1001 Bobs

Deconstructing Mouse Guard – Beliefs

by on May.13, 2010, under Advice/Tools

by David Petersen

Deconstructing Mouse Guard

Mouse Guard is a brilliant comic by David Petersen about mice who live in a pseudo-medieval world of the territories beset by the dangers of the natural world.  The Guard protect the mouse territories by sword or by wits.  I first came across the comic at a small local comic convention, Vancouver ComicCon. Luke Crane adapted his acclaimed Burning Wheel roleplaying game to the world of Mouse Guard.  The game has won numerous awards including Roleplaying Game of the Year at Origins in 2009 beating out Dungeons and Dragons 4e.

Being a long time fan of the Mouse Guard comic, I ordered a copy of the RPG from Indie Press Revolution last year.  It is a beautiful book that lives up to the talented graphic design of the comic.  For a while I thumbed through it but didn’t know if my gaming group would take to mice with swords RPG.  I’ve since sat down to digest what is honestly my first indie story game and find myself loving it.

One of the primary reasons that I wanted to get the game was my son. He is 5 and I’ve been keeping an eye out for a way to share my passion for roleplaying games with him. Mouse Guard is a game with lighter subject matter than others like D&D. One which I hope will help fuel his growth as a person in the lessons it can teach.

The ChattyDM has advocated many of the concepts in his D&D 4e games over the past several months. Rather than trying to just read it and sell my group on it, I thought it might be a good idea to examine some of the core concepts of the game on my blog and try to deconstruct it in my own mind.

Beliefs

Character statistics in Mouse Guard are less about how easy it is to hit enemies or how much damage is dealt. They are more about digging deeper into the character and rewarding players on that portrayal.  The first core character concept presented is Beliefs.

The game defines beliefs as “a code or ethical stance… a snapshot view of how your character thinks.“[1] As such you are encouraged to create beliefs for your character that help define how they see the world. Are they honourable or selfish? Do they put action before knowledge?

For example a guard’s belief might be,

Mac believes that the guard should always stand up for the less fortunate.

Each character needs one simple sentence that will tell everyone else at the table what the character is about. Game Masters are then encouraged to challenge a character’s beliefs to really push on them to see how far their character will hold true.

Adopt[2]

Even in games that have not been set up around similar concepts, encouraging players to think deeper about their character is important if you are trying to draw more out of their roleplaying.  Beliefs are a great starting point when asking questions about a character.

It is important to follow through as a Game Master and make those beliefs important to the game if you want players to use them in game.  Mouse Guard gives some great advice on how to challenge beliefs  and draw them out. In the example above a GM might place an orphan in danger when doing so would draw the character away from their primary goals.

Another thing that Mouse Guard highlights with regards to beliefs is to reward players for drawing on those beliefs and making hard choices based on them.  Experience point rewards, further story rewards, or even unlocking situational rewards in the encounter itself are all ideas for rewards. Mouse Guard gives Fate Points for playing to beliefs and Persona Points for playing against them.

[1] Luke Crane, Mouse Guard Role Playing Game, pg 42.
[2] Adopt is a section that I am going to use to denote how a concept from Mouse Guard can transcend to other RPGs.
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2 comments for this entry:
  1. The Hopeless Gamer

    I’ve been trying to pull a Mouseguard game together since last Spring, and I have to say that I agree with your opinions on the game quite a bit.

    What’s interesting is that I see a lot of people talk about how they want to play Mouseguard with their children. I, too have this instinct (no pun intended!), but with my neice and nephews as I don’t currently have any kids. The interesting part is that this game can appear to be very complex. Looking at the character sheet could make even a D&D 4e player’s eye glaze over. In actual practice though, this is not the case, and I think MG really is a good game for beginners just because no other game spells out how to role-play better than the rules of MG.

    I love the Burning Wheel and Luke Crane’s philosophy in general. I think a lot of GM’s and players could take something away from his design philosophy, just as you point out in your “Adopt” section.

  2. Chris Cumming

    @theHopelessGamer I love to hear that it is easier than it looks. That was definitely one of my worries. My son is quite good at picking up rules though. I’ve taught him how to play Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, and Monsterpolcalypse so far. I’m looking forward to something with more of a roleplaying bent and thus MG. I’ll be looking at Green Ronin’s Faery’s Tale as well though to see if its a bit lighter on the mechanics to start. But I’m really enjoying an in depth look at Mouse Guard. MG is my first Luke Crane product but it definitely has me intrigued in Burning Wheel.

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