In 1974, a dark scourge was unleashed upon an unsuspecting planet known simply as Earth, but the darkness took on the guise of an even simpler name, D&D. As the years tolled, this foul and malevolent force gained many followers. With each passing year more people became enthralled and the evil entity of Dungeons and Dragons gained power and popularity. In hushed tones across the once peaceful planet of Earth, people gathered together and spoke of the darkness while hidden in their basements, kitchens, and bedrooms. When these poor, yet enlighten souls gathered for their dark masses they tempted fate and placed their very lives on rolls of brightly colored and mass produced dice.
By the year 1983, a war was being waged between the forces of darkness creeping from the basements and public libraries of Earth, and the forces of angelic light known as the poorly forced acronym B.A.D.D.. Both the force of light and the force of darkness used their most valuable tool to combat each other, their imaginations. The side of light continued to be Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons and used their imaginations to spin yarns of the vile treachery of D&D while the side of darkness used their imagination to read books and have fun.
Aligning with churches and youth leaders to stop this fun, the forces of light lost many in the battle as their soldiers used knee jerk reactions and a total lack of knowledge to try and combat the creeping shadow of D&D that was darkening their towns. But as quickly as one crazed and fanatic leader of youth fell, another took its place like the fabled hydra (which has about 25 HP per head). But no matter how many jabbering heads the great beast of virtue sprouted they were losing the war.
By the end of that same calendar year the malevolent forces of darkness had gained so many followers that their darkness swirled on our television sets every Saturday morning and featured such fine Hollywood actors as Eight is Enough’s Willie Aames and Happy Days’ Ralph the Mouth. But the biggest blow to the chaotic and frantic forces of virtue and light came when the great and encompassing darkness took the battle to the toy store.
NOTE – Sorry for the long intro but the more I wrote, the more I started hearing it as a Ken Burns Civil War documentary.
The Dark Origins of D&D Toys
Dungeons and Dragons is a fantasy table top role playing game created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson and published by TSR, Inc. in 1974. Drawing inspiration from table top war games and fantasy novels, Dungeons and Dragons was the first role playing game to utilize player characters instead of squad based units making it the genesis of the modern RPG.
By 1981 Dungeons and Dragons had 3 million players worldwide and its growth showed no signs of stopping. “Players Manuals” and “Dungeon Master Guides” alone sold 750,000 copies in 1984. Even with all the controversy surrounding D&D it was a property ready to break through to the mainstream public and in 1983 it did.
In 1982 TSR, Inc., with Gary Gygax , began shopping the Dungeons and Dragons property around to animation houses and toy companies. The details seem to be lost due to time, but the toy side of their search lead them to Mego and LJN. Mego at the time was known for their numerous TV and movie based toy series’, they did everything from M.A.S.H. -to- Mork and Mindy and Super Heroes -to- Welcome Back Kotter in 3.25″ scale to their more popular doll sized toys. LJN on the other hand was just breaking in to the world of TV and movie tie-ins and was making a name for themselves with their E.T. toy line (they also made the Magnum P.I. toys but they were no where near as popular. What kid wants a Higgins action figure, other than me).
LJN won the contract and went to work making one of the most unique and underrated toy lines ever, “Official Advanced Dungeons and Dragons”. Teaming up with some of TSR’s most talented artists at the time, like Jeff Easley and Tim Truman, they designed original characters which they duped “Poseable Player Characters”.
In the two years that LJN produced the toys they made 19 different action figures, 7 large creatures, and 1 playset (Of course more creatures and characters were made but never produced.). Coupled with the “Poseable Player Character” line there were PVC, bendy, and wind-up toys produced which makes the total of LJN produced D&D toys more than 45. Not too shabby when you think of all the other “flash in the pan” toy lines that were produced in the ’80s.
The Cultural Climate of D&D in 1983
Since its inception in 1974, Dungeons and Dragons had its fair share of controversy. Its pagan and occult views of its fictional religions and gods got the ire of religious leaders nation wide and it’s depictions of the nude female body angered mothers across the country. Other than a few vocal protestors D&D was harmless, innocent fun until 1979.
In 1979, 16 year old child prodigy James Dallas Egbert III disappeared from his dorm room at Michigan State University. A private investigator, William Dear, was hired by the Egbert family to locate James. Dear having no knowledge of D&D was quick to blame the child’s disappearance on the game, when in fact Egbert was a known drug user that suffered from depression. Egbert was later found hiding in the steam tunnels under the University in what is described as a “bout of self harm” due to his depression. Sadly, the damage to D&D was already done by the glory seeking P.I. William Dear. Dear proposed that Egbert had entered the tunnels to act out his D&D fantasies and was whisked away due to the mind altering effects of using ones imagination. I just have to point out that William Dear went on to be an investigator in the Alien Autopsy FOX TV special in 1995.
In another sad turn James Dallas Egbert III died from a self inflicted gun shot wound in 1980. In 1981 the case was used as the basis for the novel “Mazes and Monsters” by Rona Jaffe, which was later made as a TV movie in 1982 starring Tom Hanks in the role of a Egbert-like character. In 1984 William Dear penned his version of the “steam tunnel incident” called “Dungeon Master: The Disappearance of James Dallas Egbert III. With these two books seen as “factual” depictions of the game, Dungeons and Dragons was beginning to get a lot more negative exposer. Already viewed as something that only Satan worshippers played, now “normal” kids were in fear of being seduced by its dark embrace.
The Seduction of the Innocent?
As I stated, 1983 brought D&D into everyone’s homes in the form of kick ass toys and also in the form of a Saturday morning cartoon. Seeing this as a blatant smack in the face a group was formed to combat the evil polluting our childrens minds, B.A.D.D..
B.A.D.D. stood for “Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons and was started by Patricia Pulling in 1983 after the loss of her son Lee in 1982. Lee Pulling was a loner that didn’t seem to fit into his high school. His only social interactions were when he played D&D with a group of other students in his schools “D&D Club”. The club was run by the schools Principal and he served as the game’s Dungeon Master. Lee sadly committed suicide by shooting himself and in her grief Lee’s mother lashed out with lawsuits to the school, the principal, and TSR. When all else failed she created B.A.D.D..
B.A.D.D. was very vocal in their belief that Dungeons and Dragons, and all role playing games, encouraged devil worship and suicide. B.A.D.D. described D&D as “a fantasy role-playing game which uses demonology, witchcraft, voodoo, murder, rape, blasphemy, suicide, assassination, insanity, sex perversion, homosexuality, prostitution, satanic type rituals, gambling, barbarism, cannibalism, sadism, desecration, demon summoning, necromantics, divination and other teachings.”
Over the years Pulling found success in her crusade through mainstream media outlets, but as D&D and other role playing games became more popular her undocumented statistics started to be questioned. The most famous of which is when she said that her hometown of Richmond, Virginia had an 8% population of Satanists. When asked how this number was obtained she said it was 4% adults and 4% teens, which equals 8%. When the mathematics were called out she stated that 8% was still a conservative guess.
Pulling passed away in 1997 due to lung cancer and B.A.D.D. stopped operations.
Vividly Colored, Hard Plastic, Evil Incarnate
Around the time B.A.D.D. was formed, the “Official Advanced Dungeons and Dragons” toys began appearing on toy shelves across the country. The first wave of the series included 11 (6 good, 4 bad, 1 neutral) action figures, 5 creatures (3 mounts, 2 monsters), and the awesomely detailed Fortress of Fangs Playset.
The action figures were broken down into two sets. The first being 8 Player Characters which were 3.75 inche scale. The characters heights varied with Elkhorn, the Good Dwarf Fighter being the shortest to Strongheart, the Good Paladin being the tallest with his plumed helmet. Along with the very popular at the time 3.75 inch figures were three 5 inch figures known as Battle Masters. The Battle Masters represented “larger than man sized” humanoids in the D&D world. They are the Young Male Titan (which I guess could fall into a neutral race category), the evil Ogre King, and the Great Barbarian Northlord.
What made all of these figures awesome (aside from being D&D) were their accessories. Characters like Ringlerun the Good Wizard and Kelek the Evil Sorcerer had real cloth robes and Player Characters like Strongheart, Peralay the Good Fighter Mage Elf, and Mercion the Good Cleric Female (?) had real cloth capes and tunics. All had great weapons, staffs, and shields to boot. What was really, really great was the 5 inch figures which came with helmets, all though they were a little over sized. Sadly the figures for the super popular Warduke the Evil Fighter and Zarak the Evil Half-Orc Assassin didn’t come equipped with any sissy fabric, because they were so EVIL!
The first series also had three Action Mounts for our heroes and villains to ride, namely just two characters. The good paladin Strongheart was lucky as well as virtuous, he had two mounts all to himself. Destrier was his loyal brown war horse and to make sure he was super badass awesome he also had a Bronze Dragon to ride on (WTF). But while Strongheart had two ways to ride, the vile (and more popular) Warduke had only one, Nightmare the Evil Horse-like Creature. But don’t worry, you don’t need two steeds when your horse has flames erupting from his hooves and a great skeletal paintjob.
What made the mounts cool but equally very short sighted was their saddles. Built like Kenner’s Taun Taun toy, a trap door in the creatures back allowed and action figure to slide in. The attached saddle was designed to have legs on it to give the impression of the rider straddling the saddle. But unlike the Taun Taun that had a generic “Hoth Gear” look to the legs, Nightmare had specific Warduke legs and Strongheart’s two mounts had the visage of his armored legs attached.
Also with the first wave of figures LJN released only two Action Monsters. Pretty sad considering that most D&D games are 90% monster killing or dungeon crawling. First they made one of my personal favorite old-school monsters, the Hook Horror. The next critter that got the plastic treatment is the Dragonne. Both Action Monsters look great and match the pictures from the Monster Manual perfectly. Sadly they never produced the planned Behir or Bullete Action Monsters that was advertised in the LJN catalog in 1983.
But with all great toy lines of the ’80s there was the big grand daddy that everyone wanted but only a lucky few got…the play set. With LJN’s Official Advanced Dungeons and Dragons toy line they had a great play set with the Fortress of Fangs.
Boosting over 12 action features, Fortress of Fangs was a small play set with a large bite. Decked out with trap doors, a slide, and a sweet “flying” creature throne, Fortress of Fangs seemed like the best “first step” for a toy line in its infancy. Like with other successful lines like G.I. Joe, save the bigger play sets for down the road. But sadly there wasn’t much road left for the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons toy line.
Continue reading the rest of the story this Friday…