In the early 1980’s, my love of science-fiction took a radical turn into the realm of fantasy with my introduction to TSR’s Dungeons & Dragons. It was the result of me being uprooted as a child from perpetually sunny San Diego, California to seasonally-challenged Fredericksburg, Virginia. Parents for ya. Change is hard enough on any person, but it was especially so for this nine-year-old who had just wrapped his brain around Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Shogun Warriors, Micronauts, AND the radical sci-fi body horror of ALIEN. My play pattern was stablized; anything more was monopolizing precious pool time.
My West Coast-East Coast move was a crazy childhood change, but was soon rationalized when I met new friends and through them, my new role-playing passion. Dungeons & Dragons was a transcending experience for me – filling my imagination with fantastic monsters, characters, weapons, and locations. I knew every creature (and artist) in Gary Gynax’s original Monster Manual. The rules and cover art of the Dungeon Master’s Guide are forever emblazoned in my mind.
Strange enough, D&D was pre-destined in my life. Those plastic dinosaur figure packs I got back in the late ’70s? They contained D&D monsters like the Rust Monster and Bulette! D&D had already entered my life without me even knowing it…
All said, it was a stroll (with my parents in tow) at my local KB Toys where my D&D passion really took off. That’s where I discovered LJN’s amazing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons toy line. Already an awesome fighter/cleric class in the game, immersed in tombs like the Fiend Folio and Dieties and Demigods, and trying my hand as a Dungeon Master, these new playthings became my new hobby obsession. Who needed mini metal figures that you had to paint yourself when you could have the real deal as a fully painted action figure?
One of my first LJN D&D figure purchases (I was getting a weekly doing choirs around the house. God bless my parents), was Warduke. This bat-winged helmeted fighter FASCINATED ME, so much so that I have a tattoo of his incredible artwork on my leg as an adult.
My love of LJN’s Warduke quickly expanded to the cool monsters, some bendy, some large chunks of static plastic. It didn’t matter to me at the time, as long as my Monster Manual monsters were coming home as toys I could play with.
My favorites include LJN’s introduction of the “bendy monsters,” rubbery figures that could move with their internal wire armature, such as the Carrion Crawler, Raging Roper and Neo-Otyugh. This was TSR/LJN unafraid to dive deep with crazy creature selections.
To hammer this home for you, the Neo-Otyugh (according to the 4th Edition, August 1979 Monster Manual) was a “larger, more intelligent species of the Otyugh,” an “omnivorous scavenger, not at all hesitant about adding a bit of fresh meat to their diet of dung, offal, and carrion.” Yeah, completely normal for a mass market toy aimed at kids!
When it came to the static PVC monsters, the Umber Hulk was always a fave of mine. Beetle-like with its mandibles and freaky four-eyed head, the creature made for a chunky collectible, even if it didn’t live up to the amazing Monster Manual art of David C. Sutherland III.
I don’t pretend to be a LJN Advanced Dungeons & Dragons collectibles expert, nor did I own every figure in the toy line. A good majority of LJN’s figures didn’t connect with me aesthetically as a kid. However, my LJN D&D toy addiction was so strong at that time that I was buying figures despite how I felt about them (like the ho-hum Kelek the Wizard). The characters I truly connected with, such as Elkhorn the Dwarf and Peralay the Elf (Melf!) I re-collected as an adult on eBay – cheap – for nostalgic purposes. I even re-acquired Warduke after sadly losing my original. Despite being the slightly inferior “Battle-Matic” version (read: gimmicky sword-swinging back-switch action), Warduke still rules with his amazing D&D design.
I’m not someone that needs the Fortress of Fangs playset or legendary Tiamat deluxe figure (good luck!) to complete my collection (though I may spring for the Hooked Horror someday). I’m a Dungeons & Dragons fan that is content in my many adventuring memories and the few LJN figures I now own.
However, for those that missed out on this fantastic line, please hunt down your D&D favorites on eBay. With some patience, they can be found dirt cheap, including the hard-to-get Deadly Grell. They are all cool figures in their simple Dungeons & Dragons charm, they’re just not worth paying crazy prices for. Well, except Warduke. And the Neo-Otyugh. Happy hunting!
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