LJN Dungeons & Dragons
November 23, 2009

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

 

Bronze Dragon

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?

TAGS:
Danny "CantinaDan" Neumann
Action figure anthropologist, Professor Cantina Dan Neumann has been a scholastic contributor to the online community studying the complex world of parumplasticus populus {little plastic people} since the turn of this millenium. His primary focus is the visual cataloging of species exhibits through photo-journalism.
Read other articles by Danny "CantinaDan" Neumann.

 

 

 

27 Comments »

  • Mario says:

    I’m with you, straight up!

    I was given my first ones (Bronze Dragon, Strongheart & Nightmare & Warduke) on Christmas day, 1983. Just like you, it turns out, & I consider them to be some of the best action figures ever produced. Certainly the best LJN’s ever made, as far as I’m concerned, & they definitely rank in my personal top ten of ’80′s action figure lines.

    I’m glad you brought these up, as they truly deserve to be spotlighted. Good job!

  • Elvis8Batman says:

    I had a couple of these figures and agree they were nice, but I was always bugged that they never made the kids from the show. I think if someone were to do a new line for D&D I’d like it to be based on the cartoon this time round.

    • Danny CantinaDan says:

      You know, as a kid I really liked the separation. I liked that the toy line wasn’t kid-ified to conform to the the cartoon. Not to say that I wouldn’t now like to have figures of Hank the Ranger, Diana the Acrobat, Eric the Cavalier, Shiela the Thief, Bobby the Barbarian (w/Uni), and Presto the Magician! And a 2 pack of Venger and Dungeon Master. (Wasn’t Venger DM’s son?)

  • Brainlock says:

    I got Destrier for Xma$, I think.

    That’s it, nothing else from this line.
    My parents suck. :(

  • Jeff Cope Jeff Cope says:

    I don’t get why there isn’t a comprehensive D&D line now (3-3/4″, of course).

    I mean, Hasbro frikkin’ owns WOTC (makers of the RPG) for cryin’ out loud!

  • JuliusMarx says:

    This really is an under appreciated line. I had most of the first series and I think all of the monsters and steeds… and the Fortress of Fangs. That may have been the BEST playset I eveer owned as a kid. I loved the larger figures and their removable helmets. I don’t have any of them any more I’m sad to say.

  • kevfett says:

    This was one of my favorite toy lines when I was little. The character selection was cool. I loved the weapons and accessories and yes, the Fortress of fangs was the coolest playset…ever. The packaging for he carded characters is very sharp too.

    I had half of the second series but I could never find Bowmarc, Hawkler, Deeth or Grimsword.

    I agree with Jeff about the odd lack of a current toy line. Hasbro owns Wizards of the Coast and D & D 4th Edition seems to sell pretty. Can you imagine how cool a Dragonborn Paladin would be? I’d settle for a D & D line in the same style as Galactic Heroes/Superhero Squad. Make a game of it to introduce younger kids to the concept.

  • xrmc20 says:

    I remember loving that cartoon, but somehow I avoided the toys completely. I don’t remember them at all.

  • Jason says:

    Great article and pics, Dan! I remember the line, but only ever got Warduke for myself, just because I thought he was such a cool looking figure. And I loved the fact that the sizes were all over the place, definitely an aspect that I came to appreciate as the years went on.

  • chad says:

    i remeber the line i also had war duke . who was one of those who appeared on the cartoon. and now a days the line is so forgotten and pieces like Tiemat are considered the rarest of the whole line. plus there was rumor that figures of the kids from the cartoon were made as an over seas ship ment. liked the cartoon better.

  • Lt. Clutch says:

    This is one of THE best lines produced in the 80′s – or ever! I remember the animation for the commercials as if it were yesterday. I was never a gamer (I ordered a TSR catalog and it took so long to arrive that my family mailed it from Anaheim to Miami because we had moved by then!) but the figures were outstanding. Finely detailed, with unique weapons and beautiful package art. I never dug the cartoon at all because it had nothing to do with the figures and these guys merited a comic book tie-in like Crystar at the very least.

    My cousin collected them and kept trying for me to trade him my Northlord for some crappy cardboard weapons he had made up. I never saw the second series until we moved again (to Chicago) and they were gone from the shelves soon after. Never bought any of the bendies or PVCs. I agree that those toys didn’t fit in with the rest of the line. I did get the Cave Fisher wind-up on clearance back in ’89 or so, but that’s long gone now. (And worth a lot of dough!)

    Years later, I managed to obtain most of the figures from both series. I have nearly all of the Battle-Matics including Bowmarc, Grimsword, Deeth, Zorak, Drex, and the elusive Hawkler. Still looking for Peralay and the Battle Masters. Warduke is by far my favorite character. There was a back story written for the guy in the gaming community some time back. The 4H would have a field day reviving this awesome line.

    • Danny Cantina-Dan says:

      Well, consider me jealous: out of series 2 I really would love to own Hawkler. And, you’re right, that Cave Fisher wind up is probably the rarest AD&D item known to exist.

      The 4H would do a great job with this line although for some reason I’m kind’uv OK with it not being revisited. If you search eBay there are lots of nice custom AD&D characters done Marvel Legends style.

      • Lt. Clutch says:

        I’ve browsed through those ML customs on eBay and they are beautifully done, some real works of love there. But yeah, there’s something special about the classic line itself. I just noticed from your Christmas pic that you received Point Dread the same year as I? Who’s piloting the Talon Fighter? And is that the Ewok Village as well? I can see a Biker Scout hovering over and the ROJ logo peeking out above the LJN toy ad. Great memories, man!

        • Danny CantinaDan says:

          Good peepers! Based on which MOTU figures I had as a kid and the fact that I’m seeing some green stuff in there my guess is its Tri-Klops in the Talon. Yes, Ewok Village is covered by the ad image and that is a Biker Scout on a Speeder Bike on top. In the lower right corner you can see just a piece of Jabba’s dais. Dang, that was quite a year!

  • H-Balm says:

    Thanks for the history lesson.

    My only experience was on Saturday mornings. I liked the show, but never got into any toys.

    Some creative creatures.

  • I had the Fortress of Fangs playset and it’s easily one of the best playsets EVER made for any line.

  • Cmdrkoenig67 says:

    Hey Cantina Dan,

    I love these figures and I have most of them still from when I was a kid. To answer you question about the action figure characters who appeared in the D&D cartoon (if you still don’t know)…You were right about Warduke, Strongheart and Kelek…The Young Male Titan made an appearance as a human-sized disguise of Venger’s and Zarak made an appearance in the second season’s title sequence.

  • Samuel Mikuletic-Hicks says:

    Let’s see, I had Ogre King, the lil’ Dwarf Elkhorn, the FOrtress of Fangs, and I think I had Grimsword (I seem to have a thing for lizards). TOP quality stuff for us as kids. Now I wish I’da kept ‘em. All of them went down the drain–er, in the trash or sold to a friend across the street who had a job–along with my G. I. Joes, Transformers, Centurions: Power Xtreme. Ah well, I guess its the memories that we keep that last, yes?

  • Samuel Mikuletic-Hicks says:

    But now I have the cartoon of Dungeons and Dragons on DVD. Hah! I win in that way at least!

  • Cmdrkoenig67 says:

    BTW…The LJN toy line came out almost 2 years before the cartoon series started.

  • Eric LeFeber says:

    Loving watching these again with my son. Now we’re on the hunt for look-alike mini figures. Anyone have any ideas?

  • Daniel says:

    @Eric LeFeber: Did you know that a European company made PVCs of all the characters from the AD&D animated series? If not, then you really need to do some internet searching for those. I know that Buffalo Road PVCs used to keep some in stock, but haven’t searched them in years (and I mean back in the Toy Fare magazine days!). Good luck and best wishes to you and your son.

  • Lee says:

    AD&D are the best figures ever! I have many of them but still can’t find Mercion but as a female figure I can’t imagine her being prized by little boys. She must be the rarest AD&D figure, a lot like the GIjoe Nurse produced way back, she goes for mega bucks.

  • Lee says:

    Oh by the way Zarak is the greatest action figure of all time, everyone should own him, he has just about the coolest look, I mean bright green face with red spots, blue hoodie, black leather with red trim and not to mention short legs which lower his centre of gravity and make him impossible to beat, hail to the king; Zarak!

  • PANACEACREATIONS says:

    Touching base to let you know that I worked for LJN toys and acquired many hard cast prototypes while there. If you are interested in AD&D prototypes some never manufactured such as Valkeer and Pulvreye shield shooter, & first version of Zarak. Feel free to contack me and possibly we can work a deal.
    Thanks and by for now

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