Echo Wood, TL;DR and more Mass Effect thoughts.

Having left the Emerald Spire, the party returned to Thornkeep where they:

  • Successfully reunited the wayward Adelind Fraston with her parents, who were very grateful.
  • Talked Adelind into staying with her parents, basically, with Dr Cyrus’ talk therapy. This was the first foray into using the Social Combat cards and I have to say I like it. It isn’t as quick to setup as I’d like, but that makes sense given that you mix small decks of cards together. But I do like that it sort of tells a story as you go.
  • Talked to Niles Fraston who turned the party on to the Hunter’s Guild, which they visited. Cyrus has a cozy and safe place he can stay in Thornkeep for free, pretty much.
  • Visited the alchemist’s shop, where Bam had a kind of weird flirty conversation with Brishtargera Greenbottle.
  • Visited the book binder’s um… book bindery, and found that he’d pay for accurate maps of the Halls Under The Hill.
  • Noticed that everyone in town was super interested in what they were doing. So prior to delving into the Halls Under The Hill, they tried shooing everyone away.
  • Tried to come up with a way of making sure the Door of Seven Stars didn’t reveal it’s secrets once they’d opened it either by a) staying open or b) closing and revealing the order that the stones had to be placed to anyone who walked up to the door. So they left Tarkus to guard it. Tarkus got bored, so Tarkus left his post and went down to find them.
  • Descended to another level, where they fought some sort of snot elemental in a pool, but recovered a Pearl of Power from that pool, so that’s cool. They they fought some mutant goblins set upon them by a weird little human-shaped guy.
  • Fought an earth elemental that was inside some sort of tunnel boring machine. The machine looked to have wrecked a few passages through this level. Inside it, Bam found a big expensive glowing crystal.
  • Found a room full of alchemical supplies.
  • Found a room with a large goblin with what looked like Erlenmeyer flasks embedded in his skull, but who vanished while Beth wasn’t looking.
  • Found a room full of Goblin rogues, beat most of them and then attempted the now classic group tactic of parley-stab-parley-stab on the remaining one. Stab, as ever, won the day.
Someone made a 3d floor map of the first level of Thornkeep. Just imagine how much more that GM loves his players than I do mine.

Someone made a 3d floor map of the first level of Thornkeep. Just imagine how much more that GM loves his players than I do mine.

Okay, that’s all the Pathfinder stuff…




(Image heavy post, because wordpress hates paragraphs) In my seemingly meagre spare time, I’ve been smooshing together a few things into a single document, in order to have a ruleset with which to play a Mass Effect RPG and which I could print out to give to players in less than 12 pages. These things are:

  • Exploding Dice’s Savage Worlds Mass Effect hack, which is most of what I’m using. Link Here.
  • Exploding Dice’s ME Character Sheet, Link Here.
  • Savage World’s Test Drive quick freebie ruleset. Link Here. Old Timey Deadlands players among our group should be able to look at this and see a leaner, more attractive framework of that game.
  • The Mass Effect Wiki, where necessary. Link Here.

There is another Mass Effect hack out there, but it’s a bit more involved and detailed; almost as if the writer wanted to exactly recreate the video game mechanics as an RPG. Which is fine, admirable even, but that’s more detail than I need for now. I may crib his work later if I think I need to.

One thing that came up when I was comparing the two hacks was that they’d approached the available races in a different way and I was in the middle of deciding which one handled the aliens better when I realised I didn’t care: I don’t think you can play aliens in my Mass Effect.

In Star Wars and Star Trek and other alien rich Sci-Fi games, you can play other species, because those species are all together all the time anyway. Only bad guys – the Empire in Star Wars, the Rodenberrian antagonists of the week (except the Dominion) – don’t have a diverse hiring pool. But in those games, you’re the good guys, so of course you are inclusive and diverse. Of course you are. Because in most Space Opera settings we get to space and the galactic community and everyone’s fine with us because we’re often running the show, pretty much, so we’re fine with them, right? Because that’s how things usually work out… somewhere.

Look, an exotic being from the planet Bea Arthuria.

Look, an exotic being from the planet Bea Arthuria.

That’s not what’s going on in the Mass Effect universe. Link here to an article that goes into a bit more but not much more depth, about why Mass Effect’s take on human/alien relations is noteworthy. Humans are outsiders; late to the galactic party and not well trusted or even liked. We’re aggressive, progressive, we breed like rabbits, we colonize like it was second nature to us, because it is: We are a suddenly successful species, managing to go from basic powered flight to galaxy trotting in less than three-hundred years (a mere third of a lifetime of the dominant species, the Asari). The aliens are worried, scared and resentful of us. They tolerate us because they have a policy of tolerance, a formulaic acceptance of new players in the galactic game, not because we’re BFFs in space.


One of the central themes of Mass Effect is humanity’s place in the universe and it is established early on that our place isn’t that high. 4th? 5th? But everyone is worried because we seem to be gunning for 1st. From the alien point of view: something must be done about these humans. Do they accept us and harness our restless expansion and progress, or reject us and limit us. From the human point of view… it depends. Play the Citadel Council’s game, become a client race, push for acceptance or fuck those guys and do our thing right over the top of them? You meet people in Mass Effect who believe in each of these approaches.


Aliens work together for mutual gain. The Turians supply the might, the Salarians supply the scientific knowledge, the Volus supply the financial know-how, the Asari supply the diplomacy that binds it all together. But then the other races of the galaxy are fringe players – the wandering Quarians, the doomed Krogan, the various bit-part races…. and Humans. The Alien is not necessarily our friend. Not even necessarily our workmate, for the most part. They are… aliens. Different and often at-arms-length by mutual consent.

"Racism? In Space? Me no likey, plefer super-not-racist George Rucas-san universe."

“Racism? In Space? Me no likey, plefer super-not-racist George Rucas-san universeru!”

The plot arc of Mass Effect the video game sees Commander Shepard at the keen edge of human inroads into the big kid’s table, culminating in eventual acceptance into the Citadel Council. That Shepard puts together a team of aliens to help him out and by extension save the Galaxy, is a HUGE DEAL. It isn’t the norm. It isn’t expected. But it works: the lesson that we work best when we work together is hard come by in the Mass Effect universe, it isn’t easily earned or glibly assumed.

And then, when you make an alien buddy, it's kinda rad.

And then, when you make an alien buddy, it’s kinda rad.

But ten years before the events of the game, we weren’t that close to the seat of power or effecting that kind of change. We are a noisy minority and we are viewed with suspicion. That position in the fake future history is a lot more interesting to me than the Get Along Gang of the typical Space Opera.

One Comment on “Echo Wood, TL;DR and more Mass Effect thoughts.

  1. I agree with your comments on the social combat cards. In particular I like that it sets up a grid that uses a variety of social skills. This way a player can’t dump everything into diplomacy (like a certain Cleric did) and get away with being adept at every situation. It presents a scenario where it might be easier to say lie but as a LG character I can see that and take the risky approach and go another way. It’s an slower more methodical way to role play a character which is nice for those of us who aren’t as quick witted as some.