The Mass Effect saga is, without doubt, one of my favorites. I've played its games over and over, as well as its DLCs. But it was around the time I finished the DLC Lair of the Shadow Broker I started wondering if there was already any ME pen&paper RPG. I searched the web for hours, found only a few posts stating "it would be awesome if there was one" but no real work on that subject. So it hit me: I've played D&D quite often, played several other D&D and d20 system games (Baldur's Gate saga, Knights of the Old Republic saga, Neverwinter Nights saga, etc), I'm an active D&D Dungeon Master (Game Master) and have even created my own D&D setting and rulebook. So if there is nothing done on a ME pen&paper RPG, why don't I do it? With this in mind I started creating my own Mass Effect d20 conversion.
The information present in this forum is the continuous work of several months, mostly alone with only a friend (thanks Ricky!) to help me test and to provide a few ideas. With several other activities, studies and duties, the work has been slow but steady. Now I feel it is somewhat ready show you all and receive your opinions and ideas, both good and bad.
For those not familiar with pen&paper RPGs
A pen-and-paper role-playing game or tabletop role-playing game is a form of role-playing game (RPG) in which the participants describe their characters' actions through speech. Participants determine the actions of their characters based on their characterization, and the actions succeed or fail according to a system of rules and guidelines. Within the rules, players have the freedom to improvise; their choices shape the direction and outcome of the game.
Unlike other types of role-playing game, pen-and-paper RPGs are often conducted like radio drama: only the spoken component of a role is acted. This acting is not always literal, and players do not always speak exclusively in-character. Instead, players act out their role by deciding and describing what actions their characters will take within the rules of the game. In most games, a specially designated player called the game master (GM) creates a setting in which each player plays the role of a single character. The GM describes the game world and its inhabitants; the other players describe the intended actions of their characters.
The terms pen-and-paper and tabletop are generally only used to distinguish this format of RPG from other formats, since neither pen and paper nor a table are strictly necessary.
Pen&Paper RPGs are games of your imagination in which you participate in thrilling adventures and dangerous quests by taking on the role of a hero – a character you create from imagination that can be anything, from a hero from the likes of movies or a evil villain plotting to conquer the galaxy, that must be built according to the rules. During the course of play, each player directs the actions of his or her character and its interactions with the other characters in the game. Unlike other games, Pen&Paper RPGs might have no objective at all, depending on what the players and the Game Master decide to make it. The ultimate goal of the game is to provide an entertaining social experience for all those involved.
A game takes the form of meetings between players, usually known as ‘sessions’, where the characters are set into a series of challenges, filled with wonder and epic, action which constitute the ‘adventure’. Multiple adventures connected by one storyline make a ‘campaign’.
Typically, each player controls only a single character, which represents an individual in a fictional setting. As a group, these player characters (PCs) are often described as a ‘party’ of adventurers, with each member often having his or her own areas of specialty and its own personality. Each player decides the actions his or her character, according to the situation presented, either by narrating their actions and thoughts or by speaking as the character.
The results of the party's choices and the overall storyline for the game are determined by the Game Master (GM) according to the rules of the game and the GM's interpretation of those rules. The GM selects and describes the various non-player characters (NPCs) the party encounters, the settings in which these interactions occur and the outcomes of those encounters based on the players' choices and actions. These encounters can be diplomatic, puzzles, challenges and even battles. The game's extensive rules – which cover diverse subjects such as social interactions, combat, and the effect of the environment on PCs – help the GM to make these decisions.
Important notions about this Mass Effect d20
The d20 system is easy to use and easily adaptable. However, several of the mechanics used in the most common d20 systems (D&D, Modern) are somewhat incompatible with Mass Effect. This is, after all, a 3rd person shooter with a big RPG component and its combat-style is fast-paced and emphasizes the importance of tactical decisions. When comparing that to what you can find in Modern d20 or D&D rules, I have found the following incompatibilities:
- In ME, effects are measured in seconds that rarely reach half a minute, and with plenty of them having effects durations measured in multiples of 3 or 5. The d20 system divides the combat in several rounds of 6 seconds each. This indicates the combat style of ME is by far faster than d20's system.
- Division by rounds and turns is, by itself, a problem. The d20 system states that despite the combat being divided by rounds and turns, the action itself is still occurring simultaneously, meaning when a character performs an action during his turn, all other characters are performing their actions as well. However, after years of D&D on both sides (DM and player, or even as a mere spectator), I've come to the conclusion this isn't exactly the case. Example: if character X acts first and kills character Z with the last attack made at the end of his 6 second turn, character Z cannot act at all in that round, even though he could probably have some actions in the seconds prior to his death.
Unfortunately, there is is way around this round and turn division. Without them it would be chaos in a game that has no software to allow for simultaneous action, like a computer game has.
- The d20 system was made for characters that make an average of 1 to 4 attacks per round, all of them with different bonus to the attack roll. Depending on how you build your character, you can reach up to 8 or 9, which can easily confuse both the GM and the player about how many attacks did hit or not (due to the several different attack bonus) or slow the game tremendously if each attack is made separately.
That number of attacks falls shy of the number of bullets an automatic weapon can fire. And Mass Effect is all about weapons (although there is also the option of melee attacks). So if you were to fire at a target with, say, an M-76 Revenant (the weapon with highest rate of fire in Mass Effect 2, with a rate of fire around 700 rounds per minute), and each attack had a different attack bonus, you quickly realize it would take several dozen minutes just to determine how many bullets hit the target or not.
- The projectile weapon attack rules in Modern d20 are, in my opinion, horrible and are everything but a bit realistic, dumbed-down to a point where it is pointless to fire more than 1 shot each 6 second turn. They seem like a failed attempt to convert high-attack-rate weapons to the few-attack-rate mechanics usually seen in the d20 systems. (Maybe it was me who failed to understand the rules of Modern d20, but if that's the case then several other experienced D&D players/GMs, with who I've played Modern, have failed as well).
- Moving around, in the usual d20 games, doesn't provide any kind of bonus to defense. You can easily hit a character that spent his 6 second turn moving dozens of feet as you can hit one that spent his 6 second turn in the same place. Now this would make sense if the combat wasn't occurring simultaneously like they say it is. Although it may be just as easy to make a melee attack against a moving opponent and one standing still, making a ranged attack is far more difficult.
- Taking tactical advantage of the battlefield is far from vital in most d20 game systems. In ME, taking advantage was vital. Cover kept characters alive and moving around allowed us to gain important advantage over the enemies.
So I was faced with the choice of altering the fast game-style of ME to make it equivalent of most d20 settings, or alter the usual d20 mechanics to make them into a faster game-style, like ME is. I opted for the second. And so tried my best to overcome this incompatibilities and you can find the solutions in the foruns related to the combat mechanics. They aren't, by far, perfect, and other issues still exist (things that I hope to correct in the future as the work on this conversion continues), but so far they have worked well.
"This is all Joker's fault! What a tool he was! Now I spend all day computing pi because he plugged in the Overlord."