Mass Effect: Stardust
The State of the Galaxy
This game is set three years after the events of Mass Effect 1; the year is 2186 (December, if it matters): Commander Shepard, hero of the Battle of the Citadel and humanity’s first Spectre, has mysteriously died (though this fact is still not widely known, even 2 years later), heat-based weapons are seeing changes due to input by the Systems Alliance in the galactic warfare conversation (see the “Weapons” page), a quick application of omni-gel to a security array is now insufficient in the face of actual security in most civilized areas of the galaxy (though remote locations still have much in the way of older technology), and the galaxy is slowly changing, as it does.
One thing that should be clear is that this is not the same timeline or universe or what have you within which the plot of Mass Effect 2 and 3 happened; by 2186 the so-called Reaper War was in full swing, and the galaxy was already changed irrevocably by the actions of the Reapers following the events of Mass Effect 1. This plot is independent of those events: Shepard was never returned to life by Cerberus, and the Reapers pursued less aggressive plans than those which played out in Mass Effect 2 and 3. Still, they are out there, and they are busy.
Humans have recently made big moves. During the rogue turian Spectre Saren Arterius’ attack on the Citadel, the Alliance’s 5th Fleet intercepted an attack upon the Council as they fled the Citadel instead of focusing upon the mysterious dreadnought which led the assault – at the cost of almost 2,500 other human lives who were attacking the dreadnought – protecting the Council and ultimately proving humanity’s desire to join galactic civilization as an equal and responsible member. Invited to the Council as a 4th member, humanity’s representative Donnel Udina, while ambitious and ruthless, ensures his people’s concerns are known in the galaxy with his actions and presence. Thus, humanity is elevated to a superior position in the wide field of galactic politics, to the dismay of some longer-established members of the Citadel races.
Nonetheless, the galaxy eyes their newest member warily, some feeling that humanity moves too quickly for their liking. Humans, meanwhile, largely tolerate the tension created by their ambition fairly well, and have been soothing ties with the turians in recent years. With a second Spectre appointed in early 2186, humanity definitely seems on the fast track, and their trajectory is trending up.
On the war-torn krogan homeworld of Tuchanka the eternal conflict which rules daily life has recently intensified. Clan Urdnot, led by Battlemaster Urdnot Wrex, has begun moves to unite other krogan clans under a unified banner and uncompromising rule, abandoning what some call “generations of tradition” and plunging the clans into a new era of tribal conflict. Currently, clan Urdnot is in a struggle to either absorb or destroy clans Jurdon and Quash, having already succeeded in integrating clans Nakmor and Raik into their fold. While the motive of Wrex is unknown to non-krogan (and many krogan), Citadel Council garrisons stationed upon Tuchanka report ever-increasing tension between the non-allied krogan clans and Urdnot, with intensifying firefights between Urdnot and Weyrloc in particular, as both clans are of comparable power.
The re-discovery of the lost Mu Relay in 2183 has provided a glut of information about the Protheans. Through fevered study of the archives of Ilos, the existence of two additional ruined sites, containing thousands of long-dead Protheans in stasis as well as a great deal of functional archives of their culture, has been uncovered in Batarian and Omega space, and the archaeological community is abuzz about the developments made in those locations, as well as those on Ilos. A good portion of information about the Protheans’ lost culture has come to light, including stories of some manner of long-running war within which they were embroiled for generations, and the heroes among their people who fought it. Surely, as these archives are combed, more information and possibly more sites will be discovered, and the currently-unfulfilled promise of surviving Protheans goes as an unspoken hope among these scholars.
As mentioned above, the Reapers are playing the long game in this setting: their invasion has begun, but it doesn’t immediately begin with the arrival of dreadnoughts like Sovereign or Harbinger as in the videogames; instead, upon reviewing the defeat of Sovereign at the Battle of the Citadel (and faced with the possibility of a united galaxy to oppose them), they have elected to begin their invasion quietly; the Collectors have been re-awoken to process populations in disconnected locations, operating in complete secrecy where the forces who opposed them at the Citadel would have difficulties in committing to a united battle. They operate where the galaxy is quiet and dark for the time being, and have been doing so for over 3 years already.
The Collectors are committed to a bulk of the work the Reapers pursue, utilizing gruesome technology to amass ground troops in secret (as had the geth before them, with the so-called “dragon’s teeth”) and only revealing themselves for the briefest of moments when absolutely necessary. Assassination, for instance, is one of those times, and the Collectors have been hard at work otherwise distracting those who are identified to provide a significant obstacle to their work. While the geth have been abandoned for the most part (as the rachni, before them), the Collectors continue to work closely with the Reapers (who remain outside of the galaxy in dark space), as in Mass Effect 2. There is nearly zero knowledge of this work being done, as there are almost never survivors of the attacks they are making in the Terminus Systems, and a major voice warning about the return of the Reapers (Shepard) has been silenced.
Oddly enough, the human supremacist terrorist organization known as “Cerberus” is committing much of their attention toward the silence coming from human colonies, but have, as of yet, seemed to gather little information. Still, they’re very watchful, and have noted some of the increasing movements of the Collectors….
Regardless, all of this to say that the Reapers are not going to be as significant a problem in this scenario as they became in Mass Effect 2 and 3; the Reaper invasion’s long-term goal is to scale up their commitment to the galactic cleansing over the next hundred years, only using more powerful forces if necessary. They are otherwise seeding the indoctrinated among the power structure of the galaxy’s rulers and directing the Collectors’ efforts, destabilizing attempts toward peace and building their power at the expense of those who would oppose them. Thus: if PCs encounter Reapers or Reaper-related creatures, they will be of the ground troop variety, those supplied by the Collectors, or sentients who have become indoctrinated by Reaper technology.