I was already a fairly experienced D&D gamer by the time I encountered the Heritage Dungeon Dwellers series of miniatures and game sets in the early 1980s. Aside from playing creative games and campaigns dripping with swords, sorcery and all things creepy and crawly in the underworld of our imaginations, my brother and I were quickly filling up our free time with miniature painting. If it was tiny, cast in lead and even mildly gruesome, chances were it was on our radar.
We were already pretty familiar with Ral Partha’s growing line of D&D lead miniatures picked up at our local five-and-dime, bookstore and hobby shops in Rochester, NY when we encountered Dungeon Dwellers. At the time, we had no idea Heritage was producing boxed sets and blister packs of figures similar to Ral Partha. What we did know was that holding these two green Dungeon Dwellers boxed sets in our hands was clearly something different.
Unlike the sets of miniatures from Ral Partha and other suppliers of the time, Heritage Dungeon Dwellers offered two all-in-one model and gaming sets. Each box contained a number of monster and adventurer figures, paints and a simplified self-contained game with rules and a map. This off-the-shelf game was an easy and rare counterpoint to the expansive D&D universe of the era. Each set — “Caverns of Doom” and “Crypt of the Sorcerer” — read like a D&D module with a defined scenario in which to play. The models were animated, unique and somewhat more appealing than some of the widely-available Ral Partha lines. I particularly recall the multi-piece winged dragon from “Caverns of Doom” and the fire-casting wizard from “Crypt of the Sorcerer” as being favorites.
Despite the limited replay value on the surface, these two sets got a lot of outsized-use when I was a kid. Thinking back, they combined the best aspects of board, miniatures and role-playing games, plus they allowed us to cut our chops on our painting skills. Serious gamers of the time probably dismissed these sets as pandering to the growing fantasy gaming fad of the day, but for a growing gamer in the early 1980s, Heritage Dungeon Dwellers really made an impression.
Collector’s Note: The Dungeon Dwellers boxed sets are exceedingly hard to come by, but miniatures sets and individual figures are readily available on eBay for just a few dollars for an individual figure up to well over $100 for sets.