Mass Effect Tabletop: An Introduction

 Posted by on November 14, 2011  Filed as: Editorial  Add comments  Topic(s):
Nov 142011

Some of you may remember the Steam Summer Camp Sale. Some of you, like me, may have spent far more money than you really expected to during that sale buying games that you were merely curious about.

Some of you, like me, probably bought something in the Mass Effect series. In my case, it was Mass Effect 2. I was not disappointed. Far from it – the game exceeded my expectations in just about every way, and offered me exactly the kind of immersion in a sci-fi universe I was craving. I played through the game about 5 times, and I’ve started looking at DLC. And naturally, perhaps inevitably, my thoughts turned to the tabletop.

A brief primer

For those of you who are unfamiliar, Mass Effect is an epic space opera in the best sense of the phrase. It manages to nod in the direction of just about everything good in the genre while still being its own unique entity, a wondrous blend that puts it somewhere in the realm of “CallofSereniBattleStarTrekWarsGalactiCthulhu.” In a good way. Okay, so that was obviously hyperbole, but the point stands. It’s kind of amazing. And it has everything you need for a good classic RPG. Division of roles, lots of weapon options, tons of competing organizations to populate the world with, a “magic” system (of sorts, but a pseudo-scientific sounding one that keeps it from falling into a midi-chlorian filled trap), space armor, multiple races…

The point is that there’s a lot of depth there that lends itself well to a tabletop campaign. And as a side note, yes, I would recommend it. Highly.

What this conversion is

I’m not going to talk much about gameplay except where it’s relevant to the issue of converting it. I’m more interested in converting concepts. As such, this could easily be done using something like FATE, but I’m more interested in using Mutants and Masterminds 3E from Green Ronin. It’s light enough on game-play with enough crunchy tactics to keep my d20 crowd happy… and they don’t have to put down their d20’s.

Plus, John Lewis already WROTE an excellent article on FATE conversions. No sense in getting redundant, eh?

Let’s start with the…

Key concepts

I’ve approached this with the 2 year period between Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 in mind. There’s a lot that can happen in 2 years, after all. But there’s a lot of possible time periods that could be used without skirting so close to the cannon of the games.

First of all, I’m not especially interested in retreading Shepard’s story at the table. The games already do that well enough, and everyone’s experience with them will be a little bit different. If you’re like me, you want to tell other stories.

So for the purposes of our M&M conversion, there’s basically just one thing to remember; the first rule of Mass Effect is that Shepard is basically Space Batman. In the sense that Shepard is a near legendary human spoken of in hushed tones who has accomplished incredible and basically heroic things, but the details are a little… vague. Partly because the Citadel Council (the galaxy’s ruling body) has hushed a lot of it up.

You’re probably never going to run into Shepard in person, which is just as well, because unless you’ve created your own cannon version of Shepard, there isn’t one. See how I’m avoiding pronouns? Because I’ve already done this dance on another site.

The second truth of Mass Effect: The Reapers are coming.

The Reapers are a race of super-intelligent massive sentient machines that occupy “dark space,” (the space between galaxies) who have apparently swept through the galaxy and purged it of life roughly every 50000 years. And the galaxy is due. The first game (I have gathered) concerns the actions of Saren (a rogue Spectre; more on them later) and a Reaper called Sovereign. And, naturally, Shepard’s valiant fight to stop them.

Oh, and if you spend too much time near Reaper technology, you get strange dreams and visions and eventually become “indoctrinated,” gradually starting to believe that the Reapers should destroy all life, and that you should help them. In other words, the Reapers are basically a high tech version of Cthulhu.

The third truth of Mass Effect: The galaxy is in denial.

The Citadel council, rather than mobilize the galaxy to defend itself against the coming threat, has chosen to deny the involvement of Sovereign and believe that Saren alone was responsible for the events that nearly destroyed the Citadel. Few know the truth. Shepard is one of them. Naturally, Shepard is missing.

In the meantime, there are plenty of other threats to worry about; crime in the Terminus systems, crime on the Citadel, large scale gang wars on Earth, the Geth, the Krogans, the Batarians, Cerberus…

I started this project thinking that I’d run a one-shot session to introduce some people to the game system, and decided to flesh out my thinking and turn it loose in the wild. However, I ended up with several great articles, making this a series.

So, that’s what’s on the table. Stay tuned, and don’t touch that dial!
… well, actually, you probably should, because if you have a dial, then your TV is probably ancient, and if this is what’s on TV right now… you have bigger problems.
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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 Tabletop: An Introduction”

  1. Although this is more about concept than game system, the first thought that popped into my head as I started leafing through Ashen Stars was that it’d be a good fit for a Mass Effect hack.

  2. Yes. This is a series that I would very much enjoy reading. Thank you for starting it!

  3. There is a really great, if tongue-n-cheek, summary of the 1st Mass Effect game here on you tube:

  4. I don’t really know much of anything about Mass Effect. But I’m looking forward to this series. I’m especially interested in seeing how you converted M&M 3E for a non-supers setting.

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