From Gestalt
WARNING: Punklore is a closed beta--the world's construction is unfinished and the gameplay is untested. There may be bugs, bad mechanics, contradictions in the world building, or horrible elements that would never work in actual gameplay. ALL ART IS TEMP, UNLICENSED AND FOR MOOD ONLY.

If you want to know how things really work, study them while they’re coming apart.[1]

Punklore is a dark fantasy ARSG. In it, you or you and a group of friends tell a counterculture story about regular people transported to the fictional world of unreleased, cursed 1980s fantasy film The Realm. There, your characters vie to survive a world ruled by deranged, imperial forces and navigate reality-warping production artefacts, plot holes, adaptation paradoxes, and continuity errors.

What Is an ARSG?

An ARSG is an alternate reality storytelling game[2]. An alternate reality storytelling game is an immersive, strategic storytelling experience. Fictional and nonfictional identities, places, situations, and items, as well as elements of tabletop roleplaying games and alternate reality games, overlap to form a new kind of game.

Adventures take place in both our world and the world of The Realm. Your choices affect how the story unfolds, what happens to you and your friends, and perhaps what you consider real.

Dystopian Phantasy: A Guide to Punklore

Author Jane Orenda dubbed the genre of her manuscript The Dreamenders Labyrinth "punklore," a tongue-in-cheek play on the terms "cyberpunk" and "folklore", where "punk" replaced "both the music and the kind of dime-store Nazi collaborators conjured when you say 'folk.' Dylan was the first punk, anyway."[3] The studio's changes to appease religious protests, then Smith's rewrites, mangled much of the philosophical element of the original work while retaining the aesthetic of mohawks and tattoos. When interviewed about the differences, Ken Fielding said what the studio did was "the cinematic equivalent of rape." Part of the mission statement of the new Realm materials is to restore the original vision of the forgotten author.

While most tropes of high fantasy are present in a punklore tale, the intent is that it be to that genre what cyberpunk was to science fiction: a kick in the teeth, and a reappropriation of a gentrified cultural ghetto. All of the tropes of fantasy are present, but with twists and reversals. These twists may appear subversive, but the point is not subversion for its own sake but rather a correcting of prior appropriations and inversions of history. Where reality has been distorted traditionally, punklore seeks to reconnect the material to people's reality rather than further abstract it. A prime example of this is the First Men, Orenda's concept of the so-called "Night Elf." In Halcyon, there are only dark elves, restoring the evolved spiritualism and nature-preserving practices of the trope to an analog of darker skinned indigenous peoples who actually possess them. The white elf then becomes as an Aryan analog--the appropriation of a dark people's name and history to a narrative built to destroy them.

Subverting the form, tropes, and sensibilities of a genre rooted so deeply will no doubt be uncomfortable for some players and readers, but that's fine with us, because it was fine with Jane. "I didn't write Dreamenders [Labyrinth] to escape reality; I wrote it to break it... To break a thing, you need to take aim at it. To aim, you need to see the target clear."[3]

The keys to understanding what punklore as a mood for a fantasy setting is, are three elements uncommon in high fantasy settings: punk, dystopia, and phantasy.

Punk is not a hairdo

Though many of the aesthetics of late 70's / early '80s punk rock and late '80s / early 90's postpunk eras can be found in The Realm, punk is more than a hairdo and a specific type of jacket, or a method of signifying what power source your alternate history uses. It's noir, but not: in a noir, the underworld criminals are the protagonists (in a detective story, a flawed and reluctant antihero but still not a hero). In a punk tale, the criminals are not just our protagonists; they're the good guys. The society they rail against is corrupt, oligarchic, driven by avarice, and impossible to defeat; surviving their control is necessary, avoiding their attention is laudable, and breaking their laws is heroic.

A cyberpunk story is not about the defeat of the corporations, but the story of a small group of outlaws, rebels, freaks, or psychos drawn into larger intrigue against their will and either surviving or being crushed under heel. A punklore story is much the same, except the aesthetics are of an allegorical past instead of a hypothetical future. No good story is ever about reliving the past or predicting the future--resonant stories are about the present, no matter when or where they're set. When constructing your missions and the challenges you'll face, remember to make the core of it counterculture, metaphorically resonant, and rebellious. The point cannot be to be a white knight riding in to save a maiden from a dragon--dragons are benevolent, maidens are slaves of the Empire, and white knights serve the system that enslaves and murders all three of them.

Dystopias aren't for toppling

A dystopia is a utopia for the few. The starting point of the storytelling part of the ARSG is Hel: a corrupt cultural wasteland with values at odds with the reality around it. Thanks to magic altering its cultural evolution, Hel's technological level and aesthetic values are a strange hybrid of 1980s UK and Reformation Era Europe. As with cyberpunk dystopias, this dystopia may come across far more familiar than you'll find comfortable. That's okay; you're supposed to be disturbed. You're also supposed to ask yourself why you weren't disturbed before you got here.

Hel is a decadent, gritty empire, dystopian despite a gunpowder-and-magic technology level. Those in power worship gold as much as they take their god's will for granted, split into warring factions over little more than minutiae of the canon, and mod their bodies at will while looking down on natural hybrids. These villains are neither there to be killed by your squad nor dethroned--this is very important--they are to be survived. Where typical high fantasy is about small bands of heroes taking on impossible foes and vanquishing them, The Realm is not your story. You are alive in the background of a world so rich it has continued to evolve and devolve within the depths of development hell. You are not the main character, you are an extra. The main villains are as gods to you, omnipresent, oppressive, and unkillable. You want not to attract them but to get away with as much as you can, defeat any background antagonists you run into, and find a way home.

Phantasy is freedom from identity

The pretentious "ph" distinguishes literary fantasy from psychological phantasy, alluding that our world has actual psychological components. We don't shy away from what this is: a place to work out frustrations that cannot be worked out in life. A place to be empowered in ways you normally are not, but also disempowered in ways you are usually are not. In Halcyon, players bring their own backgrounds, damage, baggage, and name, but are simultaneously freed of all of them--enabling them to see the target clearly.

Using This Site

The Punklore Wiki is divided into two sections: A Visitor's Guide to The Realm, the player guide, and Kori's Grimoire, the puppetmaster guide.

The first part of the Visitor's Guide presents the rules of how to play the game beyond the basics of this introduction. That part covers the kinds of die rolls you make to determine success or failure at the tasks your character attempts, and describes the four broad categories of activity in the game: improving, investigating, socializing, and fighting.

The second part of Visitor's Guide is about how characters are discovered, including information on the various breeds, scenes, disciplines, backgrounds, gear, and other distinguishing traits with which you may or may not need to familiarize yourself. It also details the magical disciplines you can learn while inhabiting a character in The Realm, and the differences between gnosis and mysticism (i.e. agnosis), the two types of magick. It covers the nature and rules of both magicks, the rules for hexcraft and casting, and the huge variety of hexes available to gnostic and mystical beings in The Realm.

Kori's Grimoire is organized in three parts. The first part helps you decide what kind of expedition you'd like to facilitate. The second part helps you create the two narratives (one, your version of the primary film's story, which will be entirely planned out and two, how the Players will or will not be able to interact with it) that will keep players entertained from one game session to the next, and how to keep them engaged in the second layer of the game reality between gatherings, including the crafting of various digital and analog mailings, text messages, social media interactions, up to the purchase of pre-packaged premium game experiences.

The last part helps you adjudicate the rules of the game and modify them to suit the style of your expedition. Many of the rules rely on information in other sections. If you come across a game term or concept that you don’t understand, hover over it to see if you can click to its descriptive article. If it isn't linked on the page, click on the burger menu (the three stacked lines) in the upper left to open a table of contents, or search the term in the upper right corner by clicking on the magnifying glass.


  1. William Gibson
  2. patent pending 2021
  3. 3.0 3.1 --The Seven Curses of Jane Orenda: The Most Famous Unpublished Author in America; Ms. Magazine, Vol. XVI - #5/1988 November