I seem to have a soft spot in my heart for games that are a bit off the beaten path. I’m not a terribly huge fan of D&D (don’t tar and feather the good Rev please) and I haven’t enjoyed any of the major White Wolf games since Wraith: the Oblivion. I seem to go off, find something that strikes my eye, usually somewhat obscure, and stays away from the generic systems. Sometimes I find a rare treasure (Obsidian) or heaping pile deserving to be thrown out (Children of the Sun.)
With this in mind, a few months back I was at my local bookstore, and noticed in the RPG section, Mouse Guard Roleplaying Game. At the time I had never heard of Mouse Guard, so I picked it up and perused it. The artwork immediately impressed me, although the system used exclusively D6’s, so I hesitated and didn’t buy it. I did however find the Fall 1152 Mouse Guard compilation, and bought it a week later. So I read the series and it becomes one of my favorite graphic novels.
Months pass, and I get back into wanting to find a new RPG. The copy of Mouse Guard is still on the shelf, so I decide I will pick it up. After all, I fell in love with the world itself in the first compilation, and figured I might as well get it started.
The Mouse Territories are probably best described as a romanticized dark to middle ages. The world itself is not rife with magic as is with so many RPG’s. For the most part, the Mouse Territories are a collection of little cities, each with its strengths and weaknesses, all connected and patrolled by a group of mice known as the Mouse Guard.
As characters, you take on the role of being a mouse inside the Mouse Guard. Your job is essentially to protect the other mice, and keep the Territories in safe and working order. Tasks that the Guard often have to do is help out remarking the scent border (to keep predators away), escort shipments, protect settlements against weasels, foxes and other animals, surviving flash floods and all other sorts of things.
The book itself never steps out of line, and does a fine job illustrating the world, motivations, goals, and introducing the spirit of the world and it’s inhabitants. It stays faithful to (and utilizes) the source material extremely well, to have a vibrant living world. Not to mention, the book gives plenty of little hooks to work with, and plot devices to start out on, and how to intertwine them together.
As stated, the game itself uses 6 sider’s exclusively. The rolls themselves are kept fairly simple, 1-3 are considered cowards not helping your cause, 4-6 are successes. Most rolls are are either against a set number of successes, or a straight versus. Weapons give certain bonuses and hindrances, as well as the health of the mouse (more on health later) and by tapping into some mousely reserves, you can gain other bonuses, such as rerolling 6’s.
Major tribulations are considered “Conflicts.” Conflicts have a rather interesting set of rules behind them, and I feel it is worth mentioning, as it is how fighting, arguments, chase scenes, etc work. First off, the conflict must be written down and if a team, agreed upon. You then find in the game the “Disposition” which essentially is a hit points for the fight, or the will to argue, etc. When one side has a disposition that reaches 0, it is a loss. Finally, you have to choose three actions, write them down. The actions are generic and only consist of four types, “Attack, Defend, Maneuver, Feint.” The book goes into detail for even what they mean in arguments, or chase scenes, and it is easy to expound from there on things not covered. Action 1 for both sides gets revealed and resolved, with bonuses added if you were able to anticipate the other player (such as a Feint can not be defended, but is useless against an Attack.) Once the action has been resolved, move to the next action, again once one side has reached Disposition 0, they lose. If 3 rounds go by, and both teams still have disposition, then record another 3 actions, and begin against.
Utilizing this method, is actually fairly simple, once in the groove, and lends itself to some very dynamic descriptions and actions, which I find simply irresistable.
Pending on the outcome of the fight, you may have to give concessions (if they almost beat you) and you can get conditions applied to you. The conditions include Hungry, Thirsty, Angry, Injured, Sick, and they give negative bonuses to your Mouse. Dying in the game, has to be an expressed goal of the start (and goals are revealed before actions are wrote down.) If you are fighting and the goal is not to kill each other, then by the rules, it you won’t die.
Now, onto experience points! There are none. Skill progression is marked by a number of successes using the skill, AND failures of using the skill. You can only have up to a total of 24 skills, and the process for learning a new skill, literally is a trial by fire.
There are however bonuses that are given by how you play your character, roleplaying, and some other awards that help you out in getting goodies, or alleviating your conditions.
As for keeping track of health, that is also not in the game, you only have the conditions. It’s very streamlined, and honestly, I think keeps pacing right and puts the focus more into gaming than number tracking.
The system itself is a little on the cumbersome side. It requires you to think a bit about your character, and give specific motivations, family history, professions. The game on the onset is begging for more than a cardboard cutout, and gives you the tools necessary on building a decently thought out character. All your motivations, goals, family, enemies, are all little twists and bits that are utilized by the the game in rules, and have good reasons. They take you in step by step on several template characters (the characters from the graphic novels) and show why and how they made the character the way they did. Expect some time and forethought into the character creation stage, and it does lend itself to open discussion amongst your other players as well as the game master.
Death in the game, is very alive and real, and flat out, it expects you to lose some characters. Focus is shifted mainly on character development, but the sysem is not where a brand new character can not come into play with people who have been surviving out in the campaign for long periods of time. One amusing part that is interesting, is the recommendation on the player that loses a mouse become the GM. Some fun could be had with that thought, although it would take a fairly mature troupe to work that aspect of it.
I find the game to be extremely well written and well thought out. It feels alive, and gives you a large sandbox to play with. If the obsession of a troupe is on power, levels, loot, loot, loot (we all know the type) I would advise staying away. But for those that want an interesting aside, to have some fun, and are really focused on a good story, I highly recommend.
T. is not only a contributing writer to The Chaos Grenade, he is also the owner of Crypticintent.com and was very cool enough to give the site a home. He is also a very cool friend of mine from way back, and just happens to be writing a few works of his own. You can follow his blog at http://blogs.crypticintent.com/