Monday night my regular gaming group and I sat down to our first session of actual Mouse Guard play. We had spent the week before making characters and getting a handle on the rules. Overall things went well. Player engagement was fairly high, and the players who had earned extra actions in the players turn did some interesting things. But this is not about Mouse Guard.
Before we took to protecting the territories, we had been playing Dresden Files. In Dresden Files I was a player, however my character was fairly powerful and mainly served to swoop in and save the day when the vanilla, mortal security guard would get in over his head. This is another system that hands over a lot of narrative control to the players. But again that is not what this is about.
What these games have in common is that they are both licensed products. They invite you to come and play in someone else’s world. Usually this is something that I hate; I feel trapped and boxed in by cannon and the expectations of the universe. But beyond being licensed products, both DFRPG and MG seem to be exceptions to this rule.
While both games take steps to help you create your own stories in the world they present for you, they do it in very different ways. Mouse Guard sets out a ridged formula for creating adventures. This forces the group to stay in line with the spirit of the comics. Dresden goes in the opposite direction, encouraging the play group to create their own city to set their adventures in. This gives the players a sense of ownership, and gives the game master plot hooks of their own devising to hang stories from.
At first I thought I would chafe at the neat organized confines of MG, but I am surprised at how easy it is to stick to the formula. Animals, Mice, Weather and Wilderness, pick two and weave a story around those. I was also pleased at how easily the story grew from there. The patrol has a tough decision before them when we pick up their story next week.
With DFRPG I never worry about being confined, and more often than not in play I have been hampered by having too many stories to tell rather than too few.
As a counterpoint I remember being very excited about the Serenity RPG before it came out. I was down at my FLGS the week it came out and was roping my players in to giving it a try. We made a crew and learned the rules. We even played a few sessions but despite so many unexplored corners of the ‘verse to explore, I still felt trapped by Mal, Book and River.
The world was well documented, the flavor of the show was there, but it never felt like my world. It was still theirs. I was a stranger, an intruder even.
What it boils down to is this, giving me notes on the setting, the people, places and things that make up the world of the license is not enough. The game has to be able, in the course of the rule book to teach me how to tell stories that fit the license or show me how to make that world my own.