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?

Posted in Miscellaneous, Rules | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

An irony for many residents of DC

Especially the transients. You know who you are.

(Sumeba miyako; “If you live there, it’s the capital”)


No matter how inconvenient, old, noisy, or just plain bad your residence is, it still feels like you belong there. Once you’re used to a place, it feels easier to live in. “There’s no place like home.”


This very simple phrase begins with the noun 住む (sumu), “to reside,” in perfective form and taking the conditional particle ば (ba), followed by the noun 都 (miyako), “capital city.” That’s it!


Incidentally, you might expect that the final noun there is followed by an elided copula (the “to be” verb). But actually, a number of variants instead use longer, more poetic verb phrases. For example, 住めば都の風が吹く (sumeba miyako no kaze ga fuku), “If you live there, the wind of the capital blows [there].”

You can really see the old myopia of the aristocratic caste here, because all my sources list remoteness as the primary example of the kind of problem that you get accustomed to. This point is driven home more explicitly by holding out “the capital” as the exemplar of a place that’s good to live because it’s the heart of all the economic and cultural activity of the nation as well as the political.

Apparently some people mix this phrase up with 住ば都 (sumaba miyako, “if you live [somewhere then make it] the capital”) and taken it to mean “the only place to live is the capital.” This almost exactly reverses the saying’s intent and is an error.

Apparently this phrase comes to us from Xunzi, a.k.a. Xun Kuang (荀子, Junshi), via the Tale of the Heike (平家物語, Heike monogatari).

Example sentence:


(“Daigaku ni haitte kara zutto sunde kita kono heya wa semakute, samukute, nan to mo ienai hen na nioi mo aru kedo… nande ka hikkoshitakunai na. Sumeba miyako ka.”)

[“This apartment I’ve been living ever since I came to college is cold, and tiny, and it has this indescribably weird smell… but for some reason I don’t want to move out. I guess home is where your stuff is.”]

Posted in Japanese, Kotowaza | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Glance after equally-loving glance

No piquing, though


Literally: one – look – same – benevolence

Alternately: Feeling equal affection for all, without prejudice or discrimination. Universal love, without consideration for rank, caste, or any of the other distinctions that normally divide us.

Notes: The order of the halves may be switched to give 同仁一視, or 同 may be replaced with 之 (no, equivalent to the associative particle の).

This expression comes to us from the writings of our good friend Han Yu (韓愈, Kan Yu), from an essay titled 原人 (Genjin, “Primitive Man”).


So… recording artist Gackt wrote a play called Moon Saga 義経秘伝 and an accompanying two-volume soundtrack in which each track seems to have been named after a yojijukugo. “一視同仁 – Brotherhood” is the title of track 12, volume 2. This all kind of strikes me as absolutely insane.

Posted in Japanese, Yojijukugo | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Potholes are another story

(Mekura hebi ni ojizu; “The blind do not fear snakes”)


The ignorant have no way to judge the true danger of a situation, and so take risks that more knowledgeable people would avoid. “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”


We begin with the noun 盲 (mekura), “blind (person).” This is followed, with particles elided, by the noun 蛇 (hebi), “snake.” And at the end we have the verb 怖づ (odzu), “to be afraid,” in imperfective form (although note the orthographic shift from ぢ to じ in expressing the pronunciation ji), followed by negative suffix ず (zu) in sentence-final form. In between the final noun and the verb, directional particle に (ni) marks the snake as the thing not being feared.


This saying can be referenced with just 盲蛇 (mekurahebi), but be careful – this is also the name of the Brahminy blind snake.

Example sentence:


(“Muri ni chousen suru to hidoi me ni au zo, to donna ni keikai sarete mo, yappai yatte mitai. Mekura hebi ni ojizu to iu joukyou ka na.”)

[“They all warn me that it’s too hard, and going for it will only get me in trouble. But no matter how much they say it, I still want to try. Perhaps I’m like the blind man unafraid of the serpent.”]

Posted in Japanese, Kotowaza | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Epistolary epimetheum


Literally: blind/reckless – word – many – apology

Alternately: This is a utilitarian phrase used to ask forgiveness after speaking in an imprudent, careless, or prejudiced way. For example, it may be found at the end of a personal letter, especially one in which the writer openly expressed a potentially problematic emotion or opinion, instead of wrapping it in tactful niceties.

Notes: 妄 may, rarely, be pronounced bou. However, it cannot be replaced with homophone 盲, even though it can also mean “blind.”


No idea why this demon rabbit turned up in the search results, but how could I ever not use it?

(I’m really sorry if that’s a little too wacky, by the way.)
Posted in Japanese, Yojijukugo | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Make sure to rationalize your hands more often in the winter

(to prevent chapping)

(Rikutsu to kouyaku wa doko he demo tsuku;
“Rationalizing and ointment will stick anywhere.”)


People can come up with rationalizations for almost anything. The ideal of reason is a rigorous search for the truth no matter what conclusion one may have expected or desired at the start, but unfortunately it’s far more common to see people coming up with plausible-sounding reasons to ignore evidence, carve out special exceptions, or otherwise turn the machinery of rational thought to self-serving ends. No matter what a person has done or wants to do, reason may be turned to provide justification rather than discover the actual best path forward.

This feels pretty topical in a time where, contrary to what you might expect, political polarization seems to lead to some people rejecting reality harder, rather than accepting it more gracefully, with higher levels of education.


We begin with the noun 理屈 (rikutsu), “reason(ing),” joined by the particle と (to), a comprehensive “and,” to the noun 膏薬 (kouyaku), a term for oil-based topical medicine. All of the preceding becomes a single noun phrase marked by the particle は (wa) as the topic of discussion. The comment on this topic begins with question word どこ (doko), “where.” This is followed by the direction-marker particle へ (e), and then by two more particles, で (de) and も (mo). These latter two combine to form conjunction demo, in this case “even,” rendering the comment so far as “to wherever.” And what is it that reason and liniment do to wherever? They do the verb 付く (tsuku), “to attach.” The verb appears in sentence-final form, and in fact we have a complete sentence.


In other contexts, the compound 膏薬 can also be pronounced with its native Japanese reading as aburagusuri, but for this saying only kouyaku is correct. Some people apparently write homophone 利 (“benefit”) in place of 理 (“logic,” “truth”), but this is an error.

Example sentence:


(“Tashika ni jijou mo aru no darou. Da to shite mo, ruuru ni han shite wa ikenai. Rikutsu to kouyaku wa doko he demo tsuku kara na.”)

[“I’m sure there are extenuating circumstances. That said, we can’t just break the rules. People can rationalize anything, after all.”]

Posted in Japanese, Kotowaza | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The problem with thigh drugs

I mean, *a problem


Literally: two – thigh / crotch – lard / ointment – medicine

Alternately: Being here and there; refusing to commit; changing one’s position or opinion based on what seems to be favorable at the moment rather than based on principle or facts. Trying to straddle both sides of a conflict, like how an ointment applied to the inner thigh will quickly be smeared all over both legs by the act of walking.

Notes: The 膏 may also be pronounced gou with no change in meaning, and my sources don’t seem to agree on which, if either, is preferred or more common. Replacing 股 with homophone 又 (“again,” “also”) is considered an error. But a variant compound uses 内 (uchi), “inside,” in place of 二.


Such a useful phrase, it even got its own stock image!

Posted in Japanese, Yojijukugo | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment