2015-04-06 Mass Effect

So, I had a little Easter Convention at our place this weekend. On Saturday we played Darkening Skies by Chris Sakkas, an unofficial chapter two for Lady Blackbird by John Harper. On Sunday we played the Mass Effect Fate RPG by Don Mappin et al. If you know nothing about Mass Effect, you might want to look at the Mass Effect page on Wikipedia.

We had decided upon Mass Effect on Saturday evening so I spent maybe an hour or two reading the rules. On Sunday morning, I spent an hour or two looking for adventure ideas online. Let all past and future sages praise the fabulous Mass Effect Wiki. I finally settled on the events described in Mass Effect: Revelation. I had one player who still wants to play the game and so I felt prequel stuff made good material.

The prep I did was this:

My notes:


As you can see, I didn’t get to the stats at the end. The PDF has templates for enemies at three different thread levels. Excellent! I had seen the templates for Blue Suns mercenaries, Human Ruffians and a Krogan Battlemaster, so I felt certain I could improvise whatever came my way.

If you read the wiki you’ll note that the story starts as two different threads, one following Saren to Juxhi, the other following Anderson to Elysium and both ending up at the Dah’tan manufacturing plant for a showdown with Skarr. I took notes the way I did because I wanted the players to have the choice to investigate any of the different paths. In the end, they discovered that the Turian thieves had handed over the stolen weapons to some human weapon dealers and decided not to follow the trail to Juxhi but spent some time finding their employers, the Blue Suns, and following that lead via a bar looking like Afterlife in Omega, where Aria runs the show, until they finally tracked down Edan Had’dah at the Dah’tan manufacturing plant. That’s when they learned that the Blue Suns were going to attack Sidon. They sent warning and evacuated the survivors a few days later. Then they went back to the local Blue Suns headquarter and tried to force them into an agreement. No more stealing from Turian freighters, as their mission demanded. A fight ensued, which the Blue Suns eventually conceded and all was resolved in the players favor. There were some hints of things to come, the Sovereign, the Geth, Protheans.

I was happy with the plot. At first I thought I’d need more maps or pictures, but in the end Fate isn’t a map based game and the video game may have a lot of map-oriented shooting but the story itself doesn’t really depend on maps. It’s just interesting locations and systems. This worked very well.

Character generation took a long time but one of my players had never played a Fate game before and she liked the character creation system. I had A6 index cards on which they wrote beginning, middle and end of three adventures, and that really worked.

I was unhappy with the fight. Should I have used just one heavy hitting boss and a ton of mooks? I used a “moderate threat” mercenary for every player (Guns +3) and a boss (Guns +5) and the players were all veterans (apex skill at +5), It took a long time for shields to go down. Luckily I remembered making concessions is part of the game and broke it off after the third mercenary went down. As I’ve said a few years ago, I don't like bennies (or Fate points). This cushions the entire experience and invalidates it, as far as I am concerned. When we talked about it after the game, we all agreed on the difference between heroic deeds and Hollywood action. It just isn’t a “sacrifice” if you have a enough Fate points to cushion the blow. Jörg then suggested the perhaps this would change over time. If we played a longer campaign, the aspects would grow in importance. Players would compel each other. We’d start taking an interested in those particular aspects and we’d want to see how characters grow and change. Perhaps!

Before starting the fight I also made sure people had the necessary shields, armor and weapons based on their abilities. In the rules, any of Resources, Leadership, Rapport, Contacts or Security allows you to buy, steal or borrow equipment. And so we made sure they all had the necessary equipment before going into the one and only fight of the session.

I have always liked the Diaspora rules. In 2010 I ran a short lived campaign where we moved from Traveller to Diaspora. Unfortunately I had missed the document Hacking Diaspora to Mass Effect. That would have been around 100 pages instead of around 250 pages. Perhaps that would have worked better? It would have been less crunchy, perhaps!



Some interesting comments on Google+:

Jack Gulick says, it comes down to “if you want Fate to be a game about hard choices, force a lot of hard choices.” ... Don’t let your other-RPGs instincts to keep things “fair” and “possible” get in the way.”

Robert Hanz adds, One of the things that’s still a hard habit for me to break is the fact that good GMing in Fate would qualify as Being a Dick in most other games.

Sarah Newton has very pragmatic advice: My sweet spot for combat is 3-5 rounds. Giving the major NPC any kind of damage bonus makes him nasty - anything that can force a consequence on every hit by overloading the PCs stress tracks makes him very scary and something to avoid. You can then unbalance the PCs my using the minor NPCs mobs more for the attritional wearing down of stress, leaving them in a dilemma as to where to spend their fate points.

Robert Hanz also has a separate post where he goes into the problems a traditional gamer might have when they begin playing Fate. I felt that the middle in particular did some excellent bridge building. He argues that you should make it hard for the players and not hold back because the worst case is not a total party kill. It’s just a different kind of story that will emerge. He says when I see questions like “how do I make sure a fight is challenging, without having the players lose”, my answer is “who cares?” Make it tough. Let them buy their way out of it and carry those consequences. Or let them lose, and let the story go that way.

Now I’m searching the forum for Robert Hanz’s series Fate Core Thought of the Day, e.g. Fiction First, Fiction-Rules Interaction, and Nonsensical Results.

– Alex Schroeder 2015-04-06

Follow up discussion here, at the bottom of the page.

– Alex Schroeder 2015-04-08 06:34 UTC

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