These are essentially well-developed notes. I’m not sure if I’ll have the time to put a final polish on this idea, but I’ve done a lot of work and I think it could be of interest to people who love Mass Effect and want to play Fate Core. I have seen a couple other write-ups for this hack, but didn’t like them enough to convince me not to write my own. One of the challenges was to use Fate Core to model the focus on combat that Mass Effect has, with all the thought that goes into customization of weapons, armor and abilities, as well as the interactions of various powers with each other and different kinds of attacks on different targets. I think I did pretty well – comments always welcome.
Main ideas: adding a resources stress track that covers money outside of combat and then thermal clips when in combat; slightly shortened skill list to reflect what characters in Mass Effect do; customization of species and ‘class’ through Extras.
Here it is:
A lot of the game creation tasks are already done, since Mass Effect takes place in a defined universe with tons of lore. That being said, there is still the game-creation task of setting up faces, places, current issues and impending issues. These can be taken from the Mass Effect setting as it is in the videogames, or created collaboratively Fate-style.
Current issues could include humans and the Council, Krogan and…everyone else, smaller-scale conflicts that affect the heroes directly, etc. Impending issues might include the genophage, the Collectors, the Reapers, the Geth and the Quarians, and so on. The players might want to re-tell Shepard’s story with more than one main character and a different plot, or have characters active at the same time as Shepard, or play in an entirely different time.
As always start with aspects. For the standard five that Fate Core uses, choose a high concept that can include information about the character’s species and class, a paragon/renegade aspect, a background aspect, a relationship aspect and a squad aspect that connects the character directly to another character.
High concept: it is probably helpful to mention species and class here, as that is helpful in creating extras and stunts later on, so something like [adjective] [species] [class].
Example: War-scarred Quarian Engineer
Paragon/renegade: this aspect takes the place of Fate Core’s “trouble” aspect, as it should get the character into plenty of trouble. This aspect should contrast an ideal and a vice – for renegade characters, the vice can be first, and for paragon characters, the ideal can be first, in a [ideal] but [vice] sort of form.
Example: (Paragon) For the Geth, remorse or revenge?
Background: an aspect that covers similar ground to the character creation choice in the ME games that has the player choose a Shepard who is Earth-born, a colonist, or a spacer. This can be expanded in Fate to include a specific homeworld, city, parents’ occupation, etc. Something like [adjective] from [location].
Example: My Pilgrimage takes me to strange places
Relationship: to key into the focus on romance in the games, this aspect should connect your character to one of the other characters or an important NPC. It can be a romance that has already started, one that failed, antagonism that might turn steamy, etc. It should also include another detail about the character so that the aspect provides more versatility. If you don’t want to worry about romance, this aspect can also connect your character to one of the factions or organizations of the galaxy, like the Migrant Fleet or C-Sec.
Example: How can I love a Turian?
Squad: obviously, squad-based combat will be a big part of Mass Effect Fate games, and this aspect should connect your character directly to one of the other characters. Talk this over with each other so that the various aspects make sense. If you’d like, have another player narrate a brief event or scene from your past and give you an aspect, or suggest ones to consider.
Example: Remember that time on Virmire?
Skills and Stunts
The skill list for Mass Effect is slightly different from the standard Fate Core skill list. It is simplified, and after each skill in parentheses are the skill or skills that it is replacing in the Core rules. Following each skill are a few example stunts. Mass Core Effect of Fate uses a skill pyramid with +4 at the top, just like Fate Core. If you want to play incredibly capable characters who are Spectres from the very beginning, you can start at +5. At that point, you will have a rating in every skill on the list.
Charm (Empathy, Rapport): often used with one’s paragon aspect
Asari Melding: +2 to use Charm to discover someone’s Aspects
-Embrace Eternity: requires Asari Melding. Spend a FP to add a session Aspect that applies to one character
Flirt: use Charm in place of Contacts when sex is involved, or they think it might be involved
Good Cop: use Charm in place of Intimidate with someone you have captured
Salarian Light Opera: +2 to use Charm via song
Sudden Intervention: spend a FP to pre-empt a physical attack with a social attack using Charm
Walk Away: +2 to use Charm to convince someone not to attack you
Xenophile: +2 to use Charm when getting on the good side of someone from another species
Asari Justicar: +2 to find contacts to help in pursuit of a criminal
Organized Crime: (Blood Pack, Blue Suns, Eclipse) use Contacts in place of Intimidate for gang-related activities
War Hero: (N7, Salarian STF, Turian Blackwatch) use Contacts in place of Charm when dealing with the military
Omega-born: use Contacts in place of Charm or Intimidate on Omega – pick one
Presidium elite: use Contacts in place of Charm when among socialites and the Citadel elite
-SPECTRE: Special Tactcs and Reconnaissance for the Citadel – requires War Hero. This Stunt simply gives you a sixth Aspect: I’m a Spectre.
Wards-mouse: use Contacts in place of Detect when investigating people on the Citadel
Bluff: use Deceive in place of Intimidate when making a threat you can’t back up
Geth Scrambling: +2 to Deceive to avoid being detected by technological means
Grab: +2 to create an advantage on a Fight roll by sneaking up
Shadowing: +2 to follow a target surreptitiously
Detect (Investigation, Notice)
C-Sec Detective: +2 to use Detect to analyze a crime scene
Empathy: use Detect in place of Charm to identify someone’s Aspects
Motion-detection: +2 to detect opponents using Deceive to sneak
Thermal Imaging: spend a FP to target opponents obscured by smoke screens or light cover for one scene
Engineer (Crafts): adds 1 or 2 resource stress boxes
Discharge: use Engineer in place of Fight in close combat – each attack reduces Shield/Barrier by 1
Foucault Currents: enables you to use Engineer to defend against tech abilities
Over-charge: use Engineer to create an advantage with a weapon once per combat
Dancing Lessons: +2 to use Fight when unarmed and unarmored
Finishing Move: spend a FP to upgrade a moderate consequence you’ve imposed to a severe one
Stomp: +2 to use Fight when attacking a foe who is prone
Fitness (Athletics, Physique): adds 1 or 2 health stress boxes
Biotic Fall: spend a FP to survive a long fall gracefully and without injury
Roll: +2 to use Fitness to defend against a special ability
Romantic: when adjacent to your romantic partner, spend a FP and for the scene, you both roll to defend and take the better result
Sprint/Storm: +2 to use Fitness to move quickly over short distances
Vault: spend a FP to ignore aspects related to terrain or impediments
Hacking (Burglary, some Investigation)
Bypass: +2 to use Hacking to open a sealed door or bulkhead
Decrypt: +2 to use Hacking to decrypt data
Deletion: use Hacking in place of Deceive to avoid detection by uploading a virus to the security system
Impersonation: falsify your identity and use Hacking in place of Deception when posing as someone else
Omni-gel: +2 to use Hacking to unlock a door
Safe Cracking: +2 to use Hacking to open a wall safe
Intimidate (Provoke): often used with one’s renegade aspect
Bad Cop: when you have someone restrained, you can use Intimidate to deal physical or emotional stress
Batarian Terrorist: +2 to uses of Intimidate to create an advantage
Sudden Interrupt: spend a FP to pre-empt a social attack with a social attack of your own
Asari Matriarch: +2 to Knowledge with regard to history, especially of the Asari
Krogan Shaman: use Knowledge in place of Contacts among Krogan
Prothean Scholar: +2 to use Knowledge for any question about Protheans or Prothean artifacts
Salarian Scientist: +2 to Knowledge in your area of specialty – medicine, xenobiology, mass effect physics, etc.
Someone Else Might Get it Wrong: +2 when working on a solo project to create or investigate something previously unknown
Veteran: use Knowledge in place of Contacts when dealing with the military
Blind Jump: spend a FP to escape a ship combat by making a random FTL jump. The GM will punish you another way
Fighter Training: +2 to use Pilot to create an advantage in vehicle combat
Lethal Precision: +2 to use the ship’s weaponry in an attack
Shadowing: +2 to follow another vehicle or spacecraft
Sweep: use Pilot in place of Detection when using a ship’s scanners
Blade Attachment: use Shoot in place of Fight in close combat when wielding a particular type of weapon
Headshot: spend a FP to upgrade a moderate consequence to a severe one
Krogan Charge: +2 to use shoot when wielding a shotgun against an adjacent target
Quarian Marine: +2 to shoot with heavy weapons
Turian Sniper: +2 to shoot with a sniper rifle from cover, or negate the penalty for firing a sniper rifle at a target in your own zone (usually -2)
Will: adds 1 or 2 emotional stress boxes
Asari Commando Training: +2 to use Will to resist biotic abilities
Hard Target: +2 to resist Intimidation or attempts to inflict fear in combat
Tough (Son-of-a) Bitch: use Will in place of Intimidate to make someone else back down
Turian Discipline: +2 to Will to resist Charm or Intimidate (pick one)
We Will Hold the Line!: use Will in place of Charm to inspire soldiers by creating an advantage
A lot of the color and feel of Mass Effect will come from the extras that your characters choose. For starting characters, we recommend four or more extras, allowing for one primary weapon and a mod or special ammo and one armor set with one mod. The cost for all extras is one pick, unless noted otherwise in parentheses.
Everyone with any skill at Shoot is assumed to be carrying a basic pistol at all times.
SMG: range of one zone, you can hit more than one target in your own zone with a boost.
Assault Rifle: range of two zones, and you can hit more than one target in an adjacent zone with a boost. -1 to use in your own zone.
Sniper Rifle: range of three zones, and can shoot through cover with a boost. -2 to use in your own zone.
Shotgun: range of one zone, does 1 extra damage with a hit.
Heat sink: one extra Resources stress box
Melee: 1 extra damage when using Fight
Rail/Barrel extension: 1 extra damage
Scope: extends range by 1 zone
Stability: 1 extra damage with a SMG or Assault Rifle when shooting more than one target
Armor-piercing: damage cannot be absorbed with armor stress boxes
Cryo: with a boost creates an advantage: slowed. With a second boost, frozen.
Disruptor: 1 extra damage to armor and health
Incendiary: with a boost, cause 2 additional emotional or resource stress for free
Phasic: 1 extra damage to shields and barriers
Warp: cannot be absorbed with shield or barrier stress boxes
All armor is assumed to be sealable in a vacuum or harsh atmosphere.
Light armor: 1 armor stress box
(2) Medium armor: 2 armor stress boxes
(3) Heavy armor: 3 armor stress boxes
Biotic amp: 1 extra damage from biotic abilities
Cyclonic: spend a FP to clear all shield/barrier stress boxes
Exoskeleton: 1 extra success for Fitness to run, jump or lift
Medi-gel: spend a FP to revive someone up to two zones away
Omni-tool: spend a FP to tag the Omni-tool as if it was an aspect
Barrier: 1 extra shield stress box
Pull: spend a FP and Will vs Fitness to lift someone into the air for a turn, plus one turn per boost
(2) Shockwave: includes Throw, spend a FP and Will vs Fitness to toss everyone in your zone into adjacent zones
Throw: Will vs Fitness to toss someone into an adjacent zone
Adrenaline Boost (Soldier): spend a FP to make a second attack on your turn
Biotic Charge (Vangard): use Will in place of Fight to rush up to foes and damage them – cannot be used against adjacent foes
Concussive Shot (Soldier): when you cause damage with Shoot and gain a boost, you can toss your target into an adjacent zone rather than deal damage
Drone (Engineer): spend FP to call up a combat drone with Shoot +2, Detect +1, one zone of range and 2 stress boxes
Marksman (Soldier): any time you miss, spend a FP to reroll as if Marksman was an aspect
Overload (Engineer): you can use Hacking in place of Shoot, but only to damage shields and barriers or resources
Singularity (Adept): +2 to use Will to create an advantage by creating a singularity near your target
Tactical Cloak (Infiltrator): spend FP to be impossible to target for a turn
Tech Armor (Sentinel): spend FP to immediately clear all shield stress boxes
–Detonate (Sentinel): if all shield stress boxes are full, spend a FP to make a Fitness vs Fitness attack against everyone in your zone
Warp (Adept): use Will in place of Shoot, but only in your own zone
Geth Shielding: Spend a FP and clear two shield stress boxes immediately
Krogan Regeneration: Spend a FP and clear two health stress boxes
Quarian Jury-rigging: Spend a FP to make a Repair roll in combat on your turn
Volus Savings and Loan: Spend a FP to clear two resources stress boxes immediately
Vehicles as Extras
As an option, a group of PCs can share Extras between them. At character creation, each of them picks 4, but they are held together in the ship’s armory, and you can choose different options for each mission. When reaching a milestone, any of the players can choose a new Extra for their character and add it to the armory.
Each character still has four slots for Extras, for armor, weapons and mods. This option would also exclude Extras that are based in a characters’ species – those slots are not available for loadout.
Mass Effect uses four stress tracks
Health and Armor: functions just as health does in Fate Core, except that armor can add additional boxes to this track.
Shield and Barrier: most attacks will damage a character’s shield and/or barrier first – truly frightening attacks might bypass this track altogether and go directly to health and armor, but normally a character’s shield and barrier must be dropped to zero before health and armor can be affected.
Emotional: functions similarly to the mental stress track in Fate Core, but is more specific, focusing not only on the consequences of social conflicts but also emotionally jarring events.
Resources: rather than track credits or have a resources skill, resources is a stress track in Mass Effect. This stress track represents your credits on hand, resources for your ship, and in combat even represents extra heat clips you have available. If you are playing a Mass Effect 3 style “get all the resources” game, then the squad might want to have a collective resources stress track. Damage to the resources stress track can come from firefights or social conflicts.
In Mass Effect 2 and 3, there were periodic trigger moments during cut-scenes where you could intervene with a paragon or renegade move. These, in essence, were compels in the Fate Core sense. For a character whose renegade aspect is primary, compel with it would be the wrong move to get violent or aggressive. For a character whose paragon aspect is primary, compel when it would be inconvenient to show mercy or negotiate.
Keep in mind the various species conflicts and alliances in the Mass Effect universe, and use these for high concept compels. Krogan hate Turians and Salarians; Salarians have contempt for Krogan and Turians might fear them; Quarians and Geth hate each other; Humans are upstarts; Volus are bitter that they have no seat on the Council; Elcor are ponderous and underestimated; Batarians are feared; Vorcha are treated like vermin: Asari are seen as in turns stuffy and slutty, and view other species from the vantage point of a thousand-year lifespan. And so on.
Multiple PCs Per Player
There’s no reason why a long-running Mass Effect game shouldn’t incorporate multiple team members who can be organized into a different squad for each mission. Each player can have more than one character, and choose the one assembled for the squad. If your group does so, then all characters are created using the same rules, and when you hit a milestone, all characters advance, whether there were involved in the last mission or not.
Human C-Sec Officer
Sometimes You Bend the Rules
Enforce Justice As You Enforce the Law
Fitness +2, Shoot +2
Contacts +1, Provoke +1, Rapport +1
The Other Part of My Job: +2 to Rapport when acting in an official capacity
Jeff “Joker” Moreau
Sarcastic Human Alliance Pilot
I’m the Best Damn Helmsman in the Alliance Fleet
Charm +3, Engineer +3
Detect +2, Fitness +2, Hacking +2
Barely a Scratch: +2 to Pilot when evading an attack
Xenophilic Cerberus Psychologist
Please, Call Me Kelly
Great Gig With the Lazarus Cell
Deceive +2, Knowledge +2
Detect +1, Fitness +1, Will +1
Character Matters, Not Race or Gender: Kelly has a +2 to use Charm or Will to defend against having Aspects placed on her
Return to Glory for the Krogan
The Females Belong to Me!
Fight +2, Fitness +2
Deceive +1, Shoot +1, Will +1
Krogan Toughness: Wreave, like most Krogan, has an extra physical stress box
Human Alliance Officer
The First N7 Marine
Fight +3, Shoot +3
Contacts +2, Fitness +2, Knowledge +2
[Stunt or Extra]
I Am Omega
Don’t Fuck With Aria
Contacts +4, Fight +4
Deceive +3, Fitness +3, Will +3
[Stunt or Extra]