Army of Shadows campaign

After a run of regular Mouse Guard, my Tuesday night group felt ready to try the Army of Shadows hack by John Anderson. I’ve tweaked a few things, but John has already done a great job capturing the atmosphere of a game set in the Weasel Occupied Mouse Territories, 1941.

We started our first session of AoS with an attempt to combine character creation with a hint of roleplaying. I described a bit about Port Sumac, after the war, and then focused on how the characters arrived at Cafe Ophelia, just before curfew, one at a time; each one was led down to a secret room in the basement where they introduced themselves while sitting around a rough wooden table, beneath a bare lightbulb hanging from a wire.

One of the players hadn’t received the modified character sheet I had sent on Excel, and following along with the MG book confused him, mostly because of the changes in the skill list. But we got through to filling out the relationship map and creating NPCs, and that was the most collaborative part of the session, as I hoped it would be; each player created only 2 of his 4 contacts among Family, Friend, Enemy, and Mentor. I believe this is a key part of this campaign, and each contact has a box to track whether they know the PC is involved with the resistance. The more friends, enemies, and family know about a PCs nocturnal activities, the more likely the chance of betrayal and collaboration with Weasel occupation forces, not to mention a loss of Trust rating.

Here are the members of the cell, all of them post-war citizen recruits:

  • Jean-Claude, an older, graying mouse who lost an eye in a bombing the previous year; he may be a double agent for the Weasels. Or not.
  • Martin, a white mouse from Elmoss, a doctor.
  • Henri, a brown mouse from the country who loves his cheese, now unemployed in the city and resentful of the Weasels destroying his farm.
  • Olsen, a brown mouse in blue overalls, a member of both the international Mouxist group and the electrician’s union; he wears thick eyeglasses and tinkers with explosives.

And significant NPCs:

  • Eloise: Olsen’s common-law wife (also his sister-in-law, before his wife died), and Jean-Claude’s enemy.
  • Yulon the Newt: a merchant in Port Sumac who is everyone’s friend (almost), but he has crossed Olsen in a manner know one yet knows.
  • Eugenie: Martin’s sister & a member of the resistance, also Olsen’s recruiter & mentor.
  • Patrick: Jean-Claude’s brother, Martin’s mentor, and Henri’s enemy.
  • Father Antoine: Martin’s enemy & Henri’s brother.

We still have a few more NPCs to complete before the next game, but I believe we have a good start with some dynamic relationships among the PCs and their contacts.

We concluded with Sean, the mouse trained in the Northern Isles, walking into the room and introducing himself, explaining that all of these new recruits were now part of this new resistance cell, and they were about to commence their first mission together.

You can find more information about John’s work here:

Ken here, playing Olsen: Eloise, my ‘common law’ wife spends waaay too much time down at the Weasel Officer club, trying to find a rich hubby to marry as she dances the night away, the betraying tramp. I’m planning on persuading her to sing a little happy birthday son to the town commander while La Resistance presents him with large cake made with TNT.

Also: we need to get in some train-wrecking.

Scott here, Martin’s player.

Train wreckin? Makes me think that trains need coal, which makes me think of mice mining coal… which makes me picture mice in hard hats and helmet lamps. Why is that such an awesome thought?

Here’s how I see Trust working in the game:

Anytime you want your PC to help another PC, you can invoke your Trust to add 1 helping die, just as if you had a Trait or relevant Skill. If the helped PC then fails the roll, you lose 1 point of Trust.

Any time the Weasels pick up an NPC associate (Friend, Family, Enemy, Mentor, etc.), then each PC which is known by that NPC to be involved with the Resistance must test against Trust according to the obstacle of the questioning:

  1. NPC stops by the Special Police station for questioning. Ob 2.
  2. NPC taken into custody by Special Police for Interrogation. Ob 3.
  3. NPC arrested & likely tortured. Ob 4.
  4. NPC disappears. Ob 5.

This test for Trust cannot be helped by other PCs. If the testing PC succeeds in passing the then the questioned NPC refrains from “naming names.” If the PC fails this test, then he is convinced the NPC has squealed on him (although this may not actually be the case, the character is now paranoid, convinced the Weasels know about his underground activities, etc.). Also, the rating of Trust is reduced by 1 point.

Helping another character complete a Goal can earn 1 point added to Trust.

Scott again,
A question on this setting has been on my mind. The setting is very dark and serious and specific to a WW2 feel. What I wonder though is how much are we still MICE. The enemy will mostly be the weasels and other mice I believe, but when outside we still need to watch for weather and owls and snakes and such? Or has the tech of the time pretty much made those old fears obsolete?

Has the enemy ceased being the environment and our mouse nature here? Do mice still fear the animals of the field and tree? I could see a scene involving mice and weasels in conflict, perhaps even deadly conflict suddenly thrown on it’s head by the emergence of a fox which sends everyone running… but not sure that kind of thing FEELS right for this setting, where the enemy is essentially us.

And how much does the fact that we are mice in this setting change it from being human. A mouse’s nature is still to run and to hide, how does that color our reactions to the horrific events going on around us.


Perhaps an aside, but it could be useful to read “Maus” by Art Spiegelman. (It’s a graphic novel, of sorts, about WWII and the Holocaust specifically.) The Jews are mice, the Germans are cats, Americans bulldogs, etc. It’s not exactly right, but the feel is fairly close. Might help a bit with the feel.

Scott, I love this line of thinking.
And I think you’re spot on in regard to shifting the obstacles.
I imagine that your mice live in WW2 era cities. Fear of predators like owls and wolves is as distant as the countryside.

I think the “wilderness” obstacle for this setting should be “Life During Wartime.” Food shortages, blackouts, bombings, all the faceless, harsh realities of living in a city during the war.
So the obstacles are Mice – problems among yourselves – Weasels – the enemy – and Life During Wartime – coping with day to day life. What’s the fourth?


good point Scott.

I kept thinking during char creation that everything urban was dangerous and everything out in the wild was safety (hiding from patrols and such)

“So the obstacles are Mice – problems among yourselves – Weasels – the enemy – and Life During Wartime – coping with day to day life. What’s the fourth?”

Watching the film, Army of Shadows, the fourth thing may be the internal struggles each member of the resistance has within. How do I go on? Why not just flee to the North, or give up my companions to save my skin. Where is my loyalty? The people in the film and certainly anyone in this situation has a constant string of failures and disappointments, spending more effort hiding and recovering then they do actively pursuing a mission. That has to be so heavy a burden on a daily basis.

How that manifests in the game may be resisting the thought of giving up and testing your trust in your fellow mice.

Other thing which strikes me about the film, they sure spend a lot of time dealing with transportation. It took phenomenal effort just to get yourself or those you are protecting safely from place to place. (Boats, submarines, night parachuting, ships, etc.)

Hi guys,
I put it in these terms…

The Territories and its surrounding nations are populous and vibrant places. The continent is populated by mice, weasels, moles and numerous species of insects and animals. While, historically great beasts roamed the lands as predators and constant threats to the mice population, by 1941 the advent of heavy weapons, aircraft and navies as well as the need for agricultural land had eliminated or driven off all of the larger beasts.

What follows are the animals and insects that currently exist within the Territories. This list is much smaller than the Denizens chapter of Mouse Guard.

Mice of the Territories
Wild Animals
Small fish

Natural Order
The natural order scale is as follows, lowest on the scale first, highest last.

Young mouse, Small fish
Mouse, Young weasel, Birds

The fourth conflict? As Luke said, Other mice, weasels, and the war. I’ve been thinking about a fourth for a bloody long time and whatever I come up with just isn’t right.

The fourth, I think, should be the physical environment… a combination of weather, terrain, shelter, travel…

Agree. After thinking about the film as I mentioned earlier, the difficulty of traveling through occupied and dangerous territory can also include mouse-made obstacles such as checkpoints, combat zones or barriers as well as more traditional wilderness travel made even more treacherous by the situation. Also includes the need to forge papers, schedule secret pick-ups and avoid discovery.

Mouse-made obstacles, Forging papers, secret pickups, and avoiding discovery are “Life at war” from where I sit…
Natural World would be Animals, Rain, Snow, mud, rivers, poison oak/ivy/sumac, heat, cold… the standard animals, weather and wilderness obstacles.

I think Beliefs, Goals and Instincts combined with the reward system and the performance aspect of an RPG make up the “internal struggle” aspect of the Army of Shadows. I think an explicit obstacle for it would lessen its impact.

That’s why I picked “Checkpoint-wise” and “Trolley-wise!”

also, Olsen’s got to move to fix stuff, heh heh

Yes, that makes sense, that’s already built into the game system in other ways.
Hey, here are my mouse Martins Belief and Instinct:

Quick background: He’s lost many loved ones in the war including his wife and sons and hasn’t spend nearly enough time with them before they were lost:
Belief: I must never fear to face the enemy, for the sake of all who died before me.
Instinct: Don’t lose sight of those you care about. (Presuming this to mean whichever PC’s he comes to feel kinship with, not referring to loved ones already gone)

We ran our first mission last night; it was short with one obstacle because we only had 2 of the 4 regular players, and we didn’t want to get too far out ahead of the group on the very first mission. It was basically an obstacle involving other mice (they waited on the shoreline at night for a boat carrying weapons from the Northern Isles, but it was a trick). I think we’ll have a lot of missions involving challenges with other mice. But weather & wilderness will come up.

For example, going to another town the patrol could choose to hop in a jeep & drive, but then what happens when they get stopped by a roadblock (weasels) or drive off the road to avoid hitting a beaver (wilderness)? Or, they could choose to walk across country to avoid roadblocks, but then the weather might be the main challenge. Back to the jeep, however, securing petrol might be a mission itself. (The truck used in this mission was of the coal burning variety.) And even in a jeep, if a wolf wants to eat the little mice inside, I don’t think the technology is going to offer much protection; I imagine the mouse Nature kicking in & the patrol scattering to run, hide, or climb from the danger just as if they had been riding in a cart.

I’ve been thinking about different missions for the group, and most of them involve securing supplies & weapons (Life During Wartime), or dealing with other mice. We have a nice relationship map with lots of different relationships among PCs & NPCs, and I think I’ll have plenty to exploit in coming missions. Oh, and we now have a socialist weasel deserted from the army and hiding in a safehouse.

Anyway, maybe Wilderness & Weather will be combined as the same sort of obstacle. I really don’t think it’s going to be any easier with a truck or a bolt-action rifle, unless they can steal a weasel armored car.

It’s funny. While the game was going on, it didn’t even occur to me that the mission could have been a test for us. I guess when you’re in a potentially dangerous situation survival declares you must treat it as one.

Was a fun game. Curious to see how the relationships with the mice and other creatures grow as the game goes along.

Looking forward to next week!