Back from hiatus! I’m moved across the country and ready to start up posting again. My nuclear family is joining up with a multigenerational colony of mephits and it’s all chaotic. Because the colony also includes two sweet dogs I’m dedicating my first post back to reviewing the awesome game Heckin’ Good Doggos.
The authors bill Heckin’ Good Doggos as “an all-ages table top roleplaying game about dogs doing god stuff.” Fairly straightforward then! It really is a very wholesome game as presented with dogs that sometimes make trouble but generally love their Best Friends (i.e. any humans) and just like being around other doggos. There’s no character death and bloody combat scenes are discouraged, horror in games is something that needs to be discussed, and mapping human biases onto dogs is deeply discouraged.
Heckin’ Good Doggos uses a system they call the +One system. This system uses a dice pool system where you roll a number of d6s equal to the training in your skill. Rolling a 5 or 6 is a success and you compared this to a target number for number of successes. Sometimes you’ll have a challenge which is a group effort of the whole pack rolling and pooling their successes together. Target numbers seem to range from 1 (pretty simple) to 3 (difficult) but I don’t think there’s an actual limit. Nor is there a table, unfortunately, so it would take some trial and error before GMs are ready to improvise freely. Here is a probability spread from anydice.com if you’re interested in the curves but it’s also not quite that simple.
Skills in Heckin’ Good Doggos have attributes linked to all their skills. Unlike some other games, these attributes do not add to your pool of dice but they do provide a pool of points that you can use to manipulate your rolls. Before you roll you can spend a point to add a bonus die to the pool or to temporarily become trained in an untrained skill. After the roll you can spend points to add a pip to a die (boosting its result by +1) or to reroll any number of dice and keep the new result (only allowed once per roll). For instance, if your dog has a Performing skill of 2 and a Brawn (the linked attribute) of 2 then they roll 2d6 as their pool of dice but have two points of Brawn to spend to manipulate the roll. Like in the Cypher system, these points are both your points to spend and your hit points, effectively. When you drop to 0 in any of your attributes then you are out of the scene for all intents and purposes (knocked out, cowering in fear, too busy going ham on some delicious trash, etc) and will take a back seat. At the end of the scene, you get a point back in any attributes at zero.
The other complexity in all of this is the use of cards. At the start of a game session, and with each new scene, you have a hand of four playing cards that are another tool in your box. These are primarily used as another skill boost (add a success to your roll) and for conflicts where there’s some problem to overcome (not necessarily a fight). You can also play cards to get your attribute points back, or heal another character’s attribute points, so you can restock after spending to manipulate. However, to use a card any way but healing you need to match the suit to the scene. Hearts are used when you’re being cute and asking for help, Spades are for making friends and acting excited, Diamonds are for threats and bites, and Clubs are for times of speed or strength.
So for your Performing skill above you can definitely use Hearts and Spades since being cute or happy helps things out but Diamonds don’t work because snarling and barking is not going to win your audience over. Clubs depend on the scene, I guess. Conflicts are actually completed without a die roll at all, instead your pack pools their cards to try and overcome the conflict together. The book provides a whole bunch of conflicts for you to use but they’re also easy to make with just a few notes. Getting rid of a squirrel, for instance, can be done by playing 3 Spades (make a friend!), 2 Diamonds (bark!), or 4 Clubs (chase!) collectively. If you don’t have the right cards as a group (or someone refuses to help, I guess) then you suffer the scene’s Consequence which is most often attribute damage but could be anything. The squirrel, for instance, just heads out of reach and up a tree. At the ends of the scene or conflict you draw back up to four cards.
To make a new dog, you have to make just a few simple decisions. First you pick a canine breed which is generalized into four categories: cute, friendly, big, or fast breeds. Each of these can add a Heart, Spade, Diamond, or Club to a conflict respectively and can do this once per session. Then you divide 10 points among your three attributes of Brawn, Smarts, and Guts (minimum of 1 and maximum of 6) which generally work as hit points and skill manipulation points as discussed above (also your rating is the TN to damage your attribute directly). Attributes each have three linked skills as follows:
- Brawn is linked to Performing, Staying (resistance), and Sneaking.
- Smarts is linked to Sensing (empathy), Knowing, and Fiddling (understanding human devices).
- Guts is linked to Investigating, Sniffing, and Surviving (finding food and water).
You need a name and a Best Friend you live with (or your pack relationships for strays) and then everyone collectively builds out your characters’ neighborhood. As the game progresses you can grow and increase your attributes, skills, or hand size but that’s about it!
The remainder of the book is devoted to a series of different campaign frameworks and settings to try out. Neighborhood Pals is a classic dog world of houses and yards and fellow dogs and interesting smells. You might have to deal with grudges and hierarchies among the neighborhood pets but it’s really just about finding fun things, keeping your Best Friends safe, keeping cats and other nuisances away, and getting home in time for kibble in the evening.
Hexin’ Good Doggos is a magical setting dogs as seers of the Unseen, patrolling the neighborhood at night to keep ghosts and night creatures away from the unsuspecting humans. There are arcane canine factions (arcanine factions?), unbodied spirits, magical pacts that bind pups together, and other magical strangeness.
Mechin’ Good Doggos is very different, set in a near future Earth which is essentially Pacific Rim] but for dogs. Suiting up in massive robotic suits, dogs fight off Alters (essentially kaiju) who plague their town of Biscuit and are kept at bay only by the Alter Reaction Force (A.R.F.). Full of puns and laughs, this is a potentially awesome setting for kiddos.
Wreckin’ Good Doggos is about playing dogs in the apocalypse. Humans wrecked the world but the loyal doggos, in their canine wisdom, buried caches for their Best Friends and are trying to keep them alive through the end times. There are boosted archetypes to try and give you an edge in this harsh setting but mostly its about finding doggy happiness in bleakness.
Ye Olde Favorable Hounds is a medieval setting for playing dogs among knights and peasants and cruel feudal lords. It could be a magical setting or an historical one but either way you’re sure to enjoy some mutton sooner or later so it’s a good time. Following your knight around the land, you help them on wonderful deeds and potentially fight dragons and ne’er-do-wells.
Super Good Doggos is the last setting and is about dog superheroes! Like Bolt, you’re a dog with supercanine abilities (maybe you’re an alien dog or a mutant or whatever…) and you keep the world safe from supervillains like radioactive cats, bad super dogs, or giant robots. Fun stuff.
Heckin’ Good Doggos is exactly and succinctly a game about playing dogs out on doggy adventures. The mechanics are straightforward and tailored for the game experience, and while the cards on top of it all can be a little confusing as your attention shifts back and forth the conflict system is fast and exciting. I found this game to be really engaging, heartwarming, and hilarious as needed.
There’s nothing stopping you from playing Heckin’ Good Cats, by the way, with the same ruleset. You could even play Heckin’ Good Bunnies or Heckin’ Good Cockatoos if you want, and you could even play them all in the same group for a wild mix. Personally, I’d just have people pick their favorite pet and have a group of pet friends roaming the neighborhood.
However you play it, though, Heckin’ Good Doggos is a fantastic game and if it seems at all appealing then I highly recommend you pick it up. It’s a good game for good dogs and their Best Friends. What else could you want?