Saturday morning, September 17th, 1983. One week before my 11th birthday and only a few weeks after I’d first played Dungeons and Dragons, CBS aired the first 30 minutes of the greatest saturday morning adventure ever. Every weekend for the next three years would include this half hour animated Dungeons and Dragons animated series.
27 episodes of following Hank the ranger, Eric the cavalier, Sheila, the thief, Diana the acrobat, Presto the magician, Bobby the barbarian, and Uni, the baby unicorn, as they searched the realm for a way home to our world after being magically transported via a Dungeons and Dragons roller coaster at an amusement park.
Dungeon Master served as a sort of guide and impetus to the group, dropping clues and instigating adventures and investigations along the way.
The cartoon had surprisingly dark themes in retrospect. Violence and danger filled every episode, with each week proposing yet another life threatening task for the team to undertake. But there were moral lessons hidden beneath the thrilling action. Teamwork, critical thinking, empathy, all the same lessons that can be learned from any good D&D game session. The cast represented the varied types of players in a typical game. Hank being the natural leader and heroic champion. Eric the complainer and contrarian. Bobby the brash barbarian, always itching for some combat. Sheila the cautious caretaker, worried about her little brother Bobby as well as the group. Diana the brave acrobat who offers the second to Hank as a leader. And Presto, the nervous, self doubting and insecure magic user, whose unreliable magical abilities caused as much trouble as they cured.
Along the way they are guided (or manipulated) by the enigmatic Dungeon Master. Upon their first arrival in the realm, Dungeon Master provided the team with an assortment of weapons. A magical bow for Hank, a shield of protection for Eric, a cloak of invisibility for Sheila, Diana’s magical staff, a magically powerful club for Bobby, and the magic hat of Presto.
Dungeon Master would lead the team into adventures and peril, with an agenda of his own. While promising the kids a path to escape he also would be using them to defeat the evil Venger.
The evil wizard Venger pursued the children thoughout the series and his machinations were usually the source of each episodes action. Seeking the magic items of the team to somehow rule the realm, Venger would regularly deceive and manipulate the kids and the other inhabitants of the realm to get his way. Implied multiple times, not until the unproduced final episode was it revealed that Venger was in fact Dungeon Masters son who had turned to evil. Also revealed in that finale was the fact that Dungeon Master possessed the power to release the children the entire time, but needed them to defend the realm from the evil Venger and convert him. The final unaired script was later performed as a radio drama and even made into a comic book in portugese, it begins with a bargain made between Dungeon Master and Venger in a strikingly congenial context. Reminiscent of the book of Job, the two set up a final confrontation for the kids, that would put their friendships and their lives in danger like no previous episode.
Of course, what group of beginning adventurers facing their first encounters in the realm of Dungeons and Dragons would be complete without guest appearances by the queen of dragons herself, Tiamat. The only being in the realm more powerful than Venger, Tiamat randomly shows up and thwarts his plans and falls for simple traps set up by the party. But of course, since the technicalities of the shows namesake have little to no bearing on the mechanics of this animated version, why not.
An amazingly detailed blog page dedicated to the show is available at http://www.dungeonsdragonscartoon.com, and contains every possible detail of this piece of animated history, including scripts, storyboards, related merchandise and cameos and easter eggs from other Dungeons and Dragons products.