Mouse Guard

The lives of mice are a daily struggle for survival—the weather, wilderness and animals are uncaring and savage. But mice are a doughty people. Though all the world stands against them, they refuse to give up! They have claimed the Mouse territories as their own: a network of cities, towns and villages where mice thrive and prosper despite all that stands in their way.

A band of selfless heroes makes it all possible. Called the Mouse Guard, these fearless mice blaze trails through the wilderness, escort travelers from city to city, and protect mice cities from predators and the fury of nature.

I’ve recently been reading through the rules of the Mouse Guard RPG and it’s interesting and diverse enough from other RPG’s to warrant a second reading. It’s also beautiful. Really beautiful. With illustrations taken from the books of David Petersen and the refreshing way the rules are laid out it has been a joy to read.

The system itself is based on the Burning Wheel devised by Luke Crane, albeit slimmed down and more wieldy and gels marvellously with the source material. Gone are the ideals of improving your character and min/maxing your stats to meet greater and greater challenges, this game is structured specifically to create and resolve stories as they would resolve in the Mouse Guard comic books. This is a game of role-playing in every sense of the word, with tasks being assigned a rating and players rolling a number of dice equal to a relevant ability and counting the successes.

Where’s the roleplaying in that?

Well, you have to explain what you’re trying to do, justify why a particular skill is valid and role-play the scene out before dice are rolled. Conflicts, be they combat or negotiation are played out with a number of actions (Attack, Defend, Feint and Manoeuvre)  that are revealed simultaneously and interact in different ways. Each step of a conflict is also role-played and the whole thing gives the game a feeling of freshness when the “rolling to hit” of other games has become rather dry.

Failing at a task allows the GM to throw twists into the tale or place conditions upon the characters and death is a rare thing. Where losing a combat in other RPG’s would mean the frustrating death of your character, in Mouse Guard it can open up a whole new storyline. For example, say your mouse patrol are taking a risky short-cut over a cliff edge and they disturb a nesting seagull. The seagull’s objective may simply be to drive the mice away and protect the nest rather than kill them, so a combat defeat for the mice may result in one or more of them slipping down the cliff face and opening up a whole new area of adventure. Even if a beast does want to kill the mice, the GM is free to make something terrible happen to the mice after a combat defeat and twist the story in a whole new direction. The assumption that the characters will succeed (as in many of the vanilla RPG’s) is simply not there, and failures allow the GM to expand the story, throw in more twists and make play more exciting and less linear.

The game has two distinct turns; the GM’s turn, where the GM controls the adventure, makes bad things happen to the patrol and the players react to the situations. Then there is the player’s turn where the players can be more pro-active. Their mission for that session will be complete (or incomplete if they mess things up) and the characters decide what to do next, where to go, how to recover, clues to follow up or whatever, and it is the GM that is reactive to the players actions.

I am keen to run this unique game and setting at the club and as such I have set up my own character in an online game at the Burning Wheel forums to obtain a better grasp of the mechanics before I delve into GM-ing. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes:

Tedwyn

Born in Sprucetuck, Tedwyn was a promising young scientist following in the footsteps of his mother until he developed an acute allergy to some of the ingredients used in the scent concoctions. This has forced Ted away from the somewhat polluted air of Sprucetuck and he has decided to follow in the footsteps of his father as a mouse of the guard.

Age: 16

Home: Sprucetuck

Fur Colour: Dark Auburn

Rank: Tenderpaw

Cloak: None

Parents: Galen (Cartographer in the Guard) – Deceased; Callandra (Scientist)

Senior: Stark (Cartographer)

Mentor: Helen (Healer, Hunter) – on special assignment – Now Aengus

Friend: Finn (The cousin he grew up with in Sprucetuck – he is a Scientist helping foment the scent concoctions).

Enemy: Jasper (Guard Mouse who studied under Stark)

Nature: 4 [Saves for winter (may not take Bold or Generous traits), stands and fights, does not fear Owls, foxes, Wolves]

Will: 2

Health: 6

Skills: Scientist 4, Pathfinder 3, Cartographer 3, Persuader 2, Healer 3, Hunter 3, Herb-wise 2

Traits: Inquisitive 1, Stubborn 2

Resources: 3 [Thrifty (may not take Generous to start), Packs carefully (may not take Bold or Fiery to start)]

Circles: 2 (Father was in the Guard)

Gear: Sword, Book with his own discoveries and observations regarding herbs and their properties, quill and ink, jaunty hat with an eagle ‘feather’ in the top.

Belief: Science has a solution for every problem

Instinct: Stab first, ask questions later

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