I would like to mention that not all augmentations need be of heroic stature, they just need to be useful. For example, do all cybernetics that involve the bones of the human body need to revolve around making them unbreakable, or could you hollow them out to install other systems (such as computers, nanite repair systems, or chemical manufacturing areas for medical purposes) and then reinforcing the bones so they are just as strong as before?
So, a couple of ideas for you to mull over.
First, a specific example: making a human not need sleep, either for extended periods or at all. This could be either biotech, cybernetic, or a combination of the two. To put it simply, not all animals need to sleep the way humans do, and a number of species (including some rather intelligent mammals) only go into a partial state of sleep. This includes dolphins and whales, by the way, and a number of long-range bird species effectively travel for days without rest during migrations.
How to accomplish this is pretty complex, and definitely should be handled as "permanent'. First, you can either biologically alter at least some of the muscle cells of the human body or provide them cybernetic support so they can function for longer periods without rest. This isn't going to make the subject stronger, just increase their endurance, and perhaps only under non-exhaustive activities (walking with a light load, but not running a marathon or hiking with a full pack that's half their body mass).
Additionally, you would have to alter the human brain, since not sleeping can cause dramatic psychological effects (if you are awake long enough, you begin suffering neurological issues, and there are at least a couple of diseases that prevent sleep that are fatal, specifically because they block sleep). The benefits of sleep
on the human brain include storing memories and revitalizing the neurons so they can function properly. In humans, the majority of the brain effectively shuts down during sleep, but that isn't true for all animals. Dolphins and whales, for example, only shut down part of their higher brain functions, allowing them to swim, watch for predators, and take breaths while sleeping. Perhaps you could use a nanocomputer or biologically change the neurons of the human brain to allow for only partial shutdowns, giving those cells enough time to restore themselves before reactivating and shutting down another portion.
What could this mean in game terms? It could mean that a character could still continue to take actions that are relatively simple and lack significant thought while also basically sleeping (making the saying "do this in my sleep" be a literal statement). This could include driving long distances on well marked roads, flying spacecraft between planets in a safe star system (which could take days or potentially weeks, depending on technology), monitoring ship systems, etc. Hell, if enough of the brain is left active, you could even allow players to perform non-routine actions while asleep, while applying penalties to those actions. That would give them the option of basically resting while also performing other activities (the penalties would just encourage them to carefully select when they do so).
More importantly, that isn't really "heroic". That could be something that many people would find useful in their everyday lives. College students would never suffer from all-nighters, truck drivers would be able to get their cargoes to their destinations faster, parents wouldn't fear the 2am feedings of a new born, etc.
Finally, this isn't even an original idea. I just thought of this by thinking about Warhammer 40K, a setting well known for its extremes. Specific to this, part of the Space Marine augmentation process involves making it possible for said Space Marine to basically go for extended periods of time without sleep by shutting down parts of their brain, making them still combat effective (though at a reduced capacity) while not needing sleep for basically weeks or more.
The second option involves expanding the skills that actually need augmentation to use. Guardian mentioned this a while ago when he highlighted that Arcane/Faith FX and Mindwalking skills would likely need augmentation of the human brain just for them to be usable. Acrobatics - flight
is a good example, since it can only be actually used by characters who are mutated to have wings or are of a species that naturally has wings. My question is, why not other skills?
A couple of good examples: Navigation - drivespace astrogation
and Knowledge - language
Drivespace astrogation involves physics that could literally be beyond the capacity of the human brain to understand, much less harness. Yeah, the math may work, but that doesn't mean you understand what you are actually doing. A great example of this is seen in the Wing Commander series, where a group of humans (really mutants) named Pilgrims are the only ones able to use the setting's FTL drives without the aid of a computer. 40K also includes the use of psychers being needed for navigating through the Warp.
So perhaps the only way to be able to gain this skill involves a cybernetic augmentation that allows the human mind to process the physics of FTL travel enough to actually plot a course. Without this augmentation, you are stuck relying on specialized AI computers or augmented navigators. That could, in fact, be a central component to a setting, such as in the Dune series. Perhaps only augmented humans (and not AI's) can plot FTL courses, making them in high demand within the greater galactic society (the augmentations could be limited by genetics, or that only a few can actually survive the procedure).
For language skills, that is more a reference to alien languages. In many science fiction settings, intelligent life is assumed to be able to communicate, either through some sort of translator technology (which shouldn't really synch to their lips, by the way) or through actually learning how to speak the various languages. However, this runs into a problem, specifically involving assumptions in the alien species' biology.
Sound is a great way to communicate, faster and more effective than pretty much any non-technological means. On earth, many species use sound to communicate, and it isn't exclusive to mammals, and a number of species have very complex vocal communications. Humans, however, have the most complex system of vocal communication, as far as we know.
With that said, it makes perfect sense for an alien species to develop complex vocal communications. That does not mean, however, that they can generate the same frequencies or sounds as a human. In fact, while their is the potential for overlap, it is unlikely that another intelligent species would be able to mimic any human language, and vice versa.
So how about an augmentation that allows for such communication? This could involve basically redundant organs or cybernetic systems being installed that provide a character with the vocal processes to mimic an alien language. This may also necessitate the addition of holographic systems that allow for false wings, tails, spins, facial colors, etc, to be included. This last part fills in for the fact that human communications, as well as that of other animals, can have dramatic difference when body language is taken into account. A dog will wag its tail when greeting someone, but it can also wag its tail when it expects a fight, and the difference can be seen in the way it curls its lips and raises its hackles. Even if you include barking with the tail wagging, the barks can sound almost exactly the same, so the visual additions can be of critical import.
Surprisingly enough, you actually do see this idea in Star*Drive. The medurr of S*D use their tails in their communications, making the t'sa and the sesheyans the prime candidates for translators While I highly doubt that it is impossible for the medurr to communicate with each other without seeing their tails, it could provide a significant degree of detail that can't passed along otherwise, which means that just verbal communications require additional length (to pass on said details vocally) or is restricted to only basic communications.
The fraal likely also have a similar issue, where they use their natural Mindwalking abilities to add detail during conversation that simply can't be expressed verbally. There is a short story in the book Starfall
titled "The Scent of Evil" that explicitly notes this, as the fraal characters mention to their human counterparts that the moon they are on has a "scent of evil", but that this is a psyonic concept that can't be explained to anyone without Mindwalking abilities (and likely that you need them to be as extensive as the fraal's, so even a human Mindwalker may not be able to truly wrap their mind around it). I will say that the story itself is pretty good, and it is written by William H. Keith, Jr. This post has been edited by cobalt_phoenix on Oct 27 2018, 05:43