“Spectres are not trained, but chosen. Individuals forged in the fire of service and battle; those whose actions elevate them above the rank and file. Spectres are an ideal, a symbol. The embodiment of courage, determination, and self-reliance. They are the right hand of the Council, instruments of our will. Spectres bear a great burden. They are protectors of galactic peace, both our first and last line of defense. The safety of the galaxy is theirs to uphold.”
– The Citadel Council inducting Commander Shepard into the Spectres.
The main character of the Mass Effect series is the first human Spectre, the games follow Commander Shepard in the battles to save the galaxy, seemingly against itself. The Spectres are an elite group of soldiers and spies whose only given purpose is to prevent the galaxy from spiraling into chaos. They are given nearly free reign to accomplish their goals and answer only to the Council, and even they do not often question a Spectre’s methods. Spectres have unlimited license to investigate and pursue criminals. There are no jurisdictional concerns as long as they remain in Council space.
There are a number of other Spectres mentioned in the series, most notably the antagonist from the first game Saren Arturius. We are led to believe that the Spectres are largely recruited from military organizations, this is presumably one of the reasons that the turians dominate their ranks, and are given access to the most advanced weaponry available. The various militaries of the client nations are allowed to work with the Spectres, as demonstrated when the Human Alliance gives command of one of their warships to Commander Shepard for use in Spectre activities. Spectres likewise retain any military rank they had previously earned prior to becoming a Spectre, though this may just be an honorific as if they were retired personnel.
Popular media in the galaxy has latched onto the idea of the Spectre and turned the organization into a group of heroes. Children, and even adults, of all races dream of becoming Spectres. There are even parodies of the Spectre ideal, as heard in the advertisements for “Blasto: The First Hanar Spectre,” that depict a hanar as a cross between James Bond and Dirty Harry.
This gives us a lot of information to work with as we explore the various ways to incorporate the Spectres into a fantasy game.
Heroes are found in every culture: the Three Musketeers, Miyamoto Musashi, the Green Berets, the heroes of Chinese wuxia, and King Arthur are all venerated as heroes. The cultures of Mage Effect are no different and have their own heroes but there is one group of extraordinary individuals that brings them together: the Spectres. These men and women are warriors of supreme skill and mages of great power. The Spectres embody the ideal of the Council and are committed to doing their duties and protecting the people of the Council races. There is no greater honor than to be named a Spectre, a rank that puts the individual above even the landed nobility. When describing the Spectres, think about how you would tell someone about Robin Hood or King Arthur. These are larger than life characters that everyone knows and loves. That is the majority of the Spectres. They have an extensive history going back thousands of years to the time when the Council was first formed. Who are the famous Spectres and what are they known for?
Spectres are the people in Mage Effect who are most likely to resemble traditional adventuring parties. They are eminent warriors of one sort or another and are known to disregard laws standing in their way when they are trying to do the right thing. That isn’t to say that they are lawless savages. Quite the contrary, most Spectres are discerning, level headed people. The Council deliberately chooses candidates who have demonstrated the ability to show good judgment and a dedication to justice.
There should be members of nearly all the races in the ranks of the Spectres, perhaps excluding the volus, hanar and elcor (though they may make excellent spies!). Provide heroes in the world for players to see and admire. Most of the Spectres in the stories should be upright and noble but make some of the Spectres bad, nothing is quite so tragic as a fall from grace. Unlike Mass Effect, the Spectres in Mage Effect may travel in groups and work in teams. This allows the possibility for a Spectre campaign if that’s the direction you want to go with it.