Hacking Mouse Guard: the Nature thing

7 November, 2011

Mouse Guard is such a nicely structured game, and because it works so well it’s very tempting to hack it to your own needs. Which loads of people have done already, and indeed are doing. I’m one of them.

It’s not easy. While it may look like a game that’s simply “skinned” with brave mice in a middle-ages kind of setting, it’s really not. And in that respect it’s also not just Burning Wheel with mice. The funny thing is that you only discover that when you start fiddling with it. The key thing to understand is the ability Nature. Luke has written a very helpful post on the Burning Wheel forums. When you hack Mouse Guard you need to hack Nature, and get it right. And to get it right, you need to grasp what Nature is. Luke says:

“Nature is the soul of Mouse Guard. It quantifies and qualifies the character as a mouse—as an animal apart from all others in the setting. It does so by describing a series of mouselike behaviors for the character that are useful but generally counter to the entire purpose of the game. To wit: the goal of Mouse Guard is not to play a mouse. When you sit down to play, you are playing a hero.”

I have been battling with my police hack of Mouse Guard for some time now. I have been writing and thinking a lot about it lately and have started writing the third re-draft. As Luke also mentions, there’s an inherent tension built into Nature – in Mouse Guard it is between being a hero and a tiny mouse. In my police hack it must be between being a cop and a human being, right? At least, that’s what I thought at first. But it is the obvious re-skinning of Mouse Guard. Hero becomes cop and mouse becomes human, and voila!

You know your Nature hack is a bit weak when you try to come up with actions that define it. These actions should be about risking something, and in each you, as the player, has to make a decision. My initial suggestions were a bit weak. I mean, I liked them but they were not very transferable into risky and decisive actions.

Then Paul Beakley, who is very far with his excellent Sci-Fi hack of Mouse Guard, suggested that the tension in my Nature should be between being a good cop and a bad cop. Between clean and dirty. And the scale going from being burnt out and incapable of doing your job to absolutely corrupt. In other words completely flipping my original, boring idea on its head. And it works.


  1. I’m thinking about a Mouse Guard hack for a more generic Middle Earth game (set around the Lonely Mountain between the end of The Hobbit and the start of LotR), so this is useful stuff.

    For your police hack, would it be less judgemental to make Nature be ‘lazy or jobsworth’ cop? So you test Nature for looking the other way, losing reports in a pile of paperwork, accepting a witness statement at face value, and justifying yourself to a superior.

    “Closing ranks” should definitely be a police nature action.

  2. Hi Neil – there’s a very interesting hack called Realm Guard you might want to check out:

    I like your examples of actions – closing ranks is a very good suggestion indeed.

  3. Lovely! I can sense the tension in it. I like the way the mechanic gives an everpresent way out of doing the right thing, for the easy thing. It’s perfect for the personal drama inherent in a police story.

  4. […] Per har problemer med at få defineret Nature for hans politi-hack af MG. Han er dog i højere grad […]

  5. Per I’m loving your Police Hack of Mouse guard and you keep referring to Paul’s Sci Fi MG Hack which I’d also like to look up. do you have an address where I can see the progress of that work?


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