Mouse Guard Play Report — Session 6
Badger Don’t Give a $@#!
Hello, fellow patrol mice, and welcome to our latest play report! If you recall, we last left our patrol after they had apprehended some seditionists, and escorted them to Lockhaven. While the players had enjoyed that session, I had noticed a few problems with how I was running the game. Namely, I wasn’t; challenging the characters’ beliefs, instincts, and goals; I wasn’t presenting tests which required things the characters weren’t good at; and I was failing to react with interesting twists when the characters failed a test.
With all that in mind, I set out to be a bit better about prepping the next mission. Things definitely went better this time, even if we ended up going “off-script.”
The setup for this mission was fairly straight-forward; the patrol had spent the summer and fall doing the various tasks the Mouse Guard did, while also investigating the insurrection they’d spent the last two seasons uncovering. Now, with fall turning to winter, the patrol had to race back to Lockhaven with some vital intelligence they’d uncovered, before the snows hit and made their return more perilous.
I was excited about this setup for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the villain wasn’t something the players could stab; and secondly, it opened the possibility of an abstract conflict against the weather itself, as opposed to a social or martial conflict. This group hasn't had one of those yet, and I was looking forward to seeing how it would work. With the basics established, I constructed a quick flow chart to outline which tests would be presented to the group:
I had used a flow chart like this (provided by Adam Koebel) for our first mission, but hadn’t bothered since. That was a mistake. Even if I never used this flow, having a clear outline of where the mission was headed proved invaluable this time around, and I am going to be sure to have one for our subsequent missions.
Mission prep done, the group got together and we hashed out the premise, re-affirmed beliefs and instincts, and set new goals. It was here that I realized I would have to change things up.
You see, three of my four characters had beliefs or goals centered around physical confrontation; one wanted to become a better fighter; another believed in defending the weak from the strong; and a third echoed that belief. Looking at my characters, it was clear my “Snow Storm” conflict wasn’t going to work. In case you’re just joining this series, my group plays on a very limited time scale, and so we only have enough time for a few “big” encounters a session. No problem — I decided can always put the weather conflict in my bag for another day, and instead resolved to let them fight a big, angry animal; a badger.
Now that I had called the audible, it was time to get playing!
The session opened with the characters slogging through a cold, torrential rain, which forced a survival test right off the bat. Luckily, the group rolled well, and soon came to a flooded stream — no big deal for you or me, but to a mouse, it might has well have been a real river. The group decided to try and build a makeshift raft, but failed their test. Rather than have them lose their package of intelligence, I instead opted to move them too far down stream to make it to the town they were near, and also to make the helpers angry.
The characters took a quick player turn at camp that night, where they tried a few things; one (who is working on their alchemy skill) attempted to brew a soothing tea, with mixed results; another wanted to decipher the evidence they were bringing to Lockhaven; the third tried to cheer himself up out of his bad mood; and the last decided to employ his weather watcher skill to try and give the patrol better weather in the morning.
Now, the weather watcher is an interesting one. Essentially, it allows a character to change the weather on a successful test. Mouse Guard provides some options for what the character can change the weather to, with more options if they succeed by a wide margin. There are some caveats in the rules, but this skill is literally a game changer. In this case when the character succeeded, he eliminated the possibility of my “Cold Snap” test. It wasn’t an issue because I quickly came up with a new one (muddy roads), but potential GMs will want to be ready for this skill if they are going to be leaning heavily on the weather and seasons.
Once the group got going again (and got through the mud), they encountered the big finale; a hungry, angry badger, burrowing through a nest of some kind and looking for food.
The Order of Things
Confronted with this new threat, the patrol was divided The patrol leader (Jasper) decided they should bypass the entire scene, since they had important information to get back to Lockhaven with. The other patrol members, however, wanted to fight the creature, and hopefully save whatever animal it was trying to eat. In the end, they decided to go against their orders and attack (I might have forced the issue by describing the badger coming out of the burrow with bits of egg shell on it’s muzzle; defend the weak).
While Jasper opted to stay out of the fray, the rest of the mice lept into battle. Now, I need to take a moment here to explain something about fighting in Mouse Guard. In the game, there is a natural order, which dictates what kinds of outcomes any creature can force upon another as the result of a conflict. Generally speaking, the smaller a creature is in relation to its opponent, the less harmful of an outcome it can force. In the case of mice, for example, there are very few things in the game which they can actually kill without an army of some kind. The most they can hope to do with most large animates is to drive it off or hide from it. This was certainly the case with the badger, which compared to a mouse, is a monster.
Once I explained the natural order to the players, we set the stakes; the patrol wanted to drive the creature off, and the creature wanted to eat the characters. Stakes established, the conflict was on.
Now, the badger is a fairly beefy opponent for a patrol; it has claws which give it bonuses to certain actions, as well as plenty of dice to use for disposition and tests. I was sure it would provide a challenge to the patrol, and had they been less confident with the rules, I’m sure it would have. But this patrol has now done a few physical conflicts, and their understanding of the game mechanics meant they could predict what the badger was going to do, and plan accordlingly. Couple this with some stellar rolling, and the patrol actually made fairly light work of the angry beast!
While I was disappointed that hit hadn’t been more challenging, I was proud of the group for handling the mechanics so well. Mouse Guard is a game which places a high value on system mastery, and players who lean into that will find themselves having a more rewarding play experience. I just need to learn to not underestimate my group!
Winter is Coming
After driving the badger away, the group investigated the remains of the nest. Sadly, most of the eggs had been eaten or crushed, but they did manage to find a single survivor, buried in the dirt. I allowed one of the patrol (Quinn) to learn that it was a turtle’s egg, since she has turtle wise. Excited at the possibility of having a “pet,” the players hauled the egg out and began to make their way to Lockhaven, which they could see in the distance.
And that’s a wrap for this mission. Overall, I think it was a better one than some of my recent games — I was able to (mostly) challenge the players, and let the use some skills they hadn’t had the chance to. I also more effectively played to their beliefs, goals and instincts which felt more rewarding for everyone.
Our next session will be set during the winter, which means it will be very different, mechanically, than the previous sessions. The game actually has special rules for what happens over the winter, and I’m excited to see it turns out.
I hope you enjoyed this write-up, and as always I would love to hear any feedback you might have. Cheers!