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The Forgotten Smugglers' Cave: Index of Posts

An index of posts describing the Forgotten Smugglers' Cave, an adventure for Holmes Basic characters levels 2-4.                    ...

Friday, September 20, 2013

TSR Ads in Boy's Life 1977-1982

TSR ad in the March 1977 issue of Boy's Life

This post chronicles TSR's advertising in Boy's Life, the monthly Boy Scout magazine, in the late '70s and early '80s. It had a wide circulation because a subscription was included as part of annual Boy Scout dues. I was an avid reader after joining the Scouts in the early '80s. The website for the magazine contains a neat searchable archive ("Wayback Machine") of back issues. It appears to be powered by Google Books, and the same issues can be searched there. Using these tools, here's what I found:

The earliest ad (shown above) that I found is from March 1977, a few months prior to Holmes Basic. It's small and buried in the classifieds on page 65, has TSR's early Lizard Logo, and doesn't even mention D&D by name.

The December 1978 issue briefly mentions D&D in an article about new games and toys, as "a fantasy game where player battles his way through a monster-filled castle" (pg 36).

The next ad doesn't appear until September 1979, more than two years later. This is a full-page ad titled "Not Just A Game" for the 2nd edition of the Holmes Basic Set. The format is similar to others from the same time period, each with the same photo but a different line at the top of the page. TSR has switched to the Wizard Logo by this point.

The November issue has another version, "Be a Hero!":

This same issue also has "War Games" by Jon C. Halter, an article including a section on Roleplaying that briefly describes D&D and Runequest. TSR's boardgames Dungeon! and Snit's Revenge are also mentioned elsewhere.

April 1980 brings an ad with new photography titled "Enter the Gateway to Adventure". The title ties in with the Gateway to Adventure catalogs that are sometimes found with Basic Sets. The module B1 is still shown but now we've got chits instead of the the rainbow dice. Elsewhere I've also seen a later version of this ad that is in color and has module B2 instead of B1. See here.

In May 1980, TSR switches to advertising a different RPG, Gamma World. The awesome Trampier art in the middle comes from the rulebook - I always dig his silhouettes. This ad mentions the vaporware "Metamorphosis Alpha to Omega" - a planned revision of the original Metamorphosis Alpha RPG to tie in with 1st edition GW.

The next month TSR switches to a boardgame, The Awful Green Things From Outer Space. I'm not sure that I've seen this ad before. Color appears here for the first time in a TSR ad in Boy's Life. A neat detail: the TSR wizard is standing on a planetoid at the bottom of the page. This same ad runs again in October.

In November, a full color TSR ad appears for the first time, "Who Needs to Hang Around?". The Holmes Basic set is still being advertised despite the imminent arrival of B/X. The kid in overalls is holding the Basic rulebook, and the ones in the background are running the module B2 Keep on the Borderlands.

Strangely, this ad runs in a less colorful version the next month, perhaps to save money? It's also changed, with the kids posed differently. This ad runs again in January 1981.

The December issue also has Pedro suggesting the Basic Set with B2 as a holiday gift. The photo is the same one shown in the ad linked to above.

February 1981 advertises the new revision of the Dungeon! boardgame. TSR's new Face Logo replaces the Wizard Logo. This ad runs again in March, April, May, July and October

The run of Dungeon! ads is interrupted briefly in June when an ad for the new Escape from New York boardgame appears:

In August an ad for Dungeons & Dragons finally reappears. It's the first one touting the new Basic Set, although it's hard to tell because it's just a small detail in the comic. This comic is the first in a series of four, one of several series that ran in other publications such as comic books around this time, but this is the only one that ran in Boy's Life.

Strangely, in September we see a brief reappearance of the Who Needs to Hang Around kid (version 2) with the Holmes Basic Set, despite the new Moldvay Basic Set being released 9 months earlier. This ad differs a little in having the TSR Face logo. This may be the only magazine ad I've seen for Holmes Basic with the Face logo.

In November and December, the ad for Dungeon! reappears in glorious full color for the holiday season:

The December issue also features Dungeon! as one of the recommended gift items:

January 1982 sees a new ad for Dungeon! featuring the irksome Morley the Wizard. And the family has been replaced. Or they just older? This ad runs again in March and April.

In February, TSR's first wave of minigames appears:

Later that year, in August, there's an ad for the second minigame series. IIRC these didn't sell very well so TSR didn't produce any more.

Finally, in May 1982, there's the first full color ad for the new Basic and Expert sets (B/X). I like the artwork but have no idea who the artist is. The kids also featured in a TV commercial from this time and include the actors Jamie Gertz & Alan Ruck. This ad runs again in June and July, but also turns out to be the last D&D ad in Boy's LIfe.

In September and October, TSR instead advertises the Star Frontiers RPG:

A different Star Frontiers ad from November:

And in a big change from the previous two years, there's no TSR ad at all in December, though I did spot one for Traveller from GDW:

And then the TSR ads disappear for the entirety of 1983. One finally reappears in mid-1984 for the Endless Quest books with a newer TSR logo. There are a few Indiana Jones RPG ads around Xmas in 1984. A Buck Rogers ad in 1988. But no more advertisements for D&D after mid-1982. I wonder if this was a marketing decision by TSR, or if there was a policy change at Boy's Life due to the backlash against D&D in the '80s?


  1. My brother first played D&D on a scouting trip, and then taught it to me when he returned. When I was old enough to join scouts we played every night at scout camp (unless we had a night game of capture the flag).

    I remember a boy’s life article about a scout who painted miniatures, and had even built a small village for them. Probably in a later issues than 82, but I was amazed by the model village as a kid.

    1. THE TOWN OF DRADA from November, 1983:

      Wow, thanks for triggering that memory, Sevenbastard. We must've been in Boy Scouts around the same time. I wonder what happened to Kevin Owens and his miniature village?

      The November, 1979 issue includes an article on wargames with an obligatory mention of RPGs like D&D, Runequest, Gladiator and Cosmic Encounter?:

  2. I was already playing D&D by the time I saw the ads in Boy's Life, but I remember them sparking interest in other games from TSR, such as those mini-games. Boy I loved those minigames.

    D&D was actually banned from Scouting events due to an all-day dungeon crawl during a campout with an entire patrol playing. I DMed, which was probably a bad thing as I was also the Senior Patrol Leader and was supposed to lead by example. Apparently sitting in a tent rolling dice and role playing isn't setting a good example.

  3. Did this Star Frontiers ad ever appear in BL?:

    I ask as this is how I became aware of the RPG over here in the UK in the early 80s. There were several other versions, as well as the examples you've shown. They usually appeared in Marvel comics, IIRC.

  4. Well done. I think Paul nailed the main reason the ads disappeared. Who wanted to explore nature and start fires when dungeons awaited?

    I have a run of Odyssey, a kid's astronomy magazine, from '82 and '83, and every ad on the back cover is from TSR. All of the color ads here are represented. That post is in my queue.

    1. Odyssey! I was a subscriber to that as well, probably in those years. I remember the robot mascot Ulysses fondly.

  5. Some very nice digging there, Zach, thanks for sharing it!

    It's interesting that the black-banner B1 appears in the 2nd and 3rd ads, but is replaced by the 4th ad. I wonder if that helps at all with trying to nail down its existence further? The ads span from Sept 1979 to April 1980, which are well after B1 was supposed to have been published in 1978, per so I wonder if either the Acaeum dates are wrong, or if in fact the black banner versions were sold in prior to Nov 1978 and the Holmes 2nd edition/4th printing sets.

    I'll do some digging this weekend to see what I can find among my TSR catalogs/sell sheets/etc. to see if there's any further help on this dates-wise.


  6. Thank you for this trip down memory trail. I think I got more use out of the D&D ads than the entire rest of the magazine.

    (Despite making Eagle, I was a generally terrible Scout.)

  7. My boy scout troupe were all into D&D in the early 80s. I have many fond memories of going camping and staying up all night playing B2!