Book Review: Puppetland
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Written by John Scott Tynes, Arnold Cassel, Arinn Dembo, Matt Forbeck, Fred Hicks, Kenneth Hite, Jason Morningstar, Ross Payton, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, and James Wallis
Illustrated by Samuel Araya, Heather Hudson, Hollie Mengert, and Raven Mimura
Cover by Alejandro Teran
Publisher: Arc Dream Publishing
Release date: November 28th, 2016

Do you have an hour to spare with me and a few friends?

The Maker has been killed, smashed in the head by Punch the Maker-Killer, and Judy…who once loved Punch… now abhors him. He and his loyal followers, wearing the skin of the Maker, rule Puppetland in fear, where it is always cold and enshrouded in darkness.

This is the story that precedes Puppetland, an RPG where everyone is a puppet (except the puppetmaster – he/she uses several “uniques”), and must navigate the dismal world that Punch rules. The book was funded in 3 days on Kickstarter, based on author John Scott Tynes’ original game.

More below.

According to Tynes:

Puppetland trailblazed the Indie RPG movement back in 1995 when I first published it on my website. It wasn’t just diceless; Puppetland sidestepped most notions of RPG game mechanics and went straight for the jugular of pure collaborative narrativism. It was reprinted in the British games magazine Arcane in 1997 and then expanded and reprinted by James Wallis’s game company Hogshead in 1999.

Rules of the game: The first rule of Puppetland is: you do not talk about Puppetland.

No… wrong rules, but there are some specific ones:

– The game lasts one hour – “An Hour is golden. An hour is not an hour.” This is just what it means. In reality, the game end after one hour has passed, and everyone goes back to reset (except dead puppets). But in the imagination, any amount of time can have passed, as long as your puppet says so.

– What you say is what your puppet says when you are seated – “What you say is what you say.” If you have to break character, you must be standing. If you are sitting, you ARE your puppet, and must articulate the puppet’s actions as well.

– The tale that starts may not end the way you think – “The tale grows in the telling, and is being told to someone not present.” This is the fun rule. The puppetmaster narrates, but the puppets (players) move the story as well, snowballing the narrative.

The Puppets:

There are 4 types of puppets, finger, hand, shadow, and marionette (my favorite), but all can only do what their attributes allow (i.e. finger puppets can’t kick).

The game allows you to make up a new type of puppet as well. The puppetmaster has access to very specific puppets called Uniques, and they are creepy.

The book is rife with game advice and suggestions. Each tale gives you some gifts such as set pieces, villains, innocents, antes, and macguffins (plot device – usually protagonist’s goal or desire).

Having no previous knowledge of Puppetland, it was the new story of the Maker that hooked me, as horrific as Grimm. Puppets are naturally scary (like clowns), but evil puppets give one an exceptional chill (like evil clowns). Just reading through the book is entertaining enough, but once you start a game, where you think it’s going is NOT where you end up. This is definitely not for young children, and it genuinely scared this adult at points. I had to think, “How would Stephen King move the story?” And move it did.

Some extra special shout-outs are needed to the incredible art of this book. The cover is terrifyingly rich, with the perspective enhancing the impression that Punch is coming to get you.

If you love RPGs, you need this book, available on Amazon now.

Book synopsis:

The skies are dark always since the Maker died. Perpetual winter. Perpetual night. We curse the name of Punch the Maker-Killer — but only when no one can hear. One-hour games have never been filled with more humor and horror, courage and cowardice, childlike wonder and childlike terror than the experimental role-playing game Puppetland. Players say only what their puppets say; the game moderator narrates the unfolding events, speaking in the past tense like the voice of a storybook. This deluxe edition of Puppetland is lavishly illustrated by Samuel Araya, Heather Hudson, Hollie Mengert, and Raven Mimura, with a stunning cover painting by Alejandro Teran. It includes a new short story about the fall of the Maker; author John Scott Tynes’ afterword about history of Puppetland and the surprising turns it took since it first appeared in 1995; and 17 tales ready to be played, written by Tynes and contributors Arnold Cassel, Arinn Dembo, Matt Forbeck, Fred Hicks, Kenneth Hite, Jason Morningstar, Ross Payton, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, and James Wallis. Your puppets are ready to take the stage. But speak softly, lest the Nutcrackers come to call with a sharp rap-rap-rapping at the door. Arc Dream Publishing supports Puppetland with volunteer Puppetmasters, ready to run demo games, and with the Bits & Mortar program, which allows stores provide the PDF to their customers at no cost.

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