Getting players to use traits against themselves

I’ve been running a three-player Mouse Guard game (2 players and me, the GM), and we’re about three sessions into a six-session game (it could go a session or two longer, but we really only game once a month or so, so shorter campaigns are appealing). I’ve run Burning Wheel before, but my players have more traditional gaming backgrounds (D&D, Shadowrun, Vampire, etc.). I feel like they understand the basics of the rules and have now got a pretty good feel for beliefs, instincts, and goals. They seem to be having a really good time. That said, the players’ turn has fallen flat each session because they never have any checks — I’ve tried prompting them, but they’re really reluctant to reduce their own dice on a test and incredibly reluctant to give their opponent more dice. Part of my frustration comes from the fact that I’m outright trying to give them opportunities to use skills that they have high ratings in (for instance, one mouse has Fighter 6) to take some of the sting out of losing a die by using a trait against themselves, but I’m still not getting any traction. Does anyone have any advice for getting players to buy into this part of the system more? Anything you could suggest would be greatly appreciated, and please let me know if you need more information from me.

If the players are not accumulating a lot of conditions because of failed tests (and they may not be, either because you’re tailoring tests to skills in which they excel or if you prefer failed rolls resulting in twists rather than conditions), they don’t have an immediate incentive to earn more checks. If your players don’t like losing a die to gain a check, they really won’t like taking -1 die on all skills, Nature Will, and Health for being injured or sick, which may prompt them to look at the big picture.

What are your players using their free checks for during the Players’ Turn? In my games, I rarely structure the GM’s Turn so that the players have completed their mission by the time I call for the Players’ Turn. Usually they have to spend checks to do so. Are both your players satisfying their Goals during the GM’s Turn? If they’re not, that’s another way to nudge them toward making more of the Players’ Turn.

Rather than giving them opportunities to use their high skills and then nerf themselves, give them situations in which they are using their low skills and then mention “hey, you are probably going to fail anyway, why not pick up a check?”

Thanks, Daniel. This is helpful.

Currently, they both have conditions (if memory serves, one is Angry and Tired, the other is Angry). Honestly, looking back, I’ve definitely favored twists as opposed to conditions, and I hadn’t thought about that. That could definitely be jacking up the check economy.

Last session, the players did not satisfy their goal during the GM’s Turn, so they used their checks to chase down some thieves they had struggled with during the GM’s turn and initiated an Interrogation conflict (out of the three sessions, that was probably the best Players’ Turn, thinking back on it), and I believe they did achieve their goals by the end of the Players’ Turn. Yesterday, they achieved their goals during the GM’s Turn and used their time to get a test for recovery, research a book in their possession, and make sure that a prisoner was secure for transport back to Lockhaven. But, yeah, I think I definitely need to rethink how I’m setting the missions up. Thinking about it more now, I’m reasonably certain that I’m over-preparing for the GM’s Turn.

This also makes a lot of sense. I hadn’t thought of this at all. Thanks!

From the looks of this, your players have a pretty good handle on what to spend their checks on during the Players’ Turn, which could have been a worse problem than them simply not going out of their way to earn additional checks. Experiment with the suggestions Rafial and I made, and I have a feeling they’ll start to see opportunities to earn checks in the future. And don’t over-prepare for the GM’s Turn! It’s an easy mistake to make, but it creates all kinds of other problems.

Be sure to let us know what works for you and your group.

I think they’re just still interpreting failure as bad instead of failure is interesting. It’s a difficult mindset to break, but MG and BW are built to take your failings and make the consequences of such more interesting than unending success.

I agree with encouraging them to use earn checks in situations where failure is almost guaranteed.

Related to Rafial’s comment, they are also useful for changing tests that are probably going to succeed to tests that are probably going to fail if you need a failure for advancement.

Early on in some of the games I ran, when I heard my players using terms such as “success or failure”, I tried to steer them toward thinking more along the lines of “interesting, or… even more interesting”. This helped to guide the players away from being anti-“failure”, and really helped motivate them to work toward earning more checks in the GM’s Turn.

I try never to use the word failure when GMing mouse guard and make a conscious effort to make sure that the spotlight shines on the character’s success before a condition is applied, or that the character’s competence is displayed before a Twist happens.

Hi,all. Just wanted to thank you all for your help. We finally had another session (we meet infrequently), and your advice was invaluable. We got the economy down and had some interesting things happen (one PC’s parents are not at odds with him because of a political question).