I recently passed another milestone on Pugmire. I took the material I cobbled together for the Midwinter playtests and started rewriting it all from scratch in Scrivener. After a few weeks of sneaking time over nights and weekends to write, rewrite, and redesign furiously, I have enough in place that I can hand the material over to other people who are not me and have them run it through its paces, to make sure the game is still going in the right direction. The closed alpha playtest has begun!
Before anyone frets, I’m planning to have an open beta playtest at some point later this year. It may be in conjunction with a crowdfunding campaign, or it may be a thing we showcase at Gen Con 2015 (or both), but I definitely want as many people who are interested in Pugmire to give it a whirl. However, that will ideally be a more comprehensive version to help me really kick the tires on the details. This milestone is taking the vertical slice I had before and expanding it enough that humans who are not me can use it.
Which leads me to answer one of the most commonly-asked questions since we announced the game six months ago: what system will the game use? After a lot of debate, exploration, and testing, I’ve decide to base the game on the d20 OGL. It’s inspired by the design of 5th edition D&D, as well as the recent wave of “old school” retroclones, with a dash of Onyx Path/White Wolf design ideology.
So what about using pools of d10s? In chatting with some of the team making the currently-titled “Sardonyx” system, I’m convinced that it’s also a good fit for the game, and for a while it was my Plan B. Rich and I have seriously talked about the possibility of putting out a parallel version of the core game in the Onyx Path system, if things go well. I’ve also considered doing a translation guide that allows conversions to other open systems such as Fate, Savage Worlds, Pathfinder, and the like. But in the end, a lot of the language I and others have used to talk about the game is heavily based in old-school fantasy gaming, and my tests at Midwinter reinforced to me that this is the best way to go for the first version of the game.
But it’s not just filing off the serial numbers of an existing system. I’ve spent a lot of time challenging core assumptions, adapting new ideas, and seeing how each piece impacts the others. For example, rather than having a pre-constructed set of abilities, I want to present a series of options so players can pick and choose the “tricks” that make sense to them. I also needed to find ways of mechanically representing some of the concepts unique to Pugmire, such as the artisans. Here’s a quote from my current draft to illustrate:
Last year, I discovered how I could use my focus to create fire! Unfortunately, I accidentally burned down the trees in front of Mr. Hound’s house, but I apologized for that. I know I have it under control now! — Lady Yosha Pug
Artisans are small, social dogs that love to study masterwork relics and the magic they create. Because it requires a lot of time to master such relics, many such dogs come from the middle and upper class: the puppies of merchants, shop owners, nobility, and the like. As such, many of them also love culture and society, and they find that working with other dogs helps them in their understanding of magic.
Artisans are something between a wizard, a sorcerer, and a bard. I redesigned and moved a lot of pieces around until I got the right feel from the mechanics. Similarly, guardians are more than just “fighters,” but also have some leadership abilities as well — more like warlords or fighting generals.
Another piece are breeds. There are far more dog breeds than fantasy races, and I knew very early on that there was no way I could give mechanics for all of the dog breeds that people were excited about — covering them all would take a whole book (and that may be a book I make someday). So I had to find a way to allow people to create their own breeds, but still give them some differentiation. I think the current system (bundling them into five groups and a separate group for mutts) works pretty well, but I need to see how it works in practice.
So that’s where I’m at, seeing if the dozens of small tweaks and modifications make sense as a whole. Does a Corgi barbarian work? Do games end up feeling like the fiction bits I’ve put together? Is it the right balance of “classic fantasy RPG” and “lightweight adventure game”? I hope I’ll get some good answers in the next several weeks, so I can compile them and get things moving to the next stage!