Thanks goes to Patrick, who really deserves credit for the idea - I simply took it and ran with it (probably too far and wide…) in my own fashion. (I’m not suggesting that Patrick in any way supports my take on his idea!)
Thanks also goes to Dwight and Michael and Paul who provided some valuable insight, much appreciated!
In the Mouse Guard RPG, the Nature Ability represents critters’ intrinsic/natural instincts. It’s what they are most likely to be seen doing most often in their natural habitat, under normal circumstances.
Guardmice are a somewhat different breed than the usual denizen of the forest however, and Nature serves, additionally, as a game device to promote the conflict between Instinct and Duty.
This thematic mechanism works perfectly within the admirably tightly-focused Mouse Guard setting, but can be somewhat vexing and problematic for the would-be MG ‘hacker’ when trying to “port” the Nature semantics to a more generic, looser setting - such as in the case of, say, a high-fantasy setting in which the ‘patrol’ might consist of several species/race.
It might also be that your group simply wishes to experiment with somewhat different thematic elements, while still remaining largely within the Nature framework and mechanics - so as not to diverge too far from the rules as written.
Ethos: A primary distinguishing disposition, character, archetype, behavior or credo - or a fundamental value or purpose - peculiar to a specific person, people, culture, movement, organization or discipline.
Conceptually, Ethos represents the single most prominent cultural thread within a social group’s history, legends and song - it’s that “angsty” inner fire that fuels both a demographic’s greatest triumphs as well as its worst tragedies. It’s a source of heritage and pride and confidence, but which all too often is also the source of poor judgement, conflict, and anguishwhen taken too far or when forsaken altogether.
The higher the rating, the more you rely on your Ethos as a wellspring for inspiration and inner reserves - which may lead to overzealousness and obsession; the lower your rating, the more disconnected you are from your innate cultural mores and values - which may lead to disenfranchised grief, ennui and/or even extreme reckless/destructive behavior. ( The exact extent and degree of the color/drama/flavor which occurs upon a character hitting the boundaries of Ethos is entirely up to the tastes of your group, or what’s suitable and appropriate to support the tone and theme of the setting - by no means must things be as drastic as described herein! )
Mechanically speaking, like Nature, Ethos has a rating between 0 to 7, and includes three to four aspects/descriptions. Unlike Nature, however, it is tagged with a unique thematic descriptor rather than with the type of animal/species.
For example, the Mouse Guard RPG gives mice: Nature(Mouse), which includes the aspects: escaping, climbing, hiding, foraging.
Contrast this with an Ethos suitable for Mice-kind: Ethos(Caution), which might include the aspects: careful observation, escaping predators, avoiding danger, discovering safe-havens.
Aside from this arguably subtle change of idiom, Ethos largely follows the same mechanical elements and procedures as per Nature (see page 232 of your Mouse Guard rulebook).
Please refer to the Ethos Burner for suggestions and advice on how to create your own Ethos descriptors and aspects.
Acting With Your Ethos
Follows the same rules as for acting with Nature: when attempting an activity that corresponds to an aspect of your character’s Ethos, you can test using your Ethos rating instead of a skill, without consequence. Ethos cannot be used as a substitute for Wises.
Acting Against Your Ethos
As with Nature, a character may use his Ethos as a source of reserves to assist him in overcoming obstacles which he may be unequipped to deal with adequately, due to lacking the proper skill.
Things are a bit more serious with regards to Ethos, however.
Engaging in acts which clearly run counter to a character’s Ethos will deplete his maximum Ethos rating by one point, and will additionally tax Ethos by the margin of failure, should the test fail.
Using Ethos in acts that merely fall outside the Ethos’ scope are resolved in the same manner written for Nature: should the test fail, the current rating is reduced by the margin of failure - no further cost is associated.
Recovering taxed Ethos is achieved by the same methods described in ‘Recovering Nature’.
Exchanging a point from your maximum Ethos rating in order to increase current Ethos operates as per ‘Depleting Nature’.
Tapping Your Ethos
Using Persona for extra effects works as per ‘Tapping Your Nature’, with the following exception:
- If the test runs counter to Ethos and is successful, Ethos is depleted by one.
(A test that merely falls outside of Ethos and is successful, simply taxes Ethos by one, as per the rules for Nature.)
Ethos 0, Ethos 7
Like Nature, you never want your character’s Ethos to get too high or too low.
A rating of 7 indicates that the character now relies far too much on his Ethos, to the point of overzealousness and obsession - possibly driving the character to near fanatical, and often corrupted, pursuit or embodiment of his Ethos.
A rating of 0 represents that the character has become entirely disconnected from his innate cultural mores and values - leading to an extreme bout of ennui, depression or even recklessly irresponsible or destructive behavior.
It’s important to point out that, while the color text used here to describe the fictional effects of hitting the boundaries of Ethos is rather drastic, it is intended that your group tone things down (or up!) in order to suit your theme and setting appropriately.
Ethos Taxed to 0
The same as when Nature is taxed to 0.
If this is the first time the character has taxed his Ethos to 0, the character immediately has one of his Traits exchanged with a new one decided by the group. Mark this Trait with a stylized zero, it will be relevant should the character tax to 0 again.
The Trait should of course be somehow relevant to the activity last taken by the character, and appropriate to the Ethos involved.
If the character has previously hit Ethos 0, then Advance the marked Trait by one level. His condition is deteriorating. Should the marked Trait ever Advance pass level 3 due to 0 Ethos, the character goes out of play permanently… his status as a free agent is no longer tenable.
After the Trait has been dealt with (and assuming it wasn’t Advanced passed Level 3 as described above), maximum Ethos rating is depleted by one, and all tax is removed. Reset the marked Trait’s advancement log if it advanced.
Note that the player should be cautioned against using his marked Trait casually… if he Advances it by normal means, it only brings his character that much closer to the end of the road if/when he hits 0 Ethos again!
Having said that, the marked Trait mechanic is entirely optional - use at your own discretion.
Ethos Maximum Rating 0
If the character’s maximum Ethos rating drops to 0, the character is traumatized: perhaps he sinks into depression, or is trapped in a state of flux while he deals with a bad case of existential angst… or perhaps he falls off the deep end and goes on somewhat of a rampage. Whatever happens, it’s dark - and no good comes of it.
As per the rules for ‘Nature Maximum Rating 0’: At end of session, character is retired until at least the next spring.
Unlike Nature 0 however, in the case of 0 Ethos, there’s an additional consequence.
When the character comes back on stage, the player chooses a Condition, and embarks play with it marked on his character sheet.
Before the session begins, the player should explain what caused the Condition in relation to his withered Ethos.
When a character hits Ethos 7, and maintains this to the end of a session - he becomes a bit unhinged. He’s now totally obsessed with the object of his Ethos, nothing else matters - the character is out of control, at least where the player is concerned.
Mechanically speaking, if this is the first time the character has hit Ethos 7, the GM invents or picks a Trait appropriate to the situation and replaces it with one of the character’s existing Traits. Mark this Trait with a stylized seven - it will be relevant should the character hit Ethos 7 again.
If the character has previously hit Ethos 7, Advance the marked Trait by one level. The character just got one step closer to meeting his fate, which is usually an untimely end of some spectacular nature, somehow related to the Trait and his obsession with regards to his Ethos. Should the marked Trait ever Advance pass level 3 due to 7 Ethos, the character goes out of play permanently - his end isn’t necessarily heroic, but it certainly should be grisly and violent! ( The player should be warned that should this marked Trait Advance in play via normal means, it may very well hasten his character’s untimely end! )
Once the Trait has been dealt with, and assuming it wasn’t Advanced passed Level 3 as described above, the character then goes off stage for a time (until at least the next spring), thoroughly possessed with naught but pursuing his Ethos in some manner or other. Reset the marked Trait’s advancement log if it advanced.
Similar to Ethos 0, the character does not simply come back from whatever exploits or misdeeds he was involved in whilst off stage with nothing more to show for it. The Player has the choice of having the GM either assign a Condition to the character or introduce an Enemy as per the Enmity Clause.
Before the session begins, the player should explain what caused the Condition or the Enemy, and how it related to his character’s obsessive/compulsive activities in relation to his Ethos while he was out of play.
Note that the marked Trait mechanic is entirely optional - use at your own discretion.
Ethos and Nature
It is intended that Nature exist alongside Ethos.
It works like this:
Ethos is reserved for the sapient races of your setting - humans and gnomes, and vulcans and possibly dragons; while Nature is intended for the merely sentient creatures of your setting - the animals and fauna and monsters.
Note that it’s an either/or thing: either the being is considered sapient (having language, culture and technology - even primitive), and has Ethos; or the being is considered merely sentient (it’s alive and aware, but does not have human-level consciousness), and has Nature.
To be clear: no character, whether PC or NPC, can have both Nature and Ethos.
The introduction for this hack ended with the following statement: “Aside from this arguably subtle change of idiom, Ethos largely follows the same mechanical elements and procedures as per Nature.” …the text then goes on to brazenly introduce a number of somewhat radical changes to the rules as written for Nature!
Not surprisingly, there’s a very good chance these changes might possibly stray too far off left-field to sit comfortably for some groups.
If such be the case, simply ignore the following elements:
- Condition and Enemity Clause
- Marked Traits
- Running counter to Ethos
Doing so has the effect of greatly toning down Ethos to the point where it truly is a simple conceptual/thematic hack. From a strictly mechanical/procedural perspective, dropping those optional elements transforms Ethos into a conservatively clean analog to Nature as written.
For your convenience, an alternative text supporting this more conservative approach to Ethos can be viewed here.