Mouse Guard RPG by Kestral
It's Not What You Fight, It's What You Fight ForOriginal SA post Mouse Guard
Mouse Guard is a game by Luke Crane based on David Petersen's award-winning graphic novel series of the same name. In Mouse Guard, players take on the role of anthropomorphic mice who live in an enchanted forest in perfect harmony with –
Oh god what –
What is this I don't even –
All right, let me start over.
It's Not What You Fight, It's What You Fight For
Mouse Guard is Luke Crane and David Petersen's game about mice with swords, how the world tries to exterminate them, and how they simply refuse to die . It is essentially the version of Redwall, replacing most of the loving descriptions of food and singing with vicious animals killing mice while even more vicious politicking does essentially the same thing. You can tone this down a bit if you're playing with a younger audience – and Mouse Guard has become a big hit for the “gaming with kids” crowd – but it's a serious game at heart.
The setting of Mouse Guard is what you might call “low fantasy.” There is no magic, few if any traditional fantasy elements, and the world operates according to well-understood natural laws. The exception, of course, is that there are sapient mice, and they've established what amounts to a medieval society in the middle of the forest known as the Territories. The mice of the Territories have created a quasi-military force - the titular Mouse Guard - to elevate themselves from their place at the bottom of the food chain and overcome the forces of nature. The Guard exists in an ambiguous social area somewhere between knights, Tolkien-esque rangers, and FEMA agents. They are thankless heroes who exist outside of mouse society to better serve it. When something has gone seriously wrong in the Territories and time is of the essence, members of the Guard are dispatched to put it right – even at the cost of their lives.
But despite their technology and fledgling civilization, they're still mice: when you're three inches tall a snake is a creeping horror out of Lovecraft, hawks are nigh-invincible dragon-like predators, a swollen stream is a deadly impassable torrent, and a good rain storm can annihilate farms and wreak enough havoc on your communities to put Katrina to shame. One of the distinctive features of both the comics and the game is the sense of scale they impart. You are playing small creatures in a huge and hostile world, but highly motivated ones. With swords.
Mouse Guard is a 300-page corebook in twelve chapters. Like Burning Wheel , the previous big game that Luke Crane wrote and the one for which he's best known, a lot of that pagecount is devoted to telling you how to play the game right rather than describing mechanics. I could condense this into perhaps four or five moderately sized posts, but I'm going to be honest: I love this game and think it deserves the best coverage I can give it. I'll be doing one post per chapter, supplementing the book's content with asides from the comics, commentary on the text and examples of play. Here's what we can expect going forward:
1.Introduction – A “What is Roleplaying” chapter done right.
2.The Mouse Guard – A history of the guard, what those words on the character sheet mean, and sample characters.
3.It's What We Fight For – Beliefs, Instincts, Goals, and the Reward Cycle.
4.The Mission – The framework of a session, obstacles, the GM's Turn and the Player's Turn, and a sample mission.
5.Resolution – How to roll dice, what happens when you do, and the Conflict system for when a snake tries to eat you.
6.Seasons – The framework of a campaign, seasonal missions, weather, and the Winter Session for Pendragon fans.
7.The Territories – The eight settlements of the Mouse Territories, the wilderness between them, and how it tries to kill you.
8.Denizens of the Mouse Territories – Mice templates, bloodthirsty weasels, a literal bestiary, and how to fight Bearzilla with science.
9.Abilities and Skills – A very clever advancement system, obstacles for skills, the Nature of mice and other creatures, and what those numbers on the character sheets mean.
10.Traits – How to be a special snowflake.
11.Sample Missions – Quick character templates, snake attacks, a mail delivery gone horribly wrong, and more evidence that snapping turtles are dicks.
12.Recruitment – At long last, how to create a character.
Chapter 1: Introduction
The introductory chapter is short and doesn't tell us much about the game, but there's a few interesting notes to be made regarding the way it presents information, the basics of the system, and the Mouse Guard canon.
Mouse Guard starts off with the traditional “What Is Roleplaying?” section, along with definitions of basic gaming terms. We've all read these a hundred times, but it's worth pausing here to note something about the way the text is written. A lot of RPGs include an Intro to Roleplaying section without thinking about it. It's a perfunctory effort, something you do because it's what you've seen other games do, and as a result they tend to do a poor job of imparting what is actually really important information to someone who has genuinely never seen a roleplaying game before and has nobody “in the know” to introduce them to the hobby.
Luke Crane has taken a lot of flak for the authorial voice he uses in Burning Wheel because some readers find it patronizing. When Luke writes Burning Wheel text, his tone reflects the fact that he knows the majority of his readers will be RPG veterans who have years of ingrained habits which are incompatible with good BW play. Luke's not trying to teach people what an RPG is, so the wordcount he'd otherwise use for that is spent on grabbing you by the lapels and shaking you until the bad habits fall out. For Mouse Guard, Luke assumes that his readers are new to the hobby, so the style is deliberate, instructional, and doesn't waste a word. If you read it out-loud it sounds a lot like how you'd teach a bright kid to perform a complicated task. In fact, that may be exactly what he's doing: the Mouse Guard comics have a large young adult audience, and the RPG was Luke's attempt to reach a more “mainstream” audience than the niche Narrativist game that is Burning Wheel.
The result is a short Introduction chapter that actually conveys all the vital information about what roleplaying is, how Mouse Guard fits into the hobby, and what some of the basic “best practices” in roleplaying are. Here's a section I wish had been in the AD&D books I played as a kid:
Mouse Guard posted:
As you're playing your character, be polite and respectful to everyone else at the table. If your character is angry, you should not use that as an excuse to be angry or mean to the other players. Make sure that everyone gets a chance to speak; make sure that everyone gets a chance to be in the spotlight. When someone has the dice and is about to roll, the rest of the table must be quiet and attentive. It's that player's turn to add to the story. Before he rolls, he gets to describe what his character is doing. Everyone stops, listens and supports him.
You'd think this sort of thing would be intuitive - basic, common-sense social niceties. But as grognards.txt and the Worst Moments in Gaming threads can attest, gamers are bad at common-sense social niceties. You have to wonder whether it would be different if AD&D and its successors spend more time on teaching people to play well with others and less time on grappling modifiers.
Getting off my high horse for a minute, we're also told that Mouse Guard is a d6 dice pool system with success counting. Tests involves rolling a number of dice equal to a Skill or Ability and counting the number of dice that come up 4, 5 or 6 as successes, attempting to meet or beat an obstacle number either set by the GM or by the successes of another character. What it doesn't tell you is that most obstacles are too high to be met by a single mouse unless they're a serious expert: teamwork is one of Mouse Guard's big themes, so you're going to need a little help from your friends.
Finally, we're given a short note on comics canon and Mouse Guard RPG canon:
Mouse Guard posted:
When designing and writing this game, I tried to take my inspiration and cues directly from the Mouse Guard comics. Comics and games are two different mediums, but I the rules for this game, I pretend that the comics are a game. I imagine the characters are controlled by players. This way, the action in the comics stands as a great example of how you can play the game.
There's a reason this is in here. Fans of the comics who pick up the Mouse Guard RPG may wonder why there's no mention of the mice being subjugated by Fox and Hawk back in the day, or of the Wythrasher sparrow cavalry. Aside from the fact that Legends of the Guard hadn't been written yet, my understanding is that Luke prefers a canon where mice and weasels are the “cultural” creatures in the Territories and may be the only sapient ones, but he acknowledges that not everyone shares his preferences. Some games are going to stick strictly with the RPG material, while others are going to trend the way the comics seem to and allow most birds and mammals some degree of intelligence and language, however obscure. If you want a veritable Dr. Doolittle menagerie of talking animals it's your call, but the game assumes that mice, weasels, bats, hares, and at least some old owls can speak. In short, Your Territories Will Vary.
Up next: a brief history of the Mouse Guard, and the elements of a character.
Doc Hawkins posted:
You might be surprised at the kinds of people who are willing to play an RPG for the first time if it does not involve dungeons, hit points, scads of dice, etc., etc.
I mentioned above that Mouse Guard is big with the generation of roleplayers who are raising their own little gamers, or who are otherwise in a position to run games for kids like after-school programs. I've had the opportunity to run Mouse Guard for kids a few times, and it really does work. As long as they're old enough to read Redwall on their own and not so old that they've hit the "liking talking animals makes me uncool" phase, Mouse Guard can be a big hit.
I'm going to preach for a moment here. Roleplaying is a hobby that spreads from person to person; there can't be many tabletop gamers who got into it because they saw it on a comic store shelf. Every one of us who wants this hobby to thrive, to increase the diversity not only of its player-base but of its ideas, owes it to themselves to try to spread our love of gaming to others. Games like Fiasco and other short-form indie games are perfect for this because they're so accessible, and they're easily playable in an evening. Mouse Guard is a more significant investment, but the presentation makes it remarkably easy to pick up even for young kids. Do yourself and our hobby a favor and show other people how great this thing we do is, and run games for people , or give the books as gifts to people who might have an interest. Just because someone doesn't play now doesn't mean they never will - maybe they just haven't found their game yet.
The Mouse GuardOriginal SA post
Chapter 2: The Mouse Guard
This is a chapter in two parts. First we're given a brief history of the Territories, the Mouse Guard and their fortress-city of Lockhaven. Next we're given the mechanical makeup of a character and how the PCs fit into the setting, but it's not until almost 300 pages later in Recruitment , the very last chapter, that we're told how to actually make a character. It's assumed that most people are going to play the sample characters from the pre-generated Missions, or pick a Template character to customize. This makes sense given the target audience, but for our purposes we're going to skip around a bit.
Part One: A Brief History of the Mouse Guard
Mouse Guard posted:
The Mouse Guard undertakes its duties as sacred obligations. If every mouse in the Territories turned their back on them, these selfless guardians would still spend their last breath defending and protecting them.
Back in the day, everything was terrible.
Mice were prey. They were at the mercy of the elements and the seasons. They held territory only so long as something larger and less friendly didn't happen along. They were, in short, essentially mousey . Eventually, a few mouse communities got fed up with being near the bottom of the food chain and decided to do something about it. Banding together, they carved out a hidden, defensible settlement in the face of a rock wall and began bringing in survivors. Surrounded by impenetrable stone walls, garrisoned by a volunteer militia and supplied by underground streams and deep granaries, it was the mouse equivalent of a well-built Dwarf Fortress settlement. They called it Lockhaven.
Over time, the Lockhaven mice discovered that they weren't the only ones to figure out this whole “civilization” deal. Other communities had sprung up throughout what were now known as the Mouse Territories. They were smaller and mostly less defensible than Lockhaven, but fiercely independent: they would never willingly incorporate into Lockhaven or abandon what they had built. As a sidenote, this is a theme of Mouse Guard: mice are both clannish and skittish, which makes their politics difficult. It's hard for them to build coalitions when their natures are telling them to hoard their resources and keep their heads low. This is mechanically supported, as we'll see later.
This sparked a debate as to whether to leave the outsiders to their fates or bring them under Lockhaven's control by force for their own good. Eventually, they settled on using the strength of Lockhaven to protect the rest of the Territories. Its militia blazed trails, patrolled the roads, delivered mail and supplies, fought off predators, and generally did the heavy lifting for the Territories, which began to thrive. They became the Mouse Guard. Over time, Lockhaven transformed from a city into a fortress dedicated to the logistical needs of the Guard.
As a final note on Lockhaven, we're also told that in addition to its vast stores of food, Lockhaven keeps a hive of bees tended to by dedicated apiarists who charm the bees with smoke. In addition to providing honey and wax, the bees can be unleashed on Lockhaven's enemies in case of emergency .
Pictured above: Lockhaven. Not pictured: beeeeeeeees.
The Guard is overseen by a female captain known as the Matriarch who doubles as governor of Lockhaven. As the head of the only serious military force in the Territories, she's also something like the Secretary of Defense for the loose confederation of mouse city-states. The current Matriarch, Gwendolyn, is a canny old gal who has seen the Territories through a brutal war with the neighboring weasels of Darkheather (Oh yes, there are weasels - big flesh-eating weasels).
By treaty, the Guard are the final authority in the wilderness between cities, but they have no more authority in the settlements than any other mouse. The settlements are also supposed to help Lockhaven supply the Guard, which has grown larger than any one city can support, but they aren't obligated per se: technically the Guard is supposed to be self-sufficient.
We're also given the Guard's Oath which binds a mouse into service:
Mouse Guard posted:
We as Guard offer all that we are to protect the sanctity of our species, the freedom of our kin, and the honor of our ancestors.
With knowledge, sword and shield, we do these deeds, never putting a lone mouse above the needs of all, or the desire of self above another.
We strive for no less than to serve the greatest good.
The duties of the Guard take up a couple of pages, but it mostly consists of traveling the wilderness while maintaining trails, keeping the roads safe, delivering mail, scouting for natural dangers like predators or dangerous weather and less natural dangers like incursions from the weasel burrows in Darkheather. Since the Guard is ostensibly neutral, guardmice are also expected to act as mediators in disputes between settlements and sometimes between individual mice. Finally, the Guard maintains the Scent Border, a miracle of mouse science (yes, this is a thing) which keeps most large predators like wolves and foxes out of the Territories. As long as the Guard patch the Border up a couple of times a year the Territories stay free of their worst predators. This is good because as we'll see later, even a single fox can be a nightmarish threat to mouse settlements, and a bear who wants to claw your tree-city open for its delicious honey is basically Godzilla.
Part 2: The Patrol
Mouse Guard posted:
Hail all those who are able,
any mouse can,
any mouse will,
but the Guard prevail.
Now we're in to the mechanical guts of a character, although the text doesn't actually tell us that yet – it's going to be a long, long time before it shows us how to calculate the stats it describes. This is deliberate. The text makes it clear that it's going to introduce us to the game in a certain order that's supposed to make it easier to absorb. For RPG veterans this layout can get a bit tiresome, but it's a godsend for a newbie trying to grok the game on their own.
There's a lot of bits and pieces that go into a guardmouse. I'm going to summarize them here with more in-depth mechanical coverage later on.
. Mouse names are vaguely Saxon or Celtic, like Ingrid, Brynn, Cale or Aengus, or taken from nature like Jasper, Lily, or Clove.
. Here's where Mouse Guard gets a bit more fantasy: mice seem to live quite a long time, as their years are definitely measured the way ours are, and they live well past 60. A new recruit to the Guard is a
, and they can join up between 14 and 18. Younger mice have a higher Health and more special Traits to play with, while older mice have a higher Will and more Skills.
Seriously though, this has no mechanical effect whatsoever.
. There are eight major settlements in the Territories, and each of them gives a mouse who grows up there a leg up in certain Skills and Traits. A Lockhaven mouse might start play with the Armorer Skill and Guard's Honor Trait for free, for example, while a mouse from Sprucetuck might start out with the Scientist
Skill and the Inquisitive Trait.
. Like your Home, your parents give you Skills based on their profession, as we're told that “nearly every mouse in the Territories takes up his mother's or father's work.” Just as importantly, living parents give you a safe haven and source of supplies during play which can let you recover from adverse Conditions.
you apprenticed under as a tenderpaw in the Guard. The artisans pass on the skills necessary to keep the Guard self-sufficient(ish) to every new recruit. In play they're a source of yet more Skills and another source of aid and supplies.
Friend / Ally
. This is just what it sounds like. You've got a pal in or out of the Guard who will always try to help you if asked.
Enemy / Rival
. Someone's out to get you. This isn't necessarily a cackling villain or bloody-minded nemesis – it's more likely a rather ordinary person you've just managed to get on the wrong side of who persistently causes you trouble.
. Someone in the Guard took you under their wing as a tenderpaw and showed you the ropes. Their personal take on a guardmouse's duties gives you one of their Skills, and they're probably going to be a friend for life and an ally in the Guard.
from tenderpaw to to captain. Tenderpaws are rookies who would barely be trusted to tie their own boots if mice wore any; guardmice are the “line infantry” of the Guard; patrol guards are the grizzled sergeants who are occasionally trusted with solo missions; patrol leaders are guards who've demonstrated enough judgment and teaching skills to be trusted with a patrol; guard captains' roles are a bit ambiguous, but they seem to have authority over multiple patrols and act as advisors to the Matriarch.
cloak racis – nevermind. Guardmice wear long, colorful cloaks of a particular cut both as symbols of their affiliation and to represent some aspect of their personality. If you've played
Dogs in the Vineyard
, it's basically the same as the Dogs' coat. No mechanical effects here, but it's a nice bit of color.
A brief aside. If it seems like there's a lot of non-mechanical “fluff” in what's supposed to be the character sheet section, you're half-right. Luke Crane writes games where characters' history and interpersonal relationships are a big deal, and the Mouse Guard comics are full of wise mentors and old friendships. Most of this stuff – with the exception of name, fur color and cloak color – should end up being relevant in play if your GM is doing her job.
The next three elements of a character might also seem like non-mechanical fluff. They're not. More than anything else, they are the character. Beliefs, Instincts and Goals are the subject of the next chapter, so for now we'll keep it short.
Every guardmouse has a Belief . Here's some of what the book has to say about these:
Mouse Guard posted:
A Belief is an ethical or moral statement that encompasses how the character views his world. It is also a way for the player to explore the Mouse Guard world.
In the very first issue of the comic, Kenzie tells Lieam his Belief, taken from one of the Guard's mottoes: “It matters not what you fight, but what you fight for .” This statement informs all of Kenzie's decisions. He is fighting for a higher purpose – not glory or personal success – but for the honor of the Guard and the safety of the Territories.
Beliefs are a huge deal in Mouse Guard. The book calls them an ideal you live up to, but there's another element to them that's a bit too “RPG Theory” for it to address in a text directed at new gamers: Beliefs tell everyone else what you want the game to be like, and in doing so they shape the play. More on that in Chapter 3. For now, just remember that playing your Belief results in an expendable resource that lets you fudge dice rolls.
Guardmice also have a Goal which is specific to the Mission they're on. Goals are a concrete objective for the Mission at hand which can be achieved in a single session, something like “I must find evidence that will determine if the grain peddler is a traitor or not.” Like Beliefs, addressing your Goal results in dice-manipulation bennies.
The final component of the “big three” character elements are Instincts. Here's the book again:
Mouse Guard posted:
An Instinct in this game is a habit or reaction. It's something that the character always does. If someone were describing your character, they'd probably mention this about him.
The example Instinct is ”Never delay when on a mission, but a lot of Instincts are more task-oriented or preparatory. For example, a character with the Instinct “Always keep an arrow nocked when I'm on patrol” bypasses all of those quibbling interactions we've all had at the table when an ambush happens. “I shoot the snake!” “No you don't, you're surprised, you need to draw an arrow first.” “Nope, see the Instinct?” “Ah-hah. Right, you shoot the snake.” When you play your Instinct, you get a reward similar to the ones above. Again, more details later.
Rounding out a guardmouse are the hard numbers, the stats and skills we expect to see on an RPG character. They are:
: This is a strange one. Every animal in Mouse Guard has a Nature score which represents their “natural qualities and tendencies.” The higher the stat, the more “like” that animal you are and the better you are at doing what your Nature compels you to do. Most animals have a static score, so an owl is always going to have Owl Nature 7 and be good at flying and quietly killing small furry things. Mice are different. By establishing civilization they are often working against their Mouse Nature, which compels them to
Escape, Climb, Hide
. The more “human” a mouse acts, the lower their Nature. The more “mousey'” they are, the higher their Nature. Extremes of either, however, can remove a character from play entirely when a mouse becomes either “too thoughtful and fixated on big ideas” (Nature 0) or too mouselike and settled (Nature 7) to be active in the Guard.
: The all-purpose mental, social and willpower stat. You mostly roll this whenever you lack a more applicable Skill or to recover from certain Conditions. The older the mouse, the better their Will.
: The all-purpose physical strength and well-being stat. Like Will, Health comes out when there's not an applicable Skill or during recovery. The younger the mouse, the better their Health.
: The “get things” stat. Resources represents your ability to acquire material goods through wealth, favors owed, an eye for a bargain, and so on. Resources is rated from 0 to 10.
: The “find someone” stat, and my personal favorite attribute in both Mouse Guard and Burning Wheel. Testing your Circles lets you create an NPC out of thin air. Failed Circles tests also have some of the most fun, story-driving consequences in the game in the form of the dreaded
, which gives you more than what you bargained for.
: Exactly what you'd expect. There are 34 skills in Mouse Guard, and you can start with up to 12 of them. Most are what you'd expect, like Hunter, Survivalist and Fighter, but there's also a fair mix of “craft” and social skills in there. Older mice start out with a pile of skills, but they pay for it with reduced Health and Traits. We'll be spending most of a chapter on these later.
: Technically a type of Skill, Wises deserve their own bullet. Wises are custom skills that represent specialized knowledge. You can test them to get information about the Wise topic, to create new information about it yourself, or to straight-up add a die to a related roll. If you have
, for example, you could test it to say that the owls of the Territory prefer to nest in a specific area of the forest which you subsequently avoid.
: The quirks and attributes that make a mouse unique, like Determined, Fearless, Scarred, and Weather Wise. Traits can add dice to a roll or allow you to reroll failed dice on a test depending on the Trait's rating. Just as often you'll use them
yourself to build up a resource (“checks”) that let you get more out of your downtime. Again, Traits have their own chapter later on.
The rating of a stat or skill is the number of dice rolled when it's tested. Nature is rated from 0 to 7. Health and Will are rated from 1 to 6. Resources and Circles are rated from 0 to 10. Skills are rated from 0 to 6, with 3 as the baseline for reasonable competency.
Gear for a guardmouse is pretty simple. They're small and can't carry much, so you can have whatever fits into the Gear space on your character sheet, which is a roughly 2”x6” rectangle with a faint sketch of a guardmouse inside for the artistically challenged. Gear adds a simple +1D to any test where it's applicable. The only exceptions are weapons, which have their own special rules in the Resolution chapter.
We also get the first mention of Conditions in this chapter. By default a mouse is in Healthy Condition, but over the course of a Mission the consequences of failed tests starts to wear them down. Mice can become Hungry, Thirsty, Tired, Angry, Sick, and Injured depending on how a Mission goes, each of which penalizes certain rolls. Conditions all stack, so a mouse in bad shape can become incapacitated fairly quickly if they don't get some downtime.
The end of the chapter introduces the reward cycle of the game: playing your Belief, Goal and Traits for dice-manipulating bennies. I'm going to go into detail on these in the next chapter, so I'll skip this part for now for organization's sake.
Chapter 2 finishes up with character sheets for three of the four main characters from the Mouse Guard comics – Kenzie, Saxon and Lieam – with the fourth, Sadie, getting presented earlier on. The book uses them for its mechanical examples, but we'll be doing something different.
Audience participation time!
Let's build our Guardmouse, who I'll use for mechanical examples in future posts. I know you folks don't have a lot of the tools and context you need to work with, so let's keep it simple for now:
What rank is our Guardmouse? A rookie tenderpaw? Full-fledged guardmouse? Grizzled patrol guard? Experienced patrol leader? Commanding guard captain?
What are we best at? From the “Duties” section above, pick a task or two the Guard are expected to perform that our mouse is a real pro at. I'll take it from there.
Optional: What is our Wise? Name a thing we're Wise about. Owl-wise? Forests-wise? Forest Fires -wise? Blizzard-wise? Anything goes.
Add any other details you like, but the first two are enough to get us started.
Next time: Character creation!
Recruitment 1Original SA post
Chapter 12: Recruitment
Mouse Guard posted:
Let this stone always stand for safety and prosperity.
Let it be your conviction, your pride, your home.
- Dedication recited to new Guardmice upon entering Lockhaven.
Yes, that's right, Chapter 12. Technically we're skipping about 90% of the book, but I'm reasonably confident that everyone reading this thread is an RPG veteran so we can detour from Luke Crane's lovingly crafted text structure and get to what people really want to see: making mice with swords.
There's another reason I'm skipping around like this, however. I made a big deal out of how important the Belief, Instinct and Goal (aka BIGs) are in the last post, and Chapter 3 deals with those in detail. You can't make BIGs without a character in hand, and you can't finish a character without BIGs, so for our purposes this will flow more naturally if we make the mechanical outlines of a character and then flesh it out in Chapter 3 with a Belief, Instinct and Goal.
As I mentioned upthread, Mouse Guard expressly forbids you from making characters in isolation. The whole patrol gets created at once, with every player answering the questions posed at each step before the group moves on. We could cheat and assume we're building a character for an existing patrol, but we need multiple mice for some of the mechanics examples anyway.
Right. Let's get started.
All we need to start is a rough sketch. The book suggests starting with age and specialty, which is what we've already done.
We'll be building a two-mouse patrol based on the concepts given by Dinictus and Dzurlord: a tenderpaw scout with some experience with fires, and a more experienced guardmouse known as a mediator and courier who knows the fastest route to anywhere.
Names come near the end, but for the sake of clarity I'm going to do it here. Let's call our tenderpaw Connor and our veteran guard Serra.
This is the most mechanically-influential decision you make in character creation. The rank of a guardmouse determines – or at least sets the baseline for – a whole host of stats and skills.
The first thing a group needs to decide rank-wise is who's going to be the patrol leader. You always need one, and you can't have more than one outside of special circumstances like a pair of patrol leaders training a pair of tenderpaws, or the leaders of multiple destroyed patrols temporarily joining forces. Fortunately our patrol is simple: one patrol leader training up one tenderpaw.
Mouse Age and Ability
Based on our rank, we get our base stats from a simple table. Tenderpaw Connor is somewhere between 14 and 17 years old, and he starts with Will 2 and Health 6. Patrol Leader Serra is between 21 and 60, and she starts with Will 5, Health 4. We'll say Connor is 15, young even by the standards of the Guard, but promising enough to be assigned to Serra for one-on-one training. Serra's an old whitefur, closer to 60 than 50, still spry and quick-witted but knowing she needs to start looking for someone to pass on her knowledge to.
Remember Nature, that weird stat that determines how mousey / hawky / snapping-turtle-y you are? We're calculating it here. We haven't gotten to the full Nature mechanics yet, but here's a spoiler: Nature can be “tapped” to add a pile of extra dice to do things that your species' Nature implies, like hiding and foraging for Mouse Nature, but if it gets too high or too low it can temporarily take you out of the game.
Mice start with Nature 3 and answer a series of questions to determine their starting Nature.
If you save for winter even if it means going without now, +1 Nature and you can't take the traits Bold or Generous.
If you run and hide instead of standing your ground when confronted, +1 Nature and -1 to your starting Fighter skill if you have it.
- If you fear owls, weasels and wolves, +1 Nature and you can't take the Fearless trait.
How do our mice answer these questions?
Connor is young and impetuous, but he's barely out of the house at this point and I feel like the lessons of preparedness and frugality his parents taught him are still sticking around. He saves for winter even in spring. +1 Nature. Whitefur Serra is old enough to know the value of a stocked larder, but life on the trails has taught her to use what you have when you have it. No change.
We know Connor ends up with Fire-wise, and that suggests to me that Connor stands his ground. No change to Nature. Serra hasn't gotten to a ripe old age by fighting every weasel and toad that happens along, so she'll take the +1 Nature.
Connor has probably never seen an owl, weasel or wolf. He's not afraid of them – but he should be. No change to Nature. By contrast, Serra fought in the Winter War with the Darkheather weasels, and she has a healthy respect for their cunning and brutality. She's also seen what happens when the Scent Border fails and lets big predators into the Territories, so she knows well enough to fear them. +1 Nature.
At the end of all this, Connor is at Nature 4, Serra at Nature 5. This is pretty typical: you rarely see a guardmouse start play with Nature 6.
Where Were You Born?
The Territories .
Every mouse settlement imparts some skills and traits to its residents. Each entry has two or three skills and one or two traits, and you pick one of each. I don't have a preference here and want to be surprised, so I pick settlements at random.
Connor comes from Port Sumac, a port town in the eastern Territories close to the Scent Border. Mice from Port Sumac have access to the Boatcrafting and Weather Watcher skills and the Tough and Weather Sense traits. I'll pick Weather Watcher and Tough and put a check next to them on the character sheet.
Serra comes from Sprucetuck, the tree-city home of the Territories' best sciencemice. Sprucetuck mice can check the Scientist and Loremouse skills and the Inquisitive and Rational traits. I check Loremouse and Inquisitive. Don't worry fans, I'll be revisiting the Scientist skill later.
This a long section containing several sub-sections. It vaguely resembles a “lifepath” system ala Burning Wheel or Traveller, but without the mindboggling detail or the possibility of dying in a fusion core breach during character creation. The idea here is that we're going to answer questions about the past, each of which will put “checks” next to some skills. The starting rating of a skill is 1 + the number of times you checked it to a maximum of 6. At the end we'll have a fully developed skill list, and we'll know why each skill is at that rating, too.
CharOp Sidenote: Tests in Mouse Guard are hard. Obstacles are commonly in the 2 or 3 range, which means you need at least 2 or 3 dice in your pool to come up 4, 5, or 6. Even with a skill maxed out at 6, odds are you fail a lot. This is by design. It forces patrols to coordinate and find creative solutions to their problems with the Help rules, which we'll get to later. That said, it's best practices to have at least one skill at 4 or 5, preferably a second at 4, then diversify heavily if you can so you can be as Helpful as possible to your patrol.
Pick an area in which you're naturally talented.
This is the easy one. Our Tenderpaw can choose two skills from the big list, our patrol leader can choose one.
Connor checks Scout and Fighter. His sharp eye is what put him with Serra in the first place, and he's a scrappy little guy.
Serra checks Pathfinder. This is what she does after all.
What was your parents' trade?
Again, tenderpaw chooses two, patrol leader chooses one. This is a more restricted skill list, consisting of trade skills like Apiarist (beeees), Harvester and Stonemason.
Our tenderpaw can stack those two checks, but for diversity's sake we'll split them up. One more check on Boatcrafter and one to open Carpenter from mom and dad respectively.
Our patrol leader only gets one choice, and it goes straight into Cartographer. Mom and dad just loved maps.
How do you convince people that you're right or to do what you need?
There's only three choices here: Deceiver, Orator, or Persuader, the social skills of Mouse Guard. Deceiver includes intimidation and platitudes so it's not quite as Wormtongue as it sounds, but it's got a social stigma attached. This time our patrol leader chooses two and our tenderpaw chooses one.
Connor checks Orator. I'm starting to get a feel for this character, and it sounds like he's the ~*~ inspiring young hero ~*~ type.
Serra checks Persuader twice. We know she's conflict-averse, and this fits her style.
With whom did you apprentice for the Guard? What was that mouse's trade?
More trade skills, this time relating to meeting the material needs of the Guard. Everyone gets one check here, and your choice is noted for when you create your Senior Artisan.
Connor's Boatcrafter skill isn't much use to the landlocked artisans of Lockhaven, so he'll put another check on Carpenter. Thanks, dad!
Serra puts another check on Cartographer. The Guard is constantly updating its maps to account for changes in the forest terrain.
What did your mentor stress in training?
Tenderpaws get a few seasons of hands-on field training under a patrol leader before they get promoted to guardmouse. The skills their mentor emphasizes – or, in the case of patrol leaders, are currently emphasizing to their charges – is a big deal for a guardmouse. This time, both characters get two checks to spend.
Based on the character concepts, we know Serra is going to emphasize trailblazing and similar skills for her trainee, so we'll give Connor checks on Pathfinder and Scout.
Serra's own mentor, way back in the day, probably set her on the path she's on now. There were certainly other lessons learned, but Pathfinder is what she's passing on to Connor as well, so we'll emphasize it with two checks.
What kind of experience do you have in the Guard?
Skill bonanza time. This is where your choice of Guard Rank starts to tell. Our Tenderpaw can spend three checks on the list of Guard-related skills, while our experienced patrol leader has a whopping nine to burn.
Connor throws a point each into Scout, Pathfinder and Fighter. He's got some basic competency in his scout / courier duties now.
Serra has all the checks . She drops two each in Persuader and Survivalist, three in Scout and one more in Pathfinder, making her a serious outdoorsmouse, and one check in Instructor so she can pass on what she knows.
What's Your Specialty?
Last one! Our tenderpaw is too green to have a specialty, but patrol leader Serra gets one more check to spend on the Guard skill list. Specialties have to be unique within a patrol, but that's not an issue for us. She'll throw one more check on Pathfinder because damnit, we're going to be good at this.
Now all that's left for skills is to tally it up. Here's where we stand:
Weather Watcher 2
Serra, Patrol Leader
This section ran longer than I'd anticipated because I like words, so I'm going to finish up the rest of character creation in a follow-up post. It also occurs to me that my being so goddamned about this may make it seem more time-consuming or complicated than it actually is, so I'm going to use the concept Dereku posted and see how long it takes to make a mouse when I'm not writing commentary. Yes, yes, I'm breaking the first law of character creation, but It should at least be an interesting experiment.
Next time: Finishing up character creation, including Wises, Traits, and people who want us to suffer.
Recruitment 2Original SA post
Chapter 12: Recruitment, Part II
Time to finish off these mice -or at least as close as we're going to get until we fill in the all-important Beliefs, Instincts and Goals in the next post.
We still have one more sub-section of “Life Experience” to get to, but I love Wises to death and am mad with power so I'm going to elevate it to its own section.
What are you particularly knowledgeable about?
Wises are skills, but they're strange skills. They represent a body of specialized knowledge, often about esoteric or idiosyncratic subjects. The 34 main skills in Mouse Guard give you a pretty good idea of what life in the Territories is like: when Apiarist and Glazier are considered major skills in the setting, life's probably on the quiet side for mice who aren't in the Guard. But the Guard are constantly living, as the saying goes, in interesting times, and they pick up some unusual skills as a result.
From a more practical character creation perspective, Wises are what you buy when you want to spice up a character's skill set or highlight something important in their background. If your concept includes surviving a vicious storm, for example, taking Storm-wise or Foul Weather-wise can bring that into play in a concrete manner. Wises also break the skill rules in some interesting ways, but that gets its own coverage elsewhere. For now we're focusing on what they can do for the character concept.
As with other skills, your Guard Rank determines how many checks you get to throw at Wises. Our tenderpaw gets one, while our patrol leader gets four. There's a big list of Wises to choose from, or you can make up your own for a town, an animal, a group or specific person, or just about anything else you want. Ours will stay pretty traditional, but you can get crazy with Wises if you want.
Connor's Wise was dictated in his character concept: Fire-wise. Man do I love that one.
Serra's Wises are also hinted at in the concept. She's all about getting from one place to another quickly, so we'll spend two of her checks on Shortcut-wise and another on Trail-wise. The final point goes into Predator-wise, because going off the beaten track that much (and surviving) is bound to teach you a few things about how not to get eaten.
Now we find our pay grade. Tenderpaws start with Resources 1, while our patrol leader starts with Resources 4. From there we answer more questions to find out what our starting Resources are.
If you practice a trade in winter for the Guard, +1 Resources. Downside is that you need to actually have a trade, and this may limit what you can do in the Winter Session downtime.
If your parents practice a lucrative trade like smithing, apiary or politics, you are a privileged oppressor of the people and get +1 Resources.
If you like to buy gifts for people, -1 Resources but you're not Mouse Scrooge. If you're thrifty, +1 Resources and you can't take the Generous trait.
If you've ever been in debt or spend all your money on ale and whores, -1 Resources.
- If you always pack carefully for a journey, +1 Resources but you can't take the Bold or Fiery traits.
Connor hasn't settled in to a trade for the Guard and his parents aren't particularly wealthy. He's a kid getting his first paycheck, so I can't see him being especially thrifty either. Fortunately he's too young to have a history of profligate spending, but he's also not the type to pack carefully for a journey either – he's too green to even know what to take half the time. All told, Connor is sitting at Resources 0. We can increase this in-game, but it'll take some help.
Serra is a different story. She practices Cartography for the Guard during the Winter, updating the old maps and working with the Loremice. She's a solitary creature who's spent most of her life in the Guard and outlived her friends, so her pay just piles up, and she's rarely in a settlement long enough to spend it. Besides, ale and whores are for younger mice. Finally, this old veteran definitely packs carefully for every journey. Serra has a solid Resources 7, and Connor has a sugar mama.
Ah, Circles, the “Who you know” stat for creating NPCs out of whole cloth. As with Resources, tenderpaws start with Circles 1 and patrol leaders with Circles 3. There are even more questions here, but there's quite a few of them and it makes me vaguely uncomfortable reprinting large portions of the book verbatim, so I'm going to summarize the results.
Actually, I'm going to make one exception because it amuses me:
Mouse Guard posted:
Is your character a loner, tough and cool?
If so, reduce Circles by 1. You may not take the Extrovert trait.
Connor's an outgoing sort who makes friends easily, but he doesn't have any ties to the Guard beyond simple enlistment and still has a lot to prove. He starts with Circles 2.
Serra is almost the exact opposite. She's a gruff old gal with a long history in the Guard, including some decorated actions in the Winter War. She's made an enemy of an especially vicious weasel Tunnel Lord after her ambush cost him his war party and an eye, and to her misfortune he survived the War. She'll start with Circles 4.
Traits make you a special snowflake. If you have a trait, it's probably how people describe you. You're not just Clever, you're The Nimble One, and so on. Traits have three ranks, purchasable with checks or earned in-game, which give you bonus dice or let you re-roll failed dice when the trait would be applicable. Our guardmice already have some traits: Connor has Tough (1) and Serra has Inquisitive (1). Now we'll select more from some Lifepath-esque lists.
Choose a quality you were born with.
Every mouse gets one free check to spend on a trait. Connor's concept suggests he has something of the born leader in him, so we'll give him Leader straight-up. Serra's intellect is something we've touch on but haven't brought in mechanically, so she'll get Quick-Witted.
Choose something you learned or inherited from your parents.
Only tenderpaws get this one, and the list is shorter than others, but it's got some good choices on it. We'll say Connor gets “Brave” from his boatwright mother.
Life on the Road
Patrol leaders and guard captains get to pick a trait from a more adventure- and hardship-oriented trait list. Serra's age is an important part of the character, so she'll get Oldfur.
Normally we'd choose a name here, but we've done that already, so it's on to –
Cosmetic details, woo. Seriously though, for the sake of color coordination we'll say Connor is a black-coat to contrast Serra's white and call it good.
We know a fair bit about the parents of our characters. Now we name them and put them on the character sheet proper.
Connor's folks are Vidar and Clove. Serra's parents should probably be deceased by now, but for the sake of completion we'll go with Faolan and Kearra.
This is the one our mice apprenticed under in their first seasons in the Guard. For Connor that's Veira the Carpenter; for Serra it's Thurstan the Cartographer.
Our first teacher in the Guard. Tenderpaws have to pick the patrol leader PC in their group, so that's easy enough. Serra's mentor who taught her pathfinding and the hidden ways of the Territories is Captain Gurney. The ancient mouse is now one of Matriarch Gwendolyn's advisors, but he never leaves Lockhaven.
Now we need a friend or ally, a BFF who will come through for us no matter what. They need a name, a profession or specialty, a place of residence, and how they relate to the character.
Connor's Friend is Gale, a tomboy friend from childhood who moved from Port Sumac to the remote outpost of Pebblebrook on the weasel-haunted western border near Darkheather. Gale couldn't abide the rigid hierarchy of the Guard, but she has enough woodcraft to make herself useful to the Pebblebrook mice, and she's the best shot with a sling in the region. Connor and Gale were inseparable as kids and they've kept in touch by letter since they parted ways.
Serra's Friend is Sloan, a sciencemouse who's the son of an old patrol member, now deceased. Sloan thinks of Serra as a beloved aunt, and the two of them have spent a lot of time in the wilderness working on Sloan's obscure projects. Sloan's home base is in Sprucetuck, but he spends a lot of time on the road collecting specimens and trying to figure out things like why his latest mixture is attracting wasps instead of deflecting them.
Not every mouse in the Guard has someone who's out to get them, but every player-character sure does. Like Friends, your Enemy needs a name, an occupation or specialty, a place of residence, and a reason why they hate your guts. Enemies should be mice, because that makes them harder to get rid of. You can always kill a weasel or a hawk with enough effort, but the Mayor of Shaleburrow is going to be harder to deal with.
Connor's enemy goes all the way back to Fire-wise. Before he joined the Guard, Connor rescued some mice trapped by a wildfire, but was forced to leave behind the grievously injured wife of Brand, the dockmaster of Port Sumac. The man holds Connor a grudge, believing that the boy chose to leave his wife behind as revenge for some slight against Connor's family.
Serra's enemy is Noelan, the son of a merchant family out of Copperwood. Early in her career, Serra arbitrated a dispute between two merchants. Her decision was made with the best of intentions, but it had unintended consequences which led to the slow, painful decline of Noelan's family. It's been decades since, and Noelan has rebuilt his family fortune, ironically, by supplying the Guard with metal for their voracious forges. Word is he's looking to settle the score before old Serra can retire.
The color of a guardmouse's cloak represent some quality their mentor saw in them and considered worth displaying to the world. Tenderpaws haven't been formally inducted into the Guard yet, so Connor doesn't get a colored cloak. He'll earn it in play, and Serra's player will choose its color when the time comes. Serra's cloak is a dark blue-grey, which Gurney felt represented hidden depths in his student.
Technically we do Beliefs, Instincts and Goals before this, but those are being saved for next time. As mentioned earlier, you can carry whatever gear fits in the space alloted to write it down, plus a weapon; there's no resource points or gear lists to comb over. Most guardmice travel light.
Connor's weapon is the sword. He routinely carries some Light Armor, a little compass, and some rope. You can never have too much rope.
Serra's weapon is the bow. She carries maps and map-making tools, spare rations and water, and an assortment of small tools like a carving knife and tinderbox to use with the Survivalist skill.
We made it! Here's what our guardmice look like now on the form-fillable character worksheets:
Jesus. I wrote 4000 words about this, and it's contained in two pages with giant fonts. Welp.
All that's left for these characters is their Beliefs, Instincts and Goals, which are the subject of Chapter 4: What We Fight For.
Next Time: The three most important things on the character sheet, plus the Mouse Guard reward cycle.
Sidenote: Character Creation Speed-Run Challenge
As promised, I did a speedrun of character creation from scratch using the book, paper and pen and timed it. From concept (inspired by dereku and merged into a tenderpaw version of Lemon Curdistan's idea) to gear, it took 14 minutes 32 seconds. Granted, I can crank these out pretty quickly and character creation always goes at the rate of the slowest player in any given section, but that's not bad.
I've actually grown rather fond of this character, so our two-mouse patrol may be joined by a weasel-fightin' spearmouse when it comes time to go over the Conflict system. Thanks, dereku and Lemon Curdistan!
It's What We Fight ForOriginal SA post
Chapter 4: It's What We Fight For
At eight pages long, Chapter 4 is tied with the Introduction for shortest chapter in the book. It's also arguably the most important, so it's going to get a disproportionate to pagecount ratio. Chapter 4 is about Beliefs, Instincts and Goals (BIGs) and the reward cycle of Mouse Guard. We'll be finishing up our sample characters here, too. I'm also going to make some comparisons to Burning Wheel for readers who've played that game but haven't gotten around to Mouse Guard yet, because there's some interesting differences between the way BW and MG handle what at first glance look like the same mechanics.
First up are Beliefs. I'm going to quote from the book a fair amount this time, because the way these ideas are communicated is important and the author does a better job of it than I can.
Mouse Guard posted:
A Belief is a code or ethical stance. It's a snapshot view of how your character thinks. Sometimes you'll act in accordance with your Belief, sometimes you'll act against it.
Beliefs need to be clear, powerful statements with a potential for conflict. “The Guard is good” is a bad Belief, but “The mice of the Territories must know that the Guard is good and must be supported” is pretty hot. Beliefs are also recommended as a guide for decision-making in play. If you're not sure what you should be doing right this minute, look at your Belief and figure out what it compels you to do.
This section goes on to tell us that when we write our character's Belief we should share it with the table because – and this is the important part – Beliefs tell the other players what you're interested in and want to explore in the game. Beliefs can and will change over time, but a character's current Belief is like a spotlight on what you're interested in for the game.
RPG Theory Tangent
Beliefs, along with the Goals and Instincts we'll be looking at next, are known in theory circles as “flags.” A flag is something on your character which signals to other players and the GM that you want to address and be challenged by certain things in the game. Some games like Mouse Guard and Burning Wheel are explicit about their flags, but they're present even in games like D&D: your wizard preparing a rack of utility spells like Tenser's Floating Disc and Animate Rope is a silent signal to the rest of the table that you want obstacles to overcome with your personal cleverness and utility. If you wanted to blow shit up you'd have prepped eight flavors of Fireball and had done with it. Beliefs work the same way: someone who writes the Belief “A guardmouse thinks with her head and acts with her heart” wants situations in which she can be clever and compassionate, and possibly ones in which cleverness and compassion are set at odds with one another.
The next couple of pages – that is, a quarter of the chapter – go over this idea from different angles. It ends with a section for the GM which I'm going to put up verbatim. For context, Sadie, Saxon and Kenzie are three main characters from the comics. Sadie's Belief is the “think with your head, act with your heart” one I mentioned above.
Mouse Guard posted:
It's your job to challenge that Belief in the course of play. You present the player with situations that say, “You believe that? Cool. How about now? Do you still believe that if I push you?”
Put the character in situations where the reputation of the Guard is at stake: missions with a high public profile, for example.
Sadie's player has to make a difficult choice between what her heart wants and her head tells her. That is precisely the point of a Belief. It makes the situations in the game more gripping.
For even deeper, richer play, tie in other characters.
Saxon and Kenzie are the perfect example of this dynamic. Saxon's Belief is very direct: “The best solution is always found at the point of my sword.” Kenzie's Belief is more philosophical: “It's not what you fight, but what you fight for.”
When they encounter a problem, they both have a different idea of what should be done. This leads to tension, discussions, arguments and sometimes even fights! But it makes the characters rich and engaging.
“All right,” you say, “enough with the ~*~ roleplaying theory ~*~, what do you do with Beliefs?” We're getting to that. Beliefs tie into the reward mechanics, so playing them has a tangible, mechanical benefit which we'll see at the end of the chapter. For now though, let's revisit our sample characters.
A Burning Wheel Aside : Those of you who've played Burning Wheel may be scratching your heads right now, because Beliefs in Mouse Guard don't look like Beliefs in Burning Wheel. They're the same concept, they feed into similar rewards, but the wording is all wrong. A Burning Wheel Belief starts out with a philosophical statement like a Mouse Guard Belief, but it requires an action or a goal at the end which allows you to resolve the Belief and get the big rewards. The key word here is “goal.” Burning Wheel Beliefs were split in half for Mouse Guard, with the philosophical statement keeping the label “Belief” and the resolution-achieving action becoming the “Goal.”
Example: Building Beliefs
Our sample two-mouse patrol isn't quite done yet. Tenderpaw Connor and patrol leader Serra need Beliefs before they're ready for play.
I have a decent feel for Connor at this point. He's young, brave, outspoken, a natural leader. In short, he is every young adult fantasy protagonist ever. It's easy to fall into the trap of looking at this character and saying, “I need to write a Belief that epitomizes these qualities” and wind up with something that just restates your Traits. It's important to remember that Beliefs are out-of-character flags of player priority , not the sum total of the character's heart and soul. If I were playing Connor, I'd like to see what happens when he tries to assert himself in situations he's not equipped to handle or bucks authority he doesn't agree with. I'll write a Belief with that in mind:
The Guard will not survive without new voices and new directions.
As a setting side-note, this ties in to the Winter War and the recent Midnight debacle, two major upheavals in the order of the Territories which would have occurred in Connor's formative years. The Guard was nearly destroyed twice in the span of four years, and there are stirrings of anti-Guard sentiment among the commonfolk which have put the organization in jeopardy. This might be a Belief that sticks around on the character for a long time, or change its form radically if I hit on an appealing “new direction” for the Guard in play and decide to champion it.
Serra's a bit harder to pin down. If I were playing her I'd want to avoid the “stodgy traditionalist” thing that happens so often when someone plays a character over 35. After all, Serra grew up among scientists, and she's Inquisitive and Quick-Witted. I like the idea that Connor's earnest, youthful passion inspires her, and that she is both a literal and metaphorical pathfinder for him and others. Based on that, I come up with:
The duty of the old and the wise is to prevent past mistakes from being repeated.
This is a more philosophical Belief, similar to Kenzie's above. At some point I'd also want a Belief about the weasel Tunnel Lord who's out to get her, but this seems like a good one to start a campaign with.
As a GM I'd want to look at these Beliefs, first separately and then together, and find ways to challenge them in play. A major settlement on the Darkheather border making diplomatic overtures toward the weasels, perhaps? When the Guard inevitably finds out and responds, Connor has to figure out whether considering the possibility of peace with their ancient enemies is worth helping the settlement and potentially bringing a viper into their midst, or following the Matriarch's orders to assure peace now . Serra, who saw the horrors of the Winter War first-hand, has to decide how to counsel both the settlement and the Guard. Can they achieve a lasting peace through diplomacy, or does Darkheather understand only strength?
Your Goal is what you're going to accomplish this session. A Goal has to contain:
A statement about your character (e.g. “I will,” “I will not,”)
An action (“find,” “stop,” “protect”)
A target (“Connor,” “the weasels,” “the settlement”)
- Optionally but preferably, a condition (“quickly,” “before the storm arrives”)
Goals are created in response to the GM describing the Mission of the session, or, less typically, in response to the players setting the patrol's goal for themselves, something you'd normally see only when the patrol is acting outside the chain of command. Goals should be related to the Mission, but they don't necessarily have to be about the Mission. Valid targets include other members of the patrol, the patrol as a whole, groups or specific characters, and so on. For example, Serra's player would be a-okay with taking a Goal like “I will keep Connor out of trouble on this mission.”
Finally, Goals have to be achievable in a session, direct, and can't be something you can do right away. “Bring peace to the Territories” and “Bake a pie” are both invalid Goals, but for different reasons: one because it's more than a session long and has no direct route, the other because it's too easy and could be done right away. Besides, there's a mechanical incentive to achieving your Goals in a single session: delicious reward points, which we'll see shortly.
Like Beliefs, Goals are signs to the GM, but writ large. If a Belief is a signpost listing the mileage to cities on your route, a Goal is a huge flashing neon sign advertising something at the very next stop. GMs rely heavily on Goals to fill out the content for their sessions. Ironically (some would say perversely ), the fact that Goals are written at the table after the Mission is handed down gives the GM no prep time for Goals whatsoever. Let's just say Mouse Guard makes you good at improv GMing.
Goals are a hell of a lot easier to write than Beliefs, which is good because they'll change every session, possibly twice a session if your group runs long sessions (6+ hours). I'll skip the example here and end this section with an excerpt from “Playing Goals” which ought to be burned into the inner eyelids of everyone who plays a roleplaying game. Emphasis will be mine.
Mouse Guard posted:
In play, your GM is going to use your Goal as a guideline for what you're interested in playing during this session. Once he knows what you want to accomplish, he's going to throw obstacles in your way. A hero is defined not by what shining gem he ultimately captures, but by what obstacles he overcomes to reach his Goal.
So, when you see a hurdle in your path, run toward it. Don't avoid it. Those obstacles are the moments when you get to define yourself as a hero. Succeed or fail, it doesn't matter. You must try. And if you keep trying, you'll succeed. The only thing that can stop a guardmouse is death – and even that rarely works!
Your Instinct is a physical action you take automatically, something you always do, never do, or do in response to a specific stimulus. It's a part of who you are, a trademark action or reaction which gets you rewarded if you perform it. Some Instincts are a single physical action, like “Always draw my sword at the first sign of trouble.” Others are moments of snap decision-making, like “Never delay when on a mission.” Whatever they are, they have to be something you can do at a moment's notice, or can be assumed to always or never do all the time.
Instincts are another flag, just as direct as a Goal: someone with an Instinct like “Never delay when on a mission” wants situations to come up which would make it tempting to delay. If their mission is to reinforce the Scent Border before predators find the breach, will they take a detour to rescue a friend or hunt for an old enemy?
Beliefs and Goals can be tricky to write, but Instincts are dead easy. Think of something you want your character to do all the time , then attach an Always / Never / If-Then to it. Let's do a couple of quick ones for our example patrol.
Connor hasn't had much time to develop guardmouse Instincts yet, but we know he throws himself into harm's way to protect others. That suggests an Instinct like “Always come to the aid of mice in danger.”
Serra has had years of experience in the wild and at the negotiating table. I want an Instinct for her that can cover both equally well. Seeing her Inquisitive trrait provides the inspiration I need for the Instinct “Never commit to a course of action without knowing all the facts.”
There's not much more to Instincts than that, so it's almost time to wrap this chapter up with a look at Rewards. But first, another brief aside.
A Burning Wheel Aside: Burning Wheel players are probably not too happy with those Instincts. They'd work, but they're iffy. A BW Instinct should ideally be even more action-oriented or preparatory, and what's this nonsense about getting rewarded for performing the Instinct anyway? The classic way to describe a Burning Wheel Instinct is as an action-oriented macro, like “Always carry a knife concealed on my person.” If the Instinct gets you in trouble, like getting frisked by the palace guard and stating that yes, you're still hiding a knife on you, then you get rewarded. Mouse Guard Instincts are different. They're less about covering yourself or getting into trouble as they are about adding flavor to the character and putting up another flag for the GM.
Taken together, Beliefs, Instincts and Goals are what really drive Mouse Guard. Yes, the GM is responsible for creating missions and setting the world in motion around the PCs, but that's a more reactive role than you'd think. Missions should be designed with the Beliefs and Instincts of the patrol in mind, and Goals make GMs put on their improv hats from the word “go,” adding new elements to the mission to accommodate Goals or finding ways to address them with the content they've already prepared. In a very real sense, a group's experience with Mouse Guard is dependent largely on the strength of their BIGs and how effectively the GM addresses them.
That was a lot of words about what may seem like very fluffy concepts. But aside from flags being hugely important for roleplaying games in general, the reason BIGs are – I'm sorry – a big deal is that they reward you with Fate Points and Persona Points.
Acting on a Belief, working toward (but not accomplishing) your Goal, or playing your Instinct are worth a Fate Point at the end of the session. You can spend to open-end (or, for you Star Wars D6 players, “explode”) any dice that come up 6s on a roll, potentially allowing you to get more successes than you have dice. Because Mouse Guard tests often have brutally hard obstacle numbers, Fate Points are incredibly important and you want lots of them.
Acting against your Belief in a compelling way – making a decision that runs counter to it and acting on that decision – or accomplishing a Goal gets you Persona Points, which straight-up add dice to a roll. Spending a Persona Point also lets you channel your Nature stat, adding a pile of dice to a roll but potentially costing you points of Nature if you fail or if the act itself runs counter to Mouse Nature.
As with Fate Points, Persona Points are vital due to the difficulty of the challenges guardmice face on a regular basis. There's also an obvious synergy between the two rewards: more dice to roll means more potential exploding sixes.
There's also a few points of Persona waiting to be claimed at the end of a session. The “MVP” point goes to whoever made the roll most crucial to the success of the mission. The “Workhorse” point goes to whoever had a bunch of useful skills, made necessary but unglamorous rolls, and generally slaved away outside the spotlight. Finally there's “Embodiment” points, which are given out for excellent characterization and generally roleplaying beyond the call of duty.
This isn't the entire reward economy in Mouse Guard. Fate and Persona points keep you going during a mission and reward you for playing your BIGs, but missions aren't everything. The space between missions is at least as important, and there's a whole other reward economy that goes in there, which we'll touch on in the next chapter. Chapter 5 is a big one, by the way, so I'm going to split it up into two posts.
Next Time: Chapter 5, “Missions,” Part 1. The structure of the game, the GM's Turn, and beating the crap out of PCs.
The MissionOriginal SA post
Chapter 5: The Mission
Time to take a look at how you actually play this game. Sessions of Mouse Guard have a structure to them which, so far as I'm aware, is unique in RPGs. Chapter 5 describes this structure and gives you an idea of how to run the game. We'll also be revisiting our sample patrol, who will show up in quote-block example text. This is a decently long chapter, but I've decided against breaking it apart as I said I would last time because it works better as a single post.
Forming the Patrol
The first few pages of Chapter 5 are essentially a “care and feeding of a roleplaying group” guide: assembling a group of players, figuring out who should GM, setting a date and time to play, printing out character sheets and rules summaries, and so on. It's not much use to experienced players, but the text is written for complete newbies so it's nice to see this sort of thing included.
Advice for a group's first session follows. It recommends that new players pick sample characters and do an intro mission instead of diving into the character creation options, or at very least customize one of the Template Characters from later in the book. We also get another stern warning to do character generation as a group, with everyone either making characters or choosing templates together. There's a lot of good, sensible newbie advice here that you just don't see in most books. Things like “if you're adding a new character to an established patrol, making other people wait for you to make a character is rude, so just grab a template and go.” We're also given an easy in for adding new players mid-game: the Matriarch sent more help as it became available. Having this in-setting excuse for a flexible party is a godsend if your group isn't particularly stable from week to week, like gamers with families or after-school groups.
Prologue and Seasons
There's a bit of administrative work before a session starts. The patrol's Beliefs, Instincts and Relationships get read out and updated if necessary, and the GM adds them to a quick-reference sheet. Next is a “prologue” where one player gives a summary of the previous session to refresh memories and get players who were absent the last time caught up; whoever delivers the prologue gets to recover some of their lost resources.
Finally, the Season for the session is determined. Seasons are a big deal: the forest tries to kill you in different ways in spring than it does in fall, and the Guard's duties change by the season. Spring is the traditional starting season for a new patrol, and Winter has special rules which prohibit new games from starting in that season. Mouse Guard campaigns are designed to last for one or two full cycles of Seasons, so you can calibrate the length of your campaign by deciding how many sessions it takes for a season to elapse.
The Patrol posted:
Connor and Serra's patrol is ready for duty in Spring. This is a dangerous time in the Territories: the weather is unpredictable, flash floods and lightning storms are common, and predators hungry from a long winter are on the prowl.
Meeting the Matriarch
The session proper begins with a brief scene between the patrol leader and the Mouse Guard Matriarch, Gwendolyn, in which she hands down the mission to the PCs. The book admits that Gwendolyn is basically the GM's avatar, but that she's also a character in her own right: wise and compassionate, but fiercely devoted to the ideals of the Guard and its survival. You're encouraged to get in to the role instead of simply handing down a mission summary from on high and to develop the relationships between the Matriarch and her patrol leaders and captains. For the “new roleplayer” audience the book is aimed at, the scene between Gwendolyn and the patrol leader is the first actual roleplaying they'll do, and the text emphasizes its importance.
Mission information from Gwendolyn tends to be short and to the point: go here, do this, within this time frame. Gwendolyn is up-front with what she knows and expects, but like a briefing from a Mr. Johnson you rarely get the full story about the mission until you arrive on site.
Now the PCs write their Goals. As mentioned, these should relate to the Mission but aren't necessarily about it. This is the point at which the GM starts to scramble. It's my experience that players rarely latch on to the things in Missions you think they will, so the GM uses this time to think about how their pregenerated content fits with the Goals being written and whether they need to start coming up with new material on the fly. Hint: you will.
The Patrol posted:
Word has reached the Matriarch that the settlement of Pebblebrook near the western border has opened negotiations with the Darkheather weasels. Gwendolyn believes the safety of the Territories is at stake, but the Guard has no authority over Pebblebrook. The Matriarch dispatches Serra and Connor to the settlement to end its negotiations with Darkheather by any means necessary. If they can find out what the weasels' game is in all this, so much the better – Gwendolyn refuses to consider the possibility that the weasels could deal in good faith.
Connor writes the Goal: I will ensure that the Pebblebrook mice are safe from the weasels of Darkheather. It's a Goal that doesn't give him a stance in either direction on what Gwendolyn has asked him them to do – after all, maybe the best thing for Pebblebrook is to make peace with Darkheather. It does, however, require a lasting result. No half-assed solutions are acceptable here.
Serra writes the Goal: I will convince the people of Pebblebrook that the weasels cannot be trusted before they sign the treaty. That's a Goal with a course in mind. Serra's player has put out a clear flag saying “Get ready for social conflicts.”
This is the meat of the chapter: how to design a Mission, and the framework that exists around it.
Missions never, ever go as planned. Part of this is information lag: Lockhaven is at the heart of the vast Territories, so by the time they hear about a problem and the responding patrol reaches their destination, matters tend to have escalated. There's also nature to contend with. Half the trouble in a mission often is simply getting to where you're supposed to be without being drowned, maimed, starved, eaten, or derailed by the problems of other mice who expect the Guard to help them.
The weather, the wilderness, animals and other mice are the four hazards which a mission is built on. When you design a mission you pick two of them for the “known” problems of the mission and two which are kept in reserve either as surprises or if you need a twist – say, from the result of a failed test.
Combining the four hazards with the flags laid out by Beliefs, Instincts, Goals and Relationships is what makes for effective scenes in Mouse Guard. You never have just a rainstorm, a flood, and starving mice: you need a flood threatening the settlement a guardmouse grew up in, a grain shipment your patrol is tasked with protecting in danger of washing away, and a patrol member's cousin trapped in the middle of the flood. The more Beliefs, Instincts, Goals and Relationships a scene ties to, the more people care about what's happening – after all, they've already bought in to the elements of the scene through writing their BIGs.
A few pages are spent on GM techniques to get the most out of the hazards and their interaction with BIGs, but it boils down to “get them involved as much as possible, and pit them against each other when you can.” We're also given some general advice on the obstacles the hazards can present, but those get covered in greater detail in Chapters 6, 7, and 8.. All we need to know for now is that Missions tend to consist of three or four notable obstacles born out of the hazards, at least one of which is known and least one of which is a complete surprise.
The Patrol posted:
Building this Mission is easy. As the GM, I've selected two of the four hazards – Animals and Mice – to build a scenario around. The weasels want a foothold on the Territories again, so they've bought off Pebblebrook's mayor with promises of power and riches as a satrap of Darkheather. The wealth of the weasel kingdom could flow through the destitute settlement, they say. With the Guard occupied by springtime repairs of the Scent Border and Pebblebrook too distant for Lockhaven to effectively strong-arm, the weasels stand a good chance of pulling it off as long as matters stay peaceful and the mice aren't turned against them. I also want to have a hidden Wilderness challenge in here: finding the secret weasel encampment in the forest, hidden by thick maze-like briars, where Serra's Tunnel Lord nemesis prepares more drastic measures should Pebblebrook refuse their offer. I can forego the Weather hazard, save it for a twist after a failed test, or spring it on them as a surprise 'encounter' on their way to Pebblebrook at my discretion.
Prep-wise, there's not much to do here. The stats for the Mayor and various weasels are in the book. The Wilderness challenge requires setting a couple of Obstacle numbers based on the skill description in Chapter 9. The Weather challenge will be ad libbed if it happens at all, but Chapter 8 has me covered if I use it. That leaves plenty of time to find ways to tie these hazard ideas to the BIGs of the patrol.
The Structure of Play
With the basics out of the way, the book introduces us to Mouse Guard's unique (?) session framework. A session of Mouse Consist consists of alternating “turns” between GM and players which indicate who's driving the narrative. In the GM's Turn his job is to, in the words of the book, “beat the crap out of the players' guardmice” with hazards. The GM begins and ends scenes and largely controls their content. Once the mice are safe again or when it's dramatically appropriate, the Players' Turn begins and the situation reverses: players set and end scenes and largely control their content, which they use to accomplish their personal goals (and Goals, if they didn't get them done in the GM's Turn) and to recover from the beating they took.
A typical four-hour session has one GM Turn and one Players' Turn of roughly equal lengths. Longer sessions alternate between the turns, but each turn stays roughly the same length.
The GM's Turn
Play always begins with the GM's Turn, which consists of presenting a hazard, then watching the consequences of that hazard unfold. Successfully overcoming hazards moves you closer to the end of the mission – or at least to the Players' Turn – but failure usually cascades into even more problems. Remember, the GM is explicitly told to be tough on the guardmice so they can prove how awesome they are by enduring. You don't want to be adversarial , per se, but by the time the Players' Turn comes around they should be eager for a chance to rest.
Hazards manifest in three ways: simple obstacles, complex obstacles, and conflicts. A simple obstacle is a single, specific challenge which can be overcome with one roll. A lot of weather and wilderness hazards fall into this category, like fording a river, blazing a trail, or enduring a snowstorm. Complex obstacles require multiple tests and take a while in the fiction, like traveling up the coast by building small boats, navigating the coastline safely, and avoiding a lurking heron. Conflicts are action scenes that require more detail and have more at stake: serious fights, debates, Lord of the Rings-esque travel montages, chase sequences, wars and so on. Conflicts are also the only time where a mouse can be killed outright. Simple and complex obstacles might beat you up badly or even put you out of commission for extended periods, but conflicts can be lethal.
Failing a test prompted by a simple or complex obstacle leads to one of two things. First, the GM can hit you with a persistent “debuff” called a Condition like being Angry or Tired. This reduce your Health, Will, or Nature, or penalize your skills. Alternatively, the GM introduces a twist that makes some future task more difficult, or gets you and possibly everyone else in even more trouble of a different nature.
It's very possible to have a “failure cascade” where the patrol bombs a test, gets sucked into another scene where they deal with the fallout, fail that one, and keep going down the rabbit hole getting beaten up more and more. That said, the GM is supposed to call a halt eventually, slapping a final Condition on and letting the patrol get on with its mission.
During the GM's Turn the players are in a mostly reactive role. The GM frames scenes aggressively, cutting right to the action or the point of decision, tells the players what they're confronting, and asks them how they're going to resolve it. It can be exhausting to play through, especially when a failure cascade happens and the GM hammers you relentlessly with one twist after another. The GM's Turn ends when the mission is over, when the patrol is safe from immediate danger, or when there's a period of downtime on an especially long mission.
Aside from getting past the hazards, players have one other duty during the GM's Turn: they accumulate “checks.” Checks are the currency of the Players' Turn, used to essentially purchase scenes and narrative authority. Players earn them in the GM's Turn by using their Traits against themselves, taking a penalty on a roll in return for a check for the upcoming Players' Turn. Sometimes it's even a double-win for the Trait-invoking player, because as we'll see later, advancing your character in Mouse Guard requires you to fail .
The GM's Turn section ends with some pacing mechanisms and advice for sessions taking place in areas where it's difficult for the patrol to have a traditional Players' Turn, like the tunnels of Darkheather or the Wild Country beyond the Scent Border. Then it's on to the Players' Turn.
The Patrol posted:
Connor and Serra spend the first part of the GM Turn traveling to Pebblebrook, nearly drowning in mud and being soaked to the bone by cold spring downpours that wash away the trail and force them to hike overland through shrike-haunted thickets. They arrive in time to confront the Mayor and the weasel plenipotentiary as they are presenting the terms of their proposed agreement to a town-hall meeting of the settlement. There's a nasty social-based conflict which ends with the meeting breaking down in chaos and prevents the signing of the agreement, but which turns some of Pebblebrook's rougher, more desperate citizens against the guardmice.
The GM decides to call the turn there and hand the reins over the players.
The Players' Turn
By the time the Players' Turn comes around, the PCs are going to be beaten up, in the middle of a big mess, or both. The time crunch of the GM's Turn is lifted, but there's still pressure to accomplish the mission (if it hasn't been resolved) or tie up loose ends before the patrol returns to Lockhaven. The players spend their turn recovering from their Conditions, gearing up, and generally addressing their priorities as they see fit. This time the GM is in the reactive role, and the players are doing the scene framing.
Each check that a player acquires during the GM Turn is one test or scene they can make during the Players' Turn, plus one freebie just for making it there. Players go round-robin spending their checks until everyone is done, sometimes passing checks to one another if someone got short-changed during the GM's Turn or if they're the only ones who can accomplish something needful.
Recovery is usually the number one Players' Turn activity, done by spending a check to get a roll to remove one of your Conditions. You can also use checks to make Resources rolls to acquire new gear or replace what you've lost in the field, or Circles tests to find an existing NPC or create a new one for some special purpose. There's no particular restriction on what you can do in the Players' Turn, only on how much .
Twists and failure complications still happen in the Players' Turn, but their consequences tend to be less immediate. It isn't fair to suck away the group's checks with a failure cascade of immediate rolls, after all.
The rest of the Players' Turn section is taken up with advice on how to spend your checks and etiquette for the turn like “stay engaged even when it's not your scene.”
Chapter 5 has a few more sections, but like the Forming the Patrol section at the beginning of the chapter, they're mostly good, sensible advice for players and GMs on how to handle the game: things like botching a rule during the game, what happens when someone misses a session, the consequences of losing a character or having a player depart the group. There's also a point-by-point dissection of the sample mission (which straight-up recreates the first Mouse Guard comic) and a walkthrough of how to run it, but it's not something to cover in a Let's Read.
Just as a heads-up, I'm going to be pretty busy over the weekend, so I may not be able to return to this until Monday.
Next Time: Chapter 6 - “Resolution,” Part 1, or, “This game has mechanics? ”
ResolutionOriginal SA post
Chapter 6: Resolution
Six chapters in, we finally find out how to put all this theory and structure into practice. The Resolution chapter describes all the core mechanics of the game for getting something done, the consequences of failing to get said things done, the actual effects of Conditions, mechanics for important Conflicts, and conditions necessary for a guardmouse to die.
This was a hard chapter to review. As you may have guessed by now, summarizing isn't my strong suit. This is a problem in a chapter which is almost nothing but mechanics because it needs to be interesting enough to read without giving away the entire system. The designer has a stance on digital distribution and piracy which I don't necessarily agree with but do respect, so I've limited my coverage here to what you could find by reading other reviews or spending an hour poking around the Mouse Guard forums. If it turns out I've left something excessively vague I'll be happy to answer clarifying questions.
Obstacles and Tests
Chapter Six starts out with a review of the system's basics: rolling pools of D6s to get enough 4s, 5s, and 6s to meet or beat an obstacle's difficulty, noted as “Ob [x]”. Obstacle 1 is very easy, Ob 2 is somewhat difficult, Ob 3 is quite difficult and risky, and so on. If you're rolling against another character, their successes become your obstacle and vice versa. Ties can be broken by invoking a trait, either for yourself to win the tie or against yourself to fail it and earn a check for later.
We're also given the rules of conduct for making tests. First, the “No Weasels” rule: once the GM sets the obstacle, there's no backing down. The GM can offer alternatives to the problem or hear them from the players, but one way or another someone has to make a test. That someone is the first person to volunteer or come up with the idea, regardless of how fit for the task they are. The only exception is if, through table chatter, the group collectively comes up with something and the patrol leader then designates mice to carry it out.
Success in a test moves you along your merry way. Failure, as we've seen earlier, brings either problematic “twists” in the narrative or debilitating Conditions. There's a fair amount of wordcount spent on when a twist is appropriate over a condition or vice versa, but the only interesting part of it for our purposes is the “Gift of Kindness”: allowing a successful resolution of a failed test in return for inflicting a condition. This is the best way to stop the failure cascades I mentioned earlier, where one bad roll in dealing with a hazard sets off a chain reaction of increasingly desperate plans by increasingly debilitated mice. Instead of prolonging the agony, the GM is encouraged to let the patrol succeed in their task, inflict a condition to represent the toll it takes on them, and let them get on with their business.
Dice, Dice and More Dice
Obstacles in Mouse Guard are hard . A lone, unprepared mouse is prone to failing repeatedly and catastrophically under adverse conditions because they simply can't muster enough dice. There's three ways around this: Wises, Gear, and Teamwork.
Wises are those quirky skills which represent esoteric or idiosyncratic knowledge. If you've got a Wise applicable to the situation and you can describe how it helps you, it adds 1D to the test. Gear works the same way. If you carry something that helps out and you can justify its use, take +1D.
Teamwork is a bit more involved. If you have a skill or an ability that can help out with a test another character is making, like Scouting ahead for someone making a Pathfinder test, you can throw them a die. Every mouse with an applicable skill can help out, and they should: this is how patrols overcome the hard obstacles that get thrown at them on a regular basis. However, there's a catch: everyone who contributes to a team effort on a roll is bound by its consequences. If the testing character gets swept down the river or cornered by the badger, everyone who helps does too. If the testing character gets a Condition, all the helpers get one too, albeit a lesser version. On the bright side, you're all in it together!
Conflicts are the meat of the chapter. When a situation is especially important and the blow-by-blow details are worth knowing and playing out, we stop resolving it with one die roll or a handful of rolls linked together, and break out another set of mechanics. The conflict rules are most frequently used for combat, but they're equally applicable to arguments, chase scenes, dangerous journeys, construction projects, wars and anything else that involves two sides (or more) going at each other with everything they've got. A good rule of thumb is that if it's mentioned in a Belief or Goal, it's worth having a conflict over.
In conflicts, each side divides into teams which secretly choose sets of three actions which get resolved against one another each round. The object is to wear down the other side's disposition, essentially a pool of hit points. The victor gets their stake for the conflict, but the losing side can win compromises depending on how much disposition they managed to take out. The skills and abilities used to establish, destroy or defend each side's disposition varies depending on the type of conflict you're engaging in, from Persuader skill in an argument to Militarist in a War conflict. Animals use their Nature for just about everything, and if you're contending with the Season itself – say, for a long journey in winter or to shore up the levies before floodwaters take out a settlement – the Season rolls its rating depending on the time of year.
Conflicts have four actions: Attack, Defend, Feint, and Maneuver. Attacking damages disposition, Defending prevents damage to disposition from Attacks or Feints, Feints damage disposition and get around defenses, and Maneuvers grant temporary bonuses to you or debuffs to your enemy. The actions are abstract, representing something different in each type of conflict: an Attack in a fight means striking the enemy; in a debate it might be a strong point; in a journey, making progress toward your goal and so on. Similarly, the skills used to pull off an action vary by the context of the conflict: Fighter or Hunter would let you Attack if you're up against an animal; Persuader would make your point in an argument; Scout would let you evade or make a break for it in a chase.
Conflicts end when one side's disposition is reduced to zero. The winner gets their goal for the conflict, while the loser(s) get compromises. A compromise can be a big deal. While you can't negate the winner's goal (unless the winner agrees) or achieve your own, you can seriously punish the winner in return. As a result, it's possible to “fight for a compromise” in a conflict you know you're going to lose, going all-out against the enemy's disposition in an attempt to win as damaging a compromise as possible. Compromises can range from inflicting conditions and offering twist-like complications to exacting promises or corrupting future endeavors. The higher you set your initial stakes, the more you can push for with compromises, and the more you can make the winner regret every inch of ground they have to give you.
There's a fair amount of detail that goes into conflicts, but those are the broad strokes. I'll give you folks a more in-depth look at how they work in the examples at the end of this post.
”Gear” for Conflicts
In a normal test, gear adds a bonus die to your roll. In a conflict, however, gear takes on different properties. Like the conflict actions, what counts as “gear” varies by the conflict's context. In a fighting conflict, gear like swords, axes and bows add dice or even give bonus successes to certain actions, while penalizing you in others. Axes, for example, give you a bonus success on every successful Attack roll, but are at -1D to Defend or Feint. In a debate, establishing damning evidence provides Attack bonuses while making promises and finding the middle ground raises your Defense. In a war one sword isn't going to do you much good, but having strong supply lines, a good strategy, and a hero in the vanguard will.
Conditions and Recovery
Failing a test or losing a conflict can inflict a debilitating condition on a character. Aside from the default condition of Healthy, mice can suffer from six conditions, Thirsty, Angry, Tired, Injured and Sick. Being Hungry, Thirsty or Tired damages your disposition for all conflicts. Anger hurts your disposition for Will-based conflicts like arguments and war. Being Injured or Sick penalizes practically every roll in the game except Resources, Circles and tests for recovery from Conditions. You can only have one instance of a condition on you at a time, but all conditions stack with each other, so it's possible to become badly debilitated by them if you can't find time to recover.
Recovery costs checks – one in the player's turn, or two in the GM's turn. Conditions have to be recovered from in a specific order: Hungry and Thirsty, then Angry, then Tired, then Injured, and finally Sick. Recovering from conditions requires you alleviate whatever's causing them in the first place. If you're hungry or thirsty you need food and drink, usually through a Resources test. If you're angry you need to blow off steam or get control of yourself through a Will test. If you're tired you need to rest, or mouse up and fairly a fairly difficult Health test. Injuries and Sickness are rough, requiring Ob 4 Health tests to overcome on your own or Ob 3 Healer tests if someone is tending to you. Those Healer tests come with a serious risk attached, however: failure permanently reduces an ability or skill.
Death and Killing
Mice get killed. They're pretty fragile, all things considered: Mouse Guard has a noticeable death spiral, but it tends to occur over enough scenes that you know it's happening. That's because a guardmouse cannot die as a result of a single test. The only way you can go down for good is if someone puts up your death as their goal for a full-blown conflict and wins.
Because death can only occur through a conflict, this implies that there can – and usually will – be compromises. You may kill someone or something, but the odds are that they'll get one final act before they go down, or be left for dead instead of killed outright if the compromise is big enough.
A couple of pages get spent on death and compromise, suggesting the limits of disposition needed to kill a character, have them at your mercy, or leave them for dead. We're also introduced to the concept of the Natural Order, a food chain-esque hierarchy which determines what a lone mouse or a patrol can take on by force of arms, and what requires bringing out a mouse army or the power of mouse science :science101:. It bears mentioning that the Season itself can be a conflict participant, but it's way, way too high on the Natural Order scale to be “killed.” We're not playing Nobilis here.
Chapter Six wraps up with brief sections on losing a character and how to deal with it, followed by by GM advice for handling confusion at the table and when NPCs should make tests. But you don't care about any of that. You want to see mice get eaten by shrikes and the snow stained red with the blood of weasels.
And I was planning on including that today, I really was, but a friend is in the hospital and I need to deal with that. Expect more tomorrow or Friday, with extended examples for various conflicts.
As an apology for further delays, here's more audience participation time ! There's a couple of scenarios I plan on demonstrating – a Chase through a shrike-haunted thicket and a bloody battle in the Winter War against Darkheather - but I'll also put together one or two more that you folks would like to see. In addition to whatever other context you care to provide, here's what I need:
The Conflict: Pick one of the following, or make up a new one – Argument, Chase, Fight, Negotiation, Journey, Speech, War, or make up one of your own, like a construction project or espionage.
The Sides: At least one mouse or group of mice and their opposition, which can be other mice, animals, the natural world, whatever.
(Optional) Gear: Give at least one side a piece of “gear” - remember, gear can also be advantageous circumstances like robust supply lines or convenient bolt-holes.
Next Time: Conflict Examples!
ConflictsOriginal SA post
As promised, it's time to see how the conflict system works in practice, based on the scenario suggested by Lemon Curdistan.
Here's what we're working with:
Lemon Curdistan posted:
It is 1159, and the weasels are streaming over the Scent Border en masse again, murdering all they find and pillaging whatever they can. After a Spring of skirmishes and bitter losses, Lockhaven has assembled the biggest army ever seen: militia from every city within the Territories with every able-bodied mouse of the Guard as their élite fighting force. The army has mustered at Lockhaven, but must now cross the Scent Border into weasel territory and put a final stop to the raids.
This is a Logistics/War Conflict, pitting the army lead by the Guard (with our three patrolmice leading the scouts) against the weasel raiders. The mouse army must brave predator and weather and make it to weasel territory to fight a decisive battle before the weasel raiders tear the Territories apart.
Unfortunately, the weasels have two advantages: they have Surprise on their side, and they're Unified Under One King, whereas the mouse army is composed of forces from various independent cities under their own commanders, with the Matriarch only nominally in command.
This feels like a scenario for seasoned characters and 1159 is seven years from the usual starting date, so I've advanced the timeline on our sample characters a bit. Our patrol now consists of Patrol Leader Connor, Guard Captain Serra, and Guardmouse Grahame, the weasel-fighting perpetual promotion-dodging Guardmouse inspired by Lemon Curdistan's concept back here .
Finally, mechanical interactions will appear in quote boxes. For example:
Lieam's player chooses three actions in this order: Maneuver, Attack, Defend.
The GM chooses Attack, Attack, Feint for the snake.
Our patrol is tasked with blazing a trail for the Territories army into the trackless Wild Country beyond the Scent Border. The weasel tunnels of Darkheather are too extensive to be blocked and too dangerous to be stormed, but information from captured raiders suggests that the weasel Overlord has emerged from the tunnels to gloat over his coming victory. The patrol must lead the army to the Overlord's lair, relying on the weasels' aggressive nature to provoke a pitched battle as the mouse army closes in. The patrol will act together in the conflict, while the GM opposes them with the Season and the forces of nature it represents.
First we have to know what type of conflict we're dealing with, because that determines what skills we'll be rolling throughout. It's clear that this is a Journey, so our main skills are going to be Pathfinder, Survivalist , and Weather Watcher . Because this conflict is really about the army and its logistics rather than a single patrol, we'll also allow Militarist to be used for Defend and Maneuver actions.
Conflicts take place between teams. We're not going to worry much about this, because our three-mouse patrol is the ideal size for a Mouse Guard team. If we had more or fewer players we might split the patrol into into several cooperating teams.
Now each side needs a goal for the conflict, similar to a session goal.
The Patrol: Guide the army safely to the Overlord's lair to provoke the weasels into battle.
- The Season: Shatter this army to show the helplessness of mice against the fury of the Wild Country.
It's important to note that there are a lot of different goals we could use here. I could assign the Season a goal about getting the army lost, or separating the patrol from their charges. But I feel like bringing out the big guns here, so we'll go with destruction and despair. This also means the stakes are higher for both sides: compromises toward “shatter this army” are going to be nasty for the mice.
Sidenote: I've ascribed human motivations to the season here, as though the natural forces of the Wild Country had a mind. They don't, and there's nothing supernatural about them. But good GMing practice for Mouse Guard is to treat the land as a cunning antagonist with motives all its own. During the GM's Turn, it should feel as though the land itself is out to get the patrol.
Each side generates its disposition , the pool of points which keeps them in the conflict.
Our patrol uses successes from a Pathfinder skill plus the team leader's Will for its disposition. Serra is still the ranking mouse in the patrol and god's gift to pathfinding, so she'll be the team leader. Connor and Grahame will help her out with Teamwork. Seasons roll the rating of the season (more on that in the Seasons chapter) plus the rating for their disposition.
Serra assembles her dice pool, starting with Pathfinder 6. She adds a die from Shortcut-wise. Connor helps out with Weather Watcher, steering them clear of summer storms, while Grahame moves quietly ahead to screen out weasels with Hunter. The players have also made preparations before setting out, and the army being well-supplied gives them a guaranteed success (“+1s”) to the roll. Serra rolls 9D and gets four successes, which are added to her Will 6.
The Season's rating is 4, so its pool is 4. It gets 2 successes and adds them to its rating.
Patrol's Disposition: 10
Season's Disposition: 6
Each side picks a set of three actions in secret, which will be resolved against each other one at a time in an attempt to destroy the enemy's disposition while maintaining your own. The three actions are divided as evenly as possible among the characters on a team, hence why a three-mouse team ideal. Depending on the Journey type, each action is keyed to one or more skills; lacking those, you can use your Nature if you're willing to risk it or your Health or Will via Beginner's Luck.
There's a bit of rock-paper-scissors to the four actions, and you can usually get a pretty good idea of which one(s) the opposition is good at by the end of the first exchange. Experienced players can start playing mind games with their action choices, tricking the opposition into Attacking when they should be Defending, or Defending when there's a Feint coming in to hammer them, and so on.
The patrol's players know they're going to win this conflict. Summer is the mildest month for traveling, and their patrol was built for this sort of thing. The Season's best shot is to go all-out and try for a compromise, Attacking and Feinting frequently. The patrol could try to choose actions (“script”) aggressively and blow the Season out of the water as quickly as possible, minimizing the number of actions it can take to reduce their disposition and inflict compromises. Alternatively they could play a conservative game, building up an advantage and preserving their disposition until they can win a crushing victory.
The patrol chooses Defend | Maneuver | Attack, a conservative, cautious script. They assign Connor to Defend, Grahame to Maneuver, and Serra to Attack.
The season chooses Attack | Feint | Attack, an extremely aggressive script which relies on bonus dice to both Attack and Feint from their Surprise “gear.”
Rounds are resolved in three sets. In each set, each team reveals the action they've chosen and the actions are resolved against each other. If nobody hits zero disposition or surrenders, they reveal and resolve the next set and so on, re-scripting every three sets until the conflict ends.
Set 1: Connor's Defend v. Season's Attack. The GM describes the army's long march from Lockhaven under a scorching summer sun, the oppressive heat wearing on mice and pack-insects alike, and drying up the last of the spring rivulets which the scouts had hoped to use along the way. Connor wants to use Weather Watcher to read the air for distant storms and adjust the army's course to take advantage of them.
This is an easy resolution. The Season rolls its rating of 4, Connor rolls his Weather Watcher 4. The Season gets two successes, which means two points of damage to the patrol's disposition. Connor gets one success, which blocks a point of that damage. The patrol is still doing fine, but they've taken damage. No matter what happens, they now owe a compromise. The Season gets some narrative control here and describes the slow depletion of the army's fresh water stores, outbreaks of heat stroke and the lethargy of the pack-beetles slowing the army's progress.
Patrol's Disposition: 9
Season's Disposition: 6
To prevent this post from being even more of a wall of text, I'm going to cut down on the commentary from here on out. I'll list the actions taken, the mechanical resolution, and the narrative consequences.
Set 2: Grahame's Maneuver (Nature 5) v. Season's Feint (Season 4 + Surprise 1) These actions ignore each other and resolve without interacting.
Grahame's Maneuver: 2 successes. The next character's action gets +2D.
Season's Feint: 2 successes. Patrol's disposition reduced by 2.
Patrol's Disposition: 7
Season's Disposition: 6
As the army approaches the border into Darkheather, the first weasel raids begin. Nearby settlements are put to the torch, driving waves of refugees into the army's path, draining their supplies and slowing their progress to a crawl. The baggage train is attacked in the night, precious stocks of arrows and the components for secret sciencemouse weapons are stolen or destroyed. Meanwhile, Grahame finds the trail of the weasel marauders and begins to turn their raiding against them.
Set 3: Serra's Attack (Pathfinder 6 + Shortcut-wise 1 + Maneuver 2) v. Season's Attack (Season 4 + Surprise 1)
Serra's Attack: 4 successes. Season's disposition reduced by 4.
Season's Attack: 1 success. Patrol's disposition reduced by 1.
Grahame tracks the weasel raiders into the warren of lightless tunnels that is Darkheather itself. Stalking them for days at a time reveals old pathways which even the weasels rarely use. At Serra's insistence, the army embarks on a drastic detour, making short hops in and out of the Darkheather tunnels to bypass the worst of the Wild Country just as the weasels do. Although they are harried by weasel traps and slowed by dense thickets, the army makes startlingly good time. Soon they are deep in the Wild Country.
Patrol's Disposition: 6
Season's Disposition: 2
That's the end of one exchange. Neither side is out of disposition or feeling like surrendering. There's another round to be played out, but here's a spoiler: both sides Attack in the first set. The patrol sets off on a forced march through the tunnels and the Wild Country, trying to reach the Overlord before he realizes what's happened and recalls the rest of his army. The Wild Country strikes again when a mated pair of sables , allies of their smaller weasel cousins, descends on the army and ravages it before finally being driven off. An average roll for both sides brings the Season's disposition to zero and the patrol's to 3; a win for the patrol, but at a cost.
When one side's disposition hits zero, it's time to find out what state everyone is in at the end. The patrol won the conflict, so they'll get their intent: the army penetrates deep into weasels' territory, close enough to the Overlord's domain that he seizes on the chance to crush the mice here and now. No compromise can negate this, but it can change the circumstances.
The patrol went down to less than a third of its starting disposition. It owes a major compromise : it's as though the opposition nearly achieved their goal, but was stopped at the last moment. After some discussion and negotiation, the GM decides that the final leg of the journey through Darkheather was a nightmare of traps, raids and collapsing tunnels, and that the sable attack has put the fear of the wild into the surviving mice. The Territories' army is holding together, but its supply lines have been cut, and many of its troops are injured or exhausted from the forced march. Worse yet, the sables have approached the Overlord and offered their aid in the coming battle, in return for their pick of the plunder and a supply of mouse slaves / snacks. The guardmice take the condition Injured , and the Overlord has a new piece of gear for the upcoming War conflict: Sables, girded for battle.
Fortunately, death wasn't on the line here. If it had been, a major compromise could have entailed the loss of a guardmouse rather than the death of the entire patrol, or at least being left for dead or captured by the weasels.
I'm out of time at the moment, so I'll pause here. My weekend schedule is hectic again, but I'll try to update soon. The next chapter is a long one, so I'll likely fit in one more Conflict example before I dive into Seasons.
Next Time: Weasel War or Seasons
SeasonsOriginal SA post
Chapter 6: Seasons
First, a formatting note. Yes, the last chapter was also titled Chapter 6. That's because I am bad at numbers . The chapters themselves aren't numbered and inserting Chapter 12 into the mix early on threw my count off, but I've finally caught and corrected it.
Chapter Six is the first of three chapters aimed primarily at the GM, one for each of the non-mouse hazards in the GM's turn (Weather, Wilderness, and Animals respectively). At first glance this looks like a “setting” chapter, but it's actually the basis for a lot of the action in a mission. Each season's section describes the weather and the major obstacles it can pose, the season's effect on the local wildlife and the sorts of animals that are most active in the season, and the state of the wilderness for the purposes of travel and navigation. Finally, there's a summary of the Guard's main duties in the season and any major holidays or festivals.
This chapter is also chock full of gorgeous art, so I'm going to break out of my usual format and get some multimedia up in this thread.
Seasons in Brief
Here's the dirty secret of Mouse Guard, its weather and its terrain: the Territories are in Michigan. * The region has volatile springs with a lot of snow and rain, short warm summers punctuated by huge thunderstorms, pleasant but even shorter autumns, and long, bitterly cold winters.
* For those of you who've read the comics, the beach where Sadie fights the crabs is a small peninsula south of Luddington.
Seasons change over the course of play based on an explicit timer. You either set the number of sessions per season, or the season changes after a certain number of weather-based complications have been introduced. Two or three sessions per season is standard and more isn't recommended.
Seasons are rated by how dangerous and unpredictable their weather gets, and the sorts of non-weather environmental hazards they provoke, like wildfires and hungry predators. This rating is what the Season rolls during conflicts, as we saw last time in the conflict example. Winter and Spring are the most dangerous, fall is threatening but not overwhelming, and summer is pretty mild.
Spring is one of the most dangerous times of year in the Territories. It starts with furious snowstorms after a relatively calm end-of-winter freeze, then replaces that snow with driving rain and lightning storms. Flash flooding is a huge problem: one good storm can wipe out an entire mouse community. Floodwaters are so dangerous that any attempt to cross them makes death a valid stake in a Conflict. As you might expect, animals are everywhere in spring. The predators are on the prowl after a long, hungry winter, animals looking for mates or defending their territory get especially ornery, and migratory birds devour the crop seeds of entire regions, setting the stage for famine later in the year if they aren't stopped. Navigating the spring wilderness is a nightmare. Winter snows linger late into the season only to be replaced by sucking mud that can drown a mouse like quicksand, plant growth obliterates trails and undermines the foundations of settlements, and the rain is simply miserable.
The Guard have their work cut out for them in spring. The Scent Border is wearing thin and must be repaired before large predators come calling, crops planted in the inhospitable soil need to be protected, fragile mouse settlements have to be repaired or rebuilt, and stores depleted by winter have to be replenished. Civilians need a lot of shepherding and watching out for at this volatile time of year, and guardmice frequently come across mice who have been stranded, cornered, attacked, or otherwise harassed by the hazards of the season. Finally, there's an enormous backlog of winter mail to be delivered, and the Guard are the ones to do it, usually as a side-mission of whatever they've been sent to do.
Summer is good times. The spring storms are over and the fall ones haven't arrived, the days are warm and clear, travel is relatively easy, and life is about as good as it gets for the mice of the Territories. Which is to say that it's got thunderstorms setting off brush fires and flash floods, a blistering annual heat wave, and the ever-present threat of drought. Big animals are active in summer, particularly hawks, foxes, wolverines and snakes. There's even the occasional bear that roams through, a natural disaster on legs that can casually annihilate a mouse settlement if it realizes that there's, say, an apiary full of tasty honey in a mouse tree-city. Thankfully the wilderness itself is mild during the summer months. The spring growth becomes a thick canopy that mice can traverse easily and stealthily, although it's hell on navigation. The wild's worst danger is a wildfire, which can be set off by lightning strikes or failed tests from the PCs involving fire – careful with those Survivalist tests, folks.
The Guard spends the bulk of summer on escort duties and construction projects. Summer is the best time for travel and thus the best time for trade, so the trails are flooded with lumbering caravans which need protection from opportunistic predators like birds, raccoons, or mice turned to banditry. Summer is also the time for serious construction projects like new settlements or bridges, and it's up to the Guard to watch over them in their periods of vulnerability or even to oversee the construction themselves.
Despite some notable hardships, summer is an easy season for the Territories mice, which means it's party time . Several of the larger settlements have four-day-long bonfire festivals known as Musfire, for no better reason than that they can. Guardmice may be interested in the festivities' competitions in weaponry and athletics, the winners of which get parties thrown in their honor. Good times.
Depending on how the year has gone, fall is sees the mice either purposeful and busy or in full-on panic mode. It's harvest time, and the mouse world revolves around getting food out of the ground and in to weather- and predator-proof storage ASAP. The weather starts out mild, transitioning from summer heat into autumn crispness, but when the rains return they come back with a vengeance. Major storms are a constant concern in fall, lasting longer and doing more damage than their spring and summer counterparts, and making travel miserable. Unseasonably warm weather can blight harvests, while unseasonably cold weather simply kills the harvest off and sends the entire region into a state of emergency. Animals are in the same predicament as the mice: this is their last chance to fatten up for the winter. The smarter ones – birds and squirrels in particular – realize that the mice are useful for more than just a snack and have no compunctions about raiding mouse storehouses. Travel in fall is still relatively easy for a lone mouse or small patrol, but the thick leaf cover is hell on larger parties and the first frosts can make food and water scarce.
The Guard's major objective in fall is to protect the civilians as they make ready for winter. Occasionally Gwendolyn uses the waning days of fall to carry out secret, high-priority missions before Lockhaven closes its gates for the next few months, but most of the Guard's attention is on making sure the mice don't starve over the winter. They also help with the harvest directly, tend to last-minute construction projects, escort the final caravans and barges, and give the Scent Border a touch-up before winter sets in.
The autumn equinox is Mouse Christmas and Thanksgiving rolled into one week-long celebration. Every settlement celebrates Morten-Harvest with feasts and parties dedicated to the mice responsible for their bounty, and exchange gifts and tokens of appreciation with friends and relatives.
Winter is hell. It lasts for ages, and it is absolutely brutal; you poor bastards who live in the northern parts of the American Midwest and Canada know what this is like. In a way, winter is like the litmus test for how well the year went for a settlement and the Territories as a whole. If the harvest went well, if the damage from storms and predators was properly repaired, if plenty of medicine and other supplies were put by, then a settlement can expect to ride the winter out. But if something – anything – has gone wrong during the year and didn't get addressed before the snow sets in, problems can start spiraling out of control fast . Winter is so bad in the Territories that the Mouse Guard, champions of the Territories' fledgling civilization, the bravest, best-prepared and most effective survivalists in the land, call it quits during the winter months and hunker down until spring unless the circumstances are truly dire. Winter's hazards are mechanically reinforced: nearly every failure condition for weather- and wilderness-related tests is either disastrous or potentially lethal, and any journey undertaken requires a Conflict in which death is a possibility.
Winter is the most dangerous season hands-down. It snows constantly, and at least once per winter a massive blizzard hits the Territories. Cold snaps can simply kill an unprepared mouse outright. Winter's worst weapon is the ice storm, which pounds the countryside (and any mice unfortunate enough to be caught in the open) with rain that freezes instantly upon contact, covering the ground in a solid sheet of ice and entombing exposed mice. Thankfully, mice have a few things going for them that larger animals don't: they can walk on the surface of the snow with cunningly-made snowshoes or tunnel beneath it, and they're so light that they can travel across ice that would crack under a predator's weight. Those predators are also fewer and farther between, but the ones that are around are nasty , especially when the Scent Border hasn't been properly maintained. Wolves, foxes and wolverines are on the prowl in winter, and scavengers like raccoons are smart enough to break into mouse settlements and plunder their food stores. And if you've read the comics, you know about the owls
The Guard seals itself inside Lockhaven during winter. Only absolute necessity can draw them out, and Gwendolyn always makes winter missions volunteer-only. When the Guard do emerge from their stronghold it is usually because an entire settlement is in danger. You can play winter seasons, sending your patrol out into the frozen wilds on the Guard's most hazardous missions, but there's another option: the Winter Session.
The Winter Session
During the winter months, the Mouse Guard takes time to rest, recover, reflect on their accomplishments in the past year, mourn lost comrades, and generally enjoy one another's company before the spring comes and they are thrust back into danger.
From a mechanical perspective, the Winter Session is like an extended Players' Session and training montage which plays out in a series of short scenes, each with a restorative or transformative effect:
Resting and feasting restores lost points of Nature.
Skills get practiced: a patrol skill like Fighter or Pathfinder, a non-patrol skill like Armorer or Orator, and a skill you don't have.
Writing reports to Gwendolyn results in a new Wise skill based on the events of the previous year.
Reflecting on the year's events in the company of your fellows changes your traits. Each character gets a new trait gets voted on by every player. Each player nominates one of their existing traits for elevation to the next rank or for a change its nature, and the GM does the same.
Tenderpaws get promoted to guardmice after a year of service. Guardmice are promoted to patrol mice after a couple of years' good service and developing broad skill competencies. Patrol guards become patrol leaders only after years of service and proving themselves to Gwendolyn herself in special missions.
- Memorial ceremonies for fallen mice are held. There's no mechanical effect here, just a somber, poignant scene.
The Winter Session wraps up with an hour or two of Unfinished Business. This is similar to a Players' Turn, but focused on a specific goal that each player wants to explore or accomplish from within Lockhaven that they feel they missed out on during the year. Scenes in Unfinished Business mode also don't require any checks, but likewise don't count for advancement.
I'm going to let the book wrap this post up:
Mouse Guard posted:
Unfinished business can lead you to: get advice from friends and mentors, settle old scores with enemies, research mysteries in the archives or make yourself a needed piece of equipment for next year's patrols. Stretch your creative muscles and surprise the other players at the table. Remind us all of what we've been forgetting about your character.
The GM should use this player-driven time to take notes. What areas are the players interested in? What characters do they want to see in play that have been backgrounded or forgotten? Use those ideas to seed your missions for the coming year.
Next Time: Chapter 7 – The Territories
The TerritoriesOriginal SA post
Chapter 7: The Territories
Talor, last mouse to journey east to Wolfepointe posted:
Our place in the world:
Should it be as small as we stand, or as large as we desire?
A question only answered by our willingness to find out.
Chapter Seven details the wilderness, significant towns and minor settlements, the five major problems faced by the Territories, Darkheather and the Wild Country. Like the Seasons chapter, it's a hybrid of setting information, GMing advice and hooks, and a kind of Monstrous Manual of wilderness hazards. This is where we find out what makes the mouse communities tick, and by extension how to break them in delightful, Guard-intervention-requiring ways.
Since we're talking about geography, you might want to keep the map of the Territories as of Fall 1150 open as we go.
All things considered, the mice could have picked a better spot to found a civilization. The Mouse Territories are dominated by a vast (to mouse scale) forest, and if you've hiked around an actual forest you have an idea of how less than ideal they are for agriculture.
This section goes over the eleven major terrain types found in the Territories, describing the pitfalls and complications they present to a patrol. This is what the GM uses to build Wilderness obstacles.
The Territories wilderness is dominated by forests. They're thick, dark, humid, and full of things that enjoy eating mice or raiding their food stores. Most of what isn't forested is rocky and jagged, with large stone formations erupting out of the earth. Lockhaven is built into one of these formations, but it's a rare exception: mice don't like tunneling through stone, and these regions are the favored haunts of snakes and wolverines. Small streams wind through the forest, providing power for mills and workshops and facilitating travel while the weather is good, or devastating luckless river communities when it rains too heavily. Brambles and thorn bushes grow in thick patches throughout the forest. The mice rely on the fruit from these bushes, but competition with larger animals is fierce, and the Guard is frequently called on to rescue mice who've gone too deep into the thorns and gotten trapped.
The northern and eastern borders of the Territories are lakes so large they might as well be oceans to a mouse, and because these are inspired by Michigan lakes, they produce nasty weather. The eastern coastline is a horrible swamps that trades D&D's lizardmen and black dragons for salamanders and snapping turtles, and throw in quicksand “pools” that would be the size of a football field if they were to human scale. The northern coast is thick forest right up to sheer walls of shale that plunge into turbulent, crab-infested waters. Both coasts are haunted by mouse-eating shore birds like herons, and are dotted with shipwrecks from luckless mouse vessels smashed by the lakes' unpredictable weather.
Forest gives way to tall grass and open meadowland in the Northeast as you approach Wolfepointe and the Wild Country. The grass is a mixed blessing. It's easy for mice to hide in, but it also conceals the foxes and wolves which still prowl this untamed frontier; it also catches fire at the drop of a hat in summer. Open ground, on the other hand, is a deathtrap in any season. Predator birds like kestrels and owls lurk on the edges of open ground, waiting for a hapless mouse to attempt the crossing before swooping down out of the sun to devour them.
Spring and fall create their own special terrain types. Heavy spring rains or early thaws create vast fields of thick, sucking mud. You'd think mud would make travel slow, inconvenient and unpleasant, you'd be right. Now think about traveling through mud when you're the size of a mouse and the mud can come up past your chin on a bad day, or drown you outright in a mudslide. Autumn covers the forest floor with a thick layer of fallen leaves, providing excellent cover for traveling mice – and snakes. Mice can't do much about large piles of leaves, so a good windstorm through a leafy tree can effectively block a road, forcing guardmice to detour or tunnel laborious through it.
Major Towns and Cities
About a third of the chapter is dedicated to the eight “principal settlements” of the Territories: Barkstone, Copperwood, Elmoss, Ivydale, Lockhaven, Port Sumac, Shaleburrow and Sprucetuck. These aren't necessarily the largest, oldest, or wealthiest settlements. Some are the ones given coverage in the comics, like Barkstone, Lockhaven and Sprucetuck, while others are notable for some contribution they make to the survival of the Mouse Territories.
I love this section, and not just because I am a huge lore nerd who likes to read about the economics of fantasy kingdoms. I love it for how playable it is. Each entry gives you what you need to know to characterize the settlement, while also pointing out ways to completely fuck it over without being heavy-handed. For example, tucked away at the end of the “Location / Structure” paragraph for Barkstone is the line “Barkstone currently has one well.” The book doesn't make a habit of counting the number of wells per settlement. It's just something thrown in there both for flavor and to create a vulnerability the GM can attack. The fact that this comes immediately after a paragraph describing how Barkstone will be first against the wall when the weasels return isn't a coincidence.
These settlements are neat, so we'll spend a bit of time with them.
Barkstone is the western-most major settlement in the Territories, built into the trunk of a locust tree . It's a working-class town with a large force of harvesters and craftsmice. Barkstone isn't the closest settlement to the Darkheather (that dubious honor goes to Pebblebrook), but it's damned close and everyone knows it. Maybe that's why it relies on an armed and armored militia to protect its harvesters. That militia was recently co-opted into open rebellion against the Mouse Guard.
Copperwood , as the name suggests, is the Territories' biggest source of metal goods, including coins for two other settlements and a great deal of weapons and armor. Copperwood was one of the early settlements whose discovery by Lockhaven prompted the creation of the Mouse Guard. Like Lockhaven, it is a victim of its own success: formerly self-sufficient, Copperwood has grown so large that it has to rely on imported food and textiles.
Elmoss is named after the massive elm in which it was built, and the “healing moss” that grows on it which is the town's major source of income. Elmoss was a prosperous city before the Winter War, but Darkheather swallowed up three of its major trading partners, and Elmoss has begun to wither. They'll be influential as long as they supply the Sprucetuck sciencemice with healing moss, but that also makes them a tempting target if the weasels ever return.
Ivydale is the breadbasket of the Territories, almost literally. The settlement is built in four linked trees over an ivy-covered valley in which wheat and rye thrive. The Ivydale mice only have one resource worth mentioning, and they exploit it as hard as they can: every mouse in the town is engaged in harvesting, husking, weaving, milling, baking, hauling, or storing that crop. Ivydale is less than a day's march from Lockhaven, so it's usually crawling with guardmice there to ensure that the harvest is safe and caravans have escorts.
Lockhaven is the home of the Mouse Guard and the most fortified settlement in the Territories. We've covered Lockhaven a good deal elsewhere, but there's one notable figure in its Chapter 7 entry: the Guard's population is given at roughly 70 members, most of which are out on missions at any given time. Given how much the Territories rely on the Guard, and how much the Guard seems to ensure that the Territories rely on them, it's no surprise that there's some resentment about 70ish mice wielding that much power.
Port Sumac is the gateway to the Northeast Territories and the Wild Country beyond and a nexus of seagoing trade along the northern coast. It has a natural harbor sheltered by a pair of granite outcroppings which shelter fragile mouse vessels from the worst of the lake's weather. Port Sumac is one of the few mouse settlements that isn't some form of democracy. In fact it's a straight-up plutocracy ruled by the ship captains with the most profitable enterprises in the last year, who have absolute power over the town and take a cut of all imports and exports.
Shaleburrow is a quiet, prosperous settlement built into a shale formation a few days' west of Lockhaven. It's probably the least interesting of the principal settlements, except for one thing: the makeup of its ruling council. It says a lot about mouse civilization that the governing body of a major settlement is the female mouse who was most recently pregnant, the eldest male mouse, and the mouse with the largest fruit harvest in the previous season.
Sprucetuck is the home of Science! :science101: The most technologically advanced settlement in the Territories, Sprucetuck's sciencemice study medicine, agriculture, pest control, metallurgy and astronomy. This settlement houses the facilities and expertise necessary to turn Elmoss' healing moss into potent medicine and, more importantly, to brew the chemicals for the Scent Border.
The entries for the major settlements are followed by a rundown of seventeen other lesser-known towns, each of which get a couple of sentences. We're also given a Newbie's First Settlement Creation section which guides you through the rationale behind mouse settlements so you can make your own: why they're located where they are, what resources and trades they practice, their form of government, relationship with the Guard and so on.
Problems in the Territories
If it weren't obvious by now, the Mouse Territories have some issues. Aside from rampaging predators and the caprice of the seasons, five major problems plague the Territories year in and year out.
There's never enough, and when there is, it isn't in the right place. The Territories don't have a robust supply chain for much of anything, and it doesn't take much to disrupt their logistics and cause a major shortage for a settlement, a region or an industry.
The Guard can't do much about shortages directly; after all, Lockhaven struggles even to meet its own needs. What they can do is send guardmice to investigate the source of major shortages and use their political clout or skill at arms if necessary. Guardmice also get assigned to caravans carrying shortage-alleviating materials.
Drought and Famine
Mouse infrastructure being what it is, droughts and famines are usually just a bad season or two away. Weather or pestilence can wipe out crops or forageable plants, or dry out streams and ponds throughout an entire region.
As with shortages, there's only so much the Guard can do in these cases. Lockhaven sends what supplies it can and deploys guardmice to ration them out or protect existing stores, which puts the guardmice in the unenviable position of quelling food riots.
Thanks to Sprucetuck's sciencemice, medical science in the Territories is more advanced than the generally medieval technology level. Unfortunately, they're still subject to outbreaks of infectious diseases which can ravage one settlement after another before finally burning out. Most of them aren't lethal, but deadly plagues have happened before and will happen again.
The Guard is responsible for quarantining infected settlements. The book doesn't state it outright, but it strongly suggests that it is the duty of the Guard to prevent serious plagues from spreading by any means necessary.
Rebellions aren't common in the Territories, and when they happen some of them are peaceful and localized, simply ousting a leader who has overstayed their welcome. Remember, mouse Nature isn't inclined toward conflict, which is partly why the Guard is so peculiar and valuable. Unfortunately, the mice who are inclined to buck the status quo tend to be the, well, less mousey members of the community, so rebellions are usually bloody affairs.
The Guard are in a tough spot here. They have no authority over the settlements per se, so as long as the conflict is internal they have no right to interfere. But guardmice are exceptional people, and the skills that allow them to survive their duties are valuable to either side in a rebellion. The temptation to put those talents to use for friends or family caught up in a rebellion is very real.
There's another wrinkle to civil unrest in the Territories that the book hints at, but doesn't quite come out and say: the settlements are not united. Technically, each one is an independent city-state joined by economic and military necessity. But there's clear indicators in the comics and hints throughout the RPG that having common cause may not always be enough to keep the Territories together. The Axe Rebellion of 1152, when a disgruntled guardmouse raised a rebel army out of Barkstone and successfully invaded Lockhaven itself, is proof that the Guard is not invincible and that their power in the Territories is dependent on cooperation. When push comes to shove, it's the towns and cities who really have the power, and they don't always have the best interests of their civilization at heart.
Mice have only gone to war once. The Winter War of 1149, several years before the starting date of most Mouse Guard games, was a brutal, bloody slugfest that cost the Territories three major settlements and many mouse lives. The Territories have no standing army, so they were forced to conscript large portions of their population and throw them into the breach – under the Guard's guidance. Conscript armies being what they are, this didn't work too well. The weasels were eventually stopped, but at terrible cost in lives and resources.
The Guard's duties in war are to stop the fighting if it's between mouse settlements, either by negotiating a ceasefire or, if it comes to violence, by capturing the leaders of both sides and and dragging them back to Lockhaven for judgment. In war against an outside power, like weasels or one of the serious threats from the Wild Country like a pack of wolves or a rampaging bear, the Guard ostensibly leads the combined forces of the Territories. There's not much detail on how this works, but given the nature of mice and their settlements we can assume it's a disorganized clusterfuck that leaves everyone pulling their hair out.
Darkheather and the Wild Country
Chapter 7 closes with a couple of pages on what lies beyond the borders of the Territories.
The western border of the Territories abuts the domain of the weasels, a vast stretch of forest riddled with old tunnels and underground vaults. The main entrance to the tunnel system is hidden in a stand of deep-colored heather, hence the name. Unbeknownst to the mice, the tunnels extend over halfway across the Territories, secretly threatening Lockhaven itself.
Until 1149 the Darkheather was part of the Territories, but it's not clear whether the weasels were openly antagonistic toward the mice before the war. What is clear is that in 1149 a particularly vicious weasel named Rampaul took the throne of the Overlord and led the weasels up into the light to make war. They destroyed several mouse settlements, killing or capturing every mouse they could find. The captured mice were dragged back into the Darkheather and either eaten, killed and preserved for eating later, or kept as breeding stock to produce more mice to be killed and eaten.
We don't know the details of the war – that arc of the comics is forthcoming – but it seems clear that if the weasels had stuck to their tunnels they would have defeated the conscript army of the Territories handily. We're explicitly told that until 1152, three years after the end of the Winter War and the withdrawal of the weasel army, only three mice had ever entered the Darkheather tunnels and lived to tell the tale. They are basically Cackling Evil Villain Dungeons, covered with stonework depicting mighty weasels and filled with traps and the skulls of weasel victims. Many of the tunnels appear to have been abandoned since the war, but bats have taken up residence in the tunnels, and they're not likely to be the only ones.
Sidenote : The Darkheather bats are one of those interesting disconnects or sidesteps between the Mouse Guard RPG and the comics. In the comics, a huge flock of bats has taken over a portion of Darkheather. When the guardmice are confronted by them, the bats speak to them at length, talk about their ancient empire rejected by both the creatures of the land and the sky, and eventually fly into a rage and attack the mice. In the RPG, all we're told about bats is that there are a lot of them in the Territories and that “none of these creatures are directly harmful to mice.”
The Wild Country is everything beyond the Territories. It's land that hasn't been tamed, inasmuch as the mice can “tame” anything. It hasn't been explored, let alone mapped, and the lack of Scent Border and hundreds of years of diligent efforts by mice to drive off predators means you can run in to just about anything out there. Here be dragons.
The Scent Border is, for all intents and purposes, the edge of the world for mice outside the Guard. The chemical brew created by the Sprucetuck sciencemice and applied by the Guard's most trusted veteran patrols is all that keeps the Territories from being overrun by its original population of predators. It says a lot about mouse Nature that as important as the Scent Border is, its existence is almost unknown outside Sprucetuck and the Guard. It's not that anyone is keeping it a secret: it just doesn't register for them. All that matters to most mice is that the days of Fox and Hawk are over, and that the wolves no longer roam freely through the Territories. They have some vague notion that the Guard is responsible for this, but the how and why isn't their concern.
But the Guard knows. They maintain the Border because they know what's out there in the uncharted expanse of the Wild Country, where the trees grow thin and few. They know there's a reason why the Northeastern-most settlement is called Wolfepointe.
Here be dragons.
Next Time: Chapter 8 - “Denizens of the Mouse Territories”
Denizens of the TerritoriesOriginal SA post
Chapter 8: Denizens of the Territories
Chapter 8 is the 'bestiary' of Mouse Guard, the third and final chapter devoted to the four hazards and their associated setting details. It includes stats for mice in every occupation from administrator and apiarist to wanderer and weaver, plus an example guardmouse of each rank. We'll also get a look at weasels, their Nature and their allies. Most of chapter is dedicated to Wild Animals who aren't affiliated with either mice or weasels, which are the basis for Animal hazards in the GM's Turn. Finally, we'll take a look at interspecies communication and how mice can use War and Science to overturn the Natural Order.
I'm going to be honest here: most of this chapter is not that exciting in summary format. It's got pages and pages of stat-blocks, which are useful and flavorful when you're running a game but which don't lend themselves very well to this format. I'm going to breeze through much of this chapter, cherry-picking a few of the more interesting Mouse and Animal entries, and take a more in-depth look at the content near the end of the chapter.
First a quick refresher on the Nature stat, which we're going to be seeing a lot of in this chapter.
Nature represents a creature's “natural qualities and tendencies.” Each creature, mice and weasels included, has a Nature specific to their species which can be rolled whenever they do what it's in their nature to do to survive. Mice have Nature (Mouse), for example, which can be used to Escape, Hide, Climb and Forage , because that's how a mouse gets along in the wilderness. Mice and weasels have an array of other stats and skills to supplement their Nature, but most animals' “stat-blocks” consist of their Nature and the Weapons they use in a conflict, like Hardened Beaks, Turtle Shells or Coils. Animals roll Nature for everything , and since their Natures rarely start below 4 or 5, average around 7 and can go as high as 12, they tend to have a serious advantage over a lone mouse. Patrols exist for a good reason, folks.
There is a bright side, however. Unlike mice, animals are ruled by their Nature. Mice can rely on their stats, skills, or Beginner's Luck for skills they don't possess, but animals can only perform actions related to their Nature tags. This doesn't mean you can shut down a snake by Persuading it – the snake is simply going to eat you – but clever mice can escape overwhelming odds by forcing predators into situations their Natures can't cope with.
Mice of the Territories
The chapter starts with stat-blocks for sample guardmice from tenderpaw to guard captain, plus Matriarch Gwendolyn. The guardmice are mostly what you'd expect after the Recruitment chapter: six to eight skills between 2 and 4, edging up to 4s and 5s for Patrol Leaders and Guard Captains, three trait points in things like Guard's Honor, Stubborn, Brave and Independent, and steadily improving Resources and Circles. Gwendolyn is different.
It's clear a glance that Gwendolyn gets to cheat. She's the only character in the book with skills rated at 6 (Persuader and Guard-wise), more Resources than god, and the sum of her Will (6) and Health (4) is 10 instead of 9 for every other rank of guardmouse. She also has an ungodly nine trait points when the other sample characters have three at best, a number that would take literally dozens of sessions of sessions to achieve if you're lucky. Combined with the fact that the book suggests Gwendolyn is the GM's avatar back in Chapter 4 and it can start to look like uncomfortable territory. So, what's her deal? Did a book which appears to be written for new gamers actually include a terrible, overpowered GMPC?
For one thing, this is how Gwendolyn is presented in the comics. She's the epitome of the Mouse Guard, as wise and determined and compassionate as her traits indicate. But faithful emulation doesn't excuse a possible Mary Sue, nor does the line about Gwendolyn spending all of her time organizing the Mouse Guard's affairs – that's the Elminster excuse, and it never stopped him from being a nuisance in the hands of a bad GM. The thing that keeps Gwendolyn from being a viable GMPC is the rest of the system. Nature and animals are always, always stronger than a single mouse; that's why patrols exist. As clearly overpowered as Gwendolyn is, she still wouldn't last five minutes in an ice storm.
The next ten pages or so are filled with statblocks for every sort of mouse you could conceivably want to find in the Territories. Strangely enough, they're not typical mice. These characters are explicitly meant to challenge the PCs, so their stats are tweaked upward slightly.
As mentioned above, I'm not going to cover most of these entries. Suffice it to say that for every skill there is an associated character, plus a few like the Muscle, the Bandit and the Naturalist who don't fit cleanly into a profession. The most interesting parts of these entries are usually their traits and wises, which are frequently quirky and provide some insight into how mouse society might work. The Cook, for example, has the trait Bitter for no reason in particular. Foragers have Underbrush-wise 4 and Quiet, which says a lot about how dangerous the profession is, and so on.
Here's the good stuff. Or rather, the vicious, vile, horrible stuff, because weasels are nasty . I mean jesus, look at this thing:
”I am going to eat your children.”
We're given a recap of the weasel-related information which has previously been hinted at throughout the book. Then we get to the juicy mechanical bits.
Weasels aren't animals, per se. Like mice, weasels have a Nature stat that they can only use for certain things, and must rely on stats and skills if they want to act outside of their Nature. Unlike mice, weasel Nature is not pleasant. Weasels can use their Nature whenever one of the following keywords applies to what they're doing: Aggressive, Gloating, Clever, and Burrow Stealer . That last one explains the existence of Darkheather, by the way. The weasels didn't make that vast network of tunnels, they stole it from many former occupants who had either abandoned it or were overwhelmed by the invading weasels. The weasels rule over a subterranean domain of echoing, dusty halls full of stonework carved with their likenesses, ruled by an Overlord and a succession of Tunnel Lords beneath him. Weasels advance in society by murdering their superiors, so a weasel lord never rests easy on his throne.
We're also introduced to the weasels' allies, their cousin species the ferret, marten, mink and sable. Ferrets are basically scrub weasels, used for labor and cannon fodder. Occasionally a ferret claws its way into power - Overlord Rampaul's chief captain in the Winter War was a ferret – but most of them are just second-class citizens. Martens are bigger, badder weasels about the size of a fox. They're large enough to hunt rabbits, so they can handily butcher dozens of mice without breaking a sweat; fortunately they're not strictly carnivorous. Mink are just water-weasels, but they are strictly carnivorous and have a particular fondness for mice. Last and worst of all are sables. These things are monsters, about as large as a fox or a marten but considerably more dangerous. They actively hunt porcupines of all things, and sport a nasty set of retractable claws. Sable are thankfully rare in the Territories due to the Scent Border, but they sometimes show up in winter when food is scarce.
So, what's a weasel like in a straight fight against a mouse? It depends. The typical Weasel Soldier is armed, armored and has Fighter 5, which puts it at the upper end of an individual guardmouse's possible stat range. They straight-up outgun most guardmice who aren't focused on combat, and their Deceiver 4 and the Clever tag for accessing their Nature puts on them respectable ground for less direct confrontations as well. It's possible for a mouse to take on “commoner” weasel in a head-to-head fight, but they'd better be built for it. With the nobility, it's a different story. Tunnel Lords and the Overlord roll with Nature 6 and 7 respectively, are heavily armed and armored, and their Aggressive Nature tag and wises like Tunnel-wise and Warrior Mouse-wise let them throw down huge piles of dice when they're trying to kill a mouse. It's brutal. Bring friends.
On a happier note, livestock!
Seriously, mice have livestock, and they get a short section here. The Territories mice keep beetles as beasts of burden and as pets, and we've already mentioned their love of bees and bee-related products like honey, wax, and horrible stinging death for their enemies. They also keep crickets as pets, which proves that these are alien creatures who think nothing at all like humans, because why the hell would you want crickets everywhere making that racket? They even have Chirping in their Nature tags oh god I'm getting angry just thinking about it.
At 16 out of 34 pages, this is the meat of the chapter. Forty-seven animals that frequent the Territories are listed here, each with two or three paragraphs on their little-n nature and the ways in which they interact with mice, plus their Nature and its tags and any Weapons they might possess. Rather than summarize all of them, I'm going to cherrypick a few of the more interesting entries and let the book speak for itself, plus a bit of commentary on how they might look in actual play.
Because it's my post and I am shameless, let's look at a kestrel .
Mouse Guard posted:
Kestrels are falcons sometimes known as sparrow hawks. These raptors are smaller than hawks and owls, but no less deadly. They prey on anything that they can get their talons around. Unlike the hunting hawks found in the forest itself, kestrels are more likely to be found hunting in clearings and meadows.
During the winter, the kestrels fly south and the mice are free to keep their attention trained on other predators, like owls and foxes!
Kestrel Nature 6
Predator, Flying, Noble
Raptor's Beak - +1D to Attack. Talons - +1s to successful Attack.
The kestrel is a typical mid-sized predator for the Territories. Its Nature 6 is on the low end, but it makes up for it with specialization. Those weapons and its Nature tags mean that when it uses Attacks in a conflict, it's going to hurt. That specialization also makes them predictable, because anything that good at Attacking is going to Attack a lot , which lets you script accordingly. Peppering your conflict script with Defends to mitigate the damage while whittling away at its weapons with Maneuvers can take the fight out of a kestrel pretty quickly. This sort of tactical decision-making holds true for a lot of the animals: they tend to have a gimmick or specialty, and if you can find a way to negate that, you're halfway toward winning the conflict.
Then again, sometimes clever tactics can only take you so far. There's only so much you can do when something like a black bear shows up, and that “so much” is run the fuck away .
Mouse Guard posted:
Bears are rare in the Territories themselves, but they are common in the lands surrounding them. The Scent Border keeps them from wreaking havoc on mouse life.
Bears are curious, smart and always hungry. They eat anything. To a black bear, the towns and cities of the Territories are a series of delicious, gift-wrapped presents for him to unwrap and dig into at his leisure.
Bears are active from the late spring to the late fall. They hibernate for the winter.
Black Bear Nature 12 (!)
Powerful, Curiosity, Voracious Appetite, Destructor!
Black Bear Weapons
Bear Claws - +2s to Attack. Thick Skin - +2s to disposition in a fight. Massive – the range of a bear attack is longer than bows.
So yeah. That's a problem. Having a bear show up in the Territories is like seeing Godzilla descend on Tokyo. What in the world are mice supposed to do against this thing?
War and Science We'll get that shortly.
Of course, not everything in the Territories is a vicious killing machine. Consider the humble flying squirrel. Isn't it cute? Let's see what these lil' guys are like.
Mouse Guard posted:
The flying squirrel seems to be a harmless, spectacular oddity. In fact, it's quite dangerous. Mice of the Territories refer to this animal as the Flying Devil! Mouse children are warned that if they do not behave, the Flying Devil will swoop into their room at night, carry them off and eat them.
The flying squirrel is an omnivore, and young mouse pups are among its favorite prey. Given its rather unusual nature, it's a difficult creature to defend against; it can attack from unexpected angles.
Flying Squirrel Nature 6
Gliding, Baby Mice Stealing , Climbing
Flying Squirrel Weapons
Gliding Wings - +2D to Maneuver actions.
Well that's horrifying. Thanks, Mouse Guard.
Let's talk about something else. Something happier, that doesn't involve baby mice being eaten. Let's talk about...
Communication and Culture
This tiny, four-small-paragraphs section is the closest we get to an definitive statement about which animals are sentient and cultured. We're told that mice have culture, but that other animals “exist as animals do.” They have their own languages, but they're mostly incomprehensible unless the animal is close to being mouse-like. Knowing the language of owls like Celanawe does in the comics is clearly no mean feat. Specifically, it requires a fairly difficult Loremouse test to establish communication or to pick up facts about animals.
This is also the section where we're explicitly told that weasels are the “dark mirror” of mice. Given the conversation we had earlier in this thread, it bears posting in full:
Mouse Guard posted:
Weasels, like mice, have speech and culture. They are the dark mirror in which the mice are reflected – mice are peaceful and wish to survive, weasels are rapacious and wish to conquer and enslave.
Way back in the first couple of chapters we talked about the Natural Order: a scale on which every animal, including mice and weasels, exists which dictates whether animals can prey on one another. This section puts the animals of the Territories into context on the Natural Order scale in a full-page illustration, showing several silhouettes of sample animals for each “tier” of the Order. As a general rule, a creature's place in the Natural Order is decided by its size, but sheer ferocity puts some animals like sables at a rank higher than their size would indicate.
In game terms, the Natural Order scale decides whether a participant in a conflict can have the injury or death of their opponent as their stake. You can kill anything at your rank, or one rank lower or higher. Animals two ranks higher than you can be captured, injured or driven off, but can't be killed. Animals three ranks higher than you can only be run off. So yes, it is theoretically possible for a lone mouse to drive off a rampaging bear, but it's extremely unlikely.
Thankfully, weasels are only one rank higher than mice, so they can straight-up kill each other. Mice can also take on most snakes, flying squirrels, and smaller birds, and they can drive away or injure owls, beavers, hares and larger snakes. Certain mouse weapons like Celanawe's Black Axe can raise the effective place of a mouse on the Natural Order scale, but they're still fairly limited. So what's a mouse to do when confronted by something they can't kill or injure?
Militarist and Scientist
First, you can go to war. Using the Militarist skill, mice can band together in huge numbers to take on larger animals in a head-to-head fight. The number of mice required depends on how many steps higher than a single mouse the animal is on the Natural Order scale. War against smaller nuisances like beavers takes about twenty mice. Something like a sable or a coyote takes a couple of hundred mice. A wolf? Two thousand mice. A bear? Twenty. Thousand. Mice.
To put this in perspective, the entire Mouse Guard consists of fewer than 100 mice. A wolf is probably as serious a threat in war as the entire weasel invasion of the Winter War. You would have to conscript most of the Territories to even think about fighting a bear (which sounds like a fun campaign to me). If nothing else, this gives us some appreciation for how important the Scent Border is, and how much it must have cost the mice to clear those large predators out the Territories so the Border could be established in the first place.
Speaking of the Scent Border, the other option to throwing thousands of mice into the jaws of death is science. Mice are clever, and sciencemice have an almost MacGuyver-like ability to defy the odds. If their allies can pass a Resources test with an obstacle equal to the animal's Nature, the Territories' best and brightest can use the Sciencemouse skill in a conflict to deflect or trap the animal, regardless of its position in the Natural Order. Of course, for something like a Nature 12 Black Bear you're looking at around 24D of Resources to have a shot, when even Gwendolyn only has Resources 10. That means loans, debts, and delicious consequences no matter what happens.
Next Time: Chapter 9 - “Abilities and Skills”
Abilities/SkillsOriginal SA post
Chapter 9: Abilities and Skills
We're on the home stretch now. After three chapters of setting and situation, we're back to pure mechanics. As the name implies, this chapter is an in-depth look at the Abilities (Nature, Will, Health, Resources, Circles) and Skills, starting with how they advance in play as opposed to during a Winter Session. Like the previous chapter, about half of Chapter 9 is taken up by a detailed list of the Skills and their obstacles, which we'll be skipping over for brevity's sake.
Advancement and New Skills
Mouse Guard characters advance organically, based on what gets rolled in play. Skills and abilities advance when you use them for a certain number of successful tests and failed tests. Barring Winter Session advancement, it's impossible to grow and change without failure. It's a subtle incentive to try things that are out of your league, or to use Traits against yourself in the GM's Turn to both earn a check and rack up a failed test for advancement. As skills and abilities get higher it naturally becomes more difficult to fail at them – you're throwing larger dice pools at the problem, after all. If you want failed tests for your Pathfinder 5 skill, for example, you're either going to need the world's worst set of weighted dice or start taking long journeys through difficult terrain or blazing new trails altogether.
Learning new skills also occurs organically through play. Every time you use Beginner's Luck to make a test for a skill you don't have, you put a check next to that skill – pass or fail doesn't matter in this case. After making twice your Nature in tests, you unlock the skill.
On the other hand, you could just skip advancement altogether: Mouse Guard's advancement rules are explicitly optional, albeit recommended. Given the massive hard-on Luke Crane has for his advancement rules in Burning Wheel (not that I blame him, since they're great), it's interesting to see this in the text and probably says something significant about the design of the game.
Back in Chapter 5: Resolution we read about Obstacles to success and their general implications: Obstacle 1 is very easy, Ob 2 is somewhat difficult, Ob 3 is challenging and risky, and so on. About 150 pages later we finally learn how to assign an obstacle number to a test through a process called factoring .
Every skill has a section listing its factors , the elements of tasks related to that skill which determine its difficulty. For example, the Pathfinder factors look like this:
Mouse Guard posted:
Trying to arrive at a destination before another group or patrol requires a versus test with the other group.
Destination: Nearby, a short journey, a long journey, remote or isolated.
Route: Well traveled, infrequently used, overgrown or washed out, blazing a new trail.
To find out how difficult a test is, you find the relevant factors, note their positions in the lists, and add the number of their positions together to get the obstacle. So making a journey to a nearby location (position 1) along a well-traveled road (position 1) is an Obstacle 2 Pathfinder test. Making a long journey (position 3) along infrequently used trails (position 2) is an Obstacle 5 Pathfinder test. Most mice can make the first test by calling on their Nature dice even if they don't have the Pathfinder skill, but the second test is going to require expertise, teamwork and a fair amount of luck to pull off without complications. Obstacles get even higher if time is pressing or if you're contending with adverse weather.
We've talked about Nature a few times now, and I've fleshed out earlier entries with material from this section to explain it more clearly, but there's still some new ground to cover here.
As a reminder, your Nature rating can be used to escape, climb, hide, or forage without penalty. It can also be substituted for any other skill except Wises, but it risks temporarily reducing (“taxing”) your Nature by the margin of failure if you botch the test.
Getting Nature dice back isn't easy. Winter Sessions let you recover to your maximum rating, but those are few and far between. Delivering the prologue / recap at the beginning of the session recovers one point, as does returning to the game after an absence. Other than that, you've only got one option for recovering your lost dice: Depleting Nature. At any point you can choose to recover a point of taxed Nature in exchange for permanently reducing your maximum Nature by one. It's harsh, but Nature is incredibly powerful and recovering it has a price.
Nature can also be “tapped” instead of rolled independently. Burning a Persona Point (those rewards from pursuing your Beliefs and Goals) lets you add your entire Nature rating in dice to a roll. Powerful as hell, but risky: as with an independent Nature test, failing a roll when you've tapped your Nature results in tax.
Finally, we're told what happens to mice with Natures that get too high (Rating 7) or too low (Rating 0).
Mice whose Natures are taxed to zero get a bit... Strange. They've changed, become un-mouselike. Even after they recover their Nature they'll always be marked by the experience. Mechanically, the result of being taxed to Nature 0 is an un-mouselike Trait which gets voted on immediately, reflecting the nature of the failed test that resulted in the tax. The canon example is a botched Scientist test while trying to make weasel musk for camouflage. The mouse in question gained the Musty Smell trait, so he permanently smells like a weasel – potentially useful, but something that will put other mice on edge. Going to a permanent Nature 0 rating is a bit more severe: the mouse no longer fits in with the rest of the Guard, and they don't necessarily want to serve any more. Nature 0 mice retire until at least the next spring, at which point they can rejoin the game. For readers of the comics, this is what happened to Celanawe prior to the start of Fall 1152.
Advancing to Nature 7 is more severe. A Nature 7 character is “too mouselike” to be doing the crazy things that are demanded of guardmice and retires at the end of the session with a new trait like Settled, Skittish or Oldfur. That may look harsh, but in reality this almost never happens. The ability to Deplete Nature almost at will is a safeguard against hitting Nature 7 unless you're deliberately playing with fire.
Will and Health
Will and Health are the most commonly-used abilities, representing mental and physical strength, resilience and adaptability. Aside from testing them via Beginner's Luck for untrained skills, Will and Health get rolled to recover from the conditions inflicted by failed rolls like Anger, Sickness and Injured, or for tests requiring raw mental or physical effort like lifting heavy objects or resisting persuasion.
Setting obstacles for these tests can be tricky. Most of the time you'll roll against a set obstacle from the book – it's always Will Ob 2 to recover from the Anger condition, for example, and the obstacles for Beginner's Luck tests are the same as with the skill you're attempting – but for those “raw physical or mental effort” tests you've got to fall back on a good guess. The Factoring Obstacles section gives a range of generic obstacle difficulties, but whether something is “downright hard and all but requires teamwork” or “very difficult […] requires dedicated teamwork or a combination of Nature and skill” is open to interpretation. Making those kinds of calls is a big part of the GM's responsibilities in any game with a traditional players / GM split, but I can imagine this being the source of some difficulty for the new players that Mouse Guard seems aimed at.
Money. Favors. Debts. Stock in trade. Whatever you have that lets you get what you want, that's represented by Resources.
Resource obstacles are either taken from a decently-sized list of sample items or from factoring. The sample list ranges from restful lodging for a night (Ob 2) to heavy armor (Ob 4) to a safe place to retire (Ob 6). There's also a few obstacles for raw materials; if you ever find yourself in desperate need of a ton of raw honey for your swarm of ravenous bees, Page 238 has you covered. The factors are straightforward, determining a purchase's Resources Obstacle based on its commonality, quality, quantity and visual appeal . Irrelevant factors are discarded – unless you're really picky about the aesthetics of the clay jugs you're buying to hold all that raw honey, you don't have to factor it's visual appeal.
Like Nature, Resources can be depleted by failing tests. Instead of hitting you with a twist as per usual for a failed test, your Resources might be depleted by 1 in exchange for acquiring whatever it is you're after. Burning Wheel players, don't mistake this for tax. It's a permanent loss, as with Depleting Nature.
Circles is about who you know and who you can reach. For when you really need to pull a Master Apiarist to guide your beeswarm out of your hat, Circles has your back. On a successful Circles test you can find anyone you're looking for, creating them out of whole cloth or recalling a previously encountered character almost at will.
Circles factors are based either on the Guard rank of the person you want to contact, or on a combination of the profession, power, and attitude of that person if they're outside the Guard. As a result, finding someone in the Guard is relatively easy: it's as easy for a tenderpaw to get a hold of a Guard Captain as it is for her to find a helpful laborer. The result is that you're encouraged to draw on the Guard's personnel as much as possible because the obstacles for outsiders get very high, very fast.
So what happens when you blow a Circles test? Either a twist as per usual, or Fun Times. Specifically, the Enmity Clause. When the GM invokes the Enmity Clause, you find an enemy instead of an ally. Someone from your past that you've wronged or who is hostile to the Guard appears in your path, working against you either directly or through deception and intrigue. They also get a standing +3 successes to their conflict dispositions if you try to talk them down, because they have it in for you that much .
The Enmity Clause is another mechanic ported over directly from Burning Wheel, but it's been given a subtle spin here. In Burning Wheel, Enmity Clause characters aren't necessarily hostile to you – they're sources of trouble, certainly, but they could be well-meaning or oblivious to the headaches they're giving you. One of my favorite examples is circling up an old friend only to find that they're now heavily indebted to organized crime, and having the underworld start leaning on you to repay your friend's debts unless you want him to have a visit from big men with clubs. In Mouse Guard, so far as I can tell, Enmity Clause characters are clearly and unquestionably hostile. The text strongly implies it, and the fact that there's a special place for them on the character sheet under the heading “Enemies” doesn't exactly disabuse me of the idea. There's not as much room for personal dilemmas and moral ambiguity with Mouse Guard Enmity Clauses, but that's not what the game is trying for.
Chapter 9 wraps up with a list of skills, their factors, and suggested skills to add Helping Dice when testing that skill. This is about as long as the rest of the chapter put together and isn't suitable for a review, but here's a few bits that I ran across that amused me:
Suggested Help for Brewer:
The Fighter skill is as much about overcoming a mouse's Nature as it is about using weapons or bare paws.
Insectrists use bugs like power tools or heavy machinery. Beetles are trucks and earthmovers, trains of ants transport goods, worms are deployed as field aerators, and so on. Also, their Amount factors are
The obstacle for Instructor tests is the student's current Nature rating, so mice with a strong Nature have a hard time learning the “people-like” skills.
- The order of the Scientist factors tells us what priorities the mice put on their sciences, and probably how far advanced they are in a given discipline: Geological / Mineral, Chemical, Physical / Engineering, Biological, Astronomical. You've also got to wonder what a Scientist Ob 6 test with Astronomical and Harmful factors would look like.
Next Time: Chapter 10 – Traits & Chapter 11 – Sample Missions
That's right, folks – we're down to the end. Traits is a short chapter taken up almost entirely by the trait list, which would make for dry reading, so I'm going to roll that into a single post with our finale, Chapter 11. As soon as Mass Effect 3 loosens its barbed hooks from my soul, that is.
TraitsOriginal SA post
With Mass Effect 3's claws pried loose from my free time, we're finally going to wrap this thing up. As mentioned previously, this is going to be a double-header covering the last two chapters, Traits and Sample Missions. Traits is a tiny chapter consisting mostly of a list of, surprise surprise, sample traits, so we're going to breeze through that and go right on to Sample Missions since that makes for much meatier reading.
Chapter 10: Traits
Traits are what set you apart from other mice. They represent something unusual or extraordinary about the character, something worth a capital letter. There may be a lot of mice who are clever, for example, but there aren't many who are capital-C Clever. If you have traits, they probably show up in descriptions people give of you.
Mechanically, traits are pretty simple. You can invoke their positive aspect to give you bonuses to a roll, or invoke their negative aspect to hinder you and earn checks for the Players' Turn. The book suggests that traits should be qualities which are broad enough to have both positive and negative aspects, but it's not strictly necessary. Because the most important function of traits is to provide you with checks for the Players' Turn, there's nothing stopping you from having traits which only have negative aspects.
Every trait has three levels, depending on how many points you put in to it during Recruitment and whether you've raised it during a Winter Session.
traits grant +1D to a test when the trait's positive aspect is invoked and their use is described, but they can only be used once per session.
traits still only grant +1D, but they're always active. As long as you can describe how the trait is helping you out, you can grab an extra die.
- Level Three traits let you reroll any failed dice on a test once per session. They're essentially like having a spare Fate Point as long as you can justify bringing the trait to bear.
Dice manipulation tricks are nice, but the major benefit of traits is that you can screw yourself over with them to accumulate precious checks for the Players' Turn – or, if you're really desperate and have a bunch of checks to spare, for the GM's Turn. By invoking the negative aspect of a trait you can:
yourself by taking -1D to your current roll to gain 1 check. This is usually a good deal if you're facing an obstacle you're good at and can afford to lose a die on, especially if you've got Help.
yourself by giving your opponent +2D in an opposed roll with you to gain 2 checks. This is rough. Dice pools don't often exceed 6-7D or so in Mouse Guard unless you're up against Nature, so handing someone or something +2D is a huge swing that practically guarantees they'll win the roll. Still, if you really need those checks, it's an option.
- Break a Tie in your opponent's favor to gain 2 checks. Oof. On the bright side, this isn't quite as bad as it sounds. Breaking a tie in your opponent's favor only gives them a margin of success of 1 point, which isn't enough to do too much harm in a Conflict.
Finally, we're given a short list of ways to spend those hard-earned checks:
Buy a Test
in the Players' Turn for one check. This is what the vast majority of checks are spent on, and it fuels the Players' Turn.
in the GM's Turn for two checks. This gives you a chance to recover from a condition like Angry or Tired at a moment's notice during the GM's Turn, but it's twice as expensive as waiting until the Players' Turn. Whatever roll you're going to make that you need a spare die for had better be worth it.
Charge a Trait
for three checks. This raises the level of a trait by one for the rest of the session. It's staggeringly expensive, but Level 3 traits in particular are worth if it you know something big is coming. This is what you do just before you go off to deal with the Big Bad of the arc or what-have-you.
- Recharge a Trait so you can use a level 1 or 3 trait again in a session for two or four checks respectively. The description of Recharge explicitly states that this can be done at any time, so this is for when you really, desperately need to reroll that failed test in a conflict.
And that's it for the rules. The rest of the chapter is nine pages of example traits, each with a couple of sentences on how the trait fits in to mouse culture, how it might be helpful and how it might be a hindrance. This makes for dry reading in a summary post, so I'm going to skip it and move on. There are a few interesting hints about mouse culture buried in there, however. Nocturnal , for example, suggests that mice have forced themselves out of their naturally nocturnal sleep cycles. Guard's Honor gives us an idea of what capital punishment looks like for mice (exile beyond the Scent Border). Defender implies that the Winter War raged deep into civilian areas, forcing common mice to take up arms to defend their homes when the Guard could not.
Now, let's put it all together.
Sample MissionsOriginal SA post
Chapter 11: Sample Missions
Mouse Guard posted:
The paths between our settlements are where the Guard live. They find the open space, the freedom and the danger to be more of a home than the secure doors and stone walls of any town or village.
We'll be wrapping up Mouse Guard with a look at the three sample missions: Find the Grain Peddler, Deliver the Mail and Trouble in Grasslake .
Disclaimer: If you're going to be playing in a Mouse Guard game in the near future, don't read this! Grain Peddler in particular is easily spoil-able. It probably won't help you all that much anyway, but hey, why spoil the surprise?
As you'd expect for pre-written scenarios, each Mission has a set of four pre-gen characters to choose from. Oddly enough, right off the bat we're told that these are interchangeable . If you have more than four players for a scenario or if you really want to play Grain Peddler with the quirky, hardened badasses from Grasslake , there's nothing stopping you. You can even double-up on a given character as long as you make them sufficiently distinct in the tweaking phase.
Speaking of which, templates do need to be tweaked to suit the Mission and personal taste. Beliefs, Instincts and Goals are all flexible, although the Goal obviously has to relate to the scenario in question. Names, ages, cloak and fur color, and weapons can all be freely substituted. Skills and wises can be moved around as long as you don't bring them below 2 or above 5. The only things you can't change are your rank, hometown, traits, and abilities.
With that out of the way, it jumps right in to the first scenario.
Find the Grain Peddler
Grain Peddler is the Mouse Guard "con scenario," an introductory mission meant to be played in a two-hour convention slot, including an explanation of how the system works. If you've played Mouse Guard, chances are you've played this scenario.
As with all the scenarios, we're given the characters first. Why? I have no idea, and it's one of the few layout decisions in the book I find questionable, but we'll roll with it.
Grain Peddler's patrol is led by Kenzie, a veteran of the Winter War who's getting on in years. He's more of a talker than a fighter, but he can lay to with a quarterstaff if need be. His right-hand mouse is Saxon, a short, red-furred ball of rage with an astounding Fighter 6 and a "cut it in half with my greatsword first, ask questions later" approach to life. Sadie is the party ranger, Weather Watcher, sharp-shooter, and arguably its moral center with her compassionate Belief. Lieam is the obligatory tenderpaw determined to prove himself to the rest of the patrol, and is probably the least interesting of the bunch other than his amazing Hidey-hole-wise . I mean really, how can you not love that skill?
It's Fall 1152 when Matriarch Gwendolyn summons the patrol to her map room. She assigns them a patrol route between the Barkstone and Rootwallow settlements, which are about as far apart as it's possible to get in the Territories. It's a huge amount of ground to cover during a dangerous and busy season for the Guard. So, why all the fuss? A grain peddler has gone missing. Really, Gwendolyn? Really?
If you've read the Mouse Guard comics, you know where this is going.
Gwendolyn takes patrol leader Kenzie aside after the briefing and tells him the real deal. Turns out the grain peddler may be a spy, but his disappearance has made that hard to verify. She wants Kenzie to find this guy and either exonerate him or prove his guilt.
This is the point where you'd write Goals for the session, but the pre-gens include them so it's on to the action.
Like any good scenario – see: not anything from Cthulhutech - Grain Peddler gets right to business. The peddler is actively trying to avoid being found (he is, in fact, a spy), so the patrol is up against his Nature 6 roll to find him. Lieam is the patrol's best shot at overtaking him with Scout 5, and a few helping dice from the other guardmice gives them good odds.
If by some chance the peddler wins the roll, we get our first Twist: they find the peddler's cart overturned on the side of the road, its contents scattered everywhere. The peddler wandered too close to the nest of a snake's burrow, and the thing gobbled him up post haste. Unfortunately it's still lurking in the area, made territorial and aggressive thanks to the clutch of eggs it's protecting. It doesn't particularly want to fight, but it does try to drive the patrol away when they start poking around. An extended search prompts it to attack in earnest, and that's when things get nasty. It's possible to fight the snake and kill it in a conflict – hell, it's possible for Saxon to solo it with some lucky rolls – but it's not ideal. Luring the snake away or threatening its eggs like it's the Queen from Aliens can buy other patrol members enough time to search the area and find the evidence they need.
Sidenote: This is the first good example of a Mouse Guard “failure cascade.” Blowing the Scout test still lets the patrol get to where they need to go, and the evidence they're after is still present, but it puts them up against an entirely new set of obstacles which are more dangerous than the last. As resources get worn down and conditions accumulate through failed tests and conflicts, subsequent rolls become more and more difficult, which leads to more twists, which reduce resources even further, and so on. By the end of the GM's Turn, the patrol can be in rough shape. In fact, when Luke ran this scenario for us at PAX a few years back he switched things up, eschewing the snake in favor of even more twists and obstacles between us and the peddler via the failed Scout test. By the time we found the little bastard we were lost, hungry, fighting amongst ourselves, and had been nearly drowned. Oh, and his body was in the hands of one of our Enemies who was turning the town militia against us. Welp.
If the patrol passes its Scout test it catches up to the peddler without incident. As mentioned, the peddler is a spy, but he doesn't know much: he's more of a go-between than anything else. He can, however, point them toward Barkstone and his co-conspirators there. The real prize is hidden inside the grain cart, but getting to it requires either a successful Persuader or Deceiver roll against the peddler or a fairly difficult Nature test to search the cart. What they find is a detailed map of Lockhaven, the citadel of the Mouse Guard. There's no good reason for anyone outside the Guard to have this, and finding it should set off all kinds of warning bells. Neither the map nor the peddler can confirm it directly, but there's every reason to believe that a raid or attack on Lockhaven is in the works. For those of you who haven't read the comics, there's a conspiracy brewing in Barkstone to depose the Matriarch and repurpose the Guard as an active military power instead of a reactive peacekeeping and humanitarian force. A charismatic former guardmouse has usurped the loyalty of the Barkstone militia and raised a peasant army in secret, and intends to use the Lockhaven map to bypass the citadel's formidable defenses.
The GM's Turn ends once the map has been found and a giant snake isn't trying to eat the patrol. Although the book doesn't mention it, usually dealing with the peddler in some fashion gets covered in the GM's Turn as well. This is where patrol cohesion starts to fray around the edges. There are a lot of reports of the PCs having nasty conflicts over the peddler's fate which do more damage to one another than the snake did.
The Players' Turn
The Players' Turn is by definition open-ended, but it usually plays out in one of two ways. Either the patrol hoofs it back to Lockhaven to deliver the map to Gwendolyn and warn the Guard about the possible attack, or they head to Barkstone to catch the spy's accomplices and co-conspirators. This being a convention scenario without too many checks to around, it's assumed that there won't be much time spent on this part of the game: they'll spend most of their tests just getting to their destination and recovering from conditions. Find the Grain Peddler usually ends on a cliffhanger with the PCs either gearing up to go after the Barkstone conspirators or, with failed tests in the mix, drawing the conspiracy's attention and having them descend on the patrol. All in all the scenario takes maybe an hour or two, introduces you to the basics of the Guard's duties, usually hits you with a terrifying animal to impose a sense of scale, and drops you in the middle of vicious mouse politics. It's a great start to a campaign.
Deliver the Mail
Deliver the Mail is a more typical mission meant to take up a full session. Like the name implies, it centers on what is ostensibly the Guard's simplest, most straight-forward duty: getting the mail from one settlement to another.
If you're using the pre-gens, the designated patrol leader is Dain, a Sprucetuck sciencemouse with a fixation on reason and rational action. His second in command is Quentin, Dain's childhood friend from Sprucetuck who gave up his formal training as a sciencemouse to join the Guard with Dain. He also has Nature 6, so he's right on the edge of being “too mousey” to serve in the Guard. Baron is the patrol's heavy, a fighting mouse with a pole-axe and a heart of gold who has some questionable friendships with bandits. The patrol tenderpaw, Robin, is a bit of a tinker who's constantly building small useful objects but isn't particularly interesting beyond that.
Gwendolyn's orders couldn't be simpler. It's spring, and the mouse settlements are all eager for word from friends, relatives and business partners they've been cut off from throughout the long winter, so it's time to reopen the lines of communication. The patrol is to take a bag of mail and deliver it to four settlements along their circuit.
The GM's Turn
The GM narrates past the first two settlements in the circuit, passing through Elmoss and Sprucetuck without incident. The route from Sprucetuck to Dorigift is where things get dicey. Patches of snow, melt water and seas of mud bar the way. The mice have to overcome a staggering Ob 6 Pathfinder test to make their way through without incident. This is... Let's call it improbable at best, but that's what happens when you travel in Spring. If they fail, the twists begin in earnest.
The scenario gives you a couple of pre-generated options for twists. There's a cold spring rain storm, which is unpleasant and inconvenient, but the real hardship is the raven. The big black bird spies the patrol moving through its territory and becomes fixated on their mail bag. It doesn't bear the patrol any ill will per se, bu it wants that bag and starts harassing them to get it. The bird initiates a full-blown conflict with the goal of stealing the bag, and it fights dirty with Raven Nature 8 and tags like Scavenger, Acrobat, Trickster and Flying. This thing is absolutely obnoxious to fight, especially since the party has relatively poor Hunter skill all around. If it wins the bird flies off with the bag to gloat, forcing the patrol to first track it down and then steal back the bag, squaring off against Nature 8 both times. If it loses, the raven's compromise is to steal a piece or two of mail or a piece of gear from a guardmouse, like one of their precious cloaks. Technically they can still complete the mission even if they lose a bit of mail – that's the cost of doing business in the Territories – but losing a cloak or a weapon tends to set players off on a wild tear through the forest during the Players' Turn trying to get their gear back.
After dealing with the raven – or if by some miracle they make the Ob 6 Pathfinder roll – the patrol makes its way to the remote outpost of Gilpledge near the southwestern border of the Territories. Gilpledge isn't much to speak of, but it's crammed with refugees from the Winter War. One of these is a famous carpenter (which is apparently thing you can be in the Mouse Territories) whose daughter is engaged to a politician's son from prosperous Ironwood. His daughter's dowry isn't up to snuff, so the carpenter is intent on recovering a family heirloom from Walnutpeck, a nearby settlement that fell to the weasels during the Winter War. Walnutpeck now lies firmly inside the borders of the Wild Country, and Martin the Carpenter wants the patrol's help to get the heirloom back. As the guardmice are handing out mail he appeals to them for help. He has no argument skills whatsoever and can't possibly win an argument conflict, but he tries to engage them in one regardless. The fact that the heirloom he wants dragged out of weasel-infested woods is a goddamn rocking chair should give the PCs a pile of bonus dice.
There's one more possible twist to spring on the patrol. I'll just let the book describe this one.
Mouse Guard posted:
One of the residents of Gilpledge, Loretta, is eagerly awaiting a letter from her beloved, Gunnar. Last spring, Gunnar moved north to Darkwater in search of work. He promised to send word the next spring to tell Loretta if she should join him.
If a portion of the mail is lost due to a twist, it's Loretta's letter that's gone missing. She stands sad and bereft as the mail is distributed and her letter isn't there. She's the last to leave the town square once the mail has been dispersed.
The patrol isn't obligated to help her, and in fact the GM's Turn ends as soon as the conflict with Martin and the handing-out-mail scene ends, leaving the PCs free to go about their business. But it takes a hard-hearted mouse to leave her in distress, and odds are that they'll end up spending some of their precious checks to help her get to Darkwater.
The Players' Turn in this scenario usually involves wrapping up loose ends from Gilpledge. Sneaking into Walnutpeck with Martin requires a couple of checks, first to find the lost settlement and then to evade the weasels occupying it and retrieve that damned chair. Resolving Loretta's situation requires a difficult Pathfinding test if they simply want to take her to Darkwater regardless, but more likely they'll go after the raven to steal back the lost letter and go up against dickbird's Nature 8 in the process. Either one of these side quests can easily failure-cascade their way into full-blown GM Turns, which you can either play out in the same session or use as springboards into new Missions for next time.
Trouble in Grasslake
Trouble in Grasslake is the most complicated and arguably the darkest of the sample Missions. It's the only one of the three to feature a significant chance of guardmouse death, and it has some nasty interpersonal drama and the possibility of a massive body-count. This is not an introductory scenario for Mouse Guard, but it's got some great moments for more experienced players.
The book describes this patrol as “darker and quirkier than the other patrols,” and it's not kidding. Patrol leader Thom is a scarred old veteran who's growing weary of his duties in the Guard whose gear consists of a sword and a bottle of alcohol. His second is a naturally suspicious spearmouse who has an Instinct to “Never trust a rich mouse” and, of all things, Wild Radishes-wise . Nathaniel is the patrol's medic and axeman who alternates between thoughtful and contemplative and outbursts of stubborn anger; perhaps not coincidentally, he's also bros with Saxon from Grain Peddler . Finally we have Sloan, the only tenderpaw who's actually interesting as written. Sloan has issues . I'll let her writeup speak for itself:
Mouse Guard posted:
Belief: I am superior to all other mice in the Territories.
Goal: I must ingratiate myself with Thom so that he considers me for promotion to guardmouse.
Instinct: Always seek revenge.
She also has Nature 6, Poison-wise 2 and a locked bag. Like I said, girl's got some issues. It says something about the Guard that her writeup says that she'll make an excellent guardmouse if she can overcome her secretive nature. Because that's totally the only thing working against her here. Yeah.
Grasslake breaks the normal Mission model by starting in media res. Thom's patrol is returning from refreshing the Scent Border when they're intercepted by Harold, Thom's friend from the nearby village of Grasslake. Harold is frantic, screaming for help and babbling about a giant monster that has emerged from the marsh and is laying waste to the village. There's no time to lose, and the patrol starts play as it approaches the beleaguered settlement.
There's just one complication – aside from the rampaging monster. Grasslake is the home of Sloan's Enemy, a washed-out tenderpaw named Lester who blames her for getting him dismissed from the Guard. Knowing Sloan, there's probably something to that.
The GM's Turn
The monster ravaging [strikethrough]Tokyo[/strikethrough] is... Well, it's not quite Godzilla, but it's close. It's this guy:
That's right, it's a snapping turtle. These things the walking tanks of the reptile world, and they are complete and unrelenting assholes. They are highly aggressive, will kill and eat anything small enough to get their jaws around, and their jaws can handily sever human fingers. This particular turtle has hauled itself out of the marsh and on to the warm sands on which Grasslake is built, crushing the wharves and everything else in its path. When the patrol arrives the monster is chilling by the bakery, soaking up the warmth and keeping an eye on the mice before it gets down to eating them.
This thing is a problem. A snapping turtle is too big for mice to kill on their lonesome, although there's a chance they could injure it and drive it off. The Militarist skill could let them try to finish it off for good, but it would take rallying the entire village behind Nathaniel's less than impressive Militarist 2. Someone might tap their Nature to make a big Militarist or Scientist roll (Sloan is a prime candidate here with Nature 6), but odds are the patrol is going to get creative with this one and try something in the classic tradition of Rube Goldbergian Player Character Plans. Harold the Brewer, Honeywind the Baker and the mayor of Grasslake are constantly at odds with each other and the guardmice over how to handle the turtle, so they'll need to be placated, worked around, or simply ignored and damn the repercussions. Whatever the guardmice decide, they'll eventually have to tackle the turtle's Nature 8 and an array of brutal Weapons.
Complicating matters is the presence of Lester, the ex-tenderpaw. He'll step up and help the patrol save his town however he can, but he's got a serious axe to grind against Sloan and tries to turn Thom and the others against her. Throughout the scenario, Lester pursues his own agenda: getting Sloan kicked out of the Mouse Guard.
Twists in this mission involve mass destruction and, even more horrifying, romance . Compromises in fights against the turtle or failed rolls that provoke the monster can result in the destruction of the bakery, brewery, or Lester's smithy, or the unfortunate demise of many hapless NPC mice. Injuries inflicted by the turtle cost the PCs ears and tails. It's a nasty, bloody affair. Twists from information-gathering rolls like Loremouse and Hunter can reveal that the turtle is a pregnant female here to lay her eggs and she'll basically level the town in the process. Still, if the guardmice aren't keen on going toe-to-toe with a snapping turtle letting her lay the eggs and leave is an option. They just have to make sure they pass the subsequent Nature or Hunter test to get rid of the eggs, because failure means they leave one behind to hatch in the fall.
Finally, if either of the hunky male guardmice (Kyle or Nathaniel) are injured while confronting the turtle, they're really in for it. The baker's daughter, Flower (yes, really) becomes smitten with the brave and noble guardmouse and insists that the patrol stay at her family's home while their friend recuperates. At first this seems like a good deal: Flower is kind, pretty, a good cook, and her house makes a nice base of operations to rest up or figure out how to deal with the turtle and its fallout. It's only when she starts hanging on to “her” guardmouse like a lovesick teenager that she becomes a problem, at least for the object of her affections. She'll even try to initiate a conflict to convince the guardmouse to marry her. On the other hand, a mouse could do a lot worse than Flower.
The GM's Turn ends when the turtle and / or its eggs are dealt with, and whatever trouble Lester has been causing finally comes to a head.
The Players' Turn in Grasslake is the most open-ended of the three sample missions. Some recuperation time is almost mandatory given the trouble they'll have dealing with the turtle, but there's a lot to do in Grasslake. The town is at least damaged and quite possibly in ruins, the turtle may still be alive and plotting its revenge, the eggs may need to be dug up and destroyed, and Lester will turn against the Guard if he wasn't definitively dealt with in the GM's Turn. Some PC may even want to take up Flower on her offer of marriage, which means confronting something even worse than snapping turtles: future in-laws.
And that's Mouse Guard , folks. It's been a pleasure going through this book again. Mouse Guard is a beautiful, elegant game that knows exactly what it wants to be and do. It is exactly the game it is supposed to be, and that's a rare thing in this hobby.