Help with a Stealth/Intrigue campaign

Hello All,

I’m a first time Game Master brand new to Mouse Guard. I was looking for any advice or inspiration for running a stealthy political mission in the Mouse Guard universe. I’m not too familiar with the world outside of what’s in the rule book, and I’m terrible when it comes to social intrigue plots when I’m gaming. Usually when I play a game I like to play fighter characters and have thrilling action and adventure moments, but the group I’m playing with are a real motley crew of oddball characters who don’t like to fight and prefer using social skills and stealth.

Here are my player characters:

A creepy insectrist from Spruce tuck who loves to stay up at night and collect bugs to add to her stable.

A cartographer who plays your typical bow and arrow ranger from Copperwood, he loves to con people into buying fake treasure maps that he makes. During the last session he took a nugget of poo from a dung beetle and lit it on fire in front of his enemy’s house, rung the doorbell, and ran away.

Our main Patrol Leader who is sort of the ‘face’ of the group. She’s a hardworking mouse from Ivydale who came from a family of harvesters. She likes to overcharge on the nuts she finds and engage in some shady dealings with her sleazy friend in Copperwood.

And finally, we have another patrol leader who is our field medic from Elmoss. She’s a cranked out healer and potion brewer, and seems to be the only ‘good’ person in the party.

Strangely enough they all seem to work well together despite the fact that their characters are unrepentant opportunists.

Any ideas how I can craft a mission that would utilize their skillsets?

I wouldn’t worry too much about it, especially for your first few missions. Use one of the sample missions. If the mission text says that a town has a friend, relative, or enemy; then swap out the named NPC for one of your players’ contacts.

What you will find is that your players, as they learn the system, will naturally gravitate towards using their sneaky skills over their fighty ones. Then you can use twists to spin things even more in that direction.

Even if the mission doesn’t lend itself well to a lot of social interaction, that’s still okay. They’ll get a chance to improve all their physical skills. And while I’m sure that the Matriarch tries to match up patrols with the missions they’re best suited for, sometimes things just need doing.

More important than tailoring missions to the PCs’ skills is making sure you’re introducing things that hit their BIGs. Those are much more important in terms of telling the GM what the players want.

Should I be concerned about their ‘unguard-like’ behavior? I don’t want to ruin anyone’s fun, but my first session resulted in them playing lots of pranks, demanding money for things they should be doing as part of their duty, and making shady back alley deals.

Should I try to curb this kind of behavior or just chalk it up to first session jitters and just not knowing the setting very well.

Tougher. Maybe have an OOC talk about player expectations vs. setting assumptions.

You should definitely have townsmice call out guards on unguardlike behavior. Maybe have the info get back to Gwendolyn, who then demotes them a rank and gives them a stern talk about whether or not they want to be guardsmice. You could also fast-forward a year, and declare that they spent the last year toiling away as apprentices again, as punishment.

Given the setting, I’d also assume that anyone who engages in a shady back-alley deal is probably not a very nice mouse. Maybe even in league with weasels! Then when the PCs are trying to make a deal, call for a conflict, and drive towards a compromise where the players have to agree to let weasels eat half the town in exchange for being left alone for the rest of the year. Hopefully that will give them the message that if they choose not to be heroic, then that doesn’t leave them many other places to be.

Worst case scenario is to have all the PCs fired, then have the players make new characters.

Ultimately though, if your players don’t want to be heroic mice, then MG is not the game for them. Maybe there’s a game out there where they can play jerkface mice.

Alternately, if they really like the system, but have their hearts set on playing scoundrels, then switch over to Torchbearer. That at least assumes that the PCs are antisocial, unemployable dirtbags.

Have your players read any of the MG graphic novels? I find that MG is very much a game of emulating that setting and style. It is hard wired into the rules and mechanics in much the same way that Thomas Mallory is hardwired into King Arthur Pendragon.

Perhaps a mission to infiltrate some of Midnight’s sympathizers? A trip to the Dark Heather.

They are certainly playing against type for Guardmice. I would explore why they joined the Guard.

No, they have not read the comics. However I did scan over some fluff text from the core book. They aren’t problem players either, they’re just used to games like D&D and World of Darkness where they can sort of get away with that stuff and not get penalized for it. I know however that Mouseguard is different and you need to engage in a certain code of ethics to play, as it’s interwoven with the setting. I’m just afraid of coming off as too stodgy and trying to dictate to my players how they should play their characters.

That’s why I asked. Those characters would be great fun in other settings, they just don’t seem like likely candidates to join the guard. MG is different in a lot of ways to traditional games. It took me quite a while to wrap my head around the importance of BIGs and the GM turn/Player turn structure. That said, once it clicks I think it’s brilliant.

Yeah, this. What are their BIGs?

Good stuff. I always start new players with a read-through of the oath and duties. I use that to say, ‘you’re PC mouse has recited this at least once in their life, and probably several times over their period of service.’ Also, the duties are a good way to establish a campaign feel. For example, I like to trim the list of duties down to a smaller number that will be the typical duties of that campaign. So, ah, the current play-by-shared-doc that I have running: patrolling, pathfinding, trailblazing, escorting, rescuing, mediating; those will be duties frequently assigned in a mission. It isn’t saying other duties are not Guard duties, but only that the PCs will probably not be assigned to other duties during the campaign period (they’ve probably done all the duties at least once, and will some future time too).

In your case, you might say the missions will frequently be escorting, mediating, hunting. Those will give opportunity to be heroic, but also make demands, play pranks, and maybe step outside the bounds of upright Guard living. Also, you might describe some non-typical duties which will frequently be on their patrol, for example, arresting con-mice or investigating shady commerce dealings (who knows that better than your Copperwood map-countfeiter?), managing bug infestations or assisting livestock ranchers on the fringe of society (who could be better suited as a Guard consultant than your Sprucetuck creeper?), and there are other ways to develop a duty list that fits that patrol slightly better than the standard list of duties.

It would be nice having the buy-in to behave in a positive way to all mice, but I don’t think that’s ultimately necessary as long as the players are willing to place a little boundary around those who are targets of negative behaviors. If the PCs are running around town as the drunkards who want to run the world–that’s pretty bad. But if instead, they want to knock a few pegs off the real problems, bullies, extortionists, and violent despots–that’s probably going to take some muscle, grit, and riding roughshod over the trouble-makers, ne’er-do-wells, and tyrants of the Mouse Territories.

In respect to D&D and WoD, they might need reminders that nothing of Level or XP carries over; they might feel an itch to level up or get new feats or a really cool bonus-magic-item. And, I’d say in those cases, develop something temporary that will feed that appetite, but highlight the passing nature of such moments; follow that by showcasing the cyclical nature of such moments. I find that the natural world setting of MG gives loads of opportunity to cycle over experiences (with slight adaptations) from earlier missions. Thus, one PC gaining a really awesome weapon, then losing that weapon, easily leads to another PC creating a really awesome [something] then using that. The cycles roll, and each PC kinda has a season in the limelight.

Lastly, I hope you won’t feel stodgy asking players to engage in the game as-is rather than as-wished. If they are accustomed to playing other games, it shouldn’t be unthinkable that each game must be played for what it is and other games are merely contrasting footnotes rather than guides of how to re-cast in a foreign hack. MG is unique and should feel distinct. Part of good play is the readiness and willingness to engage the rules and spirit of the game just as they are.

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Insectrist:

Belief- There is a solution to every problem
Instinct- Wait and assess
Goal- Find a new and exotic instinct

Cartographer:

Belief- What others don’t know won’t hurt them
Instinct- Look at all angles
Goal- Sell a phony map to someone

The ‘Face’

Belief- The ends justify the means
Instinct- Talk my way out of any situation
Goal- ?

The Healer

Belief- No Judgement in healing
Instinct- Always offer Help
Goal- ?

That’s everything.

Not a very well adjusted group. No beliefs about the guard. They actually shouldn’t have any goals until they have the mission to base them on. And the goals they’ve picked are problematic. Once you give them a mission, I’d make them rewrite those goals. No matter how much they’re scoundrels, they’re Guard first and foremost.

B: What is this saying about the self, Guard, other mice? It’s not a bad maxim for life, and rather optimistic, but a Belief needs to say something about the self at minimum, and maybe should speak about the Guard service or duties. Here’s a potential revision: A Guard must support settlement mice finding and working a solution for problems. See, this is fairly easy to play into, gives some room for playing against, and gives something of an ethical statement to encourage fellow patrol mates. I think it keeps the optimism without making this PC a slave to settlement mice or a constant perfectionist.

I: That’s too vague. And it slows play. The Guard need to be active–both proactive and reactive–in the face of heartbeat decision points. Also, an Instinct is best when there is a trigger that both GM and fellow players can set up the scene. Here’s a potential revision: In the face of new insects, I must pause to assess. This directs the Instinct toward a specific scene: catching sight of a new insect (not always ‘never-before-seen,’ but at least ‘not-currently-in-my-collection’); it creates a trigger the GM can use, but doesn’t slow play at each decision point. This allows the player to lean into the Instinct for a unique talent of Insectrist, and doesn’t anticipate the player stopping action or drama every time things seem confusing or chaotic.

G: Certainly an excellent choice for one session, but this clearly cannot be a recurring Goal. At each mission assignment, the players should write a new Goal. If this player wants to collect insects at every mission, that’s not terrible, but it will call on you as GM to support–sometimes this includes insects in the mission design, but also figuring how to include in Player Turn opportunities.

Cartographer:

Belief- What others don’t know won’t hurt them
Instinct- Look at all angles
Goal- Sell a phony map to someone

B: Hmmm, this seems kinda negative, and lacks backbone, yet it isn’t all that bad. It kinda speaks to the self and to other mice. Here are some topics to hammer on this Belief: unknown illness, safety risks, dishonesty, disloyalty, bad habits vs good habits, poisons or toxins, predators, meaning of life/death, symbols of dreams. In fact there are loads of ways to both challenge the Belief and to support the Belief. Despite all that, the player needs to show this as an active Belief that impacts behavior, and I think that’s where a problem may lie. If the mouse opines that choosing dishonesty isn’t unethical, and never plays against that opinion, I’d say the Belief is failing. If they accept the influence of mission/session obstacles and twists, there is a good chance they will see when it is vitally important that other mice have the info that will keep them safe from harm. I’d suggest a slight revision, then watch if it grows from time-to-time: I don’t think ignorance is harmful. That draws it first to the self, and allows it easily to extend to others; it holds the potential for many ways of hammering by the GM, and possibly patrol mates would be threatened by it at times.

I: This is a bit like the Insectrist, and similarly too vague, slows play, and seems meaningless. Remember: action and drama–both proactive and reactive decisions–which fellows and GM could trigger. Here’s a potential revision: When I see a haphazard trail, I have to look at all angles. This isn’t strong, but it helps to direct the Instinct to specific scenes that the GM or other players can point out, such as, “Strange, this trail lies far from a water source. During the trekking your patrol has been making daily side-treks to get water multiple times each day.” That’s a small scene, and might not require action, but it could easily trigger the Instinct by inviting the cartographer into learning who made the trail, why is it far from water, can this trail be altered, are other good trail attributes lost if it is re-cut elsewhere? And, those can be designed into the obstacles or twists just as easily as left for a Player Turn Check. Of course, if you as GM present haphazard trails, yet the player fails to act, they are missing the opportunity, so you shouldn’t feel badly about that.

G: Maybe alright for one mission, although it could be greatly improved, clearly this must change for each mission. Here’s a potential revision which hopefully gives a principle: I’ll make a phony map to sell to a local thug which will lead to danger, failure, and ruin. Here’s my principle concern: a Goal should have a target (someone is a very weak target), an action (sell or make are both viable actions, but one must have the map before attempting to sell, thus two tests are implied in the suggested Goal), and includes conditions (just selling a phony map means very little; ensuring the map leads to danger, failure, or ruin requires effort). As I mentioned earlier, going about making and selling counterfeit maps is fine if directed toward the troublemakers, ne’er-do-wells, and tyrants of the settlements, so require this player to use his talent and mischief against those members of society rather than society at large.

The ‘Face’

Belief- The ends justify the means
Instinct- Talk my way out of any situation
Goal- ?

B: What a boring cliche is this? Seriously, that’s got to grow or change right away. Keep in mind, a Belief speaks to purpose of self. Tell this player to think deeply about what experience in Guard service distinctly illustrated that the life of Guard service became the identity of this PC mouse. That’s what you write a Belief about! Fine if the invented past experience develops into a scene of ends justifying means, that’s really fine, but the Belief needs to be written from a perspective of self and Guard self. Here’s a potential revision: As a Guard, I must weigh the ends and the means of my decisions. That’s strong! That’s strong; because, it requires the PC mouse to consider choices–often choices made in heartbeat quickness–against the impact on self, Guard, and settlement mice. This allows the fellow patrol mates to make decisions which run contrary, without requiring this PC mouse to intervene. However, it still encourages this PC mouse to interject at times. In addition, this is a Belief that canbe played against in fast-paced decisions or really big heroics, such as, “I don’t have time to weigh the outcomes; this has to be done and right now!” Those moments can redefine the Belief or be fleeting glimpses of a decisive leader. Cliche is a killer of Beliefs and the core of Beliefs–strange thing.

I: Vague, but on a good path toward a good Instinct. Here’s a potential revision: I always try to negotiate. Even that is a little weak, but I don’t want to be heavy-handed. It is directed as a negotiation which relates to ‘talk my way out.’ This restrains the Instinct to scenes of drama rather than any/every situation.

G: Goals are written at the mission assignment, and at least one PC mouse should write specifically about the mission. So, it is more typical to have a Goal that is specific to a mission when posted in the threads. Just sayin’, it’s fine that you haven’t got something here right now.

The Healer

Belief- No Judgement in healing
Instinct- Always offer Help
Goal- ?

B: Fair, but needs a bit sharper teeth before it is put into play; otherwise, this will be too easy for a GM to stomp very hard. It could leave a player feeling insulted. I do like the notion that a physician or therapist has a sense of non-judgement; that’s a good positive outlook, yet may lead to complacency or complicit evil. Here’s a potential revision: As a physician I offer my talent to the downtrodden and sufferers only to heal rather than to judge. This hopefully stays true to the spirit, but places a bit of defense against GM-stomping-grounds. This revision directs itself toward those who suffer or are downtrodden–thus relinquishing accountability for the rich, liars, or freeloaders–and includes the non-judgement in favor of healing. In the revision, I include the condition, “only” to protect a player from feeling accountable for the causes of suffering, such as domestic violence, failed self-defense, personal foibles, etc. In contrast, this conditional allows the player to more selectively play against the Belief either by making judgments or by choosing to decline service for another reason, such as not having optimism about actually providing relief.

I: Slightly vague, but not weak. It’s a strong Instinct that needs a direction to generate a trigger. Here’s a potential revision: When I see mice suffering, I always offer help. This also support the spirit of the Belief without too much overlap–a little overlap. That sense of direction will create a better trigger; it exists in a conditional if / then sort of logic.

G: As mentioned, the Goal is written at the mission assignment.

Edit: I don’t like to see always or never in BIGs; that’s problematic and grandiose. In the case of Belief, there is a reward to play into and a reward to play against, but not a reward to playing the same again and again and again–in other words, the always or never is useless or overbearing. In the case of Instinct, there is a reward for playing up, but not a reward for ignoring, nor multiple rewards for playing it up again and again and again–similarly the always or never is useless or overbearing. Sometimes using the superlative is fitting, but I think it can be removed or diminished for better results.