Claws and Effect: Dogs, Cats, and Artifacts [Realms of Pugmire]


Last time I talked about cat reincarnation. In that essay, I also touched on why dogs and cats don’t get along, and I want to dig into that more. One of the advantages the Realms of Pugmire has over other fantasy games is that you don’t have to sell people on why the main species don’t get along. You don’t need pages and pages of why Glorthum the Mighty once smote Briflar the Brave a gazillion years ago and that’s why humans and orcs hate each other, or whatever. We’ve been culturally told that dogs and cats don’t get along, so of course they don’t get along in Realms of Pugmire. Problem solved!

Except not really. For one, dogs and cats can get along in the real world, a fact that many pet owners rush to point out. Also, players are notorious about playing the exceptions to the rule, making fantasy versions of The Odd Couple that go all the way back to Gimli and Legolas. Plus, people don’t hate each other “just because.” There’s always a reason. It might be a terrible reason, a made-up reason, a petty reason, or an utterly offensive reason, but there is one. I needed to come up with a reason that was in the world — that’s the religious conflict I mentioned last time.

However, if I wanted that tension reflected at the table, I’d also need a mechanical reason. Originally I toyed with Fortune being that reason. I ultimately discarded that idea, but you can see a remnant of it in how cats can keep personal Fortune piles. It took a while, and some consulting with one of my co-writers (David Bounds) before I figured out that it’s all based around artifacts.

In Pugmire, I wanted to reflect what I called “the Excalibur effect.” Essentially, there’s a place in fantasy fiction for magical artifacts to be passed down from generation to generation, or even just to have one become more powerful over time. D&D as written doesn’t handle that very well, so I came up with the idea that dogs can invest their magic items with personal power.

However, cats don’t invest in the future. As I mentioned previously, they generally believe they’ll reincarnate, so investing in themselves is investing in the future. As such, they can’t make objects more powerful the ways dogs can. Instead, cats break them to take that power into themselves.

In mixed games, this sets up an interesting dynamic. Once an artifact is found, does the dog hold on to it to make it more powerful, or does the cat break it and take that power for themselves? Further, with artifacts being linked to a dog family’s noble status and a cat’s value to their house always being tested, there’s more about “investing in the future” than pure numbers. This means that dog and cat characters will have a reason for personal conflict each and every time an artifact is found, and finding artifacts is a key part of the core Realms of Pugmire experience.

Of course, I don’t expect this to be a fight every time. Sometimes the conflict will be “who gets to keep this one?” Sometimes it’ll be characters hiding an artifact from the other party members. It might even be giving the artifact to a neutral party to decide. The point is, each revelation is another chance for dog and cat characters to spark off each other. And that’s a lot more powerful than just a hand-wavy “Well, sure, dogs and cats always hate each other. Everyone knows that.”