|Mausritter 2e Cover by Issac Williams |
©2020 Losing Games
Publisher: Losing Games
Marketplace: Itch.io, Games Omnivorous
Engine: Into the Odd (modified)
Mausritter is a roleplaying game about mice having adventures in a modern or Medieval fantasy story followingthe vein of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Redwall, Mouse Guard, or The Tale of Despereaux. It is built on the idea of tiny heroes that have all the odds stacked against them overcoming the limits of their size and their fear to do great deeds.
Mausritter is big on creating an old-school Gaming experience. It uses the Into the Odd engine as it's base, which is one that does two things extremely well:
- It makes combat exceedingly lethal
- It forces you to look for narrative advantages everywhere in order to ensure that you do not leave things to chance.
Mausritter takes it a step further by starting characters with low statistics to stack the dice against the PCs. If they want to stay alive, they need to constantly seek ways to avoid having to roll the dice. They learn to seek every advantage and seek every clever workaround to overcome a dangerous situation. This suits the feel of being tiny creatures like mice almost perfectly.
For completeness' sake, I will quickly summarize the mechanics of Into the Odd here, but you can download them to read for yourself right here.
|Into the Odd cover; ©2015 Lost Pages|
Like most Into the Odd systems, a character's inventory and background are assigned in a table. While traditionally that is determined by cross-indexing hit points and a character's lowest ability score, Mausritter indexes hit protection and starting money (both randomly rolled.) Characters with fewer hit points tend to get better gear to compensate.
Combat in Into the Odd is particularly deadly; all attacks automatically hit. Damage is based on weapon, but is upgraded to a d12 or downgraded to a d4 under various circumstances. Damage is first reduced by armor, then applied to hit protection. If a character has 0 hp left, damage is instead applied to an attribute. Characters who have taken damage to their ability scores have taken "critical damage" and require medical attention before they may act again.
In the case of Mausritter, the game adds a limited inventory slot system inspired by Knave. Like in Knave, a character's abilities are essentially determined by their inventory. When a character takes critical damage in Mausritter, their condition, Injured, takes up an item slot. Meaning an injured character can carry and do less. As they level, characters gain Grit slots where conditions can be placed instead of inventory, and where they have no effect.
Mausritter adds a number of conditions such as Exhausted, Hungry, Frightened, and Mad that can be gained in different ways, each absorbing Grit or Inventory slots.
Mausritter also expands Into the Odd by adding an item-based magic system, inspired by GLOG, and uses warband mechanics similar to the ones found in Death is the New Pink. It's leveling system uses AD&D style XP-for-gold, and adds a bonus for money spent charitably on the character's community.
Overall, Mausritter does a good job of adding some crunch to Into the Odd without making it needlessly complex. The idea of conditions taking inventory slots is something I am considering pirating into my Index Card RPG Core 2e campaign.
What I Loved
Low Stats Make for Genre-Appropriate Challenges
One of the things about Sword-and-Whisker fantasy is that it works best when the challenges of being small and weak are emphasized. Mrs. Frisby has no chance of moving her home without help. She cannot even escape a birdcage without sustaining serious injuries. It is What makes her bravery so impressive and the cleverness of the Rats of NIMH so important to the story.
|Image from "The Secret of NIMH", ©2002 Metro Goldwyn-Meyer|
Starting characters with relatively low statistics really forces players to avoid taking chances with the dice unless they are desperate, and doing so is a brave risk with their relatively delicate characters. If success were probable, the players would take risks and charge into threats headlong in a way that makes that bravery less special.
Card-Based Inventory System
Mausritter uses an inventory system inspired by Knave. Rather than classes, a character's capabilities are defined by what they carry. To simplify this, gear is represented by cards that can be placed on spaces on the character’s record sheet. As the character suffers from injury and fatigue, cards representing those problems take up valuable real-estate in the inventory.
This character sheet design is clever, and definitely can engage young and old players alike.
The Mausritter homepage offers a number of helpful tech tools, including generators for characters, adventure locations, and inventory cards. They also have links to VTT modules designed for playing Mausritter. Having that level of technology available for a small press game is pretty amazing.
|Image from "The Secret of NIMH", ©2002 Metro Goldwyn-Meyer|
Mausritter's fusion Knave and GLOG-inspired magic system makes each spell into a tablet of strange runes that the character must carry in one of their few inventory slots. Each spell has three charges that can be spent in one's, twos, or threes to buy dice to cast the spell. The total of the dice X the number of dice rolled are used to determine the spell results in a number of ways.
Once a spell's charges are expended, the character must recharge the spell by performing a specific action related to the spell's function. For example, grease requires that you rub the tablet in animal fat and leave it coated until the fat putrefies; restoration must be buried in a peaceful field or riverbank for three days.
Spells are constrained by their charges, and the arcane ways they must be recharged adds a lot of flavor. They also require a roll to use, and failure can damage a PC's will, possibly driving them mad. I find it strikes a good balance between the very free and easy magic system of Knave and the too-restrictive classical Vancian system.
|Image from Redwall: Mattimaeo; ©2001 Nelvana|
Snakes, for example, are not just snakes, but rather can be everything from a fire-breathing Drake to an animated stick, to a cunning snake magician with a magic scroll embedded on his scales. A rat might be a member of any of six gangs each with their own brand of mischief.
Frogs are portrayed as Quixotic Knights with individual frogs and their specific Knightly quests listed. Faeries are divided by whatever wicked agenda they are currently pursuing.
The monster section does an amazing job of building a world and inspiring ideas for adventures.
Mausritter uses the same warband mechanics that I raved about in my review of Death is the New Pink. Warbands take resources to arm and train, including support personnel. Once one is formed, it can only be harmed in combat by other warbands or special monsters considered "warband-scale." Individual characters just can't hurt a warband character or a warband-scale monster in direct combat.
This gives players a taste of dominion-level play kept simple and effective. Mausritter also includes rules for maintaining hirelings and building and keeping up a home or stronghold, giving players an opportunity to put down roots in the campaign world.
I personally love the fact that cats are considered warband scale.
In true Old-School fashion, Mausritter awards XP for leveling up your character based on the value of the treasure safely brought back to a friendly settlement from the adventure site. It also offers an XP reward for treasure spent on helping the community. This is clever because it gives PCs both a reason to be ambitious or even a bit greedy on the one hand, just as AD&D1e did and it also encourages players to get to know the game world and get involved in making it a better place. It creates both a more immersive experience and a reason for the characters to spend their money so that they have to keep going back into the Dungeon rather than resting on their laurels.
|Image from the Tale of Despereaux,|
©2008 Universal Pictures
This is perhaps the biggest reason to get acooy of Mausritter. The GM tools and guidance are absolutely rock solid for running an old-school game. It starts with how to develop an effective Hex map for exploration and how to run a Hexcrawl. It follows that up with solid advice on developing adventure sites, settlements, and factions. Including Sword-and-Whisker apropos random tables for each. This advice has useful suggestions in how to build the oft-overlooked random encounter and rumour tables.
The game's default setting, The Earldom of Ek provides concrete examples of all of that advice put into play,
If I were to recommend advice on building and running an Old-School campaign for the first time, this would be a game that I highly recommend for tons of solid tools put in one place. Nothing in Mausritter is radical or hobby-changing, but all of is good, simple, and actionable.
Mausritter's advice to players is pretty solid as well:
|"Best practices" for players from Mausritter.|
Faction Progress Mechanics
One thing that is an impressive innovation in Mausritter is the way they cover factions. Mausritter recommends noting multiple goals for each faction in play and then setting a number of steps to attaining it. Between sessions, each faction rolls to see what progress they make towards those goals.
Where faction goals conflict they may cause opposing factions to lose progress or listed resources. Player interference can advance or set back these goals as well. By showing these movements narrative, it is easy to create a sense of a living world in this fashion.
Conditions Not Defined in the Corebook
The various conditions are only all clearly defined on the item cards. I spent a lot of time hunting through the manual to find definitions for them all. Having them clearly included in one place in the core manual would be helpful.
|From Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard by David Petersen; ©2013 Archaia Entertainment|
Examples of Play Out of Order
The examples of play give examples of rules not described until later in the manual and not particularly salient to the players for whom the examples are presented. It is a minor gripe, but including a separate example elsewhere in the book to handle things like random encounters aimed at the GM might be more helpful.
Not Enough to Spend Pips On
In a game with Gold-as-XP, finding something to empty the PCs pockets is critical to keeping the gameplay cycle going. Warbands, large scale hireling crews, and strongholds are great treasure sinks for higher level characters, but they don't help with starting PCs.
Optional training rules like in AD&D are one method of handling this, but they are often unpopular with players. And given the potential appeal of Mausritter for children, carousing tables are not a good fit.
Mausritter handles this to some degree by offering bonus XP for pips spent to the benefit of the community., which is the frame of a clever solution, but doesn't give us much of an idea of how to handle spending for the good of the community.
Mausritter would be well-suited to including the business rules in Death is the New Pink, or perhaps my own variant "Selling Water in the Wasteland."
Having a list of clever alchemical items, handy tools, and disposable goods to fill out PC inventory could be handy here.
Maybe a Community Needs Tool?
Figuring out how good can be spent to help the community is actually a tricky business, and having a way to figure out what a PC can throw his or her money at. Some of the goals of factions within the community might clearly qualify. Perhaps at a rate of total number of steps the goal has X current steps complete X 1000 pips?
Some of the events listed on the random community table might also help.
But it strikes me that we already have a good model that we can turn around a bit to use. What about treating the general community as a faction with goals that involve clearing problems? The sample community of Stumpsville, once cleared of invaders might look like this:
- Excellent Cheese
- Stop raids by the deadratz ○○○
- Rescue lost loved ones from Balthazar ○○○○
- Attract new settlers to help rebuild ○○
These problems could, just like a faction goal, be accelerated through PC intervention, or the PCs could help by donating money for spies, mercenaries, or even bribes. With a rate in pips per dot filled in, it would give the PCs something specific to pay for to get additional experience.
If you didn't gather by the 38 year-old graphics, I am not the target audience for Sword-and-Whisker fantasy. I am ignorant of the genre as it stands today, although Maus and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH are old favorites. Originally, I was going to give Mausritter a pass simply because it wasn't congruent with my interests, however I have had several readers ask me to weigh in on it. The fact that I have a son who is suddenly crazy for this kind of story doesn't hurt, either. So I decided to give Mausritter a read, and I am really glad that I dead.
I appreciate a well-considered game design when I see one. And Mausritter makes a lot of smart design decisions. How it handles experience, manage inventory, makes use of OSR tropes like dominions and henchmen, are smart and ideal for long, immersive campaigns. It does a masterful job of building a game that demands careful, Narrative-focused play.
On a whole, the design choices have been carefully considered to create a whimsical, genuinely heroic, and thoughtful experience that is perfectly in tune with the genre.
The way Factions are handled and the idea of getting XP by spending treasure on your community are small innovations on paper, but huge in their potential impact on gameplay. They are well worth pirating.
Moreover, the advice in the GM section is solid, effective tools for building a campaign of any genre. It covers the simplest, most effective ways to design coherent adventure sites, rare and welcome advice on handling hexcrawling, and effective tools both in the book and online for both. If I had anyone come to me and ask for where the could find basic, actionable advice on planning a campaign, Mausritter would be one of my first recommendations.