The Punchline is a scenario for use with Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay, designed by Zzarchov Kowolski, the author of the highly regarded Scenic Dunnsmouth. Like other scenarios published by Lamentations of the Flame Princess, it is set in the early modern period of the opening decades of the seventeenth century. In particular, a small alpine village suddenly striven by fear, doubt, and hysteria. This is Forkton, a settlement where rumours of missing children and of the plague in other towns and villages are rife, where the priest stirs up hatred of other faiths with warnings of devil worship and black rites in rage-fuelled rants, and distrust of the outsider runs rampant. Unfortunately, there is more than a grain of truth to these fears and rumours—children are missing, devil-worship is occurring in the valley, outsiders are not to be trusted, and the plague does stalk the land. Which is when the player characters enter the village of Forkton.
The Punchline is a written for play with characters of low Level, but it is not a traditional scripted scenario in that the player characters will follow a relatively tight plot line. Rather, it is more of a mini-sandbox, or given that it takes place in the Alps, a ‘valley-box’. The player characters are free to wander as is their wont, encounter who they want, loot what they want, since they probably going to be more powerful than most of the individuals they encounter. This does not mean that The Punchline lacks a plot, but it is not a plot that relies upon the players and their characters. Its events will play out unless someone intervenes to stop them, with its terrible consequences only serving to add to the terrible things already going on in the valley.
Instead of a plotted scenario, The Punchline is really a toolkit for the Game Master to run a bloody red scenario for Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay. She is provided with a dozen NPCs of note to roleplay, descriptions of the ‘villains’ of the piece, maps and descriptions of various locations in the valley, and a full write-up of the ‘Red Plague’ which stalks the land. She is accorded some advice both as to the true nature of scenario and as to how to run, the latter essentially to really ‘ham it up!’. This is for a good reason, since the antagonists at the heart of the scenario are actually a troupe of killer clowns—and no, this is not a spoiler, as it is mentioned on the back cover.
Physically, The Punchline is a handy, digest-sized hardback. It is painted in full colour throughout, drenched in red to reflect its ‘Red Plague’ plotline. The contents are decently organised and details of the scenario’s dozen or so NPCs are handily listed inside the front cover, whilst those for its antagonists are listed inside the back cover. Running to less than forty pages, the scenario is quite short, and the writing is quite punchy in style.
The Punchline is a horror scenario and none of its cast, the NPCs and of course, the antagonists are particularly pleasant individuals, but there is one individual who is particularly unpleasant, such that some Game Masters may have difficulties portraying him. This individual, one of the NPCs, is an anti-Semite. Now despite it being a historical scenario and anti-Semitism being an unfortunate part of that history, this is an issue that the Game Master should approach with care and may even want to avoid portraying all together lest offence be readily caused.
The Punchline is a location adventure, ostensibly set in the Alps, but easily relocated to any mountainous region. It is also easy to drop into an ongoing campaign as somewhere the player characters might stop off at overnight as they travel from one location to another. Similarly, it is easy to run with other retroclones, but its plot also works with the recently released Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Fourth Edition from Cubicle Seven Entertainment, because it takes place in a similar time and place. It is merely a matter of changing names and stats.
The Punchlinee is a ‘killer clown’-themed sequel to The Mask of the Red Death. It is a short, one-night, two-sessions at most, tale of desperation, superstition, and evisceration. It just needs the Game Master and players alike to ham it up into the bloody B-movie it is written to be.