Mouse Guard Questions!

I play with a group of pretty experienced gamers, and we’ve been trying a lot of different games recently. We mostly play 3.5 DnD, but we’ve done stretches of Shadowrun and Champions, and we’ve tried the Wheel of Time RPG as well as the Serenity RPG. We tried to approach Mouse Guard without the attitude of munchkins looking to game the system, which actually turned out not to be too difficult due to the flow of character creation and the sheer charm of the game. It wasn’t a hard game for us to learn quickly, and over two days of play (at a table, in the car, and wandering around the street like RPG hobos looking for somewhere to roll dice out of the rain) we came up with a decent number of questions.

  1. Guardmice are kinda screwed, aren’t they? We only had a two-mouse party to try this out with, and I played the Patrol Leader (every patrol gets one) while my buddy chose a Guardmouse (for the slightly higher Heath, since I had the higher Will covered). When we started going through skills, it became apparent that Tenderpaws got more variety than Guardmice and Patrol Guards/Leaders got straight up more points which could translate into either more skills or better ones. We didn’t look too deeply into it, but we both definitely got the impression that Guardmice weren’t getting anything while every other rank got special exceptions.

  2. When should the GM allow players to use skills not specifically called for by the adventure during the GM’s turn? Obviously in a game like MG where using skills translates directly into character advancement, the players wanted to use their skills as often as possible while our GM professed to feel somewhat antagonistic when he had to deny skill checks that seemed totally reasonable. I’m not talking about the players trying to BS their way into dumb things like Persuading one another over and over or Scouting behind one another’s backs, but actual “my mouse would want to do this” type stuff like Loremousing first to discern the nature of and then to communicate with a Raven, Turtle, or what have you.

  3. Speaking of Loremouse, when is the appropriate time to use Wises or learn new Wises? We ran across this when our two mice were called upon to help an older mouse retrieve his rocking chair from a conquered mouse city in the Darkheather. My mouse, an Inquisitive low-nature blackfur from Sprucetuck who specialized in Hunter and Loremouse (like a mouse zoologist), wanted to stay in the conquered mouse city longer than the others in a secure hiding place so that he could watch the weasels and ferrets as they worked and lived. By observing them, he hoped to learn their habits and become “Weasel-wise.” We weren’t sure how to handle this. MG says you learn new wises during Winter, but it didn’t make much sense to have my mouse learn about Weasels in Winter when he was sitting and actiively studying them in the fall. On the same topic, we also weren’t sure when you would ever roll Medicine-wise instead of Healer, for example, or Forest-wise instead of Pathfinder. It seemed like the best way was just to get as many Wises as possible (for the +1 die where applicable) but not worry about advancing them beyond 2 (since you never rolled them).

  4. Is there a good reason that the optimal sequence in combat with an animal isn’t Attack, Attack, Attack? We talked about this a lot and agreed that the only real reason not to do exactly that are the Bow (+2D Maneuver), the Shield (+2D Defend), or some combination of trait and wise that gave you at least a pair of dice to a non-Attack test. Animals by and large have a huge Nature and they roll it for everything. This dynamic may have been different (or not) in a larger patrol, what with Help Dice and all, but when we fought animals of any appreciable size (Raven, Turtle, Badger) we found ourselves ending up in versus tests that only hurt us whenever we tried to do anything but Attack. When Defend and Maneuver are both punished by Feint and, odds on, likely to only result in a loss of 1 or 2 disposition for Team Mouse (that makes our ability to trade hits that much worse), it seemed like all we could do to have a hope of victory was engage in a disposition race to the bottom by trading blows.

  5. Why aren’t some conflicts easier than others? This was a big problem that we had with the Badger and the Turtle. In both cases, the big animals wanted to eat the tasty mice, and that was their conflict goal. Ours was, of course, to try and drive them off. When it became apparent that we were in a losing battle (because our dicepool for any test was smaller than their Nature) we tried to run away. We changed our conflict goal (get away) and the type of conflict (now a chase) but the animal retained the same goal (eat tasty mice). We were still locked into an unwinnable contest with whatever we had tried to drive off (which now used it’s big Nature to chase us) despite making our goal something that ought to be significantly easier to obtain. This felt very off to us. We were basically giving up on our goal and no longer trying to achieve anything, but there wasn’t a way out for us. Also, there’s absolutely no reason to Surrender ever since that would basically constitute our mice hurling themselves bodily into the toothy maw of their choice.

  6. Tangential to the previous question: wouldn’t it be a good idea to include set conflict routines for animals in adventures? Some animals are more offensive and others are more defensive, some animals are more maneuverable while others are better suited to striking vulnerable bits. For instance, I can’t see why a Raven would ever Defend over Maneuver and vice versa for a Turtle. This lets preparation and study actually give mice some strategy and insight. This way, rather than making every conflict a game of random rock, paper, scissors with the GM (who has had time to watch your typical party routine), conflicts are actually about foreknowledge and strategy (taking the form of anything from Loremouse for animals or knowing the other guy’s argumentative strategy for debates) that tell you what their pattern is likely to be so that the mouse team can counter it effectively. Better or worse checks could reveal more or less or even erroneous patterns. To make sure there is still variation, set routines would be based on dispostion (ex. a badger mom might be offensive at high disposition but go defensive or try to retreat at low disposition, whereas a cat might feint and probe defensively at high disposition but become very aggressive when at half or below). This kinda turned into more of “an idea I had” than a question.

  7. Is there a reason Level 2 traits aren’t the best thing ever? My mouse had Inquisitive (2) and I managed to add an extra die to about half of everything I did (“I’m curious…what does a weasel look like with an arrow in it’s eye?”) At what point should the GM cut players off from overusing their level 2 trait? Is there a way of working this out that doesn’t make the GM feel like an antagonist to the players cause he has to say “no” all the time?

Alright, phew, that was a lot. Thanks in advance for answering.

And by the way, I don’t mean for all these questions to give the wrong impression. We all loved Mouse Guard.

  1. Nah, Guardmice are just fine. Tenderpaws get the shaft. They have to choose lots of crafty skills at low ratings. They don’t get a cloak and they have to take a Mentor in the patrol. They do get an extra trait for their trouble, though. Guardmice also have higher Resources and Circles and Wises.

  2. Check out the No Weasels rule on page 87. It helps focus this all nicely. There’s no negotiation. The wilds don’t wait for mice to figure stuff out, the GM shouldn’t either.

  3. Page 229, Learning a New Skill. Wises count as a skills for the purposes of learning. You would have made a Beginner’s Luck Will test toward learning Weasel-wise.

  4. Oh jeebus. This is a common big issue with Mouse Guard. Rather than wading through the debates or listening to me explain tactics, I recommend you play Attack, Attack, Attack until you get bored of it or figure out that you don’t like having half your patrol eaten in every fight. Also, choosing the right character with the right ability and weapon for an action in a conflict is crucial to winning.

  5. You can’t change conflict goals midstream. You should encourage your GM to write more interesting conflict goals for his animals. There’s no rule that says they have to be “eat mice” every time.

Also, a chase conflict is better for mice since they can freely apply their Nature and better match their opponents.

As for surrender, it really depends on your enemy’s goals, but the game does frown upon quitters. The game rules are structured so you can always pull out a win.

  1. Well, I think you’ve struck on some obvious strategies for animals based on their weapons. Discovering an animal’s weapons is also an excellent use of Loremouse. I’m sure you’ll be more effective in your next animal fight.

  2. Clearly your GM loves you and dotes on you and gives you easy situations without much adversity. :wink: You should encourage your GM to challenge you more. And if you feel like you’re being a dick by pestering the GM so that he has to shoot down all of your ideas, you’re probably being a dick. So it goes both ways. Be nice to each other.

Hope that helps!

Wow, awesome. I really appreciate the fast response. That cleared up almost everything, except…

  1. I guess the problem here was that I was playing an inquisitive mouse with Loremouse and some relevant Wises but the adventure didn’t want me making Loremouse checks or relevant Wise checks every time we ran across a new animal in the GM’s turn. We weren’t trying to replace the checks we needed to make to get past the obstacle with different ones (per Weaseling), just trying to make checks to discern the animal’s Nature or have our mice learn things about it before getting into the conflict. Like I said, we usually play 3.5 DnD, so it seemed off that because there wasn’t a set opportunity for us to use the Knowledge-type skills, we just couldn’t use them.

  2. Cool, a Beginner’s Luck Wise test is exactly how we ended up handling that. After spending a check during the next Player’s turn to do some weasel research in the archives, my loremouse got Weasel-wise 2. Yay! Still have a question here though. When does one get the chance to actually roll Wises? Obviously the GM’s turn isn’t going to call them out as obstacles (since they’re character-specific rather than general skills), and during the player’s turn they may not always be relevant (say you want to be told a good way to drive off Snapping Turtles using Turtle-wise - that’s only going to help you during the GM’s turn, cause during the player’s turn you don’t have a big turtle to move).

  3. So, do I understand this correctly: once our patrol decides to try and drive off the Badger, we’re stuck fighting it until one of us wins, and running away if the fight goes south is not an option?

Additional question: if we had been fighting an animal that we could either kill or drive off (like a Snake) is there any advantage we can gain from trying to accomplish something easier (drive it off) rather than something harder (kill it)?

Also, not every animal wanted to eat us. I just used those two because they did have that goal and therefore surrendering was very far from being a viable option. With some reading, I now see how Compromising can really help mitigate the damage of being locked into a conflict goal from start to finish. Definitely better to get some sort of concession by losing normally than outright surrendering, even when your enemy’s goal is non-lethal.

Oh, and as for always being able to pull out a win…yeah, we definitely saw that there is a ton of stuff built in that you can do to nab some extra dice once you’re down to the wire. In that Badger encounter, once we realized surrendering was not an option, my mouse pulled Hunter plus tap Nature plus Fate point with a trait die and a help die thrown in for a whopping 11 successes. Booyah. Did I mention we loved this game?

  1. Cool. That reminds me: can animals only use one animal weapon per set of conflict actions (like Mice)? Or do they get all their weapon bonuses all the time? We used the former, because we thought that made more sense, but we weren’t sure.

Thanks a bunch!

  1. Well, if you write a Goal that contains learning about animals, then your GM is more likely to throw some obstacles into your path. Also, be sure to suggest a plan that involves learning about stuff. Players are allowed to suggest an alternate route.

If your GM still doesn’t give you any Loremouse play, then talk to him about it. Remember that it’s his job to give you the chance to see if your character is a hero. And even Loremice can be heroes.

  1. Set up the use of wises when making plans to attack an obstacle or use them in the Players’ Turn. Be proactive with your wises. You’re right that the GM is under no obligation to hold your hand during the GM’s Turn.

  2. You understand correctly. Once you engage in a conflict, you’re locked in. Conflicts are meant to be fast, involved scenes. If you’re losing, fight for a compromise and use that to accomplish your secondary goal of running away. Of course, when you’re describing your actions, and you’re gunning for a particular compromise, it makes sense to roleplay in the direction of the compromise. You can talk about running away in the actions so that when you ask for a compromise at the end of the conflict, it makes sense to everyone.

As I mentioned before, goals are completely contextual. No one goal is any better than another.

Badgers, btw, are right bastards. Sounds like you did the right thing tapping your Nature and blowing it out of the water!

  1. Yes, rules for weapons are the same all around. They change weapons after each set of three actions. That allows for some good planning for the astute Loremouse…

Hope that helps,

Hey, I’m DarkerFuzz’s GM, and he recruited me to ask some followups. I’ll mention the problems that I’ve seen so far, starting with:

  1. I really don’t see any reason AAA isn’t the god set of conflict actions. The only way to accomplish anything in a conflict is to reduce Disposition, and the only ways to do that are A and F. But F gets destroyed by A, and nothing punishes A in the same way. That just seems blatantly unbalanced.

D isn’t guaranteed to do anything at all, even if rolling unopposed! And against an opponent’s A, D ends up just delaying the conflict–without a shield, there’s little chance of actually gaining ground against a mouse or weasel, to say nothing of an animal.

M is… nice, sometimes? Disarming can be cool, although weapons make little enough impact that it’s still better to just go for the A dice. Impede is just all around worthless, and it’s hard for me to see the benefit in using Gain Ground to get +2D to a future A over, say, another 5D or more A.

From an animal’s perspective, it’s even easier. Let’s say I’m the raven from Deliver the Mail. My Nature is 8. I’ll often have twice the disposition of the mice, and am usually rolling 2D+ more dice with every action. Starting out a conflict, I have literally no reason to do anything other than AAA. Without a way to predict which turn they’ll use M or D, I am strongly encounraged not to use F. Disposition can’t go above starting, so there’s no reason to use D (and the mice know this, so they won’t use F). And the only thing that would make me want to disarm (and therefore use M) would be an axe, and maybe not even then, considering that’s only 1 more disposition lost per round, if the mice have a team of three.

Mathematically, AAA is absolutely what I should choose, and for good reason–1 round of 8D AAA can easily send a patrol packing, no matter what they pick. The conflict system just seems busted, and that’s a shame, because I love the idea of it.

If there’s a tactics thread where this has been debated, I’ll take the argument there. I just wanted to back up DF’s story here.

  1. It makes no sense to me that some goals aren’t easier to accomplish than others. Why is taking the mailbag from the mice no easier than eating them? When all goals have the same effectiveness, there’s no incentive to choose an interesting one. Now, it’s pretty easy to make a system where teams get bonuses or penalties to their disposition rolls based on goals, but I’d have liked to see mechanical support for it in the books.

Those are the most glaring problems I had, although there were others (puts GMs and players into naturally antagonistic positions! animals are implacable walls of death!). I want to stress that overall we liked the system a lot, it’s very high-quality. Thanks a lot for your help here.

Wait, what? You would only choose an interesting goal over a boring one if you got a bonus? Me, I would choose interesting over boring on a level field every time, and I might well pick an interesting goal with a penalty!

As the GM, your job is not to play Tomb of Horrors and pick off mice. As per page 62, it is to set up situations that allow the players to find out if their characters have what it takes to become heroes, by challenging their beliefs, instincts, goals, and relationships. So if you have a patrol of four, and you kill one and provide meaningful opposition to one other, you are not doing your job as well as the guy who kills no one but challenges the goals and beliefs of three members of the patrol.

As to the relative difficulty of killing the mice over interfering with the mission (for the sake of illustration, pretend it’s Deliver the Mail), remember that to stop the mission by killing, you must win with absolutely no compromise (hint: AAA will not get you there). Otherwise, at least some members of the patrol make it out with the mailbag. On the other hand, if you roll in with a goal of “get the mailbag,” then even a win with a major compromise still stops the patrol dead in their tracks until they can get it back. So that’s a pretty serious jump in difficulty. You’re right that it’s no harder to kill one mouse than it is to steal the mailbag, but killing one mouse probably doesn’t serve your agenda as well as stealing the mailbag does.

  1. There have been many discussions on the subject. My recommendation remains the same. Play it your way until you don’t like it anymore then change up.

  2. Incentive for conflicts is built into the ability selection for the conflict. Mice are better at conflicts that involve hiding or escaping because they can use their Nature without risk.

Animals are animals. Mice are either food or competition for food. However, we’re playing a roleplaying game. Context for goals is built by the RP of the players, the story at hand and, in Burning Wheel, the GM’s role to test the players’ Beliefs and Goals.

The GM’s job in Mouse Guard isn’t to kill the players. Top of page 8 states that the GM’s job is to give the players a chance to prove if they’re heroes. Pages 44 and 46 of It’s What We Fight For each have a little section on how to challenge Beliefs and Goals. And the River Is Rising, pages 62 to 64, ties it all together and demonstrates how to use obstacles to create meaningful play the challenges Goals and Beliefs.

The GM’s in Mouse Guard job isn’t to be anatagonistic. That’s a rather dim view of it, I think. The GM’s job is to test and challenge. It’s to make sure there are plenty of situations where the players can step up to the plate and take a swing for the fences.

So isn’t killing a murderous Raven more heroic than staving off a mischievous one? It depends on what the players’ Goals and Beliefs are. If the players have Goals to delivering the mail and Beliefs about learning about the animals of the Territories, then stealing their mail bag is the perfect way to get them interested and invested, and to give them a chance to stand up for what they believe in.

Hope that helps,

Well, OK. I’ll check out some of those discussions, then.

The GM’s job in Mouse Guard isn’t to kill the players. Top of page 8 states that the GM’s job is to give the players a chance to prove if they’re heroes. Pages 44 and 46 of It’s What We Fight For each have a little section on how to challenge Beliefs and Goals. And the River Is Rising, pages 62 to 64, ties it all together and demonstrates how to use obstacles to create meaningful play the challenges Goals and Beliefs.
I don’t want to kill my players, that was just an example, showing that killing them is as easy as anything else. Well, zabieru brings up a good point in the compromise mechanics–choosing the goal you want makes the eventual compromise more favorable to that goal. But beyond that, I think some things just ought to be easier than others. Driving away the turtle before it lays its eggs shouldn’t be as easy as driving it away afterwards. Convincing Gwendolyn to send one more mouse to repour the Scent Barrier shouldn’t be as easy as convincing her to send fifteen. But currently, it seems like they are, and that bothers me.

The GM’s in Mouse Guard job isn’t to be antagonistic. That’s a rather dim view of it, I think. The GM’s job is to test and challenge. It’s to make sure there are plenty of situations where the players can step up to the plate and take a swing for the fences.
I understand that, and I try to give my players challenges. But I find myself having to say “no” to my players more often with MG than with most other systems–like extraneous skill use, or weasely trait application (especially level 2s, yikes!). Compared to a game like D&D, which actually suggests GMs should always try to say “yes” to players, it feels very antagonistic.

Basically, I’m used to games where the GM gives out candy (levels, XP, rewards). In MG, players can make their own candy, and the GM has to stop them from making too much candy and getting sick. I like that role less.

Sure, you and I would, but not everyone. I want to reward creativity mechanically, like Exalted’s stunt system does. I don’t want players to have to pick between the most interesting choice and the most effective choice.

I’d chalk those up to compromises. The mice could have the goal of driving the turtle away before she lays her eggs, and the compromise could be that they do drive her away… but not before she lays the eggs. Same thing with convincing Gwendolyn: Goal of the mice is to convince Gwendolyn to send 15, but due to a compromise, it may only be a small handful.

This ties into what I said above. To get exactly what you want, you have to win a conflict with very little disposition lost, which is something that won’t happen with an Attack/Attack/Attack conflict strategy. One way to look at it is that you accomplish “easier” things via compromises.

I’d chalk those up to compromises. The mice could have the goal of driving the turtle away before she lays her eggs, and the compromise could be that they do drive her away… but not before she lays the eggs. Same thing with convincing Gwendolyn: Goal of the mice is to convince Gwendolyn to send 15, but due to a compromise, it may only be a small handful.

What you appear to be saying is that players should always choose goals that are far and above what they actually hope to achieve when confronted with a situation in which they are likely to fail. This seems entirely counterintuitive.

Say my mouse is trying to convince Gwendlyn to send extra mice with our patrol to go pour the Scent border. He knows that his powers of Persuader are likely not sufficient to fully convince her. Logically he would try to achieve something smaller (send two mice with us) rather than something borderline unachievable (send five patrols with us) because he knows that, based on his own oratory skill and the arguments he has, getting a few mice is possible where getting fifteen is not. You’re saying that in order for my mouse to accomplish his goal (two mice) when he knows he’s likely to lose the argument, he needs to state that he is trying to ludicrously convince Gwendlyn to send fifteen mice along so that he can compromise for the handful he wants. If he asks for the reasonable number of two (which is his true goal), he’ll end up compromising for even less (one mouse or none).

How does that make sense?

I thought that to get exactly what you want you just have to win a conflict, period. IIRC, the only compromise that can take that away from you is the “winner gets half, loser gets nothing” compromise to which you don’t have to agree. Compromises can cause you to take conditions, tax your skills or abilities, or even kill some of the mice on your team, but I’m pretty sure that if you win then you are supposed to accomplish whatever it is you were fighting for.

I guess where this breaks down for us is that your goal can be something as simple as getting one extra mouse on your team or as crazy as getting Gwendlyn to mobilize every available patrol and parade the entire Mouse Guard to the Scent Border in a grand processional. In the second case, according to your logic, you could lose the argument and get a minor concession of sending a mere fifteen mice along with your patrol rather than the entire Guard!

Man, it really sounds like you all are ready to graduate to the big leagues. Burning Wheel, Mouse Guard’s big brother, has mechanics in place for all of this stuff – walking away, big deal, advantage, disadvantage to name a few. Mouse Guard is much less fiddly and meant to be played in the spirit that it’s presented – open, friendly and fast-paced.

Anyway, in Mouse Guard, if you find a goal ridiculous, don’t play it. It’s a roleplaying game doggedly focused on character perspective, why consider all the meta stuff of “well, I COULD ask for the universe to implode into a giant singularity…” it seems at that point you’ve stopped playing the game and there’s something else going on.


I think you’ve misread what I wrote. Take the examples you gave. I illustrated how conflict compromises could give you the “easier” situations you were talking about (driving the turtle away, but the eggs remain, for instance). I don’t see how you arrive at me suggesting inflating goals to try to game your way into getting everything you wanted via a compromise. A GM, at that point, would be wise to bring the Don’t Be A Dick rule to the players’ attentions and say “What do you actually want out of this situation?”

If the situation is truly easy or isn’t worth a conflict, a versus test would (and should) suffice.

Compromises can take the form of whatever makes sense given the situation and how it played out, and what people agree to. Yes, the winners get what they want, but so do the losers to the extent of the degree of compromise. If the wolverine they were fighting took the patrol to half disposition and its goal was to eat the mice, it eats one. It’s possible to have truly pyrrhic victories in Mouse Guard.

As Luke said, you may find the mechanics in Burning Wheel more to your liking. I know I do, personally.