Tuesday, September 29, 2020

The Horror in Clay

With apologies to H.P. Lovecraft, I give you an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons DAS modeling kit – one of (I think) two released in 1982. DAS, for those of you unfamiliar with it, is a synthetic, mineral-based substance that is not, in the strict sense, clay. Invented by Dario Scala (and whose initials form its name) in the early 1960s, its most important feature is that, unlike real clay, it does not need to be baked in order to harden. Most art supply stores sell it even today.

This kit featured molds for both a goblin and a dragon. The goblin bears a little resemblance to Dave Trampier's illustration from the Monster Manual, while the dragon seems rather generic to my eyes, though it's possible that it too is based on an illustration. Regardless, the end results are rather crude, as befits a product geared toward 6–12 year-olds. 

The underside of the box looked like this:
In addition to instructions on how to use the materials, there are also three cut-out figures – a troll, a dwarf, and a centaur – all based on artwork from the Monster Manual, one by Trampier and two by Dave Sutherland. I find the re-use of artwork from actual AD&D products to be one of the most fascinating things about some of these spin-off products. 

Like the infamous woodburning set, one has to wonder about the logic behind this license. 1982 is right at the start of a period when TSR had begun to expand its reach beyond the narrow confines of games publishing. Given D&D's faddish success at the time – and the huge profits it generated – I don't think it was at all unreasonable for the company to consider new ways to capitalize on that success. What I question are TSR's particular choices, few of which, I suspect, paid great dividends and some of which undoubtedly contributed to the company's dire financial situation in late 1984. 

Most of these oddball licensed products I've been posting about were completely unknown to me at the time. I don't know if that's because they weren't widely distributed or if I simply failed to notice them. Lately, I've been actively looking into them and it's amazing to discover how many there were. Some of them are pretty bizarre and remind me of certain toys from my early childhood that were Star Trek-branded and yet had absolutely nothing to do with Gene Roddenberry's sci-fi program. However much I may disdain some of the efforts at exploiting the D&D brand by its current rights holders, there at least seems to be an effort to connect it, at least a little bit, to its source. That's something, I guess.


  1. Actually there are two pictures by Sutherland (the troll and dwarf) and one by Trampier (the centaur).

    As for the licensing deals, I'm not sure that they were so bad for TSR, since TSR got the licensing fee regardless of how the products sold.

    1. Thanks for the correction. I'll update the post accordingly.