The Mass Effect universe is a masterclass in world-building. The video game series might be an amalgamation of many science-fiction tropes that were already well established by the time the first entry was released in 2007, but it presented them in a way that felt entirely fresh and exciting.
I was blown away by the trilogy when it was first released and continue to be pleasantly surprised by how well the games hold up, even all these years later, in the recent Mass Effect: Legacy Edition collection. Considering how successful the Legacy Edition has proven to be and fans’ unwavering love for the franchise, despite some serious mishaps (looking at you, Mass Effect: Andromeda), there’s never been a better time to give us an official Mass Effect tabletop roleplaying game.
A TRPG based on the Dragon Age series - one of the other major video game RPG universes created by Mass Effect studio Bioware - was released back in 2010, with newer versions of the core rulebook including content from the most recent entry, Dragon Age: Inquisition. But an official tabletop RPG based on Mass Effect, arguably Bioware’s most popular series, is yet to surface, with players having to rely on fan-made creations such as Mass Effect D20 and Mass Effect 5E, as well as titles that take inspiration from the video game series like lightweight sci-fi RPG Into the Black.
It astonishes me how ambitious the creative team behind the original trilogy were when it came to world-building.
Beyond the more obvious reasons as to why a Mass Effect TRPG would absolutely slap - a vast galaxy to explore, room for large and smaller scale conflicts, recognisable characters for fan-service cameos, multiple greasy techno bars to frequent - the main reason I want a roleplaying game based on the franchise is because the potential for more world-building is limitless. It astonishes me how ambitious the creative team behind the original trilogy were when it came to world-building, with each game’s codex being filled to the brim with completely extraneous bits of information about everything from alien societies to ship technology. On its own, the codex didn’t really mean much and mostly existed for curious players to find answers to questions they might have about the minutiae of the galaxy, but when included as part of the whole experience it became the ethos of the entire series.
The inclusion of such minor details was what made the Mass Effect universe one worth interacting with. It wasn’t enough that spaceships and aliens simply existed; there had to be a reason why and Mass Effect was eager to answer it. This attitude towards depth and detail fed into all the other aspects of the series, with characters being given backstories to explain their behaviour, villains having justification for their actions and the player being challenged to question their own motives. Certainly, there were aspects of the series that felt shallow and underdeveloped - I’m sure there are many of you thinking about That ending - but the overall feeling behind Mass Effect was of care and consideration.
There could also be something entirely new and surprising treated with the same level of devotion found in the original trilogy.
Imagine how this would translate into a tabletop roleplaying game, with all that room to explore the various aspects of the universe that the video games weren’t able to tackle. There would still be the recognisable elements that people know and love from Mass Effect, but there could also be something entirely new and surprising treated with the same level of devotion found in the original trilogy. An unwillingness to dive into new territory and a lack of care were the two things I found most disappointing about Mass Effect: Andromeda - there was this entirely new galaxy and the best they could do with it was another missing ancient civilisation and an outright xenophobic species of alien.
This bitter taste in my mouth, alongside the sweetness gifted by replaying the original trilogy, has given rise to a serious hunger for more Mass Effect. A hunger that a tabletop RPG could sate by providing fresh worlds to explore, species to meet and characters to form relationships with. Certainly, I don’t expect a Mass Effect tabletop roleplaying game to immediately dive into uncharted territory, fans will expect some familiar locations and species to begin with, but the possibilities for finding something rich and fresh to bite my teeth into is beyond exciting. I want to saunter into a grimy new nightclub, sprint across the surface of another planet and do kisses with a mysterious alien stranger.
There will be other important things to consider such as the gameplay system - please, no more Dungeons & Dragons 5E - and what to include within the core sourcebook. There is such a thing as too much world-building in a TRPG, where the players and GM are just overwhelmed with information, but the possibilities for making new stories using a really solid foundation is easily the most exciting thing that a Mass Effect tabletop roleplaying game could offer.
With fans freshly reminded of how wonderful the original trilogy was and teased with another entry in the series coming - at some point - there’s never been a better time for a Mass Effect tabletop RPG to be released.