Questions regarding abilities, skills and obstacles


I bought Mouse Guard a couple of years ago, but life got in the way and the game just stood there collecting dust on my bookshelf. Well, not anymore! I have a couple of friends that haven’t role-played before and Mouse Guard seems like the perfect game to introduce people to the hobby!

As you all probably know, there’s always question marks involved when you’re trying to learn a new system, I couldn’t find answers to mine searching through the forum, hence this thread.

1. Ability or Skill?

When setting up obstacles, how do I (as GM) decide if it’s an ability or a skill that should be tested? What’s the real difference between these two and how do I know if it’s an ability test or a skill test?

I mean, you use Health to cross a stream, but you don’t use Will when you want to change someone’s view on something (that’s a Persuader roll). This is probably really obvious… I just need some clarifications in order to get things straight.

2. One for all, all for one?

I read the Resolution chapter in the rulebook and got stuck on the following part (p.87, Who makes the test?):

“The Player to volunteer first or think of the plan to overcome the obstacle must make the roll. It doesn’t matter if he has the lowest ability in the group or doesn’t even have the right skill. He’s stepped up to the plate and he’s got to take the swing”

Does this mean that only one player needs to pass a test in order for the whole group to succeed? Say that a party of three mice wants to cross a running stream by jumping over slippery stones, shouldn’t all three have to pass a health test in order to get across? Or is it enough if only one of the three mice succeeds with the test in order for all to succeed?

Please ask for clarifications if the questions seems odd, and thank you for reading!

Skill. If the character does not have the appropriate skill, they can use Beginner’s Luck to roll it anyhow (and start learning it), or use Nature (which will be taxed unless the test is for something within a mouse’s nature (detailed on the character sheet) . When rolling Beginner’s Luck, you’ll use the Ability which is appropriate for the Skill that you’re opening up.

In your stream crossing example, one player makes the roll, but the others (if they intend to cross) lend helping dice +1D each) to that roll. The player making the test narrates the action, and the helpers describe how their mice are helping. This kind of teamwork-based roll is pretty standard in Mouse Guard. There are few rolls in my games where one player is not being helped by at least one other.

Here’s my rule of thumb. You ask how the players are doing something. How are you crossing the stream? By what means?

The players must answer with a description of their mouses’ actions. (As opposed to saying “I cross using my health!” they should say, “I swim across.”)

From that description you can judge which skill or ability is being used.

As for whether each mouse is making a test or helping each other check out the requirements for help. Are the helping requirements all being fulfilled? If not I’d have no problem making each mouse take the test if that’s the way they describe it. It’s the perfect time to use a Condition rather than a Twist! Check out the Seasons chapter for examples of situational tests made by individual mice facing conditions from adverse weather.

So it’s completely up to me (as GM) to decide whether to pick an ability or a skill test? That’s what I initially thought, but I got the impressions from the rules that the abilities only worked in special cases (like beginners luck and such).

So, physical tasks with no fitting skill should be a Health test (or Nature/Beginner’s luck)? And mental tasks with no fitting skill (like trying to decipher a secret message) should be a Will test (or Nature/Beginner’s luck)?
“I’m trying to decipher the secret letter! I don’t have any fitting Skills or Wises, so I roll a Will test instead.”

Yes, no or kinda?

Yes. The reason swimming is just a simple health test is that there is no swimming skill.

If there’s an appropriate skill that the pc doesn’t have, invoke the beginners luck/nature rules.

You should be setting up your obstacles to test skills, not abilities. Let abilities handle the specific situations called for in the rules (e.g. beginner’s luck, resisting the effects of weather).

OK, thank’s for clarifying!

Another question:

On pages 118-119 there’s mention of a penalty on a resisting fatigue roll when wearing armor and/or a shield. Could someone please help me understand how these rules actually work? Is it -1D when trying to recover from the Tired condition during a conflict where you’re wearing armor? Why would one want to try and recover during a fight? Is fatigue perhaps something else than Tired?

You have been out there for 2 weeks in that armor, when you finally get down to rest you still feel the weight of that thing and need even more sleep to recover.

When you test to recover in the players turn and you have been wearing that armor in the GM turn than you have the penalty.

do consider this: the benefit of armor occurs at a different time than the benefit of shield; however, the drawback of either or both occurs at the time of recovery from Tired.

The armor offers its bonus to the Disposition in a Fight or Fight Animal conflict.

The shield offers its bonus to the Defend action in a Fight or Fight Animal conflict. Then, the shield doesn’t really come up again until the recovery from Tired.

In addition, the GM or patrol mates might feel that a particular test takes a penalty from wearing armor or lugging a shield (e.g. test Health to resist fatigue over the next three days of trekking off-trail). Regardless, when recovering from Tired, that penalty certainly applies.

But, the more important item to recall is that the bonuses of each are unique and occur at different times in a Fight or Fight Animal conflict.

Another question, this time about checks, complex ob:s and versus tests.

The power of Checks?

1 check equals 1 test right in PT right? Does this mean that complex obstacles costs more than 1 check - 1 check per individual test? And what about a Player vs. Player test (versus), do both need to spend a check to participate in the test or only one?

Saxon wants to argument with Kenzie, so he spends a check to be able to roll a persuader vs. persuader test - will his single check be enough to initiate the test between the two?

No—one check is enough to make one test or initiate one conflict. Page 75: “It costs one check, just like any other test, to start a conflict.” Furthermore, “Your victim or target doesn’t have to spend anything to fight back.”

If it truly was a complex obstacle in question (e.g. the player wants his mouse to fashion snow shoes, but first he needs to gather acorn caps as raw materials), as GM either I’d call for multiple checks to be spent, or I’d decide where the most interesting point of failure/success was in the endeavor and have the player roll that test singly. Another good solution would be to force the patrol to work together (i.e. one mouse spends his check to gather acorn caps. Another spends her check to fashion the showshoes) to achieve their end.

The player vs. player test only requires one check. See page 75 “Picking Fights and Stuff in the Players’ Turn.”

For a complex obstacle I would handle it differently. Its a complex ob because theyre trying to do something complex, involving multiple steps and a number of tests. Leam wants to build a boat with Boatcrafter which would cost 1 check, but he has no wood. So the GM says that’s going to be a resources test to buy the wood and then a Boatcrafter test. Two tests. Two mice. Two checks required. Alternatively, he could make his intent buying wood (1 check) and then wait for his next turn to spend a check making a boat.