Mouse Creation Balance

Rather than necro an older thread, I’ll take a relevant quote from Luke there:

My group and I played our first session of Mouse Guard this past week, and it was most certainly a blast. But, we ran into a problem right away that bothered us. Character creation is definitely not balanced, and as the quote from Luke above illustrates, it was not intended to be. However, I found a problem with that. There are things that Tenderpaws can take, or get double of, that other classes of the guard do not get to take or get double of. In other words, simulation/realism is not fully upheld, and for some reason upon becoming official Guardmice, tenderpaws seem to forget certain skills. (Comparing a freshly made Tenderpaw to a freshly made Guardmouse.) So balance actually seems to be a factor after all. Here are some examples from the book:

Why do only tenderpaws and guard captains choose two areas of natural talent? Do they lose that talent upon becoming guardsmice, and only regain it upon achieving the highest rank? Is that realistic? (p. 301) Why do tenderpaws get two skills stressed in training? Guardmice already forgot them? (p. 302) Do Guardmice forget their parent’s trait that quickly, or even lose a physical trait like Bigpaw? (p. 308)

I could be wrong, and these things are realistic elements or story elements that would be there regardless of whether this was a game or strictly a way to collaborate stories (diceless, say.) I would, though, like to hear how that is the case given the above. But it seems that they are balancing elements to make the Tenderpaw, especially, a little more powerful than their experience in the guard would lead you to believe.

The other, actually more prominent, problem we ran into was questions during character creation that only give your character a penalty. I think the problem with this boils down to the group not fully buying into ‘failure is good’ or ‘failure makes things interesting’ part of this game yet. The game wants you to believe that succeeding at a task because you have 7 resources instead of 3 does not make the game more interesting. If anything, it is neutral, both are interesting, but possibly success is more often less interesting than failure. So the penalty-only questions serve a purpose of being a way to create an interesting character with flaws and whatnot.

I actually have a few problems with this. The answers to questions don’t really have a good place to go, they just reduce your number and that’s it. For example the question “Have you ever been in debt? Or are you generally bad with money?” decreases your resources by one, and that’s the only record of it on you sheet. It doesn’t enter roleplay unless the player’s make special note of it, or remember it, or what have you. Other questions that restrict your trait options are better, but it’s not like you write down somewhere what traits you don’t have. The other problem is a lack of balance. For example, I think the questions should have been more like, “Do you buy gifts for friends during the holidays?” should decrease resources by 1 and increase circles by 1. In fact, that’s exactly what I did for that question character creation, ignoring the first circles question instead.

So my problem can be summarized like this: If balance is not a factor, the system should just be choose a number from X to Y, the higher the better, that will be your Nature, Resources, and Circles. If the questions were meant to be important, have them give traits instead of take them away, so they actually enter roleplay. Answering yes to giving gifts to friends decreases resources, increases circles, and lets you choose the “Friendly” trait, or whatever. Answering No does the opposite, and you can pick the “Loner” trait.

Anyway, we still had great fun in the session, as it was the story and roleplaying that were the important factors, but I still think character creation could be mechanically more balanced while also still having great roleplaying. Rather than just changing things, I would like to hear contrary opinions, and I’m interested to see if anyone else had any similar issues with their group.

  • Kyle L.

while I can empathize with the idea that Tenderpaws seem to get a better deal by receiving an extra trait and an extra skill outside of the Guard skills, as well as what seems like an extra guard training stressed by the mentor, I disagree hta this places the other ranks on uneven footing. The non-guard skills are used less frequently, so the extra skills of a tenderpaw won’t give them an edge at all times.

you could work up a recruitment questionaire that fits your campaign better. I’m thinking of doing that. I’ve got an idea for adding in a tiny bit of mysticism and magic through Loremouse and adding Sorcery as a skill. I don’t wnat to change completely to the Burning Wheel cousin, but I’d like to change the assumptions of the setting a bit without making such a huge leap.

Another point is that a player choosing Tenderpaw and working that character up to promotion to Guardmouse will not look much like a player choosing Guardmouse. Likewise, that same character approaching the promotion to Patrol Guard will not look very similar to a player creating a Patrol Guard character. The various skills practiced, wises learned, and increases or decreases to all the abilities will make them look much different.

For that reason I’ve got a small plan to make each player at my table eventually play a Tenderpaw and work that character up for a few promotions. Although each one might have had a character before the Tenderpaw, they’ll see that those characters are not as developed as the Tenderpaw that made promotions.

But, I’d say, if you play through a few in-game years and watch the growth of the character, and still feel that the character generation doesn’t satisfy you, write one for your game that seems more fitting.

I’d offer the following:

Don’t think of it as though the guard mice all have this single path where every mouse gains then forgets then gains said skills/traits - that’s not what’s happening; for instance, your Tenderpaw characters are not going to loose their natural talents when they progress to Guardmouse, and your Guard Captain characters aren’t going to suddenly gain them again upon being promoted from Patrol Leader…

Think of the 5 possible recruitment options as simply a very small selection of pre-defined starting paths, and the game only provides/facilitates 1 starting path for each rank; even though in the fiction, there would clearly be a large variety of paths any given actual guard mouse might end up starting from.

So the penalty-only questions serve a purpose of being a way to create an interesting character with flaws and whatnot. I actually have a few problems with this. The answers to questions don’t really have a good place to go, they just reduce your number and that’s it. For example the question “Have you ever been in debt? Or are you generally bad with money?” decreases your resources by one, and that’s the only record of it on you sheet. It doesn’t enter roleplay unless the player’s make special note of it, or remember it, or what have you. Other questions that restrict your trait options are better, but it’s not like you write down somewhere what traits you don’t have.

The lack of record space on the character sheet for those extremely important roleplaying and recruitment questions bugs me to no end also; I hope the new sheet in the boxed set deals with that. In the mean time though, someone posted a recruitment sheet that’s useful in its own right - but also provides a means of easily keeping those recruiment questions:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/12624263/Mouse-Guard-RPG-Character-Worksheet-Formfillable

Cheers

Thank you for the response.

I don’t actually think they forget. I was illustrating the point that balance is a factor in Mouse Guard character creation, because Tenderpaws get extra things seemingly just to increase their power a little bit, even when it doesn’t make sense in the narrative for the new tenderpaw to have them while a fresh guardmouse does not. Like having two mentor abilities, or a skill inherited from parents when others don’t.

The secondary point is that since there’s some level of game balancing here, because some amount of the narrative and/or realism is thrown out in favor of balance as illustrated above and the original post, the imbalance becomes a problem. In other words, if the game says balancing isn’t an issue in character creation, just play what you want, but then has a balance mechanic in character creation, it becomes confusing to me. Is balance a factor or isn’t it? If not, I think just picking your attributes would be fine. If it is, a point buy I think would work fine, or a series of questions like in the original post with trade-offs.

Perhaps you’re confusing balance with design? A tenderpaw and a guardmouse are not equal in terms of power. However, a tenderpaw and a guardmouse have different qualities. The tenderpaw carries trappings of his old life with him, while the guardmouse has had his civilian life drummed out of him in favor of his military training.

Consider what Luke said with regards to balance concedes vs. design parameters. Then think of the 5 possible ‘types’ of starting character as simply 5 pre-defined archetypes. Those 5 predefined, “archetype”, starting-character-templates were not assigned with their collection of pros & cons for the purpose of Equal Power amongst players out of the box (“balance”), but for the purpose of producing Interesting Characters for players out of the box (“design”). (not to mention, and maybe more accurately: Interesting Patrol Dynamics for players out of the box)

If those design parameters continue to look like pure balance concedes to you, then whatever approach you take to resolve the percieved issue is going to be intrinsically flawed due to mistaken assumptions. Of course that’s often what it takes before seeing things in a clearer light.

because Tenderpaws get extra things seemingly just to increase their power a little bit,

The fact that you’re using words like “seemingly” indicates that your mind is indeed open to other explanations/possibilities; so that’s good - reread Luke’s response again.

[…] it doesn’t make sense in the narrative for the new tenderpaw to have them while a fresh guardmouse does not. Like having two mentor abilities, or a skill inherited from parents when others don’t

I think it makes perfect sense in the narrative that a Tenderpaw might have two mentor abilities or a skill inherented from parents, while a Guardmouse might not.

Now, what wouldn’t make alot of sense in the narrative is if all Tenderpaws have two mentor abilities or a skill inherented from parents, while all Guardmice do not.

Consider that from the perspective of the narrative/fiction rather than from the perspective of the players:

The Players just so happen to select from that particular demographic of Tenderpaws which tend to come into the guard w/ two mentor abilities or a skill inherented from parents; and that the Guardmouse and other Guard Ranks which the Players select from likewise feature particularities of a specific sort of demographic:

Player-Character Mice do not equate to All Mice

…though it may appear that way from the perspective of a Player.

Mouse Guard being a relatively simple rpg, does not set out to represent every possible Guard Mouse life-path/archetype.

if the game says balancing isn’t an issue in character creation, just play what you want,

Does the game say this? What page?

(Likewise, does it say that design isn’t an issue in character creation?)

If [balance isn’t an issue], I think just picking your attributes would be fine.

You mean you hand the players their character sheets, and just have them fill the entire thing out with no parameters?

If it is, a point buy I think would work fine, or a series of questions like in the original post with trade-offs.

Of course this is purely a matter of personal taste and subjective opinion - but I’l venture this: ugh, point-buy and trade-off is boooring - particularly within the specific context of one of Luke’s games.

Point buy, and your ‘trade-off’ idea (e.g., in a previous post: “For example, I think the questions should have been more like, “Do you buy gifts for friends during the holidays?” should decrease resources by 1 and increase circles by 1.”), really removes an important element of the game’s design:

Those few pure ‘flaws’ you character recieves, are that necessary bit of dischord to help produce more interesting characters: it’s like throwing just a couple pebbles into an othewise perfectly calm pond, which causes the water to ripple in interesting and unpredicatble ways.

With your proposed point-buy/‘trade-off’ system, the water stays perfectly still and static - which is pretty in its own fashion of course; but gets boring… which is why I imagine we’re seemingly compelled to throw stones into ponds: it produces interesting dynamics. (not to mention, and more importantly - interesting characters)

But if you think giving your players a blank character sheet with zero externally-induced dischord or design parameters will make your game better - try it, and see how it works; same with the point-buy/trade-off option. Just be sure all players are on board with the change and that everyone understands its completely experimental and may end up having unforseen consequences that reduce the original intent and design of the game-as-written.

Cheers

Hmm, well I’m not saying balance means equal power. I’m saying a step in that direction is balance. That tenderpaws get a couple extra things seems like that for me. Thank you Luke for the response, that does help to see it in a standpoint more from the narrative. I suppose the tenderpaw having another mentor ability can be similarly justified, but we may have to agree to disagree at least on how these particular mechanics feel to me and my group.

I find this idea a bit silly. You can justify anything from a narrative perspective using this idea. If Tenderpaws were the most powerful of all characters in Mouse Guard RPG for some reason, rather than say it seems wrong, you could just say player’s are just creating from the demographic of tenderpaws that are really powerful so it makes sense. I’ll mention Luke’s response again here, which I like a little more than the demographic thing. I would fully buy into a mentor ability being drummed out or a parent ability being drummed out by the guard if there was some rule for skills going away in the game (glad there isn’t!)

That was for the sake of argument, you know, if cakes are delicious, they should be eaten. If they aren’t, they should be thrown away. I’m not saying if the cake is actually delicious or not.

As for what I was referring to, reread the quote from my original post from Luke, about lack of game balance in BW games char creation.

No, you’d define what each stat means, then tell them to fill in the numbers with what they think makes sense for their characters. To be clear, I don’t think this is a good idea, especially for my group. I was just pointing out since the answers to most of the questions only affect a statistic number with no other effects and no place to really put the answers to the questions, you might as well just fill in a number as you please. The questions are very transparent anyway, you can’t really trick a player into giving himself a lower statistic if he wants to min/max.

I’m not sure what you mean. How is the current character creation not static and ‘boring?’ Saying you save for the winter increases nature. This never changes. The questions don’t change.

Having a flaw is definitely a good thing that creates interesting characters. Having a flaw where the only evidence of it is having, say, a 4 resources instead of a 5, eh… we’ll have to agree to disagree on how interesting that is.

Thanks again for the responses,

Kyle L.

Go with whatever works for you; I merely provided one possible way of looking at it, which happens to work for me.

It is pretty ridiculous though to say that the same justification would equally work for any manner of exaggerated and extremely implausible situations such as your example. If Tenderpaws were Two-Headed Aliens, rather than say it seems wrong, you could just say players are just creating from the demographic of tenderpaws that are Two-Headed Aliens.

I would fully buy into a mentor ability being drummed out or a parent ability being drummed out by the guard if there was some rule for skills going away in the game (glad there isn’t!)

That might work for me if the guard was way, way more militant and domineering in its training.

At any rate, I’m rather certain that the fiction does not entail that every single Tenderpaw starts w/ extra mentor/parent skills which then get lost/forgotten upon reaching Guardmouse rank. It’s generally only the Tenderpaws that Player’s start out with which tend to have that particular quality, and those skills are certainly not forgotten upon reaching Guardmouse rank.

As for what I was referring to, reread the quote from my original post from Luke, about lack of game balance in BW games char creation.

Personally, I’m more interested in what’s written in the actual game rules and explanations than a general comment the author made outside the specific context of the Mouse Guard RPG.

Perhaps just let that Luke quote go; forget about it - and approach the game specifically from its explicit contents?

Having a flaw is definitely a good thing that creates interesting characters. Having a flaw where the only evidence of it is having, say, a 4 resources instead of a 5, eh… we’ll have to agree to disagree on how interesting that is.

What if there was a place on the character sheet to record said flaw, so that the evidence of having it was readily apparent?

you can’t really trick a player into giving himself a lower statistic if he wants to min/max.
yes, you certainly can trick any player into lower stats if they are trying to min/max. I have done it to 90% of my current players. They are all heavily skilled in Fighter. However, we don’t have many fights lined up. They’ve really sucked it up as so few have the mix of skills needed to handle the variety of circumstances faced by the Guard.

Also, min/max is a bit of a double edged sword. Should you have high Nature so that you can add lots of dice when you tap and tax? Or should you have low nature so that you can learn new skills through Beginner’s Luck quickly and easily? You can’t always define what will be the most essential build for Mouse Guard–the GM should not adapt the story to the skills of the mice. On the other hand, is it really best to be multi-talented? You can add helping die often, but might not get to make the tests for advancement.

That is why BW and MG don’t have a specific pattern for creating balance. Partly the GM has to make sure that everyone gets to spend time in the spotlight. Partly the rank system means that someone among the players is in charge of giving orders.

I’ve got a player that chose Sadie and has stuck with her; she is the first to speak up when a test is mentioned during the GM’s turn and uses Beginner’s Luck plenty. But with Sadie’s high Nature, she has plenty of new X’s marking skills tried, but won’t earn those skills for several more missions. Sure, the other mice in the patrol might be able to cover those skills, but she speaks first, is engaged, and wants to participate in the duties of the Guard. The rest of the patrol can help, and they’re all getting very skilled at roleplaying their helping die (though she has refused to accept help sometimes).

I guess that trick is not quite the right term. I didn’t purposely trick anyone to focus on a small subset of skills while ignoring all others. Yet, only Sadie has Weather Watcher. No mouse has Administrator (which I use frequently). Only one has Survivalist (which I use frequently). None have Haggler. Only Sadie can Cook.

Their low variety of skills is probably the most dangerous thing for the mice of this patrol. Teaching the players that the game thrives on story takes time. Still, my group is learning and starting to show fascinating growth from similar characters to unique mice in the Guard.

I think that min/max is not a terrible thing, but it is hard to succeed if the entire team has chosen to min/max themselves into an over-specialized warrior. Again, the GM should not rewrite the story obstacles to fit the mice. The GM should present the story as-is and expect the patrol to rise to the challenge.

I thought there was a setting appropriate response to this: The weasel war.

Of the current batch of Guard Mice only a very few ever saw the weasel war. I presumed that the recruitment policy of the guard allowed a lot of new recruits for rapid military training.

The current batch of Tenderpaws grew up after the weasel war in safer times. Times where the guards ranks were already sufficient.

I think that might be a good idea (and for the positive sides too). We tend to forget the answers we made to the questions although they are reasonably important parts of the characters, especially after a year of playing or so. Even if they are’nt part of the rules after the character generation it would be good to have them close as guidance to one’s role playing.

“Balance” (in the min/max character optimization sense) is kind of a strange thing to talk about in a game system where the players’ characters are almost always guaranteed to succeed.

Remember: In Mouse Guard, “failure” almost always means that the player gets what they were going after, anyhow. They just get a little “extra” in the form of a Twist or Condition, which can make the game and the story of the game more “interesting” for everyone playing. A Mouse Guard game in which the players “succeed” most of the time is both short and boring.