Right, so… where was I?
We had most the skills and wises nailed down for the characters, and we knew what skill each character’s mentor had emphasized in their training, so once again I went back to an idea from that article on teaching Mouse Guard through character generation and decided to show everyone how Independent tests worked.
6. The first test. I introduced the basics of the game system to everyone by doing an Independent test with each player. Based on the mentor they described and the focus each mentor took in their training, I would come up with a Ob 4 test (pretty difficult within the system) that they needed to face with a single Independent test. Getting a bonus to the roll from one of the player’s Wises are okay, plus the player to that player’s right could also describes how they help with the roll, and gives one helping die to the player.
Once that was done, they got to check either a success or failure for that skill, and we proceeded on to the next thing.
The thing was, due to the nature of the tests, this turned into a bit of a challenge.
I started with Kate, playing Rosamund, and asked for a reminder about what her Mentor had emphasized in her training.
“Fighter”, she replied.
“Fighter? I thought that was your natural talent.”
“That too.” She looked at her sheet. “It’s also my specialty.” She looked at me. “What?”
“Nothing.” I tried to figure out how to frame a scene involving a Fight test that was logically an Independent Test (rather than a versus test, which was the next thing I was going to do) and… yeah. Also, in such a way that Dave could help her in some way.
“Okay, so…” I looked at the map of the Territories. “You’re in Pebblebrook. Your patrol is. Your mentor has been on you about how all your fancy moves and dueling rules are fine, but don’t carry much weight when you’re out in the wild. To drive the point home, he… umm…” I glance at Dave. “He sends you out to recon a farm where the Pebblebrook mice have reported… well, they’re not sure — some say a big animal, some say weasel raiders. Dave, your patrol’s out in this area too, because this has turned into kind of a big mess, and your leader sends you along with Kate — Rosamund.”
“And Aelwyn is scouting and doing his thing, and Rosamund, you’re like… poking around the outbuildings, a big granary… and you come around the building and come up face to face with a bobcat.”
They both blink. “Holy Crap.”
“Yeah… so…” I struggle to frame this up. “The thing is way too big to seriously threaten — you’d need a couple dozen guards to have a chance at this thing, maybe more — so you just need to get away. Luckily, this thing can’t seem to decide if you’re food or a toy or something to ignore, so you’re not rolling against it, and not having to beat its full Nature. You’re sword’s out and you’re just trying to hold it off and get it away.”
So we tally up dice, and Kate has some kind of sick number of dice — her Fighting is a 6, for pete’s sake, which is as high as it can go in the game — and Dave gives her a hand using his Predator-wise by shouting “poke it in the nose, it should back off!” Kate wins the challenge handily and the two mice beat paws back to their respective patrols to report that yes… there APPEARS to be something amiss in Pebblebrook.
Next up is Aelwyn, and I ask Dave what his mentor’s training focus had been on, and he tells me it’s Scout. Okay. That’s a bit easier, although it’s supposed to always be a versus test, but whatever. So is Fighter as far as I can imagine. C’est la gaming.
“So… same basic thing, Dave,” I say. “You’re in Pebblebrook, still, and it’s a bit later in this mission we’re flashing back to, and you’ve been sent out to scout around and see if you can find the lair of the bobcat or any weasels, because some people swear they’ve seen weasels around. It’s weird, and it’s raising a panic in the western territories, which is why, Margie, you’re Patrol is out there too. You two tenderfeet have been paired up on this scouting thing while your leaders confer. This is going to be and Obstacle 4 Scouting test, and Margie…”
“… can help with Pathfinder.”
“Perfect. You’re pointing out on your map which roads and paths in the area are probably too well-traveled to use, and Aelwyn’s weaving through the countryside, looking anything weird, and… roll.”
Dave does, but he only comes up with three winning dice, and he needs four.
“So, you’re up on a bank, like a low rise that drops off sharply into this hollow, where there’s a small fire and a handful of weasels around it. They’re talking about how they need more meat to lure the bobcat and keep the thing in area and scaring the locals so they don’t notice the weasels and whatever they’re doing. Right about then, the bank gives way and you tumble down in amongst them. There’s a lot of mud and rocks falling too, so you’re not immediately screwed, but you have to scramble and run like hell to escape them.”
I explain that, when you fail a roll, you can still succeed, but I also hit them with a Twist (something unexpected complicates things) or Consequences (they are saddled with some penalizing conditions). In this case, it doesn’t matter, because this is all flashback, but I explain that I’d probably give them consequences – Dave would get the worst of it, cuz he was the ‘lead’ on the roll, and Margie would get a lesser penalty. For example, I might give Dave the conditions of Tired and Angry after they escape, which Margie might get away with just “Hungry and Thirsty”. If they’d really blow the roll, I might have Injured Dave instead, and giving Margie Tired.
We cover all that, and there’s quite a little narrative going on to this flashback thing that I like.
Lucia’s skill-to-test is Pathfinder, which she’s quite good at, and I flash back just a bit further, explaining that the three patrols had met up in Barkstone and wanted to find a way to get to Pebblebrook without using the main routes, which was a Pathfinder roll, with Kate helping out via her Weather Watcher skill. Margie nails it, and we play through how the three patrols sneak into the area around Pebblebrook and start their recon that we’d already played with the other two.
Once we finished describing these scenes, we went around the circle again, with each player describing their mentor presenting their tenderpaw with a cloak and inviting them to stay with the Guard at the end of their first major Patrol. The player tells us the color of the cloak, and why the mentor chose that color.
- Rosamund’s cloak is green, the color of life and vitality.
- Lucia’s cloak is buff, the same shade as her fur, to remind her that her own goals and those of the Guard are one.
- Aelwyn’s cloak is rust colored, “because it won’t show the blood-stains much, kid.”
7. The players then write down a Belief and an Instinct, maybe influenced by those scenes we’d just played. We took quite a bit of time hammering on these, but in the end I think everyone was pretty happy with them, though the Instincts might need to be a little more “triggery” for Margie.
- Rosamund’s belief is “You can find glory by yourself, but only the Guard can achieve victory.” (which can, no coincidence, be summarized as “All for one, and one for all.”
Her instinct is “always keep my equipment in fighting repair.”
- Aelwyn’s belief is “The Guard prevails so long as it has heroes.”
His instinct is “Always take the most Heroic action.”
- Lucia’s belief is “Truth and Knowledge are their own reward.” (We’ll see about that.)
Her instinct is “Discover and Document.” and… “Endure?” Maybe.
8. Friends. Each player tells about a friend they have.
- Rosamund’s friend is Saxon, who is a good platonic friend and a sparring partner during the long Winter seasons in Lockhaven.
- Aelwyn’s friend is Brynn, a fellow guard mouse who was recruited at the same time as him.
- Lucia’s friend is Aunt Moira, a cartographer in Barkstone.
9. Enemies. Each player tells me about an enemy they have. I set up a Versus Test (my roll against theirs) with their enemy.
- Rosamund’s enemy is Miranda, a potter in Copperwood. Once a childhood friend, she dislikes Rosamund for “stealing” Saxon.
- Aelwyn’s enemy is his brother Darwyn, a senior harvester in Ivydale who resent Ael for leaving the ‘family calling’ for fortune and glory in the Guard.
- Lucia’s enemy is Thom, a patrol leader in the Guard.
The versus tests go like so:
- Rosamund returns to Copperwood after being admitted officially into the Guard for some R&R. She’s spending the evening at a local pub near her family’s home with her old friends when Miranda shows up. Eventually, Miranda starts in on Rosa, insinuating that our short little fighter only joined the guard to ‘get’ Saxon or, possibly, just seduce every male Guard in sight. It’s a Persuasion versus Deception test, with the opinions and beliefs of their mutual friends on the line. Kate brings in Copperwood-wise on the roll because “I know these mice, and they know me.”
We tie the roll, I explain the various options when that happens, and Kate opts for a Will-vs.-Will tiebreaker roll, which I win pretty handily. Margie comments that Miranda just “out-stubborned” the argument, and I go along with that, narrating how Miranda keeps harping and harping on the topic, while Rosamund loses interest fairly quickly and finally just blurts out “Yes! Fine, yes! That’s exACTly why I did it. Are you happy?” And stalks out. Kate wasn’t loving having lost this conflict, but the final narration seemed to satisfy her pretty well.
- Aewyn’s versus conflict had to do with a mission in Ivydale to track down some predators, with Aelwyn scouting for his patrol and his brother, scoffing, leading a group of locals on his own. Aelwyn handily schooled his brother in this contest, proving without a doubt that he knew what he was about in this Guard work.
- Lucia’s contest was against Thom, in which her patrol and Thom’s were both in one of the northern shore towns, and they fell into a debate about whether or not the weather was going to get worse the next day and interfere with local harvests. Despite bringing in her widget-wise and a very scientific-looking pinecone barometer, Thom showed that experience and… you know… looking into the sky would always beat an over-clever youngling with some gadgets.
10. Suit Up. Everyone writes down some gear. Mouse Guard has a lovely, elegant ‘encumbrance’ system: you can’t have more stuff than what fits in the (small) Gear area on the character sheet. We probably still overgeared, when compared to the simple lists of ‘only the important stuff’ you see with the examples in the book, but whatever.
11. Group Challenge. We then played through one full conflict that happened sometime in the past. Conflicts in Mouse Guard are a series of double-blind scripted actions, and can be pretty interesting. We’d already gone through an independent and versus test, so this just involves choosing actions and playing out the right tests as a consequence.
The setup for this went back to our Pebblebrook flashback situation. I told the group that the three of them had discovered a group of Weasel Spies, and it was going to come down to a fight.
- The Weasels goal was to capture the mice and prevent them from warning anyone else about the weasel plan (I decided this was all happening in the weeks leading up to the big war in 1149 that cost the Territories three towns to the weasels).
- The player’s goal was to capture the weasels if possible, kill them if not, drive them off at the very least, and destroy their map of the area. (I told them to aim for a lot of stuff on their goal, so that they could still get some of it if they needed to compromise at the end of the Conflict.)
Dave ended up the designated leader for the Conflict, we rolled to determine group dispositions, then they asked me to leave the room so they could script their first three actions.
When I came back, they were ready, and we got to it.
- The first action was Aelwyn’s – he’s scripted an Attack action with his bow. I had also scripted an Attack, and normally that would mean that, because of Dave’s bow, whoever rolled better would ‘win’, but I was attacking with a thrown knife, so it ended up being two independent Attacks, unblocked by the other side. Dave rolled better, but their side had less Disposition to start with, so I was still better off then them.
- The next action turned out to be Lucia, who was doing a “Manuever” (improving the group’s situation), using a bow. I was also doing a Maneuver action (more thrown knives), which in this case meant that once again, we were just rolling Independently, rather than Versus. Margie rolled very well, and I didn’t — the end result was that her maneuvering and bow shots left a huge opening for Rosamund. (And extra dice for Rosamund to roll, and one less dice for me to roll in the next action.)
- Rosamund, with her Fighter 6, scripted an Attack. Surprise Surprise. I had ALSO scripted an attack. This was pretty dangerous, because the two of us were both close enough to defeat that we could both be defeated in the same simultaneous action, which would mean that both sides would get everything they wanted from the fight. Needless to say, that was a pretty dangerous result. It’s also exactly what happened: Kate rolled a huge pile of dice and wiped me out, but I didn’t need to do much take out the player’s side of the conflict either.
So what happened? Well, I couldn’t capture them, but I could do the rest — the fight was bloody, brutal, and short; the weasel spies were dead, their map destroyed, but though the mice struggled valiantly to get back and worn the others about what was about to happen, they were too Tired, too Injured, and they simply didn’t get there in time to do any good… maybe things were already too late long before that, but the fact of it is, they blamed themselves.
And that’s where we left off.
Personally, I was very happy with the session – I felt like we got the characters sketched out pretty well, but more than that, I think the skill tests throughout really helped give some color and depth and a shared history to the group that I really enjoy. I’m definitely looking forward to playing this weekend.