GM: Eric Levanduski
Players: Joanna, Ross, & Dylan
System: Mouseguard 2e
The Start of Something New
This is a one shot game to introduce my friends to the joy of Burning Wheel style RPGs and the joys of playing a mouse on the frontier. My intention was to run a game with pregenerated characters to get a feel for the ebb and flow of the game's mechanics and turns in order to play a 4-6 session story with our own characters.
We started with "pick one of these sheets in front of you that you think has the coolest art on it." From there I explained the game from the context of the sections of the character sheet.
When The Levee Breaks
I explained the situation: the town of Lonepine is at risk of flooding out completely. The levees that hold the water won't last long and the town is in a panic. The Governor lost control and everyone's counting on the Guard.
The players started probing and asking questions about how to save Lonepine. Dain, played by Dylan, led the group thinking that it'd be best if we get the women and children away to highground while a set of strong volunteers are able to shore up the town's defenses. Great idea! He didn't have orator, didn't wanna learn the skill, so he went with Nature. He made a decent argument that getting the mice out of the town was part of escaping. He then spent his only persona and invoked his leader trait to ensure the town cooperated. They did, but barely as he scored only 5 successes vs an ob 4 with something like 12 dice.
Joanna, playing Baron, suggested she lead the group to repair the levees with her carpenter background, while Quentin would lead the vulnerables out of the town to the woods up on higher ground.
Baron and Dain, with the help of the townsfolk also just barely passed their carpenter group test against Spring to save the town! Joanna also spent their persona early on here to ensure success.
Quentin, also spending persona, ultimately failed his test by 1. I took the moment to introduce a twist. Dain's enemy Tuk the bandit arrives demanding the vulnerable give over their precious few belongings for "safety". Quentin, feeling outmatched by 6 bandits, capitulated. The survival of the townsfolk mattered more. EVERYONE loved that exchange.
We cut back to the mouseguard patrol together in town after hearing the cause for the rising waters is that beavers have dammed up the outbound water turning Grasslake into a literal lake.
Dain wanted to convince the two Beavers to respectfully move, but the whole team fails to sway them, which in comes two more Mouseguards sent by Gwendolyn who demand the group go to war against the beavers! There's a heated persuade vs persuade test and Baron just BARELY succeeds against her enemy, Thom (one of the guards who showed up). There'll be a unified Mouseguard front against the beaver dam.
So, it was getting kind of late by now with a lot of questions about how to get the most dice in one's pool slowing the game down a lot, so we kind of had another persuade test and moved them to the scientist conflict of dismantling the dam! This was the first conflict of the night and I knew this was going to take some time to explain the ideas of dispositions and an ABSTRACT conflict like a science conflict!
The party won after 2 rounds, but by then it was about time to wrap up, so I described how the player turn would have been possibly (recovering from conditions they accrued since they were all in some combination of tired, hungry, and angry) and maybe hunting town Tuk.
We did artha rewards because I wanted to hear everyone's thoughts on rewarding MVP/Embodiment/Workhorse and how they think they played their BIGs.
What went well
The players really brought it for this game, despite not knowing the rules prior. No one but myself had played a Burning Wheel game before. Everyone through the session was superb. They were flagging and saying things like, "well because my belief is THIS..... I think we see <Mouse> do something AWESOME" which is the essence of mouseguard.
The twist with Tuk showing up felt SUPER good. Everyone nodded and was like, damn that's rough!
After explaining how nature works and taxing your nature (something we didn't worry about in a one shot. A LOT of the game became (can we invoke our nature here and all help eachother?). I wouldn't say it's a bad thing... that's a function of exploiting the benefits of a one shot (they discovered this themselves, btw).
We could see the light at the end of the tunnel. Mouseguard is a fiction first game, but the mechanics guide your fiction. Thinking about your best mechanical option and expressing that fictionally often feels like "yeah that sounds like the right move anyways... hey thanks for supporting what I wanna do!" It was off-early, as we looked at our sheets and pondered our approaches until realizing the solution for this particular problem. I explained how that part of the game never leaves--- but it slowly becomes second nature to the player. It becomes this subconscious guide to the play.
The players, also by the conflict were TOTALLY out of artha rewards. They realized how valuable those things were!
It felt like a Mouseguard comic.
What could have been improved
There were some mechanical hickups early on as we were learning how to help one another with dice. I must have repeated this a TON of times: Abilities help Abilities and Skills help Skills. Understanding that helping provides one die no matter what (same as a wise, but you avoid the badness) was also explained a lot.
Time management was bad. I wish I could get to the player turn. One player, Ross, had accrued 4 player checks!! (Two ties in the science conflict, no less!). I wish I had time to give them that share of the game, but we all conceptualized it.
What comes next
We will be meeting sometime next week or the following for crafting new characters for this upcoming short series that I'll be writing up.
Thanks for reading!