My first MG character: some critique?


Angus is an overweight and apprehensive young Tenderpaw from Ivydale. He is hardworking, generous, and genuinely well-intentioned, but worried that he may not have the skills to truly prove himself within an organization like the Guard. Angus has had feelings for a girl named Clover since the two of them were just children, and although she feels the same way about him, Angus is far too insecure of himself to recognize it on his own: he set about to join the Guard in a misguided attempt to prove himself worthy of her affection.

Age: 17
Home: Ivydale
Fur Colour: Brown
Rank: Tenderpaw
Cloak: None
Parents: Thom and Loralai (Ivydale)
Senior: Jasper, the apiarist of Lockhaven
Mentor: (Our Patrol Leader, who’s written his character, but still deciding on a name)
Enemy: Thurston the Hunter (Ivydale; rival for Clover’s affection)
Friend: Clover the Harvester (Ivydale)

Nature (Mouse): 5
Will: 2
Health: 6
Resources: 2
Circles: 3

Belief: Never look down on anymouse, unless you’re helping him up.
Goal: (None yet. Story hasn’t started)
Instinct: Always consider what my Mum would want.
Skills: Apiarist 2, Baker 3, Cook 2, Harvester 3, Labourer 2, Persuader 2, Scout 3, Survivalist 3, Leaf Cover-wise 2
Traits: Fat, Generous, Hardworking
Gear: Shield, belt knife (intended for utility, not combat)

I played around with the Belief and Instinct for quite a while, because I couldn’t think of any that really fit the image of the character that I had in my mind. I’m pretty happy with the belief, but I feel like my instinct (Always consider what my Mum would want) needs a bit of clarity: I ran through a lot of “Always run and hide at the first sign of danger”-type of instincts, but I didn’t feel like they really matched Angus; he’s not a coward, he’s just timid and uncertain of his abilities. In the end, sure, he’d rather be thought of as a coward than to leave his Mum and Dad without a son, so that sort of changed the way I thought about his instinct. I feel like I can have “Always consider what my Mum would want”, and it’ll properly cover things like running and hiding when things get too dangerous just fine.

Any thoughts or advice would be greatly appreciated.

I’ll actually be the GM for our group’s first run through the game (we’re all still making characters now), but I think we’ll all have a turn in the GM-seat before too long, so I’m making up a character now.

Beliefs & Instincts are always a challenge, even for people who think they know what they’re doing. I’ve been banging around with mine for my Dwarf, for instance.

The issue I have with your Instinct is that it doesn’t do anything. Being thoughtful doesn’t spur you into anything where you can mess up, or gain an advantage. It needs to do something. “Always tell the truth” or “Always keep a knife under my pillow” or “Never share anything with someone who hasn’t earned their cloak.” Give yourself something to play with.

I think it’s easy to fall into the trap of a timid, thoughtful character. That’s not what Burning Wheel should be about. Timid is fine, but have an edge in there… something where your bookworm burns, and wants to push something out. Never feel safe, and never stay back in Burning Wheel. Always forge ahead. It’s what you fight for.

Anyway, my wife’s honey-do list is growing. I’ll ponder your character a bit more… but my essential problem is that your character is too nice (less room for personal growth) & too safe. IMO, the greatness in characters like Frodo & Aragorn was that they had flaws, but they overcame them. You need to give yourself room for greatness.

I like him. He reminds me of Samwise Gamgee those Hobbit movies and Samwell Tarly from Song of Ice and Fire.

If the instinct doesn’t get you artha after a session or two, change it.

I can see where you’re coming from, and I agree to a certain extent, which is why I wanted feedback. I wanted this character to be timid and apprehensive for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is because he’s a mouse, and it’s their nature to be timid and apprehensive. But also because I’ve got experience with a fair number of RPGs (D&D, Shadowrun, Vampire, etc), and I don’t think I’ve ever really been given the opportunity to be something less than above-average right from the start. Angus appeals to me because the adventures will be his opportunity to come out of his shell and be a hero. He’s young and apprehensive, but he has what it takes to be a hero if he’s pushed far enough. That’s what I like about him, I guess. And our group’s Patrol Leader will be his Mentor, so I’m looking forward to seeing the kind of guidance he’ll give him.

I do think my Instinct needs work, though. I like it because it allows me to have a “play it safe”-type instinct without putting too find a point on the details, you know what I mean? But I do agree that it needs to be a bit more specific. He’s certainly the kind of character who hides first and asks questions later, but I don’t want him to come across as a coward, because I don’t see him that way at all. I like the “Always offer help if it’s needed” instinct, but I didn’t want to rip that off.

I’m not sure how I feel about giving him an “edge”. That’s sort of what I wanted to avoid with this guy: Angus is a good guy. He’s a little overweight, so he wasn’t always the most popular mouse in Ivydale growing up, but he had a friend in Clover who always stuck up for him. They’ve developed feelings for each other over the years, but he’s just too shy and insecure of himself to recognize that a great girl like Clover could be interested in someone like him. He doesn’t understand that it’s his big heart she’s attracted to, you know what I mean? That’s sort of the magic of Angus to me – he’s too young an inexperienced to understand that he’s got a lot going for him. He’s actually a potentially great addition to the Guard, but just like the situation with Clover, he mistakenly believes that it only really matters how brave you are, or how quick you are with a sword.

Anyway, any suggestions on a new instinct? Do you think the belief’s okay?

I get a pretty serious Samwell Tarly vibe from him too.

I’d leave it and see if it generates artha for you.

The instincts aren’t there so you can communicate with us but so that you can communicate challenges you find interesting to the GM. As long as the GM groks it, its fine. See if it comes up and if not, ditch it.

Please do let us know how he works out.

Something to consider: keep it how it is, but make his mother markedly different from him.

Instead of a timid, gentle matronly figure who always had an extra cake for her boy, she’s a bitter old battle axe that is hardly ever pleased with her son. She wants a great warrior son, not this sissy boy she got. And why does he keep cramming cake in his gob all the time, not fat enough yet. Maybe the reason he thinks Clover will like him if he joins the guard is his mom kept saying things about how he wasn’t man (mouse?) enough to have a girlfriend.

While it may be a different direction you were going for it seems to me that it may fit with the overall concept: explains his timidness, his weight problem (food could be the way he dealt with his feeling of inadequacy), and his belief of not looking down on others. It also can create internal tension with his belief if he has adopted some of his mothers view on mice who don’t live up to her standard and may drive him to be bold instead of timid.

I try to think about the counter. The thing about “Never look down” is that you need a situation where you’re going to look down on someone to go against it, and what does that mean to you? The GM might have trouble with it. It’s more difficult to put in the context of a situation, as I see it.

Holding your tongue in the presence of your betters, as an example of the guy who normally holds back & is the respectable one. This one is easier for a GM to pick on. What if Angus has a critical secret that he has to share, but his guts normally tell him not to talk?

Of course, both of those seem more Instinct-like. Maybe write a Belief about Angus’ girl.

Edges… Samwise Gamgee definitely has edges to him, even if he looks soft. Frodo has an edge to him. What makes Angus step up? Where’s the line where Angus won’t cross? I don’t get that from the Belief or the Instinct. Where’s the hard edge to him that kick him out of bed, and onto the road? What keeps him moving forward when everything he is inside is telling him to stop?

“Always consider” is soft, but it is more challenge-able. The counter is that Angus will have to do things without considering his Mum… which is workable, but it’s just a dangerous one if you’re not used to the reward cycle. Don’t get trapped in it.

If you want a retiring, humble character, that’s good… but you have to be wary about how that works within the system.

Okay, my wife is giving me the evil eye again…

I’d leave it alone, as Judd suggests. If it isn’t working you can always change it to something like this:

I think it’s a great instinct. Fun to play. “Oh, Mum wouldn’t approve, I better not.”

I see where you’re coming from, and that’s an issue I’ve had with a lot of the beliefs presented in the book: Saxon’s “the best solution can be found at the tip of my sword” belief seems pretty solid, because it can be easily challenged (it’s a good belief because it’s so far from being true lol), but Kenzie’s “It’s not what you fight, but what you fight for” is a hell of a lot harder. It’s more philosophical. How does a GM challenge that belief? By making him fight for a cause he doesn’t believe in? That seems like kind of a stretch. Still, I like the belief because it says something about the character – it drives his actions forward, even if it doesn’t provide as many challenges as Saxon’s might.

That’s sort of the way I feel about Angus’ belief. “Never look down on anymouse, unless you’re helping him up” shows that he’s kind and well-intentioned, and goes well with his Generous trait. It helps drive his character’s motivations, even if it’s a bit harder to challenge than another like Saxon’s. Although, I do believe it can be challenged without too much effort: simply show him the worst that mice have to offer. The Mouse Guard territories are full of cowards, thieves, traitors, etc. Show him people that make his stomach turn, but maybe they genuinely need his help: they’re sick, wounded, etc. That’s just off the top of my head.

I will try to change this instinct around, though. I liked the suggestion that his mom’s a real battle-axe, and that she’s basically forced him to join the Guard, but maybe I could incorporate his enemy, Thurston, into the mix: he constantly harassed Angus when they were children; made fun of his weight, told him he wasn’t good enough to hang out around Clover, continuously made Angus feel bad because he’s so much more physically fit and martially capable, etc. All the taunting caused so much self-doubt in Angus that he felt he had to join the Guard to prove that he’s worth something – to himself, to Thurston, to Clover, to his parents … everyone.

Maybe he’s already starting to grow a backbone. By the time the story starts, he’s already apprenticed in Lockhaven, and he’s being Mentored by a Patrol Leader and he’s starting to feel more confident. Maybe he’s beginning to understand that he shouldn’t have ever allowed himself to be bullied like that, or he simply hates seeing that same behaviour in others.

A possible new instinct might be: “Never back down from a bully”

How’s that?

I’ve come around on the Instinct (as if it matters)… but make sure you’re not trapped by it!

Don’t make it into “Well, my Instinct says I can’t act.” Make sure your GM knows to challenge the hell out of it :wink:

The bully one might be easier to play with, though.

Okay, I see where you’re coming from with the belief now… it’s just a little more structured like an Instinct… and if they need Angus’ help, though, then you’re not challenging it as written (“you’re helping him up”).

Totally unhelpful word-flipping & putting words in your mouth:
“My Mum taught me to treat every mouse with respect. I honor her by treating everymouse with honor.” (Same concept, but erasing the thing about mice who need help)

Or, the hypothetical…
“If I make myself tougher and stronger, I will win Clover’s heart!” (of course, this might be a Goal)

I certainly think Kenzie’s belief is kind of a tricky one, looking at it… but the relationship is kind of explained on page 44 of the rulebook, as Kenzie’s is formed in relation to Saxon’s. This is where sitting down with your group can help with the writing.

Okay, more chores to do…

I feel that either of your suggestions for instinct could supply interesting opportunities for a timid Tenderpaw. By having a loving sheltering mother, “Always consider what mum would wants” would create the potential of conflict within the Patrol (For example, what happens if you mentor orders you to do something She would disprove - executing a criminal, purposely putting yourself in harms way, getting drunk with a suspected rebel to get him to talk - Do you do it, or do you start an argument with the mentor, or try to think of an alternative solution) By having the battle axe of a mother, you have the timid Angus acting in more bold ways in order to prove himself (maybe as much to himself as to his mother). As I indicated in my earlier post, I believe that the battle axe of a mother could work well in the overall character concept and may be easier to bring into play, but either way this instinct has potential for action.

The instinct of “Never back down from a bully” clearly has action prompt written all over it. Basically, all the GM has to do is offer you bullies, and if he wants to challenge it, make it so confronting the bully may be negative, in a similar manner that a GM would challenge Saxon’s instinct. The advantage of this is that it is very straightforward to challenge and clear when the instinct comes into play. However, I feel that though this is the case, it may be the least interesting option, as it seems to be a one trick pony. The mother instinct, no matter the personality of the mother, opens a lot of possibilities to be challenged. This one, not as much.

The only change I would suggest to the belief is to reword it slightly. Instead of “Never look down on a anymouse, unless your helping them up” simply have “I (Or the Guard) should not look down on any mouse”. The way it is worded now would imply that he can look down on a mouse as long as he also helps him. You could also go with something along the lines of “Even the lowliest mouse deserves my (or the Guard’s) help”. I am currently playing a character that has the belief of “The Guard should risk life and limb even for the lowliest mouse” which is in a similar vein, and my GM has found a number of ways to challenge it.

Thanks for the input guys, I really appreciate it. I’ll run some of these things past my group tonight, and see if they can’t help me come to a decision.

Oh, Crooked, maybe my belief was worded a little out of context? I didn’t mean to imply that my character could look down on someone if he’s helping them; it’s more or less just a figure of speech. Like, you’d have to physically look down at someone to help them if they’ve fallen down, you know what I mean? So “Never look down on anymouse, unless you’re helping them up” still essentially means “Never look down on anymouse – also, help people up.” You probably already understood that, lol. I don’t know why I bothered explaining.

I think I clued into that the first time I read it, and then forgot alll about that saying as I wrote that post. I blame it on my brain melting from trying to work on four essays at the same time. :stuck_out_tongue:

Let us know what you choose for Angus tonight. I am sure I’m not the only one interested.

I spoke with our group’s Patrol Leader (who is to be Angus’ mentor in-game), and he seemed to think that the “Always consider, ‘What would my Mum think?’” belief might have been better, so I think that’s what I’ll go with. Unfortunately, it looks like the other guy who was going to fill out our group has decided he doesn’t want to play Mouse Guard – he hasn’t really seen the book, and has only heard what we’ve said about it, really, but he seems to be having issues with the idea of playing a mouse. He and I had been wanting to play a game of Alternity for a few months, and I’ve been studying those books and hitting them really hard (or as best I can, between school, a wife and child), and I’ve finally determined that the system’s just too complicated to be fun for me to GM – which is sort of what’s led me to Mouse Guard. My friend doesn’t seem to be able to let go of wanting to play Alternity (though I don’t see him picking up the books and writing a story any time soon), and even though Mouse Guard is probably everything he’s ever wanted in a roleplaying game, he’s allowing himself to dislike it because it’s not Alternity, I think.

At any rate, that leaves the Mouse Guard team down to just me (the first GM) and my other buddy (the Patrol Leader). I haven’t asked my wife to play yet, so maybe I’ll go ahead and do that. How feasible are very small groups? What’s the verdict on GM-NPCs in Mouse Guard? My players have a severe tendency to just play fighters, so I typically toss together a support character, like a cleric or something, to help them along. I’ve heard that it’s not such a good idea to use GM-NPCs in Mouse Guard, I’m sure – I just can’t remember where.

There’s always Rafe’s Realm Guard (Rangers in the Fourth Age of Middle Earth) or pfischer’s Down in the Hole (The Wire)… who knows when the hell I will get the Star Wars thing to my liking.

But your friend might still have to get past Alternity.

A solo game of Burning Wheel or Mouse Guard is more than viable. Other players just open up additional possibilities & storytelling.

GM-NPCs/GMPCs are just kind of useless. There is no point to them. They just eat up GM brain cycles, which is hurtful. The GM’s NPCs should all be shadows & reflections of what’s on the players’ character sheets, not a recurring DnD-style Mary Sue GMPC.

“Always consider what Mum would want” is what Norman Bates took to extremes… Depending on what Angus thinks Mum would want it could be a very interesting drive for the character.

“Never look down on anymouse, unless you’re helping them up” can be challenged by the Help Rejecting Complainer. This is the fellow who has a “yes, but…” to every offer of help and evey option for solution. “Yes, we could climb this tree to get away from the fox, but I’m too afraid of heights.” “We could swim across the river, but it’s too deep and swift, we’d get washed away.” etc… Usually they are in a legitimate predicament and need help up, but would rather suffer.

As for very small groups, my group of 3 players is likely to be re-uniting soon. We had great fun the last time we played. Small groups can work well. They just need smaller challenges, or harder work to overcome big challenges.

I have used GMPCs in other games, but in Mouseguard either there is a mouse nearby who can convey needed information or Mouse Nature will come to the rescue.

When it was my turn in the GM seat for my group, we often ran with two people. The only difficulties it presented was that the group designed itself as a three person group, made it clear they would like a fair amount of Fight/Fight Animal type conflicts, and then had the only character with fight higher then 2 drop out 3 sessions in. Every one agreed that the campaign still worked out well, but it would of been nice to have a little bit of a more balanced group. So I would say my main piece of advice is to make sure that if the sole player has a certain style of play in mind, to try to have his stats reflect that style of play.

As far as GM-PC’s go, it seems like they would be more of a bother to run then anything. If the PC wants to pursue goals out of line for a single mouse, they always have their friends, family, artisan, mentor and circle tests to fall back on. NPC can offer helping dice during skill challenges and conflicts without taking up the spot light.

Also, if you haven’t done so already, you could point out to you friend that just because it is a game about mice doesn’t mean its all warm and fuzzy. The fact that it is a squirrel stealing and eating babies doesn’t make it any less poignant to the characters then if they were humans and a giant alien was doing the same thing. The end result is some baby was just eaten and the characters failed to stop it. If you have access to the comics, the fight scene with the crabs in Fall or the scenes with the Owl in Winter are good examples of how them being mice simply changes the type of threats, and doesn’t make them any (or only a little) cuter.

Just a thought - what about making the Instinct “Always do what Mum would want”? “Considering” doesn’t feel very Instinctive, as it immediately takes it to the cognitive realm, which feels more like a Belief. But as soon as you put “do” in there, it becomes clear how the Instinct could be challenged.