Mouse Guard Diaries: The First Duel

Mouse_GuardOh yes, another series 🙂

Last night my friend PM dropped by the house for an impromptu geekout.  We had a great session of armchair producing of potential remakes of Star Wars  over Pizza and beer.  We than played a game of Carcassone (loved it) and Dominion with Nico (my son won at Dominion, again).

When the kids were put to bed, PM started telling me about a scenario he’d like to build in a RPG, some sort of classic Samurai duel where charisma would rule combat more than Strength or Dexterity.  As he was sinking deeper and deeper in D&Disms to try to explain how you would play out 2 guys looking at each other for minutes (and slaying all the players around the table with abject boredom) I gently stopped him…

Chatty: Dude, stop right now, D&D is not made for this.  There’s a game that does exactly that, and it’s called Burning Wheel.

PM: Of course…

So we started talking about Mouseguard again and how we would need to try it soon.  Since we were kind of in a gaming lull of the evening, I suggested we take out the book (and the pre-generated Character Sheets I have printed out) and just play a bit with it.

So we each picked a sword-wielding mouseguard and we agreed to set a duel at dawn in the plaza of an undisclosed city.  We started re-reading the conflict section of the rules to try to get it right.  We fumbled a few things but the game’s engine is sturdy enough to withstand it.

We started by generating our Disposition, the conflict’s Hit Points so to speak, by rolling as many d6 as we had ‘Fighter’ skill ranks.  Each success (a roll of 4 or more, Mouseguard is a dice pool game) gains you one Disposition point, the total of which you add to your Health score (we flubbed that, adding our fighter to Health instead, giving my PC a clear advantage).

Then, we had to pick a Goal for our conflict.  What we wanted to achieve by winning the conflict.  The cool thing about the game is that you don’t have to say ‘Kill the other’ unless you have a story reason to do so.

After some cogitation…

PM: I want to distract you and all the people watching the duel so that my friends can sneak behind the crowd and infiltrate the Castle unseen.

Chatty: Great Idea!  Then, my PC wants to truly humiliate you in front of your loved ones.

3 minutes and an adventure was created out of nothing.  This is really cool.

Next came the ‘planning’ phase of combat,  we each had to chose 3 actions (from a list of 4) to plan our first 3 rounds of combat.  The actions are ‘attack, Defend, Feint and Maneuver’. We then unveiled our action for first round.  I Defended and PM maneuvered.

We then stepped out of the crunch and back into roleplaying (as we must roleplay our action choices)

Chatty: With my hand on my sword hilt I square my feet in the ground and observe you, ready for anything you may do.

PM: I slowly try to shift so that the morning sun gets in your eyes.

We each rolled our attacks (Defend vs Maneuver is an opposed check) and he won by a slight margin.  As I look at the rules while I write this, I noticed that we flubbed the attack too as maneuver does not ‘damage’ the opponent (as we played) but rather buys the PC one or several advantages for later in the fight.  Still the result was cool.

Chatty (as the GM): The Sun get’s in your opponent’s eyes, which unnerves him, making him lose his initial air of cool detachment.

In round two, I chose Feint and he chose Maneuver again.

PM: I slowly step toward you, always letting the sun behind my  back

Chatty:  I run toward you, but I overplay my sun-blindness and strike you at the last moment, trying to catch you by surprise!

Feint trumps maneuvers and defend actions, so I got to roll against his disposition, lowering it some…

Chatty: The duel has started and the sound of crossing steel rises over the morning bustle of the city (I may be taking some artistic license here as we were very focused on the rules, but this is totally the kind of cool descriptive crap I would say)

Round 3 saw us both attack…

Chatty: Circling each other, we both look for an opening to pounce on the other.

Attack vs Attack is an opposed check, the game’s default.

PM rolled a series of dice with a lot of 6’s in them.

Chatty: You know you can spend what’s called a fate Point and ‘explode’ your 6s.  You reroll them and keep re-rolling all 6s you play, adding successes.

Bottom line, I lost half my Disposition.

End of Round 3, Total duration: 5 minutes.

The duel ended on the next round where I feinted while he defended.  Defend allows you to ‘heal’ your disposition but gets totally blown out of the water by feint.  PM’s PC lost its remaining disposition and he was humiliated.

However, since my PC had lost more then half it’s disposition, a compromise had to be reached (the rules explain3 kinds of compromise).  We had to negotiate something where either  PM’s PC obtained half of what he wanted or we took away  half-of what my PC wanted.

PM: Okay, let’s say that as soon as you force me to yield in front of my loved ones, guards come into the plaza and investigate before you can bask in the glory of my defeat.  That would allow me to sneak out and help my friends enter the Castle through other means.

And thus a new adventure was born…  I was almost ready to pick it up from here and play the next scene.

We spent the next hour checking the other fiddly bits of the game, like traits, beliefs, advancement and using your Mousy Nature to get you out of a jam.  Needless to say after this short exercise, both PM and I were very excited to try an actual adventure!

Mouseguard now sits firmly on top of my ‘next RPG to try’.  I’m really glad I bought this game and was doubly lucky to get to talk to the designer a few weeks back.


  1. This little experiment was thoroughly enjoyable. We were able to create a scene out of nowhere and it gave us a shiny glimmer of what a game could be once every player grokked the system. My intuition tells me that this game will be a challenge for many DMs. The numerous plot twists that the player MUST introduce to the plot will require a good deal of improv. Fortunately, this door swings both ways and many players will find themselves outside their comfort zone for a short period.

    Luckily, the potential of the game shines through the first cautious step in these foreign waters.

  2. Tim Jensen says:

    At some point you may want to check out Blossoms Are Falling, the Burning Wheel supplement that is set in medieval Japan.

  3. @PM: Much promise in that system I feel 🙂 The simplicity of the story game elements are such that it would be somewhat easy to GM it off the tracks. I’m very curious to see how players like Vince and Frankie would take to it.

    @Tim: Thanks for the tip. That’s nice to know that such a supplement already exists.

  4. I look forward to reading how the Mouseguard games play out. Based on your talent and love of expostion, I can;t see how it will be anything but an enjoyable read and game for all involved.
    .-= LordVreeg´s last blog ..edited Character Creation =-.

  5. @Tim Jensen: You may have just cost me some of my spare time right there.

  6. I like the look of the Mouse Guard rules a lot. I am nervous about how it scales to a larger group with a mix of player types. I notice in the book all the examples are small groups. I think this game could be great for the storyteller players, but I am nervous about trying it with the more combat or challenge oriented players.
    .-= Brett´s last blog ..Role Playing Games and Community =-.

  7. @LV: Hey, finally someone here calls me an exhibitionist! 🙂 Of course I’ll make a story out of the whole thing! I hope we get to play before X-mas.

    @Brett: MG is designed to be optimal with 3-4 players. The rules allow for more PCs and are quite clear on how to deal with them. As for player type, I can assure you that the game is not all Storytelling. In fact I got it on pretty good authority that the game engine is all about fighting. Be it combat, Speeches, Debates and Chases, it’s all there… under a unified mechanic.

  8. That sounds pretty cool! I want one!

    Sounds rather challenging for the players, though.

    Lovely for the creative & role players… how do you think fare the more lurker and I-just-like-to-hang-with-my-friend kind of players?
    .-= Eric Maziade´s last blog ..On the road to Spellgu- postmortem =-.

  9. Casual players will likely shrug and say ‘I attack with my sword’ and chuck the dice… but they’ll notice how much fun the others have with more elaborate descriptions and will likely jump in.

    I’ve seen more than one casual player bloom in my time and it’s a beautiful thing.

    The author of the game told me that introverted shy types, once they understood how structured everything was, would tend to explode into roleplaying frenzy, getting up and jabbing fingers in people’s faces with their fighting words… this can become a very exciting game based on my seeing Crane demo it and me playing with it some.

  10. @Chatty:
    It really looks like it has elements that I miss from DnD! You really want to drag me into indyness, don’t you?

    (That being said – I wonder if these elements are “missing from DnD”… or if they just were part of my less self-conscious youth)
    .-= Eric Maziade´s last blog ..On the road to Spellgu- postmortem =-.

  11. I’ve been a fan of the Mouse Guard comics for a while, and I bought the RPG with the intention of running it, but I’m really having difficulty figuring out how to start the game in the first place. I guess I can’t quite get my head around making a quest that’s suitably intriguing to the players, so alas, months later and we still haven’t gotten to play.

  12. @Telan: That’s been sort of the concern I’ve had with trying out new RPGs as of late. Making sure I can come up with something that grabs them. Although, alot of my issue is that my players get burned out on making characters (Most of them) that trying a new RPG is something almost taboo to them.

  13. @Telan and Geekbob: Don’t be deceived by how ‘mundane’ the missions proposed in the book look. The fun is not the mission itself but how wrong things will go when players fail key dice rolls.

  14. Kevin Richey says:

    Attack vs Attack is an opposed check, the game’s default.

    Actually… Attack vs. Attack is independent (see the “I” on the “Action Interactions” table). Both sides roll separately to reduce each other’s disposition.

  15. Heya, Chatty (and others). If you’re looking to save reference time, check out these home-made conflict cards for MG. Some are simple and straight-forward (like mine) and others are flat-out freakin’ amazing.

    So what you do is simply lay ’em out, 3 per volley, face down in order. Each team flips them over, one at a time, as you go through each action. With the info on the cards, themselves, you know exactly how those actions play out against each other.
    .-= Rafe´s last blog ..Abstract Wealth =-.

  16. @Rafe: Thanks for the tools. I’ll look at them for out game. I must say that the Character Sheet provided on the Burning Wheel site are astoundingly beautiful and useful.

  17. How do you think MG would hold up with 2 very newbie players?
    I’ve glanced over teh rules, and alot went over my head, but i think a reread would see alot of it set right…
    I’m looking for a game system me and my wife can get into, atm its Swords & Wizardry, but MG looks to have alot of promise, and your post excites me about it further…

  18. I think It would hold up very well.

    I say print out the character sheets and try a duel. Then try one task. Read the Resolution chapter very carefully again and then look at Skills and Traits.

    It’s okay if you forget stuff, like using a belief/trait against you to gain a check for the player turn.

    I think the core concepts are Skills+traits, Conflicts and using Nature to help you when in need.

  19. I’m glad to hear you got to find out why MG is so much fun – just imagine taking the “story” you created in your duel and then running with it to create an entire session, or even campaign’s worth, of content. It’s amazingly easy when you start using the PCs beliefs, instincts, and traits, along with the host of NPCs they create for you.
    .-= MJ Harnish´s last blog ..IndieCon – What’s on my “to play” list =-.

  20. Actually, as for newbie players, I found this:
    Specifically this page:

    …which details how to introduce the rules in a story way, kind of like the intro section of a video game. Hope that helps!

  21. Thanks Telan, that looks great!!!

  22. Someone already mentioned it above, but you would love the BW supplement “The Blossoms Are Falling”. Samurai in that book are ruled by their honor and shame more than their strength. For instance, when a samurai enters combat he positions himself using his etiquette skill. He could attempt to use his speed, but it would bring shame upon him.
    .-= Nicholas´s last blog ..The Five Maxims of the Dungeon Master =-.


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