After getting the second edition of the Mouse Guard RPG for father’s day in June, I’ve been gearing up to launch an online campaign on Myth Weavers. As with everything, though, no sooner have I started to read through and plan then my mind wanders to how to break what I’m looking at wide open.
The setting for Mouse Guard is pretty essential to the story in some ways. On the other hand, the general concept of mice fighting for their place in the world and to put aside fear doesn’t need to be what you end up playing. Whether you’re playing the official Mouse Guard RPG or another version, switching up the setting is pretty easy. You need new animals and new settlements (and a new map) but most of the game is very portable.
In Mouse Guard, the default setting is something like the late medieval ages of Europe where mice live in cities and defend a territory around them to provide safe transport. Taking the mouse guard out of Europe provides some really amazing opportunities to work with. Here are a few to get you thinking.
Senatus Populusque Muris
The first is not my idea, although I really wish it was. Kristopher Holmén has made an amazing hack of Mouse Guard found on his website which sets the world of Mouse Guard in a setting like the Roman Mediterranean. While some things are the same, others are very, very different. There is still a central city (Asylum rather than Lockhaven) that has come to dominate and protect the towns around it through an elite force (the Praetorians rather than the Guard).
On the other hand, Asylum is not run by a Matriarch but by a Senate. If your Latin is rusty, the name of this setting translates to “The Senate and People of Mice” and it is still a Republican civilization for now. The Weasel War which just ended set up one mouse to be in a position of influence meaning there might be a civil war soon. In the default confederacy of Mouse Guard these things don’t happen since Lockhaven doesn’t try to command the other cities. In SPQM, however, political ambition is front and center.
The weasels take the part of Parthia in Roman history: a somewhat-distant civilization of “others” that are always haunting the dreams of the mice. The other mouse cities are likewise inspired by Athens, Syracuse, and other Mediterranean cities. This is an important difference too since it’s understood in Mouse Guard that the cities were on their own until Lockhaven led an alliance. What if the cities protected by the Praetorians might just as easily have come to dominate Asylum instead of the other way around? A few battles might have made the difference, and there are likely mice who remember this well.
The Open Land
Another inspiration might come from the South African Mutapa Kingdom. I freely admit that I came up with this after stumbling on David Peterson’s picture below but there are some things to recommend it as a setting. First of all, the circumstances are very different with a king (someone like Shaka Zulu) conquering and forcing unity rather than a confederation of cities in the area. Also, the terrain is very different since the area occupied by the Kingdom of Mutapa is not heavily forested but has many areas of open ground where mice can hide in the grass but large predators might also prowl.
The picture offers a suggestion of how to answer both issues: alliances with predators. The cheetah shown in the illustration isn’t likely to be filled by a meal of mice but it might enjoy eating some animals that might prey on the mice. The same is true of secretary birds which primarily hunt snakes and crocodiles which would appreciate some meals of herd animals that trample the ground of the mouse homes. If a mouse leader found a way to win the allegiance of predatory animals, this would give him a serious military advantage and allow him to send warriors out to defend his territory from intruders. Someone with a lot more knowledge of this time period and location would need to work out the details but there’s a seed here.
The Guard of the Corn Goddess
Another setting far from Europe is the city-states of Classical Mayan culture. Like the cities of the Mouse Territories, the cities of the Mayan-era Yucatan were independent and only loosely affiliated. There were dangerous wildernesses where predators stalked and bandits prowled so the cities were safe havens of civilization. They were also highly religious centers where an aristocracy ruled as living gods.
Religion isn’t something the default Mouse Guard setting really touches on so the idea of not just including it but turning it up to eleven has awesome repercussions. Obviously, the influence of the local divine rulers are the reason why the Guard doesn’t have authority in the cities but is the Matriarch of the Guard held to be a goddess? If she is, then the Guard isn’t just out doing good deeds but enacting the will of their patron goddess. Also, do the mouse-gods demand sacrifices? Are criminal mice killed on altars or is it zealots volunteering? Some of this is veering into the (much) later Aztec cultures but zealotry always breeds extremism so it would be interesting to see how that plays out with mice.
Europe wasn’t the only continent with a feudal system. What about a Mouse Guard hack set in Japan? I’ve seen some people thinking about it but I haven’t found a complete write-up so leave a comment if I missed something.
In my mind, this is the hack with the least changes necessary. There is a kingdom of mice ruled over by an emperor-mouse with elite warriors who protect the cities under the emperor’s purview. You can either make Gwendolyn more emperor-like or make the role of emperor more Matriarch-like. Either way, the primary differences come from the increased role of Belief and a different social landscape. If you want to play up the social classes of the Edo Period, maybe replace Instinct with Family Tradition. In this system, it’s not very important what you would do in a situation but you think about what your ancestors might be demanding of you.