Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Come Play in Punktown: Miskatonic River Press Adapts the Famed CyberCraft Horror World of Jeffrey Thomas into New Role-Playing Game

Punktown RPG cover art by Mariusz Gandzel
One of the exciting powers wielded by writers of fantastical fiction is the atoms-up creation of worlds insider their minds - actualizing "real estate," as I call it, usually when grumbling that the story I am working on has too much of it, which makes the fabricating of each square foot all the more time consuming. Those writers who set their tales in modern, contemporary, and/or familiar settings don't need to constitute much real estate at all, as it has already been shaped and realized by that helpful imp called Reality. Even Lovecraftian writers aren't burdened with carving much ariable land out of the wilderness, as a slightly built man from Providence - and many of his inspired disciples - have done much of the heavy lifting for us.

But those who peer into the blackness, wave their magic quill, and bring navigable conjure real estate from the formless void are doing real, strenuous work, which also carries with it a high threshold for reward. Being a Creator of Place gives the scribe total control over the physics, laws, and makeup of everything inside that new sphere of metaphysical existence.  They are God of this Place, and that is heady stuff.

Renowned author (and one of my favorite living horror writers) Jeffrey Thomas has played God, and birthed forth a dark, dangerous place of neverending possibility and infinite pain called Punktown.  To crib his official bio, Thomas is a prolific writer of science fiction and horror, best known for his stories set in the nightmarish future city called Punktown, such as the novel Deadstock (Solaris Books) and the collection Punktown (Ministry of Whimsy Press), from which a story was reprinted in St. Martin's The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror #14. He has been a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award (Best First Novel) for Monstrocity, and a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Deadstock.

For decades, Thomas has penned novels and short stories of futuristic horror set in the far flung megalopolis Punktown, amassing a history tome filled with dread and cover-wrapped in blood, splayed out under a cold cosmos populated by Elder Gods and chugging space freighters. Punktown is a Weird fiction classic, and now - thanks to the inspired minds at Miskatonic River Press - you, dear reader, have been invited to walk the dingy streets, mix amongst the indigenous Chooms, hard scrabble human immigrants, and a murderous mix of alien races, mutants, clones, and sentient machines.  This is Lovecraftian Cyberpunk (or CyberCraft, as I call it ).  This is Sci-Fi Noir.  This is the real estate of Punktown, and now you're allowed inside, to do as you will, and certainly as you must.

Indeed, Punktown is now set to roll out as a Role-Playing Game.  Now, it can be your turn to play God, making note to mind your Elders, by picking up Punktown: An RPG Setting for Call of Cthulhu and BRP.

Miskatonic River Press, in their infinite wisdom, recently selected Thomas' Punktown universe as one of their newest settings, writing Punktown: An RPG Setting for Call of Cthulhu and BRP for the famed BRP system, allowing Call of Cthulhu players and keepers to play in Punktown, as the game was created to be completely and seamlessly compatible with Call of Cthulhu and Chaosium's many other game settings.

A Kickstarter is up and running to help fund this fantastic project.  Fans of RPGs, CoC, and of Jeffrey's Thomas' exceptional fiction can click here and pledge a little to make this happen.  Much like NPR and Public Television, you need to pay a little up front to get the good stuff in the end.  You've gotta' back what you love.  This is no different.  Funding this project via Kickstarter will cast a ballot for quality, and bring a new CyberCraft world into the gaming universe.

To provide a bit of context and background on the project, we may as well go straight to the horrorist's mouth, so to speak.  For those who missed it, Thomas answers all the questions you might have in his recent addition to the winding cybersnake The Next Big Thing, published last week on his Punktalk (Confessions of a Punktowner) website:

(1) What is the working title of your next book?

Right now the publisher, Miskatonic River Press, is calling it: Punktown: An RPG Setting for Call of Cthulhu® and BRP. Because that just about says it right there. The book will a role-playing game guide based on my dark future world of Punktown, which is the setting of many of my novels and short stories. The game will be compatible with the Call of Cthulhu® and BRP systems.

(2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

It was suggested to me by Michael Tresca — author of the nonfiction book The Evolution of Fantasy Role-Playing Games and the novel The Well of Stars, among others — that my milieu of Punktown would make a great setting for a role-playing game. He started constructing a set of “core rules” based on his extensive reading of my Punktown material, devoting chapters to game mastering, character types, powers, weapons and technology, aliens and creatures, etc. All the aspects of Punktown that make my stories set there so varied: now at a gamer’s disposal. Once we had these core rules to present, Mike took them to Tom Lynch, president of Miskatonic River Press, and Tom was sold on the project. Tom then invited writers Brian M. Sammons and Glynn Barrass onboard, based on their experience with gaming and their enthusiasm for Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, to write game scenarios for the book.

(3) What genre does your book fall under?

My Punktown stories are a fusion of science fiction, horror, noir, pretty much any genre or subgenre that strikes my fancy. They’ve been variously described as cyberpunk and New Weird, but when I write one I don’t think in terms of genre…I’m just going to take another trip to Punktown. And incidentally, I’ve always written each Punktown story — whether short story or novel — so that it could exist on its own, without a reader having to catch up on any other Punktown story first. I’ve even utilized the Cthulhu Mythos in some of my Punktown stories, most notably in my novels Deadstock and Monstrocity, so gamers are going to be able to play Call of Cthulhu® -type scenarios in a refreshing new setting…a dystopian far future setting. But they can also leave the Mythos out entirely if they’d rather. The possibilities — and dangers — in the city of Punktown are endless.

(4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Besides having inspired the game’s setting and monitoring all material to make sure it’s consistent with the Punktown universe, my own contribution to the book is two original short stories…included as an introduction to the game’s world through the creator’s eyes. It’s hard for me to imagine who might play the characters from those stories — particularly since one story’s protagonist is Jeremy Stake, the private eye hero of my novels Deadstock and Blue War. Stake is a mutant with the ability to change his appearance at will (and sometimes even against his will). In his natural state, he has an oddly bland, android-like face. But I suppose if I had to pick an actor to play him, it would be Ryan Gosling. Thirty years ago I would have said Christopher Walken.

(5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

This book offers the foundation for an entire role-playing game compatible with the Call of Cthulhu® and BRP game systems, set in the nightmarish future city of Punktown, but will also appeal to non-gamers with its new fiction and a core set of rules that can serve as a kind of fanciful encyclopedia from another world.

(6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Neither. As I say, the publisher is Miskatonic River Press, and I don’t have an agent. I’ve only ever self-published one book, my collection Aaaiiieee!!! in its original incarnation (an expanded hardcover edition was later released by Delirium Books). For me, self-publishing isn’t nearly as rewarding as having a publisher invest money, time, and faith in my work. But to fund this book, the publisher feels the best approach is to use a Kickstarter campaign, to make the book the very best product it can be. The Kickstarter for the project, which closes on December 19th, can be found here:

(7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

The project has been ongoing for a couple of years now, and it’s still underway. At this writing I’ve finished one and a half of my two tales, and the book’s game scenarios still need to be written by the book’s other contributors. But the core rules of the book, as I said before, are complete at a meaty 37,000 words.

(8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Punktown is sometimes compared to China Mieville’s New Crobuzon (Perdido Street Station) and Jeff VanderMeer’s city of Ambergris (Finch), and I suppose there’s a superficial resemblance. Those settings also combine elements of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, but in such a fusion that the borders and limitations of genre dissolve. I’d call their work fantastical or imaginative fiction, if I had to label it at all. Same with my Punktown work.

(9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

As I say, the idea to turn Punktown into a game setting was Michael Tresca’s. Thanks, Mike!

(10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest? 

Artwork! There are going to be interior illustrations…there’s even talk of a map of Punktown (I’ve never tried to map out my city before!)…and the cover — ohh, the cover! I’ve been watching it develop, in stages, at the hands of Polish artist Mariusz Gandzel, and even though he’s only just begun laying in color the thing is looking magnificent. It’s a wraparound cover, very exciting in composition, and I think it’s worth the price of the book itself!

Tis the season to give.  The added bonus is when you pledge funds to Punktown The Role-Playing Game, you not only support dark fiction writing, small press, and RPGs, but you are pre-ordering a gift to be delivered after all of the holiday bows and ribbons are put away and forgotten til next year.

Check out the Kickstarter page, watch the vid, then shake out those pockets and back this puppy.

And besides, do you really want to let down this dude below?  Who knows what Tom Lynch is going to do with that gun...

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