Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Sunday, 8 July 2018

A Proper Paw & Pack Play Starter

Pan’s Guide for New Pioneers is the first scenario to be released for Pugmire Fantasy Tabletop Roleplaying Game, the post-Man, post-apocalypse fantasy roleplaying game in which every plays a dog. Ideally, they are ‘good’ dogs, aspiring to join the Royal Society of Pioneers and so serve the Kingdom of Pugmire. The Pioneers are dedicated to protecting the kingdom from threats such as rats and badgers as well as the cats of the Monarchies of Mau and to exploring beyond the boundaries of the kingdom, perhaps to find clues as to what happened to Man. Published by Pugsteady via Onyx Path Publishing, Pugmire Fantasy Tabletop Roleplaying Game uses the Open Game Licence for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition to provide its mechanics, the result being that the roleplaying game is easy to pick up and play—and that in addition to its fun and engaging themes. As the first scenario for the roleplaying game, Pan’s Guide for New Pioneers goes not one step further in making it easy to pick up and play, but several.

First and foremost, Pan’s Guide for New Pioneers provides a full scenario to play through, but then it divides each chapter into two—scenario and rules. The first lays out the events of each chapter, whilst the latter explains the rules to be used in the preceding scenario. The scenario comes with six First Level pre-generated adventurers to support the adventure. Then alongside the adventure appear excerpts of the journal of Pan Daschund, which can be read by the Guide—as the Game Master is known in Pugmire—and their contents used to help her in describing events in the following chapters. Lastly, there are links to a solo adventure on Youtube which parallels the plot of Pan’s Guide for New Pioneers and which can be played through as a choose your own adventure affair.

Pan’s Guide for New Pioneers begins with an introduction to both roleplaying and Pugmire, explaining what both are and providing a decent example of play, and guiding the prospector player and Guide as to how to use the book. This includes taking the first few steps—finding players, a venue, reading the book, and so on. This all helps, as does watching the video. This has twenty or so parts, each roughly a minute in length which allows the viewer to play out the events as described in the journal of Pan Daschund. At the same time, the prospective Guide should gain some idea as how the scenario’s plot runs and how to stage certain events. Staged in dramatic tones, the only thing missing perhaps is some animations showing how the dice roll and the mechanics work, but then that is covered in part by the extended example of play.

Similarly, Pan Daschund’s journal provides another narrative as an aid for both the Guide and her players. Again, the Guide can read through this, each excerpt preceding the next chapter, to gain some idea of how to present the encounters the player characters will have in that chapter. However, it also works as a journal that the good dogs can refer to in-game, Pan Daschund having already been part of the way and reported back to the Royal Society of Pioneers. Each excerpt is a page in length so could be read out to the players ahead of their playing through a chapter.

The scenario itself takes place in the autumn, after a spring and summer of hard rains, flooding the farmlands to the east, driving the farmers into the city of Pugmire and presenting all manner of bad dogs, opportunistic rats, and manipulative cats take advantage of the situation. At first thinking they being hired as prospective members of Royal Society of Pioneers to deal with some rat bandits, Pan Daschund instead hires them to deal another problem—missing dogs! Eager young pups have been heading east past Mutt Town in search of a legendary site of Man, rumoured to be where Saint Akbash, a holy dog of yore, gained his healing powers. Pan Daschund  wants to the good dogs to find these missing pups, map their journey, and perhaps search for the site.

Offered good plastic, the investigation takes the good dogs from the city of Pugmire south to Wooford where they can cross the swollen river and head east. Along the journey, they will encounter good dogs, crooked rats and creepy cats, big bad badgers, strange beasts, and ancient mysteries. Each of these encounters is neatly organised into discrete chapters, divided into two sections, one the scenario, the other the rules. The first gives the narrative and pushes the plot along, whilst the latter explains the rules to be used in the preceding scenario as well as presenting any necessary stats. Both scenario sections and rules sections are kept short throughout, typically no more than a couple of pages in length for the scenario sections and a page in length for the rules sections. The compartmentalisation of the scenarios and rules sections into discrete chapters is nothing new, going all the way back to the ‘Combat Encounters’ pioneered in the 2006 adventure Scourge of the Howling Horde  for Dungeons & Dragons, Third Edition. The encounters here are clearly delineated, but unlike previous iterations of the format—for Dungeons & Dragons, Fourth Edition especially—without the constraints upon the story or mechanics. The adventure consists in total of chapters, plus an epilogue, so Pan’s Guide for New Pioneers should provide four or five good session’s worth of play.

Rounding out Pan’s Guide for New Pioneers is a set of ready-to-play good dogs and prospective members of Royal Society of Pioneers. Each comes with a full background as well as a character sheet and an illustration. There is also a full explanation of each dog’s tricks and spells at the back of the book for easy reference.

Physically, Pan’s Guide for New Pioneers is a fetching hardback done in the same style as the core rules for Pugmire. It is in full colour, every effort has been made to make the layout easy to use, and the illustrations are really very good. There is but one issue and that is the numbers on the map at the end of the scenario are wrong.

The other scenario available for Pugmire is, of course, ‘The Great Cat Conspiracy’, from the core rules. Like most scenarios in the core rules, it is a bit short and really, it focuses on politics in Pugmire than it does the wider world. The wider world is what is addressed in Pan’s Guide for New Pioneers. It is a mini-epic in the making, providing good dogs with the opportunity to see the world and encounter some of its dangerous denizens, some of whom can just about be trusted. One aspect of the world of Pugmire that it does focus on is that of the post apocalypse and what Man left behind. Unlike say Gamma World or Metamorphosis Alpha, this focus is not on the wacky or the weird, but on the mysterious and the weird, essentially embodying the Arthur C. Clarke adage that ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’ Along the way, there is plenty of opportunities for the dogs to be heroic, to fight, and to use their wits. 

An experienced Game Master will able to pick up Pan’s Guide for New Pioneers and start running it with very little difficulty and without reference to Pugmire Fantasy Tabletop Roleplaying Game, such is the helpful organisation of both contents and the adventure. An experienced Pugmire Guide will be able to run Pan’s Guide for New Pioneers with almost no difficulty and could run it straight out of the book with relatively little preparation, again for the same reason. The less experienced Game Master—or Guide—will find it more challenging, primarily because of the preparation. Again, the organisation of the adventure into discrete chapters helps. For the new player, the book keeps everything clear and simple, provides reference material where wanted, and does not overcomplicate the flow of the game though the use of the discrete chapter organisation.

Overall, Pan’s Guide for New Pioneers is designed to be as well organised and helpful as it can be and it certainly succeeds in being both. These though are just the bonus factors for a great adventure which presents a good mix of mystery and intrigue, combat and roleplaying whilst opening up the world of Pugmire just a bit more. Every roleplaying game needs a good first adventure, and Pan’s Guide for New Pioneers is more than helpful in fulfilling that function for the Pugmire Fantasy Tabletop Roleplaying Game.