Our first Mouse Guard session: “Not much use as a postmouse” and “A New Route to Ivydale”

Wow, I kind of screwed some things up in the first session, but we had a lot of fun anyway. What follows is the tale of one play session that, by the suggested structure of play in the rules, was really two ‘missions’ worth of stuff (two cycles of “GM’s Turn, Player’s Turn”). I didn’t realize that until I’d gotten into the session quite a ways, however, so I somewhat incorrectly overcompensated during the final Player Turn with an extra skill check for everyone, but ahh well -we had a good time.

So, for those of you who played, forgive me for retroactively breaking it down into GM Turn One and so forth, because we didn’t know that during the game, but it helps me remember the structure of play, and we’ve already discussed in email how I screwed it up, so you know I know. 🙂

Right! Now, the events as they took place.

Lockhaven, Spring, 1152

We started off in Lockhaven with the rain coming down and mice scuttling from building to building (mostly) trying to stay out of the mud and puddles. Lucia bumps into the cartographer that she apprenticed with when she first came to Lockhaven in 1148. The two chat quickly (it is raining, after all), and Marielle – hearing that Lucia would soon be sent out on Patrol – encourages her stay dry, warm, and draw lots of maps.

Lucia promises to do so and heads off the main Keep for the briefing with Gwendolyn.

When she arrives, Rosamund (Roz) is already there. Aelwyn stomps in a few moments later, a smile on his face and mud on his feet — not everymouse tries to avoid puddles, it seems.

Captain Rand greets them as he exits the keep, letting them know that Gwendolyn will see them now… and to wipe their feet.

Gwendolyn has them sit down and lets them know that they will be sent farther afield than she’d like, considering they have no official patrol leader, but the Guard is stretched thin this year, and needs must…

Their whole assignment in brief, is to travel to Dorigift in the south, delivering mail to Shaleburrow, Ivydale, Elmoss, and Sprucetuck as they go (this alone is a trip of more than a week. In addition…

  • The guard will be escorting a young mouse, Orina, and her new son Hale to their home (and husband) in Ivydale. Orina had to put up in Lockhaven in the late fall to give birth, but her husband traveled on to Ivydale out of necessity, and Gwendolyn promised the young mother that the Guard would see her home.
  • Gwendolyn also wants the patrol to scout a direct route from Shaleburrow to Ivydale (there used to be one, but it was somehow lost during the war in 1149).
  • The patrol should acquire barrels of False Scent from the scientists of Sprucetuck and take them to Dorigift.
  • Once the mail is delivered in Dorigift, the patrol will set out west, locate the Scent Border of the Territories, and repair the border with the barrels of False Scent. (A standard springtime necessity for the guard.)
Note: Obviously, this is WAY more than one mission’s worth of stuff to do… Gwendolyn is laying out a whole season’s assignment, knowing that the group won’t be back for some time. The Guard is spread thin, after all, and needs must…

Once the guard finished up with the Scent Border, they are to return to Lockhaven by way of Copperwood. Gwendolyn dictates this route specifically so that she can intercept the patrol with new orders, if necessary, without wasting their time on a needless trip back all the way back — the Guard lives on the paths of the Territories, not Lockhaven, after all.

Mission One: Deliver the Mail to Shaleburrow and Ivydale, with Orina and baby Hale in tow. Blaze a viable trail from Shaleburrow to Ivydale as you go.

With the mission handed out, each character each picks a personal goal for this mission:

  • Lucia – I will map a new path from Shaleburrow to Ivydale.
  • Aelwyn – I will protect the mother and child and get them safe to Ivydale.
  • Roz – I will make sure the mail is delivered safely to Shaleburrow and Ivydale.

After the briefing, I mentioned that it’s possible it would be raining for the whole trip to Shaleburrow and Ivydale – hard weather for a newborn cub to travel in – and asked if anyone wanted to do anything about that, so we had a Weather Watcher test.

Obstacle 1: Weather-watching vs. Spring to see if the weather would clear before when the mice set off. (Failure would probably have resulted in a weather-based twist for the patrol, or the weather getting worse, but it didn’t come up, because the mice won. Even though Roz’s independent nature (trait) made the whole thing more difficult (+2 dice for her opponent – the weather) by eschewing consultation of the local Lockhaven weather watchers, she managed (with Lucia’s scientific knowledge – and her new, improved, fir cone barometer device), to determine that the weather would be… clear and warm!

On the way to Shaleburrow, Roz and Aelwyn spotted a few early shoots coming out of the snow alongside the path, and got to talking about whether or not any of them would be of any medicinal value. Lucia heard this and offered her scientific opinion, and before long, the three of them had slowed their patrol to crawl as they each took turns wandering off the path to look for various herbs and plants. The upshot of this was that the foraging mice, while successful, were already Tired and Hungry when they got to Shaleburrow, which was supposed to be easy part of the trip.

Tired mouse is still tired.
Tired mouse is tired.

Although she didn’t say much about it, the delay in the trip left Orina antsy and annoyed. Lucia is tired; Aelwyn and Roz are both hungry and thirsty.

Obstacle 2: Harvesting along the route to Spucetuck, looking for healer supplies. This was a failure success-with-consequences, resulting in mice that were either Tired (Aelwyn, as the ‘lead mouse’ for the conflict) or Hungry/Thirsty (the two ‘helping’ mice). Only later did it occur to me that I could/should instead have made succes-with-a-Twist in which one of the foragers ran into a spring-waking Bullfrog, but I didn’t. C’est la game.

Late into the evening, the patrol arrived in Shaleburrow: (Effectively, the first Player Turn.)

  • Roz’s Check: Circles Test (Ob3) to find the local postman and work with him on mail delivery. This check failed with the “Enmity Clause” twist: the postmouse of Shaleburrow (Edgar) pretty much thought that Roz’s work was the worst he’d ever seen in 20 years – that she not much use as a postmouse — some kind of punishment from Lockhaven. Roz left his office just short of tears, but trying to remember everything he’d berated her about doing wrong, so she could improve in the future.
  • Aelwyn finds the group a place to stay – lodging that would alleviate Hungry and Tired conditions from people. This was a Resource test, augmented with Aelwyn’s Bard-wise: a good inn (with good entertainment) was found.
  • Lucia: A Circle’s Test (Ob3) to find someone in the inn familiar with the old, now-lost route from Shaleburrow to Ivydale. This was a Success: a veteran of the war (William) was found who described the old route and gave Margie a +1D “gear” bonus on the Pathfinder roll for the next day. He also shared that the old route had benefited from a bridge over a fairly daunting stream. During a retreat in the Weasel War, that bridge had been destroyed — in William’s opinion, it would be finding a reliable way across that stream that would make or break the success of forging a new path.

-=-

Next day… off to Ivydale (2nd GM turn)

Lucia is trying to find a path (and it’s still good weather, yay). (This is a Pathfinder Test, Ob 6.) Roz tries helps her with Weather Watcher, Aelwyn tries to help with Scout – but neither of them help, nor did any of William’s advice. This test failed succeeded-with-a-Twist (which we’ll get to in a bit).

Without use, the old path has faded to virtually nothing. Lucia is sussing out a path (with the chatty Aelwyn assign trailblazing duty far in the rear and away from Lucia), but it’s slow, slow going. Orina is in better spirits, and baby Hale is great. Aelwyn apologizes for the hard travel, but Orina expresses her gratitude: the fact is, that this is what the Guard does, and it’s work like this that keeps the Territories connected — she knows that, just as she knows that if she didn’t have the Guard mice to travel with, she’d still be in Lockhaven, and no closer to her husband. Aelwyn notes that this is just the sort of bold thing that the Guard does.

Evening falls, Lucia feels they’re getting close to where her maps indicate the stream will be, and she doesn’t want reach it at dark, so she calls for a camp.

Camp is made, and Hale is getting fussy – it’s been a long day for him. Aelwyn is regaling Orina and baby Hale with some tale of heroism… and then suddenly stops talking (unusual in itself).

“Did you hear something?”

It’s quiet … it’s … a squirrel! Flying squirrel! A flying devil! No! They eat baby mice!

TWIST: THE ANIMAL -Lured in by the whimpering of Baby Hale, the flying squirrel wants to abduct his next meal.

The squirrel’s goal in this conflict is to grab the baby mouse and get away. The patrol’s goal is to protect Hale and drive the squirrel away. Disposition of 7 (mice) vs 8 (squirrel). Aelwyn is leading the fight, since his goal is to protect them.

We scripted up our actions, and in the end it worked out with the mice scripting Defend/Feint/Attack, and the squirrel scripting Feint/Maneuver/Attack.

This combination meant that the Defend by Lucia was completely foxed by the squirrel’s Feint, then Aelwyn’s bow-based feint against the squirrel’s Maneuver was quite effective (though the flight-based maneuvering was also), and the Attack vs. Attack was a dangerous final move for both.

Lucia tries to defend by grabbing Orina and Hale and moving for cover, but she misreads where the squirrel was going to be and the three of them move to, basically,the worst place possible (squirrel hits the group’s disposition for 6, leaving them 1).

Aelwyn tries to Feint and the squirrel, who was swooping around (maneuver) for a dive at the baby mouse suddenly maenuvers right into into a hail of arrows that was meant merely to drive it off and instead peppers it with painful, stinging shots. Pow! Six successes taken from the squirrel’s 8 disposition (lots of help from Roz and Lucia). Aelwyn uses his lone Fate point to reroll his sixes and gets one more success… the squirrel Disposition is now 1… Aelwyn taps Nature with his lone Persona point… rolls 3 dice… but doesn’t get ONE success on 3 dice. In the meantime, the Squirrel gets 4 successes with his maneuver, and “disarms” bows from the mice for the rest of the Conflict — he’s about to get in WAY to close to use bows.

Attack v Attack (or “this is gonna hurt”): With both sides down to 1 disposition, it was looking like a pretty ugly “both sides win” conclusion to this fight, and that’s pretty much what happened.

With both sides reduced to zero in the same action, everyone gets their stated goals; the squirrel is driven off, but he’s got Hale (who is uninjured).

In the final exchange, Roz got a heavy cut in on the squirrel as he flew past, so he’s leaving a blood trail and is Injured. Aelwyn basically threw himself in the Squirrel’s path as it came flying in in a last-ditch effort to keep him away from from Hale — he gets knocked flat, and his shoulder is dislocated (Injured). Both Lucia and Roz are Angry (condition).

This is what Angry looks like.
This is what Angry looks like.
  • FOLLOWUP CONFLICT: THE CHASE – The squirrel had Hale, and the mice set off in hot pursuit!It is POSSIBLE that this second conflict should have counted as – sort of – my second Obstacle for the GM’s turn, and that once it was done, I “should” have just handwaved away the planned Obstacle of the swollen river, since I’m only supposed to have two main Obstacles per GM turn. I can see arguments for it either way. In any case, that isn’t what we did — so we ended up with an extra-long Obstacle + Twist + chase scene series, and everyone got especially beat up this GM Turn.

Chase!
Aelwyn is too weak from his injury, so Lucia takes the lead on this conflict, rolling beginner’s luck Scout for the group’s disposition. She also uses her Clever trait, and taps (and taxes) her Nature and ends up with a Disposition of 8 vs the injured Squirrel’s 7.

Also, I tell them that Orina will be using her Scout skill (she’s a harvester mouse) to give a helping die with each roll, and she is also a special piece of ‘gear’ for this conflict – she can be ‘tapped’ once during the conflict to provide an additional bonus die. (Like a sword works in fights.)

In this conflict, I got…

Totally.

Outscripted.

I’ve heard people talk about this on the BW boards, but I’d never really seen it in action, and man… ouch.

For the squirrel, I scripted an Attack (which, in a chase, translates to “no finesse running”, followed by a Defend (hide from pursuit), and finally doubling back and away from the patrol (feint).

In the first exchange, Roz did a Maneuver, climbing a tree directly in the wounded squirrel’s path. The result was a tie, but Roz tapped her Nature and got a few more successes, which she turned into bonus dice for the next action.

In the second exchange, I’d planned to ‘defend’ by hiding, but the mice were Feinting — the squirrel hid from the noisy, shouting mice, but that was JUST what they wanted – Lucia was moving in quietly from the side. Unfortunately, although she had the advantage, she couldn’t quite capitalize on it: Lucia rolled 9 dice … but got only 2 successes.

In the final exchange, the squirrel tried to fake the patrol out with a feinted double back, but Aelwyn – running full out this whole time, scrambling up a tree, and LEAPING ONTO THE SQUIRREL – was having none of it. It was mouse-attack vs. squirrel feint, and Aelwyn took the squirrel’s disposition down below zero… with the mice taking not one point of Disposition ‘damage’.

This, but jumping from a tree, with no spear.
This, but with a tree and no spear.

Hale is safe! The squirrel is driven from the area, never to return (leaving the nascent new path free from at least one predator). Yay!

NEXT DAY

The patrol, beaten and bruised, comes to the stream, swollen with spring run-off.

OBSTACLE: Swollen River – Either a Boatcrafting Ob4 test, or a Survivalist Ob6 test to rig something up… followed by a Health check to power the boat across the river.
Aelwyn’s shoulder makes it almost impossible for him to work an adze and put together any kind of boat big enough to hold two mice at once, so Roz takes a shot at it (beginner’s luck rules) . (Health-based). Aelwyn gives suggestions, Lucia gives scientific advice. RESULT: “Success with Consequences” It takes… all… day… and Roz is very Tired.
We gonna need a bigger boat.
We're gonna need a bigger boat.

Once the boat is done, Lucia takes it across, with tips from Roz. Lucia pushes forward, doing well… but the current is stronger than expected and takes her further down stream, past the low spot on the far bank she was aiming for.

TWIST: Scattered downstream – The mice were scattered along the stream for quite some distance. Finding everyone is a Scout vs. Nature (6) test – lowered to 5 dice because weather watcher stopped the rain earlier.

Aelwyn leads the hunt to find where Lucia made it ashore. Everyone finds each other, and luckily Lucia is on the far shore… with rope! There is roping, tying, swearing, heavy labor to ferry the boat back and forth and get everyone across (Roz and Lucia gets hungry, and Aelwyn is tired), but everyone gets across!

And, fortunately, it’s relatively easy on the other side. Also, the spot where Lucia came to ground wasn’t a bad place to ferry mice across, or even maybe to build a bridge…

The patrol arrives in Ivydale through the tall grass, snow melt, and mud… there is a tearful reunion between Orina and Freel, her hubby, and the mice stagger off to bed and a hot meal at Aelwyn’s parent’s home.

Tired mouse is still tired.
Tired mouse is still tired.

IVYDALE
We wrapped the session up with a properly-done Player’s Turn.

The Player’s turn was as follows, though maybe not in this PRECISE order:

  • Ros takes a long walk and successfully tests her Will to get rid of Angry.
  • Lucia uses Cartography to make a simple map of the new Shaleburrow/Ivydale route. Success.
  • Aelwyn calls on his Family for food and board (no roll required) — this will help all of them get rid of their Hungry and/or Tired conditions. He also makes a Resources roll (boosted by being in his home town) to buy the supplies needed to give Roz a bonus to her Healer roll to make an Injury-healing poultice). Success.
  • Ros makes said poultice. (Success)
  • Lucia uses Ros’s poultice to Heal on Aelwyn’s Injury. Success. (The fact that Aelwyn used his Brewer (drinking beer!) to help Lucia… did not actually help.)
  • Aelwyn does a Circles test to locate the local postmouse, since Roz had been busy making stuff to heal him. (Success).
  • Roz, working with Aelwyn (who has Scouting), does a Beginner’s Luck test of Scouting — she is a very citified mouse, and while her skills are useful some of the time, she’s feeling her lack out in the Territories.
  • Ros then advised Lucia to take a long walk – it had helped her Anger, so maybe it would help Lucia. (Player of Roz gave Lucia her last check so that Lucia can try to get rid of Angry.)
  • Lucia makes a Will test to get rid of Angry. Failure. Lucia stomps back in from her walk, covered in mud and straw, and growls “it didn’t work.”

That was it!

Aelwyn was voted MVP for the session for the out-of-the-tree-jumping, Roz got Workhorse, and Lucia got Embodiment. Everyone earned 3 Fate and 2 Persona.

My Observation: the first session of Mouse Guard is hard on players — they don’t quite know all the rules yet, or how (and why) to generate Checks from their Traits, AND they only have 1 Fate and 1 Persona to throw at conflicts. If I had it to do over, I might start new players with 2 Fate and 2 Persona for the very first session. I predict the second session (with more Fate and Persona to go around, and a better rules understanding), will be much smoother.

Still, we all had a good time, and are still talking about and pondering the session days later, so I’m going to call it a win.

Also, I TOTALLY don’t feel bad about the session going about 5 hours. Given that a GM Turn + Player turn is “supposed” to run about 2 to 3 hours… and the fact that we played TWO (though we didn’t realize it at the time), the whole thing took pretty much exactly as long as should have been expected. Woot. Go us.

[[Recovery Note: Whoever narrates the Prologue at the beginning of the next session gets to remove one Condition before play begins. (Each MG comic starts with a Prologue, so it’s hardcoded into the Game System.) This means that, if Margie does the prologue next session, Lucia can lose her Angry condition. Woot!]]


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