Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Mass Effect RP: Nailing The Campaign Concept

When running a Mass Effect RP it would be all too simple to simply sit back, relax and bring in the old tried-and-tested "Free Trader" campaign model, where the characters are a pick-n-mix of races and cultures united by the simple goal of making money.

Yet this simple concept has always had it's flaws. For example, how many merchant ships plying the seas of the modern world regularly abandon contracts to go haring off on some wild-goose chase in search of adventure? Not many. Factor in the complete lack of over-riding campaign direction in simply flying around trying to sells tuff and you've lost my interest completely. Yeah, that's right. I'm that guy who hated Elite back in high-school.

There's nothing wrong with a free-trader style game, it's just not my thing. Yet despite that, Sand-box style play is my favorite type of campaign. However, for me there has to be a decent, over-riding reason for the characters to work and fight together. In my soon to begin OSRIC "Expeditionary campaign [link] the twenty odd characters have all been ship-wrecked on a strange island.

Luckily, in the Mass Effect universe there are plenty of options to explain the existence of a (traditionaly) mixed-race, mixed-background adventuring party.All of which fit the themes and tropes of the Mass Effect universe.

The Spectre Model:

 Probably the most obvious choice. One or more members of the party are Spectres. The rest are his agents. This model is somewhat similar to the "Throne Agents" model of the Inquisitor RPG, and lends itself well to a Mass Effect roleplaying campaign. The Spectre might be an actual member of the group (like Shepherd and his crew), or an NPC directing the group from the shadows of a different world or even a space craft (like the Illusive Man and Cerberus. The only real issue with having a Spectre as a PC is the very real risk of abuse. What's to stop a Spectre from simply requisitioning everything he needs, from an experimental ship to an entire army (or armada)? The answer is to either have the team working under circumstances that precludes having the Spectre blow his cover (still risky; if things go wrong her can still call in the big guns) or have the Spectre operate outside Council space. Outside council space (say beyond a newly re-opened relay) not only won't his Spectre status serve to impress anyone save other ex-pats from council space, the locals probably won't even know what a Spectre is.

This latter option is the direction my campaign will be taking, with a PC Spectre and his crew pursuing a wanted war-criminal beyond the bounds of Council Space.

The Cerberus Model:
Cerberus has already shown itself willing to work with non-humans, and most of the Cerberus personnel encountered in ME2 lack the xeno-phobia the organisation is supposedly famous for. Of course, it could just be that the Illusive Man was smart enough to pick the least racist members of his group to work with Shepherd. But even so, justification exists for a humano-centric team furthering this groups goals with a few alien allies or mercenaries in tow. Such a campaign model has a wealth of RP opportunities. A Spectre, for example, goes where he is needed. But it wouldn't be too hard to establish a Cerberus team working out of a particular station or planet if you wanted to spend more time establishing certain locations and local NPC's.

Finally, Cerberus might be the only "militant private interest group" we really know about thus far, but that's not to say the other races don't have a similar organisation (perhaps with the goal of acquiring a council place for the member races in question) working for them.

The Merc Model:
The players are all mercs working for a group such as the Blood Pack, Blue Suns or Eclipse. The main difficulty here being that mercs rarely get the chance to further their own interests or chase up personal quests. They go where the money is. This style of campaign has a lot of pros's, but tends to limit player choice to picking what contract to accept (if they happen to be senior members of a large group or the only members of a small team) and missions ultimately tend to have a lack of variety. The "mission of the week" syndrome tends to rear it's ugly head all too quickly using this campaign style. This sort of campaign is very apt for an episodic play style, but if that's not what your group is after the Merc template can very quickly become limiting. One way around this is to use long-term or open-target contracts rather than one-mission, specific-target contracts . These offer the PC's a great deal more latitude in determining how (and when) to fulfill the mission.

For example, a long-term contract to "de-stabilise Synapse corporation activities on this world to facilitate a buy-out of Corporate assets" offers a lot more lee-way and room for initiative and character-growth than a short-term: " Attack this particular synapse factory and put it out of action." The first contract lets the characters choose other options than a straight up fire-fight to meet their goals and also gives the players a sense of accomplishment. They can see the gradual effects that their activities are having on the game world. The second contract would have railroaded them into a fight, more or less forcing them off-planet immediately afterwords and preventing them from a glimpse of the big picture.

The Corsair/Asari Commando/Special Tasks Group Model:
 We know that the various council races all have special military and para-military units they use to take on and overcome challenges that conventional military or espionage elements could not handle. The only real difference between these groups and Spectres is, as far as I can see, that Spectres have more legal power, more-back up and work for the benefit of the galaxy as a whole (or at least the Citadel races). Whereas these groups work on behalf of their own governments, albeit occasionally being assigned other tasks at the request of the Citadel Council, much like the STG task force on Vermire.

This sort of campaign has many of the same pros-and-cons as the Merc format above, save that the PC's at least know their employer isn't going to screw-them behind their backs (in the military, when you're "employer" is screwing you, they at least have the decency to do it to your face and make it sound like they're actually doing you a favour). However, the different groups listed above each seem to have their own flavour and way of doing things. The STG seems most like a traditional Special Forces unit, albiet one with scientists and the like. The Asari Commando units on the other hand, have a "tribal" command structure and tend to carry out espionage and strike missions. The Corsairs, it seems (from the vague references made by Jacob in Mass Effect 2) work more like privateers, posing as private citizens but secretly in the pay of the Earth government.
Unlike the other Special Forces options, the Corsairs option could conceivably include characters from other races and distinctly non-military backgrounds, perhaps unaware of who their captain and senior officers really work for.
Out of all the listed options in this section, the Corsair model is probably the most playable. Using this model, the characters will be able to pursue their own goals, (including trade, if the party is in to that sort of thing) as well as performing secret missions on behalf of the Alliance Fleet.

Note: All images copyright BioWare and EA

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Mass Effect Proxies: CMG Update and Khurasan Miniatures

The four packs of proxy Salarians and Asari I ordered from Craig over at Critical Mass Games arrived the very next day. The conversions were even easier than I thought, despite the fact I'm hardly a master sculptor (if I were I'd be making my own figures after all, not buying someone else's) and I now have ten Salarians and five Asari based and ready for painting on my desk. The other five "Asari" are sitting in their little plastic bag, waiting for the arrival of some appropriate bare-headed females so I can performs some head swaps. I'll get most of them painted over the next few days and put the images up on the blog.

Craig was also good enough to send me a sneak pic of some other Geth-suitable miniatures he's working on at present. I can't say much more until he's ready to announce them, but suffice to say they look like they'll be great Geth-proxies as well as fantastic miniatures in their own right.

Meanwhile, continuing with our review of miniatures suitable for conversion into Mass Effect races, we now take a look at Khurasan Miniatures. Or, more specifically, the miniature ranges that have featured on the Khurasan Miniatures Blog. The company produces many more fine miniatures that the Mass Effect gamer should take an interest in but, due to the Khurasan web-page and production line being temporarily shut down [link] I'm unable to review them at this time.

A hiatus like this isn't uncommon for 15mm manufacturers, which tend to be one or two-men bands at best, so there's no reason for panic. Hopefully the company will be up and running again soon.

Due to my being unable to contact Khurasan miniatures at this time, the following images taken from the company's blog are used without permission.

 To the left we have the Garn flesh-eaters. Though modelled on the concept of "shark-men" the high, hunched backs, large mouths, huge teeth and stub-nosed snouts of the figures in this range just scream Kurgan. A relatively simple conversion in the form of a small lump of milli-put to form the distinctive Kurgan head-plate is all that would be required.
Likewise, here we have the Orca shock-trooper range, again humanoids aliens based on a large-headed, large-toothed sea-creature with a hunched posture. Again, the simple addition of some milli-put to form bony-plates and we have some excellent heavily-armed Krogan mercenaries.

Unfortunately, I'm unable to do a full review of the entire range available for these troops due to the aforementioned web-site issues. I'm not even entirely sure how many sculpts there are available in each range. I'll keep my eye on the progress with Khurasan however, and let you know more when I can.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Mass Effect Proxies: Critical Mass Games

British company, Critical Mass Games, produces a number of miniatures easily converted for use in Mass Effect wargaming. Here, we'll take a look at the companies Mercenary range, where you can find a good number of sculpts that, with a little work, will be more than adequate to represent the various races and factions of the Mass Effect universe on the tabletop.

I've ordered a small selection of these miniatures from mail order, and will post up the completed, painted conversions as soon as I'm able.

All the images in this article are copyright Critical Mass Games and are used with permission.

 First up is pack Merc-5, Vadorian assassins. As you can see, the five sculpts represent an all female group in tight-skin suits and closed visors, making them excellent proxies for an Asari commando unit on the Mass Effect battlefield. With their nice, simple rounded heads, it should be easy enough to mould on a conical representation of the Asari "head-tentacles'. In fact, it wouldn't even be necessary to sculpt every single tentacle since they would all be covered by the skin-suit in any case.

For a slightly more difficult modelling challenge, a quick head swap with any available female human figure (relatively easy thanks to the way these miniatures are posed) and a little more detailed sculpting with the old milli-put should produce some fine-looking bareheaded Asari as well.

 Next up we have Merc Packs 6 and 7, the Blockhead Battlesuit sets. It seems to me that the Geth in Mass Effect have two outstanding defining physical features: their single eye and their stylish, curved lines. Well, stylish curved lines are something these figures are certainly lacking, but a little filing at strategic points could go a long way in this regard.

However, the do come with that all important cyclops effect already sculpted on a little bit of mili-put to make the two, vertically stacked lenses into a single, larger lens and the result should hopefully be a very reasonable looking selection of Geth troopers.

 The very bulky weapons on the sculpt are likely to be something of a problem for purists, but a little judicious use of clippers to take off the extended barrels should so the trick well enough to satisfy most people. Including me.

 Set number nine on the range have nicely shaped heads with minimal noses. Although the armour is a little bulky, especially on the leader figure, with a little milli-put to sculpt two horn shaped protuberances onto the figures heads, these figures make for an excellent Salarian Special Tasks Group squad.

Finally, we come to set 12. Critical Mass produce a whole range of Protolene figures, which we'll examine in more detail in a later post, but these are the only ones present in the mercenary range.
This particular race has a great deal of Mass Effect potential. File away the hair and you have yourself some Vorcha. Clip the ears as well and your Protalene should make for very respectable looking Turians.

If these figures have one common limitation (other than the fact they all need a little work to optimise their appearance Mass Effects games) it lies in the limited number of sculpts available for each set. Fortunately, the Salurian STG and Asari Commando's work in small groups, so this shouldn't be an issue for most games. The Protolene figures, on the other hand, have a whole nother range available, making it relatively easy to use some of the sculpts for Turians and some for Vorcha without ever having to mix the two, even without conversions. However,the Blockhead Battlesuits are more of a problem. They are slightly larger sculpts (in retrospect, probably better suited to represent Geth destroyers rather than ordinary troopers) with just three versions in each set. Given how many such miniatures would be needed to represent atypical Geth force, this will leave the Geth player with very little variety in his forces. Not a problem for some gamers, but a real-stumbling block for others.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Mass Effect Movie Announced

News to me anyway. Avi and Ari Arad, Thomas Tull and Jon Jashni, the producers behind  smash hit action movies The Dark Knight and Spider-Man will be the team behind a live-action, big screen adaptation of  Mass Effect. I'm also told that co-founders of Bio-Ware, Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk will serve as executive producers, making sure the big boys stay true to the game.

Mark Protosevich of Thor and I Am Legend fame has been tipped as the potential screen-writer.

In a recent statement, Thomas Tull of Legendary Pictures announced:

"Mass Effect is a prime example of the kind of source material we at Legendary like to develop; it has depth, compelling characters and an engaging back story. This coupled with Avi and Ari producing and the skills of a great team adapting the screenplay, are the start of turning this smash videogame based property into a successful feature film."

Co-Porducer Avi Arad went on to say that:

"EA and BioWare are terrific partners who have created a brilliant piece of fiction with a universe filled with amazing aliens and technology. More importantly, though, they created a parable whose conflicts mirror the ones we currently face in our own world. This story emphasizes the need for all cultures to learn to work together."

I have to admit I fully agree with that last sentance. Mass Effect, like Gears of War, seem's ideally suited for a motion-picture adaption. My only real concern is how they're going to fit all the rich depth and plot-twists of the Mass Effect setting into a single movie. Yet the producers and Bio-Ware seem determined that the forthcoming film will mirror the events of the first Mass Effect Game.

We now return you to you're originally promised schedule of Mass Effect gaming-related goodness.

Mission Statement

I'm obsessed about three things: wargaming, role-playing and Mass Effect. But, being a typical gamer, I'd somehow managed to tear my self away from the Bioware's marvellous Mass Effect Universe after completing the game five times (with every class). Albeit thanks only to the welcome intervention of my that common affliction among my fellow gamers: Gamer A.D.D. Yet despite never having looked at the game since; and after 18 months of studiously trying to avoid Mass Effect 2, I finally succumbed to my primeval urges and picked up the sequel. This blog, and my perpetually cramped fingers (from playing the game obviously) are the tragic, yet inevitable result of this indiscretion.

Mission statement: to make this blog the best gorram "go-to" site for gaming in the Mass Effect Universe.

To this end, I'll be reviewing miniatures suitable for use as stand-ins or proxies for the Mass Effect universe as well as creating a Mass Effect Sandbox for RP and wargaming campaign play. I'll also be bringing you regular updates on the heroic victories and tragic defeats of my Mass Effect wargaming and role-playing experiences. Finally, I'll be posting rule variants for the various game systems I intend to use and abuse in simulating the Mass Effect Universe

For wargaming I'll be looking to the venerable, free yet excellent StarGrunt II system from Ground Zero Games and Tomorrow's War from Ambush Alley Games to simulate ground combat. I'm considering sadly out-of-print Renegade Legion and the excellent Full Thrust rules for space combat. Finally, I'll be employing a sublime blend of the free Cascade Failure and Stars Without Number systems for the RPG side of things. I'll also be trying out other game systems as they are suggested or I find a chance to play them.

In the meantime, I'd like to thank any and all of you who decide to follow me on this little roller-coaster as I build up a suitable collection of miniatures and terrain (in 15mm) starting from scratch. I imagine this little project is going to cost me one hell of a lot of time and money, but I certainly know it's going to be worth it.

I hope to hear from you guys about your own Mass Effect and 15mm gaming experiences too.

Take care. It's a dangerous universe out there.


Ignore the following images. They're second hand miniatures left over from a job lot I bought. I'm selling on Dakka Dakka and needed a link to post the images.