Sprucetuck... the new Barkstone? Science gone wrong!

Thor ran a fantastic Mouse Guard campaign for us a while back. Whenever I ran, I just stole his ideas! It worked great! Thanks Thor! But I’m starting a new campaign for friends who don’t game much due to their newly earned status as parents. And I need new ideas!

I love Fringe (a show Thor introduced me to, so in a way I’m still stealing from him)… which is about science gone wrong! A theme I’d love to explore in our Mouse Guard game.

My favorite part of Mouse Guard is the Scent Border. Sprucetuck is a village of scientists responsible for the Scent Border. Every spring and fall they brew scent to maintain the border (which the Mouse Guard apply). Without the border, bye bye mouse society!

No border = Bears, Moose, Wolves, Wolverines, Deer, Coyote, Otter, Sables, and other large predators invading and likely wiping out the Territories.

On the map Sprucetuck is near the Darkheather! Barkstone is considered to be at risk from predatory attacks but Sprucetuck is in the same situation. Barkstone has armored mice to protect them while Sprucetuck doesn’t have much. The town of Walnutpeck were Sprucetuck’s neighbor and allies before they were destroyed… absorbed into the Dark Heather. According to the map, Barkstone, Sprucetuck, and Pebblebrook are next to fall. If I was the Mouse Guard, I would strongly encourage the mouse scientists to move! They fall… we all fall!

Strangely most mice don’t even know the scent border exists! So who is paying Sprucetuck for their efforts? Our groups generally assumes Lockhaven taxes or strongly encourages the Territories to donate resources to maintain the Mouse Guard for everyone’s benefit… who funds the mice scientists?

Sprucetuck shares its currency with their neighbor and ally, Copperwood who export metals, refined goods, and weapons. Science + metal smithing = steampunk mad science craziness. Sprucetuck is also managed by a governor with a lifelong term… that seems ripe for conflict. I’d imagine to lead Sprucetuck you have to pass a written science exam (imagine Gwendolyn being forced to take a science exam… wow).

So where do we go from here?

I want to spark tension… no… outright hostility… between Sprucetuck and Lochaven (making Sprucetuck the next Barkstone).

Any ideas how?

Well, I guess the simple answer is to have the current mayor die and a new one (too clever for his own good) replace him. “Why be beholden to Lockhaven? We’re the ones doing all the work! We’re the geniuses!” etc.

Not very novel or anything, but maybe a jumping-off point.

I’m down with that. Let’s brainstorm where this leads…

  • Mayor dies without appointing a replacement.

  • They don’t have a method to assign a replacement.

  • Maybe they make everyone take science tests… whoever is the “smartest” is in charge.

  • At the same time Sprucetuck is in growing danger from outside predators.

  • Maybe Lockhaven and Copperwood both want the mice scientists to move in with them.

  • The new Mayor is no friend of Lockhaven. “We don’t need them”, “We do all the important work”, “If only we had more money”, “Don’t give the Mouse Guard money… give it to us”.

I think this is workable. How does this lead to hostility? Say Sprucetuck and Copperwood team up… what leads to outright conflict? Say the Territories stop funding the Mouse Guard… how does this lead to confrontation?

I think part of my problem is I’m unclear why Barkstone escalated to physical violence with Lockhaven, so it’s hard for me to imagine Sprucetuck doing the same when they can crush Lockhaven in so many other ways.

Better, make it like North Korea.

Governor of Sprucetuck appoints his incompetent son. Seems like a problem to the outside world, but the elders in Sprucetuck are relieved. They can puppet him while going about their own business.
Meanwhile, Lockhaven hates him – they fear his incompetence will get them all killed. And he treats Lockhaven with diffidence. He’s busy collecting wood carvings from every city in the Territories. But he has enough pride to bluster, too. When Lockhaven gets demanding, he threatens all manner of ridiculous measures.

So what you have is Lockhaven trying to influence the policies of a city – which they’re not supposed to do.
And the scientists of Sprucetuck putting up an incompetent puppet so they can go about their work.

I like the idea of there being two potential successors to the deceased mayor; neither one is a better choice than the other. They differ on their relationship with Lockhaven, how they feel about maintaining a standing militia in Sprucetuck, whether or not the scientists need to contribute to the betterment of the mouse territories or should be left alone, etc. Perhaps one wants to extend the scent border into the darkheather and reclaim Walnutpeck, which has its own pros and cons. The players can choose which candidate to support, but they run the risk of being seen as meddling in affairs beyond their station.

Sprucetuck as North Korea is awesome. Consider that done!

Sprucetuck extending the scent border to reclaim Walnutpeck sounds insane, dangerous, and a perfect example of questionable leadership screwing up their priorities with dangerous repercussions for everyone else.

The other key element… the players want over the top heroic action! I’ve found PC’s heroism is often limited by their enemy’s villainy. It’s hard to justify insane heroic actions if their opposition is subtle and conservative. It’s going to be a game where the first shots have already been fired!

Sprucetuck will need resources. They are not self sufficient and import more than they export. This could mean teaming up with or taking over Copperwood (who are almost completely self sufficient). Taking over anything would be tough because they lack a militia and numbers are small.

They can ask for increasingly higher prices for their exports and they can actively work behind the scenes to make sure they maintain a monopoly on science and medicine exports (which means cutting off Elmoss’ exporting of medicine). They could also make the Scent Border public knowledge and demand funds towards its maintenance.

Originally I was thinking they would be actively hostile to Lockhaven. It may be more like what Luke says, they don’t trust or cooperate with Lockhaven but they are happy to ignore them as well. But Lockhaven may be under pressure to take action!

Lockhaven could see their taxes/donations dwindle away as the Territories need to direct more of their funds towards Sprucetuck. Sprucetuck could begin insane campaigns such as extending the Scent Border to reclaim dead towns of no immediate tangible value such as Walnutpeck which could put everyone in danger. With Sprucetuck’s growingly unstable leadership, basic maintenance of the Scent Border could be thrown into question. And rumors could spread of Sprucetuck taking direct violent action against competitors. All of this and more could pressure Lockhaven to act before it is too late. But they aren’t supposed to directly influence a city’s policies which if handled poorly could cause the rest of the Territories to choose sides.

But no matter what… Lockhaven needs to make a decision because it’s time to replenish the Scent Border and those crazy Sprucetuck scientists just sent a patrol to begin stage 1… reclaim Walnutpeck!

I would save this as an escalation for later but if Sprucetuck really wants to get nasty they could distribute medicine that doesn’t quite treat people… or treats them just enough that they can function but are constantly getting sick and needing their services.

I’d also imagine that Sprucetuck will eventually be far better armed than Lockhaven especially given Sprucetuck’s ability to leverage science while Lockhaven’s resources for basic supplies start dwindling.

It’s going to get rough quick!

Excellent setting!

One geo-political detail – Sprucetuck does have Science, but Lockhaven has Military. They don’t need to attack Sprucetuck directly (or any city) to knock them back in line. Mouse Guard authority begins and ends in the wild – right were Sprucetuck is headed.

… what about a sneaky side deal with a faction of weasels?

I think you could do something really interesting with the weasels <-> musk <-> scent border association there.

Oooh, for a “dark science” thing: maybe the scent border mixture requires substantial quantities of weasel musk? If you don’t secretly trade with weasels, how are you going to get it?

You could also have Sprucetuck create some sort of anti-scent mixture - some scent that’s so attractive to some type of predator to convince it to cross the scent border into the Territories to direct the Guard’s time and resources away from Sprucetuck’s actions. Maybe spread it around Elmoss and/or Copperwood and kill two mice with one skunk.

The only issue with that is that they’re painted as evil, so there’s no real dilemma with how to deal with them. It’ll be done aggressively, no prejudice. You don’t want the situation to be too black and white otherwise there’s no real conflict – the GM has already set up how he wants the situation to play out.

I’m going to pimp the musk thing again (last time, I promise). The mouse cities need the Guard to maintain the scent border, the Guard needs Sprucetuck science to create the mixture, and Sprucetuck needs a resource that comes from weasels – literally, from their very own bodies – to create its scent border mix. It seems to go against everything the Guard stands for, but stopping it might be worse.

I’m visualizing this as a Dogs town. Dealing with the weasels is only the seed of the problem. It started out as a pragmatic act, and the conspiracy was only there because, well, it’s necessary – this isn’t the kind of thing any mouse will accept. But the web of secrecy inevitably creates social tension; and, eventually, of course, sciencemice with less-than-altruistic motives become plugged into the situation. The old stand-bys, greed and pride, pump up the situation.

What do you think?

Sub-factions within Sprucetuck could attempt this. The trick is to not make it overt and have the factions only do this as a last resort. They hate the weasels for killing their direct neighbors (which is partly why they want to reclaim Walnutpeck) so any relationship would be tenuous and secret as to not turn the rest of the Territories against them. But it’s a great possible twist!

That has potential! It could be more than just the weasels. Which makes things… complicated! Deer, ducks, rats, shrews, beetles, turtles, snakes, and crocodiles all have musk. And many more animals use scent glands and urine to mark their borders.

An anti-scent mixture is terrifying!!!

I agree with Rafe that its use could make the situation too black and white (although great for the final session of a campaign). But the threat of such a weapon, like nuclear weapons from North Korea, could be enough of a danger without actually using it. The ensuing paranoia would ramp up the tension. Maybe Sprucetuck develops such a weapon to be used against the Weasels, not other Mice. So the original intent was intended for civil war. But their existence is a danger to everyone.

Other scent weapons…

Tag someone with a unique scent that can be tracked.

A variation of Crookedleg idea, a scent weapon that attracts animals to individual targets (like specific mice, instead of towns).

What else?

Unrelated, I really like the idea of an acorn locked chest hiding secrets that can be tagged with a unique scent and then given to squirrels to hide.

We make characters tomorrow!

Below is the starting setting & situation. When we make characters, we may throw any or all of this out depending on the players’ interests. But so far excitement is high.

The basic premise:

  • science gone mad (mice scientists are the “bad guys”)
  • Sprucetuck as a loose analogue for North Korea


  • Sprucetuck is where all mice scientists live and make the scent the Mouse Guard use to replenish the Scent Border every Spring and Fall.

  • No Scent Border = Bears, Moose, Wolves, Deer and other large predators wiping out the Territories.

  • The Mouse Guard and Sprucetuck keep the Scent Border secret as to not alarm the general populace.

  • Sprucetuck is dangerously close to the Scent Border and vulnerable to attack. They have science but are relatively small with no militia.

  • Both Lockhaven (where you live) and Copperwood (largest self sustaining mouse city specializing in metal exporting and weapon smithing which is next to Sprucetuck) want to relocate the mice scientists out of Sprucetuck.

  • Sprucetuck is ruled by a governor with a lifelong term who decides who replaces him. He has no interest in relocating and potentially losing control over his people.

  • Sprucetuck’s governor dies. Details unknown. But he has no successor.

  • Sprucetuck’s people are an odd type and make everyone they can take a science test. Whomever scores highest is the smartest and will rule. Unfortunately Jin, an 11 year old kid wins.

  • Jin reveals the existence of the Scent Border and demands ever increasing taxes for its maintenance.

  • Unfortunately these taxes mean less donations to keep the Mouse Guard and Lockhaven running smoothly. And savings have just run out.

  • Jin cuts Copperwood a break and Copperwood provides Sprucetuck with a steady supply of metal, fine goods, weapons, and militia.

  • Sprucetuck and Elmoss are the two main exporters of medicine. Elmoss’ has come under repeated attack recently by bands of flying squirrels. This makes Sprucetuck’s medicine supply even more crucial and expensive. Unfortunately mice complain that the quality has declined and mice never seem to fully heal, only healing enough to get by.

  • Rumors claim that Sprucetuck is developing Scent based weapons. No one knows what this means but speculation runs wild from the realistic to complete ridiculous. The most dire claims revolve around weapons made from animal parts that can draw Predators to a target (instead of keeping them out).

  • Jin announces plans to expand the Scent Border.

  • It’s Fall… time for the Mouse Guard to replenish the Scent Border… but relations between Lockhaven and Sprucetuck are quickly breaking down.

  • Lockhaven’s jurisdiction begins and ends in the wild between towns. They have sworn not to interfere with the internal affairs of mouse settlements. But with the Guard’s influence shrinking, fear spreading over Sprucetuck, and the deadline to replenish the Scent Border encroaching… the Mouse Guard are considering all options.

You definitely need to encourage a friend and enemy to exist within the current Sprucetuck government structure – one player has a friend, another an enemy.

Making characters took up most of the session. A 4th person joins us next week.

Everyone was excited by the Sprucetuck situation (especially science mice run amuck) and didn’t have changes.

But I may have presented Sprucetuck in an overly balanced way. Here are a few player quotes: “of course Sprucetack should tax everyone”, “it makes sense to give less money to the Mouse Guard with Sprucetuck stepping up”, “Lockhaven is old and outdated”, “Lockhaven needs reform!” 2 of the PC’s enemies are Mouse Guard Patrol Leaders! Although they also have significant complicating connections to Sprucetuck, their ally Copperwood, and their rival Elmoss.

2 playes have never played so we ran a brief mission to learn the rules.

Mission: “Extract Brynn from Sprucetuck and escort her to Lockhaven”.

Brynn is one of the PC’s friends, a retired Mouse Guard from Elmoss who suspects Sprucetuck is behind the flying squirrel attacks Elmoss is suffering from.

PCs meet a panicked Brynn fleeing Sprucetuck carrying what appears to be an acorn but underneath the fake shell conceals a locked metallic safe. The PCs question her and she reveals that she thinks inside the safe is the proof she needs. She stole it from Sprucetuck but was sprayed with a sticky awful smelling gunk as she ran off. The PCs weren’t all comfortable with the idea that Brynn was a thief!

The PCs discovered that Sprucetuck is now protected by its own mini scent border (possibly explaining why the flying squirrels attacking their neighbor Elmoss haven’t attacked them).

The PCs try to figure out what Brynn is covered with. They learn it’s similar to the scent from the border except it could be used to track Brynn or draw certain animals to her. They learn how to remove the scent but decide they’ve wasted enough time and must run to Lockhaven now (as a GM this surprised me, I thought they would remove the scent first but this was more exciting)!

They fail a Pathfinder test and are attacked by a Flying Squirrel, possibly from Elmoss, who’s attracted to the scent covering Brynn and the acorn. The PCs decide to go with a Fight Animal conflict instead of a Chase conflict. My goal was “capture Brynn and the acorn” with a starting Disposition of 7. PC’s goal was “force the Squirrel to runaway” with a starting Disposition of 8.

I wanted to go easy on the players so I haphazardly scripted Feint, Feint, Attack for my first round. Of course this actually ended up being fairly effective as the players scripted Defend, Maneuver, Attack. I won with a remaining Disposition of 1 and owed the PCs a Major Compromise. The Flying Squirrel abandoned the acorn and dragged a screaming Brynn away leaving a bloody trail behind that could be tracked if the PCs choose to pursue!

And then we ran out of time. We’re going to finish this mission and play a second mission next week when our 4th player joins us.

The 2 players new to Mouse Guard had no issues with the rules, tracking passes and fails, spending Fate, or scripting. How Nature and Persona work was still fuzzy for them but I’m sure it will be clear soon. The biggest rule issue they had was in character creation with marking skills checks. They kept looking for where to mark their checks on the character sheet. And for some reason adding +1 to their check total to determine the final skill rank was also momentarily confusing. Everyone may have just been hungry waiting for our food delivery.

Here are the 3 PCs…

Name: Autumn
Guard Rank: Patrol Guard
Age: 37
Home: Port Sumac
Fur Color: Brown
Cloak Color: Green
Friend: Thom the Weaver from Lockhaven
Enemy: Sloan the Loremouse from Sprucetuck (works with senior Scientists)
Belief: The Mouse Guard can do more than fight and I will show them how!
Goal: Find out more about what goes on inside Sprucetuck!
Instinct: In danger, hide and attack with bow!
Gear: Bow, Arrows, Small Knife
Traits: Tough 2, Sharp-eyed 1
Abilities: Nature 5, Will 4, Health 4, Resources 6, Circles 2
Skills: Fighter 2, Hunter 2, Instructor 2, Pathfinder 3, Scout 5, Survivalist 2, Weather Watcher 2, Cartographer 3, Persuader 2, Scent-border-wise 2, Sprucetuck-wise 2, Pirate-wise 2

Name: Finn
Guard Rank: Guard Mouse
Age: 18
Home: Lockhaven
Fur Color: Blonde
Cloak Color: Light Blues
Friend: Sloan, a Scientist in Sprucetuck
Enemy: Hannidy, a Patrol Leader from Lockhaven who thinks Finn only got into the Guard because of his wealthy Armorer family
Belief: If you do what right, you will always find a way!
Goal: I will prove myself worthy of my cloak!
Instinct: Always defend the honor of the Guard!
Gear: Sword, Fancy Helmet
Traits: Guards Honor 2
Abilities: Nature 4, Will 3, Health 5, Resources 5, Circles 4
Skills: Fighter 5, Weather Watcher 4, Haggler 3, Armorer 3, Harvester 2, Persuader 2, Ettiquete-wise 2, Economics-wise 2

Name: Cale
Guard Rank: Patrol Leader
Age: 52
Home: Elmoss
Fur Color: Gray
Cloak Color: Tattered Brown
Friend: Brynn, retired Mouse Guard from Elmoss whose suspects Sprucetuck is behind the Elmoss Squirrel attacks
Enemy: Walmond, Patrol Leader from Copperwood who is close to Copperwood’s leaders who have allied with Sprucetuck
Belief: The Guard has lost its moral center, so I’m keeping my head down and avoiding politics!
Goal: Keep Brynn from harm!
Instinct: Always have an exit strategy!
Gear: Sword
Traits: Alert 1, Skeptical 2
Abilities: Nature 4, Will 5, Health 4, Resources 3, Circles 4
Skills: Fighter 4, Healer 2, Hunter 5, Pathfinder 2, Scout 2, Survivalist 3, Carpenter 2, Insectrist 3, Elmoss-wise 2, Mouse Guard-wise 2, Flying Squirrel-wise 2, war-wise 2


One of the players referred to the Pathfinder skill as the Wandering Monster roll!

Played game 2!

The PCs hung up their cloaks!

They are Mouse Guard no more!

Aww man! Awesome!

I hope we’re gonna get a little more AP than that, though ;D ;D ;D