Pugmire: The Rules of Being A Dog

Jack Rat-Terrier (Poster 4)
Jack Rat-Terrier (Poster 4)

Until Gen Con, I’ll be blogging about Pugmire here on my site. These posts are slightly updated from the ones I’ve made on the Onyx Path website over the past year, containing more accurate and new information. If you like the attached image, you can get a poster of it from DriveThruRPG!


I recently passed another milestone on Pugmire. I took the material I sent during my closed alpha playtest and started rewriting it all, based on the feedback I got. From that, I’m planning to have an early access document at some point later this year, because I definitely want people who are interested in Pugmire to be able to give it a whirl.

Which leads me to answer one of the most commonly asked questions since we announced the game: what system will the game use? After a lot of debate, exploration, and testing, I’ve decided 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 upcoming  Onyx Path house system (codenamed “Sardonyx”), I’m convinced that it also could be 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’m also considering doing a translation guide that allows conversions to other open systems such as Fate Core, 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 playtests reinforced to me that this is the best way to go with 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 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 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 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 distinct groups) works pretty well, but I need to hammer on it a bit more.

So that’s where I’m at, seeing if the dozens of small tweaks and changes make sense. 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 think we’re getting to the point that people who are early fans can bring their own hammers, or at least play around in the world while the full game continues developing.

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