We returned to the frontier territories for another session of Old Country for New Mice this past Tuesday.
I began by saying some time’s gone by since we last joined our party--
It’s nearly Summer which means it’s time for the beetle drives to begin. Beetle ranchers, riding newts, drive their herds underground through the Dark Heather tunnels to Sprucetuck for market. You have completed one drive so far and are pretty tired by the time you’re back in the territories. You're eager to rest before your next round of escorting.
Unfortunately there’s no time to rest. Flagging you down as you emerge from the Dark Heather is an angry old rancher riding a newt. He introduces himself as Warden -- Warden Seeders of the Seeders Ranch. He seems to know Luke pretty well and focuses the conversation at him. The party hears about how the other local ranch, the Culpepper Ranch, has apparently kidnapped the son and heir of the Seeders’ ranch, Quinn. Warden says to Luke, “Luke, they took Quinn. Those Culpepper bastards took my son!” (alluding to Quinn being Luke’s old friend).
While this is going on, Garrow eyes Warden inquisitively for more information about the Culpeppers, having known a Jacoby Culpepper as a mentor back in the war. Garrow is surprised to hear that it is the very same Jacoby. Jacoby, probably one of the oldest mice around is still kicking, has retired to be a beetle rancher… and apparently caught up in kidnapping Warden’s son?
Warden knows the Guard don’t hold any official power out in these parts, but since Quinn is Luke’s friend and the Culpeppers had ties to the Guard, he thinks they might be able to get to the bottom of this—this is the last chance before violence between the two ranchers. So that’s the mission for today. Resolve an ongoing feud between two beetle ranchers and a kidnapped boy.
We set our goals and then, after a few other questions for Warden, the party rode off on their newts to the Culpepper ranch.
When they get there, Jacoby and Garrow, simultaneously at sight of one another said, “I THOUGHT YOU WERE DEAD!” and chuckled. He invited them in for breakfast and at my discretion allowed them to recover the hungry/thirsty that was plaguing them.
I insinuated that Jake Culpepper is a little.. off. He seems to be hiding some anger as he serves you all breakfast. He’s polite to you but there’s something troubling as you ask him about what’s going on with the Seeders. He gives his side of the source of the feud-- the Culpeppers let their beetles graze on his territories illegally. He offers sympathy for the boy, but doesn’t know his whereabouts.
I tell the party there’s more here but he’ll need to be pushed and we cue our first roll of the night.
A successful persuasion nets the party a confession from Jake—he took Quinn, but he didn’t wanna do this. The Culpeppers left him no choice. He had to do a little quid-pro-quo and kidnap Quinn because apparently Warden kidnapped his own son, Gerald!
The plot thickens.
The party cautions Jake about the course he’s laying for himself and the danger he’s putting others in. Jake fires back how he’s led mice in the Weasel Wars and knows the risks. He also mentions how easy it is to say to take the high road when it isn’t your very own fur and blood on the line. Things are different when it's your own son.
The party asks him to relinquish his prisoner so they can negotiate with Warden and Jake is having none of that. Things get TENSE in the kitchen and the party fails their roll to get him to go along with him. He kicks them out and doesn’t wanna see them around anymore. He’s EXTREMELY disappointed in Garrow.
(It’s at this point of the session, I asked the party if we’re having fun and about 2 solid seconds go by before everyone snaps out of character and back to reality and is like OMG YESSSSS. Feels good, man.)
When they’re getting on their newts, Jake’s daughter Joyce appears and tells them that she knows where Quinn is being kept and has a key. She loves Quinn and if the party doesn’t do something she’s afraid her papa will kill him! A circles roll establishes how easy this will be and with a success, she is able to assist by distracting the armed mice defending the cellar in time for the party to break Quinn out. Mist JUMPS on this opportunity to show what the Guard can do and convinces her to help them out with that successful circles roll.
The party, now with Quinn, ride off for the Culpepper’s farm. Interestingly enough they find out from Quinn no facts about the location of George. He does mention wild strawberries grow on the edge of the Culpepper property and sometimes George liked to sneak onto their property and eat strawberries when he was younger.
The party wants to head directly to the Strawberry patches before taking to Warden (if they can find proof of George’s whereabouts, then maybe they can avert the skirmish!) but Quinn is demanding to see his father. He’s tired and just wants to go home, but the Luke, Mist, and Garrow give a REALLY good roleplaying speech about the stakes and why they need to do this before seeing Warden and I just give it to them here.
Following that rousing speech, they botch their scout role and are face to face with a yellow-striped black snake in the strawberry fields!
An exhaustive combat unfolds and rises to a crescendo where the snake is hiding and the mice have lost sight of it, when it’s surprise strike is thwarted by Garrow who fells the beast with a mace to the skull.
Mechanically, the snake went to feint and the party did attack, but Garrow rolled 0 successes on the feint before summoning his persona for use of his War-wise. He described how the weasels would sometimes lure the mice into known snake lairs in the war and I just gave it to him. Once again—my party was just ON FIRE tonight with the roleplaying and that was just so awesome that he re-rolled all his failed dice (literally all 5) and got enough to kill the snake. The final score was a complete success for the party!
It’s in the snake’s belly they find the remains of poor George. Not a minute too soon, either, because as they’re heading out they run into the Culpepper posse looking for revenge! Garrow talks them down with a solid persuade shouting, “GODDAMMIT JAKE PUT YOUR WEAPONS DOWN. YOUR SON IS DEAD.” Which is a pretty ugly truth to yell out and also got us some looks from nearby bar patrons.
The rest of the party, with Quinn, reunite Quinn with Warden and his mom, Thyme. Joyce Culpepper, the daughter, is also here. And it’s quite the scene as I turn the reigns of the session over the players for their turn.
The party recovers and we montage some time suggesting that after the funeral, they persuade the fathers and mothers of both families to reconcile and let Quinn and Joyce get married after this year’s beetle drive.
We end the session with the party, Jake, Quinn, Joyce, and Warden leading beetles down into the Dark Heather.
WHAT WENT WELL
To quote the ancients, this whole session was lit, fam. We all loved this session and was easily the highlight of our games together so far. Roleplaying was at an all-time high and it felt like the players were REALLY grasping the mechanics this go-around with the conflict system. We finished the session in about 2.5 hours with breaks for beer/food. We eschewed a lot of the fiction-first of the conflict until after the dice resolved for each volley and that worked out well for us.
WHAT COULD BE IMPROVED
I think I could spend more a little bit more time preparing locations, NPC personalities, and just overall improve my pretty GM word picture skills rather than improvise this all on the spot. Overall the party did such an amazing job that it’s one of those times where the things to improve on aren’t a whole lot! I love sessions like this one. Especially compared to session 2.
THANK YOU SO MUCH for reading!
I'm in love with this system and when it's working like it was tonight, it's just... it's something else. We all agreed this was the best session so far and excited to see what's gonna happen next time on OLD COUNTRY FOR NEW MICE!
Before I forget-- My group has taken up the joys of reciting their “Previously on Old Country For New Mice” with GREAT enthusiasm. Often they tell it like a 1930’s radio show with a transatlantic accent and this week Joanna wrote up a limerick about last week’s adventures against the crow and journeying out of the mountains!
I hope you find players as interested as mine are in Mouse Guard.