Is This A Joke? [Pugmire]

pugmire graphicFirst off, check out the new Pugmire image that Rich put together for the website. It really sells both the sense of exploration and of mourning that I love about Pugmire.

Wait, mourning? Yes. But I’ll get to that in a bit.

One question I get regularly is whether Pugmire is a joke. Given that I’ve been responsible for some pranks in the past when I worked with White Wolf, it’s somewhat of a fair question. The short answer is obviously “it isn’t,” but there are nuances to the question that are more complex beyond the obvious “this is a real game that is being made.”

For example, it isn’t a typical Onyx Path game on the surface. It’s not using pools of d10s, it isn’t gritty and dark, and it’s not geared to an adult audience. Over the past nine years I’ve gotten pretty good at working on those kinds of games, and I’m happy to keep doing so, but part of the reason for developing Pugmire is that I wanted to try something different. That’s one of the great points of working with Onyx Path over White Wolf for me — Rich is able and willing to try new ideas that wouldn’t fit in the original company’s structure or business plan, and I have ownership over this thing I created to boot. Given that this game doesn’t fit an established mold, I can see why some folks would assume it’s a joke.

Similarly, the game does have humor in it, but I maintain that it isn’t a funny game. We as players laugh at the idea that there’s a religious tenet of “Be A Good Dog,” but the characters in the world take it very seriously. It’s somewhat like the humor in Paranoia, although over the years its parody meta-humor has bled into the game itself. Again, if some folks see funny bits, it’s easy to mistake that the whole game is a joke.

One of the trickiest parts as I work on the game is allowing humor without making the game “funny.” So far I’ve been using the term “light-hearted” to explain the nuance, but it’s something that you really only get once you dive in. Some of the playtest groups in the closed alpha are nice enough to post quotes or anecdotes on social media so I can read them, and most of those posts are gags. I take that as encouraging — people are excited and having fun with the game, even at this early stage. When I’ve run the game myself the level of humor changes depending on the group, but there’s always at least some laughs. The reason why it isn’t a joke, and why I’m adamant on that point, is because a “funny game” can really only be funny. A light-hearted game, however, can include more depth and options.

This goes back to the sense of mourning I mentioned earlier. One of the images I keep in my mind is something Rich mentioned during one of our many chats about the game: the dog who mourns the passing of their owner by lying down outside their room or their bed. That’s the overall tone of how dogs feel about the loss of Man. In fact, the very first version of the game was much darker. It was closer to the so-called “normal Onyx Path game” in ethos, and that elegiac tone was a central focus (as an example, the original title was “The Fall of Pugmire”). In one of my first playtests, some of the players at the end remarked at how the game can be “dark as shit.” So, paradoxically, I feel it’s very important to keep that so-called “Onyx Path flavor” in the game, even though the surface of the game obscures it. But if I wrote the game to be nothing but gags and jokes, it would be hard to get to that spectrum of emotion.

Is it a “serious” game? Hell no: it’s a game where you play dogs wielding magic and swords to rescue iPads from ancient ruins. I not only accept that, but I want to make that a feature. I don’t know about other people’s gaming groups, but mine generally tend to joke around during the session anyhow, so it’s nice to write a game that leans into that. But it’s also a game that addresses dealing with loss, ethics and religious dogma, casual racism, and nationalism. None of that is necessary to play and enjoy the game, but it’s there if you want to dig into it.

Is Pugmire a joke? No. Because it can be so much more.

37 thoughts on “Is This A Joke? [Pugmire]”

  1. Now I really want to see art with robed corgis reverently placing a cracked iPad on a gospel book stand like an illuminated text. “The Works of Man.”

    “Do you see the cracks?” an acolyte said. “They look almost like…like teeth marks.” Without thinking, the acolyte moved his paw up to his own mouth, tracing the contours of his jaw.
    The hierophant turned, teeth coruscating in the firelight of the sconces. “Mind that your musings stay clear of heresy, boy,” he stressed, though gritted teeth. “We are Good Dogs.”

  2. Generally speaking, most RPGs I’ve been in take on a large degree of humor at the table, because my groups tend to find it difficult to be serious for the 3 to 4 hours a typical session requires, so it’s good to hear.

    This game is sounding better and better to me.

    Though a question. You’ve mentioned wanting to do a second, parallel gameline for the Cats before, but are there any other types of uplifted animals inhabiting the world? Possibly ones that weren’t originally “pets?” If so, what sort of gaming treatment would you ideally want for them? NPC only, a general supplement book, or something more substantial?

    • …Oh yes. I forgot to mention that I also really like that it can be serious too. I like games that make me think, even if we don’t necessarily dig into it at the table.

    • I have ideas for other races, but they aren’t fleshed out yet. At the moment, the only one I have ideas for giving the “full game” treatment to is Cats, because it’s such a natural companion game.

      • My cat has an obsession with sleeping on my iPad and other electronics. I’m envisioning an enclave of cats that protect this holy cradle of their ancestor.

        I felt alone amidst their strange customs. Two acolytes stood on either side of the entryway, each holding a sign that confessed their most recent sins.

        > I spent my family coin on nip

        > I stole fish from the market

        Would their sins make them Bad Kitties? Or did their confessions make them True? I could not afford to muse over such questions now. I had to focus! I heeled to the abbot as we strode past the kitten sinners.

        There it was in the center of the temple, a massive bed woven of their centuries-old fur, framed by ancient cords and the naked footprints of cats in the dust. And within the core, a faint glow of Man’s Magic.

        I was so close to the treasure. Soon all the diplomacy and deception would be worth it. I couldn’t tip my hand. I stilled my tail, lest the Cats see its wagging as a sign of aggression.

        “Our right of passage,” said the abbot, “for only when one naps upon the Works may a Cat truly dream of glory.”

        I stayed silent and bowed my head. One chance to snatch the Work, and failure would surely result in my demise. I hadn’t forgot the knives that hide beneath their subtle paws, or how slow they kill their enemies. I was of House Greyhound, able to outrun any Dog or Cat on this earth. I only needed a distraction, an opening. It was up to my friends now…

          • I’ll keep them coming then, if you like.
            Part 2/3

            Cats don’t like the rain. Sure, to us it is a cool balm for a panting run, it is a drink of life, the beauty of the scent that hits us with full force. To them, life and peace comes only from the sun, and rain exists only as punishment for the dirty, unlicked masses. Such pity. Much opportunity!

            The rain was blessing us this evening. We would need it. At night cats can see better, hear better, and are damned silent when they want to be. But the rain would dull their senses, and make them easier for us to smell. Now it was just the little matter of the distraction.

            I had planned to start a fire, but the area I sniffed out was now soaked. I surveyed the land from the safety of the temple roof. There were several options but they all risked a lot of singed fur. I can understand trickery to liberate the Works of Man. Man Himself was known to fake a throw only to keep the ball in hand. But making corpses is Bad. And I am not a Bad Dog.

            Then I saw it. The smoke framed by the setting sun rising from every house. The hearths! A little focus, a little wind, and a lot of rain. The deluge concentrated by my will funneled down a dozen chimneys. Hissing steam flew from windows, yowling cats flew from doorways.

            “Fire! Fire! Grab your shovels! Hoist your buckets!”

            The cats all scrambled. A disorganized people, Cats, but they knew that punishments awaited them should fire claim their village. Even cats of the cloth moved to action. Santos bolted from the temple a minute later, disappearing into the darkness and the downpour.

            “Good Dog, Sabre,” I said under my breath, climbing down from the temple and quietly moving to the rendezvous point. If all went to plan, Santos and Sprocket would make their way ’round to my position, and we’d be back home in a fortnight. It was up to my friends now…

      • Eddy,

        First of all, bravo and kudos. You have gotten me excited to play a TT FOG again. I am sure you have this covered, but there should be a race of animals akin to elves of lore in your world. Tall, thin, agile creatures who hoard items of great value, power, and are feared and revered through the land. But be wary, my friends, these are not to be underestimated. For you will know when you happen upon the cunning creatures known as, “Squirrels”. They are as fast as they are beautiful, but in numbers, they are wicked and deadly…

        Just some flavor text for ya! Miss you and your family!

  3. I fully intend to get Pugmire when it comes out. But… getting people to play is going to be an uphill battle. Not because it features dogs as the PCs.

    I really really hate that “dark and gritty” “dark as shit” “normal onyx path flavor” all seem to be synonymous and this image seems to be deliberately cultivated and maintained. Given the whole of the Exalted line, Scion lines, and some of the other projects like the cavaliers of mars specifically do NOT fit that notion, it makes it an uphill battle with those games or something like this.

    If nothing else, it casts all the other projects as a sort of minor experiment in something different, which is (IMO YMMV etc) actively detrimental to any non-WoD product, making uptake an uphill battle.

    • That’s part of the reason why I’m doing this game. It’s not segregated into a separate “brand” (like Arthaus), and it’s presented on the webpage at the same level as the other games. I fully understand that there is this “Onyx Path aesthetic” that needs to be overcome, but I’m planning on this being a long burn. If all goes well, this will be a full line, not just a one-shot game, and hopefully that will continue to prove that there’s more to Onyx Path than SuperGrimDark.

    • Well, to be fair to the world that judges us, Onyx has been concentrating on both WoDs for over 3 years now. That’s mostly all anybody has seen.

      Exalted 3rd has already been noted as stepping back from GrimDark in the design conversations with the Devs (although the potential is still there for those who want to play that way), and the Trinity Continuum, and to a lesser extent Scion, is set up to be a universe where the odds favor PCs who act in ways that reflect their natures. No “World of Brightness”, but certainly a PC acting for the greater good has a better chance of making things happen than in either WoD.

      But these game lines aren’t out yet, so Onyx Path is only really being perceived through our work on the WoDs.

  4. I look forward to being able to try this game. I really like dogs and a game about getting into their mindset is very appealing to me.

  5. I have to say, I’m glad you wrote this blog. I kind of judged a book by its cover on this one, thinking that this was just a game for kids and people who dress up their dogs, but after reading this, I really want to give it a try. It sounds intriguing, challenging, and fun – especially the loss of man and search for his artifacts. Looking forward to playing it!

  6. I’m really looking forward to this game. It feels kind of Robert C. O’Brien-esque with a just a touch of Joe Haldeman’s melancholy.

    Also, Chihuahua Inquisitor FTW! ^_^

  7. Some people in my troupe are already planning their character concepts. So far we have a Doberman privateer and Chihuahua inquisitor. Can’t wait to see system previews!!

  8. I often feel like I take myself too seriously, and while I loved the idea of the game, I was thinking to myself, “I’m not sure I’d ever actually run it.”

    Then posts like this get made, and I realize why I feel the NEED to run Pugmire.

    I’m loving the tone you’re discussing in these blogs, and I also think it’s really apropos for a game about dogs. Love it!

  9. Thanks to things like Mouse Guard, Legends of the Guardians, and Warriors, I kind of figured Pugmire wasn’t going that way. It just felt too adventurous, in an older sense, to only be humorous.

  10. Despite my strong hesitation the more you write about this Pugmire the more I become interested. Keep this up and you may very well have yourself a customer over here, Mr. Webb.


  11. Glad to see Pugmire shaping up to be a grad adventure, with some humor and heart felt moments. Sounds like this game could easily follow the formula of a Son Bluth film. Giving children a safe place to explore loss without being too dark. Sounds great.

  12. The mourning needs to be a part of it. No man needs to see his dog die. No dog needs to see his man die.

    Been there, three times, not as the dog but as the man. It’s pretty rough. And I’m only human. Dogs exceed my capabilities in terms of love, loyalty, affection, respect, and cuteness a million times over.

    • Exactly. I lost two of my dogs over the course of a couple of years before I started working on this, and that experience definitely inspired the direction of the game.

  13. So a question that just occurred to me.

    I remember you saying at one point that a Dog’s breed was also his surname. What about breeds that have a nationality as part of it? As someone looking forward to playing a German Shepherd guardian, this is relevant to my interests, but I’m wondering if the Dogs would simply treat them as hyphenated surnames, or drop the ethnic handles altogether.

  14. The smoke rose high over the ruined village, its hollowed out carcass exposed to the graying dawn and picked clean. Among the soot heavy shadows robed figures picked their way delicately, one pair drawing a litter between them while a third held aloft a lantern. Across the burned courtyard one stood unlike the others: back straight, head and tail held high, scowling onto the horizon as his dewlaps twitched with inexplicable spasms. He lifted one ear, then lowered it before lifting the other, as if straining to catch some noise on the wind. “Why would any good dog do this?” one of the initiates said.

    “It wasn’t any good dog.” The knight with the palsied lip said. “They weren’t good dogs at all.” As he turned he gestured with his sword in the direction from which the raiders had come, and then over the devastation left in their wake. “Wild Hounds come for plunder I suspect, drawn by the church bell and awaited until every pup was in their pews before they attacked.”

    “They came for the relics.” He said with steely surety. “For slaves and coin as well, but mostly for our treasures because they can never understand The Works of Man as we do.”

    “What are you going to do about it?” The presbyter with the lantern said. The priest was older by half, and nearing his dotage just as the knight should have been, but duty always came before rest. The knight twitched again before sliding his sword back into its fitting. “Its always been my belief that bad dogs are deserving of bad ends.”

    “It is my intent to round up a pack and see this injustice set right.”

    • There will likely be a crowdfunding campaign of some kind. I don’t know if a prestige edition will be part of that campaign or not — that’s something I need to discuss with Rich (probably after the Lore of the Clans KS is over).


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