So, this 'Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munch "“ Munchaar "“ Mun...
Munchausen. Pronounced 'Mun-chow-zen'. If you're being pedantic then there should be another 'h' in there, but it got dropped about 1870 and we didn't feel like picking it up.
What is it?
Who, not what. The Baron was a real-life German aristocrat, soldier and adventurer in the eighteenth century, whose after-dinner tales of his extraordinary exploits were immortalised in a book by Rudolph Raspe, and turned into several films "“ notably and most recently by Terry Gilliam.
What sort of adventures?
Journeying to the Moon and the Sun, riding on a flying cannonball, lifting the siege of Gibraltar single-handed, finding a floating island made entirely of cheese, escaping from bandits on half a horse, falling through the centre of the Earth, seducing the Empress of Russia, meeting Vulcan and Venus, being swallowed by a giant fish. That sort of thing.
So why is he in here?
Because Hogshead Publishing has unearthed the RPG he wrote.
What, the Baron?
You're having me on.
Go on. Explain.
The guy who runs Hogshead is called James Wallis, and he has a pretty large family tree. Around the end of the eighteenth century, two branches of that tree were involved in designing and publishing games, producing such works as 'Every Man to His Station' and 'The New Arithmetica'.
You're making this up.
No, it's completely true. They were John and Edward Wallis, and you can see some of their published games in the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood in London.
I'm not sure I believe you, but... go on.
In the early 1790s "“ we don't know the exact year "“ John Wallis met Baron Munchausen and invited him to design a game for the firm. The Baron accepted, being short of funds. Not expecting a nobleman such as the Baron to actually do his own writing, John entrusted the job of transcriber to his son Edward, who could also edit the game as it developed.
Unfortunately Edward had fallen under the influence of cheap gin, cheap women and American games designers; and as a result had some dangerously radical ideas about game-creation. This, combined with the Baron's talent for excess, produced a truly extraordinary manuscript, centuries ahead of its time, which John ultimately decided not to publish, fearing that games-players of the eighteenth century wouldn't understand it. The manuscript has lain in the family archives ever since, until Hogshead happened across it last year.
And how much of this bit is true?
So what's the game?
It's a role-playing game devised by Baron Munchausen, allowing ordinary people to recreate the stories of his extraordinary adventures, or even to create new ones. As you might expect of the Baron, it's not your average RPG. For a start, it only takes an hour to play, and there's an actual winner. You can start playing three minutes after starting to read it, it's so easy to learn. Instead of dice or cards, its system of mechanics uses money and fine wines. And you don't need a GM.
So it's nothing like a normal RPG?
No. I mean yes. Well... it has character generation, a combat system (actually two combat systems: 'Duelling' and 'Duelling for Cowards') and all of that stuff, but "“ basically, no, this is something completely new. Or completely old, depending on how you look at it.
I can't bring in my WFRP character Boris the rat-catcher from Kislev, then?
Rat-catchers are common folk, and therefore barred. You have to be a nobleman to play Baron Munchausen's game.
Any adventures with it?
More than two hundred ready-to-play adventures are in the rulebook.
Two hundred! The book must be massive!
It's only 24 pages long. And, before you ask, it's not printed in teeny-tiny type either.
I don't understand how that's possible.
If Baron Munchausen is involved, anything is possible.
How does it work?
It's a game of competitive boasting. The players all play eighteenth-century noblemen, and challenge each other to tell stories of their amazing adventures. For example, if it was my go, I might turn to you and say, "My dear Baron, do tell us the story of how you defeated the entire Turkish army with only the aid of two rabbits and a piece of cheese."
Does this story exist?
No, you have to make it up.
What, on the spot?
Yes. With other players putting questions to you, placing wagers on your story, and so on.
It isn't. In fact it's huge fun. We've tested it with people who have never role-played before, and they can handle it fine. After all, what is role-playing if it isn't making up stories?
All right, so try to sell it to me a bit harder.
The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen is designed to be a pick-up-and-play RPG: the short game you play while you're waiting for the rest of your gaming group to turn up. It's fast to play, cheap to buy and a great way of introducing new players to the idea of RPGs without having to plough through a 200-page rulebook first. It's been praised by games-industry figures such as Allen Varney, Phil Masters and Steffan O'Sullivan, and was nominated for the 1998 Origins Award in the "Best RPG" category. In short, it's a brilliant new type of RPG for less than the price of a deck of cards. Go on. Give it a try.