Monday, June 12, 2017

Next time, Indiana Jones, it will take more than children to save you...

I'd been thinking about writing a blog post about Indiana Jones for a little while now, and today being the date of the release of the original movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, waaaaay back on the 12th June 1981, it felt like today was a good day to do it.

I have very vivid memories of seeing Raiders for the first time. I was 13, and I remember my grandparents were up in Yorkshire visiting from their home in East London. They came to stay for a week, and the first weekend they were up they sent "the kids" off to the cinema to see Clash of the Titans on its last week of its run. The trip went well, and we enjoyed the film loads. So the end of their visit, at the end of the week, they sent us off to the cinema again to see a new film that I knew nothing about called Raiders of the Lost Ark. It was from the makers of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind so it was bound to be good, and it had Han Solo in it. What's not to love?

This will probably have been the Friday 31st July 1981, opening weekend in the UK. It was a bit of a shock to me as, after Star Wars, I mostly watched science fiction or fantasy stuff, so I wasn't really expecting a traditional action adventure. Needless to say, it was ace, but I do remember being a little freaked out by the more horrific elements - the impaling of Satipo, the gross crypt of skeletons, and, of course, the melty nazis. I was only 13, and wasn't really a horror watcher, and the image of Toht's face melting off like a candle would remain in my unconscious for many years.

But it was great. Not a clean cut, perfect hero. He was bruised, tired, and a little quick to leap into foolishly dangerous situations. I bought the book (which was something I had a habit of doing - after all, you couldn't rewatch the video so you bought the book and reread the movie), and the comic adaptation. When my parents bought our first VHS recorder, Raiders was one of the first movies to come out at a price that was affordable to buy - £20 if I remember rightly. I bought it straight away after many weeks of saving up pocket money for it.

And that first time on VHS... when I put the cassette in and the first thing you saw was the red line going over the map, telling you where they were filming Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom... awesome.

Strangely, despite being criticised for being more violent and darker than Raiders, I actually loved Temple of Doom more. Possibly thanks to its relentless pace and crazy action scenes (the mine-cart sequence is still brilliant, as is the final bridge scene). I was such a fan of Temple of Doom that I asked to buy the VHS of it when it came out to rent. Our local rental store agreed to sell me a new one at cost (£55 if I remember correctly) which I paid for in weekly instalments before its release.

Heck, Temple of Doom is one of the only reasons I passed my English at school - part of the exam was to do an oral element, reading aloud from a book. I picked the section from the novel of Temple of Doom with the bug filled corridor ("We... are going... to DIE!!") and it went down far better than my previous attempts.


You know where this is leading don't you? Yes. My obsession with licensed RPGs. The same year as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, 1984, TSR released the Adventures of Indiana Jones roleplaying game. I loved TSR - Star Frontiers was the first RPG I purchased. The prospect of playing daring adventurers punching nazis around the world sounded awesome, and I managed to pick up the game from my not-so-local game store (hidden above a picture framing shop an hour's bus ride away).

The Adventures of Indiana Jones boxed set - (1984)
Yes, this is still the same one I bought way back then. Scuffed, and loved.
The game came in a boxed set, with a rulebook, Judge's Screen (Gamemasters were called Judges), character sheets for the main characters, dice, and 3D cutout "minis", as well as a map of the world, the reverse of which doubled as a square grid for the minis.

The Judge's Screen (a bit marked by sellotape), the main rulebook, and the slide-rule that helped
calculate the results of your roll.

The minis were a bit of a gimmick, as I really didn't use minis for any of my gaming, but I had a bit of a laugh trying to put them together (rather badly, using tape and UHU). Most of them, though not the more complex pieces like the truck and jeep, have survived the years in storage in a cake tin.

The Indiana Jones minis: Sallah, Willie and Indy face off against a Nazi (tm), Mola Ram and Toht.
In the foreground is a tent, and a rather square motorcycle-sidecar.

We played a few games, but the biggest frustration was the lack of character creation rules. The game expected you to play as the main cast of the first two movies, with some secondary characters in the mix like Jock the pilot.

I guess this may be where my RPG writing first started. Equipped with a typewriter, film magazines they gave away at the cinema, a pair of scissors and a glue-stick, I set to creating a supplement for my own use that was mostly character creation.

My character creation rules from 1984 - do excuse the bad pun.
I even discovered if you laid out the character sheet using graph paper, and letraset, when you photocopied it at the local library the squares didn't come out. This way, you could create character sheets that had straight lines, and looked fairly neat.

Handmade character sheets, and the master sheet, along with gun stats.
The character was Bragi's character, Joan Wilder, based on the character from
the movie Romancing the Stone (1984).
Of course, a year later the Judge's Survival Pack came out and rectified the lack of character creation rules, bringing in the official way to create new heroes for your adventures. But the Judge's Survival Pack had a couple of even more essential elements - the random ruins tables and charts, and the endless chase flowchart. The chase charts in Indiana Jones were brilliant, and only surpassed by the James Bond chase system (which I think I used the Indy flowcharts for to help with the scenery).

The Judge's Survival Pack, and the epic chase flowcharts! (1985)

Along with the Judge's Survival Pack, they released six adventures. The first two were the obvious Temple of Doom and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The adventures for The Adventures of Indiana Jones

The remaining four were considerably thinner and shorter - The Crystal Death, The Golden Goddess, Nepal Nightmare and The Fourth Nail. The Golden Goddess and some elements of the last two adventures featured the "Magic Viewer" system which obscured the text - the whole of the text in the case of the Golden Goddess adventure (designed for solo play) - unless you held a small piece of red plastic over it to clear the red mess.

The inside of "The Golden Goddess" showing off how the pages looked without the Magic Viewer!

The actual adventures for IJ3-IJ6 were based upon the Marvel Comics "The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones", so players who had read the comics kinda knew what was coming.

However, it didn't last, and besides a set of metal minis (which I didn't get - never been much of a minis person) that was all for TSR's Indiana Jones RPG. Of course, the game has gone on to be immortalised. Legend has it when the license expired, all unsold copies were destroyed and employees at TSR had some of the burnt cardstock minis encased in perspex. Only part of the name survived in the perspex, and it became the trophy for the coveted "Diana Jones Award for Excellence in Gaming".

Indiana Jones would return to the tabletop ten years later, in 1994 with West End Games' "The World of Indiana Jones". I really wish I'd picked it up, even though the Masterbook system that powered it wasn't something I'd tried, and it was West End Games (who produced two of my favourite games ever - Ghostbusters and Star Wars). However, I'd moved city, was in the middle of my degree, and the only game I was playing involved brooding vampires, and reality shifting mages.


With the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull released in 2008, I was half expecting someone to take another crack at the whip of Indiana Jones roleplaying. Alas... nothing. But with Lucasfilm being taken over by Disney, and them doing such a fantastic job of breathing life into Star Wars - pleasing fans old and new - you have to wonder, with a new Indiana Jones movie scheduled for 2020, will someone try again to bring Indy back to the gaming table?


Jeffrywith1e said...

Indiana Jones powered by Vortex? Please!?

David F. Chapman said...

Oh god, I wish!!!!!! Maybe one day!