Sunday, July 8, 2018

The Adventures of Indiana Jones Role-Playing Game

TSR's Indiana Jones rpg from 1984 carries a reputation for badness. While tastes, of course, differ, the only factual information used to support this claim is the decision to not include character generation rules in the basic game, the designers intending you to play Indiana and his cohorts. This decision was corrected in the 1985 Judge's Survival Pack in rules that take up one page. The one time I played this game back in the day, we were undeterred and made up our on characters anyway by modelling them on the existing ones.

I've seen other deficits or poor decisions asserted on line that aren't true. Even wikipedia claims "No formal system of hit points or determining actual character death is put forth, and instead is left to the referee as a role-play element." The lack of hit points is technically correct, but the rest of that sentence is completely false. There are other similarly "true, but that gives a false impression" statements in the article.

So what is the game actually like? Well, in brief in resembles in broad strokes other TSR games of 1984-85, including Conan and Marvel Super-Heroes. It uses a percentile system and a color-coded chart in part of the process. It has skills, but it isn't really a skills-based game. It is cinematic and fairly "rules lite" in a pre-1990s way, which is to say not really rules lite by modern standards. More on the light side of rules medium.

It has attributes clearly derived from the D&D standard, but doing slightly different things. Strength is what you would expect, and Appeal is Charisma. Prowess is like Fighting in MSH. Movement is both speed and some of Dexterity, and Instinct is mostly Perception or Wisdom, but carries a bit of Intelligence's water, too.

Most actions are based on roll under attribute rolls. Like those other games, it has something of a unified mechanic, though it has not fully committed to this and has a number of special subsystems, which use the same sort of die rolls but in different ways. Attributes rolls can be modified to twice rating as a situational bonus or half or fourth rating for situational penalties. These are the only dice modifiers. Rolls of 96-00 are always "bad breaks" (critical failures), and 01-05 is a "lucky break" (critical success). Beyond that, there are levels of success based on the roll which have color codes and different meaning depending on which attribute is being checked.

It has the sort of rules quirks common in games of this era. It uses hit locations (different for various types of attacks) which are determined by reversing the numerals in the Prowess "to-hit" roll. The initiative system seems like it would either be fun or really irritating in play. It requires a sort of competition (using Movement rolls) among all those declaring they want to act at a given point. While interesting, I'm not sure what it adds over a simple initiative roll for everybody and seems like it would take up time.

It has "mook rules" of a sort with goons not accorded the same advantages that PCs and villains enjoy. Certain types of threats like drowning or falling are given "Danger ratings" that function like Prowess does in combat-style roles. Chases get almost a mini-game all their own.

So what about the lack of hit points? Well, damage causes wounds, light, medium, and serious, and wounds are applied to various body locations. Wounds are additive with 2 mediums equaling 1 serious, and impairing after a certain level. Three serious wounds carry a chance of death or unconsciousness, and four serious wounds mean death.

All and all, it looks like it would work pretty well in play. Some systems are a little wonky or over-complicated but none look really unfun. Other parts of it seems like good choices for a pulpy, lighter ruled game.


Adam Baulderstone said...

I had a great time running this the summer after it came out. I'd just moved to a new town, and I had only made one gaming friend, so the issue of who got to play Indy was never an issue.

It was so long ago that I can't remember much about the mechanics, but I do recall the action scenes and chases being enormous fun.

It was clearly a well-thought out system, and it always irritates me that almost every Internet discussion of it leads to people making up reasons that it was bad. Not having character generation is a fair complaint, but as you mentioned, they quickly resolved that.

I've always thought of it as a game that was ahead of its time in its approach, so I am happy to see it getting some respect here.

Konsumterra said...

it has some good adventure gen tables in the later judge book doesnt it? PPL say TSR marvel had no character gen rules it had 3. A few games get a bad rap and universally untrue reviews. I like High Colonies RPG as a 2300ish dry hard sf setting Ive recycled tables in several SF games. Most reviews are negative and untrue.

Jeffrywith1e said...

Doesn't this game system have many similarities to TSR's Top Secret/S.I.? I thought there was something connecting them.

Tom said...

That damage system sounds like a progenitor of Mutants & Masterminds.

The hit location system sounds like Top Secret S/I, which is the only hit location system I've ever loved.

Interesting to see the framework of designs to come hidden away in this infamous game. I'd try playing it.