Cybernetics Eat Your Soul
rating: 0+x

Basic Information

This trope is most prevalent in Cyberpunk and Twenty Minutes Into The Future settings. At it's simplest, it's the concept that cybernetic limbs, gadgets, and weapons drives you Ax Crazy.

What it really boils down to, though, is money and power, and their negative impacts on play balance. If cybernetics don't eat your soul, then the only drawback keeping your new character from having tons of plot-wrecking mook-killing power is the size of their bank account. Which takes the normal kill-the-monster, take-the-treasure dynamic of gaming and cranks it up. I kill this guy, and take his money to buy more cybergear. Thus upgraded, I kill this bigger guy, take his money, and buy more cybergear. And so on up the line till you hit the One Big Score that makes the character unstoppable. Then he topples the world.

In essence then, Cybernetics Eat Your Soul keeps the honest players honest, providing a little resistance to this unscrupulous methods. Meanwhile, it assures that any Munchkin brazen enough to become a serial-killer-for-cash is held in check by an eventual sanity collapse that kills them or renders the character an NPC villain. The purpose of such rules are often made all the more obvious by the fact that nothing but cyberware make you crazy - you can kill babies, torture puppies, and shoot heroin into your eyeballs all day, and as long as you don't get an artificial limb you'll never lose your humanity.

Sadly, despite that transparent motive, this trope also has a pretty big downside for the folks who already weren't likely to abuse the loophole it guards. It means that anyone trying to make a social, charismatic character ends up being more vulnerable than the Squishy Wizard, since they can't have anything installed but most trivial and innocuous cyberware. If the whole group stays cyber-lite, that's no big deal, but it's hard to be the only person in the adventuring party without reinforced skin and enhanced reflexes. The parties martial artist can have an enhanced body, the sniper can have enhanced senses, the techie can have built in tools and a cyberdatabase, etc; but the Faceman has to rely on only very minor pumps, or else the humanity hit will undo the bonuses the cyberware would have given him. As a result, die rolls in social specialties often trail 10% to 50% below rolls in other characters' specialties.


Deus Ex: Human Revolution and :Mankind Divided (and, to a lesser extent the original Deus Ex) show various characters wrestling with the effect of extensive cybernetics on their humanity in a believable way: some, like the protagonist Adam Jensen cling to humanity, some, like Gunther Herman, embrace the machine and only worry about obsolescence. Others lose their sanity completely, whether in a low functioning, cyberspsycho way (as in a couple of the NPCs Adam has to put down over the course of the games), or in the high functioning manner of Anna Navarre (who may not have been entirely sane to begin with). Most of these characters, admittedly, were fitted with cyberware after life threatening traumatic injury, but there are also those who were cajoled, tricked or mis-sold into being "upgraded" as well.

2. RPG: Cyberpunk 2020 by R. Talsorian Games

Game and Story Use

  • Whether or not you use this trope, Cybernetics work best if all the group has roughly the same tech budget and goals. Either all munchkins or no munchkins is far more conducive to gaming fun than a mix. Know your fellow players, and get everybody on the same page.
    • After all, the more cyberpsycho the tanks are, the harder it is for the face to keep the group's reputation clean. By way of contrast, the face being squishy just makes the tank/munchkin's job more fun. This is not the best of dynamics for at least one of the players.
      • If I sound a tiny bit bitter, I guess I am. Here's a peak inside my soul (which I still have, since I had very little cyberware in that campaign), courtesy of my blog. It ain't pretty. Still love Cyberpunk, though.
  • The problems given in the core text are mainly due to bad implementation - if the only evidence of the dehumanising effects of cybernetics is a hit to your social skills then of course play will be unbalanced (at which point you're almost certainly better off replacing the "Face man" with an NPC manager or PA). If, on the other hand, psychosis extends to low functioning depression, paranoia, pathological overconfidence or uncontrollable rage - some of the genuine mental disorders that might result from having large parts of your body replaced with artificial materials - then the cyborgs might well be a little more limited.
    • Broadly this is the same sort of problem as those fRPGs where wound infections are only an issue if you character is bitten by specific creatures - the games have a sanity system, but only in part and poorly implemented.
    • There's probably an element of cause and effect here - it's not that cutting off your arms to replace them with killware drives you mad, it's that there is probably something wrong with you in the first place if you are prepared to have healthy flesh cut off and replaced with metal so that you can be better at killing people, it's just that madness first, then modification is harder to model in game than the reverse.
      • Even works with necessary prosthetics: you take the trauma from losing the limb, not from replacing it, but the semi-implemented sanity system isn't tracking the loss until the replacement goes on.
  • Over cybered characters can also be subject to in-game controls - whilst there might be nothing stopping them rampaging around the urban prairie or the slums of NoGo, they will find themselves barred from the sort of places civilised people go. Naturally they can shoot their way in, but that way lies confrontations with military level equipment and the generation of a new character … some players might enjoy playing Barrow or Starkweather, but it doesn't make for a long campaign.
    • If playing these sort of controls, make it obvious early - have the upgraded characters attract adverse comments from security guards and even potential employers long before they get enough metal to actually be banned from places. Describe the signs banning heavily auged people from bars, shops and restaurants1, make them go through upgraded security checks that keep the rest of the group waiting. Make it clear that there are significant consequences for getting too much wetware, especially the overt stuff. You can even lampshade it by sending them out to hunt "cyberpsychos" whose primary "psychosis" turns out to be objecting to the level of discrimination they face.
      • This also makes the face more important - he's the only one that can make it into the "humans only" parts of the game world whilst the "clanks" wait in the car.
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License