We’re going to go a little out of sequence with this one, because I am an old man and sometimes things get lost in the mnemonic shuffle.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade hit theaters at the tail end of my junior year in high school. I was never a huge fan of the franchise. During the original cinematic run of Raiders of the Lost Ark, I convinced my parents to take us to see Clash of the Titans instead. My friends and I saw Temple of Doom twice on the big screen, but that had more to do with the glorious matinee binge we indulged in during the summer of 1984.
The decision to see Last Crusade essentially boiled down to my buddy Damian acquiring a car and the itch to break from our established patterns. He suggested we should check out the new Indiana Jones flick — on a school night — and I, having nothing better to do with my time, agreed to tag along.
Even the most mediocre blockbuster feels epic in Dolby-enhanced widescreen, and we left the screening in awe of what we’d just witnessed. And, being geeks, the overloud conversation eventually turned to “OH, MAN, THIS WOULD BE AN AWESOME ROLE PLAYING GAME.” Those wheels were spinning wildly when we parted ways, each of us already and independently committed to making the dream into a reality.
For Damian, that meant scooping up a copy of TSR officially licensed Indiana Jones RPG at the local Toys ‘R’ Us. For me, it meant an after-school trip to Excalibur Hobbies in Malden, where I bought the Justice, Inc box set.
The game was part of the Hero System which included the Champions superhero RPG, which was the main reason I chose it over the official product. Not only was I already familiar with the core rules, but the open-ended compatibility offered more opportunity to tinker around with things and fold in stuff from Golden Age comics and the Lovecraftean mythos. Plus, I’ve always been a bit leery about systems pegged to a specific IP, as they tend to fix expectations and channel the players into pre-set pathways.
I realize that there isn’t much daylight between playing Wolverine in Marvel Super Heroes and playing Wolverine-In-All-But-Name in Champions, yet the distinction still matters to me on some primordial level (and has irritated plenty of people in my various runs over the years).
The interconnectedness between Justice, Inc and Champions turned out to be slightly overstated. Despite sharing DNA on a mechanical level, there’d been a good deal of genetic drift in the years since the 3rd edition Hero System rules had been launched. It’s a fairly common problem with systems that strive to be a universal tentpole — the various conventions of the genres involved require specific modifications, exceptions or other refinements. Pulp adventure isn’t superheroes isn’t high fantasy isn’t space opera, and no “one size fits all” system is going work equally well for all of them. (The 4th edition Hero System rules were intended to tie all these strands together into a cohesive whole. It didn’t succeed, but the game did benefit from the effort.)
None of it ended up mattering in the end, anyhow.
The feverish fandom we felt while the projector was spooling cooled quickly, shifting from “utterly transformative” or “eh, it was okay, I guess” over the course of a week. It was difficult enough to maintain our regular campaigns, much less try to sell something new to the rest of the group. There was also the question of which of the two systems we’d actually play. I had no desire to subject myself to Damian’s erratic style of gamemastering again, while Damian wasn’t eager to dive into Justice, Inc after dropping fifteen bucks on the official Indiana Jones game.
Instead of forcing the issue — and, by extension, our increasingly strained friendship — we decided to quietly drop the whole thing and move on to the next point of future contention.