I recently have been reading up on Mouse Guard and bought my first copy just a few short months ago. I had no idea what to expect because I had never read the comics myself (I am more of a Redwell man) but I ended up very pleased with how the setting came out completely unique and well thought out. Also the narrative based rules are completely unique to me as well as compelling. I just got finished reading the book and I would love to talk about the whole thing.
This book’s rules are thoroughly well thought out but poorly organized in the book. This is my only criticism on the book though. If you are reading the book then you can skip the first seventy pages easily. It is filled with loose references to unexplained rules and a light amount of exposition. Mostly there is the code of honor to the Mouse Guard. All of the important exposition is later on in the book under various chapters for towns, seasons, and character creations. Another thing in the book is that there is no actual GM chapters and Player chapters. The rules are taught to you from the perspective of two of the major characters in the comics and they are blended together so to learn the rules there is no GM chapter crash course you have to read all of it. I find this telling to be both unique, entertaining, and only slightly annoying.
With that out of the way, I can happily say that I have no other qualms about this book. Mouse Guard is something completely itself in so many ways it is almost hard to organize my thoughts on it. I think the best way to start is from the top and move down from there. The sessions of Mouse Guard are broken up into two phases. The first phase is the GM phase and I will start from there.
The GM phase is where the GM plays out his challenges and tests his brave mouse warriors. As the GM you will setup your specific mission and test your players in any of four different ways from fighting animals, weather, and even other mice. These challenges will give players the opportunity to get hurt, argue it out, and work to get more bonuses in the player phase. Speaking of player phase let’s talk a little bit about this. The players get their own whole phase to the game! Players can earn roles in the GM phase by roleplaying and making compromises to the action and even conceding ties. The players then use these rules to narrate healing from conditions and to try to accomplish the goals that they set out from the beginning of their mission.
Let’s discuss conflict a little bit in the game. All conflicts are treated the same with narrative differences. Players and GMs first bring up a total “health” for each conflict by first determining the nature of the conflict then combining rolling for a skill and adding in a trait. Once the base “health” is determined players choose feint, attack, defend, and move. These actions all play together on a convenient little chart in the book. This chess game is not just a live or die sort of situation though. Each conflict has a goal from either side and players have to win to a high degree to win with no negative outcomes. If players do not succeed to a high degree than they can end up with hungry, injured, tired, or even sick conditions that can make things harder on a player and result in some much needed checks to resolve these status.
Leveling up with characters is fantastic as well. Each session players can try to expand their experience in any skill by testing the skill out. The fun thing is that to advance a round you divide a skill and round up. The highest value is the number of checks you have to succeed and the lower number is the amount of checks you have to fail. That’s right you have to fail. The point of the leveling up is that a character has to learn partially by failure. I love this idea for so many reasons! Most RPGs are based off of characters becoming these awesome invincible heroes that destroy conflict at every step. I love the fact that players are challenged to explore their characters weaknesses and vulnerabilities at every step. This is a more subtle way of making players look into their character in a dynamic way than forcing them to pick a downfall like in DnD 5e.
I really enjoy how aware of time the rules make a GM. Most games that I play in or even GM end up being some Phineas and Ferb land where time holds no value and the seasons never change. Each weather conflict tallies up to change a season making each season a certain number of sessions and each year limited as well. These season checks will make the GM mechanically aware of the change on time.
I will write a second article when I play through my first session and also I suspect one of the other writers will cover the player perspective in that time too, but for now I can say I am looking forward to this interesting gameplay with some great players. I suspect this will be one of my favorite GM experiences.
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