Lockhaven's response to the party murder hobo-ing an entire enemy camp?

The patrol I GM were sent on a side-quest find out about a group of remaining Black Axe rebels who have formed terrorist cells under the name of The Witching Hour. (Identifying each other with small carved black-sundials and planning for Midnight’s return from exile.)

They interrogated one they captured after a murder mystery the session before and then set out to find the cell she came from. Its camp was north of Sprucetuck under an apricot tree with a wasp’s nest the camp controlled above them. They had also secured a badger’s small burrow under the tree to store apricot kernels (for the manufacture of cyanide). They had evicted two badgers by killing one and keeping the other at bay with control of the wasp’s nest.

In come the players. They infiltrated the group but then had to free a Friend of one of the patrol who the terrorists had captured. They formed an alliance with other badger to lay waste to the camp by promising to disable the wasp’s nest. They successfully created chaos, dispersing the enemy and creating an opportunity to leave with a lot of evidence and their Friend.

“No!” said the patrol leader, “we must leave none alive, they can’t be allowed to contact the other cells.”

Cue massacre.

Now I was going to let them get away with it - now that they are safe in Barkstone at the end of the last session.

But something tells me Gwendolyn wouldn’t be too pleased with the murder-death-kill solution here. Surely she would have some task of atonement to bestow - even though the patrol thought they were “doing the right thing.” Some short mission to say, we are not here to outright murder all those who disagree with us. Perhaps even a quick recall to Lockhaven?

I don’t want it turn the campaign in a direction away from the players having fun. I just want a moment for the world they are in to flex back a little from the atrocity they’ve committed. A bit of pathos. Raise the stakes a bit.

What would you do?

So, sounds like they maybe didn’t have to struggle through a Conflict & Compromise. Or, maybe they got off too easily from Conflict & Compromise.

Without knowing all the details, this is how I might interpret the session (condensed from my normal form):
The Witching Hour
Session Intro:
Not all mice who agreed with Midnight were willing to fight openly in battle against Lockhaven. Thus, some were biding time in the stillness following his exile for the right moment to seek him out and bring him back to the gates of Lockhaven–hopefully in triumphant fanfare.

Assign Mission:
While pouring the western scent border, investigate the activities of mysterious mouse groups banding outside known settlements.

GM Turn:
Obstacles: Animal : Mice

The Demon Badger
Residents of Stoneseed, a village located near a grove of wild apricot trees, have been sending messengers to request help from Lockhaven regarding a badger who frequently attacks the village in a terrified rage. The messengers are not getting thru to LH, but one arrives in Barkstone where the patrol is anticipating the scent border barrels to arrive. Seeing the cloakmice, he pleads for assistance in Stoneseed–west of Sprucetuck, and South.

The patrol arrives to investigate, finding the badger has been trying to reclaim its own lair from within the grove, but is driven off by yellow jackets. Normally stubborn, badgers don’t often have trouble with stinging insects, thus the patrol needs to look further into the matter of why the insects are swarming so viciously against the badger.

Complex Test: Loremouse : Insectrist : Hunter : Healer
The patrol could face several issues as they investigate the matter. Most likely they can use Loremouse to discuss somewhat with the badger and Insectrist to understand somewhat the swarm of yellow jackets (or any stinging insect really–could even consider using a massive ant colony). In addition, they might suggest Hunter to harass the badger away from Stoneseed, or Healer to treat the badger’s mightily stung-up face, paws, neck, and belly.

(I suggest giving only two tests)

The Witching Coven
Clearly, the cabal of insect-riling, cloakmouse-hating, rebel-scheming mice who have killed [or driven off] the first of two badgers has also gained total control over the swarm (probably holding the queen as hostage or using a simulant queen scent which can be smoked like an incense for increased dispersion throughout the grove).

Conflict: Negotiation : Argument : Fight : War : (Science)
Here’s the more challenging portion of the session. The patrol must treat this issue. There are a few items at stake: (1) Stoneseed residents have a right to safety and to access the grove for fruit harvesting, (2) mice have a right to dissent, yet violence is hardly a just means (besides, they are in the wilderness where the Guard hold jurisdiction), (3) the natural world ought not be a weaponized tool for mice, but instead ought to be free (one must deal with animals sometimes through driving-off of killing, but not generally nor often), (4) some things which the enemy knows might be useful in future for the Guard. Each of those facets came to mind quickly, but the player may suggest many other perspectives on the situation in table chatter.

Therefore, the patrol might choose to negotiate some matters–such as Stoneseed residents’ rights of access, badger’s right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, yellow jackets’ rights to freedom from manipulation and enslavement. The Negotiation Conflict could just as easily be an Argument Conflict in which the patrol makes their case in an attempt not only to shift behavior, but also to shift thoughts and opinions (either of the primary leaders or of followers).

Likewise, the patrol might choose to openly battle these miscreants who have terrorized a badger, enslaved a hive, and made conspiratorial plans against Lockhaven. (I won’t argue against that perspective). The patrol may carry out a Fight Conflict or enlist a larger force to carry out a War Conflict (complete with badger tank and possibly other animal support) by calling upon residents of Stoneseed (and maybe Barkstone and Sprucetuck). In both cases, there are a few notes to keep in mind about killing as well as the process of forming an army–particularly in the desire to have animals serving alongside. More on that below.

Lastly, the patrol might feel there is a case for making a Science-related conflict against the Witching Hour mice to wrest control of the hive from them, counteract the making of cyanide, or even use the cyanide against them, and other such scientific or pseudo-scientific measures. It might then be a Science Conflict. No further advice on that line, sorry.

Twists: Weather : Wilderness

Autumn’s Deer Temptress
The patrol makes the best effort to understand and deter the badger threat, but there are many other animals who will make havoc and panic in the little village. In the case of a change in weather, the annual rut has begun in earnest among the local deer population; yep, symptom of the season! There is a tempting herd of does who are much desired for their scent–which is connected to the apricot where they make their fill during Spring and Summer months. This year, a very large buck has decided to make a play among the many other smaller bucks to control the herd as a personal harem.

The rutting bucks scrape trees, knock about in the branches (tearing apart the hive), scrape up village plazas and buildings, urinate all over, and generally make a huge problem for residents of Stoneseed, the patrol, and the cabal of Witching Hour mice.

Simple test: Will
There’s nothing to be done but endure the seasonal mating period and try to hold down the temper. Failure won’t do anything to the deer, but the patrol ends up Angry. If they’ve been particularly Angry already, they could end up with a seriously Injured patrol member who–rather than ranting about the trouble caused–goes out trying to drive-off deer! Valiant but doomed to failure.

Wyrd Ways
The patrol faces this twist when dealing with the Witching Hour mice. If the patrol has done particularly poorly against them in a Conflict, this can be included in the Compromise. The group breaks into factions (or experiences a serious thrashing) which move in separate directions (or flees outright) and the patrol is forced to determine a next course of action.

If instead, they’ve done very poorly when facing the seasonal twist the Mice obstacle is shifted. The Witching Hour mice were so disrupted by the deer rutting, and had no method to prevent incalculable damage to their small holding. The loss of the hive, the destruction of trees, and the tearing up of common grove areas has forced them to flee farther North or at least northward in search of a safe haven to recompose the group and make plans anew.

This twist is a forcible truncating tool for the GM which allows for removing the Witching Hour mice from further attack until a later time.

Conflict: Journey : Chase
The patrol may face one or both additional tasks: (1) follow the worst offenders (like prime leaders) to finalized justice against them, (2) drive away trouble-making factions. Another alternate may be that the patrol is being driven away from the Witching Hour lair after a particularly troubling defeat.

In the case of following the worst offenders, the patrol must carry out a significant labor to track and corner the fleeing leaders–those who would easily gather more followers. The wilderness holds no agreement and offers no solace–they must face the dread of a wilderness trek in unknown lands far from settlements and paths. The patrol might end this Journey Conflict beyond the scent border. In fact, these leaders may have decided to seek out Midnight to rescue him from exile!

In the case of driving away trouble-making factions, the patrol faces a difficult task to harass and corner (only) one of the troubling faction groups who seeks to maintain power over mice in the region–they can’t do one chase to handle all the factions, so this should feel like a dreadful failure to succeed against the Witching Hour mice. Again, the wilderness holds no place of safety or comfort–they dash through wild lands largely unknown and without time for a visit in settlements. The patrol might end this Chase Conflict anywhere, but probably within the scent border. In fact, the faction might rush into a large settlement in hopes of hiding from the Guard.

Lastly, in case the patrol is being driven from their enemies, just have at them with the most violent of wilderness forces and see to it they realize the price of failure is too often doom!

Player Turn:
Having faced the obstacles and twists, the patrol must now face the realization that they have not attended to their duty regarding the scent border pour–this dereliction of duty must not be tolerated. Furthermore, they are unlikely to be in a safe and comfortable position–which should include a lack of supplies and/or support.

They enter the Player Turn with only the barest of wits remaining and hopefully, they have prepared enough checks to recover from their troubles, complete the duties assigned, and resolve loose ends related to the Witching Hour mice.

Some Comments on Killing:

“No!” said the patrol leader, “we must leave none alive, they can’t be allowed to contact the other cells.”

Cue massacre.

This is troubling. Not least due to the attitude of a Ptl Ldr of the Guard, but also for the case of how killing is done in MG mechanics. First, mechanics, second, opinions.

Join me on pg 130 - 131 (of 1e text). Killing in the line of duty is a ‘tragic fact.’ If the players sought to kill the enemy in a Fight Conflict, they must have (a) made a goal which clearly stated the intent to kill, (b) win the conflict, © win with no compromise to avoid a complication (such as the enemy having a final act), and (d) repeat the conflict multiple times in order to kill multiple times. Okay, the last listed parameter is kinda silly and overwhelming, but the rules clearly indicate that a Fight Conflict doesn’t lead to killing everyone involved on either side–unless the win is a total shut-out without compromise. In any other case, the patrol can’t simply declare they’ll kill all the enemy mice. It is not permitted in the rules–and they would benefit greatly when defending against a group seeking to kill the patrol! So, this rule is restrictive and protective.

While the scenery of the fighting might include an irate badger, that alone ought not sidestep the rules text to allow the patrol to wipe their enemies completely.

In case the Ptl Ldr intended to fully massacre the Witching Hour mice, this would require an additional Fight Conflict. And, I’d say that comes only after the Compromise from the first Fight Conflict is fully carried out–it might have allowed survivors to be left for dead or lesser troubles! In other words, the patrol might not even realize they left survivors! That’s another fight in another session in another season! (I’m really into this: look at all those exclamation points?!)

So, the patrol might not realize there are survivors, the survivors might have to be chased and cornered, the survivors might not be willing to fight (would the Ptl Ldr engage in killing defenseless mice who refuse to retaliate?), the survivors might not be easily found–there are loads of problems that arise before the patrol can engage in another killing conflict.

And that’s just referring to the rules text about killing.

Join me on pg 19 (of 1e text). The Guard’s Oath: every PC mouse has spoken these words at least once; I’d imagine they speak that oath at other times also, so maybe they recite it annually or at every entrance and exit at the gates of Lockhaven. I have players reread it at a Winter Session. It’s opinion, but I’ll say that engaging in a massacre of those who are dissenters has crossed the line of that oath.

Join me on pg 20 - 22. The Duties of the Mouse Guard: these are the core tasks that will be called upon again and again during the cyclical nature of the game sessions. Although some are more routine, and some are more glorified, and some are more safe, and some are more risky, all who serve in the Guard should be equally prepared to carry out the duties of the Mouse Guard. Killing other mice simply doesn’t fit those duties. It may be a tragic fact, but the Ptl Ldr especially must look to the duties and see that his/her patrol faces those duties on behalf of the mice who need support from the Guard. Engaging in a massacre is woeful mistake.

Join me on pg 185 - 189 (of 1e text). Problems in the Territories: just use it all. In this case, the rebellion of dissenters who are seeking the return of Midnight seems the perfect group to target for death. full stop. So, maybe that’s exactly what the Ptl Ldr has a jurisdiction to decide. Just be sure to illustrate there are loads of other issues in the Territories that also need attention and treatment–not everything is a battleground. War is war; hell is hell; and of the two, war is a far worse fate. To prevent further war, killing the group of Witching Hour mice may be the choice.

What does it say about the Ptl Ldr’s hope for the future that he is equally convinced of their success as are the Witching Hour mice? As GM, were they really going to bring home Midnight, topple Lockhaven, arrange an oppressive government, and hold off any disputes to their authority? Even the Guard doesn’t attempt to rule the settlements. Perhaps a calm reminder that even rebellious groups have a limited influence over the world can rein in the patriotic rage. They’ll have their day, and their influence may be terrifying, but they are not going to truly rule over all mice. There are plenty of other villains waiting in the queue.

Now, finally to the case of what to do: make secrets. Use the transition period between sessions to create secrets about what happened and make corrective notes about how things played out.

I’d return and admit there may have been some rulings which did not fit the bounds of the rules or the spirit of MG. In order to correct, there are some unknown matters, but also the future sessions will have a bit more caution to follow the rules for killing and death.

The unknown corrections is to consider (a portion of) the Witching Hour mice alive, but left for dead, to place the patrol elsewhere as the opening intro of the next session, and assign a mission elsewhere dealing with new challenges.

The known corrections will be a brief review of rules, a reminder of the Oath and Duties, and of the many ways there are problems in the Territories.

The patrol leader has messaged me that perhaps he went too far. Perhaps he found this thread.

They did indeed have a conflict and lost only one disposition - enough perhaps for a crucial escapee. I can continue that story later to give them a chance to deal with the survivor peacefully.

The mission was more to continue a thread from a murder mystery the previous session which was heavily social. The sessions are quite short so some of the character development they come across is stretched across a couple of sessions (abusing the advantage of a Prologue in this system). We only had time to explore the gathering of new members (2 players after we lost 1 player) at Sprucetuck and a days long questioning conflict of last session’s prisoner. And then the camp was infiltrated whilst one player from Sprucetuck stayed behind to finish up (go see his girlfriend).

It was less in the spirit of Mouse Guard, but more a hook for the 2 new players who had previously played D&D under me. It was a language they understood. Now I intend to show them something else - consequences.

I think what fits this situation best is to start next session having skipped to Lockhaven. Gwendolyn sparing Midnight’s life defines what she stands for. And what did the players do? Create 10 martyrs. A taste of civilian life is next appropriate step after the escalation of events. I will send them to a town to do something quiet but demanding - something outside of guard duty. It can serve as a Wax On Wax Off adventure for the Big Bad.

Well, that’s quite a good conflict result, and not a bad fit for a complete wipe of the enemy. And, that’s kinda part of what I was looking at in referring those rules–the premise of killing enemies in battle and in the wild where Guard jurisdiction reigns–is not an erroneous premise. It is a bit dark, but it’s within the purview of the players to see the world as they understand it. Having followed the pattern and had such a good conflict result it’s within their reach to wipe out the enemy.

Now, it is also good that the player is considering more about how that went, so that’s going to smooth over better.

Here’s the reason I emphasized those spots in the quote: you don’t need to remove the Guard duties. In fact, I’d double-down on the duties and the sight of how much the Guard benefit the Territories and the settlements when following even the most routine duties. In this case, give them some town patrolling, some trailblazing or trail-clearing, a bit of mail carrying, some small-town disputes to manage. Show them that even the small contributions matter and accumulate in positive ways. Do it by giving the assignment from G or from a Grd Cpt. It could be patrols and assignments throughout a few nearby settlements–like the Oakgrove, Willowroot, Birchflow, and Flintrust region–or send them afar with routes from one end to the other.

Anyway, my encouragement would be to use the duties more heavily and with tasks closer to the hearts and minds of common mice rather than lightening duties and allowing them to vibrate in more personal affairs.

Wow. Anyone change a Belief or Instinct?

I sent them on the wax-on wax-off route.

They were stripped of their cloaks and sent to work for the Worth family of weavers in Port Sumac (two players had family there, one had to miss this week so I made his father ill so he could attend him). There they were tasked with looking after Old Ma Worth’s crow stable and helping with weaving whilst the family made special supplies for the guard. They would continue like this until they had learnt Loremouse or Weaver between them. I gave them twice the advancement points towards each test to reflect the arduous conditions and length of time. I delivered great injury for failure.

Three crippled mice were then treated kindly by the family. The weaver made new cloaks for the patrol. The loremice were allowed to harness the crows and go on a flight. They were also given big bags in a small bags (parachutes) that the patrol could now maintain. They were being trained as the Mouse Guard’s first flying patrol. Old Ma Worth is a former guard captain.

After a player’s turn they went on a mission to find mice lost in the fog near Darkwater. A scout conflict, contested by their mischievous crows as well as an escapee terrorist weather watcher.

They pursue more healing at Lockhaven. The patrol leader also took his turn to make his peace with Gwendolyn for disobeying orders.

So, no, not a quiet episode this week. I thought this was the right time to prepare them for the “tarasque” at the end of the mouse-guard-year. I think next week it can quieten down as they move through the territories meeting all the characters they met before and tying up their threads before we press on out of the map. I’m doing the 9 session + winter epilogue session for this campaign. Just so we all get closure with the seasons.