See part 1 of my convention report here.
The afternoon of this con saw me join a new group for a game of Mouse Guard. I had not been a player (instead of a game master) for some time and I was approaching the experience with a mix of excitement and worry. Excitement to finally see someone else run Mouse Guard, worry that he’d be bad at it, or that I’d hog the spotlight from other players and annoy the hell out of others like I know I can do.
Then I gently told my numerous neuroses to go outside and play in traffic while I settled in my chair to have some actual fun. This post relates the 1st of 2 missions we played that afternoon. While both were very enjoyable, the 1st one bests showcased how the game plays.
I was soon joined by a group of awesome players: Florian, Cedric, Harold and our GM, Dominique.
Dominique is one of those Burningheads you hear about in gaming conventions. You know what I’m talking about right? I mean those who wear Luke Crane’s Burning Wheel t-shirts all the time and get the game’s logo tattooed behind their necks to show their undying support for his games!
I kid. Dominique was a very enthusiastic GM whose quest for finding the RPG that met his needs led him to Burning Wheel and Mouse Guard. He’s told me he played several successful campaigns with both. My initial worries were rapidly put to rest.
Our GM presented us with our Mouse Guard patrol, made of various pre-generated characters. I decided to go for a Tendepaw apprentice called Sloan whose beliefs and traits screamed “evil git” but who I morphed into something closer to my own playstyle which was “impulsive troublemaker”.
Harold, with whom I developed a quick friendly report, picked up Thom, our “I’m too old for this crap” Patrol Leader. Florian (who later joined my 4e game) played the role of “I need to listen to my heart and follow my head” Sadie. Finally, Cedric played Baron, our beefy halberd-yielding tough mouse.
The mission, as is mostly the case in this game, was very straightforward. Sadie’s enemy, a merchant called Shane came to us, all battered and wounded, telling us he had been waylaid by pirate mice on the Northern “Sea”. He begged Sadie to help escort his ship and cargo from Darkwater to Port Sumac (2 coastal cities on that “sea”, scale is pretty screwed up in that game) and find any info about the pirates hideout to recover his lost wife.
I’m having a bit of a fridge logic moment here… wouldn’t Shane ask us to find his wife first? I guess there’s a reason why Sadie didn’t like the guy. After a bit of hesitation, Florian decided to have Sadie accept helping his adversary and we set out on his boat.
GM’s Turn: Disaster Strikes!
As our party of guard mice set out on the open water, I knew trouble was coming (the game thrives on obstacles and conflicts) and I also knew that trouble was even more fun when we failed a challenge! So when the DM hinted that the weather might be changing and that he wanted to know how we were going to deal about that, I let go my inner instigator. I knew full well that the first player to step on the plate had to go for it and could not weasel out.
Except that Sloan was not, by far, the best mice for the job.
So using my low mid-range weather watching skills, accepting the guidance from my mentor, but pushing away the help of Sadie (my belief was “I’m superior to all other mice in the territory”). Thus, I only managed to tie the opposed check vs weather. When given the choice for a tie-breaker by Dominique, I promptly chose to use my “Cunning” trait in favor of my opponent (i.e. the weather) arguing that I secretly wanted to fail to get a better occasion to shine later.
The weather turned, much to Sadie’s displeasure and the boat started collapsing. Sadie took the lead to prevent it from breaking up and, as can be expected, refused my help! (The tension was rising!) All other guards chipped in but the roll failed and the boat collapsed and we managed to save most of the cargo onto a makeshift raft slowly drifting toward Port Sumac… right into a nest of Geese!
The GM called for a fight and we split in 2 teams, each choosing our conflict goals. A pair of geese males would try to teach us mice a lesson by capsizing our raft, Harold and I settled on “Striking terror in the heart of those birds so they leave all mice alone” and the other team chose “Prevent the loss of all cargo”.
What a fight that turned out to be! My character had no direct fighting skills (my weapon was a shield) so our team alternated between attacks, defences and manoeuvres (and generous use of my poison-lore) while the other team focused on attacks and manoeuvres. The geese made a few passes at the boat and destabilized our position quite strongly yet with a few well played strokes of Thom’s sword, Sadie’s sling and, especially Baron’s Halberd we also dropped the geese’s disposition (the game’s hit point).
Fortunately, both of our teams managed successful Defence rounds (which “heals” our disposition) and my character went all out, climbing the rafts mast, jumping in the air and landing a very solid “Death from Above” hit on one of the 2 aggressive birds, making them flee in abject terror, all cargo safe. Sadie’s enemy was pushed overboard, but Sadie, after visibly hesitating, threw Shane a rope to bring him back on the raft.
Tired, hungry and thirsty, we made it into port, sought out Sadie’s friend who owned a Tavern and eventually convinced her to share with us that some thugs over at the docks had contacts with the pirates who careened at an island near Port Sumac.
Player’s Turn: Sloan’s revenge!
The player’s turn is that very peculiar mechanic where players obtain, through using character traits against themselves during the GM’s turn, a number of turn tokens to use to redirect the story’s narrative and recover from the tribulation of the GM’s turn (i.e. the adventure).
Now the game rewards players who use their character’s beliefs, instincts and traits, so I decided to go for gold. My instinct was “Always seek revenge” and I had a target!
I used my token to approach Sadie’s enemy who was painfully recovering from this whole ordeal. I suggested that Sadie could use a good lesson in humility and proposed that I play a prank on her, provided that Shane supplied a very specific chemical compound that I was sure he had in his cargo of dies we had just saved. He happily obliged and I, in front of a disbelieving GM, explained how I planned to concoct a bleaching solution to drop in Sadie’s washbasin during the night. I made a sneaky skill roll and succeeded!
Now what was really cool was that Sadie’s player, Florian, totally played with me on that one and described how Sadie cluelessly went about washing her furry face, failing to notice all the bizarre looks she got from everyone.
We managed to track down the pirate’s most likely hideout (with the help of Sadie and myself acting as distractions) with the help of Baron infiltrating a dock gang and got to see Thom try to armtwist a governor into helping the patrol and then fight a dock thug to secure his commitment.
A great mission. Dominique showed all the elements I look for in a great GM, enthusiasm, flexibility and a willingness to let players suggest events and consequences whenever he has to make a choice. The other 3 players were also great to play with.
I truly love this game and I can’t wait to play it with my friends tomorrow. I’ll keep you all posted!