Mouse Effect - A Mass Effect Hack for Mouse Guard

Hi everyone :slight_smile: Been a long time lurker on the boards here, and GMed a very successful Mouse Guard campaign a few months ago, but decided to finally sign up to get some input on this idea I had. So… let me know what you think. I present the beginnings of what I have for a Mass Effect based hack for the Mouse Guard RPG. Input appreciated and requested.

[ul][li] Play must be team-based.
[/li][li] There must be an implacable, over-arching force.
[/li][li] There must be dramatic adventure that focuses on fighting for what you believe in.[/ul]
[/li]Check, check, and check.

What’s this about? What do characters do in this setting?
The characters play as a team of Spectres (Special Tactics and Reconnaissance), elite agents of the Citadel, the seat of government for a large portion of the galaxy. Spectres are officially above the law, though they fall under the purview of the Council in charge of the Citadel, and are not immune to its censure. They are granted the right to act however they see fit, and rarely have any gone rogue. Those who have gone rogue have their Spectre status stripped, and another Spectre is sent to take care of them… no one else would be up to task. Spectres are chosen from amongst all Citadel races, and are typically the best of the best from among the races’ militaries, however in the past 100 years, Spectre status has been opened to the other races as well, assuming they meet the criteria. It is unknown exactly how many Spectres there are, though there are estimated to be a few hundred.

The year is 2283. 100 years ago, Commander John Shepard was the first human appointed to Spectre status. Though he was able to hold back many threats, he was only truly able to delay, not end, their threats.

Overarching Conflict
What’s the overarching conflict?
The galaxy is always threatened, and it is the Spectres job to keep it safe. The Spectres hold the vigil against the Reapers, an ancient race of sentient biological starships, who lie in wait in the dark space beyond the galaxy. The Reapers have many allies against the Citadel races, including the Collectors (an insect-like race who got their name for prisoner “collections”… all Left Handed Salarians, or all Batarian Twins, or something similar), and the Geth (rogue AIs who have gained sentience, worship the Reapers, and want to assist the Reapers in wiping out all life in the galaxy).

What kind of missions do the characters go on?
In addition to battling the Reapers, Collectors, and Geth, and any other external threats the Citadel may face, Spectres also:
[li]Explore the unknown reaches of the Galaxy
[/li][li]Mediating disputes within Council Space
[/li][li]Acting as couriers for high priority packages for the Citadel
[/li][li]Advancing Citadel interests
[/li][li]Rescuing people and colonies from any threats

The galaxy is extremely vast.
Placeholder link to Mass Effect Wiki: Milky Way until I get a chance to write more.

What creatures or NPCs populate the setting?
Asterisks indicate playable races. Pound signs indicate Antagonist races
The following races have a seat on the Council:

The following races do not have a seat on the Council:
[li]Batarians*# (Batarians frequently form pirate and raider gangs, and thus can be considered Antagonists, however, most of the population are in fact good people, despite their negative reputation, and are playable).

What is the unique Nature of your characters?
The Nature mechanic receives a bit of an overhaul to fit into Mass Effect. All characters share the Paragon ideals Nature (Paragon), and each race shares a set of Renegade Nature aspects, Nature (Race). Nature (Paragon) and Nature (Race) may not exceed a combined total of 7. If you are allowed to advance one of these Nature scores, and doing so would cause your total to exceed 7, raise it, and lower the other score by 1.

A player may tap either Nature at any time for one persona point. If the task is within the Nature chosen, Success means no tax on either, and Failure means that Nature is taxed by 1. If the task is not the Nature chosen, Success means that the chosen Nature is taxed by 1, and Failure means that BOTH natures are taxed, the chosen by the margin of failure, and the other by 1. If you can not tax either Nature the required amount, tax it down to 0/0, and then any extra points that needed to be taxed are doubled, then taken from the other Nature.

If, at any time, you reach a rating of 7 in one of your Natures, and maintain that score for the rest of the session, that score drops to 4. You may either submit yourself to a “Winter Session” style Gain a Trait, or, place a check in either the pass or fail (as needed) of 3 separate skills, your choice.

If at any point your total Nature equals 0, your character gives up the fight and retires.

All characters share the following Nature (Paragon):
Sanctity of Life, Stay Your Hand, No Matter the Cost, Open Book

Nature (Human) - Pride, Every Man for Himself, Distrusting, Something to Prove
Nature (Turian) - Stubborn, Imperialist, Disciplined, Bitter
Nature (Asari)- Seduction, The Long View, All is One, Thirst for Power
Nature (Salarian)- Lightning Metabolism, Non-Linear Thinking, Subterfuge, Thirst for Knowledge
Nature (Drell)- Reptilian, Eidetic Memory, Religious, Hanar-Pledged
Nature (Krogan)- Doomed, Aggressive, Unsympathetic, Self-Reliant
Nature (Quarian)- Distrusting, Frailty, Unyielding Loyalty, Nomadic
Nature (Batarian)- Paranoid, Profit-Driven, Mercenary, Subterfuge

What are the traits for your setting? These are easy to come up with!
New Traits
Death Wish
Codex Junkie

Name Changed Traits
Big Paw -> Strong Back
Deep Ear and Sharp Eyed -> Spotter
Guard’s Honor -> Citadel’s Honor
Old Fur -> Old Timer

Removed Traits
Long Tail

New Skills

Name Changed Skills
Harvester -> Farmer
Healer -> First Aid
Loremouse -> Codex Use
Pathfinder -> Navigation
Carpenter and Stonemason and Smith -> Construction
Boatcrafting -> Maintainance

Removed Skills

I am unsure whether to remove some of the more artsy craft type skills like Glazier and Potter. The debate is whether to remove them entirely or (and this is the way I’m leaning) replacing them with skills like Dance, or Art, or the like.

Name Changed Condition
Replace Hungry and Thirsty with Distracted. Mechanically identical to H&T, Distracted indicates that a character is worried about events occurring elsewhere, or people who may need their help but duty prevents them from helping.

Other Tidbits
New Conflict- Hacking
New Weapon of Wit- Charm
New Weapons- Assault Rifles, Pistols, Shotguns, Sniper Rifles, SMGs, Heavy Weapons
New Combat Manuever- Power
New Biotic Weapons- Lift, Singularity, Stasis, Throw, Warp, Barrier

Mechanics of the other tidbits
Background info

I really like the Race Nature descriptors, but I can tell you from experience that the Paragon descriptors are too squishy. You can pretty much use Honor, Duty, Service and Defender to test for anything in the game. There’s absolutely no conflict between your (base) Nature and your chosen duty there. Without that, Nature just becomes a universal stat that can be easily tested and advanced.

I’ll avoid discussing Nature, just because.

Other tidbits… My advice is to not fix what ain’t broke.

Shotguns are Axes.

Longer arms are Bows & Slings. Sniper Rifles get Bow, Assault Rifles get Sling.

Pistols are Spears. SMGs can be Swords.

The core mechanics work. Don’t screw with them when the Fight mechanics revolve around eroding Disposition & not tracking mm of penetration of ballistics gel.

Biotics? Tech? New mechanics can be problematic. If you’re bolting Biotics & Tech onto Fight (and why not), then you’re moving things off the map in terms of the base mechanics…which is IMO the biggest reason to try & modify Nature to fit your abnormal mechanics (the Force from Star Wars, magic in D&D, etc).

Okay, I need a drink…

Changed: Now, Nature (Paragon) is Sanctity of Life, Stay Your Hand, No Matter the Cost, Open Book. Less squishy, yes?

That had been my idea for weapons, I just hadn’t really gotten a chance to pick which were which yet, but I’ll keep your suggestions in mind.

I’m not sure what you mean by changing Nature to accommodate Biotics (I think that’s what you’re saying… Is that what you’re saying?) I’m going to try to build a new mechanic for Biotics and Techs, but if I can’t do it without getting it too bogged down or feeling bolted on, then yeah, I’ll probably just make them an alternate set of weapons. That just doesn’t feel appropriate to me, though, since Biotics and Techs primarily use regular weaponry, and throw out powers every once in while. Seems to me they need their own way to do that.

In our tests of (many different types of) Nature, we found that descriptors based on action were the best.

How can a player use Open Book in play?

Biotics & Tech also augment abilities in a fight. So why not just have one fighter skill? You don’t necessarily need skill Engineer or Biotic to say you have ability X or Y. If/when your soldier skill eclipses your Biotic, or vice versa, why use the other skill ever?

If you want to say, skill: Vanguard (allows for use of weapons in categories: shotguns, biotics, pistols) as separate from skill: Adept (allows for biotics, pistols), as separate from Infiltrator (etc)… Meaning: each character gets a primary Fight skill based on their profession… Well, I think I might be down with that. Biotic/Tech powers as tools/weapons would work fine with that setup. Then you have one Attack/Feint skill for Fight per each character, but it’s different based on character specialty.

Now, there are things like Hunter in MG that can be used interchangably with the attack skill, but it’s a specific application for something that’s often employed as a specific obstacle (animals).

Soldier/Biotics/Tech (as skills) being used interchangably in every kind of fight? There’s something that doesn’t sit well with me when you have that many skills running in similar spaces.

Luke doesn’t have Archer vs Swordsman vs Slinger vs Spearbearer skills in the Mouse Guard RPG, anyway.

As for Nature… It’s part obstacle, part BIG (it’s like the fourth category of BIG), part super reservoir of extra ability. It’s what you can push if you want to do something beyond your character.

Nature-as-ability gives you a method for creating character “oomph” without bolting on new mechanics. New Contests? That doesn’t seem a big deal since Contest “Other” already says there’s room to broaden the challenges… New mechanics? That’s something I’d avoid, personally. It’s more stuff to test & balance.

Luke- I was thinking Open Book could be used, say, when making Persuasion or Orator checks, to show that they’re making it obvious that there’s no trickery or Deception involved. I see it as being as a way for a Paragon player to really juice up his options to try to avoid a fight when possible, or to persuade the Renegade player not to execute the prisoners, or things to that effect, which seemed to me in keeping with the source material.

Beer- I think I like your class based Fight skill idea. So I may steal… er… utilize that. I wasn’t quite sure how to emulate the professions, but I like that idea.

Thanks for the input so far, guys :slight_smile: I have a bit of work to do still, but I’m glad there’s some level of interest in the project already.

Cool… I will probably end up using that style of Fight skill for Star Wars (especially for the Rebellion era), but that might mean some re-work of the hack so far.

Of course, it’s kind of a “punt” in terms of the complexity/new rules-baggage, so I’d like to see how you run with it for Mass Effect.

I love the series, myself. Still have to finish my Insanity run for ME2, but Halo: Reach is eating up too much Xbox time.

I’d incline to get rid of the Paragon/Renegade system entirely. It’s a thinly painted-over rehash of the alignment system, and has absolutely no place in a game that’s supposed to incorporate interesting moral choices.

Along the same lines, while you can incorporate an implacable overarching threat, it’s function is sort of orthogonal to what the game is really about- it helps to raise the stakes of existing conflicts and provide an endless supply of dispensable mooks to beat up and not feel bad about, but by definition there’s essentially no moral conflict about whether to oppose an implacable overarching threat.

See, the thing is, all the choices in Mass Effect that are actually interesting can’t usually be securely described along good/evil lines at all. Is releasing the Rachni queen an act of short-sighted naiveté or saving compassion? You may have given a genuinely penitent race a second chance or sparked a war that will consume the lives of millions. Is mercy here ultimately ‘better’ for the galaxy? Hard to say. That’s the whole point. Drama is the lack of a clear-cut right and wrong.

(The paragon/renegade descriptors aren’t even mutually exclusive- why is ‘working for the common good’ antithetical to ‘doing what is necessary to get the job done’? Those are often synonymous. The other thing to bear in mind is that Mass Effect, when you really analyse things, only allows you choices that are, in the long run, calculatedly irrelevant to the central plot. It offers the illusion of narrative involvement without the reality.)

Well, Morgan, the issue here is that you’re looking at Paragon/Renegade wrong. It isn’t good or evil at all. Regardless of how Paragon or Renegade you are in the video game, your character is still doing good by saving the galaxy. Paragon is simply Idealism, and Renegade is simply Not. Neither Paragon nor Renegade is supposed to be opposed to dealing with the overarching threat. It’s more a question of how.

Sure, I’ll give you that the video games aren’t always the best at dealing with alignment, particularly because it can’t understand intent. But that’s the beauty of tabletop games, and Burning Wheel/Mouse Guard in particular… everything is about give and take between the players and the GM.

Besides, Alignment is hardcoded into the genre. So, you may not like Alignment systems, but I do, and it keeps with the source material, and it’s right for the genre. Plus, your biggest issues with the video game’s alignment systems are fixed almost instantly by making the transition from video game to table top.

Nature is not just alignment. It’s a benefit, a hazard, a complication.

It needs to be questioned, like a Belief. Nature begs to be questioned. Mouse choices (Nature aspects like Hiding, Escaping) are morally debatable for Guardmice, and often take them away from the final threat.

There’s nothing wrong with Paragon Nature if the options can run counter & sideways to the end goal/big picture. You should have to grapple with that Nature, overcome it, to get to where the goalposts are.

For me, there weren’t many questions when I had to choose between Paragon/Renegade options for my characters. And Paragon or Renegade, the so-called Reapers were always toast.

Make sure the aspects/descriptors demand a challenge, like any skill you introduce into the game.

But that’s exactly it. Regardless of whether you choose the paragon or renegade option, you wind up with the same results, so there’s no reason to pick the ruthless options. Any collateral damage you inflict is ultimately gratuitous. The ruthless/idealist split might make sense if being an idealist in any significant way impeded your likelihood of success, but it doesn’t.

Besides, this rationalisation falls down hard once you apply this logic to any number of the the plot-irrelevant sidequests the game presents you with- because you shouldn’t be paying the slightest attention to sidequests if saving the galaxy was really your top priority. The only case of a conflict between pragmatism/idealism in the game that might legitimately give cause for deviation from your central goal was when it turned out Saren had a cure for the genophage. Hell, I let the Rachni off the hook, why not the Krogan? The one and only plot-critical moral conflict Mass Effect presents you with, and you get no actual discretion in resolving the matter- only in how you try to convince Wrex that being resigned to his species’ eventual extinction is somehow kosher behaviour. Gaaah!


I mean, even if you accept that paragon==idealist, what constitutes ‘idealism’? Loyalty is an ideal. Compassion is an ideal. Honesty is an ideal. We would generally agree that these are good ideals to have. But it’s also trivial to imagine not-uncommon situations where loyalty conflicts with compassion, or compassion conflicts with honesty, or honesty conflicts with loyalty. The problem with alignment systems is that they presume the distinction between right and wrong, good and evil, idealism or whatever, is basically a cut-and-dried question. When it’s actually enormously complex, to the extent that you can devote entire RPGs to exploring the subject of what constitutes right and wrong in various extreme situations. Mouse Guard, in many ways, is one of those RPGs.

So, you may not like Alignment systems, but I do, and it keeps with the source material, and it’s right for the genre…

Again, I disagree. I think it’s completely wrong for the genre and, in particular, wrong for Mouse Guard. That’s not to say that you couldn’t have a Paragon nature of some kind, but in order to make it workable you’ll have to treat it as something (A) specific and (B) problematic, and then it effectively ceases to be what Mass Effect’s paragon metre is, and no longer ‘keeps with the source material’. (So yeah, full agreement with BitMK on that point.)

My biggest concern is how to go about Recruitment. With Mouse Guard, Health and Will are decided by rank. That concept is a bit stretched in the Spectres, unless we consider the characters years of service?

I also considered whether to include the different classes in Recruitment, but I figured that the particular skills (Biotics, Tech, etc.) would be more fit to be decided in where the character was born or what they specialized in. Considering the only way for most human biotics to develop would be to be in the womb while near an element zero incident, this is a smart decision. Except that it will likely have alien exclusive systems for players to choose from. Those are my thoughts.

I’ve considered this for other settings.

Instead of “rank”, you can substitute “class”. So a fight-y class gets more Health, less Will. A Biotic/magic class gets more Will, less Health. Then, each segment of Recruitment, you get different skill points based on class rather than rank… and you just subdivide it by training type rather than overall rank & field experience.

This is just a theoretical thing in prep for a Rebellion-era Star Wars hack, anyway…

You could always come up with a rudimentary lifepaths system loosely modelled on the character background system in the original. e.g:

Spacer/Colonist/Earthborn/Asari/Krogan/Turian/Salarian/Quarian/etc. Then, Biotic/Technician/Soldier/Medic/etc. etc. as the second tier, and top it off with Spectre/Commando/Justicar/Officer/etc. (If you wanted to keep things simple, you could just allow characters to jump between any two lifepaths that have at least one skill in common.)

Also, I just want to say that I did, on average, enjoy Mass Effect (albeit largely for the production values and combat sections.) It’s not a bad game by any stretch. I just think that Bioware’s claims to thought-provoking interactive storytelling have been somewhat exaggerated.

It seems to me that Charm is pretty similar to the Persuader skill, but a separate Intimidate skill might be in order.

One of the complicating factors to combat would be- especially once you mix in things like Biotics- that you can’t attach specific skills to specific actions any more. Also, soldiers aren’t generally restricted to the use of a single weapon, though you might be able to gloss over that, along with things like weapon mods/upgrades.

Anyways, for weapons, I’d suggest:

Accurate: +1s to a successful Maneuver.
Easy to Hide: +1D to Feint.
Small Arms: -1D to Attack.

Powerful: +1s to a successful Attack.
Collateral: +1D to Attack against teams.
Slow and Cumbersome: -1D to all other Actions.

Assault Rifle
Versatile: +1D to one Action type chosen per exchange.
Long Range: Attack is a versus test against Attack and independant against Maneuver, for all Long Range and normal weapons. Also gains +1D to Maneuver against normal or Close Range weapons.

Sniper Rifle
Lethal: +1s to successful Attack and Feint.
Needs Patience: -2D to all actions against teams.
Very Long Range: Attack is a versus test against Attack and independant against Maneuver. Also gains +1D to Maneuver against any weapon that is not Very Long Range.

Also, if you want to model a hacking conflict (of which I thoroughly approve) it might be an idea to borrow some Ghost in the Shell terminology: Viral Barrier for Attack, Reactive Barrier for Maneuver, Encryption Barrier for Feint, and Security Barrier for Defend. To spice things up, Viral barriers might have the Disarm effect, representing gaining control over opponent systems, or Reactive Barriers might gain a cumulative advantage on success, to represent their learning of/adaptation to opponent tactics. …Just a thought.

In any case, I apologise if I came down on the ‘official line’ a little hard here, and I hope that doesn’t discourage you from proceeding with your project, which could potentially be very interesting. I mean, the various racial natures are fairly well-done, so I don’t think you really need to tack on a paragon/renegade metre on top of that. Just give the characters interesting choices and let the players decide what they think is right and wrong in response.

So, are you still mice?

I see you have a bunch of aliens, are they mouse scale now? Could you make alien themed mousenoid forms for them? I mean look at Warhammer and WH40k, could you Mouse Effect the far flung future of the Guard? Sorry, the art of Mouseguard is just enchanting and I like to associate it with every incarnation of these rules.