Making the switch from D&D to Mouseguard...and struggling with how to do this.

Our D&D group (most of us have played 10-20yrs) are making the switch to Mouseguard. We were intrigued by what seemed an opportunity for role play led gaming vs the combat hack and slash led D&D. However, as we read through the Mouseguard book, and created our mice, we were confused by what seems to be a rule structure that limits creativity and choice.

As we read through the rule book, we are getting the idea that the game feels like a “create-your-own-ending” book.’

Are we correct in assuming that the players do not have open ended exploration and interaction possibilities?

On the GM’s turn, he describes the world, the setting and the obstacles…and to an extent controls the players by giving a narrow selection of choices they can make in order to influence the world around them and the session. Once the players make the choice…the GM then takes control of what happens to the mice, depending on the choice made.

I am probably not making any sense, but when we play our D&D games, it is the players influencing the world that the GM has built and controls through NPC’s and environment. This control of the world by the GM is limited though. The players are in control of the decisions that are made that influence just about everything around them.

We are really excited to give Mouseguard a try, but are feeling confused by the rule book (this could TOTALLY be because our minds are thinking in a D&D fashion), but much of the book seems ambiguous.

Has anyone had experience coming from a D&D playing style to Mouseguard? What were some of the obstacles you encountered trying to do this? What are some tips you can offer to make the experience better? Does anyone “tweak” the rules of Mouseguard in order to suit the playing style of the group?

Thank you so much in advance for your help!

Absolutely. My group and I went through the same thing.

My first piece of advice: Just play! Try it out, and you’ll probably find that the GM’s Turn is not necessarily any more “forced” than the beginning of most D&D modules, where the DM needs to more or less force the players to “bite” on the Story Hook that eventually leads them to a series of planned encounters. However, in the case of Mouse Guard, the game rules actually limit the GM to two encounters (plus twists) before he’s forced to pretty much completely hand things over to the players. Some big differences that you will probably initially notice is that MG really encourages descriptive roleplay on the part of the players as well as the GM, and that the Players’ Turn will probably not be very long or interesting until the players buy into the idea of using their Traits against themselves during the GM’s Turn to earn checks.

My second piece of advice: Play again, and then again. Especially if you’re coming from lots of experience with a different system (especially the ones that put the spotlight on physical combat), you’re probably going to have to break some habits, and like I said above, get the players to grok the concept of putting their characters into tougher situations than they might want to during the GMT in order to earn checks in the PT. Remember: Once you’re in the Players’ Turn, as long as the players have checks remaining, they can more or less take the story wherever they want.

A lot of people recommend playing through at least one or two of the included scenarios with the included characters before rolling up your own characters and stories. I also think that this is probably good advice.

Also, as a GM try to remember: In MG, every test has consequences. I have recently discovered that if you don’t keep this in mind, and allow too many tests during the GM’s Turn (playing a little more free-form, like D&D), you’re going to end up with a patrol full of Hungry/Thirsty, Angry, Tired, Injured and Sick mice – and Recovery is not simply a matter of chugging potions until your hit points are all back.

My D&D players also initially scoffed at the idea of having to actually write down their session/mission Goals, as well as goals for Conflicts. Now, they look forward to it. Yes, there’s structure, but it’s the kind that allows the players to set a direction that they’d like to see the game progress, and then have fun trying to keep the story from spiraling away from those goals. Once you’ve played a few times and everyone gets the hang of it, the game really should not feel like a Choose Your Own Adventure book.

This comes up a lot actually. Just play it! Is pretty good advice, but in case you need more. There’s actually quite a bit of player agency buried in the players turn. What is inviolate though is that the PCs care about things that are written on their sheets in the form of Beliefs, Instincts and Goals, that there is a mission and that one of those things the characters care about is the success of the mission and the Guard.

Oh, and there’s relationships and a home town! There’s really very little world for the GM to control outside of what is indicated in CharGen. As the seasons unfold the GM should be looking for ways to make Beliefs, Instincts, Relationships (friends, enemies, mentors, parents…) relevant to the game.Bring those things into play!

Thank you for your replies. We are going to do as you suggested this evening, giving it a go with the information provided in the book. Hopefully that will give us a more solid ground on which to ask questions.

One more question, is it up to the GM to decide to what extent a mouse can or cannot use a skill? The skills seem sort of open ended.

Thank you for your input!

I’m playing both D&D and Burning Wheel (Mouse Guard’s older cousin) right now and I can attest that they are very different games.

While D&D is about the characters exploring the world, Burning Wheel and Mouse Guard take a more storybook approach. We focus on the big moments of the story, points at which the characters must make difficult choices. All of the stuff inbetween is handled by simple description and roleplay, without need to go to the dice.

That’s a very broad overview. I know that D&D can be storybook and BW/MG can delve into minutiae, but at the core they are trying to do different things.

I tend to be straightforward with my obstacles in the GM’s Turn: “You’re traveling from Rootwallow to Gilpledge. It’s a long journey, but the route is well-traveled, so it’ll be an Ob 4 pathfinder test.” The players describe how they go about approaching the situation and how they muster any helping dice. The GM can decide that a skill or wise is inappropriate in a given situation, but there’s a fair amount of discussion on this in the Resolution chapter beginning on page 85. As GM, I never assume I have more authority than anyone in interpreting a situation, but one of my responsibilities tends to be final arbiter. There’s also some good information on this under Players’ Role in the GM’s Turn on pages 70 and 71.

And, not to beat a dead horse, but playing one of the sample missions with the characters provided is the best way to start getting a feel for the game. Be sure to come back and let us know how it goes.

And remember that sometimes with your obstacles you get to set the test - e.g. “You’re traveling from Rootwallow to Gilpledge. It’s a long journey, but the route is well-traveled, so it’ll be an Ob 4 pathfinder test.”

But sometimes you go to the players and give them a test appropriate to how they approach an obstacle - e.g. “A patrol of weasels is standing in the road ahead. They are having an argument and haven’t seen you yet. What do you do?”

And if a player wants to do something between obstacles, just say yes and roleplay it out. If it’s something you don’t want to give away for free like if it’s their goal for the session, give them part of what they want but put them in a position where they have to spend a check in the players’ turn to make a test to complete the goal. If they want to make a map, describe them sketching and making notes but have them make a cartography test to finish the map in the players’ turn. Or a check to buy more ink.

I’m a D&D’er of old (back to the late 70’s, actually) and never tried any other roleplaying systems until MG. I know the concerns of which you speak, and I must say: Just Play!
It takes getting used to, but after a few games you’ll find yourself immersed in a richly rewarding experience. D&D, for me, is more combat-intensive, whereas the brilliance of MG is the shared roleplaying and collaborative storytelling. The idea that Beliefs, Instincts and Goals are what drive not only the story but character growth and experience rather than arbitrary XP, to me, is nothing short of brilliant. The Players’ Turn is a revelation to me; the idea that the characters drive the story for awhile, forcing the GM to flesh out their relationships, their surroundings and their world…? Awesome.
I don’t think you need to worry that the GM “controls” characters during the GM Turn any more than the DM does in D&D. It’s quite minimal and hardly consequential. The players are always engaged and active in their characters’ roles.
The rules are, imho, meant to be ambiguous. They are structured in such a way that each unique situation can be addressed with an eye toward making the story and the action moving in a direction that will keep everyone at the table intrigued and engaged.
Something that helped me out a great deal was listening to The Walking Eye Podcast and the Durham 3 podcasts when they tested out MG. Esp. in the case of the Durham 3, I became amazed at the directions they all went in and just how much the Player’s Turn figured into the overall satisfaction in the game.
In short: Give it a chance. Take notes during your first couple of games so that between sessions you can refresh on rules that you may have overlooked. Ask questions on this forum (often you will pose questions and get answers directly from the game developer himself). And most importantly (to me, anyway), get ready to REALLY play your character. Dig in and ROLE PLAY. D&D players can get away with not getting absorbed in their characters, but in MG you get rewarded for it… AND everyone has more fun as well.

I’m a DnD player from the 70s as well, though I had a bunch of Burning Wheel and Dogs in the Vineyard under my belt before I came to Mouse Guard. The the most important DnD habit to avoid in GMing the game is how you treat failure. The players are going to fail to meet the Ob a lot. It’s important that when you decide to bring in a Condition, the mice succeed and succeed completely. No half assed success with a condition. Same with a Twist. The mouse is in the process of succeeded and being awesome, when this unexpected thing happens. No you fail and then there’s this other thing that happens.

Make sure you give as much attention to the narration regardless of whether the dice come up traitors or not. I will often ask the player to tell me what it looks like when their mouse does their thing and then dish out the condition.

I’m anxiously waiting for my hobby store to bring in the Delux boxed set so I can start trying to convert my D&D group to MG, and had similar concerns to the original poster. I’m glad to see so much activity and support on the forums, and to see that most of my concerns are unfounded. Now I just have to languish in despair until next week when they’ll finally get my order in.

I’m anxiously awaiting my store to provide the upcoming AD&D reprints, as well as for Wizards to release the playtest rules for D&D Next. After pretty much ditching D&D for Mouse Guard, I have a feeling that my group and I are not quite ready to completely switch from D&D to Mouse Guard so much as switch from playing D&D exclusively to playing D&D AND other games such as Mouse Guard. I have a feeling that when we start playing D&D again (the Next playtest and/or retro gaming with AD&D), our D&D play style will change, thanks to Mouse Guard’s influence. This is probably a good thing.