D&D/TSR Ads (1979, 1980)

D&D Ad 1979

D&D Ad 1980

TSR Ad 1980-2

TSR Ad 1980

The first three ads are from ’79 and ’80 issues of Model Retailer, a trade magazine for toy/hobby shop owners. The profit formula rings true enough. D&D displays and ads were mercilessly ubiquitous, the “full product line” would fill up the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and let’s not forget that the products themselves were pricey. I could get, what, 20 comics for the price of one module?

The last ad is from Toy & Hobby World, 1980. I’m not sure what’s going on at the top of the mountain. Is the dragon planting a sickle, and rocks are shooting off? Shouldn’t he/she be planting the flag? I feel sorry for “The Old Standby Game” and “Games For One Person Only,” but it’s kind of true that D&D rendered them unplayable.

I’m still intrigued by this ad (mentioned in a previous post), also from ’80.

D&D ad 1980

My take is that the kids in the background are chatting about the Bee Gees or something equally awful (i.e. school), and aloof suspender guy is like, this is lame, I’m outta here, and I’m taking my totally awesome Basic Set with me. The problem is that he needs those other kids. You couldn’t play the game by yourself, as TSR proudly advertised.

The socially awkward, introspective loners were TSR’s bread and butter, but awkward loners, by definition, tend not to “hang around” with other people. So the company had to promote the social interactivity requirement (the cool kids had tons of friends) while also playing to the geeks.

My friends and I played the game as geography and rulebook availability allowed, but only two or three of us were really into it. Most of my time with D&D—and it was a good timewas spent rolling up characters, drawing dungeons, memorizing the rules, and crafting adventures that would never be played.

(Images via Alexander1968/Flickr and eBay)

9 Responses to “D&D/TSR Ads (1979, 1980)”


  1. 1 Anon January 24, 2013 at 7:03 pm

    And don’t forget jumping into the middle of adventures for 5 minutes as dungeon master so you could kill off some characters and be on your merry way. Alas, dead character sheets were ultimately sacrificed to the mama cat, who enjoyed shredding the shit out of them.

  2. 2 2W2N January 24, 2013 at 7:07 pm

    I don’t know what you’re talking about, sir.

  3. 3 leftylimbo January 25, 2013 at 12:38 am

    Man. All your posts about D&D actually have me more intrigued about that game now way more than I would have been back in 1980.

    That last panel with the dragon is classic. What a sign of the times. All the time someone spent to illustrate that…and who knows whatever became of the original art. It might not contain the level of intensity as one of those Mack Bolan/Able Team illos, but still, that was someone’s blood, sweat and tears.

  4. 4 2W2N January 25, 2013 at 6:12 pm

    We need to get a game going one of these days, Lefty…

    It’s actually a smart ad. I guess the sickle is a climbing axe, and the dragon is pulling himself up the very last section of mountain. In other words, TSR is so very nearly at the top in the ’80s.

    The flag flapping in the breeze of the higher reaches is a nice touch.

  5. 5 Zenopus Archives September 13, 2013 at 2:29 am

    In the “Who Needs to Hang Around”, the kids in the background are playing D&D. There’s a copy of B2 Keep on the Borderlands standing up in front of the kid to the left. I have a scan of a full-color version of this ad. Weirdly, it’s slightly different, with the blond kid in the background on the left instead of the right. He may be the same one in the overalls. You can see a tiny version of this ad via the link below. I have a larger scan from somewhere if you want it.

    Who Needs to Hang Around?

  6. 7 Nick Monitto December 8, 2013 at 12:53 am

    @2W2N “What the hell does it mean?”

    If you’re referring to the main quote vs. the picture, it doesn’t necessarily have to be contradictory. It sounds to me as though you’re reading it like:

    “Who needs to hang around (with these kids)? I’ve got D&D…”

    It could also be interpreted as:

    “Who needs to (just do nothing in some unpictured activity which is considered) hang around? I’ve got D&D (and am playing it with my friends in this kitchen)…”

  7. 8 Shane Hall February 15, 2014 at 3:47 pm

    I believe this was a push-back to the “D&D will make you worship satan” stuff that was going around. The idea being “your kids won’t hang around with the wrong crowd” vs. “your kid won’t have the superpowers that only the prince of darkness can bestow.”

    I for one, want the best for my kids. So while I “hang around” I want my kids to consort with the devil. Imagine those powers. JUST IMAGINE THEM.


  1. 1 Geekery in the UK: Games Workshop and the Early Selling of ‘Mind-Games with Dice’ | 2 Warps to Neptune Trackback on June 12, 2013 at 2:43 pm

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