Playing against Beliefs

A friend recently loaned me the core book, and it is without a doubt the most interesting and fun RPG read ever. It’s officially knocked Unknown Armies out of my top spot. I’m only up to about page 100, but it’s totally brilliant. :slight_smile:

Quick question though, I’m not entirely sure why players get rewarded when they don’t stick to their Beliefs (they get persona points). Shouldn’t there be penalties for betraying the character concept?

Well, point one: a Belief isn’t a character concept.

I’ll let everyone else chime in as to why you get rewarded for breaking a Belief (and why it’s so awesome).

Because Mouse Guard is about fighting for what you believe in, and breaking a Belief is a sign that “what the character believes in” is evolving, in a drastic way. And that is exciting as hell! :smiley: His Beliefs are being tested, and he’s finding out that maybe he believes in something else. How could that not be awesome?


Note, the Moldbreaker award is not for ignoring a Belief. You earn it for struggling with a belief and choosing to go against it. So the Belief is still driving play and we as the audience get to see your character grow as he finds a limit to how far he’ll go to fulfill a Belief.

This. When you choose to go against a Belief, it’s a big deal. You’re saying something about your character. Something big is going on in the situation. Big enough for you to go against something you hold as a core belief. A good example is Lancelot. He is sworn to his king, who he loves like a brother, who rules the land through the power handed down to him from the Almighty. Lancelot would do anything for Arthur. He would lay down his life. Nothing would ever make him betray his rightful king. And then comes Guinevere…But his belief doesn’t go away. He still believes.

I’m still not sure I get it.

I feel like a chump using this example, as it’s very obvious that MG and d20 are two very different games. And, for the record, I’m not a fan of d20, that’s just how I started out with RPGs (well, D&D 2e), so sometimes it’s easier to communicate in d20 terms.

To me, breaking a Belief is like going against your alignment, which is a commitment in a sense. Even if you rationalize it to yourself, you still went against that commitment. I’m not suggesting that players necessarily be punished for breaking a Belief, but I’m still just not seeing why there is a reward for it. Sure, the character is changing/evolving, but that’s just what characters do.

Also, I think the Sadie example is a little confusing in the book. Her Belief is to “think with her head and act with her heart”, which doesn’t really mean anything except that (ultimately) she believes in doing whatever she feels like doing. Whether she fought alongside Conrad or left him (as she felt like doing both), she would be playing into her belief. Saxon, Kenzie, or Lieam’s Beliefs can be interpreted a little more clearly. Saxon doesn’t believe in walking away from a fight and Lieam refuses to let fear get in the way of his goals. So, let’s say that Saxon starts habitually balking at the prospect of a fight (for whatever reason). That kind of behavior goes against the grain of his concept. Certainly, it should be allowed, but I just don’t see why the player would get rewards on top of it. Or, take Kenzie, for example. For him, it’s about what you fight for. Let’s say he establishes that he’s fighting for the Mouse Guard and that he’d do anything to support its cause. Well, let’s say his player decides to turn Kenzie traitor and start selling secrets to the Weasels. Sure, it’s an interesting twist, and might even make the game more interesting, but it’s a real bastard move for Kenzie, and it would be strange to reward him for that.

As an example, Saxon would get a moldbreaker point for his belief if he encountered a situation where he really wanted to leap in and start solving it with his sword, but he reluctantly decides to take the diplomatic route because acting violently would get an innocent mouse killed. That struggle represents character growth. Saxon might still believe that the best solution is generally found at the point of his sword, but we all now know that his belief has limits. There is a line he won’t cross.

Sometimes, that moment of character growth is so cathartic that the character no longer believes what he used to believe, and the player erases the old belief and writes a new one.

Sadie is a thoughtful mouse. She’s pragmatic but also warm-hearted. That’s what the belief is about. She’ll leave Conrad to die because she know a lot more mice will die if she doesn’t, but the act hurts her deeply. She’s not ruthless. She will always act as her good-hearted nature directs her to, unless that means a lot more mice will suffer. Whenever her player role-plays those parts of her nature and adds to the game by doing so, she’ll earn a fate point.

Is it? And why shouldn’t a player be rewarded for artfully portraying that change? Yeah, you are thinking way too “d20” in terms of munchkin power gaming min max I assume. (Caveat: I’m much more familiar with BW so my answers are going to be skewed in that direction).

“think with her head and act with her heart”

I disagree. Look at the Belief this way: THINK with her head and ACT with her heart. She goes against this because she acts with her head and thinks with her heart: she wants to stay (heart) but she leaves because it is her duty (head).

Saxon starts habitually balking at the prospect of a fight

Sure he could balk (once!), but the player better be playing out why Saxon is going against his Belief. See the difference? The player is stating that Saxon has grown, that he has decided to follow Kenzie’s advice (or wahtever).

I’d say that the player should change the Belief if he is “habitually” balking and breaking the Belief because I’d only give the reward once: if it becomes “habitual“ then he obviously doesn‘t believe that any more.

I just don’t see why the player would get rewards on top of it.

It is not about some d20 min/max crap: I’m going to play “Chaotic-do-whatever-I-want”. It is about making the game better by showing a tough characterization and getting rewarded for it. If the paladin goes against his Alignment and loses his powers I think he should be rewarded for it! It was obviously a tough decision to make! And the game was probably more interesting because of it too!

Think narratively cool instead of power gaming. As everybody said: Saxon should have to struggle with his decision. That has to be played out! And because it is played out the game is more fun.

I don’t see why powergaming was brought into the discussion. That’s not what I’m talking about.

Is there some stipulation that you only get rewarded for breaking a Belief if by doing so, you advance the cause of the Mouse Guard? Let’s revisit the Kenzie being a bastard example. Would he get a reward for breaking his Belief, or nothing because he didn’t break his Belief for the “greater good”?

I didn’t mean to insult if it was taken that way. I brought it up because you said: “I just don’t see why the player would get rewards on top of it”.

Well, this is all theoretical and that makes any sort of advice near impossible…

So I’m assuming there was a fictional reason in the game that Kenzie’s player decided to do this? Some in-game event that lead to this decision? All of that would have to be played out. It should be a really difficult decision that is tearing Kenzie up inside.

And yeah, it would be a bastard move. And most likely he is unplayable as a Mouse Guard now too. But playing out the events up to his removal from the Guard would be interesting.

So, basically, it’s not just breaking a Belief, but breaking a Belief for the sake of the Guard/mission/goal.

No, it’s about breaking the Belief for deeply personal reasons. Doesn’t have to be related to Guard or the mission.

Breaking a belief generally means something awesome and intense has occurred in play. It means the GM has taken your character past where you had conceived they would ever go, past where their own ideas about honor and law and love and violence were set by you when play began.

Here’s the thing. Beliefs are not alignment. They’re something your character believes. When you follow your belief, it’s not because you’re being compelled. It’s because your playing honestly and you believe that choice is interesting for everyone at the table. You get a reward for playing honestly and interestingly. It’s not a cookie for following your alignment. You’re not a paladin and the GM can’t take away your powers because of how your character feels about stuff.

When you go against your belief, it’s also because you are playing your character honestly and you think that choice will make the game interesting for everyone at the table. Why should you have to forego Artha for doing what everyone wants you to do? Make the game more interesting and rich.

You get the Artha in both cases, so that your free to make the choice about who your character is on a moment to moment basis and not worry about mechanical penalties.

At the risk of oversimplifying, Burning Wheel does such a better job at getting your character’s personality into the game that moments of dramatic character growth are really meaningful.

In D&D (particularly if you’re playing a dungeon crawl or published adventure), your character’s personality is more or less optional, something you can add to the story. But if someone decided to hide the sword you were all questing after because they’d written in their back story that they were ‘greedy’, you’d probably be thinking, “What? Don’t be a fuckhead, Bill!” Give it to the fighter, he’s got the feat to use it. When Bill decides to not be greedy any more… what’s the big deal?

In BW, Bill’s Greedy priest is really going to let you know it. He’s going to take shit when it’s inconvenient for him (and everyone else) to do so, because he gets vital Artha for it. (The Duel of Wits mechanics make it possible for PCs to really lay into one another without it being a personal thing about Bill being a dick with his character.) By the time the characters have been together for a few months, the priest’s greed may well be one of the more memorable things about the game - after all, he was the one who pissed off the mercenaries by shorting them on their payment, which was what led to that whole ridiculous scramble to get to Lanthia in the dark.

Session 12 rolls around, and Bill’s priest now knows that the kobold mines the party cleared out have veins of gold in them. He’s got a chance to take this information back to his church, where it will be a huge boost for his career - technically the mines are on church land. But he’s come to love the people of Lanthia, and it’s clear this will make a huge difference to them. He stares at the letter to the Cardinal in his hand, then silently crumples it up and tosses it into the fire.

Others might have already said this better than I’ll attempt to, but here goes:

Characters are meant to evolve. It’s boring as hell to play the same person through even 5 sessions of play, never mind dozens. For instance, I played a 3-year D&D campaign (3.5) where my character was a paladin. Despite liking the character, the only awesome thing he did was die to his nemesis and have an insanely cool death that allowed the party to kill said nemesis. He never really grew. MG and BW are about bringing change to the table. Shit will happen. Sometimes really potent shit. The job of the GM is to force that change, or give it a stage so the player can jump up and say “Fuck yeah. Here’s what I’m doing, and I’m a) backing up my belief and making it even stronger, or b) playing against it and setting myself up for growth in another direction.”

When a player is playing against a Belief, you have to feel it and so does he/she. It can’t be “Oh, I’m down on Persona. Gunna let you guys argue this out, but yeah… I’m like, you know, totally playing against my Belief by allowing that.” gets a Mountain Dew and checks email

It’s really an opportunity for character growth and change. My mouse had the Belief “It’s not about what’s right; it’s about what works,” making him a pragmatic and potentially off-the-Oath guard mouse. I had a lot of opportunities to change that, and I think I earned a Persona at one point for Moldbreaker, but I just kept building that because the other players had very noble Beliefs. I had to stand outside of that, I felt, to add some dynamism. However, I had originally chosen it because I wanted to change it at some point. What happens when what’s right really really matters? Will I do what’s right vs following my Belief? Possibly. Will that experience be enough to warrant a complete change of ideas/mindset? Not in my anecdote, but had we continued, I’m pretty sure it would have.

I find it’s hard to earn Moldbreaker without having a really solid and almost extreme Belief, which are my favourite kind anyway. It’s about the movement of the character within the game: is this the breaking point for that Belief? Does this situation necessitate or warrant breaking a Belief (which doesn’t mean re-writing it)?

No one is so static that they stick to their guns no matter what. Maybe Leon (from the movie) originally had a Belief that anyone within the parameters of the job was fair game, but he was forced to confront women and/or children who fell within that. “Oh fuck. Do I still follow the Belief, or is this a damn good time to alter it to reflect my issues with what the GM is pitting me against? Screw it. I’m changing it! I don’t kill them, and I’m re-writing my Belief.”

Having just re-read all that, I’m not sure I’m helping at all. Basically, it has to make sense. If it feels staged or disingenuous to you, deny the Persona. If it really feels intense and the player is forced to think about it, award it (and draw attention to it).

Hey Punk! (sorry, it was just too tempting) Welcome to the forms by the way.

I thought it might be helpful to shift your thought process between D20 style systems and MG, by looking at the mechanical reason behind using Beliefs in the game? This certainly helped me. As Luke suggests its not so much character concept as a player driven priority in the game. The GM gives you a Mission, you write a goal related to that mission, which should represent how you (as a player) want your character to tackle the mission but you also have this Belief that represents how you would like to ‘play’ this character in any given conflict.

As Brodie reminds us, the game is not about fighting monsters, grabbing their stuff and levelling up - Its about fighting for what you (the player) believes in! If for instance you want the game to be about grim, nasty, underbelly Guardmice you create a character concept that reflects this, but you also tell the GM through your Goals, Beliefs and Instincts. It gives you as a player a say in how you want to play the game, and mechanicallyrewards you when you put your character in compromising situations.

As Thor reminds us, the Moldbreaker reward isn’t for ignoring a belief, that would be neglectful as both GM and Player. No, its for concientiously placing your character in a situation where this Belief is to be tested hard, and maybe surprise you and the other players at the table at the direction the growth goes in as a result. If you create a moldbreaker moment, the drama of the situation with be palpable and most enjoyable to play out, rather than (in your D20 vernacular) playing out your chaotic alignment and doing whatever you feel like and be rewarded for it.

Don’t stress about moldbreaker too much. When you sit down at the table, play to your beliefs and have fun. If the group engineers a scene that seems to present a seemingly moldbreaker decision for a character, revel in the agony of the moment and go with what you as a player feels is the direction you want to take your character in.

Have fun!

I haven’t seen the terms “Moldbreaker” or “Artha” in the book, but I’m guessing Moldbreaker is the persona point you get for going against a belief, and “Artha” is just a general term to describe rewards (Fate and Persona points).

Thanks for the elaboration (and the welcome). I think I’m starting to get it. For the record, in any (good) d20 games I’ve played, character was actually important…not necessarily as a function of the system, but the GM expected it in gameplay. However, with d20, it was always pretty cheesy and uber-heroic. It got old pretty quick, until we discovered Planescape. But, that’s a whole other story. While he (I’ve only ever had one really good GM) didn’t have a character system as elaborate as MG, what he did have was very different. So, learning this has been a little counterintuitive.

I finished the book earlier this afternoon. I might have mentioned this in another thread, but it really has been my favorite RPG read ever. It’s actually beat out my previous favorite, Unknown Armies.

Sorry for the terminology confusion. Artha is the blanket term for Rewards in Burning Wheel, and Moldbreaker is the name of the Playing Against a Belief reward. Those of us who play a lot of Burning Wheel have a bad habit of using that terminology even when we’re talking about Mose Guard.

Careful about the dogpile, friends.