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Mouse Guard: Sadie’s Bridge

March 27, 2011

(crossposted to the Forge. A little bit of overlap with my previous post on MG, but some more interesting system notes as well)

We just finished our second session of Mouse Guard, which has been a ton of fun. We initially planned on doing a one-shot, but we’re going to extend for a 3-5 session run.

The group is myself, Jono, & Sushu (we’ve been playing for about a year now, through 2 Primetime Adventures campaigns) and my friend Ken, who has never roleplayed before. Jono wanted to do some GMing, and Mouse Guard got him excited. None of us have played MG before, but everyone got a chance to read the comics before the game.

Getting Started

Provided you have one or two people who know the rules, MG is really quick and easy to get started. We were up and running in 10 minutes with the pregen characters. (I’m coming more to the idea that roleplaying, as a hobby, might do better if pregens were the norm for play…).

We picked Kenzie, Sadie, and Lieam. The default assumption seems to be Kenzie-Saxon-Lieam, so we had to adjust a couple of Instincts on the character sheets that tied into Saxon, specifically. This was effortless and worked fine.

Having a clear mission structure, and the simplicity of the Belief, Instinct, and Goals for the game meant we were never at a loss as to what we were trying to do next (HOW to do it, but not in goals or direction).

Events

Our patrol was tasked with getting to Shaleburrow, helping build a bridge and deliver mail. We were warned that relations there were strained, from a previous failed Guard mission. We managed to get to the stream where a team of mice were trying to build a bridge and discovered some hostility and managed to help them out and earn their respect – including an inspired water rescue by Lieam for one of the workers being washed away.

Before the bridge could be finished, we ended up rescuing an injured mouse and his son, and then the rains just wouldn’t stop, threatening to cause the stream to flood. It was a desperate scramble into a tree, and fending off a “playful” fox cub.

By the second session, the cub’s mother had come around to find out who injured her child. It was a mad dash to try to cross the stream in makeshift boats before she found us, and it turned into a brutal losing fight before one of the Guard, Sadie, sacrificed herself to save the rest. The fox, happy with her meal, trotted off with Sadie’s little leg still dangling from her mouth.

It was a grim trip back to Shaleburrow, and a lot of shady politicking between the mice there. Kenzie cut a lot of backroom deals to try to get things to move along, while the Council of Shaleburrow is divided into the rationing of food for the year… with Kenzie backing a rationing plan that later, turns out, might not be necessary for survival, but rather keeping a surplus for trade…

The big concern being brought up for next time is the fact that the scent border wasn’t holding and that it needed to be restored ASAP.

Strengths and Speedbumps

A small speedbump in the game is that there’s a lot of skills which overlap and aren’t clear by the title which one applies- “Is this a Survivalist, Pathfinder, or Scout roll?” came up a couple of times. I expect with more familiarity, it’ll be easier to figure these out, and, basically minor things.

One of the strengths of the skills is that they become somewhat of a toolbox the player uses to think about how the character can solve problems. You’re stuck, you look down the list, and you get ideas of how to use it to your advantage.

I made sure to help nudge folks to declare exactly what they were doing in the fiction, to help or aid or use their skill. This wasn’t any effort at all, but it was an important step that really made a lot of fun for play.

The Conflict system feels “just right”. We’ve gotten into a fight once a session, and it’s been just right in terms of tension, entertainment and challenge. Splitting up the actions across the team sets up a neat turn-taking system that works well. It’s also interesting to note despite the simple combat options (Attack, Defend, Maneuver, Feint), we managed to build up a lot of fiction between Helping each other and the results of each roll.

Rewards and Hard Choices

There’s an elegant trick to the Belief, Instinct and Goal system- you can only get rewarded once for each of these, a given session, so you find that you’re pushed to show off each of these once a session, but not go overboard in hammering them over and over. Because of that, you also can have two players with opposing BIGs, and instead of it taking up the whole game, it becomes a back and forth- one character shows off their Belief, Instinct or Goal, and then the other one does as well.

It pushes you to play with all sides of your character AND also pass the spotlight when you’re done.

We didn’t fully click with the “Checks” system until this second session. It’s pretty interesting because you end up picking which conflicts you can live with failing and which ones you absolutely do not want to risk. We built up a surplus pretty easily this time, and the option to share Checks between the team is pretty brilliant and a smart bit of spotlight sharing.

Skills and stats seem to grow really slowly in this game. I expect we might see a skill or two jump a single point by the end of 4-5 sessions. Whether this is about the pacing of our group, or us spreading out the stat rolls, I’m not sure.

The big thing which hit us hard this session was paying closer attention to the Nature stat. When you spend a Persona point, you have two choices- you can get a single die added to your roll, OR you can get as many dice as your Nature (3-5). When you use your Nature, if it’s the kind of stuff that’s in a mouse’s nature (hiding, foraging, etc.) then you just get the dice, no problem. If it’s the kind of stuff that’s against a mouse’s nature (like, fighting a fox) then it gets temporarily reduced.

Problem is, “Temporary” is a very long time. Basically, one player can get back one point of Nature a session.

We had 2 players who had reduced our Natures down to 3 each, which made life very, very hard when it came time to defending and avoiding a hungry fox.

Needless to say, we’re going to be pretty damn careful about when and where we spend Persona points for future rolls.

Overall, we’re having a good time.

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