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[Realms of Pugmire] On socio-political commentary.

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  • [Realms of Pugmire] On socio-political commentary.

    [Realms of Pugmire] On socio-political commentary.

    I greatly approve of the idea, voiced numerous times by different people, that Pugmire RPG could be used as a teaching tool for the school children. One thing it could teach about is history. After all, a society (any society, even the one of anthropomorphic animals) is, ultimately, just another form of matter – albeit, a form of thinking matter. Therefore, it must develop and evolve in accordance with the laws particular to that type of matter.

    Besides, world folkloric tradition has a rich treasure-trove of fables and parables “starring” animals, but, actually talking about eternal all too human issues.

    Issue #1

    In the course of their history, Dogs of Pugmire had finally achieved level of development akin to European 1400s AD (p. 139) in scientific-technical sphere, which, inevitably, corresponds to the similar level in the economical and political spheres as well. Namely – the corebook calls Kingdom of Pugmire government “semi-feudal” (p. 137).

    Is it though? Western European feudalism (per Augustin Thierry, François Guizot et al) as a socio-political phenomenon is characterized by three legal parts:

    1) Conditional land holding.

    2) Coalescence of the land ownership with the state power.

    3) Hierarchical structure of the whole society.

    We know that to become (and remain) a nobility, a dog family must meet certain conditions (p. 130). Coalescence of the land ownership with the state power was the story behind the Houndton (p. 154) and the Doberman family (p. 201). Besides, each noble family is required to raise, equip, train and support a military contingent (p. 142), taking upon themselves part of the government’s function. Finally, the hierarchical structure is enshrined even in the religion of Pugmire via the Code of Man (p. 137). Below the reigning Royal family there are Dukes, below whom are the lesser nobility, below whom are the commoners with the Mutts at the very bottom (p. 131).

    Thus, the Kingdom of Pugmire is not “semi-feudal” – it’s a full blow feudal state… with everything this fact entails. For the feudal system exists in two aspects – in the realm of the socio-political relations and in the mode of production, forming the basis of the entire socio-economic formation. The feudalism, in the full meaning of the word, is extra-economic exploitation of the taxable unprivileged population (mainly – the peasantry), which is personally or partially free and is exploited due to their attachment to the land in one way or another.

    [Serfdom btw is only one of the possible ways of exploiting the peasantry, but, in itself, is not an obligatory attribute of feudalism. For example, if a feudal lord leases a parcel of land to the peasants, said noble remains a feudal lord, due to retaining of all possibilities for non-economic coercion of the peasantry (first of all – capacity of the physical violence)]

    The entire feudal “ladder” inevitably stands atop this basis, without which the whole system will collapse. So, my question is – does Pugmire the RPG give a justice to the absolute majority of the Dogs, whose existence and labour sustains the rest of the society? Does the game, which is marketed as suitable for the school-age children both as a teaching tool and as a springboard into the bigger world of RPGs, inform in full and adequately about the real nature of the (very human phenomenon) feudalism? What kind of message, including – to the future generations, it sends regarding relations in the society and power dynamics between its very unequal parts?

    Issue #2.

    Having established, that the Kingdom of Pugmire is a full-blown feudal realm, it is, therefore, subject to the same laws governing the development typical for this kind of the archaic state.

    By design, feudal higher aristocracy is prone to conflict due to, inevitably, clashing interests of largely independent political actors, capable (and willing) of using all their might to increase power and wealth at someone else expense. To have some semblance of “peace” and “harmony” among the representatives of the ruling feudal elite they must have a commonality of the economic interests. Or, to speak in plain terms, they ought to have someone else to rob and plunder in such a measure, as to keep all members of the elite satisfied. This is achieved either by constant territorial expansion, or by consolidating control over important trade routes/sources of resources.

    Therefore, three factors make maintaining this kind of “societal peace” possible:

    1) The economic factor (the most important one). As long as there is a successful expansion (via conquest, settlement, deft diplomacy or due to dynastic manipulations) the price of which is net positive for the economy, the country will grow stronger. If it is no longer economically profitable to be in a single country (especially – for elites) the realm will surely disintegrate. Nothing, not the culture, nor religion, ancestral honor or adherence to a single even most beloved dynasty can stop this process. For some time, military force, powerful propaganda and/or the authority of the rulers (ruler?) can slow it down, but not to stop, let alone reverse it.
    - Deterioration of the common economic space leads to the emergence of regions that are no longer interested in paying taxes to the center.

    2) The spatial factor. Before the invention of the means for mass communication and transportation, there will be severe restrictions on state’s overall C&C. If delivering a message from the fringes of the realm to its command center takes a very long time (sometimes months back and forth), then this negatively affects the ability to govern.
    - If everything is regulated from the center, orders will be delayed. If decision-making is left to the mercy of local initiative (via regional elites), the risk of separatism increases.

    3) Demographic factor. As it’s been stated in the beginning – an archaic state cannot exist normally if it is not constantly expanding. Lots of new lands upon which representatives of the military (and political) elite can then settle must keep coming. This leads to the expansion of both the military mobilization potential and the tax base, as well as utilizes the increase of the "surplus" population. Feudals have children. Often – loads of them, what with the access to better living conditions and (what passes for a) healthcare. Feudal lords want to ensure a good future for them, without any kind of social downshift and without dividing the estate or other type of power base. The expansion of the archaic state allows this at the expense of new lands and an additional product (aka the plunder).
    - If no such thing happens – squabbles for resources begin. Specifically, within a class, that forms the core of the central government, economic management, military and bureaucratic apparatus, i.e. within nobility.
    - At the same time, even constant positive solution of the demographic factor for the elite via expansion will soon cause negative consequences for the Second, and then the First factor.

    If an archaic state runs into a ring of competitors or geographic barriers preventing expansion – well, that's it. The beginning of an End.

    The decline of an archaic state is accompanied by plethora of consequences. The quality of the troops, both training and equipment, will deteriorate. Those who should serve the state will try to avoid it (why bother, if there are no new conquests?). The ideological education in the army will suffer (no idea of why to fight), which, coupled with new hardships, makes it less reliable. An attempt to shift the financial and material support of the troops from the center to the periphery leads to revolts and uprisings in the outskirts – either against the taxes collected for the troops, or in alliance with the troops, but always against the center.

    The Empire of Pugmire had been expanding in total accordance with the inner logic governing the archaic state… up till the War of the Dogs and Cats. For all intends and purposes, the Kingdom of Pugmire have lost the War. It no longer controls Waterdog Port, the only gateway into a potentially new venue of expansion and important source of income in itself. Broader and more substantial trade agreement with the Monarchies of Mau failed to materialize (p. 136). Meanwhile, the population of the kingdom grows (p. 137). The number of challenges, requiring resource expenditure, grows even more. The Kingdom of Pugmire “is forced to find new allies, resources, and masterwork relics” (p. 137).

    The last line is especially important, as a way to provide opportunity for a social mobility within a feudal society, by creating new noble families. The book is aware of the inherent contradiction in this “act of social mobility”. Pan Dachshund gets it (p. 19):

    “While it’s possible for any family to end up as nobility, it’s not easy, and some of the other families will do whatever they can to stay on top. The more noble families there are in Pugmire, the smaller any one family’s chances are of birthing the next ruler of the kingdom. There are plenty of good nobles, like Yosha, but I’ve seen enough bad nobles that I’d rather sleep under the stars most nights than behind the solid walls of Pugmire”.
    With all due respect (and understanding full well the implied focus of the game), but Royal Pioneers are simply not up to the task. Not to mince words, the Kingdom of Pugmire is in a deep, severe systemic crisis. In fact, Pugmire, probably, entered it well before the defeat in the War of the Dogs and Cats, and, over the years, the crisis only worsened. For its deleterious effect on the elite consensus and harmony one needs to go no further than the sample adventure in the corebook.

    This systemic crisis will lead to the following:

    1) Calcification of the ruling class. One way or another, either individually or, gradually, collectively, but the reigning elite will limit this “act of the social mobility”. There is a need to protect/replace your own artifacts (which are both finite and hard to find), plus there is a constant “cat problem” threatening them. All sorts of underhanded tactics would be deployed in order to maintain one’s status, including theft, burglary, robbery, legal action or even trying to corrupt the Church officials in proclaiming the relic “fake”.

    2) Growth of rivalry and conflicts within the ruling class. That’s a matter of simple math, understood even by a commoner outsider like Pan. The less the number of the noble families, the higher chance to grab the crown. Any successful action “neutering” some family’s noble status, will make the remaining families worrying, they might be the next – or that others should be the next. This being new Middle Ages, these fissures and lack of trust within the elite couple with the mainly religious worldview being used to reflect on the general state of being, will inevitable result in the rise of heresies.

    3) Growth of tensions between the central authority and the elites. Under feudal monarchy the reigning royal acts as an expresser of the collective will of the ruling class and as a mediating authority. And that’s it. No extraordinary perks or status, not even something resembling “higher power”. More like “authoritative agency”. After all, the Monarch is “merely” another feudal, albeit one that is considered primus inter pares by others. With the growing conflict within elite, caused by a prolonged systemic crises, reigning monarch’s ability to maintain the consensus within the ruling class and rule over the country would be heavily taxed. So it’s a question of “when”(not “if”) there would appear a critical mass of nobility unsatisfied with the how their (now – fragmented) will is expressed and take the fate of the Kingdom in their paws, up to usurpation of the throne. Again, one needs to look no further than the sample adventure in the corebook.

    4) Fragmentation of the realm. In the feudal monarchy, by design, the central power is diminished and “fairly” distributed among the ruling potentates. Outsourcing local administrative functions and even military matters to the dukes is just the most visible aspect of that. In times of crisis, political division of power becomes a political division of country (see above about 3 factors).

    5) Growth of commoners exploitation and oppression by the ruling classes. See Issue #1 and adventure in the corebook. It is notable, that the initial act of the non-economic and extrajudicial oppression, targeting that community has happened 2 years ago with zero consequences for the feudal perpetrator. All of it for the sake of feeding both the privileged status of entire clan of the highest aristocracy and what passes for the military industrial complex in this age. Resistance to the oppression by the oppressed taking the most direct often violent forms (due to object state of despair and lack of other venues to right the wrongs) is part of the course and is bound to increase in number, as it would be the oppressed unprivileged masses, who’d paw the bill of the elite’s and royalty’s ambitions. Pan Dachshund’s snarky remarks about the nobility are merely the most visible expression of this conflict.

    [It is notable though, that the heroes in this adventure, de facto and de jure, begin as the agents of the oppression. It is frankly only through a series of “lucky” coincidences and by meta-game reasons of enforcing “heroic narrative”, that the plot resolves in the “just” way. One has to wonder though, just how often agents of the Royal Pioneers (i.e. agents of the feudal monarchy) are acting as the enforcers of the will of the exploiters upon the exploited off-screen while, at the end of the day, still considering themselves Good Dogs]

    6) Unseen’s infiltration and damage becomes easier. This supernatural factor produces a vicious cycle of taking advantage of the crisis and conflicts caused by it, which serves only to exacerbate the overall suffering making further actions by the Unseen and its agents easier.

    Overcoming (or trying to overcome) this systemic crisis will inevitably lead to the following:

    A) Second War of the Dogs and Cats. Peace conditions are, clearly, unsatisfying for either side. Reasons for conflict (political, security, economic, societal, religious, etc.) are more than enough to restart it. If not the reining monarch, then a strong coalition of the nobles will agitate for that (replacing a monarch also could help). Only this time the Kingdom of Pugmire would enter the conflict as a much weaker state, compared to the beginning of the first war (e.g. minus Waterdog Port). There is no sign that over the years there’s been any significant effort to raise both the quality and quantity of the Kingdom’s military – quite the contrary, in fact (p. 142).
    - The only hope for victory in the upcoming conflict lies in acquiring of the “super-weapon” grade artifact. Whatever noble family will acquire it, will automatically get all the needed legitimacy to assume, this time, “higher power” in the Kingdom of Pugmire.

    B) Transition from the feudal to absolutist monarchy. Modern history of Waterdog Port had seen many things to the world, the chief of which is the start of the capitalism, ready to spread to other realms and peoples. Transformational potential of this factor is enormous, first of all, for the socio-economic set up of the Kingdom of Pugmire. By increasing one’s powerbase from the higher nobility to all subjects of the realm, central authority gets a chance to become a real central power. Power of the nobles families gets curbed to the point, that they will no longer threaten the monarchy. New administration assumes all the functions, previously outsourced to the noble magnates. The beginning of the revolution in the military affairs becomes now possible.
    - Whether this transition happens before or after another round of hostilities with the Monarchies of the Mau doesn’t matter. These two events are dialectically tied, feeding and sustaining each other.


    So, my question is – why the list of inspiration material for the Pugmire RPG lacks G. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire”, present in the rulebook of the Monarchies of Mau RPG? By internal logic, contained in the material as written, both of them could (and should) be run as games of high intrigue, noble conspiracies and skullduggery. Both the adventures and game fiction should reflect this.

  • #2
    Originally posted by von Lyttenburgh View Post
    [Realms of Pugmire] On socio-political commentary.
    So, my question is – why the list of inspiration material for the Pugmire RPG lacks G. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire”, present in the rulebook of the Monarchies of Mau RPG? By internal logic, contained in the material as written, both of them could (and should) be run as games of high intrigue, noble conspiracies and skullduggery. Both the adventures and game fiction should reflect this.
    This is an excellent post. Thanks so much for writing it! As to your question, I completely agree on the fact that it could be run as a game of high intrigue, and indeed I created the structure to allow that option, but I don't believe it should. It is entirely possible to play a group of Pioneers who rarely come back to Pugmire, or a group of Mutts who live outside the kingdom proper. There are avenues that allow you to remove yourself from direct contact with the political structure (even if, as you point out, they can't escape the systemic problems).

    However, because every character in Mau is either in a House or in an explicit group that works as a refutation of a House, it's very hard to escape intrigue. Dogs can work for a vague "for the good of Pugmire" and not think too much about it, but cats will all have slightly-to-greatly different ideas of what "for the good of the Monarchies" means. That's why the inspiration was saved for Mau. Plus, I didn't want to just copy/paste the same inspirations in both books, so I kept some that were just for Pugmire because those were elements I wanted to emphasize, and the same for Mau. That isn't to say "A Song of Ice and Fire" isn't a good inspiration for Pugmire -- it's just not one I think is vital.

    But to reiterate: you absolutely can have a high-intrigue Pugmire game, and even the introductory adventure points to that. That is absolutely my intention. I don't have the bandwidth to go through your entire post point-by-point (partially because you clearly have a level of scholarship I lack), but certainly my goal with this game wasn't to present an accurate representation of how feudalism works.

    Edited to add: I do want to reiterate that this post has really made my entire morning. I'm thrilled folks are thinking this deeply about my world, and are seriously considering how to use it to teach people complex concepts like this. It's amazing.
    Last edited by eddyfate; 11-04-2020, 09:57 AM. Reason: Forgot something.


    • #3
      *Never opened this subforum before*

      *Somehow just now notices this thread title next to “Last Post:”*

      *Slides in*

      You know what’s perfect about this? If you do manage to successfully frame all this in a way a group of kids understands, what do you think their response is going to be nine times out of ten? If you guessed “Rush B” (a.k.a. “Why don’t I be King/Queen and make everything better!”) then all that’s left is deciding whether to make them do it the hard way or drop an artifact of doom in their laps and see how much of the sandcastle they’re capable of leaving standing.