Posts Tagged ‘mouseguard’


Gaming Thursday: The Mouseguard Wrap-Up

January 4, 2018

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.


Gaming Thursday: The Mouse Guard Epiphany

July 20, 2017

With another chapter in our Dresden Files game come to a close, my group and I have plunged ourselves into Mouseguard.  Based on the grand graphic novels by David Peterson, it promises a heavily narrative-based game (it uses a version of the Burning Wheel system).  We’ve played a half-dozen or so sessions, and we’ve progressively been getting into the swing of things.  There are a quite number of intricacies to the system that took us a while to remember and get a handle on;  more than we were anticipating, but as we play more and more we can see how they interconnect and what they make available.  However, there was one aspect of the game that kept seeming to elude us, something that despite our growing familiarity of the system still seemed to be robbing our game of what we felt should be a certain flow and involvement.

Last weekend, though, in one of those hilarious moments of non-sequitur insights while randomly walking through my house, I got just what had been eluding us:  Compared to the resolution structure in most RPGs, Mouseguard’s is reversed.

In all the RPGs I’m familiar with (indeed, this has been the “normal” way of playing since I started playing 30 odd years ago), scenes* are played out in “real-time”, with players/characters acting and reacting to events as they unfold in the scene, and die rolls are made whenever the GM thinks one of these (re)actions has a chance of failure.  This continues with further (re)actions and further die rolls until the scene ends.  Many different skills or abilities may be tested during a scene, and the players are usually trying to angle themselves and their actions towards “victory.”

Here is where Mouseguard flips things on its (mouse) ear:  there is only one test, and it happens at the start of a scene.

Things begin with the GM describing the basics of the obstacle to be overcome in very broad, 1000 metre view, terms.  The scene is also set in those broad terms:  it could be the forest, an entire city, underground caverns, or the sea.  With the obstacle set, the GM can present what skill needs to be tested to bring the party to a desired outcome, and the players can also suggest more.  Then one character makes the test, with potential (and game-rules-directed) assistance from the other characters.  After a rather involved series of steps and ways to have the test be successful (and it makes much more sense why there are so many steps once we got how few influential the few test rolls are), the party either succeeds or fails.

And then you narrate the heck out of how the party gets to that conclusion.

That there is the biggest shift to make to get Mouseguard… Setting the scene also includes setting how the scene will end.  Everyone around the table knows this outcome.  Armed with that knowledge, you all work to tell the most interesting story you can come up with for how it all plays out.


I think this is quite cool.  And I’d say definitively the most narrative angle of the narrative-RPGs I’ve played.  There’s a certain liberation in starting the scene knowing you will fail (or succeed, for that matter) – you can set up your failure much more intricately, much more delicately, and much more satisfyingly than wondering how you’ll do on that next skill test (and knowing there could be several more skill tests).  And since everyone knows, the whole group gets in on the act.  Maybe they all act in concert to foul things up, maybe one of them botches things, maybe they try valiantly but the environment gets them, maybe they lose big, maybe they just miss it by milimetres.  Interpersonal interactions can play a role, friends and enemies could be involved, it’s all open to play with.

Overall, I think this creates the potential for much richer stories.  Maybe it lends itself more towards mostly third-party narration versus acting things out, but I don’t know yet.  I’m excited to see how we play it out in our group.  Now that we’ve got the sequence down right, I’m sure we’ll begin to further grok the various intricacies between all the different inputs (persona points, fate points, beliefs, etc) and also use them in a much more rich manner.

For sure I’m still a big fan of the real-time and extemporaneous style of play, but this reverse-o way of playing has got me really eager to see what comes out of it.  I’ll let you all know how it turns out.


* While there’s usually no hard and game-rules enforced start to a scene, there is a certain point where the GM begins to describe things in more detail or with more urgency, often accompanied by the description of a new location.