Dungeons and Doggies

What’s better than a spelling bee? A talking dog! Animal-loving creators April Prime and Russ Charles offer unique options for your next D&D character.

by Mira Manga


Seasoned adventurers know how quickly a standard dungeon delve can turn into a tour of all things bizarre and bewildering. Gelatinous cubes, mimics, seven charismatic voice actors—you never know what you’ll encounter down the next passage. Many a shaggy dog story is shared with any tavern dweller who wanders within earshot but one of the best involves an actual dog. Golden retriever Cornelius isn’t a Beast Master ranger, a wild shaped druid, or an adventurer’s best friend gone astray–he’s an awakened animal with a taste for derring-do who’s decided to venture into the dungeons!

Animal Adventures: Dungeons and Doggies is the brainchild of dog-loving-duo April Prime and Russ Charles. The idea first took shape as part of an art swap the pair engaged in: Russ (the official sculptor of Critical Role minis at Steamforged) would fashion something for April, and April would send him a character illustration in return.

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“I was imagining April would send me a tiefling bard or an elven druid,” Charles recalls, “And then this image of a dog wearing a massive Gandalf-style hat and lots of bags and pouches came through. He was casting mage hand but his version was a glowing purple paw. The moment I saw it, it was a genuine lightbulb moment.”

The character in question was Cornelius, a golden retriever wizard lovingly imagined into being by Prime as a talking and fully cognizant D&D character. The inspiration for this wizarding pooch came from a French animated series called Watch My Chops, which first aired in 2003.

“As a kid I watched a cartoon that featured a talking dog named Cornelius. He had the intelligence of a human and could speak flawlessly,” Prime remembers. “Much later, as an adult, I saw the movie Up, which featured another talking golden retriever called Dug. What I loved about Dug was that he still had the worldview of a dog. Rules were still important to him and he would sit if you told him to. I also loved the way he spoke because I imagine that’s the way that a dog would process speech. And that’s how Cornelius the golden retriever was born!

“I almost only ever play wizards in D&D. I’m slowly making my way through every single school of magic and I hit upon Divination. I decided that because Cornelius is a golden retriever, the idea is that he retrieves information about people and places. When he was awakened, every single piece of information in the universe was unveiled to him. But because he’s a dog, he didn’t really care. The secrets of the universe are totally available but he’d rather chase a ball!”

DOGGIES DAWNING

Cornelius’ appearance in Charles’ inbox sparked a flurry of communications between the creators, despite them being in opposing time zones (Prime in Australia, Charles in the UK). Animal Adventures is a world where dogs, cats, and other animals fight alongside the fifth edition races to tell their own epic stories. “The pitch was simply, ‘You can play as dogs in D&D!’” Russ explains. That lead to the creation of stats for different types of dog, taking into account whether they were small, medium, or large.

One of the first things Prime did was look to dogs in our world for inspiration. She notes that there’s a rich history of humans using canines as police dogs and for search and rescue.

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“For their outfits, I mostly looked at what dogs wear in those kinds of roles. I also looked at armor that dogs have worn in the real world, such as the historical barding the Romans used with their war dogs. That might be huge, spiked collars and armor with more spikes running down its back,” the former Dragon+ cover artist reveals.

As April outlined her ideas on how roleplaying a dog would work in practice, the pair began drawing up the famous doggie dozen that Russ would lovingly sculpt into miniatures. Powered by a successful crowdfunding campaign in July 2018, those twelve minis were put into production. A companion rulebook containing classes, back stories, doggie-specific magic items, and adventures was also released to entice players and DMs into a canine state of mind and help them feel their way when it comes to posing as a pup.

LESS BITE

The important thing for players to keep in mind is that these characters aren’t simply pets. The doggies populating these stories are “awakened” animals, making them self-aware and fully sentient, with their own motivations, backstories, and desires. Woe betide the NPC who offers a, “Good doggie, roll over!” to any of these super smart hounds!

Yet Dungeons and Doggies weaves its greatest magic when the emphasis is on fun. A slew of expert-level doggie puns and humor run throughout its literature, with titles such as Raiders of the Lost Bark and Who’ll Let The Dogs Out just the tip of the iceberg (shout out to magic items the cone of shame and Barley’s ball of fetching—the latter being a ball that throws itself).

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And in Dungeons and Doggies all of the playable characters are loyal and pure of heart, which makes it the perfect antidote to what has so far been a challenging 2020.

“If people want to inject some darkness into their games featuring awakened animals, they can. But when you are playing as a dog, there will always be moments of levity because you’re in a world not made for paws. It’s surprising how hard it is to be edgy when the rogue is a chihuahua and is only four inches tall. It’s a wonderful image that cuts through any suggestion of ‘grim’ energy.”

“That said, our latest adventure, Secrets of Gullet Cove, includes our first ever evil canine character,” chips in Charles. “The Necromastiff is an evil necromancer who lives in an abandoned mansion and has raised an army. It’s very Scooby-Doo!

RUNNING WITH A PACK

Despite being set in a fantasy world, Dungeons and Doggies carefully reproduces the way pooches would experience their surroundings. Trying to recreate actions that humanoid characters would take for granted can get out of hand (or should we say paw…) very quickly.

“Look no hands. Literally, no hands!” Prime offers with a laugh. “Part of the fun about playing awakened animals in general is getting into the character. It’s fun to watch players realize that they can’t open a door as easily as they would if they were playing a humanoid. As an animal, they have to get creative but it’s not impossible. Look at how adept service dogs are at manipulating human environments, such as opening doors, turning on lights, and picking things up with their mouths.

“Humanoid players might also come to depend on their canine attributes. Perhaps the dwarven cleric can’t get the information she needs from the town guard, but as an awakened animal you can get information from the horse the same guard patrols on all day. These animals hear everything that we do. And with the incredible sense of smell that they have, dogs can interrogate sewage and pick up clues with their noses. A whole different world opens up when you get to play a dog.”

“Everyone understands how dogs behave, but we didn’t create Dungeons and Doggies in its own little bubble,” Charles adds. “You can drop it into your regular D&D game and have the dogs be a juxtaposition or counter note flavor to whatever else is happening. If you want to play a cocker spaniel running around with a warforged in the streets of Eberron, you can!”

As much as dogs are able to fit in with any adventuring party, it’s also possible to create a fifth edition party without an opposable thumb between them.

“At Gen Con in 2019 we discovered that the chihuahua miniature for Tedric the rogue fits on top of Cerysse the St Bernard cleric. Cerysse was therefore able to act as a mobile ramp to help the party reach higher places. Our players would also remove armor and other gear to look like ‘normal’ dogs so they could perform tricks in bars to hustle the patrons for gold. Then they’d use that money to pay for information. We ran a series of games with all canine parties that seemed to bring people so much joy, where everyone was smiling from start to finish.”


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Revisit the time Dragon+ got goofy and entertained the staff’s dogs at the D&D offices.


MORE PAWS FOR THOUGHT

Following the success of Dungeons and Doggies—and by popular demand—Tales of Cats and Catacombs was also released. It’s filled with the same spirit of fun, feline characters and cat-tastic content (and yes, there are just as many puns throughout).

“It writes itself,” Russ says with a grin. “I love that we’ve got a town where the rooftops are connected by tiny planks and rope bridges. The cats have this whole network of streets, literal ‘catwalks’ all over the city.”

“There are layers and layers of world building that you can instantly insert into Animal Adventure game, because it already exists,” Prime agrees. “It’s often things that an all-humanoid party would never notice, this hidden world beneath their feet. Remember the twilight bark from the 101 Dalmatians movie? A network of animals was communicating with each other and most humanoids just never cared to listen.”

Does the duo have a paw-sonal favorite? “We strive to not stereotype breeds in a bad way,” says Prime as she describes Angel, the pit bull cleric who uses a holy symbol of a sleeping female dog encircling her napping puppy, representing her doggy deity, The Good Mother. “Pit bulls are such sweet dogs and Angel’s this beautiful, little, chubby round meatball. Part of her design included angel wings on her outfit!”

“Mine is the cocker spaniel bard, Monty, because that is actually my dog!” adds Charles. “I love playing a support class and I love playing him. We came up with a bardic college for dogs called Amity. It’s a friendship-based college about helping everybody get along together.”

Animal Adventures: Dungeons and Doggies and Animal Adventures: Tales of Cats and Catacombs are available to buy now from Steamforged Games. Animal Adventures: Secrets of Gullet Cove will be available February 2021 and includes a full campaign setting, as well as introducing new cat and dog adventurers, monsters, and five immersive adventures for 1st to 5th level characters.