Dissolution - A Murder Mystery in the Monasteries of Mouse Guard...

Has anyone read the book Dissolution by C J Sansom?

It is a tale about one of Thomas Cromwell’s Commissioners who has to investigate a murder at a monastery in the dead of winter. The weather plays a big part in the story creating travel hazards and really amping up the feel of isolation and all the monks seem like they are out on their own agendas.

I am foolishly going to see if I can distill the whole book down into a Mouse Guard mission (or 2, or 3).

The first problem is removing the religion from the monastery. Here is my take on it…

The monks in MG are just mice that decided to remove themselves from society because of a belief that separation and isolation is good for their well-being. At first they kept to themselves but over the years they expanded their influence over local villages and and owners. As was the case in our world the ideals of the original monks became distorted and the monastery grew rich and corrupt off the fat of the land and those working the land.

Now if the mice that set up the monastery were originally from the Guard and were perhaps granted their initial land rights by the Matriarch of the times then that creates an interesting reason for Gwendolyn to want the now corrupt Monastery (whose current crop of monks have no ties to the Guard) dissolved but she wants it done with little fuss and no violence. She has had reports that there are dirty land transactions happening and so took this as an opportunity to send in an investigator and uncover the corruption bringing it to the attention the the territories.

Her first choice for investigator arrives and within a few days has been murdered…

Step up our heroes who must travel to a remote part of the territories in deep winter and then confront a monastery full of nervous (even murderous) mice who fear for their nice soft way of life…

Obviously as I develop the plot of the mission structure and player’s turns it will spoil the plot of the book so I apologise for that in advance.

This mission will also tie in nicely with attempted overthrow of Lockhaven in the Autumn of 1152…

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First up, i’ve never read the source material, so i can’t really help there.

The emphasis above is mine; the very first thing that jumps out at me is that you have forgotten the scenario prep advice for Mouse Guard. Before you do anything else, read pages 56, 57 (The Prologue, Assign a Mission through to Further Missions) 60,61, 66-77 (All of ‘GMs Turn’ and ‘Players Turn’) again. In particular note Pg 76 “GM’s Role in the Player’s Turn”.

What you are looking for here is:
[li]The particular structure of the GM’s turn (Pick one obstacle for each of the 4 categories. Of those, pick 2 that will be obstacles the players will encounter, and the other two will be options for twists.
[/li] [li]The purpose of the Player’s turn and the GM’s role in it - in particular that it is for the players to advance their own interests. Note that in the GMs turn section, players are reminded that they must put their own agendas to the side while they carry out the mission that have been handed.

So given that; i’d suggest that you look at the mission concept (Investigate the murder at the monastery), look at the BIGs of the characters, and plan out 4 obstacles and note which two are key, and which two might be twists.

Dont worry about being too detailed with any of these. a paragraph of notes, including test/conflict type and maybe some alternatives, perhaps the stats of any mice or animals. Remember to look at the Seasons and Territories chapters for inspiration here - its easy to lift something.

I would also suggest that looking over the canned missions from page 271-296 to get a feel for how it is structured. The Find The Grain Peddler scenario is well detailed, but i found that the Deliver The Mail scenario helped me understand the structure a better - i wasn’t as clouded with preconceptions by the time i got there.

My finally suggestion here is rely on the book. Its full of useful tools and ideas, and while the prescribed mode of play seems a little weird to start, it really does work and is very rewarding.

Thanks for the pointers and thoughts certainly good to keep me focused.

My plan was to stick rigidly to the session structure of MG as the whole story has a very MG feel to it. The prologue, the mission, goals all of that will be covered.

The main two obstacles here for the first mission are the Weather and Mice.

The current season will be Autumn but complicated by an early onset of winter. Maybe a bridge has been washed away and needs to be repaired as it starts to snow? This will then be followed by trying to put the squeeze on a few of the monks and uncovering some tasty leads that can’t help but be followed up in the players turn. The players will be left to their own devices in this hostile and remote place.

Now this story will take longer than 1 session so I am hoping for a rather organic mission development where I can sit down and see what the mice accomplished in the Players turn and then develop this into the next mission.

This will have the added bonus of driving the ‘investigation’ forwards by letting me focus them during the GM’s turn.

I’ll put together a proper write up of part one tomorrow. 8)

All the discussion about the monasteries in Mouse Guard in my initial post was just a little setting exercise on my part so I can introduce the mission seamlessly and answer player question competently during their turn.

Looking forward to your notes on this one! Very promising!

Okay… Here is the mission part of the first game. As a prologue I’ll step up to recount the siege of Lockhaven by the Army of the Axe and the tensions this has been causing ever since.

The feel of the game might be different to how some imagine the world of Mouse Guard but it is the way I’ll be taking my game… Making the setting a little bit more grimdark than it already is doesn’t hurt anyone.

[i]Gwendolyn paces the room, obviously troubled by something. A letter and several other papers lie scattered on the great oak table. Outside night draws in as the Autumn rain and wind batters against the iron framed windows. The embers of a dying fire flicker in a great stone hearth.

She stops pacing and turns towards you.[/i]

“Four weeks ago I sent one of my most trusted captains, Robyn, to investigate rumours I had ‘heard’ that the mice of Scarnsea Monastery were in the process of conducting illicit land sales. A charter drawn up when the land was granted to the monastery’s founding mice forebode the sale of any part of the territory for self serving profit and greed.”

“Nine days ago I received a hastily written letter from Robyn. He had found something, evidence I assume, to prove that the mice of Scarnsea had been slyly selling off the land and hoarding the gold. He promised to send a full report within three days listing the charges and his actions. That letter has not arrived and Robyn himself is now overdue back at Lockhaven.”

“I would not normally worry so much about a mouse like Robyn. He is tough, more than capable and experienced. Something else bothers me about the situation. In his first communication Robyn wrote that the mice at Scarnsea had also been harbouring an old mouse who it appears was an ex-soldier of the axe. In these tense seasons following Shadow’s rebellion a month doesn’t go by without us hearing of conflict or violence sparked by his rebellion and misguided beliefs.”

She stares at each of you in turn.

“I want you to make all haste to the Monastery at Scarnsea and find Robyn. I need you to deal with the situation you find.”

If Gwendolyn is asked about the Monastery the following will be read aloud, paraphrased, turned into a hand out, anything so long as the information is communicated to the players. If they don’t ask about the background to the monastery I’ll have the Mouse with the highest Will recount the information as they travel, allowing the player to read the information to the others.

“Three hundred years ago Arianwyn the Matriarch of the time granted land owned by the Guard to several retiring mice. These mice had served the greater good with loyalty and passion their entire lives. After this lifetime battling the wilds these mice felt that seclusion, and peaceful reflection would calm their souls before they made the journey past the peninsula of the Ashen Trees and on to Seyan. Their ideals were noble and drew many mice to their monastery. However over the course of the centuries their beliefs were eroded and the simple foundations of their faith were twisted and warped. Nowadays the mice of Scarnsea live rich comfortable lives a parody of the ascetic nature the monastery’s founders believed in.”

If asked about the Monastery It will be made clear that Gwendolyn really doesn’t like the way Scarnsea is being run. If pushed on why the mice can get away with running the monastery with such disregard to the original beliefs Gwendolyn will sigh and explain…

“The gradual change in tradition over the years meant the slow corruption was allowed to fester. One Matriarch to another turning a blind eye or not wanting to become known as the ‘one’ who drove a wedge between the Guard and the Faith . The Monastery exists at the whim of the Guard on land we own but to dissolve it now with tensions as they are could be disastrous.”

Very nice background! I can’t wait to see how this turns out!

OOooo! The mice have religion?

Thanks, 8)

There are only a few lines in the ‘Winter 1152’ graphic novel where Gwendolyn is saying a preyer over a funeral pyre… it give hints a religion that is kinda Valhalla like or maybe the Roman Elysium, a hall or heroes type thing.

I’m sorry, but that was a prayer? I thought that was a “last speech to honor the dead” or something. Lemme dig up my comics again…

Damn, religion = cleric = magic… images of spell-casting mice are running through my head again!

It reads very much like a preyer or last rights to me.

Or at least as close to a preyer as MG gets.

However in my game the religion is going to be very low key, the Monastery and it’s mice are more about (or at least were about) a peaceful, introspective way of life. No point complicating things with too much religion… ;-p

I read ya! Pardon me for my spellcasting-mice fantasy! Move along folks, nothing to see here. Don’t mind that drooling guy, he won’t bite. Move along.

So the first session is over, done and dusted… This session was about getting a feel for the mechanics and introducing the setting for the mission.

A quick run down of the characters that took part…

Armand - A veteran Patrol Guard who has been passed over for promotion several times, mainly due to a crime he was accused of but didn’t commit. This time he was given the chance to lead the mission. He is very much a swashbuckling musketeer type who’s BIG’s revolved around the principles of protecting/defending the ladies.
Normally I would have tried to move them away from something quite so specific but it will actually work quite well with the mission I have planned.
Casey - A rather cowardly healer who hopefully by the end of the game will have overcome his fearful nature in some heroic fashion.
Sloan - A Tenderpaw who is very protective of the Oldfurs.
Tristan - An academic type who likes to make sure all possibilities are explored and discussed.

I gave the mission brief to the players (as detailed previously in this thread) and we then got started. Goals were set and the Mice headed out into the wilderness.

Over the course of the game there was very little use of negative traits and that ever present fear of failing rolls. After the game I explained even more about failure just being an excuse for more interesting encounters and hopefully it got through…

The players turn was a bit more in depth than I described here but it’s late and I need my sleep… They didn’t just bound from one encounter to another like I listed. They were shocked to discover Robyn dead and started making plans straight away but decided a base of operations was required before they went off half cocked storming about the Monastery.

I also missed it as a prayer for some reason. Being me I’ll of course do a roman interpretation :slight_smile: or maybe a more ancient Egypt one, with the balance thing rather than the hero thing. Could be more interesting philosophically.

Here are what my notes were for the first mission…

GM’s Turn

Obstacle 1
Which way to the coast?
Can the Patrol ‘make haste’ and reach Scarnsea in the best time?
Ob2 Pathfinder test.
Failure: Tired or Hungry for everyone plus Angry for leader also and extra day is added onto the journey time.

Obstacle 2
Washed Away
Whilst traversing some large rock formations the Patrol comes across a fast flowing stream. The bridge that crosses it has been partially washed away.
Ob4 Health to jump the gap.
Ob3 Survivalist to gather wood to build a temporary bridge.
Ob4 Carpenter/Mason to rebuild the bridge more permanently.

Possible Twist
If anyone tries to jump the gap and fails or gets lost searching for bridge building materials…
A Conflict with a Crow over an abandoned mouse cart full of shiny metals.

Obstacle 3
Snow Storm
Winter arrives early this year with a raging Snow Storm.
Ob3 Survivalist/Nature to gather resources to make Snow Shoes and gear.
Ob3 Health to make it through the storm without succumbing to it…
Ob3 Pathfinder/Survivalist to find a warm hidey hole and hide away from the snow until it eases.

End Point - The rocks of Scarnsea Monastery can be seen in the distance…

This is what the players did with their meagre 1 check between them…

Player’s Turn

Armand - leads the Patrol to the gates of the Monastery and gets them inside past the watchmouse on duty. He learns the Abbot is not available to see them, he is away.

Casey - along with the rest of the patrol, makes his way to the refectory to find someone who can answer their questions. The patrol meets with the stuttering Bursar. They find out that there has been an accident and that Robyn is dead.

Tristan - enquires about somewhere they can rest and re-group. The Patrol is shown to a guest room in the Infirmary. The wood panelled room is well furnished, has a big fireplace, several comfortable chairs and enough beds for them all.

Sloan - tries to calm down after loosing his temper in the woods but fails and remains angry.

Casey - wanders off for a look around the Infirmary. He meets the Infirmary Maid who tells him that Robyn was murdered. They are interrupted by the arrival of the Infirmarian, a mouse with red fur and a foreign accent who introduces himself as Brother Guy. He explains that Robyn was decapitated.

My notes for the second session.

Find out what happened in the days leading up to and including Robyn’s death.

GM’s Turn

The Patrol will be presented with several options for Mice to talk to and can pick and choose who goes where and does what…

Bugge the Watchmouse
Ob2 Persuade/Decieve
Bugge is found shoveling snow outside the Monastery gates. He dressed in very worn, patched up clothes and doesn’t smell too pleasant.
He is eager to help and will willingly offer up anything he knows…

The grounds are patrolled twice each night, once at 9 in the evening and then again at 3.30 in the morning
The gates are closed at 9 every evening and opened after Prime at 9 every morning
There is one other route into the monastery grounds but that leads straight into the marsh and only a fool would try and make their way through that at night

The night of the murder…
Whilst doing the final rounds before dawn, roughly an hour before Robyn was killed Bugge met him near the kitchen. Robyn instructed bugge that if he met a member of the brethren he should let them pass if they said they were on their way to meet him…

A Condition plus the ire of Bugge (he is a good ally to have).

Abbot Fabian

Ob4 Haggle/Persuade/Decieve
Abbot Fabian returns early in the morning and sends a request to speak with the Patrol as soon as possible if they do not ask to see him first. He is a a very regal looking mouse dressed in rich clothes although he looks tired, worried or possibly even nervous.

He seems willing to help and recall everything he can but there is an edge to his remarks especially regarding Robyn’s conduct, he can sound quite bitter.

General Information…
A message was sent to Lockhaven as soon as the Hue and Cry went up.
Fabian was worried about not having received a reply.

He was a rude and disruptive mouse

The murder…
Robyn was killed in the Kitchen he was found at around 5 am
Robyn had spent a good few days before his murder locked away with one of Edwig’s ledgers (CORE CLUE)
Brother Guy found the body

Twist, the Abbot grows visibly nervous and worried at being questioned by the patrol. He decides they need to be followed and watched. He asks Brother Gabriel to keep tabs on them.

The Body

Ob3 Healer/Fighter
Robyn’s body has been places in a crypt in the Monastery graveyard. The crypt is dark and cold… very cold. Robyn’s body is places on one stone slab. His head is propped next to it.

The Murder…
Robyn was decapitated in one swing. There was no hacking from axes here, just a single clean cut.
The obvious murder weapon is a sharp balanced sword.
The murderer needs to have been good with a sword and strong to boot.

A Condition

Brother Guy the Infirmarian

Ob1 Persuade
Brother Guy has bright red fur and speaks with an unrecognisable foreign accent. He is quite tall and well built.

The Murder…
Guy found the body just after 5am when he unlocked the Kitchen to to collect some supplies for the Infirmary.
The body lay prostrate pointing away from the door.
The head lay some distance off under a butter churn.
There was blood everywhere.

A Condition. Guy is maybe the one mouse that the patrol can rely on in the Monastery so upsetting him is going to prove difficult in the long run.

Start the Search
A Search Conflict versus the Monastery and it’s inhabitants.

There is no such thing as a Search in the conflict rules but I thought it woud be quite fun to turn the otherwise dull search for the murder weapon into a conflict. It would focus the roleplaying and reduce the “I search this room infinitus…” nonsense that it could otherwise devolve into. Each action the Monastery takes will be a specific situation that the Patrol has to deal with using their action, be that searching a dark crypt or talking to the Bursar…

For the purposes of this initial search the Monastery is trying to hide the murder weapon and will present all manner of other interesting places and mice to search and ask instead of the actual location. The Monastery has a Nature of 12 for this Conflict.

The players can…
Attack with Will
Defend with Health
Maneuver with Persuade
Feint with Decieve

As a compromise the Monastery will give a clue as to the location of the Weapon by reducing it’s starting Nature in the next GM’s Turn by an appropriate amount based on how well the Patrol did this time.

If the patrol fails to find the murder weapon (likely) and they fail by a large margin they should become Angry and Tired, possibly even Sick. If they do find the Murder weapon then all sorts of things happen that I don’t have time to type up just yet but will wing it if needs be… [I’m setting myself up for a fall here…]

Player’s Turn

Suggested avenues of investigation…
[li]Take a look around the Kitchen, talk to the Kitchen Staff.
[/li][li]Visit Edwig the Bursar at the counting house and try and pries his Ledgers out of him (A negotiation conflict, Edwig doesn’t want to give up his Ledgers as that might disrupt the work in the counting house. (If he wins with any compromise he still agrees let them have the ledgers but he will organise for them to be delivered to the Patrols room as soon as possible, he will however take his time).

Some flavourful events to insert into the Players turn or the GM’s turn…

[li]Edwig (Bursar) and Gabriel (Sacrist) are arguing in the Mason’s workshop. They are arguing over the cost of the repairs to the Bell Tower. Edwig is adamant that Gabriel would willingly bankrupt the Monastery just to see his stone work complete. Gabriel is only interested in the symmetry and integrity of the stone work, he believe that to use sub standard stone would ruin the aesthetics…
[li]Prior Mortimus is shouting at a younger monk for… something. He calls the younger mouse weak and soft then sends him on his way with a kick.
[li]If Gabriel has been assigned to spy on the patrol one of them might get the heebeejeebees when in their room but not really know why (don’t mention being watched).


A good map with lots of atmosphere can say a lot about a setting without any writing at all.

My inner cartographer awards you +1 Cool Project point.

Props are a really fun way to add “fun” to the game. Nice props!

This absolutely brilliant work on your part Jester! I hope you continue to share this and at its conclusion create a spiffy pdf of the adventure. This is just amazing and that map just adds to the atmosphere. Well done!