[MG] Mission Burner

Re-posted from SG, with some edits.

So… I’m running Mouse Guard again, this time for SGBoston, and I thought I’d distill the principles I use when building missions into something kinda like Dogs in the Vineyard’s town creation rules, in case it might be helpful for other folks looking to create complex adventures.

Under each bold heading, pick something. Once you have one of each category, if you decide the settlement isn’t messed up enough, double up on one of the categories by adding an additional element. Keep adding elements in this fashion until the settlement is as crazy as you want it to be. You can also add additional settlements if you want to make a regional conflict or a conspiracy involving more than one settlement. For example, the original Fall 1152 series involves both Barkstone and Lockhaven.


  • Pick a settlement one or more of the patrol members are from or have history with (default)
  • Look at the map and pick a location that looks juicy and interesting
  • Pick another location (second pass only)


  • The Guard messed something up there
  • Local mice messed something up there
  • Weather messed something up there
  • Wild animals messed something up there
  • Weasels messed something up there
  • The Guard responded poorly (second pass only)
  • Local mice responded poorly (second pass only)


  • Mail must be delivered to the settlement
  • Important mice or supplies must be accompanied to the settlement
  • Local mice are creating difficulties for the settlement
  • Weather is creating difficulties for the settlement
  • Wild animals are creating difficulties for the settlement
  • Weasels are creating difficulties for the settlement
  • Local mice resent and/or usurp the traditional duties of the Guard
  • Pick two elements and make them inter-related (second pass only)
  • Local mice have no clue about what’s really going on (second pass only)


  • Local mice will attempt to handle the current difficulties on their own (and do so poorly)
  • Local mice will blame the patrol (and the Guard in general) for current difficulties
  • Local mice will act to preserve themselves and push the patrol towards the difficulties
  • The difficulties will get worse
  • The difficulties will experience an unexpected twist
  • The difficulties will target the patrol directly once they arrive

When you pick elements from these lists, you should flesh them out immediately before picking the next one, because the details of various ones should flow together. Settlements are small and deeply interconnected. If a unrest is fermenting, for example, that means local leaders are either incompetent (another problem), willfully ignoring the problem, or co-conspirators in rebellion.

Once you have enough elements to create a dynamic, hazardous environment for the patrol to be walking into, go through these elements and figure out who the core characters and obstacles are that patrol mice are likely to interact with. Name each one and either decide which mouse/animal template you’re going to use for each one or, in the case of weather or other obstacles, set the Ob number you think it’s likely to be. The Ob numbers can still be adjusted on the fly during the game, based on how the situation evolves and what the players do, but it’s good to spend time now thinking about what a good Ob is, so you don’t have to make one up on the fly without any time to think. When making NPCs, remember that’s is a good idea to make sure at least two of them are closely connected to the patrol, either personally or through their parents, senior artisan, mentor, friend, enemy, or contacts.

Then you assign the patrol their mission and go!


So I was thinking about the “owl cult” from Judd’s (?) game, where local mouse cultists are tying tenderpaws to posts, Andromeda style, to feed to a preying owl. And I liked that image a lot, but thought an owl, while scary, was too much of a known entity for mice. I wanted to come up with something weirder. What about a Cthulu/Godzilla style sea monster that came up out of Lake Michigan to crush buildings, flip ships, and steal mice away to the depths? Awesome. What could do that? What about an otter! Well, sure, but an otter wouldn’t think of that on their own, at least not dressing up in fish scales and acting like a sea monster. So maybe a couple of rogue weasels came across an orphaned otter cub and have raised it to participate in this bizarre plan to gain revenge (and mice to eat) from Port Sumac. Sweet.

Already I’ve basically picked:
PRESENT - Animals (orphaned otter) are creating difficulties
PRESENT - Weasels (manipulative rogues) are creating difficulties
PRESENT - These two things are interrelated (the weasels manipulating the otter)

So that’s the mission, basically. A “sea monster” has been terrorizing Port Sumac and the patrol is sent to 1) figure out what this creature is and 2) drive it away or kill it, to protect the city from further attacks. However, the situation isn’t nearly complicated enough yet. As it stands, the mice of Port Sumac aren’t doing anything to impede or complicate the problem, and that’s not how Mouse Guard works. Emphasizing the enmity or just inevitable personality clashes between mice – who are all supposedly on the same side – is half the fun, at least. It’s part of what gives the game it’s gritty realism. The wild world is out to get you and so are other mice.

So, drifting back towards the past, I tried to figure out what kinds of mouse-related problems Port Sumac once had. Since it’s on the coast, near major shipping lanes, I instantly went for pirates (I’m from NC, it’s what you do). I decided there was a Dread Pirate Queen (as yet unnamed) that once terrorized Port Sumac, halting the bulk of shipping and jeopardizing the city’s robust trade with other settlements. And, to make matters worse, I decided that the Guard should respond really poorly to this matter. My vision of Guard patrols is very similar to my vision of groups of Dogs in Dogs in the Vineyard. A patrol wanders into town, without really being aware of the context and local culture that makes a place work, and often imposes very different ways of life or conclusions on a place – under threat of violence – before moving on. This inevitably messes with the town’s situation and can even undermine its traditions. So I decided that a patrol had conducted negotiations – under threat of violence – with the pirates and the forced them to join the town militia. Currently, Port Sumac pays the pirates a monthly stipend to act as protectors of ships and cargo, especially since they have recently come under attack from the “sea monster.”

That means I’ve effective added:
PAST - Local mice (pirates) messed something up there
PAST - The Guard responded poorly (but making the pirates part of the militia)

So, then, moving to the present, how else can I complicate things for the patrol? Well, clearly some locals have decided to take matters into their own hands, in regards to stopping the “sea monster.” Very much like Andromeda, they’ve decided to kidnap young mice and chain them to a post on the docks, hoping that the monster accepts their sacrifice and goes away. Even if the monster eventually returns, these pseudo-cultists will keep the monster from eating themselves and their families by feeding it other people’s children. And to up the ante a bit more, since the patrol is a bunch of outsiders, they’re EVEN BETTER to feed to the monster, especially if they have gullible young tenderpaws among them that can be easily separated and kidnapped.

So, finishing up, I’ve added:
FUTURE - Local mice (cultists) will attempt to handle things (by sacrificing young mice to the monster)
FUTURE - The difficulties (crazy kidnappers) will target the patrol directly.

That was my basic planning. Next post is how I made NPCs and how the session actually went.

So, the NPC list I came up with went like this:

OSWALD - lonely orphaned otter, raised by weasels
ITZAK + GROBNIK - the two scheming weasels
ALEXANDRA - head of Port Sumac militia, former pirate queen
THE YELLOW WANDERER - power-hungry lunatic cult leader
PERCIVAL - mayor of Port Sumac, potter, fairly dysfunctional as a leader since his daughter got eaten
MARIAM - daughter of the mayor, Guardmouse in training, perhaps survived “sea monster” attack?

And the two major obstacles I planned were:

  1. Journey/Weather conflict to arrive at Port Sumac from Lockhaven (mostly to familiarize folks with conflict system)
  2. Fight Animal conflict versus the “sea monster”

Other stuff we’d save for future sessions and mainly keep as color and tidbits in this session. And there would also be minor obstacles and complications along the way where I’d improvise an Ob number as necessary.

However, as often happens, things didn’t go at all according to the plan I sketched out in my head…

The group totally got rocked by the Journey/Weather conflict. We narrated them arriving at the lake and preparing to make the crossing to Port Sumac on one of the former pirate vessels now serving the settlement. I made a poor off-the-cuff call and created a new NPC, Capt. Reginald of the Pelican, instead of jumping right in with Alexandra, but that just means I can have interesting conflicts between Alexandra and her former first mate Reginald later on. But a series of poor rolls and me not explaining the helping rules as well as I should led to the ship getting shipwrecked a day’s journey from Port Sumac.

This ended up being fine, however, since I decide that the weasels and Oswald were making their camp not far from where the patrol swam ashore. So the youngest player had his character sneak up on them and saw the otter munching on some dried fish while the weasels schemed off by themselves. He reported back to the Patrol Leader and the group began suspecting that this otter might be their “sea monster.” However, there were civilian passengers that survived the shipwreck, so they proceeded on delivering the rest of the mice to Port Sumac.

In town, they talked to the mayor, survivors of the “sea monster” attacks, and the local elders who were examining what clues they had. They made some simple Ob rolls to determine that the scales left behind were fish scales but the spear tip that had pierced the “monster’s” knee was covered in mammal blood. So the otter was looking more and more like their perp. Suspecting that the beast might come back that night, they began setting up a trap, making an Ob roll against Alexandra to secure some flammable pitch to spread all over the docks (where the beast normally emerged) and then placing themselves strategically.

They also suspected that the scheming elders might have a plan of their own, so one guardmouse spied on their secret meeting and heard them whispering about the “mouse in yellow” and “making a sacrifice.” At this point, one of the players did a mock freak out, pointing out that his guardmouse had a yellow cloak and whining that he didn’t want to be fed to the sea monster. So, of course, I quickly crossed out the Yellow Wanderer from my list of NPCs and decided that, sure, the elders were going to try to kidnap that player’s mouse.

Then the sea monster fight happened. One group lit the docks on fire, which I decided to treat as if they had made an effective Maneuver roll before the fight started (though I guess they could have rolled for it as well), giving them +2 dice. As the monster tried to go around the burning docks, one guardmouse (Saxon, of course) leaped out of the top window of the lighthouse and slashed the creature on the back, shearing off half of the fish-skin disguise it was wearing. This brought the creature to 2 Disposition and after that it was easily driven away, though the compromises that resulted meant that it was not necessarily gone for good.

In the end, we stopped before we had time to run the Player Turn, but it was a good first scenario in Port Sumac and I’m excited to maybe play again and explore some of the other things that were brainstormed when I created the mission and, even more, some of the cool stuff that emerged during play. I definitely think that the mission burner gave me enough information so that I could adapt to things like the shipwreck, the early discovery of the otter/weasels, and the “mouse in yellow” shift that would have been harder if I had done less planning beforehard.