My Experience Converting Mass Effect to GURPS

Posted on February 23, 2012


This weeks post is a bit late coming because I spent the better part of the last week or two converting Mass Effect to a GURPS tabletop system. This turned out to be a fairly good learning experience for me, so I thought I’d share them.

For those unfamiliar with it, Mass Effect is a sci-fi (space opera, really) setting based in the Milky Way galaxy not too far off in the future. Humans discover the remains of an ancient civilization on Mars, and with the technology advances that come from the discovery humanity branches out and finds/joins the galactic community.

GURPS is the system I choose to do the conversion in. In my experience it has been an immensely flexible system capable of handling just about anything I’ve thrown at it. It stands for General Universal Role-Playing System, and is made by Steve Jackson Games (who also makes Munchkin!). Its a very modular design with a classless system that is great for players and GMs who prefer not to rail someone on a leveling path.

Originally I had never planned to create this setting from scratch. Mass Effect is very popular so I had hoped that someone else already had. Searching around the internet, my hopes were only partially realized – a few people had begun to undertake the task, but none had really finished. One person had come quite a ways in making a d20 rules set (which ended up coming in handy), but in GURPS the furthest anybody had gotten was half-finished rough-draft. Nevertheless, I won’t pretend that I didn’t cannibalize that for everything it was worth.

The first thing I decided to work on was the races. It did not take long before I encountered my first of many obstacles. Video game races often do not transfer well to tabletop settings. In Mass Effect there are several races that are very poor combatants. I don’t mean poor in the sense of kobolds are poor combatants. I mean poor in the sense that chickens are poor combatants. When I encountered this I had to make a choice – should I bother statting this race or not? Sure, they have a wonderful rich history, a cool look, and would be super fun to role-play. But as a player character what impact would they have on the game? Is there something that they can do that nobody else can? Is their niche enough to make up for the fact that they will bring the party down in a fight? Most importantly, would it actually be fun for the player?

In the end, I decided not to write stats for some of the races – but I did not decree that they were unplayable. I don’t believe any players will want to bother with playing one, so there isn’t any need to go in and detail everything out. When I decided this, I realized its likely something that comes up when designing any game. Take my D&D example above, the D&D designers don’t bother stating the chicken as a PC race, do they? (Well…). Regardless, if a players wants to make one, I’ll do it then.

The most difficult thing I encountered, however, was designing the weapons and armor. I’m still not sure if I’ m satisfied with the numbers I came up with – only play testing will tell. But in order to give a large variety I dug through and found all the armors in the Mass Effect games, all the guns from the second one (in universe there was a major change in how weapons work after the first game, rendering older guns obsolete). Although GURPs tech levels offer a good starting point (use TL10 armor vs TL10 guns), it tends to focus on a more realistic approach than other games which offer a more heroic and game-like approach. Since I wanted to capture that heroic game-like approach, I had to modify weapon and armor values (not to mention make up rules and values for shields!)

Not only was designing the weapons and armor difficult, but determining prices for it as well. Luckily, that d20 conversion used much of the same armors, weapons, and modifications that I had. When it came to something that was just a direct port from the console game though, I found myself just arbitrarily making prices up quite often. I’m curious how other system designers out there come up with these figures.

In the end I’m happy with how the conversion has turned out, but I know that I will be needing to make several tweaks before we begin play.


My (semi-) finished conversion –
Gurps –
Mass Effect –

Posted in: Settings, Systems