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Mouse Guard (2nd Edition)» Forums » General

Subject: Let's read Mouse Guard! rss

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Welcome to Let's Read!

In this thread, I'll be taking a book, reading it cover-to-cover, and posting my thoughts. You can think of it as a long, rambly review. Anyone who wants to comment, ask questions, or generally kibbitz is welcome to do so. If you have the book yourself, then please follow along and share! I'll do roughly a chapter per post, and aim for a new post every couple of days.

If you like this format, and want to read more threads like it, please see (and subscribe!) to this geeklist:
Master List of "Let's Read" Threads

I wanted to start things off with one of my favorite games, Mouse Guard. I have the 2nd edition in paperback, hardback, and PDF. For this, I'll be going off the PDF.

Here we go!


FRONTISPIECES

We start off with a title page with a picture of three of the iconic heroes. Lieam, Saxon, and Kenzie, I think? An action shot, showing them snooping around out in the wild. Great art and it sets the tone well.

Then there's a faux stained glass illustration of an armored mouse wielding an axe. "This book belongs to" with a space to write your name.

Table of contents with seventeen different chapters. Another action shot of Lieam swinging his sword admist some autumn leaves. Annoyingly, the ToC is not hyperlinked, so you can't jump to a particular chapter.

Then a credits page. For some reason I thought Thor was the main designer on MG, but no, I was thinking of Torchbearer. Luke did this.


FOREWARD
(2pp.)

By David Petersen, author of the comics. He talks about his history with RPGs and how they formed his love of storytelling. There's a bit of "what is an RPG" worked in there. He mentions twice that the best part of RPGs is when things don't go as planned. Which I agree with.

There's a bit about how great Luke was at taking his comics and wrenching them into a game that was truly about character growth. Interestingly, I remember Luke saying at some point -- maybe in a podcast interview -- that in their first meeting, David was gung-ho about making the RPG very traditional: classes, levels, etc. Luke had to talk him down and ask for his trust. For the better I think -- I doubt anyone would really care about a MG RPG that was a by-the-numbers d20 book.

At the bottom there is a legend naming all the mice. This is very confusing in the PDF, but in the print copies there is a big spread on the inside of the dust jacket of all the major characters in the series. This lets your know their names.


IT REVOLVES ON THIS
(8pp.)

Starts off by describing the core concepts of the game and what you'll need to play it. Pencils, dice, etc. It explains the roles:

Quote:
The GM’s job is to transform the players’ guardmice characters into heroes.


And that's a fine and concise description.

Next it describes the structure of the book, with a bit of detail about each chapter and what to expect. The organization is a little odd -- the setting chapters are plopped in the middle of the rules for no apparent reason.

Before the setting is the Mission (the players' turn and GM's turn), and a big chapter on the conflict system. After the setting is the rules for individual skills and traits, and how to improve them. Then there's sample missions, sample characters, and at the very end, character creation. I've never seen an RPG where character creation is the last thing in the book. I guess to put the focus on how you can pick up and play with sample characters? That might be good with non-gamers or at cons, but I can't imagine that's a huge part of actual play in the wild. Gamers like making characters.

Then it tells how to learn the game. Like BW, MG includes three icons used to call out important parts in the rules. I can't say I've ever really been helped by them when I was learning the game.

Roleplaying! A big subsection on what roleplaying is and how to do it. How to play a character, whether you should speak in 1st or 3rd person (answer: either is fine), and how sometimes you roll dice. It also talks about how sometimes you will lose control of your character and that's okay. Then some social contract type stuff (share the spotlight, don't be a jerk).

The chapter talks some more about the structure of play -- how long each session should last, how many sessions in a campaign, etc. This is good info and kind of overlooked by a lot of people I think. Then: paper is important and you should use pencil because things change.

Dice! The game uses standard six-sided dice, but you can also get special MG dice. All Luke's games (except Freemarket and his Viking LARP I think) use dice pools, and this is no exception. It explains that each dice is either a success or a failure. 1-3 is failure, 4-6 is a success. A six is a special success. It uses cutesy terms: Failures are "snakes," 4-5 are "swords," and a six is an "axe." I have never used those terms at the table, even though the MG dice actually have those symbols on them.

You can also manipulate results. Some rolls will add extra successes to an already successful roll. This tripped me up at first -- in many other dice pool games, bonus successes can turn a failed task into a successful one. But not here. If you need three successes to succeed, and you get two automatic successes, but you only roll one success --
that is a failure.

Then it explains notation on adding or subtracting dice from your pool, and what a margin of success or failure means.

"Terms" talks about how he uses the male pronoun to refer to players because the main character of the comics is male. Not the worst justification, I guess, but I don't especially care either way.

Finally, Luke explains how he uses a conceit that the stories in the comics are the result of an RPG session, but that you can break from the canon of the comics as long as the mood is consistent with the comics. An odd restriction, and an impossible one to enforce, but maybe underscoring what's important.

Overall, this chapter is denser than it appears at first. I skimmed it when I first got the book, because it looks like your typical RPG intro chapter. But there is important info here that is easy to miss.

Next up: The Mouse Guard!
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I'm looking forward to this. I know you won't pull punches Kev; I'm interested in the good and the non-good.
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Perfect timing — I'm in the middle of a re-read!
Oh man I can't wait till you get to the part... well I'll pipe in then.
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THE MOUSE GUARD
(26pp.)


Quote:
Hail all those who are able,
any mouse can,
any mouse will,
but the Guard prevail.
This looks to be mostly a setting chapter, detailing the history of the guard and telling players what they need to know. It also states that it will go into basic game mechanics, enough to get the idea, and then go into more detail later.

A Brief History of the Mouse Guard: Back in an unspecified distant past, mice are lived paw-to-mouth, suffering from predators and weather. From the description there is no apparent difference between how they lived and the actual lives of real field mice. But apparently these prehistoric mice were intelligent, because from there a few groups staked out some defensible safe areas. As word of these spread, mice started traveling to join these communities, and they eventually became the modern settlements. It mentions that the most famous settlement is Lockhaven, which actually has fortified walls and a dedicated guard.

There was apparently a political crisis early in the territories, a debate over what to do about the less well-defended settlements. Many inhabitants did not want to leave to join Lockhaven, even though it was clearly safer. So Lockhaven considered a few options: evacuate them by force was one option. Leave them to their fates was another. But a third way was chosen: Lockhaven would use its strength to defend the other settlements regardless of what they did.

To help with this, Lockhaven realized that a few basic improvements would help matters greatly. E.g., some simple roads would help travel time, and if they were placed well, would provide cover from predators. Mice from Lockhaven were sent out to scout the territories and make the roads, and eventually these scouts became the Guard.

Notably lacking from this description is a sense of time. How long ago was the guard formed? Unclear. It doesn't really matter, but it would kind of be nice to know.

The next bit talks about the organizational structure of Lockhaven: it's lead by a matriarch who assigns duties. She has captains and administrators to assist her. There's nothing in the laws that requires the guard leader to be female; it's just tradition.

Then it mentions the Guard's authority: in Lockhaven, and in between towns, the Guard is law. But in the towns, the local leadership has final say. This is an important point and a nice juicy source of conflict in play: as soon as you cross into a town, you have no jurisdiction. If the town's mayor is corrupt, it is up to the townsmice to overthrow him -- in theory anyway! In practice, my players were always very happy to foment rebellion and deal with the matriarch later.

It talks a lot about how the Guard is self-supporting, takes no taxes, and how each guardmouse is a noble servant of the greater good, happy to sacrifice everything for the cause. The text mentions this in a couple of different places, and lays it on a bit thick. Maybe the designer is trying to stave off conflicted antiheroes?

Lockhaven: We go into more detail about Lockhaven. It's carved into stone and has become entirely a fortress city, having lost any real economy of its own over the years. And not just anyone can move to Lockhaven any more; you have to be invited by the Guard. They store lots of supplies, and they make a special bread called by the silly-sounding and dumb word "gabcroon." I don't really get the point of making up words like this. It's not like lembas, where it's a made-up word, but it comes from a fictional culture with their own fictional language and has its own fictional etnymology (lenn-mbass, "journey bread," if you'd like to know). The mice in the territories all speak English, so why not just call it waybread or something? There's a lot more dumb made-up words coming up, so hold onto your hats. Anyway, "gabcroon" is made of nuts, seeds, and fruits, and stays warm for a long time.

Lockhaven is also good at textiles (to make the cloaks that keep the guard warm) and they have an active beehive above the city, so they have a lot of wax and honey production.

Quote:
We as Guard offer all
that we are to protect the sanctity
of our species, the freedom of
our kin, and the honor of our
ancestors. With knowledge,
sword, and shield, we do these
deeds, never putting a lone
mouse above the needs of all, or
the desire of self above another.
We strive for no less than to
serve the greatest good.
On to the next subsection, a short one: The Guard's Oath.

This is another example of the schmaltzy playing up of how noble the Guard is. I think you could use it as a source of conflict though, if you had a jerkface captain commanding a PC to sacrifice themselves for the greater good.

Next we discuss The Duties of the Mouse Guard:

- Patrolling
- Pathfinding and Clearing
- Trail Blazing
- Delivering Mail
- Escorting
- Weather Watching
- Hunting Predators
- Rescuing Mice
- Mediating Disputes
- Maintaining the Scent Border

All well and good. By itself, not a exciting list of activities, compared to things like delving into the Tomb of Horrors or saving the world from the return of the Dragon Queen. But on the scale of mice, and given the dangers of the wild, they are perfectly interesting.

This is also the first mention of the Scent Border. An unspecified time ago, some scientist mice in one of the towns created a concoction that smells terrible to most predator species. Twice a year, they ship some barrels of the foul stuff to Lockhaven, and the guard pours it along the borders of the territories. It doesn't work perfectly, but generally the larger predators will avoid crossing the line. This is a handy story conceit to explain the survival of the settlements, and why foxes, wolves, and bears have not devoured them long ago.

Then we zoom in and talk about The Patrol: the individual patrols that the guard sends out. This is the PCs. It mentions that you shouldn't double up on roles: if one person is the scout, then another should choose a different specialization.

And now we see our first example of a character sheet: Sadie, a character from the comics. Most of the terminology on it is pretty clear but not all: Wises and Circles are confusing. And while it's clear what Beliefs, Instincts, and Goals mean, their centrality to the system's reward cycle is not apparent. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

We also see that there's a ton of dots everywhere, and something called "checks" that you can earn and spend. Like a skill check, right? Well no, but I'm getting ahead of myself again.

After the character sheet, we begin a LONG section where the text starts breaking down what everything is. This looks suspiciously like a character creation section, but it's not. It just explains the character sheet and some of the game terminology. Most of it is pretty obvious, but it gives some handy advice to help keep the tone, like choosing an olde-timey sounding name. Mice in the territories have human lifespans: Guardmice can be anywhere from 14 to 60 years old.

Each character sheet has lots of NPCs, which is great. I think we've all had the tedious experience of players who insist that their character is an orphan with no connection to anything. (Whether that is justified due to abuse by prior GMs, or just an annoying tendency, is another discussion.) At any rate, it's not an option in Mouse Guard: parents, mentors, an enemy, a friend, etc., are all a fundamental part of the game.

Next up is a short paragraph on the various ranks in the guard. Rank doesn't come up in the game that much but I suppose it's nice to know.

A guard's cloak is given to him by his mentor, who chooses the color based on the guard's personality. Either a trait he exemplifies, or maybe one to work towards.

Now we finally talk about BIGs -- that's Beliefs, Instincts, and Goals. It mentions that you write BIGs for your character, but as this isn't a character creation section, it's a little out of place. It also mentions that you get rewarded for playing your BIGs.

Moving on, we start getting into the crunchier aspects of the sheet, specifically the core stats of Nature, Will, Health, Resources, and Circles. Nature is how mousy you are (or aren't), and it comes with four "aspects" where you can use your Nature without penalty. Why would you use your Nature? How would you be penalized for using it? Not explained, but there's a reference to the "Abilities and Skills" chapter.

Again, this isn't hyperlinked, so you can't click on Abilities and Skills and be taken to the right spot. Equally annoyingly, there's not even a page reference, either in the PDF or in the text. This should be changed for 3rd edition.

For now, we accept our ignorance and go on to Will and Health. Will is the stat that covers everything mental and social. Health is everything physical. They are both rated 1-6, and it's "tested" in the appropriate circumstances. How it's tested is not specified. Also, both Will and Health are used to break ties in mental/physical tests, and they are used to recover from certain conditions.

Resources is money and material goods, in an abstract way. The higher your rating, the more you can find stuff when you need it.

Circles is your social connections -- like resources, but for people.

There are 34 skills in the game (it lists them) and says that they are very important and you'll be testing them more than anything else.

Wises finally get defined. They are things you know: weasel-wise, for example, means you are wise about the ways of weasels. Most other games would treat these as skills, but here they are separate.

Number and ratings! Finally some mechanics, 33 pages into the book. The rating tells you how many dice to roll; higher is better: if you have a Health of 5, you roll 5 dice for Health things. Then we have Traits. There are 50 traits in the game (it lists them) and it says they might be the most important part of the game. I missed that on earlier reads. I don't know that I agree. You use them a lot, but more important than BIGs? Pshaw!

Contacts are where you write NPCs you meet. Gear is your stuff. In another apparent attempt to nip bad gamer habits in the bud -- or maybe just to reinforce the tone of the comics -- you are pretty limited with what you can carry.

Then Conditions. There are six: Healthy, Hungry & Thirsty, Angry, Tired, Injured, and Sick. It doesn't describe what they do, other than all (except Healthy) being bad. And you can have multiple conditions, of course.

Moving on, we get to the Rewards section. There are two types of Rewards: Fate points and Persona points. Fate you spend after you roll, to make sixes explode. Persona you spend before your roll in one of two ways: you can add dice to your roll, for one dice per point of Persona, up to three. And you can "tap Nature" to add your Nature rating to your dice pool.

The latter is potentially huge, since Nature can go up to 7. However it comes with a risk: If you tap Nature but fail the roll anyway, your Nature is temporarily reduced by your margin of failure. And even if you succeed, but what you're trying to do is un-mousy (as defined by those "aspects" of your nature) you temporarily lose a point. (If you succeed but it's within your Nature, you're fine.)

Re-reading this now, it all seems pretty clear, but when I was first trying to learn the game, I could never keep this straight in my head.

And finally, the chapter closes by listing stats (with illustrations) for the three other "main characters" of the game: Kenzie, Saxon, and Lieam.

-----

Whew! That was a long and dense chapter. Overall, a huge info dump that continues the theme of the last chapter of providing critical game information in what looks like casual discussion of setting fluff.
Definitely pay attention to the stuff on Fate and Persona.

Next up: BIGs! How to write them, how to play them, and how to use them to get Fate and Persona.
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My favorite change in this chapter from 1e --> 2e is the addition of the serial comma to:

p.35 wrote:
There are six conditions: Healthy, Hungry and Thirsty, Angry, Tired, Injured, and Sick.


YES!!!! :-)

Sadly, it doesn't burrow its way into any other part of the book including a sentence on the very same page.

p.35 wrote:
There are 10 weapons common to the Guard: shield, knife, sword,
axe, staff, hook and line, spear, halberd, sling and bow.


Both sentences on the same page are like a do/don't sample from a grammar guide. They both even have an embedded legit [x and y] (Hungry and Thirsty // hook and line).

Every time I read sling and bow it steals a moment of my life as I wonder "what the heck is a sling and bow... ah right." Every single time.
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dysjunct wrote:
For this, I'll be going off the PDF.


Has the PDF been updated? How much?

One of the things I remember reading when it was released is that the editing wasn't great. I'm wondering if the PDF has smoothed over some of those issues.
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brumcg wrote:
dysjunct wrote:
For this, I'll be going off the PDF.


Has the PDF been updated? How much?

One of the things I remember reading when it was released is that the editing wasn't great. I'm wondering if the PDF has smoothed over some of those issues.


I don't think so. I got the PDF from DriveThru, and it hasn't been updated since 11/23/2015 -- which I think is the original publication date for 2e.

Luke is usually pretty good about fixing errors in his games, so I suspect this has something to do with Archaia.
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Introductions to RPGs that discuss the concept of an RPG are funny, because how many ordinary citizens are going to come into something like this totally cold?* I'd expect the answer is "Not zero, but so close to zero that we should act as if it is zero." Although there probably is a tiny amount of Mouse Guard comics splashover effect, most readers of this book are densely breaded and deepfried in genre.

*I've learned that whenever I make dismissive statements like this, inevitably somebody comes back with something like "Dude, I was in a really bad place when I read the introduction to GURPS 2nd Ed, and it saved my life."
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Yeah, I always prefer the books that say "if you don't know what an RPG is, then go find some friends who play(ed) and make them teach you."

Although -- the introduction to GURPS 3e did kind of change my life a little. It mentioned that each game you play is an "individually-crafted gem," a phrase that's stuck with me for decades now. It articulated for me why I love the hobby -- not because you get to slay dragons, or find treasure, but because each time you play, the result is uniquely yours in a way that is both rare and awesome in the realm of entertainment.
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Heh.

Reminds me of a quote from the book Leaving Mundania, which is about Larping, but fits with tabletop as well:

"Larping is all about creating hundreds of 'You had to be there' stories."

Amazingly true.
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The "intro to RPGs" text that first made me re-think my playing/GMing style was this bit from RuneQuest 3:
Gamemaster Book, p. 10 wrote:
Roleplaying resembles jazz. One artist, the gamemaster, interacts spontaneously with several other artists, the players. Creation is shared. Roleplaying is not a spectator sport—everyone adds theme, melody, and harmony.

Very Greg Stafford, that.
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IT'S WHAT WE FIGHT FOR
(12pp.)

This chapter opens with a nice illustration of an interior castle wall engraven with one of my favorite mottos from the game: "It's not what you fight, but what you fight for." A fine sentiment and helps put the proper focus on character motivations.

It's followed by a bit of doggerel written by a "mouse scribe."
Quote:
Heroes fall, heroes break, heroes bleed.
They shed bitter tears, pull themselves up, not to concede.
Often are they waylaid and frequent they mourn.
Heroes are rarely made and even more seldom born.
Not till after they die, do mice sing of their tale.
A job, a duty, a thankless obligation not to fail.
Still many a mouse think only the name is required.
What becomes of them?
They either quit or expire.


The chapter proper starts off with an introduction, telling use that the mice of the Guard aren't their tasks (delivering the mail, etc.) but instead they are defined by ideals and a code that sets them apart from the rank and file.

It tells us that in this chapter, we'll learn how to write BIGs, how to play them, and how to get rewarded for them. Sounds good!

BELIEFS

Starting off, the text defines Belief as a snapshot view of how your character thinks, and it lets you know that sometimes you act according to your Belief and sometimes against it.

The subsequent section says that you get to decide what your character believes. This is a little weird, since we haven't done anything with character creation yet (and won't, for another 200 pages), and all the pregens come with beliefs pre-written. Another example of the schizophrenic layout of the book. Are you supposed to erase Sadie and Kenzie's beliefs and replace them with your own? But then you're really creating your own character anyway (since the Belief is the core personality of the character), just with the same stats as a pregen. It's not very clear.

It does mention, importantly, that the Belief tells everyone at the table what you're interested in and what you want to explore in the game. This really can't be stressed enough, but it's kind of buried in there without even one of the little "this is important" symbols to call it out.

We go into how to write beliefs. It gives two examples, one bad and one good. The bad one is "I believe the Guard is good." The good one is "The mice of the Territories must know that the Guard is good and must be supported." I agree the second one is much better, but the text doesn't explain why, which could be confusing to someone new to this type of game mechanic. The reason is that the GM is supposed to put you in situations where your belief is challenged, and in the first one, there's not many ways the GM can challenge that -- the only recourse is to make the Guard "bad," which is not only kind of lame but also undercuts the premise of the setting. The second one is more complex, and has more hooks that the GM can use.

It finishes out by listing the pregens' beliefs, and then on to how to play them. This is also pretty concise; basically it boils down to "if you don't know what to do, read your Belief and think what a character with that Belief would do in this situation." Not too helpful.

Next subsection: Fulfilling Beliefs. If your character has changed enough that the Belief doesn't represent him, you can change it. One odd rule: you can only do this at the beginning or end of a session, not during it. This is, I presume, to avoid ambiguity about getting rewarded for playing your Belief.

Then we talk about challenging Beliefs. This is a core concept in the BW family of games. As mentioned above, the GM needs to challenge your Belief. Every time you affirm your belief, she is supposed to push you a little farther -- e.g. "hmm, so will you still believe that everyone deserves a fair trial if this happens?"

And that's it for Beliefs.

GOALS

A goal is defined as an action or deed that you hope to accomplish this session. It has to be reasonably achievable. The advice for writing goals is better and more concrete than for Beliefs. A goal mentions your character, an action, and a target. A goal includes one of the following: I will, I will not, I must, I must not. Goals are not immediate or simple ("I will bake a pie"). I would have liked to see "trivial or stupid," or maybe a mention that the GM can veto inappropriate goals.

You write Goals after you get your orders for the session, which in practice was rare for me. The last game of MG I ran went for eight sessions, but only had I think three official orders given by the Matriarch. The other sessions were continuations of the previous one and the PCs didn't get a chance to get back to Lockhaven. So when they were out in the field, I just had them write goals at the top of the session.

Playing Goals: like Beliefs, the GM is supposed to challenge Goals, but also create opportunities for you to go after them. If there's any question about whether or not you accomplished a goal, the group decides. At the next session, you change your Goal whether you accomplished it or not.

The text then returns to the topic of Challenging Goals, and gives some nice detail about throwing stuff in the way of the goal. Afterwards, it returns to the topic of writing new Goals, but this time it says only at the beginning of the session, after the GM assigns a mission. This is a direct contradiction of the previous bit, where you can write new goals at the end as well. And there's no mention of what you do if, like my group, a mission lasts multiple sessions. Does Luke assume that everyone will finish every mission in one session?

It mentions Changing Goals again, and says that the exact process and timing on how to change goals will be given in a future chapter.

INSTINCTS

An instinct is something you do automatically, without thinking about it. The text says you can get rewarded for using your instinct at an appropriate time, or if it causes trouble for you. It should have the words "always," "if/then," or "never." Good advice. Although your character does that thing without thinking, it's up to you the player to bring it out in play, in a way that entertains others at the table. More good advice. And unlike Beliefs, you should never play against your Instinct, because that is boring.

Similarly to the other two sections, the GM is supposed to Challenge Instincts. This seems misnamed -- you don't actually challenge them like you do with Beliefs and Goals; you put the character in situations where the instinct will be triggered.

Finally, you can change instincts as well, but (again) only at the beginning or end of a session.

EARNING REWARDS

You get rewards for the way you play your character. Rewards are in the form of points, of which there are two parts: Fate and Persona. You use these to modify dice rolls. They're given out at the end of the session, and if the group agrees that you met the criteria, you get the point. Other than consensus, there's no procedure given. What I did was have each player (except the one up for the point) vote yea or nay. If there was a tie, then I broke the tie. Usually it was pretty obvious though, and generally I think you should err on the side of not being stingy.

Earning Fate Points: There's three ways, with a max of three points earned per session.
- Act on your Belief;
- Work towards (but not accomplish) a Goal;
- Play an Instinct.

All of these are pretty clear and straightforward.

Earning Persona Points: There's five ways here, but the max you can get in one session is four.
- Accomplish your Goal;
- Play against your Belief;
- MVP;
- Workhorse;
- Embodiment.

Not as clear, except for the first. Playing against a Belief is when you dramatically act against your stated Belief; e.g. if your Belief is "The life of every mouse is precious," playing against it would be letting an evil mouse fall to his death. Or just killing him, I guess. The odd thing about this is that Persona points are way better than Fate points -- you really get rewarded for dramatically reversing your character like that. However, means players are more incentivized to act against their Belief than with it! Is it really heroic to have characters constantly going against what they claim to believe? Not really, but in fairness it has never come up in the games I've played.

You get the MVP award when you make the single most crucial contribution to the mission, as decided by the group. Only one person can be the MVP per session.

Workhouse is for the player who kept things moving. Had all the right skills and made the rolls to keep the party moving on the mission. Like MVP, only one person gets this, and you can't be both the MVP and the Workhorse.

Finally, Embodiment is for really great roleplaying of their character's Conditions and Traits. More than one person can get this, but it can't be given to everyone. Another odd restriction. I wonder if Luke had problems with wanting to be too nice and give everyone a roleplaying reward.

The section doesn't tell what you can spend these points on -- that was last chapter.

And with that, we're at the end of the chapter. Another solid, meaty chapter. It continues the theme of fairly important rules being lost in a sea of commentary and fluff. Also, this chapter is probably the least clear so far. While it doesn't completely excuse the opacity, writing BIGs is an art, and a hard one to nail down at that. A really big chunk of the BW Codex is about writing and using them for BW, so clearly it's a continual problem for players of Luke's games.

However, understanding them and helping your players write good ones is really essential to making the game sing, so it's worth it to struggle through.

-----

Next up: The Mission!
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Not much to add here; you nailed it.

Quote:
but it can't be given to everyone. Another odd restriction. I wonder if Luke had problems with wanting to be too nice and give everyone a roleplaying reward.


Probably if the rule allowed everyone to be included: most/all groups would just hand-wave everyone getting the reward. This way you still have to think about it.

Quote:
really essential to making the game sing

BIGs fall into the category of awesomeness that you take with you to OTHER games. You REALLY appreciate and miss them when in the middle of a game that doesn't have something similar.
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THE MISSION
(32pp.)

Here, we will learn how to play a session of Mouse Guard! Exciting.

This chapter opens with more in-universe doggerrel, which I will spare the gentle reader.

THE GATHERING

Not actually the title of the next M. Night Shyamalan movie; this breaks down the logistics of hosting an RPG session in pretty explicit detail. Gather 2-5 players (including yourself); block out about four hours, give everyone advance notice. Have a space to play, print needed sheets. Tell everyone to eat before coming over, but break for snacks between the GM's Turn and the Players' Turn.

Kind of weird to see this here; I guess this is part of the game's marketing towards people who have never played RPGs before. I don't necessarily disagree. Left unanalyzed: Should you have beer or other adult beverages? Unclear. (But yes.)

FORM YOUR PATROL

You decide who's going to be the GM. You'd think that, by default and holy tradition, it's the person who bought the game. Nope. The group decides! And then everyone else is the players.

During the first session, you can either use pregens or make a character. But if one person makes a character, then everyone should make a character -- don't make the others wait. However the strong recommendation is that you pick pregens. There's a reference to tweaking the pregens to suit your tastes.

If you're meeting for a continuation of last session, you can pick up where you left off. What? I would have thought this was assumed, otherwise it's not a continuation. If you decide you don't like your character, you can make a new one or pick a new pregen. Same advice as before: if you make a new one, don't make everyone else wait. Make it at home and bring it.

Then the GM is instructed to note down everyone's Beliefs, Instincts, and relationships on his mission sheet. (If you haven't seen the mission sheet, it's available here.) It's a very handy reference, and every character-driven game should have this kind of thing. Spaces for all the relevant motivating aspects of each character: BIGs and relationships. All the other stuff, like how good they are at things, are a much lesser motivation (if at all) and thus unneeded on the sheet.

THE PROLOGUE

At the start of each continuing session, one player delivers the prologue, a description of what happened the previous session. "Last time on Mouse Guard...," essentially. This is another great tool good for stealing for all other games. Here, you get a specific mechanical benefit: If the group is satisfied with your prologue, then you can remove one of the minor conditions (anything other than sick or injured). It admits that the reader doesn't know what those are yet, but again references a future chapter.

And, you can't deliver the Prologue two sessions in a row.

(For experienced players: Given Luke's sensibilities, this is designed to be gamed. Players absolutely should strategize about who should deliver the prologue based on who has the most serious condition, and they should consider not healing a condition if they are up next to deliver the prologue.)

-----

There's a lot more in the chapter -- part two will come tomorrow! (Hopefully.)
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THE MISSION
Part 2


Continuing right along....

ASSIGN A MISSION

After the prologue, the GM assigns a mission. If it's the first mission of a new game, the group decides what season they want to start in. Default is spring, but it can be anything. Unless it's a new group, then winter is off the table. Doesn't say why.

The assigned mission should be short and direct, including a "location, a duty to perform, and a time frame." Then it gives three examples, all of which fail to meet the criteria:

Track down the grain peddler on the route from Rootwallow to Barkstone.

Deliver the Spring Mail to Gilpledge.

Help Grasslake with its turtle problem.


None of those have a time frame! Sigh.

The chapter then relists the typical guard duties (discussed above) and recommends that, if the GM is stuck, look ahead to the chapter on seasons to see what the guard typically does in each season.

The group's first mission should be assigned by Gwendolyn. It gives some odd in-world/GM advice, specifying that only the GM gets to play Gwen, and she never goes on missions. Then roleplaying advice for the GM:

Quote:
When you, the GM, issue the first mission to your patrol, do so in the voice of Gwendolyn. Pretend you’ve gathered the patrol in your map room in Lockhaven. Give the patrol their orders and offer words of encouragement. Point out where they need to go on the map of the Territories.


Uh, okay. Was there a blindtest group where someone wanted to be Gwendolyn?

If they complete their mission and they're out in the field, new missions should grow organically: merchants could ask for an escort, etc. If all else fails, they can get a letter from Lockhaven giving them orders, but of course that's kind of lame. Regardless, once the "mission" is clear, then everyone writes goals.

We then read a little about hiearchy in the guard, because someone's in charge. It does stress that leadership is done with a light hand, and the guard values independence and initiative, so your alpha player can't justify being a jerk. There's a few paragraphs talking about the five ranks in the Mouse Guard and what kind of missions they'd lead.

WRITE SESSION GOALS

Once everyone is clear on the mission, however that happens, the players write Goals. This brings the narrative screeching to a halt, which doesn't bother me personally, but drives a lot of people up the wall. The text mentions, quite helpfully, that while writing down your mission as your Goal is fine, eventually that gets boring and then you can branch out. You can add conditions (deliver the mail without getting hurt) or NPCs (after delivering the mail, convince my sister to leave Gilpledge). I suppose, as a condition, you could add a time frame -- but that's already supposed to be in the mission, so never mind.
whistle
Then the GM writes down the mission on his special sheet and we're on to another section.

DESIGNING A MISSION

This is for the GM. The mission is more than just the orders: your orders are always clear and simple, but what actually happens in the mission is more involved. All missions involve hazards for the PCs to overcome, and perhaps surprisingly, there are only four categories: weather, wilderness, animals, and mice. (Maybe other RPGs can have their problems broken down this simply? I'll take examples in the comments.)

Weather is rain, snow, heat, floods, etc. Mice are tiny and what is a gentle spring rain to a human can easily be a flash flood to a mouse. We learn that after handing out the mission, the GM describes the weather. This is then the weather for the entire session, and it can only change if (a) a player uses his Weather Watcher skill, or (b) the GM imposes a weather-based twist. Skills and twists are not explained yet, but I assume that the "Weather Watcher skill" is some kind of magic ritual similar to a rain dance or something? (Wrong, as explained later.)

Wilderness is any kind of outdoorsy hazard not related to weather. Mud, a stream, a tree -- something you have to navigate to complete the mission.

Animals are any critters that aren't mice, from bees to moose, that are threatening the situation in the territories. Predators are the obvious choice here, but large herbivores could squash a village or eat its fall harvest in one chomp, so they can't be ignore either. Most animals are far too big for mice to fight, so they'll have to solve the problem some other way. One nice thing about a natural world fantasy like Mouse Guard is that it has the best bestiary ever, and you don't even have to rely on artists to convey what they look like. A great horned owl is the ancient red dragon of the setting, and there's any number of beautiful nature photographs for you to scare your players with.

Mice is other mice. As mentioned above, the Guard has authority between towns, but in the towns, they are like any other traveling strangers (with the exception that many people respect the guard). But, there can be mice that resent the Guard, or like the Guard so much that they make unreasonable demands, or just have their own agenda that the Guard wouldn't really approve of, so they act secretive.

When you go to design a mission, you only pick two hazards, and keep the rest in your back pocket in case you need them later, as a twist. Again with the undefined "twists"! Once you pick the two threats, you are supposed to focus them.

-----

And that's Designing a Mission. This is a pretty good chapter, although my main takeaway is that there's a reason for the traditional split in RPG rulebooks of "Player Section" and "GM Section." All the stuff about designing missions really has nothing to do with players. Another change to make in 3rd edition, if it were up to me.

23 more pages to go in the chapter.
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THE MISSION
(part 3)

THE RIVER IS RISING

Now we start getting into the meat of how to a few vague ideas of hazards into a compelling situation for the mice. It gives an excellent example, starting with only a starving town and rain swelling a river:

Quote:
Imagine this: It’s raining hard. A rivulet has formed outside Elmoss, blocking the main road. This rivulet is rising fast. A grain shipment for the town is stuck on the far side, in danger of being swept away. Your cousin, another guardmouse, is trapped on a branch in the middle of the rivulet. You only have time to save one before the other is swept away. What do you do?


And it identifies the core principle of a situation: competing priorities.

But how do you take things beyond merely being conflicting priorities, beyond being dangerous, and elevate it to heroism? That's where to BIGs come back into play. Challenge the BIGs, make them fight to prove they really believe in them.

So you have to set up situations where the mice can stand up for what they believe. The NPC relationships are very useful to this end -- it's one thing if a random townsmouse asks you to betray a belief, but if your parents ask you? Sweet dramaz!

Instincts are very easy to bring into play, since they all have a trigger condition. E.g. "seek shelter at the first sign of a storm," well, start giving signs of a storm.

With Goals, a great setup is to play them against beliefs. Make the characters choose which one is more important.

Threaten relationships! Make NPCs extract promises from the PCs. Threaten a friend's town with a weasel invasion. Any of the four hazards can be used to put loved ones in jeopardy.

The section closes out with a paean to how dangerous it is to be a mouse in the world, and how to use all these things to test their mettle.

I don't have a lot to say here -- it's solid, playable advice, and applicable to many different games. Good stuff.

HOW WE PLAY

The text slips back into teaching n00bs how to play RPGs, starting with a recap:

Quote:
Once you have characters and the GM has a mission, you’re ready to play. If this is your first session, sit down at the table, gather your dice and pencils and listen to the mission assignment from Gwendolyn.


I'm really glad it told us to sit down at the table -- very useful there. :eyeroll:

After the assignment, you write goals. After that, the GM takes over! This is where we begin to learn about the infamous "GM's Turn" and "Players' Turn" that was horribly confusing to me back in the first edition days. It provides a high-level overview: The mice attempt to perform their mission, and the GM hammers them with problems. All the hazards and such. That's the GM's Turn. Then, once they either finish the mission, or get to a place of safety, it's the Players' Turn. During the Players' Turn, the players get a chance to recover from the beatdown administered to them, or work on their own personal goals without the GM mucking things up.

THE GM'S TURN

Going into more detail. The GM is explicitly told that his job is to beat the crap out of the players, for two reasons: first, they need to overcome challenges to be heroes. Second, if the game is easy, then it's boring.

The GM's turn always starts with describing the weather, then he tells them the first obstacle. Although it doesn't use the term, this is some nice aggressive scene framing. There is no "you step outside Lockhaven; what do you do?" The GM cuts immediately to the action. Then the GM tells the players exactly what ability or skill they need to get past it. But don't be afraid to give them options.

These instructions, I'm a little iffier on. It runs counter to my GMing instincts, which is to describe the situation in detail and then let players explore and ask questions. Perhaps the reasoning will become clear.

The text then underscores that during the GM's turn, the players should never have time to rest or recover; they always go headlong from one situation to another. During the course of this, players will get Conditions! Again with the mysterious conditions:

Quote:
Characters get banged up a bit during the GM’s Turn. They’re made Hungry, Angry, Tired, Injured and Sick, but hopefully not all at once.


Sorry Alex, no serial comma.

Players cannot recover from Conditions unless they spend "Checks," which they earn from Traits. We're told we'll learn more about this in a future section. (No page reference or hyperlink, of course.)

To overcome obstacles, you roll dice! I'm very excited because now we finally talk about rolling dice for things. Your rating in a skill or ability is the number of dice you roll (not entirely true, but it is where you start).

There's two types of obstacles: simple (overcome in one successful roll) or complex (overcome via a series of successful rolls). And then there's an option beyond complex: Conflicts. Conflicts are for zooming in on every dodge, parry, spin, and thrust of the action. More about that later; now the text discusses success and failure.

Success is straightforward: the player gets what he wants, and the obstacle is overcome. The GM and player describe what happens to celebrate. Although it's interesting that both parties are told to describe what happens -- a departure from the typical "GM describes" tradition, but of course this kind of thing is pretty common these days.

Failure is a little different. When you fail, the GM has to make a choice: (a) Accept the failure and introduce a "twist," or (B) reject the failure, allowing the mouse to succeed, but at the cost of getting one of those aforementioned Conditions.

At last we learn what a Twist is: it's usually a new obstacle, but sometimes it's just a description. I didn't know about that last part, but I guess there's some times when you don't want to tighten the screws on the players.

For the obstacle choice, you can either use one of the two hazards you haven't used yet, or you can make the existing obstacle worse. This is interesting: if the players are navigating a weather obstacle and need a twist, and you previously used an animal obstacle, you cannot use an animal obstacle for the twist. This helps ensure variety, and also keeps the missions short -- it's not just alternating waves of weasels and blizzards.

So what do the players do during the GM's turn? They describe how they interact with each other and the obstacle. They can make plans or suggestions, but letting those happen is up to the GM, who can veto it, or delay it until the Players' Turn. They are also supposed to look for opportunities to use their traits. You can use traits to help yourself, receiving bonus dice or a chance to reroll. You can also use traits to hurt yourself, earning Checks, which will be described in a future chapter.

Again with the future chapters!

At any rate, checks are very important and you should always be on the lookout for opportunities to get them. Maybe this is why the previous section opined that traits are the most important part of the game?

Then we learn what to do if two players are at odds during the GM's turn. The answer is that you resolve it with a simple test: one roll only. You can't use traits against yourself. I suspect this is to prevent players entering into endless trivial arguments with each other in order to farm checks. And the loser is always going to get a twist -- you can't do success with a condition since, after all, they're the loser!

Once the mission is complete, or the party is safely holed up, or if there's a lot of downtime for whatever reason, the GM's Turn ends and it's the Players' Turn. The text notes that completing a mission is not the same as completing a Goal; you can easily do one without the other.

For some reason, the text then tells us that standard session is a 1-2 hour GM's Turn, then a 1-2 hour Players' Turn. This is a really weird spot for this paragraph; it should be in the big overview at the beginning of the section.

There's a side note from Gwendolyn, telling the GM that if one session will take up a whole season in the game, then the twists he introduces need to be very big, forward-thinking twists -- if the next session is going to be three months later (in game time) then the twists shouldn't be trivial ones that everyone would forget about.

-----

That was a long section. Phew! Mostly good. The structure of play is shaping up, even with some stuff in weird places.

Next: The Players' Turn!
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Perhaps succeeding on a failure but with a cost has existed in other games and maybe I've played them, but MG is where it really hit home for me.
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USP45 wrote:
Perhaps succeeding on a failure but with a cost has existed in other games and maybe I've played them, but MG is where it really hit home for me.


I started doing it unofficially with Call of Cthulhu -- there, "success with a cost" is one of the core ways to not tank discovery of a vital clue while still making rolls matter.

I agree that MG (and TB) have my favorite iteration of the concept. Handing out Conditions has a clear mechanical penalty, and it is non-arbitrary -- there's only so many conditions you can hand out; you can't make up whatever penalty you want and inflict it on the players. Also, they only affect you directly, so others aren't dragged into your failure (unless they help).

I also like how, if you don't do success-at-cost, you must introduce a twist. "Nothing happens" is not a legal option in MG -- the story will always change as a result of a roll, so no roll is trivial.
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THE MISSION
(part 4)

THE PLAYERS' TURN

Okay, so say what you will about serial commas; the editor here was really good about making sure it's always "Players'" and never "Player's." A little thing, but I appreciate it. I guess it breaks down if you only have one player.

Grammar pedantry aside, we continue our journey into how to play the game. Last time we wrapped up the GM's turn; this is what happens after that. As a reminder, the game transitions into the Players' Turn once the PCs get a bit of breathing room. This could be at the end of the mission or whenever they are relatively safe. During this phase, the focus is on recovering from the beatdown the GM dished out, and then pursuing any personal projects.

While the GM's turn is only limited narratively, or by his sense of mercy, the Players' Turn has a hard mechanical limit: you can only roll the dice a certain number of times. That limit is one, plus the number of checks you received during the GM's turn by using your Traits to hinder yourself.

There's another limit too: you can't make two rolls in a row, but you can give checks to other players that don't have any.

If you have checks left over at the end of the Players' Turn (rare, but maybe everyone has already done everything they want), they are lost and erased from the sheet.

Wait! There's a subsection for games with one player and one GM. The rule here is that since it's only you, you are exempt from the rule about not making two rolls in a row. More importantly, they call it the "Player's Turn," so all is right with the world.

So what do you roll for? Mostly to recover from conditions. You can also find equipment, allies, or information. And you can start fights with your fellow mice, if you really want. If you go that direction, there's a seemingly out-of-place digression about how to play nice and negotiate goals in conflicts. Now, since you can only start fights during the Players' Turn, I guess it's okay for it to be in this section, but it seems like it belongs more in the upcoming Conflict chapter.

-----

A short submission today. Next: the Players' Turn, continued.
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Having played Torchbearer, this section makes a TON more sense to me now. I think I could play MG without actually sucking now.
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THE MISSION
(part 5)

THE PLAYERS' TURN
(part 2)

P. 75 continues with brief mention that during the Players' Turn, you can use traits to benefit yourself, but not to hurt yourself. This is reminiscent of the previous rule that you can't use traits against yourself during intra-PC conflicts in the GM's Turn. Except here, not only does it incentivize players to start trivial contests for the purpose of check-farming, but it also would drag out the Players' Turn indefinitely. Good call.

So what happens if you roll for something in the PT, and you fail? Well, it's the same thing: success with a Condition, or Failure with a Twist. The challenge here is that if you use a twist to create an immediate problem ("your haggling ticks off the blacksmith, and he swings his hammer at you!") then the PCs won't be able to handle it! They're already beat up and full of Conditions from the GT. Plus the PT isn't the venue for players to react. They are reactive during the GT -- during the PT they are supposed to be proactive.

Thus, the GM is advised to twist in ways that lay long-term threats, or possibly cliffhanger endings. And of course you can also use Conditions, but in my experience that's a good way to demoralize players. "You just calmed down, but guess what? You're Angry again!"

One of my group's complaints about MG was that you never felt like you could catch a break. Everything was just running from one disaster to another, which is kind of true but (for me) a feature, not a bug. It makes me worried to introduce Torchbearer, since that is even harder on the PCs. Although, some of the disasters were a bit self-inflicted, as the players tended to hoard Fate and Persona instead of spending it.

Moving on, the text goes over what the GM is supposed to do during the PT. There's three things:

- Prompt players with the rules.
- Play relationships and characters.
- Stay involved.

The first means to suggest good things to spend their checks on. The second is bog-standard portrayal of NPCs, with the caveat that (outside of enemies) NPCs are helpful and reasonable. No random jerks. The third relates to PC-PC conflict.

If you're a player, then outside of pursuing your own agenda, you should also be kibbitzing and offering advice to the other players. Table talk is encouraged, as is the sharing of checks.

END OF THE SESSION

You always end the session at the end of a turn, usually the PT but sometimes the GT. And then it's the fun part: getting rewards! Each player in turn reads their BIGs and the group awards Fate or Persona as appropriate. Then the group decides on MVP, Workhorse, and Embodiment. We are told not to vote, but to decide. I broke the rules and voted.

And then you're done! The GM keeps the character sheets (a best practice, but it continues in the odd role of trying to present practices as rules).

-----

Next is a variety of short sections on dealing with miscellaneous issues that can arise. Eight pages to go in the chapter.
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THE MISSION
(part 6)

p. 78.

BOTCHING A RULE

We are told that if you mess up a rule and realize it immediately, then fix it, but otherwise don't worry about it. Solid advice.

MISSING A SESSION

If you miss a session, you get a little bribe to return. When you return, you do two things: #1, tell everyone where your character was and what you were doing. Keep it short but fun. #2, heal up a bit. The healing is in the form of removing a minor Condition ("Hungry/Thirsty, Angry or Tired") -- a serial (comma) killer, or recovering a point of taxed Nature, or noting a test (pass or fail) for a skill or ability.

I this quite a bit; normally missing a session is a punishment because you lose out on XP or whatever. Here, not only is the story kept consistent but there is a little ritual to welcome you back into the group.

I will take issue, again, with the referencing of terms without any context. We do not yet know what "taxed Nature" is; nor do we know what it is to note a pass or fail test.

LOSING A CHARACTER

Guardsmice can die or retire. We don't know how death or damage works yet, but apparently you can die. If your character dies in the middle of the session, you don't get to create a new character.

You can retire your character whenever you want, for any reason.

You may also be forced to retire your character, temporarily: If your maximum Nature is reduced to zero due to tax, you retire until next spring.

The player of a retired mouse can create a new character, to be introduced at the beginning of the next session in any way that makes sense in the story. Or, they can take over GMing for a while. If you have a player like that, mazel tov.

SAMPLE MISSION

Luke then breaks down the first issue of the comics as if they were a mission for the RPG. It's a handy conceit. He goes through all the steps of How to Play -- gather your friends, form your patrol, the prologue (skipped, since it's the first session). Then Assign the Mission: This is Find the Grain Peddler, in Fall 1152. Gwendolyn tells the mice the mission and set them free.

Then they write goals. (It details the goals that the sample PCs wrote.) Then it starts with the GM's Turn. The GM calls for everyone to make a Scout test, versus the Grain Peddler's Nature of 6. If they fail, the GM is advised to introduce an Animal Twist. (And that's what happened -- the guardsmice found a snake which had eaten the grain peddler.) There are suggestions for how to interrogate the peddler, if he's found. And suggested tests for searching the area and finding a hidden map.

Then there's the Players' Turn. The GM says that he's done, and the players can spend their checks. Afterwards, everyone goes over their BIGs, and that's the End of Session.

It gives advice for ways the adventure could continue, and sketches a few options for the GM. He is encouraged to let new missions flow organically, until the end of the year, when everyone returns to Lockhaven for the winter.

-----

And that is the end of the Mission chapter.

What do I think? Overall it's good. I think that the chapter does a good job of breaking down how MG missions work. They are simple, punchy, and to the point. You don't need to make a complicated mission, because complications will flow naturally from the Twists.

It still suffers from the overall structural weaknesses of the book. It seems like the book was written to start with the big picture, and then go into detail as needed. At this point, we still don't know a great deal of important things in the game -- helping dice, the effects of Conditions and how to get rid of them, the entire Conflict section....

I wonder if it was done this way in an attempt to write a book that non-RPGers could learn from. Sadly, I think the end result is a book that is difficult for anyone to learn from.

-----

Next up: Overcoming Obstacles!
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I'm soliciting questions from the gallery:

Of the things we've covered so far:

      Do you agree/disagree with my take?
      Have any of the rules we've covered tripped you up in the course of the game?
      Any discussion so far that's surprising or unexpected?

For the upcoming chapters:

      Anything that has confused you about the game that you'd like me to pay special attention to?
      Any chapters you're looking forward to?
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Alex Nguyen
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6 out of 7 dwarves are not "Happy"
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dysjunct wrote:
      Do you agree/disagree with my take?


So far completely agree.

Quote:
      Have any of the rules we've covered tripped you up in the course of the game?


It's been what, like 5 years on and off for me of reading this game haha. Maybe I'll actually be ready to play it soon...

Quote:
      Any discussion so far that's surprising or unexpected?


I thought you'd comment/follow-up re: "It seems like the book was written to start with the big picture, ..." about how the structure of the book has changed from 1e to 2e with some sections/chapters completely moved around to make the flow "better" and then some discussion on whether the changes were actually better or not. For example maybe x is now easier to comprehend but at the expense of y.

Quote:
      Anything that has confused you about the game that you'd like me to pay special attention to?


There's a subtle "aha" thing I can't remember at the moment and don't have the book with me. Can I just take a moment here to mention that I love having the physical book but am sad that I don't have the PDF for times like this. And I love that a lot of publishers have gone the way of free or discounted PDFs for physical purchases. And am sad that it's not the case here.

Quote:
      Any chapters you're looking forward to?


I'm looking forward to the Conflict chapter. I think we've played through the system in TB and BW (don't remember if they're drastically different but I feel like the core is similar at least) and I'm fond of dreaming in my head how I think Luke's thought process might have conceived of the mechanic. I like to think it was born from sessions in other games where dice were thrown back and forth, hit and miss, in a long string of not very fun tediousness. "I missed, I missed, I hit, etc." I love that everyone's first thought after reading the Conflict chapter can be "I can't wait to apply this to a baking contest" or something similar.
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Bruce McGeorge
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Lawrenceburg
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mbmbmbmbmb
dysjunct wrote:
I'm really glad it told us to sit down at the table -- very useful there. :eyeroll:


I just took a training class at work about safety. If I find a suspicious package, I shouldn't taste it.



That's my go-to move too.
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