Last weekend I headed up to Newcastle to play in True North Megagame’s third offering – It Belongs In A Museum, by new designer trio Jake Smithson, Riccardo Viglianisi and Danielle McAloon. This wacky quest game draws inspiration from classics such as Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones (neither of which are massively in my wheelhouse tbh).
Players took on roles as explorers or museum owners. Whether they were looking for wealth or glory, everyone wanted to find the elusive artefacts that were hidden in tombs, crypts, caves or even inside toads for some reason.
Elsie Schneider, Antiquarian for the Ethical Explorers Club
My role in the game was as an Antiquarian – the street smarts of my explorer team, responsible for getting a good price for the artefacts we discover and conducting intrigue to help us get ahead.
Honestly, my character was a bit of an enigma. As part of the Ethical Explorer Club, you might expect me to be a very moral person – but you’d need quite an unusual definition of morals for that to be the case. My character’s back story featured a stint as a Bavarian spy, then as a British spy (following an affair), so I was literally a double agent. Following a second affair (literally, two sentences in a row in my briefing began with “after a brief affair…”), I became disgusted with the practices of many in the archaeological profession – eating animals to extinction, disrupting cultures to steal their precious treasures.
But forgeries were fine. You see what I mean about alternative morals.
The other members of our team were archaeologist Freyr Stark and researcher Henry Bones Snr (no relation to a certain Dr Jones). Together, we would fill the museums with forgeries, return priceless items to their proper homes, and shame anyone who dared break our ridiculously specific ethics.
My buddies Willhelm Von Bode and Heinrich Otto Misner at the Bavarian museums lined us up with a expedition to retrieve the mythical “Toad Diamonds”. The first challenge – getting anyone to believe we weren’t insane when we asked about them!
Before we set off, I dropped by Espionage Control to enquire about how easy it was to forge an item. For me, it was pretty easy – my character speciality was as Master Forger, so I paid a low price for all of my forgeries throughout the game, as well as having the proof of forgery written on the back of the item card so it was harder to detect. I quite liked the mechanics for forgery – it was written on in invisible ink if it was a fake!
I collected my forged item before we even set off on the mission.
The way that quests worked was: you prepped your Expedition Plan with who you were taking and what resources, then paid the logistics resource cost at the map to go to the country your quest was based in.
Then you headed over to Expedition Control, who had prepped the Expedition for you – a series of challenges you had to roll off against in order to progress towards your prize.
The Toad Diamonds quest was pretty easy – we had to find the toads using some ingenuity, defend against a toad attacking us using athletics, then use our knowledge to find the crystals. Finally, our Archaeologist had to take on the final challenge – removing the delicate gems, phys-repped by a maze ball puzzle. It was tense, but he prevailed.
We held the crystals in our hands… but since we had the forged diamonds, I managed to convince my team mates that we didn’t need to take the real item with us. It was left in situ, as my righteous ethics demanded. We even added a few more booby traps to the original quest, making it harder for anyone else to break in and steal the jewels.
Unfortunately the toad that attacked us died when we defended ourselves. As Ethical Explorers, we were heartbroken, but we were also determined to own up to our mistake. When we presented the (fake) toad diamonds to the Bavarian Museum, in return for a small finder’s fee that to be honest barely covered the cost of the forgery, we asked about holding a memorial service for the toad. Hoping it would bring in the punters, they said yes.
Out in the wild
Our first mission successfully out of the way, we upgraded our Pack Animals to a Supply Vehicle and hired an Expert Guide to boost our stats in our two worst areas – Athletics and Knowledge. Bones Snr wrote a paper on whether toads hate gingers, and Stark started preparing us to go back into the field.
Our second quest was a moderate one, to retrieve the fabled Tide Diamonds of Japan. We apparently had a thing for diamonds.
Unfortunately, this one kicked us pretty hard. We took two points of damage each – three and we would pass out – before we made it through the whirlpool and to the sacred bay. We were confronted by both a sword and some diamonds, and we hesitated – did we want to retrieve the sword, the diamonds, or both? We were so battered, we struggled to think straight. Was it a trap?
Luckily, it occurred that since I already had my fabulous fake, we didn’t need to take these sort of chances, and so we abandoned the quest without touching a single thing in the cave, again leaving more traps in our wake. The Bavarian Museum was again happy to pay us for our discovery.
Forging new friendships
Around this point in the day, I was approached by a mysterious figure (whose character name I don’t think I ever knew) asking me to forge an item for them. I don’t know why. I don’t even remember what the item was. I just said yes.
Unfortunately, this was an awful idea, as it meant that the next turn I wouldn’t be able to forge the item that we collected, as I could only forge one item per turn. However, this was a great opportunity to prove ourselves reliable to our partners at the Bavarian Museum, so we invited them to come on the next quest with us. And what a quest it was.
Welcome to the jungle
In a hotel in Japan (because Stark needed another turn in Asia so he could complete his research into Valley of the Assassins) we opened up the peculiar wooden box and our player pieces snapped into place. A familiar drum beat began to pound…
As soon as we landed inside world of Jumanji, we realised something wasn’t right. We weren’t ourselves anymore… not only had our stats changed, but we were now characters from The Mummy, for the crossover campaign you never knew you needed. Because there were more than three of us and the game designers had assumed that it would be a normal Explorer team who did this mission, our additional crew ended up as a cat and a guy whose eyeballs exploded.
The cat served as a great distraction for the jackal-headed creatures trying to stop us. We trekked our way to the Giant Sphinx and made our way underneath it, beat away the spider that had dropped onto the back of eyeball-exploded man, and were confronted with the final challenge… another ball maze! This time, however, it was our Researcher, in the body of an Archaeologist, who had the task of extracting our artefact.
It was tense, but before we knew it we were back in our own bodies, clutching both the Book of the Dead and the Jumanji Board Game.
I delivered the forged artefact to the guy who had hired me and managed to negotiate the price up a little. In total I’d earned just six gold from the transaction and had to give up one of my precious Espionage tokens to manage it. But as we ticked over to turn four, I realised that I couldn’t let both of the artefacts from my most recent mission make it into the museums in their true formats.
While previously I’d been forging items before we even went on the missions, at this point I switched it to forging at the start of the turn after the mission. As I weighed up the options, I decided that a Book of the Dead would do far more harm than a board game ever could (though having rewatched Jumanji last night, I may take that back).
I gave the Bavarian Museum their first genuine artefact of the day, and then sold them the fake Book. I would later discover that my forgery was so excellent (read: Control didn’t realise it was fake) that it did let them summon someone or something from hell. But that’s someone else’s story.
Bigging up Big Foot
I had started the game with a stuffed horse that, honestly, wasn’t doing any good in my pocket. The Bavarians didn’t want it, so I offered it next to the Smithsonian, who snapped it up, in return for a fetching outfit for Stark to wear to the next Explorers Club. While I was there, I checked out their exhibit.
I was horrified to see Big Foot’s poor remains lying out in the museum, with a small paper sign noting what they were. It just seemed so… disrespectful! While they promised that the Explorer team that had retrieved it hadn’t killed Big Foot, merely come across his body on a quest, I insisted that we needed to have a memorial service for Big Foot.
They agreed enthusiastically, suggesting we have a promotional event to celebrate Big Foot’s life. Bones Snr chimed in suggesting a symposium, where he would give a 10 hour lecture on the Biggus Footus (or something). I interjected that we should also have a five hour silence to commemorate the enormous being and the enormous loss we all surely felt.
In the end, I’m fairly sure it was reported to the press as a Memorial Symposium, NO WAIT a Symposium Memorial, NO WAIT the first one. Well, at any rate there were promotional tea towels for sale.
I went back to the store to buy some more items before our next trip, when we planned to go after Pandora’s Box. I bought some Top Men (only 1 gold more than merely Good Men, why would you even bother with them?) and a few First Aid Kits.
And then I bought a tank. But not any old tank. A green tank. And I don’t mean it was painted green. We were ETHICAL after all. I originally suggested it run on biofuel, but since it was 1938 or something like that, it didn’t exist. Neither did solar. Finally Control ruled that it ran on a mixture of cow farts and kelp.
When the Press asked what it fired, I sputtered for a moment then kind of just walked away.
Ever since the start of the day, Bones Snr had been obsessed with finding the Holy Grail. So when her daughter, Montana Bones (nothing to do with Indiana Jones, NOTHING) announced she had the key to where it was held… well let’s just say Pandora’s Box didn’t quite have the cachet.
We teamed up with Monty and her team, the Idealists, on a dangerous quest! We made it past the ambush in the desert and the Canyon of the Crescent Moon. Their researcher knew about the blade traps, and Bones Snr was well versed in Hebrew to spell the Word of God. And although the Leap of Faith was frightening, we persevered as a group and made it to the final chamber.
As Monty stepped up to choose between the five cups, the Researches naturally butted in. “It’s definitely not that one,” “it can’t be that one,”… until just two cups remained. Monty gathered all her courage, but luck was on her side, and she drank long and deep from the cup. As did everyone else there.
Having watched The Last Crusade the night before, it was easy to persuade them to leave the cup behind.
Negotiating in bad faith
A fake copy of the Holy Grail in my hands, I approached the British Museum. That charlatan Hillary Jenkinson worked there, and I had had a grudge against him since… well, ever since I read my briefing. I didn’t really want them to have the Holy Grail in their museum, even if it was a fake… but Bones Snr persuaded me that tricking them was part of the joy.
But we weren’t about to go down with nothing. It seemed that their negotiations with the Idealists meant they paid their upfront costs, then chucked them an extra one or two gold if the artefact they received was worth it. We played with bigger fish – I’d received 10 gold for the Book of the Dead, and surely the Holy Grail was a lot more valuable than that!
What we wanted from them, however, was something more tangible. We’d been calling ourselves the Ethical Explorers for a while, but aside from some memorials and a green tank, we didn’t have much to show for it. I wanted to start liberating some artefacts and taking them home.
Sadly they were pretty resistant to the idea. It was a point blank NO when we tried to liberate a Chinese crown and some South American jewels. But with some smooth negotiation (aka lingering around the table pointing to pretty much everything they owned until they said yes), I got a Japanese item that they agreed to let me return to its place of origin. And a pathetic two gold that barely covered my cost of forging.
It’s a thankless world to be ethical in.
Luckily, I used some of Bones Snr’s research and my own ingenuity to return the item to the Japanese in style, with a traditional ceremony that garnered us a lot of reputation.
Trying out the Black Market
Inspired by my good deed, I headed to the Black Market in search of more items I could return to their true home. I was sniped to the good item, and instead ended up with a Canadian Weegit (or something like that) for a single gold.
It quickly became clear why it was so cheap. It was cursed by The Thing, who would dominate my mind with it will. But the guy controlling the Thing didn’t have time to give me any instructions before I headed off on my next quests; we agreed to reconvene during the next negotiation phase so I could start putting his plan into action.
For my sins
Our next expedition took us up against the seven deadly sins – literally. We had to overcome our greed, gluttony, pride, lust… all for a chance to gain this elusive treasure. Which I was naturally going to forge anyway.
Unfortunately, it seemed I was not rolling very well. Even with the Boon that the Bavarian team had recently given me – a Promethean Mind that would boost my knowledge – I fell victim to both the curses of Gluttony and Lust.
But here’s where it gets weird. Somewhere in the ether, a mixup happened (aka the Control misplaced the Lust curse). Instead I was cursed with Speaking in Limericks. I had to rhyme EVERY single sentence I said. Considering I was the one reading out the cards for our team… I had to ditch the curse asap. As soon as we were out of the cave, with Pandora’s Box safely in hand, I cried out to the rhyming gods (or whoever) with a song that ended in a sentence palindrome:
This curse makes me want to cry
Why, oh why, oh why, oh why?
Luckily nowhere on the curse did it say it had to be a good poem.
As we returned to civilisation, I realised something positive. Because the Gluttony curse had a stronger power, I was no longer afflicted by the curse of The Thing. Well, at least something good came out of that hell hole.
Things begin to unravel
I returned Pandora’s Box to the Bavarian Museum… or rather, the fake Pandora’s Box, with the real one stored safely in my back pocket. I had just enough time to wonder whether it was time to start storing my dangerous artefacts in an underwater cave when…
“Come one, come all, to the Bavarian Museum, where we will SOON be opening Pandora’s Box!”
WHAT? That… well for a start that can’t be a good idea. Isn’t that literally the way all the bad things on earth got out? Secondly. Well, it was a fake, and they would realise as soon as they opened it that it was just a very shiny and pretty wooden chest.
I frantically begged the museum owners not to open their box, but they’d been amassing quite the collection of oddities – at least two ghosts, for a start – and they were undeterred. One even asked if I was trying to put them off because it was fake. I forced a laugh, then slunk away.
There was only one option remaining to me, to keep my cover. I would have to open the box myself, at the exact same moment as they did it.
I can’t believe I’m doing this
As they pried up the lid of the box, the crowd of attendees peered closer to see inside. It looked like an ordinary box. Nothing special at all. But then the lights went out, and a low moan rang throughout the building.
It was coming from my box, of course, in a back room of the museum. I had no idea what horrors I had unleashed, on everyone else… on myself…
The people around me began convulsing, twisting, changing. I saw their eyes turn green, their gazes turn lustful, their greed swell and their sloth drag them down. But I didn’t feel bad. Not bad at all. For the last thing to leave the box – do you remember? The last thing to leave the box was bestowed upon me. Hope.
I felt lighter than ever before. I had hope on my side now. In roleplay terms, I was now the Avatar of Hope. In mechanics terms, I had a dice with 5 successes out of 6 to add to every roll. I felt pretty damn invincible.
Drinking with giants
I went into our next quest on a high, even though sadly my team mates had been cursed by the box. We headed to Sweden to seek the Mead of Poetry, a fabled truth potion that the giants guarded. We were prepared for whatever they threw at us.
It turns out all they wanted was a drinking competition. While my companions fell one after another, I drank them under the table, and returned glorious. And when I presented the fake potion to the Bavarian Museum – who now would obviously never doubt me – I pocketed the real one for myself, and my mind turned to how I could use it for my own advantage.
I had forgotten my pledge to return items to where they came from. They say power corrupts, and by this point I had forgotten all morals I had ever held, however ridiculous.
Well, elsewhere Cthulhu had surfaced and was going to destroy the world.
Honestly, it took me longer than I care to admit to work out how to use the Mead of Poetry. While the Bavarians used their fake one straight away – to discover that Steve Wiessou (played by Mr Megagame) was evil and had summoned Cthulhu himself for his own dark purposes. This wasn’t true, but for some reason everyone believed it. Must be something about the guy.
Meanwhile, I dithered for most of a turn, until finally asking the one question that mattered.
How do I defeat Cthulhu?
The answer? Well, it was a long and complex one, involving the three artefacts of ancient Greece: Zeus’ thunderbolt, Poseidon’s trident, Hades’ pitchfork. Each would be a deathdefying quest to the depths of the underworld or the heights of Olympus, and there was no guarantee of success. I would need help, and a lot of it.
Or. Y’know. Rise Godzilla from the depths of the ocean and let them fight it out between them. Guess which one I went for.
There I was, shining brightly as the Avatar of Hope and riding on Godzilla’s head towards the Atlantic Ocean and my foe. I had reached out to the press. My name was on everyone’s lips. I was doing a good thing, sure, something that would save the world. The fact that killing Cthulhu was against my personal ethics had been driven completely from my mind. I was revelling in the glory of finally being named in the Press!
Meanwhile, around the room, other brave adventurers were questing to find the items of the Gods. As backups, I assured them. Godzilla would sort Cthulhu out good and proper, but it didn’t hurt to have backups. I used the phrase “I have perfect knowledge of the situation” and “I speak fluent Godzillish” quite a few times.
Finally, the quests were finished. Godzilla was approaching Cthulhu’s lair, who had been waylaid by The Thing taking over its mind and trying to talk it around. And the other explorers were closing in as well, weapons at the ready…
And that was the end of the game.
Cthulhu was sunk back into the deeps with a combination of Godzilla’s might and the weapons of the Gods. WW2 ended with a truce (I don’t think I actually mentioned earlier that it started, but it totally did). And Lyra Stead (no relation to Lara Croft) was named Explorer of the Year for the second year in a row.
The game was a HELL of a lot of fun. Honestly, around the midday mark, I wasn’t sure it was going to keep my engaged to the end, since it was kind of just a tabletop RPG with some extra roleplay bolted on, but wow did it keep me entertained all day.
True North Megagames are continuing to put out some crazy good games. Here’s to their 2020 calendar!
My next game (and last game of 2019) is Funeral Games with Megagame Makers this coming Saturday. Will I see you there?