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Monarchies of Mau – Role-playing Core Rulebook Review

Reviewer’s Note: I follow the Onyx Pathcast podcast. This show features the three developers at Onyx Path talking about everything under the sun. Most often they discuss RPG products that Onyx Path is making or has made. Eddy Web is one of the three as well as being the creator of Pugsteady and the mind behind Monarchies of Mau and its predecessor and companion game—Pugmire. So, my thoughts on Mau will be coloured by a certain amount of background information that wouldn’t be available to someone who had read this book and knew nothing else about the source material

What is Monarchies of Mau? It’s a roleplaying game that is effectively a streamlined and cuter version of D&D. The cuteness comes from the fact that Monarchies of Mau replaces the usual humans, elves and dwarves with anthropomorphic cats.

Monarchies of Mau (cover)It’s not all sweetness and light, mind you. While this world has many of the tropes and appearances of high fantasy it’s actually a post post-apocalyptic Earth. Yes, I said post post-apocalyptic. Forget bands of gritty survivors holding out against hordes of zombies or scratching a living from the ravaged landscape. The planet itself is in fairly good health but humans are long gone. Gone so completely that it’s not even clear what got rid of them all. It’s even possible that some, or all, of the human population chose to leave. Regardless, all that remains on earth are the burgeoning civilisations of the animals that humans ‘uplifted’ before they disappeared. Alongside the cats there are rats, mice, weasels, badgers, birds, lizards and dogs. All are roughly human sized, with some variation by species and breed.

(Okay. When I said that the planet is in good health that may not be entirely fair. Agriculture and food production seem to be going on well enough but there’s a place called The Acid Sea and that can’t be good.)

I have to say that, while there is no legal, stated or in-universe connection between the two games, my headcanon is that the setting of Mau is actually the second of the Nine Worlds referenced in Numenera—the RPG of exploration in the weird lands of the far, far, faaaaaar future. We’ll touch on that connection again later in this review.

The first game in this setting, Pugmire, focused on uplifted dogs. I’m a cat person myself so when I heard that someone had made a fantasy game about humanoid dogs, I wasn’t excited. As a fan of Onyx Path I wished Webb the best of luck with his project but felt no need to buy or review it.

Then I heard that Onyx Path and Pugsteady were bringing out a companion game based around cats and I just had to check that out, so here we are.

While Monarchies of Mau and Pugmire are perfectly compatible you don’t need one to play the other. Mau is a complete game in and of itself. Which is as it should be, a cat needs no help from other species!

In fact, Mau kind of turns one of the central concepts of Pugmire on its head. The good dogs of Pugmire worship humans and seek to be worthy of their legacy. Cats, meanwhile, believe that humans used to worship them and so strive for excellence in order to better fill their role as near-godlike beings. Dogs see the artefacts left behind by humans (Masterworks) as sacred objects to be treasured; cats see them as a fitting tribute to their own greatness, to be used and abused for the betterment of cat-kind and the destruction of demons.

Exploration and curiosity are big themes in this game. Whether you’re uncovering mysteries and monsters in a city or roaming the wilderness in search of Masterworks it’s all about learning new things. Appropriate for a game about cats!

Secrets are also hugely important. Every cat faction has a hidden agenda and it’s possible to run a Mau campaign based entirely around political intrigue or investigations into shadowy plots. (That’s before you start throwing in science-mad mice, insidious demon-worshippers and a fallen kingdom of cats so wicked that all mention of their existence has been excised from official records.)

Back-stab

Mau and Pugmire draw on a variety of different inspirations—from Redwall (a series of books about heroic warrior mice and other woodland creatures, which was a favourite of mine as a child) to Gamma World (a gonzo post-apocalyptic science fantasy RPG).

The book is very welcoming to new roleplayers, setting everything out neatly without coming across as condescending. It’s not overly complicated but it provides advice and rules for most of the situations a GM or gaming group would encounter. For example, there’s a roll you can make to resolve that situation when a player realises that they don’t have a particular item on their character sheet but is quite certain that their character would have packed it anyway. Great idea and very practical. There’s even a note suggesting that you may need snacks to keep everyone’s energy levels high. (Not that I needed that. Loosens belt slightly.)

To help new players and GMs settle into the game the writers have included commentary from two in-universe characters. These two cats pop-up in coloured text-boxes and offer their advice to the reader.

Sabian Sphynx von Angora claims to give guidance on important concepts in the game while Blayze Rex von Rex tells us about the unique parts of Mau and how to get the most out of them. In fact, the two cats’ personalities shine through a little and they sometimes just take you through different aspects of the book. For example, Sabian gives a demonstration of creating your own character while Rex directs you to the six ready-made characters in case you want to jump straight in and get on with playing. They both come off as endearingly earnest and I think they’d appeal to children.

Guide Cats

Monarchies of Mau uses the open gaming licence for D&D. (I don’t know how that works exactly but it seems to mean that if people copy or draw from D&D rules to make their own game content, then quote this law on their products, Wizards of the Coast won’t sue them. Do your own research into the legalities of the situation before trying this at home!) So, while this is not an exact copy of those rules, if you like D&D 5E you’ll probably like the rules for Mau. If you don’t then, well, you get the idea.

Character Creation

Character creation is managed through a fairly easy check-list approach which still presents well over three-hundred different potential character combinations even before you get into the details of choosing powers and adding ‘fluff text’ to your cat’s background.

In a very Onyx Path/World of Darkness move your character chooses their Calling (Character class) from six options, then chooses one of seven Houses to belong to and finally chooses one of eight Backgrounds. Some might find the small number of Backgrounds limiting but they do offer material benefits to the character and are pretty broad categories that can be customised quite a bit. These three choices determine the powers and skills available to the cat at level one and also help to inform their outlook on life and the sorts of cats they might ally with.

At first glance I thought the Callings on offer mapped onto some of the more prominent D&D Character classes.

  • Champions are Fighters.
  • Mancers are Sorcerers.
  • Trackers are Rangers.
  • Wanderers are Monks.
  • Footpads are Rogues.
  • Ministers are Clerics.

And there is some truth to this assumption. But on looking a bit more closely I discovered some nuances I’d missed the first-time round.

Ministers are support characters who wield divine magic through their voices and have as much in common with D&D Bards as with D&D Clerics. They’re also squishier than either of those classes and do not belong on the front line. Definitely a pure spellcasting class rather than an indomitable holy warrior.

Champions also have a bit in common with Bards. Or with the Warlord class (introduced in the much debated and oft-maligned D&D 4E) which focuses on buffing and aiding its allies as well as fighting. Champions are natural leaders, always ready with a quip or snarky comment to annoy their enemies and boost their friends’ morale.

Trackers live in the wilderness like Rangers but do so in order to hunt and destroy demons called the Unseen. They can Smite their enemies with holy power, giving them a Paladin vibe, though they don’t have any of the associated knightly or religious trappings. I like these roving demon-hunters I must admit!

Wanderers can unleash elemental attacks with their fists and feet and have more of an outdoorsy flavour than the classic D&D Monk, making them ideal companions for Trackers. Unlike Monks they tend to be free-spirited, preferring their own instincts to any particular code of conduct.

Now, Mancers. In mechanical terms, they function like Sorcerers but in lore terms they behave like Wizards (secretive and scholarly). There’s some setting flavour in there too which makes them feel a bit more unique. Many Mancers are intrigued by the study of life and death, so animating a few skeletons to do your bidding is considered perfectly reasonable in cat society. Not all Mancers are necromancers and dealing with actual demons is strictly forbidden, but the spooky reputation persists.

Mancer

As for Footpads. Okay, they’re pretty much just Rogues—a class focused on stealth, acrobatics and larceny, with some talent for investigation if they choose to pursue it. Though I will say that cats tend to have a lot more respect for sneaky explorers than humans do.

There are six formal Houses and a seventh group called The Shadow Bloc. At first, I thought the Shadow Bloc were a de-facto Thieves Guild and Assassins Guild. In truth they’re a loose and ever-changing alliance of minor houses and fringe groups who are all struggling for a seat at the table of power. Pretty much an open invitation to GMs and groups to fill in the blanks however they want.

Each of the formal Houses has a specific focus and speciality and is associated with a particular characteristic/ability. Mau uses the usual suspects for characteristics: Charisma, Constitution, Dexterity, Intelligence, Strength and Wisdom. They also provide access to unique powers or talents, making a cat’s House almost as important as their Calling, particularly at early levels.

House Mau are wise and thoughtful leaders. They proposed the unification of the monarchies and have done a lot of good for cat-kind (dogs too, by brokering peace with Pugmire). While they like to present themselves as first-among-equals this House’s ultimate goal is to cement their rule over all cats by undermining the power of the other Houses.

Leader Cat

House Angora are intellectuals and scholars. They have the largest and most magnificent libraries in the known world—vast and shifting structures that never look quite the same on a return visit. They’re not above doing research into illegal magics such as demon-summoning, meaning that they could easily be cast as the villains in a demon-hunting campaign.

House Cymric are charismatic diplomats and entertainers so skilled at self-grooming that it actually gives them social bonuses. (Wonderfully feline bit of lore there.) While outwardly loyal, these cats have no appreciation for alliteration—believing that Monarchies of Cymric has a much better ring to it than Monarchies of Mau.

House Korat are mighty warriors and generals who wouldn’t mind dragging the Monarchies into another war with those pesky dogs from Pugmire, just to demonstrate their own superiority and strength of arms. Even though every other House is also up to their whiskers in plots and schemes I couldn’t help thinking of Korat as ‘the bad-guys’ due to their aggressive politics and tendency to kick the weaker members of their House out onto the streets.

Perhaps my favourite House—the plucky cats of House Rex—encourage exploration and independence. They have a laidback attitude to tradition and take in anyone, meaning that they’re great at spying on other Houses but not so good at agreeing on a course of action. They emphasise agility and dexterity. A campaign based around wilderness exploration could very easily be financed and peopled by House Rex.

Halo of House SiberianAt the other end of the scale is the tough and conservative House Siberian. This house has the best healers in all the Monarchies and a lot of wealth besides. They respect tradition, hold humans in great reverence and like to maintain the status quo. In fact, since the six monarchies were unified relatively recently (a generation ago perhaps, I couldn’t quite nail it down) House Siberian would prefer to return to being an independent nation.

With House picked you choose a Background—something like Criminal, Noble or Disciple, which gives your cat a couple of extra Skills, some starting equipment and a paragraph of generic backstory.

With that done you assign Ability Scores (characteristics or statistics, if you prefer), calculate bonuses and pick the Secrets that your cat knows.

Mau describes all of the abilities which would be called Feats, Powers, class Features or Spell Levels in D&D as Secrets or refinements of existing Secrets. Even the ability to cast spells is covered by Secrets. It’s a neat and intuitive way to explain abilities and it fits cats rather well. Whether you like cats or not you’ve probably looked at one and imagined that it knew more than it was letting on.

One very slight gripe. There are House Secrets (one each) that are automatically assigned upon choosing that House. There are also House Secrets that can be chosen at levels beyond level one. The Houses section of the book doesn’t mention that there are more Secrets available than the first one and the House Secrets section doesn’t mention which of several Secrets per House is the starting Secret (barring an attached table). I read those two sections on different days and it cost me a bit of time to go back and work out that I couldn’t pick a character’s starting House Secret from the list.

(The dogs of Pugmire learn Tricks, incidentally. Perhaps they still wish to impress their long-departed human masters.)

To finish off you define your cat’s personality and goals by choosing a Mystery, Ideal and Flaw and proceed to write the story of your cat’s life up to this point.

For the purposes of this review I decided to try out the character creation rules myself by throwing together a loose copy of Puss in Boots from the Shrek franchise.

Picking a Calling was easy. I was tempted by the agility of the Footpad but Puss is depicted as being a duellist, bounty-hunter and assassin, not a thief. And he’s very good in a melee. So, I went for a Champion. You get a range of Skills to choose from for your Calling. I picked Balance due to Puss’s talent for jumping around and Persuade because of his charismatic personality.

The Shadow-Bloc would have been a good fit for a wandering mercenary. House Cymric has the closest abilities to Puss’s signature big-eyed stare of hypnotic cuteness. But I chose House Rex as they emphasise independence and grant a handy bonus to Dexterity, which suits Puss’s skilful fighting style perfectly. Their first Secret—Perfect Balance—would give him a good chance at pulling off the roof-running, dance-fighting stunts he manages in the movies too.

Before joining up with Shrek, Puss spent years roaming the world so at first I decided that the Background which fits him the best is Outsider—a lone wanderer who is good at surviving in the wilderness. But Puss isn’t portrayed as being unusually fond of the outdoors and doesn’t demonstrate any particular knowledge of nature as far as I can remember. In the end I went with Soldier instead. As written in the book it doesn’t perfectly fit his backstory but with a little rewriting it could be made to fit. I decided that this version of Puss had spent years as a lone sellsword before swearing allegiance to House Rex and serving them as a roaming bounty hunter. This Background gives Puss the Intimidate and Traverse Skills, which suits his flair for drama and his many years of travelling.

On to Secrets. The champion’s Barbed Heckle Secret lets a cat taunt his foes and fits Puss’s personality nicely. But at first level it seemed more important to pick a Fighting Style and focus on duelling, to justify his fighting with a rapier and no shield. And Barbed Heckle is only mechanically useful if your Champion has allies to fight alongside him. Since building friendships is a major theme of the Shrek films it would make good story-sense for Puss to learn to assist his allies over time. Puss might style himself as a loner but in the films he comes to learn that he’s at his best when working in a team.

Then I had to pick one of two Secrets based around Puss’s upbringing. Cat of the World makes more sense for a wanderer than House Upbringing Rex, since it gives Puss contacts all over the place. And it matches the idea that he joined the House as an adult.

Let’s not get bogged down with fine-tuning Ability Scores or calculating bonuses. I’ll say that Puss’s most important stat is Dexterity because it allows him to hit more often and to do more damage with his rapier. His second highest score is Charisma to allow him to make good use of his Persuade Skill and ensure that he remains the centre of attention. He has decent Constitution as well since he’ll be in the thick of the action and needs to be able to survive incoming damage. Strength lags behind the pack but is high enough to give Puss a bonus to Intimidate (I like the idea that he’s not as scary as he thinks he is). In short, Puss isn’t especially wise, bright or strong but he hits hard, won’t go down easy and you’ll be sure to remember him.

Puss is portrayed as fiercely loyal so his Ideal is the need to protect his friends.

His Mystery is the desire to find out who his parents are. Not a plot arc from the films, but quite plausible.

Puss’s Flaw is his melodramatic overconfidence. I would describe it with the phrase—“No matter what, I just can’t resist showing off.”

And there we have it. Puss Tabby Von Rex. AKA Puss in Boots at the start of his career—flamboyant, acrobatic and cocky with a talent for sword fighting but much still to learn. When levelling up the character I’d pick Barbed Heckle, Critical Strike Style and all of the House Rex Secrets, because they emphasise dodging around and pulling off outrageous stunts.

There’s even a picture of a cat who looks like Puss in the bestiary section of this book, he’s the one trying not to get eaten by a polyhydra.

Game Play

As I mentioned above, the game mostly functions like D&D—20-sided dice and all. Veterans of that venerable game, particularly of 5E, will recognise things like saving throws, proficiencies, radiant damage, rolling with Advantage, reactions, spell slots and so on. Not to mention the way that any amount of sword-wounds, burns and dark-curses-that-rot-the-very-flesh-from-your-bones will vanish after a good night’s sleep, though this game does make it harder for PCs to recover their HP or Stamina if they’re sleeping outdoors. A good touch that should make travel feel more exhausting and dangerous.

One thing stuck out to me as being a bit too close to generic ‘human-centric’ D&D. A section on Vision explained that certain spells give cats Low-light Vision. What sort of cat needs magical assistance to see in twilight and shadows? I would just house-rule that all cats had Low-Light Vision if running a game of Mau, to be honest. I’d also give dogs Advantage on any rolls based on sense of smell for that matter. (For all I know, Pugmire does exactly that.)

On the other paw I really liked the rule referred to as pouncing. This states that a cat who readies an Action instead of acting immediately on their turn gets to roll with Advantage. For example, a player says, “My cat will wait until that charging wolverine reaches her and then she’ll try to kick him in the teeth,” if this happens then the player has a much better chance of hitting with her cat’s attack. This makes for a careful and calculating fighting style very characteristic of cats. I love the idea of a cat carefully studying an opponent, maybe wiggling their hips a little as they get themselves into the perfect position. Then, blam, fireball to the face!

The inclusion of a mechanic for characters getting lost and attempting to get themselves unlost was also nice and emphasises the exploratory nature of the game.

D&D isn’t the only ancestor of this game. There’s definitely strands of Onyx Path/White Wolf DNA running through Monarchies of Mau too, a testament to Webb’s background in the industry.

  • A fumble is called a botch.
  • An adventure is called a chronicle.
  • Fortune Points are awarded for good roleplaying or for choosing to fail at certain tasks.

(Actually, Fortune Points seem more like something inspired by the Fate system but never mind.)

The game smooths out some of the fiddlier bits of D&D and encourages players to avoid too much bookkeeping, skimming over details like exactly how many metres lie between you and the monster or how much you paid for your equipment.

There’s a good range of spells in the magic section. Most, perhaps all, of them are lifted straight out of D&D, with some alterations to fit the streamlined nature of Mau. The descriptions are short and to the point. They also pre-emptively answer many of the questions that might come up during the course of play (e.g. a character who is holding his breath is still affected by the Cloudkill spell).

Sabian Sphynx von Angora appears a lot in the spells section. Some of his comments are quite funny, such as his explanation as to why the cats have a spell for summoning canines (unevolved dogs), but not for summoning felines (unevolved cats). Basically, ordering dogs around is more fun.

Most of what I’ve talked about so far appears in the first half of the book—the Player’s Guide (a.k.a. The Cat’s Guide to Exploration). The other half is the GM’s Guide (a.k.a. The Guide’s Tome of Secrets). And kudos to Pugsteady for not splitting these halves into two separate books (a common practice in the RPG industry). It’s not easy to fit an entire game into around 250 pages but Pugsteady have managed it and your wallet will thank them if you decide to pick this book up!

The Guide’s Tome of Secrets gives further information on the setting, including some details of individual monarchies. There’s also advice on running the game, a list of magical or technological artefacts (the line between the two is very blurred in this setting, hence my comparing it to Numenera), and a bestiary.

In the setting section the authors suggest what could have happened to humans and explain how the cats feel about the past and present of their world. The cats have fragments of human history but don’t always put it together right.

For example, modern cats are around five to six feet tall but the old records they’ve uncovered seem to suggest that humans were considerably larger than early cats. This has led to a ferocious debate amongst Mau scholars as to whether cats have grown bigger over the intervening centuries or whether humans were giants that stood at least twelve feet tall.

We get details of cat relations with dogs, mice, badgers and lizards. Only dogs have the unity and territory to challenge the monarchies and they, in theory, no longer wish to. Regardless, all non-cats tend to be treated as second-class citizens in the monarchies.

Cat and Dog

There’s also a more involved description of the history of the monarchies up until the present day, including the creation and eventual fate of the mysterious and terrible seventh monarchy. I won’t describe that here, since I don’t want to ruin it for players.

Other fun little details are scattered through this section as we explore cat culture, spirituality and relationships and are taken on a tour of the monarchies, noting a pawful of points of interest in each one.

Cats are wary when making new acquaintances; they always wonder what they can get out of the relationship and what the other cat is after. True friendships and even romances are still common enough, however. This cautious attitude very much fits my experience of meeting cats, so it makes sense to me!

Cat Houses have many different rules of etiquette. If you anger a cat you should apologise quickly then spend some time trying to discretely work out what it was that you did wrong. Cat bars are called lounges and tend to be filled with comfortable cushions and luxurious furniture to curl up or sprawl out on. They serve catnip tea and honeyed milk alongside alcoholic beverages such as mead.

Plastic is used as currency. Perhaps because, when used to coat the hulls of ships, it allows passage across the Acid Sea and so is vital for trade. In Rex there is a language of knots. Angora has a library that was carved out of a giant redwood tree. The trap-filled Iron Fang Maze was once the domain of a demonic serial killer and is now used by the cats of House Korat as a proving ground.

There’s also a description of Trillani’s Trailblazers, an organisation that any cat can join, which dispatches teams of adventurers to explore the world and bring back relics. Trailblazers are also sent to investigate and deal with various problems that plague the cats of the monarchies. A perfect and intentional excuse for a GM to base a story around a disparate band of cats who all share the same mission.

Mission Accepted

Next up is Guide Advice. This is a very in-depth introduction to the different aspects of a GM’s role, from host to referee. This section includes a lot of practical information such as establishing rules for your gaming table (e.g. whether to allow phones). It provides guidance on everything from running combat and assisting with character creation to choosing themes and power levels for your campaign’s story. Novice GMs will likely find this all very helpful.

The Masterworks section notes that there are three kinds of Masterwork.

  • Relics: Powerful artefacts that grant a permanent benefit as long as they are in a cat’s possession.
  • Fixes: Items with a finite number of charges or doses.
  • Wonders: Items with no immediately obvious practical use.

A reasonable series of distinctions and one that only strengthens my belief that the setting of Mau could lie between our time and that of Numenera.

Cats who study certain Masterworks carefully enough can work out how to break them and absorb their power, gaining a new Secret in the process.

The Masterworks on offer are a mixture of classic D&D items, technological gadgets such as bugging devices and lighters and one or two things that look to have been conjured straight out of the writers’ fevered imaginations. Items such as magical armour and explosive devices are neatly summarised with a single line apiece. Even so the Masterworks section only runs to six pages and I feel that this game, which encourages players to explore the fallen cities of Man in order to loot all of their artefacts, could do with having more artefacts to loot.

On a positive note, there’s a very cutesy-cool picture in this section that shows a cat smirking cheekily as she blends into the shadows using a magical cloak while two sleepy bulldog guards utterly fail to notice her.

Magic Cloak

Finally, for the Guides Tome of Secrets we have the Enemies section.

As a bestiary this section isn’t particularly big. Many of the enemies presented are members of the sentient races—Penitent Mutts, Badger Slashers and Insane Mancers for example. All of these uplifted animals have interesting abilities mind you. This book serves reasonably well if you were running a city-based campaign with a lot of uplifted animals as opponents and the occasional monster lurking in the sewers or getting summoned in by rogue Mancers or cultists.

For a wilderness exploration campaign or a classic D&D ‘kill the monsters and steal the treasure’ type of campaign you’d probably need to fall back on the monster creation rules included in the book after a few adventures. (Or look elsewhere for fresh beasties to hurl against the PCs.) The monster-creation rules are brief and well explained, coming complete with tables and examples. It wouldn’t be too difficult for even a new GM to use them to stat out new monsters in pretty short order.

There are a few classic opponents like zombies and bandits. But there are definitely some standouts that show off the writing team’s creative muscles.

A weird flying vehicle that snatches cats, paralyses them and carries them off to who-knows-where.

The Nagayaga (a play on Baba Yaga I would imagine), an ancient and malevolent magic-user who is half cat and half snake and is served by an army of living wire-bundles called Etherkesh. Etherkesh burrow their wires into your skin in order to absorb information from your very being. Charming.

Even more disturbing are the Excoriates. Flying alien skulls with three eyeholes. Instead of eyes the creature has clawed tentacles that latch onto unfortunate victims’ heads and try to devour their brains. This monster is disturbing enough that I would advise not introducing it in a game where some of the players are younger children. (Depends on the kid, some of them will probably delight in such creepy creatures and their gory habits.)

The lizard NPCs caught my attention. Both the Thousand Oath Duellist and the Mystic Calligraphist hinted at a rich and fascinating culture full of new secrets to learn and strange powers to unlock. I’d be very tempted to check out a lizard-themed sourcebook for this setting.

There’s also a Mouse Glider Bomber. Which needs no context, I think. And dinosaurs with metal skeletons and laser-vision and if that didn’t make you want to check the book out, then honestly, I don’t know what you want out of life.

Not every enemy gets a picture, but all the creature art is well done and evocative. (No pictures of the laser dinosaurs, sadly.)

The book finishes up with an adventure.

All Hail the Rat King

*Mild spoilers ahead.*

After a brief bit of fluff text, the adventure opens with some basic GM advice, explaining how the adventure is laid out and noting that it’s fine to add or change scenes to your taste.

This adventure concerns a movement called The Rat Kings, aimed at improving the lives of rats and mice in the monarchy of Cymric. The mayor of the town where the Rat Kings have made their home is concerned about all the rodents roaming around the streets and calls in a group of Trailblazers to investigate.

Of course, there’s more going on than meets the eye and the Trailblazers will have to deal with mad cultists, giant animals, traps and treachery before they can get to the bottom of this mystery. This is a solid starting adventure with an emphasis on dungeon-crawling. There’s a little bit of investigation, a hide-and-seek style chase scene and a dash of social interaction too.

A couple of maps help to make a some of the longer and potentially more confusing scenes easier to decipher.

A few neat little touches stood out to me. Such as the way the reek of a tannery gives Player Characters the Anosmic Condition (unable to smell anything) until the end of the scene.

The adventure draws on a couple of the unique selling points of the Mau setting.

Firstly, there’s the political and social manoeuvring between different species of uplifted animal. This issue doesn’t get fixed after one adventure and the book offers several ways the tensions between cat and rat could play out later in the campaign, depending on the choices the players made. All good stuff and it has the potential to allow groups to explore themes of racial intolerance and inclusion in a relatively safe way, should they wish to.

Secondly, there are plenty of secrets to uncover, from mysterious technological devices lying beneath the cities of cat-kind to revelations about the true motivations of certain NPCs. Overall this isn’t an adventure that’s going to go down in history as one of the all-time greats. But it’s pretty interesting and it does what it sets out to do efficiently: taking the Mau setting for a spin, walking a new GM through the process of running an adventure and giving players a chance to try out a good range of encounters, puzzles and conundrums.

*End Spoilers*

There’s not much more to say about this book. The art is high quality. It’s colourful, often dramatic and occasionally adorable or funny. Some characters looked a little awkward to me but for the most part I found this book to be a treat for the eyes. One picture in particular shows a desperate fight between a band of cats and a horde of rats (ordinary rats, not the uplifted kind) in a crumbling mansion. There’s a real sense of danger and savage desperation to the scene that stayed with me for some time after looking at it.

Rat Fight

To Conclude

This book has a pretty cool and flexible setting that can go in a lot of different directions. The cuteness factor may tempt new people into the hobby (always a good thing). It’s generally very good at teaching new players and GMs the ropes and would be an excellent first roleplaying game. The rules are tried, tested and sensible and have fewer wrinkles than some D20 systems.

On the downside the book could do with more descriptions of antagonists and magical items. Perhaps this will be addressed in future supplements.

So then. Would I recommend this game to you, gentle reader? That depends on whether or not you like cats and D&D! But if you’re on the fence then consider the possibilities Mau offers. Your players are exploring the tumbledown ruins of a long-abandoned castle, only to gradually realise that their cats have found what’s left of a laser-tag range or a ghost train. Then the players begin to work out that the arcane structures that dot the surrounding landscape used to belong to a theme park.

Or perhaps you don’t have any players at the moment. Perhaps you want to introduce your friends or even your kids to the D&D mindset. This streamlined game is great practice for D&D 5E. It’s not as simple as OSR games perhaps, but its rules are easier to grasp, less idiosyncratic and considerably less punishing to the unwary.

Do your players enjoy a laugh? It’s easy enough to dial up the humour of Mau, throwing purr-fect puns around and going off in search of the ultimate recipe for catnip tea.

It’s also possible to play up the horror elements, which might attract those who like their World of Darkness games. There are demons in this world (with some nicely nasty illustrations). There are horrible cults and bizarre aliens too. And let’s face it, having bad things happen to a cat is more traumatic than having bad things happen to an elf. There’s also the chance to learn about the fallen world of humans. What destroyed them? Plague? Ecological disaster? Extra-terrestrial invasion? Might it happen again? Even if the truth of the setting’s past is never revealed you and your players can still revel in the pathos of a fallen world.

Do you like Game of Thrones but don’t fancy the fairly complex and low magic A Song of Ice and Fire RPG? You could build a fairly involved and intriguing campaign based around political skulduggery in this setting. The Monarchies of Mau are currently without a monarch and the ruling council are going to have to agree on a new leader soon or this still-fragile alliance of nations will collapse into anarchy.

Sword Fight

More into sci-fi than fantasy? (You strange person you.) You can play up the suitably advanced technology aspect of the setting or just have fun littering the monarchies with laser-swords and crashed space-shuttles.

Maybe you’ve never run a game yourself before? This book talks you through just about every challenge a budding GM might face.

If any of that has sparked your imagination, then get on over to your preferred RPG retailer and check out Monarchies of Mau.

If you want more from this setting then you should have a look at Canis Minor—an online resource where members of the Pugmire and Mau community can create and sell their own content for either game. (Admittedly, it’s mostly Pugmire stuff at the time of writing but there’s a mini bestiary which would be very handy.)

Credits

  • Published by Pugsteady and Onyx Path.
  • Written by David Bounds, Matthew Dawkins, Elissa Rich, Lauren Roy, Vera Vartanian, Eddy Webb, and Rob Wieland.
  • Pugmire created by Eddy Webb and owned by Pugsteady.
  • Edited by Dixie Cochran.
  • Art by Pat Loboyko, Pat McEvoy, Claudio Pozas, James Mosingo, Felipe Gaona, Sara Winters,
  • Shen Fei, William O’Brien, Bryan Syme, Sam Wood, and Alida Saxon.
  • Art direction by Michael Chaney and Rich Thomas.

Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of this game in return for an honest review.

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2 Comments

  1. Avatar Eddy Webb says:

    Thanks for the great review, Richard! One quick note: Using the OGL as I did for Pugmire and Mau is absolutely legal — the whole point of the OGL is to allow for derivative products like this, so it’s actually encouraged. Many great games (such as Mutants & Masterminds and the entire “retroclone” subindustry) use this as a basis. If you ever get around to revising this, I’d appreciate you clarifying that point, so there’s no implication that the only thing shady about the game are the cat buglers. Thanks! 🙂

    • Avatar Richard Marpole says:

      Hi Eddy. I’m glad you enjoyed the review!
      I was pleased to hear that Pirates of Pugmire will give us more details on lizards in the setting by the way. The lizard NPCs in this book really sparked my imagination.
      (As for the OGL. My light-hearted description of it aside, I can also confirm that it is a perfectly legal licence which has been used in its various incarnations by hundreds of game-writers. Since Wizards of the Coast chose to include 5e DND in the licence it seems that they’re pretty happy with the situation. No one should be considered shady for using it. As to how one goes about using the OGL, I leave that for individual readers to research for themselves should they wish to.)

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