If dogs played RPGs, is this the one that they would turn to? Pugmire is based around the premise that dogs have evolved: they walk upright, wear clothes, speak, and use tools, their front paws having developed to be able to grip them. Take these anthropomorphic dogs and drop them into a fantasy setting from which human beings vanished ages ago... and you have Pugmire. Set in the far future, with most of what mankind built crumbled to ruins, evolved dogs strive to recreate the world of the past, some revering the long-lost humans as deities, others regarding them of beings of great wisdom from whose relics much is to be learned.
After explaining all this, the Introduction goes on to explore the game's theme or central idea, which boils down to 'Companionship as Salvation'. Following the Code of Man with religious fervour, the first tenet is 'Be a Good Dog' - but what makes a good dog? Opinions vary, and - just as with our own pets - a good dog can rapidly become a bad one with a single silly mistake. Ultimately, the decision is up to one's peers - if the other dogs think you are good, then you are! Dogs in this game work together and strive to be good dogs. Then there's the mood, which is one of mystery. Whatever dogs get up to, there is always the question in the back of their minds: What happened to the humans? The fragments of knowledge that have remained lead the dogs to what will seem to us players quite humerous interpretations of what was going on when humans were around and dogs our faithful pets: but to our dog characters these are profound if sometimes confusing truths, or at least, theories. Above all, though, dogs like to explore... and this game provides plenty of opportunities for that!
There's a short list of inspirations - mostly anthropomorphic fiction, plus Dungeons & Dragons - and the usual explanation of what a role-playing game is. It's a very clear explanation, you could use it to explain what RPGs are about to a young child. It ends by explaining that the book comes in two parts: A Dog's Guide to Adventure (for players) and the Guide's Tome of Mystery, which contains information only the GM needs to know. The usual difficulty with 'all in one' rulebooks that players end up buying a lot of book they won't actually need, the GM having to trust players to stay out of GM areas, and of course the assumption that players never take a go at GMing...
A couple of canine characters - Princess Yosha Pug and Pan Dachshund - pop up throughout the Dog's Guide to Adventure with informative comments from a dog perspective as this section works through chapters explaining the world, how to create a character, how to play the game, and how magic works. The first chapter, The Journal of Yosha Pug, describes the world from his standpoint (with some quite scathing comments from Pan...), all in a 'handwritten' font that's fortunately quite clear to read. It starts off with details of the foundation of the kingdom of Pugmire, then talks about some of the interesting places to visit... and a warning, from Pan, never to trust a cat! Then of course there's the world beyond Pugmire, most of which is not as civilised and safe, where bad dogs (and worse) may be encountered. It's all beautifully-presented with a gentle air that makes this a good game to play with your youngsters, yet not so bowdlerised as to make it difficult to progress to more adult RPGs as your youngsters grow and mature (or of course carry on playing Pugmire if it has taken your fancy).
Next up, Chapter 2: A Good Dog takes you through character creation. Six ready-to-play characters are provided if you are impatient to get going, or as guides to what you should do, and there's a full explanation of the process for those who would rather have their own character. You start with Callings (character class). Artisans study and use magic; Guardians fight; Hunters explore, track and fight; Ratters can be rogues and criminals but are good at finding things and information; and Shepards are the priests of the Church of Man, teaching everyone how to be a Good Dog. And then there are Strays, the outsiders.
Then you have to choose your Breed. There are six of these, based on different types of dog: Companions, Fettles, Herders, Pointers, Runners, and Workers, plus the Mutts. Within each Breed there are various families - now these are what most of us would call 'breeds' like Chihuahua or Dachshund. Each Breed confers various bonuses and abilities to go along with what comes with your Calling. Add a Background, then you are ready to get to grips with the nuts and bolts of Abilities, Skills, and so forth. If you are familiar with any Class/Level game - such as Dungeons & Dragons - you will find yourself on familiar territory albeit the terminology is a little different. Abilities (the usual strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma) are assigned by allocation of a series of numbers as you see fit, no die-rolling or even point-buy involved. Then you have Tricks to choose from, the things your character can do. Everything is explained clearly and simply, and are based on Calling and Breed.
Character sorted, it's on to Chapter 3: Playing the Game. It's basically a standard D20 system with an interesting quirk. If your character has an advantage or a disadvantage with whatever it is you're trying to do, you roll two D20s. If he has an advantage you use the higher roll, but if he has a disadvantage you use the lower one. You're still trying to get over a target number to succeed, however. Each character also has a Fortune Bowl containing points gained for good play and the like, and may expend these points to help with a roll when they really, really want to succeed. Possibly one of the best illustrations in the whole book depicts a dog trying to scrabble a token out of a bowl! There are other uses for Fortunte as well. The final chapter in the player section is all about Magic and how to use it in the game, along with comprehensive spell lists. If you understand Dungeons & Dragons spellcasting, you will be at home here.
The Guide's Tome of Mystery then continues with stuff that players don't need to know, in fact it may spoil enjoyment if they do root around too much here. There's more detailed background on the world of Pugmire, advice for the Guide (i.e. the GM) on how to run their game, a collection of Masterworks (powerful relics believed to have been left behind by humans), and one of enemies, including notes on creating your own. There's a lot to delve into here, some of which - like what dogs look like now - you'll have to explain to your players. There's a city to explore and various organisations to join, interact with or avoid.
On a more practical note, the next chapter provides some excellent advice for running the game, from explaining the many-hatted roles of a Guide as player, referee, storyteller and often host to looking at how to plan coherent campaigns. It also covers the more mechanical side of ensuring that the rules flow smoothly and support, rather than interfere with, the shared story the group is telling. There's a range of magic items of various kinds to use, and (naturally) a host of adversaries to pit against the party.
Finally there's an introductory adventure, The Great Cat Conspiracy, to get your group going. Even though it's for first-level characters, its scope is vast - the very throne of Pugmire may be at stake! It's laid out quite clearly with plenty of advice that should make it straightforward for even a novice GM to run. Of particular note is the way in which options are discussed: clear recognition that players often don't do what the scenario expects them to, so there are alternatives and suggestions for handling whatever they do decide to do. Very neat!
What makes this game stand out is the overall 'nice' feeling. It's wholesome. It's something you could show to a person who thinks all RPGs are the work of the devil with an actual chance of convincing them that at least some are not going to lead all the players into devil-worship. And it makes an excellent entry game for youngsters. Are you a good dog? Come and find out with this anthropomorphic RPG goodness!
[5 of 5 Stars!]