One of tabletop gaming’s most prestigious awards has gone missing

The Diana Jones Award trophy, one of tabletop gaming’s most prized objects, has gone missing and is feared lost.

The trophy that was passed from one person to another for over 20 years has vanished for an unrelated reason. It lost its mail address.

A member of the Diana Jones Award committee announced the trophy’s disappearance on the organization’s official website. “It is unlikely that it will ever be recovered,” they said. “Perhaps it now sits in a box inside a warehouse somewhere, as forgotten and unappreciated as the Ark of the Covenant at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

James Wallis, a game designer and publisher invented the Diana Jones Award. It’s been given every year at Gen Con, the largest tabletop gaming convention in the United States, since 2001. It is often given to individuals as well as games and concepts. In 2016, Eric M. Lang, a designer from the Netherlands was awarded the award to recognize his contribution to board gaming’s art and craft. In 2018, the award was given to the actual play movement — that is the collection of podcasts and livestreams that have contributed to the resurgence in popularity of tabletop RPGs over the last decade. It is effectively the hobby games industry’s version of an Academy Award or a Tony Award, and its origins stretch back to the 1980s.

The object itself — a transparent chunk of plastic mounted on a rough wooden plinth — dates to 1985 and the British affiliate of TSR, the original publisher of Dungeons & Dragons.

The cover art for First Quest, featuring art by Easley seen on the cover of the DMG.

Image: DEIGames via Etsy

At the time, TSR’s arm in the United Kingdom imported D&D content, sometimes reinterpreting it for a European audience. However, it produced other content as well. This included a highly-regarded adventure namedSaltmarsh: The Sinister SecretThis is the original audio dungeon. It features a 2-disc vinyl LP. First Quest. This group of bold designers was able to create the basis of Games Workshop and bring Warhammer 40,000 and Warhammer 40,000 together.

The Adventures of Indiana Jones Role-playing Game, including the character card for Indy himself.

Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon

TSR entered into a licensing deal with Lucasfilm in the 1980s. It was no longer allowed to sell after the 1985 end of that licensing agreement. The Adventures of Indiana Jones Role-playing Game. Widely regarded as the worst ever, TRPG was a sham. It was so terrible. It was because there wasn’t a system to create characters. Instead, actors took on the roles of character from movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom They just kind of re-created those events. Also, Indiana Jones couldn’t die.

The Adventures of Indiana Jones is also home to an infamous papercraft miniature labeled “Nazi TM.” When the game was released, many thought that Lucasfilm was trying to trademark the concept of Nazism. TSR had actually been following rules, and Lucasfilm was allowed to add an annotation of TSR’s representation of a character in its movie. Suffice it to say that few mourned the game’s passing.

TSR U.K. got creative when the order came for all unsold copies to be destroyed. Instead of burying copies of the game in a landfill, a la Atari’s ET game cartridges, they had a bonfire. The massive pile of The Adventures of Indiana JonesThey were all set on fire, with one copy reserved for attention. It was then artfully singed around its edges, and finally captured in a transparent Lucite pyramid, looking like an amber-colored mosquito. A new name was visible clearly from the two sides: Diana Jones.

“It’s very clear they had no idea really what to do with it,” Wallis told Polygon. Eventually, the plastic pyramid was given away at Games Fair, a multi-day convention hosted by TSR at Reading University in the U.K. “It went to a group of small press and fanzine editors and games writers, which I was on. But the leader of the team was a chap called Ian Marsh, who would go on to become the editor of White Dwarf.”

White Dwarf is still the premier print magazine for Games Workshop and continues to be one of the most widely published hobby magazines worldwide. Marsh was married several years later. It was now time to let go of childish pursuits. Wallis gave the Diana Jones award to Marsh. It remained on the shelf of his home for over a decade. When he was dreaming up a new award for the hobby games industry, he could think of no better name — and no better trophy — than The Diana Jones Award.

A fuzzy picture of the Diana Jones Award next to an ashtray, taken no doubt in some Indianapolis bar.

Photo: Matt Forbeck

“I recruited a bunch of friends within the games industry at various levels,” Wallis said, “a mix of designers and publishers and people of influence, some of whom had sort of retired. I think there were about 15 of us to start with.” That committee was, and still remains, anonymous, an effort Wallis says to work against favoritism, undue influence, and personal bias.

Since 2001, the Diana Jones Award trophy has been passed hand-to-hand, winner-to-winner like a knock-off version of the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup. But, unlike that silver chalice, there’s no white-glove treatment to speak of. It began to yellow, and its surface was covered in large dents and scratches. It’s that tradition of carelessness that ultimately led to its loss.

Alex Roberts was the designer of the relationship-based RPG and the Diana Jones Trophy. He held the trophy until the end. Star CrossedThe award was won by, in 2019. She sent it to Indianapolis from Canada in September 2020. It was due to arrive there with Maurice Broaddus, another recipient. However, it didn’t arrive. Without a tracking number, neither Canada Post nor United States Postal Service were able to assist.

Wallis views the loss of an object as tragic, but Wallis also regards it as an opportunity.

“I am deeply saddened that this thing has passed out of my life,” Wallis said, “though, if it now passes into the realms of myth, this trophy that now no one in gaming will ever hold again, it’s a fitting fate.

“I’ve had people come up to me and say that even being nominated for the Diana Jones award has changed their professional life for the better,” Wallis continued. “It’s an extraordinary thing to be able to do that for someone’s career. But perhaps this 35-year-old block of Lucite is no longer an appropriate representation for what the Diana Jones award has become.”

Going forward, the Diana Jones Committee will expand its scope. In addition to highlighting an individual, game, or concept with the Diana Jones Award itself, it is also recognizing bright stars that it hopes will help shape the industry’s future. It launched this year the Diana Jones Emerging Designer Program. Jeeyon Schim is the first winner. She’s a second-generation Korean American game developer, multimedia artist and outdoor educator who is based in California. Wallis indicated that the group will support Shim in the future and will also seek out more suitable physical awards.

“Are the singed remains of the Indiana Jones role-playing game really what we want to symbolize us going forward?” Wallis said. “I would never have suggested junking the existing trophy and getting something else, but now that the old trophy has gone, it is perhaps the right moment to be looking for something else.”

Even still, the Diana Jones Award committee said, in its announcement of the trophy’s loss, “If anyone discovers the trophy, please contact the Diana Jones Award committee immediately. We would be grateful for its return.”

Polygon reached out to Alex Roberts to share Wallis’ perspective on the loss of the award. While she ultimately felt guilty, she was glad to see that it is helping the committee chart a new path.

“It’s unfortunate it had to happen this way,” Roberts told Polygon. “but I really do feel that whatever they replace it with will be a better representation of the award, of the tabletop role-playing industry, and of the gaming scene in general.”

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