This week saw the completion of our second session of the Mouse Guard RPG and the salty roleplayer in me is impressed with how transcendent the game is for both new and experienced players alike. If you’ve never heard of the game, or think it’s targeted well below your age/experience bracket, think again my friends! The Mouse Guard are here and they mean some serious RPG business!
We’ve discussed on the podcast and I’ve written in past posts that I am currently in a transitional phase in the manner in which I approach both running and playing tabletop RPGs. Thankfully, Ramses’ rotation and choice of Mouse Guard, based on the David Peterson comics, could not have come at a better time. A quick synopsis, courtesy of the Mouse Guard Official Site:
In the world of Mouse Guard, mice struggle to live safely and prosper amongst harsh conditions and a host of predators. Thus the Mouse Guard was formed: more than just soldiers, they are guides for common mice looking to journey without confrontation from one village to another. They see to their duty with fearless dedication so that they may not simply exist, but truly live.
Although the game is marketed as a rules-light introductory module for those new to the roleplaying genre, the low-fantasy setting and collaborative/narrative structure serve to simultaneously ease new players into the game and challenge veterans as well. In a world where sword and spear wielding mice are the PC’s, the predator vs. prey dynamic taking place in our own backyards resonates with a whole different context. Below are some of the aspects of the game that have been most impressive so far.
Character Creation – One of the most intriguing aspects before starting the game was the manner in which characters are created. From the outset, I had a character concept in mind, but rather than just rolling dice and plugging in numbers (a la metagamer style), the rule-set has the Players select a series of character specific factors (age, birthplace, etc.) as well as answering a series of questions based on theoretical situations their individuals characters may face. Based on these responses, the system generates a series of baseline scores and skills for each character, which are then tweaked per the Players reference further in the process. Seeing as Ramses was the only one to read the rules on character generation, it lent a level of randomness to the process, which in turn, I felt, helped me to better suss out my character’s back story. Any thought or desire of min/maxing went out the door, as I fully let the system do it’s thing and enjoyed the ride.
Accomplishing Goals – As each session plays out and conflicts arise, the goals of the PC’s are ever-changing. While this is standard fare in most RPGs, I feel that the manner in which the game approaches the concept of accomplishing individual and group related goals is unique. While in the character generation aspect, each player selects what could be described as a baseline goal for their character’s personality. However, as the story progresses, each interaction with the world, be it armed conflict or overcoming obstacles, requires the Players to take a moment and really evaluate the outcome that is desired. If the game is being played right, the good old “stab it until it’s dead” approach may not be the best option. We are talking about mice, after all.
Improving Skills – One of the most interesting elements of the game is the overall lack of character levels… wait, what?? That’s right. No leveling. However, as the Players progress through and interact with the developing around them, there exist ample opportunities to attempt to increase the multitude of skills available to each individual character. In an interesting turn, certain number of successes AND failures are required to advance a skill into the next level. The necessity of failure initially seemed odd, but actually makes perfect sense. If and individual is SO proficient at a skill, they will rarely fail, but the reality of it is we more often learn greater lessons from our failures, as we can often take success for granted. Additionally, the ability for characters to assist by rolling additional dice during an action not only helps to increase their own individual skills, it also keeps players engaged in the action and strengthens the team dynamic.
All in all, the game has been extremely enjoyable thus far. Ramses is doing a fantastic job running his first true campaign and playing in a low-fantasy setting for the first time helps to ratchet up the tension. My mockingbird-riding Dragoon Scout, Karen’s loner Insectrist, and Robert’s reckless Tenderpaw Mouse Guard have many a humorous adventure before them, so be sure to check the Thursday comics for the developing story… oh… and go buy these books and game! You’ll thank me!