PCs not using the Players' Turn to full potential

First : Mouse Guard, awesome!

My players (and I) are all very old-school D&D types.
We want to break out of old habits and try a more player-driven story, however…

They would rather not risk failure when they could instead maximize their chance of success vs GM obstacles.

Therefor, They don’t care very much to earn checks during the GM’s Turn because the one free test is often enough to recover from conditions they may have suffered.

They have no agenda/initiative during the Players Turn, because they’ve already accomplished everything they wanted by the end of the GM’s Turn: Survive the mission.

I feel we are missing a very important aspect of the game.
Any advice on how to draw them out of their shell?
Any advice to me on how to make the Player’s Turn more interesting?


PS. I can provide more info if required : BIGs, enemies in play, past missions, current mission…
PPS. I don’t suck at GM. We have fun. I just want to give more power over the plot to my players.

Sounds like you’ve got the basic game down. Now, to make it more interesting, you’ve got to hit them harder. Missions have to be tougher. You have to impose more conditions. You’ve got to make sure that more goals arise than they can accomplish in one GM’s Turn.

Obviously the players need to learn to give their characters separate agendas, which can be tough if they’re used to cookie-cutter hack-and-slash.

Perhaps a sort of transitional approach is warranted. start including plot complications during the GM turn that need to be resolved during their turn. For example, near the end of their mission a mouse in a grey mask with a ragged cloak pops up and assassinates the engineer that they just spent the session rescuing from a spider’s nest. And… the session ends there. If they don’t investigate on their turn, the assassin gets away with it because by the GM’s turn, Gwendolyn assigns them a mission in Port Sumac and they can’t stick around. Or! During the mission, one of the players gets a letter from Mom and Dad. It’s been a bad harvest, and they’re low on food. Can sonny-boy spare a loan for a few extra ears of corn? Winter is coming, and the baby is growing… Don’t let them get away with making the necessary Circles and Resources check during your turn, either. It’s not their mission!

Alternatively, a more draconic measure would be to make them use their player turn to get things that they will need during the GM turn. How do they get the equipment that they need to complete the missions? How do they meet necessary support personnel?

For example, perhaps their mission during the GM’s turn is to help a bunch of mice build a bridge over a river. It’s a season-long mission, so you’ll break it down into several steps, each being the GM mission – steal the blueprints back from bandits that have stolen them, escort the engineers from Lockhaven to the build site, protect the mice at the slate quarry from a large angry lizard living nearby, mediate a dispute between the merchants supplying the workers and the workers union head, etc.

Start the session. “You leave Lockhaven on the road to where you think the bandits are fleeing. Gosh, you sure are hungry.”

“We eat our trail rations.”

“You didn’t buy any trail rations.”

“We would have!”

“All you spent time doing was sitting around recovering from illness. And now you’re hungry, and because of it you’re all Sick.”


“You see two angry mice inside the tent, standing over a pile of account books and shouting at each other.”

“Who are they?”

“You have no idea.”

“We ask them-”

“They kick you out of the tent. Authorized personnel only!”

Make it clear to them that they have to take actions on their turn to prepare for the mission ahead, and you’ll get them into the habit of saving checks.

Hi Dav,

Welcome. I second that you need to hit them harder. Are you sticking to presenting only two mission obstacles during the GM’s Turn? My default mode is to prepare a wilderness hazard with a potential weather twist, followed by a conflict with either an animal or mice. I’ve found this leads to lots of unfinished mission business for the Players’ Turn—the players are barely to the next settlement when I hand them the reins. So if they’re going to complete the mission that session, they’re going to have to use their scenes in the Players’ Turn to do it.

Also, and perhaps this hasn’t come up yet for your group, but as GM you’re still responsible for imposing twists and conditions on failed tests during the Players’ Turn. I’ve had a character garner multiple conditions in one session and those penalties add up fast. Once the characters start suffering under their conditions while struggling to complete their missions, it is to be hoped that the players will see the value of costing themselves a die on their tests.

One more thing: They know they need failed tests to advance their skills, right?

Excellent advice. Thank you.

I will try the transitional approach of ending the GM’s Turn with multiple unresolved cliffhangers
…cliffhangers that directly threaten the players’ BIGs.
…cliffhangers that will become truly god-awful if not resolved in the Player’s Turn.

My Players might react poorly to “hit them harder”. I fear they would hunker down and try harder to “win”
…suffering more and more conditions until they were unable to accomplish anything due to all those penalties.
…and then complain that the game is no fun and sets characters up for failure.

OK, Now my PCs have a very strong long-term motive to earn more checks…
But, any advice on how to break them out of the hack-and-slash habit of never risking short-term failure?
(which is the only way to earn more checks)

(Should that last question be a new post?)

Sorry, missed the post from Daniel H.

My response:

I present two mission obstacles during the GM’s Turn. I twist failures like a cruel god on the few times the dice betray my players.
(we laugh at these shenanigans, but deep down I fear these twists make them NOT want risk failure all the more)

I end GM’s Turn when they accomplish the mission at hand; mission accomplished after surviving those two mission obstacles.

Thanks. I would play around with this. Try using the mission obstacles to cover “Getting there is half the fun,” or as ways to introduce conflict with the characters’ BIGs or relationships (e.g. they find a friend of one of the guardmice who’s been robbed by bandits and left for dead. Now what? They could pursue the bandits; they might need checks to help the friend with Healer or another skill). Then call for the Players’ Turn with the mission unfinished.

Are the players regularly spending Fate and Person points? I assume they must be if they’re so focused on passing tests. Do you think they’ll wake up to the situation of earning additional checks when they don’t have enough scenes to do everything they want in the Players’ Turn, they fail to complete their goals, and then start running out of Fate and Persona?

Stop worrying. The game is built around making this a productive relationship rather than an adverserial one. They can survive, recover, overcome and even prepare against future calmity during their turn. But in order to do that, they have to risk themselves during your turn.

The game is a cycle. For this to become apparent, you must play through a few turns of the wheel – even if you just late the cycle pass without engaging every part. Hit 'em hard, let 'em hunker down and try to ignore it. Hit ‘em again and watch them wobble. Hit a third time and say, "You know, if you want to get the better of me in the Players’ Turn, you can earn a few checks right now…"


A few other thoughts:

Make sure you’re hitting them with truly difficult obstacles during the GM’s turn and don’t be afraid to require skills they don’t have. When they can muster a mere 3 dice for an Ob 6 or Ob 7 test, getting a check out of what’s sure to be a failed test seems very attractive.

As part of your complex obstacles, include one or two that aren’t very difficult. Losing a die when you have 8D against an Ob 2 test is a pretty good bet.

Make sure you’re hitting them with Conditions, not just Twists, and make sure you give Helpers Conditions too. One check isn’t going to be enough if everyone has a full suite of Conditions.

Very true, although such tactics probably should also be tempered with an awareness that some folk aren’t quite as patient to new ways. I’m sure they would love to play once they understood it rightly, they just need to have it communicated to them.

Oh, another thing I thought of. Keep the GM Turn until they get to town and you’ve trotted out a bunch of stuff that relates to their BIGs and relationships. Lots of things that they want to interact with. Set up that they patrol needs to replenish its supplies, fix gear, find people in town. One mouse’s father is in custody or gone missing. Their friend needs help with gambling debts. Whatever. Many more things then they have checks for. Then hand over the reins.


Make sure they feel starved for artha. If they don’t need fate and persona, they won’t do the stuff they need to do to earn fate and persona. Since pursuing and accomplishing BIGs is how that happens, it’s in the players’ interest for the GM to challenge their BIGs with great frequency and difficulty.

If the supply exceeds the demand, the value of artha (and therefore the need to pursue it) goes down.


Ah, well here is where our philosophies diverge. I believe that a game is a system that shapes behavior. I don’t think you can completely esoterically understand the Mouse Guard system and then consciously tailor your behavior in play to suit each situation. I think you play to the system and let it modify your behavior as you engage with it.

This is, incidentally, why my players curse your name on a weekly basis.

I have to agree. When I started GMing mouse guard I was nice about things such as conditions and twists, and I found out very fast that though team work and quick thinking my players never needed their players turn checks. Hitting them harder is the only weapon you have as a GM to combat the horror of three or four pissed off mice that work together like a well oiled machine.