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.
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.“ 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.
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. Luke Crane, Mouse Guard Role Playing Game, pg 42.  Adopt is a section that I am going to use to denote how a concept from Mouse Guard can transcend to other RPGs.