Monday, December 2, 2013

Ye Aulde Tyme Sword and Sorcery Toys

This is what happens when an old, sad bastard sits around the house all day and night with two broken arms and some booze.  He drifts back to those "sunny slopes of long ago."  Yeah.  The other day Springinsfeld posted an interesting bit about old 80's plastic toys that  bear a suspicious resemblance to a lot of the classic AD&D minis we know and love and that sort of put a bug in my head.  Today I spent a good amount of time researching some D&D-esque toys I loved in my boyhood, and here I share what I've re-discovered.

Before we go any further, let me say that none of these photos are mine, most of them are taken from two very cool web pages:  Little Weirdos, and Virtual Toy Chest.  They are worth checking out, if you like this kind of thing.

In the very late 70's and very early 80's an obscure toy company called Dimensions for Children made some some very lovely toy playsets.  They had an American frontier set called Fort Courage, and a Battle of Anzio set, but what they really put their hearts and money into was developing a series of kids' playsets with a sword and sorcery theme, done in the good old Marx Toys style.  They succeeded admirably, if you ask me.  Clearly DFC was inspired by the burgeoning Dungeons and Dragons movement, but their toys realized a unique and delightful vision of the Sword and Sorcery genre, and I still remember with electric clarity opening my Dragonriders of the Styx set on Christmas morning.

There were 5 DFC Fantasy playsets that I know of.  If anyone knows of one I've missed, please let me know.  I'd still like to collect the whole bunch.  Someday.

#1:  The Fires of Shandarr:  My buddy Pete got this one from Kmart when we were in 4th grade.  This was the first I'd heard of DFC, and damn was I jealous of this new country which Pete had discovered.  I was still excited about the pack of Andrew Chernak Grenadier Goblins I'd gotten for my birthday, but here Pete had a damn D&D wargame in a box!  It's amazing the memories that stick with you.  I vividly recall a weekend at Pete's house spent watching his video dub of Excalibur on an interminable loop and wargaming the Shandarr campaign endlessly around his room; bloody last stands around the forest of the legs of Pete's desk, stirring final assaults on the bureau plateau!  And the whole concept is so great for a kids' game!  The fires of Shandarr: What a title!  And look at all the stuff you got:

Knights, men at arms, Wizards good and vile!

Devils, Demons, a dragon and..."lava monsters" that bear an uncanny resemblance to the Monster Manual illustration for the Shambling Mound... is the Grenadier official Shambling Mound...the resemblance is not as obvious here as it is in the Monster Manual Illustration...

The terrain cardboard punch-outs for the Shandarr Volcano and Castle gate...wouldn't look out of place on an Oldhammer table!

Pete, in his fighting reconnaissance of Kmart, had claimed that he'd gotten the last of the Fires of Shandarr sets, but that there was still a set there called "Forest of Doom" that featured evil trees instead of lava monsters.  Naturally this led to my eagerly and unceasingly inquiring of my mother when it would be necessary for us to go to Kmart again. Alas, it was a long time before it was deemed necessary, and when I did at last venture into the Kmart toy aisle, there were no DFC playsets of any sort in evidence! Verdamnt!!  Foiled!!  Months passed, and I began to grow cynical. I began to think that Pete had made the whole damned thing up, and that there had never been a thing so wonderful and mysterious as a "Forest of Doom" playset.  Many years would pass before the internet provided the evidence necessary to at last vindicate poor Pete.

#2: The Forest of Doom:
Now how cool is this?  You get a lot of the same stuff you got in Fires of Shandarr, including the same beautiful dragon, though in a different color, but you get a new tactical map, and these wacky cardboard killer trees that can apparently be used as terrain or as miniatures, depending on your needs.  Mom!  How could you have failed me by not taking me to Kmart sooner?  Arrgh!  The passage of years does not ease bitterness of our regret.
The Forest of Doom Cardboard Tree bits.  Mother Earth loves you.  Just kidding, she actually hates you and wants to tear you to pieces!  Survive if you can!  Ha!  Awesome.
The whole set.  Going price back in '84 was probably about $5.99...

Now there were other sets out there that I never found out about until years later.  Let me know if you found these in your local  toy store:

#3: Dungeons of Castleton:  Yeah.  Tell me you couldn't make one hell of an entertaining wargame out of this one if you had it today.

Apparently there was one hell of a Naga infestation in Castleton.  Considerably worse than that whole Lambton Wyrm episode...
The Castleton 'Tactical Map'.  Now, really, this is just SPACE HULK/GENESTEALER waiting to happen, except that somehow, it's even better, in some ways.  And way less expensive.  Note the "Watcher in the Water" at the bottom right hand corner of the map.  These people LOVED the toys that they were making.
 Back of the Dungeons of Castleton box...

Close up of the Naga minis as they appeared (foreground) in the Castleton boxed set and some of the somehow way more creepy 'faceless' versions that appeared later in bagged sets. Tell me there isn't a remarkable resemblance between the mini and the D&D illustration for the Naga...

#4:  The Tower of the Night:  Possibly the most atmospheric of the DFC fantasy playsets and also the one most difficult to find information on.

In this set, the same gang of Valiant knights, wizards and men-at-arms attempt to storm an evil wizard's tower. The tower is defended by, amoung other things, twelve Orcs, some of which are shown here...
 Standing here, alongside numerous other DLC minis, are the Tower of the Night Orcs, (in purple).  Drag out your old, battered copy of The Monster Manual.  Notice how faithfully, from the boar-faces to the weapons, to the round-topped, flat-bottomed shields, these Orcs are facsimiles of the Monster Manual Orcs.  And yet, you don't give a damn, because DFC are obviously doing something really cool, here.

And finally...the piece de resistance...


Now this was really pretty amazing.  I assume that this thing cost about $20.00.  For that, you got the biggest tactical map ever, including a lake, a hedgerow maze with treasure at the middle, and a moated stronghold for your castle.  You got a plastic volcano to put in the lake which your monstrous horde could erupt from like the very tide of the apocalypse.  And you got a plastic fortress where your good guys could try to hold out, probably to no avail.

The top of the volcano came off to reveal a chamber with a staircase going down to who knows where.  The castle shown here was more sophisticated than the one which came with my set.  This one has a drawbridge and interior rooms.  I just got the four outer walls, and the castle fell apart all the time.  Still, I probably got more hours of fun out of this single, ridiculously simple toy than anything up to the age of...well...never mind.

The gargoyles.  Note one of the swordsmen has skinny legs and the other has satyr legs.  The satyr legs were always my elites.  Very hard and sinister fellows.
The giants and ogres...the really hard core.  They would always hang back and wait until the gargoyles had exhausted themselves...then go in for the kill.
These giants are really very beautiful figures.  Somewhere I still have some of them painted and based on 40mm GW bases.  During lean times they made fine ogres when paying $13.99 for metal Games Workshop Ogres was just out of the question.

A layout of someone's DROTS set, although this set seems to have more of some parts and less of others than it should...
The horde boils out of the volcano and flounders through the dark waters of the lake toward some hellish victory...
The Dragonrider figure.  I could never figure out if these were supposed to be good guys or bad guys.  What I have figured out, beyond any doubt, is that they were shameless rip-offs of a certain figure Grenadier had produced at around the same soon as I find a decent photo of some of those minis, I will post them back here...

So...that's it for Dimensions For Children. A year or so later, as I remember, I came across something else in the neglected overflow section of the toy aisle:  a pair of little plastic castle towers in each of which lived four suspiciously familiar looking monsters...

I had both of these little sets for awhile.  They were called 'Dragons and Monsters" ,and were tremendously cheap, as I remember...

The one on the left was called 'Skull Turret'.  The inhabitants of Skull Turret were the Lizard man, the Wyvern Dragon, the Troll with the outstreached arms, and the Djinn.

The Djinn bears more than a passing resemblance to the old Heritage mini of the same name...
While the Lizard man is the spitting image of the Lizard man from Grenadier's Horrors of the Marsh boxed set...

I've never seen the Cyclops, the reptilian Dragon, or the Griffon-man, though they may have been produced by fantasy mini manufacturers at one point or another.

What I am certain of is that I have seen the orange troll and the Ogre type with club and whip cast in metal and for sale on ebay maybe once or twice down through the years.  I seem to remember the Orange fellow was sold as "Grenadier Marsh Troll", though I can't swear to it.  If anybody knows which minis they were, I'd be interested to learn more about them.

So.  Early 80's toy companies sometimes helped themselves to AD&D concepts and even stole their castings.  Is this really significant or of any real interest to anyone?  I don't know.  Hope you found this somewhat amusing.  At least it kept me occupied for a few hours.


  1. I've definitely seen the orange troll somewhere. The Ogre type with club and whip is a citadel troll:

    1. Ah! Thanks, Steve! Yes the Citadel troll looks to have been the inspiration for the Ogre type...

  2. What fantastic toys, I've never seen any of this before. I spent all my pocket money on Heroquest and GW stuff in the 80's so I wasn't hard done by but I would have loved a set like these growing up.

    1. Yep, they were pretty fantastic, but they weren't around very long...

  3. Nice post. These were some of my favorites as a kid. All lost now to the whims of time and yard sales.

    Though I've been told little red demons have emerged now and again when the vegetable garden is over watered.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it Tartar Sauce! There are many of them still buried in our garden, too. Thirty years after their interment the odd one occasionally surfaces, sort of like one of the bog people. My wife enjoys finding and collecting them.

  4. Fascinating post. I had never heard of these games before...pity I missed them at the time.

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  6. The dragonriders were good guys, look at the Dragonriders of the Styx box art where one is fighting one of the the Titan/Giant/Viking villains. Which color wizards were evil was debatable, the blue seem good, but not sure about the grey or red. The box text for Dungeons of Castlelon mentions that good and evil wizards are leading both armies. IIRC that set came with both blue and grey wizards.
    The faceless naga and also faceless Orcs were a result of TSR suing the toy makers. This is a bit ironic as some AD&D monsters were copied from odd plastic toy monsters without permission.
    Some later DFC (or Multi-Toy) fantasy sets included cavemen from the prehistoric sets. What part they played is anyone's guess.

  7. I love this thanks. I had some of these, they're the coolest

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