Since the new Puppetland book has been released in .pdf format from Arc Dream Publishing, I’m sharing the research I did into historical and contemporary puppetry for the game.
My second scenario for the game was called The Box. The setting is a maximum security prison for puppets, which had not really been described in any detail in previous editions of the Puppetland core book.
I thought it would be fun to explore the Box and the implications of such a place. What was the nature of the prison? How and why was it built by the Maker, the god of Puppetland? What sort of puppet was supposed to be incarcerated in the Box? And who is locked up in it?
The Box served as an opportunity for me to dig deeper into older Punch and Judy lore, and bring back some of the characters which had been used in the show prior to 1950. Among them, there were some pretty dark figures: Jack Ketch, aka “The Hangman”, The Skeleton, and The Crocodile.
Ketch is such a fascinating character that he deserves his own entry–the character is rabbit-hole of horrific history and he has a noble pedigree in multiple art forms. To give the Hangman his due, this entry is going to focus specifically on the Crocodile.
My description of this monster as follows (some parts which relate to specific game mechanics or spoilers for the scenario have been removed):
The Crocodile is a menace unique to the Maker’s Land, an antediluvian relic surviving from a bygone age. It is a rare but powerful hand-puppet, huge and aggressive, and possesses no human personality or consciousness per se, beyond the low cunning of a natural killing machine.
The Crocodile is an all-devouring maw with an inexhaustible hunger to devour all puppets, and parts of puppets. Its nature is to find a hidden place, ideally under water, and wait for puppets who are swimming, boating, or walking near the shore. Then it will strike, lunging out to start crunching.
This puppet was built before the dawn of time, long before the Maker created Puppetland and most of the Puppets who live and struggle there today. When Puppetland was built and the Maker decided to remove it from contact with the human world, He deemed the Crocodile too dangerous to roam His new land unfettered.
The Box was originally built for no other purpose than to contain the Crocodile.
In reality, of course, the Crocodile is not an artifact of the really ancient Punch and Judy plays–it’s a more modern invention. Punch is always a wicked rascal in the Punch and Judy plays, and it’s going to be someone’s job to deliver his comeuppenance.
In the 17th and 18th century, the puppet who punished Punch would usually be The Devil, but as time passed and the audience became more secular humanist and class-aware, the Devil fell out of favor. He was largely gone by the Victorian age, especially if the play was being performed for children–replaced by the figure of the eternally hungry Crocodile.
The Crocodile is always after Mister Punch in the Punch and Judy plays–in fact, the beast often kills him, when the Punchman is using modular puppets that can be dismantled on stage. When the puppeteer is taking a gentler approach, Punch can usually avoid this dire fate by surrendering the Sausages, another common prop. The Sausages in a Punch and Judy play are the treasure which nearly everyone wants, and for which a good deal of blood is shed.
In the end, the Crocodile is a great symbol for death, in a child’s play. It is natural, inevitable, unstoppable, bigger than we are, and cannot always be appeased or avoided. But if we can dodge it for just a little while longer, we can have a few more laughs.
What more can we ask?