Mouse Guard Mechanice in Pathfinder- Some Thoughts

Awhile back ChattyDM did a post talking about using Mouseguard mechanics of in his 4e City of the Overmind Campaign:

Terminology Aside: What did I mean by ‘Mouseguarded it”? In Luke Crane’s Mouseguard (based on the Burning Wheel game), a failed skill check doesn’t lead to a dead end but instead adds a complication or a condition to the PC attempting it. My friend Dave and I have started calling doing that in D&D “Mouseguarding”. I really need to write a post on that.

I really hadn’t heard of Mouseguard too much prior to this statement, but upon reading it ideas started going around in my brain.. all sorts of wonderfully devious and sinister ideas.

So I went and bought the PDF version of the Mouse Guard Core Rulebook to delve further into the mechanics and ideas behind Twists/Complications and Conditions. Sadly real life and other projects raised their fang bared heads and kept me from really poking around the Mouse Guard book. Also Pathfinder came out around the same time I bought that and I was too enamored with it to really read anything else.

Finally I poked around the Mouse Guard book and I really liked the Complication/Twist mechanic.. however.. There was something I didn’t care for… initially.. Conditions.

Steering the Players

In Mouse Guard when a player gets a condition, they can become, tired, angry, injured, etc. When I first read this I had an absolutely knee-jerk reaction and wanted to scream, “Foul!” I didn’t like this. How can I as a GM TELL a player that they are suddenly angry? I also didn’t like the labeling of, “ok now you’re tired, injured, or whatever.”

However.. Once I got over my reaction and reread the text I saw the absolute brilliance of this mechanic. Too often during a fight or a challenge when the player fails, there is no role-playing response, it is just “reroll the dice with a negative modifier till we succeed” but by putting the players in a situation where there is a stipulated “emotion” or “condition” you are forcing a response aside from the apathetic rolling of the dice. They start thinking, “Ok. So my character is angry… How would they act and react?”

This simple mechanic can create all sorts of wonderful situations for the players.

To use Chatty’s Term- Mouseguarding

I don’t (although maybe someday I will be able to give it a try) play Mouse Guard. I am currently running a Pathfinder Campaign (Post 1, Post 2) and have decided to incorporate the Mouse Guard Story Telling Mechanics into my game.

The Complication and Twists mechanic is pretty easy, but the Conditions I wanted to break down so they fit into the Pathfinder/DnD 3.5 Mechanics.

So here is what I came up with:

Mouse Guard Conditions:

Healthy– The characters base status.
Hungry/Thirsty– Characters have not eaten food or drank water in awhile. Characters can be affected by the Fatigued status (Pg 567) or can take -2 to Con and Fortitude Saves.
Tired– Character has over exerted and is now affected with Fatigued status (Pg 567). If already Fatigued, they become Exhausted (Pg 567)
Angry– Character is angry and agitated and takes -2 to Charisma and Charisma Based Skills.
Injured– The Character has been injured by attempting something and can affect with different conditions: Bleed (Pg 565), Blinded (Pg 565), Confused (Pg 566), Dazed (Pg 566), Deafened (Pg 566), Disabled (Pg 566), Entangled (Pg 567), Frightened (Pg 567), Helpless (Pg 567), Paralyzed (Pg 568), Panicked (Pg 568), Pinned (Pg 568), (Pg 568), Staggered (Pg 568), Stunned (Pg 568).
Sick– Character has fallen ill and can be afflicted with different conditions: Fatigued (Pg 567), Exhausted (Pg 567), Nauseated (Pg 568), Shaken (Pg 568), Sickened (Pg 568), Staggered (Pg 568) Unconscious (Pg 568).

And finally here is a discussion with a friend that I had explaining the premise behind Mouseguarding. I apologize if it isn’t perfect, but I cleaned it up as best as I could without having to rewrite the whole damned thing.

If you fail however, that’s it.. You can’t reroll again.. Now the GM gets to add either a complication/twist or a condition..

So a complication would be suddenly as you are tracking it begins to rain and you lose the tracks you were following..

Now you guys have to come up with a new way of finding the creature/person.

A twist would be you find the criminal you were tracking, but you find him dead with a hatchet in his back and tracks leading off in a new direction. And you notice his satchel is gone (which has the items your party needs).

The Conditions is that you do succeed in finding the tracks but maybe it took you a bit longer than normal for someone of your skill, so I tell you that you are angry about it.. So now you get modifiers to your charisma and are a grump to be around.

Or tracking really took it out of you and now you are tired or hungry or as tracking you didn’t notice a hole in the ground and slipped and injured yourself..

Now you have modifiers to your Dex.

You just gotta be ready to think on your feet.. Say the original idea was for them to find the guy and get his satchel over a fight through the trees and report back..

Well with the twist as a GM you decide, like I said, to kill the guy, and have the satchel stolen by bandit, gnolls, or goblins..

And taken to their lair..

Then if you want to go further.. The group gets there, and fights through the caves and finds a group of humans trapped in cages for slaves/food.

So now the group decides to free them and they beg to be taken back to town. Now the group has to make sure they are ok..

And protect them..

And one of them says he is a nobleman’s son, and they will be handsomely rewarded if the deliver him safely..

So your players decided to roll a knowledge check to see if they recognize his name, and fail.. So again, the GM decides to do a complication or twist.

Complication- He is prized as a sacrifice for the Gobinoid Heathen Gods.. and they are sending a war party to retrieve him…
And they will kill everything else where it stands..

He isn’t actually the Nobleman’s son. The son was killed and eaten a few days prior, but not before he imparted this info on a young con artist, who things by passing off as the son it doubles his chances to get to town in one piece, and he will then either give the players the slip or lead them into a trap.

Author: Mike Evans

I am the dude behind DIY RPG Productions. I have a fuck all punk rock attitude, love meeting new people, doing nature shit, and gaming (tabletop and console) and having a good time. I love craft beer (maybe too much), punk, grunge, and industrial music. I write books. Good for me.

12 thoughts

  1. Great ideas, Mike! I’ve been using Mouse Guard ideas in my 4e game (after reading about it in one of Chatty’s posts) and it has made skill challenges richer experiences for everyone.

    I bought the Mouse Guard book not only for its great ideas, but it is a beautiful book in its own right.

  2. I have not read the Pathfinder books yet. How does a player recover from one of your conditions? Is there an extended rest mechanic, or do they have to seek out a healer?

  3. You just homerule the extended rest mechanic. For me, one of the conditions is injured and one example I gave my players is breaking a leg or arm. Well what is to stop them from using a healing surge (I have incorporated them into my Pathfinder game) and moving on.

    I said that that something like that can only be healed by a divine spell. Something like fatigued and exhausted take an 8 hour rest to do.

    The same can be done in 4e, you just have to fiddle with the rules a little bit. 🙂

    I’ll have a post up today about beliefs and instincts that my group choose on Sunday.

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