DFC Toys: Dragonriders of the Styx Fantasy Playset (1981)

Dragonriders 1981

Dragonriders 1981-2

Dragonriders-2 1981

Dragonriders-3 1981

Dragonriders-4 1981

The coolest, and maybe the earliest, D&D-inspired fantasy playset I’ve seen so far. (I don’t count Warriors of the Galaxy, which is more of a MOTU-chasing spacy-fantasy.) The set is huge, first of all: it’s almost as big as the kid laying next to it on the box cover. Second, the figures are a good, creative mix, even if the dragon mount looks kind of like a Tauntaun. Third, I dig the maze with the gold prize in the middle, the obvious place for the green dragon to crouch.

UPDATE (4/6/14): As I said here, my assumption now is that Dragonriders is the first playset to be packaged and produced in response to the popularity of D&D.

‘Dragonriders’ was likely taken from Anne McCaffrey’s popular Dragonriders of Pern trilogy, released under that name in a collected edition in 1978. The Styx is a river in Greek Mythology running into the underworld. It’s also the name of a rock band—you’ll remember them from the 1983 hit single “Mr. Roboto.” Paradise Theater, the band’s only album to hit #1 on the US charts, came out in January, 1981.

Here’s the set—pretty expensive, compared to Castle Greyskull—in the 1982 J.C. Penney catalog.

Dragonriders Catalog 1982

Read a firsthand account of someone who owned it at Two-Bit Nonsense.

DFC also released an action figure line of the same name starting in 1983. I’ll talk about that in a future post.

(Images via eBay and Wishbook/Flickr)

11 Responses to “DFC Toys: Dragonriders of the Styx Fantasy Playset (1981)”

  1. 1 hobgoblin238 October 15, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    I had it too. The only DFC thing I owned. I used to put my Jawas in it.

  2. 3 Jason October 15, 2013 at 11:45 pm

    A random music video for you. Circa 1983…

  3. 4 Ben September 1, 2016 at 5:50 am

    We got this set and it was massive. The Demon Cave was the coolest part. Epic battles and the blue knights were great. Great memories, almost played with it as often as with army men.

  4. 5 Scott Andrew Hutchins February 14, 2019 at 5:43 am

    I have the Dinosaurs and Cavemen set, but I augmented it with a bunch of other cheapo dinosaur toys because there were all these figures on the box that it didn’t actually have, like feathered pterosaurs. On the other hand, I don’t think I bought it new, though it has the box. Probably because it stored best that way. I’d take pictures, but it’s in a storage unit far from where I live.

  5. 6 Y.Whateley March 8, 2022 at 11:57 pm

    I think you’re right – “Dragonriders of the Styx” was surely the first, or very nearly the first, D&D-inspired playset. If it helps, the River Styx also featured heavily in the Greek Mythology-inspired Harryhausen stop-motion-monster-fueled fantasy movie, “Clash of the Titans”, which appeared in theaters in June of 1981, just in time to have have “inspired” development of a playset that sounds likely to have been pretty hastily released in time for Christmas of that year – a lot of likely inspirations for this set seem to cluster around the years 1978-1981!

    That early date for such an elaborate fantasy playset is significant, since a lot of the ’80s fantasy culture seem to have started appearing shortly after 1981, and I have a feeling most of it actually rode the same wave of successful popular fantasy that these playsets benefited from, including “Clash of the Titans” (1981), “Heavy Metal” (1981), “Excalibur” (1981), “Dragonslayer” (1981), “The Evil Dead” (1981), “Time Bandits” (also 1981), and Masters of the Universe toy line (which at least started development in 1981).

    The first of the ’80s “Conan the Barbarian” movies appeared in ’82 and its sequel in ’84, “The Dark Crystal” in ’82, “The Beastmaster” in ’82, “The Sword and the Sorcerer” in ’82, “Krull” in ’83, “The Neverending Story” in ’83, the “Wizards and Warriors” TV show in ’83, the “He-Man” TV show in ’83, the “Dungeons & Dragons” cartoon in 1983, “Ladyhawke” in ’85, “Legend” in ’85, “Red Sonja” in ’85, “Labyrinth” in ’86, “The Princess Bride” in ’87, “Willow” in ’88….

    And to get very much earlier than films from 1981 to help kickstart this fantasy set fad – including “Clash of the Titans” and its River Styx – you don’t have very much to draw from, beyond the Bakshi adaptation of “The Lord of the Rings” in ’78 and “Wizards” in ’77, the Rank & Bass adaptation of “The Hobbit” in ’77, and the last of the Harryhausen Sinbad movies, “The Eye of the Tiger”, in ’77 – most of which I don’t remember as being very popular until reruns on TV when the ’80s fantasy fad kicked in after “Clash of the Titans” (though my memory could very well be playing tricks on me!)

    “The Masters of the Universe” (1981-1983) and Arco’s “Otherworld” toy line (1982) would have been roughly contemporary with “Dragonriders of the Styx”, but I’d argue that MotU and Otherworld drew rather directly from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter, Warlord of Mars novels, which, interestingly, were adapted into a comic series from 1977-1979, and a role-playing game in 1979 that surely followed directly in the footsteps of D&D (which certainly featured these novels as a source of inspiration in its “Appendix N”); the sci-fi/fantasy “planetary romance” style setting for Masters of the Universe and Otherworld was a distinctly different animal from the “Dragonriders of the Styx” playsets, with their medieval knights, wizards, and dragonriders vs. demons from The Styx angle, and I’ve got to agree that DFC was drawing from a different line of D&D-inspired fantasy for its Dragonriders: “Dragonslayer”, “Excalibur”, “Clash of the Titans”, and the D&D RPG seem to fit the bill rather comfortably; the “Dragonriders of Pern” does seem to have helped inspire the name, though I’m not sure if much else made it into the playsets.

    Anyway, that’s a long, round-about way of saying that any D&D-style fantasy toys and playsets to appear by 1981 was definitely on the ground floor of the ’80s fantasy fad, and couldn’t have had many competitors until everyone else started catching up by ’82 and ’83.

    By the way – someone really, REALLY needs to scan up digital versions of the cardboard bits and plastic play-mats from those DFC sets: it doesn’t seem that many of the cardboard parts in particular have survived the decades in any kind of presentable shape, and at a glance, I’m tempted to say all the photos on the internet seem to be drawn from the same surviving example or two. Some nice scans that can be used to make some decent reproductions of the Tower of the Night, Mount Shandarr, Forest of Doom, and walled castles/dungeons represented by the opened cardboard carry cases must surely be welcome to all the folks who seem to have the plastic figures, but nothing else!

    I really, REALLY wish my mother hadn’t thrown my playsets away in one of her manic cleaning fits one year in the 1990s – it looks like the plastic figures are averaging about $3-$5 a piece today, and the cardboard parts are pretty much unobtainium!

  1. 1 DFC Toys: Demons of Castlelon Fantasy Action Playset (1982) | 2 Warps to Neptune Trackback on January 10, 2014 at 3:16 pm
  2. 2 HG Toys: Sword & Sorcery Playset (1982) and Weapon Sets (1983/1984) | 2 Warps to Neptune Trackback on February 26, 2014 at 3:11 pm
  3. 3 Miner Industries: Dragon Crest (1981) and Mysterious Castle (1982) Playsets | 2 Warps to Neptune Trackback on April 7, 2014 at 12:36 am
  4. 4 DFC Toys: Dragonriders of the Styx Action Figures (1983) | 2 Warps to Neptune Trackback on April 14, 2014 at 2:38 pm
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