And so it is that winter has embraced the mouse colonies, the white blanket bringing with it times of tranquility and reflection, both for the members of the Mouseguard and for the players of our gaming group. Mouseguard was quite the different game and experience for us, and very much not what I expected when I suggested we give it a try (likewise equally suggesting it as the first foray into GMing for one of our group members). As I noted earlier, Mouseguard is a rather different animal (pun semi-intended) than most other RPGs, which is what surprised us. It turned out to be a good surprise.
I would describe Mouseguard as the most narrative of the narrative-RPGs I’ve played, and I call it as such because (answering my question in that previous post) it lends itself very well towards more past-tense and third-person style storytelling than the first-person-immediate and extemporaneous play of “traditional” RPGs. It also focuses on wider world building and longer-term storytelling, with links and interlinks that weave themselves together over time. This includes factors outside of the characters as well as following through their failures and successes. It asks you to think not only of the present moment but also how could this write something that, were it a novel, the reader could see the various lines all coming together.
Which proved to be very cool. There was a lot of pleasure in riffing back and forth across the table, crafting how the scene was narrating itself out and about how we (as the characters and party) arrived at the end state dictated by the test roll at the beginning of the scene. Much satisfaction was had when it all came together into a nifty story. And while it might appear less personal than typical in-character RPing, it still left us feeling in control of and, more importantly, feeling connected to our characters.
This also spread beyond our characters and led to a lot of collaborative worldbuilding, writing further bits that wove themselves into our stories. As an example, en route to the seaside town of Darkwater, we were ambushed by, and defeated, a set of ruffians. We chose to take them to the town for justice. What transpired next was an amazing exercise of extrapolation (from the little information provided by the rulebook) and invention. Turns out, these ruffians were the children of the Primarch, where the Primarch is the head of one of the two councils that rule Darkwater: the Sea Council and the Land Council (who’s leader is called the Primus). Each of these leaders are chosen based on which mouse on the council made the greatest profit last season, and together they are supposed to make decisions about the town, unless they deadlock, like they frequently do… and then enter our group into this situation, and a large (in-game) debate ensues between us and Sea Council and the townsfolk about leadership and justice and independence and eventually leading to intervention by the Land Council…
That was the short of it and it’s even more involved and nifty than that. Inventing the way the town worked was fun in of its own right; getting to blend it with our story and all the complexity that came with it (and the potential for future hooks and repercussions) was incredibly exciting and satisfying.
I also very much enjoyed the way the game’s “Player Turn”* worked to further encourage the well-roundedness of your character and their story. Whether we used it to tie up loose ends from the GM turn or used it for entirely personal reasons, it always brought something new about the character, and/or the world, to the fore. And sometimes, when we messed up here, complications could arise in a later GM turn were all the more fun because of that long narrative tie.
Good stuff. While we labored a bit at first to wrap ourselves around Mouseguard’s structure (in retrospect, that the GM was completely new to GMing was a boon for us here, for they came unhindered with any “traditional RPG” baggage) we all came away enjoying our time with it. For myself, I can say without hesitation I am quite smitten with it. I still do very much like the method-acting/extemporaneous style of RP, and so games using a Mouseguard-like system won’t become my primary gaming outlet anytime soon, but I am most certainly keen on adding it to our campaign rotation and looking forward to when we play it next.
* It’s a bit long to explain, but the basic gist is that the game is structurally split into two turns: a turn (which usually encompasses one segment of a mission, involving one to four challenges) where the narrative is led by the GM and turn where the narrative is led by the players (which usually encompasses a night or a few days, and at the end of a mission, a few weeks). It took me a read or three to begin to grok it, and it took us a few sessions to get comfortable with what to do and how to fully use our player’s turns.