Need some BIG therapy

After much discussion last night about the group’s BIGs, I think I need some third opinions:

This is the group:

Silas, Patrol Leader
Belief: Acting will carry the day.
Instinct: Trash talk.

Laurel, the Scientist
Belief: Scent will always lead me to the right answer.
Instinct: I use the tools at hand.

Abram, the Scout
Belief: I believe in proving (edit for typo: providing) for my other mice.
Instinct: Keep an eye out for danger.

Brand, the Sniper
Belief: My mouse nature cannot be tamed.
Instinct: Find cover to protect my fellow mice.

Advice on how to challenge these Beliefs and Instincts would be helpful too. I have been having a hard time translating those challenges into actual missions. For example, with “Scent will always lead me to the right answer” does that mean I have design missions where scents lead to a red herring?

Red herrings don’t feel right since Mouse Guard uses a “Say yes or roll the dice” philosophy, and red herrings in RPGs tend to obscure or conflict against that philosophy, IMHO.

My last broad question is with goals. Can they/should they be simple one-liners? Can they be two parts, such, “Rescue the three merchants and discover the conspiracy”? What prevents the players from choosing unchallenging goals, other than through GM coaching?


This is going to sound incredibly pedantic, but ask your players to write out their Beliefs and Instincts as complete sentences. It’s a simple thing that really helps.

And for instincts, you should encourage them (read: make them) use the always, if/then, when structure. It’ll give the ideas more character and make them easier to challenge.

Not pedantic at all! In my haste in getting my game started, I didn’t coach my players as much as I should/could have in character creation. It is always good to be reminded to go back to the basics.

Well, right now it looks like they don’t care. Of course, they have no reason to really care about their characters since they haven’t played yet.

Is he looking to find cover for himself or for his fellows? Does he want a safe place from which to shoot or does he want to keep the patrol out of danger?

Sorry, but is this a reply to something specific? Because we have played about 8 or 9 sessions, and at least a couple of my players do care. It is perhaps due to their feelings about Beliefs, Goals, and Instincts that I realized that I never properly coached them through the BIG creation process.

This player wants to play the character as a find of lookout/sniper. He envisions the character finding shrubbery or high ground to pick off potential threats as the rest of the patrol does their thing (ie. talking, investigation, and the like).

How have they played to their beliefs to date? How have you challenged them?

Sorry. I thought this was about a game being set up, not a game in progress.

OK, I think the language of this Instinct could be clearer. That being said, it should be easy to cause trouble with this one. Any mouse sneaking off all the time, even with the best intentions, is bound to get in trouble away from his companions.

Also, Lin, has this Instinct been beneficial for the group? The player’s not using it as an excuse to disengage from what the party is focusing on in a given scene, right?

The Silas player acts rashly and impulsively, which is how he interprets his Belief.

The Laurel player tries to play with scenty/nose-like metaphors. At the moment, they are exploring the origins of some skunk scent, so she has been driving the investigation.

The Abram player does what he can to help the rest of the patrol.

The Brand player is new, so we haven’t had time to work out his Belief. He’s still trying to understand the mechanics.

I have honestly not challenged them at all. For some reason, I have been unable to think of concrete ways to do so. I am not sure if it’s some form of “writer’s block” or if I’m not conceptually understanding what would challenge each Belief. Hence, the call for a third party to comment.

For example, Silas’s belief is about impulsive action, so a situation that calls for careful planning sounds like a Belief challenge. However, I have always conceptualized the mission during GM’s Turn as something that requires immediate and decisive action. In other words, the very nature of the mission needs “action”.

In another example, Laurel’s Belief is rather abstract. Her player and I have had a lot of discussions about the Belief and translating it to gameplay. I like the idea behind the Belief, but I don’t know how to concretely challenge it. Scent as a red herring? Scents that lead to traps?

In the third example, Abram’s Belief appears to be satisfied whenever he provides a Helping die, so do I challenge his Belief by forcing him not to help? By sending him off on his own? By putting him in the “impossible” situation where he can’t help?

In the fourth example with Brand, the player and I haven’t had the time to chat about the character.

I don’t have much time right now, but challenging beliefs is not about forcing behaviors or putting players in situations where their belief is proven false. It’s about making the players make hard choices and dealing with the consequences of following their beliefs (and also for going against their beliefs).

This is an odd Belief; it could be rewritten to incorporate more action on Laurel’s part.

A way to challenge it would be to introduce elements of scent that are not related to the hazards in the GM’s Turn. For example, on the way to a settlement, Laurel catches the scent of ferrets in the area. But this isn’t an obstacle that needs to be overcome and there’s been no mention of ferrets as part of the patrol’s assignment. After you call for the Players’ Turn, Laurel can use one of her checks to investigate the scent, rather than using it for recovery or unfinished business. This choice could jeopardize the mission or put her in danger.

I’m in the process of refining the above technique as a general way of challenging Beliefs, so it might work for some of the other characters in your group, too.

I like to give the players choices between what they want now and what their beliefs dictate, an easy way of doing this is putting the mission goals in front of them and set up a situation tailor made for their belief over here. Then let them choose what is more important now the mission or their ideals? Why?

For example, one of the mice has a belief about helping other mice right? So let’s say the mission is dealing with one of the patrol’s enemies who have sacked a town or something. They have a trail that leads off toward said enemy and they have several hurt mice left behind (toss in a guard or mentor too if his belief is more about helping his fellow guard mice) and they have no shelter and the woods are full of predators. What will he do? Stop the enemy or help the mice as his belief calls for? Or some sneaky player trick where he gets both?

Then you can get more devious, the patrol leader is all about charging in right? Tie him to the enemy and now you are challenging both beliefs cause I bet he will want to run off and stop his enemy right?

There are other ways to challenge beliefs too, but this is a nice easy and meaty way to start with clear and concise choice to make which will help both you and the players find out what the belief is really about. Then you can go for some more indirect challenges. Hope that helps.

And I agree that the smell belief is not a very concise belief. What does she stand for? Why does she risk her life out in the wilderness? What is she going to fight for? It would make a great Instinct though.

  • Colin

It is true that Brand’s player tends to take on a more “passive” role, at least in the context of a specific mission. For example, while investigating a hidden cache of a manufactured skunk scent, the player had Brand climb a tree and look out for trouble. I had not intended to be any trouble, so he was effectively removing himself from the investigation. I do not know if this player considers this being “passive” or “active”.

This is why I called this “therapy”. :slight_smile: Sometimes I get stuck in a mental feedback loop and need reminding and refocusing.

Please note that I like to give my players as much freedom as possible so I don’t believe that I have been forcing behaviors. in fact, I may be erring too much on the other side…

Wanderer and Steelpike, thanks for the concrete examples. I’ve been trying to create missions that would incorporate a possible choice toward their Beliefs and a possible choice to act against their Beliefs, but that method has been imploding my brain (imagine trying to outline a pro-Belief choice and an anti-Belief choice for four characters per GM’s Turn). Setting up a situation between choosing to pursue the mission versus taking on a “side quest” suddenly makes much more sense. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that before.

Every time I tried to rewrite it in my head, it came out looking like an Instinct. Colin’s onto something here.

Thanks for the reply. I’d say keep an eye on how the Instinct is played in case it becomes problematic. It has some interesting tension: The character thinks the best way to protect his fellow guardmice is to go solo on them, which runs counter to the group ethos of the Guard. You could present the patrol with a twist off a failed test, where either Brand ends up separated from the rest of the patrol, or something happens to them when he’s too far away to help immediately. Either would make for a good character moment.

How about something like this? The next time Brand sneaks off to find a tree call for a Scout test. Tell the player “On success, you find a great perch before the weasels attack, you get a shot before the conflict even begins and can provide helping dice to any team and you get an advantage die for being in the tree. On a fail, the weasels are lying in wait and you run right into them while you’re scouting.”

Noclue, I did something very similar to that last session. I had the Brand player roll a versus test against a crow who was hassling a nearby group of harvesters. When he failed, I had decided that the crow had spotting something shiny on him and swooped in for an attack.

My group is on a two-week hiatus due to busy-ness and a trip out of town. Hopefully by then, we’ll have our Beliefs and Instincts sorted out.

This has become my default mode. GM’s Turn is encountering hazards while traveling to the settlement where the patrol’s mission is situated, and Players’ Turn is finish the mission and do whatever else they have checks for.

Cool. Was that crow direct challenge to his Belief about finding cover?