Some questions after my first MG mission

My group played our first Mouse Guard mission this week (our first session, last week, was character generation). It went really well, and there was a minimum of rules fumbling. It’s going to take a little while to get used to some of the stuff that’s new to me (like the GM and player turns), and get the actions down in conflicts, but I already understand the rules in play better than Burning Wheel, which I’ve played many sessions of.

Our one major extended conflict went pretty well; everyone used good tactics, and played to their strengths, and mostly managed to tie the actions back to the fiction.

But it ended kind of messy, so I was hoping for some guidance.

The patrol - three guardmice - was fighting a snake that had appeared as a twist (one of the PCs failed an attempt to cross a stream and fell in).

The snake’s goal was “Carry Desmond back down into the hole away and eat him”

The patrol’s goal was “Rescue Desmond”, which they planned to do by killing the snake.

The patrols’ disposition was 8 (the fighter mouse’s base Health of 4, plus 2 successes from his Fighter roll, plus one success from each of the helping dice he got from the other two PCs). The snake’s disposition was also 8 (Nature of 6, plus two successes).

The conflict went four full turns. On the last action of the fourth turn, the patrol had three dice left in their disposition and the snake had just one. The snake and the last PC both scripted an Attack. The snake got three successes and the PC got five (he rolled all successes!).

Since Attacks are independent, the snake lost all his dice and so did the patrol.

So, per the tied conflicts rules, they BOTH should accomplished their goals. But their goals were mutually exclusive.

My solution was that the snake did carry Desmond away down the hole to eat him, but the final blow from the last PC killed it, leaving Desmond trapped in the hole, blocked in by its corpse, and also Injured. The other two PCs ended up Tired from the fight. They had to pass a Health test to haul the snake’s body out of the way. So I imposed conditions on all three PCs, plus a minor twist.

It felt right for the conclusion of the fight, and worked fine in the game fiction. So I’m fine with the decision, but it does seem contrary to the rules as written.

Was there another way we should have handled the final outcome? And am I missing anything in the exchange above?


You did the right thing! You interpreted both goals literally. Desmond was eaten, but not killed – because the snake was killed before he could digest him!

Sounds like you did a great job! My only quibble: Was their goal Rescue Desmond or was it Kill the Snake?

I ask because in MG you have to be very careful about that sort of thing. Killing is an end unto itself and not a method for achieving other goals.

That said, if their goal was to Rescue Desmond, accidentally killing the snake and using its body to trap Desmond in its burrow is a great tied result.

You handled this well, but in the future, watch out for conflict goals that are mutually exclusive. Compromises are easier to figure out when the two sides have non-orthogonal goals.

Thanks for the responses! The patrol’s goal was “Resuce Desmond”. Killing the snake was just how they rolled up on that shiz.

OK. In Mouse Guard, if they want the snake to die, their goal has to be Kill the Snake. Otherwise it’s not on the table.

Yeah, this was my only beef. You’ve got a good goal for the snake, but it sounds like the patrol’s goal was made after you told them yours because it’s very chronological. There can’t be a “rescue Desmond” goal because the snake hasn’t achieved its goal; it’s only trying to do so. Resolving its desire to carry Desmond away and eat him is why there’s a conflict in the first place. :slight_smile:

Although we might all be missing something because I see “carry Desmond back down…” in the snake’s goal. Was he down there to begin with? I thought he’d fallen into a stream and the snake was the real meat of the twist, but I may have misread something.

Good analysis, Patrick!

I’m a player in this game.
We said “rescue” because the danger of a snake seemed implicit. I suppose that if the snake’s goal had turned out to be “go for a nice swim” then we’d have been on the same side. :slight_smile:

Thor, could you clarify your last comment? Do you mean that the snake cannot be killed without an explicit goal? Or do you mean that the snake’s life is just out of player hands without a “kill” goal? We would have been equally happy, I think, with driving the snake away long enough for us to regroup and get away.

I though that the conflict was resolved nicely, but I’m curious what others think we could have used as an orthogonal goal.

Edit: “back down” is because the snake came up to attack. Desmond was just stuck in the river.


Ideal conflict goals would be mutually achievable in the event both sides reduced each other’s disposition to zero, as happened in your group’s conflict. A chase conflict with the goals “Capture the patrol” vs. “Escape the weasels” would be an example of poor objectives, because one necessarily invalidates the other.

In your groups’ conflict with the snake, it would have been fine if the goals had been “Eat Desmond” vs. “Kill the snake.” This is closer to how you all played out the conflict. Something like “Bring Desmond back to my den” vs. “Run off the snake” would have worked, too, because the conflict could have resulted in chasing off the snake but not before it got Desmond in its gullet.

One way to look at it is the sides having parallel, not perpendicular, aims. I hope this helps.


“A character or his opponent may only be killed as part of the goal of a conflict. You’ve got to tell your opponent outright that you’re trying to kill him.” – Death And Killing, Mouse Guard, page 130.

Hm. No, that doesn’t help. Part of the problem is probably that I haven’t played Burning Wheel before and I’m not one of the ones with a Mouse Guard sourcebook.

I think the problem that I’m having is that I look at your two suggested goals and think: “the snake’s goal isn’t to have a mouse in its den, it’s goal is to eat a mouse for food. And our goal isn’t to get rid of the snake, our goal is to keep a fellow mouse alive. And how could those possibly not be opposed?”

Maybe I just need to attribute more personality and sentience to reptiles? Or just have a better imagination coming up with goals? Or am I thinking of these conflict goals in overly broad terms? Would it be more usual to say something like “the snake’s FIRST goal is to disable the mouse. If it gets that, then its SECOND goal is to get the mouse alone. If it gets that, then its THIRD goal is to eat the mouse.” Because if it’s broken into multiple conflicts, I have a much easier time imagining non-opposing goals. (“escape the snake; kill the snake; find where the snake went”)

Thanks for the answer. Frankly, I’m pretty surprised at that. In other RPGs I’ve played, the protagonists get pretty substantial protection from bad deaths, but the GM is free (and maybe even encouraged) to kill minor characters unexpectedly for the sake of drama.

When writing goals I like to consider my opponent’s own goal. I know that I never have to write a goal directly opposed to my opponent’s. Why? Because if my opponent loses, he doesn’t achieve that goal. It’s just the mechanical result – he loses thus he doesn’t get what he wants. That mechanism leaves me free to think of other stuff that I want out of the situation. I’m going to win and stop my opponent, now what else can I squeeze out of this? “I will chase this snake off so it never returns to this area” opposes “Drag Desmond into my den and eat him.” If the snake loses, Desmond isn’t getting eaten. AND, since I won, I get my objective, too.

Hope that helps!

If the snake’s goal is to eat a member of the patrol, then by all means, that should be its conflict goal. Is it a good goal to put on the table with a new group having its first conflict? That answer will vary depending on the tastes of the players. Dragging the mouse back to its den creates a follow-up situation in the event the patrol loses.

Like Luke said, if the snake’s goal is to eat a mouse, and the snake loses the conflict, then no mouse gets eaten, period. Most conflicts end with the winning side offering some kind of compromise, so by aiming high with your conflict goals, your side can obtain a satisfactory result even if they lose or are forced to compromise.

N.B. In the event that each side is reduced to zero disposition simultaneously, as happened in your conflict, technically both sides win (i.e. get their conflict goal), rather than lose (i.e. do not get their conflict goal). Does that make sense?

Damn you all. Now you’ve mucked it all up in my brain.

Okay. So. The snake’s goal was “Carry Desmond down into my hole and eat him.” (Although I guess the snake didn’t know Desmond’s name).

The patrol’s goal was “Rescue Desmond.”

So I’m hearing the following things on this thread:

  1. The patrol’s goal was fine, except when the snake’s disposition dice ran out, it should NOT have been killed, since that wasn’t the goal of its opponents.

  2. The death of a PC was perhaps not a wise goal for the first major conflict. I probably should have stuck to “Carry Desmond down the hole”, so if they whiffed there could have been a follow-on conflict to get him back.

Does that sound right? Those things make sense to me.

But are we also saying that goals should be worked out together, between the GM and players, so that they are not incompatible?

PS - Hi Nate! (NJW)

Right. Look at it this way: If one side of a conflict’s goal is “The Red team will win the tug of war” and the other side’s is “The Blue team will in the tug of war”, that’s a bit of a waste. If the Blue team gets reduced to 0, they don’t win and the Red team wins by default. Instead, how much more interesting is it if the intents are “the Red team will win the tug of war by knocking the Blue team down into the mudpit” and “We will humiliate the Red team in front of their children and elderly parents”?*

In your example, better intents might have been “I will drag Desmond away into my lair where I can devour him at my leisure” and “We will break the snake’s fangs off so he can’t ever bite another mouse”.

*Answer: Much. Much more interesting.

When introducing the conflict obstacle in the GM’s Turn, I state my side’s conflict goal. The players respond with an appropriate conflict goal.

After setting the scene, for example, I’d say “The weather’s goal is to ruin the mail. What’s your goal for this conflict?”

Sometimes we discuss conflict goals, especially in the Players’ Turn, but it’s more like explicitly framing the scene and making sure everyone is on the same page for the conflict. It’s not a back and forth of “You want that? Well then we want this.”

I think you’ve got everything else down.

This makes total sense to me for all the normal cases. But I think it fails in the corner-case that started this thread.

The snake’s goal is “eat Desmond.” My true goal is “don’t let any mice get eaten”, but that’s implicit in the conflict, so I say that my goal is “make the snake afraid of mice from now on”.

If one or the other of us wins, great. But if it’s a tie and we both get what we asked for, then I actually lose, because my goal was really “don’t let any mice get eaten and make the snake afraid of mice from now on.” Meanwhile, the snake was honest about its goal, so it gets what it really wanted.

The two solutions to this that I’m familiar with are either what Brian did, similar to the Mountain Witch’s “success with damage”, or making it more action resolution than conflict resolution. The latter is what I think I’m hearing in this thread; that the goal shouldn’t be the abstract thing that we want, but a concrete method of accomplishing that goal.

So if the snake’s goal was “eat Desmond”, then our goal might be “kill the snake” (but Desmond might be inside, dead), or “get Desmond away from the snake” (so the snake mostly eats him, but we drag him out by his tail) but our goal can’t be “keep Desmond alive” because that’s abstract. Does that sound right?

That’s why it says:

If both sides are reduced to zero
disposition in the same action, the conflict
is a tie. Both sides accomplish their goals. This is
a very dangerous outcome!

Page 115. But, hey, you get what you want too.

This is why we write the goals down. We can’t worry about “true” goals or what you “really” wanted to say. We focus on what you wrote down.

BW handled it fine. You’ll not my unequivocal approval upthread. But you can avoid this problem in the future by writing down what you really want and not making “what you really want” directly opposite of the other goal.