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Author Topic: [Mouse Guard] Yes-play and no-game  (Read 5939 times)
Clinton R. Nixon
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« on: April 11, 2006, 01:06:39 PM »

I played last night in the first real session of Mouse Guard, a quick RPG I made based on the excellent comics of the same name. It was my standard group playing, with Jason and Remi playing fit little military mice and me GMing. The summary: wow, this game is 80% there, and wow, changing habits of play is hard. Read on for the details.

Prep and fear

It's been a while since I've run a game with any decent amount of prep. The last game I ran for our group, The Face of Angels, required no prep, and running my TSOY demo requires no prep now. With Mouse Guard, I had no real genre expectations to work with (there's one issue of the comic available), and not a lot of flags on the character sheets. The only real thing I had to work with was the fact that Jason's character, Tosk, has a burrowing owl as a friend. I wanted there to be an Accord between the owls and mice that owls would not attack them, and went from there. I was totally shaky only having this, and almost wanted to scrap play, as I didn't know what to do next to prep.

It's kind of a design goal of Mouse Guard that you'll learn more about the natural kingdom by playing it, so I used that. I used Wikipedia and immediately clicked from burrowing owl -> owl -> owl predators -> hawk -> dark chanting goshawk. Now I had something cool - a dark chanting goshawk! That sounds scary. I ended up with an adventure where a mouse, seeking revenge on owls, broke a bunch of dark chanting goshawk eggs so that they'd attack all the burrowing owls, driving them into the mouse lands, where they'd be so hungry, they'd attack the mice. Cool!

Character woes

There's an issue right now with Mouse Guard that's sort of a bother. When you make characters, you have to choose from a list of nine positive and nine negative adjectives (choose six of each) to describe your character. And then you have to look at those negative adjectives the whole time, with stuff like "nervous" and "timid" and "inflexible" staring at you from your character sheet. Mechanically, it's great. Psychologically, it seems like people hate it. Jason hooked me up with a good idea - these go on a "GM sheet" to get them off the character sheet and out of eyesight.

Yes-play

I'm trying something new with this game - "yes-play." My group and I have been doing improv recently, and I've noticed the lack of negotation or arbitration - if a player says something is true, it is, everyone adjusts, and play is continued. The social contract of this is that you (a) won't override what someone has already established and (b) you'll stay within the expectations of the scene, which may be none. And this got me thinking - why don't we play RPGs this way? Why should we argue or even discuss too much about what people want to achieve, and even the way they choose to achieve it?

We had a talk about this before play, and went with it. The basic mechanic in the game is that a player decides to initiate a conflict and says what will happen if he wins, and what trait he'll use to win the conflict. Sole authority for this lies with him, not the GM. An example from play: Tosk and Ivan have been caught by an owl, who is flying with them high in the air. The owl's been hurt by Ivan, though, and is maddened. Jason, Tosk's player, says, "I want to heal the owl's wound and befriend it, and I'll be using Friendly to do that." That's established, no argument allowed. We're still discussing these some, and that's ok, if not my preferred ideal. I don't think we can quite shed the gamer-idea that the player doesn't have sole authority to make this decision.

This is balanced by the GM's authority, though - resolution is a weird four-way matrix in this game. The player has all that authority to say what happens if his die roll wins, but then the GM has the authority to say that this bad consquence might happen if he wins a die roll against one of your negative traits.

More example: in the final conflict of the night, Jason was using Tosk's Friendly ability to convince the king goshawk to leave and bother the owls no more. I used his Gullible negative trait to have the goshawk demand a yearly tribute of one mouse. If Jason had won and I lost, the hawks leave and no tribute. If I win and he loses, the hawks stay and get tribute. If we both win, they stay and no tribute. If we both lose, no agreements are made.

This worked really well! While "yes-play" was hard to keep up the whole time, the four-way resolution meant that we each had an ability to add to the conflict, so we were less pressured to argue. It's like we each brought a stick to the fire, and needed the other one to lean ours against, so we worked together.

No-game

The only thing I saw as a real problem in play was this idea I have in my head of "no-game." To consider this, let's consider the point of playing Mouse Guard: to tell a cool story about military mice protecting their world even though they're tiny and weak.

Given that, the idea of strategizing a conflict is just anathema to me. Why choose what ability to use or how to approach a conflict with the goal of winning the roll, instead of the goal of telling a cool story? I call this "no-game": we aren't playing a game; we're telling a story. This is also influenced by my recent improv classes. If I'm playing a character on stage, and it's cool for me to stumble, I stumble. I don't care about the character's survival or even the character looking cool. I care about the story being cool.

Well, like the character sheet woes I mentioned above, I finally realized this is just not human psychology and needs to be fixed if we're touching dice. Going back through play, I found a neat crux point - in several conflicts, there was a decision between following the Mouse Guard code or doing what the character thought was right. That's a cool conflict, and should be highlighted. What I plan on doing is letting you accumulate rewards - some sort of points - for doing either one at the expense of the other. That's numbers that go up on a character sheet, which will motivate a player. This is very much like Paladin, a game I wrote long ago, which is inspiring Mouse Guard a lot.

Conclusion

I wish I came to Actual Play with more problems - that's how you get the responses. But I don't have too many - we had fun, and next week is set right up. As I mentioned, there was a conflict about the hawks leaving and tribute. Well, we both won: Tosk and Ivan agreed to bring the hawk one mouse each year. And they're not telling anyone - it's their cross to bear that they have to do this horrible act each year in order to protect all of mouse-kind.

You can guess what the next adventure will be.
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: April 11, 2006, 01:32:59 PM »

Hey Clinton,

As a recent convert to Mouse Guard on your recommendation, I can only offer enthusiasm for the game itself. I have a more abstract question, though. I know you know all the game details, but I'll outline it for everyone reading.

In Trollbabe, the GM frames scenes (with or without player request), but when a scene is underway, if someone - anyone - states a conflict, there's a conflict, and there's gonna be a roll. The person who states the conflict also chooses the Action Type (magic, social, fighting) and has first dibs on the pace (how many rolls total) of the conflict.

Sounds to me like this matches your definition of yes-play. There is no authority, GM or otherwise, in stating a conflict is at hand above the person who pipes up and says so. Is that right?

Best, Ron
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #2 on: April 11, 2006, 03:30:33 PM »

In Trollbabe, the GM frames scenes (with or without player request), but when a scene is underway, if someone - anyone - states a conflict, there's a conflict, and there's gonna be a roll. The person who states the conflict also chooses the Action Type (magic, social, fighting) and has first dibs on the pace (how many rolls total) of the conflict.

Sounds to me like this matches your definition of yes-play. There is no authority, GM or otherwise, in stating a conflict is at hand above the person who pipes up and says so. Is that right?

Ron,

You are right on. With that said, I've seen Trollbabe played both ways - people bring their assumptions to the text, and it tells them what to do, but not what not to do. I think I'll have to say what not to do to really get the play I imagine.

- Clinton
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Clinton R. Nixon
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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #3 on: April 11, 2006, 06:25:05 PM »

I'll add more later, but as a point of interest the whole yes-play thing felt perfectly natural.  Actually I didn't even notice in play.
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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #4 on: April 12, 2006, 04:39:18 AM »

Mouse Guard seems solid and I think we all enjoyed playing.  I'm looking forward to continuing our story next week for sure - I think the idea of keeping our sacrificial burden secret was inspired.  Fucking dark chanting goshawks!

No-play came up a lot, both from conditioning and from my desire to really try to kick the system in the teeth - I was looking for weaknesses and loopholes, which is the sort of 100% no-play that I want in my own playtests.  In this regard, my only concern is the ranking of traits - players choose the ones they are most interested in (in my case "friendly", in Remi's case "courageous" I think), and these are heavily favored (indeed, your top choice cannot really fail, barring additional dual rolls).  So I made a statement that I wanted to have conflicts involving my warm hearted nature, and the system does not reward me using any traits below that anyway, and the result of me using it is essentially pre-ordained. 

The only reason for me to use "courageous" (in the six position for Tósk) is purely social - because it will make a better story somehow, knowing that I am nearly certain to fail.  Obviously I'm totally down with this in play, but it seems loose to me.   

Clinton, a suggestion - what if every time you invoked a trait you put a check mark next to it, which demoted it a step in effectiveness.  You could accrue multiple check marks if you wanted.  These demotions would be cleared away once you had at least one check in each of the six. 
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #5 on: April 12, 2006, 05:01:13 AM »

Mouse Guard seems solid and I think we all enjoyed playing.  I'm looking forward to continuing our story next week for sure - I think the idea of keeping our sacrificial burden secret was inspired.  Fucking dark chanting goshawks!

No-play came up a lot, both from conditioning and from my desire to really try to kick the system in the teeth - I was looking for weaknesses and loopholes, which is the sort of 100% no-play that I want in my own playtests.  In this regard, my only concern is the ranking of traits - players choose the ones they are most interested in (in my case "friendly", in Remi's case "courageous" I think), and these are heavily favored (indeed, your top choice cannot really fail, barring additional dual rolls).  So I made a statement that I wanted to have conflicts involving my warm hearted nature, and the system does not reward me using any traits below that anyway, and the result of me using it is essentially pre-ordained. 

The only reason for me to use "courageous" (in the six position for Tósk) is purely social - because it will make a better story somehow, knowing that I am nearly certain to fail.  Obviously I'm totally down with this in play, but it seems loose to me.   

Clinton, a suggestion - what if every time you invoked a trait you put a check mark next to it, which demoted it a step in effectiveness.  You could accrue multiple check marks if you wanted.  These demotions would be cleared away once you had at least one check in each of the six. 

Jason,

I don't think it's as big of a problem as we think. I want the #1 trait to be unassailable at the beginning of play. However, as you play, if I nail you with a negative consquence (for others reading, this is Fallout from DitV, basically), I can stop you from using that trait for the rest of the evening.

In addition, with my rules change (when a trait is wounded, you fail if you roll that number, period), then it can become weaker as your other traits fail.
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #6 on: April 12, 2006, 01:25:58 PM »

"Rest of the evening" is a bit loose, what is intended session-length?

Also, it's unclear on what happens if Both Win, you said no tribute and they stay, it seems that they stay, do not attack mice AND get tribute, from your example and my mental model.
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Guy Shalev.

Cranium Rats Central, looking for playtesters for my various games.
CSI Games, my RPG Blog and Project. Last Updated on: January 29th 2010
Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #7 on: April 12, 2006, 02:05:11 PM »

Also, it's unclear on what happens if Both Win, you said no tribute and they stay, it seems that they stay, do not attack mice AND get tribute, from your example and my mental model.

Well, yeah. That's what I said happened.
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #8 on: April 12, 2006, 02:07:00 PM »

Just saying that the example didn't fit what happened in the actual play.
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Guy Shalev.

Cranium Rats Central, looking for playtesters for my various games.
CSI Games, my RPG Blog and Project. Last Updated on: January 29th 2010
Alex F
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« Reply #9 on: April 12, 2006, 02:58:04 PM »

No-game is a neat term for something that keeps coming up in my PTA game (this one), where the conflict system (really, my continual offering of formal conflict resolution) keeps banging heads with the players willingness just to talk through 'what would be the best story option'. That said, the other aspects of system - turn taking, story arcs, articulating scene agendas and focus etc - is working really well for everyone. There are definitely players who are happy to no-game but for whom system is crucial to produce satisfying story..
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