Bringing Myth and Magic to LEGO Castle: The System Years 1992-1999

Last year, I started to explore the way in which the LEGO® Castle theme has developed over the years. In our first installment, we looked at some of the ‘Pre-minifigure’ Castle history and continued to look at the way the Castle theme developed during the period of LEGOLAND Branding (1978-1991). In particular, we saw the development of factions, advanced use of landscaping, compared to other themes and the development of multiple animal moulds.

But what happened next? We have previously seen that 1990s were a period of diversification of material in both the LEGO Town and Space themes, with an increased number of factions and sub-themes. I apologize to those who have been waiting patiently for the follow up to last year’s article: Let’s take a look to see what happens in the realms of the Castle themes during the SYSTEM era..

The SYSTEM era: 1991-1999

The Sign of the Times: all Minifigure playsets of this era featured the ‘SYSTEM’ logotype on their boxes, while Castle sets were likely to feature a yellow /orange sky in the background.

Moving into the 1990s, Minifigure playsets were emblazoned with the ‘SYSTEM’ legend – not to be confused with Technic or Duplo – all sets of Minifigure scale bore this legend throughout the 90s, and from 1991, the Castle Theme took on a new look and feel. While the feminine face was introduced in 1990’s Forestmen and King’s Mountain Fortress, male facial hair migrated from pirates to Castle sets from 1992 onwards: Beards, Moustaches, stubble and the occasional eyepatch started to decorate our Minifigures and convey the characteristics of their factions.

1992: Wolfpack and the Black Knights

We meet the Wolfpack – a new Rogue faction, who certainly appear to be pretty rough and ready – but perhaps in fewer sets than their cult following might lead you to expect. Perhaps their occasional foray’s into other themes’ sets clouded our perception. With two of their three initial sets containing a ghost figure, was this the most haunted castle faction ever?

6075: Wolfpack Tower Image:

That said, set 6075: Wolfpack Tower is significant as it introduced a couple of new rock panels – The 6082 Rock panel Rectangular 4x10x6 (AKA Big Ugly Rock Piece – BURP) and 6083 Rock panel Triangular 3x8x7 (AKA Large Ugly Rock Piece – LURP) These elements endure in landscape based models to this day. Less enduring was the 6044 Slope 53º 3x1x3 1/3 with studs on the slope. This sloped brick was limited to sets produced between 1992 and 1998, and with the simple addition of a plate was able to rapidly get a sloped roof into existence. Today, we are likely to use a combination of clips and shields or modified plates with bar to achieve the same effect.

The Black Knight appears – is he a rogue Black Falcon? And what is his relationship to the Black Monarch’s Ghost? He certainly has a castle, as well as a guard shack with more than their fair share of hauntings going on. The 1888 Guard Shack also marks the debut (in parallel with the Imperial Trading Post) of the 6020 Ladder(bar 7×3 with double clips), an element essential in creating City fire-escapes and fences, to this day.

6086 Black Knight’s fortress Image:

1993: Enter the Dragon (Knights)

And this is where our heraldry seems to get a little confusing. While the Black Knights have shields bearing a blue dragon with red wings on a yellow field with a blue border, the Dragon Knights arrive in 1993, with a green dragon and red border on their shields. With the arrival of the Dragon Knights, we also saw the arrival of Majisto – the Wizard, to say nothing of actual dragons. The original Dragon design came in green, with red wings, and would continue to be used in to the 21st century, during the reign of the Knight’s Kingdom I. They would evolve further during the Age of the Vikings in 2005, and become progressively customised as we explored them in themes such as Kingdoms, Harry Potter, The Hobbit, LEGO Elves, Ninjago and more. But more on these a little later in the year.

6082: Fire Breathing Fortress Image:

With the aid of the wizard Majisto, The Dragon Knights were able to tame and harness the power of the Dragons. Their Fire Breathing Fortress was even fashioned in the shape of a dragon!

With the arrival of the Dragon Master in 1994, the Dragon Knights became the dominant Faction in the world of castle – although they would have to deal with the occasional cheeky interloper attempting to infiltrate their realm.

There is no doubt however, given the number of sets that Majisto appeared in, that he must have been the real power broker in the Castle world.

Arrival of the Royal Knights …and Skeletons.


The Dragon Knights all but faded into obscurity in 1995: we had a new faction, the Royal Knights, appear on the scene. The Royal Knights brought a return to Lion-based heraldry, bringing some Chromed goodness to the head gear and swords. We also get another, more traditional castle, as well as a separate drawbridge tower. The latter incorporates a solitary Dragon Master. Friend or Foe? I find myself imagining the superseded minifgures looking to pick a fight with the new factions, who are moving into their turf!

The Skeleton Arrives

This year also saw the debut of the LEGO Skeleton, which appears in 3 castle sets this year, as well as one pirates set. The story possibly warrants retelling:

Niels Milan Pedersen began work at the LEGO Group in 1980. In those days there were no digital design tools, no 3-d printing. In fact, all element design was initially done using clay models. During the development phase for LEGO pirates, Pedersen started work on a minifigure skeleton. He would leave his draft models on his desk at the end of the day, and it was common for the company owner – Godfredt Kirk Christiansen -to wander through the designers office at the end of the day. He was quite unhappy that a ‘dead’ minifigure was being designed, and made sure Pedersen was aware. With time, there was a softening of rules (and a change of management) which saw the skeleton eventually released in 1995, in both Castle and Pirates themes. Ultimately, it was designed to have floppy arms so that it could not be set up to attack! Something that might change in the dark days of the 21st Century. [Note: although the skeleton was not released until 1995, it was designed before the ghost.The ghost was much easier to bring to market, after successfully creating a ‘happy’ skeleton. I cannot remember if I have heard this story direct from Pedersen himself – I remember him telling me about the ghost – but I have heard the story from multiple sources, before and after]

Dark Forest: The Dark and Gritty 90’s Reboot of Forestmen

Dark Forest Fortress. Image: Brickset

As was the trend in the 90s, we started to see dark and gritty reboots. So it was in 1996 when we were treated to Dark Forest. Moving forward from the Original Forestmen, we saw tree elements now appearing in brown rather than the original black (admittedly, they have been around in brown for a couple of years by this point). The Dark Forestmen’s look was a mashup of the original Forestmen and the Wolf Pack: More of a woodland ruffian, rather than the Errol Flynn like ‘legally-not-Robin Hood’ from 1987. The two larger sets – 6046 Hemlock Stronghold and 6079 Dark Forest Fortress both came with a couple of knights from conflicting factions: Lion Knights in Hemlock Stronghold and Dragon Knights in the Dark Forest fortress. The something-something of my enemy is my something…?

Fright Knights

6097 Knight Lord’s Castle. Image:

Fright Knights was certainly one of the more creative Castle themes, with the arrival of Willa the Witch (although other names are used) and Basil the Batlord. This is a darker theme than many of the others seen, from the colour of the artwork, to the nature of the story matter.

While previous castles have felt as though they are out on a hill, valley or hidden in the forest, both the Night Lord’s Castle and Witch’s Magic Manor give more of a feeling being the ‘secluded mountaintop lair’ kind of castle, rather than the traditional Keep wrapped around the community, or the forest Hideout of the forestmen.

I find the way that various flying machines have developed to be intereting – whether it be by harnessing a dragon, or building a helicopter out of dragon wings.

While the smaller sets in the theme are self-evident, the larger sets do include sole visitors from other factions: a Dark Forestman in 6087 Witch’s Magic Manor and a Royal Knight in 6097 Night Lord’s Castle.

I was surprised by the relatively ‘bare bones’ approach of the 6087 Witch’s Manor, but I love the bit rock ready to drop over the main entrance. (The figure standing there is one of the Dark Forest men: ally or enemy?)

6087 Wicked Witch’s Manor. Image:

Time Cruisers

Further Questions arise: Are the Fright knights and the Witch allies or enemies? The Time Cruisers comic from the LEGO World Club magazine suggests that the Witch (Izmiralda) and the Bat Lord are at loggerheads, while she attempts to attract the Star People ( in fact members of the UFO series!). Shenanigans ensue, and you can find more of the Time Cruisers comic here. Going forward, Tim Timebuster and his Monkey, Ali, enter the world of the Ninja and find themselves fighting alongside King Richard, from Knight’s Kingdom – in between visits to Town , Space, Undersea and the Adventurers

New Elements in Fright Knights:

As well as new colours for the Dragon Wing (and dragon itself), the range also saw the introduction of a new doorframe and swivelling door 2x5x5, which would go on to be included in the Ninja and Adventurers themes, as well as others before retiring in the early years of the 21st Century. In 6087 – the Witch’s Magic Manor – it serves to switch a fireplace with a hidden skeleton. We also saw the introduction of the new bat element.

Swivelling Door: Image – excerpt from instructions – Source

There were a few small Fright Knights sets released in 1998, but something far more significant was lurking on the horizon:

1998: Ninja!

Over the past decade, Ninja have become commonplace in the contemporary LEGO pantheon, to the extent that the notion of mysterious secrecy is almost impossible. However, it was not always the case, and the primary focus of the castle range in 1998-99 was feudal Japan. Moving away from the typical European Castle aesthetic, this new range took historic castle sets in a whole new directions featuring Shogun, Samurai and Ninja, protecting their lords agains a range of bandits and robbers.

We saw quite a few number of small sets, as well as some larger castles released during this period, with a significantly different design to the traditional castles seen in previous years.

This is probably the first directly conflict driven castle range, with bandits and ninja featuring together in many of the sets

The buildings involved a number of LURPs in their bases, as well as introducing a 4x6x6 sloped panel with a rock/stone printed pattern.We also saw new banners, as well as wing designs for hangliders, piloted by the ninjas and bandits.

The Ninjas remain at the forefront of new Castle type sets for two years, and at the end of their reign, we reach the end of the SYSTEM ERA.

What did the System years mean for LEGO Castle?

An era of proliferation

While the Classic Era brought us the literal building blocks, the infrastructure for the Castle theme, the system era set the grounds for story telling. During this time, we saw no fewer than 6 factions developed – just as many as we saw in the previous 13 years, between 1978 and 1991. Indeed, we see over 60 castle sets during this time, compared to nearly 40 during the System years: every new faction provides the opportunity to produce your choice for a full range of sets. We saw a few themes given the Full Treatment: Dragon Knights, Royal Knights, Fright Knights, and Ninja, while Dark Forest and Wolfpack provided little more than a home for the inhabitants.

We saw the chance to riff of various legends: St. George and the Dragon; a return to Robin Hood; the Crusades as well as the Eastern European traditions of witches and vampires in the isolated mountains of Transylvania, and more. We also see different factions ‘dropping in’ some of the larger sets, providing some built-in conflict and story starters for kids who only owned one set.

A change of scenery

We don’t really see the same level of development in elements that define the look of castle sets, compared with the 1980s. While we continue to see the premoulded baseplates used for the larger castles, and also saw the introduction of ugly rock pieces in various shapes and size. Not all new elements survived: the decorated slopes associated with the Ninjago. Fortress did not really get a chance to be explored beyond the theme. We continued to see the development of landscape components: from the arboreal detail of the Dark Forest, to the rocky outcrop of the Wolfpack Tower, to the mountaintop lairs of the Bat lord and Witch, and finally to the wild lands of feudal Japan..

Commercial opportunities were few and far between in Castle sets of the 1990s, but Majisto made the most of it!

A time to shine

While we might not see dramatic changes in the LEGO system during this time, we began to see some new looks – a more aggressive looking halberd was introduced for the Dragon Knights: you need to control those unruly reptiles somehow, and with the Royal Knights, we saw the opportunity to get elements with a lovely chromed shine. To say nothing of the increasingly creative ways to decorate a face that were explored during this time.

While the LEGOLAND Era also showcased civilian life – taverns, blacksmiths and the occasional rapscallion or draft dodger, the closest thing to commercial activity seen in this era is 6020 Majisto’s Magic Shop.

Where are the women?

While female faces were a relatively late addition, appearing at the end of the LEGOLAND Era, female characters had been there from the beginning. Whether a stately lady or barmaid; princess or outlaw, women had appeared throughout that period.

It may not have been intentional but compared to the 1980s, Castle all but eliminated female characters. Having used smiley faces until the 1990’s Forestmen sets, no more female faces were used in castle sets until 1997. On the positive side, there were no damsels in distress to be rescued. However, the Witch was the one of the first female minifigures in the SYSTEM ERA Castle sets. At least she appeared in 5 of the 17 Fright Knights sets, in two variants, at all price points. The other were the green and white Ninja Princesses. The white Princess appeared in 2 different sets in the Ninja theme, one of which was issued as two seperate SKUs. The Green Ninja Princessappeared somewhat belatedly, as part of a Minifigure pack in 2000. Ultimately, there were more appearances by Ghosts and Skeletons in System Castle sets than female characters.

What’s the story?

Meanwhile, in the background, we saw the development of external transmedia story telling, in the form of the Time Cruisers Comic – with Timmy and Dr Cyber providing an unifying thread for the multitude of themes that appeared during this time – not just in Castle, but also Space, Town and more.

As we approach the end of this period, we are starting to see scope for more sets within a theme when both ‘good guys’ and bad are represented within the material. What’s starts off as a trickle has become a fully-blown, opposing-team theme with the Ninja.

We saw established factions make guest appearances in some of these themes while the Ninja theme thrived on developing the conflict between the Bandits and the Ninja, Samurai and the Emperor.

This conflict between factions WITHIN a theme would come to be key to the ongoing development of virtually all future homegrown themes, be they space, town or castle.

In the next installment, we shall explore this era of ‘Conflict in a box’ – Knights Kingdom, the Fantasy era, Kingdoms and the final Castle theme – before everything changed for Castle Fans, and the theme vanished forever.

Or Did it?

Did you play with LEGO Castle sets in the 1990s? What was your favorite theme? Where would you like the Ramblingbrick to Dive next? Why not let us know in the comments below.

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Play Well!

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