Conflicting conflict goals

I have a session coming up that may lead to a complex conflict. Here’s the story: Following on the grain peddler mission, the patrol investigated further to find who the map was for. They found that another mouse was intimidated by a weasel into arranging the exchange, then found the weasel had two accomplices: another weasel, and a mouse who was captured by weasels during the war. She explained that the plan was to use the map to get revenge on the guard captain that let her town get taken by weasels. The patrol does not yet know why these weasels are helping her.

So the patrol convinced her not to let weasels into Lockhaven, and instead to come with them to make her accusation straight to Gwendolyn. She will ask them to present the information in a hearing with the Guard Captains.

The hearing will be the conflict, but I anticipate differences of opinion on what the desired result will be. The group has displayed different degrees of sympathy to both the traitor mouse and the accused guard captain, and the conflict could result in either or both of them getting arrested.

If one guardmouse opposes the captain and supports the traitor, and another does the reverse, what’s the best way to set up the conflict? It’s an argument, clearly. Should the two guardmice be the opposing teams of the conflict? Should they be two separate conflicts, both opposing the leaders of the guard (or perhaps just opposing the person they are accusing)? There is also a third member of the patrol who I assume will have to either pick a side or stay out of it.

This is a bit more complex than other encounters we’ve done, and I want to handle things in a way that won’t confuse everyone, but which will also keep up the drama of the situation (which is why I don’t want to handle the two accusations as completely separate conflicts, one after the other).

Any advice?

Give them a Players’ Turn before you hit that conflict in the GM’s turn. If they want to Argue over who’s side they want to be on, let them spend a check to launch a conflict among the patrol. Otherwise, the opposing guard mice can just be on the traitor’s team in the conflict.

If they continue to disagree, I’d rather have that play out in the main conflict than have them roll off beforehand to resolve it (unless that’s what they want). I guess the best thing would be for them to take the opposing sides of the conflict, and receive help from whoever’s side they’re on. Gwendolyn and the other guard captains can then just be set dressing, rather than participants in the conflict. (Unless some of them just choose to directly support the accused guard captain.)

I feel like PvP conflicts are Players’ Turn things. You could always switch turns right before that conflict and see how they deal with it. It just feels weird to knowingly put the PCs against each other in the GM’s Turn. On the other hand, it’s been a while since I’ve played Mouse Guard, so a lot of TB sensibilities may be creeping into my opinions.

I would probably agree normally, but this conflict is explicitly part of the “mission”, it’s just that there is room for them to take different sides on it. The conflict is not itself optional. It’s also entirely possible that they will take the same side. I don’t intend to force them to fight one another.

maybe need a bit of clarity about the NPCs in this mess, but sounds like there is Accuser Mouse and Extorted Mouse, then Grd Cpt Accused and Matriarch G, plus the PC patrol mates.

You mentioned that the patrol convinced Accuser Mouse (if I’ve understood correctly) to make the case directly to Matriarch G w/ PC patrol mates supporting the case, and having Grd Cpt Accused present to speak in the case.

Still seems a little messy, but here’s a bit of cleanup:

  • PC patrol mates need to establish their facts and decide on the proposed result (don’t have an argument over nothing)

  • remove Matriarch G; she has authority to rule on the issue without hearing, so it will go over better if the whole group is accosted by Grd Cpt Accused and forced into the argument before they approach G (a heated, urgent argument will go over better and faster)

  • set the case of Grd Cpt Accused as a hardline, far-field result; if the patrol mates want to support the Cpt, they’ll be supporting something irreversible (e.g. Accuser Mouse is guilty of treason and must be executed / imprisoned / exiled / dismembered)

  • set the case of Accuser Mouse as a hardline, near-field result; if the patrol mates want to support the case, they’ll be supporting something unjust, unmerciful, but temporary and/or reversible (e.g. Cpt Accused is guilty of surrender in the face of invasion and must be decommissioned / assigned to other service)

  • don’t permit a third side (that will come about from the Compromise); a third case that settles for a middle-of-the-road result is to be found by hearing the cases for each side; as the patrol mates must choose one side or another, those who feel like another route is possible, should throw up their paws in frustration and sit out

Another few points:

  • don’t make the conflict forced; start by making the Mice Hazard; that’s not optional

  • for the Mice Obstacle, the patrol mates are already escorting Accused Mouse, maybe also Extorted Mouse, when Cpt Accused stops the group
    and forces the situation

  • Cpt Accused drives the action first by ordering the patrol to stand aside, states case against Accuser Mouse, and maybe Extorted Mouse, and Accuser Mouse retorts with case agaisnt Cpt Accused; GM allows patrol mates to respond

  • PC patrol mates respond to case of Cpt Accused / Accuser Mouse; both willing to take the issue to Conflict, but allow the response to drive that determination

Lastly, table chatter will be critical:

  • if only one PC patrol mouse wants to back a case, that’s not quite worth a Conflict, yet might be worth a Vs Test to exert influence over a desired side

  • if all the PC patrol mates are suggesting mixed feelings, that’s not quite ready for a Conflict, and probably won’t solve quite right under a test

  • if the PC patrol mates are taking sides such that it will be more of a PvP argument, stick with a Vs Test between the PCs w/ NPC Helpers

  • if most or all PC patrol mates are taking one side, that’s more likely to commit a Conflict with some urgency and heat (especially if no one takes opposing side); GM can have others supporting Cpt Accuser / Accused Mouse to increase the participants on GM Side

The accuser mouse (Kayla) is accompanying the patrol back to Lockhaven. The extorted mouse ran away when the deal fell through (fearing the weasels). The accused captain (Albert) is in Lockhaven.

I definitely see the need to make it about the accuser and the accused, at two far ends of the issue. Ideally, I would like it to be possible for both to be arrested, or both let free, though I suppose some form of that could happen with a compromise.

The reason I like the idea of a formal hearing is that it creates urgency. You know that the decision will be made at the end of it, and that’s that (unless someone decides to do something drastic/foolish, like staging an escape for a prisoner). An argument coming up before a meeting with Gwendolyn might be emotionally heated, but unless Captain Albert does something stupid, it won’t really seem unavoidable. Then, no matter the result, it needs to be brought to Gwendolyn. It doesn’t seem like the consequences would feel substantial.

All of this makes me question the idea a bit again. Since the conflict I’m imagining is basically an argument to sway Gwendolyn’s opinion, I guess I should either set the conflict before the meeting with her (making it informal but emotional, and simply about determining what they’ll tell her), or place her on a given side of the argument (if I go with the hearing). It makes sense that she would defend the captain until enough evidence is brought forth.

If the hearing happens, I guess the other guard captains don’t really have to be part of it. Bringing the focus down to Gwendolyn, Captain Albert, Kayla and the patrol would probably be best.

With a bit of added clarity, there is still a question about the actions (during a time of war) taken by Cpt Albert which motivate the vengeful emotion, conspiracy, and accusation by Kayla. Here’s a sticking point for me–Kayla is making an accusation that (during a time of war) Cpt Albert took actions which were incorrect, cost lives and territory, and didn’t have something to pay for that wrong action. I stick on that; since, this is a Guard Captain NPC–it wasn’t probably an issue the PC patrol mates could have influenced, yet they are being placed in the role of mediators over the issue. This seems frustrating; since, they probably cannot gain perspective on all sides of the matter and truly judge the truth against a version of the truth in order to offer both justice and mercy.

Whatever Cpt Albert did, it was during a time of war, and subject to review by G, probably no other mouse than G gave orders and commissioned her Cpts to act with their best judgement over the orders given them. Thus, Kayla’s conspiracy is not during time of war (presumably), but instead is a retaliation for a perceived failure to take the correct action or make the correct judgement of orders. Yet, Kayla is not really justified in scrutinizing the actions (in time of war) of the officers appointed by G. She took an act of traitorous conspiracy which may have ignited further warfare or other acts of violence in order to gain her own vigilante justice over the actions of Cpt Albert–an act which surely would have resulted in collateral damage toward other mice, particularly members of the Guard.

So, the players have once talked Kayla down from conspiracy, and are willing to permit her face-to-face airing of grievance to G; are they meant to also plead her case? This is why I’d back off a little to look at the overall Mice Hazard. In this case, the PC patrol mates are escorting a captive, foiled criminal with intent to allow her a chance to plead her case before G–placing the scrutiny back into the hands of Matriarch of the Guard in respect to the officers appointed by her. That’s all fine, but what’s the Mice Hazard? The hazard is that many Guard members and possibly non-Guard mice would object to the patrol’s choice in this matter. Probably many would say, ‘she’s guilty, she tried to conspire a plan against Lockhaven, and she should be punished for that without pleading her case.’ That’s kinda a paraphrase.

So, then the Mice Obstacle needs to interfere or interrupt the PC patrol mates’ assigned or perceived mission to place Kayla face-to-face with G where she can plead her case for scrutiny over Cpt Alberts actions and justice regarding those actions and the results of those actions. A good scenario to interfere or interrupt is that Cpt Albert confronts the patrol mates to make his case, and Kayla uses that as a chance to make her case to the patrol and any onlookers (Cpt Albert probably has followers willing to back him). Both sides no longer care about / don’t want a face-to-face hearing with G; because, that creates greater risk of failure. For Kayla, actually facing off against G is a major risk; she’s gotta try convincing the Matriarch of the Guard that her appointed officer failed and the resulting loss was greater than any perceived gain from the past choices made. For Cpt Albert, actually having G hear another side of the past story may allow her to better assess whether he acted within guidance of her orders; the resulting reassessment of his choices may lead to a severe loss of position, authority, status, and career potential.

So, the patrol is facing a hazard of other Mice being in disagreement to their course of actions. The obstacle is Mice confronting them to stop their course of actions. Placing the focus on a public argument, heated, angry, loud, belligerent, controversial, and totally without G’s judgement means a few things:

  • Kayla might get a crowd riled up who feel empathetic to her case and want to keep driving for her resolution
  • Albert might draw upon a riled up crowd who feel equally confrontational about a civilian scrutinizing actions of the Guard during time of war and want to keep driving to silence Kayla
  • without G’s judgement, this isn’t (or doesn’t) have a final sentence; the argument might get back to her by rumors, but there is already a movement of mice taking sides (possibly right there in the citadel plaza)
  • PC patrol mice might not agree with either side, but they probably feel like there is a need to get this judged by G once and for all; only, they’re stuck at a confrontation before even arriving at her desk
  • Even with Kayla’s death, the issue might still smolder in the hearts of other mice who heard the public argument and want to know the truth for themselves–this can manifest in a number of other sessions where the PC patrol mates become the lightning rod for public review of the actions of Cpts during time of war.

Now, as the assigned or perceived mission is to place the matter at the judgement of G, and possibly influence her judgement as PC patrol mates desire, then, following the Argument Conflict (or Vs Test), the patrol still have the matter at hand to present to G. At that time, they’ve also got the results of that confrontation weighing on the opnions also. Imagine how things might go, if Cpt Albert states a Conflict goal: “The patrol will agree that Kayla is a traitor and must die for her crimes,” and then does quite well against them, wins (even with compromise), and the PC patrol now must figure how their opinions have changed under Cpt Albert’s argument! Or contrasting, if Kayla states a goal: “Cpt Albert is guilty of war crimes in addition to cowardice; his life must now be spent in atonement for those he murdered,” and then wins (even with compromise), such that the patrol now must consider how to implement her opinions in their discussion with G!

See, in all this, G can simply make a flat ruling over her Guard Captains, Patrol Leaders, Guardmice, etc. and that stands. She doesn’t really have to give Kayla a hearing and doesn’t really have to weigh evidence. She can, but really, she doesn’t have to. That’s all a bit of how you view the Matriarch role in the world/campaign.

On the other hand, Kayla and Albert don’t need to see more evidence–they already have their minds made about the issue and have a case to present against one another. They just want to get at each other and take action. If the assigned or perceived mission for the patrol is to place her in front of G, having those two NPC clash before they reach G makes the proper interference or interruption of their mission. It says, “Do you want to take sides, or simply get them to shut up so you can finish your mission!?” It says, “Do you believe Kayla’s accusation, or do you feel Cpt Albert’s past choices are beyond scrutiny of civilian mice!?” It says, “Is there a right or wrong side, or could there be reconciliation if this argument were not so angry!?”

And again, depending on the investment and engagement of the audience, having a full Conflict might not go over quite as well as having a Vs Test. Although the issue is really big, the patrol might not want to get themselves completely sunk in the muck over taking sides.

The accusation is this: That the captain had organized the able mice of the town to fight the invading weasels alongside his guardmice. The weasels were overwhelming, so the captain ordered the guardmice to retreat while the mice of the town held the line (making their retreat possible). Kayla sees this as a callous disregard for the mice they claimed to defend. Albert will of course say that is was the best tactical decision, allowing the guardmice to save more mice in later battles.

I think what I’ll do is this: They’ll reach Lockhaven and have a player turn. The current “mission” was to get there, so that fits, and they’re due for one. What they do with that turn will guide what happens next. They wanted to investigate the mapmaker in Lockhaven, so they’ll probably start there. If they go straight to Gwendolyn, that’s just how it will be. She won’t leap to a decision without consideration, which means the conflict (likely starting with Albert approaching them separately) can occur during the next GM turn. Basically, their decisions in the player turn will determine who knows what and where everyone is before the GM turn. (Kayla’s going to be arrested in that time almost certainly. If she isn’t, that would be a misstep on the players’ parts, since she might try to attack Albert on her own if left free.)

The longer they wait, the more likely word will get around. If they go straight to Gwendolyn, then there’s just no reason that anyone would know what’s going on before that.

I think the case for this thread is pretty much closed now, but I had another thought about how to determine the course of action which I just wanted to contribute.

This isn’t about making a case anymore, but I want to share one of the GM thinking processes that helps in mission design and hazard/obstacle design.

The Mouse Guard has duties that matter for the theme of the game between players and GM. If the GM uses the duties published in the text, and the players are reading those duties from the text, that’s a common ground to work from. In campaign building, I select some of those duties to be more common and others to be more rare; I publish that to players in order to help them develop characters, BIGs, and gear lists that will fit the campaign norms.

Following that, I use those typical duties to define a mission. So, let’s stick with the thread subject matter as an example. I could say, the mission here is the patrol is providing escort for a mouse to meet face-to-face w/ G–that’s based on escorting duty. Alternately, I could say, the mission here is to mediate a dispute between a settlement mouse and a Grd Cpt which has turned dangerous with conspiracy, weasel-spies, and vengeance–that’s based on mediating duty. So, that’s a fairly simple mission, and I usually have complex missions; however, for my example that’s great.

Next step in my GM thinking process is to determine what hazards will the patrol face in completing that mission–these are the Weather, Wilderness, Animal and Mice hazards. I love good Weather and Wilderness scenes, but I think this mission calls for Mice and Animals. In the case of Mice, the immediate obstacle is that the Grd Cpt doesn’t want to be called into question for his actions, so he’s the obstacle to a complete escort, and he’s the obstacle for a good mediation. In both examples for a mission, that Grd Cpt is a good choice of Mice obstacle, yet there’s nothing wrong with including a few other mice who feel similarly to his fear of losing reputation, influence, and authority.

Now, what sort of Animal obstacle is a best fit? Well, here’s the spot for divergent thinking. I’d pick some scene about setting things in balance or in harmony. That would be great with a non-predator animal acting out which the patrol might be able to see how to fix a wild situation that rebalances or reharmonizes the animal world. That resonates with the need to settle the issue of their mouse world too. Alternately, they could face a scene of a serious, threatening, deadly predator making cunning movements to kill mice–that kinda resonates with the issue, but foreshadows a threat among the mouse world either in the case of Accuser Mouse tearing at or damaging the Guard and Lockhaven, or the case of Grd Cpt leading a deadly ploy to protect his reputation, power, and following.

It is also totally worthwhile that a Weather or Wilderness scene would create those story themes come to life also. I just didn’t choose those. It seems a bit less compelling to have the weather or wilderness serve as a threat against the mediation, but they could do pretty well against the escort–if the message really stands to change the Territories, then I think the patrol could feel the threat of weather or wilderness preventing success of the escort.

So, that’s my process–summarized. Campaign norms, mission duties, hazards to the mission, obstacles that resonate and provide thematic message.