Keeping Checks?

Hello, two questions concerning checks in Mouse Guard 1E:

Observed Rule Text, and Understanding:
Page 73, Checks and Tests: “If you want more tests, you must spend the checks you earned against your traits in the GM’s Turn.” and “When you’ve used your free test and run out of checks to spend, you’re done for this turn.”
Page 74, Passing the Checks: “If you have checks left in the Players’ Turn, and one or more of your patrol-mates has none, …” and “Once you’re out of checks, you’re done.”
The above rules have lead me to believe that you can never keep checks from the current Players’ Turn when it ends; that you start the GM’s Turn with 0 checks, always. In addition, there is some indication to me that you must spend all your checks (inverting the rules on p. 73, “You are not done for this turn before you have used your checks and your free test” - the exception would be if you are the last mouse standing with checks based on the p. 74 rules).

Context: In our latest session, a player wanted to save 2 of his checks for the following GM’s Turn to potentially recover a future Condition that his PC might suffer then. This was due to some group uncertainty about whether you had to spend all your checks and because the rules on p. 74 only specifies a situation where one or more other PCs have 0 checks left. In the situation, all other PCs still had at least 1 check remaining.

Thus, my questions:

  1. Are there any circumstances - whether other PCs have remaining checks or not - in which you can keep your checks when the Players’ Turn is declared as ended?
  2. Based on Q1, can you choose to not spend your checks in the Player’s Turn, and just pass/skip any/all opportunities to spend a check?

Thanks in advance, love the game!

Hi Mathias! Welcome to the forums.

The examples in the book aren’t comprehensive, but my reading is that Checks expire at the end of the Player Turn, but the Player Turn doesn’t end until everyone has had a chance to spend their checks.

When a player doesn’t make a test (either because they can’t or choose not to), they get removed from the Player Turn order and lose any remaining checks they had; since they get skipped in future passes, they also can’t be passed checks by other players to spend for new tests.

  1. No, players will never carry checks over from the Player Turn into the GM Turn. However, you won’t have more than 1 player losing checks at the end of the Player Turn since a player declining to test removes them (and their checks) from the player order but does not end the full Player Turn unless no one else is able to take a test (free or with checks). That means that no player will be forced to discard checks by another player declining to spend their own.

  2. You can choose not to spend your checks on your pass in the Player Turn, but declining to spend a check or take a free test will immediately cause you lose any remaining checks and be skipped in the next round of testing.


Where does this idea of a player losing checks or his place in a queue come from?

The only time you are forced to discard checks is when you are the only player who has some left, and for some reason you don’t want to give any to another player. Since you can’t go twice in a row, the Players’ Turn effectively comes to an end and all remaining checks are lost.

The rules only say that you go around in the table “in any order you like”, and that, when you spend a check, you have to let another player make a go next.

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From Pg 75:

When you’ve used your free test and run out of checks to spend, you’re done for this turn.

I guess I was reading “this turn” to mean “the Players’ Turn” instead of “your chance to make a test on this go-round of players spending checks”? Since no one has to donate checks to you if you don’t have any available, I was taking that to mean that a player could end up not being able to spend checks for the rest of the Players’ Turn if they were unable to do it once from lack of donation.

Your reading of it definitely seems much more in-line with the general design of the game.

As such, I’d revise my answers to:

  1. No, players will never carry checks over from the Player Turn into the GM Turn. However, you won’t have more than 1 player losing checks at the end of the Player Turn.

  2. There’s no reason not to spend or donate checks if you can. Encourage the players to work toward goals or build up materials for future Missions if they’re otherwise out of ideas.

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Thinking about it, I can see how you arrived at your interpretation.

Still, you can’t save checks for the next GM’s turn, so it’s not a situation I’d expect to ever come up in play. I can see one player withholding checks from another, perhaps in order to prevent some action that conflicts with his own goals or something. But if you have two or more players who have checks and go “no, sorry, not a thing I’d like to do this Players’ Turn”, then something’s not going right in that game, and it’s not a rule problem.

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Looks like you have clear answers. I want to clarify a difference in the manner I’ve run through in the past.

  1. no player can reserve checks from the Player Turn for the upcoming GM Turn; if there is a player with one or more checks, and no certain action to take, they ought to donate remaining checks to fellow patrol mates. If there is a player with significantly more checks to spend than patrol mates, creating a scenario in which they have checks to spend but cannot go next in a row, they ought to donate remaining checks to allow patrol mates to balance the stage time for the Player Turn.

In this sense, I start all Player Turns with some quick, lightweight outline sketched up about what everyone wants to get done. I quickly assess what order or sequence of actions might make most sense (like taking care of town stuff before pathfinding into the wilderness, or like making camp before recovery from Conditions). I also quickly assess and relay to players what will cost a check and test vs what will not cost a check and test (like completing a Pathfinder-tested route from the GM Turn requires no test and no check spending, or like seeking a therapist for treatment will not cost a Circles test and no check will be spent to find treatment). Once the approximate outline is built, it can be adjusted as events of the Player Turn progress, allowing for the patrol to respond to matters as issues arise during the Player Turn.

  1. Yes/No; players can choose not to spend any checks, by donating their checks to fellow patrol mates. This allows a player character to go without any tests during the Player Turn, but does not allow the player to reserve the checks for the next GM Turn.

In this response it is worth mentioning the reasons for having a GM Turn and Player Turn might feel/seem vague for players and game masters, so a group will need some time to find the purpose of the boundaries for themselves. It might be about authority in the narrative, following mechanics as-written, and building a mission assignment to be conducted rather than building a patrol objective to be carried. The game master gets the GM Turn to impose a mission assignment (player characters are expected to take the assignment seriously, even if they must adjust completion to fit their circumstances), to place hazards along the way while the patrol makes an honest effort to conduct the mission assigned (and hazards could be intrinsic to the assignment, parallel, or collateral–it’s complex), to require tests to overcome the obstacles imposed by the hazards (and players must address the obstacles to build the case for factored Ob or contested Vs tests), to rule on the outcome of tests (which likely imposes Conditions of success or creates a Twist to further complicate matters), and to transition to the Player Turn. It is a lot of authority for the game master in the GM Turn, the players cannot even forcibly transition from GM Turn to Player Turn. There’s no rule allowing for that.

So, as the GM determines the time and circumstances of the transition, the players are under a cloud of uncertainty. The transition can happen regardless of the state of the mission! A GM can say, “You’re still working on the escort duty assigned, you’re still in the wilderness, you’re still a bit hungry and exhausted, but you’ve faced some big hazards, and the Player Turn opens now! Everyone gains a free check!” If they did not earn checks in the GM Turn, they’ll only have those free checks to run their turn. Sure, they could ignore completing the mission, they could ignore mice relying on them, they could ignore the circumstances of Conditions; yes, all that is valid, but they do not gain authority over the hazards and obstacles in the Player Turn, nor gain authority over the outcome of tests in the Player Turn. It’s not much authority, so having those checks to at least insist on the task they want to carry out should feel like a huge concession from the GM to the players.

It’s a fairly big topic overall, and mission design takes time to develop. And, there are many ways to mix it up once you get accustomed to a mission design style. So, the GM might like to throw that transition when the mission is incomplete; players might get accustomed to that, and collect plenty of checks to complete the mission once the Player Turn begins. Then, the GM designs a mission a bit differently, has the mission completed before the transition, and leave the players with their habit of collecting checks, but having reduced the list of chores to do in the Player Turn! Sometimes that’s just part of the fun from mission design.

If players want to have checks available as they begin a GM turn, hoping to resolve a Condition in the midst of the GM Turn, they’ll have to start earning right away in the GM Turn. Collecting and storing for later is not supported in the rules.

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