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Well, PAX East has come and gone. If you follow my Twitter feed, I probably drove you crazy with updates. (Sorry, but it was inevitable.)

Anyway, I do have some substantive posts that I’d like to do about RPGs after hearing some great panel speakers, but as this is the first day post-con and I’m braindead, I thought I’d just share a few of my photos with you. As usual, I got FAR fewer photos than I meant to get, mostly because I was playing games or chatting with people most of the time. Still, this handful of images might give you a sense of what PAX is all about if you haven’t gone. I most regret not getting many shots of the Tabletop area where we spent most of our time, but as we were always playing a game when we were there, I didn’t have much time for photography.

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I also have to share with you my favorite Twitter exchange from the convention. The food was a bit overpriced and questionable, but when I tweeted about it, I got a hilarious response from the Boston Convention and Expo Center staff:


At least they have a sense of humor!

In the upcoming days, I’ll have a few words about GMing style, our wonderful convention game of Fortune’s Fool, and a couple of new indie RPGs I picked up. In the meantime, though, I hope all of you who traveled to PAX made it home safely and all those who didn’t had a great weekend of gaming anyway!


I have this thing about movies: if the reviews make no sense because half say that the film represents the pinnacle of a true artist’s vision and half say that it’s the worst mess ever committed to film, then there’s a 99.99998% chance that I will love the film. Generally, I find that the sort of piece that inspires such extreme reviews has gotten panned because its viewers don’t want to put in the required work to understand the film. Using the same logic, I decided to order myself a copy of the RPG FreeMarket.  
The reviews of FreeMarket are just…bizarre. They’re either wildly enthusiastic, praising the game for being a real breakthrough in narrative storytelling, or they’re bitterly negative, claiming that the game is unplayable and broken.  


Clearly, I needed to own the collector’s edition.  

This is a beautiful package of Stuff. In the glossy, full-color box come five decks of challenge cards and a set of tech cards, each housed in its own cardboard box. A handful of heavy laminated cardboard tokens completes the set of materials needed to play. You also get a handful of full-color sheets for both players and GMs (or users and superusers, in this game,) plus a set of glossy character sheets/histories for the iconic characters mentioned in the rulebook.  



Although the art for the cards and accessories is futuristically simple, there’s some thoughtful high production here. My favorite detail is that the care deck boxes come glued together at the bottom instead of tucked; that way, the cards slide in neatly when you’re done with your session instead of getting caught on the tab at the bottom off the box. The deck boxes also list what goes in each set, so cleanup won’t take long at the end of a session even if your cards get mixed.  



The non-standard sized rulebook has equally high production value, with glossy and full-color pages. (Given the chipper nature of the utopia that players join in this RPG, one wonders if all the gloss isn’t a thematic choice!) I must admit that the pages are a bit thin, but not unusably so, and the spine allows you to fold the book open flat.  



I haven’t had a chance to read through all the rules yet, but the first few pages left me both impressed…and chuckling a bit. I see why this game would strike some as broken, and I see why not having exactly the right gaming group could spell disaster before you even started to play. Players arrive in a utopia in which almost anything is possible, and it’s up to them to do whatever they like. A player’s responses to a challenge can consist of almost any solution, since the technology in this future can make most things the players dream up into realities. The game stresses negotiation and cooperation (with both NPCs and PCs) instead of competition. All of this adds up to mean that players really must use their imaginations to solve the problems that come their way; the game itself isn’t necessarily designed to suggest a menu of possibilities from which to choose because that would be more limiting than the designers intended.  


With great roleplaying possibilities come increased responsibilities on the players’ parts; you can’t just sit back and let the GM point you in a direction, roll some dice, and hope that a battlefield full of dead bodies will lead to monetary gain and power. Like most of Luke Crane’s games, this one pushes its players to create their own storylines instead of respond to a GM’s narrative, and for a player who isn’t comfortable creating narrative possibilities on the spot or who is having a bad night, that responsibility can seem overwhelming.  


I look forward to giving this a more thoughtful review once I’ve finished reading the rulebook. In the meantime, though, I have to report that it’s a box full of truly lovely Stuff, and that I’m pretty sure that I’ll like this as much as I like all those strangely-reviewed films. I’m also hoping I can con someone into believing that the game is as great as I think it might be; after all, you can watch a film by yourself, but playing an RPG by yourself isn’t nearly as fun. Or even possible.  


This seems to be the week to freak out about the awesomeness of the Mouse Guard Box Set, and it is awesome, so I don’t want to be late in my freaking out about it lest I seem either unenthusiastic or unfashionable. In fact, I’ll go so far as to admit that I drove five hours to pick up my set when one of my players found out that it was available at a not-so-local friendly gaming store. It was worth it. (Thanks to DH for giving me the heads-up the second this came into view!)

I played the Mouse Guard RPG a little over a year ago at a convention and loved it immediately. Seldom had I seen a convention game with premade characters pull such thoughtful and deep roleplaying out of participants, and I was impressed by how easy it was to use the rules in innovative ways without knowing the whole system well. I’d picked up the rulebook then, and I loved its lush illustrations and clear, welcoming, and intelligent instructions. Mouse Guard’s streamlined Burning Wheel rules have removed everything extraneous about the parent system and left GMs with the perfect toolkit for running adventures that feel as though they’re straight from the pages of Petersen’s comic. Given the comic’s “It matters not what you fight, but what you fight for” tagline and Burning Wheel’s “Fight for what you believe” motto, the two are a perfect thematic match for one another.

When I heard that there was going to be a Box Set, I was pleased, as you can imagine. Stuff for a game for a game I like? Really pretty stuff for a game I like?! Let’s do it! NOW!

One of the first things I noticed is that Crane and Petersen haven’t included a lot of extraneous stuff. There’s beautiful, well-made, useful stuff, and a bit of fun fluff, but not a whole overwhelming host of table-filling junk that you don’t really need. (And here, I’m looking at you, my beloved WFRP3e. You might have overdone it just the slightest shade of a notch on your stuff quotient.) For instance, the Mouse Guard Box Set comes with a bunch of cards, but instead of the overwhelming array of skill cards you get in WFRP, you have a set of condition cards that remind you of each condition’s effects, a set of weapon cards to remind you of how a particular weapon changes each scripted volley of a fight, and set of common action cards to play instead of scripting your volleys on paper. That’s it. Players won’t sit behind a towering stack of skill cards, and they won’t spend twenty minutes shuffling through their deck to find the right skill for the job.

Beautiful design marks everything about this set, from the shiny box to the illustrated individual cards. Rules on the card are easy to read and understand, and each one includes just the right amount of information. Instead of regular d6s, the themed dice in the set now include snakes, swords, and axes. Although there are only a handful of dice, the basic dice mechanic hasn’t changed, so players (or the GM) can continue to use their own d6s if there aren’t enough themed dice at the table.

Perhaps most charming are the “carved” mouse pawns that look like those that Gwendolyn uses to mark the Guard Patrols on her own map. You get five (red, blue, yellow, green, and purple) and a map of the Mouse Territories with your game. I swooned over these when I saw them in the MTV unboxing post, but that picture didn’t indicate the heft and size of the pawns. I thought they were the size of a regular RPG miniature, but one easily fills the palm of my hand:

Still, you haven’t really lived until you’ve placed them on your own map of the territories:

I particularly like the map/pawn addition; even though it doesn’t technically add much to the gameplay, it does visually represent the role of the GM (who plays Gwendolyn and assigns missions) as an integral part of the game.

One last thing about the set: the included sheets keep up the high production value and thoughtful design of the rest of the materials. The GM sheets let the GM record all the pertinent information about a whole host of NPCs on one handy page. The character sheets do what character sheets usually do, but in a much more stylish way than usual. Petersen even includes a delightful pencil sketch of a bare-bones mouse that you can “fill in” with visual details to represent your own character.

Although the theme of Mouse Guard may not appeal to everyone, the Mouse Guard RPG makes great use of the BW rules for an exciting and interesting gaming experience evocative of the comic. The Box Set enhances that play with visually appealing gaming aids that will streamline your session and will allow your players to focus on the story and its puzzles rather than on the system. I do hope that the publisher will issue extra sets of themed dice, because my players love to have their own sets of dice. We spend 15 minutes at the end of each session trying to figure out which dice belong to whom; it’s our exit ritual, and I’m hoping it can be preserved.

Now get out there, Guards, and ride a rabbit across the snow in search of a dangerous snake! (Although you’re going to have to get a whole heap of successes to do those things, you know.)

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