Back in the winter, I bought the PDF for the Mouse Guard RPG, a game based on the very enjoyable Mouse Guard comics, a story that has fans among children and adults. Red Walls is another fantasy that has its fans, but neither the kids nor I really got into it. I never got around to reading the PDF until recently because we had our Star Wars game going. [BTW, if you are interested in Mouse Guard RPG, the book is very hard to come by now although you can download the PDF. A new boxset is expected later this spring or early summer. I also recommend the downloads at the Mouse Guard wiki.]
What I find attractive about this RPG is that it seems so much more focused on the characters–on their beliefs, instincts, and goals–than D&D, which often seems more focused on skills and on consistent character behavior. The GM’s task is less to create a story than to challenge the players, to make them rethink what they value, and to sometimes act contrary to those values. In fact, it is crucial that players fail some tests–to advance their skills and to earn something called ‘checks’ which allow them to take actions in the second part of the game, the players’ turn. The game is somewhat formulaic.
- There’s a mission which tells the mice what they have to do.
- The players write their individuals goals in the context of the mission.
- The GM chooses two types of obstacles [which can be a simple test, or roll of dice, a complex set of tests, or a conflict].
- If the players fail to succeed in the
Recently, I got the bug to play it, so I poured over the manual, which is certainly a beautiful book, as well a different organization with character creation coming towards the end instead of the beginning. I decided to play one of the sample missions in the book and use the premade characters with my kids. [For an excellent review and a more detailed overview of the game, see the review at Gnome Stew.]
We played the “Find the Grain Peddler” sample mission from the book. My 11-year-old son played Kenzie, and my 9-year-old daughter played Sadie. Overall, it was good but a little slow in the second part, partly because even though I thought I knew the rules, I found that I had to check the book. My crib notes helped in several spots, but they didn’t capture all the details. The kids said that they liked it, particularly with the action and the opportunities to act out their characters. However, my son had reached a point at the end where he was ready to end since they had accomplished their goals. Although I explained the purpose of awarding the points (to learn that part of the game and to award points for the next session), he was ready to be done.
I think a third or fourth player would have been nice but would have made the game longer. I really enjoyed the game and look forward to more impromptu GMing. All in all, it was a very good session. My only criticism (and this might be more how I played the game than the game itself) is that the kids had a lot more dialogue and roleplaying in our Star Wars game than in Mouse Guard. Maybe it was the familiarity. But I also allowed them to drive a lot in the Star Wars sessions. I had a couple of key bits planned, but we had some fun, extended conversations in Star Wars. I think also their familiarity with the Star Wars characters and universe allowed a lot more opportunities and known history to play off of. But I think we could get to that point with Mouse Guard. By far and away, there was more variety to the conflicts in Mouse Guard. And even though complex on paper, the conflicts went far faster than fights in our Star Wars minis (where positioning has a large role important).
The kids understood their goals, beliefs and instincts and played to them pretty well. For example, my daughter played Sadie as kind-hearted, making sure that the peddler wasn’t injured even though they suspected him as a traitor.
One thing I would do differently is have some kind of flavor roleplaying at the outset. First, my kids (and probably a lot of players) like to roleplay, and, second, I think allowing them to do that first avoids the problem of my talking too much in the beginning as the GM. I could this being something like “You’ve woken up early. You have more than an hour before you report in, so what do you do?” or “Whom do you see on the streets? What is going on in the town?”
I think we’ve definitely found a great tabletop RPG for the family.
So here’s an outline of the hazards and events in our session. I didn’t capture the roleplay dialog, which was there but less than usual because we were so focused on learning the rules and playing the game for the first time.
Hazard 1 (Mice): Sadie rolled her Scout 2 with additional dice from Kenzie, wise, and gear. Peddler rolled 6D for Nature with 3 successes, and Sadie rolled 5D for 2 successes. She did not have any 6s so she could spend a Fate point to reroll.
They couldn’t find the peddler, but they did see his cart. Kenzie decided to search it for any evidence of the peddler being a traitor. (I thought it was a little vague, but I counted it.) Kenzie rolled 5D for 4 successes, a very excellent roll. As a result, Kenzie found the map.
Since there was no failed search, I didn’t apply a twist.
Hazard 2 (Animal): As a result of their rummaging through the grain, the snake appears behind Kenzie to attack him. Sadie jumps to his defense. This initiates a conflict with the snake. Sadie rolled the disposition and added her bonus for a total of 6. The snake had a poor roll and had a disposition of 5. I then explained how the conflict works and asked that they collaborate on who did what action. They alternated actions: Sadie, Kenzie, Sadie.
- Sadie – To kill the snake to protect Kenzie
- Kenzie – To distract the snake so that Kenzie could kill it (Not a very good goal)
- Snake – To kill the mice to protect the nest
Action 1: Sadie – Attack, Snake – Attack
Sadie used a trait, gear, and a Persona point to roll 6D for 3 successes. The snake rolled 7 and had 3 successes.
Action 2: Kenzie – Feint, Snake – Defend
Kenzie was lucky and had a good round. He use a trait and gear to roll 5D for 3 successes. The snake’s disposition was 0.
I had them describe the fight, and I then added that Sadie cut the snake’s belly at the bulge, which then spilled out the peddler.
The players talked to the peddler but didn’t confront him with the map. The peddler said that he was fine and needed to make it to Barkstone. The mice decided to accompany him with Sadie offering to pull the cart so the peddler could rest, but he continued to look in the grain. Kenzie asked repeatedly if he was looking for something. The peddler acted nervous, and I tried to bait Kenzie with dialogue like “What? Are you suggesting something? I . . . I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Still, Kenzie did not have a direct confrontation.
They reached Barkstone, and the mice parted ways . . . except then Kenzie said that they would follow the peddler to see whom he was meeting. (He didn’t confront the peddler because he wanted to find who the contact was. Sneaky boy.)
Hazard 3 (mice): The peddler tried to hide from the mice to meet his contact. I make this a complex test.
First, The peddler used his Nature to hide, rolling 6D for 2 successes. Kenzie rolled 5D for 3 successes. He described how he spotted the peddler as he was meeting someone in an alley, whom I say runs at the sight of the mice. With the peddler then bound, Kenzie quizzes the peddler.
Then, Kenzie tried to persuade the peddler to spill his guts. I could made this a conflict, but I could tell the session had been long, so I made it a simple test. Peddler rolls 4D for the Persuader skill + 1D for the Cunning trait for a total of 1 success. ONE! Kenzie rolls 5D for 4 successes. The peddler and the players then act out the conversation, with the peddler revealing that he was selling the secrets of the Lockhaven defenses to the weasels for gold. When Kenzie asks if he has no loyalty, he says that as a trader, he has a home in many cities.