Essential Builds – Indiana Jones

Cue John Williams’ The Raiders March!

Welcome to Essential Builds, the blog that puts popular culture characters into an Essence20 Player Character museum. I’m Ryan Costello, one of the designers of the Essence20 system and an author on the G.I. JOE, Transformers, and My Little Pony Roleplaying Game Core Rulebooks. As of this writing, I’ve written over 300 000 words for Essence20, contributing to over a dozen products and counting. 

Audiences met archeologist-adventurer/archeology professor Indiana Jones at the height of the practical-effects action movie era. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas created a blend of family friendly violence so commercially successful, the Motion Picture Association of America had to create the PG-13 rating to warn/allow parents to take their kids to these movies. As the only 80s franchise to claim three spots in the top 10 highest grossing films of that decade, the Indiana Jones trilogy cemented its protagonist as a hero for the ages. 

Who Is Indiana Jones?

Like his father before him, Dr Henry “Indiana” Jones, Jr turned treasure hunting and historic preservation into a thrilling career. He went on deadly expeditions into ancient temples to retrieve lost artifacts. Honestly, Indiana Jones did a lot of the grave robbing and cultural theft that The British Museum is accused of. But Indiana Jones fought Nazis going for these same artifacts, so points for that. 

Building Indiana Jones

I’ve mentioned before how Renegade Discord member Spy collects all Essence20 options into numbered lists. Well other Discord members like to pair these lists with random number generators to create random Essence20 PCs. No Essential Build subject has felt more like one of those randos than this one. 

Academic by day, adventurer by night, master of the whip. It’s not that Indiana Jones’ character traits don’t compliment each other, it’s just that they feel like a writers room yes-anding their way to the ultimate pulp action hero homage. That actually makes this build pretty straight forward, because all of his trademark elements are tropes of the genre. 


Raider  (Transformers Roleplaying Game Decepticon Directive)

Dipping back into a sourcebook that makes a surprising number of appearances on this blog, I chose Decepticon Directive’s new Role, the Raider for our Raider of the Lost Ark. Honestly, this build started after I read the Role and wondered what kind of character I could make with it. The Raider mixes the ability to gather loot with having an eye for an item’s value. While the Role is written with a sinister bend, it perfectly fits Indiana Jones choosing wisely when he’s on the hunt for ancient artifacts. 

Eye For Appraisal is the Perk that sets this Role apart from other adventurer types. Gained right at level 1, it allows the Raider to make an Alertness Skill Test to learn about the most valuable item in the area, or the most strategic position to stand in to attack a target. It’s unfortunate that the second benefit only applies to ranged attacks, since Indy famously favours the whip, but he doesn’t shy away from shooting enemies. I’d love to be the GM who gets to tell a player that they’re in the perfect position to shoot the massive sword fighter standing 20 feet away from them. 

The Role Perks do have an issue that forces me to break my rule against reskinning for my builds. Unlike most Transformers Roles, some of the Role Perks directly reference having a Bot Mode. However, they’re mostly built on the idea of having storage compartments in the PC’s frame. We’ve seen Indiana Jones stash small items in pockets and his satchel enough that its easy to see how these Perks apply to a non-Cybertronian PC. 

Some of the later Perks also capture moments from the Indiana Jones movies. Best Laid Plans almost reads as sarcastic when you think about how often Indy’s plans go wrong, but making an Alertness or Culture Skill Test to allow us and our allies to reroll d20s is a great way to portray a smart adventurer. I especially like the inclusion of allies, because Indy rarely adventures alone, and he usually barks orders that frustrate but ultimately help his companions. Finally, Fear My Name at 14th level reflects how often Indy and his enemies have history. 

Focus and Faction

Peacekeeper (G.I. JOE Roleplaying Game Ferocious Fighters: Factions in Action Vol. 1)

The Ranger’s Peacekeeper Focus fits Indy in a combination of ways. First of all, he’s often seen interacting with locals in a civil and respectful way. This is especially true in Temple Of Doom. Second of all, it lets him use Culture in place of Deception and Persuasion. Not only does this synergize with a couple of Raider Role Perks, it also reflects how he uses facts and his knowledge of history to convince people more than lies and candied words. Finally, it gives the Raider Role a positive spin. That may be purely flavourful, but half of any Essential Build is about capturing the feel of the character we’re building. 

Tiger Force (G.I. JOE Roleplaying Game Ferocious Fighters: Factions in Action Vol. 1)

Indy’s outfits may not agree with this, but the Tiger Force Faction works extremely well for an Indiana Jones build. He’s constantly hijacking vehicles, which fits one of the themes of the Faction. He also often walks out of one adventure right into another, so the Creature Of Habit Faction Perk, which lets him reuse his previously requisitioned equipment, works too. 

One glaring item missing from this build is Indy’s whip. Tiger Force doesn’t help there, but it does give us Qualification with a Limited melee weapon. That at least gets us a machete, which Indy uses so much in Temple of Doom that he’s depicted with it in one hand and his whip in the other on the movie’s poster. 


Soldier (G.I. JOE Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook)

This is a stretch, I know, and there are a lot more characterful options I could choose for Indy’s Origin, like Driven from Power Rangers Roleplaying Game: A Jump Through Time, or Traveller from Power Rangers Roleplaying Across The Stars. The thing is, even though the mechanics of those Origins applies, the flavour is already covered by our Role, Focus, and Influences. What Soldier gets us is Indy’s whip. Soldiers are trained in all weapons, which includes the grappler, the Restricted weapon that represents the whip. On top of that, Soldier explains how a university professor is so physically capable and good at killing people. And it’s not without justification. According to Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (yeah, I know), Indy’s a Colonel in the US Army. Too obscure? He also joins the Belgian Army in Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. So while he doesn’t throw his rank and military experience around, Indy is a veteran. 


1st: Bookworm (My Little Pony Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook)

2nd: Adventurer (G.I. JOE Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook)

3rd: Mentor (My Little Pony Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook)

I almost went with Earned Your Stripes to gets us the Tiger Force faction without having to worry about the other Faction Access requirements, but I didn’t feel right dedicating two options with very specific flavour that does not apply to Indiana Jones. So, instead, I went back to Bookworm. Indy loves a library, but not so much as he gets lost in a good book, so I took it as his first Influence. 

Next I took Adventurer. This Influence could apply to just about every Essential Build, but it especially applies to Indiana Jones. Normally if I take Adventurer, I take it as my first Influence because I find the Hang-Up disruptive to adventures. However, I think wanderlust applies to Indy, who is always more than willing to abandon his duties as a professor in the name of another globe trotting mission. 

That said, Indy is still a teacher. To represent his day job, I took Mentor. As I mentioned earlier, Indy’s plans often go awry, so having an Influence that both can Lend Assistance for a whole scene and accidentally cause a Downshift is too good not to take. 

Essence Scores and Skills

Smarts 5

Culture needs to be one of Indy’s highest Skills, but this brainy fighter (or fighty brain) needs a lot of Skill investment, so the best we can do there is 3 ranks. That leaves us with 2 Ranks for Alertness, another Skill we need for our Role Perks. 

Speed 5

Grappler is a rare melee weapon that can only be used with Finesse, so we need to put 3 Ranks there. It does mean Indy’s brutal punches are Finesse based, which isn’t great but it’s not the worst compromise. We still have a lot of Skills to cover, so as much as I’d like a Rank in Initiative, we need 2 Ranks in Targeting more. 

Strength 3

Tiger Force access requires 2 Ranks in Brawn, which isn’t the worst fit for our build, but it’s a lot when we’re already short on Skill Points. Indy will also grab 1 Rank in Athletics, to cover all of the physical feats Indy accomplishes. 

Social 3

Again, Tiger Force demands Ranks! In this case, we need 2 Ranks in Persuasion. A shame that the extra rank won’t do us any good since Peacekeeper lets us use Culture instead. Peacekeeper also lets us use Culture instead of Deception, as long as we have 1 Rank there, so we do. 


I was happy with this build up until the Essence Score. Even though Indiana Jones teams up with fellow adventurers in every movie, he is definitely his film’s protagonist. As a result, we see him do much more than a member of an ensemble. Unfortunately, that stretches character creation resources thin. Especially with Brawn and Persuasion each taking one more Skill Point than I would normally allocate to them just to make it onto Tiger Force. I think if I were bringing this build to the table, I’d forgo the Adventurer Influence for the less source-accurate Earned Your Stripes Influence, and then use those Skill Points for ranks in Athletics, Driving, Initiative, or Survival. 


G.I. JOE Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook

My Little Pony Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook

Power Rangers Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook

Power Rangers Roleplaying Game: A Jump Through Time

Transformers Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook

Transformers Roleplaying Game Decepticon Directive

Ryan Costello

What started as one gamer wanting to talk about his love of a game grew into a podcast network. Ryan founded what would become the Know Direction Podcast network with Jason "Jay" Dubsky, his friend and fellow 3.5 enthusiast. They and their game group moved on to Pathfinder, and the Know Direction podcast network was born. Now married and a father, Ryan continues to serve the network as the director of logistics and co-host of Upshift podcast, dedicated to the Essence20 RPG system he writes for and helped design. You can find out more about Ryan and the history of the network in this episode of Presenting: