Sunday, May 29, 2016

Measuring Success in The Adventures of Indiana Jones

Art by Rafael DeSoto

One of the enjoyable aspects of role-playing games is watching your character develop through continued play.  Experience points are often the means through which such development is represented in game terms.  The Adventures of Indiana Jones Role-Playing Game (hereinafter Adventures) does not have an experience point system; characters are essentially static.  Adventures, however, does have rules for earning Player Points.  Such points – like the name suggests – are assigned to the player and not the character.  Since players can “trade off” the characters they play, it is appropriate for 'points' to be player-centric.  Player Points are also earned by the Referee.  They are generally obtained in two ways:  meeting objectives and receiving awards.

Each 'episode' in an adventure lists objectives for the player characters and for the non-player characters.  Players are not informed as to what the objectives are.  Point values for the objectives are also listed.  As an example, here are the objectives for the second episode in the Raiders of the Lost Ark Adventure Pack.  (This is the episode that includes the scene in Nepal.)
     Re-establish the relationship between Indy and Marion (worth 1 Player Point).
     Escape the Nazis who attack the PCs in The Raven (worth 2 Player Points).
     Keep the headpiece to the Staff of Ra out of the Nazis' hands (worth 2 Player Points).
     Bring Indy and Marion together (worth 1 Player Point).
     Bring the Nazis into The Raven (worth 1 Player Point).
     Have both the PCs and NPCs gain a copy to the Staff of Ra (worth 2 Player Points).
Each player receives the same number of 'objective' Player Points per episode.  Evaluation of the player as an individual happens with 'award' Player Points. When 'award' Player Points are determined, three questions are asked of of each player by the Referee.  “Then the players, as a group,” according to page 43, “apply the same questions to the Referee.”  The questions are:
  1. Did the person make the game fun to play?
  2. Did the person play the part of his player character (or his NPCs) well?
  3. Did the person have good ideas?
For each question to which the answer is “yes,” the player (or Referee) receives one Player Point.  These questions clearly establish the goals of the game:  fun, role-playing, and imagination.  This concept of 'award' Player Points is important for two reasons.  First, for beginning players, it can be beneficial to have the purpose of Adventures (or any role-playing game) stated so succinctly.  Second, distribution of 'award' Player Points represents a feedback mechanism.  In other RPGs, feedback from a gamemaster to his or her players is common enough, but Adventures facilitates feedback from players to the Referee.

'Objective' Player Points are determined and distributed at the end of an adventure; specifically, “When the adventure is over, the Referee should decide which objectives the player characters met, and which objectives his NPCs met.”  Unfortunately, the rules are unclear as to when 'award' Player Points are provided.  According to the rules, “The players and Referee also award Player Points to each other at the end of an adventure (or episode).”  Which is it, adventure or episode?  Given that the average number of episodes per adventure is six, whether Player Point awards are provided per adventure or per episode makes a significant difference in the potential amount of Player Points that the players and Referee may have.  The rules state that “the Referee should try to keep from awarding more than 5 Player Points to each player in an adventure or episode.”  Players can accumulate up to five 'objective' Player Points as a result of what happens in an episode.  If we assume that 'award' Player Points are also determined per episode, players could be prevented from gaining 'award' Player Points due to the five point limit.  Since this is contrary to the point of having 'award' Player Points, then those points should be determined per adventure.  However, as we shall see below, this is also problematic.

“Player Points are a good measure of how well you play the game,” say the rules, “but they do serve one other, very special purpose.”  Player Points can be spent to reduce damage effects by one level – “making a Serious wound a Medium wound, for example.”  This costs five Player Points which must be spent at the time the damage is inflicted.

“You can accumulate Player Points from adventure to adventure,” the rules also state, “but you can't have more than 15 Player Points at any one time.”  To emphasize the point, “If you earn Player Points that would put you over your limit, you lose the extra points.”  If the episodic 'objective' Player Points and the 'award' Player Points are calculated at only at the end of an adventure, it's quite possible for more than fifteen points to accumulate for any given player.  I would suggest that 'objective' Player Points be dispensed at the conclusion of each episode.  This would allow players, and the Referee, to use those points during the adventure in which they are earned.  This would also reduce the possibility of exceeding the fifteen point limit if all points are calculated at the end of an adventure.

Also, “If a player sacrifices his character's life to save another character (PC or NPC), he automatically earns 15 Player Points to use for his next character.”  Presumably, this means “earns up to 15 Player Points,” since a player may not have more than fifteen points at any given time.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Adventures of The Adventures of Indiana Jones (spoilers)

Art by John Byrne & Terry Austin

To supplement its The Adventures of Indiana Jones role-playing game, TSR produced “Adventure Packs” for Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – the two films of the franchise extant at the time.  All other Indiana Jones adventures – including the introductory adventure, The Ikons of Ikammanen – were derived from story arcs from the Marvel Comics series The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones.  While John Byrne gets credit for Ikons, credit is not extended to Marvel writers responsible for other stories adapted for Adventure Packs.  Perhaps this is because the copyright for the Marvel material belongs to Lucasfilm.  Since TSR had access to Lucasfilm properties, one would think that the Adventure Packs would incorporate art from the comics; however, this is not the case.

The Ikons of Ikammanen contains various ingredients one would expect in an Indiana Jones story:  exotic locales, legends that turn out to be true, treasure, an overconfident villain, a chase scene, narrow escapes from traps, etc.  (Even Nazis make the scene.)  The adventure is something of a railroad, which is to be expected of an introductory adventure.  At first, Ikons serves well in educating a new player about the game; eventually, however, there are aspects of the story that are ill-suited for an introductory adventure.

The true villain of Ikons is Edith Dunne, who arranged the murder of her brother.  In the story, Indy realizes this when – not having informed her of the circumstances of her brother's death – Edith reveals she knows her bother died in Indy's office.  Unfortunately, the reader doesn't know that Indy didn't tell her, so the 'reveal' comes as a surprise.  Somehow, the player in the Ikons adventure is supposed to figure out that Edith is the villain.  The Referee is instructed, “Your to arouse suspicions in your player's mind about Edith's motives.”  Suggested lines of dialogue make it clear that Edith is claiming credit for the archaeological discovery of the titular ikons.  This might make her a bad person, but it's not indicative of fratricide.  If the player doesn't figure it out, Edith eventually admits her complicity.

Earlier in the adventure, Indy chases a “goon.”  This episode of the adventure immediately follows the rules about conducting chases.  Rather than providing an example of how the chase rules work, the adventure has the player determine Indy's movement rate.  As it turns out, Indy's movement rate is irrelevant because Indy successfully follows the goon regardless.

At one point in Ikons, a villain named Solomon Black announces his intent to kill Indy.  “Your player must now persuade Black to let Indy and Edith live,” states the adventure, “Indy must bluff Black.”  However, prompting the player as to what he or she “must” do is not something the adventure does well.  “If Indy can't come up with a good bluff,” the adventure lists three things Black could say.  One of the statements is:  “Perhaps I should keep you for the time being”  The adventure text continues, “Then allow Indy time to come up with another bluff...If he still can't, Black”  The episode ends in mid-sentence; the contingency is not explained.  I think a more efficient means of handling this would be to have Edith whisper, “Maybe we should try to bluff him.”  The onus of the actual bluff would remain with the player.

If you think this is an instance of Chekhov's dynamite, you're right.

For its James Bond 007 role-playing game, Victory Games published adventures based on the Bond films.  However, those adventures did not adhere precisely to the plots of the films.  The adventures were familiar, but there was sufficient uncertainty so that the players participated in a game and not merely followed a script.  Regrettably, TSR did not take a similar course with Indiana Jones.

The Raiders of the Lost Ark Adventure Pack “recreates the action from the famous film – but YOU decide how it all ends.”  This assumes that YOU decide it “all ends” just like the film.  A “recreation” of the film allows one to see how the film's action is translated into the game's rules, but it does not make for an entertaining gaming experience. It negates the suspense which is essential to the Indiana Jones oeuvre.

In the Adventure Pack, there are some (potential) variations from the film, but they are quite minor.  For instance, in the film, when Indy and Sallah visit Imam, the dates are poisoned.  The chance of this happening in the Adventure Pack is 40%.  Other options include a cobra being released in Imam's dwelling (30%) and a knife being thrown at Indy (30%).

Of course, if a Referee runs more than one player through the Raiders of the Lost Ark adventure, one player gets to be Indy, any other not.  “It's OK for the players to trade off playing Indy during the course of the adventure,” the Introduction states.  In 'Episode 1', non-Indy players can be Satipo or Barranca.  Starting with 'Episode 2', one non-Indy player can be Marion.  A third player can be Mohan (the bartender) in the second episode, Sallah in Episodes 3 through 5, and Katanga in Episodes 6 and 7.

If any player characters remain on the Bantu Wind after the Nazis remove the Ark, the ship can follow the submarine:
Since the U-boat must travel very slowly, the freighter can easily stay with it.  In fact, if the Bantu Wind stays on the same course the sub has set, it gets to the island before the sub does.
No explanation is given why the Nazis wouldn't just sink the pursuing freighter.

Want to know what happens if you don't close your eyes after the Ark is opened?  “Any PC who has insisted on keeping his eyes open is blinded (the blindness is temporary, but he shouldn't realize this for quite a while).”

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Original Characters in The Adventures of Indiana Jones

Art by Rafael DeSoto

Something of an afterthought, character generation rules for The Adventures of Indiana Jones Role-Playing Game (hereinafter Adventures) were provided in the Judge's Survival Pack.  The eight steps for “generating characters for adventures” appear on a single page (with enough space left to display a sizeable publicity still of Harrison Ford).

The first step is to make a percentile roll for each of the six Attribute Ratings.  The second step involves allocating “30 points” among the Attribute Ratings; however, “no Rating can be raised higher than 70.”  In a previous post, we noted that the Attribute Ratings of the seven characters supplied with Adventures ranged from 44 to 92.  Also, each Rating was divisible by four in order to accommodate ×½ and ×¼ values for purposes for Modified Checks.  In fact, the third step is to record the Modified Columns.  “Round all fractions to the nearest even number,” the rules state.

The fourth step in generating a character involves the player choosing “what [the character's] background was before he got caught up in wild adventures.”  There are three “categories” of background.  Each background has a list of skills associated with it.  The rules use the terms “skill” and “Knowledge” interchangeably.

Characters with an Education background choose one Education skill.  Then 1d10 is rolled, modified by +1 for each ten points of Instinct the character possesses.  If the result of the roll is at least ten, the character has an undergraduate degree and another Education skill.  With an undergraduate degree, a character can attempt to attain a doctorate and a third Education skill.  Another d10 is rolled, “but only add 1 point for every 20 points of Instinct greater than 70.”  A result of at least ten is necessary to receive a doctorate.

Characters with a Soldiering background receive +10 Prowess and a percentile roll is made on the “Soldiering Knowledge list.”  There is also “a 10% chance that [the] character has an additional knowledge” chosen from the Soldiering and Real World lists.  The result of “91 – 00” when rolling on the Soldiering list reads “Choose 1 and roll again.”  Therefore, it is possible for a character with the Soldiering background to have three skills in addition to the bonus to Prowess.

The only other available background is the Real World.  This indicates “a variety of jobs.”  Characters with this background have a choice of two skills from the Real World list.

The actual choice of skills (or random determination of skills in the case of the Soldiering background) is the fifth step in generating a character.  The Education Knowledge list includes Archaeology, Medical, Photography, and Surveying.  Three other items appear on the list:  +10 Appeal, +10 Instinct, and “Any language.”  None of these options appear on the Soldiering or Real World lists.  Soldiering skills include:  Driving, Explosives, First Aid, Heavy Weapons, Karate, Mechanical, Parachuting, Piloting, and Sailing.  (Medical and First Aid are distinct Knowledges; however, First Aid is subsumed into Medical.)  The Real World can confer Driving, Entertainment, First Aid, Hotwiring, Lockpicking, Mechanical, Picking Pockets, and Sailing.   Adventures describes five Knowledges that none of the seven provided characters possess:  Explosives, Heavy Weapons, Medical, Photography, and Sailing.  Presumably, the designer (i.e., David Cook) thought that likely non-player characters would have these skills Knowledges.

The sixth step is called “Select Your Languages.”  However, “first you should decide what nationality your character is.”  A character knows his or her native language.  Additional languages – aside from those acquired as Education Knowledges – can be gained with each successful Instinct Check.  The first Check is made at ×1, the second at ×½, and any others at ×¼.  When an Instinct Check fails, no further attempts may be made.  Only languages “of the known world” may be chosen.

The seventh step regards obtaining equipment.  Each character “has a reasonable wardrobe of clothing and a place to live.”  The amount of  funds available to a character is determined by the formula:
(1d10 + # of skills + [1 per 10 points of Appeal over 70] ) × $100

After acquiring equipment, “you are ready to adventure.”  The eighth step – “Final Details” –  is evidently optional; the exact terms are, “you could do a few other things.”  These optional, other things include:  “give your character a name, decide whether it is male or female, decide what he looks like, and how old he is.”

Two of the seven provided characters have “Irrational Fears,” the mechanics of which are described on pages 40 and 41 of the rules.  The character generation rules do not address the possibility of contracting such a fear.

While it is not reasonable to expect Adventures to have a background system as extensive as that of Daredevils, three background options seems rather meager.  With the availability of skills such as Hotwiring, Lockpicking, and Picking Pockets, I can easily imagine a 'Criminal' or 'Illicit' background.  Other possible backgrounds may not be feasible given the paucity of skills, but “Your referee can create additional knowledge areas if he desires.”   If the Soldiering background offers a bonus to Prowess and the Education background offers bonuses to Instinct and Appeal, why can't other bonuses be available?  Should there be minimum Attribute Rating requirements for certain backgrounds?  Would a character with a Strength or Backbone of 01 be admitted to the military?  Would a character with an Instinct of 01 be accepted into academia?

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Combat and Damage in The Adventures of Indiana Jones

In The Adventures of Indiana Jones Role-Playing Game (hereinafter Adventures), combat turns last five seconds each.  During a combat turn, a character can either attack, move, or do something else.  An attack – whether firing a rifle, using a whip, or throwing a punch – entails a Prowess check.  Various modifiers can apply to these checks.  Firing a weapon at medium range imposes a ×½ modifier; long range exacts a ×¼ modifier.  Attempting a “specific action,” like shooting “the knife out of a goon's hand,” imposes a ×½ modifier.  There are no weapon skills.  The only combat skill is karate.  With karate, a character engaged in bare-handed fighting can attempt special actions without the ×½ modifier.  Also, rolling a 'Lucky Break' when using karate means “your character automatically knocks his opponent unconscious, and he may attack another opponent in the same turn.”

Damage can be either Light, Medium, or Serious depending upon the degree of success of the check.  In Adventures, there are two forms of combat damage:  injuries and wounds.  Injuries (or brawling damage) “can lead to unconsciousness, but never to death...Injuries are always temporary.”  Wounds (or shooting damage) “can lead to unconsciousness and death...Also, your character must take time to recover from wounds.”  This damage distinction is similar to that in Crimefighters.

To determine hit location, the Action Results Table is consulted using the reverse of the Prowess check result.  (e.g., A '48' on the Prowess check indicates a result of '84' on the Action Results Table.)  Warhammer, published in 1986, employs the same concept.  The Action Results Table shows results for “shooting,” “wrestling,” “punching,” and “kicking.”  Brawling does not require determination of hit location but punching and kicking results are provided to “add color to your game.”

The Action Results Table also indicates what happens when a wrestling attack is successful.  The possibilities are grapple, hold, trip, and throw.  The effect of a 'grapple' is that “both characters fall to the floor and struggle with each other.”  A 'hold' means that one's opponent is prevented from using his or her hands (except to break the hold).  A 'trip' causes the opponent to fall to the floor while a 'throw' result means the opponent is thrown five feet in a direction of the attacker's choice

Rather than indicating if a weapon causes wounds (necessitating hit location) or injuries (hit location irrelevant), Adventures lists weapons as either brawling or shooting.  This results in the rather confusing classification of swords as shooting weapons.  Incidentally, a sword does the same amount of damage as a broken bottle.  The 'severity' of weapon may increase or reduce injuries or wounds.  Blackjacks – which cause injury damage – have a severity of +2; as such, they only cause Serious injuries, not Light or Medium.

Adventures characters do not have hit points; instead, wounds and injuries have effects.  For instance, a Medium injury requires that the victim must attempt a Strength check; failure means unconsciousness while success means that the victim's Attributes are at ×½ through the next combat turn.  A Medium wound on either leg causes a ×½ modifier to Movement Rating.  Multiple wounds can can increase the severity of damage.  Two Light wounds in the same location have the effect of a Medium wound (but heal as two Light wounds).  Two Medium wounds to a specific location have the effect of a Serious wound.  If a character suffers two Serious wounds regardless of location, a Strength check is attempted; failure means unconsciousness.  Three Serious wounds regardless of location causes unconscious and a failed Strength check means death.  Four Serious wounds causes death.

Should a character fall unconscious due to damage, every combat turn a Backbone check (at no greater than ×½) is attempted; success means that the character recovers consciousness.  Until the character rests for six hours, all Attributes of the character are at ×½.

Wounds heal in stages; a Serious wound 'heals' to a Medium wound and a Medium wound 'heals' to a Light wound.  To recover from a Serious wound, the character attempts a Backbone check three weeks after the damage is inflicted.  A successful check reduces the wound to Medium; otherwise, other checks may be attempted on a weekly basis (but the wound automatically becomes Medium after six weeks).  Medium wounds are handled similarly, except the initial waiting period is one week, other Backbone checks can be attempted every three days thereafter, and the wound automatically becomes Light after three weeks.  For Light wounds, the initial waiting time is three days, other checks can be attempted daily thereafter, but the wound automatically heals after a week.  A Lucky Break on a Backbone check for healing could mean that a Serious wound becomes Light or that a Medium wound becomes completely healed.  A Bad Break on a Backbone check for healing could mean the severity of the wound increases due to infection “or it could mean that [the wound] leaves a scar.”   Successful medical attention can reduce healing times.

Of course, characters can suffer damage outside of combat, like from fires or falling.  Such events have “Danger Ratings” which are the equivalent of Prowess with regard to determining damage.  For instance, a sixty foot fall has a Danger Rating of 120; this means a character who falls sixty feet is targeted by one attack at a Prowess of 100 and an additional attack at a Prowess of 20.