General. One of the running themes for Rifts has always been about the bionic and cybernetic augmentation. From the very get-go, the Cyborg class has been a fan favourite, particularly supported by that great Kevin Long image of the “Red Borg.” The idea of playing a personalized stompy robot that can wrangle with demons and monsters alike is a very appealing prospect. You’re basically taking the RoboCop imagery and making it yours; and who wouldn’t want to play RoboCop? These combat behemoths are a staple of the Rifts RPG and make for great components to a Player Group. With such iconic imagery, supported by numerous entries across the Rifts RPG, this makes for a great character class that can do multiple things throughout most adventures.
Type of Characters. As a Men-at-Arms class, the Combat Cyborg epitomizes the bionic augmentation ideals, completely changing the (presumably) human baseline being and surgically augments them to become walking weapons of war. Often with over 90% of the original biological body replaced with mechanical bionics, they are a walking, thinking robot. It’s a common trope in science fiction, and in the Rifts RPG, this class presents a great way for Players to express some creativity and personalize the bionic conversions selected. This full conversion comes at a price; some obvious, others not so much. From the very start, these characters are primarily geared for the combat elements of the game. We’re not looking at a character heavy on skills or natural abilities. Everything they bring to the table is mechanically manufactured and literally strapped to their body. Despite this, they can make some compelling characters.
Key Characteristics of the O.C.C. Let’s start with the obvious. You are a walking machine. There, motherhood statement out of the way. It is easy to look at this O.C.C. and think you’re simply creating a murder-hobo; to some extent this remains a truth. Effectively you are arming a combat character that can withstand impressive punishment and deliver an impressive amount of damage in turn. They are an avatar of war, often standing significantly taller than the average human and supporting a menacing bulk. Not completely lacking for skills by any means, they are generalist and combat oriented more than anything else. What they lack for in skills and abilities is more than made up in their gear, weapons, and durability. Not quite as over the top in terms of credits as the Robot Pilot, the Combat Cyborg comes with a significant bill attached to their bionics and cybernetic upgrades. This often means they are beholden to the city-state that sponsored the conversion process. Of course, this also means the O.C.C. is a death knell for any psionics or magical abilities; admittedly not likely a consideration the Player cares about. It also makes the O.C.C. one of the few that takes even longer to go through character generation as the Player selects among an absolute raft of options.
Note: There is no true, stated cost associated with the conversion process. Some 'guestimates' based on the books listed below, I’ve come to guess that the process itself is over 1.2 million credits, plus anything spent on weapons and specific bionic upgrades or cybernetics.
Relevant Books with Updates. The original Rifts Main Book has a great section on cybernetics and bionic conversions as an expression of humanity’s desire to better integrate with technology. There are definite benefits, but not until later releases do we get to really see some canon results that show the downsides. There are certainly numerous books out there with upgrades and technology the Cyborg could apply:
World Book 5: Triax. Certainly, applicable while playing in the European sphere, several of the cyborg models could be made available across Rifts Earth on the Black Market. This was the first time we saw baseline models with upgrades for military use.
World Book 11: Coalition War Campaign. Really this is where the Combat Cyborg class originated. The CS has officially accepted these combat behemoths into their military, just shy of launching a massive invasion of Tolkeen. Has a surprisingly high M.E. attribute requirement to qualify….
World Book 14: New West. Provides the Player an option to play a different model of Cyborg character; placing the Mining Cyborg in the Adventurers section seemed a little odd.
World Book 17: Warlords of Russia. As a society that has whole-heartedly accepted the idea of cybernetic and bionic modification, there’s a lot here. Includes some regional-specific options that a GM could realistically make available anywhere.
World Book 22: Free Quebec. The second place we find a baseline series of Combat Cyborgs integrated into the military. Not exclusively tagged to the Glitter Boy Legions, they can be found throughout the FQ Military.
World Book 36: Sovietski. As another regional power that has embraced the bionic lifestyle, no surprise that there be a number of entries of interest.
Sourcebook 5: Bionics. It goes without saying that this should be a high priority purchase for any Player looking to exploit cybernetics and bionics. It also presents several variations to the Cyborg O.C.C. that may be more the Player’s preference. That and reams of bionics and cybernetics compiled from previous entries.
How I Would Play This OCC. First off, I’d likely pull Sourcebook 5: Bionics out and dive straight into the more nuanced presentation for this O.C.C. There are a number of options spaces here, some of them really intriguing. I wouldn’t bother with the partial conversions, because at that point you are essentially committing to the Headhunter O.C.C. option space. So let’s go ahead and commit to the trope and make a mechanical combat godling. I’m not huge on the multiple armed, prehensive tailed styles, so a humanoid shape with obvious mechanical features would be my template. Add in a slew of sensors, upgrading for mobility and speed over brute force, I’d like to build for espionage and ambush strikes over charging the enemy lines. I’d gear the few skill choices to match.
The Combat Cyborg in Context
All Human. The Combat Cyborg comes front-end loaded with a lot (I mean, a LOT) of options for weapons, armor and cybernetics that make this a true avatar of combat. In a world where most monsters and foes are sporting M.D.C. bodies and armor, the Combat Cyborg stands out in terms of durability. With even light armor, these characters can sustain as much damage (if not more) than a heavy robot. They are inarguably the tank of the group, often unleashing significant amounts of damage from heavy weapons or multiple attacks with heavy close-combat weaponry. Unlike Robot Pilots or Glitter Boys, they don’t have to disembark for tighter spaces (well, maybe hunch over a bit), often can never “drop” their weapons, and often have a series of implants that provide specialist functionality. Alternatively, they are not the one sent in to conduct negotiations, unless it means starting discussions with a particle beam blast. They definitely fill their roll.
With the Big Boss(es). Remains a heavy hitter among heavy hitters. These guys are literally a walking hammer, not so much a scalpel. They can tangle with the majority of the beasts they likely encounter, taking massive damage before getting worried, and covering the remainder of the party while things get done. They are not likely the heaviest damage dealer, but can hold their own and make things interesting. They come packing a suite of special cybernetics that may make them indispensable, as these act like some of the more special abilities other O.C.C.s and R.C.C.s have access to.
With the Demi-Gods. Things get a little different here. At this point, the other PCs likely benefit from serious amounts of M.D.C. with a regeneration mechanism, and various special abilities that outshine the Combat cyborg. The cyborg can still contribute in meaningful ways, but their technology-based benefits come with a repair bill and a restocking bill; this means the PC needs to organize a bank account or a sponsor to arrange for things. Since they aren’t the skill jockey of the crew, or the likely heaviest hitters of the party, they are more so in the middle of the pack. Perhaps not the greatest O.C.C. to have in this milieu, but certainly not a bad choice.
Rifts Main Book (RMB, or Grey Book) to Rifts Ultimate Edition (RUE). The update from the RMB to the RUE version. This first and foremost is the clean-up of the O.C.C. Obviously done so in terms of saving space for the layout, the O.C.C. has one of the worst layouts in the RMB. The RUE version updates to the new standard with a few extra skills, but drags the bionics and cybernetics section from the back of the book into the O.C.C.; I’m not a fan of this move. For the most part though, there is no significant stand-out between the two. This reinforces the idea that the Class worked well in the initial release, filling its niche to everyone’s satisfaction. It wasn’t until Sourcebook 5: Bionics release that we started to see the nuanced changes to the class, all of which welcomed additions.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE COMBAT CYBORG
This is a robust character class, that benefits from a long series of entries to support character generation, building the model you want to play, and the overall theme from Rifts of bionic and cybernetic augmentation. Both the North American and Eurasian settings really support the use of a Combat cyborg, and they can provide some serious hitting and staying power. This makes them a great addition to pretty much any player group. In terms of character generation, this is one of those classes that has a heavy bill attached to it. At the end of it though, the Player is heavily invested in their PC’s survival, supporting immersion and a great possible long-term character.