Playing With Dogs: Playtest Notes [Pugmire]

Photo by Honest Liar Digital. Used with permission.
Photo by Honest Liar Digital. Used with permission.

I’m trying to keep Pugmire posts to once a month or less, but since Rich mentioned that I just passed a milestone in development, I wanted to share my thoughts. For those that don’t know, last weekend I ran the first playtests of Pugmire. This was the first time I’ve ever played the game with people that aren’t me, and there were so many interested that I squeezed in a second playtest the next night.

This wasn’t a typical “see what’s broken with the system” playtest. Rather, this was a “find the fun” playtest. The goal wasn’t about the rules so much as the concept. The key thing I wanted to know was “Is this a compelling experience?”

Here are some of the questions I asked of the playtesters to assess that goal, and some paraphrased answers:

Did you have fun? Generally, the answers were a resounding “yes.” I know that most players answer “yes” to this question when asked by the designer, though, so I was looking for intensity of response. Specific comments were along the lines of “When are you running again?” and “When can I get my hands on this?”

There were other specific comments. Many were variations on “The game started off silly, but ended up being bleak and compelling.” There was a lot of joking at the table, but it was generally felt that the humor was on the same level as a typical tabletop game — in fact, given the light adventure tone of the game, they felt it was okay to do the normal amount of joking they usually would. Near the end of the session, though, the players were engaging in dramatic roleplay with each other and making serious decisions about life and death.

Would you play this with your (adult) friends? There was no hesitation or qualifying about running this solely with a group of adults. One player was so enamored with the world that she started going through a dog adoption website and came up with backstories for some of the dogs she found there. However, in general it was felt that the religious overtones and societal interactions between social class (inside Dog society) and cultures (between Dogs and Cats) gave a lot of meat for grown-up play.

Would you play this with kids? I ran this for a teacher and three parents, and they all said they would gladly run this with kids and young adults, but more importantly play this with them as equal players. We had some discussion on how to tweak the system to be more useful for younger players, but more importantly we discussed why, which I took on board. Particularly, giving avenues to turn death into “knockouts” and giving a currency to allow players to simply make a roll succeed. Since one of my goals is to write a game that allows younger players access without making it a “kid’s game,” it was good to hear.

What could be better? In both games this led to some discussion of specific rules concerns, which wasn’t really within the scope of the test (although I didn’t stop the discussion, because any data is useful). One group thought the game might be too complex, but others in the group disagreed and felt it was the right level of complexity. In the end, the most significant commentary revolved around aesthetics: a need to visualize the Dogs better, a clearer character sheet, and so on. Also, there was concern that someone’s favorite breed wouldn’t be represented, but in general it was agreed that a “build your own breed” approach would solve that issue for the basic game (with a natural opportunity for expansion, should a full gameline emerge).

What shouldn’t I change? The two main points of agreement were “cooperation” and “the world.” I built rules to encourage cooperative play, and a lot of the players felt that they were one of the strongest points of the experience. By the end, the players grew really attached to the characters and wanted to spend more time with them. Similarly, the players felt that they (as modern day humans) caught some of the references I was alluding to, but there was some additional elements where they didn’t necessarily know what was going on. As such, they had a lot of questions, but none of them prevented them from playing their characters — rather, those were elements they wanted to go out and explore. Since one of the themes of the game is “exploration,” I consider that a success.

What’s Next?

Now that I know that I’m going in the right direction, I need to make a more robust set of rules to hand to people who aren’t me to play. I have to wait a bit for non-design reasons — the rules set I want to use requires a license, and if that doesn’t go well I’ll have to redesign — but once that’s done I do want to provide some form of open playtest. I don’t know what that looks like yet, but I’ll post more details once I have them.

22 thoughts on “Playing With Dogs: Playtest Notes [Pugmire]”

  1. For exotic types, this makes me wonder if players can create a Cerberus, or any of the mythical dogs as well. Plus, I wouldn’t doubt that there would be some that use Pokemon as a template as well for this game.

  2. What an encouraging update! I’m already committed to buying the core book and my wife is stoked to hear about a possible companion book for Cats. That we can play this with our nieces is so much more than icing on the cake. Thanks, Eddie – you rock.

  3. This sounds pretty cool, but I’m a still little unclear on something. What shape are the Dogs, Cats, and other Animals in Pugmire?

    Are they still normal sized and shaped but with full sentience and tool using paws (akin to Bunnies and burrows), full on anime anthro, or something more middle-ish like Mouseguard or Redwall? Or something else I haven’t considered?

  4. Oh man, I am such a sucker for these types of games. I blame Disney movies. I’m so excited for this game. The setting sounds really cool though I’m really curious about the mechanics. Is it homebrew or are you using storyteller?


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