Thursday, June 11, 2020

BECMI: Expert Level Accessories and the AD&D Toy Line

Last week I talked about the tie-ins with the 1983 D&D Basic Set.  Today I want to delve into a very specifics sort of tie-in relationship and one that gave us very mixed results.
I am talking of course about the Advanced Dungeons & Dragon toy line and it's, let's just say awkward, tie-in with the BECMI version of D&D.


Today gamers of a certain age look back rather fondly at the AD&D toy line.  Back then though, at least in my circles of 1983, we kinda looked down on them.  Sure we thought they were fine for a younger sibling, but we were Real RoleplayersTM and we didn't need that!  In fact, it was much the same way the same group of people now look down on D&D5 players.  Well, it was dumb then and dumb now.  But I digress.

If you follow me on social media I do a feature called "The Other Side Rewind" where I usually post a link to an older blog post early in the morning. Today's was a look back at my review of the Shady Dragon Inn, AC1.

The Shady Dragon Inn features the Inn and tons of writeups that can be used as ready-made PCs or as NPCs.  It is, as I described it, the "Rogues Gallery" of D&D.  It also has stats for a number of the LJN Toys AD&D line Heroes and Villians.  Of course in BECMI D&D stats format. Everyone from Strongheart to Kelek to Warduke even my beloved Skylla is here.  You can read my full review of it here.

But that is not the only place they appear.


Another product designed to work with the AD&D toy line and feature what are arguably the first set of D&D iconic characters is the Expert level adventure, XL-1 Quest for the Heartstone.
XL in this case is not "extra-large" but rather "Exert Licensed."

It features a kingdom, Ghyr, not found on any of the maps in the Expert set, and dozens of characters from the toy line.  It also introduces monsters from the toy line to the BECMI rules for the first time.  We get Hook Horrors, Dragonne, and the raging Roper!



Let's not delude ourselves here.  XL-1 Quest of the Heartstone is not a good adventure.

There is one reason to get this and that is because of the tie-in with the D&D toy line.  Even the author of the adventure Michael L. Gray has said this.

Correction, there is another reason.  The maps for this adventure are rather nice featuring the same isomorphic maps we see in Ravenloft.

The Heartstone itself is something of an iconic on it's own.  We know from the Shady Dragon Inn supplement that Strongheart and Warduke used to be friends. But when exposed to the Heartstone Strongheart became a paragon of good and Warduke one of evil.   Both are featured fighting side by side on the cover of the module.  It also features in Skylla's backstory. She was a student of Ringlerun until she was exposed to the Heartstone and sought out the dark sides of magic. 
Given what the Heartstone does would it be heretical to suggest that Strongheart and Warduke are actually the same person! Just split into "Good" and "Evil" halve by the Heartstone?  Their stats don't match though.
What about Skylla and Charmay? The same picture is often used for them both.  Both were students of Ringlerun.  Here is an awful thought.  Skylla touched the Heartstone was split into good and evil.  Evil Skylla went on her way but good Skylla was taken by Ringlerun and had her memories changed and she became "Charmay."
This is why they often look alike and why I have never seen them together in any one product.  Hmm. Something to consider for another time.

One of the biggest issues I see with this is the seeming hamfisted way the toy line was added.
The toy line was marketed as "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" the stats and tie-ins are all for D&D BECMI lines and the Expert in particular.  I hate to speculate but was this part of the same split of D&D/AD&D going back to the Arneson/Gygax split?  My understanding was that if it was "D&D" then Dave Arneson got a bit of cash, but not so for AD&D.  Again. I hate to speculate.

The book art is still Charmay!

But. It does create an interesting problem.  There are many more classes in AD&D and some of the characters belong to those classes. Strongheart is a Paladin, Peralay (formerly Melf) is multiclassed (ok this one is easy to fix), Hawkler is a Ranger, Zarak is an assassin.

For the Shady Dragon and Quest of the Heartstone they had to be converted to the nearest D&D class.

Looking at modern iterations of the game, specifically D&D 3.0 and Pathfinder, but also other media tie-ins with the characters of the Forgotten Realms, it seems like there was a need, or at least a want,  for some iconic characters.  Hell, I have spilled a lot of digital ink on Skylla alone.   I wonder why more wasn't done.  I guess the easy answer is that TSR just didn't think about it at the time, but I find that is an unsatisfactory answer.  Reading any anecdotes from the time Gary was eager to get the D&D band into every home. Maybe not always the D&D game, but certainly the brand.

Hard to blame him really.  D&D was popular then and only now are the ideas he had being fully realized.  It's easy to see why.  The people in charge of D&D (and pretty much every other successful game company) now were the players back then.  They wanted to know more about the exploits of Strongheart, the evils of Kelek and whatever dastardly deed Warduke was up too.

The characters would appear again and this time in a better adventure.
Module X10 Red Arrow, Black Shield also features these iconic characters and it is also the closest thing we got to a meta-plot in 80s D&D.  It is a follow-up to the Desert Nomad series of X4/X5 and it also uses the War Machine massive battle rules from the Companion Set (more on that next week) AND it also uses the AD&D BattleSystem.  There is so much going on that this adventure really deserves it's own post.  I had hoped that the Print on Demand version would be here by now, but everything is slow.

Do the LJN/AD&D toys exist in the canon D&D world of Mystara?  I suppose you can say yes. The likes of Warduke, Skylla, Ringelrun, Strongheart, Kelek, and Charmay easily join the ranks of the iconic D&D characters.

Links

3 comments:

JB said...

I never had the Shady Dragon Inn or Quest for the Heartstone as a kid; by the time they were published ('84ish) we were already playing AD&D. I owned some of the toys (Christmas gifts I believe) but they were stuffed in a closet.

These days, I've had a chance to read through both these products. I think it's quite interesting how SDI handles the conversion of "advanced" characters (a half-orc assassin!). Tie-in to the toy line or not, converting ropers, hook horrors, and dragonnes to D&D (previously they'd only appeared in the AD&D MM and FF) is a "good thing," in my opinion. I'd be happy to throw them into a Basic game...if I were running one today.

The subplot connecting Warduke and Strongheart is really too cutesy-poo for my taste. I always saw them as rivals, not former "brothers-in-arms." Ugh. That is Disneyesque fantasy of the most sugary sweet sort.

Cross Planes said...

I didn't know there was a Tiamat toy. I'm sure I watched the D&D cartoon before getting the toys, but I"m not completely sure.

I loved those toys.

Mike Bridges said...

Love these types of posts! I had several of these figures and I also didn't know Tiamat was a thing. Some were bad looking yes, but the troll, hook horror and umber hulk were definitely bad ass. Amazingly I didn't know about Shady Dragon Inn till way later in life, now it's one of my favorite finds. It's the "Rogues Gallery" of BECMI.

Good post!

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