Mouse Guard: kid-friendly RPG where you get to play a mouse with a sword!

Martin sez, "D&D this ain't: Mouse Guard is a different kind of RPG, offering an overt play structure and focusing on intense roleplaying -- plus, you get to play a mouse with a sword! Gnome Stew's 5,000-word review dishes on why this game is such a gem -- and is ideal for teaching kids to roleplay, as well as for new gamers and first-time GMs."

What Mouse Guard is all about: fighting for -- and challenging -- the characters' Beliefs. Beliefs are a stat in Mouse Guard, and with good reason: they're at the heart of the game.

Beliefs do several things. They give you an easy roleplaying hook -- Mouse Guard mice have a code, and upholding that code in each mouse's own personal way is a core element of the game. Your character's Belief also signals to the other players -- and the GM -- what you're interesting in exploring during play. For the GM, challenging Beliefs is a great way to get a player involved (and part of your job). And Beliefs are one way to earn rewards (XP, essentially), in the form of Fate and Persona Points.

Beliefs need to be general without being too general, and strongly expressed -- they're about getting you to make interesting decisions. Here's a sample belief from p. 43 (for Saxon, a character from the comic):

"The best solution is always found at the point of my sword."

That's excellent roleplaying shorthand -- even if that's the only thing you know about Saxon, it tells you a lot. As the player, you can and should fall back on your Belief when deciding what to do in-game; you'll be rewarded for playing it, as well as for playing against it when the circumstances warrant. As the GM, you should challenge the PCs' Beliefs in play.

Mouse Guard Roleplaying Game on Amazon

Mouse Guard RPG Review: Want to Play a Mouse with a Sword?} (Thanks, Martin!)


  1. It’s actually an utterly delightful setting even for us old veteran gamers.

    Dogs in the Vineyard is another great RPG for those that want something a little different.

  2. Cory, you should know better!

    We’re the same age, and it still took reading your entire post to suss out this is probably a paper RPG as opposed to the videogame variety.

    The kids around here will be thoroughly confused! ;)

  3. having read through the game myself, i think it’s entirely too complicated as a tool to teach non-gamers about gaming.

    “hey kids, here’s a game with a system that’s COMPLETELY UNLIKE ANY OTHER RPG…”

    Faery’s Tale might be a good possibility, although if you wanted to do a kid a favor, just help them learn Dungeons & Dragons 4e. Won’t do anything for their Indie Street-cred, but they’ll never want for other players. ;)


  4. Mortis: There are a LOT of RPGs that are completely unlike any other RPG. Only ever teaching people D&D means that there will only ever be D&D players.

    Get out there, learn more than one game system. You’ll be a better person for it. Seriously. It’s better for your brain to learn more than one way of playing games.

  5. The Mouse Guard RPG is a game that stands alone, and is truly awesome. Regardless of other things, the physical book itself is the most beautiful tabletop RPG book to ever exist.

    However, you might be interested to know that Mouse Guard is largely an adaptation of The Burning Wheel RPG that is specifically customized for the world of the Mouse Guard. It’s literally a collaboration between Luke Crane, creator of Burning Wheel, and David Peterson, creator of Mouse Guard.

    Back in the day when I played D+D, I was skeptical of all the other systems out there. Everyone had their own house rules, or house system, or whatever that they thought “fixed” D+D. Really, though, it was all the same. D+D was the winner because everyone knew how to play it, and everything else was a joke.

    When I heard about Burning Wheel, I approached with the same low expectations. Just some other nerd who thinks he knows something. When I actually played it, I was blown away. Burning Wheel really is that amazing RPG that you’ve been looking for. If you haven’t played it, it’s nothing like anything you’ve experienced.

    Since Mouse Guard shares so many principals with BW, it’s the perfect introduction for someone new to the system. It’s also very good for bringing fans of the comic book into the world of indie tabletop roleplaying.

    If you have the opportunity, I highly suggest finding Luke Crane at a gaming convention and having him run a demo for you. It only takes a few minutes, and it might change your gaming life.

  6. if you wanted to do a kid a favor, just help them learn Dungeons & Dragons 4e. Won’t do anything for their Indie Street-cred, but they’ll never want for other players. ;)

    Players are not scarce. What is scarce is roleplayers’ imaginations with respect to how we talk about what we do, and with respect to what is really essential about how we do it. Mouse Guard, and Burning Wheel before it, are marvelous steps in expanding imagination of the latter; expanding it in the former is up to us. (And perhaps exhibiting insecurity about anything new is not a great first step?)

  7. As a avid fan of rpg in the early nineties I would like to ask this more expert crowd:

    What has changed in the world of pen, paper and dice rpgs today? I always wondered that if the new generation wasn’t abandoning those for more realistics mmorpg, at least they would be playing more sophisticated systems, with an iPhone running complicated calculations, describing monsters and bringing sound effects.

    But reading this post it looks exactly same kind of rpg book I used to read while discovering gurps..

  8. The evolution of pen-and-paper RPGs in the age of the MMO is analogous to the evolution of painting in the age of photography.

    The goal of P&PRPG rules as a “physics of simulation” is going by the wayside, because if that is what you want, the computer will win every time – more complex, more detailed, more immersive.

    Inside, a growing number of designs are focusing on what the experience of roleplaying face-to-face with other persons can excel at:

    – building narratives with themes that are engaging to the players
    – focusing on the emotional aspects of the characters (and the players playing the characters)
    – the open endedness that comes from having a couple of dedicated AIs (i.e. the GM and the other players) sitting around helping you figure out “what happens next”.

    To this end, game mechanics in some games have begun to more more in the direction arbitrating what happens between the player at the table, with what happens between the characters in the fiction becoming a secondary consequence of that. Other games redistribute the responsibilities traditionally attributed to the GM across the players at the table, in some cases dispensing with a dedicated GM role altogether.

    Now Mouse Guard is a bit closer to the “traditional” RPG that some of those I’ve alluded to above, at least on the surface, but in fact it has a number of elements of this new RPG technology smoothly integrated under the hood, that give it quite a different bit of kick than you might have been used to.

    For those who are interested in finding out more about the cutting edge in RPGs, I’d suggest taking some time to poke around:

    or visit:

  9. Alexandre,

    RPG designers have gotten much better at devising rules that accomplish a given purpose with minimal waste. The new edition of 4e is above all a tactical dungeon crawling game, and it does that incredibly well. Mouse Guard is a game about a group facing challenges, internal and external, and it’s very good at that (and replicates the feel of the comics extremely well).

    D&D4e has done some interesting stuff with their D&D Inside online service, including the character builder, which lets you make characters using every scrap of official material, with monthly updates. However, by and large the innovation we’ve seen in RPGs has been in terms of smoother, more focused rules, not bringing high-tech stuff into the mix. Mouse Guard is still sold in the form of a book, and you play by marking stuff on paper and rolling dice, but I can assure you it plays very differently from GURPS.

  10. Rafail got me thinking: they played chess in the gulags in their heads when they had no board and pieces; is there any culture or history of those languishing in durance vile creating RPG’s?

  11. Yeah, I played a session of Mouse Guard at a con earlier this year. Good fun, rather different in character from most.

  12. As per the discussion of MMORPGs vs. tabletop RPGs.

    What people think of as a tabletop RPG, fighting monsters, getting treasure, leveling up, is exactly the same as what MMORPGs are. D+D 4E and WoW are effectively the same exact thing.

    Burning Wheel, Mouse Guard, and the like are something different. They are conflict resolution mechanisms that assist collaborative storytelling. As we don’t have AI, no software can really come close.

  13. Every review of this game says that it’s a good choice for kids, what with the cute mice and all. They all overlook how unremittingly grim it is. Everything is dangerous to mice, a point hammered home again and again in the rules, just as in the comics. Mice can be killed by flying squirrels, floods, starvation, malicious mice, weasels, cold, snakes, crabs, sickness… so, probably not a great game for children, all things considered.

    Obviously, your children may vary.

  14. I played DnD a little when I was a kid. When I read the DnD handbooks, they were chock full of lists of monsters I’d like to fight and items I’d like to have. I ended up approaching from the standpoint of the THINGS, rather than from the STORY. My DM moved away, and my attempts at being the DM failed because I didn’t understand how to make it compelling.

    What strikes me about this (and Burning Wheel) is how the structure of it turns everything into PROBLEMS and CHARACTER TRAITS which makes it more story-based.

  15. @Alexandre #12: Hmmm – most MMORPGs are really giant hack’n’slash systems. They’ve tended to syphon off the “roll” players, leaving the people more interested in the collaborative storytelling aspect of tabletop RPGs to get on with that.

    And, apart from DnD (which I guess is still pretty hack’n’slash at heart, though I haven’t tried 4e as yet), I think there has been a shift towards systems that encourage engagement and character depth.

    @Takuan: The sex scene from Bent?

    More seriously, though, I think it’s statistically improbable. Roleplaying games are a fairly recent, and somewhat Western phenomenon, which really only arose after the truely large gulags went out of fashion. While gulags exist today (e.g. the ones run by the United States), I don’t think the guys in there get enough contact with each other to be able to play, even if two of them could be found who were actually into that.

    It’s a comforting thought to bear in mind if I’m ever chucked in a gulag, though.

  16. Oh, c’mon Mortis. Mouse Guard is too complex, so teach them D&D4e? That game has four 200 page rulebooks in the base set!

  17. To “properly” play D&D 4E, you need three core rulebooks (Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, Monster Manual) and can add two more (Player’s Handbook 2 and the newly-released Monster Manual 2) to play. One book is for the players and the DM, and two are strictly for the DM. You also should have miniatures and grid-based dungeon/town/etc maps for your encounters. Wizards of the Coast helpfully provides both boxes of (randomly assorted!) painted miniatures and tile sets for the prices you might expect out of the comics/games/hobbies industry. Also, the DM has the option of acquiring at least six more hardcover source books to reference (Manual of the Planes, Draconomicon 1: Chromatic Dragons, Adventurer’s Vault, Open Grave, Dungeon Delve, Martial Power), plus two MORE if the campaign is to be set in or borrow from the Forgotten Realms campaign setting…

    Mouse Guard is a 320-page hardcover. I can’t speak as to how complicated it is compared to D&D as I haven’t yet acquired a copy, but in materials alone it’s doing much better.

    If you want a simple roleplaying game, get your hands on a copy of Kobolds Ate My Baby. Designed to be short, easy, ultimately pointless, and just fun without any deep rewarding values (aside from goofing off and having a good time with your roleplaying buddies.) It features a very simple character generation system and a nearly-infinite number of ways to kill those characters off. For extra fun, allow the house rule, “Bark like a Kobold,” which allows you to force the game master to re-roll any single roll, at the cost of being louder and more kobold-like (some would say obnoxious) every time the house rule is invoked.

    Having read the comics up to the current issue, I don’t think I’d have a problem letting reasonably-mature nine-year-olds and up playing, since the best part about playing a game that features that magical movie theatre, imagination, is that you can moderate the content to a certain degree. The immature nine-year-olds would walk away from the table by five minutes to go play a video game because this pen&paper nonsense was “too boring.”

  18. Cory,

    if you think Mouse Guard is interesting, and it is, you should keep your eye on FreeMarket. Transhumanism in space, where meatspace is governed by an internet type reputation based system. It lets you explore the ideas of what a post-scarcity, post-death, post-human-governance society might be like. I have in my imagination that you would find these subjects interesting.

    Luke Crane (Designer of Mouse Guard) is also involved in that project with Jared Sorenson, another excellent RPG designer, and I await the games release anxiously.


  19. I havn’t read the DnD rule books, but I can safely say that despite the thick book, there are very few rules in Mouseguard – they could all be sumarised in about a tenth of the space. It’s just that in the book they are very well explained, with examples. In addition, three chapters in the boook are pretty much giant lists, only really for reference and mission design.

  20. I don’t know if it’s even available anymore, but some of these comments about kid-friendly roleplaying games — and those that reward storytelling and actual character-playing more than just slaying things — remind me of CAT!, a game by John Wick. It’s got an incredibly simple core system that works incredibly well. I’ve done a few Cat games for my kids, and they enjoyed it a lot; I enjoyed running it even more. Depending on the type of story you build, the game could work equally well for kids or adults.

    Anyway… I’m definitely getting Mouse Guard–not only to play with the kids, but because it looks damn cool.

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