- This article includes S P O I L E R S about the first and second games. Furthermore, some might prefer to discover all this information in-game.
- This profile assumes a specific video game playthrough. See our video games writeups FAQ for more.
- This profile features tabletop RPG mechanics about the video game’s gameplay. See our video games writeups FAQ for more.
- This profile features non-canon hypotheses about in-game events and mechanics. See our video games writeups FAQ for more.
Evolution of the background
The timeline has advanced by but 26 or 28 months, and the universe remains largely identical to what it was in the previous game. There are but a few changes which one should be aware when reading our entries.
The following describes the consequences of decisions made during a specific playthrough of the first game. Games in which Shepard is a different person making different choices have a different background.
And again – S P O I L E R S for the first and second game.
Over several weeks in 2183, Shepard exposed and thwarted a plot to terminate sapient organic life throughout the galaxy. It was stopped in the nick of time, but a fierce battle damaged the Citadel – the seat of the Council and the political and commercial hub of Council space. Most of the damage has been repaired by 2185 when Mass Effect 2 takes place.
The plot was masterminded by one of the Reapers. These are immense space creatures from the deep void conducting galactic-scale genocide every 50,000 years. Shepard’s actions have disrupted this Reaper’s actions to wake its brethren, and resulted in its death.
However, the threat of mass extinction still looms over the galaxy, since but one Reaper — Sovereign — died.
As a result of the battle and Shepard’s heroism, Humanity was granted a seat on the Council and is now the fourth major race, along with the Salarians, Asari and Turians.
The truth suppressed
Neither the Council nor the Systems Alliance believes in the Reaper threat, though. There’s no proof of the Reapers’ existence, and the clearest evidence only exists as data telepathically implanted in Shepard’s mind.
Unwilling to put much of the galaxy on an unlimited war footing on such a basis, the Council has instead suppressed information about the Reapers to avoid alarming the public.
In the official version, the plot was simply an attack by the geth, a civilisation of killer robots accidentally granted artificial intelligence 300 years prior. The geth quickly became independent after a horrible war and did not enter Council space in centuries – but were generally considered a menace in waiting.
In actuality the geth had been influenced by the Reaper and developed a religion about it, thinking that it was a god for synthetic life forms. Thrown at the Council forces by their “god”, the geth suffered massive losses.
Chasing the geth, and death from nowhere
Council forces patrol within Council space to search and destroy geth who survived the assault on the Citadel. Early on this is still a war, but as the months pass and the geth forces dwindle it becomes more of a mop-up operation. The Council kept Shepard out of their hair by sending the Normandy to be at the forefront of the anti-geth war effort.
A few weeks in this operation, the Normandy is intercepted and destroyed by a mysterious ship that ignores its stealth systems. Almost ⅔ of the crew makes it alive thanks to Joker’s reflexes and Shepard’s immediate order to evacuate. However, Shepard is killed while saving Joker.
Shepard’s corpse in procured in complicated circumstances by the terrorist organisation Cerberus, one of Shepard’s many enemies. Cerberus immediately pours billions into a vast effort to… bring back their worst enemy from the dead, no strings attached.
There are numerous changes in weapons, armour, shields, biotics, tech powers, etc. These are presented as technological evolution, new doctrines and the like, but these explanations lack verisimilitude. They’re transparently excuses for the ways the gameplay has been refined since the first game.
Our individual profiles address such discrepancies from the point of view of running a Mass Effect-based tabletop RPG campaign.
New Power Generation
Among other gameplay evolutions, Mass Effect 2 has much shorter lists of video games powers per character. That’s 3 plus 1 unlockable for everybody who isn’t Shepard. This poses a small problem for characters who appeared in the first game, or characters who are seen using abilities in cutscenes that do not exist in-game.
This’ll be addressed in individual profiles – and in the discussion of Mass Effect 2 biotics.
Generally, in a pen-and-paper context, we’ll err on the side of giving everyone all demonstrated and implicit capabilities rather than sticking to their video game powers.
Omni-Tools as translators
In the second game, the omni-tools are all but confirmed to also act as instant translators of spoken (and presumably written language). In contrast, a reasonable hypothesis from the data in the first game was the existence of a trade language.
A weak hint is a mention of translation databases for all human languages in Tali’s suit OS (presumably managed by her omni-tool). The actual hint is Shepard not understanding a specific word used by Thane Krios and assuming that her translator glitched. That the translator in question is her omni-tool is a reasonable assumption.
Instant translators are later covered in an obscure Codex entry in the Bring Down the Sky DLC.
The profiles for the characters as they appear in the second game thus include translation capabilities for omni-tools.
M&M This is Comprehend 2 in DC Adventures (Read, write, speak, listen for non-obscure languages in the galaxy).
DCH This is a Misc. Advantage (Translation databases) worth ten points in DC Heroes (since the Comprehend Languages Power works in a specific manner, which doesn’t match omni-tools at all).
These profiles still include the Council Trade artificial trade language hypothesised in our entries about the first game, since the Codex mentions a trade language in passim.
The translation is near-perfect, instantaneous and conveys nuances such as tone of voice in a manner that can be interpreted by users in their own cultural context – at least for humanoids.
Elcors preface their every sentence with a tag indicating tone, so presumably translators cannot interpret their non-humanoid body language and pheromone emissions. Curiously, there doesn’t seem to be a problem with Hanar speakers.
It is possible that the translator suggests culturally-equivalent gestures punctuating speech. Speakers from many different species do gestures such as air quotes in the game, which may be a translation of body language suggested by the omni-tool software rather than gestures actually performed by the person.
Since there was way too much material, this has been spun off into the Mass Effect 2 weapons locker article.
Armour and defenses
Health in Mass Effect 2
“Health” in Mass Effect 2 seems to be a mix of regular body armour (as opposed to heavy armour, see “major defenses” below)), actual physical resilience, and coolness under fire.
Elite fighters regain health by collecting themselves under cover. Presumably medi-gel and automated quick-patching from high-end body armour plays a role in regaining Health while under cover, but coolness under fire seems to be the major thing given how quickly the Health bar will fill back up.
Opponents who regain Health — chiefly Vorchas and Krogans — do have strong regenerative capabilities, but also ample stocks of primal aggression and are unlikely to lose their coolness under fire.
Thus, the behaviour of the red Health bar in the video game is not interpreted in our writeups as raw resilience to physical trauma from being shot. It’s something more abstract – a bit like “hit points” in older editions of Dungeons & Dragons.
In DCA and DCH terms, the role of Hero Points and the difficulty of being hit (the appropriate OV in DCH, Dodge or sometimes Parry in DCA) are part of what Mass Effect 2 measures as Health.
Body armour (including stats)
The market for body armour seems to be dominated by one type of armour. Howbeit there are much rarer, somewhat obscure variant models some specialists may wish to acquire.
Since there exists various upgrades that can be fitted onto armour and Shepard can switch her armour parts as needed, we’ll hypothesis that there exists a well-defined set of standards and attachment point formats that most brands are compatible with.
This would be similar to accessories railing on XXIst centuries firearms, with a standard becoming dominant after the US military adopts it and thousands of aftermarket firearms accessories (scopes, flashlights, lasers…) being made compatible with it.
This hypothetical would define, say, how armour plates attach to webbing, how rebreathers fit into helmets, standard batteries and how they scale, communication standards between electronics embedded in specialised armour parts, wiring ducts size, etc.
If this hypothesis is true, it is presumably a Council-wide military standard that was rolled out during the Saren Plot and that most armed forces adopted out of convenience — and since equipment following these standards was cheap thanks to economies of scale.
In this hypothetical framework, various brands, plate thickness, etc. do not vary enough to be significant in game terms. The notion of light, medium and heavy body armour is no longer relevant.
The video game features various specialised armour pieces, but the bonuses for those are tiny (on the order of +3% or +5%) or very specialised (10% faster shield reactivation, 10% faster sprinting speed…) and cannot play much of a role in DCH or DCA.
For gaming purposes, it seems OK to just distinguish cheap body armour (worn by opponents with mediocre Health in Mass Effect 2) and high-end body armour (worn by professional, or at least well-funded, fighters).
The notion of Hardening in the first game has disappeared. On the other hand high-end medical systems with the Regeneration Power seem more efficient than before… for those with sufficient connections and a large budget. Foot soldiers are unlikely to be equipped with those.
We have assumed that some functions (such as magnetised soles and radio boosters) seen in Mass Effect were still present even if they’re not demonstrated in Mass Effect 2.
DCH CHEAP ARMOUR [BODY (Hardened) 09 /BODY/ 04, Cling: 04, Cold immunity: 02, Flame immunity: 02, Lightning immunity: 03, Radio communications (Booster): 01, Sealed systems: 11, Shade: 01, Skin armour: 03, Medicine (First aid): 02, Limitations: Cling only works on metallic surfaces and reduces movement speed to 0 APs, Medicine (First aid) is Self Only, but works automatically, Skin Armour doesn’t work vs. Blunt or Structural damage].
DCH HIGH-END ARMOUR [BODY (Hardened) 10 /BODY/ 04, Cling: 04, Cold immunity: 02, Flame immunity: 03, Lightning immunity: 03, Radio communications (Booster): 02, Regeneration: 02, Sealed systems: 12, Shade: 02, Skin armour: 03, Medicine (First aid): 03, Limitations: Cling only works on metallic surfaces and reduces movement speed to 0 APs, Medicine (First aid) is Self Only, but works automatically, Skin Armour doesn’t work vs. Blunt or Structural damage].
DCH HIGH-END ARMOUR WITH HIGH-END MEDICAL SYSTEMS [BODY (Hardened) 10 /BODY/ 04, Cling: 04, Cold immunity: 03, Flame immunity: 03, Invulnerability: 05, Lightning immunity: 03, Radio communications (Booster): 02, Regeneration: 05, Sealed systems: 12, Shade: 02, Skin armour: 03, Medicine (First aid): 04, Limitations: Cling only works on metallic surfaces and reduces movement speed to 0 APs, Invulnerability takes five minutes per roll, Medicine (First aid) is Self Only, but works automatically, Skin Armour doesn’t work vs. Blunt or Structural damage].
Are all these people running around unarmoured ?
An oddity of ME2 is Shepard and many other professional fighters operating in full body armour (sometimes minus the helmet for cinematography’s sake), whereas most squad members go unarmoured.
Zaeed Massani and Grunt wear visible plating but much of their body is exposed, and Jacob might be described as wearing light body armour – but compared to what Shepard wears (N7 armour, Kestrel armour, Cerberus assault armour…) this cannot be considered serious body armour.
The difference is even more striking compared to the previous game, where considerable time could be spent procuring the best armour for squadmates – which could be difficult for certain species such as Quarians or even Turians.
An argument could be made that many squad members are biotic (and thus might, implicitly, shield themselves using a biotic barrier that isn’t formally part of their powers) and the rest might use Mass Effect shields.
However, Shepard and most elite opponents demonstrate that stacking 2 types of defence (say, Health-enhancing standard body armour plus kinetic shields) is still perfectly doable and in fact quite desirable.
This oddity might be part of the gameplay choices to simplify squad management, or having to cut down on alternate armoured appearances/animations for the 12 (!) squadmates.
In any case, the lack of body armour doesn’t translate very well to a pen-and-paper game and our individual profiles will assume high-end body armour for every Normandy tactical operator.
There are three types of heavy defenses in common use – armour, shields and biotic barriers. Once these are down it becomes possible to damage the opponent themselves. An important element of tactics is thus to identify enemy heavy defense types, deploy attack types that excel against those, and destroy enemy troopers’ heavy defences so as to be able to harm them.
The salient points of these defenses are :
“Armour” seems to be unusually heavy armour – common forms of body armour seem to be considered “health” in the game. It tends to be worn by superhumanly strong fighters like Krogans or large combat robots, and the toughest may also have barriers (like a Krogan battlemaster) or shields (like a YMIR-class combat robot) on top of their armour plating.
Heavy armour also insulates against the elements and biotics.
Shields are kinetic, Mass Effect-based shields like in the first game, and the most common source of extra protection for man-sized opponents who can afford it. Shields can now protect pretty well against biotics, presumably through a new form of hardening.
Shields can withstand less damage than in the first game, presumably due to the increased volume of fire of the new generation of firearms, but can still rebuild capacity by staying under cover and not getting hit.
Most fighters do not do so, though – presumably it takes high-quality shields, superior training and excellent coordination between allies (so they can keep the enemy busy while you restore your shields), meaning that this tactic is reserved to elite fighters like Shepard’s team and some enemy bosses and experts.
Biotic barriers are now much like shields, and it seems that they now can be maintained for the duration of a fight without loss of integrity — perhaps it’s an Asari technique that wasn’t generally taught to outsiders until recently.
Barriers are the province of fighters like Krogan battlemasters and Asari commandos, who benefit from the fact that most opposition doesn’t carry weapons with a strong anti-barrier role.
One Normandy squad member, Jacob Taylor, uses a different type of biotic barrier that will be discussed later.
These defenses are ablative – they can only take so much damage before they go down.
ME2 Defense in DC Heroes
Defenses behave a bit differently in Mass Effect 2 than in Mass Effect, in part due to the absence of vehicular-scale combat and in part because people do not generally restore their shields in mid-combat.
ME2 Defense (type)
Link: STR (armour), WIL (shield), MIN (barrier).
Base Cost: 25
Factor Cost: 1
A ME2 Defense must have a type – shield, armour or barrier. This doesn’t change the working of the Power in itself, but many attacks in the Mass Effect universe have strengths and weaknesses against these types.
A ME2 Defense always has a RV of 04, and protects against all attacks that would damage BODY. The APs of ME2 Defense are actually the highest Current Condition that the defense can have – it essentially serves as a reserve of “hit points” that gets consumed before the Character’s BODY can be attacked.
ME2 Defenses increase all RVs against Mass Effect fields (such as biotics) by their Current Condition – for instance a shield with 6 “hit points” left increases RV by 6. Some specialised attacks that would not get pass a Force Field (for instance Acid) or thick plating (for instance Cell Rot) may also be defeated by ME2 Defenses – GM’s call.
Shields and barriers do not protect against melee attacks, large projectiles or anything weighing more than 5 pounds at rest. Armour does.
Once a ME2 Defense has been reduced to zero it must repaired. Defenses described as barriers are generally Recovered (like a Power that Burnt Out), those described as shields are generally repaired (like a Gadget that rolled under its R#) and those described as armour generally have pieces replaced (normal Gadget maintenance).
Some experienced fighters can restore their barriers or shields in mid-fight – see below.
A person operating several ME2 Defense Powers can switch the order in which they are exposed to attack with an Automatic Action – for instance to have a Barrier be “outside” a shield or vice-versa.
Biotic force field
Any biotic person with at least 5 APs of ME2 Defense (Barrier) can expand their barrier into a force bubble. This bubble has a volume equal to half their base APS in ME2 Defense (Barrier), and maintaining it costs 17 HPs per minute – minus a number of HPs equal to the APs of Power Reserve assigned to maintaining the force bubble. For instance Samara, with 11 APs of biotic Power Reserve, pays 30 HPs for maintaining a force bubble for five minutes.
Any biotic with a Power Reserve and at least 5 APs of ME2 Defense (Barrier) can assign APs to the force bubble, even if it is not listed among the abilities that their Power Reserve can reinforce – but they cannot take Dice Actions whilst maintaining a bubble.
This force bubble doesn’t resist damage, but keeps liquids, gasses and small objects out with a STR equal to half the APs of Power Reserve assigned to it (round up). It has been used to prevent Collector swarms from reaching person therein, or to protect a submarine with a breached hull.
It can presumably be used to protect against vacuum (if it keeps gasses out, it keeps air in), but see the biotics chapter for more about biotic protection from environmental hazards.
Combat Shield Restoration [Cost: 5†]
This Advantage allows a Character to restore a ME2 Defense Power of the “shield” type right in the middle of combat. A number of prerequisites and conditions must be met for this action to become possible :
- The Character must be equipped with high-end, modified kinetic shields. Having the Combat Shield Restoration Advantage covers that for the Character’s own equipment, but exceptions can occur – for instance when fighting with stolen equipment sporting normal kinetic shields.
- An ally with the Combat Shield Restoration Advantage must be active within 1 AP of distance of the Character during the procedure. This represents the ally keeping the enemy busy and giving the Character some breathing space to restore shields.
This requirement can be ignored if the Character isn’t under fire – for instance, because the enemy doesn’t quite know where the Character is and thus cannot shoot at them.
- Launching the procedure costs 5 Hero Points.
- Each Dice Action restores 3 points of the shields’ Current Condition, and each Automatic Action restores two points of the shields’ Current Condition.
- The procedure ends as soon as the Character is hit by an attack, uses an Action to do something that is not restoring their shields, or is deprived of an active ally within 1 AP
Combat Barrier Restoration [Cost: 5†]
Exact same thing but for barriers. There is no need to have a high-quality shield generator, but the character must be able to use their biotic abilities.
ME2 Defense in DC Adventures
Ditto – spun off M44 Hammerhead profile
Also now smugly sitting in an article of their own – Mass Effect 2 biotic powers.
Source of Character: The second game in the Mass Effect video game trilogy — and ONLY the second game.