Well, this is interestingly-timed, for reasons I’ll get into in a moment.
On RetroBlasting’s YouTube channel, they’ve just added Part 2 of their retrospective on Dungeons & Dragons — specifically, the cartoon by Marvel Productions and the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons toy line by LJN, both based on the TSR role playing games of the same name. Check it out:
The timing of this is interesting because they go into detail about the line’s main playset, the Fortress of Fangs. This is one I’ve wanted since the start of the 90’s, before I even knew what it was. I just saw it sitting in a Salvation Army Thrift Store window for five bucks — five bucks neither I nor my parents could afford at the time. I found a way to get the money, but it was long gone before I could ever purchase it, and no more were ever there when I would check back.
For years, I wondered what this marvelous playset I was unfamiliar with had come from. One day, years later, I did a little asking about it on The Allspark‘s forums, and after a misdirection with Mighty Max‘s Dragon Island, I soon had my answer.
So why did I want this particular playset so much? Especially as I’d had no familiarity with it or the property, years before I’d ever roll my first 20-sider?
Think back to my recent Super Mario Bros. 3 Happy Meal story, and how getting anything resembling a decent action figure setup going was basically akin to scrapping together whatever I could?
This, my friends, was to be my Valley of Bowser.
Okay, I’ll grant you that it doesn’t look much like Bowser — it’s not even the same color — but this is where my imagination went to work. The big open maw, the giant teeth, the general dragon-ish look? It was close enough. In fact, I dare say that if you were to squint, it could even pass as a hybrid of his more famous current design and that of The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!‘s version of King Koopa — whose open-mawed castle was a similar color. Throw in the “what even is that?!” design of the castle in
Plus, after lines such as Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, you kind of get used to your toys not really resembling other versions quite so much.
Even without a Bowser figure to go with it, it would still make a pretty fierce place for my Goombas and Koopa Paratroopas to hang out and for Mario to go through in order to rescue the princess, halt some nefarious deed, or even find some kind of treasure. Almost all of the features listed were workable towards that purpose — maybe not the “flying evil creature throne,” but a moving wall of spikes? Mario has those. Secret trap door? Sure! Catapult platform? Mario jumps, doesn’t he? Hidden treasure slide? Absolutely! Falling hatchet? Um, maybe not, but a hidden pull-out ladder? Why not? And the weapons rack? Okay, toss that one in with the hatchet and creature throne, I guess.
Still, five out of eight isn’t bad. Plus, there was a river of lava represented by a sticker, so that’s more like six out of nine. Sounds like a winning number to me!
So with all of that said, I hope my longtime obsession with this thing is a little clearer that it might have been when you started reading this. While the toy situation for Mario has gotten so much better than when I was a kid and I’d admittedly not be playing with it in the same way as I would have then, I’d still love to get my hands on one to display my current figures — but perhaps after customizing it a bit first. As a kid, it was my imagination that shaped it into what I wanted it to be, but as an adult?
Let’s just say I have bigger, more custom-made plans now.
David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you’re interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.