Though TSR largely moved from licensing to lawsuits in the ’80s and ’90s within the roleplaying industry, they simultaneously kept up a steady stream of licensing with companies were weren’t producing RPGs of their own. This resulted in products as scattered as coloring albums, power cycles, storybooks, Shrinky Dinks, Colorforms, records, candle makers, and more.

This article doesn’t attempt to outline every single product licensed by TSR in the wider world, but does look at two relatively popular accessories that were much more closely related to gaming: miniatures and computer games.

The Miniatures Connections

When the lawsuits started in the ’80s, TSR proved that they didn’t work well with others — at least not with competitors. But they were perfectly happy to work with manufacturers who could create products that could be used with their games. Given the origins of the roleplaying industry in wargames, that initially meant miniatures creators. In fact, from 1977-1997 there were always D&D miniatures (and occasionally miniatures for other TSR RPGs as well), as shown below:

The Old Guard (1976). The Dragon #4 (December 1976) announced TSR’s first two miniatures licenses. The one that would appear first was Bill Murray’s “Legions of the Petal Throne” from his Old Guard imprint, best known for its 54mm historical figures. The Legions minis were made for M.A.R. Barker’s Empire of the Petal Throne (1975) RPG, which was at the time published by TSR. The sculpts were based on careful drawings from M.A.R. Barker and Dave Sutherland, and were followed up a year later by Sutherland’s miniatures rules, also called Legions of the Petal Throne (1977).

The interesting thing about licensed miniatures is that there are two pieces of IP: the license and the miniatures themselves (or rather the molds that make them). So, when Murray decided he was done producing the Tekumél miniatures, he sold the molds to Ral Partha, who would be the one other EPT minis licensee while TSR held the property.

Minifigs (1976). It’s possible that TSR licensed Minifigs of England previous to the “Legions of the Petal Throne” license, but in any case, the Minifigs minis case out a short time later, in early 1977. This was the first D&D minis license, with the line containing lots of demihumans and humanoids, plus a small set of demons including Demogorgon and Orcus.

When Minifig’s D&D license was winding down in 1980 they published a World of Greyhawk line, with the intent to follow-up with a full wargame. This set contained characters related to the various territories, including barbarians, amazons, and valley elves.

Grenadier (1978, 1980). There wa surprisingly little licensing of TSR’s other RPGs, with one of the few exceptions being a Gamma World line put out by Grenadier in 1978. That’s probably what led them to picking up an AD&D license in 1980. They produced a wide range of classes, races, and monsters, and had some boxed sets such as “Dungeon Explorers”, “Monsters”, and “Dragon’s Lair”. Many of their figures were incorporated from their older Wizzards & Warriors line, and after Grenadier lost the AD&D license, many were rebranded as the Dragon Lords line.

Heritage Models (not 1980). Heritage Models has a history interestingly interconnected with other early movers in the wargaming and roleplaying industries. Jim Oden started the company in 1972 as Minifigs USA, importing the Minifigs of England figures and reselling them. Then, when the relationship with Minifigs soured, he rebooted it as Heritage.

Jump to 1977 when Heritage printed Dave Arneson’s Dungeonmaster’s Index (1977). As recorded in Playing at the World, there was a subsequent discussion at TSR of a Texas lawsuit, which doubtless referred to Heritage, so they might have been threatened or received a Cease & Desist (C&D) because of that publication.

Despite that, Heritage was in the running to become TSR’s new miniatures manufacturer in 1979. That never worked out (with the license instead going to Grenadier), but Heritage had already been working on their models, which they released as Dungeon Dwellers. These miniatures also said “for use with Dungeons & Dragons”, making careful note that the trademark belonged to TSR, much as Mayfair would do a few years later with their Role Aids line. TSR sued. They tied things up in court for half-a-year, and then they stepped away.

TSR (1983). TSR usually seemed to get something out of their lawsuits. In this case, Heritage was hurting financially a year or two after that six months of depositions, and so TSR was able to lure over Heritage’s sculptor, Duke Seifried. TSR’s goal was to work with Seifried to create their own line of miniatures, which they did in 1983, after withdrawing their license from Grenadier.

The TSR line was most notable for its breadth. It covered not just plain D&D, but also their new Dragonlance setting and a lot of their other games: Gamma World, Gangbusters, Star Frontiers, and Top Secret, as well as their new licenses for Conan, Indiana Jones, and Marvel Superheroes. Those are the only miniatures ever made for most of those games and settings.

Unfortunately, TSR was in the middle of power struggles and cash crunches at the time, and Seifried was laid off about a year after his hiring, with the whole miniatures line following shortly thereafter. TSR ended up with a new miniatures game, Battlesystem (1985), despite the 1985 closure of their miniatures line. They tried to popularize it year after year, but it never really worked out.

LJN (1983). Not quite miniatures, but from 1983-1984, LJN Toys was licensed to produce AD&D action figures. The line featured some of the earliest iconic D&D characters, such as Strongheart and Warduke. There was also a Fortress of Fangs playset as well as some bendy figures and even wind-up toys!

Citadel (1985). Originally spun off of Games Workshop, by 1985 Citadel Miniatures in the UK was becoming a new giant in the miniatures industry. It’s somewhat surprising that TSR turned to them after the failure of their in-house production, since GW and Citadel were already on their way to becoming a major competitor to TSR. In any case, Citadel received the D&D license in 1985 and produced figures for about 18 months. Like the older lines, Citadel’s short run was pretty generic with D&D monsters, classes, and races. The only thing of particular note is that some of the newer Unearthed Arcana (1985) classes like barbarians and cavaliers appear in miniature for the first time.

Ral Partha (1978, 1987). Ral Partha got into the TSR miniatures business by taking over the Legions of the Petal Throne line from Old Guard, which they kept a few years before selling them to Jeff Berry (who published them as Tékumel Journal and then at Tékumel Games over the next few years, but with the TSR connection now gone).

Ral Partha hit it big in 1987 when they picked up the D&D minis license, which resulted in them producing figures for the industry’s top game for the next decade. Some of their production was long lines of generic fantasy adventures and monsters, but Ral Partha also produced specific miniatures for many D&D settings including BirthrightCouncil of WyrmsDark SunDragonlanceDragon MountainForgotten RealmsPlanescape, and Ravenloft, as well as for the Battlesystem and First Quest rules.

The Computer Connections

Given all their back and forth on miniatures, it’s somewhat surprising that TSR stuck with a single computer game producer for almost their entire life, though that may reflect the fact that TSR was growing more settled with their major licensees by the ’80s when they licensed SSI.

The following chart shows TSR’s connections to a few different computer game producers as well as the major studios that SSI worked with and the major CRPGs that they put. (Smaller SSI-related studios and most non-CRPGs are excluded.)

Mattel (1980). TSR’s earliest computer license shows how different the marketplace was in 1980, which was the same year that the first CRPGs like Akalabeth (1980) appeared. TSR’s first licenses were thus for electronic toys, the Computer Labyrinth Game (1980), which cleverly let a player explore a hidden dungeon, and the Computer Fantasy Game (1981), which less cleverly was a handheld hunt-the-wumpus game with D&D theming. After that Mattel moved over to producing cartridges for their Intellivision console, with the game later known as Cloudy Mountain (1982) becoming the first official D&D video game.

SSI (1987). SSI had shown experience with FRPGs with games like Questron (1984), so TSR picked them to be their exclusive licensee for D&D games for most of their lives. SSI immediately hit a home run with their “Gold Box” series, which drew on grid-based FRPGs of the time, with their simple room-by-room graphics, but beyond that incorporated a tactical combat system and (fairly) faithfully adopted AD&D. Pool of Radiance (1988) was their debut release, while Champions of Krynn (1990) expanded their game series to Krynn. SSI also produced two Gold Boxes based on Buck Rogers, Countdown to Doomsday (1991) and Matrix Squared (1992).

In later years, when their Gold-Box engine was growing out of date, SSI tried to reboot things with a series of Dark Sun games, the first of which was Shattered Lands (1993), but it was too late. By 1994, TSR was offering licenses to other companies, and SSI’s run came to an end at the close of 1996.

The thing is, few video-game publishers work on their own. Most job out work to smaller studios, and SSI did lots of that. Cyberlore (1994), Cybertech (1992), and MicroMagic (1993) did just one game apiece for SSI, and so aren’t listed on the chart above. SSI also did work with several companies produced non-RPG computer games based on the D&D brand, the most notable of which was US Gold (1988-1991), who produced action-oriented Dragonlance games, the first two of which were side-scrollers. Capcom and Silicon Knights also produced non-RPG D&D games for SSI.

The studios who produced multiple CRPGs for SSI are worthy of some additional note:

Westwood Studios (1988). Westwood got their start with Hillsfar (1989), a bizarre action game that was compatible with characters from the Gold Box series and which was meant to keep players occupied until the release of Curse of the Azure Bonds (1989). It wasn’t well-received. They did much better with their black-box series beginning with Eye of the Beholder (1990).

Stormfront Studios (1989). The unfortunately named Stormfront is best-known for their multiplayer AOL Online Gold Box, the original Neverwinter Nights (1991-1997). However, they also took over production of Gold Box games set in the Forgotten Realms with the release of Gateway to the Savage Frontier (1991). After the SSI era, Stormfront returned on their own with Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor (2001) and others.

Dreamforge (1993). Though Dreamforge got their start with the 3D dungeons of Dungeon Hack (1993). They later produced a trio of more story-oriented games with a new 3D engine, beginning with Ravenloft: Strahd’s Possession (1994).

Lion Entertainment (1994). The producer of Slayer (1994), another of the random-dungeon games created in TSR’s dying days.

As SSI fell out of grace, TSR offered a license to another major player:

Interplay (1994). Interplay got off to very little success with the wargame Blood & Magic (1996), produced by Tachyon Studios, and a first attempt at a D&D roleplaying game, Descent to Undermountain (1998), which they produced directly. Their savior was yet another studio, BioWare, whose Baldur’s Gate (1998), and its new Infinity Engine, would be the heart of D&D computer game design for the next several years (and has returned more recently in an Enhanced variant).

By 1996, TSR was looking desperate, offering licenses to anyone who would take them, resulting in a sudden surge of new games just as TSR went out of business.

Capcom (1996). Previously working with SSI on Tower of Doom (1993), an arcade-style game for the Sega Saturn console, Capcom now returned on their own with Shadow over Mystara (1996), another arcade game set in the Known World.

Akklaim (1996). Iron Blood: Warriors of Ravenloft (1996) was a fantasy-fighting game produced by Take-Two Publishing for Akklaim, primarily for the PlayStation console. It was a rare D&D license that just used the branding of a setting (Ravenloft), not the game itself.

Sierra (1997). Syngeristic Software designed Birthright: The Gorgon’s Alliance (1997), which was then distributed by Sierra. Built on the Doom II engine (1994), it combined turn-based strategy at both the man-to-man and army scales.

After the demise of TSR, Interplay (with Bioware and later Black Isle) was the heart of D&D computer games for a few years, until Hasbro confused things by selling the computer rights out from under D&D, but that’s a story for another day.

Final Notes

Though TSR withdrew the possibilities of licenses from their peers beginning in the ’80s, they continued to work with manufacturers in other industries, with other expertises, so this is the story of they influenced not the roleplaying industry, but instead the larger world.

There’s at least one more article in this series, looking at the impact of D&D on fantasy game designs, but that’ll be a bit in the future, as Arneson month (May) and Dragon month (June) lie in the nearer future!

This article was originally published as Advanced Designers & Dragons #48 on RPGnet. It followed the publication of the four-volume Designers & Dragons (2014) from Evil Hat, and was meant to complement those books.


collector. 2015. “Short History of Tekumél Miniatures”. Tekumél Collecting.

Uncredited. Retrieved 2021. DnD Lead

Uncredited. Retrieved 2021. “SSI & TSR”. History of SSI Games

Various. Retrieved 2021. Lost Minis Wiki

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