Archive for the ‘Mouse Guard’ Category


[Probable Cause] Playtest ahoy

10 March, 2012

After a considerable re-write since the previous playtests, I’ve begun a new cycle of playtesting. Peter, Oliver and Asbjørn have all graciously agreed to play via Skype, and we had the setup session this week. The first session lays down the land regarding what kind of setting, crime and stuff the players are interested in. We quite quickly agreed on playing in Denmark today, and doing something “internal affairs” kind of crime.Smuggling and corruption were also mentioned. The setting is Falster, a big island not that far from Copenhagen but still very, very different. The area has ferry routes to Germany and Poland(?), and was also the location of one of the most famous Danish shipyards, now defunct for decades.

The players each chose a character pack to start building their player characters, and then it’s my turn as the chair to come up with a brief backstory to kick things off.


Burden and Hunch

7 February, 2012

The two other parts of the belief system in Probable Cause are Burden and Hunch.


Nick Nolte as the cop in 48 Hours.

Burden is something in your character’s life that is a burden or a stress factor, or even a personal goal. For extra tension, make up a Burden that’s perpendicular to the ongoing case. This could be a beginning separation with your spouse, who gets what and what about the kids etc. It could be a deep and overwhelming debt problem, a career thing, illness or dependency on drugs, or something form the character’s past coming back to haunt her. Playing towards your Burden earns you a Destiny point reward, and should your character reach a point where her Burden is “solved” it earns another Destiny point reward.
Burden should include a statement, an action and a target.

“I might be broke, but I’m not selling the house to get money for my alimony payments to my ex-wife. There’s gotta be another way.”
“I can’t go back home after what Mary did – I end up in bars every night and pick up women. Any woman will do, I just don’t want to see Mary again.”

Make it possible for you to show in play how your character is reacting to or trying to deal with her Burden – it earns Destiny points.

Also, make sure you choose a Burden you want to be challenged, because the GM will do that, all the time, during the game.
When a Burden has been overcome, take some time to stop and think. You can either retire the character from play and create a new one, or write up a new Burden. Your choice.


Hunch is your character’s habit or usual reaction. From The Wire, it’s Bunk’s pinstripe suit, his cigar or his chasing tail. Or McNulty’s quarter of Jamieson in his pocket. From The Killing, it’s Sarah Lund’s sweater, her sensing of a crime scene, or her inability to connect with other people. From Twin Peaks, it’s agent Cooper recording every detail of his working day for Diane, his obsession with coffee and doughnuts and pie. It’s Andy breaking into tears when he sees a dead body. All these small, quirky details about a character adds dept and hopefully interest. Feel free to come of with weird stuff you don’t even know the explanation to yet. Perhaps your character’s gun has a pink grip. Or she has a tattoo on her belly that says “HANK”. Or she always wears leather pants on Fridays. Or can never get the fax machine to send.

Playing out you character’s hunch earns you a point of destiny. You are even rewarded when you decide to go against your character’s hunch if it makes a situation more difficult. This way you can enable your character to be more efficient in the fiction, when you need it or think it’s dramatically appropriate, all depending on how you choose to play the character at any given moment.


Credo: To serve and protect

6 February, 2012

In Probable Cause, what I have called Credo, Burden and Hunch are in a way the engine room of a player character. This is where it all happens, and where actions on behalf of you character in the game interacts with the game system’s Destiny points. In short, as a player you will want to earn Destiny because Destiny gives you more impact on the game’s fiction, and that’s handy in dramatic or dangerous situations. You earn Destiny by acting on and playing to your character’s Credo, Burden or Hunch. You even earn Destiny when you play against your Burden or Hunch to make things even harden for your character. In game mechanic terms Destiny allows you to reroll dice, add dice to a roll or add your character’s Human Nature as extra dice to a roll.

Gene Hackman as Popeye Doyle in the unmissable The French Connection.


Credo is what your character believes about law and order and justice, and is going to do about it. These are ethical, moral, ideological statements or stances, filters your character perceives the world through. The Credo should relate to the character’s job as a cop or to justice and law and order in general. It’s what the character believes is the point of being a cop or how justice should work. Describe your character’s Credo as a sentence as seen from the character’s own point of view. It is also a good idea to write a character’s belief based on what game setup you have agreed upon. If your game is going to be about corruption in the force or among politicians, write it into your Credo if you care about it. If it’s about slave trade or people trafficking, likewise. Do not think of a character’s Credo as something isolated, it’s a comment on what is going on in your game. And it can change depending on what’s going on in your game.

In the Wire, Omar only targets drug dealers, never civilians. That could be written into his Credo. A good Credo should make it possible for other participants to know when a character is following his Credo, or indeed not doing it. Credo should drive what the character wants to do in your game, it’s a statement of belief that guides your actions, as the dictionary says. Include a goal in your Credo if you like.

Examples: The law should be upheld without breaking it. The law is there to protect the criminal – better to get at him before the law does. You have the right to remain silent until I tell you to talk. You are guilty until proven innocent. Everyone is equal before the law and everyone deserves a fair process. I am the law.


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.


Thin Blue Line, 5

5 June, 2011

After a period of distractions, I’ve gone back to the Thin Blue Line draft. I’m currently half way through David Peace’s “1980”, the third book in his Red Riding quartet about the Yorkshire Ripper, and this is the kind of dark police drama I would play any day.

I’m nearly done with briefly describing all abilities and skills, which is kind of boring but necessary to explain to playtesters (and players) what kind of stuff they can be used for in play. As I mentioned earlier, I have included player character templates to kick things off faster when starting to play. I won’t bore you with skill descriptions here, but I can show you the templates I have in mind, which are called Character Packs. The draft includes 10 packs, but it’s very likely that more will emerge as time goes by.

Character Packs

Each Character Pack comes with a, hopefully inspirational, title and a pre-made set of abilities and skills. All that needs to be filled in by the player is close NPCs, Credo, Burden and Hunch, and sometimes a backstory question. Here’s a full example:

Ex Military

Born in your game’s city/setting. Been a police officer a couple of years. Working-class parents. Already famous/notorious in the police force (for what?).
Human Nature 6
Will 3
Health 5
Skills: Bureaucracy, Intimidation 3, Law, Firearms 3, Deception, Persuasion,  Report-writing 2, Tactics, Unarmed combat, Vehicles
Traits: Brave 2, Fearless, Sense of Duty, Skeptic
Wises: Surveillance-wise, Wiretap-wise
Resources 1
Circles: 4
Notes: Can’t take Cool Under Fire, Naive, Compassionate, Merciful, Diplomatic, Jaded, Uptight or Righteous traits.
First sergeant:  Mentor:  Good friend: Enemy:
Gear: Police badge and service firearm. Shotgun. Lockpick.
Destiny 2

Here are the rest of the Character Packs, short description only.

Born in another city. Middle-class parents, and a family with a long tradition in police forces. Once committed a crime (which?)

Action Man
Born in another country, but grew up here. Well off parents. Has been in the force 10+ years, now a Detective, and have powerful enemies.

Old Hand
Born and bred in this city, and an institution within the police force. Middle-class parents. Rank Lieutenant.

Born in another city. Parents filthy rich, expensive private education, top class degree, Masters, PhD, the lot. And then the police force? Wtf?

Mr Ambition
Born in this city. Went straight through the ranks and is now Captain. Middle-class parents.

Born in another city by working-class parents. Scholarship and now analyst with the police. Rank as police officer.

Born in this city by middle-class parents. Last generation in a long line of police officer. Detective.

Working for the Man
From another country, well-off parents. Police Officer.

Born in another country, working class family. Has been in the force for decades and ranks Detective. Bit of  loner.


Thin Blue Line update 3: shocking changes

21 February, 2011

I hope there are still people out there who like me are very excited about my Thin Blue Line game, formerly known as Down in the Hole. I can’t be the only one wanting a slow-mo police procedure focused game, but I want to play this very much. I also wish I could go back in time and use this system for our FBI campaign we ran more than 10 years ago, it would have made a great game even better. At that time we used a mix of fiat and hand-wavey freeform disguised within a modified Storyteller hack. That system – or: lack of explicit system – sucked ass big time. Thin Blue Line is my answer to that, Lars and 2x Thomas, if you are listening.

At the moment I’m slimming the already slim Mouse Guard system even more, hopefully without damaging the delicate system it is, and to make it possible that my friend Joe likes it and wants to play it. Joe is my target audience.

Here are the most shocking changes from Mouse Guard:

  • Persona and Fate points merge into Destiny points, and are not two different things anymore
  • Instinct is now called Hunch. It’s mostly colour, but can still earn Destiny points
  • No workhorse or MVP awards – these are gone, puff, vanished
  • You also earn “checks” for the players’ round when you fail a test (once per scene, not in conflicts)
  • Simplified advancement – not entirely sure how yet, but no more tracking passed and failed tests

    Thin Blue Line

    7 January, 2011

    The devil triumphs when good men do naught

    I’m through my New Year depression, and have begun re-writing my Mouse Guard Down in the Hole hack from the bottom up. The game will now morph into its own entity, complete with a new shiny title Thin Blue Line. Among some of the changes, informed by playtesting (thanks, guys!), are: character templates (“packs”) to enable quicker character generation, optional but recommended rotating GM (“Chair”), more streamlined reward cycle and missions structure, and shared game setup.

    These are excerpts from the new draft, with more to come. Read the rest of this entry ?


    Down in the Hole playtests

    27 November, 2010

    Man, it’s been a while. I’ve been working on and off on my Mouse Guard hack Down in the Hole, and it’s really coming into shape. I’ve felt for a while that I really needed to playtest it to get some informed ideas where I’m on the track and where I’m not. Pete from the Burning Wheel forums was the first to playtest, and he’s provided me with fantastic feedback already. I will post a link here when his comments become public.

    Then I finally got a chance to run Down in the Hole myself, with the aforementioned Pete, John from London and my old gamer friend Joe, now in Liverpool. We are through the first session, AP here.

    John Anderson created this wonderful form-fillable character sheet:
    DiTH character sheet Form Fillable


    [Down in the Hole] Ready to go

    19 April, 2010

    There’s still a lot of work work to do on Down in the Hole, my Mouse Guard hack for police-investigative story gaming, but I feel ready to give it a go at a playtest.

    I’ve quickly put together a functional character sheet, which I hope looks a bit like a type-written police report. I plan to make a small “badge”, a pamphlet, with the most important rules for players to refer to during play.

    Steve asked some good questions about the game after my last post back in February. I will try to get back to answer them after play-testing. Seems better to base my musings on actual play instead of made-up examples.

    DitH character sheet PDF


    [Mouse Guard hack] Down in the Hole

    9 February, 2010

    I started fleshing out my Mouse Guard hack to be able to run police-crime style games inspired by the phenomenal TV series The Wire more than a year ago. I then left it for quite some time, while watching through the five seasons of The Wire twice. Amazingly it’s even better the second time.

    The hack is about ready to playtest, while the skill list is still to be considered further. The basic idea behind a MG hack is to keep as much as the original mechanics and only change or rename those necessesary to fit the hack.

    Please comment and suggest, thanks.

    Down in the Hole draft