Belief, Goal, and Instinct — Mouse Guard RPG and Writing Characters

When I read the first issue of Mouse Guard, I was struck immediately by how well the characters of Kenzie, Saxon, and Lieam were defined by their speech in the very first panel of their adventure.

Naturally, I can’t find a scan of it online anywhere, and no longer have the brill comic in my hot little hands. So, I’ll have to ask you to believe me: it was cool. I’ve posted about my struggles with this sort of thing before, and this example pulled me right in.

I had the opportunity to play a session of the Mouse Guard RPG this weekend. Firstly, let me tell you it was a blast. Secondly, I came away from the table with something which I hope will help me with the character development in my current work in progress. Considering how well Petersen handles characterization, it should come as no surprise that the game focuses heavily on narrative and character choices.

I was provided with a pre-gen character, a compassionate little fellow possessed of the following attributes:

Belief: I will make a good name for the Mouse Guard.

Goal: Convince the patrol leader I’m ready for a promotion in rank.

Instinct: Run to the aid of a friend in need.

These three points helped me define every action the character, Baron, took. He went the extra mile to show himself to be capable — and to make sure the boss saw him doing it. An NPC friend confessed to a shady side-business, and Baron helped him keep it quiet.

These actions were not natural for me, but fit the character perfectly. Which is something a writer is supposed to be able to do, right?

What values and beliefs guides your character? How does she initially react to conflicts? What does he want out of this scene? All very writerly stuff. So, I’m going to gin up answers to these three elements for my main characters to use as guideposts. It’s the sort of thing you do in the back of your mind anyway, but it certainly can’t hurt to keep a few cards to look at.

2 replies on “Belief, Goal, and Instinct — Mouse Guard RPG and Writing Characters”

I agree that the BELIEF, INSTINCT, GOAL (B.I.G.’s) is a facet of roleplaying that I’ve always wanted but couldn’t quite quantify. Now, I’ll write BIGs for every character I ever play going forward. For any system.

It’s so simple, it’s genius!

Those 3 things are the driving forces of our lives…whether or not one takes the time to contemplate their own personal motives is irrelevant–these will persist in dictating one’s course of action.

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