Learning to play Mouse Guard has me figuratively standing on my head, my feet helplessly flailing in the air in desperate attempts of achieving that sacrosanct performance level I always strive for.
Truth be told, from my understanding, Mouse Guard plays in the exact opposite way I have ever played RPGs.
MG is not exactly about you playing a character that reacts to its environment – its about you and your buddies working together to build a story.
This should – and could – be my holy grail for sharing narrative control.
But it seems that it also wants to be some sort of torture device aiming to make me feel inadequate at something I used to feel I was good at.
Kind of like high school.
I Like The Game – Really!
So far, all of the game’s concepts are fabulous. My inner artist is in awe of the wonderful stories we can weave. My inner game designer is in awe of the elegance of the rules.
I am in awe of how it fuels what I now perceive to be the main goal of the game : building a story together.
Its not about leveling up your character. Not about solving puzzles and riddles. Not about finding the best tactical strategy to defeat wave after wave of enemies.
Its not even about finding the best action for the situation.
[Mostly] Pure storytelling.
Top-Down Though Process
As a software engineer, I am quite fond of the « top down » process. It consists of starting with the goal and fragmenting it in smaller problems. You solve these problems by fragmenting them in even smaller problems…. until you get to a series of problems simple enough to solve with code.
(Yes, I made a programming analogy! I’m sure it made everything clear! I’m delusional!)
Well, I don’t normally play RPGs this way.
In my traditional RPGs, I expect the DM to give me an environment with which I will interact to get to point B, which is usually more-or-less implied by the DM.
I look for solutions in the environment provided by the DM.
In Mouse Guard, not so much.
I first need to decide what I want to happen – Not what I want to do, but the outcome of what I will do.
The actions of my character are « merely » the justification of this outcome.
The description of my character’s actions, along with their results, might be tasked by a skill challenge; the outcome of which would decide if what I want is actually what happens, or if an unexpected twist comes up instead.
So, your arrive in front of this river, you see, hot on the tracks of the lost patrol, when suddenly, the tracks disappear.
What do you do?
I look for tracks, or traces that would hint me whether they tried to cross the river
Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.
That’s not how it goes: I must tell what I do, based on what will happen. Let’s try again.
Looking for tracks, I find evidence that the patrol tried to build a raft to go across the river. However, the current was too strong and they were carried further down the river where their raft crashed on a bit of land, smack in the middle of the river, where the patrol is stranded.
Ah! A skill challenge ensues – which I nearly succeed. The failure means I get a part of my goal, but an unexpected twist happens.
Alright, so you find that evidence and the destroyed raft… as well as the patrol’s lifeless bodies, maimed and partially eaten.
In the corner of your eye, you see movement – a fox is near, and he still is hungry for more.
(Did I mention we play mice?)
This was one of the easy situations to deal with – and it ran much less smoothly than that…
There is no correct answer
Striving for performance, striving for the correct answer is not what this game is about – not only can it hamper creativity but, truth be told, failure often yields more interesting results.
(I’ll repeat it later on, you’ll see)
After all, do we really like adventure stories with no twists?
This is a story about Mario Cheese, who went into the first castle he came upon, beat all the guards senseless, rescued the princess, and came back home.
In storytelling, failure often yields more interesting results.
Mouse Guard actually has mechanics that reward failure!
Check this out: you gain skill levels by successfully using your skill, but to gain a level, you need to fail at least once.
A rule that allows you to – *gasp* – learn from your mistakes!
Even better – you actually get bonus actions for the « player round » (more on this in a future post) by actually using your character’s traits against yourself during a challenge!
The character I play has a well-developed trait making him very compassionate. This is a trait I can easily play against my own character in negotiations, for example.
We rarely speak about it, but people can do pretty stupid things out of compassion!
I really like the game, but its original mechanics seem to be throwing me off and are making me struggle to a near-personal level.
The game is not just challenging – its challenging me. It is making me face perceived inadequacies. It is shaking part of the foundations of my social equilibrium. (Is it a game or is it therapy?)
And it is still a blast to play! – truly a testament to the awesomeness of the group I have the privilege of playing with.
I can’t wait to gain a better understanding (not an intellectual one, but a visceral one), so I can bring concepts of this game – if not the game itself – to my other gaming groups.
I’ll try and share with you my appreciation of the rules as well as my struggles with getting a grip of the game over my next few posts.
If you have not already, be sure to check out Chatty DM’s report of these Mouse Guard sessions as well for ever more insight on the game.