11 November 2018

Armistice Day

Today marks 100 years since the end of fighting in the First World War. It is Armistice Day. For the last few years as each centenary of the events of the war has come, I have seeped myself in the history. It’s no surprise to me my creative life has in the last few years been dominated by echos of the Great War. While writing the Sovietski for Palladium Books I studied the October Revolution and the early days of the Soviet Union to get capture some cultural notes from that period. I was even more drawn into the Great War by working on Wild Skies, my first original game, which is set in an alternate timeline where the war didn’t come to the same relatively tidy end we know from history. Last year I summarized the events of the whole Russian Revolution and its place in the war as near-daily updates on FaceBook. My newest project, called Never Going Home is horror role playing set directly in the trenches. With so many of my creative output focused on this war and its aftermath, I have to acknowledge this day.

Especially this year, today is, for me, a solemn day for remembering the dead. I am staggered nearly to silence by the loss the war inflicted. The rough figure is 16 million people killed by the fighting; soldiers and civilians. With another 20 million soldiers wounded. That’s the war itself, not counting the Spanish Flu, the Russian Revolution, or the conflicts which simmered in the former Ottoman Empire into the 1920s. The numbers have a danger of becoming simply statistics. I find it more arresting to look at pictures of the graveyards which cover the former battlefields. Solemnly look with me.

What was the meaning of so much death? Famously, the war was supposed to “end all wars”, and that certainly hasn’t proven true in the last 100 years. How much more death have we seen then? Too much. Today, I am remembering all the dead. It’s very hard not to be cynical, but I want to celebrate the idea of peace the armistice of 1918 represents. We can stop fighting wars. We can move things to the negotiation table. We can agree not to kill anyone today. Peace is an idea worth working toward.

To be clear, I am not talking about shaking hands with people in my own country with different politics. That’s too easy. I am not saying there are not things like racial justice and clean water which are worth fighting for. There are! Voices must be raised, demonstrations staged, change demanded. I am talking today about questioning the need for weapons technology and political assumptions which lead to bombing villages from airplanes and building missiles capable of crossing oceans. I am affirming today, on Armistice Day, I want to live in a world without armed conflicts, proxy wars and national posturing in the form of military spending.

I know words matter. A call to memorialize all those killed by war is very different from a call to honor the sacrifice of soldiers. I will let others celebrate today as Veteran’s Day. Today I look beyond the need for military might to appreciate the possibilities of peace.

08 November 2018

Overview: CAPERS by Craig Campbell

Another project I was involved with has reached print. CAPERS is “a super-powered game of gangsters in the Roaring Twenties.” The game first came to my attention almost a year ago when the creator released a preview version to IGDN members. I don’t tend to get too excited about super heroes, but with my head deeply enmeshed in the 1920s and the whole interwar period because of Wild Skies, I decided to see what someone else had done with that time period. All the Jazz Age stuff seemed pretty accurate. Good. Like AMP: Year One before it, I found CAPERS isn’t about super heroes in the comic book sense at all, but about super-powered people. I can get onboard with that. Then reading through the rules, I was fully convinced by the mechanisms. The game uses playing cards for resolution. I ran the sample adventure for my game group. I backed the project on Kickstarter. I met the creator at a convention; turns out he’s a great guy. To cement my involvement with the game, I ended up writing a small amount of content for the game. I even wrote my own adventure and ran it for a local open gaming event. CAPERS is a game that has convinced me to play along at every step. Now that the book is out, I want to talk about it.

The CAPERS book is 163 full-color pages packed with theme. Craig, (I’ll just go ahead and call the designer Craig because we’ve become friendly since we met in person) has done a great job to hit all the notes right to immerse players in that past age. The use of cards for resolution, the appearance of poker chips on the character sheets, Art Deco stylings throughout the book, and choice of a few key game terms like Moxie (a currency players expend to push situations in their favor), to a glossary of ‘20s slang all conspire to put players in the world of the setting. Put on some jazz music, play on a felt topped table and you are there. The book itself is well-printed and there are a ton of extras – don’t have any in hand myself yet, but CAPERS themed playing cards, Moxie cards, maps, GM screen, and adventures are all available. Lots of stuff for you if you like physical bits at your table.

I want to talk about the art quickly. It is all by Beth Varni. She has done a good job with the period look. Full color means all the art is digitally painted so it all pops on the page. Something I also appreciate is the choice to display counterfactual diversity. Not that there weren’t women and African Americans in the U.S. in the 1920s, just that they don’t show up in most of the images of the time. Varni’s art shows people of all sorts doing all sorts of things. Black casino owners, women with tommy guns, female Federal agents, Hispanic and Asian names and faces… It’s great to see this kind of inclusion. It isn’t just the art, either. Gender and ethnic diversity is built into all the NPCs. Well done, NerdBurger.

At the center of gameplay is a straightforward card-based mechanism. The Game Master sets a Target Score for whatever Checks players attempt (average is 8). The player then draws from their personal deck of standard playing cards trying to draw a card which meets or exceeds the TS. Jack-Ace serve as 11-14. Players may draw a number of cards equal to the applicable Trait. For example, if a character with 3 Agility wants to do a backflip (TS 10), they have three chances (called Card Count) to draw a card which is ten or higher, with the ability to stay at any time. A lot of nuance comes into the system around this core card draw system. Skills and spending Moxie add to Card Count, the suit of the card the player stays on can add a Boon or Complication, jokers are either very good or very bad, plus a few other things. In practice I have found a lot of tension comes in when a player is looking at a success with a Complication and wondering if they should draw again knowing they could just a likely draw a success with a Boon or end up with a total failure. It is a great system, which is both easy to learn and fast-playing at the table. I believe Craig even put the rule set out under a creative commons license as CAPERS CORE, so it’s out there for anyone to use.

The other things in the game are a primer on 1920s culture and bootlegging gangs, a section of powers (which work the same as other Checks) with 25 minor and 15 major powers which includes Cold Beam, Flight, Goo Generation, Probability Manipulation, Super Strength and Weather Manipulation, extensive setting information for gangster hot spots like Atlantic City, Chicago and New York City; with ten other cities profiled as well (my contribution was to write four of these cities, including my current hometown of Louisville, KY), some ideas for playing in alternate worlds like Capek’s Earth, the Flipside and Omega Earth, plus extensive indexes so you can find just about whatever you are looking for. It’s a great book, very well-produced, and it’s a great game. I recommend it to anyone who likes either the 1920s or super-powers and to anyone looking for a lighter to middle-weight game (similar to Savage Worlds in complexity) which offers a pleasing alternative to dice-based systems.

If CAPERS doesn’t seem like your thing, NerdBurger is raising funds now for a GM-less horror-comedy game called Die Laughing in which players create a very bad and very deadly horror movie. Check that out too.

11 October 2018

Cimmerian Thoughts

I was first exposed to Conan via the Arnold Schwarzenegger films of the 1980s and to “sword and sorcery” stories more generally via the many films and comics trying in cash in on Conan fervor. I still quite like The Beastmaster, Krull, and even The Scorpion King. Though I knew the character most of my life, I had never read any of the original Conan stories by Robert E. Howard. Fortunately, there is a three volume set put out by Del Rey in 2003-2005 which collects all the original stories along with drafts, synopses of unfinished stories, essays and notes. In 2016 I set myself the goal of reading one of these collections a year and this year I completed the third volume. It seems apt I should make some comment on what I’ve read. This won’t be an organized review of the volumes or the stories, just a smattering of my thoughts.

Firstly, the Del Rey collections I read are quite good, both in physical production and content. I respect the editorial choice to present Howard’s original works as accurately as possible. Part of the Conan legend is the stories have been edited by other hands over the decades of reprints, so going back to the stories as first printed in Weird Tales or even to Howard’s typescripts makes sure this addition has the authentic 1930s experience. Also included are drafts of complete and never-finished stories so you can see a bit of Howard’s working method and which ideas he never brought to fruition. An essay about the Hyborian Age by Howard is in the first volume and each volume has part of Hyborian Genesis by Patrice Louinet, a long essay which places all the stories in the context of Howard’s working life. I even found the notes about typescripts and the little word corrections which were made for the edition interesting. The volumes are all richly illustrated as well. The whole package creates something very much like the pulp magazines where the Conan stories originally appeared.

One thing I found amazing considering the long life of the character is pop culture is how little time Howard spent writing Conan stories. The character first appeared in 1932 and the last story was written in 1936, the year of Howard’s death. Even by 1934 he already casting around for other types of characters to write and beginning to repeat himself with the Conan stories. Lin Carter observed in Imaginary Worlds that it’s hard to write something new in the sword and sorcery genre because there just isn’t that much to say about muscled sword-wielders Howard didn’t already cover.

I don’t feel much needs to be said about the influence of H.P. Lovecraft on Robert E. Howard. It’s very obvious if you know what to look for. They were playing with a very similar deck of cards in regards to racial prejudice and ideal northern European heritage. They also have the same tricks for making terror: darkness, ancient ruins, pale-skinned monsters, large beings from somewhere “beyond” earth.

Howard’s Hyborian Age has been praised for its economy of storytelling. He doesn’t need to explain the politics and geography of a country if he can just use what a reader already knows. It works. When Conan leaves Vendhya, rides up into the Himelias, over the Zhaibar Pass and on into Afghulistan – this is all geography I know. Similarly, Stygia in the south with its pyramids and great river can really only be one place. The problem is, of course, the horrible stereotyping of the people involved. In “Beyond the Black River,” for example, a group called the Picts are thinly disguised Native Americans, right down to the trope of lighting their arrows on fire as they attack “settlers” in a wooden stockade. They are consistently described in dehumanizing terms and called savages. The veil of fiction seems so thin over Howard’s feelings about real people it made that story hard to finish. The only thing worse is the way Howard describes people from his sub-Saharan analogs. The “product of his time” argument could come in here, but I don’t think it’s good enough. Several tales in the Conan canon can be consigned to the proverbial dust bin.

Howard’s treatment of women is more complex. On one hand, there is hardly a story without a woman who ends up naked at some point. The nakedness is usually easy titillation of the (presumably straight, male) reader or present to increase the sense of defenselessness of the female character. Despite frequent scenes of peril, actual violence against women in the stories is rare. When it is present, it most often takes the form of women torturing other women. I have read about this aspect of “resolved peril” being an important cathartic function of adventure stories, but I’m not sure I can say much else about it. The impression I have of women in Howard’s Conan stories is they exist to be the basis of chivalric deeds. Women are constantly saved from their peril by men, usually by Conan. Howard, a famous “momma’s boy,” seems to put women on a pedestal in that way. I think it’s an expression of the idea women can only be saints or sluts. Most of the women in Conan stories are described as small and pale and soft and innocent. Oddly he almost never uses words like “hug” or “kiss.” Conan crushes women to him and crushes their lips with his. It’s odd and seems reductive. Though, Louinet makes mention of women who read Conan as a romantic hero.

Yet, while waifs which need saving from stone alters are common in the Conan tales, there are exceptions. In “Queen of the Black Coast,” Conan falls in with the pirate captain BĂȘlit who is shown as capable of hunting her own treasure and commanding her own troops (though she does also end up naked). Valeria is another capable fighter, an assassin of the Red Brotherhood, who shares and adventure with Conan in the story “Red Nails.” In the only Conan novel, Hour of the Dragon, he meets Zelata who possesses many magic powers. She is described as an old woman, but is treated respectfully by both the text and by Conan. Devi Yasmina of Vendhya, whom Conan kidnaps in “The People of the Black Circle,” has perhaps the best treatment. After the story’s climatic battle with a shape-changing wizard, when Conan has rescued Yasmina, they look down from the mountain and see their respective followers in different valleys and they essentially challenge each other to meet again on the battlefield at the head of their armies. There is a respect, albeit begrudging, for each other’s position as leaders which has developed during the tale.

Though the stories contain many of the same elements over and over (waifs, giant snakes, Conan’s cat-like movements, hacking off of heads), Conan himself does change. From his first appearance in “The Phoenix on the Sword,” Howard presents Conan as a barbarian who has become a king. That eventual outcome is there in the mind of any reader who follows the character from there. When Conan wins and then looses a fortune, which happens frequently, he commonly laughs it off. In the early story “The Tower of the Elephant,” Conan climbs into a tower to steal something he can turn into booze and the company of women. He doesn’t seem like the sort of man to end up tied to the responsibilities of a kingdom. I think this leads to one of Howard’s main messages. Many people have identified the theme of barbarism against civilization in the Conan stories. It’s not subtext; Conan often states his disdain for politicians and merchants who dissemble and play games with others. Allied with this idea is that Conan often emerges as an excellent leader. Men trust him both because he will wade into battle beside them, and also because he doesn’t lie or cheat them. Conan is often the only honest broker among the “civilized” men he deals with. The later stories written often deal with this idea of Conan as a leader. He begins as the captain of a queen’s guard in “A Which Shall Be Born,” and in “The Black Stranger” Conan unites rival factions of pirates in a fight against Pictish raiders. Conan as leader is taken to it’s logical extreme in the novel The Hour of the Dragon which is about a temporary usurpation of King Conan’s throne in Aquilonia by a necromantic conspiracy.

Perhaps an even better example of the power of Conan’s leadership occurs in “Beyond the Black River.” I mentioned before how that story is a gloss on America’s “how the West was won” theme. Conan learns of a planned invasion of Picts into the recently settled edges of “civilization” and he proceeds to take charge of the defense of the frontier. An important section of the story does not feature Conan, but a party of men fighting as hard as they can because they know Conan is right when he says they must hold the crossroads or the “settlers” sleeping in their homes will be overwhelmed and killed. The story highlights something Howard wanted to say about the way a strong leader inspires people to be strong. There is something very American about Howard’s ideas about how civilization weakens men and so they must be led by men who are still barbarians from the frontier. I can’t help but think it is Frederick Jackson Turner’s Frontier Hypothesis turned into fiction. Howard was from Texas, after all, a state which takes great pride in its frontier history. I also can’t help but think about the rhetoric of the 2016 American presidential election. Howard’s themes of in-groups and out-groups and the ideal simplicity of heroic action are still themes societies deal with. Just as Lovecraft is famous for turning his racial prejudices into effective stories of psychological terror, I think Howard turned very similar fears into effective stories about the clash of vigorous individuality with anesthetizing conformity.

That seems like a cue for my summation. I find the Conan stories, by and large, to be effective. And I enjoy them. I enjoy their visions of strange places tinged with mystery and magic and I enjoy their action. I tend to like the pulp fiction of the ‘20s and ‘30s. For me, so many pulp stories turn on the idea “knowledge means action.” Conan never stops to ponder implications or political ramifications; he learns something and then he acts. There’s an appeal to larger-than-life characters who can change their circumstances with their own efforts, especially to someone who doesn’t always feel that able to change things. Taking in all the problematic elements of the stories, along with those “good” bits I like, helps me continue to approach an understanding of how thorough the hegemony of maleness and whiteness was at that time. Escapist fiction is fine in moderation, but now is time to get back to living in this real, messy, beautiful world.

Cover art for The Bloody Crown of Conan by Gary Gianni. Weird Tales covers featuring Conan used in this post by Margaret Brundage. Read more about her here.

03 October 2018

A Review: Lacuna by Jared Sorensen

Lacuna Part I. The Creation of the Mystery and the Girl from Blue City is an experimental roleplaying game...and you’re part of the experiment, whether you realize it or not.

This is how Lacuna begins and the “experimental” nature of the game is soon born out by everything from the character sheets to the page layout. It is the strangest role playing game I have yet come across. Not only is the setting bizarre and deliberately obscure, the production of the book compliments this with blacked out lines of text and double printing which gets worse as the book goes on. I have seen other game books present themselves as if they are agent handbooks from within the setting, but this one really captures the confusion and bewilderment which the setting also conveys.

More about the setting, but not too much because it’s in part about that secret of the Lacuna. There is a lot to say about the setting – but I don’t want to say too much because the game is set up to progressively discover the setting through play. I often think of movies when I think of role playing settings and this one strikes me as sharing elements with The Matrix, Men in Black and Inception. The player characters are agents who use drugs and dreaming to enter the strange world of Blue City where they chase down Hostile Personalities and banish them to the Lacuna with the assistance of their tenuous connection to Control. The City is seemingly infinite, always night, and full of Personalities who go about their business; appearing and disappearing as in fog. I feel playing into all the obvious noir elements of the setting is best.

In addition to the setting, I am also intrigued by the mechanisms of Lacuna. The central resolution mechanism is rolling D6 equal to attributes, usually two to four, hoping to roll eleven or more. After every roll, succeed or fail, the result is added to your character’s heart’s Beats Per Minute. Characters enter Blue City with their PBM at their Resting Heart Rate. After a few rolls, BPM gets up to Target Heart Rate and while in the target range, you can roll as many D6 as you want. As many as you want. This almost guarantees success on your roll, but your result still adds to your BPM. Once you push yourself beyond your Maximum Heart Rate, failing a roll will cause damage in the form of reduced attributes.

I have only played Lacuna in the form of a one shot. I’m not sure how all the mystery and the feeling of bewilderment would be sustained over a longer term. It would be a challenge for the GM to deal out the secrets slowly and for the players to acclimate to each new threshold of discovery. There’s plenty of stuff this brief review doesn’t mention just because I want you to discover it all for yourself. Reading the game is an experience in itself so it’s worth reading even if you never play it. It is fun to play, though, so I highly recommended you play it. Lacuna is a unique game and very affordable; get it and read it and try out this experiment in role playing for yourself.

13 September 2018

Sherlock's Restless World

In 2012 I made it a goal to read the all Sherlock Holmes stories. I have now finished reading the four novels and 54 stories and I want to mark the occasion by saying something about them. This will not be a comprehensive review. That has already been done, and I am sure done better then I ever could. Other than the obvious things about the stories being influential on the crime drama, I really only have one observation. I kept noticing throughout the stories the way they seem to paper over a deep discomfort with the global aspect of the British Empire. As much as the Holmes stories are set so squarely in London in particular, and in Britain more generally, I can’t help but notice the source of the “adventure” in almost every case comes from without.

In the very first story, A Study in Scarlet, it is bad blood between some Americans which has led to a murder in London. There is a similar undertone of “foreigners are the trouble” in so many other stories. In “The Yellow Face” and “The Greek Interpretor” social issues of American and Greek immigrants respectively create mystery in England. The main antagonist in “The Speckled Band” was driven somewhat mad by service in India and in “The Solitary Cyclist” it was South Africa where the antagonist learned to be a brute. “A Scandal in Bohemia”, “The Naval Treaty”, “The Six Napoleons”, and “The Creeping Man” all turn on criminals, or unsavory characters from Europe making trouble in England. Less problematic, but still focused on the dangers of the world, are “The Blanched Soldier” about a tropical disease and “The Lion’s Mane” which is – almost comically – about an animal which isn’t usually found in England. Those are the ones which spring to my mind. I am sure there are other examples and probably counter-examples as well.

Problems come from outside. I don’t know nearly enough about the issues involved to know why this undercurrent exists. Is there an anti-Imperialist or anti-capitalist strain in Doyle’s politics which led him to publish stories showing the dark side of men who got rich in the colonies? Was Watson, as a wounded war veteran, framing Holmes’ exploits in terms of reveling the emotional damage of the Empire upon its citizens? Was Holmes himself simply a Englishman’s Englishman who took cases which seemed to smack of foreign interference? I can’t even be sure why the stories constantly return to the theme. Is it pro-Imperialist by suggesting Italians and Greeks can’t run their own affairs. It is anti-Imperialist by suggesting trying to conquer Asia will corrupt the average Englishman.

Whatever it means, it’s such a consistent theme, it can’t be in the stories by accident. Or can it? I am reminded of a series from the British Museum I heard about the same time I started reading the Holmes oeuvre: Shakespeare’s Restless World. Using objects like John Dee’s “magic” mirror, an oyster fork and a map of the world, the podcast identified the ways in which the rapid cultural, economic and scientific changes brought on by the European age of exploration found their way into Shakespeare’s work. It should come as no surprise Caesar bestrides the “narrow” world or that Prospero’s island refuge is hinted to be in the Americas. The New World and the horizons global navigation opened were on everyone’s mind. No one could avoid thinking about the implications. I think something similar going on with the Sherlock Holmes stories. Soldiers coming back from India with friendships they can’t really explain to society, people making fortunes and enemies in South Africa, the newest in scientific research leading to new poisons – all of these show up in the Sherlock stories and they all can be seen as expressions of another round of new horizons which British colonization projects and the increasing speed and ease of global travel were putting in the minds of Londoners.

I can’t help but think also think about Brexit and the America First rhetoric of my own country. Globalism has been upsetting since the 1590s, at least. I guess there is no reason I should expect it to be different today. I often say I like to look at how British culture has dealt both with empire and loss of empire because I live in country which has had its own time in the sun and is experiencing its own loss of global significance. Are there similar expressions in current American culture? Maybe Rouge One: A Star Wars Story, Black Panther, Crazy Rich Asians, and the conversations surrounding them are an expression of Hollywood’s Restless World?

29 August 2018

Liberating Edits

All month long I have been doing some heavy lifting to get our document for Wild Skies: Liberating Strife ready to send to our editor. As much as getting the first book turned around required growing pains, this follow up almost seems to involve more. My writing partner and I had never put together a book by ourselves before. Now, even though we have done that, we have never put together a book from other people’s writing before. There are five total writers for this book and getting everyone’s pieces in hand and stitched together took more work than I expected. Also working with an editor is new to me. Growing pains.

Thankfully, my work is now complete enough that I can shift the project to someone else for a while. I am looking forward a few lighter weeks. There are, of course, a few more pieces to actually write and we don’t have all the final art in yet. Then we have to look at the edits and apply the advice. There is still a good bit of runway before this thing takes off, but we are moving forward. There will be a lot of good information and really nice hooks to hang adventures on when this book is finally done. Keep up with all the updates here.
Yellowstone National Park - art by Steven Woo

14 August 2018

A Review: The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen by James Wallis

Portrait of Baron Munchausen
Tell us, Baron, the story of...
...How you circumnavigated the world without leaving your house.
...How a portrait of Henry VIII saved you from being attacked by lions.
...Why every fifth child born in Brussels is named after you.
...How you became the first man to descend Mount Blanc, before any man had climbed it.

This is certainly not a traditional roleplaying game. In fact, I would say it is barely a roleplaying game at all. Yet, Baron Munchausen is one of the most enjoyable roleplaying game books I have ever read. In this “paperless” age of digital game books, I plan to add the “dead tree format” of this book to my shelf.

At its core, it is a very simple game. It is really a story-telling activity in which players interrupt each other to comic result. Less briefly; players take the role of nobility, telling of their adventures at a tavern or house party. The character creation process is limited to developing a noble name and title. The process of play is for four or more players to take a turn telling a five-minute story of their own entirely truthful adventures during the Eighteenth Century. Each tale must attempt to out-do the previous tale and begins with a prompt like those given above, asked by the nobleperson on the teller’s left. Both the game and the roleplay aspects come in during each tale as each player has a purse of tokens equal to the number of total players. Each player is allowed to interrupt each teller once by offering them a token and asking for clarification about an element of the tale, pointing out an inconsistency, asserting the story may have happened differently, or otherwise trying to trip up the storyteller with comic or challenging suggestions. The current tale-teller may simply accept the token and the addition and work this new detail into their tale; or they may add their own coin to the stake and offer an insult to the interrupter to put them in their place. Likewise, the interrupter may take the stake and accept their rebuke; or add a third coin to the stake, offer their own insult and insist the teller acknowledge their original suggestion. This back-and-forth may continue until one player exhausts their purse and must admit their error. If they are still unwilling, a duel may be initiated (decided by best of three rounds of rock-paper-scissor) with the loser forced to submit and take the stake. If, during the insults and raising, either insults the other’s noble rank, proud parentage or outright calls them a liar, a duel may begin immediately. When each tale concludes the teller prompts the player on their right to tell the next tale. When all tales have been told, players each pass their entire purse (converting it to a bounty) to the person whose tale was the most extraordinary. Thus the winner of round is the player with the largest bounty, and now being flush with cash as well as honor, is compelled to “buy the next round” and offers the prompt for the first tale of the next round.

In the book, these rules are summarized in two pages and there are eight pages of sample prompts. However, what makes the book a joy is the comic style in which it is written. James Wallis, who is a veteran game designer, has channelled the spirit of the original Baron Munchausen material. It is presented as a dictation by the Baron himself to various members of the Wallis family line and as such is filled with the Baron’s own stories of himself, his opinions, and numerous digressions from the through line of actually explaining the game. The book also presents a number of variations on the game, from one in which interrupting means the interrupter becomes the teller with the object being to be the first actually finish your story, to a variation for younger players, to a whole list of suggested genre implementations of the game such as cavemen, vampires and supervillains.

I have played this game twice and as is true of anything dependent on social interactions it flows better if players are willing to submit to the premise of the game. Those with better comic timing, more inventive or quick-thinking minds and larger vocabularies of “old timey” words will be more likely to tell the most extraordinary stories, but it is not a guarantee of success. It seems the best moments come out of the unexpected way a teller incorporates their interaction with the interrupter. In one game the winner did not know the rest of the players as well and his story took on a hyperbolic nature while the rest of us relied more on our shared history. In the other game the winner had been called a liar, escalated the interruption to a duel, but then lost and so chose to completely capitulate and when back through their story renouncing each aspect and telling how what really happened was far less impressive. This idiosyncratic interpretation of the standard rules was singularly comical and so unexpected it won the round.

The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen is not a game for everyone and certainly not for anyone all the time. It is not the sort of game to play a campaign with, or even to play very often. However, as a pallet cleanser between other games or as a one-off event at a game night or convention, this is a great option. Whether you ever play it or not, it is worth a read as a light piece of pseudo-historical comic writing. I enjoyed it very much.