Conceptual Issue: Combat vs. Evasion


It seems to me highly probable that in most combats in the animal kingdom, that one animal in the conflict has the goal ‘Kill my foe/prey’, while the other animals has the goal, ‘Get away’.

How do you arrange such a conflict in Mouse Guard?

If one side sets as the stakes, ‘Kill my foe’ and the other sets the stakes, “I want to escape”, then if we run this as a ‘Fight Animal’ conflict both sides are more likely to achieve their objective by using the ‘Attack’ action (lets leave aside the problem that regardless of what you are trying to achieve, ‘Attack’ is always best). While this presents no conceptual problem for the party with the objective ‘Kill my Foe’, it’s rather strange that the party with the objective ‘Get Away’ succeeds by Attacking rather than say Defending (note, that it’s never possible to win anything by defending, the best you can hope for by defending is to force a no compromise when you are already winning handily, which ironically means the weaker side never has motivation to defend, but that’s probably a topic for a third post).

If we instead run this as a Chase conflict, why does the party with the stake ‘Get Away’ get to dictate the terms of the conflict? (By terms of the conflict, I mean which skills are appropriate to resolving the conflict.) That is to say, if my goal is to force you into a fight, why is it obvious that I can’t do this if your goal is to run away? Or vica versa, if your goal is to run away, why is it obvious that the attacker gets to dictate the terms of the conflict? Or should I run this conflict as some sort of divided conflict where one side uses one set of skills for their action, and the other side uses a different set of skills for their actions? And if that is the case, why are there not rules outlining how and when to do that in the rules?

One possible resolution to this would be to add a fifth action to a conflict, ‘Evade’, that represented attempts to ‘win’ a fight conflict by leaving it rather than by fighting it. However, that would complicate what I already consider an overly complicated resolution system.

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(Prevail) #2

I think that this needs the temperament of whether a conflict is warranted for ‘get away’ from a dangerous scenario where the opposition has a goal to kill.

Consider that Mouse Nature includes escaping, hiding and all but weasels or other mice will be rolling only Nature or Season rating for all actions of the conflict. If the typical conflict is scavenger, predator, raptor, serpent stalking or hunting a mouse patrol with intent to kill and eat, then I don’t see a need for a Conflict scene unless the players turn to confront (fight) the animal.

In fact, it is far easier for the patrol to run away with a single test of Mouse Nature with Helpers from the patrol mates, and possibly tapped Nature from Persona. That’s a hefty bit of dice to throw at the intent to get away from an animal. I’d say that’s the first step if the table chatter indicates the patrol wants to get away. After those dice are thrown, then assess what happens in the Vs results.

In the case of an animal, Mouse Nature Vs animal Nature, let’s presume the table chatter indicates, “We are going to get away from this threat!” When the mice are successful, they escape and hide. When the animal is successful, the GM can offer Success w/ Condition or Twist. Success w/ Condition still leads to, “The patrol of mice escapes and hides.” A Twist could be a different hazard (probably not another Animal), yet it could allow a GM to say, “everything gets worse.” And, in that step, you might insist the patrol has attempted to get away, but that didn’t work; the beast continued or curtailed your effort. And that should lead to more table chatter, but I’d say it does not allow for a second attempt of, “We are going to get away from this threat!”

So, in that case, the desire to escape and/or hide should lead to a Vs test rather than Chase Conflict. Yet even in a Chase conflict, the animal rolls Nature for all actions while the mice roll Pathfinder and Scout alongside Nature for their actions; those make good sense for being the object of a chase. They want to find a good route and keep an eye on the opposition’s movements.

In the case of weasels or other mice confronting the patrol, I’d say the table chatter should still allow for, “We are going to get away from this threat!” by way of Nature Vs …

The results can follow the same course as the animal pursuit.

In the case of a weather or wilderness threat that has intent to kill, I do think the patrol can attempt to get away, but perhaps in some cases the GM may curtail that saying, “this is too wide spread for just getting away; you need to confront this in a different manner.”

So, overall, I see the first step is always offer the patrol a chance to get away by a single Vs test. Only if the patrol, through table chatter, describes confronting the opposition should a Fight or Fight Animal Conflict be used. In those cases, the idea of defeating the opposition by getting away ought to be avoided by the players. They’ve indicated the terms of confrontation, so they have to confront and deal, not call it a fight, but try to run off. Otherwise, they can still use Maneuvers during the fight that may involve backtracking, sidestepping, and otherwise moving away from the confrontation–only in the Compromise can they negotiate getting away from the fight.

But, Chase Conflict is a really great spot for the players to induce a pursuit of animal(s), weasel(s), or other mouse(mice). It’s a great tool for the patrol to be on the pursuit rather than be the object of pursuit. In those cases, I’d allow they can pursue another mouse or other mice; as GM, I’d have those characters using Mouse Nature to attempt to get away only in the scope of not having Pathfinder or Scout for the actions of the Conflict.

Ultimately, if the players are telling you, “We want to get away from this confrontation rather than face it,” use a single Nature Vs test to narrate the results and go on to use the hazard unmitigated; the patrol has done nothing to mitigate the issue. Their story drive another direction. Take them in that direction instead. That’s why they get to dictate the terms of the scene. They are given a special tool: Mouse Nature (escaping, hiding, climbing, foraging). If that’s the task and intent, they get to call upon that tool; and the GM should focus instead on a single Vs test.

Now, as for the difference between Get Away and Kill Prey, this presents a different conversation and a different tool given to players by the mechanics. So, that’s for another thread.

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(owen) #3

It’s not a symmetrical thing. The conflict is wholly defined by the response of the protagonists to the threat posed by the animal. Don’t even worry about how the conflict works from the animal’s side as long as it threatens and provokes the party to action.

(Jeffrey Alfaro) #4

Conflicts are always cast from the perspective of the PCs. So if the guard mice are fleeing, it is a flee conflict. If they lose this conflict, then perhaps they have been cornered and now have no other option than to fight for their life, initiating a deadly Fight conflict.

You also need to consider that most foes will be using their Nature for nearly every test, so it doesn’t matter what skills are involved, which is also why the PCs determine the conflict type.

Finally, Attack does not mean inflict violence in a flee conflict. Attack means the direct approach aimed squarely at your goal.

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(Aaron Griffin) #5

I just want to echo what others said: the Conflict Type is based on the PCs.

But, it’s also worth noting that animals don’t act outside their Nature - so while it may be logical to you that a beaver could smash and kill a mouse with a pointy stick, that’s not really in their Nature. <Caveat: I think it’s within everything’s Nature to defend themselves when attacked>


Ok. I guess I can see that. It does resolve some of my conceptual issues, while leaving me with some minor ones.

For example, if a PC proposes that they want to fire a snap shot with a bow at the pursuing fox in order to try to get it to blink or back off, then I can run that as a Feint with a dirty trick bonus. However, the PC might be a bit surprised to find that she’s testing with Pathfinder and not say Hunting or Fighting.

Presumably, the Chase involves some sort of compromise which may or may not lead to a Fight conflict, but the Chase itself can be a killing conflict? That is to say, the compromise might be, “Tess is gobbled up by the Fox, but he rest of the group gets away.”?

And it’s clear that Mice are terrible at the game of tag, since the versus test of Nature versus Scout is going to heavily lean in favor of the mouse trying to avoid getting ‘tagged’ compared to the one that is it.

(owen) #7

Good example. There’s two ways you can go.

  1. You can just let them roll whatever skill for the Feint feels right to you. It won’t break the game irreparably, but it will make things harder to remember an strategize around in future for both the players and the GM. So if you do that, I would say do it deliberately and rarely.

  2. If you find that the skill doesn’t seem to match the action you chose, maybe you could choose another action. So Pathfinder doesn’t line up with your “deterrent” shot. Is Scout a better option? Maybe. Could this be a maneuver instead? Yes, if the intent is to set up the next roll at an advantage. Could it be a defend? Yes, if you’re trying to diminish or reverse the losses already suffered.

In this case, I’d look at option 2. But I’ve been known to allow skill substitutions in a deliberate way from time to time.

(Prevail) #8

This is part of that larger conversation about death and killing. From my point of view, if the players have said nothing about death or killing in their Conflict goal, this is a flag and a rule that the patrol members are not under threat of death, at all. end.

In contrast, if the opposing force places death or killing within the Conflict goal, that opposition is accepting and inviting the possibility of death–even if the patrol side isn’t threatening it.

Those who live by the sword, die by the sword. Those who extend mercy, shall have mercy extended unto them.

I’ve never rolled with a Conflict in which the result was a dead Guard mouse; in fact, I haven’t had a patrol land a Conflict that results in a dead animal either. But, that’s partly my disinterest in death and killing. But, I would make sure players understand its a protective tool for them that the rules for Death and Killing subheading will not apply unless death and/or killing is included in the patrol-side Conflict goal.

(Prevail) #9

I did recently roll through a Torchbearer Kill Conflict in which we got by under hard scrabble; one of our NPC supporters died, and all members of the conflict team gained Injured; the opposing side all died in the compromise. But we had a brief alert from the GM that death was on the line prior to kicking off the Kill Conflict.

(Devon Kelley) #10

I would be completely fine with “Eat a mouse” being an animal’s goal in a Chase conflict. The animal has a desire, a reason for entering or initiating the Conflict and if the PCs response to the Conflict means it’s a Chase, then so be it. That doesn’t change the animal’s goal for entering or initiating the Conflict.

(Günther) #11

I just want to add one thing: Conflicts work in a different way than normal skill tests insofar as most of the time you first choose the action (attack, defend, feint, maneuver) according to tactical considerations and then you build the narration around it. So, most of the time it’s not “I want to shoot my bow” and then choose the skill and then having the problem that none of the actions fits the skill. But rather it’s “We’ll try a feint” and then look up which skill it is and then narrate how you apply this skill in this situation.