Mass Effect (#5)

Science fiction is a popular genre within tabletop RPGs, however, it can be extremely difficult to create a new IP in this space just due to the sheer amount of world building one would have undertake. How does space travel work? Are there laser guns? (There better be laser guns) Spaceships? Mechs? Forget world building friends, we are galaxy building! You can see why the SiFi games currently on the market are utilizing existing IPs, such as, Star Trek, Star Wars, and The Expanse. One title I would like to see added to this list is the Mass Effect series. The more I looked into it, the more I’m shocked this IP has not has not made it to the table already.  Mass Effect has created a popular world spanning four games and a number of books, but in addition to this, the fact that Dragon Age, another RPG from developer Bioware, already has a tabletop RPG.  This tells us that the company that owns the IP is interested and seen success working in the tabletop RPG space.  Since this one is a real possibility, let’s look at what Mass Effect would bring to the table.

Strengths:

  • Wider Audience
  • Strong Story Hooks
  • Interesting Worlds/New Races
  • Biotics/Space Fantasy

Mass Effect is a “triple A” title in the world of video games that brings with it a huge audience. This is perfect for bringing new players into the tabletop RPG community. Once you have them, the series is riddled with story threads that players will be familiar with, and can be used to setup a whole campaign. Are the Reapers back? Did someone discover new alien tech? All while dealing with the political intrigue on the Citadel.  The capital of Earth’s sector is a space station known as the Citadel, and is home to a council of various alien races govern and oversee the day-to-day.  That being said, humans are the new kid on the block, and as per usual, we tend to be more bull headed, causing a number of issues for the other races.  Throw in the black ops division known as the “Specters”, and ideas just ooze out of this setting. As humans branch out across the sector, exploration becomes a central focus and the games detail many worlds and plot hooks that may require player attention.  Along with this would be new races and cultures to interact with. I remember on my first play-through, arriving on the Citadel and seeing all of these aliens just walking around, living their best life. It felt like the video game version of the Star Wars Cantina scene. It inspires you to interact with or create new alien species, all while building out their world. Though, you could play Mass Effect in a real hard SiFi kind of way, I think it works best if you lean more into the Science Fantasy aspects of the game.

In game, the Biotic system always felt like space magic to me, and that was completely fine. In the game it has a more science-y element of creating “Mass Effect Fields” using “Element Zero”, but let’s be real… I know space magic when I hear space magic, okay? This is all to the benefit of the game, as other than Star Wars and Starfinder, I can’t think of any other science fantasy RPGs. Characters will still be able to use blasters and such, but the additional modification and biotic powers adds and interesting depth that would make a great tabletop RPG.  If there is one thing I know about players, it’s that they love customizing and expanding their power.

Weakness:

  • Dependent on Game Success
  • Requires an Extreme Level of Development

The glaring downside is the amount of development that would go into the rules system. You would need rules for vehicles and spaceships along with combat mechanics. All new classes and biotic powers would need to be developed and tested to see how they interact with guns and lasers. What good is a fireball when flamethrowers exist, right? These are all interesting problems to tackle, and could lead to a fantastic game, but this is a concern that is worth pointing out. Also, and this could go for all games based on IPs, but to take advantage of the audience, it would be best to launch this tabletop version with that of a new video game. I don’t believe this has to be the case 100% of the time, just look at Dragon Age again, but still something to consider more so for Mass Effect due to the high development cost, and the need to capitalize. 

Mass Effect is a fantastic series that plays with elements of exploration, political intrigue, and adds just a dash of bio-space-magic. Throw in new alien races and worlds that have been developed over the course of four different games, and you have a rich setting that is worth your time at the table.

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