Help getting gameplay straight

I’ve lurked around here for awhile and have seen how some people plan their missions from pages of dialogue to short lists. I’ve read through mission after mission of player created to sample from the book, and read and re-read The Mission chapter time after time. I just can’t seem to get the dang thing down.

After personally running a sample mission from the book (If I recall it was Trouble in Grasslake) it seemed like it worked okay, though since I was still learning the system, I might have downplayed story and up-played mechanics. Keep in mind, it was just me acting as GM and the PCs which is not how it’s meant to be played.

Then, I ran Find the Grain Peddler with three other friends acting as Kenzie, Saxon, and Lieam. Just to get a hang of the game I went verbatim by how the book introduced things. It seemed to go a little awkwardly but I think that was in the players since they haven’t RPd before that point and were unsure what they were capable of doing and saying.

Recently I’ve been trying to start up a solo campaign with a friend from the Find the Grain Peddler group. She created a character and I created a mission. This time my mission was incredibly railed and I had plenty of description of what her character was doing going from obstacle to obstacle, though she just seemed to be rolling dice.

We decided to try again since she was just starting to remember the system and it turned out the same way. So I’m designing another mission a different way: Just a mission and sample obstacles and twists that will keep her from accomplishing it. Now it seems to me that it’s one giant Player Turn. With me giving her a mission then her choosing how she’s going to go about doing it, whether or not she travels here or there, what she does when presented with an obstacle, where my only job is to present the obstacles and impose the twists. Is this right?

I feel like I need to find a steady middle area. I’ve read on here that just coming up with two obstacles and twists is enough to get an idea but to use the actions from the players and rolls as guides to where the story is going. Also to remember that it’s not my story, but the players’.

Should I maintain the page of travel and give the player the two obstacles to overcome or should I write down the mission and (secretly) where I want the campaign to go and then have her decide the journey and how she gets there?

Or maybe I’m thinking too much, since “I always pack carefully for a journey, ensuring I have everything I need.” Sorry for the very long first post on the forums. Hello.

What were the Players’ Turns like in these sessions?

I guess, not that I think about it, the first game we didn’t go through a Player Turn since It was an introductory and I didn’t think about the Player Turn as something other than recover and regrouping.

In the second game with the one friend, she just tried to recover from a condition, since within the obstacles and twists she wasn’t able to use here Traits negatively to gain more. Which I guess is my fault since it was a mission I thought seemed really cool, but wasn’t specific to her character, which I’m hoping the one I’m planning now (with just a mission, where I want the campaign to go, and the few obstacles and twists that would fit) will address.

So maybe that’s my problem. Play through an actual full session by utilizing the Player Turn more before coming to conclusions about whether or not the story in the GM turn is done right.

Can you expand on this comment?
You’re playing the game to challenge the players’ Beliefs and Goals, right?

That would be a good place to start. The Players’ Turn is important. Often, I leave components of the mission that need to be completed during the Players’ Turn, but most of all it’s a time to see what matters to the players.

It’s important your player understands how to use Traits negatively against herself. Part of this understanding, however, is knowing that a failed test won’t end the game–either the character succeeds with a condition or there’s a twist. One becomes a lot more cavalier about using Traits against herself once aversion to failure is overcome.


At first, no. I wasn’t which was a big mistake on my part. My antsy nature got ahead of me and as I was reading through the book I kept thinking of things I thought would be cool which formed into something I would like to play. So I had her create a character which didn’t match up to my mission but I got too excited to finally try it in such a long time I didn’t take the time organize a new mission.

Also, she seems to be put off a little by the failure aspect. She knows she needs to fail but I think the obstacles I set in front of her (Say, traveling to Elmoss from Lockhaven) were very high and she was upset that she had trouble accomplishing anything. Perhaps instead of traveling directly to Elmoss, she stops in Ivydale along the way where her enemy is.


As said in my response to Luke, she doesn’t mind failing but I think the obstacles I’m presenting her with are too high and she’s having trouble accomplishing any task. Which means she probably doesn’t want to hinder herself and set off to accomplish something.

Hopefully we’ll be able to play today a mission I think I set up well enough, that will make her think about her belief, her instinct, her traits and through challengers that her character has to personally overcome as opposed to physically. I’ll try to try it out again and post my results to see if I’m finally able to buckle down and do it right.

To clarify something to make sure I’m setting up the GM Turn well enough. I’m going to have Gwendolyn ask her character to stay in Lockhaven to find out who is getting into the armory to steal weapons and armor and how. Presenting such obstacles as circles tests to find people who may know something and scout tests to find evidence, with some twists where mice she’s interrogating become insulted and enemies as well as some animals trying to get in to the beetle farms.

Since her mouse believes the guard should be in the wild and not in Lockhaven, I hope she brings this up to Gwendolyn in which case she’ll be sent to patrol the trails around Shaleburrow to figure out why patrols are going missing, finding injured guardmice on the trails, caravans stuck in mud, and being ambushed by bandits and birds. Since her instict is to offer help to any mice in need, she’ll want to help the injured guardmice with her healer to get him back on his feet before a Shrike comes down, or at the very least climb up the tree to help him down after he’s been impaled on a branch. She may even see a peddler stuck in the mud with stolen weapons and guardmice cloaks in his cart or stuck in another condition in which she may not want him to reach his destination and not help.

I’m going to try to use her Independent trait to present her with obstacles where other mice are offering help that she does not want to take but ultimately realizes a task might not get done without it. Her Clever trait may come into play when trying to find evidence of the missing weapons she gets too far into the conspiracy and is detained.

I think the problem was I thought I knew how the game worked and since being able to find people who were interested were few and far between I forgot about the gentle integration to make an adventure truly wonderful and heroic. Does it seem like I’m getting the hang of it? I hope I am, I’m too antsy to wait any longer but I don’t want my excitement of running it ruin the actual excitement of playing.

By-the-book Obstacles are high because they re-enforce the idea that going it alone in the Territories is hard. A solo mouse will not succeed at what would be routine tasks for a patrol of three or four guardmice.

And I’ll re-emphasize that the player can always succeed with a condition when failing a test. In fact, it’s appropriate in some circumstances. Pathfinding between two distant towns isn’t difficult, per say, but it is tiring, frustrating, etc. A mouse with the Trait “Short-tempered” might find the journey even more so, but that doesn’t mean she won’t find her way to her destination.

This is great. This is all the mission you need, seriously.

Now, you’re getting ahead of yourself. Don’t have Gwendolyn give ground just because the player puts up resistance. Rather, let the player’s Belief that she should be in the wild and not in Lockhaven color how she goes about the investigation. Perhaps the character develops an enmity toward Gwendolyn because of the rotten assignment; perhaps she subverts the mission or even decides to help the thieves because it gets her out of the city. What’s important is that the player has the ability to make these choices; don’t choose the course of events for her.

As GM, your job is to set in motion events and challenge the players. The choices they make in response to what’s placed in front of them is the dynamic that makes playing Mouse Guard different than reading the Mouse Guard comic.

Relationships are great tools for challenging players. Maybe the character’s enemy is behind the pilfered weapons and armor; even better, her friend or mentor might be behind the disappearances. Now what?

Also, I’ve always succeeded sending players on missions to their hometowns. It often helps with recovery in that the character usually can get some rest and a hot meal out of the journey. Plus, it tend to bring up lots of baggage for the Players’ Turn.

And I’ll re-emphasize that the player can always succeed with a condition when failing a test. In fact, it’s appropriate in some circumstances. Pathfinding between two distant towns isn’t difficult, per say, but it is tiring, frustrating, etc. A mouse with the Trait “Short-tempered” might find the journey even more so, but that doesn’t mean she won’t find her way to her destination.

Yeah, I think I’ve been doing that (I know I’ve given conditions) but for some reason thinking back I feel like sometimes I’ve just given a condition and not had her accomplish her goal. I should definitely try to remedy that since those conditions will make the other tests harder so she’ll even have a harder time completing something. Another thing is that I think she doesn’t think of an obstacle as completing it wholly, more so her mouse being skilled enough. So even if she fails a pathfinder to Elmoss and is Tired when she gets there, she still believes her mouse failed.

Also, thanks for the insight and ideas. It’s been a great help and it has definitely made this session much better than the last few, not to mention helped both of us understand the system better and get more enjoyment from it. We just finished so I’ll write up what happened and post it in here to see if we have any more points to iron out to make sure I’ve got the complete understanding I want.

I’m glad this has been helpful for your game.

Is your friend clear that she needs failed tests to advance her skills and abilities?

We got together and just to remind her what she was capable of and who her mouse is, re-read what her abilities, skills, and traits let her do. This way when an obstacle was presented she hopefully knew more ways to accomplish it rather than the obvious. A mistake I made here was forgetting to re-mention the Beginner’s Luck and Learning a New Skill rules to let her know that if there was something she wanted to do but wasn’t skilled at it, she’d still be able to have the chance to accomplish it. Then I made sure she knew how her traits of Independent and Clever could hinder her to give her checks in the Player Turn.

We started out where Gwendolyn told her about the stolen weapons and asked her to stay in Lockhaven to find out what was going on. She accepted the mission and used Scout to look for evidence. Being the clever mouse and knowing where to look she succeeded and found evidence that Garrow the Armorer has something to do with it, she went to the armory to talk to him. Using Persuader she was unable to convince him to talk and she left Angry that she knew something was up but was unable to get him to talk, not to mention that he became an enemy since he was insulted (Here’s an example of me imposing a condition without letting her succeed…I need to work on that) When leaving the armory she heard cries of help from the beetle and acted on her instinct to see what she could do.

A blue jay was trying to get into the farm and eat some beetles. She tried to help the beetle wrangler by using her Hunter to drive it off but wasn’t able to and, sick of the mice getting in the way of it’s meal, the blue jay attacked with a goal of “getting the mice out of the way to eat more beetles.” Reluctantly, she allowed the beetle wrangler to help in the conflict. While trying to maneuver around the blue jay for an opening she became too focused on the wrangler getting in the way and her usual independence impeded on her action. The blue jay finally won and knocked the mice down, injuring our player (I really need to work on that, i apparently just want to beat up the mice, but it doesn’t help at all) The beetle wrangler doesn’t become an enemy for what happened but I figured it could be something I could use later.

Gwendolyn then calls her back into the map room and tells her to investigate around Shaleburrow since patrols have gone missing and aren’t completing their missions or reaching their destinations. Our player tells Gwendolyn that she found evidence connecting Garrow with the break-ins but couldn’t get a confession out of him. Gwendolyn says she’ll deal with it and just to get some rest and prepare for the mission in the morning starting the player turn.

She uses the player turn to calm her nerves and alleviate her anger. Then she wants to try one last time to get Garrow to confess before she heads out. She goes to the armory to argue with him. Engaging in an Argument Conflict she is unable to get anything out of him and is ushered out the door once more.

I think the big problem is that I’m imposing conditions without awarding success. This gives a bigger sense of failure and the fact that she can’t succeed (since the conditions make it harder for her later on). I was just thinking: I would be angry if that happened, let’s make her angry. It doesn’t work that way though.

Now to get her to go to Copperwood, her hometown, should I say “You decide to travel to Copperwood to visit your folks since you know they’ll provide the comfort you need” or should she be expected to say that? I’m kinda having a hard time knowing how much say she has in the GM Turn, where sometimes I’m railroading it too much so she can’t say anything or where it’s not railed enough where she has too much to wonder.

Typing this out is definitely helping me to find where I’m screwing up though. When we continue her efforts out near Shaleburrow I’ll post what happened to see if I finally got the hang of it. Thanks again for all the help.

You had an argument conflict and she didn’t get anything out of it? She didn’t do one point of damage to her opponent?

No, she seems to have bad luck when rolling the die (plus her injured condition that I shouldn’t have given her reduced her rolls) and choosing the right action. But you did bring up a mistake I might have made, in attempts to keep the game flowing well I seem to have forgotten the Compromise rules. I must still be focused to much on where I want the story to go rather than where the characters will take it. But thanks for bringing up that point, it seems with the things I’ve botched fixed, the next session will go much smoother and be more enjoyable. Thanks again. Perhaps I should make a little cheat sheet to help me remember these things when they come up in game.

I view the GM’s turn as my time to beat the crap out of players. Mission Railroad? On!

Player’s turn is their chance to recover from that beating. Railroad, off!

It actually makes me feel less guilty…:wink:

Out of curiosity, what were the conflict goals of each side?

That’s a good technique to use sometimes, introducing the next mission before the Players’ Turn, so they can spend their checks preparing for it.

I don’t have the map in front of me. Does the character have to pass Copperwood to get to Shaleburrow? You could say that either she stops there overnight on her journey (i.e. have a session that is just the journey from Lockhaven to Shaleburrow, passing the turn when she reaches her hometown), or assign a mission in Copperwood. Usually, I do the latter because it’s more straightforward, but the former would be a good way to mix up things. If the player wants to visit Copperwood on her own, conceivably it would be something on which she could spend checks in her turn. But there would have to be some fictional considerations, like whether or not she was abandoning a mission to do so. I don’t believe the guardmice are given leeway to visit their hometowns whenever they want, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be interesting. Does your player know the mechanical advantages of going home, as in some assistance recovering? Has she expressed a desire to look into what’s going on in Copperwood?

Not to nitpick, but you never should say “‘You decide to . . .’” unless it’s in the context of specifying how something happens, rather than what. If the player wants to visit Copperwood, it’s her choice. If the player is assigned a mission in Copperwood, that’s part of the game. For example, You could say, “You decide to camp on the road for the night” to set the scene before introducing an Obstacle in the GM’s Turn, but I wouldn’t take away a player’s agency in the way you describe above.

The Blue Jay’s goal was to knock the mice out of the way and eat the beetles whereas the goal of the mice was to scare the Blue Jay off.