Mouse Guard: The River at Elmoss, and making players cry

Got a chance to go back and play some Mouse Guard this weekend with Dave and Margie and Kate and Ka(y/therine).

This session was a continuation of action that took place in “Not much Use as a Postmouse” and “A New Route to Ivydale”.  Margie’s character Lucia was still Angry from the last session, so she took the “Summary of previous events” intro to the session, which lets her get rid of a condition on her sheet.

As the patrol was getting ready to set out to their next delivery point (Elmoss), they were met by a traveler/messenger from Elmoss who was looking… well, not for them, exactly, but for a Patrol that was supposed to have arrived in Elmoss several days ago, escorting a much-needed grain shipment from Ivydale.  The messenger hadn’t spotted them on his trip here, so he asked Our Heroes to see if they could find them as they traveled what SHOULD have been the same route.

Asking around Ivydale, the patrol learned that the other group of Guardmice was led by Warwick, a patrol leader with a good reputation and Rosamund’s (Kate) mentor back in her tenderpaw days.  Also, the last Aelwyn (Dave) heard, a female guardmouse of his acquaintance (“Brynn.” sigh) was a member of that patrol.

The group set out their goals for this mission;

  • Rosamund: Locate my old mentor, Warwick.
  • Aelwyn: Rescue Brynn’s patrol!
  • Lucia: Make sure the grain shipment makes it to Elmoss.
  • Graystripe (we haven’t met her yet): Impress her mentor enough to be made a full Guardmouse.

Scouting rolls were made as the patrol tracked the grain cart across quite rocky terrain, well away from the usual path (necessary, since from the tracks they could tell that the wagon was overburdened and very bad off in muddy areas).  This led to a ‘twist’ in which the patrol caught up to the wagon not far from Elmoss.  Warwick’s patrol had tried to ford a stream that had surged with Spring runoff at exactly the wrong moment… leaving the grain wagon almost tipped over next to the ford, and Warwick’s patrol clinging to a hummock of grass and detritus downstream a ways.

Dice were rolled, and the situation became further complicated: Lucia struggled to lever the grain wagon’s wheel out of the mud, Aelwyn struggled with tying off a rope from the shore while Roz swam out to the other mice, midstream. (Where she was pulled up by Graystripe.)

This complicated situation took us into a full-on Conflict with the river.  The river’s “Goal” was “wash the wagon, the grain, and both patrols down river”; the player’s goal was “save the mice, save the grain.”

This was a very challenging conflict to do, initially, and as I had quickly scripted my actions for the river, I should have stayed with the players and helped them ‘translate’ their actions into scripting… because it’s hard to see what an ‘attack’ looks like versus a river, or what skill to use… or what a maneuver looked like.  It just took awhile to get going.

Anyway, after two full exchanges (involving a lot of rope slinging and hauling mice up to the branches of a tree overhanging the river), the patrol managed to get almost everyone to relative safety, but they’d been pretty badly beat up in the process. (They only had two Disposition left from a starting 8).  Everyone was Tired.  In addition – Lucia (who was still basically in the River when it threw its final big surge) had to made a health check to see if she got sick from being, basically, half-drowned as she clung to the grain wagon (which got its wheels snapped off and was basically grounded out at the ford).  She failed that check, so in addition to being Tired, she was also Sick.

Once the water level had died down again, the patrol made its way up to Elmoss to get the town to send people out to help unload and transport the grain (and get medical treatment for the injured).  They ran into the useless, hampering, feudal-style bureaucracy of Elmoss, and got in a show-down with a nasal-voiced administrator who didn’t want to open the gate after dark, OR send anyone out after the food the town ACTUALLY NEEDED.

Aelwyn headed this showdown up with a stirring call to action, but everyone helped out, from Roz and Lucia’s persuasion, to Gray’s deceptive story about dangerous, hungry, grain-stealing weasels in the area. The administrator was unmoved (we got a tie), and Aelwyn tried to outstubborned him (Will vs. Will tiebreaker), mentioning that the ruling family who had paid for this shipment to be delivered would surely be curious who had prevented it from arriving.  When Lucia added “good point… what was your name again?” the adminstrator folded.

Their duty done, the patrol limped into town. Aelwyn acquired lodging for everyone (Resources check, also taking care of the “Tired” condition for everyone), and Roz tried to tend Warwick’s injuries, but the older mouse was pretty badly hurt, and all the water and his cracked ribs means he’ll probably always have a cough (missed Healer check lowered Warwick’s health by 1).  Lucia was also feeling a little drowned, and continues to have a nagging cough (failed Will check means she’s still sick, but with no lasting stat-damage — she’s hoping to get some medicinal help in her home town of Sprucetuck).

Gray tried to convince Warwick to make her a full Guardmouse – an argument Roz supported – but War was having none of that. Instead, he put Roz in charge of her training, since he’d be sick in bed for several weeks at least, and “the girl needs to get back out on the road”.  Roz accepted the job, and the next morning put Graystripe through the first of likely many hard swordmouseship workouts. (An instructor check for Roz, which in turn gave Graystripe a “failed” check on her Fighter skill.) There’s a new sheriff in town.

Meanwhile, Aelwyn went window shopping for Brynn and ended up spending way way way too much on a gift for her (a nice gift, but the failed Resource check resulted in Ael’s Resource score dropping by one – which in turn clears all his accumulated checks to advance that stat).

So: a bit bruised, a little waterlogged, but victorious, the Patrol prepares for the next leg of their journey – across the spring-snow-covered open meadows to Sprucetuck.


A few observations:

  • We hadn’t played in several months, and it took us a long time to remember all the nuances of the game we’d learned the last time. I forgot to encourage the players to earn ‘checks’ by using their Traits in ‘negative’ ways for one, and that hampered folks during the Player’s Turn in Elmoss.
  • The Conflict with the River was cool, in that it really showed what the system can do with weird conflicts, but that conflict totally took the system off the map in terms of “what skills do we roll” and “what does this kind of action look like in this context?”  Cool, but it slowed us down and caused a little frustration (see the title of the post).
  • The players still struggle with the idea that failure doesn’t mean “I don’t get X”, but instead means “I get X, but at a higher than anticipated cost… or with a twist.”  (And I struggle with remembering to POINT THIS OUT. :P) This led to folks pushing harder than they needed to in order to win conflicts, when “losing ” would have still gotten them what they want, but with interesting consequences.
    • Related to that, the Conflict with the River was temporarily frustrating, because it felt like “We won, but it didn’t FEEL like we won, cuz we’re still sick, tired, and the Grain is still stuck in the River.”
    • Once I pointed out that “you won, but I won a lot of rolls too”, and used a kind of “hit points – you lost a lot of em” analogy, then getting beat up and hurt while “winning” stopped being a problem for folks.
  • We worry a lot about getting the rules right.  This leads us to saying things like “Okay, on my Check, I want to use Healer on Warwick’s Injury…” instead of “I want to go see Warwick and have a scene with him.”  I think that’s just a matter of familiarity.  Right now, we’re Playing the System a bit more than just playing a game… I think that’ll come.
    • Lucky for us, while we’re perhaps “playing the system” overmuch right now, it’s a pretty GOOD system.

Mouse Guard is definitely a game where you get beat up and really struggle to pull out a victory.  It’s both heroic and not-heroic.  In once sense, it’s not-heroic cuz EVERYTHING is bigger and badder than you.  On the other, it’s very heroic, because in that face of all that, you soldier on ANYWAY, to protect the Territories.  That last point is a big one — it just may not be a game for everyone — but I hope we get a few more sessions to find out.

2 Replies to “Mouse Guard: The River at Elmoss, and making players cry”

  1. On the Burning Wheel forum, Luke Crane commented “Your players should be proud! They defeated a RIVER.”

Comments are closed.