Save Against Fear

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This weekend, starting Friday, I will be attending Save Against Fear, the gaming convention and fundraiser hosted each year by The Bodhana Group. TL;DR: The Bodhana Group uses tabletop games in therapy. They are awesome. 

I’m going to be running two RPG sessions myself: Arcade Showdown on Friday at 12:30pm and then The Long Night on Saturday on 4:30pm. I will also be moderating the Game Designers Interactive Panel at 2:30pm on Saturday, which should be fun.

Sunday is my day to actually get some playing in, and I’m signed up for Fifth World – The Monster and then ending things off with Retrostar run by Jack Berkenstock Jr. himself.

If you are not going to be at Save Against Fear this year, you have made a terrible mistake. But it’s not too late! You can still register, or get your badge at the door. There are still slots in the games I’m running and, I believe, in the games I’ll be playing, as well as lots of other games. We’ll have our first celebrity guest, Martin Klebba, and you will meet a lot of great people who are not only huge gaming nerds but are also huge gaming nerds who are using their games to make people’s lives better.

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Mage Core: Mage the Ascension in Fate Core


I’ve seen plenty of discussion of how someone might adapt Mage the Ascension to Fate Core’s rules, but I didn’t find someone who had actually laid out how to handle the hack. I like the idea, and I wanted to present something that’s immediately usable. So, what follows is my own hack, which I think you could just take and run with if you wanted to.

First, changes to the baseline metaphysics. I’ve narrowed Mage down to seven spheres rather than nine. I dropped Entropy because I have always thought that it probably just reduced down to Time, and didn’t think that both were necessary. For a Fate Core adaptation of Mage, I decided to drop Prime, because the Quintessence/Paradox economy is doing to work differently in a Fate game than it does in Ascension. The Fate point economy mimics the Quintessence economy somewhat, and I decided to make Paradox into a stress/consequence track alongside the mental and physical tracks.


A high concept Aspect, a trouble/Paradox Aspect, an Avatar Aspect, a Tradition/paradigm Aspect, and a mundane Aspect.

Starting with a high concept, of course, I like the idea that the trouble Aspect could be rooted in Paradox if that makes sense. If I was running Mage Core I would recommend that to players. Then there is the Avatar Aspect, which I think should be a source of plenty of compels during the course of a game as the Avatar pushes the Mage to grow and change. A Tradition or paradigm Aspect also makes sense as a way to further define the character. Last is the mundane Aspect, as I like the idea, especially early on, of reality-bending Mages trying to hold down jobs and raise families.

Custom Skill List

Awareness (includes Empathy and Notice)

Contacts (includes Rapport)


Expression (includes artistic Crafts)




Manipulate (includes Deceive and Provoke)




Streetwise (includes Burglary)

Tech (includes technical Crafts)


In Mage Core, the top of the Skill pyramid is +4. I noted what I changed, in terms of combining or splitting up Fate Core default Skills to help with finding Stunts.

Spheres as Extras

OK, so, here we go. As mentioned above, I’ve narrowed Mage down to seven Spheres: Correspondence, Forces, Life, Matter, Mind, Spirit and Time. Time absorbs Entropy and Prime fades away because it isn’t as necessary in Mage Core, as it is mostly a meta-Sphere in Mage itself.

I’m taking from Ryan Macklin, and setting difficulties for Sphere use at intervals of 2, for the same reasons he lists in his own post about “Mage the Coreing.”

Here’s what I have so far: each Sphere is an Extra, rated from +1 to +5. Basically the same scale as in the books. But the difficulty for various magical effects varies from +0 to +8. This is to help adapt to how Fate points change the math, and also to force situations where mages succeed but take Paradox. For effects that require two Spheres, base the difficulty on the highest Sphere and then increase it by 1 for each additional Sphere. A character begins with 6 Extras to spend on Spheres, just like the initial 6 dots in Ascension. Following are example effects for each level of each Sphere:


Use of a Sphere at a distance requires Correspondence

+0 Perfect spatial perceptions

+2 Clairvoyance/clairaudience into nearby space, create a ward, pull a small object through space

+4 Create a pocket of space, scry/search through space, teleport, quick/slow travel

+6 Create doors/portals between locations, colocate two places, create space from nothing, destroy space

+8 Perfect co-location, step outside of space, create a permanent portal


Forces effects deal +1 damage

+0 Sense energy

+2 Increase or decrease present forces

+4 Transform or destroy a force

+6 Change properties of force (so electricity grows and consumes like fire, fire is attracted to metal, light is smothering like pressure, etc.), create force from nothing

+8 Create new types of force, so you can make plasma that passes through all matter, drop a room to absolute zero, eliminate friction temporarily, cause fission or fusion reactions, make atomic bonds fall apart, or change Earth’s magnetic field.  Affect exotic types of forces, e.g. dark matter and dark energy, plasma, gravity


+1 damage to living things

+0 Perceive living things, sense health

+2 Treat a mild physical consequence, speed or slow recovery, Skill bonus, clear physical stress, affect simple life like plants

+4 Treat a moderate physical consequence, increase physical stress boxes for a scene, deal damage to living things, augment a Skill for a scene

+6 Treat a severe physical consequence, transfer properties from one form of life to another, create life from nothing, shapeshift between plant and animal forms

+8 Complete transformation, imbue life with unique properties, transform into a mythological creature


+1 damage of objects

+0 Perceive matter, including composition, chemistry, etc.

+2 Change shape of matter, make it malleable

+4 Alter density, destroy matter, alter properties within constraints of the material

+6 A blade can be light as air, or a metal can be almost indestructible, or a shirt can be bullet-proof, create matter from nothing

+8 You can now give objects and substances unreasonable properties, allowing them to pass through walls, or have edges only a molecule wide, batteries that recharge themselves, or a body of liquid metal that can change forms and hunt down John Connor


+1 emotional stress when dealing damage

+0 Detect minds, read emotions

+2 Command, read surface thoughts, increase or decrease emotions

+4 Enter dreams, see Dreaming, read thoughts, destroy thoughts, change memories, bonus Skill for a scene, alter perceptions in target and create illusions

+6 Project into the Astral Plane, possession, create an illusion over an area, create a personality trait from nothing (with Prime), create a basic intelligence 

+8 Sever mind from body, open a portal to the Astral, create an illusory world and plunge someone into it, recreate personality (rewrite Aspects)


+0 Spirit sense (Umbra, Dreaming, Shadowlands)

+2 Reach across the Gauntlet, affect spirits

+4 Step across the Gauntlet, strengthen or weaken the Gauntlet, bind a Wraith, heal/rend spirit-stuff, let a spirit manifest

+6 Open a portal in the Gauntlet, bring a spirit across into the material world, awaken the spirit of an object, open a portal from one spirit world to another, shapechange in the spirit world

+8 Awaken the spirit of a place, co-locate the spirit world and material world


+0 See fate and probability, perfect time-sense

+2 Increase/decrease probability, augury – see into the past or the future

+4 Create/destroy probability, slow/speed time for one target, reach into an immediate past/future

+6 Determine fate, create a pocket of time, grant extra actions, hang an if-then effect, travel into a future or a past

+8 Change a timeline permanently, rewind or fast forward time for an area, create a portal in time, go outside of time


Rather than impose Paradox for particular magical effects, I think it makes sense in Fate Core that Paradox is a way to succeed with a cost when using magic. You throw more hubris into the effect, draw on your resonance, try to force it, basically, and you still succeed but at the cost of Paradox.

In Mage Core, Paradox is a stress track, and also has it’s own dedicated consequence track, apart from the mental and physical. Paradox is its own thing in Mage, and Paradox consequences result in things like Quiet.

The Paradox track would start with two stress boxes, of course, and there isn’t currently an obvious choice of Skill to add additional boxes. That doesn’t seem like something a Skill should do, really. Maybe higher Sphere levels could add boxes – three boxes for a +3, four for a +4 and five for a +5 in your highest Sphere perhaps.


I have a special rule that I’ve used with Fate Core in the past that I want to adapt to Mage Core. When a character makes use of a rote, and describes it, then the player can set aside one Fate die and set it to “+”. This is similar to a +1 to the roll, but also means that there will be less volatility in the result, which will now range from -2 to +4 instead of -4 to +4. This will, just as in Ascension, encourage players to come up with plenty of cool rotes and procedures for their characters. At least that’s the goal.

Traditions and Other Setting Stuff

I backed the 20th Anniversary Edition of Mage the Ascension, and it is superb. The work they did updating the setting and game assumptions for a 21st Century audience is good. The problem is, when I sit down and want to run a Mage game, especially with people who are not already used to OWoD, it’s daunting. WoD games made a lot of sense in college and after, when we all had way more time, no matter how busy we thought we were, to do things like soak damage and memorize magical effects and so on. I just find that I need a game that is faster and more loose, and I think that the fluidity and flexibility of Fate Core lends itself very well to Mage the Ascension.

What did I miss? Anything you want to add? 

Advancement Systems In RPG Design


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I recently had a fun conversation with a friend of mine who is designing a tabletop RPG about what kind of advancement system to use for his game. It got me thinking about the pros and cons of all of the various methods games use for character advancement, mostly in tabletop but also drawing from video games. I thought I would lay out the various options as I saw them and discuss each in turn, both as a way to organize my thoughts a bit further and also to show the wide variety of methods there are out there.

How you use an advancement system for your game is a core question both for game designers and also for those running games. Many advancement systems leave a lot of flexibility based on play style – one D&D game for example might have characters leveling every four or five sessions of play, and another might have them leveling every session. One is a story of slow development where there have to be a lot of rewards that aren’t experience points while the other is a roller-coaster ride to power that won’t leave as much time for character development, since everyone will always be learning and trying out their new abilities. Designers should let GMs know where they think the “sweet spot” is for their game, as this can be a very helpful guide. Trial-and-error also works, but can lead to a lot more frustration among players.

Experience and Leveling (D&D)

Of course, the granddaddy system, the default in most people’s minds, is leveling. You accumulate experiences points doing whatever it is that the game wants to reward, and when you hit a particular break-point you have a sudden increase in your character’s abilities. This is true of many RPGs whether on console or tabletop, and was the method introduced by D&D and many of the very first tabletop RPGs forty years ago.

The important thing here is that the game gives experience points for what you want players and characters to be doing most often. In fact, if you want to know what a game is about, look to what it rewards – and if your game rewards something that you don’t want your game to be about, change your experience system. (This is true for all of the advancement methods I’ll discuss, and also true for any reward system or cycle you have in your game, period.) Reward the behavior you want. Don’t give experience points for killing monsters in your supposed political intrigue game.

You also want to have your level progression lean toward incremental and not be too jarring. Unless it is an intentional aspect of your game, a character shouldn’t be twice as capable after achieving a single level. Not only is it ‘unrealistic’, it is jarring to the fiction. Suddenly, things that were dire threats to you last session are a breeze now because you crossed an arbitrary threshold. Thing through how often you think characters should level – multiple times per session? Every two or three sessions? Every month of play? Etc. And tune your game accordingly.

Incremental Leveling (D&D 4E, D&D Online)

Kind of a subset to the above is something I really liked about Dungeon & Dragons Online, and how it used leveling to make the experience of play more similar to other MMOs (where there tend to be 100 or so levels, each only slightly different from the others). I’ve written about it here in the past, but in brief, DDO took each level in D&D and broke it into 10 mini-levels that were incremental points between. So, for example, instead of being 10% more likely to hit an enemy, you would be 1% more likely at each increment. Instead of 10 hit points, you would get 1. Ten of those increments would add up to a full level that one might recognize from the tabletop version of D&D.

D&D 4th Edition did something similar by making the three tiers of play explicit. First the Heroic tier, from level 1 to 10, then the Paragon tier from 11 to 20, and then the Epic tier from 21 to 30. At each tier different abilities became available, and it was intentional that there be a bigger difference between 10 and 11 than between 9 and 10 for example.

Advancement through Failure (Powered by the Apocalypse games)

When thinking of earning experience or character points or whatever it is that makes a character advance, we often think of achievement. Starting with Apocalypse World, there have been a series of games that root advancement in failure. Generally speaking, in games based on AW, you mark experience or gain experience when you fail in a roll. This is in part so that you can ‘fail forward’, so to speak, and I’ve also found it to be an encouraging aspect of these systems for people who feel like they don’t roll well. It’s also fun to crap out on an important roll, knowing it’ll hurt, but sit back and say, “You know, I learned something today…”

This is really just an example of another type of behavior  you want to reward – specifically, the behavior of taking risks in-game and using abilities you aren’t very good at. However many abilities a game might have, a given character will usually only use maybe a half dozen of them regularly. Characters tend to be specialists in RPGs, and players tend to want their characters to succeed, meaning players will want to only try things their characters are good at. This is doubly true if they only get experience points, or only move toward advancement, when they succeed. Actively rewarding failure is a good way to encourage players to have their characters try new, dangerous, and often entertaining things.

Edit: It was pointed out, correctly, that it is specifically Dungeon World that grants xp for failure, not Apocalypse World.

Ongoing Point-Buy (GURPS, WoD)

Leaving aside “leveling” altogether, there is the system where experience points are points that one can spend to improve specific abilities. This system is easier to customize, and can be less jarring. When a character levels, they often increase a number of different abilities and capacities, but with a point-buy or character point advancement system, the player can choose to improve some abilities and not others.

Often the choice for the player is whether to spend advancement points frequently on minor new abilities, or to save up the advancement points to buy more powerful abilities. In all World of Darkness games, as well as in GURPS, players are presented with this decision at the end of each session. Some players will want to advance a little bit each session, while others will save up for big abilities. Many will alternate between the two based on how they want their characters to develop.

For these and similar systems, the question for game designers becomes one of pricing. Pricing decisions can be a function of demand, how popular an ability is likely to be, as well as impact on the story. Check out what I wrote about frequency and payoff a while back, and think about how low-frequency and/or low-payoff abilities should be cheaper, in a point-buy system, than high-frequency and/or high-payoff abilities.

Advancement as Currency (Shadowrun, sometimes GURPS)

Often a subset of the point-buy system is when the points you use for advancement can also be used as in-game currency. This adds a layer of decision-making for the player, since they can either have the immediate payoff of spending a point in-game, or the quick payoff of spending the point on some small incremental advancement, or the delayed gratification of saving up for a powerful ability.

Shadowrun is the best example of this I could think of with its karma system, where you can spend karma in-game for benefits, but karma is also what you spend on new abilities for your character. GURPS has a version of this, where you can spend character points earned in play (or even left over from character creation) to do something in-game like have a suddenly wind-fall of cash. The big challenge here is human psychology. It is easy to, without thinking about it, use up a lot of your potential for advancement in-game, making up for unlucky rolls or ensuring your character shines in particular scenes. Players who don’t like to trust to luck will also tend to make more use of things like karma than others. This can lead to a discrepancy in advancement over time. Not necessarily a flaw, just something to consider.

Advancement by Use (Torchbearer, Call of Cthulhu, Skyrim)

Some games do away with experience points or character points granted for victories in the story or for certain player behaviors and simply link advancement to skill-use. The two biggest examples of this I could think of from tabletop games are Call of Cthulhu (the percentile versions) and the various games based on Burning Wheel, the most recent of which is Torchbearer. These systems take a bit more tracking than the ones above, but you don’t have to worry as much about pricing abilities or tuning the leveling system.

A system that links advancement to ability use seems to work better for less high-fantasy or high-powered games, at least where tabletop RPGs are concerned. And even in Skyrim, your Shouts are earned by completing the main storyline’s quests, or by exploring dungeons, rather than advancing based on use. In fact, that is probably a limitation on a system like this for a tabletop game – it would add a lot of complexity to do any kind of calculation – i.e., to make some abilities harder to raise than others based on use. I can also see limitations here – what to do about fantasy tropes like wizard spells, or psychic abilities, which are usually much more powerful than other abilities? Should your Cooking ability advance the same way that Fireball does? Maybe, but I can see a problem there.

Another challenge here is going to be ability-spamming. Players are going to be trying to use every conceivable ability as much as possible during a session if ability use is what is rewarded. This can have a similar effect to rewarding failure, mentioned above – it will make players branch out more in what they want their characters to try. It can also get repetitive, as in each session every character takes a moment to make a Photography roll, and then an Academics roll, and then a Gambling roll, or whatever. (I’ve definitely seen this come up in Call of Cthulhu.) A designer can find ways around this spamming issue, like limiting the total number of abilities that are counted in a given session, but it can definitely be a problem. On the other hand, this system does model reality pretty well (you get better at what you practice) and does reward a much more broad list of activities than leveling systems tend to.

Milestones (Fate Core, Parsec)

I’m sure other systems do this, but the example I came up with was Fate Core for a system that rewards characters based on reaching particular points in the story. (I mention Parsec because that game, which I designed, includes a system where players define obstacles and characters advance when those obstacles are faced in-game). A lot of video games do this with the main storyline or main quest-line – do whatever you want, take however much time you want, but you won’t advance until you get to a particular part of the story. This is, of course, significantly easier for a video game where the story is laid out ahead of time by the designers and writers.

But most games have an over-arching storyline of some sort. The DM or GM has come to the table with some kind of plan, much as players love to deviate. And a system like this could be an alternative to railroading, or designing every adventure as a box canyon. You can have more of a sandbox situation, but one that only rewards certain story milestones. Carrot rather than stick, so to speak, or honey rather than vinegar.

A story milestone system can be the way that each of the above systems are handled. The milestone could grant you a level, or character points, or a milestone could even be when the players have used a certain number of abilities in-game. In Fate Core, it functions a bit like leveling, as a milestone is a time you can improve your character as well as move abilities around or change them rather than improving them mechanically. Which brings us to…

Adjustment rather than Advancement (Spirit of the Century, Dresden Files)

In some RPGs, you don’t advance in any way that is marked on your character sheet. The story advances, and your character can change over time, but they don’t get better, or gain new abilities. Whether characters advance or not is a matter of taste, and will determine the kinds of games you play. Some games that include advancement can be played without, especially in the short term, and most games played as a one-shot will not include advancement.

Do you have more, or better, examples? Did I miss something? Let me know in the comments or on Reddit/Facebook/Twitter.


Mass Effect for Fate Core: Fate Effect

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:

Created using the Fate Core SRD by Evil Hat Games and the Mass Effect Wiki, based on Fate Core by Evil Hat Games and Mass Effect 1, 2 and 3 by BioWare.

Game Creation

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.

Character Creation


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

Deceive (Stealth)

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

Knowledge (Lore)

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

Pilot (Drive)

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.

Weapon Mods

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

Armor Mods

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


Attack Drone:



Defense Drone:


Sentry Turret:

Class-specific Extras

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

Species-specific Extras

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



The Normandy:



Turian Fighter:


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.

Stress Tracks

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.

Using Compels

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.

Game-Era NPCs

Captain Bailey

Human C-Sec Officer

Sometimes You Bend the Rules

Enforce Justice As You Enforce the Law

Investigation +3

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

Vrolik Syndrome

I’m the Best Damn Helmsman in the Alliance Fleet

Pilot +4

Charm +3, Engineer +3

Detect +2, Fitness +2, Hacking +2

Barely a Scratch: +2 to Pilot when evading an attack

Kelly Chambers

Xenophilic Cerberus Psychologist

Please, Call Me Kelly

Great Gig With the Lazarus Cell

Charm +3

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

Urdnot Wreav

Krogan Usurper

Return to Glory for the Krogan

The Females Belong to Me!

Intimidate +3

Fight +2, Fitness +2

Deceive +1, Shoot +1, Will +1

Krogan Toughness: Wreave, like most Krogan, has an extra physical stress box

Captain Anderson

Human Alliance Officer

The First N7 Marine


Will +4

Fight +3, Shoot +3

Contacts +2, Fitness +2, Knowledge +2

[Stunt or Extra]

Aria T’Lok

Asari Crimelord

I Am Omega

Don’t Fuck With Aria

Intimidate +5

Contacts +4, Fight +4

Deceive +3, Fitness +3, Will +3

[Stunt or Extra]