Balancing sessions; combats and obstacles


I have leaded Mouse Guard -games mabye five times and I find it the most difficult task to find balance in GM’s turns. I think it’s the most common problem with other RPG systems too. Do you have any advices particulary about setting the difficult to good volumes in MG.

Things are as difficult as they are. Just throw what you want at them and follow the Ob list in the book. It is not your job to give them a chance but to hit them as hard as you want in the GMs turn.

I usually know what to throw to the players and how difficult i want the challenge to be (first easy tasks and at least one hard “Boss” task at the end), but i usually fail doing what i desire to do. I’m thinking somekind of formula to make appropriate level of difficulty. Like easy tasks would be 75% success and hard “Boss” tasks would be around 80 % success without penalties. I dont have much of experience to just improvise the difficulties and so i need some guiding formulas. I googled a lot about guides to GM but didn’t find any usefull things.

Now that i see better what you mean: there isn’t a hard formula.

With a group of 4 or more mice: I generally will try to keep the obstacles large; they will be helping each others’ tests a great deal. I also tend to limit conflicts unless there is a strong opposition. The sizeable group will (hopefully) have greater variety of skills represented, thus I’ll try harder to make complex obstacles which can engage multiple mice. This is instead of simple obstacles in which one mouse will gain loads of helpers and spotlight time. In the case of complex obstacles, occasionally, I also consider restricting Helper dice to one portion or another–saying, “you’re helping this mouse, and can’t divide your time to help both.”

I don’t prefer a group above four mice, but have done one group as large as six. In that case, some very interesting interactions occurred. Two examples will suffice: in a fight animal conflict, one Guardmouse had lost his weapon (an axe) in a previous event, so he asked for a Patrol Guard to give up his bottle of brew to create a broken bottle weapon (counted similar to knife); in a journey conflict, one Guardmouse (wait, it was the same mouse now that I think of it) slipped down a mudslide and was invisible in the rainy, dark night, though the patrol could hear his pleas for help, and the Patrol Leader noted his strong Survivalist and Pathfinder in his decision to leave him behind in favor of completing the journey.

So, large groups can really take on large, complex matters. Small, simple matters often get the ‘Say Yes!’ treatment. I mean to say, if I factor lower than Ob 3 I’ll probably say, “yes, you get things just as you wish.”

With a group of 3: I feel this is the ideal number of players. I play things as close to the book as possible. On tasks which the group all has a particularly applicable skill, I like to see who will try to control the situation by testing rather than helping. On tasks which the group has no particularly appropriate skill, I like to see who is willing to risk Beginner’s Luck.

With a group of 2: I don’t dislike a patrol of this size, but I prefer it when the patrol is Patrol Leader and Tenderpaw. In this case, I will open the obstacles to more crafty needs. If a mouse has Carpenter, I’ll cause a flood to rip out a bridge–just to see if the patrol will stop to rebuild or get across and move forward. If a mouse has Healer, I’ll make a town sick. With a patrol of two, I’ll also inject more NPCs in to provide Helper now and then; they may need a local connection more often to get engaged by Mice Obstacles.

With a patrol of 1: I have not played this out. I imagine that it works best with a Guard Captain or Patrol Guard, both of whom are more likely to be assigned on solo missions. I would imagine that complex obstacles are a good way to break up difficulty into smaller components: think of Sadie’s boat travel challenge outlined on pg (ok, could not find it yet, will update). In that case, Sadie faced three tests–Nature(forage), Boatcrafter, Coast-wise. In this way, a single mouse could complete the task which, if factored as a simple obstacle, might have been far more difficult.

If I had to place that obstacle in front of a group, I could expect one mouse to test Boatcrafter or Coast-wise, while others Help appropriately; this can allow me to factor situations like high winds, fog, or otters to push up tension on the Ob. In contrast, placing the obstacle in front of a single mouse, I can factor the foraging at a Ob 2, a boatcraft at Ob 3, and an appropriate wise at Ob 3. Each component can be resolved individually: forage successfully, but might be Hungry, build and navigate, but Tired, seek safe harbor, else a twist. In another perspective, the whole obstacle can be resolved entirely: forage successfully, and might decrease factor of crafting, build and navigate along side seeking safe harbor, else Hungry/Thirsty and Tired upon arrival OR twist before reaching land (or perhaps before leaving shore).

Complex obstacles have complex results. I could write deviations of complex obstacles all day long.

All of the above must show consideration for BIGs. Placing a large, complex Mice issue for the patrol to mediate would be a tedious, overwhelming frustration if there are no Friends, Enemies, Beliefs, Goals, or even Instincts at all connected to the obstacle. I experienced this in a game as a player; the obstacle just wouldn’t go away–the GM kept it going through the whole session and it was still unfinished as the Player turn began–and we were unable to resolve anything on our own terms.

So, while looking over a patrol, keep in mind that without those connecting features, a conflict or (sometimes) complex obstacle will lead to boredom or frustration. I’m not saying avoid the real duties or actual obstacles, but if it won’t connect, maybe keep it simple and short. This does not mean you should make it easier, but don’t cause it to take much spotlight time in the session before resolving and moving on to other scenery.

I’d like to mention a few special cases. First is Persuader, Deceiver, Haggler, and Orator; these are important to note for a GM.

In the cases of Persuader and Deceiver; these are intended to influence or manipulate one or two mice in a face-to-face conversation. While I see nothing wrong with these skills being Helpers to Orator, they are not the speech. Also, these skills may not be much developed by a single mouse; recruitment does not offer many chances to gain a rank in these skills. I believe this is a feature! A very good feature! One of the results includes the case that Persuader and Deceiver will more frequently lead to Conditions or a Twist. There is simply more risk that a Guard will have to find compromises with others rather than expect to fully dominate. While it is true that exchanging a Condition indicates Success is earned–the target is influenced or manipulated just as the player attempts; however, using a twist from these tests can lead to very interesting challenges. It can be especially delicious to see if a Guard will find a mutual compromise.

In the case of Orator; this is intended to influence or manipulate crowds of mice (anything from 3-300 or more) in a speech, debate, forum, or something similar. While I tend to discourage the skill Helping Persuader or Deceiver, I don’t restrict it; maybe one mouse is great in front of crowds and this helps a fellow to handle a one-on-one interaction. Similar to above, there are not many spots in recruitment to gain ranks. Just as above, this can lead to mixed results and compromises.

The feature of Persuader, Deceiver, and Orator is that any player must place effort into practicing these skills to truly master them. Guard skills can be mastered by taking many ranks during recruitment. Other skills can be developed, and some may be nearly mastered, in recruitment.

In the case of Haggler; this is a neat skill for reducing Resources Ob, but also it serves as a tool for a Negotiation conflict. I see this is a key way: if the patrol is getting into a Negotiation conflict, the opponent may very likely be skilled as a Haggler. There is a risk the patrol will have to compromise a great deal by the end of the conflict.

In fact, this is true of a conflict involving Orator as well. In contrast, a conflict which involves Persuader and Deceiver gives more likelihood of the patrol Helping each other to greater success; they may have more favorable compromises in such conflicts (Argument).

One last case, the Militarist skill; I feel this is intended to serve many functions. I allow it to behave similar to Orator in the act of mustering an armed force, similar to instructor in the act of training a force, similar to weather watcher in the act of promoting officers and forming ranks, similar to administrator in the act of disciplining troops and managing supplies, and similar to scientist in the act of managing a campaign (whether for good or ill). In this way, the skill has many various functions. While I don’t allow it to supplant Survivalist, Pathfinder, Healer, Fighter, Hunter, Scout, Laborer, Harvester, or Administrator, it is a potent skill which denotes functions of an organized force under structured command.

It is a rather rare mouse who gains ranks in Militarist, so if a player has decided to place even one rank in that skill: Take Note! Allow them opportunities to display that skill–even if that means you’ve got to allow a war to start when you actually want a peaceful Mouse Territories.

I think i got lot from your post and I thank you for that. I never realized that i should avoid conflicts but now i see that they have always been too long. And i really try to have BIGs in every thing in my scenarios but i have played the game with the same group only a couple of times so they are just starting to notice the hooks to their characters. But i will continue trying because it is really rewarding when you see that a player can use his BIGs. And i should try militarist skill one day!