We spent half of the afternoon creating the Mouse Guard patrol. After that, I called for a break to play a game of the Battlestar Galactica board game, during which one of the players promptly fell asleep at the table!
We gently offered our overworked friend to go downstairs for a power nap and we reset the game. As usual, I ended up completely mucking things up without being a Cylon and the fleet ran out of fuel far short of Kobol. I love that game, but I don’t think I’ll be allowed playing it again anytime soon.
After we ordered and ate our evening meal I asked if they wanted to play a Mouse Guard session now that the PCs were made and that we’d had some time to take a break from char gen and do something else. All players were willing to start playing…
Quick! Get the mission parameters!
…So I actually had to prep an adventure, like right now!
Now here’s the fundamental secret that makes Mouse Guard so cool to GM for: an adventure is only really just 2 obstacles with 2 likely major story twists if the party fails. And the obstacle are actually a magical formula in which you pick your ingredients from a choice of 4:
- The wilderness
- The weather
- Other mice
So armed with that and an idea spark I had had a few days ago, I took out a piece of paper and I wrote down something to that effect:
- 1st Spring Mission: Seek what happened to lost patrol in charge of Pathfinding in second ‘tier’ of territories
- Pathfinder check Ob 6
- Success: Lost patrol stuck on tree in middle of “new” river, fox trying to catch them
- Failure: Lost patrol killed by fox, fox attacks PC’s patrol
- Find new beaver dam causing floods in inhabited territories
- Play it by ear based on player input
- Success: Mission over
- Failure: Impose condition(s) on PCs
- Play it by ear based on player input
- Pathfinder check Ob 6
Design time? 10 minutes!
The Lost Patrol, Scene 1, take 1, action!
The game started in Lockhaven, the fortress-town of the Guard and nexus of the mouse territories. The party was summoned by Gwendolyn, leader of the Mouse Guard, to receive their orders for their first Spring mission. For the last few weeks, mice patrols had been moving outwards in the territories to re-establish post-Winter contacts with the various cities and towns, creating new paths where the weather and the wilderness had wiped them.
The party, a veteran patrol, was sent a bit later in the season to tackle the more complicated missions that arose from less experienced patrols getting into serious trouble. The PCs were tasked in retracing the steps of a patrol that was sent out pathfinding to connect a key town from the middle territories with those near the north east frontier.
This lead to a short goal setting session. Here is what the players chose for themselves:
Malcolm (Ex-con and Patrol Leader): Keep the team in good shape
Jasper (Desperately Helpful Tenderpaw): Impress the Patrol Leader
Edgar (Reluctant Guard Mouse): Find the Lost Patrol
Finn (Brazen Veteran Patrol Guard): Find the reason why the patrol was lost
Now Mouse Guard abstracts a lot of things by more or less fast forwarding between the mission’s briefing and the first obstacle. That’s what I did. I described how the PCs got to the last known position of the lost patrol and let the PCs deal with the obstacle: a Scout check vs a lvl 6 obstacle. That meant that a PC (whose average skill-level was 3 dice) had to roll 6 4s or more with whatever dice pool he ended up with after all bonuses were accounted for.
Now I forget what were the exact bonuses for that roll but it turned out that the party failed that scout check. As I’ve said before, the game is often more fun when failure occurs. This failed roll lead to the first “animal” twist of the game session. A new “river” had caught the lost patrol by surprise and, while trying to figure a way to cross it, were assaulted and killed by a fox.
I surmised that the fox wasn’t all that hungry but it still prowled around, wanting to wreck havoc with any other mice it met.
You are a guard, fighting is what you do!
I had set up the first twist to be a fight against a fox while the PCs could see a downed guard from the lost patrol lying on the river’s edge. Mouse Guard conflicts are, like much of the rest if the game, about specific goals, but like our last game, we all got confused between what type of conflict I had chosen (a fight) and what goals players wanted to choose for their paired-up PCs. Alex and Maze’s characters (Malcolm and Jasper) wanted to sleek away from the fight while the the other two (Edgar and Finn) were all for fighting it out.
Now if one thing Mouse Guard does not do well it’s conflicts about widely different goals. The rules are pretty clear that you can’t mix and match conflict types like combat and a chase and our previous experience pointed that out. The closest I saw to what the players wanted to achieve was to have Edgar and Finn fight out the fox and then, if they lost, have the fox chase Malcolm and Jasper.
That’s what Maze and Alex wanted to do but that solution, from a gameplay perspective, was less than ideal because 2 players would need to sit out a conflict while the other two would face a large threat with less resources. That’s when a rules heading popped up from the opened book and gave me the solution out of this:
Fighty Goals for Fighting Conflicts
Phil: I’m sorry guys, I’m asking for a fight conflict here, one fight that can lead to the death of one of you. You are of the Mouse Guard, you stand above other Mice in terms of courage and duty. You don’t run away from a predator, fighting them is one of your core missions, you have to choose goals compatible with combat.
Alex and Maze emmed and ahhed some but I uncharacteristically put my GM foot down and asked them to figure out a combat-related goal that worked within the confines of their beliefs and instincts.
In the end, the following goals were chosen:
- Fox: Eat one more mice before slinking away
- Edgar/Finn: Make the fox retreat (Mice can’t kill foxes unless they invoke a military or science-based conflict, they are too high on the “Order of things” scale)
- Jasper/Malcolm: Ensure that no Guard are killed in this fight
After some book flipping (Burning Wheel games require constant book reference, fortunately it is rapid)we were ready to start the fight!
Up next: An unlikely hero wins the day!
Image Credit: David Petersen