The name’s Davenport. I review games.
So the other day this fella walks into my office, grinnin’ from ear to ear.
No, I mean literally. His mouth stretched from one ear to the other.
“So… what are you supposed to be?” I says.
“No,” he says, “I’m a Choom. We’re the natives of the planet Oasis, home to the city of Paxton, better known as Punktown.”
“I see,” I says. “And why should I care about Punktown?”
“Oh, lots of reasons,” he says. “You’ve got a futuristic setting with aliens (like me), mutants, robots, clones, and even Lovecraftian horrors, using Call of Cthulhu 6th edition and Basic Roleplaying.”
“That does sound promisin’,” I says. “Want to talk some more about it over a glass of whiskey?”
“Oh, no,” he says. “I’ve gotta get going. I’m telling everyone about Punktown!”
“Well, you do have a big mouth.”
Punktown creator Jeffrey Thomas introduces the reader to the history of the setting, from its conception in 1980, through the publication of his first book in 2000 and the creation of the RPG book.
The Seeds of Corruption
This is a Jeffrey Thomas short story about a face-shifting mutant detective’s efforts to thwart an apocalyptic cult at the behest of some extradimensional bug people. It’s a great introduction to the feel of the settting — something that’s certainly needed, given the setting’s odd nature.
In addition to giving an overview of the book’s chapters, the Introduction provides a helpful glossary of Punktown terms, a map of the city, and a quick explanation of why the setting is ideal for roleplaying.
Chapter One: The Punktown Universe
Here the book delves into Punktown itself, explaining that in this setting, humanity has spread through the universe via teleportation and interdimensional travel rather than spacecraft. Punktown, the colloquial name for the massive city of Paxton, exists on the planet Oasis and is a chaotic mix of clones, mutants, cyborgs, robots, aliens both extraterrestrial and extradimensional, and the shadowy influence of the Cthulhu Mythos. It’s a dark and fascinating place with a surreal mix of contemporary and far future elements.
The chapter offers a plethora of Punktown locations, each with a scenario hook to make them immediately useful.
Chapter Two: Gamemastering
This chapter starts off by exploring the potential themes of Punktown adventures:
- Corruption: Every sort of crime and depravity exist in Punktown, some of which are so alien as to make no sense at all.
- Neo-Noir: There’s room in Punktown for rare, flawed heroes willing to take a stand.
- Technology: Specifically, the use of technology in all manner of sick, twisted ways (see “Corruption” above).
Up next, the text discusses the importance of personal relationships in Punktown and how that affects playing with one or two players as well as with a more standard-sized party. I like that flexibility, as very few settings in my experience address playing with just one player. (Of course, given how brutal life is in Punktown, I’m not sure how feasible such an approach is in practice.)
There’s good news and bad news for Punktown characters when it comes to the issue of sanity. Given the prevalence of alien horrors and violence in the city, Punktown residents of a year or longer have SAN resistance equaling POW/3 — a very welcome feature, since the standard Call of Cthulhu sanity rules would result in Punktown PCs going bonkers in no time flat. The bad news is that every year spent in Punktown drains one point of maximum SAN.
The chapter next discusses life in Punktown, a place where weapons are a necessity. If there are any doubts on that subject, the random crime table titled “Punktown Will Kill You” clears them up nicely.
The chapter ends with a helpful random adventure creator with chapter references to relevant people, places, and things.
Chapter Three: Characters
So what sorts of PCs can you play in Punktown? Oh, the possibilities. The races suggested for PCs are all humanoid in form and generally human in overall power level, although the text does say that GMs are welcome to allow players to choose the more powerful and exotic races from the bestiary.
- Choom: The natives of Oasis. Human-looking aside from mouths that literally stretch ear to ear.
- Clone: Two varieties: Workers and soldiers. The former look like ordinary humans; the latter are all bald with a blue camouflage pattern on their skin due to having been bred to fight on a literal blue planet.
- Kalian: Attractive gray-skinned, spiritual, turban-wearing people with harsh laws regarding their women.
- Sinanese: Appearing like blue-skinned Asians, the extradimensional natives of the blue world Sinan fall into two factions: the Ha Jiin and the Jin Haa.
- Robot: All PC robots are humanoid and self-aware. They start off relatively weak but can accept unlimited upgrades with enough money.
- Tikkihotto: These aliens look just like ordinary humans except for the creepy worm-like ocular filaments they possess instead of eyes. Their remarkable visual acuity allows them to see in the dark, discern invisible transdimensional life forms, and perceive the mysterious color known as shrain.
After listing the Basic Roleplaying skills for no real reason that I can figure out, the chapter goes on to introduce 12 new professions. Many of these are simply the Punktown incarnations of ordinary professions, like Artist, Corporate Drone, Entertainer, and Student, but others are quite a bit more exotic. Some examples:
- Child of the Elders: A member of an Earth cult dedicated to the Elder Gods in opposition to the Great Old Ones.
- Health Agent: An agent of the Health Agency of Paxton with great autonomy and authorization to use deadly force in the prevention of dangerous plague outbreaks.
- Theta Researcher: An explorer of other dimensions to study the trace energies of deceased humans and humanoids.
Chapter Four: Powers
Powers in Punktown take the form of sorcery and mutations, the latter including psychic powers.
The rules give Punktown sorcerers access to the full list of spells in both Basic Roleplaying and Call of Cthulhu. Human (and humanoid) sorcerers in Punktown are more potent than their Call of Cthulhu counterparts due to their Punktown-spawned sanity loss resistance, which seems fitting.
The book introduces four new spells:
- Ascending Mode: Summons a demon at the risk of possession. Oddly, the text doesn’t include the stats for the type of demon summoned, making the spell’s utility questionable.
- Descending Mode: Banishes a summoned demon.
- Doors Upon Doors: Makes the sorcerer instantly aware of an intruder.
- Line Travel: Allows the sorcerer to teleport by way of another dimension.
As previously mentioned, Punktown mutations include psychic powers, but the rules don’t mention how to treat psychic powers as minor/major mutations. That will require a bit of work on the part of the GM.
Of course, this section will only be of use if the GM owns Basic Roleplaying, since Call of Cthulhu doesn’t include mutations at all.
The chapter does include seven new mutations, however:
- Caro Turbida: Allows the mutant to duplicate the features of another humanoid.
- Dimensional Folding: A bizarre mutation that allows the user to transform an object into a two-dimensional picture, fold it up, and store it in extradimensional space.
- Fish Mutant: Makes the mutant amphibious.
- Multiple Faces: Exactly what it says.
- Sonic Blast: A stunning sound-based attack.
- Spider Form: Makes the mutant cadaverous and adds extra joints to his limbs, increasing the Dodge skill.
- Telepathy: Combines mind detection, mind reading, thought transfer, and empathy.
For some reason, the author includes tables of diseases and drugs in this chapter. In any case, believe me when I say that the examples given of both are appropriately grotesque.
Chapter Five: Equipment
This chapter first offers a few examples of miscellaneous equipment, followed by a wide array of weapons — melee, energy, and projectile, as well as some that defy easy categorization. Some of these are flat-out weird, like the energy rifle that can fire a ray at a target you can see through a computer monitor or surveillance camera. Three examples of Punktown armor are included as well.
More intriguing are the rules for cybernetics. Cybernetic upgrades reduce the user’s maximum Sanity — a potentially deadly cost in a setting based on Call of Cthulhu. Punktown being the kind of place that it is, there’s also the risk that any installed cybernetics may be second-hand, stripped from either corpses or still-living “donors”, and hence subject to malfunctions.
The section presents basic cybernetic replacements followed by various upgrades. Most of these are the sorts of practical enhancements that you’d expect, like pop-out claws, stronger arms, and night vision eyes, but others are more cosmetic and truly strange. The Body Window comes to mind, a literal window revealing the subject’s guts as a fashion statement.
The chapter features a large table of Mythos tomes and their associated spells, although these will only do you any good if you own Call of Cthulhu. In an interesting touch, the text notes that actual physical tomes are rare in the setting but that they may have been digitally transcribed and distributed.
A small sampling of vehicles also appears in this section. These include flying and hovering cars, tanks, and the bizarre dimension-hopping coleopteriod tran.
Chapter Six: Creatures
And speaking of bizarre, that certainly describes the beings found in this chapter. If the aliens in Chapter Three seem too human-like, those in this chapter are, for the most part, utterly inhuman in numerous creative ways worthy of Lovecraft himself.
The chapter includes 23 aliens, 7 creatures, 7 robots, 9 servitor races, and 3 new Great Old Ones — a very respectable bestiary, especially given that anyone owning this setting book presumably will have access to the full Call of Cthulhu bestiary as well. (Amusingly, the Grays appear among the aliens. Turns out all that abducting and probing of humans was their idea of a joke.)
I’m a huge fan of pregen adventures, because they assure that I can get some use out of a setting with minimal effort. That’s doubly true of a setting as strange as this one. Punktown includes three great full-blown scenarios, ensuring that you can get your money’s worth from this book even if you never write your own adventure.
The Lemongrass Crater
A freak disaster involving a meteor strike on a Punktown apartment complex reveals some things better left buried. This one is a nice little “bug hunt” dungeon crawl with a bit of investigation beforehand and some great opportunities for NPC interaction.
Someone or something is abducting children from a local elementary school. Lots of investigation will be required, with a touch of combat here and there.
Looking Long Into The Abyss
This is a truly freaky and horrifying adventure that is not for the faint of heart or the easily triggered. It also makes up for the lack of Cthulhu Mythos elements in the two previous adventures — assuming that’s a drawback to you, of course — by dishing it out in spades here. And not in a cheesy “Mythos hoedown” way, either. Every horror the players encounter makes perfect sense. (In a sanity-blasting manner, of course.) Find out what happens when the Mythos meets the Ultranet, Punktown’s answer to the Internet. (Hint: You’d better have really good virus protection.)
The book ends as it began, with some fiction by Punktown creator Jeffrey Thomas. This time, a group of former gang members reunite to face an avatar of a Great Old One manifesting right in the heart of the city.
The cover is amazing, depicting the group from “Gathering Forces”. (Or, rather, the cover inspired the story, according to Jeffrey Thomas.) The black and white interior artwork ranges from serviceable to excellent, the best of it putting me strongly in mind of Tim Bradstreet’s work. The layout is top-notch, with an attractive border depicting combat against some sort of summoned tentacular horror.
The writing is clear and engaging, at times darkly humorous, at others deeply disturbing. I caught a few typos here and there, but nothing major by any means.
The book lacks an index and could probably use one… but then, I think that about most all RPG books. On the bright side, the book does include a really cool character sheet that looks like it was designed by a serial killer.
Punktown might be visualized as a fever dream shared by William Gibson, William S. Burroughs, and H.P. Lovecraft. As such, it’s an ideal setting for futuristic surreal horror. This book brings that setting to life in a nearly flawless manner.
In fact, the only real hesitation I have in recommending Punktown is the fact that it requires both the Call of Cthulhu 6th edition rules (which are now one edition out of date) as well as the Basic Roleplaying core rules in order to get the full use from it. If you already happen to have both, I’d recommend this supplement in a heartbeat. And honestly? If you only have one, it would be worth at least springing for the PDF of the other in order to play in the Punktown setting. It’s that damn good.