Judd’s Jargon: Museum Games

Judd’s Jargon will be a regular thing, I think. It is more of an excuse to talk about some gaming thing, then really trying earnestly to insert new phrases out into the world. We already have words that we are trying to figure out to describe our gaming.

Today’s word, Museum Games, is inspired by Paul’s thread on SG. This is a phrase that me and Jim Bryant came up with back in the day. It described a GM we knew who did not want anyone futzing with his world or his beloved plot. Because in a museum, you look and do not touch.

Jim seemed to get his kicks by manipulating the group to do his bidding and altering the campaign’s direction through social pressure (I called this Back-seat GMing but that is a term for another day). I dealt with it by not showing up to these games.

It was most certainly a term meant in derision, because back then we thought people who use different techniques towards different goals and who got different things out of their games were gaming incorrectly. This isn’t to say that I am a saint now. Shit, there’s plenty of judgment and barbed language choices in this post. Feel free to call me on it if something particularly wrankles you. That is, after all, what the comments section is for.

Paragraph edited in after a night’s sleep:

It is a term that was not meant as a compliment but I am not sure it has to be used to insult anyone.  There are beautiful things in a museum and some of the best days I can think of were spent wandering a museum with friends, finding ourselves stimulated by what we saw there.  I reckon some folks like not having to make difficult decisions or have a tangible effect and god bless their chainmail dicebags, I say (yes, I totally do have a chainmail dicebag too).  I’d be interested to hear from folks who play in these games to hear what they dig about ’em.

Museum Games have a cool set-up, have adventurous shit going on and might even have fun moments but the fun drained away for me when I got to a set piece, a kind of masturbatory description in which the GM wants you to marvel at their amazing imaginations and you realize that there were no meaningful choices in getting there. You had to get here or else there would be no one here to appreciate how clever the GM’s world has turned out to be.

At the end of the day, we wished he had written a novel instead and left us to save or damn the worlds based on our choices and the roll of he dice.

This will cruise nicely into next week’s installment of Judd’s Jargon, The DelRosso Principle.

16 thoughts on “Judd’s Jargon: Museum Games

  1. Hey Judd, I’m not irked but I think I have a helpful suggestion since I’ve played like this a lot, even after learning how aggressive story-now kind of games work.

    “Museum games” and “Illusionist” both are pretty loaded; the implication I see in both is that the players are marginalized by the story-before-ness of them.

    When I’ve had good successes with this style of play it was when I said right off “I’d like to tell a kind of dark ages fantasy epic kind of story; would you guys like to play the protagonsits?” and they were all like “Cool!”

    We played 30 sessions and it was ridiculously awesome. Trippin’, as it were.

    What I’d say now is “I’d like to tell this story and I need some help. I have a pretty good idea of the major plot but it needs actors and explorers to make it the best thing it can be.” and their contributions aren’t marginalized because they are contributing to a plot structure that they know already has a particular shape. We’re all working to keep their contributions within that shape, and while I have some privileged information, they have privileged spotlights.

    So I tend say “Follow my lead” like I say “Story Now” or “Step on up”. A mountain-climbing team metaphor would probably work too.

    • Thanks for speaking up, Ryan.

      It could be that I just do not like this style of play or it could be that when I see this style of play done poorly I snort and wave it off as illusionist museum gaming and when it is done well or described successfully I think, “Well, that could not be a Museum Game because Museum Games suck!”

      But that is why I post things here, to think them through. Thanks for helping with that process.

      • Cool. Besides the things people have been griping about for 20 or more years, I do think that the “Follow my lead” play is very vulnerable to two things:

        1) The lead doesn’t know where they’re going or how to get there.
        2) The lead isn’t trying to maximize the other players’ inputs.

        The bad experience you mention sounds like the worst-case of 2, where the lead deliberately minimizes the other players’ inputs.

        I’ve thought about this a lot because when I first came to story games I was all like “OH MY GOD, FUN!”

        I kept trying to explain my old fun with the new words I learned at story games. But the more I learn, the more I realize that my old kind of fun was a very different kind.

      • Yeah, agreed, the vital difference between your experience and mine was that the lead did not know where things were going at your table and he totally did know at mine.

      • Isn’t “follow my lead” more inclusive than what “Museum Game” is attempting to describe? I thought the term was for the worst case scenario.

      • Let’s not worry about being true to the term and just welcome the discussion it brings. I am much less interested in cementing what these jargon bits mean and much more interested in just enjoying the discussion they bring.

        But I hear ya.

  2. There’s an interesting line here that fuzzes things up. While the scarosanct world can be taken to an extreme, through another lens it is just another way of looking at the network television model. It does not matter much what happens over the course of an episode -things are pretty much going to return to status quo by the end of it.

    Now, I think it’s safe to say that you can have all that Conan finds good in life over the course of a television show (though I concede it is harder with the network model than it is on HBO and such). Given that, I think that pretty clearly highlights that it’s not the static nature of the world that’s the real problem. It’s the goddamned puppet shows.

    That is to say, I see two behaviors here: one is a static world, the other is the necessity to sit and watch crap. The first introduces complications, but can be done well. The second…well, I have a book I could be reading.

    -Rob D.

    • Super-hero comic books (shitty super-hero comic books?) very often have the status quo returned at the end of the issue.

      Thanks for dividing the two elements you are seeing, Rob.

  3. I think any time you try to be kinder and gentler about what this term means, you’re sort of shying away from the play it describes. _Sorcerer and Sword_ has a passage that talks about scenes where the end result is a given; the PC has a destiny, so they will not die, no matter what. But the *implications* of knowing that allow for some powerful premise-addressing in the scene. That doesn’t mean we’re talking about a “Museum Game”. The ever-persistent status-quo can be a trope, not a straightjacket.

    Ergo, let “Museum Game” go ahead and be derisive. It pretty accurately describes a common style of play that, IMO, has no redeeming qualities, period.

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