The Baron Begins His First “Pre-View”
REJOICE, DEAR FRIENDS and bring out another bottle! No, no, the dusty bottle lower down. Yes, the 17—. The vintage of such a surpassing good year (the year I first met the Empress of Russia, in fact) is only fitting upon this monumentous occasion. For as the well-born among you already know, this is the very advent of the Third Edition of my book: The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen!
Applause. The Baron bows and toasts the audience. Applause continues. The audience toasts the Baron. Applause begins to fade, only to be rekindled by the Baron himself. More toasts. More applause.
In truth, it was only most recently that a well-heeled courier brought to my attention that my book shall be released upon the fifteenth day of December—a most auspicious date, for it was upon a similar day in late winter that I created this game of Rôle-Play in a small coaching-inn outside St. Petersburg. With this newly expanded edition of my book, you shall recreate much of my same circumstances, though without the Russian blizzard or, indeed, the Russians, for which you may thank me.
What then remains? Today, I shall sketch out, after the fashions of Da Vinci, the initial forms of my classic game, with especial attention paid to the business of Interruptions and Objections that will allow you to test the tales of your companions on the wheels of veracity, credibility, and laudability. To Volumes II and III, I shall devote myself fully in future “pre-views,” as my Writer in the Market is wont to call them. But no matter our plans for the future—tonight is ours, and the servants have filled my cup once more. Onwards!
Part the First: Some Come Late to the Party and Narrowly Escape the Baron’s Wrath
I SEE NOW THAT some of the lesser nobles in the audience (second sons and distant relations to true nobility) are just now hastening into their places, much as the Swedish hastened back onto their ramshackle boats when I revealed my identity as the Fifth Musketeer. In truth, we should proceed on without further attention to such moral reprobates—or better yet, take them all to the dueling green forthwith! After all, those who come late to parties occupy the same circles as talkative manservants, gentlemen who use paper money, and the Turks. I shall take them outside and give them a show of swordsmanship that will dazzle them so greatly they shall be blinded by its sparks for a month.
The Empress of Russia leans in; whispers in the Baron’s ear.
At the urging of a lady close to my heart, however, I shall foreswear my vengeance for now. Mercy is, after all, one of the crowning attributes of a nobleman, following only loquacity in the face of danger and fortitude in the face of drink. Still, those who have entered lately should not be ignored—nay, let us be merciful, and catch them up to our position, as quickly and painlessly as may be.
Part the Second: A Brief Re-Sketching of The Baron’s Game for Those Come Late to the Party
THE PLAY OF MY GAME, like all things pertaining to nobility and noble life, is elegantly simple at its heart, though infinitely complex and variable in execution. Firstly, you must gather the company and ensure each has a purse of coins with which to play. Ensure also that you have not more than twenty gathered together—if such is the case, I would personally advise you to pool your purses, hire some mercenaries, and plan an invasion of Belgium. In addition to your stout companions and your coins, you shall need a table around which to sit, and copious amounts of food and drink (primarily drink) with which to sustain yourself during The Play of the Game.
As mentioned above, my game is a game of Rôle-Play, designed for the purposes of entertainment by inviting you to tell of your magnificent adventures. One of you must start—it matters not a whit who, for all will have their turn—by turning to the companion on his right, and requesting a story. For instance, I may turn to my lovely companion now seated beside me, and say, “My dear Empress, I myself have heard this story many times now, but for the sake of our example, won’t you tell us how you inspired Will Shake-Speare to pen the famous stage instruction: Exit, pursued by a bear?”
Upon this prompting, the Empress takes a delicate sip of her drink to clear her throat, and immediately launches into the story, which I must implore you to ask of her upon another occasion when we all have more time. It is quite a good story.
General applause for the Empress. Empress smiles graciously and toasts the audience. Market Writer frantically gestures to the Baron, hoping to forestall more toasts.
Part the Third: In the Baron’s Own Words, The Cleverest Part of the Game
NOW A STORY is well underway (in our fictitious example), all from the Empress’s own well-formed lips. Still, the course of the narrative must never run smooth, and another member of the company may offer an Interruption, because they have spotted a flaw or inaccuracy, or they wish to trip up the storyteller with spurious information, or to test the storyteller’s truthfulness and mettle, or because the story is drawing dull and needs spice.
For instance, some rogue may interject into the Empress’s story, saying, “But Empress, it is well known that you have a hatred of plays, ever since your lapdog was fatally incorporated into the last play you attended!” What is more, each Interruption must be accompanied by a single coin from the Interruptor’s dwindling stash, pushed towards the Storyteller as a wager. I shall play the villain in our unfolding fiction.
The Baron draws a double-headed doubloon from his purse, and slides it towards the Empress.
A storyteller set upon his trajectory may choose to reject this rude intrusion, pushing back the coin with a coin of his own, and explaining that the Interruptor plainly gets his information from women of low repute and low-cut dresses who frequent the areas of the harbor. For a storyteller eager for a challenge or a fuller purse, however, there is another option. By choosing to incorporate this villainous interruption into your story, you may accept the wagered coin and add it to your own purse—increasing your own wealth through the dexterity of your tongue. (I feel an urge to digress about the dexterity of tongues I have known, but I shall forbear. There are ladies present.)
In the course of your story, as in the course of love and the dingy, twisted alleyways of Paris, you shall face countless such Interruptions. Yet these affronts are mere amusements to great storytellers such as myself—and with instruction, you too may aspire to a fraction of my accomplishments. Once you’ve navigated them all, much as I navigated the ambulatory reefs that surrounded the haunted archipelago of Bermuda, you’ll bring your story to its natural close to the satisfaction of all present. Then, once the usual toasts have been drunk (to the story, the storyteller, the host, the monarch, the most attractive woman present, the second most attractive woman present, the most attractive woman in the story, absent friends, etc.), the storyteller shall turn to his right and request a story from his own neighbor. Once all have told, a winner is determined by voting with your accumulation of coins—but this talk of rules grows most wearisome. It is time for a digression, I believe.
Part the Fourth: A Digression, Cut Short Before Its Prime
I RECALL A TIME most recent wherein the aristocracy of France found a chance to forget the fact that a nobleman is the highest of G—d’s creations, brought to an apex of excellence through centuries of good breeding, education, culture, and diet. As a result, those same aristocrats shortly found themselves having an audience with a certain Madame Guillotine—a fate from which I was determined to rescue as many as I could. Having gathered a variety of disguises, a Portuguese-English phrasebook, and a herd of hollow cows…
Hermph. You can see the Market Writer on stage now, attempting to shoo me away and assuring everyone that there will be further “pre-views.” He shan’t get rid of me so easily, though! I implore each of you—find your local purveyor of essential games and books, and there, upon the fifteenth day of December, you shall find my game: The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen.