and thus it would inflict 1 level of Cybernetic Distortion.

A critical success on the Surgery roll to install the cybernetic reduces the total amount of Cybernetic Distortion it causes by (Total Surgery Skill / 10) point, while critical failure increases it by a like amount. Higher quality cyberware reduces the amount of Cybernetic Distortion that particular implant causes.

  • For every 6 full levels of Cybernetic Distortion, others get a +1 to rolls to realize you are cybernetically enhanced, guess what your specific enhancements are, or identify or follow you – and you get -1 to your Disguise or Shadowing (on foot) rolls. Disguised cyberware allows you to ignore this drawback for points gained from that piece.
  • For every 9 levels of Cybernetic Distortion, those who have a Cybernetic Distortion of 5 or less and non-enhanced individuals react to you at -1. This is separate from your Appearance; if you have Appearance (Attractive) and Cybernetic Distortion 24, others react to you at a net -1 (+1 from Appearance and -2 from Cybernetic Distortion). Disguised cyberware allows you to ignore this drawback for points gained from that piece, but medical exams, scans, etc. will still reveal it and cause appropriate penalties. If a character has psychic ability this also inflicts -1 to skill rolls to use abilities.
  • For every 15 levels of Cybernetic Distortion, those at this level must make a roll against the lower of HT or Will – (Cybernetic Distortion / 3) every month. Failure by 0 to 4 means you still haven’t acclimated and must roll against next month. Failure by 5 or more means you must roll on the following table and suffer the listed disadvantage until either the implant is removed or a month goes by; roll again for the latter. Critical failure or failure by 10 or more means you gain the disadvantage permanently! Critical success removes the need to roll further – the character has fully acclimated to his current implants. Adding more later on that total 15 or more requires another roll as normal; count cyberware you’ve acclimated to as worth half its normal amount of points for this purpose. A natural roll of 3 removes the effects of one failed roll on this table even if it was from a previous implant. Starting characters must still make this roll and accept any results that come of it, but treat each cyberware implant as a single piece for determining penalties and total Cybernetic Distortion for this drawback. These disadvantages gained may be bought off at character creation, but afterward only removing the hardware or acclimatizing to it will remove the effect! Optionally, this may be avoided for starting c characters, by purchasing an Unusual Background worth 5 points per 30 points of cybernetics. Doing so means your character is fully acclimated and needs no roll for those starting cybernetics. Resistance to Cybernetic Distortion (+3) is worth 10-points and represents a character who is unusually resistant to these effects; +8 may be purchased for 50 points (it includes a bundled 35 point Unusual Background) and represents a one in a million biological system highly capable of being upgraded.

    Roll  Result      Notes

1, 1    Bad Grip 1 [1]

1, 2    Bad Temper (15)  [2]

1, 3    Nightmares (15)   [2]

1, 4    Berserk (15)         [2]

1, 5    Callous       [3]

1, 6    Chronic Pain        [4]

2, 1    Compulsive Behavior (-5 points worth)     [2]

2, 2    Insomnia     [2]

2, 3    Ham-Fisted 1       [1]

2, 4    Klutz [3]

2, 5    Phantom Voices (Annoying)   [1]

2, 6    Flashbacks (Mild) [1]

3, 1    Neurological Disorder    [4]

3, 2    Light Sleeper        [2]

3, 3    Slow Healing 1     [1]

3, 4    Wounded    [3]

3, 5    Impulsiveness (15)         [2]

3, 6    Implant Specific   [6]

4, 1    Unfit [1]

4, 2    Electrical     [5]

4, 3    Panic Attacks (Mild)      [1]

4, 4    Short Attention Span (15)       [2]

4, 5    Absent-Minded    [2]

4, 6    No Sense of Humor       [3]

5, 1    On the Edge (15)  [2]

5, 2    Low Empathy      [3]

5, 3    Will -1        [7]

5, 4    Perception -1        [7]

5, 5    Epilepsy     [5]

5, 6    IQ -1 [7]

6, 1    DX -1         [7]

6, 2    Basic Speed -0.25 [7]

6, 3    Basic Move -1      [7]

6, 4    IQ -1 [7]

6, 5    DX -1         [7]

6, 6    Roll twice more and ignore results of 6, 6


[1] If you roll this result again or already have this disadvantage, worsen it by one level; if it reaches its maximum level, reroll instead.
[2] If you already have this disadvantage, lower the self-control number by 3. If this would take it below 6, reroll instead.
[3] If you already have this disadvantage, reroll.
[4] Severe pain for one hour on a 9 or less. If you roll this result again, raise the interval to two hours, then four hours, then eight hours; past that, reroll. If you already have this disadvantage, the GM can rework it to make it -5 points worse, or have you reroll.
[5] Your cybernetics are “leaking” into your nervous system, causing you to short-out just as if you were a machine or suffer epileptic fits.
[6] A problem may also be specific cybernetic, such as a malfunctioning ear implant leading to Motion Sickness.
[7] Multiple results are cumulative.

Rules Option: Essence Burn

For those using the Fifth Attribute another option opens up: each 20 points of Cybernetics a character has inflicts a loss of a single level of Quintessence. This makes it so that magic users and other paranormal power wielders will shun cybernetics in general. The GM might want to break Quintessence into more bite size chunks. To do this, figure out what degree (anywhere from a tenth of a level to half a level is probably fine) and then apply that as a bundled disadvantage worth the same amount as normal (e.g., if Quintessence comes in half levels for this purpose then each half level is worth -5 points as a disadvantage). Always round down for the purposes of resisting powers or supernatural influence when taking into account fractional levels. Additionally, characters permanently reduce the the maximum score they can buy for Quintessence by the penalty inflicted (minimum of -1 for fractions). So if a character has -3 in Quintessence loss from bundled cybernetics they cannot raise their Quintessence over 17.

Picking Over the Bones

Overall, it’s simple and easy and owes its life to the Freakishness rules from After the End 1. I think there is probably room for some more details, but I’m not sure what I’d add that wouldn’t end up removing the simple and easy from the equation. The rules for Essence Burn are obviously for Shadowrun style dystopian futures. What do you think? Too little? Too much? Would you use them for your cyberpunk campaigns?

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  1. “A critical success on the Surgery roll to install the cybernetic reduces the total amount of Cybernetic Distortion it causes….”

    That’s great for roleplaying situations, where you can game out the decision between seeking care from the high-priced corporate doctor or the strung-out former veterinarian… but how do you determine the Surgery skill used to determine Distortion for starting characters?

    On a purely and whimsically note, the noun-ification of “cybernetic” bugs me. I’ve seen “cyberware” used as a generic term. I’ve just been going down a rabbit hole with Ancient Greek: since “cybernetic” comes from the Greek “kubernetes,” or “steersman,” should an individual piece of cyberware be called an “eretmós,” from the Ancient Greek word for “rudder’? 🙂

    • That would be up to the GM really. But if you need a system I’d say that a surgeon with a skill of 14 (probably the minimum needed for a high stress job like that) would be available most of the time (15 or less) and cost TL Monthly Pay x 0.8 for a single surgery that’s Simple or Minor. Major surgeries would probably cost double and take up to a week to perform (multiply cost by x5), while Radical surgeries would take multiple surgeries up to a month to perform (multiply cost by x25). Want a higher Surgery skill? Multiply the base pay by 20% per +1 increase, but reduce availability by -1. Multiply by 50% per +1 increase if the availability stays the same. Or you know, just use p. 207 Ultra-Tech. 🙂

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