Jeffrey Thomas‘ short story collections include Punktown, Voices from Punktown, Nocturnal Emissions, and Unholy Dimensions, and such novels as Deadstock, Blue War, Monstrocity, and Letters from Hades. He has been a finalist for the Bram Stoker and John W. Campbell Awards, and several of his tales have been reprinted in the anthologies The Year’s Best Horror Stories and The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Visit his blog at: http://punktalk.punktowner.com.

Punktown: The Role-Playing Game

From the start, I saw my setting of Punktown as a creative playground for other people besides myself.

I first came up with the notion for this world while my father was driving me somewhere or other, back in 1980. I noticed a woman in another car, whose face was partly in shadow, making it appear as if her long hair were growing out of black eye sockets. This image became the inspiration for the tentacle-eyed “Tikkihotto” race that appears in numerous Punktown stories. But for whatever reason, this image sparked more than just one alien…no, my muse’s gears didn’t stop turning there. By the time we arrived home, I had developed the idea of writing about a future world into which I could introduce all manner of strange beings, and bizarrely distorted reflections of our own here-and-now. SF as satire, social commentary, but with an unapologetic nod to the tropes of pulp fiction.

The name of this place? At that time I worked in a noisy boot factory (in fact, I wrote most of my first Punktown novel at work, by hand, during downtime), and through the clamor of activity I misheard the lyrics of a new song called Funkytown by Lipps Inc. It being the era of punk — never mind that the song was disco — I thought they were saying “Punktown.” Well, I found out they weren’t, but that name was now stuck in my head. (By the way, when I mentioned the origin of Punktown in a comment on the Lipps Inc. web site, they sent me a Funkytown t-shirt.)

Right away, with the seed of Punktown planted, I invited my brother Scott Thomas and a writer friend, Tom Hughes, to contribute their own stories to this proposed project. Scott and I both wrote short novels, while Tom wrote a novella to fit between them. Actually, Tom’s novella is the only one of the three stories that have as yet seen print. This was in a shared world Punktown anthology I edited for Prime, released in 2004, titled Punktown: Third Eye. I told you this milieu has a history as a sandbox for other creative people to mess around in.

My brother Scott did, however, go on to write half the stories in a later book, Punktown: Shades of Grey, 2006, from Bedlam Press. The other half of the collection was written by me, of course. But other writers didn’t stop visiting Punktown with that book. Lately, two German friends have been collaborating on a Punktown short story and sharing installments with me via Facebook. Also, currently making the rounds is a screenplay based on my 2008 novel Health Agent, authored by none other than singer/songwriter Walter Egan (“Magnet & Steel”). Wish us luck with that!

But what I should get to here is an exciting project developing even as we virtually speak. This is a role-playing game based on Punktown, compatible with the Call of Cthulhu and BRP game systems. The idea for such a game was first suggested to me by Michael Tresca, a reviewer for the Examiner, author of the recent novel The Well of Stars and nonfiction book The Evolution of Fantasy Role-Playing Games, and a boatload of game supplements and adventures. I have to admit here: I’m not a gamer myself. Scott and I played a single game of Dungeons and Dragons back in 1983, with a friend. But if Mike thought my world would make a great setting for an RPG, who was I to dispute it? And so Mike set out to read everything I had written about Punktown…the short story collections like Punktown and Voices from Punktown, the novels like DeadstockBlue WarEverybody Scream! and Monstrocity. He ended up with 37,000 words of “core rules.” With this in hand, Mike next approached a certain Tom Lynch, president of Miskatonic River Press, a publisher of role-playing game material plus original fiction. To our delight, Tom embraced the idea of a Punktown game book with great enthusiasm, and following Mike’s lead, began consuming the entire Punktown canon. Things were underway.

Next, Brian M. Sammons was invited onboard to write one of the book’s game scenarios. Brian’s credentials, besides co-editing various anthologies for Chaosium (anthologies for which, to date, he’s accepted four of my own tales), include numerous fiction sales and contributions to Call of Cthulhu game books.

See, what attracted the likes of Tom Lynch and Brian M. Sammons is that, like them, I share a great appreciation for the work of H. P. Lovecraft. Though certainly not all of my Punktown fiction contains Lovecraftian themes or references, those eldritch influences have been strongly present in a number of Punktown short stories and very much to the fore in the novels “Deadstock,” Monstrocity, and Everybody Scream!. The feeling our gathering team of super-powered Punktown Avengers shared was that as a game, Punktown could be played purely as a cyberpunk-style setting, or include the Cthulhu Mythos also, depending on the gamer’s inclination. Punktown is versatile that way. After all, in Asimov’s Paul Di Filippo once described Punktown as, “A defiant hybrid of SF, fantasy, surrealism, Ashcan Realism, and horror…The venue that Thomas has created is a strong one, uniquely his own, and amenable to hosting just about any kind of tale.”

And any kind of game adventure, I dare say.

I also immediately felt that this book could appeal to non-gamers like myself. For one thing, it will contain two brand new stories by myself, as a means of introducing people to the setting through the originator’s eyes (if they haven’t already been tourists to the place). Then there are the scenarios to be authored by Mr. Sammons and Mr. Lynch. And Mr. Tresca’s core rules read very much like a helpful encyclopedia of Punktown — fun in itself — but also, in a broader sense, simply as a rich buffet of weirdness one might savor. All those detailed descriptions of Punktown’s multiple alien races, the mutants, the weapons, the weird locations, and on and on.

So now, with our combined vision, our team had to consider how best to take this grand endeavor to the next step: publication. This was when Miskatonic River Press’ guru Tom Lynch broached the idea of funding the book via a Kickstarter campaign, so it could afford to be the very best book it could be. And this is indeed the path he has taken.

On November 19th, the Punktown role-playing game Kickstarter went live, and it concludes on December 19th. Here is the link to the page (wherein you will be charmed by a video introduction by Tom Lynch himself, transmitted direct from Punktown):

We’re doing well so far, but we hope to see this trend continue…so that we might reach our goal and make this project a reality. Our hopes are riding on it. Our dreams. Because this collaborative project gives our crew a chance to showcase its individual areas of talent. Just as that brutal yet also oddly inviting city named Punktown has always lured new citizens with promises of a place to call home. A place of delirious pleasures and dangerous thrills.

I hope you won’t be adverse to joining us there. Because in this new presentation of Punktown, the readers will themselves get to become the writers. And the characters.

I might just have to take up gaming, myself.

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