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Saturday 15 August 2020

The 'Whose a Good Dog?' Guide

Buried Bones: Creating in the Realms of Pugmire is a supplement for the trilogy of post-Man, post-apocalypse fantasy roleplaying games—Pugmire Fantasy Tabletop Roleplaying Game, Monarchies of Mau, and Pirates of Pugmire. It is something of an odd product, not being the Realms of Pugmire Guide’s Handbook, for an example, and not really possessing a singular focus. Now it does contain advice for the Guide—as the Game Master is known in the Realms of Pugmire roleplaying games—but it also contains a whole lot more. This includes the Realms of Pugmire Style Guide, useful for example for wouldbe authors wanting to create content for the Canis Minor Community Content Program; a number of blog posts which explore the setting and reveal some of its secrets; a conversion guide between the OGL for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition and Pugmire; and a FAQ.

Buried Bones: Creating in the Realms of Pugmire opens with the Style Guide for the Realms of Pugmire roleplaying game. This not only lists the lexicon of game-related terms and their correct spellings, but also covers the game line’s tone, how magic and religion is handled, that it is ‘Inclusive Fantasy’, and it uses ‘Gendered Language’. For example, Pugmire is game of adventure and quiet morality, light-hearted with implied humour rather than out and out humour; never revealing to the characters that their magic is actually lost technology; that it is best in general to default gender-neutral terms like ‘dog’ and ‘cat’ rather than ‘he’ and ‘she’; to avoid both binary and non-binary gender terms; and so on. In some ways, this is a dull start to Buried Bones and of limited use. However, as an editor and reviewer it is interesting to see a Style Guide in print, it is actually of use to the Realms of Pugmire Guide. Especially if she wants to create content for the Canis Minor Community Content Program, but also if she wants a more explicit guide to how the designer wants Pugmire and its companion roleplaying games to feel.

‘Claws and Effect’ draws from a series of blog posts to explore various topics not necessarily explored in Pugmire Fantasy Tabletop Roleplaying Game, Monarchies of Mau, or Pirates of Pugmire. In the process, it addresses a number of topics are commonly raised when it comes to both games and setting. Most notable amongst these are the question, ‘Is this a Joke?’ and the description of Pugmire as ‘Just D&D with Dogs’. In addressing the former, it makes clear that although Pugmire Fantasy Tabletop Roleplaying Game is not necessarily a serious game, it is not a jokey one despite there being elements of implied humour in the setting. In fact, it does explore serious issues, such as loss—particularly of every Good Dog’s Master, the ethics and dogma of being a Good Dog, both cultural and racial (or rather, species) differences. Now when it comes to the latter, I have been guilty of giving Pugmire that description, but essentially not what the game is about, but rather as an elevator pitch to sell the game (verbally rather than in a written review). The chapter also discusses the nature of the different Breeds and Callings in Pugmire—the equivalent of Race and Class in Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. Here Buried Bones begins to dig into the author’s design decisions, why he created the game as he did, not just for Pugmire Fantasy Tabletop Roleplaying Game, but also for Monarchies of Mau and Pirates of Pugmire.

Other elements of the setting and rules are also explored—how money or ‘Plastic’ is handled in the setting, the implied rules of the Fortune mechanics, and the dynamics between the various species in the setting. All of this is designer commentary, giving the Guide a peek behind the curtain, answering what turns out to be not-so important questions such as, ‘Where is Humanity?’, What exactly happened in the War of Cats and Dogs?’, ‘What is the exact nature of Nine Lives in Mau?’, and ‘What lies in the Lands Beyond?’. What is so pleasing here is the designer’s honesty. This is not to say that other designers are not honest, but rather that here where the designer says that he does not know something or has not decided something about the Realms of Pugmire setting, then he simply says so. There is Guide Advice too, covering different types of play like long-term and troupe play, styles of play including silly, gritty, and epic, and creating adventures. The advice emphasises the importance of the player characters, balancing types of scenes, setting jokes and humour within the setting, but letting the players get the punchline rather than have the author or scenario deliver it, and making every NPC important. All of this is solid advice, not just for the Guide wanting to create adventures for her own group, but for the Guide wanting to publish and submit them as part of the Canis Minor Community Content Program. Lastly, there is an ‘Appendix P’—the equivalent of the ‘Appendix N’ of inspiration found in the Dungeon Master’s Guide for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons—but for the Realms of Pugmire setting. This includes books such as The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents and The Tao of Pooh, comics like Mouseguard and Maus, roleplaying games and supplements such as S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks and Tales of the Floating Vagabond. It is a good selection of books and titles and more, and there is even little explanation with some of the entries.

Rounding out Buried Bones is ‘5e OGL Changes’ and ‘Frequently Asked Questions’. The ‘5e OGL Changes’ enables a Dungeon Master to run a Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition game of Pugmire. It also highlights the differences, useful if a playing group or would be author is moving between the two. The ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ does exactly what you would expect.

Physically, Buried Bones: Creating in the Realms of Pugmire is a slim book, easy to read, and illustrated with several fully painted pieces. None of the artwork is new, having appeared in previous Realms of Pugmire titles, but that does not mean that it is not good. Overall, Buried Bones is as good looking a book as you would expect for the line.

However, Buried Bones: Creating in the Realms of Pugmire is not a book that the Pugmire Guide absolutely must have. She can run or write adventures for own playing group without it, but it does contain plenty of interesting information, working as it does, as the equivalent of the Guide’s Companion—the referee’s handbook, the designer’s notes, and the style guide all in one. So not only interesting, but also useful if the Guide wants to know a little more of the context and the secrets to the setting. However, if a Guide or an author wants to write her own scenarios or content for publication as part of Canis Minor Community Content Program, Buried Bones: Creating in the Realms of Pugmire is a must-have. 

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