Tuesday, February 9, 2021

The Choice of Millions

My comics reading as a kid was sporadic at best – some Doctor Strange, the early run of Marvel's Star Wars, and The Micronauts – so I largely missed out on the advertisements TSR placed in them during the early to mid-1980s, like the one above. What's interesting to me is that, unless I am mistaken, it only Dungeons & Dragons and Star Frontiers (and perhaps the Marvel Super Heroes game?) that ever received comics ads. So far as I know, there weren't any comic ads for, say, Top Secret or Gamma World, but it's quite possible I missed them, since, as I said, I wasn't a huge comics reader at the time. If that's true, I wonder why that is. Was it that TSR didn't think those other RPGs had mass appeal or was it simply that they didn't think they'd appeal to the average comics reader? Regardless of the answer, these advertisements are delightful artifacts from a simpler time in the hobby and I love them.


  1. Top Secret didn't get a revamp until 1987, with Top Secret/SI. I think then we saw some ads for that game, but in 1983 Top Secret wasn't being supported with new product.

    Gamma World 2nd Ed came out in 1983, but perhaps it wasn't seen as a growing game. I believe the comics budget was aimed at expanding the audience to non-players, and the genres that got the most interest were Fantasy (D&D) and SF. Gamma world is post-apocalyptic wasteland, which limits its appeal.

    For the latter, perhaps too there was concern about advertising a game that was taking place in the aftermath of a nuclear war. 1983 is the year "The Day After" came out, after all, I don't think the subject matter of nuclear war aftermath might have been a good fit for comic advertisements.

  2. Star Frontiers had an advertising budget, as it was the thought to be the next big thing. Here's the TV ad for the time - https://youtu.be/cv8FwwSBtnE. It is a bad copy, but note that it used the prototype box cover.

    Marvel, D&D, and Indiana Jones got a similar push in '84 in a single commercial - https://youtu.be/KBqiHm6ivik. The tendency was to make commercials, but then lack the funds to put them on TV.

    1. Thanks for sharing this. I had no idea.

    2. I'm pretty sure that's James Earl Jones voice on the 2nd one!

  3. AFAIK only D&D got a series of interior "story" ads, and the one here was the only Star Frontiers ad I recall seeing (and I was a huge comic reader in the 70s and 80s). Top Secret (in 87, as JRT said above) and Marvel Super Heroes and AD&D 2nd ed (or whatever you care to call it) all definitely got back cover ads, but they were just product shots and blurbs, not little mini-stories. Might have done ads for Buck Rogers XXVc as well, I'm hazy on that.

    Certainly didn't equal the longevity of volume of advertising that Hostess snack cakes got, that's for sure. :)

  4. Hmmm...looks like TSR found the money to pimp the re-released Dungeon board game on some Marvel back covers as well:


  5. Thanks to everyone for sharing their memories and knowledge of TSR ads from the time. My own recollections are limited, so it's good to have the gaps filled in by others.

  6. Coincidentally, during the COVID lockdown, I developed a niche interest in this topic - as there is a comic book store in my city that sells vintage comic books in generally poor condition 12 for $10. I started buying some from the 1970s just for the vintage Hostess ads featuring super heroes, and others from the 1980s featuring ads for RPGs.

    TSR seems to've had three phases of such ads in the 1980s, as best I can tell. The first phase was 1-page comic book style ads that tell the story of an adventuring party. The art for the 1st installment was by Jeff Dee. Subsequent installments were by Bill Willingham. (Eeven later versions were published in Marvel's deluxe magazine called "Epic Illustrated.")

    A 2nd pase of ads, circa 1982-1984, included at least 4 ads for Star Frontiers, at least 2 for Marvel Super Heroes and 1 for Indiana Jones. That's what I have anyway. (As an aside, in this era Victory games also ran ads in comic books for the James Bon 007 RPG. I have several of those as well.)

    A third phase, 1985-on, there were ads for D&D, AD&D, as well as Advanced Marvel Super Heroes.

    (As a further aside, later on, Palladium ran ads in comic books for Rifts and Heroes Unlimited.)