[Realms of Pugmire] Claws & Effect 17: Nine Lives in Mau

Pugmire

Monarchies of Mau’s Aeris von Angora illustration for Monarchies of Mau.

Faith and religion were easy for me to write in Pugmire. As soon as I settled on “Man” as a linguistic analogue for “God,” a lot of things fell into place — the Code of Man, the Church of Man, and even casual blasphemy like “Man damn it.” The whole concept was pretty much there right at the beginning, just waiting for me to flesh out the details.

With Monarchies of Mau, it was trickier. I knew I wanted cats to believe that humanity worshiped them — partially to play off ancient Egyptian references to such, which tied into the name “Mau,” and partially to give dogs and cats a built-in reason to fight — but I didn’t know much beyond that. I decided I didn’t want a monolithic church like in Pugmire, but something more spiritual and personal. It took a while before I hit on the “cats have nine lives” phrase being a nod to reincarnation. (Side note: It’s interesting how some things seem really obvious in retrospect, but sometimes it takes a lot of work to get to the “obvious” idea. A lot of times, when you see something that seems like someone should have thought of it before, it’s because no one really has thought of it before.)

Once reincarnation was on the table, I knew I had a large problem, and honestly it’s a problem I still have today. You see, the weird dead-gestalt-god idea in Pugmire works because we as the readers know the true answer: humanity isn’t really around helping dogs. The core premise of the book refutes that, but no one questions that core premise, which freed me up to allow the dogs to be very earnest about their faith. At the core, however, was one unquestionable truth about the setting: Dogs are wrong.

When I started mentioning reincarnation, however, my beta readers jumped to the opposite conclusion: that nine lives are concrete, real, and countable. In other words, dogs are wrong but cats are right. I was told that reincarnation must be true, because why would cats believe it if it wasn’t. Setting aside the fact that humans have believed in reincarnation for quite a long time with very little evidence of such, I wasn’t comfortable with one faith system being explicitly true and another one being explicitly false. Either both had to be true, or neither were. And since so much of the tone and feeling of Pugmire was based on Dogs Being Wrong About People™ , I had to rule that cats were also wrong.

There is another reason why I’ve stuck by my guns, however, aside from pure artistic vision. I also knew early on that cats would have access to necromancy — something that dogs would abhor. The reason why cats are more casual about it makes sense in the context of reincarnation being on the table: if you’re going to be reborn at some point anyway, what does it matter if another cat uses your corpse for some personal gain? You’re done with it, right? If we know that cats are actually wrong, however, then necromancy becomes something we as players still find a little horrible. That’s important in order for undead monsters to have any impact at the table.

Now obviously, not all cats feel that way. Some are still attached to the mortal remains of their loved ones. Further, just like there are dogs that don’t believe in the Church or Code of Man, there are cats who don’t believe in reincarnation. If you’ve been promised additional lives and it turns out you were wrong, finding ways to come back to life becomes precious, so there ends up being lots of reasons why cats study this aspect of magic. (Compare to dogs, who accept they only have one life. That’s why they’re more devoted to friends and families — people that can remember them — than the more individualistic cats.)

Finally, if I ruled that reincarnation was explicitly true, players would inevitably play cats as more fatalistic, which wasn’t something I wanted. Instead of being unique, textured characters, cats would just be like video game lives, being ground down until the last one remained. Only the “last life” would matter on a mechanical level, because that’s the one you can’t afford to lose. No matter how harsh I made the act of reincarnation in the rules, the cost is always lower than “I can no longer play my character.”

All that said, I did put an optional rule in the game about reincarnation. If you want it to be true in your game, I certainly won’t stop you. Keep in mind, though, that choosing to go that route does end up establishing precedents in your like like the ones I mention. If you understand them and are cool with them, enjoy yourself and I’ll see you in the next life!

  1 comment for “[Realms of Pugmire] Claws & Effect 17: Nine Lives in Mau

  1. Bluegrass Geek
    August 15, 2019 at 4:59 pm

    Count me in as someone who prefers dogs, cats and all the rest to be wrong about Man & their spiritual beliefs. I really like the idea of these beings forming their own faiths and others questioning them, rather than “Oh yeah, this is explicitly true.”

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