Thursday, December 25, 2014

Ye Aulde Tyme Sword and Sorcery Toys Part 2: More Old School Plastics & Playsets

The other day I was hunting around online for a dusty artifact from the lost world of my childhood and realized that my last December's post on Old School Sword and Sorcery Toys was actually woefully incomplete.  In my diggings I rediscovered a number of old toys from yesteryear, some of which I'd forgotten about, some of which I'd never known existed at all.  So here are some more Wizard and Warrior sets from ancient epochs for you to wax sentimental over during this holiday season.  Enjoy.  

As was the case in Part 1, none of the photos in this post were taken by me.  All were gleaned from one of the following blogs.  If you enjoy this sort of thing, you'll enjoy these blogs too, and you'll note that some of these have just appeared over in the "Other Stuff I Like" column...

An alternate box illustration for the Demons of Castlelon set by DFC.  I found this on 2 Warps to Neptune, where I saw that I wasn't the only one to notice the similarity between the Nagas in this set and the old Monster Manual Illustration for that creature.
The subject of Part 1 of this series was (Primarily) the company Dimensions For Children.  This small toy company invested heavily in manufacture of Sword and Sorcery playsets, all of which were of a high caliber, being very imaginatively conceived and well executed.  They must have had some success, because shortly after they released their Dragonriders of the Styx and other playsets, a host of other manufacturers also attempted to cash in on Dungeons and Dragons-themed playsets.  None of these imitators ever achieved the quality of DFC, but there were certainly some entertaining attempts. We'll start with my personal favorite:

Dragon Crest/Mysterious Castle

In grade school my friend John got this set, and was I ever jealous.  John is my best friend and an enthusiastic collector of fantasy miniatures and toys to this day.  Anyway, a company called Miner industries had evidently been impressed by DFC's exploitation of the rising enthusiasm for all things sword and sorcery and set out to make their own playset.  Like some other examples we'll examine in this post, it was more of a hasty exercise in kit-bashing rather than the organic and original sets put out by DFC, but for a kid in the third grade or so in the early eighties it was pretty epic, and set our tortured, over-active imaginations a-smoldering. 

Released first as Dragon Crest in 1981, (I think), the set sandwiched a cheap pasteboard hilltop and plastic castle between 2 armies, one of noble knights, one of 'fearsome fiends'.  As kids we were blown away by the beauty of the knights, who were in fact, re-casts of some very old MPC models, although I think some of them may have been Marx.  I don't know for sure.  I don't claim to be an authority on classic toys.

Some of the knights from Dragon Crest/Mysterious Castle.  Lovely figures.  The horse shown here is a mis-match, I think.  It belongs to an old west set, I believe made by Marx  The horses that came with this set had no saddles, instead they had separate plastic caparisons.

Though the knights looked legit, we could tell right away that there was something odd about the 'fiends'.  For starters, they looked more like old time movie monsters than dungeon dwellers.  For another thing, they were hopelessly, stupidly out of scale with the castle they were supposed to inhabit and the knights they were supposed to fight.  

That said, we adored them.  They were cast in lurid green glow-in-the-dark plastic and oozed old school movie monster charm, (or lack thereof.) and they consistently wreaked terrific havoc on the gallant knights attempting to storm their hoary domicile.  Of course, old school movie monster toys were exactly what they were.  Somebody at Miner had decided to kit bash them together with the knights to make a sort of quick, easy and cheap DFC pastiche set.  These figures actually have a great history that could make a blog post of its own, I'll just hit a couple of high points here.

They had actually been made decades earlier by MPC as 'pop tops' meaning that they had separate, pegged heads which you could swap around between the figures.  They were quite popular, not surprisingly (they're delightful figures) and were used and re-used over the years in a number of other toy sets such as...
A haunted house shooting gallery....

The Haunted Hulk!  Oh, my God, this is the greatest thing!  A pirate ship full of Movie Monsters!  I don't know why I love this so much, but I chortle with joy to think that such a toy could have been.

With the Sword and Sorcery boom, they were recycled once more, this time as 'Dungeon Demons' (see bottom left)

Nice shot of all the fiends together.  Dragon Crest/Mysterious Castle came with two full sets for a total of sixteen fiends, all cast in glow in the dark green.  The black figure in the back row was a hooded man with a dagger and a skull.  We called him 'The Murderer'.

In 1983 Miner Toys re-released Dragon Crest as 'Mysterious Castle"  This was the set John had.  All the knights in this version were molded in white and black instead of red and black, and a pasteboard dragon stick puppet was added to the cave at the base of the castle plateau.  The defending player could occasionally have him emerge to shovel a knight or two in his gaping maw.  There was also a nice selection of siege equipment.  Kit-bashed pastiche though it might have been, it was a great toy.  Well used to the idea of outnumbered heroes being besieged by hordes of darkness, John and I found the idea of outnumbered but powerful monsters at bay before a numerically superior force of crusading heroes to be rather refreshing. The figures, out of proportion to one another though they were, were very beautiful, it was great fun, and I'd love to have a copy of this set today.

Diener Greek Mythology Figures

I believe John and I were in the third grade when he showed up to school with a pocket full of these swell 54mm Greek Mythology figures.  They were molded in a rubbery, bouncy sort of resin by a company named Diener.  John claimed that they were erasers.  That may have been the case.  What was certainly true was that he had convinced his mother to buy them for him on the understanding that they were 'school supplies'.  School supplies or not, they were promptly drafted into our plastic armies and had to battle it out on the heights of Dragon Crest and along the banks of the River Styx along with everybody else.

Sword and Sorcery Playset by HG Toys

Around the same time that Miner was putting out Dragon Crest, HG toys came out with their own
sword and sorcery play set, titled, rather'Sword and Sorcery Playset'.  While

researching I read somewhere that HG had somehow actually manage to copyright the phrase 'Sword and Sorcery' and I guess they were determined to use it for all it was worth.  So here it is, Sword and Sorcery.  I never knew if this set's existence until I stumbled on it while looking for "Mysterious Castle' so I can't give a really fair appraisal of it, it was never 'Kid Tested' by me.  However, it doesn't strike me as being all that great.

There were apparently three versions of the set, depending on how much parents were willing to invest.  The Medium set is shown above.  Below is the Deluxe version.  Pretty impressive scale.

And the budget version.

Perhaps I'm looking at it with the cynical eyes of a crotchety old bastard, but this set doesn't cast a spell like the DFC sets, or even Mysterious Castle.  It promises sword and sorcery, but while swords clearly abound, there is little sorcery in evidence.  

The sole concessions to the fantastical are a wizard figure and a pretty uninspired dragon.  The giant mountain fortress in the deluxe set is pretty impressive in size, but it is cardboard after all and its not going to keep well.  A couple of nights in the bottom of the closet and it would have been crushed.

The figures are fairly nondescript.  You have a 'knight' army and a 'viking' army of barbarian types.  Not bad figures, exactly, but also not very dynamic or imaginative.  No poetry.

One nice thing about these sets was the impressive availability of siege equipment.  You got catapults, ballistae, ladders and mantlets in plenty, but over all, I give Sword and Sorcery a thumbs down.  

Maybe I'm just a snob.

But anyway, having seized sole right to sell the phrase 'Sword and Sorcery', HG toys went on to produce a bunch more stuff in similar vein.  Among said stuff were these sweet ensembles of barbarian combat accessories. 
The set on the right was given to me by my grandmother the same Christmas I got my Dragonriders of the Styx set from Santa.  My Grandmother had become accustomed to seeing me crashing through yard and garden holding hordes of imaginary enemies at bay with a stick, and so decided to purchase me a set of proper combat gear.  I wore it into battle until it all fell to bits.  She died a couple of years back.  Love you grandma.  Somewhere there is an old photo my Mom took of me playing with my Dragon riders while wearing all this stuff.  My wife would love to get hold of it I'm sure.  I'm not sure I'll let that happen just yet.

Tower of Terror by Toyco

But Hey!  I'm not done being a snob yet.  I was speaking of Pastiche earlier.  Let's come back round to that.  Ahem.  Speaking of pastiche, there was also the Tower of Terror set by Toyco, which was about as carbon a copy of Dragonriders of the Styx as it might be possible to contrive without actually violating copyright law.  Now true, the set was more interesting than Sword and Sorcery, but it only got that way by ripping off DFC's ideas.

The Dragonriders, the blue knights, the winged demons are all pretty much straight knock offs of DFC figures.  The yellow 'bugbears' are kind of fun, and the dragon is more dynamic than the Sword and Sorcery Dragon, but still can't compare with DFC's lovely reptilian menace.  I don't mind the wizard, you could maybe pass him off as a gnome illusionist...but overall, this really won't do.

Warriors of the Galaxy by Marty Toy:

Having slogged through the crappy DFC rip-off sets we can start  getting back into the good stuff.  In 1983, a company called Marco Toys released this set.  Obviously, it owed something to Masters of the Universe, and it has a lot of that curious admixture of fantasy and sci fi elements which was peculiar to that franchise.  I never had this set and didn't know anybody who did have it, but I did have a bag of the monsters which I found for sale separately.  The whole set together looks like it was pretty swell, though.

You got an army of human space barbarian he-man human types, and a horde of humanoid monsters to fight them.  I especially liked the Space Skeleton and the Lizard Man.  All the figures were very original and really quite inspired and well executed for plastic toy figures.  

Shields and weapons, which ranged from spiked maces to futuristic space laser type weapons, some of which defied easy analysis, came separately so you could equip your force however you liked.  Little clips helped keep them in your figures' hands, but I found they sort of marred the visual effect and trimmed most of them off of mine.

A very nicely painted moonscape/hellscape play mat appears to have been provided along with some nice mesas with which to vary your terrain and a pair of vehicles which look cool enough to convert to a game of Rogue Trader or Pulp Heroes to nice effect.
 One perhaps not so great feature was a stunted "Castle Greyskull" type fortification which did not provide much in the way of tactical advantage, but which instead randomly emitted a variety of battle-related sound effects.  We could probably have done without that element.
All in all, though, a pretty solid toy.  We approve.

Castle of the 3 headed Dragon by Helm Toy
Late to the game came this very ambitious set.  Perhaps 1984 or 5.  It arrived just as I was beginning to move away from 'toys' and into 'miniatures' which could be passed off as being an 'adult hobby' instead of a kids' game. That didn't stop me though.  I aquired it and John and I played furiously with it, suddenly aware that time was short.  Pretty soon we'd have to grow up.

Great set, though!

A great tower a couple of feet high loomed over a very dark and gothic looking play mat.  Dragon parts stood savagely out from the cardboard masonry of the mighty, multi-leveled tower and below there was a gate from which the 'real' 3 headed dragon would emerge to counter-attack would be trespassers.  Although there was an element of the 'kit-bash' to it, (the besieging knights were all copies of the classic Britains knights, and the Dragon was a pretty blatant copy of the old DFC Dragon, but the demon defenders of the tower were all original and very nice, and some care went into the designof the tower and terrain.
Many horrendous room-to-room fights  rage through the various levels of my tower.  Though only cardboard, it was of pretty tuff stuff and had a lot of little clips and braces that kept the structure intact for a good long time.

The demons were nice designs.  My favorite was the one second from right, with the cow skull for a head.

Amoung the demons, though clearly of some separate faction, were these very strange green fellows, who could use this little dragonet for a mount.  It thought they looked vaguely vegetable in nature, so I called them the 'people of the pines'.  Don't recall where I had picked that up.

  The Britains Knights.  Nice, husky fellows.  One of the disadvantages of this set was that the figures were molded in an oddly brittle plastic.  It was not terribly flexible, snapped easily and stood up poorly to the elements.  Figures left outside for a few days began to lose their color and got very brittle.  There were some exceptions, however.  Two summers ago, my wife found one of the 'people of the pines' in our garden and added it to her little collection of my childhood soldiers, dinosaurs and animals.

A smaller-scale set.  I think this one was called the Demon Tower?

Well, that was a long post.  The Mouse is weary and shall retire.  Hope some of you enjoyed this little tour through Christmas past.  Merry Christmas to all and...good night.


  1. Whew!!! What a great post, Mouse!!! Beautiful toys! Wondrous sets! Especially the Warriors of The Galaxy one! Yeah! I want all of them! Right now! Or better yet, I want you to have all of them right now and post some action pics of all the sets put together, all set up on your Big Board for one glorious Tale from The Big Board!! Double yeah!! Whew, again. I think I'm going to go on ebay. Happy Christmas to you, Mouse! All the best in the New Year! Private W.

  2. Thanks, P.W.! Glad you liked it. Yeah it would be fun to get them all together for one giant, 5,000 pc fightin' men and monsters playset kinda thing. I've already got a lot of toys, though...Happy new year to you too!

  3. Thanks for posting this comprehensive list, it has helped me ID several figures. And also gave me a want list! I'd love to find/buy some of the yellow Bugbears from the Tower of Terror by Toyco