Help with skill checks in GM's turn, helping PCs understand Player's turn

I finally was able to make time and run a Mouse Guard starting campaign, and of course now I have a million questions for the more experienced BW/MG folks.

After a session of play, I notice two learning hurdles coming from a D20 environment. The most difficult for me as GM is getting used to the pacing (GM’s turn, player’s turn, most importantly, as a GM, when to allow rolls). That’s the easy one! The other is getting the players to realize how incumbent it is on them to play their character for and against their goals, reaping benefits in the player’s turn (and finding MG satisfying).

Most of my confusion comes from my cloudy understanding of the GM mechanics. I suppose I will note how the session went, and maybe some of the old salts will be able to give some advice on how to run a better game.

Spoiler alert, the below text refers to one of the sample adventures included in the box set.

I ran the weasel/scent border adventure included in the box set. It puts you right in the action, with the party either receiving a letter from or meeting with the matriarch and heading right to the scent border, and attempting a re-pour or scrapping with some weasels.

Here’s how it went: the patrol spoke with Celanwe, RP went well, then I narrated their journey (no rolls) and put them at the camp, at which time the lone mouse (forget the name) burst from the bushes and started the action. The party decided to hunt down the weasels which starts the action. Combat went well, and then the party tracked down the weasels to rescue the other captured guardmice, this was a conflict, resolved positively, then the scent border was repoured, they made some assisting rolls (cartography, etc to assist since none of them had science GAH!), same. and then we moved into the players’ turn.

My main question is, how many rolls do the players usually get in the GMs turn? The adventure suggests dropping them right into the action with no rolls, then there’s a conflict. How many rolls do you let the players take? For example, one player wanted to work on some maps headed back to Lockhaven, do you just let them roll as much as they want, to test out however many skills?

Should a MG enter the player’s turn with the max amount of opportunities to challenge their beliefs, goals and instincts, or should I be giving them 3-4 non-conflict ancillary rolls on the turn?

I have listened to the few MG AP podcasts I could find, and I don’t quite seem to think they follow RAW, so I suppose what would be helpful from some seasoned MG GMs is a quick rundown of how many rolls you actually allow on on the GM’s turn.

The second problem, how to make the players understand how important it is to try and challenge yourself, does this come with time? Do some players just never get it? Or do you sit down and tell them before the second session “remember how you only got to do two things last time on your turn? here’s how to fix that”.

I understand I should be throwing challenging situations at the PCs that inspire that sort of behavior, but they didn’t take the bait some of the time. I would LOVE to hear how some of you seasoned GMs positively inspired your players to help create the rich potential experience that BW/MG offers.

I will say at the end of all this, the players and I had a wonderful experience and we are all eager to play again, and once I understand the rules a little better I am going to be running open sessions at my FLGS.

Thanks for any help, and thanks to Luke and Dave for creating such an awesome experience.

You’re doing it right. The GM’s Turn is for conflict. The Players’ Turn is for recovery and gathering resources and attending to your own goals. The best PTs are when the group has many possible actions they can take and they have to make decisions about how to best use your time.

You are not meant to roll the dice freely in this game until you get what you want. You’re meant to be a hero under pressure, trying to rise above the fray.

It’s hard to see the cycle the first time you play. The second time through the rewards/checks cycle is much clearer.

Technically the GM calls for rolls in the GM’s turn. The player may suggest something, but the GM sets up the tests. So, if the player wants to work on maps along the way, you can say whatever you want as the GM, including there’s no time for maps or you work on the maps but you’re not sure how good your notes are with all the bumping and jostling perhaps in the Players turn you can spend a check to sort things out, or “a badger attacks!” Or, “cool. Roll cartography ob 4.” and then be ready with a twist or condition if he misses the roll. I’m partial to a badger twist myself.

Regarding hindering yourself, I regularly ask players if such and such trait gets in their way, even inventing neat things that might happen in the fiction if they act overconfident or too quiet or whatnot. I remind them theyre going want those checks later. I would turn to map dude and say “you want those maps right?”

Luke, thank you for the quick response!
So should the GM’s turn just be the recommended 2-3 conflicts? If so, then the players have those 2-3 conflicts to rack up as many fate and persona points as possible by roleplaying the conflict appropriately? A very simple example would be a skittish mouse playing against her nature and running in to slash at the weasels?

There’s room for the mice to make skill rolls in the OB4 “re-pour the scent barrier” test, e.g. cartography to give an extra dice, and any other reasonable skills that would be helpful. But can they make these rolls in other conflicts?

I’d love to have a ballpark idea of just how many tests I should expect to give the Guardmice before turning over the helm to them. Or is the scent barrier example in the adventure bad since it’s just an OB4 test and not a conflict per se?

I’m running the risk of sounding like I want everything to have a solid number, handed to me on a plate. I am just very curious how other GM’s handle their turn, how many tests and opportunities for failure/success you give the guardmice on the GMs turn.

Thanks again! Very good advice, and thank you Noclue.

I like running the GM’s turn until most mice have acquired a condition and at least one extra check. That typically lines up very closely with the RAW guideline of 2-3 conflicts – assuming conflicts are complex or scripted, not simple. At least one of them will get screwed up, leading to a couple twists and then, bam, it’s Condition time!

That’s a good idea Paul, do you generally let them get their PT checks in during scripted conflicts, or do you try and throw one complex conflict in to give them that opportunity?

Personally I make sure all the prepared contests are either complex or scripted. I save the simple tests for twists.

There’s a property of Burning games, however, that I often find myself a victim of: very large groups and/or very short sessions make scripted conflicts un-fun for the group. It’s a high-handling-time thing, particularly if you’ve got a slew of characters on your team. So I tend to under-use scripting once I have more than 3 characters to deal with. My current game has 6 characters – it’s not straight MG – and scripting barely makes an appearance. But complex challenges still get the job done.

They can definitely earn checks during scripted conflicts.

for a guideline i shoot for a simple test with helping, a complex hazard (or a couple few more simple tests) and one or two full conflicts.

some of those will be obstacles, some will be twists.

I prepare four mission obstacles (one each of weather, wilderness, animals, and mice) and present the players with two of them, like Paul wrote usually one complex and one conflict. The other two mission obstacles I keep in my pocket to use as twists.

I’m strict about calling for the Players’ Turn at this point; usually the patrol will be short of completing its mission. Facing a finite number of checks to spend, they’re put in a situation where their Beliefs, Instincts, and Goals are at the forefront of their decision making.

This is the approach I take. I can’t stress enough, however, the role of awarding fate and persona at the end of the session in addressing both your issues.

Another thing you can try is reminding your players that in this game failures are required for advancement, and that failures are designed lead to lead to alternate paths rather than dead ends. A soft sell of those two concepts generally takes very little time and can be very effective, depending on your players’ mindsets/attitudes. Put the right “sell” on the right “customer” – power gamer: advancement requires failures. story gamer: failure provides interestingness.

As Daniel said. In my case, just two Obstacles (two tests) or one test and one Conflict. If they fail the test, then I throw them another Obstacle (a new test) or a Conflict. If they fail again, I think another Twist, Conflict or maybe I establish a Condition and move on.

When the two main Obstacles are resolved, we move on to the Player’s Turn. That’s it.

We had our first session of Mouse Guard the other day (report can be read here) and overall it went very well I think.

The only thing I’m unsure of, just like the OP, is how to handle “non-obstacle” skill tests in the GM’s turn. For example, we were playing the Deliver the Mail mission and Quentin wanted to continually draw maps as they went along (naturally). However I was uncertain if I should let him roll for it then and there, or wait until the players turn - reasoning that the GM’s turn is for conflict only. In the end I chose the latter but felt that it might be a bit too strict. Do you allow skill checks, apart from obstacles, during the GM’s turn?

For my (very few) games I’ve run so far, I’ve been fine letting them roll for side things during the GM’s turn when it is something that they are interested in and that also does not involve moving the story along. Basically, while they’re discussing what to do about the obstacle I’ve presented, when one wishes to do something at that moment that does not directly involve engaging the obstacle, I’ve let them, mostly because making them roll later for something they did in the past seems weird to me.

The issue with making the Cartography checks is the price of failure. I generally only allow rolls when failure adds something interesting to the story, or costs them something. When I do let them roll, it’s because failure of the roll can be applied to their current obstacle in some way, if only to complicate it further. What happens when they fail to make their Cartography check? Do you apply an obstacle penalty to any Pathfinding because their maps are incorrect? Use up all their paper for mapmaking and they’ll have to make a Resources check during the Player Turn? As long as the failure is interesting, it’s worth the roll. At least for me.

The GM is not required to grant player-requested tests during the GM’s Turn, but I do not believe that he is required to deny all player-requested tests either. My take on it is that if a player requests a test that is in line with the current flow of the story, and also helps to play (or play against) a Belief, Instinct or Goal, I allow it. If your players are simply test mongering, then shut them down. There must also be clear consequences for failure when a player tests.

For your example about testing for making a map, I would think that you have to either just “Say Yes” and let the player make the map (no roll involved, map made), or make sure that the player will understand before making the roll that there are consequences for failure other than “you don’t make a good map”. For example, you can have a failure result mean something like that in the process of trying to continually make and update maps while on the move, the cartographer spills his inks and is unable to make or update any more maps until his supplies are replenished. This would probably make that mouse Angry, as well as set up for the player needing an additional check in the Players’ Turn to deal with.

If the player is requesting ongoing tests, remember the “Fun Once! Let’s Not Do It Again” rule on p. 90.

We don’t roll the dice every time a player describes his character doing something. We roll the dice when there’s conflict or drama at stake.

Quentin’s drawing maps. Cool. They look great. Dain is checking the weather. Awesome. It’s sunny out (or whatever). This is just basic RP here. It’s good clean play – engaging the Instinct mechanics, but not the dice. There’s nothing at stake, no obstacle to overcome, so we don’t roll the dice.

In the PT, Quentin’s player might say, “I want to turn my maps in to Gwendolyn so she can update her own.” Now that statement contains the heavy weight of drama. We instantly ask ourselves, “What if those maps are inaccurate?!” And for that, the player can spend a check and roll the dice.

I’ve made the mistake of allowing frivolous rolls in the GMT because a player asked (because he felt itchy and wanted to roll the dice). I find they near universally defuse the urgency and action of the GMT. If it’s not related to the obstacle, you’re basically obligated to give them success with a condition and then ignore the result so you can get to the obstacle you have planned. If you introduce a twist on failure, you’re mucking with everyone’s goals and Beliefs about the mission. Either way, it always turns into a “why did we roll that?” situation.

All of this circles back to the structure of the GM’s Turn. There are good reasons we put it in place. It is not a rigid “roll twice and you’re done” thing, that’s not what I’m saying. It is a “there are two big problems to deal with and no time to mess around” situation.

Black Seven, Slashdevnull and Luke, thanks for the well articulated responses!

In the end I pretty much ran it as you describe Luke; when Benjamin wanted to Instruct Aengus (Dain and Robin with different names) in the ways of Pathfinding just as they headed out from Lockhaven I more or less told him that to simply roleplay it and then he could use a Check for the actual roll in the players turn to see if Aengus had picked anything up. And to me it felt right, but I think Benjamin’s player, who’s an old hand at roleplaying, thought it felt weird “not to be able to do anything you like” (ie roll dice).

I’d say this comes down to teething pain though as we’re all completely new with the system and I have a feeling it will sort itself out as we continue playing. I do think our first session went surprisingly well though, and I’ve started eyeing my Burning Wheel Gold copy… :slight_smile:

I think you must not quit MG for now. It’s a great introduction to Burning Wheel philosophy and some mechanics (like the way Conflict works). But both are diferent games. In fact, don’t quit MG ever and play both systems if you can. Of course this is my opinion and you can do whatever you like. :slight_smile:

Oh, we’re not quitting! :slight_smile:

We might jump between a few different games (Diaspora coming up!) but Mouse Guard and perhaps Burning Wheel in the future will definitely feature in our gaming.

I was about to create another thread regarding this situation, and thank God I found this response! Now I know exactly how to handle rolls in the GM’s turn. However, there’s still one thing.

Page 71 mentions Player versus Player in GM’s Turn. Wouldn’t that be considered a frivolous dice roll instead of just roleplaying it? It doesn’t seem to me the kind of situation that would move the story forward in anyway. It would just resolve a disagreement and being a versus test I don’t think Conditions would apply (like it says they do). If I win a contest the GM can’t give a condition to the losing side and make it “win” too.

P.S. one thing that bothers me the most are players trying to get from you survivalist/gatherer/cooking/resources/circles rolls to acquire more supplies than they already have, thus, trying to ensure the impossibility of a “hungry/thirsty” condition. And they they get mad while you try to explain that’s not possible in the GM’s turn.

You never just roll the dice without some roleplay being involved.