The other day I was walking through my local Walmart when I saw this:
It’s been a long time since we saw Dungeons & Dragons books inside a store like Walmart. Which reminds me of the old LJN Toys that came out in the early 80s.
In 1983 LJN Toys, Ltd came out with series one of their D&D “action toys.” In this series the world was introduced to the following characters: Northlord Great Barbarian, the Ogre King, Warduke the Evil Fighter, a Young Male Titan, Elkhorn the Dwarf, Kelek the Wizard, Mercion the Cleric, (Melf) Peralay the Elf Fighter, Ringlerun the Magic-User, Strongheart the Fighter, and Zarak the Half-Orc Assassin/Thief.
These would be followed up the following year with the truncated series two. Here we were presented with Bowmarc the Crusader, Deeth the Fighter, Drex the evil Warrior, Grimsword the evil Knight, Hawkler the Ranger, Zorgar the evil Barbarian, Mandoom the good Warrior, and Mettaflame the Fire Giant.
All of these characters were original for the line. This wasn’t an unprecedented move in the toy industry as larger toy companies like Hasbro, with it’s G.I. Joe line, and Mattel, with it’s Masters of the Universe line, had long proved that doing so could be incredibly lucrative. With a cartoon series based on Dungeons & Dragons launching the same year as the toys it seemed like a solid choice – until you realize that none of the main characters in the cartoon show were figures in the action toy line; and that the characters from the toy line that did show up in the series were minor characters.
Even with such a glaring misstep TSR, Inc tried their best to develop a host of cross promotional products to help with sales. They had stickers, pencil sharpeners, and even partnered with Marvel to create coloring books and a storybook.
LJN, for their part, attempted to ground the toys within a narrative for their fictional world where the characters lived.
Elkhorn was a dwarf, and as the box told us: “Dwarves can see in almost total darkness, because they spend much of their time underground. Shorter than men, dwarves are still very strong, and are renowned as miners of gems and precious metals. Often they live in huge caverns carved from stone. The worst enemies of the dwarves are giants who delight in finding and destroying dwarven castles. The powerful dwarf fighter can be found time after time fighting giants and dragons for the mountain ranges they both like to live around.”
So we know that in this world
- dwarves build castles inside huge caverns carved into the side of mountains.
- They fight giants and dragons for territory there.
Melf / Peralay the Fighter – Mage is an interesting figure. Not only did they use the same figure for two different characters, they also used the same text: “Coming from a race of magical forest dwelling beings, the elf fighter is able to combine all the best traits of many beings. Able to use magical spells as well as weapons, this fighter is a truly powerful enemy to all creatures that would do harm to the forests and to those who love nature. Count on the elf fighter to come into battle riding a giant griffin or some other magical mount with his magical sword flashing over his head.”
From this we know that:
- Elves are magical forest dwellers
- this elven warrior rides a giant griffin or other magical mount.
- he uses a magical sword
Kelek, the first villain of the series, introduces the forces of Law and Order in his text: “Kelek the Evil Sorcerer is capable of using powerful magical spells to further his cruel ways. While Sorcerers cannot use weapons other than daggers, darts, or staffs, they have a large number of terrible spells that they employ to win the day for them. Evil Sorcerers are constantly fighting the forces of Law and Order for dominance in the lands where they live.”
This is perhaps the first time that we really get a sense of a larger world. Before we knew only of the mountains and the petty territorial wars going on there between dwarves, dragons, and giants. Now we learn of:
- the forces of law and order
- that evil sorcerers are constantly fighting those forces.
Mercion is both our first Cleric and our first female character. The text reads: “Clerics are the most holy of all people. They use their knowledge to help the sick and wounded. Their holy powers also allow them to better fight the more magical evil beings in the world. Armed with a mace or hammer and their daily prayers, they are able to adventure and fight on the side of Law and Order.”
There are a couple of takeaways:
- it appears that only good people are able to be clerics.
- Law and Order are again mentioned leading towards there being 3 alignments in this world: Law, Order, and the implied Chaos which is the opposite of the other two.
The Northlord, with his comically oversized helmet, begins to describe the barbarians of this world: “Barbarians are always strong, always fast, and always hardy humans. Able to track in forest or mountain, they are powerful and capable fighters. Far different from most races, Barbarians instinctively fear and distrust all things magical and will avoid places, things, and people that show evidences of magic. The wild land they live in make these people brave from birth. The NORTHLORD Barbarian can be counted on to be in the forefront of any battle and first to fight the evil dragon or giant sea monster when others are running for their lives.”
So barbarians are:
- always human
- fearful and distrustful of all things magical
- always brave
The Ogre King is our first monstrous creature and gives us a look into the ogres as a whole. The text states: “Ogres in general can almost be found anywhere. They are huge-manlike creatures standing a little over nine feet tall. With low intelligence they are often forced to use weapons and items stolen from weaker races. The kings of this race are always much smarter and stronger than the average ogre. They will often have the best weapons and armor and often have other monster types serving and protecting them against the many enemies that they must continually face.”
This provides us with the following:
- Ogres are found everywhere, in all climates, and on all continents.
- They average over 9′ tall.
- They are too unintelligent, on average, to be able to make their own weapons so they steal them from others.
- Ogres have many enemies – so many that they’re in a near constant state of combat.
Ringlerun made his first appearance shortly before the toys on the cover of the 6th printing of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook. Though little was known of him at the time.
The toys gave us our first hint at the character. “Wanting to help mankind above all things, this magical human has a wide array of spells at his command. Believing that the power of magic was meant for maintaining law and order, this person will always do his utmost to help the needy and defend the weak and helpless. Wizards have been known and feared through the ages because of their great magical powers. The forces of evil and destruction must often run in fear when facing such a man.”
We learn less about the world with this character, and more about the individual. Ringlerun is:
- A force for law and order
- will always help the needy and defend the weak / helpless
- forces of evil and destruction run in fear when facing him.
Strongheart the Good Paladin is described as follows: “The most honest and brave of all the types of fighters, this human desires nothing more than a good fight against evil and its ways. Riding a proud charger, this warrior’s sword and his good right arm serve to protect the ways of the weak and deserving. Because of his honest ways he can instantly tell evil wherever he finds it. He can also heal the sick and wounded and stand and fight evil foes that would make others run in fear.”
We learn some new features of the world here:
- Because of his honesty Strongheart can tell evil wherever he finds it.
- Being good enough allows Strongheart to heal the sick and wounded.
- He can resist fear that would overcome others.
Perhaps the most popular of all the figures that would come out of this line was Warduke, the Evil Fighter. His description stated: “As a class this character is able to meet any physical challenge. Fighters use all types of weapons but their favorites are magical swords. An Evil Fighter’s purpose in life is to become strong and rule over all that he encounters. Those forces of good that fight such men soon learn never to surrender to them and never to show them weakness.”
There is nothing new about the world that we have learned from Warduke’s text. We already knew that the forces of evil and good were opposed. We knew from previous warriors that magical weapons were favored.
The inclusion of the Young Titan (YT) is an interesting one. Unlike other characters in this set the YT represents a near omnipotent power in the game world. As the text would state: “Titans are one of the most magical of all creatures. For this reason they are also one of the most feared of foes in battle. Never far from their magical weapons and shields they stride the earth and few can stop their way. Titans can become invisible, fly into the air, and use magical clerical spells at will. They never live near men. Often they can be found high in huge flying castles or living in giant underwater caverns. They can speak all of the giant languages but especially like Storm Giants to talk to and live with in their magical homes.”
From this we learn that:
- Titans are one of the most magical creatures in the world.
- They can become invisible
- They can fly
- They can use clerical spells at will
- They live in flying castles or in giant, underwater caverns
- They speak all the giant languages
- Particularly like Storm Giants.
Zarak doesn’t provide us much of a glimpse into the world, but they do provide us with a powerful enemy. As the text states: “The assassin’s primary tools are the poisoned dagger, the stab in the dark, the disguise, and the lesser skills of a thief. The most feared assassin is the half human-half orc one. Whose strength and cunning are that of a vile monster with the intelligence and appearance of a human. Wanting only to profit from assassination after assassination, this being is able to appear harmless or bold and brave. No wonder they are the most feared of enemies in the dungeons and villages of the fantasy world.”
This unnamed world then has some interesting aspects to it that we can build on going forward. We’ll learn more in part 2, where we look at the second series of the toys.
 The term “action toys” was used to describe the figures in the adventure XL1- Quest for the Hearthstone. In the “About this adventure” section the text reads: “. . . Quest for the Heartstone is a combined wilderness and dungeon adventure designed to be compatible with the official ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS” Action Toys produced by LJN Toys, Ltd. . . .” (Gray, 2)
 The line would come to a sudden end due to the Satanic Panic which also ended the cartoon series and threatened to destroy Dungeons & Dragons as well.
 This brings to mind the question, which races are making weapons big enough for the ogres to use correctly? Are they all just using weapons too small for them (unless they’re using log clubs and the like they’ve picked up off the ground) and therefore not getting the full effect of those weapons in combat? Or are they forcing slave labor to make them weapons – weapons that they’re incapable of seeing the defects in?
 It creates the impression that ogres are a warrior race, rather than a predatory one. They take, and force others to make, weapons for them because they have no other choice. Their enemies are everywhere so they have to fight or else be slaughtered entirely.
 We now have the alignment of the world. Law, Order, Evil, and Destruction.
 This implies that someone who lies enough can tell good whenever they meet it. This ability isn’t a spell so much as it is an innate power intrinsic to the character themself. A fascinating take on the power and one that I rather like.
 Due to the popularity of Warduke I’ll be visiting the character again later in a post attempting to unravel his unique history and story.
 I will not be looking at the bendable figures or the miniature figures. Instead I will be focusing on only the LJN action toys in building up our understanding of the world as it existed at the time.
Gray, Michael L. Dungeons & Dragons Quest for the Heartstone, TSR, Inc. USA, 1984. pg 2