I seldom get the chance to go down to my local RPG one-shot meetup, so it was great to be able to last week. Our usual venue had double-booked, but thankfully we were able to get into the basement bar of Cambridge Wine Merchants on Mill Road.
I hadn't had much time to prepare, but I decided to volunteer to run a session of Puppetland, a weird fantasy-horror-kid's-story game from 1995. I've owned several editions of this game, from its first appearance in the British gaming magazine Arcane to the paper edition published by Hogshead and then its appearance as an appendix to Harrigan and Wardrop-Fruin's Second Person. There was a successful Kickstarter for a new edition of the game from Arc Dream a few years back, but I can't find any evidence that it ever actually came out. Anyone know what's up with that?
Anyway, I thought the game went well. Puppetland has kind of an interesting game structure. Each session is only an hour long, and everything the puppets say is in character, including narration of their actions, while the Puppet Master (GM) adopts a kind of narrator voice. So for instance, a scene might go like this:
Puppet Master: But just then, the tramp-tramp-tramping grew louder and the nutcrackers appeared! "Grab those naughty puppets!" shouted their leader with an evil glare, and the others clashed their terrible jaws.
Player 1: Avast! Nutcrackers!
Player 2: I'll hide behind this rock. Maybe they won't see me!
Player 3: Oh, you no-good nutcrackers! I'll give you such a biff with my boxing gloves!
Puppet Master: Sister Mary Muscles dealt the nutcracker a terrible biff and he went staggering back. "Blarrrrgh!" he snarled. But more and more kept coming!
Player 1: Quick, mateys! Into me boat!
Player 2: I'll cast off the line!
Player 3: Rotten nutcrackers! I'll get you next time!
Puppet Master: The three friends piled into the boat and pushed off, bobbing away on the gently lapping milk of the Lake of Milk and Cookies. The nutcrackers tried to pursue them, but their heavy wooden bodies sank slowly to the bottom and they crawled out spluttering.
Player 1: Hurrah, we made it!
Player 2: Yes, Cap'n Salty, but where shall we go now?
The system is pretty loosey-goosey, but when a game session lasts an hour -- and let's face it, this isn't a game you're going to play a twenty-session campaign of -- I think that's not only fine but desirable. Low setup time is a great virtue.
I had a great time running this game for what was the second time in the nearly 20 years I've owned it. Perhaps I'll bust it out again in another decade or so.
A more-or-less complete early version of the text is available on the author's website.