The Citadel is an engineering marvel and work of surpassing beauty. It is a kilometers-long space station discovered abandoned by the asari thousands of years ago. The station has been kept operational by a mysterious race of creatures that have come to be known as the Keepers. The Keepers perform repairs on the Citadel and seem to operate autonomously. Hardly anything is known about them, no one has ever been able to communicate with them. The council protects the Keepers by law. No one is allowed to disturb them or prevent them from doing the tasks they carry out seemingly instinctually.
It is revealed through the course of the first game that the Citadel is the center point of the Reapers trap for all sentient life and that the Keepers were genetically engineered by the Reapers to ensure no one ever learns all of the secrets of the Citadel. The reason the trap works so well is because many mass relays connect to the relay outside the Citadel, making it highly likely that a spacefaring culture will discover the Citadel. Furthermore, they find the Citadel to be a wondrous construction of surpassing beauty and technological function. It seems ready made for a culture to move in and even comes with its own repair staff that functions autonomously! Inevitably, the Citadel is used as the center of galactic civilization because of all these factors. The great secret of the Citadel is that it is actually an enormous mass relay through which the Reapers return to the galaxy and begin their campaign of slaughter.
Divided into wards, the Citadel is an enormous city housing millions of people. Each arm of the station is an individual ward and the various species that have settled on the Citadel have made changes to the surroundings to fit their cultural heritage. As with any city, the Citadel wards are full of crime and vice alongside the upstanding citizens.
The ring at one end of the Citadel is known as the Presidium. Jutting up from the center of the ring, between the wards, is the Citadel Tower that houses the council chambers and functions as the center of galactic politics. The Presidium also houses the embassies for the client nations of the Citadel council and is where the movers and shakers of the galaxy meet to discuss business.
The Citadel is incredibly important as a central locale for the Mass Effect universe. Converting it to Mage Effect is a careful process.
Some key points you’ll need to highlight with the Citadel: marvelous, mysterious, crossroads, and urban.
First I’d like to address the Citadel as an engineering marvel of surpassing beauty. Imagine a magnificent marble palace reaching into the heavens. The island itself is shaped as a seven-pointed star and stretches more than thirty miles across, the entirety of which has been built into a beautiful city – literally, from shore to shore, the entire island has been built up and manicured into a perfect city. Many of the buildings are tall and graceful, allowing the city to house a population of millions. Palaces become more common the further from shore you go, though the largest and most beautiful seven on the island stand at the shores where two points meet the body of the star. Parks dot the landscape and streets are wide, tree-lined affairs. The seven main avenues run from the tips of the points to the center of the island, crossed by concentric heptagonal boulevards. The innermost boulevard circles the seven-sided spire that houses the Citadel council and functions as the center of government.
The Citadel is situated in a tropical paradise. The weather is always warm and inviting, comfortable to most species. The days are sunny and perfect for spending time outside. Every night a light rain falls, bringing water to the people and providing regular, ample nourishment for the beautiful parks and gardens maintained by the keepers.
Surrounding the Citadel for miles and miles are thousands of relay islands. The magnificent light show from these islands gives the Citadel a sublime beauty. At night fogs roll into the area, muting the flashes of lightning and allowing the denizens of the Citadel an easy rest.
Put yourself in the mind of someone from ancient Rome coming across the pyramids when describing the wonder and majesty of the Citadel. Stop and think about that. The pyramids are still impressive today. The Citadel is an entire island beautifully crafted into a wondrous city.
There are theories about who built the Citadel and how; they are all wrong. The most common belief is that the protheans built the Citadel to function as the grand heart of their empire across the shell. No one realizes that the Reapers use the Citadel as the center of the web that ensnares intelligent life or that the keepers are but pawns whose only function is to make the trap that much more alluring. No one even knows how the keepers function or if they are intelligent! Some people have noted that the island’s avenues and boulevards resemble an intricate spider’s web but the thought has never been given much weight. The stone used in its construction appears to be marble but is much harder and resilient than any stone quarried by the people of the shell. Powerful works of artifice are used in the Citadel that no one has been able to replicate. The spire and the grander palaces on the island have artifice lifts that provide rapid transportation to the upper levels.
Why is the weather so regular and beautiful? How are so many relays right here? Who built the Citadel? Why is the island all city? Who, or what, are the keepers and why do they maintain the city? Remember these mysteries when describing the Citadel. Don’t explain all of them, let players muse them over and think about it. Emphasize that no one knows these things. Keep in mind that you don’t have to know the answers to these things, either. After all, it’s magic. Yes, some of your party may know the answers to some of these questions from playing the games. But they won’t know all of them – especially if you invent more (such as a network of underground tunnels that runs throughout the Citadel) specifically for your game.
The Citadel stands at the heart of the relay network. Much like Rome in ancient days, all roads lead to the Citadel. It is the largest, busiest port and trade city on the shell. People from all nations bring their goods to be sold at the market. Ideas are exchanged and debated here; colleges and universities have sprung up in the city and created an atmosphere of intellectual freedom. The Citadel is Rome, Constantinople. Alexandria and Athens rolled into one – and then some. In many ways, look back to Babylon 5 for inspiration as to how to portray a truly multicultural trade city. Languages, ideas, goods, religion. All these things are traded in kind at the Citadel.
The island upon which the Citadel stands is a city – the entirety of it is a city. There are no suburbs, no country estates, no outlying farms and villages. The Citadel is a city standing alone at the heart of the greatest trade route ever devised. Think about New York, London, Chicago, Tokyo and Hong Kong. Imagine the density of the population. There are people everywhere! Think about the challenges of that – gangs, crime, poverty, wealth, and all of the other problems of a major city. The Citadel doesn’t have its own food supply, there’s no space. All the food, aside from fish and other sea life, comes from traders traveling through the relays. Fruits, vegetables, grains, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and all the other foods you can imagine all come from the traders. Imagine how that economic pressure weighs on the people of the Citadel.
The urban center of civilization is also going to be a political hotbed. Explore the different factions – governments, guilds, bankers, merchants, street gangs – and put them into conflict with one another. Remember: the Citadel was built to be perfect but the people who find it and inhabit it are all flawed. You can’t have that many people crammed together and have them live happily together.
The Citadel is awesome – in the literal sense of the word. Characters seeing it for the first time should be struck speechless by its majesty, beauty, complexity and the sheer awesome power that was needed to create it. Try your hardest to keep that sense of wonder when describing it and let your enthusiasm infect your players. It makes for a great setting piece and really enriches the game’s world.