The Meeple Guild - Role playing in the world of mice

An evening of true escapism at the gaming table with friends – once gatherings are deemed safe again -- will be a great way to forget the COVID pandemic, at least for a few hours.

One of the best ways is to immerse oneself in a role playing game (RPG), where you take on the persona of a character usually in a fantasy or sci-fi world, and go adventuring with your pals.

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Somewhere amid the piles of game material I have is a binder with character sheets dating back literally decades giving the details of characters I have played, each, even the short-lived, or little played offering up a bunch of great memories.

But, it’s always great to come upon a new RPG, or at least one our little band of gamers has not tried.

That brings us to Mausritter, a game that takes RPGing to mini size, as it notes on its website (mausritter.com), ‘take up the sword and don the whiskers of a brave mouse adventurer in Mausritter, the rules-light fantasy adventure roleplaying game.”

So the big interest is in playing a sword swinging mouse, which actually is rather appealing if you are a fan of great books like those of Redwall by Brian Jacques, or the game Mice and Mystics.

And, the world of mice is not so far removed from that of squirrels, so think the fantastic comic book and related card game Squarriors, (the comic is by sh Maczko), or the classic Watership Down by Richard Adams for gaming source material too.

It’s a rather rich world to explore, and Mausritter invites you in with a rather small rulebook, meaning the game is light in terms of numbers, but that does not mean the game experience can’t be fun.

As for a setting, it can be as simple as a clan of mice in your own basement having to brave the big backyard, and the neighbour’s cat, the garter snake under the garage floor, and the mean old crow in the big spruce tree, as they forge for food.

But what about the creation of Mausritter? How did it come to be?

Well, to find that out an email interview with creator Isaac Williams was arranged, and the logical first question was whether he came at the game’s creation from the perspective of being an avid RPG player himself?

“I’ve been playing and designing board games and roleplaying games for many years,” he responded. “When I was nine or 10, I must have heard about the idea of roleplaying games from somewhere, but hadn’t actually played one. So I created a game based on the videogame Diablo, which I forced my brothers to play. When one of my Dad’s friends saw this, he gifted me a battered copy of the 1981 Dungeons and Dragons Red Box and I found out what roleplaying games were really all about.”

First loves are hard to shake.

“I came back to roleplaying games as an adult, and discovered the new world of Storygames — games like Apocalypse World, Burning Wheel and Fiasco, where the mechanics drive a collaborative drama, rather than creating obstacles to overcome,” related Williams.

“But I kept on coming back to ideas in that D&D Red Box.

“As a game master creating puzzles and challenges is incredibly fun, as is figuring out how to solve them as a player.”

Not too surprisingly one of the aforementioned material sources played a role in the creation of Mausritter.

“My regular board game group were playing a campaign of the board game Mice & Mystics,” said Williams. “It’s a board game where you take the role of a prince who has been cursed, and turned into a mouse. It’s super cute, and I was enjoying it, but as a player it didn’t really capture the things I wanted to do as a mouse adventurer. You smash a lot of cockroaches, but spend very little time sneaking around, figuring out how to open the butter dish or steal a block of cheese three times your size.”

So as a game creator Williams set about to fill the void he felt existed.

“In roleplaying game land, I’d gotten into the OSR scene (Old School Revival, or Old School Renaissance or SwordDream or whatever you want to call it) — other people like me who had figured out that the older editions of D&D actually held a lot of wisdom, and a style of play that had been forgotten over the years,” he began.

“I had been writing OSR-style hacks and rules variants for a few years, so when I suggested to my group that I was enjoying the cute mice, but would prefer something more free-form, basing it on an OSR game made sense. I had just read Into the Odd, and the rules were so simple and clean that hacking it into a mouse game looked very easy. I wrote up a random table of evocative backgrounds for mouse adventurers and we started playing.”

The game was well-accepted by the early players, and that was enough for Williams to refine it.

“Once it became clear that the game had legs beyond my little group, I started developing it into a zine,” he said. “Roleplaying games don’t exist without players, so my goal was to produce a clean, simple book that collected some of my favourite ideas and compiled them into a complete, easily gameable package. To help people get to the table and start actually playing with their friends as quickly as possible.”

Perhaps because keeping things rather simple and streamlined, the game came together rather quickly for Williams. 

“Development was pretty fast,” he said. “From that first play session with just table of backgrounds and some scribbled rules references, I released a completed zine in about six months. This wouldn’t have been possible without drawing on the vast history of game sources that Mausritter is based on. Mausritter was always a love letter to the OSR scene. I don’t think there are many original ideas in there, and I’ve tried to cite all of the influences.”

The hardcover book edition (which is twice the length of the zine) took another six months to work. This introduced a lot of new material to help players get playing, including an example of play, a small starting adventure, and a complete hex crawl for players to explore.

Keeping things compact did prove challenging.

“Squeezing the rules and procedures into a concise package is always a challenge,” said Williams. “Mausritter relies on pareidolic design — presenting just enough information that a useful image of the world, or the expected procedures of play, appears in the mind of the reader. Whether that image is the same as the one in my head isn’t important. It just needs to be useful to the reader of the book -- to give them enough information to bring the game to the table and play it with their friends.”

As it sits this is a game about mice, although it may grow one day.

“For now, everyone playing a character in Mausritter is a mouse -- though there are plenty of fan-made supplements that change this,” said Williams. “Mice are small, fragile creatures, that I think forces the players into a unique mindset while playing. They know that the world is huge and dangerous, and that they must act accordingly.”

So as designer what is the best element of the game?

“I think the inventory system is great,” offered Williams. “Mausritter is fundamentally a game about resource management, and the inventory system makes this fun for players, instead of being a chore.

“Instead of writing down the items that your character is carrying, you have little physical chits that you place on your character sheet. This allows players to get a real easy sense for what they’re carrying, and when they’re running low on supplies or carrying space it is always clear.”

When asked what Mausritter offers that other RPGs don’t, Williams responded with the obvious.

“Cute mouse adventurers, and the way that playing a mouse adventurer changes your perspective on the world,” he said. “After playing or GMing Mausritter for a bit, you start to notice all the things around your feet, all the nooks and crannies where adventure could be just around the corner, all the things around your house that would make a great challenge if presented to the players.”

The game has now developed a rather avid fanbase who are expanding the Mausritter world.

“It’s pretty amazing to see the reception that Mausritter has gotten, considering it was really just made for my little board game group,” said Williams. “I love seeing how enthusiastic and creative the Mausritter community are, and all the new ideas they bring to their own games. 

“I definitely enjoy seeing and highlighting fan created supplements and adventures, so there’s a dedicated section on the Mausritter website (mausritter.com), which features third-party adventures. There are already 20 full releases there, with many more on the way.

“For the month of March, some members of the Mausritter community were even running a game jam to create new adventures, which will all be combined together into one big world.”

If you want some easy and fun, well become a mouse and try Mausritter.

© Copyright Yorkton This Week

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