"Learn Mouse Guard!" Session recap

Session Date: May 6, 2012
Players: Andrew (Robin), Patrick (Lieam), Sabrina (Sadie, Patrol Leader) and Isaac (Saxon)
Mission: Find the Grain Peddler

After giving a brief rundown of the basics and giving the players the chance to pick their pregen characters (I was expecting more players, which is how Andrew ended up playing Robin; otherwise I would have prodded him to play Kenzie), we started the mission as outlined in the book: I (Gwendolyn) sent the patrol to scout for the missing grain peddler, and requested Sadie to investigate the possibility that he may be a traitor.
Goals: (remained more or less the same, with just a few tweaks)
Sadie: I must find evidence that will determine if the grain peddler is a traitor or not.
Saxon: I will protect Sadie, Robin and Lieam on this mission.
Lieam: I will show Sadie and Saxon that I am a valuable member of the patrol.
Robin: I will prove to Sadie that I am a worthy tenderpaw on this mission.

The patrol jumped right into discussion mode, and tried to figure out the best starting point for the mission: “Should we start in Rootwallow or somewhere further down the road?” Sadie decided the patrol should start in Rootwallow to see if any citizens remember the peddler, who he was and if he left any impressions on people. I called for an Ob3 circles test, which was failed. The end result was that they gleaned no really useful information, except his name (I called him Hood). From there I tried moving the action along and called for the Scout test. Lieam rolled 5 successes vs. the peddler’s 2. Catching up to the peddler off the main trail, they decided to play it cool and not confront him directly. I played the peddler to be a bit nervous and somewhat ditzy. “Oh, I didn’t want the main road, this way was shorter… Oh, I don’t need an escort, I don’t want to be any trouble…” I called for an Ob4 Persuader test, which Sadie passed with help from Robin and Lieam. The peddler agreed reluctantly to an escort back to the main road and into Barkstone.
The Patrol, meanwhile, decided to split: Saxon and Lieam would pretend to head back toward Lockhaven, while Sadie and Robin would guide the peddler back to Barkstone. Once they were far enough along to Barkstone, Saxon and Lieam would investigate the path the peddler was taking to see where he would have wound up. I called for an Ob4 Pathfinder test. Saxon rolled 5 successes. Sheesh. I determined that the path was just a parallel path to the main path and would lead to the gates of Barkstone, where they arrived shortly after the peddler, Sadie and Robin did. They decided to remain stealthy and watch from a distance, all the while devising a cover story for if they were discovered: An emergency communique from Lockhaven, ordering Sadie’s patrol back immediately.
The peddler took his leave of Sadie and Robin, and immediately gave them the slip. Robin went off to his parents’ house to see if they knew anything about this peddler (they didn’t). Once the peddler was gone, Saxon and Lieam rejoined Sadie; I determined that they had been able to see where the peddler went. They led Sadie quickly to the still full grain cart parked outside the village cartographers’ shop. Sadie failed the Ob4 test to search the cart. Saxon, being impatient, went immediately into the shop only to hear the peddler following the cartographer upstairs. Attempting to sneak up behind them, he tripped on the first step. The peddler paused and turned around. “You!” he hissed. Saxon drew his sword (instinct), and the cartographer called for “The Axe! Guards!” Sadie ran to join Saxon, who was chasing the two traitors upstairs. Lieam stood guard at the shop entrance, looking for the town guard and remaining alert for both Robin to return and for cries for help from the patrol upstairs.
Fight Conflict:
Team 1: Saxon and Sadie, Disposition: 9 Goal: Neutralize the threat by whatever means necessary.
Team 2: Four (4) Black Axe Guards (used the Soldier template, p. 200), Disposition: 7 Goal: Kill the guardsmice and hide the evidence.
Note: The peddler and the cartographer did not fight.
Action 1: The Axe guards Maneuver, attempting to surround the guardsmice and flush them into the room. Saxon leads with an Attack. Guards roll Nature 4 and get 2 successes. Saxon rolls Fighter 6 plus a helping die from Sadie, and gets 6 successes, including 3 sixes. Saxon spends a Fate point to reroll sixes; he gets 2 more successes. The Axe Guards’ dispo is reduced to zero. The fight is over, and the guardsmice win with no compromise.
“As the Axe Guards encircle the duo at the top of the stairs, Saxon leaps into the center of the fray and spins, dispatching the Axe Guards in a single, elegant maneuver. They fall backward like dominoes, as dead as can be. Saxon on one knee raises his head, sword outstretched, encrusted with blood. ‘Now, traitor,’ he growls. ‘Talk.’ He pokes the tip of his blade into the trembling peddler’s neck. The cartographer meanwhile thrusts the peddler’s map hurriedly toward Sadie in a gesture of shock and surrender. Lieam, who had no luck with the town guard, climbed up the outside of the building, hoping to crash into the room and surprise the villains. By the time he got there, he saw raw carnage and ended up simply tapping the window to be let in. It was actually quite funny. Robin returned about this time as well and decided to make a circles test during the players’ turn to try and find a reliable cleaner in the town who could be trusted to keep quiet.
Saxon guarded the cartographer and peddler while Lieam searched the shop, Robin arranged for cleanup, and Sadie watched the shop entrance. Lieam found a trapdoor in the office area behind the main room. It revealed a passageway leading down and to the north. This, coupled with the knowledge provided by the traitors that the Axe would be meeting the following night and marching on Lockhaven, ensured an exciting and challenging session would ensue next time.
Robin and Saxon were the only players to spend checks: Robin, to find a cleaner, and Saxon to buy a shield. He failed his Resources test and couldn’t find a shield that really interested him. The other checks were forgotten during the discussion about how the first game went.
All players achieved their goals.
Saxon and Lieam acted on their Beliefs.
Saxon was rewarded for acting on his Instinct.

Notes for next session: Better descriptions of locations! What does Barkstone LOOK like? How does it smell and sound? Of course, details can also derail the narrative. Be descriptive and rich, but avoid specificity.
Did I give the players too much leeway? Did they test too often?
Did I play the Axe Guards properly? Was Saxon’s single sweeping defeat of them just luck, or am I missing something?

What will the next session hold for the mice? Ideas?

Saxon rolled awesome.

Did you twist off this failed test? Sadie should have received a condition here and found what she was looking for. Same for the failed circles test.

That being said, it looks to me like they tested way too often. In Find the Grain Peddler, the two obstacles for the GM’s Turn are the scout test to find the peddler (failure results in an animal twist) and then either interrogating the mouse or searching for the map. When I’ve run this mission, I usually call for the Players’ Turn as soon as possible so that the players are forced into using their checks to carry out their plans. The alternative is a brief Players’ Turn followed by presenting a new GM’s Turn with obstacles based on where things left off.

Remember, the players get marks for advancement out of almost every roll, so they don’t need to test for everything that comes up. During the GM’s Turn, I tend to give them as much information as possible or find plausible ways to introduce it. For example, if one of the mice was from Rootwallow, you could have roleplayed a brief scene with one of her relationship characters to give her information about the peddler. Otherwise, I press the players that time is of the essence and whatever they’re after will have to wait until the Players’ Turn.

Actually, EVERYBODY rolled awesome, noclue! Lieam succeeded the initial test to find the peddler, and everything pretty much went exactly as it SHOULDN’T have from there, LOL. You should have seen the excitement around the table when Saxon decimated the guards. Great moment.

Daniel H:
The twist I applied to Sadie’s failed roll was having Saxon trip and get discovered by the traitors. I admit I couldn’t think of something on the fly that would affect Sadie more directly, but I thought that the story would be OK with Saxon getting caught. Should I have twisted differently?
I was wondering if I had them test too often. The circles test could have been skipped, I think. The Scout test for finding the peddler was successful, so there was no conflict or twist. The group wanted to play it cool with the peddler and not accuse him outright and bust him… Especially since Sadie was the only one privy to the possibility he was a traitor.
I couldn’t help feeling that I wasn’t quite doing things right, yet I was doing my best to not railroad the players; they were really thinking about what they were doing. Any thoughts about what I should have done differently?

You can always remind them how they can earn checks from their traits :smiley:

I would have either given Sadie the map plus Angry, or twisted so it effected her. Maybe the peddler sees her going through his stuff from an upstairs window and calls for the Guards.

I’m with James; when you can’t think of a good twist, apply a condition, give the player what she was after, and move on.

Ride the players hard. Be strict about the turn structure, stick to two hazards and up to two twists during the GM’s Turn, and constantly emphasize that the patrol is on a mission and time is of the essence. Dawdling and pursuing their own agendas is for the Players’ Turn. Ending the GM’s Turn with the mission unresolved is a good technique, too.

I wouldn’t say you ran the session poorly, but I saw a few places where things could have been tighter. You have good inclinations that will be strengthened through play. Are the other players psyched to go again?

Thanks Daniel H!
I think I’m gonna have trouble figuring out how to ride the players without them feeling like I’m not listening or allowing them to role play. I had a feeling that I needed to get them on track a few times, but what they were doing felt natural and really seemed to fit into what they understood the mission to be. I definitely don’t want them to feel railroaded.
They seemed pretty excited for another session; the 2 younger players definitely wanted to continue, and the 2 adults were intrigued. I know that I really want to GM again, and I REALLY want to get it right; I have such high hopes for this game system!
Do you think I should have given them more information instead of letting them ask around in Rootwallow?
I think I may have been so eager to get them going on the mission and perform the initial test that I just role-played Gwendolyn’s orders and sent them off. Perhaps that was a mistake…?
Thanks for your feedback, btw. I’m really looking to these boards for advice, and it’s great support!

Hey Chris,

Have you played Burning Wheel? Burning Wheel has a principle called Roll Dice or Say Yes (borrowed from Dogs in the Vineyard), which I’ve found is useful to keep in mind when running Mouse Guard. To put it simply, if there are no consequences to what the players want, let them have it. If they want to root around in Rootwallow for someone who knows the peddler, let them do it—no roll is necessary. They still have to face a scout test to find the guy. It’s best when these allowances can be tied to concrete aspects of a character like wises or relationships, but as long as a player’s not generating an advantage that would be more appropriate for a spent check during the Players’ Turn, it’s fine to roleplay moments like this without a lot of structure.

That being said, you can be upfront with the obstacles in the GM’s Turn. After Gwendolyn assigns the mission, tell the patrol plainly that the first part of their sortie will be a scout test to locate the peddler in between Rootwallow and Barkstone. If they dally, warn them that night is falling, or a storm is gathering in the north (either of these increasing the obstacle on their scout test—see page 232), or that for every moment they delay the possible traitor is getting closer to his rendezvous. Once things are underway, there will be a more natural flow between you and the rest of the players.

It’ll also help once you all settle into the rhythm of GM’s Turn and Players’ Turn over multiple sessions. They start understanding that their opportunity for pursuing their own agendas or mustering their resources for future missions has an appropriate place and time. A good reason for having missions that span two turn cycles is because it gives the players an opportunity during the midpoint Players’ Turn to proactively prepare for the upcoming GM’s Turn, if that’s how they so choose to spend their checks.

People here are happy to help. I’m glad to read that your group is eager to play again—that’s really the judge of a successful session, right?

Picked up BW a short while ago, after I realized how much I loved MG. Haven’t had a chance to really dig into it, but I’m looking forward to giving it a spin. I’m sure it’ll take awhile, esp. since I know nobody in my area who really knows what it is (except the owner of the store where I bought it).
Of course, now I’m looking for Dogs in the Vineyard…