Looking back on all the toy lines I enjoyed as a kid LJN’s Advanced Dungeons & Dragons stands near the top. So, yeah, this blog is gonna be a gush-fest. As a youngster I made one feeble attempt at the D&D role playing game. The D&D toys held my attention much longer! The first series of toys made its way to stores in 1983 (the year of Return of the Jedi). That lands it just a year or two after G.I. Joe and Masters of the Universe hit the scene and a year or two before Super Powers, Secret Wars and Thundercats made their debuts. Heady times indeed.
Let me note first off that my comments are largely based on the toys that came in AD&D’s first series. Frankly, I didn’t even realize there was a series two until I got back into collecting as an adult. Its too bad since the figures in series two are pretty rare and expensive to acquire.
The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons figures were essentially 3 3/4" scale but thanks to the variety of races and creatures they range from a 2 1/2" Dwarf to a 6" Titan. The creatures get even bigger. I really loved this variation in scale. On a side note, thanks to AD&D’s elf figure, Peralay, I always assumed elves were small. So when I finally got around to reading Tolkien it took me a while to adjust to the fact that elves were not diminutive in stature (at least not in Middle Earth). Regardless, Peralay remains one of my favorite action figures of all time!
Much has been made of the detail, bright paint and overall high-quality of these figures. Rightly so. I certainly put mine through the paces and they look almost as good today as they did 25 years ago. Most had the five basic points of articulation but thanks to ball hinge type joints in the shoulders and hips playability was increased. All came with great accessories like detailed shields and helms. Some sport soft-goods capes and tunics. A few small weapons have been lost along the way but otherwise this is what remains of my LJN AD&D collection:
Warduke & Strongheart
Young Make Titan & Northlord
Elkhorn & Melf (Peralay)
*opps: I’ve just noticed that is not the cape that originally came with Peralay
Kelek, Ringlerun & Mercion
Zarak & Ogre King
Dragonne & Hooked Horror
Series one had two additional creatures: Destrier (Strongheart’s horse) and Nightmare (Warduke’s horse). These two steeds and the Bronze Dragon have hinged spring loaded flaps similar to the Star Wars Dewback and Taun Taun that allow their rider figures to slide in.
One more fantastic item is added to the series one checklist: a playset called The Fortress of Fangs. What essentially looked to be a hokey giant snake head came replete with accessories and cool play features. I’m talking about ladders and tunnels and sliding spiked walls and trap doors and catapult floor tiles. I no longer have this playset but I’ve seen some sell on eBay for reasonable prices.
Looks like XMas 1983 was a good year. Amongst other AD&D items under the tree:
The Fortress of Fangs playset. Please focus on the toys and not my fatigues.
Hey, I was 10 and I thought camo bandannas tied around the neck were cool!
Along with the line of honest-to-goodness action figures LJN created what I guess could be called a companion line of Bendy and PVC Toys. I remember being completely disenchanted with these. They were not action figures. They did not fit in with the action figures. And I resented that they were branded so as to look like they were part of the action figure collection. There were lots of them and they kept the pegs warm for ages. Never got even one.
In 1984 LJN released series two of the figure line. Did these hit New Jersey? I’m sure they did by I have absolutely no recollection of them. And that’s odd ’cause I don’t forget a figure even if I never actually owned it. Although I’d love to have in my collection AD&D series two I’m not heartbroken that I don’t. The characters, designs and quality are much less inspired than the first series. Not to mention LJN also introduced action features ("Battle-Matic") which I can always do without. Along with the new characters, series two also reissued some figures from series one. A few came with different weapons (ie – "Shield Shooters") and Ogre King
got a complete redeco. Series two also introduced a new creature: the 5-headed dragon Tiamat
which you might remember from the cartoon.
Series 2 (clockwise from top left):
Bowmarc, Grimsword, Zorgar, Drex, Mettaflame, Hawkler, Mandoom & Deeth.
If you have an interest in LJN’s Advanced Dungeons & Dragons toys you should check out ToyArchive’s AD&D section. They were kind enough to allow me to use their images of the series two figures above. There’s lots of additional info including prototypes and unproduced toys, an ill-fated collection of wind-ups, knock-offs and other miscellaneous items.
The Dungeons & Dragons toy line coincided with a cartoon that aired on CBS from ’83 – ’85. If you are a little confused about the relationship between toy line and the show there’s good reason. Besides a couple cameos none of the toy characters appeared in the cartoon! If you recall, the television series starred six children who are transported to the world of Dungeons & Dragons by means of a carnival roller coaster. Each kid is there imbued with special skills and weapons. They are advised by the Yoda-like "Dungeon Master" and are at constant odds with the evil Venger. Oh yeah, and they’re joined by a baby unicorn named Uni. And for those of you racking your brains, no, they never do make it back home. Although that possibility is presented in an unproduced finale called Requiem. It was a good cartoon in no small part propped up by the great character Eric the Cavalier superbly voiced by Don Most.
The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons line was not large or long-lived but it still ranks high among great action figure lines of the 80s. Who’s with me?