Challenge Accepted: The Museum Experience

Once again I’ve found inspiration in a passing comment on someone’s blog; in this case the source is a list of movies the writer found inspiring (for their tabletop RPG play), and the comment is in response to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: “I would still like to find a way to turn it belongs in a museum into an XP incentive mechanism,” says Brendan.

Well, how exactly that would work depends on your normal XP paradigm, and in some cases it would probably only work if you keyed it into a specific campaign setup. For example,

  • If you’re running a strict old-school XP-for-gold game, then the simplest model is to plunk down a museum that pays out higher rates for relevant items than anyone else. This is nice because you can set up situations with rival buyers and let the players choose between the gold-and-XP boost from the museum and whatever benefits are offered by its rivals.
  • If you’re running a more modern game with “quest XP,” it’s even easier: you offer item-retrieval for the museum as a quest. This is nice because it allows you to decouple the XP and monetary reward structures, or even set them against each other: will the players sell this ancient necklace to a collector for 1,000 gp, or hand it over to the museum for 1,000 XP?

Moving further afield from standard D&D, in some cases you can bake it right into the campaign: An experience setup like the one in Apocalypse World  (or YAOSC!) might simply tell the players to “mark XP every time you return an artifact safely to the museum.”

It can get more specialized than that: you can set up a situation where the players not only need to put the treasure they collect in a museum, they also need to go back and repeatedly interact with the loot in order to level up. The most obvious such scenario, to me, is one where the “museum” is a library and the players are a tactical librarian strike force – sort of like in the Stand Still, Stay Silent webcomic! – who can improve their skills in between expeditions by studying the books they retrieve from the ruins of the Ancients.

Perhaps this can be generalized a little for monster-hunting: the PCs gain experience by bringing back captured or slain monsters and observing, analyzing, and dissecting them. At this point we’re getting to a degree of abstraction where the “museum” is actually more of a “research center,” but the basic idea is the same.

In the sci-fi version, you can use the monster-analysis idea above, except with captured/slain aliens and alien tech. Alternately, the PCs are cyborgs or Matrix-nauts, and their spoils include storage media that, through the right interface hardware, can be used to upgrade their skill set. (This might work best with a skill system that functions like a tech tree, with discrete jumps that add abilities wholesale.)

For a more esoteric twist, how about a campaign (using the system of your choice) in which the PCs are cultists, the “museum” is a shrine or temple to their deity, and instead of XP per se they receive boons from their deity in return for offerings?

About Confanity

I love the written word more than anything else I've had the chance to work with. I'm back in the States from Japan for grad school, but still studying Japanese with the hope of becoming a translator -- or writer, or even teacher -- as long as it's something language-related.
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