GMing my first game- Need familiarity w/system before teaching Newbies

This is my first post here. Looks like ya’ll’ve got a great, active community. Thanks for having me! Now on to my post…

I fell in love with the Mouse Guard comics when they first came out, and was actually part of a group working to design an RPG for the setting when it was announced that Mr. Crane would be putting out an official rulebook. I got all kinds of excited. Months of financial restraints later I bought the rulebook, and months of time restraints after that I finally got a chance to read through it. I’ve been asked by some old friends to introduce them to role-playing games and I think that Mouse Guard is a great game to get them started with.

Now I face a dilemma: The system is one I am wholly unfamiliar with, and I don’t feel comfortable jumping into a game I’ve never played with 3 beginners as my players. My solution is to bring in a 4th player who is an experienced role-player, and run him through some solo missions first. This should allow both of us to become familiar with the system so we can assist the group and each other once the full games get started. So my questions are as follows:
[ol]Should I focus on simply hashing out the rules and mechanics with this more experienced player so that we act as references for each other, or should I attempt to run this as close as possible to a normal game, so that I get a feel for the storytelling in the system?
[li]What sections of the book do I need to go over with my newbie players before we start playing? Are there any extra bits of info I should stress with the more experienced player?
[/li][li]I was thinking of having my buddy roll up a tenderpaw, and have his solo mission be a sort of final exam from his mentor. It should give me an opportunity to show him what the Guard are about, and what being a tenderpaw means. At the end of the GM’s turn he’ll be awarded his cloak. For the regular game he could make a new character or move his rank up to guardmouse as we deem appropriate. Does this seem solid?

As to the full game, I’ve been working on a story that focuses around the reconstruction of a trade hub (I’ve chosen Elmwood for this purpose) that should span a full year. I was planning to start missions in early spring and do a monologue describing the feel and purpose of Lockhaven as well as those within its walls. It occurred to me that starting the players in the fall could give me the opportunity to introduce them to the Guard and the mechanics of the game more gradually before dropping them into a large, involved story.
Is it appropriate to run a brand new patrol through one season followed by a winter session? I’m used to playing DnD, M&M, WHRPG, Vampire, etc.-- games where giving players an immediate chance to advance their characters and improve their abilities is game warping. From a story-telling standpoint it seems to make perfect sense to give them a calm intro, doing things like delivering mail before resting up for winter and getting a feel for Lockhaven before I throw them into a political quagmire. But I’m not familiar enough with the system to know if giving the patrol the winter session right off the bat will effect the way the game plays from that point on.

I apologize for the wall of text, and the sheer number of questions I asked, but I just want this to turn out as perfectly as possible. I can’t wait to play in a system where the focus isn’t on making your character powerful, it’s about coming together to write a story.

Thanks in advance for any help you might provide.

Before you start your game in Elmwood, please seriously consider runnign the set-piece example adventures in the book with the pre-gens. Seriously. There are lots of subtle bits that don’t immediately show up in reading, but will show up in play. Once y’all do this, you and your players will be so ready to start that no one could stop you. In my opinion, if you jump into your home campaign first, you’ll be going through so many fits-and-starts it might not gel and come together. Also, having do what I’ve suggested, you’ll be able to answer your own questions with authority and with consideration of the specific needs of your particular group of players.

First, don’t pre-plan the game. Doesn’t work very well. Don’t write the story in advance. The book is very clear about how to make and run a mission. Second, you should use the pre-made characters. They are very awesome. I love play with Kenzie, Liam and Saxon, and maybe Sadie or a tenderpaw if we have a fifth player with us.

If you want to play with your friend alone, maybe you should choose play a Patrol Guard, like Sadie or Saxon. There are others Patrol Guards in the book too.

Aside from the solid advice about running the intro scenarios, which are overly designed (from a BW standpoint) but useful for illustrating play, you’re going to need to set aside some ideas as well. That’s your big challenge. I think most of us have “been there” in stumbling over that first journey into the game, so don’t sweat it too much.

“Calm” shouldn’t enter into the equation, even if it’s Spring and things might be less of a pain than the dead of Winter. Just because your story doesn’t have stuff going on doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be right on top of your players, threatening their relationships & challenging their BIGs.

Having your idea about the story is great, but don’t forget player BIGs in the formulation of the game. That’s a huge Burning Wheel thing. Maybe your story won’t matter! Or, it’s totally transformed upon contact with player desires.

Mechanics… The underlying rules take some getting used to, but it’s as much philosophy as it is about the mechanics. It’s not “advancement”, it’s about throwing your characters into the fire (and a fire of their own making). That’s what advances them, and not the mechanics in themselves. There shouldn’t be free “experience points” that come without cost. (No free cloak! Don’t assume anyone earns their cloak by such and such a time. Hold their feet to the fire, and make them earn the damned thing! It’s NOT about task resolution, it’s completely about what you fight for!!!)

Where you’ll really screw up will probably have nothing to do with mechanics. That’s why the intro scenarios are important.

  1. I’d run it as normal as possible, that way you’ll see all the game.

  2. The character sheet has pretty much all the rules. I wouldn’t worry about it too much.

I also think running with pre-gens in one of the missions in the book, or a stand-alone of your own devising. You can use the template rules if you want to let them customize.

Also, you say having winter “right off the bat”, were you planning on having only one session for fall, or more? I’d use the number-of-weather-twists method for timing winter for starting in fall. Especially if someone wants to play a Tenderpaw and doesn’t want to deal with possible promotion too soon. Also, you don’t have to do a winter session if you don’t want to. If it doesn’t make sense, just do the short version. However, I don’t think it’d hurt in terms of advancement stuff.

Thanks for the feedback.

I guess I’m used to having to make deeply involved plans for every area of the game. I guess in a BW system I should just focus on building locales and characters and letting the story build from my jumping off point.

I was planning on running one of the starter adventures from the book as the first session for the party, but had been doubtful about how enjoyable the template mice could be. I’ll try a template out for that solo game.

I’ll be back to respond to individual posters more fully at a later time.

Look carefully at the sample missions in the book and how they’re laid out. They make great templates to follow when creating your own sessions.

I was planning on running one of the starter adventures from the book as the first session for the party, but had been doubtful about how enjoyable the template mice could be.
They’re tons of fun and there’s even rules on how to tweak the templates if you want.

Oh, and welcome to the forum. Let us know how things go.

Everyone likes making characters. Nothing wrong with that. In many ways, though, the BIGs are more important to the system than the numerical stuff. That’s the fun part for me - writing those BIGs!

The thing with the scenarios is that they are tied to those BIGs in the pregen mice.

And part of the fun of the GM thing is not just having a starting point, but figuring out how the BIGs of everyone weaves together with that point, and also allowing room for things to emerge through play. It’s kind of like taking your Classical music training (D&D?) and applying the chords and progressions to Jazz/something more improv but also musical.

And the players will be telling you who their characters’ enemies are in Recruitment. Make sure you bake in that understanding when you run one of the demos. In running a demo scenario, use every piece of the character’s sheet. The GM’s stuff is important, but the player’s character sheet is a huge source of info for the game.

For Mouse Guard, focus on the challenging the characters’ Beliefs, Instincts, and Goals. Incorporate their relationship characters and hometowns into each mission. It’s hard to go wrong when you play to those aspects.

I’ve had a lot of success introducing people to the game by running the missions in the book. Sometimes we’ve recruited our own characters afterward and begun a new campaign, and other times we’ve continued from where the provided mission ended. They’re a great place to begin.

One of the major themes that I’m getting from these responses is that I shouldn’t be planning my story. I realize that MG is designed to let the story build organically through play, based on the actions and BIGs of the players. But you have to have a direction you want to move in if you want your story to feel like it holds together and isn’t just a random group of missions. I’m not going to be railroading the players. What I’ve done is created an environment, and set up a number of conflicts that will happen whether or not the patrol decides to involve themselves. This way, I have a plot line that I feel will be attractive to the players, and I can keep my themes, but their choices and actions will ultimately drive the story through its twists and turns, and eventually to its conclusion.

There is only so much planning I can do for a MG story, beyond creating locales and characters, that is. Especially now, since I don’t have characters or BIGs for the patrol yet.

I think I’m doing it right, but here’s a quick outline of what I’ve got in mind as far as a plotline:[ul][li]I turned Elmwood into a trade-hub, moving goods from the coast to the west and south. The relatively new city was built in a cavern dug our beneath a great elm tree on what later turned out to be a flood plain, and the city was razed. What residents are left have hobbled together some semblance of a town, but hope is fading fast.
[/li][li]Lockhaven has seen the plight of Elmwood’s citizens and worked with sciencemice in Sprucetuck to find a solution-- they will help rebuild Elmwood in the branches of the elm-grove using a series of small tenements built from oyster shells (I’m working on some concept art for this. trust me that it’s cool).
[/li][li]Elmwood’s government is a timocracy, where the oldest and most recent residents, the oldest and most recent business owners, and the most recent retiree serve as a Governor’s Council that makes the administrative decisions for the town (intended as a fair and balanced way to govern a city completely dependent on trade).
[/li][li]The action comes in the form of a power grab being orchestrated from within the Governor’s Council to claim a majority of votes, and control of all business decisions being made during the construction of the new city. This power grab has all ready resulted in the ‘disappearance’ of a council member
[/li][li]The patrol will be sent as early in spring as permissible to deliver the plans for the first stage of construction from Sprucetuck, and then lend their help as they are needed.
[/li][/ul]Is this the right amount of planning? I’ve created a vibrant locale for the patrol to explore, and a political struggle that will happen whether or not the patrol gets involved. I’m focusing my attention on building layers of detail for the characters, and their reach throughout the territories, so the patrol’s actions will have repercussions down the road.

Over planning, or setting myself up right?

Sorry if I got ramble-y, I’m full of caffiene. Wish this board had BB code for spoiler tags

Hi HT,

The characters’ BIGs consistently should provide the campaign’s direction and themes. I’ve found that the feedback cycles in Mouse Guard (e.g. awarding Fate and Persona, earning checks for the Players’ Turn) create a coherent narrative.

[/li]Can you write up all this as a mission with two obstacles and two twists? How does Gwendolyn brief the patrol? What might the players spend their checks on during their turn?

Well I had structured it as a series of smaller missions. They have to be loosely structured because I don’t know how the patrol will act. If I try to make it all one big mission I’ll end up railroading the story.

I’ve got about 4 pages written, the bulk of which is the history of Elmwood, the mood of it’s residents, and details of important NPCs. The first mission is the initial trip to Elmwood, some NPC interactions that give some exposition, and an assignment from the Council to go escort a shipment of building materials from the coast. Checks earned during the GM’s turn could be used to investigate some shadiness shown by the contractors or the circumstances of the missing mouse’s disappearance.

Other than nailing down some NPC relationships that’s about as far as I can take it before I get the game going.

I think he means making the just the first GM’s turn explicit in terms of the obstacles - not the whole series of four missions. The actions on the players’ turn, as you say, will influence what happens on the next GM’s turn.

I think you’re getting way ahead of yourself. What are the characters’ BIGs? Where are their hometowns? Who are their significant relationships with?

Michael clarified what I meant above. I’d love to see [-Planning-and-Play-Summer-1153"]a writeup like this]([MG) outlining your first mission.

Another thing to remember is that the Mouse Guard doesn’t have any authority inside towns. Anything the patrol does to respond to the political machinations could be seen as interference or even a coup!

I guess I fall into such fits of over-planning is that it’s a bit of a crutch. My main weakness when I GM games is the one that hinders my time as a player, and the one that I feel MG will help me break out of-- I have a hard time roleplaying. I can write and write layers of detailed history and socio-political intrigues for a nation, or detail all the motives for a character, but when it comes down to the in-game roleplaying I clam up. I’m really hoping that MG will snap me out of this since its so …reactionary from the GM’s seat. Running DnD I liked to set up situations and see how my players reacted, but my groups usually felt it’d be worth the trip to follow my direction. I never had to ad-lib all that much. I’m excited to try sitting down and building a story with a group through play. I guess I can’t really get a good grasp on it till I actually play.

I have taken that very much into account. There’s a lot of tension brought on by the Guard’s presence alone.

Mouse Guard asks specific things of the person in the role of game master, but it also gives that player a lot of tools to make his or her life easier. That’s what I was getting at before—the different aspects of character that Mouse Guard highlights provide a lot of direction, which allows you to focus on other things. Looking at the denizens of the Territories through their different traits and natures should give you straightforward hooks for playing them opposite the patrol. The other players are going to take charge of situations often enough that if you go along with how the book instructs you to plan missions, you’ll find yourself getting reliable results while doing—I suspect—less work than you’re accustomed outside of the session.

Didn’t some brilliant person early on in this thread suggest following the Sample Missions as a template when creating your own thing? Wait…yes I did!