Thursday, 19 January 2012

A to Z of UK RPG in the 80s: I is for Indiana Jones

Indian Jones
Indiana Jones
For most people of my age the movies of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg are part of the pop culture landscape and none more so than those of the unlikely hero, archaeologist and tomb robber Indiana Jones.  The 80s saw Indy make three outings to the silver screen in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), The Temple of Doom (1984) and The Last Crusade (1989) but his origins lie in the heroes of the Saturday Matinee serials of the 1930s, 40s and 50s.

Kids TV in the UK also saw the more popular serial heroes (Flash Gordon and King of the Rocketmen) being repeated as cheap time filler. Christmas TV schedules were always peppered with repeats of great pulp movies like Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze and Doug Mclure always seemed to pop up "At The Earth's Core", in "The Land That Time Forgot" discovering "The People that Time Forgot".

The net effect was that British cinemagoers were already primed for Indy's arrival.

Indiana Jones RPG (TSR)

TSR Indiana Jones RPG
TSR Indiana Jones RPG
TSR released the Indiana Jones RPG in 1984 and followed up with six adventure modules and an expansion:

IJ1 - Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
IJ2 - Raiders of the Lost Ark
IJ3 - Indiana Jones and the  Crystal Death
IJ4 - Indiana Jones and the Golden Goddess
IJ5 - Indiana Jones and the Nepal Nightmare
IJ6 - Indiana Jones and the 4th Nail
IJAC1 - Judge's Survival Pack

Bizarrely, for an RPG, the boxed set did not include any rules for generating characters in the world of Indiana Jones, forcing you to play one of the established characters such as Indy, Marion or Shortround which probably accounts for its poor critical reception.  When the license expired, all remaining unsold copies were ordered to be destroyed, all except one...

The Diana Jones Awards

The Dian Jones Award
The Diana Jones Award
When the staff at TSR UK destroyed their unsold copies the last one was creatively assembled into a perspex pyramid and has since 2001 been used as the trophy for the annual Diana Jones Awards celebrating excellence in gaming.

Other ways I've Roleplayed Indiana Jones

GURPS Cliffhangers - Originally released by Steve Jackson Games in 1989, this Genre Expansion for the popular GURPS System contains all you need to replicate Indy or any other pulp character's adventures.

Call of Cthulhu - CoC is set in the 1920s so needs little or no modification to update it for Indy millieu (anytime between 1930 to 1950).  Dropping the heavy mythos creatures has little effect on the game mechanics and SAN can still be lost as a result of truly terrifying or shocking events such as dangling over a pit of snakes or gazing into the Ark of the Covenant.  I have successfully used the system many times to game in the literary worlds of Agatha Christie, Tintin, Hercule Poirot, Jeeves and Wooster as well as other pulp heroes.  Check out White Dwarf #60 (or the WD Cthulhu Omnibus) which featured the mini-scenario "The Bleeding Stone of Iphtah", an archaeological adventure set in Egypt.


  1. There was also the problem that the scenarios that were based on the movies followed the exact same plotlines (almost to the letter if I remember correctly).

    The others, I think, were lifted straight from Marvel's Indy comics (IIRC).

    Character generation was introduced in the Judge's Survival Pack, but felt very cursory and retro-fitted.

  2. Wow. I didn't know about the trophy!

    I really liked the system in IJRPG. I was thinking about posting up a few of the tables. Very fast play, although as a young GM, I had trouble convincing the players not to hang onto machine guns! The figures seemed a little unnecessary in the end. Really epic play usually has to leave the table, useful for brawls though.