Mass Effect: What I Learned From It


It’s been awhile since I seriously gave thought to gaming in a sci-fi world, and I’m starting to think I was missing out.

Mass Effect has just about the coolest setting I’ve seen since George Lucas killed Star Wars, and I can’t seem to get enough of it. It has, as I’ve mentioned, even reached the point where I’ve agreed to run a one-shot game session based on the Mass Effect setting ported to Mutants and Masterminds.

Why Mutants and Masterminds? Because I like it, that’s why. Okay, fine, there’s more to it than that, but let’s just say that even though it’s a bit of a departure from the default assumptions of the system, I feel like it bends very effectively in that direction.

Plus at this point it’s either that or Fate, and I’ve never done anything with Fate. Most of my players are at least passingly familiar with d20, so it’s better for me to stick with that.

And having looked at the combat system again, I’ve found it extremely robust. I will, however, be doing something I wouldn’t do in a 4 color superheroic setting; I’ll be using a tactical map and miniatures.

What the game itself has taught me I shall put below:

  • Mind your surroundings.

Mass Effect is a sci-fi world with guns, powered armor, and “biotic” abilities (which here basically means space magic. IN SPACE). The presence of automatic weapons makes cover a very important consideration for survival, something that every D&D game I’ve ever been in has basically ignored. I’m tempted to make this translate to a universal rule that all characters are defensively undercapped and thus need cover to compensate, but we’ll see how that works when I get to actually making the character pregens.

Either way, it’s forced me to make note of the rules for cover (as well as the rules for automatic weapons) and commit both to memory.

Additionally, Mass Effect forces you to pay attention to the other elements in the environment – whether cover is fragile and could be destroyed by a dedicated foe. Whether those barrels are filled with something explosive. Can your biotic abilities knock the enemy off the ledge? Despite its relatively linear nature, the game is full of questions like this. Questions that can mean the difference between life and being filled with bullets.

Characters who ignore this important point will undoubtedly be filled with bullets. (The characters. Not the players.)

  • No man is an army (except maybe Shepard): OR, the importance of teamwork.

In Mass Effect, you have tech, biotic, and combat focused characters. Each have abilities that are more or less useful in certain situations, but teammates are there to help cover your weak points. In general, it’s a good idea to have a variety of abilities covered since you don’t know what you’ll be facing ahead of time.

Well, that translates PERFECTLY to tabletop RPG conventions, doesn’t it?

  • Aliens ROCK.

The thing I’m really enjoying about Mass Effect 2 (never got to play the first game, sadly, but looking forward to the third) as a sci-fi fan is the in depth alien races, with their histories, cultures, evolutionary commentary, and so on. And thankfully, most of them DON’T suffer from the issues that plagued Star Trek and Star Wars way back when… or that is to say, most of them don’t look like humans in makeup (some of them, maybe, but not all). There’s a lot of really impressive information in the in-game codex as well as on the Mass Effect Wiki.

The best part, though, is that the vast majority of the alien races are just plain COOL. Not in a, “humans suck by comparison,” sense of cool, but in a, “unique and different in an intriguing way,” sense. Their characters are compelling enough that the fact that they look different isn’t a big deal. At least not to Shepard.

Granted, a few of them are just distressingly alien, but that’s sort of the point, isn’t it? This isn’t a horror story in space… well, most of the time. I shall say no more to avoid spoilers.

  • No one worries if you’re on rails when you’re on the train to Awesomeville.

Like I said, Mass Effect 2 has its moments where it feels a little linear (in missions, to be exact) but the linear plot doesn’t matter too much when you sit back and realize that it’s AWESOME. Besides, a few linear missions in the context of a larger game where it feels like you’re in a living breathing galaxy where your actions MATTER? I can handle that.

  • An overwhelming threat is a powerful unifying force.

Sauron. The Borg. Magog. The Reapers. They all have one thing in common: they are powerful, almost elemental foes that are designed to terrify the lesser races and push all our horror buttons. The Reaper Threat is very real, and it’s going to take more than just humanity to overcome it. Thus providing  a solid motivating force for our group of heroes.

I’ll write more about the setting and lore later on, and throw in some character writeups when I have them finished. Enjoy!

One response to “Mass Effect: What I Learned From It

  • Tourq

    I know nothing about Mass Effect, other than a lot of people like it, and it seems very visually stunning. Being that my preference for game settings is sci-fi, I’d jump all over this game if it were a table-top rpg.

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