Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Mass Effect Hack: Overhaul

Wolfgun is great and you should all be listening to this guy. Good sci-fi vibes too.

Well, I'm not ACTUALLY fully ready to post this, but I'm going to anyway.
Mass Effect Hack has been on my mind a lot lately. I'm back on the case of trying to figure out how exactly to make this game work. I continue to be met with a single core issue: I lack a clear sense of exactly what the game actually looks like in motion and whether it would be any real fun. That said, the designing of individual components has been an interesting exercise. Ultimately, this still counts as a very early thing, goofing around in the planning stage rather than in-depth mechanical futzing, the sort that I feel Avatar World had in a couple weeks, rather than half a year.
Damn, yeah, I did the initial brainstorm that became MEHack last September. And discussing the basic concepts of what makes a good MEHack in JasonT's thread since June.

In light of that, let's start from the very beginning. Mass Effect Hack, or MEHack, is the temporary name for a hack of Apocalypse World that intends to model the team-dynamic starship-based science fiction stories that underlie the Mass Effect series of video games. Over development I've found that it also applies to starship-based sci-fi in general, with other series like Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, and Star Wars (a little more abstractly) fitting the mold alright. Now, I've probably strayed into some of the same regional territory as Archangel3d's Uncharted Worlds, Mark T's Star Wars World, and robb (I think)'s Traveller World, but I've not actually read any of 'em, so I'm just gonna plow ahead as if they aren't also in the field with me.

As for format here, I'm basically just copy & pasting from my Scrivener file. If it's indented in, it's reinforcing text. If it's not, it's rules. Nearly everything is written how I would put it into an actual document, not in my usual very-informal explanation style.


Stats are a numerical measure of certain aspects of your character’s personality. Other facets of your personality may be strong, but these four factors are the ones that are thematically important to the Mass Effect universe for the purposes of this game.

The four stats are Alien, Experienced, Paragon, and Renegade.

Each stat has a value between -1 and +3. The higher the number, the more prominent that aspect of your personality is, and the more likely you are to succeed on actions that hinge on that element. Each rolebook has two stats that start at -1 and two that start at +1, and at character creation each player adds 1 to one of their stats. Stats can be further increased through advancements.
Alien (ALN)  means weird, unconventional, open-minded, instinctive.
Use Alien when you defy the conventions of society or resort to your basic nature without thinking things through.
 Alien needs a little bit of extra decompression than the others. Alien is not about literally being an alien. Humans do not automatically have low Alien values. In fact, humans can have Alien + 3, and even some of the more outlandish species (such as the Krogan) can have Alien - 1. Alien is about personality and about how far from the default galactic baseline personality someone is. The more Alien someone is, the more distant and outlandish they may seem, and the further to the fringes of society they may lie.
Also, Alien + 0 isn’t the same as “not Alien at all.” People rarely line up perfectly witht he baseline, meaning the average value is actually to deviate slightly from the baseline.
What is considered to be the “baseline” is up to you. So long as the baseline is consistent through the game it should work just fine. Maybe you use our modern human understandings as a baseline, which would make some of the more human-centric behaviors normal and actions like Commander Shepard’s very Alien. Maybe you use the Council’s general line as a baseline, which would make radical xenophobes like TerraFirst noticeably alien. Honestly even the Council would probably still find Commander Shepard significantly Alien.
Experienced (EXP) means well-worn, careful, determined, cautious.
Use Experienced when you’re relying on the knowledge you’ve accumulated or when you fall back on your instincts and training.
Paragon (PAR) means benevolent, friendly, sociable, a team player.
Use Paragon when you’re acting for the sake of others or when you’re driven by your good nature.
Renegade (REN) means dangerous, a force of nature, tough love, independent.
Use Renegade when you act for no one but yourself or when you put aside the duties expected of you.

Renegade doesn’t mean bad or evil or nasty. Renegade is more about putting one’s individual interests over those of the group.

Basic Moves

Playing Mass Effect Hack is a conversation between the MC and the Players. Most of the time, the players simply say what their characters do, and it happens. The MC will ask questions and aim the spotlight of the game sometimes to keep order at the table and ensure that everyone is able to participate, but the action of the game is just determined by what the players say. The world, characters, and story created by this conversation and the understanding of the people at the table is referred to here as the fiction.

Every so often, something someone says will line up with the trigger of a Move. When this happens, the conversation pauses while the move is resolved. The triggering player follows all the instructions in the move. The move is always performed when the trigger comes up in the fiction. Similarly, the trigger must happen in the fiction for the move to happen - the move never happens unless the appropriate action occurs in the fiction.

Where it says to roll + a stat, that means to roll two six-sided dice, add them together, and add the indicated stat value. On a 10 or more, it is considered a success, and the move will say what that means. On a 7, 8, or 9, it is a partial success or a success with complications, and the move will say what that means. On a 6 or less, the move is considered a failure, and this is when the MC will use one of their moves, which is almost always troublesome for the characters.

The Basic Moves are a set of moves that apply to every character. Anyone can trigger them, and anyone can reap the benefits or consequences. In addition to these Basic Moves, each playbook and species comes with a number of potential moves. Each player will select a certain number of them, according to the playbook, and that character (and only that character) can then trigger that move.
 Bold Aggression: When you throw caution to the wind to assail your foes, roll +Renegade. On a 10+, you completely put them in their place, but potentially put yourself in a spot in the process. On a 7-9, you get them but don't take them down, they choose one:
* Back down to avoid further punishment,
* Escalate their threat above and beyond (if possible),
* Take it, but be back fighting soon.

Just shooting is not a move. Just shooting is something that’s assumed to be constantly happening in any firefight, hiding behind cover, trading shots, shields absorbing the punishment on both sides. Some combats can be resolved with a few shots, and those combats you should just narrate right past, because that’s not a move. But when the situation is tough enough that your normal trading shots can’t lead to success, then you might need some bold aggression.

Bold Aggression always has consequences. It’s often best to try to find some alternative solution to your troubles. But when it’s time to rock and roll, this is how you do it.

You can apply this move to non-combat situations too! Being bold and aggressive in a conversation can be just as risky as doing so on the battlefield.
Dig In: When you protect yourself and stay on defense, roll +Experienced. On a 10+, nothing can take you down so long as you stay focused on your own safety. On a 7-9, your cover is crumbling quickly, and they're advancing on you.

Get down! Digging in doesn’t actually require staying put where you are, but if at any point you switch over to an offensive tactic you’re no longer digging in. Tossing off a couple shots is often part of keeping yourself protected, but you can’t take the initiative on these things. If you’re protecting someone else, that’s Supporting Your Team instead.
Your “cover” needn’t be literal. Being stubborn and evasive in conversation is just as much of a Dig In roll as literally ducking into cover.
Enact A Crazy Plan: When you break all conventions and expectations to do what needs doing, roll +Alien. On a 10+, it gets done, and choose 1 of the following. On a 7-9, same thing, but choose 2.
* The negative consequences are immediate.
* A valued reputation is ruined.
* Your teammates are in just as much trouble as you are.

When you enact a crazy plan, just about anything is possible. And with just a 7, it can be achieved! But even on the best successes, there will be consequences. Maybe they’re later, maybe they’re not on you, maybe it’s just social damage, but you never get away scot-free.

Not all reputations you value are your own. If you care about your best friend’s reputation, the MC can ruin it if you leave the middle option alone. And “A reputation” doesn’t mean your overall reputation necessarily; it can be your reputation with your boss, your best friend, the media, society, whatever. What matters is that you care about it, and now it’s ruined. Don’t underestimate that.
Give Orders: When you issue a command from a position of authority and are met with resistance, if it is a selfless or mission-supporting order, roll +Paragon. If it was instead a selfish or off-mission demand, roll +Renegade. If they’re a PC, on a 10+, both of the following are true. On a 7-9, only one is true, and they an make a demand of you first.
* If they fall in line and obey, they become Loyal to you. If they’re already Loyal to you, they mark XP instead.
* If they deny you, they lose their Loyalty to you. If they already are not Loyal, they must Dig In to deny you.
If they’re an NPC, on a hit they do what you want, and on a 10+ they don’t hold it against you.
This move is about a situation that only very rarely occurs in the Mass Effect games, where crew members disagree vehemently enough that one member tries to assert their authority over another. In the games, it would be no fun if your non-player character crew members just stopped doing what you wanted. But at the table, that tension can create drama.
What “position of authority” means is just what it sounds like: you need to have some kind of authority to give orders. Authority is not just the chain of command, but any instance where you are in control and someone else isn’t. It is completely possible for a soldier to give orders to an admiral in a close-quarters combat situation, and it’s also very possible for two characters to have authority on each other.
NPCs are easy to push around. PCs are much harder to protect their agency.
 Support Your Team: When you ignore all other priorities completely occupy the opponents’ attention, roll +Paragon. On a 10+, they're safe as you take on all the impending danger yourself, and you take +1 to rolls as you continue to distract your enemies from your allies. On a 7-9, they get +1 to the next roll related to completing their task, but you must select one:
*  You're cut off and exposed to the full danger,
* You only bought time, and not much of it,
* They managed to get at your team a bit before you distracted them.

When you Support Your Team, you aren’t shooting to destroy your targets, but to distract them. You’re also not dedicating your efforts to staying safe. Providing supporting fire, lying your ass off to divert the conversation, focusing all of the security alerts where you are, these are all supporting your team.
Survey A New Planet: When you touch down on a new planet, ask who's been there the most before. Ask that character to roll +Experienced. On a hit, the MC will ask questions from the following list, and the player can answer them as they wish. On a 10+, ask 3 questions. On a 7-9, 2 questions. On a miss, the rolling player asks two, and the MC gets to answer them however they please.
  * What civilization has dominated the planet, or is it wild?
  * What's the most dangerous creature to watch out for?
  * What crisis is currently shaking the planet?
  * What sort of special equipment is needed to explore the planet?
  * What's the climate and landscape look like (in the area we're touching down in)?
If no character's been to the planet before, ask who's idea it was to come here, and they roll, but get to ask 1 fewer questions, regardless of result. If it was assigned, perhaps as part of a mission, assume it to be the commanding officer's idea.

An establishing move for the beginning of missions, this move distributes the authority to determine the description of new places. Any questions not selected are fair game for the MC or players to determine with later exploration.
Help: When you help someone you’re Loyal to, they add +2 to the roll but you share in any consequences of that move. If you’re not Loyal, you can only add +1 to their roll, but are still exposed to the same consequences.

If you’re not Loyal to someone, your help isn’t quite as important. And helping someone for real is about putting yourself right there next to them, danger be damned. The consequences needn’t be exactly the same as the roller’s, but they should be related.
Invoke Loyalty: When you make a move against someone you’re Loyal to, you may lose that Loyalty to improve the move result by one step (from a 6- to a 7-9, or from a 7-9 to a 10+).

Loyalty is a powerful force. When you’re loyal to someone, you usually take what they say and go along with their ideas, but when you object your history of loyalty gives you more leverage than you would usually have. They might not be happy about it, and you’re certainly dissenting, but hopefully you can earn that trust back eventually.

Equipment Moves

Gear is all of the stuff your character is carrying. Not everything has to be written down on the playbook (this isn’t a backpack simulator) but the really important stuff does get written down. Additionally, a lot of the stuff you get grant their own special moves when you carry them.

Additionally, the Shields move is categorized as a Gear Move because it’s not an action on its own like the other Basic Moves, but that move will be used by every player just like the Basic Moves.
 Biotics: When you mentally generate mass effect fields, roll +Alien. On a 10+, the target object’s mass is shifted, becoming more or less dense than usual, and objects and creatures react appropriately. On a 7-9, the same, but choose one:
* The exertion is immediately stressful and painful.
* Unintended side effects occur.
* The effect is less dramatic than you intended.

OmniTool: When you engage in cyberwarfare, roll +Alien. On a 10+, you gain the access you wanted. On a 7-9, choose two:
* Your access is complete.
* You aren't detected by security.
* You do it quickly.
Additionally, all OmniTools can create a simple hard-light blade, and include a local text and audio communicator.

Heavy Weapons: All your guns have two of the following properties (choose when you take this move):
* Accurate,
* Storied,
* Infinite Ammo,
* Reliable.
These Equipment Moves are meant to represent the baseline equipment of the Galaxy, the sort any individual might have. Of course, just having the item isn’t quite good enough to use its power - not every Asari is good enough at biotics to make the move, not every OmniTool user is a leet hacker, not every soldier is an ace shot; only the best, meaning characters who take the move, can take advantage of its benefits (with the exception of the universal function of OmniTools, which anyone can use). If players want to narrate their asari as using biotics even if they don’t have the move, they sure can, but it has no real weight, it’s just flavor.
Sorry folks, I’m not going to actually explain what Biotics or OmniTools are right now. If for some reason you’re reading this and you don’t know the canon, just make up something cool that fits with the move mechanics!

All of the moves are meant essentially as baselines. If players want their biotics or their weapons to be special, modify the move as necessary. The moves as given indicate the general severity of the consequences of usually using the equipment, but are by no means universal.

The biotics move is mostly built on the typical model seen in the games, requiring concentration and mental pressure to work great acts. If people are interested in other sorts, try sliding around the potential consequences. For example, maybe an L2 Biotic has options that involve crippling headaches to come later. Or someone with Subject Zero-like overclocked biotics has consequences that are far more dramatic, rather than less.

The OmniTool move is based on the most common use of them by experts in the games - hacking. Sometimes they’re useful for other stuff though, and again modification is achievable simply by messing with the consequences. Some other uses for OmniTools might be drone control, or long-range quantum communication. This operates on the assumption that a hacking OmniTool would be outfitted differently than, say, a drone control OmniTool.
As mentioned above, anyone describing themselves with an OmniTool, which should probably be everyone, gets the blade and communicator, even if they don’t have the move.

The weapons move is the easiest to modify - just add more options! Keep in mind that the properties aren’t absolutely literal; infinite ammo just means the MC never gets to tell the player that their gun is suddenly out of ammo, accurate means the player’s shots are simply harmless or glancing but almost always connect, etc. In truth, they don’t have all that much mechanical benefit, they just force the fiction to move in different directions. That’s really what all moves really strive to do though, isn’t it?
Shields: When you take serious fire, roll +Shields. On a 10+, your defenses weather the danger intact. On a 7-9, choose one:
* Your defenses are down, your Shields are 0 until you have time to repair them (you can't take this option if Shields are already 0).
* Something important is broken.
* You'll be in major trouble if your team doesn't rescue you right away.
Playbooks each have a Shields value, either 1 or 2. This value is an abstraction of your passive defensive ability, representing armor, biotic barriers, literal kinetic shielding, or some combination of those elements (or others you invent).

That second option should be handled as harshly as the fiction would dictate. Actual damage to characters is narrative, motivated by Hard Moves. Death is something the MC should consult the player about if it seems like a logical conclusion, but save it for dramatic situations.

“Serious fire” really does mean serious. Just a couple of bullets isn’t serious for those used to combat. Just like throwing a few shots downrange isn’t Bold Aggression, taking a couple hits isn’t serious fire.


Playbooks are self-contained character packages. Initially, they take the form of a series of lists and commands to choose a certain number of options from each list.

Each playbook represents an archetype of character in Mass Effect Hack.

Unlike many hacks of Apocalypse World, in Mass Effect Hack your character is a combination of two playbooks, one rolebook and one speciesbookbook. No group should have more than one of the same rolebook, but duplicate speciesbooks is fine.

All selected options on both parts of the playbook are true of the character.


The rolebook you select determines your position and demeanor within the context of the team. It is not necessarily tied to an actual formal hierarchy, but sheds light on the way the rest of the crew sees any given character. Not completely exclusive of each other, they are capable of crossing over and taking moves from the other rolebooks, though they remain defined by their original rolebook.

All rolebooks have a brief description of their role, as well as lists of looks, stats, moves, gear, advancements, and relationships.

Look: Pick one option from each list of looks describing your character’s appearance. You can declare other look things too, but you have to pick one option from the list. The speciesbook also has a set of look lists for you to choose options from: pick from those lists at the same time.

Stats: Two stats will be at +1, the other two will be at -1. Add 1 to one stat of your choice and write it in the indicated spots.

Moves: The moves that are available to this rolebook. The rolebook will tell you how many you get to pick.

Gear: The stuff you start with. Some gear will be mandatory, while other gear lists may have choices for you to make.

Advancements: A list of options you choose from whenever you gain an advance, permanently improving your character.

Relationships: After making the rest of your character, you will go around the table introducing your characters. Afterward, you will use the list of relationships to guide the group in establishing the initial connections between characters.
The Academic
Intelligent and well-trained, you know how to work in groups and can use your mind to the benefit of your companions. Not always the first pick for the front lines of a firefight, but then that just means they'll never see you coming.
Stats: Alien +1, Experienced -1, Paragon +1, Renegade -1.
Gear: You have Shields +1. You have a basic Omni-Tool, and you also get one of:
* the Biotic move,
* the Omni-Tool move.

The Agent
You’re a part of something greater, something more than yourself. You’ve serve its masters long enough to know that your faith isn’t just blind naivete; it’s the real deal. The perks of service certainly don’t hurt either.
Stats: Alien -1, Experienced +1, Paragon +1, Renegade -1.
Gear: You have Shields +1. You also have a basic Omni-Tool and one of the following:
* The Biotics move,
* The Heavy Weapons move.
Special Assignment

The Leader
You’re surrounded by professionals. Everyone here is great at what they do, but you’ve got the most important job around: making sure all these talented people are talented together. Sometimes they won’t like what you make them do, but it’s for the best, not just for the mission, but for all of you.
Stats: Alien -1, Experienced -1, Paragon +1, Renegade +1.
Gear: You have Shields +1. You have a basic Omni-Tool. You have one of:
* the Biotics move,
* the Heavy Weapons move,
* the Omni-Tool move.
Chain of Command

The Loner
No one understands the way you think, and you're smart or intuitive enough to get away with keeping out of the lives of everyone else. You don't mind, you don't really get how they think either. So in that case… how did you end up on this stupid boat?!
Stats: Alien +1, Experienced +1, Paragon -1, Renegade -1.
Gear: You have Shields +2. You have a basic Omni-Tool and one of the following:
* the Biotics move,
* the Heavy Weapons move,
* the Omni-Tool move.
Private Matters

The Rebel
Stats: Alien +1, Experienced -1, Paragon -1, Renegade +1.
Gear: You have Shields +1. You have a basic Omni-Tool, as well as one of:
* The Biotics move,
* The Heavy Weapons move.
No More Red Tape

The Veteran 
Hard-as-nails, you've been through the grind over and over again. Are you jaded? Probably. Do you think you're tough enough to walk through any challenge that comes your way? Hell yeah.
You’ll survive. You always survive.
Stats: Alien -1, Experienced +1, Paragon -1, Renegade +1.
Gear: You have Shields +2, and the Heavy Weapons move. You can also choose one of:
* The Biotics move,
* A third option from the Heavy Weapons move,
* The OmniTool move.
Hold the Line


The speciesbook, determines which of the myriad alien species your character belongs to and which elements of that species are emphasized in your character. Species is firm in nature, and one can’t generally take moves from another species. However, if an element is purely cultural there may be a basis for it, and if it makes sense in the fiction the MC might allow it. As a rule though, speciesbooks are not compatible with each other.

As multiple of the same speciesbook can be selected, it is encouraged that different moves be selected on each to promote mechanical variety.

Each speciesbook has a brief description of the species, its culture, and its place in galactic society. Each also has a list of names, looks, moves, and species bonds.

Names: A few name suggestions that fit the culture of the chosen species. Feel free to pick from outside of these, they’re just suggestions.

Look: Pick one option from each list of looks describing your character’s appearance. You can declare other look things too, but you have to pick one option from the list. The rolebooks also have look lists: fill out both simultaneously.

Moves and Conflicts: Each species has three moves, which you’ll pick one to start with. Each describes something true about the species, and each is associated with a small phrase describing one of the species’ major conflict points with other characters. Pick the move whose associated conflict is the most interesting to explore for you.
Asari (Psychic)
The oldest species in the galaxy by a longshot, you are the keeper of society. Long-lived in the extreme and rarely defied by the rest of the council, you are capable of merging minds with others and always have some level of telekinetic ability. Your society is stratified by individual age.
While your appearance is always female, you aren’t precisely. You reproduce with any species by merging minds with them and incorporating their DNA with yours into a child. You always have blue skin, and while your form doesn’t change, every species sees the traits they find attractive in you.
* My genetic heritage is distasteful to others.
* People are afraid I’ll mess with their minds.
* I’ve lived long and am used to getting my way.

Geth/AI (Mechanoid)
You were not born, but built and awakened. Wires and metal and whirring lights stand in for the blood, bones, and brain of everyone else, and for some of you that’s where the similarities end. Your people (if such a category exists) are of infinite variation: some of a hive mind, some housed in immobile or giant structures, others in human-like forms. None of you seem to have mastered a convincing human disguiise though.
Your people and the organics haven’t respected each other very much in the past. You were enslaved by some, shackled by others, some of you hid in isolation and some threatened its safety. You’re not like those monsters, but, well, people have some trouble telling your kind apart.
* There are many misconceptions regarding how I function.
* My predecessors’ actions make people suspicious of me at best.
* I’m more efficient at my job than any organic.

Human (Newcomer)
You’ve emerged into the galactic community only a couple hundred years ago, and you worked very hard to make sure everyone know that you’d arrived. Some first contact wars, some aggressive politics, and some extreme racial pride all guaranteed that you would not be ignored.
You’ve got skin in a variety of colors, though rarely as striking as some of the other species, and soft flesh that doesn’t do much in the way of protection, but as a species you have decent psychic potential and the ambition, aggression, and courage to go far.
* I am far too ambitious for the galaxy’s comfort.
* Aliens are not our betters.
* I can’t rely on anyone but myself.

Krogan (Savage)
Enormous and thick-skinned, you are a tragic people. Uplifted to the interstellar community too soon to fight a foe the rest of the galaxy couldn’t handle, your ceaseless aggression ran wild over them, and over yourself.
Now you’re a shattered people, many tribes with little loyalty. And to make matters worse, when the galaxy realized they couldn’t put your strength back in the box, they practically sterilized you. So that’s you: tragic, shattered, dying.
* I haven’t forgiven society for crippling my people.
* People never look beyond my stereotypes.
* My tribe is superior to the others.

Quarian (Nomad)
You’re a lost people, having built a race of drones that gained sentience, and when you tried to keep them enslaved they kicked you out. Since then you’ve been starbound, roaming the galaxy in a flotilla of ships.
Centuries of shipboard life has not been good to your body, and your immune system is shot. Any opening of your enviro-suit will make you sick, and no one’s even sure what you look like beneath the suit, other than a basically human-like shape.
* People assume I’m a thief or a vagabond.
* My people are blamed for a galactic tragedy.
* I would be deathly ill withut my suit.

Salarian (Scientist)
You don’t have long - your lifespan is 40 years at best, and because of that everything you do is done at an accelerated rate. Your society makes a big deal out of pedigree and genetic compatibility. You have a reputation for scientific innovation and espionage, aided by your photographic memories.
Your tall slender body is never particularly heavy, and your lean arms end in dextrous three-digited hands. Your head ends in blunt horns and your skin could any color from gray to bright red to deep green.
* Sometimes proress and ethics are mutually exclusive.
* I am rapidly approaching the end of my life.
* People confuse my genius for insanity.

Turian (Warrior)
You’re part of the old boys’ club, represented on the galactic council and widely known as the most powerful military force around. You’ve got a very hierarchical culture and a rigid structure to your life. Unfortunately, the rest of society rarely conforms to your very exacting standards.
Your hide is fairly avian, with noticeable crests on your head which are often painted. You have an extra joint in your legs, and your bioshemistry is diferent than most of the others.
* I’m honest and speak my mind, even if it’s harsh.
* Disorderlyness and corruption upset me.
* I have no patience for intrigue when action will do.

The Ship's Log

The ship is the center of a fireteam; it’s their home, their transport, their community, and their lifeline.

A standard ship has a set of military-grade artillery weapons and shields, a powerful but ordinary engine, and perhaps a couple dozen staff at most in a variety of roles.

Ship Name: _____________________
(fill out a name for your ship)
Pretty self-explanatory.
Here I’m gonna go on a tangent! Ship naming is a big deal to me for some reason. They hold meaning to me, as the ship is everything to a crew: a home, a vehicle, a weapon, a community. Most notably, even for ships that’re technically part of a military and thus would normally comply with a naming convention, I dislike very formulaic names. Naming for presidents, battles, or landmarks is alright, but ship names in sci-fi are poetry, meant to give identity rather than to homogenize it into a fleet. Referring to specific elements of your world is cool, and name should hint at allegiance and sometimes function, but shouldn’t often be explicit. Connotation and tone of the name also have an effect.
If you want to still show some kind of patterning to names, consider a prefix (such as SS) before the name then naming as usual.
The Mass Effect series of games tends to be quite obedient to the usual place/person name convention observed in the real world, which, frankly, bores me. For a look at ship names that fit these rules, check out the Halo series. Both the UNSC and the Covenant have very poetic name habits, with the UNSC also attaching a prefix for some consistency and the Covenant naming them around a theme of religion. Favorites of mine include the UNSC In Amber Clad, UNSC Dawn Under Heaven, UNSC Song of the East, UNSC Pillar of Autumn, UNSC Say My Name, Lawgiver, Clarity of Faith, Shadow of Intent, Far Sight Lost, Retribution’s Thunder, and Pitiless. Star Wars also has some fairly poetic starship names among its inexhaustable wealth of ships, such as the Seventy-Seven Stars, Comet’s Wake, and Celestine, along with the iconic Millenium Falcon and pretty much all of its many aliases.
Some of my favorites of my own writing include On Solar Wind, A Thief in the Night, The House of Lanterns, Pacifism in Red, The Child Traveler, Black Stag, and The Banshee in Silence.
Anyway, if ship names aren’t all that important to you, just go with whatever sounds cool. I’m weird for putting this much thought into them.
(pass around the Ship’s Log and have each player circle one option to be true)
Each of the traits of the ship are meant to be both a positive and a negative option. Here’s some notes about how to use elements in each way.
* Full of experimental and outlandish technology.
Full of experimental and outlandish technology: Experimental technology is often strange and fantastical in what it can accomplish, such as cloaking, stasis, hyperdrive, AI, or anything built out of exotic alien technology. These expand the capabilities of the ship, but this technology isn’t tested, intuitive to use, reliable, or easy to fix.
* Recognizable, with a fearsome reputation.
Recognizable, with a fearsome reputation: The ship’s made a name for itself, either because of its development or its past actions, and that means less privacy for the crew and team. A fearsome reputation may not be what the team wants to foster, though it makes for good leverage in an intimidation situation. People are probably afraid of your ship’s arrival and you never go unnoticed when you pull into dock.
* Well-supplied with a large staff.
Well-supplied with a large staff: well-supplied is pretty easy to interpret, though it also means that fully stocking the ship is an expensive endeavor. A large staff means you don’t lack for manpower, but feeding, housing, and keeping them happy is hard, and the larger your crew the harder it is to control them.
* Key systems are reliable but antiquated.
Key systems are reliable but antiquated: Reliability is great for a ship! Things don’t break down, and the machinery’s proved itself a hundred times over. Unfortunately it lacks for some of the bells and whistles of the newer tech, and just generally can’t match the effectiveness of the state-of-the-art. The companies probably don’t even make parts for the systems anymore, but there’s a sizable second-hand market, and everyone probably remembers how to run them. And sometimes being old has some unexpected benefits - can’t remotely hack a wired ship after all!
To make it very clear, you can have experimental technology AND outdated systems. It just means your ship’s only been upgraded in various areas.
* Used to be for a completely different purpose.
Used to be used for a completely different purpose: Ships are expensive, and sometimes organizations want to re-purpose their older vessels. The ship has the necessities of its new mission such as guns and shields, but the ship’s layout isn’t ideal. Maybe it was a small-ish transport vessel and is cramped and uncomfortable for the crew, or a diplomatic ship with a lot of amenities but lacks key rooms like a well-stocked medbay or a command center. It could have been a much-too-large freighter loaded up with room for guns and cargo but is difficult to monitor, maneuver, or hide. If this option is picked, make some decisions up front about what the ship used to be.
The ship can still be brand-new if it was built for a different purpose even if it was never used, so don’t let that lock down your concept for the ship.
* Relies on shuttles for in-atmosphere activity.
Relies on shuttles for in-atmosphere activity: For whatever reason the ship can’t enter the atmosphere; it could be too large, it might have environmental issues with in-planet conditions, or perhaps it can’t survive atmospheric entry itself. While this is an inconvenience, it also renders the ship harder to reach and means you pretty much always have access to shuttles for any of the numerous things shuttles are useful for.
* Largely run by the ship’s own consciousness.
Largely run by the ship’s own consciousness: Whether it be an organic interface, an awakened AI, or something else, the ship is itself a character. Along with whatever stigmas or complications come with the ship being sentient (does it feel pain when fired upon? Does the crew think it can really be trusted?), the people in charge are going to have to deal with the ship not just as a machine, but as a person. Of course, almost no one better knows how to handle the ship than itself, putting its expertise in its systems on a whole other level from most crew members.

The MC

No supporting text on the MC yet, but I have Principles and Moves.


* Start and end with the fiction.
Moves should spring from the fiction, consult the mechanics, and then interpret those mechanics in terms of the fiction again. This means both the player moves as well as your MC moves.
* Breathe life into the shining void.
The galaxy is big and empty-looking, so go out and fill those stars with civilization. Make things vivid and real.
* Be up front with the truth, encourage questions.
Complete. Truth. Don’t hold anything back, this isn’t a mystery game. When players ask about observations, just tell them all there is to know, or prompt a more specific question if that’s a huge task.
* Address yourself to the characters, not the players.
Hearing your real name can pull you out of the fictional world a bit. This is a simple trick that helps things stay grounded in the fiction.
* Make reputation matter.
Ostensibly, this is a game about action, but actions only matter when you finally get back to society to see the effect you have. Use their reputations to give their choices meaning to the galaxy.
* Make the galaxy familiar, but strange.
Everything about Mass Effect society is kinda close to something we know, but never quite the same, even Earth in the new context of a living universe. Reflect that.
* Aggravate the tensions of a diverse society.
The galaxy is full of life, and where there is life there is conflict. The species, the governments, the planets, no one is at ease with absolutely everyone else. The player characters are a microcosm of that scenario - bring those tensions to life.
* Think ahead, and offscreen too.
Think ahead doesn't mean pre-plan, it means to keep an eye open for things you can do soon. Just don't get attached.
* Sometimes, disclaim decision-making.

Hard Moves

* Make them pull together.
* Drive them apart.
* Present an opportunity, with or without a cost.
* Tell them the consequences and ask.
* Foreshadow future dangers.
* Deal harm, as appropriate.
* Put something they care about in the firing line.
* Put their loyalties at odds.

And that's it! So far. A couple of spaces for moves, on the Agent, Rebel, and Loner. Pretty much no move mechanics outside of the basic moves. About half the MC stuff. Almost no periphery. Of significant importance, no XP or advancement system in place - that's under the knife right now.

Let me know what you think! Looking for direction, connections to media, and just opinions on if things seem cool or fun.

End Recording,