Now, let me tell you about my experience with “Danger on the Scent Border” the next day. Per the plot, the original mission (shoring up the Scent Border), immediately turns into a rescue mission. Interesting, the potential for conflict between the two pre-generated patrol leaders (the ambushed patrol leader who escaped to get help and the actually leader of the current patrol) did not materialize as both players agreed on their approach. As the primary patrol leader put it, the best chance for success on the Scent Border mission, now that weasels are know to be in the area, is to consolidate the forces of both patrols. With one potential aspect of competing priorities closed, I soon found that this adventure had a laundry list of competing priorities to exploit.
The patrol’s initial response was to head back to investigate the site of the ambush. I don’t require a Scout check to find the location, though I could have justifiable done so. Once they arrive, one of players made a Scout check, with everyone else assisting, and rolled 6 successes, which is truly epic! I reward this check by allowing the patrol to learn the number of weasels involved and also learn that only two of three unaccounted for mice were captured. Another guardmouse got away but was badly injured and bleeding (i.e. easy for a predator to track and pick off). As written, this last bit of intelligence was information that was intended to be learned at the end of the GM’s turn for possible action on the player’s turn. However, with such an epic roll and based on where the check was made, it made sense that they would learn this information right then and there. The player playing the patrol leader who was ambushed asked if he could tell which of his patrol mice was injured in order to help gauge chances of survival, clearly trying to prioritize who to rescue first. He justified this by pointing out that he was trained in the “Instructor” skill and would have had a chance to pick up details about his patrol mice that might help him make such a determination. I decide, based on all the details he’s just learned from the success of the previous roll, to only set an Obstacle 2 and explain that no one else would be able to assist. He made the check.
I then decide to play off the competing priorities theme that the players are clearly becoming engaged in by explaining that the injured mouse who escaped is not the most capable on her own in wild. So, they decide to go after her first. They made another Obstacle 3 Scout check and found her hidden in a tangle of roots unconscious. They then made a successful Obstacle 3 Healer check to triage her wounds, but I do not have her wake up. They were already carting around a barrel of scent, and I wanted them to deal with the possibility of also needing to cart around an unconscious guardmouse. By this point, the official patrol leader, points out that he should be able to brew a potion to wake the still unconscious guardmouse up and deaden her pain so she can move on her own. I set a hard Obstacle 5 but freely allowed everyone to justify how a given skill could be used to assist. Some truly great roleplaying followed, as did a successful roll.
Finally, the patrol returns to the site of the ambush in order to track the two captured patrol mice. I set a Obstacle of 3, but the Scout check is failed after a string of truly awesome obstacle checks. I explain that, while initially the tracks were easy to follow, they discover that the Weasels began to actively hide their trail. This seemed like the perfect place to trigger the planned second ambush conflict as the twist for the failed check (especially considering how many individual check’s I’ve allowed the players to make by this point). However, before I can announce the consequences, the player playing the ambushed patrol leader says that he suspects a second ambush and asks to make a check. I figure why not. So he describes how he’d been watching out for ideal ambush spots so the patrol could avoid them via another Scout check. I set a Obstacle 3. He makes it. I explain that he suddenly realizes, too late, that they’ve managed to walk right into one such “ideal” ambush location, opting to trigger the ambush anyway. At least the player got the roleplaying satisfaction of realizing what was coming. I also decided that his success should be rewarded by granting the patrol a +1 disposition bonus to the conflict. While I am fairly sure such a “situational bonus” is outside the bounds of Mouse Guard mechanics, it felt right at the time. In hind sight, there were other alternatives to explore. Yes, I also could have just not allowed the check, but I don’t like to punish players who are being engaged and creative in their roleplaying.
In terms of the weasel ambush conflict, I broke the weasels into two teams, with the leader and one regular weasel on one team and two regular weasels on the other. I set the leader team’s goal to, “Make sure no mouse can report back.” The second weasel team’s goal was set to “Capture the barrel of scent.” Interesting enough (by pure chance or was it Divine providence?), the guardmouse team facing the more martially inclined weasel leader opted for a mostly martial approach to their tactics. They took a beating but were also the first to drop a weasel team. The other team ended up choosing far more maneuvers and feints in terms of tactics, which was exactly the approach taken by the second weasel team trying to capture the barrel of scent. It made for some great roleplaying moments for both sets of opposing teams. Finally, by retaining their complementary tactical focus and with both mouse teams able to concentrating their efforts on the remaining weasel team during round three, they brought down the final weasel team quickly. Fun was had by all.
And so began, in what is rapidly becoming my favorite part of a conflict, Compromise Negotiations. The martially inclined mouse team wrote their goal as, “Leave no Weasel alive.” The other wrote, “Capture a weasel to gain information useful in rescuing our two remaining mouseguard captives.” Again, the negotiation phase proved creative in terms of both immediate roleplaying and future plot threads. Interestingly enough, the competing goals also proved exciting to watch play out between the two mouse teams. The team facing the weasels trying to capture the Scent barrel ended up loosing only 1 point of disposition, so they got what they wanted with little in terms of compromise. They decided to circle the weasel leader in order to ensure that their patrolmates did not finish him off. They express no interest in preserving the remaining three weasels. So, right away, things turned incredibly interesting. The more martial focused mouse team was beat up pretty bad. They faced the Weasel leader team, who did not want any patrol mice reporting back. They had to offer a major compromise. They agreed with their patrol mates to leave the weasel leader alive but injured (despite this teams better judgment), while the weasel leader was offered progress toward his goal by let him lead the entire patrol to where the captured mice were being held. Once again, I must say that this negotiation element to a conflict is simply brilliant.
By this point, however, I realized that my GM’s turn was done, leaving the patrol to be possibly lead straight into a second ambush by a cunning weasel leader, the rescue of the final two guardmice, the scent border, and the unanswered reasons for the weasel incursion … all for the player’s turn. Limiting myself to two sets of challenges during the GM’s turn proved to be incredibly flexible and satisfying, even if it flipped on its head what I thought would be happening on the GMs turn verses what would be happening on the player’s turn. Now that I’ve see this flexibility in action, I am truly impressed with its versatility.
Unfortunately, we did not have time for the player’s turns (though we at least talked about it). This was due to the fact that I did not set an age limit for the game and a mom & dad literally dropped off two of their kids (approximately 7 and 10). This slowed thing down immensely as the two remaining adult players and I took time trying to tutor and assist the children. During the mission before (“Dam Beaver”), I had a father and daughter playing two guardmice together. This helped things run much more smoothly. I am wondering if others have had similar experiences at conventions (not necessarily just with Mouse Guard), and what advise you have for how to handle such situations effectively. Requiring an adult accompany a child under 10 years of age seems reasonable, as the old child clearly did better than the younger one. Overall, both kids were cooperative, and I think the two adult players and I did just fine, other than time management becoming an issue. We three adults at least talked about it afterwards. There were no hard feelings on their part, which is good, though they too saw it as a problem.
And so ends my report. I hope someone finds these reflections helpful, as I have found so many previous posts helpful.