RPG Reviews – Pugmire (Phone PDF)

Pugmire (Phone PDF Version) – Onyx Path Publishing

I love how PDF ebooks have become so prevalent in the RPG industry. They make it easy for new publishers to get started, they reduce the size of your bookshelf, minimize stress on your back, and can improve the process of looking up rules – they’re primarily the reason I bought a tablet in the first place.

Dogs are damn adorable. They quickly melt your heart with their loyalty and unconditional love. Social media has given them an avenue to dominate our society (or at least my Twitter feed), and show these lovable creatures to anyone and everyone. I spend an unnecessary amount of time on my phone looking at cute dogs or watching dog videos.

While my tablet goes most anywhere with me, my phone is with me 100% of the time, or is at least more accessible when I have both in my possession. It’s easier, after all, to hold your phone when on the subway than it is to support a tablet.

I’m obviously going somewhere with this: if I want to read an rpg book, get my daily dose of canines, and do it super-conveniently, what am I to do? The answer? Read a Phone PDF for the RPG Pugmire.

Phone PDFs are a new initiative through DriveThruRPG to offer a product that takes into account the ubiquity of smartphones. They are formatted for a smaller screen and constructed so they can be manipulated with one hand (or thumb) if desired. There’s no need to zoom in, zoom out, or awkwardly hold a tablet in one hand. In this review I’m going to specifically talk about Pugmire by Onyx Path Publishing. I’ll be reviewing the game in relation to the format to help illustrate the advantages and disadvantages of this kind of product.

If you want to read more about Phone PDFs you can click here to get the whole rundown!

I’m reading the game on an iPhone XR and with the Goodreader App. It’s my go-to PDF reader and displays the book just slightly larger than iBooks. Don’t take that to mean it doesn’t look good in iBooks, I’m talking about millimeters of difference. Some Phone PDFs are optimized for iBooks though, so it’s a certainly a safe choice.

A Dog-Eat-Dog World

The chassis of Pugmire‘s rule system will be familiar to players of various d20 fantasy systems, as it’s based off the OGL for D&D 5th Edition, however there are tweaks and elements that I quite like in this incarnation that make it stand out.

It’s an archetype/level system where players choose a Breed of Dog and a Calling (class/profession/role), which will determine the options available to them as they level and set their purpose in the group. Dogs are composed of the classic six numerical abilities of Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma, and their ability rating provides a die roll modifier when making a relevant test.

Skill checks are typically resolved with a roll of 1d20 + Ability Modifier (if relevant) + Proficiency Modifier (based on Level). This is compared to a difficulty number (usually from 5-20) and an equal or higher roll results in a success. It’s a unified system, so this extends to Attack rolls too. Damage is based around a health point mechanic (Stamina Points), whittled away as blows land successfully. If the situation is such where a Dog has an advantage in their attempt, they roll a second d20 and take the highest. If the situation is disadvantageous they take the lower of the two dice as their roll.

There are no experience points so Dogs increase their Level at appropriate moments in the narrative, whether after a full story, climactic event, etc. There are 10 levels of advancement and at each the player gets to increase an ability or choose a Trick, the latter being special abilities related to their Breed or Calling. This can be anything from a style of fighting, to more spells, to various social advantages. I really like that most Tricks have “Refinements”, which are additional bonuses or powers acquired by taking the Trick multiple times. It allows lots of diversity among the Callings, so even two “wizards” (called “Artisans”) or “fighters” (Guardians) can be very different once they start refining their Tricks.

Magic uses a Spell-Slot system, whereby a certain number of spells are prepared ahead of time and expensed upon casting. These can be recharged either through rest, or by spending Stamina Dice, a resource based on the Dog’s level.

There are a good number of spells available. Not tons, but certainly enough to keep one happy.

It’s really nice how Pugmire brings narrative elements into an adventure fantasy game. It includes the “Scene” unit of time to allow events to run the course of a narrative moment, rather than tied to a clock. It handles equipment and wealth abstractly – there’s no cost for anything and equipment may change at the beginning of a story, or you may also make a test to see if you remembered a crucial or useful item. It clears up bookkeeping and helps things play smoothly.

Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks

The section for the Guide is really well-written. It continues the conversational tone of the rest of the book, and provides tons of useful guidance for GMs. I’ve read countless GM sections and I don’t know if there is a ton of new material for someone like me, however, it presents the role of Guide in very relaxed, unintimidating way. It offers suggestions on how to handle matters in-game and out, how to work out the various complications that arise when organizing and running a game, and how to make the game your own. It’s very comprehensive and even makes an old hand feel less stressed about GMing.

A World Gone to the Dogs

Pugmire presents a world of fantasy adventure populated by anthropomorphic animals. Besides the canine protagonists cats, rats, lizards, and badgers have all been uplifted. Centered around the land of Pugmire, this world is far in our future, where humanity has vanished after uplifting these animals, and left behind their secrets to be discovered. Humanity is also deified and the primary moral code of the dogs, The Code of Man, has been instituted to provide guidance in everyday life, and is the center of their religion. The first tenet: “Be A Good Dog”, sums up much of what to expect.

The world and history are presented through two readers: the “establishment” Princess Yosha Pug, and the “outsider” Pan Daschund. Their back-and-forth is charmingly written, and excellently illustrates the viewpoints of the world. What I think I find most delightful about the writing is how straightforward the content is presented. You are reading about a classic fantasy setting and now and then are reminded the protagonists are animals by references to the spell “Mage Paw” or because instead of using the term PC the writers use “dogs.” My favorite perhaps is how the monstrous creatures that roam the countryside are noted as not wanting “to be friends.”

The setting of Pugmire is detailed just enough. The overview covers the history, notable people and locations, and organizations (both benevolent and villainous) that are active in the world. One of my favorite locations in the city of Pugmire is “Samoyed’s House of Wearables” – a boutique armor shop whose owner laments that her armor is remarkably practical and efficient, as she insists she only wants it to look good and have no effective qualities.

The setting has all the trappings of a fantasy world, but due to being our future, much old tech is considered “magic” by the Dogs. There is a brief, but comprehensive section on “Magic items and artifacts” that have been slightly reskinned to fit the fantasy-disguising-science world of Pugmire and should cover your initial needs. The monsters section is equally comprehensive. All the uplifted creatures are present, along with the Unseen demons, and science-fictiony adversaries from the world before. The stat blocks are brief and clear, so expanding the list and converting or creating new monsters shouldn’t be at all difficult. I want to give a gleeful shoutout to the rat Cult of Labo Tor, who will fulfill all your horrific NIMH desires.

The introductory adventure, “The Great Cat Conspiracy”, sets the Dogs as members of the Royal Pioneer Society (a group tailor-made for player characters), as they get involved in the schemes of the noble families of Pugmire. It’s formatted as a series of “Scenes”, with guidance on how to get to them, where they go, and what the purpose is – all extremely helpful in maintaining a good flow and pacing. The flavor text is well-written and the NPCs interesting.

I’m incredibly impressed with Pugmire. It’s one of those games that knows what it wants to do and presents it well. It’s full of flavor and written in a way that’s very evocative of the premise. Because of that fact I find myself wanting badly to run it in order to see how various players portray their Dogs. I know how people play elves and vampires, after all, but this is something completely new to me. The setting regularly reminds the reader that these are uplifted animals and not “humans with fur or pointy ears” and that makes it very distinct from many other fantasy RPGs with a “nonhuman” focus.

The system is also a very nice take on the D&D OGL, with lots of variety for a wealth of characters. As a game, Pugmire is certainly worth checking out!

Now because we’re specifically looking at the Phone PDF here, let’s talk format!

The Phone PDF is, in short, really awesome. Everything has been reformatted for the smaller display. Here are some notable elements:

  • Text is presented in a single column. The font size is proportionally larger and very legible. You don’t have the same control over size as with a reflowabke ePub, but an ePub also wouldn’t give you the same graphical display as the PDF.
  • Images have been reduced in size to fit the page. They’re still perfectly visible and fit the flow of the book well. Tables are also appropriately resized.
  • It seems that in a number of cases single-content entries have page breaks between them, regardless of how much or little content is present. For example: all spells, NPCs, and monsters are presented on a single page each. This helps the entry read very smoothly and it’s nice to not be distracted by unnecessary information. It also makes those entries better end locations for hyperlinks.
  • The book is extensively hyperlinked. Key terms, setting elements, and rules are all colored slightly differently, and with a click you’re at the relevant section. This is especially helpful with regards to the adventure and means a reader doesn’t need to wait for a definition. In addition, the bottom of every page has a Back and Contents link. The “Back” link leads directly to your previous location, allowing you to reference information without losing your place. “Contents” leads you to a well-organized Table of Contents, in the event you do lose your place.

Above all, the Phone PDF format is incredibly convenient. I’ve read this book on the train while holding a rail, in line at the grocery store, even while (slowly) walking down the street. I love my tablet and the library it holds, but I don’t always have the ability to use it, whereas there are few situations I can’t easily use my phone.

It might seem strange to adapt to using a phone exclusively to run a game. I adjusted quickly to a tablet because it was just a smaller rendering of what I would look at in print but I can easily see myself accustoming to this. It’s especially helpful if you’re playing a pickup game – all you need is a dice roller app and some scrap paper and you’re ready to go!

At this time the product is free, so I highly encourage you to go to DriveThruRPG and download it. See how it works for yourself and delight in the adventures of a group of very good dogs!