Getting players to check traits

So I’m starting up on GMing Mouse Guard after an game-year as player.

The thing I noted about my first session was that nobody took any checks on traits. That was a disappointment to me, because I had hoped for a more involved player turn – preferably more checks than we had seen in the campaign thus far. For us, nearly all player turn rolls have been about recovering from conditions.

Compared to the action thus far, I had two things that I did. Many of the past year’s actions were clashes against weasels, real life-and-death struggle – and for the start of the next year, I toned it down to be less high-stakes clashes. I also tried to integrate people’s hometowns and relations in more.

My hope was that with lower stakes, players would feel more at ease taking checks. However, I found that they cared a lot about the small clashes with the snooty rich teenager, or especially showing up the arrogant old enemy in who gets to Copperwood first. This puts me in a quandry. It seems like a good thing that players are involved and want to win their conflicts, but the result is no checks.

My plan at the moment is just to pack in more extraneous rolls as part of the next adventure (i.e. roll Circles, roll Resources, etc.). However, I’d like to see about how other people balance checks.

I’ve found this was common in the first session of our MG games. First session, everyone would care a lot and not really understand how the GMT and PT work. Usually, after a player earned a few checks and had a nice run in the players’ turn, the perception changed.

Well, we’ve been playing for nine sessions or so now, so I don’t think it’s an issue of lack of experience.

I couldn’t get my (very traditional) group to use their disads. (Their natural resistance to disads is one of the reasons I don’t tend to run games with disads anymore…)

Our group is having the same issue. In the two sessions we’ve played, I’m the only one who’s used traits against myself for checks in the PT. My concern going forward is that, when I look to start earning more (2-3 additional + 1 free check), I don’t get any advantage from doing so in that I’ll have 3-4 checks (let’s say) and they only have their free one. I have to give mine out or give them up, which may make me a little miffed should things get to that point.

There are a few really strong reasons to take checks:

  1. Because things will become more fun if a test is failed. This one is entirely in a player’s hands. They get to make the determination that things will get more interesting if they fail that Pathfinder test or Scout test or Snake-wise test.

  2. Because the odds are they’ll fail the test anyway. If you’ve got a really tough test, sometimes it’s best just to pile on the obstacle so you’ll earn checks. Might as well get something out of it, right? This one is also in the players’ hands, but as a GM it should tell you that it’s OK to set your obstacles high on occasion.

  3. Because they need a failed test in order to advance a skill or stat. Especially as characters get better at things, getting those failed tests gets harder and harder. Sometimes you just have to generate your own failed tests. Clearly, this one is also in the hands of the players.

  4. Because they need checks to accomplish things in the Players’ Turn in order to complete a goal, hit a belief or play an instinct. Here the ball is squarely in your court. Keep their Goals and Beliefs in mind when you run the GM’s Turn. Try to end the GM’s Turn before all their Goals have been completed. Use any Twists that come your way during the GM’s Turn to complicate things (like having the raven steal a piece of mail or two in the Deliver the Mail scenario – trying to retrieve those lost letters is perfect fodder for a Players’ Turn).

Also, all of these things come down to a trust issue. The players need to trust that you as the GM are going to use Conditions and Twists appropriately to keep the game fun and engaging when failures arrive. The more they come to see that failures aren’t the end of the world, the more they’ll gun for failures just to see what you come up with. I realize you’ve all been playing the game for a while now, but it’s possible they were just feeling you out as the new MG GM.

I don’t see it as a trust issue for the players. For this session, I explicitly lowered the stakes so it was clear that it wasn’t the end of the world. They weren’t afraid of failure as a terrible thing, they just didn’t choose it. As I said, the GM was fun and engaging, and as far as I could see, they liked the clashes in this one.

#3 sounds good in principle, but it depends on a strong motivation to complete their goals. However, we’ve had incomplete goals – including in this last session – so it isn’t a strong motivation for our group. (cf. my post on “Choose Impossible Goals!”)

I’ve found that players are motivated to earn checks once they’re saddled with two or four conditions. Being Hungry, Angry, Tired and Sick is unpleasant. The most efficient way to get rid of those conditions is to use your traits against yourself and earn checks.

If two or more players have multiple conditions and there’s a juicy conflict looming on the horizon, there’s a fair motivation to suffer now for gain later.


I’d rack my 4 checks up, and alternate spending them with the other players to max out my gains. “I’ll spend my first check to recover from Tired. Now Al, you can make your recovery test. OK, then I’m spending my second check to make a Resources test to gear up for the next leg of the trip. Bob, go ahead and spend your check for recovery. Right, now I’ll spend my third check and make a Circles test to see if I can find a guide who will take us to Elmwood. All you, Chris. And for my last check…gee, is there anything else the patrol needs? …what? Why are you guys looking at me like that?”

Ought to drive the point home, I’d say. They’re doing nothing but recovering from whatever conditions they picked up, and you’re doing all the legwork. :smiley: