GM's Turn: Am I doing this right?

Coming from a more traditional RPG background, the idea of GM’s Turn and Players Turn threw me for a loop.

But I thought about it some, and it made more sense when I considered that games like D&D do that as well, they just don’t have a term for it. “Okay, your party leaves Waterdeep and journeys south through the Great Woods in search of the Forbidden Temple…” is GM’s Turn stuff. The bit where they’re chasing stuff down in the village later is the Player’s Turn. Right?

I’m taking my first stab with Mouseguard by running a game on a forum… Now, the example in the MG book straight up says that the GM gives a mission, and then says “Okay, roll pathfinding to find your way to Whatever Town”, or something similar. In my online game, I RP’d through the patrol getting their orders from Gwendolyn, but then before they left, they wanted to do a couple of things that didn’t seem like straight up “Say Yes” stuff - it was stuff that would be a Resources Test or a Circles Test. So, a couple of questions.

  1. Am I doing it wrong? Am I meant to give orders and then have them pick up their dice?
  2. Am I doing it right? Can my players do things that seem to me to be more Player’s Turn stuff… before the GM’s Turn?


What specifically are they wanting to do?

How much time do they have?

I also come from a pretty traditional D&D style of table-top gaming, and I was a bit confused about this at first, as well. It’s just different to what we’re accustomed to, and it takes a while to make the adjustment. You seem to have the hang of it, though. In a D&D game, the GM and Players take their “turns” at essentially the same time. The whole game feels more-or-less collaborative. Your DM might start a game by telling the group they’re in Waterdeep, at an Inn called the Brazen Foal, because they’ve been told it’s the best place to find information on X or Y. Then the Players can do whatever they want: ask questions of the DM; have their characters Gather Information; etc.

In Mouse Guard, the same situation might play out in the GM’s turn with the GM explaining that the group was asked by Gwendolyn to travel to a certain tavern and gather information about X or Y. The GM then narrates a bit about the scene, and then explains that when they arrive at the Inn, the mouse they’re supposed to get this information from is being really stubborn. He doesn’t like the Guard, for whatever reason. The GM tells the players to roll Disposition, and ready themselves for a Negotiation Conflict.

It’s kind of like railroading, I guess. Which is something you desperately try to avoid in D&D. But it works in Mouse Guard because, once the Player’s Turn starts, they can take the story in a completely different direction. You have basically no control at that point. The players can say or do whatever they want.

That’s exactly it.

The patrol leader wanted to track down a skilled Weather mouse and ask about the weather [get the NPC to do a roll for him].

Since I was crunched for time, I winged it. He did the circles test, found the NPC, asked about the weather. The NPC made a Weather Sense test, failed, and I threw a Twist (weather will change at start of next session)

Hi Jerm,

Something that is obvious in the Players’ Turn, when the characters have limited checks to spend toward pursuing their agendas, but less evident during the GM’s Turn is that time is always of the essence for the Mouse Guard. The Guard is understaffed, the problems are urgent, service is grueling, and rarely is there enough time to do everything that needs to be done.

As game master, this is the atmosphere I convey during the GM’s Turn. A big part of this is sticking to the mission structure as outlined in the rulebook. There’s no time to dawdle once the mission has been assigned, lest the situation grow worse. The guardmice have to give it their best with limited resources at their disposal. This is how the resourcefulness and heroism of the Guard is displayed.

There’s another economy at work in the game besides earning check to spend in the Players’ Turn, and that’s surrounding passed and failed tests toward advancement. By limiting the number of opportunities to test during the GM’s Turn (with the prescribed number of obstacles) and during the Players’ Turn, advancement is kept at a reasonable rate. That’s another reason not to deviate from the turn structure, like with the non-player weather watcher.

One last thing I’d mention is that having supporting characters make tests is uninteresting. It’s intended for the game to revolve around the players’ characters and their Beliefs, Instincts, Traits, and skills (or sometimes lack of skills). When supporting characters start making tests in place of the players, the guardmice lose obvious opportunities for advancement, generating checks, and earning Fate and Persona. A better way to have played the patrol leader circling up the weather watcher—which is a fine use of a check in the Players’ Turn—would have been to give the player the information he was looking for following the passed circles test. After all, he did his part.

I apologize for the long post, as it seems you have a pretty good handle on things. But I hope you’ll find some of these finer points helpful for your future sessions.

So, a lots going to depend on how you frame the scene. If Gwendolyn delivers a mission and you leave the mice sitting in Lockhaven, they’re naturally going to try to do stuff. If you narrate their hasty preparations and departure and then call for a test on the road, the choices are narrowed. Still, allowing a Circles test in town doesn’t really break anything.

You made the right call on finding the Weather-watcher. That’s the procedure that’s in the book.


Luke, are you saying that you’d have the non-player weather watcher test weather watcher after he was circled up?

EDIT: Never mind, it’s on page 241. But doesn’t this create a kind of “double jeopardy” situation (the player has to pass his circles test, and the supporting character has to pass his or her test) that is against the spirit of the rules?

Don’t have the book in front of me, but isn’t the MG rule that the NPC performs the service automatically and successfully?

It says (I summarize) “Characters brought in via Circles test may test on the player’s behalf. They do so in the GM’s or Players’ Turn. If the NPC helps by making a test or something similar, it doesn’t cost you a check.”

Also, my primary concern was that the player going “Hey, can I use Circles to find a weather mouse to take a test for me?” felt a lot like something that should be happening in the Player’s Turn with a check, rather than just happening in the GM’s turn before they hit the road.

Oh, heh. Missed the turn order. Circles tests are generally best done the PT.

Here’s a new question that fits perfectly under the same heading:

I give the patrol its orders and they leave. The obstacles I have planned are a pathfinding test to get to Sprucetuck, and a Circles test to find a mouse to deliver a letter to. Just like the book says, the GM plans two obstacles (with some additional for twists and the like). So lets say the Dice Gods are kind to the players. They blow the pathfinding test out of the water. “Okay, you make it to Sprucetuck, and ahead of schedule!” I say, throwing in fluff and exposition about the journey. Then they roll circles and nail it! “Okay, you found the mouse and delivered the letter.” I check my watch. We’ve been playing for 15 minutes. “Okay… um, its the player’s turn.” I say weakly.

Am I totally missing something? Have I forgotten, overlooked, or misunderstood some critical aspect of the GM’s turn, or how to do obstacles?

Let me make a valiant attempt at answering my own question. The players should want to fail obstacles sometimes. Failing obstacles makes the game Fun. It also creates chances for skill advancement, to gain checks, etc! If this is the correct answer, or a correct answer, then that’s cool, it’ll just require me to explain more to my newbie MG group: “Guys, you want to fail these things! That’s how the game works!”

Help me out? :slight_smile:

  1. Sometimes it happens. What’s wrong with a fast GM’s Turn?

  2. Consider throwing in a conflict as one obstacle of the GM’s Turn. So in your example, instead of a Circles test, it’s an Argument to convince Mouse Solo to take the job.

  3. Let the game teach you how to play. If you blow through a GMT, it’s likely you’ll only have one test each for the PT. You can cycle through turns very quickly this way, but eventually the players will want more options for the PT. To get more options, they have to risk more in the GMT. And thus the game kicks in.

Excellent advice. Thanks!

I literally just started playing MG with my daughter within the last 24 hours. After reading the rule book last night, I came up with the beginnings of a solo campaign. I was worried at first about the quick Pathfinder success and skipping merrily to the end of the mission. But then I said to myself, “Self, you’re the GM travel from Lockhaven to Thistledown may be an obs 1 in mid summer, but this is early spring, first thaw. Established paths have returned to nature (+1 obs), conditions are muddy (+1 obs), urgent mission required embarkation after dark (obs +1).” Suddenly what would have been a rather easy test for an independent mouse guard like Sadie, has become nearly impossible, forcing a failed test, and leading to a conflict twist (in my daughter’s case it was Sadie vs Mother nature herself, a sudden snowstorm. A Spring nature of 6 is a pretty tough customer for a solo player, that nearly became an epic encounter, and ended with cold/wet/tired/hungry Sadie limping through the gates of Thistledown.

Unless I’ve misunderstood the gaining skills rule, Failed checks are required for advancement (P=skill level AND F=skill level -1) to gain a rank. Your party is going to WANT to fail some checks… perhaps traits can be used to hinder a parties easy pathfinder test. If its a long journey they could have to make Pathfinder checks from city to city. Or base pathfinder Obs increases as patrol size increases representative of the increased likelihood of the patrol being stumbled upon by a predator.


Yes, Oldgate24/K, you’re on the right score. Young players may not want to fail… but on the other hand, some realize failure lengthens the story and allows them more chances for checks…

What were the goals at stake in this conflict?

As this was her first attempt at MG and her first RP experience at all, her was to deliver mail, no matter what… spring’s was to make her as uncomfortable as possible