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!
One question I get regularly is whether Pugmire is a joke. Given that I’ve been responsible for some pranks in the past when I worked with White Wolf, it’s somewhat of a fair question. The short answer is obviously “it isn’t,” but there are nuances to the question that are more complex beyond the obvious “this is a real game that is being made.”
For example, it isn’t a typical Onyx Path game on the surface. It’s not using pools of d10s, it isn’t gritty and dark, and it’s not geared to an adult audience. Over the past nine years I’ve gotten pretty good at working on those kinds of games, and I’m happy to keep doing so, but part of the reason for developing Pugmire is that I wanted to try something different. (That’s one of the great points of working with Onyx Path over White Wolf for me — Rich is able and willing to try new ideas that wouldn’t fit in the original company’s structure or business plan, and I have ownership over this thing I created to boot.) Given that this game doesn’t fit that established mold, I can see why some folks would assume it’s a joke.
Similarly, the game does have humor in it, but I maintain that it isn’t a funny game. We as players laugh at the idea that there’s a religious tenet of “Be A Good Dog,” but the characters in the world take it very seriously. It’s somewhat like the humor in Paranoia.1 Again, if some folks see funny bits, it’s easy to mistake that the game is a joke.
One of the trickiest parts as I work on the game is allowing humor without making the game “funny.” So far I’ve used the term “light-hearted” to explain the nuance, but it’s something that you really only get once you dive in. Some of the playtest groups were nice enough to post quotes or anecdotes on social media so I can read them, and most of those posts are gags. I take that as encouraging — people are excited and having fun with the game, even at this early stage. When I’ve run the game myself the level of humor changes depending on the group, but there’s always at least some laughs.
The reason it isn’t a joke, and why I’m adamant on that point, is because a “funny game” can really only be funny. A light-hearted game, however, can include more depth and options. One of the images I keep in my mind is something Rich mentioned during one of our many chats about the game: the dog who mourns the passing of their owner by lying down outside their room or their bed. That’s the overall tone of how dogs feel about the loss of Man. In fact, the very first version of the game was much darker. It was closer to the so-called “normal Onyx Path game” in ethos, and that elegiac tone was a central focus (as an example, the original title was “The Fall of Pugmire”). In one of my first playtests, some of the players at the end remarked at how the game can be “dark as shit.” So, paradoxically, I feel it’s very important to keep that so-called “Onyx Path flavor,” even though the surface of the game obscures it. But if I wrote Pugmire to be nothing but gags and jokes, it would be hard to get to that spectrum of emotion.
Is it a “serious” game? Hell no: it’s a game where you play dogs wielding magic and swords to rescue iPads from ancient ruins. I not only accept that, but I want to make that a feature. I don’t know about other people’s gaming groups, but mine generally tend to joke around during the session anyhow, so it’s nice to write a game that leans into that. But it’s also a game that addresses dealing with loss, ethics and religious dogma, casual racism, and nationalism. None of that is necessary to play and enjoy the game, but it’s there if you want to dig into it.
Is Pugmire a joke? No. Because it can be so much more.
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- Although over the years its parody meta-humor has bled into the game itself. ↩