Classical & RP furries, segue into playing animals as characters in RPG

Continuing the discussion from Shameless self-promotion (RPG department):

With anthropomorphised animals mentioned in a sentence with the word “classics”, my mind would have run to Aesop’s Fables. But I don’t suppose that sort of thing is roleplayable: too short and punchy.

I wonder whether such matter as Richard Jefferies’ Wood Magic, Kenneth Graham’s The Wind in the Willows, and Rudyard Kipling’s Thy Servant, A Dog are roleplaying possibilities — the first and last of those probably don’t qualify as “furries”.

Are animals other than furries roleplayable? One time a few years ago I had an idea for an RP solo adventure [link removed] in which the PC was to be the Labrador assistance dog of a murder victim, but I could never figure it out satisfactorily or find a keen player.

Has anyone experience of playing Bunnies & Burrows or Mouse Guard that they would like to report on?

I did review the source material that inspired furry artists and writers, including the Fables and the Jatakas (which turn out to have been a big influence on Kipling, who greatly admired them).

You certainly could roleplay nonanthropomorphic animals, but it’s off topic for my particular supplement. But I have a FUDGE supplement on my shelves where all the pregen characters are animal companions of a lost wizard.

Quite. In Wind in the Willows, The Mouse Guard, or Maus the “animals” are people in fancy dress: their social milieux are those of [very specific] human societies, and they have the manipulatory ability to fight with êpées, cudgels and pistols, and Mauser rifles. One step less anthropomorphised gives you Wood Magic or Watership Down, in which the characters have human minds and politics, but animal paws and appetites. One step further brings you to Thy Servant, A Dog, in which the anthropomorphisation is complete concealed or denied in a pretence of giving the dogs (and the fox) not even human understanding. It’s a very clever bit of writing, I think, in which Kipling gives Boots humanity by the pretence that he does not.

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It was probably a mistake to link to another forum. My opening post in the thread formerly linked was:

Ooh! Finding Nemo!

Four words: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. A great fun system from Palladium for playing all sorts of animals - mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects and even fish! You can choose how “human” or “animal” your character should be in size, stature and appearance, and what natural powers you want to them to retain, such as claws, flight, senses, carapace etc.

The post apocalyptic setting After The Bomb was great fun, along with the “Mad Max” options of Road Hogs and the localised settings of Mutants Down Under, Mutants of the Yutacan and Mutants in Avalon.

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To stretch the net to cover other media, there’s a great tabletop skirmish game called Burrows and Badgers that has fantastic models.

I came up with a little list of relevant games and supplements:

Crane, Luke, and Petersen, David, Mouse Guard (Archaia Studios Press, 2008). Adapted from the comic book series, with game mechanics that emphasizes characterization and narrative structure.

Holmgren, Jason, et al., Ironclaw (Sanguine Productions Limited, 2001). A medieval fantasy game with anthropomorphic animal characters.

Kidd, Paul, Albedo (Thoughts and Images, 1988). Adapted from “Erma Felna, EDF,” published in the anthology comic Albedo. Military science fiction with anthropomorphic races apparently of uplifted Earth animals.

Kidd, Paul, Lace & Steel (TAGG, 1989). A fantasy game emphasizing romance and swashbuckling, where character races include half-horses (“centaur” is insulting!), harpies, pixies, and satyrs.

O’Sullivan, Steffan, GURPS Bunnies & Burrows (Steve Jackson Games, 1992). A GURPS adaptation of the classic game (see below), using variant GURPS rules for rabbit-sized characters.

Pulver, David, Transhuman Space (Steve Jackson Games). An original science-fictional setting for GURPS that offers many options for playing zoomorphic characters.

Shapero, Niall C., Other Suns (Fantasy Games Unlimited, 1983). A game of largely military science fiction with alien races, most resembling anthropomorphized Earth animals.

Sustare, B. Dennis, and Robinson, Scott. Bunnies & Burrows (Fantasy Games Unlimited, 1976). A very early roleplaying game partly inspired by Watership Down.

I think that for me at least some of the interest is in having different physiologies and mindsets working together. (So while I may well not use the book for “everyone looks like an animal”, I might well use it for the less-alien aliens in a gallimaufry SF setting.)

I’ve never played Bunnies & Burrows (GURPS or original); I did play a bit of Lace & Steel (and read the comics; Horsebrush isn’t officially the Lace & Steel comic, but it might as well be), and there’s a moderate amount of interaction between half-horses and humans – for example, “why is that idiot running away, any half-horse is faster than a human at the sprint and he won’t get far enough for a long chase”.

There is a game system out fairly recently that’s basically fantasy RPG but with anthropomorphized animals. It’s called Pugmire and is well worth looking into.

There’s also The Warren, a harrowing PBTA game about playing (intelligent but not anthropomorphic) bunnies, Watership Down being a major inspiration, from Bully Pulpit Games, aka the Fiasco folks. (Written by Marshall Miller, though, not Jason Morningstar, who’s the most well-known guy at Bully Pulpit).

Useful references! I certainly ought to have Pugmire in the list. I’m not sure about The Warren; I have no idea what PBTA stands for . . .

Powered By The Apocalypse, i.e. using something based on the Apocalypse World system.

Oh, OK. I think I may not list that one, as I don’t see games with that engine as being roleplaying games in the sense that applies to D&D, GURPS, or Ironclaw.

I think many people would disagree with that. (I dislike the system really quite a lot, but it is recognisably an RPG.)

Oh, it’s unquestionably an RPG, but it’s also pretty definitely a different (and for my tastes, vastly preferable) design ethos from D&D and GURPS and their ilk. I think if the focus is to be on the latter, leaving The Warren out is fair. I’m not sure what a GURPS supplement typically looks like, to be perfectly honest.

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In the Blue Rose RPG you can play a non-anthropomorphic ‘talking’ animal, such as a horse, wolf, dolphin, or a few other types. They are more like the rabbits in Watership Down than the talking beavers and mice in Narnia, because they don’t use tools, or live in houses.

They talk using telepathy rather than by moving their lips! If you pick the “magic user” character class, they can cast spells.

Meanwhile there is Dungeons and Doggies/Cats & Catacombs which seems to mostly be miniatures and some rules conversions for D&D.

(1) I have Masks, which I understand to be the same system. I find it interesting, but I have no impulse to run it. It would require me to pin down things that I’m accustomed to improvising, like what actions significant NPCs would take, and to define a rather short list of such actions in advance of determining the situations where they would occur; and it would leave vague things that I really want to know, like inherent and learned capabilities. Conceivably I might play a game that worked this way if someone else ran it.

(2) What a GURPS supplement “looks like” in the most literal sense is quite standardized; page layout has a house style. But otherwise, there are several different types of GURPS supplements. Major types include

  • The genre book, which is a systematic exploration of some type of fiction or drama and a discussion of how to use GURPS to emulate it.
  • The mechanics book, which takes some area of GURPS rules and discusses it at much greater length, giving more options.
  • The gear book, which is basically a catalog of tools and technology.
  • The powers book, which is a detailed treatment of some one type of superhuman abilities.
  • The setting book, which describes a place, with game statistics for important people and locations, and suggestions for adventures.
  • The adventure book, which offers a ready-to-run scenario.

I’ve written books in all these categories except the last; I hardly ever use published adventures and have no feel for what makes a good one. GURPS Furries is primarily a genre book, but it also has a lot of templates for various furry types, from cartoon velociraptors to kitsune to uplifted chimpanzees.

Are anthropomorphic furries also an option there?

This is not really on topic, but either Masks has drifted substantially from the PBTA core (I have it too, but haven’t read it) or I’m not understanding where you’re coming from on this. The ethos of Apocalypse World and its systems as usually implemented in other PBTA games is heavily improvisional and you are usually explicitly not supposed to do a lot of pre-planning, instead “playing to find out”. Now, they do usually codify GM “moves”, as in, the sorts of things you are supposed to do in terms of responding to player actions as a way of defining the genre of story being played, but I’ve mostly found that these make explicit stuff that experienced GMs do as a matter of course anyhow. I will admit I tend not to end up referring to them much and I’m not sure if that’s poor play on my part or not.