Another First-Time Mouse Guard AP + GM questions

I ran Mouse Guard as a on-shot last night at last, after obsessing over it since it came out but never getting a chance. We had a really good time, bumps and all. A big part of that is the people I play with - my group kicks ass, even when confronted with an unfamiliar system. (For context, I’ve played various D&D, d20 and Pathfinder games as well as Dungeon World, Lady Blackbird, Fiasco, and In a Wicked Age. One player has the same experience as me, two have played D&D and Lady Blackbird, one has only ever

Spent the first hour or so running through the character sheet and the rules bit by bit (except for the conflict rules). It seems daunting at first but once you’ve they had it all laid out I think it was beginning to make sense. I talked them through Gwendolyn assigning the mission and the first two cities on the mail route pretty quickly, and then threw in the Pathfinder test. The impetuous tenderpaw took the lead to impress his mentor and (naturally) failed - they’re forced to shelter in a hollowed-out stump, and a raven swoops in to steal the mailbag! (I tried to avoid having a conflict in the first GM turn, but I couldn’t really see a way around it). The rest of the session was spent fighting the raven, and I can see how much fun the conflict system can be (I would love to play a large scale military conflict). The patrol divided into two teams of two, one with the goal of distracting and scaring off the Raven, and one with the goal of retrieving the mailbag. Team Mailbag took a medium compromise, retrieving half of the mail and sitting out the rest of the conflict while Team Distraction took the raven down to zero disposition and retrieved the rest of the mail - they also ended up with a medium compromise, and so I said they ended up angry (the tenderfoot was trying but failing to impress, the mentor was disappointed). We were running out of time, so rather than pressing on to the next down, I decided to give them a player turn in the hollowed out log, so they spent their checks trying (and failing) to get less angry, trying (and failing) to fashion a new, more durable mailbag, trying (and succeeding!) at carving a wooden flute, and accurately predicting the weather. I flubbed the failed-roll rules a bit and gave the player who failed to weave a new mailbag a choice, Dungeon World style: either he fails completely, or he stays up all night to finish the bag and ends up tired. The player chose complete failure, which meant that there was neither a twist nor a condition. What I should have done is just told him that he stayed up all night to finish the bag, and imposed the Tired condition. (Alternatively, I could have used a weather twist and said he fails to make the bag because it starts to rain.) Then we did the rewards (a bit pointless for a one-shot, but I wanted to see how it went) and called it a night.

I would love, love, love to play a longer campaign after this experience, and I think the players were intrigued too - maybe somewhere down the line, or just as an occasional thing. One thing that I noticed (and sort of discerned from the rules) is that it really demands and encourages a LOT of flavour and colour on the part of the GM and players, otherwise it just becomes a series of tests. This isn’t a bad thing really, but I need to keep in mind that unlike other games, where you present some flavour and then the players react, as a GM you really need to narrate extended sequences in between tests, presumably with help from the players (for example, describing the uneventful journey delivering mail to the first two towns). But it’s not going to be, “Okay, you’re in Sprucetuck, WHAT DO YOU DO?” in the D&D sense, it’s more, “Okay, as you’re distributing the mail in Sprucetuck, do you say hello to anyone in passing?” or something along those lines (because, after all, they’re mice on a mission with no time to spare). The map and the mouse tokens from the boxed set, as well as the artwork on all the game materials, help with this a lot.

I have a few questions about rules we didn’t quite grok:

  • Can you help with the same skill? Can I help a Pathfinder test with my Pathfinder skill, or does it have to be something different?
  • When a team’s disposition is reduced to zero but the other team keeps on fighting, can they give helper dice to the other team? And if they can, do they do so as a team or individually?
  • How long does a “charged” trait last? It says “for the remainder of the session,” but that doesn’t seem to make sense if the players’ turn is often going to be at the end of the session.
  • I think I may have screwed up the outcome for Team Distraction. Team Mailbag partially achieved their goal of retrieving the mail - but once they’re out of the fight, Team Distraction doesn’t get a new goal, so when they win the fight their compromise should only concern their original goal of “distract or scare away the raven.” According to the rules, it seems like I shouldn’t have allowed Team Distraction to retrieve the rest of the mail, but it makes the rest of the conflict seem a bit unnecessary - the patrol’s overall goal is to retrieve the mail, so if that goal is no longer possible, why is the other team still fighting the raven? Shouldn’t they just run away before risking any more losses (which isn’t an option so far as I can see in Mouse Guard, once you’re in a conflict, you’re in for the duration)? I suppose their continued fight could be rationalized within the fiction as the raven continuing to harass the patrol, and the remaining team needing to scare it off before it does any more damage, so maybe that’s what I need to do - let the state goals guide the fiction.
  1. You can help with the same skill.

  2. It depends. If you lose your fight, then you can’t help. If you win your fight, depending on the result of the compromise, you can enter the ongoing conflict as a new team.

  3. Until the end of the session. Makes sense when you need that trait badly!

  4. The team fights on because 1) it’s fun 2) it’s the fog of war 3) you never know what the compromise result is going to be. They can retrieve some mail as part of their compromise, but I agree that it’s cheese.

Thanks for a the quick response, Luke - and it’s belabouring the point at this stage, but great work on the game.

  1. Do you have any suggestions about how to keep the players on a team that loses engaged in the game, since they can’t give helping dice or re-enter the conflict? I suppose the obvious thing to do is just encourage them to give input to the surviving team(s) and narrate what their mice are doing in the meantime. Either that, or send them on a snack run…

  2. I totally missed the bit about the Winter Session, so I thought charging traits was the only way to increase them. This now makes perfect sense!

  3. Sweet, this answer is particularly helpful - I wasn’t sure if it was okay to include elements that aren’t explicitly part of the Team’s goal in the compromise, but evidently it is, which means that the way we played out their compromise (Angry condition, but mail retrieved) was legit. And you’re absolutely right, it IS fun to keep fighting.

  1. Tell them to be patient and be a good audience. Occasionally you have downtime in RPGs. Next time, it may be the other players who are waiting for them to finish.