RPGnet Reviews Mouse Guard

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Introduction Mouse Guard RPG is based upon the graphic novels by David Petersen that follows the tales of a group of mice who serve and protect the local mice communities. As a game the RPG stresses the fact that as mice are so small, it’s pretty much mice against the rest of the world. It also portrays the game as a simple one that can be enjoyed by all ages and abilities, so let’s see how it fairs.

Style As it is based upon the graphic novel, the RPG takes a lot of its style from the source material. What it does do though is emphasise the struggles that the mice face day to day. One area in particular that seems to be forgotten in most games is the effect of the weather upon the creatures of the land. More on this later but it’s worth thinking about how so many other games miss the natural elements as something that can be a main protagonist to the PC’s.

On top of this, the RPG shows how the mice work through the seasons and serve the communities, and how they protect each other from the perils that face them from every angle. In spite of this, the game is not dour or grim like Dark Heresy which we reviewed recently, and presents things as more hopeful, open and potentially happy.

System The system is based upon the Burning Wheel system. This is where most people start to draw conclusions like “it’s great” or “it sucks”. Indeed Burning Wheel is one of those games where opinions seem to fall into black or white, very few fall into a middle ground. For me, Burning Wheel has some great conventions, but it is far too complex in places to be an accessible system for most people.

Mouse Guard tries to alleviate a lot of the complexity issues that people have had with the system and yet still retains a lot of the feel of the original system. Again its D6 based and the conflict system has been retained in a more streamlined form. This system for any type of conflict, be it fights or arguments or whatever, shows some real promise and I can’t wait to try it out for myself. All conflicts are based around 3 stages, with an action selected for each stage from a list of 4, attack, defend, faint and maneuver. A simple chart of action vs. action then shows what skills are tested and the action moves move to the next stage. Once the 3 actions are played out, resolve or do another 3 actions. Pretty simple stuff, but very efficient and quite flavoursome.

The system also has rules for how the game flows, a nice touch for those who have never played an RPG before. Essentially the GM has a turn in which he lays out the mission, presents the encounters and then hands over to the PC’s. During the PC’s turn they spend checks which the earned during the GM’s turn to enable them to perform action, a nice way to promote players who get actively involved with the game. On top of that the system also has rules for the weather and how it changes and how many times it can change before the next season arrives. A good point to this is that both the GM and the players get a chance to effect what the next weather will be; don’t fancy trudging through rain and mud while guarding that wagon train? Change the weather!

Setting So the game is orientated towards the mice vs. the world aspect. It’s more hopeful and happy than it sounds and could have been thanks to the way in which the mice take on anything that stands in their path with grit and determination. If you have read the graphic novel then you’re in the book as far as setting is concerned. Everything in the book can be emulated in the game very nicely. If you haven’t read the book? Well think of it as Redwall by Brian Jaques or Watership Down the RPG... just with mice instead. The historical point of view is medieval; all the mice have swords, shields, spears and other period weapons. Most threats of a similar size can be beaten off by the mice, although it would require a mouse army to defeat bigger enemies.

Layout I it said it with the Dark Heresy review and I get to say it here again... the layout of the book is just beautiful. Of course, they again had some help from the author and artist for the comic so the book was bound to look half decent, but it is just gorgeous. The art is lifted from the comic or newly created by David Petersen, the tables are clear, the map is a work of art and the writing is friendly, direct and easy to read. The book is a hardback in a smaller size than is the norm for RPG’s and follows the same convention as the graphic novel. The nice thing about the book is that it covers every aspect that you need to run the game, no other books will be needed in the near future and the writers have already stated that they have no plans for other books.

One thing worth mentioning is the progression within the book. Most RPG’s explain the system, then the background or vice versa. Mouse Guard mixes system and setting throughout the book and does it well. If you are a first time gamer, the book will make much more sense to you as it holds you hand through the system bits. If you’re an experienced gamer then you just can’t wait to read the section that’s 10 or 20 pages away or, as in the case of character generation, at the back of the book.

Art Art is lifted from the comic or drawn by the original artist. If you like his work then you’ll love the book. If you have not seen the comic, then the art is inspiring for the genre and nicely presented. Nothing offensive here and it still avoid the “twee” factor of having mice walking and talking where the reader immediately thinks of books for 6 year olds.

In Play Hands in the air time, I have not had a chance to play Mouse Guard yet as I’ve only just finished reading the book this week. I have already begun to think of how I can use this game and while I think it might be a push for my usual group of gamers (no light-swords or starships or cyberware), I think they would enjoy the system and probably the setting once they got into it. Also I’m seriously considering this for my 5 year old daughter as her first real introduction to RPG’s.

Overall Another book that is rich in setting, coupled with good mechanics and a great read. If you like the comic, read it. If you like Burning Wheel, read it. If you hate Burning Wheels complex system, give it a read, enough has changed that this might be the one book that you like from the writers.