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I'm about to run my first session of Mouse Guard. The group has never played it. We'll have a 4 hour session. What should I emphasize and what should I leave out?

My feel is that the flavor of the game is mainly:

  • the two-turn session
  • pushing beliefs, goals, instincts, and nature.
  • the frailty of mice, and the different worldview of being a tiny creature.
  • character interconnection.
  • the mechanic influence of seasons.
  • players using traits both for and against themselves
  • conflicts

On one hand, I loved the "Recruitment" chapter, and would like to run through it with the group. On the other, the author himself strongly suggests running a mission with pregens for the first session.

On one hand, the conflict between Lieam and the snake sounds cool. On the other, it means stopping action to explain the mechanics.

On one hand, running a few obstacles with tests and maybe test-based twists sounds manageable. On the other, it could be missing excitement.

So this is it. I'm not sure. I feel it's a system with a lot of parts, and I'm doubtful on which parts I can safely remove. Am I wrong in my description of the game?

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You will have to pause the game to explain mechanics as needed, but this is far better than trying to explain everything up front! (I learned that lesson the hard way.)

Don't remove things from the game. Instead, run the game such that new mechanics are gradually introduced over the course of play.

Here's what I do when I'm running Mouse Guard at a convention for new players:

  • Use the pregens. If I'm not running the relevant Sample Missions, I scratch out the default Goals on the sheet. If players want to change a Belief or Instinct now, that's fine, too.

  • Explain the basics on the front of the sheet, with emphasis on Belief/Goal/Instinct, Traits as both helpful and harmful, Skill rating as dice, and how the dice pool works. Explain only the four relevant descriptors for Nature and that you can use it if you desperately need to roll a skill you don't have; leave the other Nature uses for later. Answer questions, but don't spend a lot of time here.

  • Explain their mission. Let them pick Goals.

  • Start the GM Turn. Explain the rest only when it comes up (and a lot of these will):

    • Help will come up first, most likely.
    • Fate and Persona when it looks like it would help them make a critical roll.
    • Conditions when you give them one. After they fail their first roll, explain the GM options of Condition or Twist.
    • Once they get the hang of making tests, ask if they want to use a Trait to earn a check.
    • If a tie comes up, explain the ways to break a tie and ask if they want to use a Trait to earn checks.
  • In a four-hour block, I can usually get a GM Turn, Player Turn, GM Turn, and maybe another Player Turn. I'll pretend that the end of the first player turn is an End of Session so that we can go over Fate and Persona rewards, which further reinforces Beliefs, Goals, and Instincts. That first Player Turn is also when the players have realized the importance of earning Checks, as they try to recover from Conditions.

  • I try to avoid starting a Conflict during that first GM Turn. This gives them a GM and Player Turn to figure out the basics: using skills and traits, earning checks, getting and recovering conditions.

  • Hit them with a Conflict in the second GM Turn. They might be slightly beat up, but they'll hopefully have earned some Fate and Persona which will help them out. Have the Conflict come up naturally, but once they're committed, tell them the type of Conflict, flip over the sheet, and explain rolling for Disposition, picking Actions, and what the Actions do. Explain compromise after one side has taken damage. If they're in a Fight, don't forget their weapons! Tell them that it looks complicated, but they'll figure it out after the first round of actions. For their very first conflict, I also try not to script any Feints on my side, as a well-scripted Feint could totally decimate them.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you give the players fate/persona points for the first mission? I thought they could only earn them after a mission. I see that the pregens start with 1 FP and 1 PP. \$\endgroup\$ – Adriano Varoli Piazza Nov 22 '14 at 18:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AdrianoVaroliPiazza Characters start with 1 Fate and 1 Persona each. The End of Session is the only time they earn more Rewards—more Fate and Persona. The End of Session is literally when the session ends, not necessarily after their mission is completed. It's certainly possible to start the next session still working on the previous mission. The mission may not even be related to their Goals, but usually at least one mouse has the mission (or something closely related) as a Goal. \$\endgroup\$ – okeefe Nov 22 '14 at 20:39

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