Yes... it's more Mouse Guard. Sorry guys! Will be back to more futuristic deathkilling shortly. :)
After a lot of reading, a lot of pondering and a lot of imagining mice with swords we got to sit down and actually play Mouse Guard! It was an interesting experience in that it was both a new game with a radically different system and an entirely new group of players. Well, not entirely new as we've played board games together a number of times, but this was the first time for us playing an RPG together.
As I mentioned I decided that we should at least start the game with some of the pre-generated characters. With an entirely new system like this it felt like the right thing to do, having well-made characters right off the bat.
The Deliver the Mail mission seemed like fun so I parceled out the characters to my three players. Jimmy wanted to try playing the leader so decided to play Dain (although re-named to Benjamin), Martin3 decided to play Benjamin's best friend Quentin and Rasmus took the role of the tenderpaw Robin (or Aengus).
After first talking a bit about Mouse Guard in general, as Rasmus and Martin3 were pretty much ignorant of the setting, we got into the actual rules system. It's different from what any of us have played before, and while I at least have a passing aquintance with "indie roleplaying" none of the others did. I think Martin3 took it the best since he simply hadn't been roleplaying at all for a number of years. Tabula Rasa and all that I suppose. Jimmy who's regularely GMing for his own group seemed to have the most concern with the system but more in a "this sounds strange, but interesting" way rather than a "not D20=bad!" way. I think we were all really excited to try the game.
The Game Master's Turn
The patrol got their assignement from Gwendolyn; springtime in the territories is a busy season and one important duty of the Guard is to deliver the mail that has been piling up during the winter months. So their mission was to deliver the mail to Elmoss, Sprucetuck and then continuting to the more far off villages of Dorigift and Gilpledge. Before heading out Benjamin requisitioned a packbeetle to carry the mail for them (I would call them lazy except it's pretty cool with a packbeetle).
It was a cold and clear spring day and the journey to Elmoss and then Sprucetuck proved uneventful as it was a trip that both Bejamin and Quentin had taken on numerous occasions, both hailing from Sprucetuck. They did manage to exchange some quick words with loved ones before they had to continue their journey to Dorigift. All the while Quentin continued making notes and drawing little squiggles that he could hopefully compile into an actual map later on.
Now they were entering unfamiliar territory as the two villages are quite far off the beaten path. This called for an Obtsacle 6 Pathfinding test and although Quentin tried to Scout ahead and Aengus kept an eye on the sky Benjamin failed the test. While I could have let them find their way but given them a Condition I instead opted for an animal twist. A curious raven began following the patrol, jumping from branch to branch, clearly eyeing that interesting looking mailbag! Suddenly it swooped down, trying to steal the bag from the patrol.
For this we used a Fight Conflict. The raven's Goal was "Must have mailbag!" while the patrol's was "Protect the mail". The raven rolled for composition and got four (which I continued to roll in pretty much every test during the conflict!) while the patrol managed to get five. However, with the raven's high Nature of eight it was still a tough fight. It didn't help that I managed to pick all the right Actions for it in the first round, defending when they attacked and attacking when they feinted. In the second round the raven won the conflict but had lost a little bit of Composition so owed a minor compromise to the patrol. We talked it over and decided that the raven got the mailbag but made a beeline for its' nest - making it easy to track.
To be able to track it and then actually get the mail back would require a Hunter test followed by Scout, both versus the raven's Nature of eight (although I think I forgot about hunter and used something else instead).
They managed to track the raven, even with some Traits used against them and then Aengus literally leapt at the opportunity to prove his worth to Quentin by climbing the tree and trying to snatch the mailbag back! Good character moment there. However Aengus failed the test and I thought this was a good opportunity to introduce some Conditions, so Aengus became Tired from all the climbing while both Benjamin and Quentin had become quite Angry at the entire situation. Damn raven! They did manage to get the bag back though and made it the last couple of miles to Gilpledge.
Before even entering the village though, a mouse came running up to them pleading for assistance in getting an old family heirloom back from the fallen city of Walnutpeck. Benjamin wanted primarily to complete the mission but Aengus generous nature and Quentin's inquisitiveness made him give in in the end. They would help the mouse (named Martin) but only after actually delivering the mail. This was a simple Persuasion versus test and Benjamin won the test but felt that his companions both had good points. They continued into Gilpledge and finally delivered the mail.
This was the end of the GM's turn.
The Player's Turn
They had all managed to accrue a couple of Checks each, which made me very happy as I thought it would be a bit difficult during the first session. They started with trying to get rid of their conditions, but obviously the resting place Aengus used wasn't very comfortable and Benjamin just couldn't seem to let go of the whole raven situation! Quentin on the other hand went away for himself, lit up his pipe and sat down with his notes. This relaxed him quite a bit and his anger faded. He then used a check to try and actually compile his notes into a useful map and managed to create and accurate map of the path from Lockhaven to Gilpledge. Goal accomplished! Aengus also used a check for a resource test to get some supplies for the coming journey to Walnutpeck.
The rest of the checks were spent journeying to Walnutpeck and then searching for the rocking chair (the heirloom in question). They failed the first Pathfinding test to find the fallen city and were made Hungry because of it and I was hoping that they would fail the other one as well as I thought it would be fun to introduce some kind of weasel related twist, but they passed it with flying colours. The last couple of checks were used to prepare some food from the supplies Aengus had brought, alleviating their Hungry condition. The player's turn (and the session) ended with the patrol making it back to Gilpledge with the rocking chair.
When handing out rewards everyone got points for playing according to their belief (perhaps a bit generously but it was our first time) and for achieving their respective Goals. Only Quentin earned points for playing his Instinct though. Aengus got the MVP award for bringing the mailbag back and Benjamin got the workhorse award for making a lot of tests during the GM's turn. We all felt that perhaps nobody would get the Embodiment reward this first session, but then we remembered Quentin's little pipe break where he went off for himself. It seemed like a very in-character moment so Martin3 got a point for that.
And that was the end of the session!
I for one had a great time, and as far as I could tell the others enjoyed themselves as well. I could tell that they sometimes struggled a bit with the format of Mouse Guard and I know Jimmy isn't entirely comfortable with the meta-gaming aspects and the strict rules of the GM/players' turns. And to be honest I completely understand how he feels. Since I've read the rulebook I probably have a better understanding of the concept and ideas behind this but for a traditional roleplayer to be thrust straight into Mouse Guard can probably be a bit of a system shock. :)
As a GM I felt fairly well prepared as I have read the book a couple of times and have been checking the Burning Wheel forums for newbie problems. I think it went smooth overall and was surprised to see the players collecting a decent amount of checks and creating their own little adventure during their turn (which could easily have become much larger!).
The only thing I felt a bit unsure of was how to handle player initiated tests during the GM's turn. For example, Quentin wanted to roll for Cartography as they went along, but as that wasn't part of a mission obstacle I simply told him to narrate it and then had him use one of his checks in the player's turn to see how the map turned out. Basically, is the GM's turn obstacles only? 100%? Or is there room for some other tests as well? I was very strict this time around, but think I might be a bit more leniant in the future, but also remind the players that all tests are subject to twists or conditions when failed...
Bottom line is that I am very happy with our little session. It lasted a bit over four hours but that was with a dinner break in the middle. It felt just about right!
I'm very much in a RPG mixer mood at the moment, I want to try a lot of different games (apart from Mouse Guard there are Diaspora, 3:16, The One Ring, Coriolis, Ashen Stars and Trail of Cthulhu just off the top of my head) but before we jump to the next we will play Mouse Guard for a couple more sessions at least. It's tricky when there's so much cool stuff you want to do!
Oh, and we also tried a three player session of Fiasco which was a lot of fun! More on that later...