Last time, we talked about how to take a human mind out of a body, copy it, change it, merge it, or put it back. This easy way of moving into a more “powerful” body (whatever that might mean; I am sure players have their own definition of power which probably devolves into blowing things up) has been barred by technology decisions. Yet, if the mind will not come to the Destructotron 3000, the Destructotron 3000 has to come to the mind.
Specifically, replacing the old and weak parts of your body with technology. Inspirations for that are abundant in fiction. In RPGs Shadowrun (with its mechanism of Essence loss as a trade-off) surely has to be mentioned. Eclipse Phase doesn’t focus that much on the augmentation part (it still has twelve pages of augmentation description, but if you can change your whole body it doesn’t quite have the same oomph). THS doesn’t have many augmentations, arguing that “Bionic limbs or organs aimed at enhancing a person’s abilities [than those replacing missing limbs or organs] are even rarer. It’s cheaper and easier just to use gadgets, such as a pair of infrared goggles or a powered suit, and far easier to fix things external to the body if and when they break down.” It does have brain implants, though.
GURPS 4th edition collects augmentations (at least cybernetics) in Ultratech, and has eleven pages of upgrades. These range from useful implants like an implanted radio/video communicator to rather useless implants like the Ripsnake “thing” (an implanted cybernetic tongue one can use to attack) which rather than effective is strange.
As a game mechanic, almost all of the implants provide a disadvantage with mitigator (-70%), usually have Temporary Disadvantage (Electrical, -20%), plus Unhealing and Maintenance (1 person, monthly). As an example, a single bionic arm has enhanced arm ST, DR 2, and one arm as mitigated disadvantage. It also needs an hour of maintenance from one person every week. No idea if you can do that yourself, though. It’s also a major procedure: Recovery period of one week and $10,000 for the procedure and $12,000 for the arm itself. All of that for, essentially, 2DR on the arms. I can definitely understand THS’ argument.
A Short Overview of Cybernetics
Which augmentations are actually useful? Over some of those, you could argue, but in general I’m assuming that augmentations can be detected, at least in high-security areas (the equivalent of airports today). This makes them mostly unsuited for espionage or covert operations.
The bionic replacements really are only useful if you can’t regrow them. You buy a few small boni (Arm ST+2, DR2, protected hearing, for example) with maintenance requirements and vulnerability to electrical currents. Bionic Eyes might be useful, since they provide night vision, protected vision, and telescopic vision plus a video display. However, this could also be replaced with AR glasses. Similarly, Thermal Imaging Eyes, while nice, could be replaced by thermal imaging goggles.
There are a few rather curious and sometimes cruel implants: The Bomb Implant gives you hidden explosives which is said could be used for suicide bombings but is extremely limited in firepower; it’s rather more useful for blackmail but that seems very inefficient. Cyber Claws provide you with melee damage, but that’s nothing a sword couldn’t do better, and you can actually remove it without a surgical team. A Flesh Pocket can carry up to ten lbs in the torso, but I’ve got the feeling that - again - it should be detectable in high-security areas.
There are a few combat-focused implants (which is something PCs are probably always after). The different subdermal armours can be replaced with external armour, but might be used by bodyguards and maybe soldiers in addition to armour. I can’t quite see the use of internal Weapon Mounts - for soldiers, they just won’t be worth it compared to just carrying a pistol, for covert agents the risk of detection is simply too high. A Reinforced Skeleton might be useful for more extreme sports, but costs a total of $150,000 and includes four weeks of recuperation time. Also, Accelerated Reflexes are possible for a total of $150,000 which again probably means they won’t be used for soldiers. A Hive Implant depends on the available swarms, but I’ll assume that they are almost mandatory if there are combat-useable swarms.
A few implants are potentially useful for spies. Memory Flesh and Polyskin allow impersonation and/or appearance change, Variskin provides the chameleon advantage. The former two might be somewhat useful, but the latter should be replaceable with a normal suit (which also won’t get you arrested at every airport). A Stinger (implanted needle to deploy drugs or medication, either in a finger or a “body cavity” which is noted to be useful during an “intimate moment”) might have some use, but I’d argue that almost any method of drug delivery should be easier, even the proverbial KGB umbrella.
There are other augmentations that are more useful as lifestyle choices: Smart Tattoos and Variskin again can both be used to display social and cultural ideas, and Cyberhair is arguably more useful as a similar display rather than the third arm it could be used as. A Sexmorph’s use is rather more obvious, depending on the individual’s sexual identity.
A few more implants actually provide you with new capabilities and therefore are useful: The Implant Radio and Video Comm are as useful as a smartphone (but admittedly could be replaced by one). And the Biomonitor is actually a useful medical implant and might be mandatory in some polities. The Gill Implant and Intestinal Recycler, just like Gyrobalance, could be used for extreme sports or survival - but if you rely on implants to survive, the regular maintenance will kill you. And the former - just like the Filter Implant - seem nice for emergency situations at a first glance, but can easily be replaced by an actual gas mask or scuba equipment.
I must note that I don’t understand why you’d use Slickskin.
Now we come to a few actually useful implants. Chief of these is the Computer Implant, which is arguably the more general form of a few of the other options. It costs $4,000 for the implant, another $10,000 for the operation, and at least $100 for the tiny computer (Complexity 5, 1PB), although I don’t see any reason why you wouldn’t pay 20x for Complexity 6 and/or 1.5x for High-Capacity for a maximum cost of $3,000. That’s a total of $17,000, admittedly quite a bit of money. For $160, you can get what’s essentially a tablet plus AR glasses for much of the same functionality - it might be more difficult to interface with it, but it only costs one percent of that. Oh, and the implant also needs an interface implant, which costs another $15,000. It’s far more likely that you’d only use such an interface plus a portably and non-implanted computer - which also means that you can buy a new one every few years.
The computer implant arguably includes all of the Sensie things (a technology which I see as unlikely to be adopted), and will need a separate interface implant. Another tech, the chip slots (slots for buyable skills) will not be available since it implies a much greater knowledge about brain structure than I assume. Similar things apply to the Neurotherapy and the Psych Implants: These assume highly precise targeting of brain functionality. I’m going to assume those are available but far too coarse for actual use.
Lastly, there’s also the Biological Operating System (which allows you to more precisely manage your physiological state and gives a few perks) and the Cognitive Enhancement. The former might be available depending on nanotech, the latter won’t be.
All in all, cybernetic enhancements are available. But that does not mean they’re widely used. My decision is similar to THS’: If you have the choice of either an expensive major surgical implantation or a portable and flexible gadget, you’re going to choose the latter one.
There are a few people who’ll decide differently: Brain implants are both a status symbol and may be used in some higher-ranking military positions. It’s also not so uncommon that having one might compromise a spy trying to infiltrate through air or space port. Lastly, smart tattoos and cyberhair is common in some areas and social circles.