Sunday, April 10, 2016

This Is Serious?

™ and © and $ Lucasfilm Ltd

I've said it before, and I'm saying it again.  (OK, I'm typing it but you get the point.)  A role-playing game can be judged on three aspects:  setting, rules system, and presentation.  The setting for The Adventures of Indiana Jones (hereinafter Adventures) is a “pulp” interpretation of world of the 1930s – it is what it is, there's nothing to add.  The rules...well, we'll address the rules eventually.  Thus, for this post, we have presentation to discuss.

Adventures was sold as a boxed set.  The back of the box listed the contents, as is usually the case for this kind of product.  However, the box copy did not use a term so prosaic as 'contents'.  Instead, the game came with “special features.”  Why the “features” were “special” was not explained.  I suppose they were special in the sense of “Designed or organized for a particular...purpose.”  Of course, in that sense, the “features” of just about every game are “special.”  Yes, this was merely marketing hyperbole, but such hyperbole raised expectations and failure to meet these expectations contributed to the unenviable legacy of the game.  Anyway, the listed “special features” were:
  • 3-D figures that you cut out and stand up to show walls, doors, traps, and characters
  • a 64-page rules booklet
  • an 8-page Evidence File, which features adventure clues
  • a World of INDIANA JONES Map
  • a Referee's Screen, which features tables and Adventure Backdrops
Surprisingly, the included percentile dice were not mentioned; perhaps they weren't “special” enough.

Let's start with the Referee's Screen and work backwards.  “Referee” is the Adventures equivalent of “game master.”  In 1985, the year after Adventures was released, TSR published an “official game accessory” which addressed some of the inadequacies of the base set.  This product was called Judge's Survival Pack – not Referee's Survival Pack...but Judge's.  Inconsistent use of basic game terminology in product titles signaled an utter lack of concern for quality.  I mention this as a glaring example of the insouciance to be found in the product line.  TSR might as well have broadcast the sentiment, “We know people are going to buy this because of the license, so let's just produce crap out product with minimum necessary effort.”  Anyway, the Referee's Screen had three panels.  On the player side, each panel was an 'Adventure Backdrop' – a jungle, an exotic marketplace, and the scene of the climax of the introductory adventure.  The Referee side displayed information that the Referee would likely consult during the course of an adventure (such as an equipment list, scatter diagram, turn sequence summary, et al.).  The screen also displayed information not present in the rules booklet (such as a list of attribute modifiers, the action results table, et al.).  I would have preferred a weapons chart and a summary of damage results instead of the equipment list and the vehicle movement table, but this is a minor complaint.

The World of INDIANA JONES Map shows the world with national boundaries circa the 1930s.  Also, “Dotted lines represent major commercial air routes.”  I have a fondness for maps.  The reader may have divined this given that “maps” is this blog's most commonly used tag.  As such, I may have a low tolerance for cartographic errors.  Among such errors, Ascension Island was spelled Anscension Island and Estonia somehow occupied Lake Ladoga.  The map had three scales:  one each for sea, air, and rail travel.  Specifically, the scales showed distance in terms of travel time and cost.  Although the accuracy with regard to cost is equivocal, I like the idea.  Printed on the reverse side of the map was a “Combat Grid.”

The Evidence File consisted of eight pages or – more accurately – sixteen half-pages.  The first half-page explained the contents of the Evidence File.  Otherwise, the Evidence File contained seven character dossiers, a blank character dossier with the name “NPC” (because original PCs weren't possible), blank stationery “From the Desk of MARCUS BRODY,” a blank telegram, a blank “treasure map” (see below), generic maps for a flophouse room and a sleazy dive, a map of a native village (for use with the introductory adventure), an aid for the introductory adventure (which is the only thing that could remotely be considered an “adventure clue”).

I have no idea why the term booklet was used for the rules book.  Other than the title, two statements were placed on the front cover:  (1) “Featuring an Introductory Adventure – The Ikons of Ikammanen,” and (2) “Also, How to Play the Game!”  Was the second statement really necessary?  It's position on the cover and the word “Also” suggest that the rules were ancillary to the adventure.  The ten episodes of the introductory adventure take up 14 of the book(let)'s 64 pages.  The first five episodes are interspersed among the rules, while the remaining five are grouped at the end.  Since Adventurers was a boxed set, the introductory adventure ought to have been a book(let) separate from the rules.  Perhaps it was thought that having the introductory adventure among the rules might make the adventure easier to run and/or help people learn the rules.  Even if it did either (or both) things, afterward those pages lose any utility and serve only to distract. There are also two pages of the rules book(let) that explain “How to Cut-Out and Assemble the 3-D Figures.”  Seriously, this information should have been on a loose sheet of paper.  By excluding the introductory adventure and the 'How To' pages, they could have reduced the page count to 48.  Alternately, they could have included sixteen pages of other material.  (The page count of the Judge's Survival Pack happens to be 16.)

The book(let) was illustrated with scenes from the first two Indiana Jones films.  This was to be expected; however, the photos were varying quality and were often displayed as though they had ripped edges.  If they were trying for an effect other than “crappy,” they failed.  Some instances – such as the image at the beginning of this post – have cartoon word balloons.  I have nothing against carton word balloons in the right context; the Adventures rule book(let) is not the right context.  This particular image has speed lines next to the page number at the bottom, as if it is trying to get out of the way.  All in all, the art did not possess a serious tone.

Finally, we come to the cardboard figures.  Some might find the notion of the 3-D figures to be childish.  Certainly, they are not necessary, but I believe they provide a visual and tactile component that can only enhance the gaming experience.  (TSR also produced metal Indiana Jones figures.)  I would be remiss if I did not mention the infamous, trademarked Nazi (shown below).  A copyright for the illustration of the Nazi is quite understandable; however, trying to trademark a character having “Nazi” as its sole descriptive attribute strains the notion of intellectual property beyond rationality.  Possibly, TSR was attempting to comply with Lucasfilm's licensing requirements and someone decided to be overly cautious.  However, since the other Nazi figure included with the boxed set did not have the trademark symbol, we might assume that this is another instance of carelessness.


  1. Look again at the blank clues...they might have invisible ink images and messages like TSRs D&D Blizzard Pass.

  2. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Rather than “adventure clues,” the back of the box should have called them “playing aids,” which is how the Evidence File refers to them. The “blank telegram, treasure map, and stationery” can be used to give “players information in an adventure” – not THE adventure.