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Dungeons & Dragons
by yo go re

There's a joke that's lived for free in my mind since I first read it nearly 20 years ago, on a site that no longer exists and hasn't been duplicated anywhere. Reviewing a gone and forgotten comicbook called Wulf the Barbarian, the site mocked the knockoff-Tolkien nature of the story, pointing out it was "complete with fakey made-up names for all the people and places. 'Lord Tyrkna the Enlightened of the Plains of Hufgth has the Sword of Farrth, and he's bringing it to the Temple of Rwwtah which is guarded by the Priests of Huybnom who possess the mighty powerful Disc of GtrhhbojfpnnakptangyakPOWwoop!'" Some of the bits from that page even showed up as alt tags in one of our reviews years back. I bring this up because some of the LJN AD&D toys have silly fantasy names, but others are just things like "Strongheart" or "Elkhorn."

Elkhorn has been Strongheart's most stalwart companion over the years - unflinchingly loyal, tirelessly optimistic, and fiercly devoted to the destruction of evil in all its forms. He's not especially bright, so he fights with his heart rather than his wits. Age has drained much of the strength from Elkhorn's body. Strongheart has urged Elkhorn to retire, but the old dwarf stubbornly refuses to do so.

You may know that the LJN characters were introduced in a Basic D&D supplement book called The Shady Dragon Inn, but they weren't the only ones: the point of the book was to provide pre-made characters you could either give to your players or use as NPCs, and the toy characters were just added in as a promotional thing. Flip back eight pages from Elkhorn's entry, and you'll find two full pages of dwarves: Astrid Helmsplitter, Brun the Brown, Darby of Stonehill, Eben of Whitemount, Hugi Tunneltrue, Ifor Hill-Lord, Leo Leopard-Bair, Magda Mountainsplitter, Rollo the Hammer, and Ulf the Sledge, all of whom have spicier names than Elkhorn does.

Like Zarak, Elkhorn is small enough that the figure includes two heads; sadly, neither of them represents the scene in Quest for the Heartstone, the 1984 adventure that was specifically written to promote all the toy characters, where a somber Elkhorn and Strongheart take off their helmets to pay their respects to the dead king Omelette. Omelas. I'm actually going to have to look this up, aren't I? Ganto. Dead King Ganto. Where did I get an O name? Who knows, I'm dumb. Anyway, that Jeff Easley art reveals not only that Strongheart has He-Man hair, but that Elkhorn is slightly balding and appears to have a combover. Or maybe just a thick scar on his forehead? In either case, showing that would require a removable helmet, and this toy doesn't get that.

Elkhorn wears a pretend-viking helmet with some sort of... pointy... head... extensions... sticking out of the sides. (Wish there was a name for those kind of things.) It is worth pointing out that elk (Cervus canadensis) don't have horns, they have antlers: antlers are shed every year and regrow, horns are permanent. But maybe these horns are carved from some giant elk antlers? That would be an excuse for the name. Since D&D dwarves were just as stolen from Tolkien as every other race, he has a giant, layered beard, a thick mustache, and even a surprise braid in the back. The difference between the two heads is that the first has the mouth closed, and the second has the mouth open - calm vs. angry.

It's almost comical how much NECA's sculpt improves upon the original. Elkhorn wears a brown tunic, teal-green pants, and has chainmail sleeves and a shawl. His gloves are the same color as the trim on his top and the wraps around his shins. He wears a wide belt with a large, round, golden buckle in the center that is an amazing update of the source material. The different articles of clothing have their own sculpted textures, with nothing left undetailed or smooth. His beard is painted with blue highlights, whereas the actual vintage toy's beard was blue blue. "Piss off guys who record YouTube videos in the driver's seat of their truck" blue. "Murder your wife if she opens the forbidden door" blue.

Articulation is on par with the other figures, despite his small stature. There are swivel/hinge ankles, swivel/hinged knees, swivel thighs, balljointed hips, balljointed waist, swivel/hinge wrists, double-swivel/hinge elbows, swivel/hinge shoulders, a balljointed neck, and a barbell head. It likely won't surprise you to learn that you can't do much with the head due to the size of the beard; it's not locked in place entirely, but you can't do much more than give it a slight tilt one direction or another. As is the usual style, he's also got an assortment of alternate hands to hold the various weapons.

And he'll really need those, because he comes with more gear than can be stowed on his person at one time. We begin with a small dagger that fits in the sheath on his belt, something that was a sculpted element in the '80s but is today a real item. There's a sword and a scabbard, and that can plug into the side of his large backpack, which features a working flap at the top, a few sculpted pockets, and even has a bed roll at the bottom. The backpack has a shallow tab that simply slips over the strap running across his back to stay in place - in order to make this work, the sculpt has to have it that Elkhorn has apparently fed the straps through the neck hole of his chainmail shrug before buckling them, because they go over the armor in the back, but beneath it in the front. On the right side of the backpack are two loops, presumably meant to hold his small bearded axe - at least, none of the other accessories make any sense in there. He has a studded shield, with clawmarks in the surface, that can be worn on his arm; a labrys with a labyrinthine pattern on the sides of its blades; a large war hammer, a smaller-but-still-large war pick; and a wooden torch with translucent flames burning on it.

For times when he's not fighting, he has a little brown jug stoppered with a cork, a small grey rock with some clear purple crystals growing out of it, and a rough-hewn translucent red heart - it's the titular Heartstone! For which they've all been questing! Speaking of fakey made-up Tolkien names, here's what the adevnture has to say about it: "The stone was stolen over 50 years ago by Dahnakriss the Master Thief. He-Who-Watches originally gave the tiny, heart-shaped stone to Qasmar, who was the King of Ghyr during the Prism Wars." Cripes! If Elkhorn has the Heartstone, he should also have the iron tongs and lead box the team was given to transport the stone in, but maybe those got lost somewhere in the mountain.

NECA isn't as communicative now as they used to be, so it's currently a bit up in the air whether we're going to be seeing more of this line. Elkhorn was announced in September of last year, and we haven't heard anything about the line since. Oh, there are retro-style repaints, but as far as anything new goes? Silence. NECA makes good toys, but their tendency to seemingly forget about certain licenses for stretches as a time (gee, it's too bad there's not a new season of The Boys that would hype up interest in some more figures of The Seven right now, huh?) makes it hard to keep track of what's coming when. But with only two heroes and three villains, it feels like this line does need at least one more release, doesn't it?

-- 07/03/24

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