No Country for Old Mice

Hi Everyone

I’m new to Mouse Guard RPG but will hopefully be running a campaign soon, and have been looking at lots of different ideas for stories, but I’m struggling to get my head around some of the core concepts of play. I’ve GM’d other rpgs for yonks, so the framework of the GM’s Turn/Player’s Turn seems like quite a ritualised way to play, but I’m very keen to give it a go, very intrigued to see how it works.

The thing I’ve been wrestling with is the notion of Twists and how they enhance the story. I’ve foundClayton’s Long Road to Elmoss Mission writeup to be really really useful and will model my own mission plans on his layout, but having read through it, and seeing all the planning he’s put in to his Twists, can’t help but wonder at the effort he’s put in. It seems all the fun and excitement of overcoming his Twists will be completely sidestepped with two successful rolls against his two obstacles; from my point of view the game will be much more exciting if the players fail against them. And what if the Twists are crucial to uncovering the story?

The best example I can think of (and cause it’s on the telly at the mo) is the setup in No Country For Old Men. Shoehorning it into the MG frame work, Llewellyn Moss is out hunting deer (that’d be his obstacle). He fails his Hunting roll, injuring the deer instead of killing it, and has to track it down following its bloody trail. The Twist is that while tracking his quarry he stumbles across new bloody tracks, which lead him to the aftermath of a drug deal gone bad, uncovers a truckload of cocaine and a bag of cash, and ends up getting entangled with the criminal underworld of SW USA. Now if Moss had succeeded in his Hunting roll, shot and killed the deer and overcome his obstacle, then he would never have found the shootout location and would have lived to a ripe old age with his wife and his handlebar moustache; if he’d have overcome the Obstacle the story would never have taken place for him.

So that’s my conundrum. It seems that failing Obstacles is almost essential to add that extra layer of excitement and suspense to a game, and to moving the story along; unless the Twists have no bearing on the greater story?

Now I’m hoping that this is something that will resolve itself once I’ve actually run a session or two; but if anyone would care to show me where my understanding is wrong I’d really appreciate it.


Twists can, if also failed, drive the story to the point the mice give up, or worse, die…

Complications can make a mouse wish he were dead…

But, dirty little secret of MG… player characters will have almost no risk of failing a mission unless you require them to finish it during a player turn, or make the mission completion goal part of what is at stake in the conflict.

Would you mind elaborating on that?


You need to make those obstacles just as interesting – if not moreso – than the twists. Don’t shy away from complex obstacles, either!


First off, I love the name of this thread.

My $0.02: in my opinion, when I’m playing MG, those twists aren’t enhancing the story, they are the story.

I think a No Country for Old Men story could easily arise from a series of twists and conditions that organically emerge from the kickoff event (the mission in MG). But IMO it’d be a mistake to try and force much of a preconceived “story” onto a MG game (or any BW game, frankly).

There’s a middle space that MG/BW/BE resides in between “GM works everything out in advance” and “everything is improvised so don’t bother planning too much.”

I think if I wanted to generate a No Country…-like story, the mission would start as be totally innocuous, like “go hunting for game.” Once they’re into their mission, then the GM could introduce the actual angle. First obstacle would be like “find the game,” with failure maybe just kicking over to a condition (Tired) because I really want to get to the good stuff. The good stuff being, “You find a bunch of dead drug runners but the money is missing.” (In a perfect world, the character’s Goal would be something like “Get a bunch of money,” with a Belief along the lines of “I am totally self-sufficient” and an Instinct like “Always fight back if I’m not outnumbered”).

Moss’ return to the shootout site that night is, to me, a perfect deployment of the Twists idea – the first real challenge is Mice: drug-runner’s buddies show up, quick hide! And then you have a twist arising from a failure to hide from the drug-runners: Now they’re shooting at you! Run through the dark desert! Failure and a twist: There’s a river to cross! (Arguably this could have also been a backcountry-wise roll: there’s a river right over this rise that’ll keep the gunbunnies in the pickup truck from following me.) Oh shit, river crossing failure leads to twist: disassemble and dry out gun. And then you have an Animal challenge: Pit bull chases you into the water! Etc.


Simply put, the mission is almost never in doubt.

When you fail an obstacle roll, you either:

  1. have a twist (new obstacle)
  2. take a condition
    and then have succeeded at the original obstacle

When you have a twist, its another obstacle.

Planned Obstacle
– Twist
… – Twist from twist, overcome
… original twist overcome automatically by completion of second twist, which also
overcomes the planned obstacle by completion of 1st twist.

Conflicts are where things go awry.
If the goal of the mission is to retrieve X, and the GM makes destroy X his conflict goal, yes, the mission can fail on that conflict.
If the goal of the mission is to retrieve X, and the players make getting X their conflict goal, yes, the mission can fail on that conflict.

Now, the other option is to not complete the mission in the GM phase.
Mission: Take out nest of rebels
planned obstacle: find nest by following rebel. They turned it into a conflict…
planned obstacle: get in to nest through thicket
optional obstacle: hawk
optional obstacle: rain

They made the rolls… and got there. Because it was going too well, I added the hawk to fill time. They had a bunch of checks each due to the conflict. They holed up in the den. ANd then started bringing the rebels in using wises and conflicts. If they had opted to simply destroy the nest, they’d have failed the mission, which was to take out the rebels. If they’d instead holed up for the night, and used checks to heal and prep, again, failure.

But every non-conflict the GM sets gets overcome, either directly, or by completion of the failure twist, or by taking the condition upon failure.

Note: nowhere have I listed the rebels as part of the obstacles.

Well, that ignores the part where the Mice get assigned a new mission and go off again into the woods. Unlike Moss, they really don’t get to go home until they retire.

But, taking your example for a sec, here’s how I see things going if he doesn’t fail the obstacle. Moss bags the dear (Hunter test - Success!) and on his way back walks right into a drug deal in the process of going bad (People Obstacle!).