Many of you enjoy hacking the Mouse Guard system. And most of you who do rightly intuit that hacking Nature is the most difficult aspect of such an endeavor. Why is this?
Nature is the soul of Mouse Guard. It quantifies and qualifies the character as a mouse—as an animal apart from all others in the setting. It does so by describing a series of mouselike behaviors for the character that are useful but generally counter to the entire purpose of the game. To wit: the goal of Mouse Guard is not to play a mouse. When you sit down to play, you are playing a hero. Your game describes that hero’s journey and adventures. Rarely in the tales of heroics do we exalt in running away, foraging for seeds or scampering up trees. While those are useful, perhaps essential, aspects of mousehood.
You see, Nature creates a tension. It is a useful game resource for the players, but using it encourages behaviors counter to the heroic thrust of the game. When you use Nature, you’re almost always making a decision about what’s important to you; you’re almost always sacrificing or risking something. Especially when you play the game long term. What may seem like a series of easy of decisions—use Nature, get benefit!—takes on a different tenor once your Nature is either taxed or advances close to 7.
When you are hacking Nature, you must take this tension into account. Nature must be unsavory, difficult or downright contentious. It cannot be beneficial. It cannot be occupational. It must be something you are struggling against in the heat of the moment. Are you a mouse or a hero?
If you make Nature easy or occupational (like Nature: Hero) then you not only drain the tension from the game, but deflate the skill mechanics, too. Since you can use an occupational Nature to do all of the things are important to the character, there’s no reason to have skills. There’s no reason not to advance your Nature to 7 and pile dice onto every roll. And once you have an optimal strategy like that, all characters become the same and the game quickly becomes boring.
For good examples of Nature hacks check out Realm Guard and Paul Beakley’s upcoming SF hack.
Thank you for enjoying and playing our games. I hope this helps you squeeze more from them in the future.