Petersen talks "Mouse Guard" Role-Playing Game

The medieval adventures of mice warriors Kenzie, Lieam and Saxon in the hugely acclaimed and Eisner-nominated comic book series "Mouse Guard" branch out into the realm of role-playing games in August, when series creator David Petersen and publisher Archaia Studios Press debut "Mouse Guard RPG" at Gen Con.

"Mouse Guard" tells the story of a hidden society of mice, focusing specifically on those elite few who protect the tiny civilization from threats boath without and within -- a tale many gamers have observed is more than suitable for the RPG treatment. Petersen, a fan of role-playing games growing up, has spent much of the past year working on the game, creating dozens of new drawings and fleshing out the "Mouse Guard" world along with game designer Luke Crane. Petersen talked with CBR News about the game, which he first played at the recent New York Comic Con, and caught us up on the delayed "Mouse Guard: Winter: 1152" series and a couple other projects in the works.

Is it bizarre at all to see the rampant success of "Mouse Guard," and its expansion into toys and now games?

Yeah, it's crazy to have toys and the statues and the plushy and a role playing game. It's the kind of thing creators dream about. I'm lucky to have it.

Are you a fan of role-playing games? Did you play them growing up?

I'd been a RPGer back when I was in high school and even some in college. I played Dungeons & Dragons, Heroes Unlimited and Shadow Run, to some degree. People assumed I was a gamer from reading "Mouse Guard." I don't know exactly how they knew that. I think the party of Sax and Kensey and Liam is like a good role-playing party. You've got different skill types and personalities. Having been a gamer, I thought it would be cool to have a "Mouse Guard" game. And a couple game publishers approached me. I went with the one I liked most, which was Luke Crane, who developed the Burning Wheel gaming system.

Is the game set during a particular season of "Mouse Guard," or is it an independent story?

It's a way to play during any of the seasons. Luke set it up in a really cool way where there are canned adventures. The existing characters are described in role-playing terms. So you can read a couple chapters to get up to speed and play right away. But the book also gives ideas on how to create your own story, your own settings and characters. You can start from scratch. There's a lot of material.

How involved were you with the process of crafting the game?

Mostly it was answering questions. Like, "how does a mouse become a Mouse Guard?" I realized, "Wow, I haven't nailed that down yet." Every day there was a question like that. They wanted to make sure it was going to be accurate. I ended up writing a lot of new material about the world and about the culture. It was nice to nail some of that stuff down. I almost feel foolish that I hadn't come up with how a mouse becomes a mouse guard. I think it's going to make the stories richer. So hopefully the book will also be a really good guidebook, even if you don't intend to play.

And actually some of that detail sparked ideas for a new series - or a new story. I was toying with the idea of making it a new annual. I'm not sure where it fits in. It's about Saxon and Kenzie and when they first joined the guard, their process. It gives you an insight into some of their behaviors, why they're established that way. But it's also a good slice of life. So far, you don't get to see a lot of what the guards usually do. In the first one they got caught up in the plot against Lockhaven, and in the second it's more about survival. So I haven't shown an awful lot of mouse guarding.

Did you have any role in deciding how the game itself is played?

That's all Luke's side. For whatever amount of work I contributed, he did multiple times as much. Making a game that works and is balanced is incredibly difficult. I'm smart enough to know that's beyond me. The work I was involved in was making sure everything that went into the game matched current or future "Mouse Guard" stories.

I did, I want to say, around 60 new pieces of art. It's a pen and paper role-playing game. We wanted to make it as much like the comic as possible, so the book is in same 8-by-8 format of "Mouse Guard," with the same wraparound cover. The pages look like parchment. And there's a little border design. And on top of that, lots and lots of new artwork.

Did you play a lot as it was being developed?

I've actually only play tested it once. When I was in New York for the Comic Con I did get to play test it. There's an anti-traditional RP movement in gaming, and some of that was jarring for me, where I felt like the dinosaur in the room, trying to pick up this newfangled way of playing. Ultimately it made sense, and I had fun, which is the litmus test.

Where do things stand with the comics? Are you still working on "Winter: 1152"?

Unfortunately, working on the game completely threw the comics off track. I'm working on issue #4, which is due to be out already. I'm guessing it's going to take me a month and a half. I can take all the credit when it goes well, but when it goes late it's all on me, because it's a one-man show. It's good work. It's fun. But when you're behind, boy, the pressure's on. It's great, and so far when I go to conventions people are all very polite and say they want it to come out with quality.

Now that the game is done, have you been able to focus entirely on the book, or do you have any other projects on your plate?

I have a children's book deal with Harper Collins. The book is about Valentine's Day. I think it may be pushed back to 2011. If we miss cutoff for February, 2010, we'll probably have to go to 2011. That's always looming. I've been talking to some folks at another publisher that I can't say anything about yet. Just a short story. But, for the most part, "Mouse Guard" is what I'm 90 percent focused on.

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Tags: david petersen, mouse guard, archaia, rpg, role-playing games

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