Owlbears, rust monsters, and bulettes - common ancestor found.
December 30, 2013 2:49 PM   Subscribe

Inspiration comes from strange places. During that time that I was playing with these “Prehistoric Animals”, somebody else was playing with them too – a fellow named Gary Gygax.
posted by bitmage (39 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
wouldn't be surprised at all if the monsters scale up perfectly to 25mm scale if the listed dimensions in the Monster Manual are used. This would be because D&D started out as a table top miniatures game called Chainmail! Obviously they used the toys as miniatures to fight the knight miniatures they had. Hence, D&D came about.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:11 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


(Is this a dupe, or just an FPP made using a link from a comment I saw….last week? Not complaining, just trying to make sure my memory is working!)
posted by wenestvedt at 3:16 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I posted about it in a comment on the 24th.
posted by jiawen at 3:29 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


wenesvedt, you might have seen the post on io9 on 12/23 that links to the blog in the FPP as well.

I had a bunch of these toys when I was a kid and when my parents started playing D&D all these "Prehistoric Animals" were appropraited for their weekly dungeon crawls. I had to learn how to play D&D just play with my own damn toys!
posted by KingEdRa at 3:32 PM on December 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


So is there anywhere you can currently get the bag of "prehistoric animals"? Because I've got a character in a game right now who could definitely use them.
posted by happyroach at 3:43 PM on December 30, 2013


I had those exact toys when I was small. I remember when my older brother got the D&D basic set, I was confused as to why the picture of the rust monster was the same as one of my plastic creatures. Was it based on a mythological beast? Was it...was it real?
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 3:48 PM on December 30, 2013 [14 favorites]


holy shit. this is the holy grail of monster manual inspiration!
posted by GuyZero at 3:48 PM on December 30, 2013


Ironmouth: they probably weren't used as miniatures. Gary Gygax did not use minis when running the Greyhawk games (Arneson did use figures when running Blackmoor). The relationship between D&D and Chainmail is somewhat overstated, there was influence but it's not a straight line.

These are pretty awesome finds, though; I hadn't realized how many iconic D&D monsters were based on the same line of figures.
posted by graymouser at 3:48 PM on December 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


The article mentions finding them on eBay, but they aren't cheap.

As it happens, today I started a blog series about finding cool gaming stuff in dollar stores.
posted by jiawen at 3:48 PM on December 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


OK, after doing a bit of the old "scan zoom enhance" on the picture on DiTerlizzi's blog, I found this on Amazon.com, which has some of the critters. More of them will probably show up eventually.
posted by happyroach at 4:07 PM on December 30, 2013


I'd never seen this particular set of plastic toys before, but back in the mid 80s, it wasn't entirely uncommon to see plastic toys turn up as the monster of the week in a D&D session. Nice to know that it was a time-honored precedent even then!
posted by immlass at 4:20 PM on December 30, 2013


The relationship between D&D and Chainmail is somewhat overstated…

QFT. I was very confused when I picked up the (identically formatted) Chainmail rules thinking it was another supplement. It promptly went to the bottom of the box.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 4:33 PM on December 30, 2013


I always keep an eye out in dollar stores and second-hand shops for little toys that would be good for gaming, and for these old Monster Manual figures in particular. Earlier this year, I found the actual orange-and-yellow rust monster in a bag of random second-hand dinosaurs at a local used toy store. I've been on the lookout in their dinosaur bags since then, and a month or so ago got lucky again and found the bulette/landshark. I'm not holding out a lot of hope I'll come across any others, like the owlbear or anything, but I can hope.
posted by branduno at 5:32 PM on December 30, 2013


Oh my goodness! I had these toys too and never made the connection.
posted by Joey Michaels at 7:00 PM on December 30, 2013


OWLBEAR . . . RUSTMONSTER . . . for a moment I thought this was another Snowden leak.
posted by brianstorms at 7:28 PM on December 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


So...does the publisher of D&D owe a Hong Kong toy company some royalties?
posted by 445supermag at 7:47 PM on December 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Just realised that the owl bear model is a kappa!
posted by fallingbadgers at 8:31 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


How neat! I had a bag of prehistoric dinosaurs in the late 80s and recognize four of them (no owlbears though!)
posted by Calzephyr at 9:39 PM on December 30, 2013


The relationship between D&D and Chainmail is somewhat overstated, there was influence but it's not a straight line.

If I remember correctly --

Chainmail came first. It's an entirely different game, and originally had no fantasy content, until Gygax wrote a supplement for it. It added some extra things that proved to be influential concepts in early fantasy gaming and D&D, like, the notion that a hero is "worth" four normal guys, and of wizards, as a kind of special unit.

Then --again, assuming memory holds-- D&D's original rules were more of a set of attribute, exploration, equipment and magic rules. Chainmail is a wargame; D&D presented itself as being everything else around it, which said to use Chainmail to resolve combats. But Chainmail was made specifically to simulate large-scale battles. It was the first supplement to D&D, Greyhawk, that specifically introduced the battle system that we recognize now as being the core of the classic game.

So, D&D's early popularity came due to a ruleset that had a huge, gaping hole in it. And this was a common thing with those early photocopied booklets, and different groups would invent their own plugs, their own combat systems, to fill in the holes, which accounts for different "styles" of DMing and playing, some of which would evolve into several of the early competitors of D&D.

In one sense, if the original rules had been more complete, then D&D wouldn't have inspired some of its competition. But in another, that flowering of inspiration was what enabled role-playing games to take off as a thing, and D&D certainly benefited from that wave of enthusiasm.
posted by JHarris at 9:45 PM on December 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


Happyroach, thanks for finding that. Kinda bummed that they're no longer in stock, but I imagine they'll pop up somewhere. Gotta love the knock off graphics on the original packaging though. What on God's green earth is Pebbles riding and what drugs are they both on?

Also, for some reason I read owlbears and thought of waterbears, which lead to some confusion for the first few seconds. Although look at that guy, tell me that wouldn't make a great monster all scaled up. Like the cutest overstuffed manatee ever with 8 arms that have 3 wicked sharp sickles each on them.
posted by mcrandello at 12:49 AM on December 31, 2013


So the rules for success are to shamelessly copy your characters from cheap toys and provide a set of rules with gaping holes? Why didn't I think of that?
posted by Segundus at 12:50 AM on December 31, 2013


Cheap toys that were shamelessly abusing Hanna Barbara's trademarks at that. Here's the part where the head meets the desk :-) Rust monster is a little more reasonable at around $4.
posted by mcrandello at 1:07 AM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Just saw mcrandello's post. Yowch. There was a (very) brief time when I collected some 'Giants of Legend' D&D minis before I got bored and gave them all to my brother. There was at least one bulette, probably two.

He's probably just using them to play D&D with his friends rather than storing them in hermetic, temperature controller chambers and selling them when the market peaks. I despair.
posted by YAMWAK at 1:38 AM on December 31, 2013


Chainmail came first.

That's the complicated part - technically Braunstein was more of a predecessor to D&D than Chainmail was. For the first few games of Blackmoor, Arneson referenced Chainmail for combat, but drifted away relatively quickly. By 1973 neither Gygax nor Arneson was using Chainmail to resolve combats; they both used their own version of the "Alternate Combat System." Gygax wrote references to Chainmail in primarily because he was hoping to sell more copies of his earlier game that way.

As far as the "Fantasy Supplement," that was always a part of the Chainmail book. Gygax put it in as a "supplement" because there was a huge rift among miniature wargamers at the time between those who wanted to do pure historical games, and those who wanted to incorporate Tolkien-style fantasy into their games. The latter won out, but it wasn't a definite thing at the time.
posted by graymouser at 2:48 AM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Price for both: $36,891.63

I think we may need a bigger desk.
posted by Mezentian at 3:03 AM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


I had those exact toys when I was small. I remember when my older brother got the D&D basic set, I was confused as to why the picture of the rust monster was the same as one of my plastic creatures. Was it based on a mythological beast? Was it...was it real?

I saw sets with at least the bullette and rust monster several time in the 80's. I actually assumed that the plastic figures were inspired by the game. It's funny to realize 30 years later that my assumption was based purely on my being familiar with one product before the other.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:01 AM on December 31, 2013


That's the complicated part - technically Braunstein was more of a predecessor to D&D than Chainmail was.

I meant, it literally came before Chainmail. You're right, in that Chainmail and D&D were really two different kinds of games, which is why D&D said to use it as its combat system. Gygax might not have used the Chainmail system in his own games, but that's still what people who bought the book had to go on, until Greyhawk. Whether they did or not, well, it does seem like Chainmail's scale is larger than that of D&D. Anyway, Braunstein was more of a spiritual successor to D&D, directly.

As far as the "Fantasy Supplement," that was always a part of the Chainmail book.

Huh. The info I had been going by was that Gygax didn't create Chainmail, that he revised a pre-existing game. That might relate to its co-creator Jeff Perrin. I'm not sure where I got that information. Wikipedia contradicts that idea. I will bow to superior knowledge, as always.
posted by JHarris at 4:17 AM on December 31, 2013


Ah, here's where the idea might have come from, from further down the Wikipedia page:

Among the three was a pamphlet of medieval rules entitled Chainmail which adapted much of the medieval rules published in the Domesday Book. Late in the development process—Gygax would later call it "an afterthought"[9]—Gygax added to the end of Chainmail fourteen pages of a "Fantasy Supplement" which detailed the behavior of Heroes, Wizards, dragons, elves and various other fantastic creatures and people.

I might have been thinking about the rules in Domesday Book. It was probably from a random website somewhere.
posted by JHarris at 4:20 AM on December 31, 2013


If you want the full history of how D&D came to be, you need to read Playing at the World by Jon Peterson. And I do mean full.
posted by graymouser at 5:03 AM on December 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


Though I am a child of the 90's I also had these critters! They were sloppily painted, too, so it kind of looked like they didn't know how to put on makeup. Oddly enough I don't remember the bulette. Did this company manufacture these toys beyond the early 70s, or did I inherit mine from some second-hand shop?
posted by deathpanels at 5:23 AM on December 31, 2013


I carrying Playing At The World as a weapon in my backpack.
It has a +8 modifier.

RobocopIsBleeding did some illos IIRC.
posted by Mezentian at 5:33 AM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


I had these sometime in the mid-70's and was kind of "Huh? when I got into D&D in 79, but by that time most of them were lost, chewed by the dog, sun faded or god knows what. I'd love to know the story of how they came to be incorporated into the game and what the story behind the initial creation of the figures is. I mean somebody carved the modes for those casting dies? Did he have an idea of what they were about, were they just random and monstrous, or what?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:40 AM on December 31, 2013


What about the gelatinous cube? School lunches?
posted by thelonius at 5:50 AM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Anyway, Braunstein was more of a spiritual successor to D&D, directly.

ARGH I meant predecessor. Gotdammitalltohell.
posted by JHarris at 6:10 AM on December 31, 2013


Um, yeah... as one of the kids who owned that plastic bagfull of monsters & dinos... I've known this since I bought the Monster Manual.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:58 AM on December 31, 2013


So...does the publisher of D&D owe a Hong Kong toy company some royalties?

Man it makes me want to rage again against that whole fucking cohort. Blatantly rip off the wider culture (and of course, specific artists who came before you) and then tighten all that copyright and intellectual property law to keep all the money and privilege yours forever. Disney and Led Zeppelin would be proud.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:47 AM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Dang, that Owlbear... I always thought the picture in the Compendium looked oddly stiff and awkward, and knowing it is based on a strange plastic figurine explains everything!

I am wondering why someone with the original set of figures has not yet performed the obvious 3D scan --> 3D print --> modeling paint --> eBay route. At worst you'd find out what company is the current owner of the original molds...
posted by caution live frogs at 10:52 AM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Blatantly rip off the wider culture (and of course, specific artists who came before you)

They didn't get past Fritz Leiber, at least
posted by thelonius at 12:03 PM on December 31, 2013


thelonius: "What about the gelatinous cube? School lunches?"

Missed this comment earlier... As it happens, I know the guy who invented the gelatinous cube. As he put it, there was a brief fad of coming up with monsters by blowing microorganisms up to macro scale. The gelatinous cube started as basically an amoeba. It ended up cubic because that's what fits in dungeon corridors.
posted by jiawen at 4:26 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


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