Ronin Round Table: Cybernetics in Valkana
While working on the outline for Titansgrave: World of Valkana, I’d finally hammered down (with an incredible degree of aid from Ryan Wheaton) the various political structures, historical weirdnesses, and generally rich tapestry of the setting’s major landmass.
Then, I turned my attention to some of the cool stuff that the PCs can and should have access to as heroes in Valkana. Naturally, thought turns to the heroes of the Titansgrave: Ashes of Valkana webseries from Geek & Sundry. In particular, Lemley’s cybernetic arm which, among other things, houses Dr. Lobotomy.
Cybernetics can get problematic in game design sometimes. Obviously, a game that includes them must include a way for player characters to have them – it’s half the fun! But designing cybernetics as pieces of equipment with all sorts of great bonuses usually ends up with characters who are as close to full-body-upgrades as they can get, ending up with groups of nearly complete-replacement cyborgs instead of plucky heroes with a piece of chrome or two.
To some degree, that’s a natural outgrowth of character advancement and equipment rules: player characters want effective characters, and when cybernetics all provide benefits of some sort, the more cybernetics your character has, the better they are.
Some systems implement “limits” systems to restrict how much of the character can be cybernetic before penalties begin to accrue, in the shape of penalties to social interactions or some kind of cyber-psychosis. For Valkana, I thought I’d take a different tact.
By and large, cybernetics in Valkana are not upgrades. They are prosthetics, designed to seamlessly replace the easy functioning of the limb or other body part being replaced. There are some pieces of equipment that one can purchase that complement the function of cybernetics (such as the cyber-sheathe Lemley stores Dr. Lobotomy in), but these prosthetic do not provide constant improvements to a character’s abilities.
Now, of course, this is a fantasy adventuring setting, so having cybernetics function solely as different-colored-limbs isn’t fun, either. To strike a balance between this-arm-does-nothing and this-arm-makes-me-constantly-more-powerful, we turned to Fantasy AGE’s Stunt mechanic to do the heavy lifting for us.
The Stunt system already provides a set of mechanics that allow characters to occasionally show off some cool feats of derring-do. It’s not dependable enough to do every round, and even the scale of the Stunt will vary each time it’s evoked.
So, author Seth Johnson and I decided that cybernetics can provide an extra, unique Stunt the hero can spend Stunt points on. It gives a nifty “signature” trick that character can pull every so often, but actually comes within the already-existing “Stunt economy” of the game’s basic system. To show off exactly what we’re talking about here, we’re including the cyberarm from the Equipment chapter of this upcoming book below.
This arm replacement functions for all purposes as a normal arm for the character’s actions. The bearer of this arm also gains access to the following Stunts:
Piledriver (3 SP, Combat): The strength of your arm spins into overdrive for a moment, delivering a punishing strike. Your blow inflicts +1d3 damage and you knock your opponent prone as though you’d invoked the Knock Prone Stunt.
Shieldarm (2 SP, Combat): You set your arm up to intercept incoming attacks. Increase your Armor by +1 until the end of your next action.