Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Retrospective: AD&D Action Scene Kits

When I was a kid, most boys I knew enjoyed model building. Even I did, though I was not, by any stretch of the imagination, particularly proficient at this hobby. Still, I remember walking down entire aisles of toy stores that were given over to plastic model kits of every kind imaginable. The vast majority of them were either military vehicles, especially those from World War II, or automobiles. There were airplanes, too, as well as rockets. There were also models of the space vessels from Star Trek and Star Wars. I remember being very fond of a model of the USS Enterprise that was released in the wake of 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The model had working lights and, for many years, mine hung from wires in my bedroom.

Around 1982, model manufacturer MPC produced a series of boxed "action scene kits" under license from TSR. These kits -- there were three of them, as I recall -- consisted of molded plastic terrain and a handful of plastic miniatures based on  Grenadier's official AD&D miniatures. The miniatures generally consisted of two halves that snapped together without the need for glue, though some of them required a bit of filing down before they worked properly. Once assembled, they could then be painted, though I don't think I ever got around to doing so. Painting miniatures, even plastic ones, has long been my downfall.

The set I owned was called "Dungeon Invaders" and depicted a raid on a dragon-inhabited dungeon by a party of adventurers. There were other monsters in addition to the dragon, but I can't for the life of me remember which ones they were. I think there were some skeletons and a carrion crawler, but I may well be mistaken. In principle, this was a model kit, intended for display no different than, say, a WW II battle scene, but I never used it that way. Instead, my friends and I take the molded terrain and used it as an adjunct to our cardboard dungeon tiles. For us, it became another way to help us visualize our dungeon adventures.

Truth be told, these action scene kits weren't very well made, either as models or as gaming miniatures, but we didn't care. For us, they were a comparatively cheap way to acquire a lot more minis to use in our sessions and the idea of three-dimensional terrain, even if it was only a single piece, excited us beyond all measure. It's funny how anti-miniatures a lot of old schoolers are these days and I share their belief that RPGs shouldn't require their use. But I also remember well that, when I entered the hobby, miniatures and dungeon tiles were a big part of its attraction to me. I doubt I am alone in that regard.


  1. Back in my day, we used rocks. And we had to share the dice.

  2. I'm with you in that minis and terrain were an exciting thing as a youngster - I'd hazard to say maybe a transitional piece from playing with toys. Anyway, I think you mean "Should'nt require" in the third to last sentence.

  3. These were fun sets, and also available from Sears and JC Penny catalogs BITD. The back of the ruin from Orc War could be connected up to the entrance of Dungeon Invaders. A third set "Dragon's Lair" hasn't been proven to exist yet, although rumors continue to float around about it with some regularity.

    Some more pics and info @ and


  4. I never used miniatures back when I played 2E, but I find for practical reasons that I really wish I had access to them during my current hangout games. Just making things like a marching order clear is much easier when using miniatures.

  5. Fletcher VredenburghOctober 24, 2012 at 10:27 PM

    I built some MPC WW II dioramas and they were great. I wish I had known about these back then

  6. Wow. I never even knew these existed. It's hard to remember how dependent we were on what local stores chose or chose not to stock.
    I definitely would have picked these up if I'd seen them as I also built models - and was desperate for anything remotely resembling gaming terrain.
    I'm rather surprised that my local hobby store - which tended to run around 98% models and 2% AD&D - never stocked these.

  7. I had a Masters of the Universe diorama, it came with He-Man, Man At Arms and some others. It had a vehicle or two and all the minis were meat to be set up on a plastic hill. Pretty cool. I really enjoyed the Revell Robotech factory dioramas. 4 in the series, they each had a background and a 'Mech.

  8. Wow. I'd completely forgotten about these until I saw the box art again in your post! I also agree about miniatures. They were a big part of my initial foray into D&D back in 1982.

  9. Oh wow! A friend had one of these and we played with it a lot. A keep and a bunch of dwarves if I remember correctly. And I think they were designed to be linked with other sets, but we never found any more in stores.

    Hey, isn't that a black dragon on the cover, but breathing fire?

  10. The dice where the d20 had 0-9 twice because there was no proper d10?

  11. Never saw these back in the day when I used to build models, but I do remember the huge aisles of assorted kits, especially around Christmas-time.

    We used miniatures as adjuncts to play, usually just for marching order and occasionally to ajudicate tricky combat manoeuvers. On reflection they did add to the level of immersion, players would often be very choosy about the appearance of the miniature they used. Even if most of the time it just sat there showing a position in the party marching order, it was a very personal token, a focus of identity for the player's character.

  12. And I walked to the community room that hosted games, through snow and rain. : )

  13. Looks like it to me.

  14. I had the Orc War set. A friend from my original gaming group and I walk 2 miles or so to the nearest Target store because we he needed to buy something for his mother for Christmas and when we found these sets in the toy department, I just had to own one. Sadly, like many things I owned in my youth, my younger brothers managed to lose or destroy most of the pieces from this set.

  15. I never saw any of these either. But it is an interesting historical indication about exactly how far the D&D "Brand" ranged during the heights of the fad. TSR had fingers in pretty much anything they could that might appeal to the target demographics.

    In the late-70's and 80's I almost always gamed with groups and under DMs that made use of minis and game mats. It always felt odd to me to play without them. It wasn't until my recent return to the gaming world and re-familiarization with all that is considered "Old School" to realize that we were in minority with that... so I get the desire for more figurines, models, and set dressing.

    Some of us would buy terrain parts and sets from model train stores. I've also seen mats of moss and plants dug up from peoples yards on the table. Lego walls were popular. I often raided my mom's jewelry boxes for any of her unused junk-jewelery that could be used as a giant treasure hoard (such as a dragon's sleeping mound). Anything to add flavor and atmosphere.

    Had I known about these sets, I'm sure we would have made use of them too.

  16. Never even knew that these things existed. And that's surprising to me... I was about as fanatically into AD&D as anyone could be, and looked everywhere I went for related material. But these? They somehow escaped my notice.

    Minis. In essence these were the reasons I actually got into the RPG hobby in the first place. Like many back in the mid 70's I was familiar w/ miniatures wargaming. But not in the way you probably imagine.

    I was young (grade school / jr. high) and was painting minis for a colleague of my mom's. He gave me a small box one day w/ half a dozen lizardmen in it (he and his group were delving into Chainmail at the time). I opened it up and my jaw dropped. I was hooked.

    The rest is history. BUT, funny thing is, our group didn't really play w/ miniatures until I got into university. So I came full circle.

  17. Many would argue that the 0-9x2 _is_ the proper d10

  18. (Doh...posted this comment on the wrong post last week!)

    As far as I can tell there were only 2 sets (dungeon invaders & the
    siege) -- the third, listed as the dragon's lair somewhere, was either a combined set of both or just a part of the dungeon set. I posted some more pics and link to pics of the figures for the curious/nostalgic at my blog a couple of years ago :

    FWIW at least on former Grenadier employee heard that TSR let MPC copy the minis without telling/asking Grenadier, and this was part of the communication breakdown that led to Grenadier & TSR parting ways and the AD&D license going in-house and then to Citadel.


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