I run a lot of Dungeons & Dragons, and although I enjoy high fantasy with elves and dwarves, it’s nice to play in other worlds as well. One easy alternative for D&D 5th Edition (5E) players is Pugmire, a 5E hack where everyone plays as dogs. Set on a future Earth, humans disappeared centuries ago and left behind intelligent, bipedal animals, such as dogs, cats, and badgers. These animals have formed medieval kingdoms with swords and magic. Players explore the ruins of man, find ancient artifacts, and battle the “Unseen,” demons that humans could never see but dogs always barked at.
If you’re interested, you can get the 59 page “The Secret of Vinsen’s Tomb: A Pugmire Jumpstart” with a basic primer on the rules and an adventure. You could also get the entire 258 page “Pugmire Core Rulebook,” which includes another starting adventure called “The Great Cat Conspiracy.”
It’s a great introduction to the system, and I have played it once and run it twice as one-shot adventures with 5, 3, and 6 players. I tweaked the published adventure after each game, and I thought I would share the changes.
Of course, most of what follows will make no sense unless you have already read “The Great Cat Conspiracy,” so get familiar with the Pugmire rules and module first, then proceed!
Even before starting the adventure, you should have a few things ready.
First, create a quick primer on the rules appropriate for your group. If they are experience 5E players, you can just call out the important rules differences, such as renamed mechanics, popcorn initiative, and so forth. If your players aren’t familiar with 5E, you should have a longer explanation, which you can probably borrow from other 5E quickstart guides.
Second, write a short explanation about the world of Pugmire. I wrote down a dozen bullet points from the Core Rulebook’s “What is Pugmire About?” in the intro and “The Journal Of Yosha Pug” in chapter one.
Third, print out character sheets. Although there are pre-generated characters in the Core Rulebook, the character sheets in “The Secret of Vinsen’s Tomb” are much better because they provide an explanation of all abilities and background. It’s completely self-contained and more accessible for new players.
Fourth, print out a copy of the Code of Man for each player. I printed two copies to a page, cut them out, and passed them out with the character sheets before the game.
Fifth, prepare your usual props and references. Maybe you love theater of mind and need nothing. Maybe you need to buy the Dungeons and Doggies miniatures. For me, I found reasonable Pathfinder Pawns, put monster stats in Game Master 5th Edition, printed out the adventure, loaded up my normal D&D playlist, and copied out a few written notes onto notecards to pass out when necessary.
Finally, learn to bark like a dog. This 2 minute YouTube video will make you an instant pro and teach you a lifelong party trick.
Scene 1: Apolda Manor
(Before starting the first scene, do an icebreaker if your players don’t know each other. At a convention, I had each player say their name, prior experience with Pugmire/5E/tabletop games, and favorite dog breed. And most players ended up sharing phone pictures of their dogs. Nothing warms people up to each other like sharing dog pictures.)
First, I changed the adventure to start with all the characters meeting for the first time on this adventure rather than just returning from a previous adventure. It’s a better fit for getting everyone introduced to each other and the world.
I changed the text of Heinrich’s note to say “great promise” rather than “recent success” and had a separate copy distributed to each character. From there, the next scene starts with each character arriving at the manor gates one-by-one, and they can introduce their character and have a short scene as they meet each other in-character.
Second, plan for how to introduce Brother Archer Corgi and the Cat Conservation Society if the players manage to get in through the front door (as they did in 2/3 of my games). It’s really important to plant the seed about the Society to motivate the story later. I actually added a plot point where Corgi says that there’s a big gala for the Society where they will send off cats to a new homeless shelter (i.e. the mines) in a week. This also will later encourage the players to go back to Pugmire quickly rather than investigate the mines.
Third, break up the text in Apolda Manor. In all of my games, the players didn’t talk to or question Viveka, Graff, or Heinrich. I think that the text felt just like exposition rather than a real interactive scene. Instead, have the Dobermans request introductions from each character. Make it a conversation. Then, explain the quest in parts and let the players ask clarifying questions. If they miss anything important, have the Dobermans prompt each other to fill in details.
Finally, let the players get some equipment in town or from the Dobermans. They probably will ask for more food, and you should be generous with rations. This is also great opportunity to explain money and rations.
Scene 2: Gearing Up and Heading Out
The adventure says that the journey should take 6 days each way on foot, but I shortened it to just 2 days so they arrive mid-day after their second rest. There’s no reason why it should take any longer.
For the first night, I use the “frenzied canines” random encounter because I think it’s the most interesting. Emphasize that the canines are hungry so they consider alternative solutions to just killing the canines. For new players, I also defer explaining combat rules until this encounter so I don’t overload them at the beginning of the session.
On the second night, they meet Graff. Make sure that you have at least 4 players roll to Wisdom (Notice) him over however many watch shifts they decide to have. One awkward part of this encounter is that he’s supposed to explain that he’s capable with a sword but also presents himself as unarmed. It never came up later since I didn’t included him in combat anyways.
Scene 3: Arrival in Ellendonk
In every game I played, exploring the town is extremely surreal. Have fun with it and make it mysterious!
My main problem with this adventure is that it relies too much on Wisdom (Notice) and Wisdom (Search) checks, and it gets tedious really quickly. I reduced that in two ways. First, don’t make the players roll if they clearly explain what they’re looking for. For example, if they say they check the bed in the General Store, just give them all the info. Second, use different checks when it feels right, like Intelligence (Search) or Wisdom (Survive). I like that Pugmire recommends combining abilities scores and skills in nontraditional ways, so really lean into that.
Skip the Cider’s Tap Inn: it just slows things down. Make sure they go to the General Store next, and then give them the option of exploring the Schoolhouse, Church, and Storehouses. If they ask to go to the mines, just tell them that it isn’t on the map.
Scene 4: Searching the Warren
This scene starts the dungeon crawl, so change the mood accordingly. Following on the point above about too many Wisdom (Notice) checks, there are surprise traps in the warren. If you want to preempt the excessive Notice checks, tip them off about the traps ahead of time.
(2) Tunnel Trap: tell them that they see metal trips protruding from the ceiling right where it transitions into a freshly hewn tunnel. They can guess that there are needles or a portcullis and handle it appropriately.
(4) Central Chamber: the main speed bump is that the players may not successfully roll away the rock. Prompt the players to help each other on the first roll to grant advantage. If they fail, they will want to try again, so ask them to justify why it would work this time. It doesn’t have a huge gameplay impact, but you can get creative solutions out of your players.
(8) False Ending: the fake door totally confused the players in all of my games. And that was after they were told it was fake. In my first two games, we spent 5-10 minutes testing it for magic, by poking it, by burning it down, and countless other ways. Set either a super-low DC or just tell them straight up as soon as they test it that the door is fake, there’s solid rock behind it, and it is not magical.
(3) Temple Approach: for the pit trap, tell them that the tracks in the room seem to carefully skirt around the edges. If they walk around the edges, also have one of them feel through the burlap sack to get into (5). That room is so important that the players can’t afford to miss it on a bad roll.
(5) Badger Burrow: this encounter is also very confusing to the players initially, so lean into that. Make Harriet very demanding and skeptical to create chaos. Like in Scene 1, break up the big block of text into a conversation. I also changed Harriet’s intent to make it sound like she’s asking them to retrieve this artifact not only “to be sure” but because it is dangerous. Her reasoning is that if they do something dangerous and seemingly arbitrary, that’s pretty good evidence for her that the party is well-intentioned.
Also, in all three games, the players never actually asked Harriet for her name because they skipped pleasantries in the confusion. Later, there’s a block of text where Harriet mentions “Levi,” and that can really throw the players off. Either make a point to exchange names or just skip names going forward.
(7) Demon’s Lair: the encounter is fine as is. Mention the rubble in the back of the room in the initial description so that it’s apparent where the Demon Hound came from later. For more flavor, I also described how the Demon Hound seems to deflate to just skin and bones after it dies. I have no idea if this is consistent with Pugmire lore, but it makes it seem supernatural.
Scene 5: Finding the Truth
This scene is relatively short and works well. The players may want to go to check out the mines and might have good ideas for how to do it. Pan’s note is reasonable, though it helps if you create a stronger incentive than just “it’s dangerous.” From Scene 1 above, you can use the Cat Conservation Society event in Pugmire to get back as soon as possible. Or come up with something better.
Scene 6: Back to Pugmire
Even if they choose not to fight, the encounter is important to the narrative, and it’s too easy to completely bypass it with a good Wisdom (Notice) roll. There’s no good justification to stay on the road and walk into danger if they see it coming.
Instead, ask the party makes a Wisdom (Notice) check on the second day of travel (don’t do the first day so that they can get a long rest in). On a success, then they notice that a group of dogs following them and can plan accordingly. If they fail, the mercenaries show up when the camp that night.
Make the mercenaries approach openly and give the players a chance to talk their way out. I actually haven’t run this battle yet because it’s so avoidable, and it doesn’t really seem worth doing.
Scene 7 & 8: Confronting Heinrich and Telling the King
These last scenes are hard to plan for because it depends on what the players did earlier. The written adventure has some good ideas, but they didn’t entirely fit previous choices.
However, the main issue is that the ending is quite anti-climactic for a one-shot. The discussion with the King is more of a cliffhanger setup for a campaign, but in a one-shot, it can be disappointing to just have to the King walk away thoughtfully. The players were confused when I said the game was over.
Instead, based on how the adventure went and your timing, have a big, punchy, dramatic ending where the players can have an epic win just before it ends. Maybe you use the Cat Conservation Society event from Scene 1 above as a public denunciation for Heinrich. Maybe you go with the King to march on the Doberman estate. Just leave the story on a climax where they can really shine.
Despite all the tweaks above, I actually like “The Great Cat Conspiracy” and recommend it if you want to try out Pugmire. The adventure takes between three to four hours to finish, and you get a good sense for the world and type of game that Onyx created Pugmire for.
Let me know if you have any interesting experience running this adventure. Writers always encourage GMs to adapt modules for each game, so take their and my ideas as just a suggestion. Do what seems fun to you!