Kneejerk Review of 2e rule book

I won’t directly argue–nor easily agree–with your sentiment; however, I will invite further discussion in the question, Can you imagine what a significant change this provides for Black Bear (and Moose) among less experienced GMs and players who choose to follow the new descriptors?

I’d like to express other examples and interpret some benefits I see in the proper Nature (animal) descriptors being used.

Coyote: (1e) Intelligent, Adaptable, Unpredictable, Tenacious
In this case, the descriptors are all simple adjectives and don’t immediately translate into action items. These can be meaningful during actions, but might be fitting of anything.

Coyote: (2e) Adapting, Tricking, Hunting, Scavenging
In this case we see more clearly the ways a GM can use Coyote to present trouble and personify the beast. Also, this handily provides some reflection when designing a session obstacle or twist.

  • Why have there been coyotes passing over the scent border rather than fearing it? Well, they’re adapting to changes in the wolf population outside the border
  • What’s got mice so easily caught by a coyote? It is terribly good at tricking prey into false safety and traps.
  • Why is this coyote so tenacious about this territory? This is a good area for hunting all sorts of things, including (but not limited to) mice, grouse, hares, rabbits, bullfrogs, ground squirrels, and pheasants.
  • Who’s been skulking around the trash pits? oh, a coyote has been scavenging for leftovers from mouse homes to supplement the sparse winter diet.

There are plenty more, and I’ll stop short to offer another example. It is simply that I really see more potential in the proper descriptors.

Fox: (1e) Fast Learner, Predator, Trickster
In this case we again see simple adjectives which don’t immediately translate into actions.

Fox: (2e) Learning, Stalking, Tricking
In this case, we see something more like Coyote and similar reflection questions can be raised by a GM while designing an Animal obstacle or twist. It is easier to include when those reflection questions are addressed.

  • What is the fox watching from so close; it knows we can see it, right? Hey, watch out! The fox is learning how mice move in and out of the settlement.
  • How long will it wait for a next meal? Could be quite a while; that fox is stalking prey.
  • It’s not going to catch any mice after being so obvious! It might find an easy prey to trick into false safety or a trap.

There are plenty more ways to use these descriptors, and I’ve got other examples I want to include.

Barred Owl: Hunting, Flying, Hiding in Plain Sight
Raccoon: Unlocking, Stealing, Climbing, Devouring
Turkey Vulture: Flying, Smelling, Carrion Eating, Intimidating

I’ll leave to you some space to write reflection questions about how a GM can include these animals in an obstacle or twist. The proper descriptors really help.

Another facet of the Nature (animal) descriptors which adds benefit is when a player calls upon Loremouse to learn more about an animal. If you are reading from 1e descriptors, in many cases this won’t summarize the threat and presence of the animal for mice (and players). Using the proper descriptors from 2e rules will provide a similar opportunity for reflection among players. In this case, they can ask themselves and each other about how they view the threat and presence (hopefully) from a mouse’s-eye-view. If you’ve got a love for Black Bear and Moose, I believe you can imagine players will still see Destructor!, Hooves & Antlers, Gigantic, Voracious Appetite, and many other threats or attributes quite easily. As a GM, just present them as a typical black bear or moose. In such a case, less is more. A GM can get better mileage personifying the animals in natural ways and allowing players to infer the threats to mousekind. This will allow you to use the animals more times over and in more scenes with less replication of previous scenes or interactions. Each new interaction gives more opportunity for mice to learn.

A final point about the use of proper descriptors relates back to the adjectives. Adjectives function really well as Traits–so long as they are not inherently positive or negative. A black bear NPC animal–especially if a GM plans to reuse this bear over a few seasons or years–can be embellished as the bear with Destructive Trait or Voracious Trait. Also, a moose can be embellished with Eerie Trait or Oversized Trait. This allows a recurring NPC animal to have an altered presence in the campaign with greater sense of character and value for players. The same idea rings true for all the animals–use Traits to embellish after using proper descriptors. If you start with over-the-top descriptors, the embellished parts won’t be so noticeable.

I purposely withheld the final thread response until I saw the box set. In this case, I really have to agree that the rules book has vague mixture of rules placed throughout–where a GM and players need to get accustomed to moving backward and forward through pages for reference and reminder.

In the box set, there is a GM screen with loads of ‘cheat sheet’ stuff. There’s a great list of conflict ‘weapons’ for all conflicts, a reference for running conflicts, factoring Ob for tests, using animals and checking their nature descriptors, and other items.

However, I’ll look more closely before saying what is missing from the GM sheet.

In addition, the info about running MG successfully if tough to find. Mostly I think the forums provide the best and most knowledge, but even here the advice can be mixed and not fully indexed. It would be super to see a fan-advice-index included in the Burning Wheel wiki for Mouse Guard. That’s a huge task, but possibly a worthwhile idea. Possibly.

So, one of the issues I believe occurred in MG writing comes from Burning Wheel. If you read through BW or BWG there is a distinction between the Hub & Spokes–systems of the game mechanics which are critical and fundamental to playing BW–and the Rim of the Wheel–systems of the game mechanics which are functional and supplemental to playing BW. While learning, a play group might not touch systems in the Rim of the Wheel very much–depending on the campaign.

MG exists using many conceits which are born from BW genetics, but have been mutated to fit the necessary story-telling functions appropriate to MG. This is a really great thing; however, the conceit of Hub & Spokes and Rim of the Wheel is drastically reduced. I’d say there is not a gap. IMO and IME, the critical and fundamental rules/systems in the game mechanics are necessary in every game and every campaign, yet there isn’t a group of supplemental rules/systems which are necessary to some games or some campaigns. I’ll admit that some sessions may not use every rule–easily a group might go for several sessions without taxing Nature or depleting Resources or inviting the Enmity Clause. Also, a group might simply dislike Conflicts and rarely tolerate a full Conflict rather than a complex obstacle. In response, I’d say those systems are still critical and fundamental–the group at least needs to have familiarity enough to recognize if those are not needed or are best avoided.

What happens then in teaching the game is the line between casually learning and engaged fan must be very thin. In BW, a GM could manage loads of stuff in redux mode for a group of casually interested friends, despite knowing the immense passion of complexity which underlies the potential of engaged fans. In contrast, a GM in Mouse Guard must be prepared to present and explain a bulk of the rules content for even casually interested or first-time players. That process is difficult. While some areas can be reduced or avoided, there is still potential that a player will want to engage the game in a way which cannot be redux mode. An example may be a player who wants to have a killing fight. In BW or BWG, the GM might decide the confrontation is settled thru Bloody Versus; in MG, a GM is encouraged to use a Fight Conflict and should encourage the player to prepare for a compromise. MG has no Bloody Versus system. It could be as simple as a Vs test, but that’s not quite what the rules encourage for GM and players.

So, I think that’s indicative of the issue in MG rules text. Some areas state: (paraphrased) we’ll present a snippet here then present more details later in the book. A great example of this exists in the current reading of Persona & Fate, then Wises chapter. The Wises chapter presents a use for Persona and a use for Fate which is not presented in the earlier chapter which outlines the use of Rewards points. So, a player may get to realize the earning and spending of rewards generally helps them gain dice or successes, yet they may need additional games or additional reading to realize these also integrate in the value of Wises and further provide dice and rerolls. In BW or BWG, this concept might be easily translated as a gap between Hub & Spokes and Rim of the Wheel; however, in MG that gap doesn’t exist and players and GM just have to become accustomed to the whole rules set.