Tabletop character: Gorlif 🐭⚔️

Tuesday, April 3, 2018 :: Tagged under: tabletop games personal projects. ⏰ 5 minutes.

Hey! Thanks for reading! Just a reminder that I wrote this some years ago, and may have much more complicated feelings about this topic than I did when I wrote it. Happy to elaborate, feel free to reach out to me! 😄

🎵 The song for this post is Papa Was A Rolling Stone, by The Temptations. 🎵

I wrote up Homage, my D&D character for the better part of this last year, but I also had a chance to create a character for a Mouse Guard campaign.

Mouse Guard is a role-playing game based on the comic book series by David Peterson. It's a world of anthropomorphized mice in a mouse society:

In the world of Mouse Guard, mice struggle to live safely and prosper amongst harsh conditions and a host of predators. Thus the Mouse Guard was formed: more than just soldiers, they are guides for common mice looking to journey without confrontation from one village to another. They see to their duty with fearless dedication so that they may not simply exist, but truly live.

The art is beautiful, and I can confirm it's a wonderful campaign setting:

I was aiming for something different than Homage, so let me introduce Gorlif:


Gorlif hated being reprimanded by his parents, Jasper and Clia, but he felt it was deserved. Once again, against orders, he'd snuck away from his brewing duties to head to the town watering hole. There were two reasons for this: he loved the stories of other mice, and hated working on the grain.

It was always the same: the bartender would pretend to believe him when he claimed that yes, it's okay that I'm here. He'd have a beer and sip slowly, partially because he wasn't there to get drunk, and partially because it was often his parent's brew that he'd sipped on, and he didn't love being reminded of his transgressions. Beer details aside, he lived to hear travelers and passers-by describe and unwind from lives far more interesting than his.

He met Guardmice who'd protected scent barriers, others who'd negotiated grain deals, one who put down a rebellion, and one with a particularly titillating tale about finding a remote enclave where mice ate mouse meat because they liked the way it tasted (that oldfur was probably just telling a scary story, but Gorlif wanted to believe it regardless).

Turning 13, he and his parents worked out a solution, because despite their differences, they did love each other: he'd enlist with Mouse Guard. He'd get the adventure he so craved, and they'd see their son serving a higher purpose with some discipline in his life. His 2 brothers and sister could continue brewing, but he had mice to meet.

Additional notes

Gorlif is a slightly fat blonde mouse from Shaleburrow. He has a patch without fur on his left side from a brewery accident when he was a younger.

Jasper and Clia Embertwixt (Brewers).
Senior Artisan
Clive, a Mouse Guard cartographer in Lockhaven.
Garreth, another mouse on his patrol.
Willa, a childhood friend from Shaleburrow who ended up in Elmoss. She's now an insectrist. We trade Mouse Guard stories I heard via mail, delivered by… Mouse Guard.
Victor, a thin red mouse who joined me as a recruit and is now a tenderpaw in another patrol. He severely mistreated me during the the apprenticeship, sabotaging my maps. He's in Mouse Guard for the wrong reasons (think: a cop who gets off on power).
Cloak Color
N/A, he's a Tenderpaw.
Beyond survival, we all just want to be happy and together.
Earn my place in the Guard, prove to all he was right to leave home.
Faith in good intentions to find solutions.

Playing Gorlif

Homage hits many of my comfort zones: smartass comments, reckless, fun, chaotic, and imminently memorable (he's got horns! and solid green eyes and grey skin and a tail!). Gorlif was my shot at something else: I wanted to play him a little more "straight:" he isn't tortured or fighting demons, he's a bit of a normie who enlisted in the Guard because he wanted to be something.

(This wasn't the first idea: my notepad had the words MOUSE CANNIBAL, he initially was a mouse who longed to eat more mice, and thought the Guard was the best way to access mouse meat. I still worked in mouse cannibalism 😉)

In a way, it's an exercise in empathy: there are a ton of ways that I've felt othered and different in my own life (either in how folks treated me, or in how I wanted to see myself), and when I'd meet people like Gorlif the ceiling and floor of my judgements were pretty low. At best I found them inoffensive, and at my worst I'd reduce them to a caricature of basicness and blame my unhappiness on them for not being what I think they should be.

I recognized that on some level, I'm jealous as hell of people who just contentedly go about their lives, who meet new people with good nature and excitement. The people I judge are often demonstrating a calm I can now recognize as healthy and aspirational.

Many RPG characters are some kind of reflection of their creator, and Gorlif contains bits of me that I hope to connect more with: someone who is happy and comfortable with not being the best at things (he's the freshest and least immediately capable mouse in our party), who assumes good intentions in others, and puts his best foot forward. I sometimes can't help myself and make him a bit clownish, or put him on silly adventures (every town he's in he tries to get people to name their products after him; once we succeeded and a town has a beer called "Gorlifbrau"), regardless, it's been tremendous fun.

Playing Mouse Guard

Mouse Guard is a delightful change of pace from most other RPGs I've played. The stakes are much higher: these mice are really pretty fragile. While it's conceivable that Homage can get powerful enough that he can one day punch out a dragon (weird, really), these mice rarely fight to the death, and most of their predators can't be killed.

The mechanics are an interesting twist: conflicts encompass more than fights, and things like persuading a mass of mice in town square, negotiation a contract, or winning a debate all fall under the "fight system." It's lovely, and allows for more chance than D&D's turn-based system. The stakes are often high, and the world of mice is adorable.

It all comes together to form a game that's highly creative, collaborative, and charming. A favorite thing we did: we had to get a quail carrying supplies across a field without attracting the attention of hawks circling above, so using some craftmanship skills and some lucky dice rolls, we built a quail Ghillie suit and snuck past the field.

I highly recommend Mouse Guard as a game 😄

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