Mass Effect Style Character Design

 Posted by on November 28, 2011  Filed as: Character-Building  Add comments  Topic(s):
Nov 282011

So, you’ve got a few ideas about what makes a good encounter and how to get your players to understand the meaning of “take cover!” You’re probably asking, “Now what?”

First of all, Alejandro, don’t interrupt me when I’m talking about Mass Effect, it’s rude. Second of all, since you asked, chances are good your players will need something to play, yes?

Well, probably your players are like mine and are thus fairly unmotivated to actually learn how to make a character from scratch themselves. Even if they’re the motivated kind (read: power gamers) they’ll probably want a few guidelines. Players crave structure, just like children. And also just like children, they’ll immediately start looking for ways they can break down whatever structure you give them. Wait, that’s not what I… Look, let’s just talk about character building, okay?

Character Building: Power Level in M&M

The first step is to admit you have a problem. Wait, that’s the wrong process. The first step is actually to determine your Power Level for the campaign. This will work a little differently depending on your system of choice: for M&M, it’s fairly easy.

Green Ronin’s Mutants and Masterminds has a range of “defaults” that you can use. The normal default for the system is Power Level 10, but since that’s for super heroes, it’s probably a little high for our needs. I could go through all the gradations you get at different power levels, but for our purposes I’m just going to say “you should use either PL 6 or PL 8.” Oh, look, I just said it. Right there.

Okay, okay, a little explanation: Power Level 6 is good if you want characters who are “street level,” or closer to the norm – just slightly better than a soldier or police officer by virtue of being a protagonist. PL 8 is better if you want a more “action hero” feel with characters closer in power to the ones in the game.

Either one is valid; for my purposes, I went with PL 8. The characters offered in the upcoming “Steal This Character” articles in the series are built with this default in mind.

The Obligatory Nod to FATE

If you’re using Strands of Fate, you’ll want something with a higher tech level, and you’ll probably be using Action Hero (with powers allowed) or higher. I’d offer more detail, but FATE isn’t my area of expertise – I’m still learning how it all fits together. If you want more details about something using this system, I suggest asking Chris or John. They know what they’re doing. And again, check out John’s article on FATE conversions for some solid guidelines.

The Obligatory Nod to The 800lb Gorilla… I mean, D&D

Yeah, I know, I know, but give me a second. If your group is a huge fan of 4th Edition D&D, chances are either you’ll want a break to try something new (see the above) or you’ll want to use something you’re all familiar with. In which case, you’re in luck.

See, there’s a kind of fantastic 3rd Party PDF supplement for D&D 4th Edition (yeah, I know, who knew they made those?) called Amethyst Foundations. The guy who wrote it, Chris Dias is just a fantastic guy, and he’s worth supporting with a few bucks. There’s an excellent review of Amethyst over on The Dump Stat, and while it has it’s own setting (obviously), it also has a LOT of guns and powered armor, so it would probably lend itself well to a Mass Effect conversion if that’s what your group wants. Focus on the new Techan classes and tweak a few 4th Edition classes to fit into the new setting (basically refluffing items, powers, and races and adding proficiencies with guns and whatnot), rename the guns and armor with Mass Effect names, and you’ve got what you need. Voila, just like our Classic Fantasy series… Except the exact opposite of that.

He has a newer product out, Amethyst Evolutions, and you can find more information about that and his other products here.

Back to M&M!

Other Important Considerations

Alright, I’ve talked about the mechanical concerns. You actually shouldn’t need to change the rules for any of the above systems, so it’s probably a good place to discuss the flavorful elements. Like races. Or classes.

This appears at first to be a slightly tricky area, because while Mass Effect has a Race/Class structure in the vein of traditional tabletop RPGs, my system of choice M&M, doesn’t. Though this does make things easier in the end for purposes of our conversion. Mutants and Masterminds uses a point-buy system where one simply buys the effects they wish to have for their character, then applies descriptors to them.

Simple, right?

Well, probably. It can take some getting used to, but the system is very powerful and flexible. Since learning it I’ve caught myself assigning stats to characters in action movies before the movie is finished. It’s a sickness.

One of the benefits of this is that it’s far easier to customize a character concept in M&M than in the original source material, which is particularly advantageous here… Because frankly, most of the NPCs in the games don’t fit all that well into the established class structure. Like most fictional characters, actually.

For reference, however, the classes offered in the game are: Soldier, Adept, Engineer, Infiltrator, Vanguard, and Sentinel. Basically they can boil down to a nifty triangle diagram where everyone is somewhere on the outer edges between Combat (here meaning mostly guns), Tech (the sci-fi kind), and Biotics (which is like gravity based telekinetics with a much cooler backstory. Or “space magic.” Depending).

There are lots of different races in the Mass Effect universe, and I’m not going to get into them all here. There’s a ton of useful information about them on the Wikia and in the in-game codexes, so I’ll leave it up to you to discover some of it on your own. “Race” is just a descriptor in M&M like any other, so all you need to do is put together a short “template” – a package of traits usually tied to the characters race. That package costs points out of the total, and because of that they don’t even need to cost the same amount. Brilliant (note: this also allows for some useful capabilities when using the game for medieval fantasy. Just saying).

I tried to make my “Steal This” entries in this series racially diverse, so you’ll have a chance to see how race can affect a character built using M&M – probably starting next time. Stay tuned!

For more articles on Mass Effect RPG, go here.

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Jonathan Baldwin

Jonathan is a firm believer that the best way to make friends is to game with them, and that nearly any problem can be surmounted with a well rolled d20 and a sense of humor. Regrettably, his professors do not agree with him, which leaves him with the challenge of balancing his gaming habits with his studies. Profile Page / Article Portfolio

  4 Responses to “Mass Effect Style Character Design”

  1. Looking forward to the character write-ups. Will you be statting characters from the game, or making up entirely new ones?

  2. Well, so far I’ve made new ones based on the archetypes/classes offered. I could stat up a few of the characters from the games, though. They could potentially be used as players if a GM wished, or dropped in as NPCs.

    I’ll put that on my to-do list. Ought to be fun. Especially Miranda Lawson…

    Geez, I almost made geeky innuendo out of building a character’s stats. I must be tired.

  3. One thing that I would point out is that the Take down ability is going to make anyone look like a bad ass hero as long as you put in enough minions, and I rely don’t think that will be a problem.

  4. @Sean:

    You’ve got it exactly right. And what are minions for, if not to make the heroes look good? 😀

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