Saturday, August 20, 2011

the mysterious mercenaries of Sark

The AD&D toyline of the 80's had 3 basic types of toys in it.  The most prominent were the articulated action figures, similar to the G.I. Joe and Star Wars toys of the era.  Less well known were the bendable and solid PVC sublines.  I owned a bendy Grell and it was hella sweet.  Though it had eyes and everyone knows canonical grell are giant beaked and betentacled brains with no eyes.  The solid PVC figures were mostly monsters like trolls or mummies or NPCs like men-at-arms or wood elves.  It's this last category, solid non-articulated NPCs, that I'm talking about today.

As a kid this duo, the Sarken Mercenaries, was one of the great mysteries of AD&D toydom:

Dig that sweet polearm and the archer with his ninja-esque facemasque.  Anyway, the thing that bugged me as a kid was "Wear the hell is Sark?"  I couldn't find it on the map of Greyhawk or the Known World, the only two settings that mattered to me back then.  Back then I couldn't resolve the issue.

Yesterday for no particular this question popped into my mind for the first time in decades, so I hit up the Wikipedia to see if there might be a real world Sark involved.  Clearly these guys aren't from Sark, the tiny Channel Island.  But maybe they're from Särkland, a Viking term for the Abbasid Caliphate or maybe Sarkel, a Khazar city.  I really like the latter idea, but then I'm a big fan of Milorad Pavić's novel The Dictionary of the Khazars.

Check out this link for a sweet customized Sarken mercenary action figure.


  1. Given their armor and weapons, I think you've hit close with the Abbasid/Khazar references.

  2. I never even heard of these guys until now. I owned most of the action figures, and between my friend and I we have most of the monsters (including a much-beloved shambling mound). But these guys are new to me . . .

  3. I had a couple of PVC bullywugs back in the day. They were frequent bathtub companions of mine.

  4. I just figured they were based off of the Saracens. Since Ptolemy called the region "Sarakene".

    I hadn't thought of the Khazar city of Sarkel though, since I know next to nothing about the Khazar. Guess I should go read up on them.

  5. How do you always find the coolest stuff? When the D&D toys came out, I was a grumpy college student, and I didn't like them because "D&D isn't for kids". Now, of course, I am much older, and to quote CS Lewis:"When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up."

  6. In my own youth, I remember having the grell, a carrion crawler, the solid figure umber hulk, and some elves, on top of the regular action figures.

    The grell, as it turned out, was a pretty nifty pool toy.

  7. Anonymous11:46 AM

    If I remember right the bendy rubber two pack figures are all based on TSR line art either from modules etc. or drawn for this series of toys, these being from a piece by Timothy Bradstreet I think... One of the desert modules maybe?

  8. My favorite bendy was the Umber Hulk! I think they made a Roper too.

  9. As a kid I found a loose Warduke toy in a bin in a comic shop. I had no idea what it was apart from close-to-but-not-EXACTLY-like my GI Joes.

    So I made him a demon wizard from another dimension who joined Cobra and eventually took it over, since I didn't own a Serpentor figure and Cobra Commander belonged to my brother. I named him Warlord, which is close.

    I essentially used him as an excuse to have Cobra be run by Skeletor, as you might have picked up on.

  10. Anonymous1:02 PM

    The Judges Guild city-state of Verbosh is on the Sark river.

    Probably unrelated.

  11. Anonymous9:56 PM

    I also had the grell, as well as a carrion crawler and an otyugh. This was well before I played AD&D and it took me a little while to figure out what the hell that otyugh was.

  12. Anonymous10:47 PM

    I totally think Cobra should have been run by Skeletor.