Wednesday, October 14, 2020

More than Just Modules

In light of my posts about the sometimes-bizarre licensing of the Dungeons & Dragons name, this two-page spread from issue #14 of Polyhedron (October 1983) caught my eye. It's a short article written by two people whose names I don't ever recall seeing before, Heidi Kilpin and Andy Levison, both of whom apparently worked in the Licensing Department of TSR Hobbies. The article lists all the products licensed by TSR up to that point.

Most of the products in the list were known to me already, even if I haven't been able to find images of them. There are few I've never heard of, like the D&D Lite Brite set or Shrinky Dinks, but I'm far from surprised they existed. The article also includes an entire page of photos of these licensed products.

I've said in other posts on this topic that the period between 1982 and 1984 is a fascinating one if you're exploring the history of TSR as a company. Depending on one's point of view, it's either when Dungeons & Dragons began to penetrate mainstream popular culture or when TSR started to lose the plot when it came to their product lines – or both! For myself, I was only dimly aware of most of these licensed products, so they had less impact on my perception of what D&D was than, for example, the Mentzer boxed sets. Yet, as I come into contact with more gamers younger than myself (even by just a few years), it's clear that these products did succeed in introducing children to the hobby and with lasting consequences. However woeful I find this stuff, it might well have served a purpose.


  1. I'm not really sure why all these ancillary products are distasteful to some. It's like complaining about Marvel/DC Comics, Star Wars, Sport Teams, etc., having merchandise unrelated to the primary product.

    1. I can only speak for myself. It's not solely that there are ancillary products – though I do have some issues with turning one's hobby into a lifestyle – it's more that these particular ancillary products are somewhat silly and badly done.

  2. My brother and I had some of the action figures and thought they were pretty cool. I actually stole some ideas from the little comics that came with some of them, specifically the PCs having homes or Roman-style apartments to call home between adventures, rather than just living in inns all the time.

    The MPC "Action Scenes" that appeared in the Sears catalogue really intrigued me, but looking at them now, I have no idea how you'd use something like that, other than possibly building dioramas? I had friends who were really into that when I was a kid.

    The Intellivision games were pretty good as I recall.

    The woodburning set was an odd mix, but hey, woodburning tool and learning the techniques was pretty neat. I haven't touched a woodburner in almost 30 years, so I can't say it stuck with me, though.

  3. I'd be curious to see a poll of the kind of things people bought back in the day. I don't think any of the non-game stuff appealed to me.

  4. My knowledge of D&D began with the Saturday morning cartoon. I vaguely remember stickers being a very popular product with kids at my elementary school in the early to mid 80's. I would have been terribly excited to have a Hank the Ranger puffy sticker to put on my Trapper Keeper! The AD&D beach towel is an odd one. How many D&D players were going to the beach?

  5. I played and enjoyed the Intellivision videogames years before I actually played table top D&D.