The Pawlice – The Wire done Mouse Guard

20 December, 2008

I just finished reading Mouse Guard and watching the second season of The Wire. I guess you know where this is going, right? I couldn’t fall asleep last night and lay awake for three hours thinking about how perfect the Mouse Guard mechanics would be for a The Wire style game. This is what I’ve got so far, and if you haven’t read Mouse Guard or Burning Empires you may well be struggling already at what the heck I’m babbllng about.

One of the main things about The Wire is that a case investigation lasts a whole season, where the detectives gather evidence bit by bit over a long period of time. The Burning (whatever) system of eating away at a disposition suits this incredibly well, so I guess Burning Empires would be just as good a fit for this, but MG is more refined, more honed, simply: better. What I would like to nick from BE is the phase disposition – in this game that will tell us how well the case has been solved,  but more on that later

So, the big kahuna, the case, the investigation that overarches the whole thing and lasts for many sessions is the seasons. Every time the GM uses a twist based on the case, you move one space forward in the big picture, and when you reach the end the case is closed, whether it’s solved or not. Sometimes the bad guys get away, and that’s fine. In this the police version you have to start from the beginning, of course, whereas in MG you can start in any season. The player group may determine from the outset how many sessions the want the case to last.

That leaves the winter season. I’m not sure whether I need to bring that over, but just have Beginning, Middle and End as the “seasons” in the police game. The middle would then be extra long and hard, like so for example:

Beginning (3) – two sessions
Middle (5) – four sessions
End – (4) – two sessions

Every game session will be a GM-set mission turn and a player turn, just like normal MG, which is also perfect for this. And after each full session each side gets to try and eat away at the “case disposition” – the players for the police side and the GM for the criminals’ side.

Mission problems: case, location, authorities, people.


  1. Aye, good spot there: I’ve also just finished S2 of The Wire, have ordered MG from IPR, and am wanting to play/design The Wire, but I didn’t see the whole Disposition mechanic there.

    One of the central themes of The Wire is that the ‘good’ guys – the cops – are really no better than the ‘bad’ guys, and vice versa. It’s all “a part of the job” or “that’s the way the game is played” respectively.

    Your post seems to have the players playing the role of the cops… but I’d want both sides of the coin to be played out: it’s really at the heart of The Wire. Structurally how does that fit into the BE/MG mould: do we tell a story from the cops POV one campaign, and the criminals POV the next? I want both at the same time.

    Break this out onto Story Games already 🙂


  2. Hi Pete,
    Thanks for the feedback – not sure I get what you mean by “I didn’t see the whole Disposition mechanic there”. In the game or in the series?

    Maybe you’re right, SG might be a good place to discuss this. Maybe I’ll post there as well:)

  3. Lovely!

    I’ve not goten around to watching The Wire yet. But I know the cast comes and goes a bit. So could you tie the seasons to phases of cast?

  4. The cast is pretty steady in the first two seasons.

    Re: Pete’s comments about theme. Yes, The Wire is about that both the law and the criminals are people – they’re human beings, and there are assholes and good guys on both side of the fence. But the protagonists in The Wire are the unit of police officers – or you could boil it down to one protagonist for both season 1 and 2: McNulty. He gets things moving, it’s his actions that gets it all into motion.

    Personally, I prefer creating theme during play, and I would do that even when playing this. So, what’s the premise of The Wire?

  5. Hi Per

    RE: “I didn’t see the whole Disposition mechanic there”: I didn’t see the Wire series through the lens of Burning Empires’ Disposition mechanic and structure until you posted about it. I’m slow that way, but I now see how that fits like a glove.

    Stringer Bell is a protagonist in Series 2 right? Shucks, that guy is low. But also hot… in a manly way.

    I’d also want the theme to arise naturally through play. The premise must always the same though ‘cos it’s a natural hook into the game.

    You coming to Conpulsion? If so, you bringing [MG:BE]: The Wire? Or even vanilla MG/BE?


  6. Hi Per,

    The Premise of The Wire is, “Will you let the system make choices for you, or will make your own choices.”

    Everyone in that series is part of an institution that demands its staffers feed the needs of institution first: The cops; the gangs; the unions are all introduced in the first two seasons. Later City Hall; the Public School System; and the City Paper are added.

    Each character has a choice – constantly – to do the “right thing” (be a good cop, be a good teacher, stop murdering each other) or to help perpetuate the needs of the Institution (through monkey with crime stats, illegal contributions, selling drugs and murdering their friends).

  7. Chris, I like that. And sometimes the line between “the right thing” and institutional needs are blurred, and that’s increases tension even more. For example Major Colvin’s drug zone initiative in series 3, which actually solves some problems and produces non-monkey’ed good stats but is unacceptable politically and PR-wise.

  8. There are labels, at least these are the divisions I noticed while watching the first and second seasons.

    The beginning: The Case. This is where we prove that there is at all a problem to be solved or an opportunity seized by identifying the problem.

    The middle: The Wire. This is where we try to identify the system the problem operates under and/or catch people who make the problems making the problem happen.

    The end: The Score. Were we settle the matter of the case, which does not necessarily mean solving the case or resolving the underlying problem to begin with.

    I am not sure if the show continues this way in the third, fourth, and fifth seasons.

    Is a twist(GM) and a turn(PC) two separate pieces of currency for the phases? Is it procession of a dozen twists before a dozen turns?

    I wanted to do a Neon Genesis Evangelion hack for mouse guard and The infection mechanics applied, but preferred MG b/c I found creating settings worth of lifepaths too daunting. What I am getting at is that you are a genius.

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