We can rebuild you, make you…cooler.

Continuing my 5hadowrun project (click the tag at the bottom/side of the page to see the rest), I’m introducing some cyberware/bioware. As always, this is work in progress, so feel free to leave a comment if you think something could be better.

If you could buy a better body than the one you have now, would you? What if the new body came with sick wolverine claws and a jet pack?

Body upgrades are a large part of Shadowrun, so it would be remiss of me not to include them in my 5e conversion. I see their role as very similar to magic items in a fantasy setting, and something which the GM can restrict or allow as they like. Some of the suggested ‘wares could break the game, especially at low levels, just like +3 vorpal sword could.


Shadowrun has an ‘essence’ mechanic: each modification you install takes away some of your essence (your spiritual connection), meaning using magic is more difficult, and when you hit zero essence you die (you’ve lost all humanity or sanity or something). Essentially a balancer, it sets a limit on the amount of modifications a character can have, and ensures magic users don’t also have cool robot bodies.

Richard Whitehead: amazing runner, terrible wizard (apparently).

One of the things I like about 5e is it took away all spell failure and armour check penalty rules – if you have proficiency with an armour/weapon/skill you can use it. If your wizard has used a load of feats to get armour proficiency (or if you’ve multiclassed) can cast spells in armour, no problems or penalties applied. It simplifies the game and allows for more interesting characters.

So I’m going to get rid of essence!

I’ll treat Bioware as I would magical items – there are limits to how much you can have, some of it might be cursed/defective, and it’ll be crazy expensive; but there’s no other penalties.

As an aside, it’s also quite an offensive mechanic. Installing modifications reduces your humanity/spirituality/whatever. It gets worse though: losing a leg doesn’t reduce your essence, but installing a replacement does! It’s better to be disabled, and trying to get around that is bad? So most people competing in the paralympics are inhuman? It also plays into that sci-fi trope of “science has gone too far” or “nature knows best”, which I also hate.


You have 4 bioware ‘slots’: head, body, arms, legs. The body can’t take too much modification before immune response/shock sets in, so only one type of ‘ware can be installed in each location.

Legal bioware is installed by licensed professionals, in state of the art clinics. I’d suggest that very few of the items listed below are legal, and so would be installed by…whoever you can find. I’ll leave the process up to GMs, maybe your team has a surgeon back at the base, or you know a guy down an alley who can do it for a price? It’s also up to you as to how possible removal/replacement should be.

I’ve not suggested prices as (like magic items) most should be difficult, if not impossible to acquire normally. Maybe they’re given as reward by one of the corporations for completing a run? Maybe you ‘extract’ one from a fallen enemy?

For some devices I’ve used a range of numbers, e.g. “prepare an extra 1/2/3 spells per day”. This is to indicate higher-spec versions of the bioware, in the same way that there are +1/+2/+3 weapons and armour.



In proper Shadowrun, if you want to hack things or do complicated computer things, you would need a ‘datajack’, essentially an ethernet port in your head. However it tended to take up one of your bioware slots, which I’m not sure I like.

Instead I’m going to make a datajack something that some classes or archetypes get, similar to tool or weapon proficiencies. Anyone can try to hack a computer with a keyboard; a datajack lets you hack retinal scanners, cars, robots, or even your enemies’ weapons.

  • Smart link: Some state of the art firearms come with a smart link – a device that plugs into the user’s brain, allowing direct feedback between user and weapon. Calculate your attack bonus (only for that particular weapon) as if your dexterity was 14/16/18.
  • Retinal implants: The user’s retina (or in some cases the whole eye) is replaced by a high-sensitivity CCD, and wired into the optic centre of the brain. Gain 60ft darkvision.
  • Cerebral editor: A watchdog program observes the user’s behaviour, and is able to signal to the frontal lobe if anomalous behaviour is detected. You may reroll a wisdom save 1/2/3 times per day and take either result.
  • Toxic exhaler: Poison glands installed just above the vocal chords allow the user to exhale and deadly gas when required. Gain a breath weapon (as for dragonborn). [Fire, cold, etc versions available]
  • Enhanced Hippocampus: Digital systems complement the user’s memory. Prepare an extra 1/2/3 spells per day (no extra spell slots).
  • Laser designator: One eye is replaced with a laser pointer and targeting system, allowing increased attack effectiveness when used. You may cast ‘hunter’s mark’ (as a first-level spell) 2/3/4 times per day.
  • Reinforced spine: Stabilising and strengthening structures are added to the user’s spine and shoulders to aid stability and resist the effects of firearm recoil. For weapon strength requirements only, your strength counts as 2/4/6 points higher.
  • Adrenal stimulator: In times of stress, additives are released into the adrenal system, allowing the user to react faster. Calculate your initiative as if your dexterity was 14/16/18.
  • Sub-dermal plating: Polymer plating is installed just beneath the skin surface. There are two main types – those that add a hard, armoured shell, and those designed to slow and reduce damage from firearms. Gain resistance to small calibre weapons OR an unarmoured AC of 12/13/14.
  • Nano immune system: Nanobots are released into the user’s bloodstream, greatly increasing the effectiveness of the immune system. Gain immunity to poison and disease.
  • Platelet factory: The user’s healing mechanisms are enhanced with synthetic platelet and clotting factor production systems. Gain 1/2/3 extra hit dice (this does not increase your hit point maximum, the hit dice may be spent during a short rest).
  • Replacement arms: One or both arms are replaced, increasing the effectiveness of melee attacks. Commonly the replacement arms are metallic and obviously synthetic, but more advanced versions are available that ‘improve’ the aesthetics. Add 1/2/3 damage to melee weapon and unarmed attacks (yes, this stacks with fighting styles and barbarian rage)
  • Polymer claws: Retractable spikes or claws are added to the user’s forearms or hands. How visible the weapon is varies: some gang members prefer (and can only afford) an obvious weapon, while a corporate assassin could pass through a security scanner naked and not be detected. Gain 1d6 piercing unarmed attack (one or both arms)
  • Blaster palm: A small energy weapon is installed in the user’s palm, taking energy from the user’s own tissues. Gain a 20ft range 1d6 radiant unarmed attack, which may be used a number of times per day equal to your constitution modifier.
  • Auto trauma administrator: Shielded drug delivery systems and an AED are installed in the users arms (away from the frequently damaged central mass) which deploy when trauma is detected. You may automatically stabilise when reduced to 0 hit points (so long as you aren’t automatically killed). Needs to be recharged after use at a medical clinic or similar.
  • Replacement legs: Both natural legs are replaced, although the amount varies from just the lower leg to the whole structure, sometimes including the hips. As with synthetic arms, different models have a range of appearances, some even displaying a digitigrade ‘backwards’ knee. Increase your movement speed by 10/20/30ft, and double/triple your long and high jump distance.
  • Wired reflexes: An extra spinal feedback loop is implanted in the user’s lower body and legs, allowing them to react at superhuman speeds. Before normal combat initiative is resolved, the user may move up the their speed (but may not take any actions). If the user is surprised, this action occurs between the surprise round and normal rounds.
  • Tailored pheromones: Modified sweat glands around the groin release pheromones controlled by the user, allowing them to subtly affect another person’s disposition. Gain proficiency in persuasion or intimidation. If you already have proficiency, you may gain expertise (double proficiency bonus).
  • Rocket calves: The calf muscles and much of the lower leg is replaced with small scramjet engines, allowing the user to fly for short bursts. Gain 1min of flight (60ft speed) per day/recharge. This may be used continuously, or taken as ten 60ft ‘jumps’ or any combination of these. You may use this bioware to hover, but this still counts as flight time.
  • Hydraulic thighs: The legs, hips and lower back are enlarged and strengthened, and enhanced with hydraulic pistons. Double your carrying/lifting capacity. In addition, so long as you land on your feet, you do not take damage from falls up to 50/100/200ft.

There’s some cool and awesome combinations that can be achieved here. I actually prefer some of the less combat focussed biowares: being able to jump off the roof of a building and not take damage is just an awesome way of getting out trouble.

Be aware of how things like the smartlink and reinforced spine reduce a character’s stat-dependence. The smartlink for example allows a strength-based barbarian to still be reasonably competent with one particular firearm, so they don’t have to rush into a hail of gunfire every time (although they probably still will, because barbarian).

As I mentioned, giving a player full access to all these additional things will probably break the game (unless you want to run a superpowered campaign). But what better reason to do a run for a corporation than to earn some sweet upgrades?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s