And by 3-D, I don’t mean a movie, but those splendid D&D action figures made by LJN in the 1980’s.
Figure this one out. Dungeons & Dragons hits big with kids in the 1980’s. It hits so big that it gets a Saturday morning cartoon and an action figure line. But here’s the weird part – the cartoon and action figure line are separate, as in barely any overlap. Why?
TSR was almost an overnight success, and its leadership wasn’t necessarily ready for prime time. Anyone who knows the TSR story knows this, so there’s no need to cover it here. By the 1980’s, toy companies and cartoon makers had figured out how to join forces and sell crap to kids – G.I. Joe, Transformers, Go-Bots, Chuck Norris’ Karate Kommandoes, Rambo … they were all doing it. But not TSR.
Instead of Hank the Ranger and the gang, the action figure line featured a collection of characters of whom nobody had ever heard, with no real adventures or exploits to inspire childhood play. Some of the action figure line made an appearance in the Shady Dragon Inn (a book I love, by the way), and in a module called XL1 – Quest for the Heartstone, but that was about it.
And since I’m complaining – remember how the G.I. Joe figures had the cool file card on the back of the packaging with data on the character, and how Transformers came with stats that required the red translucent plastic to read. I mean – Transformers had ability scores! Did D&D figures have that? No. The game that’s all about ability scores and character sheets doesn’t use this on their packaging. Jeez!
OK – Complaining over – let’s take a look at the toys the younger siblings (yeah, right!) of D&D geeks were enjoying in the 1980’s, along with some handy links to buy these sweet babies …
There were apparently two waves of figures, which were divided into GOOD and EVIL sides. The top dog on the good side was Strongheart Good Paladin. I had this figure as a kid, and it was pretty groovy – nice cape, sword. I also dig that it looks something like a real knight. Strongheart showed up in the D&D cartoon, although there he was armed with a magic golden hammer.
Strongheart also got a bitchin’ mount – Destrier Mighty Battle Horse. He looks like he works the same way the Star Wars tauntaun did, where you stick the rider into a spring-loaded door atop the mount, with the rider’s legs molded onto the horse’s body.
Other mounts included a nightmare and bronze dragon.
Along with Strongheart, the forces of good included …
Northlord looks like he borrowed his helmet from Dark Helmet. Mercion is apparently super hard to find these days, in case you happen to be sitting on one and need a quick infusion of cash. Also, notice how the slightly realistic Strongheart gives way in the second wave to the somewhat silly-looking Bowmarc. ‘Tis the way of things, I’m afraid.
This brings us to the evil figures. I don’t know who the leader of EVIL is, per se, but Warduke EVIL Fighter (above) has to be their coolest figure – he’s like the Boba Fett of D&D action figures. His quest to do horrible things to people is aided and abetted by such jerkwads as …
You can’t say that the forces of evil were underrepresented here – plenty of foes for the good guys. It’s really a very good toy line that I think would have been pushed over the top with an accompanying cartoon. Zarak, the other figure I had, might have showed up in the cartoon. I definitely remember that Kelek and Warduke were in an episode of the cartoon series.
There were three “giant” figures in the line – Ogre King, Young Male Titan and Mettaflame the Fire Giant. I don’t know if the dragonne was a mount or just a monster. Ogre King is pictured below:
Along with the articulated figures, there were numerous molded figures in the line. As a kid, I assumed they weren’t really for playing alongside the other figures, but maybe I was wrong. I’m trying to remember how they measured up to Strongheart, but frankly – it’s been too dang long. I remember having the troglodyte and goblin and two men-at-arms, but there were also skeletons, a bugbear, troll, hook horror and some others. The hook horror is pictured below.
Finally, the existence of Castle Greyskull meant that every good toy line needed a playset to go with it. D&D got the Fortress of Fangs, which is admittedly not super awesome – at least, not as great as Greyskull.