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Running Mass Effect in Traveler

JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp.I can show you how to be a real man!Super Moderator, Moderator mod
edited May 2012 in Critical Failures
There was a thread about this here many, many moons ago!
delroland wrote:
Okay, so I love Mass Effect, yet am disappointed with the lack of a PnP version of it. Looking at Traveller, by Mongoose Publishing (now), I feel its ruleset has great potential in being converted for Mass Effect.

Short answer: I completely agree. I don't know what if anything delroland ever settled on, but I've been bashing together a Mass Effect/Traveller hack for the last few weeks and I think it's just about ready to roll.

This is going hand in hand with an actual campaign I'm putting together, so the detailed stuff can all be found there in the wiki section. It's broken down into Traveller house rules, Mass Effect conversion rules, Biotics, Tech Attacks and Omni-Tools, and Weapons & Armor. Some of the ideas are courtesy of MalaDicta, who posted in an earlier Traveller/ME thread.

Character Creation - I've seen several good suggestions for adapting the various Traveller career books (High Guard for Quarians, Psion for Asari, etc.) to serve as career paths for various races, but the career books seem to generate kind of archetypal examples of those races, and my group only has the core rulebook anyway, so I decided to confine lifepaths to the core book and work with the players during creation to interpret results in terms of Mass Effect canon. What I did do, though, was to work out a series of tradeoffs and quirks for the various major races; Asari live longer, for example, so their terms represent two-decade intervals and they get several more terms before rolling for aging, but they take a big DM hit to advancement due to competing with sentients hundreds of years their senior for a limited number of positions (I keep thinking of their society in terms of Bruce Sterling's novel Holy Fire). Krogan, by contrast, don't roll for aging at all, but have to use the optional "Iron Man" rules - if they whiff a survival check, they're dead.

Balance is a concern here, obviously, though I don't have the time or resources to playtest it to a huge degree of rigor. What I'm hoping is that particular races aren't going to blatantly outshine others in every department or be the obvious go-to options for any party.

Advancement - A lot of hardcore Traveller players get pretty passionate about MongTrav's hyper-minimalist prospects for character advancement - but I like advancement, my players like advancement, and the Mass Effect setting, assuming you want to play in the period between the first and third games, can't really accommodate idle months and years of training. On the other hand, it's absolutely true that traditional player-directed advancement is problematic in Traveller, since even one incremental advance in a skill can confer big advantages; it's easy to foresee a group of players running around with Gun Combat 4, killing everything in their path with trivial ease, and neglecting important but less sexy skills like science, languages or comms.

I took my solution, appropriately enough, from the ME3 multiplayer, with its booster packs of weapons and equipment purchased with in-game currency. Characters will earn XP during the course of play (this XP will come from an Achievement system, but it could just as easily be something else) and spend that XP for the chance to roll a die on one of several d6 tables, just like during character creation. For the princely sum of 8xp, characters can roll on the Combat Package table and maybe pick up another rank of Gun Combat or Melee - but they might also get Medic or Battle Dress. If 8xp's too rich for their blood, they can spend 4xp to roll on the Planetary Table and possibly pick up Broker, Drive, Flyer, Seafaring, Streetwise, or Navigation. And so on and so forth. The more focused a table is, the more it costs to roll on it.

Biotics - Biotic powers are represented by named skills; a character might have Warp 1, Charge 0, Melee (biotic) 2 and so forth. I heavily rewrote the Psion career path as a Biotic path with three specialties (Adept, Vanguard, and Sentinel) and tweaked the rate of point regeneration to hopefully arrive at something like a median between the video game, where people are tossing off powers every few seconds, and the slower-paced Traveller default.

Combat - Combat's a big part of Mass Effect and a big source of the fun for my group; we get together for ME3 multiplayer pretty regularly, so emulating at least some of the mechanics and style of Mass Effect combat had to be part of the package, though at the same time I don't want to lose too much of the straightforward simplicity of the Traveller core or fall down the rabbit hole of keeping track of three different kinds of health bars in the name of fidelity.

In that spirit, rather than keeping track of special shield hit points and how they regenerate and oh my god the migraines I get just thinking about it, I decided to simply assume that half the protective value of personal armor comes from its kinetic barriers, which don't defend against melee attacks. That way even heavily-armored foes are still vulnerable to a good old Krogan headbutt.

I wrote up a set of tech powers (overload, incinerate, and so forth) and rather than make them skills on their own a la biotics, I tied them to a general skill as a prerequisite - for instance, Incinerate, wherein the character uses their omni-tool to mix a ball of flammable liquid and chuck it at their foe, requires a knowledge of Physical Science at rank 1. Neural Shock relies on Life Science, summoning a Combat Drone requires Engineering or Mechanics, and so forth. The happy result of this is that science-focused characters can still get in on, or even excel at, the action, even without spending a term in the Marines.

I also concocted a big list of weapons, armor, and modifications for same. What I'm hoping - and we'll see if this works - is that it's granular enough for players to feel like they actually have a suite of interesting options (rather than just "oh, what's the highest TL thing on this table") but that, once a player has his gun set up and customized to his heart's content, the little bonuses and tradeoffs and bennies won't impede the speed of actual play.

What's Left to Do - I still need to stat out a selection of vehicles, but I'm going to buy myself some time for this by beginning the party on an exploding space station. :D

Jacobkosh on


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