Circles tests for data-gathering, a la Shadowrun

The rulebook is clear that the Circles ability is intended strictly to find other mice, whether they are allies, new contacts, or “members of a conspiracy,” as Lieam demonstrated on page 239.

I like to run an investigation-rich MG game where players are sometimes confronted with mysteries to solve. As a result, I’ve taken to expanding Circles, not just to track down mice but also to get information in social environments. To do this, I’ve been using a template for ‘legwork’ from Shadowrun, where contacts and etiquette skills are used to discover or follow up on clues. In Shadowrun, the amount of information revealed depends on the number of successes the player achieves in their test.

This ends up translating really well to Circles. The ability may be helped by a town-specific wise, Persuader, Haggler, and/or Deceiver. Here’s an example from a recent mission I wrote where the patrol was sent to find a young mouse who had disappeared:

Player rolls an Ob 0 Circles Test, modified with other players’ assists. Information revealed would include clues from all lower successes, so if the player rolls three successes, they get all the data from one and two as well.

0 successes: “Small, skittish thing? Blond fur? Nope, don’t know her.”
1 success: “Sure, she’s a quiet mouse, very bright, but real shy and hard to know. I can’t say I ever heard of her having friends or doing anything fun.”
2 successes: “That one got real nervous not long ago, like she’d just seen a cat.”
3 successes: "Marged? Yeah, I heard she has herself a boyfriend in Barkstone. Her parents surely don’t know and wouldn’t allow it. Can’t say I blame em.”
4+ successes: “You didn’t hear it from me, but her boyfriend used to run with Midnight and was there at the siege of Lockhaven. I’d say the buck has reason to hide.”

What does everyone think of this?

Cats (or rats) do not exist in MG.

Also, There is a minimum Ob 1 for any test (otherwise, there is no chance of failure… and what’s the fun in that?).

So, technically you’re still finding another mouse – just one that has the information you’re looking for.

Also, don’t forget to fully roleplay each encounter. “You got three successes, so a mouse tells you that he saw what you’re looking for down by the docks” is boring. Bring your mice to the docks, have them talk to a salty old pirate seamouse who knows a thing or two about what they’re looking for, but make them interact with him to get that info.

I’m not saying you’re not doing this, but based on what you’re posting, it sounds like you might be shortcutting the system a bit. It really doesn’t need it.

Circles as written works, and is fun. Don’t forget the Enmity Clause. It can be more fun to provide your investigators with false info that leads them into trouble than spoon-feeding them different doses of correct info all the time.

And the streets are filled with cheese

But where do they get the cheese?

I use to run and play Shadow Run so I know exactly what you are trying accomplish here.

Slash is right in saying everything should be role played out as much as possible but this method is not that much of a shortcut for minor plot supporting info. Heck in some ways this is a great idea.

Having a new tool that is not overly complicated and doesn’t over lap too much with the current one to make the game run smoother is great for a home brewed rule.

If you don’t want to play it out in detail just make it a linked test. 1 roll to find the mouse that knows something and a second roll to convince him or her to share the information.

I think you may have kind of misunderstood his idea here. You still role play a lot of it out but instead of using the standard versus compromises you instead get a more detailed level of success by the number of successes in an independent test with the opponent’s will or falsehood being the target obstacle number.

The issue here now seems to me to be that it is not necessary since you will already have that tool here, just a little more simplified.

Murphy’sLawyer comes closest to interpreting my intentions, but there’s a bit more to it and I only fully realized HOW I was using this hack through these comments. So thank you. :slight_smile:

Yes, I wanted a way for my players to get increasingly detailed data with more successes on a test and I thought this made a simple and more interesting mechanism. But I had something else also in mind. If the usual versus test is used to question someone, the player gets a reply from a single source to a specific question. “I want Marged’s parents to tell me about her disappearance,” for example. But then you get only what Marged’s parents know; each investigation requires a separate test and the results of each test is based on players’ goals. What I’ve described above makes possible asking ‘around town’–in pubs, shops, street-corners, etc.–and collating that data into a single test. That is why the test is independent rather than versus: it doesn’t represent your character interrogating a single mouse, but more anonymously his entire Circle. Each success may represent a different lead that is increasingly knowledgeable about or closer to the topic being investigated. Thus, the mouse who says “Nope, don’t know her” probably isn’t the same mouse that not only knows who Marged has been dating but that he’s one of Midnight’s soldiers who laid siege to Lockhaven.

Furthermore, this gives the GM a tool to reveal useful information which is not part of the players’ goal to uncover, because one of those sources may tell something that the patrol wasn’t even looking to know. For instance, the information about Marged’s boyfriend leads to an important part of the story, but there’s no reason for the group to have inquired about that directly because, at the time of questioning, it is an “unknown unknown” as Rumsfeld once infamously tried to explain.

So basically, this is a simple mechanism for gathering ‘multi-source intelligence’ in a way that scales to player successes and occasionally drives the narrative in directions the players couldn’t anticipate. Could I roleplay a versus test with every contact? Of course. But that would take forever and leave other players feeling bored. It would also be structurally more appropriate to the Player’s Turn since there’s no imminent challenge. But, in this kind of story, investigation is often the first thing that needs doing so that the patrol knows where to begin; it therefore needs to be located at least partly in the GM’s Turn, though of course players are encouraged to follow up specific leads when they’re able. Finally, it’s not believable or as enjoyable for the patrol to learn everything regarding a complex investigation from a single person. The way my group likes to handle this hack is to roleplay meeting the highest source and use the results of the Circles test as supporting knowledge learned through the mouseguard’s connections. It’s worked for us well so far and we’ve found that it adds a touch of a Mouse Noir to the stories.

Burning Wheel Gold (I know, I know, MG is not BW!) has something called Graduated Tests, which are basically tests where the better you roll, the better you do (BWG, p. 26). They are specifically used for information gathering types of scenarios. I’d likely used Graduated Tests in combination with Circles for investigatory styled MG games. A graduated -wise to find places and things (and thereby, also clues), and Circles tests to find specific mice. I would also assume it would be possible with a graduated test to find a mouse who you were not specifically looking for, who would give up an appropriate amount of information based on your margin of success with the graduated -wise. Detailed roleplay, as always, still very required.

That’s a great suggestion Slash, thanks. I have no problem bringing in BW—I’m obviously not a rules purist. Although I own the BW books, I haven’t yet graduated to it and I’m not very familiar with the rules. I’ll be taking a look at Graduated Tests to see if that fits my needs. What are your thoughts on my sense that investigation in general–if one were to stick closely to MG rules–belongs in the Player’s Turn? The problems here are immediacy and agency. First, there is no immediate threat or challenge which needs to be surmounted. The patrol can go talk to the blacksmith, or not, as they like. Second, it’s the patrol who is leading the investigation rather than other forces acting upon them. That’s the way it should be, but it doesn’t fit well into the GM’s Turn where, for reasons I explained above, it needs to be located at least partly. That was one of the reasons why I wanted an investigation test that canvassed a character’s entire Circle at once: it was more directly challenging–I, the GM, am imposing this test upon the player–and so structurally it fits better into my turn. Of course, I suppose I could just start the mission with a Player’s Turn, but then no one would have checks to spend. Thoughts?

I like the idea of increasing successes granting more specific (helpful) information, but I’m curious how (if at all) you will handle a failed test. Misinformation? Increased difficulty on later tests (asked the wrong questions/ asked the wrong mice)? Enemy twist (perhaps with goals counter to the patrol)?

A failed test you either gain a condition, Angry, or a twist, misinformation. A lot of rumors prove to be false and in a time where many are illiterate and superstitious misinformation not only happens but is expected.

My suggestion (yeah, I seem to have a lot of them): add some threat. More specifically, threaten their Beliefs and not just their Goals. Threats don’t have to all be something you can defeat with a sword. If they have to find some information about a missing mouse, make the situation such that they have to “get in” with the bad guys who have some info about that mouse’s whereabouts. Then, make them have to do something that goes against their ideals in order to accomplish this.

Just because the patrol is leading an investigation does not mean that there should not be various forces acting upon them. Even perhaps forces that are not directly involved with the investigation.