Tali'Zorah vas Normandy (Mass Effect)

Tali’Zorah vas Normandy

(Profile #2 - Mass Effect 2)

Power Level:
Game system: DC Heroes Role-Playing Game


Mass Effect was a landmark video game trilogy released from 2007 to 2012. It included multiple ties-in such as novels, comics and an animated movie. Further games will follow in 2016 and beyond, although they will form a separate storyline.

It is a science fiction story, of the starships and space aliens kind. Most of the action takes place in a military context, as an apocalyptic threat against the galaxy emerges. It’s one of my favouritest games ever.

Writeups.org offers extensive Mass Effect coverage. The core articles are setting for Mass Effect 1 and the setting for Mass Effect 2, plus the profiles for the heroine – Staff Commander Mandala Shepard.

Unless you are highly familiar with Mass Effect, we recommend reading these articles first.

This profile is the second in a series. You should read the first Tali’Zorah profile first.


  • There are S P O I L E R S in this thing.
  • 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.


  • Real Name: Tali’Zorah vas Neema (“Tali” is her personal name, “Zorah” is her clan name, “vas” indicates that she’s a full adult who moved to a new Flotilla ship, and “Neema” is the ship’s name).
  • Note: When hailing the Migrant Fleet, Tali uses both her maiden ship name and her adult ship name (“Tali’Zorah nar Rayya vas Neema” – meaning “Tali of the Zorah clan, born and raised on the ship Rayya and who joined the ship Neema upon her majority”), which may be her full name.
  • Note: When her Quarian citizenship is suspended, she becomes Tali’Zorah vas Normandy, and she chooses to keep that ship name after her rights are restored.
  • Other Aliases: Nomad (Cerberus callsign).
  • Note: The “Nomad” callsign is made-up, since Tali is one of the few cases where the dossier name in the video game isn’t a credible callsign.
  • Marital Status: Single.
  • Known Relatives: Admiral Rael’Zorah (father, deceased), mother (name unrevealed, deceased), Admiral Shala’raan vas Tonbay (“blood aunt” – the correct Quarian terminology is unrevealed).
  • Group Affiliation: Former agent of the Quarian Admiralty, currently affiliated with the Normandy SR-2.
  • Base Of Operations: Mobile aboard the Normandy SR2.
  • Height: 5’5” Weight: 125 lbs.
  • Eyes: Unrevealed, possibly glowing white. Hair: Unrevealed if any.


Paradise lost — more about the Quarians

The second game clarifies, retcons and adds information about Tali’s species, the Quarians. Our ME1 Tali writeup was purposefully kept uncontaminated by the new information, and contains hypotheses that are disproven by the second game. Likewise, the following does not include information from ME3.

Immune system

Quarians are confirmed to always have had a peculiar immune system, as previously hypothesised. Their homeworld, Rannoch , had a unique ecosystem where contaminants used strategies that were beneficial to their hosts. Being infected was thus a good thing.

This is theorised to have been a consequence of the lack of pollinators such as bees. Plants thus had to find larger animals as carriers for their seed.

Quarians never evolved immune systems comparable to those encountered on other worlds. Their bodies instead learned to function in synergy with benign contaminants.

Allergy, not immunosuppression

Tali’s description about weak immune systems in the first game (echoed in the narration of the first novel) thus seems wrong. But then she’s an engineer, not a biologist, and she did state that she was simplifying her explanations.

Quarian immune reactions suggest an extremely aggressive immune system, not immunosuppression. Their bodies never had to evolve complex immune response strategies since there were very few pathogens around.

Thus Quarian immune systems thus apparently have but two speeds. No response toward Rannochian biological agents they know are benign, or complete panic when faced with something they can’t identify.

Even traces of anything-not-from-Rannoch could induce a massive allergic reaction – and Rannoch is lost. Visitors, merchandise, fuel, ships newly bought for the Flotilla, etc. are all sources of allergens. Quarians have to protect themselves against those. Their lives hang by a thread.

Intra-species allergic reactions hypothesis

There’s no obvious reason why Quarians should be allergic to each other. But we know that back in Rannoch they lived in synergy with lots of microscopic lifeforms such as viruses and bacteria.

Thus, one possibility is that they used to rely on environmental mediators. Quarian immune systems recognised each other because they shared the same synergistic micro-organisms that were everywhere in Rannochian ecosystems.

In this hypothesis, a Quarian’s immune system cannot recognise the body of another Quarian since the molecules they used to exchange to identify each other do not come from Quarian bodies proper. They come from microbiological “partners” lost along with Rannoch.

This is presumably what Tali very briefly presents as Quarian bodies having “adapted to beneficial infections”, and as sterile atmospheres ruining this “adaptation”.

She also specifies that colonies were much easier to establish back when Rannoch was still accessible. This doesn’t make sense at first glance. But in our hypothesis this means that colonists brought many plants from Rannoch with them, providing them with the environmental mediators their body knew how to respond to.

More medical supputations

To an Earth-based epidemiologist, Quarian allergic reactions also evoke a dengue fever  entering critical phase. While dengue isn’t generally life-threatening, in a few cases the body reacts in a catastrophic manner, with fluid retention, severe intestinal bleeding and other unpleasant symptoms.

Tali vas Normandy using her omni tool, and Commander Shepard

While dengue shock is still poorly-understood, this reaction seems caused by antibodies. These apply a strategy that works against everything but the dengue, and become a vector of infection. Thus the immune system makes infection considerably worse through misinterpretation.

A similar mechanism might exist in Quarians. For instance, perhaps Quarian antibodies assume that all viruses are “friendly” like on Rannoch and happily carry them through the organism. The Earth mechanism is called antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE) strategies, a name broad enough to be credibly used for Quarian immune systems.

This is a different hypothesis than the “massive immune system overreaction” one, but both might be in play.

In fact having both matches the game pretty well. Kal’Reegar and Tali’Zorah both tell Shepard that exposure to contaminants make them sick like dogs, but they’re not going to die from just that thanks to antibiotics. But when Tali mentions the death of her mother she considers that a virus inevitably means death.

Reproduction hypotheticals

Presumably, Quarian pregnancies have to be very heavily medicalised.

Since Quarians seem to have genders and modes of reproduction similar to Humans, one suspects that it’s best for insemination to be done artificially. If Quarians can’t touch each other without getting sick from sweat, pheromones, etc. standard impregnation is presumably not going to work.

Raw semen presumably would mean severe anaphylactic shock for the female, and any equivalent of vaginal secretions might prove toxic for the male.

Tali later indicates that its possible for a Quarian to have sex. But they have to be loaded to the gills with antibiotics, antiviral drugs, immune response suppressors and dozens of other drugs. They also have to be willing to suffer the secondary effects from this pharmacopeia plus a whopper of an allergic shock. This doesn’t seem conductive to a pregnancy.

Tali also mentions that most Quarian sexuality now involves nerve stimulation systems installed in the suits and synched. These simulate touching each other, though it’s not the same as the real thing.

Quarian organisms can learn to recognise another Quarian through repeated exposure. How it works, whether it fades, how far it goes, etc. is unrevealed. But it might allow a couple, or very close friends, to stop developing an immune response to each other over several years of repeated, medicated exposures making them sick for a while.

Going through at least one round of this is considered a sign of love – usually, but not necessarily, in the romantic sense of the word. For instance when Tali’s aunt  and Tali’s mother did this it was because they were very close friends, not lovers. Well, presumably.

Enviro-suit use

The first game and Mass Effect: Revelation essentially stated that Quarians only had to suit up when leaving the Flotilla. As it turns out with ME2 and Mass Effect: Ascension they actually also have to wear suits when at home.

Tali explains that Quarians spend their childhood in a sterile bubble, like severely immunodeficient Human children do, until they can be fitted with their first envirosuit. They then spend their entire life in a suit. Even physical contact with the parents is dangerous for a small child.

Safety procedures

Tali briefly describes the procedure for checking her wounds. Disengage the seals over the wound, take apart this section of her suit, thoroughly disinfect the entire area, then sterilise every seal that was opened, then mount and seal the suit itself.

At one point she forgets to sterilise one seal. She thus ends up with a minor fever for a day or two due to exposure to foreign particles. From her description the seals physically clamp around her skin, as they can prevent surface infection from spreading. She compares this to a starship being pressure-partitioned.

Hypotheses about the use of enviro-suits

Having everyone wearing suits all the time is a reasonable strategy given the medical issues. But there might be a further reason behind it. Namely, Quarians cannot afford the high-end life support systems and have to keep old, unreliable ship systems running with spit and baling wire.

Incidents are presumably not frequent (though they may have been early during the exile). But if there are life support shutdowns, hull breaches, fluids getting into the atmosphere recyclers, etc. etc. from time to time wearing a suit is an obvious necessity. Otherwise, everyone would suddenly die from some random system failure or micrometeorite impact.

The choice of an individual, distributed strategy (suits) rather than a centralised one (a jumbo life support with multiple redundancies, custom-built to recreate a simplified Rannochian ecosystem) is also typical of impoverished tinkerers.

It costs more in the long run, on multiple levels. But Quarians don’t have the capital or credit for the big centralised solution developed from scratch. On the other hand they have the expertise to keep their suits running and updated as individual power users.

It’s also possible that they don’t have, as a species, much expertise in biology.


There actually were Quarian colony worlds, whereas the first game gave the impression there was no such thing. These were rare and took decades to set up, however.

They were apparently all close to Rannoch.


The Quarian ship seen in ME2 is not as cramped and crawling with people was could be imagined from the first game. They’re more like a densely-populated Earth city or the Normandy SR-1.

However, based on Mass Effect: Ascencion, it seems likely that the parts of the Neema seen in ME2 are not representative of the dense population of a Quarian ship. Mass Effect: Ascencion confirms the information that Quarian vessels have 10 time the crew of an equivalent Alliance vessel. It also depicts heavy alterations made to accommodate as many people as possible.

The “apartments” Quarians live in are small steel cubicles with a drape serving as a door. The “furniture” is along the lines of a bedroll, some camping cooking equipment and some sort of media player. It is akin to a cramped shanty town, albeit one kept perfectly clean and well-organised.

Tali’Zorah also confirms what one may have suspected. Most of the ships on the Flotilla that were not there during the original exile are wrecks or near-wrecks that were completely refurbished by the Quarians after salvaging them or buying them at scrap rates.


The first game lets one imagine Quarian ships as sterile spaces with unsuited Quarians. Instead there are suited Quarians in a not-sterile space. There are even plants growing and the one official place seen in the game is a sort of garden.

Plants and nature might be culturally important for Quarians (“Rannoch” means “the walled garden”). They may be strongly associated with life given the tight Rannochian ecosystem.

This aligns very well with our hypotheses that they are materially the keystone of Rannochian life, as they secrete environmental agents used as mediators and synergic resources by Quarian organisms. Perhaps not seeing plants would devastate morale.

General culture

Tali had strongly hinted in the first game that Quarian culture was insular. She implied that it was caused by alien discrimination against them.

The second game adds a layer. Quarians are collectively starting to crack as they know they’ll spend their whole life in partial sensory deprivation in a suit. And there’s no solution in sight.

Even if a suitable colony world could be found, it would take about 6 centuries to engineer its ecology into something resembling Rannoch so it’s safe for unprotected Quarians. And the Quarians may be unable to afford such a titanic project in the first place.

Quarians are increasingly restless. The tension mounts to storm and reclaim Rannoch from the geth so as to be able to take off the enviro-suits.

It is obvious from the outside that this is an unreasonable gambit with high odds of extinction for the Quarians. But a large and growing part of the population just can’t take it anymore. And anti-Quarian prejudice means that nobody’s going to help.


Tali insisted during the first game that Pilgrimages weren’t dangerous and that pilgrims were well-prepared. During the second game Shepard meets other pilgrims, whose situation makes the Pilgrimage looks like a lengthy and miserable ordeal.

Perhaps Tali gave a rosy version of things so she would look in control. Or perhaps there’s a selection bias as Shepard is much less likely to meet Quarians whose Pilgrimage goes well and is over soon.

The simplest explanation is that Tali, as the daughter of an Admiral, received a lot more training, information, advice, gear, etc. for her Pilgrimage than your average Quarian. She then naïvely thought that everybody had the same level of support.

Anti-Quarian racism

There are several indications that supporting Quarian rights is good PR despite the anti-Quarian racism. Presumably a vocal liberal elite objects to baseless discrimination against the Migrant Flotilla.

These mostly seem to be active in Council space, but their support doesn’t seem to represent a real asset for Quarians. It might be preventing things from getting worse, though. An organisation being too openly racist toward Quarians would risk a row, boycotts, etc. from well-connected pro-Quarian activists.

Mass Effect: Ascension mentions how ingrained a racist view of the Quarians is, much like with Roma . Even an open-minded person like Kahlee Sanders discovers that much of what she thought she knew about Quarians was slander. They’re just people doing a good job at adapting and surviving their dire circumstances while retaining some dignity.

The Migrant Fleet is almost always unwelcome, as so many vessels create disruptions in traffic, communications, etc. It is thus common for systems to bribe them to go away with some cheap junk, so the Fleet will be someone else’s problem. This is a significant “income” for the dirt-poor Quarians.

Crime among the Flotilla

Tali explains that the Quarian population is so low that they can’t afford to imprison or execute criminals.

Most sentences are monitored labour. Instead of executing the gravest offenders, they are exiled – in the vague hope they might have children, who would be then welcome to join the Fleet. One such exile is featured in Mass Effect: Ascension.

Mode of address

Tali occasionally addresses close Quarian allies by their clan name rather than their personal name. The significance of this is unknown.


Records show that the geth weren’t aggressive when they started becoming sapient . Many Quarians thought that having their appliances become sort of sentient was problematic but not threatening.

Details are still unclear as of the second game, but it seems that somebody panicked and some rash actions were taken to “contain the problem”. This led to further panic, confusion and violence which snowballed into war.

Tali’s biased explanations in the first game left the impression that her ancestors did the right thing but lost the war. But the second game leads to the impression that it actually was a cascading failure to communicate, full of fear and mutual incomprehension.

Powers & Abilities

Tali is still a brilliant young engineer, an excellent tactical operator and a capable adventurer. However, with Shepard gone she has been promoted above her competence level.

She’s not a good leader (that she’s a follower has always been obvious) nor a good strategist. Despite her best efforts things repeatedly went bad under her leadership.

Her engineering genius is not at the forefront anymore. One gets the impression that all that Tali can do in a Quarian context is jury-rigging and technical improvisation. She doesn’t have the tools and supplies for proper engineering.

Once she rejoins the Normandy, she quietly resumes doing cutting-edge naval engineering. This includes upgrading the ship’s shields using multicore cyclonic shielding generators and working with Garrus on the new super-artillery’s power needs.

Since Shepard makes Tali the new Chief Engineer one assumes that she is even more competent than Engineer Daniels and Engineer Donnelly, whom the Systems Alliance considered brilliant specialists. This is coherent with Engineer Adams’ remarks in the first game, when he wished his engineering team were half as technically gifted as Tali is.


Like all Mass Effect 2 characters Tali has fewer “powers” (in the video game sense of the word) than in Mass Effect. She has two, plus one passive ability increasing her durability and damage, plus an unlockable.

Since two of her three “powers” are about hacking, we have assumed that she retains her hacking/intrusion/electronic warfare abilities from the first game. Howbeit in the ME2 gameplay her presence doesn’t improve the squad’s hacking ability.

Our game stats also assume she retains the emergency medical technician training she had in our playthrough of the first game.

Tali still specialises in close combat, like most Quarians do since they almost always operate on starships. Her CQB  skills still rely on a riot gun with a heavy pistol as a back-up weapon. On the Normandy she operates a geth “plasma shotgun” and a Carnifex.

Tali is an excellent shotgunner with a precise knowledge of her weapons. Yet much of her time in combat is spent operating her omni-tool and drone to deliver tech attacks and ruin enemy tactics and defenses.

All your base are belong to her

Tali is an expert at turning enemy technological resources against them. This fits the Quarian mindset, as they seldom have the advantage in resources.

She again demonstrates the ability to take over enemy robots. This is presumably done using her omni-tool, wireless hacking programs and some sort of Mass Effect manipulation. This lasts for a very short while (as the enemy will soon be able to speed-reboot), though. Furthermore it is prevented by effects that block Mass Effect attacks, such as shields or heavy armour.

This ability is thus less useful than it sounds. But when it can be used it usually creates complete chaos amidst enemy ranks. For instance an infantry squad backed by a heavy mech doesn’t want to fight a fire team that includes Tali’Zorah. Tali can even hack geth units despite their sophistication.

Tali vas Normandy rescued by Commander Shepard, Miranda Lawson and Garrus Vakarian

The young Quarian has also developed a new trick using her omni-tool. She can drain the energy from enemy shields, robots and power armour *and* use the stolen energy to boost her own kinetic shields. This bit of hacking requires cutting edge technological skills – but in Tali’s expert hands it works really well.

Shepard generally assigns Tali to the fire team that’s most likely to encounter mechs or geth, or has some sort of hacking/sabotage mission to perform.

Though the sensors in Mass Effect are not part of Mass Effect 2 (no jamming, no real-time maps, etc.) one assumes that in-universe Tali is still a sensors intelligence specialist, particularly after she accepts to work with EDI.

Nobody’s faster than Chiktikka vas Paus !

Tali’Zorah also added a combat drone to her arsenal. This is a fairly common trick for combat engineers in Mass Effect 2. One gets the impression that they are essentially the same tech as omni-tools, with flash micro-fabrication abilities and a spherical holographic “shell” when in use.

Drones are expendable. The usual tactic is to use one to quickly open a second front from an unexpected angle as the drone zooms there and starts shooting.

The best drones are optimised to be as disruptive as possible, for instance by shooting a large volume of small-calibre bullets all over the place. This forces the enemy to shoot them ASAP and thus creates an opening. To ignore a drone is to give it time to actually inflict telling damage – and the best drones are difficult to destroy.

Tali’s drones are equipped with electrical weaponry of her own design. It’s powerful enough to damage heavy defenses and flush people out of cover.

Tali’s drones seem to have a Virtual Intelligence persona. They understand spoken commands and she gave them a mock Quarian name (“Chiktikka vas Paus”).

Her drones in ME2 are also a vehicle for several joke references to the classic Baldur’s Gate video games, particularly the characters Aerie, Minsc and Boo.

When her drone is destroyed, Tali can opt to simply deploy a new one. One assumes that an inert drone is about the size of a tech grenade, and that Tali has replaced the tech grenades she previously used with spare drones.

Upper crust

During the Mass Effect 2 sequences in the Quarian Flotilla, it becomes obvious that Tali’Zorah is not just any Quarian. As the only child of an Admiral, she grew up right next to the heart of Quarian power.

She is familiar with all the Admirals (except Admiral Xen, recently promoted) and can interact with them practically on a peer-to-peer basis, openly speaking her mind.

She knows how Quarian politics work, the rough balance of power, etc. Addressing Admirals or the Conclave in an informal manner is something most Quarians can do given the familial character to their society, but Tali has more status and fame due to her filiation and as a war heroine.

One of the Admirals, Shala’raan vas Tonbay, was a very close friend of Tali’s mother. She is essentially family to Tali, who calls her her aunt.

In Quarian tradition, they might actually be related. Shala synchronised her suit with Tali’s mum’s and pumped herself full of antibiotics so she could hold Tali at birth and deposit her in her sterile childhood bubble. This may have made her a sort of blood sister to Tali’s mother. Vas Tonbay is a lifelong ally of Tali.

Admiral Han’Gerel vas Neema was a close friend of Tali’s father since adolescence. He also shares the Zorah clan’s hardline stance against the geth.

Tali’s relationship with the rest of the Admirals is neither as close nor as positive. But she knows them and they know her.

Furthermore Tali’Zorah has become a famous and controversial figure among the Flotilla after the events of Mass Effect. After the events of Mass Effect 2, groundswell support to make Tali an Admiral develops among the Flotilla.


From what can be pieced together, Tali’Zorah nar Rayya chose to prolong her Pilgrimage after the Battle of the Citadel. She continued to serve aboard the Normandy as it hunted down geth survivors. She stayed until it was ambushed and destroyed by the Collectors.

Tali survived the onslaught. But with Commander Shepard dead it was time for her to move on, end her Pilgrimage, mourn and formally become an adult among her people.

Tali’Zorah became a celebrated heroine for many, but certainly not all, Quarians. She had been an integral part of the crew that killed hundreds of geth platforms and triggered the destruction of a huge geth fleet during the Battle of the Citadel. This achievement was made even more notable since Quarians seldom get to be a part of any inter-species effort.

Furthermore, her Pilgrimage gift was a large archive of intact geth data files. This was discovered after Commander Shepard and her tactical force captured a geth base on Solcrum . This invaluable data was seen by many Quarians, and particularly Tali’s father, as the key to winning a war against the geth.

Agent Zorah

Tali’Zorah was apparently made a special agent and troubleshooter for the Admiralty, and particularly her father. One gets the impression that she would either operate alone or lead squads of Quarian Marines. Apparently a typical job was to gather intelligence by destroying geth survivors scattered across Citadel Space and beyond.

Any interesting geth part she could salvage was sent back to her father on the Flotilla for analysis. Tali assumed that the parts she sent — after carefully sanitising them — were used to test experimental anti-geth weaponry.

Given the descriptions of Tali salvaging memory modules from a geth prey during Mass Effect, it is possible that she was one of the very few persons in the galaxy with the skills and knowledge to conduct that sort of mission.

Opinion about Tali’Zorah seemed deeply cleft among Quarians, and particularly the military. Some seemed to consider her the best hope in the struggle to return to Rannoch and were willing to die for her so she could continue gathering precious intelligence about the geth. Some thought of her as an incompetent, overrated kid who shouldn’t have been put in charge of dog-catching and would only get good soldiers killed.

Given the treacherous, bickering, manipulative nature of Quarian politics, it is possible that enemies of Admiral Rael‘Zorah spread rumours that his daughter was just shoehorned into her position based on no real merit. For all her qualities Tali simply didn’t have the charisma to fight that.

Part of the opposition likely came from clan Zorah’s hardline stance about retaking Rannoch. Rael’Zorah had promised his daughter that he would build her a home on a reconquered Rannoch, and Tali was militantly pro-reconquest.

Freedom’s progress

In 2185, the Admiralty Board sent Tali to the Human colony of Freedom’s Progress with a fire team of Quarian Marines.

Freedom’s Progress population had just vanished. The Migrant Flotilla was thus concerned about a Quarian pilgrim living with these Humans. Tali soon ran into her limitations as a leader – her gung-ho sergeant openly distrusted her and she couldn’t impose her authority.

Tali vas Normandy and Commander Shepard on a Quarian ship

On Freedom’s Progress, Tali was in for a shock – she stumbled upon Shepard. Not only was Shepard somehow back from the dead, but she was now working with the ruthless terrorist conspiracy Cerberus.

Worse, Cerberus were the guys who had recently stormed a Quarian ship of the Flotilla, the Idenna, in a failed attempt to recapture biotic prodigy Gillian Grayson .


Tali decided to trust Shepard anyway and collaborate with her. But her sarge disobeyed orders and tried to beat the Cerberus team to the last known location of the pilgrim they were looking for. The marines ran into an YMIR-class mech and were slaughtered.

Thankfully, Shepard rushed in and saved the day. The heavy mech was shot to pieces, allowing Tali and her few remaining men to administer first aid to their wounded. Shepard soothed the traumatised Quarian pilgrim. The Commander also gave firm orders that he be handed over to Tali without any Cerberus intervention – making it clear that she was not a Cerberus agent.

Relieved, Tali soon sent Shepard the content of the pilgrim’s omni-tool as agreed. It provided critical intelligence as to whom was behind the disappearances of Human colonies such as Freedom’s Progress. Though Tali hated Cerberus, she trusted that Shepard was in control and had some sort of plan to destroy them from within.

Shepard told Tali that she’d be happy to welcome her on her team. But Tali had already been detailed to a platoon-level mission on Haestrom  and had to decline for the time being.

The one that rambles on for a million miles

The Admiralty sent Tali and an expeditionary force in geth space to research some peculiar solar activity. Haestrom’s sun was dying way too early, and this was thought to be related to Dark Energy and possibly geth activity.

This mission too went bad. Tali and her marines were surprised by geth forces while on the ground, and cut off from their stealth ship.

However, Tali had time to broadcast a SOS, which the Normandy picked up. Shepard’s fast frigate was the first responder. A tactical shore party went in heavy, breaking through geth back lines to reach survivors.

It was almost too late – nearly everyone was dead. Tali had fortified herself in a heavy building after she was cut off from her men. Only one marine, a tough guy named Kal’Reegar, was still standing. Shepard and her commandos took down the small army of geth besieging Tali — including a Colossus platform — and got her and Kal out.

Saved by the belle

Tali was furious. She suspected that the Admiralty had sent her expeditionary force to its death on a whim. She felt crushed by guilt over all the marines who had died to protect her. She didn’t want to return to the Flotilla, joining Shepard as soon as medevac had been secured for Kal’Reegar.

Tali didn’t want to lead anyone, and wanted out from the Admiralty’s schemes and plans. She demanded a leave, which was quickly granted.

Tali vas Normandy and Commander Shepard in engineering

The young woman was wary of Shepard’s Cerberus affiliation, though. Like most Quarians she had been shocked by the ruthless storming of the Idenna. Furthermore, Tali was horrified to discover that there was an active AI aboard the Normandy.

Home is where the core drive is

Shepard nevertheless made Tali’Zorah her chief engineer, with a staff of two – Engineer Gabriella Daniels and Engineer Kenneth Donnelly.

The Quarian settled in her job and trained with the other tactical operators. The whip-smart Tali soon realised that Shepard was the rider and Cerberus the horse, despite being one woman against a powerful shadow organisation. Even the A.I. seemed firmly on Shepard’s side, and Tali gradually relaxed as she realised that her heroine was in full control.

After noticing that Shepard wasn’t using a large display case in her cabin, Tali even had part of her starship scale models collection on the Neema shipped to the Normandy so they could be displayed there. The main piece was a detailed commemorative edition scale model of the Normandy SR1.

It was but a brief respite before things got right into the toilet again.

But when I find ya I ain’t gonna let go

Tali received a brief message announcing that she was accused of treason — a capital offense — by the Migrant Flotilla. She had no idea what it was about. The details would only be discussed during the trial.

Tali started booking independent passage to the Flotilla so as not to interfere with the Normandy’s mission. Shepard put an end to that and soon cleared several days in the Normandy ops schedule.

Once they docked Captain Kar’danna vas Neema announced that Tali’Zorah’s citizenship was now suspended. This made her Tali’Zorah vas Normandy since that’s the ship she was on – and made Shepard her Captain. This also meant that Kar’danna, despite wanting to support Tali’Zorah, was no longer her Captain. Acting as a counsel was Shepard’s responsibility.

This was apparently why an Admiral opposing clan Zorah’s policies, Zaal’Koris vas Qwib-Qwib, had conspired that Tali be deprived of her Quarian ship name. Zaal assumed that a Human Captain would be less qualified to help defend Tali during the trial.

Tali vas Normandy with Joker and Commander Shepard at the helm

Tali was tried by a Conclave – one of the two ruling Quarian bodies. A Conclave is an assembly of representatives from all ships, and usually serves as the legislative branch. The judges were the members of the Admiralty Board – the other Quarian ruling body, handling more immediate decisions – minus Tali’s father and blood aunt due to the conflict of interest.

There was little legal procedure ; the main point was to convince the Admirals and the Conclave.

The Alarei

After the trial began, it was revealed that the Alarei, the ship Rael‘Zorah was working on, had gone offline in catastrophic circumstances days before. Quarian Marines attempting to board the Alarei had met with powerful geth resistance and were repelled with heavy losses.

The Alarei was considered lost to the Flotilla. Tali learned she had been accused of treason as the Admiralty determined she had been the one sending geth components to the Alarei. Having lost an entire ship of the Flotilla with all hands aboard, especially to the geth, was a catastrophe for the resources-poor and population-poor Quarians. *Somebody* had to pay.

Though Tali was shocked that she had not been told anything about her father’s likely death, Shepard seized the occasion. She offered to storm and retake the Alarei.

This is what Tali’s Quarrian allies had been hoping for. They had staged the revelation so that everybody could see Tali’s sincere shock at the news. The other part of the scheme was that Tali and Shepard would somehow retake the Alarei to once again demonstrate Tali’Zorah’s heroism.

Tali’s allies had also successfully delayed the order to open fire on the Alarei and destroy it.

Prepare for a boarding action

It became obvious than the trial wasn’t really about Tali’s role in the loss of the Alarei. It was mostly a result of an internecine war among Admirals as tensions about the political leadership of the Migrant Flotilla had reached a high point. The Board was torn as to the future of the Quarians.

Some wanted to gamble it all and try to retake Rannoch as they found life in suits unbearable. Some wanted to find a way to retake control of the geth as is — to their eyes — the Quarian way.

Some said that the mutually genocidal war against the geth had been a grave mistake. They though that the Quarians should move on and leave Rannoch to the geth to find and rannochaform a new planet over the next decades.

Exiling Tali as a traitor would weaken the pro-Rannochian invasion-side, and damage their credibility.

Two strange men fightin’ to the death over me today

The Alarei was crawling with geth, with more platforms having presumably been built since the Quarrian marines had been repelled. Quarian ships being generally cramped, it would also be necessary to fight in very close quarters and with little room for error.

Shepard was focused both on the impending assault, and in keeping Tali together. The lass still hoped against hope that her father was alive and wasn’t responsible for the loss of the Alarei at the hands of the geth.

There was a third line of thought on Shepard’s mind, though. The Admiralty’s treatment of her Tali was starting to piss her off.


Tali now has a quasi-Slavic accent. The change is not explained and might be intended to be a retcon . A likely No-Prize  explanation is that it is the accent people have aboard the Neema, her new ship, whereas the accent aboard the Rayya was closer to a Main American one when rendered by omni-tool translation.

This seems well-supported in the game. The various Admirals of the Flotilla speak with what is translated as different Earth accents. Furthermore, Quarians from the Neema have similar accents to Tali’s.

Tali’s accent is a Latverian one. That is, it floats between an Hollywood pseudo-Russian or pseudo-Ukrainian accent and an actual Polish or Czech one, without having the actual characteristics of any real-world accent we know of — such as the rolling r’s common throughout Eastern and Central Europe. In any case, it’s charming.

Tali is again voice-acted by actress Liz Sroka  (aka Ash Sroka), who also presumably developed the accent.

Tali’Zorah has a new enviro-suit – apparently to mark her successful Pilgrimage. The design hasn’t changed overall, but the textures are richer, the colours more vivid, there are more details, she added some jewelry, etc.

Body language

Tali occasionally does a sort of little bouncing move when waiting for something. One gets the impression that Quarians do not accumulate tension in their shoulders and back like Humans or Turians do, but in their recurved legs. The bounce might be much like stretching their arms for a tired Human.

The second game’s animation also make it clearer that Quarians do not walk like Humans do. Their body rock from left to right when they take steps. The general movements are not unlike that of a camel.

This seems more prominent in women than in men, presumably due to a difference in hips structure for childbearing. One notices that women even have a sort of lateral toe that men do not have, presumably because of their walk.

The second game also allows for comparing the designs for male enviro-suit and female models. Beyond the obvious differences, the male designs have more like geth-like lines and are narrower.

Since this is such a modern world, the video below has multiple examples of Tali’s Mass Effect 2 voice, accent and the distortion from her filters. These are chained lines of dialogue from one mission, though you can’t actually get these in a game without a hack.


By 2185, Tali’s life sucks. She feels used by the Admiralty and their endlessly bickering politics. She’s openly questioning whether some missions she and her marines bleed and die for actually serve a purpose. She feels a failure as a leader – she’s much more comfortable as a follower. She’s too young to handle the death of her men without being ravaged by guilt.

She also likely suffers from unrealistic expectations if her model of leadership is Commander Shepard. The latter is hinted at by some recordings where Tali is taking her leadership decisions by guessing what Shepard would do if she were there.

Tali also seems lonely. Perhaps her schedule as a special agent makes it impossible to develop a private life, or perhaps she’s mildly depressed.


The loss of Shepard obviously hit her very hard. With her father being so distant Shepard and her team had become a substitute family. To Tali, Shepard herself quickly became a mixture of cool big sister and, on occasion, adoptive mother.

Losing the Commander left Tali all alone. For two long years she just kept wishing Shepard were here. She was just a lost soul, swimming in a fishbowl.

Tali vas Normandy with Commander Shepard and Garrus Vakarian in their hardsuits

Tali’Zorah seems to be at most, in Human terms, in her early 20s. However she is quite mature for her age when it comes to serious matters, and exceptionally responsible.

Though Tali has now seen many planets and the Citadel, she was mostly in artificial constructs such as pressurised prefabs. Seeing buildings with walls of stone on Haestrom felt eerie for her, and she doesn’t seem comfortable with wide open spaces.

The second game illustrates just how strong Tali’s devotion to the collective well-being of the Flotilla is. That she was dedicated was always obvious, but the good of the Migrant Fleet occupies her every thought and plays a major role in most of her decisions. She’ll always prefer to sacrifice herself than risk harm to the Quarians.

Tali presents this as a cultural trait, the normal result of people having to work together very closely as they share a fragile and very poor environment. This is true, but this trait is noticeably stronger in Tali than in most other Quarians. This makes her a respected exemplar of that cultural value.

This is presumably a result of her education by her father, and her own responsible personality.

Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone

Tali joins the new Normandy with nervousness. She fears that the resurrected Shepard is not the person she knew. She’s gradually reassured that it is most definitely Shepard, and that as a consequence everything is under control – including Cerberus.

Though she misses Engineer Adams and the old crew, Tali’s colleagues on the engineering deck are nice and funny. And Shepard’s aggressive program to upgun the Normandy means numerous challenges with cutting edge tech.

Friends and colleagues from the best time in her life, such as Joker, Garrus or Liara, also make their return. Shepard also makes it clear that Tali is her friend and a valued crewmate, and that she’ll be there for her no matter what.

Thus, when Tali is caught in a political shitstorm and poorly treated by her own people despite her exploits, it is Shepard who stands at her side. Shepard intuitively assumes all the duties of a perfect Quarian Captain whereas the Admiralty flounders and throws Tali to the sharks.

Aye aye Captain

After Shepard fierily shames the Admiralty into backing down, Tali’Zorah throws the gauntlet back into her government’s face and defiantly keeps the ’vas Normandy‘ name. She thus declares herself a “citizen” of the Normandy and Shepard to be her Captain.

Spaceship models collection in the CO cabin of the Normandy

Tali’Zorah’s model ships collection on the Normandy.

A Captain is a very important figure in Quarian culture. They’re the ultimate authority for everything but Flotilla-wide decisions, which are handled by a Conclave or the Admiralty Board. This follow the naval tradition of a ship’s captain being the “sole master aboard after God”, and could be loosely compared to a Japanese feudal clan lord.

Tali’s decision is thus serious business, especially as a national — albeit controversial — heroine and daughter of an Admiral. There are presumably very few Quarians with alien Captains, and none with Tali’s status.

(The Quarian term “Captain” refers to the person commanding a ship, not to a military rank. In military terms Shepard is a Staff Commander of the Systems Alliance on an unauthorised leave, but Quarians call her “Captain Shepard” because she’s the boss of a spaceship.)

Tali’Zorah is generally tense and focused. This lasts until Shepard verbally beats up the Quarrian Admiralty and dismisses the treason charges against her Quarian protégée. As soon as this is done, the big cloud over Tali’s head is gone.


She starts being visibly more relaxed, starts joking around and babbling like in the old days, socialises more, etc.. She still has a sarcastic edge to her sense of humour, and will occasionally make friendly fun of the big bad Commander Shepard.

As Tali once explains, her kind is a gregarious lot. They compensate for being stuck in suits by talking and interacting a lot, and many Quarians are about as nosey as hobbits .

Tali still has her reflex to want to explain Quarian traditions at the drop of a hat, in the vague hope it might help with interspecies communication and against anti-Quarian racism. She has since realised that it’s not really working, though.

After her trial, as she gets closer to Shepard than ever. She opens up enough to start making sarcastic remarks about her own culture and her own people.

She no longer wants to represent Quarian colours at every opportunity. Tali admits that her people have their flaws as well as their qualities, and does not feel as defensive about the former… as long as Shepard is the one’s she’s talking to, and Tali is the one telling the jokes.

Tali is still a hardliner on the geth issue, sticking with her father’s values. However, a seed of doubt is starting to appear. She cannot approve of her father’s work aboard the Alarei. Tali also feels guilty as she learns that her father was taking crazy risks so he could honour his promise of giving her a home on Rannoch.

Furthermore two soldiers she greatly respects, Staff Commander Shepard and the Quarian Marine Kal’Reegar, explain to her that while Tali has extensive combat experience with small elite units, large-scale war is far worse and deadlier than even that.

After her trial and as she claims Shepard as her Captain, Tali’s loyalty toward the Quarians also becomes less reflexive and unconditional. She’s still a thorough patriot, but no longer an unthinking one. And her father is dead, leaving her to define her own stance based on her own experiences and having reached adulthood.

It’s not warm when she’s away

Tali remains hard-working, eager to help and technically brilliant but otherwise a bit naïve. While she’s tough and a fighter, her isolation as a Quarian gets to her and she needs people around her whom she trusts and who care about her, to make her loneliness more bearable.

She’s a highly valuable team member — very serious, dedicated, highly intelligent, a technological wizard, very data-oriented, etc. — and particularly shines under Shepard’s command.

Tali is awestruck with Shepard. Shep and the Normandy are the best thing in her life by far, especially after Tali’s political and familial situation goes sour.

Shepard is a bubble of awesome within a distant and cruel universe that rejects Tali and her ilk. The young Quarian can’t believe how lucky she is to be on her crew – especially since she fairly earned her position through her talent, hard work and courage.

Motherly blood sisters

Shepard’s relationship with Tali straddles a curious border between feudal-style or military-style loyalty and familial love. Depending on the context Tali might relate to Shepard as her highly respected boss, a close friend, a substitutive mother, a caring commanding officer, her big sister, a rock star she’s a huge fan of or a Big Damn Hero.

Tali vas Normandy, Commander Shepard and Zaeed Massani prepare for boarding action

Tali’Zorah is probably Shepard’s biggest fan, even counting Conrad Verner.

Tali is working up her courage to ask Shepard to touch her skin. This has very specific connotations in modern Quarian cultures. Hooking up enviro-suits to share the same air and make limited skin-to-skin contact is the greatest mark of trust between two persons, especially since it results in several days of sickness and allergic shock even with pre-medication.

This ritualised affirmation of mutual trust doesn’t quite have an equivalent in mainstream modern Western cultures. It could be compared to sharing blood (where both persons slash their palm open with a knife then shake hands) which was still done some decades ago.

Based on Tali calling Shala’raan vas Tonbay her aunt, it would presumably make Tali’Zorah and Shepard the equivalent of blood sisters. Though it might be different when one does that with their Captain.

Tali is a dedicated, collected professional. Yet some personal matters can make her very nervous due to her modest life experience outside of work and missions.

In these rare cases she goes from being a bit of a motormouth to being a world-class generator for a stream of free-association babbling to try to bring her emotions and nervousness under control, while trying to explain that it’s not really because of that but you see it’s because of the faceplate and since people can’t really read her facial expressions well she needs to you know well anyway as I was staying wow it it me or is it hot here and anyway, after seeing Tali goes through a burst of this I suspect that Quarians might actually be Jewish.

Tali’Zorah’s spirit and eagerness, combined with her exoticness, humour and engineering-girl-geek attitude give her tremendous charm. Everybody loves Tali.


Quarian marine (when told Cerberus resurrected Shepard): “Impossible. Nobody would put so many resources into bringing back just one soldier !”
Tali: “You haven’t seen Shepard in action, Prazza. Trust me, it was money well spent.”

(Excitedly encouraging her combat drone to attack a mech) “Go for the optics, Chiktikka ! Go for the optics !”

“Keelah seh lai.” (traditional Quarian blessing, meaning “by the home world I hope to see one day” and with a similar use to the Arabic “insh’allah” (“provided that God approves and lets it happen/the Lord willing“).) Sometimes Tali just exclaims “Keelah !” (“By the home world !”).

“I assume you’ve joined Cerberus to somehow sabotage them from within. If so I’ll loan you a grenade.”

(As Tali is trapped and surrounded, Shepard pops out of nowhere on her comm channels) “Thanks for coming. It means a lot to hear your voice.”

“Don’t worry, Veetor. We’re going to find the things that did this, and we’re going to kill them.”

(Angrily) “If I don’t wear a helmet in my own home, I die. A single kiss could put me in the hospital. Every time you touch a flower with bare fingers, inhale its fragrance without air filters, you are doing something I can’t ! Damn the Pilgrimage. Without it, I might never have known what I was missing. What we had lost when we lost our homeworld.”

“No secrets between shipmates.”

(After Commander Shepard beats Tali’s engineering crew in a game of Skyllian-Five poker) “Never underestimate Shepard.”

(Speaking to herself whilst examining her father’s research) “What was all this, Father ? You promised you’d build me a house on the homeworld. Was this going to bring us back home ?”

Police Captain (about illegal virtual intelligence programs): “Actually, their top seller is based on you.”
Shepard (puzzled): “Me ?”
Police Captain: “Yeah, when it erases a file, it says…” (tough guy voice) “…‘I delete data like you on my way to real errors’.”
Tali (giggling): “That’s pretty X-treeeme, Shepard.”

Racist Volus: “Just go away and return to your ship… clanless.”
Tali (incensed): “I am clan Zorah, crew of the starship Neema. And you are an idiot. […] I should hack your olfactory filters so that everything smells like refuse.”

“They stripped me of my ship name. They might as well have declared me exiled already.”

(Reciting her passphrase to gain access to the Migrant Fleet) “After time adrift among open stars / Among tides of light and to shoals of dust / I will return to where I began.”

Please, I’m a Quarian. Give me a chunk of scrap metal, a circuit board, and some Element Zero, and I’ll have this thing making precision jumps.”

(As Admiral Zaal’Koris makes a sarcastic remark about Tali’s motivations for storming the geth-held Alarei, Tali yells at him) “I’m looking for my father, you bosh’tet !”

Shepard (scratching the back of her neck): “Are Quarian politics always like… that ?”
Tali (audibly smiling): “No. Sometimes it can actually get unpleasant.”

“I never wanted this. Keelah, I never wanted this.”

Garrus (lightly flirting): “Hey Tali, do you ever miss those talks we had on the elevators ?”
Tali’Zorah (missing the signals): “No.”
Garrus: “Come on. Remember how we’d always ask you about life on the Flotilla ? It was an opportunity to share !”
Tali: “This conversation is over.”
Garrus (hamming it up): “Tell me again about your immune system.”
Tali (still completely missing the signals): “I have a shotgun.”
Garrus (with exaggerated precaution): “Mmmmmokay. Maybe we’ll talk later then.”

Shepard (smiling and putting her arm around Tali’s shoulders): “Come on, Tali’Zorah vas Normandy. Let’s go back to our ship.”
Tali: “Yes… Captain.”

Shepard (trying to comfort Tali as she’s reeling from major bad stuff): “Tali, about what your father said… what he did… the Admiralty… I’m so sorry. You deserved better.”
Tali (calmly): “But I did get better. I got you.”

Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG

Tell me more about the game stats


Dex: 04 Str: 02 Bod: 04 Motivation: Responsibility/Uphold Good
Int: 05 Wil: 06 Min: 05 Occupation: Troubleshooter, engineer
Inf: 04 Aur: 05 Spi: 05 Resources {or Wealth}: 004
Init: 013 HP: 030

Recall: 06, Superspeed: 01

Bonuses and Limitations:

  • Superspeed is limited to technical Tasks, including salvaging.
  • Recall and Superspeed are both Skilled Powers.

Evasion (Ranged only): 05, Gadgetry: 09, Detective (Identification systems): 12, Scientist (Drawing plans, Computers): 08, Medicine (First aid): 05, Military science (Cryptography): 08, Thief (Security systems, Locks & Safes): 12, Weaponry (Handguns & shotguns): 05

Bonuses and Limitations:
Tali operates in a Genre with realistic Gadgetry rules – inventions are generally a major, lengthy, costly engineering project.

Expertise (Starships and starships engineering, Salvaging), Familiarity (Zero-G Combat, Geth technology), Language (Quarian, Council Trade).

Staff Commander Shepard (High), Crew of the SSV Normandy (High), Quarian Admiralty (Low – except for Admiral Xen with whom she has no Connection), Admiral Shala’raan vas Tonbay (High), Captain Kar’danna vas Neema (High).

Serious Physical Restriction (Quarian immune system), Minor Physical Restriction (Heterochiral physiology), Creepy Appearance (Tali must constantly wear an enviro-suit), Exile (from Rannoch), SIA toward serving the fleet, Misc.: Quarians are poorly-regarded by other species, suffer from racial stigma and normally have lifelong responsibilities toward the Migrant Flotilla.


  • ENVIRONMENTAL SUIT [BODY (Hardened Defences) 04, Cold immunity: 02, Data storage: 09, Detect (Pathogens, toxins, radiation): 05, Flame immunity: 01, Sealed systems: 08, Shade: 01, Limitation: Detect has No Range, Sealed systems only to increase defend against airborne pathogens, though it also compensates for her SPR].
  • CUSTOM BODY ARMOUR [BODY (Hardened) 10 /BODY/ 04, Cling: 04, Cold immunity: 04, Data storage: 09, Detect (Pathogens, toxins, radiation): 05, Flame immunity: 04, Invulnerability: 05, Lightning immunity: 03, Radio communications (Booster): 03, Regeneration: 05, Sealed systems: 13, Shade: 03, Skin armour: 03, Medicine (First aid): 04, Limitations: Cling only works on metallic surfaces and reduces movement speed to 0 APs, Detect has No Range, 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]. The stats of the ENVIRONMENTAL SUIT she continues to wear beneath the CUSTOM BODY ARMOUR are already factored in – ignore the ENVIRONMENTAL SUIT while she’s armoured.
  • Geth plasma shotgun [BODY 04, Energy blast (Diminishing): 09, Range: 04, Ammo: 05, Schtick (Double-tapping), R#03, Drawback: Heavy Armour RV is considered one CS higher against this weapon, Limitation: Energy blast has No Range, use the Range listed instead]. This was issued to her by Shepard ; previously Tali presumably wielded a Scimitar shotgun.
  • Carnifex [BODY 03, Projectile weapons: 07, Range: 04, Ammo: 6, R#02, Rec. STR 03, Drawback: Shield and Barrier RV is considered one CS higher against this weapon, Limitation: Projectile weapon has No Range, use the listed Range instead]. A heavy pistol used as a backup weapon. Issued by Shepard – presumably Tali had a Predator before.
  • Boot Knife [BODY 06, EV 03]. Hey, you never know.
  • OMNI-TOOL [BODY 01, Data storage: 17, Fabricate: 01, Radio communication: 15, Superspeed: 02, Limitation: Fabricate is limited to Doodads (but those are permanent, and unlimited in number given enough omni-gel), Superspeed only for tasks involving processing information using the omni-tool (though it stacks with her native Superspeed)]. This is a high-end omni-tool. Beyond these basic functions, Tali uses her omni-tool for the following specialised roles :
    • Regeneration: 05 (Linked with Medicine, Usable on Others, Ammo: 07).
    • Vampirism: 11 (Can only attack ME2 Defenses (Shields) and robots and synthetics, drained RAPs can only be used to heal or enhance her own ME2 Defenses (Shield), Vampirism is its own AV).
    • Control: 06, Bonuses & Limitations: can be used against artificial intelligence, virtual intelligences and other advanced machines – but can only be used against those ; Control can never last more than four Phases unless the target has unusually poor security systems.
  • CHIKTIKKA VAS PAUS UPGUNNED DRONE [DEX 03 BODY 05 INT 01, Flight: 07, Lightning: 06, ME2 Defense (Shield): 10, Stagger: 06, Bonus: Stagger can be Combined With Lightning, but is always resisted by Lightning Immunity]. Noted as an equipment that cannot be Taken Away since Tali can generate a new one.

By Sébastien Andrivet.

Source of Character: Mass Effect video game trilogy.

Helper(s): Coyote’s Own, Epigrad . Model references extracted by Troodon80 . Enhanced textures by Jean-Luc Fortier .

Writeup completed on the 8th of March, 2013.