GM’s Blog: Fated Mass Effect Parts 1 & 2

Greetings all. I’m running a game of “Mass Effect” in the Fate Core system for the university’s Easter break. I was going to just post about it on the Google+ community, but then I remembered that + is a somewhat transient medium and that all posts are eventually lost, like tears in rain.

So here’s how the game has been going so far…

The first session was character creation. The only problems we had with the system were basically my fault. I reskinned some of the skills but didn’t realise until I read the skill list aloud that Incite (my re-skinning of Provoke) sounds a lot like Insight, a more commonly-used word. I also let people buy skills at 2 points per point of refresh and that made people think they had to spend them both in one skill.

Anyway, we got all of that sorted out in the end and had a good time coming up with the world (Vintas, a small human colony planet that has recently been suffering frequent meteorite showers. There’s a Salarian research base on the planet that has recently gone dark) and the characters.

We had about 40 minutes at the end so I had them responding as the planet’s militia to reports of a thresher maw attacking a local farm. Though we didn’t have too long to do this it was fun and whetted appetites nicely for the next session. We had some of the group driving around in a jeep-like vehicle with the maw following them trying to SMUSH them while the Turian ex-politician got people to safety back on the farm. I didn’t want him to be bored on his own so I spawned a baby thresher maw for him to take care of.

We ended the session with the other members of the militia chugging along behind the maw in a tractor while the Turian shot a parked vehicle to explode it and distract the smaller maw while the farm folk ran to safety. Right at the end the baby maw bit the burning car and burned itself, so screamed out in pain… drawing the attention of the big maw once again.

Next session we finished off the thresher maw fight. The Drell bodyguard was able to use the maw’s “Massive weakspot” aspect to great effect, dealing a nasty wound. I deliberately gave the maw more consequences and less stress on the basis that it would be more enjoyable for the group to see it gaining crippling consequences as it was worn down rather than just seeing a massive stress track being ticked off one at a time.

Before long it had massive armour plates blown off, spasmodic movements, bleeding wounds and so on, giving the fight a real feel of momentum and progress. Eventually it was Taken Out and the player elected to render it paralysed and unconscious with his final shot.

The Turian, who had now spent a couple of actions creating advantages to be on the lookout for the re-emergence of the baby maw, gave a warning tot the rest of the group that the baby maw was still underground, somewhere.

“I can handle it,” boasted the undercover Cerberus agent, so of course I had the thresher maw erupt directly under his feet in an instance of narrative causality. The Turian had been waiting for this so took his shot as the maw erupted, using both of his created advantages to up the damage. This would technically only have given the maw a serious consequence but I didn’t want to prolong the fight and I thought the moment was awesome so I just had the maw taken out.

This week we had a brand new player joining us. Not only was he new to Fate but to roleplaying in general. We’d already done most of his character creation (with the exception of his final two aspects) and I thought now would be a good time for him to arrive, so I gave him a choice.

1) Emerge from the thresher maw’s stomach (he’s a Krogan so it’s plausible it wouldn’t have digested him yet!)

2) Crash land in an emergency escape pod, having arrived from Omega with an enemy ship on his tail

He chose option 2 so we resolved that scene next, with the group being asked to investigate the crash landing ship.

This next part was quite cool. He’d just punched out the canopy of his escape pod and emerged into the light and I paused the action. “At least two of you recognise him,” I said… and we proceeded to fill in his two blank aspects right there by linking him to the Cerberus agent (they were once on opposing sides in a conflict to obtain a McGuffin) and the Turian diplomat (he once served under the Turian as a mercenary).

This made the introduction of the new character so much easier than in a traditional game. It was awesome!

The group took the Krogan back to town so they could all rest up a bit. They got a report from the planetary overwatch (an agency that got named Central by the group. Only then it turned out he’s just one half-crazy guy called James Central whose family was wiped out in a meteorite shower) that a larger ship had been detected entering the atmosphere and was landing a couple of thousand clicks away.

The Quarian constructed an aerial drone to go and investigate the new landing and meanwhile the group resolved to investigate the Salarian research base, which had gone communications dark a couple of weeks ago. This was great as far as the Krogan was concerned because he was here to find out if those Salarian scientists knew anything about the lost members of his clan.

So they headed out to the base and found that it had automated defences. A VI salarian appeared and began to berate them for trespassing. They didn’t get anywhere with negotiating. After a while the Cerberus operative got bored (in other words, I compelled his Action Before Inaction aspect, though could just as easily have compelled his A Little Force Goes A Long Way aspect) and decided to just storm the research base, so the four three missile turrets around the base opened fire (he one-shotted one of the turrets with a ++++ roll!).

At this point we found out how effective the Drell bodyguard was as she began shooting missiles out of the air. She did this as a Defence roll of her Shoot versus the turrets’ Shoot. She’s already a pretty good shot but she also has a stunt that gives her a +2 when she’s defending others. Being that the missiles were area effect weapons and would have hit everyone in the jeep, this applied.

Frankly, this was just quite awesome to imagine as the group drove around into position with missiles being steadily and effectively shot out of the air before they could reach them. The rest of the group fired at the turrets themselves and before long they’d all been dealt with.

The Krogan busted down the door and they began to investigate the base, with the VI becoming more petulant and erratic as time went on. One of my players said, “I bet we’ll just find a scared Salarian at a computer…” and I thought this was a cool idea so I changed my plan from a VI to a panicky Salarian (which kind of messed up the plot I had in mind as I was intending all of the Salarians to be missing, but when you get fed an awesome idea like that…)

We ended the session just as the group found the panicky Salarian and, across the hall, the Krogan and Quarian busted into a securely sealed room.

So how’s it going so far? Speaking for myself I’m enjoying it immensely. The characters are fleshed out right off the bat and we’re getting some great interplay between them. The combat is fast and fluid and there’s a real sense of narrative freedom.

I’ll update you a bit later with some comments from the new guy.

Have fun!

7 thoughts on “GM’s Blog: Fated Mass Effect Parts 1 & 2

  1. Turian retired politician here.

    This is the first FATE game I have played in other than a one-off Exalted FATE session using some pretty heavily edited rules and I thought Skimble may be interested in my thoughts as well as the totally new guy’s.

    In general FATE seems to be a very adaptable system (which I guess is what it was designed for) with only a small amount of legwork from the GM to get it edited for different settings. However, this can put it at a disadvantage compared with more specialised systems and the abstracted system used for resolving conflicts and actions doesn’t to me feel like it drills down far enough to make things like tactical loadouts and specialised equipment or skills matter too much. Sure this means the game moves at a fast pace, but I am finding even in the second session of this that it doesn’t feel like the characters have particularly distinct skillsets from each other, even when they do.

    Part of this may come from the fact that the last SF game I played was Eclipse Phase, which was at the other end of the spectrum in terms of fine detail and felt to me like each character was unique because of the huge wealth of information and equipment available. In ME FATE however my Turian grandpa with his battered old rifle felt just as powerful as the two Shoot specialists in the group through the few stacks of Advantage that were described above.

    In my opinion the roleplaying of characters is what FATE relies on to differentiate them from each other, and I can see how the Aspect choices and linking at character generation is designed to help this happen. However, it does mean that people who prefer to start with an outline and fill in the blanks as they play get pressured into locking down details of their characters they maybe hadn’t thought about at the beginning of the session, and having to integrate with others can mean you occasionally end up with untenable or un-maintainable links as someone else’s character doesn’t come across in play as they did on paper.

    For all this, I did enjoy the sessions written about above and I’m looking forward to finishing off the plot line over the next few weeks, but I would have concerns at the moment about how to keep the game fresh and interesting once the novelty of new system and setting has worn off when it seems the normal player rewards (experience, money and items) don’t really have a big effect in FATE.

  2. Cool post, thanks Jon.

    You’re absolutely right that standard Fate Core doesn’t concern itself much with tactical loadouts and gear. It’s generally assumed that you have whatever you need to do the things that you’re good at according to your skills. To an extent then it’s up to the players how much or how little narrative emphasis they want to place on their equipment.

    It would be very easy to hack the system to focus more on the equipment by giving some ‘equipment points’ that can be spent on skill bonuses, stunt effects and aspects for gear that would do more to distinguish one weapon from another than the small range of weapon bonus values does. Perhaps that would be worthwhile for a longer term Mass Effect game.

    With regard to the distinct skillsets, well so far we’ve really only had a chance to explore the conflict side of things, and at least four of the party have military/combat backgrounds. I think their approaches to tackling situations are probably more important to them feeling like individuals than their skill sets.

    I think your description of the parity between your Turian grandpa and the two shooting specialists is actually highlighting a feature rather than a bug of the system. You were equivalent to them because you’d spent the time to set yourself up in a sniper nest and prepared yourself to open fire. It’s good that the system can reward preparation and foreplanning as much as raw talent.

    I think also the fact that I waived my right to continue the conflict with the baby maw for longer by letting it be taken out when it had consequences to spare might have helped increase your feeling of efficacy and competence. Which is good, because that was part of the intention.

    For both of your final two points I think the milestone system provided in Fate gives us the solution. Well, the milestone system and the GM allowing the last couple of aspects to be completed more at leisure (which is an option I would probably allow if asked for those who want to develop their character in play a bit more).

    At milestones not only can you rename an aspect or swap two skills after every session, if you so choose, but periodically during the game you also gain new skill points. You’d expect to gain a skill point about once every major story.Further to that every couple of stories you actually gain a new point of refresh which can be spent on stunts and so on as well as the benefits of a lower milestone.

    The potential for mechanical advancement is therefore there, but it’s not really the focus of the game. In your experience though do you think it’s the mechanical advances that meant the most to you or the story events? I suspect in Exalted you mostly remember story events, some of which may have been enabled by a growth in power or ability but many of which were completely separate to that.

    To use the example of a longer-term game than this one, I’ve now been running Dresden for most of the year. So far the players seem happy with the gradual advancement of their characters in terms of skills and so on. But more importantly their characters have learned a lot about the way the world works and are getting more embedded in the mysteries surrounding them, and that along with the favours they are earning from NPCs and the success in pursuing their own goals is what brings them back week after week.

  3. I read through the FATE rules — in their Spirit of the Century incarnation — but just couldn’t get my head around them. This game looks like great fun though, so perhaps I’ll have another go.

  4. We’re prepping for a Mass Effect game using Fate Core as well. I’m curious to see how our ME hack compares to others. Did you happen to write down any special rules or powers for your game? Would love to read them if you did. Thanks!

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