Something Awful Reviews Mouse Guard

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Something Awful

Mouse Guard is a live action roleplay game (LARP) in which you create your own mousona (like a fursona! fun!) and act out your alter-lives with fellow mice in an exciting and engaging alternate world full of action, love and romance! For best results and maximum immersion I recommend sewing your own mouse suit. The Mouse Territories are a magical place full of joy and happiness and is a wonderful escape from the dull and depressive real world! Dance and frollic with your fellow mouse-larpers as you...

Okay I lied that isn't what Mouse Guard is about at all. Mouse Guard won the Origins Award for best role playing game of 2008 and the absence of a thread dedicated to it is criminal!

The Comic Mouse Guard is a comic series written by David Petersen and published by Archaia, publishers of other great comics like the Artesia series which features lots of tits, lots and swords and lots of magic (Artesia does, that is. Mouse Guard has no tits unless it's a Tit Mouse). Mouse Guard is a beautiful comic with a simple but effective style. The comic is set in the Territories, a stretch of land inhabited by small anthromorphic mice who struggle against nature and predators to survive. Lockhaven is a fortress in the center of the Territories. It is here that the Mouse Guard are trained and congregate.

The Mouse Guard are tasked with the protection of the mice in the Territories. They have swords n poo poo and they know how to use them. While individual towns might have their own guard forces and protectors, they (in theory) defer and show respect to the Mouse Guard. The Mouse Guard serve as messengers, guards, investigators, explorers and pathfinders.

There are currently 2 collections of the Mouse Guard Comics, Fall 1152 and Winter 1152. They're hardcover books with glossy pages and are beautiful. There's also soft-cover versions but if you buy those you are a maggot. Familiarity with the comics is not necessary to play Mouse Guard but after looking through the book for the RPG you'll probably want to pick these up too. The writer has at least 2 more series planned in the setting, The Black Axe and The Weasel War. The Black Axe will probably be as gently caress. Fall 1152 Winter 1152

The RPG Mouse Guard RPG is an award winning RPG made by award winning RPG designer Luke Crane, writer of award winning RPGs like the award winning Burning Wheel and the award winning Burning Empires. Mouse Guard won the Origins Award for Best RPG of 2008, beating out the rpg industry giant D&D. Burning Wheel was named the Best New RPG of 2003. Magic Burner (for Burning Wheel) was the runner up for the Origin's Best Supplement of the Year of 2008. Mouse Guard and Magic Burner also won awards for Best Support in 2008. Mouse Guard also won the award for Best Production for 2008. Luke Crane has won so many awards it will make you sick. If Luke Crane ever got sick he could vomit and his vomit would win an award. When Luke Crane is not writing award winning RPGs and providing award winning support for his award winning games he is probably out racing cars and banging chicks. He has yet to win an award for those.

The book itself is beautiful. I have a nasty habit of picking up RPG books that I will never play simply because I enjoy reading rules and creative world-building. I saw the Mouse Guard RPG book, picked it up and looked through it and knew that I had to have it. I knew nothing about the game, not even the fact that I was sitting at a table with the game's writer a few minutes earlier. It really is the most beautiful and well put together RPG book I've seen with Ptolus probably coming in a very distant 2nd place. Information is organized and presented in a natural manner.

The rules for Mouse Guard are based on the mechanics used in Burning Wheel. The base merchanic is a D6 roll. Attempting to overcome an obstacle requires a dice roll. Rolls are a pool of D6s equal to your relevant skill or ability. Other characters can aid you in your task by describing how they are helping and what skill/ability they are using, which adds another D6 to your pool. Each roll of 4 or higher counts as a success. You are either rolling to beat a certain difficulty or to beat an opposing roll. This encourages everyone in the table to come up with some way to chip in and contribute to the success in some way. In order to improve your skills you actually need to succeed and fail at them a certain number of times so it's not always just a matter of deciding who at the table is best at any particular task, sometimes you'll want to take the initiative even though you aren't the best tracker or whatever in the hopes that you fail. It's very sneaky

If there are 2 or more groups involved with conflicting goals then it moves to a Conflict which is a bit more involved. It's kind of like a game of Paper, Rock and Scissors using the established game's mechanics. A conflict can be a fight between the mice and a predator, an argument between two mice, a chase, a massive battle and more. Both sides of the conflict write down their goals and 3 actions that they will be taking: Attack, Defend, Feint, Maneuver. These do different things depending on what the other party is doing and mean different things depending on the type of conflict. An 'attack' during a persusasion conflict means a very different thing than an attack during a fight against a snake and uses a different ability but mechanically they are handled the same. The victor 'wins' the conflict but may have to grant a comprimise to the losing side of the conflict depending on how much of their own disposition (it's like HP for the conflict) they lost. This can be something minor like the victors being tired or hungry or it could be something major like a dead mouse if they barely managed to win a combat conflict.

A game session is loosely split into 2 halves. The first half is the GM's turn where he provides the Mouse Guard players with a mission or task (usually given by Gwendolyn, the matriarch ruler of Lockhaven and the Guard) and attempts to beat the crap out of the players mice as they struggle to accomplish their task. As the book says "They can't prove themselves to be heroes if you go easy on them." The mission can be something as simple as delivering mail to another city or investigating the dissapearance of a grain merchant. Their biggest obstacles will be nature/weather, animals and other mice (and themselves). Nature is a biggy, remember these are mice. A simple thing like rain or a stream can become a huge obstacle for them.

As they struggle to accomplish their mission they will make ability and skill checks. Successes mean you get to move on. Failures mean something can happen. Your mice might get injured, hungry, tired, angry or sick. There might be a twist where the GM gets to introduce new obstacles or elements. Each mouse also has a number of traits. Using these in a beneficial way means you can earn bonus dice or a reroll. Using a trait against yourself earns you checks which are used during the player's turn. An example of using a trait against yourself would be having the Fearless trait and urging everyone to go fight a snake.

The second half is the player's turn where they attempt to recover from the brutality the GM put them through and they get to steer the story. Players each get one free test to do whatever they want, to try to recover, to look up old friends, try to accomplish their goals if they haven't already. Each check you've earned in the GM's turn can be used to do additional things. The crafty thing about this is that you can't take more than 1 check/turn in a row, it proceeds around the table. If you're in a position where you have more checks left but nobody else can take an action in between yours then you're done. But you can lend them to another mouse, so if you have someone doing a lot of 'heavy lifting' and getting themselves into situation after situation while everyone else is trying their best to bail him out, he'll accrue lots of checks which he can then spread out to the rest of the players.

What makes Mouse Guard different from games like D&D other than the setting is how well the game rules support the desired gameplay and setting. Every character has a set of Beliefs, Instincts and Goals. Beliefs are things that they believe in, obviously. One such belief would be "It's not what you fight, but what you fight for." Another belief would be "Never leave a mouse behind." The GM is aware of your beliefs and should be actively striving to challenge them. Beliefs can change in between session if the player feels that his character no longer believes in that, that he might believe in something new. Challenging your belief (playing against your belief in a cool or dramatic fashion) can earn you Persona Points.

Instincts are things that your character always does as a result of their instincts or ingrained training. They can be anything from "Always draw my sword at the first sign of trouble" to "If there's work to be done always offer to help." Using your instincts rewards you as a player. Using your instincts when they get you and your patrol into trouble also rewards you. You are encouraged to play to your character's instincts at all times, not solely when it's beneficial.

Goals are pretty simple. It's what you hope to accomplish while you are on the mission. New goals are written for each session. The GM is aware of your goal and will act on it, making it a challenge to accomplish it. Accomplishing a goal earns you Persona Points.

Having these Beliefs, Goals and Instincts and having story rewards for playing to them (especially when it's not necessarily a beneficial thing) means it is a very character driven game. It's not really about how you beat a wolf and saved a town but about how you struggled to do so. Just like LOTR isn't just about 2 hobbits throwing a ring in a volcano, it's about everything that the characters go through along the way and how they're changed by it. It's about Pippen being Pippen and tossing a stone down a well in Moria. I come from a D&D background and having rules that support and encourage this kind of growth is a strange and alien concept but I've quickly come to embrace them. It's not just about winning or succeeding, it's about how your characters grow on the journey. In D&D if you were to repeatedly do things that got the party into trouble or hindered your successes then you'd probably draw the ire of your group unless you were a really fun guy to have around the table.

The biggest eye opener for this style of gameplay was when I was playing a demo game with Luke at PAX. It was my introduction to the game. We had a simple goal, find a rice merchant who had gone missing. Before the new players could even say a thing Saxon (controlled by someone familiar with the game) said "Follow me!" and immediately charged off in what he assumed was the right direction. He was not the right mouse for the job and we struggled to keep him from getting us completely lost. Eventually we managed to find the grain merchant and he was dead, killed by a squirrel (possibly as a twist from us getting lost and delayed). We argued with the constable for the body and then it was our turn.

While everyone else was trying to recover from their conditions I decided I would act on one of my goals, which was to prove to the patrol leader that I am a valuable member of the team. I decided to investigate the scene of the death. The GM asked me for a roll. I did not roll well. In fact I rolled extremely poorly. I think I was looking at a pile of 8 dice, all 1's and 2's. I was dreading the outcome. I immediately assumed that it meant a squirrel would come and try to eat me. I was a little surprised when Luke said I found a scrap of cloth that turned out to be a map. So I grabbed it and went running back to the town to show the patrol leader.

Along the way I ran past 3 other mice who had sheathed weapons as they were leaving the town. They saw me run past, my mouse didn't think much of it. But that was the twist that was introduced as a result of my failed roll. I didn't die or screw myself over, instead the GM thought for a moment and decided that the best twist would be these mice seeing me with this map which they needed for themselves. We probably would have had to fight them off if the game had continued.

This post has been a lot of words. TL;DR: Mouse Guard is great.

Here are some links:

The game's designer frequents these forums and often asks questions. Just don't argue with him about why Fight! Fight! Fight! is the correct and only option for a Conflict because he will flip out. (protip, it's the best option only if you like giving major comprimises to your enemies and ending up with a patrol of dead mice).

So let's talk about Mouse Guard!