1983, the year was slowly drawing to a close and both sides of the warring factions of dark and light were beginning to show signs of fatigue. In September the dark Generals Ralph the Mouth and Willie Aames led their evil cartoon army to the television battlefield. In an act to indoctrinate younger members to their dark cause, the malevolent Dungeons and Dragons created their cutest and most annoying character ever, Uni the unicorn. Teaming this buffoonish, bleating abomination up with the equally annoying Bobby the barbarian could be the misstep the forces of light need to advance in the war.
But little did the forces of virtue know that waiting in the wings were reinforcements sent by the army of vile sin. A new and fresh contingent of bendy, mechanized, and PVC laden soldiers joined the fray. The battle was renewed, but with the battalions of darkness now having troops hidden in the school supplies, art projects, and book racks of popular department stores, it looked like the war was finally going to be won by the united forces of EVIL.
Suddenly the tides of favor changed and by the year 1985 it was like the army of Dungeons and Dragons ceased to exist. The goodly forces of light had done their job. They knew their biggest allies were the parents of the enthralled children in service to polygonal dice and graph paper.The frantic yowls of virtue rang in the ears of weak willed guardians country wide. The dark and vile toys withered like fruit left on the vine on their peg board gardens. The cartoon ended with out an ending.Without gold pieces or allowance the children could not support their dark lords anymore and the end was nigh.
Bendy, Rubberized, Clockwork Horrors!
The darkest and evilest of games was released on an unexpected public in 1974. Since it’s dark and sinful birth, Dungeons and Dragons has been a lightning rod for controversy. Angering everyone from local law enforcement, the church, and mothers the world over, there was only one course Dungeons and Dragons could go…Say “F@#k it” and double down with a Saturday morning cartoon and toy line. Controversial or not, D&D was very popular and it was only getting stronger.
By September of 1983 the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon began airing on Saturday mornings on CBS. Produced by Marvel Productions, D&D Entertainment, and Toei Animation, the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon was a far departure from the toy line that had been going moderately strong for almost a year. Gone were the Player Characters that were introduced, replaced with kids that get sent into the world of D&D via a carnival fun house (WTF). Over the 3 seasons of the show some of the characters from the toy line made cameos, but it wasn’t the same. But we did get to see fan favorite Warduke on a couple of occasions.
As 1984 rolled around LJN released a second wave of action figures, but in the time between the first and second waves they released PVC, bendy, and wind-up toys that brought more monstrous creatures into the D&D toy world.
The biggest of these series’ were the PVC toys. The toys were sold as a set of either two creatures or a creature and an item like treasure or spell tome. The PVC toys had 18 different sets that ranged from Umber Hulks to Elves to Men-at-Arms. The packaging for the PVC figures resembled the AD&D boxed set and game modules at the time, and even had the same letter and number codes that the books had. The idea was for these PVC toys to appeal to the gamers as well as the children. Some of the stand outs in this series are the Bullywugs of the Bog, Dwarves of the Mountain King, Fire Elemental, Shambling Mound, and the Umber Hulk.
Sharing the same module-esque packaging were the bendy figures. Totaling 6, the bendy monster figures were pretty much the same as the PVC figures just with a metal armature encased inside, allowing them to be posed. The few stand outs with the bendy figures are the Neo-Oytguh (can’t get enough of monsters who eat poop), Carrion Crawler, and the Deadly Grell.
I totally see what LJN was going for here, and it worked for the most part. But I honestly think “bendy” was not the best choice for monsters like the Hydra or Chimera. But hey, we finally got some more monsters to play with so no matter how you cut it, it’s win/win.
But maybe the weirdest (and rarest) of the monster toys were the “wind-up” toys that were produced. I mean the Pernicorn and the Cave Fisher are cool but that sir, is no Tarrasque.
Another cool thing they did that could play out on a kitchen table campaign were 1″ figures of the player characters.
The Second Coming of Unimaginable Evil!
In 1984 the second and last wave of Official Advanced Dungeons and Dragons figures were released. Pulling out all the stops LJN added many functions to the new figures while revisiting some of the first wave characters with new features. Most of the earlier Player Characters were fitted with a lever on their backs which gave them a chopping action or in the case of Zarak, a spring load waist for a sideways attack. These figures were renamed Battle Mattic. Dwarf Fighter Elkhorn, Good Paladin Strongheart, Evil Fighter Warduke, and Evil Half Orc Assassin Zarak all got the Battle Master treatment.
Another action feature LJN used was spring loaded, launching shield emblems. These figures were duped Shield Shooters. With the Shield Shooter line they rebranded the great barbarian Northlord, Young Male Titan, and the evil Orge King all with new shield designs and missile firing action. These figures also got the Battle Mattic treatment.
Along with the new Battle Mattic and Shield Shooters versions of some the key Player Characters from the first wave, LJN also released 6 new 3.75 inch Player Characters, 2 new 5″ Battle Masters, and 1 large monster, Tiamat the Evil Five Headed Dragon.
While the designs and sculptures for Wave 2 seem less inspired than the first wave, there were still some great characters. The white armored Bowmarc the good crusader who wielded a holy sword. The good fighter Deeth, with her sword of light and lightning mace. The evil fighter Drex with his skull and snake chest tattoo, Grimsword the evil knight with his awesome snake wrapped armor and ghastly horned helmet, Hawkler the good ranger with his bow and trusty hawk companion, and the evil barbarian Zorgar with his dagger and club.
Sadly this time around LJN took a cheaper approach to the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Player Character figures. Less cloth was used and most of the weapons were just repainted versions of weapons used in Wave 1. A good example is with Bowmarc, a lot of stress goes into him having this great and awesome holy sword but in reality it’s just a repaint of Strongheart’s sword. I don’t know if the writing was on the wall during the planning of these figures, but a lack of a “WOW” factor couldn’t have helped sales.
The same thing could be said for the 2 new Battle Master sized Shield Shooters. The good warrior Mandoom (guess his parents thought he was going to be evil?) and the evil Fire Giant Mettaflame. Both sculptures don’t really have a ton of detail compared to the original Battle Masters of Wave 1. And with what is seen in the Player Characters, accessories are reused.
Rounding out Wave 2 is a new monster, the evil five headed dragon, Tiamat. What is special about Tiamat is that this is a rare time that the show and toys crossed over. Tiamat was the BIG baddie of the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon. She was a character that the heroes feared and the series villain Venger also feared. Tiamat was the largest of all the monsters that were released a featured actions like opening a closing jaws, bendy necks, and claw grapping front legs. Unfortunately Tiamat was the swan song of the LJN Advanced Dungeons and Dragons line of toys. But they went out with a bang.
The Day Evil Came Home
Like with all toy lines, the licensing machine for Dungeons and Dragons went far beyond just action figures. This is the part of the Dungeons and Dragon history that really intrigues me. Growing up smack-dap in the middle of all this I do not remember any of these things. To be honest I only had a couple of the figures that I found at a camera/drug store. When I went back a little while later with money in hand, it was like the toys never excised. I may have had better luck if I lived closer to a Toys ‘R’ Us or a Kiddie City.
It just really surprises me the amount of awesome shit that was made and I totally see how they did not sell. Parents watch 60 Minutes and they show the dangers of D&D, then they go to the store and see Warduke on a pencil sharpener. After watching 60 Minutes, it’s all viewed as EVIL.
Another thing that was HUGE in the ’80s were stickers. Everyone loved stickers and it seemed like the worlds top scientists were working on new sticker technology. We had awesome holograms, puffy, smelly, some weird oil filled ones…the list goes on and on with the amount of gimmicks used to sell stickers. Hell, I still get a flutter in my heart when I see cool stickers.
And rub-on transfers…I loved these things. I would love have them today to decorate my gaming binder. But makes these even more kickass is the fact that they used art straight from the Monster Manual. Finally get to see some of this art in color.
Speaking of things I’d love to own and use…
You also had your tried and true items like Shrinky Dinks and Colorforms…
and big items like Power Cycles. This looks totally rad and the box features Strongheart with the kids from the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon…WOW. Now who the hell wouldn’t want to be trucking down the street in this beast?
Of course one of my absolute favorite things were the books. Over the years I’ve found a couple here and there. These beauties were made by Marvel Books, who at the time had the best art in their kids books.
One of the best things about the kids books were that they had new and different characters and showed the “Player Characters” in different lights. They were really well made and for me the most sought after items (mostly because they take up less room in the ol’ laundry room).
And since this was the ’80s they also made the book/record combo.
and beyond words awesome Halloween costumes…
With equally awesome Krull and Fire and Ice Costumes too. Wow, Fire and Ice. Dark Wolf is the bomb!!
And who wouldn’t want a D&D candle?!?
The Last Strike To The Heart Of Darkness
The amount of stuff that carried the Dungeons and Dragons brand during the early ’80s is staggering. The most amazing part is that this is all happening during the time of America’s “witch hunt” of D&D and other RPG’s. To be honest I don’t know if that hurt it or helped it. With the tags of “evil” and “Satan”, D&D was a great way for rebellious teens to “stick it to the man”. I’m sure that fact alone sold some books and helped make the ’80s a very popular time in the life of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons the game. But it hurt anything else they wanted to do, like toys and cartoons.
By 1985 the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon was over. It only aired 27 episodes over its 3 year run. One unproduced episode titled “Requiem” would have served as the show’s finally, but alas they let the show die without a proper burial. Gone were the toys and any other sign of life outside of book and gaming stores. This was also the year that the infamous 60 Minutes episode aired that took a very biased look at the game of D&D. Even though the toys or cartoon weren’t mentioned, the name Dungeons and Dragons got drug across the coals and was now a big shiny target for everyone in America to aim at. Whenever a loner or socially awkward teen ran into trouble or committed suicide, if they fit a certain demographic it was either D&D or heavy metal music that took the blame. This “Witch Hunt” would continue well into the ’90s, but hell it still exists to a point, even today.
I find it funny that the “level headed” and “reasonable” people believed that books held magic that could control the minds of children and teens. While the “evil” and “satanic” people were using math, charts, and some science to play a harmless game. Sorry, just a fleeting though.
Sadly a great and wonderful thing like D&D isn’t getting the same respect (i.e. fear, LOL) nowadays. In a time when the evil stigma has been pulled away, it should be a good time to introduce these types of things again for young and old alike. But when that shroud of darkness was pulled away, it left the enigmatic few exposed. People learned that we were just playing a game after all and we tend to be a little socially awkward, so nothing to fear.But this is where a little bit of “evil” could help it return to the forefront again. Silly, I know but after a couple crappy movies I’m desperate for the good times again with toys, cartoons, and crazy merchandise.
When Hasbro bought Wizards of the Coast (who bought out TSR in 1997) in 1999 I had very high hopes of seeing a new Dungeons and Dragons line of action figures. Hasbro’s first foray in to blending the worlds of RPG’s and toys came with a line of Shadowrun player characters that could be played like a game. The figures were really well done, but ultimately didn’t sell. Since then Hasbro has focused on miniature lines and making a ton of expensive books.
I hope to see a return of some of these characters in toy form in the future. The fan base is still alive and well with all the evidence of custom figures, art work, and some pretty kickass t-shirts found online. Keep fighting the good fight brothers and sisters.
Until then, hoist a 20-sided die in the air and remember this fallen toy line from the ’80s.
If you missed it, here’s the first part of….
Take a look at some of my other posts about the awesomeness of D&D