|from Dragon #89 (September, 1984)|
Raiders of the Lost Ark is a wonderful film. Part of that wonder – at least for me – stems from the genuine suspense an initial viewing conveys. For instance, after all the excitement of the temple scene, a guy takes the idol from Indy – a French guy. Sure, Indy gets away, but he loses the idol. Here's a protagonist who doesn't always win...maybe he won't prevail. Marion dies...or does she? Indy finds Marion but leaves her tied up so as not to alert Belloq and the Nazis. Indy threatens to blow-up the Ark. Is this the end? Does he destroy it to keep it out of the hands of the Nazis? Spirits or angels or whatever come out of the Ark. DON'T LOOK AT IT! KEEP YOUR EYES SHUT! Finally, hiding the Ark in a warehouse. The melting Nazi is the cherry on a sundae of awesomeness.
This sounds like the basis of a terrific role-playing game. Certainly, there were games that could tie into the élan of the movie, but an official, licensed game did not appear until 1984, the same year as the release of the second film. As the advertisement above indicates, the game is from “the producers of the world-famous DUNGEONS & DRAGONS® Fantasy Role Playing Game.” (Not the creators of course, but the producers. Does “producers” sound better than “publishers”?) Wow, those guys must know what they're doing; surely, they're not going to drop the ball when dealing with a prominent franchise...Alas, the game was not received well. This is an understatement; The Adventures of Indiana Jones is one of the “most unloved and least-mourned” role-playing games. Ouch. How could such a promising prospect be so disappointing? Thoul's Paradise shall examine the reasons in this and subsequent posts.
One of the ways the game is disappointing is the lack of rules (in the base set) for generating original characters. As shown on the box depicted above, the game is intended “for 2 or more.” Usually, TSR promoted its role-playing games as “for 3 or more.” For Indiana Jones, the “2” would be a referee and someone to play the character of Indiana Jones – it is assumed that Indiana Jones will be a player character. For games based on intellectual properties such as Star Wars or The Lord of the Rings, it is possible to to play the lead characters but the setting is usually the feature of the game. Players want to play original characters in a well known setting; they can't with Indiana Jones. Not even George Lucas can trademark “the pulp era” or “the thirties,” so the setting of Indiana Jones cannot be licensed. The game is called The Adventures of Indiana Jones (instead of Raiders of the Lost Ark or Artifacts & Archaeologists) because the character of Indiana Jones is the feature. So, one person is the referee and another person plays Indiana Jones. What about the “or more” part of “for 2 or more”? The rule book pragmatically notes, “The world simply isn't big enough for two Indiana Joneses.” This means that additional players are stuck with the six other characters that the game provides:
- Marion Ravenwood, romantic interest from the first film; feisty, and she can out-drink an Australian climber. (To the game's credit, it does include rules on losing consciousness due to imbibing alcohol.)
- Willie Scott, romantic interest from the second installment; useless.
- Sallah, the beloved character played by John Rhys-Davies. I would have thought that his geographic range of activity would be limited, but whatever.
- Jock Lindsey, a character who has a minute (or less) of screen time in the first film; at least he can fly a plane.
- Wu Han (Yeah, I know...Who Han?). This is another guy who spends – maybe – a minute on screen AND THEN HE PROMPTLY DIES. Aside from his death scene, all he does is (ineffectively) cover Lao Che with a gun. Who thought anyone would want to play this character? Who thought anyone would remember this character?
- Last and least, Short Round. It's not that I hate Short Round, but he doesn't bring anything worthwhile to the table. I'd rather play Katanga or Marcus Brody; you know, characters who are interesting.