Mouse Guard Chronicles, Session 1, Part 2: The Lost Patrol

Prelude to the Mission

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
  • Animals
  • 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

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


  1. Still have a hard time wrapping my head about how to approach the fight when my mouse’s first instinct is to run away (and think before coming back).

    Probably that my goal at this point isn’t actually to run away – even though my actions would start this way…

    We’ll see how it turns out this afternoon…

    (How many ‘fighty goals’ can there actually be, if you’re *in* the fight? Attack, defend or run away + target is all I can think of.)

    I figured out what my main hurdle is at this point: I usually play in reaction to the environment, while MG seems to want me to take “narrative control” of the environment.

    Normally, I expect a scene to be described and I’ll [hope to] use my creativity to use what’s in there to achieve my goals.

    With MG, I’ve had not to describe what I do based on what I saw – I first had to decide what I hoped will happen and then describe how I make it happen, shaping the world and the narrative in the process.

    So, to translate in combat terms, my “action” would be more akin to : “I run and climb up the tree, trying to get out of reach of the enemy while its occupied with my fellow mouse guards. From my vantage point, I notice that the beast has a nasty wound at the top of its head. So I find a vantage position, take out my bow and take aim…”

  2. The Narrative Control aspect seems to be the major leap in a MG-like game.

    It’s also good to know about snags like this, so that one can prep for them. I think you’ve hit upon a key difficulty to keep in mind with MG, that all conflicts have to be unified somehow, which changes the feel of the game immensely from other RPGs.

  3. Did you seriously involve beavers in the plot of the RPG you ran on Canada Day?

    Sigh 🙂

  4. “You are of the Mouse Guard, you stand above other Mice in terms of courage and duty.”


  5. @Eric: You are getting closer to wrapping your mind around shared narrative play, I feel it and your post game analysis shows it well. The rest is practice. You have to understand that Yan and Alex are much more used to freeform play (it’s Yan’s default DMing style and Alex is one of Yan’s players) and PM is playing one of his first RPG campaigns and it seems that shared narrative is his natural fit.

    You have 25 years of D&D to fight through… like I did in the last year. 🙂

    @Andy: What snags me often in MG is that I give players choices in setting the type of conflict and obstacles (like I usually do in D&D) during the GM’s turn… and I shouldn’t. Instead, I should stick to setting obstacles and let players grab narrative control when they describe how they go about resolving the issue.

    @Dave: Did I do that? Oh my. If I said it was a coincidence, no one would believe me.

    @Charisma: Thanks! =)

  6. Phil: I will preface this by saying I haven’t played the Mouse Guard RPG yet, but I’ve read a fair amount of the RPG book and I’m also a big fan of the comics. While I love what you’ve written here, I think some of the issues with the “conflict” might be because you’ve thrown a starting objective at the party that includes THREE of the four possible conflicts.

    The river = wilderness, the lost patrol = other mice, and the fox = animals.

    From what I remember of that part of the book, I will have to go back and read it to check, but it seemed to encourage you to keep things as simple as possible. If I were to modify it, I’d possibly make the missing patrol the main objective (other mice) and then based on success or failure introduce one of the other elements and then based on that success or failure introduce another element later on. So: If they succeed they find one guard mouse injured on the path, and finding him leads them to the other mice who are stranded by the river but it hasn’t swelled a huge amount yet and it’s easier to save them. If they fail, they don’t find the injured mouse and have to find the others later, in a worse situation with the river. Then perhaps based on how the river situation goes (whether or not they found the injured mouse first) the fox becomes an issue later on.

    I’m not 100% on this, but I pretty clearly remember the overriding idea in the MG RPG book of keeping the conflicts/obstacles as simple as possible. Not that you did it wrong, but maybe the way it was presented (all at once?) led to some of the issues of mixing fight with non-fighting conflicts?

  7. @Bartoneous: It was not presented all at once. The fault really was with us still being noobs in the game. Us trying to wrap our minds around that core concept of how this game works.

    The most confusing part for me was splitting the group in two teams when you have 4 players fighting the same enemy.

    We had our second game yesterday and it was a lot less confusing. When a conflict arise you first set the nature of the conflict and once it is set that is what it is, period.

    In this case it was a fight. It is with your goal that you set what you are aiming at. In this case Jasper and Malcolm could have chosen as goal. “Every one of the mouses escapes from the fight.”

    Another aspect that confused us was the names of the actions used in the conflict. We read “Attack” and assume that it means hitting the enemy but what it really means his “forwarding your goal”.

    So in the case of my suggested goal “attack” could mean running away. Defend could mean hiding in bushes. Maneuver could mean climbing a tree and feint could mean going in a zig zag pattern.

    Seeing the name of the actions as something else then the word written on our sheet was harder than expected and we often missed what it stood for.

    To sum things up, while the conflict type is for everyone the goal of the two groups can be somewhat opposite and we sort out what finally happen base on who win the most and what kind of compromise is required.

  8. @Bart: We spoke through IM about this and you are right that I may have gone just a bit more complex than the standard 2 obstacles, 2 twists model but it worked out fine. After 2 full sessions, I can attest that the players have found the adventure to be a seamless narrative that jumps from obstacle to conflict in a logical manner…

    Which is really funny because in both case, none of the 4 elements made it into the adventure in order and I even had to switch out an obstacle to replace it with another “made on the spot” one to account with previous successes from the players that shaped where the story was going.

    @Yan: You are spot on. The learning curve of the game is steeper for people who didn’t read the book or who aren’t already fans of Crane’s games. For us D&D heads, the steps were a bit higher, but I really feel that the rewards of playing that game outweighs the little missteps with the rules we make (none of which broke the game).

    I’m looking forward to the time we’ll be able to tackle 2 conflicts in one session without getting to tired by it. =)

  9. @Phil: Argument conflict are more exhausting then the others. Having to say something that fits whit the chosen action and roleplay it argh!!! 😉

  10. @Yan: I LOVED it! I wonder why?

  11. @ChattyDM & @Yan:
    Love the concept.

    But I have a hard time wrapping my head around the (to me) counter-intuitive descriptions “feint” and “manoeuvre”. (Among other wraps I seem to have a hard time adjusting to).

    On a somewhat unrelated note, I think I need to embrace a bit more the potential silliness of my character and work very hard to drop the “find the right answer” attitude.

    I mean, the possibilities are incredible with the idea of “desperately wanting to help”, no?

  12. @Phil: Loved it too. It’s more demanding then the other type of conflicts is what i meant.

  13. @Eric: As Weird Al said, we would all gain if we “Dared to be Stupid”

    @Yan: Ah! I’m happy you did! This is shaping up to be an awesome campaign!


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