Friday, May 6, 2016

Using MICE to get your RPG on the same page

In any collaborative effort, it's important to get everybody on the same page. This is especially true in RPGs, where radically different expectations can exist, and there isn't always an obvious way to communicate that. Nobody likes having their expectations violated.

It is in fact, a core component of not liking things.

A few years back, Christopher Chinn created an excellent little survey called The Same Page Tool that does a great job of asking some of these questions more explicitly. This is good! Communication is good.2  And while I definitely recommend tweaking Chinn's instrument to suit your specific needs, that's not an indictment; I recommend doing that with pretty much everything. The important part is that we're talking about what the game will be before it starts.


they look so happy oh my gods i want one
It's hard not to use people on Segways as a segue. Note my failure in this regard.
So, my fascination with Orson Scott Card's MICE Quotient is pretty well-documented at this point, as is my desire to apply it to the field of Role-Playing Games. So it should come as no surprise that it's now intersected with my passion for group communication in the form of a survey for your gaming group.

I mean, come on. It's the title of the post. I really hope it's not a surprise.

Actually though, it's two surveys. Reasons!

And good reasons at that. These different paradigms are absolutely compatible - they can, and often will, exist side-by-side in the same game - but in this case, what we don't know can absolutely hurt us.3  There's two surveys here, one each for GMs and players. I haven't robustly tested this survey instrument, and there are a couple things possibly being conflated here.4 Since this is a discussion tool, and not an instrument of empirical measurement, I figure that's probably ok.

So, here are our surveys! There will be a key at the bottom, but the basic idea is simple: rank your agreement with each statement on a scale of 1-5, with 1 = Strongly Disagree, and 5 = Strongly Agree. Don't worry about "getting it right," or "what a given question is supposed to mean," just go with what seems appropriate.

Your score in a given category equals the sum of your answers, minus the score of the reverse-coded question (again, they'll be pointed out in the key afterward, but you can probably spot them.) This generates a score from 0-15 in each dimension, which is primarily of use when compared to the other dimensions.

Again, it's a discussion tool. Make sure to discuss.

If people are interested, I can do a more objective version of this, which doesn't flagrantly advertise what it's asking you about, but I figured this format was fine for a discussion tool.

Anyway, that's enough explanation. Let's talk about MICE!

These little guys are ready for some serious action. And so are we!


  1. I have prepared a lot of detail about the world, and I’m excited for the players to see it
  2. You could call this a “discovery campaign,” where PCs find out about the setting
  3. The quirks, details, and minutiae of the setting are unimportant to this game
  4. A plot arc ends when there’s nothing left to see where the PCs are
  1. You could call this an “episodic campaign;” where the PCs solve a series of problems
  2. I expect the PCs to investigate mysteries, complete quests, and fix things
  3. A plot arc ends when the PCs have gotten to the bottom of things
  4. Challenges like puzzles and mysteries are not a big part of my plans
  1. I have prepared, or expect to create, lots of interesting NPCs for this game
  2. You could call this a “dramatic campaign,” where characters grapple with their emotions
  3. I’m more interested in what happens than the people it’s happening to
  4. A plot arc ends when somebody’s resolved their emotional/relationship conflict

  1. I’ve prepared a conflict that places the world in jeopardy, it’s up to the PCs to set that right
  2. There’s no one “big bad,” and the PCs are not out to save the world
  3. You could call this an “epic campaign,” where characters fix an imbalance in the setting
  4. A plot arc ends when a major wrong in the setting is made right


  1. I’m excited to explore the setting
  2. You could call my character an explorer
  3. I care about what’s happening in the setting, not the setting itself
  4. A plot arc ends when there’s nothing left for the characters to discover here

  1. I’m excited to solve mysteries
  2. You could call my character an investigator
  3. I’d rather gloss over puzzles, investigations and the like
  4. A plot arc ends when we’ve gotten to the bottom of things

  1. I’m more interested in the plot than characters’ relationships/motivation
  2. I’m excited to explore my character
  3. You could say that my character has a personal plot arc they’ll be going through
  4. A plot arc ends when somebody has meaningfully changed

  1. I’m excited to save the world
  2. I’m not really interested in the overall plot; other aspects are more compelling
  3. You could call my character a hero
  4. A plot arc ends when we’ve addressed a meaningful threat to the setting

The key 


Milieu Score = 1+2+4-3
Idea Score = 1+2+4-3
Character Score = 1+2+4-3
Event Score = 1+3+4-2


Milieu Score = 1+2+4-3
Idea Score = 1+2+3-4
Character Score = 2+3+4-1
Event Score = 1+3+4-2

And that's it!

Hopefully this can spark some useful discussion, which leads to some awesome games.



1 - Expectation Violation Theory is really interesting, and worth looking into further.

2 - Communicates the guy with advanced communication degrees, in a blog about communicating

3 - Seriously, has the phrase "what they don't know won't hurt them" ever been true? About anything? Definitely not in fiction, at least; it's less foreshadowing, and more flat-out telling you "this person not knowing this thing can absolutely hurt them, and you can know with  100% certainty that it will by the end of the story. Probably at a dramatically appropriate moment.  

So what I'm saying is, if  you find yourself using the above phrase, recognize that Checkov's gun has been loaded, and placed center stage. Act accordingly. :)

4 - Specifically, the concepts of "episodic" games (as opposed to "long-term" games) has gotten a little conflated with the Idea paradigm. I left it this way, because I'm not certain that an Idea story can be sustained over a long campaign without becoming an Event story. I could be incorrect on this - we're treading on unfamiliar ground here - but on the whole, I believe it achieves the instrument's aim, which is to get people defining what they want to do a little better, then talking about that.