End of Mouse Guard for Us...

Aramis – I haven’t played Mouse Guard or BurningX yet. But I’m a bit confused about the play experience you related in your post. To me, the story sounded fantastic. So I’m guessing it is the mechanics that has somehow burnt your group out? Maybe it is the rather steep departure from the “wargaming” D&D fighting mechanics? I’m just guessing… I’m hoping you are somehow able to keep your group going.

Good report. Very interesting, and I can certainly see seeds of some of those things all coming up now and again in my new MG campaign (we’re just one session in).

One bit jumped out that interested me: the thing about not requiring tight narration to get the help/FoRK die (apologies for the bw-speak – what do we call FoRKs in MG again?). This did not come up during our extensive playtest but it did come up in our first session: I was extremely diligent about requiring everyone provide reasonable narrative support for each bonus die. Like, a few times in a row I’d see a player toss a die to the roller and just say “Yeah, I’m helping out.” And I’d be all “What? Not yet. How are you helping?” And they’d hem and haw and pacing would drag.

I tried moderating that pacing hiccup by encouraging the players to not worry so much about the extra dice – if they have to hem and haw, don’t chase the die. Just get on with it. But that just didn’t work in all cases. A couple players “get” it, a couple do not. Winning the roll > making good narrative, in their case.

What was interesting to me was that it simply had not come up during playtest. This is a playstyle thing I would have brought to LC’s attention, but looking through my notes it never came up. So I’m not really sure where it’s coming from.

I’ve got some theories.

  1. The win-at-all-cost mentality. Not sure what the source of this one is, since everyone in this game was in the playtest. And this is the dirty-hippie crowd, making it even more surprising.

  2. Not yet into the twists-and-conditions mindset. It is, after all, just the first session. I know that by the 3rd-or-so session, everyone was way less terrified of “failing” a roll. So my fingers are crossed.

  3. Pushing the pace too much. Totally on me – I wanted to get through our first mouse-burning session with time to spare for a short mission, and that meant I started really cracking the whip. That in turn I think led folks to feel pressured to narrate their help/FoRK dice, which isn’t that much fun.

  4. “The Exalted problem.” This is shorthand we came up with years ago to explain disconnects between our narration and the post-roll narrative result. In Exalted, you angle for dice by describing your stunt – but if you fail your roll, it’s like the stunt never actually happened. Kind of the same issue with the narrate-for-help/FoRK timing: You can explain what you’re doing before the roll, but the roll itself may invalidate your description. Some of that’s just learning to not narrate too much prior to resolution, granted. Hopefully the players will become more skilled at this, so they don’t prenarrate into the resolution.

Wow, another wall-o-text from Paul B. :rolleyes:


In my view, it sounded to me like the bulk of the issue is just that one of the players is very into combat and is using just about every check they get in the players turn to essentially GM their own medieval mouse action film. The other players, wether they feel like it or not, are being dragged into his scenarios, which are wearying them out by the time they get back to the actual GM’s scenarios, making it less likely for them to get into the narrative spirit of things. This could also scramble some of the scenario planning of the GM, since its emotionally hard to feel right throwing heavy combat at people who’ve just had heavy combat thrown at them several times in a row. Also its likely making them feel their own components of the player’s turns are being neglected unless they choose to escalate to a similar level: Aka, if one player is using checks to generate 30 minute battles, you feel a bit non-plussed just buying a hat with yours.

If I was involved I might enourage a tone-down of what players can accomplish in their turn: Declare they have to be more personal goals unless all the others agree to a wider ranging scenario. Or maybe consider having a GM switch to the person generating the big scenarios in the player turn: If they are already coming up with and describing big events as part of their turn, maybe its a sign they want a crack at the narration duties, and it could be a great opportunity to shake things up, increase the GM pool, and give the current GM a chance to wave their own tiny sword around for a change.

Assuming things aren’t truly over of course.

Heh heh, a lot of armchair quarterbacking and prognostication going on. But hey, any advice given here doesn’t necessarily have to be a direct solution to the original poster, eh? I’m learning a lot from everyone’s comments in this thread and other threads, and I haven’t even faced the actual problems yet!

Anyway, a few responses from my overactive imagination for the sake of discussion, not necessarily directed at the actual issue at hand here …

Adding to Paul B’s theories:

It could also be an issue of “I want to participate”. People don’t have to have a “win-at-all-costs” mentality to “butt in” with their helping die. I think a lot of people just want to “be useful.” (And maybe are hoping they get the same amount of help when they are leading the roll).

Serpine – You are probably right. Maybe a few (one?) players are becoming overly dominant in the amount of time devoted to their agenda. (Heck, that’s not an isolated problem for Mouse Guard … just about any D&D game I’ve played had an “overzealous” team leader actively hogging up the GM’s time).

Come to think of it, the two “behaviors” above are kinda related. There may be a lot of people suffering from “overzealous” people pushing the agenda, that they feel compelled to “be useful” and mindlessly throw in their helping die.

@ Stormtower: It’s an issue of mechanics and playstyle both.

My 9yo isn’t a combat monger… but she is very much willing to tackle hard odds, and they voted her for embodiment because of Lieam’s Belief. (She forgot her character sheet, so had to play a stock… Lieam was what was in the folder.)

The problem, fundamentally is the disconnect with earning checks to earn freedoms, and the win at all costs mentality. MG’s got them into narrating. It’s got Steve and Steph both firmly grasping the dice mechanics and how to twist them; it’s the use of traits against one’s self that they don’t like, coupled to the GM/Player Turn system.

If I were to run a more “traditional” game-style, the rest of the mechanics are a non-issue. But that would reguire reworking MG somewhat.

Now, Irony of Ironies: One of their complaints is that I switch games too often. BE ran from Aug to Dec, dying because of a player’s work schedule dropping it to two players from 3, and the 9yo not being ready to play BE. The prior game was Dark Heresy, killed after 5 mo because 2 players couldn’t get days off, 2 players & I couldn’t afford to drive to location, and 2 players were not having fun, leaving 2 disappointed. (Yes, 8 players. That wasn’t the issue. The two not having fun like WH40K as a setting; they don’t like playing Inquisition flunkies.) Prior to that was a 4-5 month BTVS game. Prior to that was 6mo Traveller Playtest game. As a “backup” game, for the average 1/mo not enough players could make it, we used Mazes and Minotaurs, by Olie Legrand.

Aramis – I sincerely hope you are able to continue playing … hopefully you have the stomach to rework MG to fit. Perhaps there might be some suggestions from Luke and the other GMs here on how that can be done. Know this, however: I am inspired that you successfully got a 9yo playing RPGs! I’m looking forward to my son growing up (he’s only 3yo), and I’m actually thinking of finding some neighborhood kids to turn into mice in the meantime.

This does have me thinking back to one of my first impressions with the game mechanics. (Keep in mind, however, that I don’t own my book yet … darn slow mail! Lucky for me, the bookstore has it … kinda pity the future buyer of that particular book tho …)

Anyway, I digress … one of my first impressions about the “roll dice and count successes” is that unless you’ve got Fate to spend, your successes are limited to the number of dice you roll. There is no other way you’ll get lucky enough to get more than how many you roll.

It was that impression that got me to thinking of a variant to the dice rolls. I’ve posted the ideas in the Hacks section – using cards instead of dice (“No Dice, Use Cards”)

One of the ideas I explored there was allowing for a “super-lucky” success (see “Method 3”) – essentially, each die can result in more than just one success without using up Fate. (The idea is balanced by “critical failure” – where the die can negate another die’s success).

Anyway, I think opening up “super-lucky” successes can encourage players to take the risky paths to earning checks … because the risks are not as great, and the prospect of pulling off “super-lucky” is a pretty interesting event for both the story and the player.

Nah, we’re going to move on from MG.
I’ve found it’s seldom worth “fixing” a core mechanic when it doesn’t work for a group.

Mouse Guard is (despite Luke’s Protests) a “light” version of the BW core. It has the same key focii:

  1. The basic dice mechanics, including Rewards (aka Artha) as part of dice mechanics
  2. Play your non-numerics (BITs/BIGs) to earn the bonuses (Rewards/Artha) needed to accomplish your goals with the numerics.
  3. Narrativism & Player Authorial Stances: Players get to use Wises, Circles and BITs/BIGs to help define the setting, and Wises and Circles can do so on the fly.
  4. What you use goes up, what you don’t doesn’t.

But on the Narrativist score, MG isn’t far enough to scratch Steve’s GM-itch (but actually GMing a campaign of anything is too much for Steve), and not free enough for steph nor crystal.

Checks: One alternative way I could see you approaching it would be to flip around checks and persona a little. Basically having a trait penalise you grants you Persona (so less dice on this check = more dice for a later check), and rather then earning Persona at the end of the mission by being characterful, you earn checks that can be spent in the next sessions players turn.

Traditional Game Style: My quick and dirty method for this would be 1) Eliminate the Player Turn. 2) All unsuccessful tests always result in Twists, not Conditions (though see #3). 3) A player can spend a saved check to convert an incoming twist to a Condition instead (“Actually we did find him, but it wore us out getting there”) or alter the type of twist (“That snake is now blocking our path, but wasn’t there a local camp of mice we could convince to kill it for us?”).

Of course either of these options could devastate balance and/or the spirit of the game. But if the campaign is on life-support anyway…

Serpine: at that point, you have a “Fail only by Losing a Conflict or by neglect” situation, since MG twists are never true failures.

That WORKS for MG RAW, since at least one conflict is part of the GM Turn. Without that guarantee of a conflict, there is, literally, no threat, just delays.

See, when you fail, under RAW, once you deal with the twist or condition, you succeed at the intent of whatever you failed. Only in conflicts is there really any REAL risk of failure. That’s as good for kids and novices as it is bad for the collection of GM’s my extended group is comprised of.

(Steve, Crystal, Jerry, Eric, Dave, Peter, Kat: All experienced traditional game GM’s. Jerry has some experience with indies. Steph isn’t a GM, but has been on the board of several of the Non-Game RP-by-post groups, and has done the GM-role in those. My 9yo of course isn’t a GM, either, but she also is just starting to get into the game.)

I think you’re making the right choice. Gunning for high obstacles and embracing failure when it comes really is fundamental to enjoying the Burning games. If the players aren’t into that, the games just won’t work for them.

Aramis: Yeah, my idea wasn’t really trying to change the momentum / failure conditions of the structure, just flatten in so the players are editing the ongoing story directly rather then executing independent stories as much. The traditional RPG structure is pretty much like this, non-dangerous events (searching a room, checking to see if you spot a secret door) mixed with dangerous encounters (yet another group of orcs). When you think about it, there are usually very few non-conflict mission failure conditions in a normal game of D&D. If the adventure calls for finding a particular secret passage about half-way through the game, and everybody fails their search check, you will rarely have a DM say “Okay, you didn’t find the door. Everybody might as well pack up. See you next week.” Instead he will introduce some excuse (essentially a twist) for them finding the door anyway, like a map or the opportunity to interogate a kobold. In a well designed D&D adventure these events are pre-built in as course, just as when designing MG we consider what twists we will likely throw.

So anyway, I’m probably missing what it is that was felt lacking. I’m really concerned because your group sounds frightingly like mine (composition, habit of shifting games, even nearly the exact same combination of reasons we stopped playing Dark Heresy) and I’d like to avoid the same end result. :slight_smile: Is it the lack of a true unscripted error condition (i.e. in D&D you can run out of hit points, regardless of wether its test/conflict/twist, at which point you “loose”)? Lack of event-driven scripting (i.e. in D&D events tend to be triggered by being in a particular place and/or time like a dungeon room or festival, and within reason the players can trigger or skip most of them in any order)? Reality bending (wises and such being used to generate encounters outside the GM’s plan)? Something else? Basically, what does the D&D structure give that MG is lacking for your players?

Glad this was posted. I have yet to play this game with my players but as I sat here today envisioning how a campaign would go down I wondered how it would hold my groups attention in the long term. I think it is very likely they will love it the first couple sessions but will grow bored of it soon after. This is no fault of the game mind you, merely due to the type of players I have.

Now I don’t in the least regret buying this (or BW) and highly recommend both!!!. I think I can make this work for them. I just have to figure out what I need to do to keep them hooked…

That being said we will test it out, as is, and hopefully it works out better than I am expecting. If my players respond like I think they will though I can point to this post and tell them “You know I had a feeling this would happen, I even posted about it…now lets alter it to fit our style”.

I am dieing to hear further suggestions though.

Mostly, it is the “rails”…

They feel hemmed in severely by the GM phase, and are unable to (psychologically, not mechanically) earn enough checks to really feel like they have any real control.

I’ve had sessions where players got more than 4 apiece… but they rolled a LOT of ties those sessions.

Further, if you don’t make them RP EVERY LAST HELP DIE, it can slide to Roll-playing instead of Role-Playing.

Example of a Good Combat Action:
Saxon (Steve): We’re Attacking. I’m running under the fox from stem to stern and then playing piñata with his testes.
Nola (Steph): I’m whacking at his toes to keep him oriented for Steve’s Run.
Folker (Jerry): I’m going to bean him [the fox] with an arrow when he turns.
Steve: Ok 6d fighter, +1d sword, +1d bold[-2], do I get them help dice?
Me: yes

Example of Bad Session:
Steve: My action is an attack. Who’s helping. (3 hands go up) Ok… 4d fighter, +1d Surprise, +1d Bow, and it’s versus. Pop nature and twang him with 11d… (clatter) 7s.

GM Phase: My wife (who used to run games, especially World of Darkness ones, at conventions) said that one of the conventions actually had “classes” of GM techniques, and taught all the regulars a method called “bubble-tech”. Basically you have a bunch of pre-defined events (the bubbles), mini-missions of a single encounter or obstacle essentially, intended to cover anything the players are likely to do based on recent events/the briefing/common goofy things players usually try. On a piece of paper the bubbles are marked with arrows showing which bubbles are likely to lead to eachother, often having multiple paths to and from the same bubble, or just indicate a “win”/“lose” condition for the scenario: It ends up looking less like a flowchart, and more like a web. The players are then presented with a rough description of the first bubble, and given free reign as to what they do from there. In almost all occasions their actions/choices are likely to lead to one of the planned branches (if not you pick a more appropriate bubble that wasn’t linked or just wing it like normal). This method gives the illusion of free will (the players aren’t really made aware of the bubbles) but still allows you to plan things enough that it seems like a flowing narrative. Unused bubbles can serve as the basis for later bubble systems (“They didn’t meet the snake this session, but maybe if I place him in a nearby briar patch in the next one”), so your work designing the mini-missions is rarely wasted. Its sort of a formalised version of free-form, a network rather then a railroad, and it might work for games like MG.

  • Note: The session of MG I ran Saturday I pretty much planned and ran in a trim variant of this manner, though I focused my most planning efforts on the bubble path that duplicated the normal mission structure, and subtly manipulated the players down that path. They didn’t go far off the rails, but I would have been ready if they did, and I was able to freely ask “What path do you choose to follow” in the GM turn, rather then say “While you are on the path, this happens.”

Lack of Checks: You could just try giving them more… Maybe give them an extra Check for every Persona and/or point earned at the end of the session, but unlike normal Checks these persist from session to session if not spent. This doubly rewards them for good play, lets them have a pool of checks at the ready for special occasions, and since they are awarded at the end of the session primes them for the next session (since they have these checks “burning a hole in there pocket”). Since there are more checks around, also make sure to suggest more creative ways to spend them, like convincing Educator npcs to train them in the use of skills they didn’t use during the mission so they are more well rounded and have that shiny feel of overall progress.

We’re tentatively leaning towards BE or BWR.

Good idea! My players will hate being on “rails” and will end up rebelling after a couple sessions. Once one does, the rest will follow suit. I can just see it now. This is a great compromise for us.

Thanks for taking the time to make this reply.

Metering out check-earning opportunities is IMO one of the secrets to GMing MG well. I try and help each player hit the 3-4 check zone – but they have to want to earn checks. I think some of that comes down to the players understanding what checks are good for, above and beyond simply making recovery rolls. If they don’t know why they’re earning checks, they won’t feel any incentive to do so.

And of course it can be tough to earn your Goal persona if you don’t have the freedom to take the scene-framing reins during the player’s turn. Given a recent few posts talking about how awesome Fate is compared to Persona, though, I have to wonder if there’s something interesting happening at the mathy core of MG that’s different than BW. I think it might have to do with the new character advancement scheme, lack of Trait Vote, etc. I thought activating Nature via Persona would be a hot bribe, but apparently it isn’t. :-/


Aramis (and others) – I just reread the top of this thread. And I’m wondering …

What are your impressions on combat in MG? Is the conflict system kinda tough to use … especially if many players (or the GM himself) is more familiar with D&D “wargaming” types?

It seems to me that having some very clear intentions on the team goal is very important, and the players really should consider if they want to “split up” and pursue two (or more) different intentions … rather than have everyone depend on just one “Kill the opponent at all costs”.

Answering in new thread.

My players and I are all long time gamers that have played a lot of wargamey-type RPGs. They enjoy games where you count squares, consider positions, move for flanking and other strategies that add mechanical bonuses.

BUT, after one session of MG they love it. I’m lucky that I have mature players and also that each of them is a good friend. We talked before we started playing MG and we made sure that everyone at the table didn’t bring their wargame strategies with them and that everyone approached MG the way the game expects you to approach it. It was also helpful that everyone had read the book before we played our first session and knew what to expect.

If you play this game in the spirit of the comics and follow Luke’s excellent descriptions of how to apply the rules, you should have a great time with this game. If you read the comics and want to play a story like the ones from the comics, then you should love this game. If you come to this game with expectations of wargamey-like combats, then you’re gonna be disappointed.

We have no problems with the conflict system - other than me being a little overzealous when I threw a Fox at them on their first mission! And you’re right, your players do want to make sure they have clear goals (I would’nt use the word intent).