I never played the role-playing game, but I loved Dungeons & Dragons the animated TV series first broadcast from 1983 to 1985. In the UK, It was shown on Monday afternoons on the BBC, clashing with the formidable He-Man and the Masters of the Universe on ITV. But even though I liked He-Man too, there was never a question of which series I should watch. Dungeons & Dragons was the cartoon to watch. I would go as far as to say that it is favourite cartoon series of all time.
That’s not really surprising. I love fantasy epics such as The Lord of the Rings and every episode of Dungeons & Dragons felt very Tolkienesque. Most episodes would involve some sort of quest, magical creatures and fantastic beasts, and journeys to wild and dangerous lands.
As the title suggests, the show was based on TSR’s D&D role-playing game. It was co-produced by Marvel Productions with 27 episodes split over three seasons. The show focused on a group of friends aged between 8 and 15 who were transported to the world of Dungeons and Dragons after taking a magical roller coaster ride in an amusement park. They are greeted by Dungeon Master who calls himself their guide and gives each one a magical weapon.
The Main Characters
Here is a list of the children and the role that they take on when they acquire their magical weapons:
- Hank the Ranger: the oldest and a natural leader. He is given a magical bow that shoots arows of glowing energy.
- Eric the Cavalier: cowardly character who provides the comic relief. He is given a magical shield which can project a force field.
- Diana the Acrobat: outspoken and tomboyish, she carries a magic staff which can shift in length. She is skilled in dealing with animals.
- Presto the Magician: suffers from low self-confidence and nervousness which leads to his magic going wrong. He has a magical hat from which he can (sometimes) pull out just the thing the friends need to get them out of trouble.
- Sheila the Thief: has a magical cloak which makes her invisible when the hood is raised over her head. She has a great capacity for friendship and the wisdom to see the flaws or dangers of the group’s plans.
- Bobby the Barbarian: the youngest member of the group who is brave but impulsive. He carries a magical club which he often uses to trigger earthquaks or dislodge rocks.
Viewers could relate to at least one of the friends, fantasised about owning at least one of the weapons. This was one of the main attractions of the show. I wanted to be Hank because I wanted to be as brave and decisive as he was.
The friends’ overarching mission is to find a way back to Earth and their efforts would lead them to different parts of the magical land, help people and fight various forces of evil. The main antagonist is Venger, a powerful wizard who wishes to take the children’s weapons which he believes will help him rule the realm.
- Night of no Tomorrow
In their first adventure in the Realm of Dungeons and Dragons, the kids meet the legendary Merlin the Wizard who says he cannot get them back to their birth world. Presto decides to stay behind and become his apprentice, while the rest head toward the town of Helix in hopes gaining a clue to a way home.
- Eye of the Beholder
The kids run into a knight named Sir John, and asks for his help in defeating the Beholder, a demon who guards a portal to earth. The kids, however, are unaware that the roots of Sir John’s cowardice runs deep.
- The Hall of Bones
While battling a group of Simian bats sent by Venger, the kids find the magical power that grants their weapons power is fading. Dungeon Master sends the kids on a quest to find the Hall of Bones which contains the skull of power, that could renew their weapons. However, Venger manages to steal the weapons, not knowing their power is fading, to use against the only creature in the Realm who can destroy him, Tiamat, Queen of Dragons.
- Valley of the Unicorns
Uni is taken prisoner by the evil wizard, Kelek, who seeks the powers of Unicorns to overthrow his master. To stop him, they must seek the aid of Kelek’s target, Venger himself.
- In search of the Dungeon Master
While in the forest of know trees seeking information on leaving the Realm, the kids learn that their guide, the Dungeon Master, has been captured by Warduke, who plans on turning him over to Venger.
- Beauty and the Bogbeast
Dungeon Master sends the kids to find the river that rains upside down, which grants passage to other worlds. Eric gets himself into trouble with a mysterious flower that transforms him into a grotesque creature.
- The Prison Without Walls
The kids find themselves seeking the aid of the spellbinder, Lukion, who was imprisoned by Venger long ago, for Lukion has the power to send them home via a secret that Venger wants for himself.
- Servant of Evil
The kids are celebrating Bobby’s ninth birthday in the Realm when Venger’s lizardmen take them prisoner. Bobby, being away from the group at the time, escapes, leaving him to free his friends from the Prisone of Agony, with the help of one of Venger’s minions.
- Quest of the Skeleton Warrior
Danger awaits the young ones when Dungeon Master tells them of a powerful magical object capable of sending them home. Only their greatest fears and Venger stand in their way.
- The Garden of Zinn
Bobby is scratched by a sea demon and falls ill. Unable to undo the work of nature, Dungeon Master tells them of the Garden of Zinn, which contains the cure, unaware that Queen Zinn has her own reasons for helping them.
- The Box
A Realm quake unearths a mysterious box that Dungeon Master tells the children can set them free, if they can free the owner, Zandora, from her eternal imprisonment by Venger. *note: This is the second time the children return to Earth, and we also learn that their weapons, magical in nature, have no power on earth.
- The Lost Children
Lost children in the Realm with a ship are the key to a ride home, if the young ones can free the leader from Venger, who wants the ship for himself.
- P-R-E-S-T-O Spells Disaster
Presto casts one of the most powerfull spells ever to save his friends. Problem is it did too good a job. Sending them to a land and facing enormous danger, leaving him and Uni behind to find them.
- The Girl who Dreamed Tomorrow
A young girl from earth with a strange power finds herself in the Realm and the target of Venger who wants her power for himself, jeopardizing the young ones chance to reach a portal home, one created by Venger himself. Bobby finds himself bonding with the new young one.
- The Treasure of Tardos
The kids face their most dangerous task yet, to stop an evil half demon half dragon that can destroy the Realm and keep them from ever reaching home. Their only chance is to ally themselves with Venger, the one who created the monster.
- City at the Edge of Midnight
Children from different worlds, including earth are being kidnapped and enslaved by a demon called the Nightwalker. It’s up to the kids to save them, including an old friend.
- The Traitor
The young ones befriend a city of cloud bears, under attack from Venger’s Orc army who wants an element called the heart stone that he is powerless against. Meanwhile, Hank and Bobby are captured by Venger. Hank returns without Bobby, and Sheila learns that he lied about escaping, causing a rift between the kids.
- Day of the Dungeon Master
Telling off Dungeon Master for not showing up sooner, Eric claims he can do a better job as a Dungeon Master, which makes Dungeon Master decide to grant Eric his powers while he takes a rest. He sends them on their way to Dark Haven which contains a book that can open a portal home. Having magical powers now, Eric is the only one who can do it. But Venger wants the book too, and will stop at nothing to get it.
- The Last Illusion
A young illusionist who may possess the way home, is imprisoned by Venger, forced to do his bidding. Presto finds himself strangely attracted to her as they seek to find her and free her from Venger.
- The Dragon’s Graveyard
The kids’ closest chance ever to get home is ruined when Venger destroys the portal inches from them. Finally having enough, the kids try to convince Tiamat to help them destroy Venger once and for all!
- The Child of the Stargazer
A thousand years ago, a great city became under the rule of a demon queen, now a prophecy regarding the celestial appearance of starfall, can end her reign forever, if the young ones can deliver the child of the stargazer in time, while Diana finds herself having feelings for the stargazer.
- The Dungeon at the Heart of Dawn
A mysterious box opened by Eric sends a signal to evil personified, who immediately returns to the Realm to find Dungeon Master still alive along with young pupils. He seeks out Venger, who shockingly calls him Master.
- The Time Lost
Venger finds a way to rid himself of the young ones forever by tampering with Earth’s history, if they never existed, all their efforts in the Realm would never have happened. He enlists the aid of a Nazi pilot from earth’s past to achieve his goal.
- The Odyssey of the Twelfth Talisman
The kids are searching for a powerful talisman, one that must be destroyed, not knowing a young boy now possesses it and its destructive power. Eric finds a friend.
- The Citadel of Shadow
Sheila frees a young girl from a cave, unaware she is, Kareena, the sister of Venger, who is just as evil as he his, and wants back a ring he took from her the source of her powers, one of two which can send the young ones home. Learning the kids possess the other, she wants them both to gain absolute power.
- The Winds of Darkness
An evil being called the Darkling makes an appearance every 33 years when the moons are eclipsed, claiming 3 victims for 3 nights. When the thousandth victim is claimed, darkness will devour all light in the Realm forever. Only the light bearer can stop him. The kids must find the light bearer, for Hank was taken by the Darkling, leaving the kids without a leader, and only one more victim is needed to complete the Darkling’s plan.
- Cave of the Faerie Dragons
The kids befriend a group of small faerie dragons, whose Queen has been captured by King Varon, who wants the faerie Dragon’s treasure for himself. The treasure contains a magical item that can send the kids home.
An Adventure Without End
Dungeons & Dragons was a truly fantastic series but the show was never ended properly before its cancellation. Show writer Michael Reaves had finished a script for the series finale, Requiem, but the episode was never produced for television. It was eventually adapted into a radio play format for one of the DVD releases. Reaves explains:
As the third season of D&D drew to a close, Karl Geurs, the series’ producer and story editor, told me CBS was thinking of doing an episode that would “close out” the season. This is a fairly common practice today, but it was pretty much unheard-of back then, particularly in animation. It was decided that the episode (titled Requiem — I don’t remember if that was Karl’s title or mine, but it doesn’t really fit the script as it finally came to be written. I wanted to call it Redemption, but CBS felt that that title gave too much away) should end on a note that was both ambiguous and triumphant to cover all bets, because at the time we were doing the script we didn’t know if the show would be renewed for a fourth season or not. According to Gary Gygax, the series’ co-creator, the plan was for Requiem to be used as a springboard for a new approach to the show, one in which the kids would be more self-reliant and not dependent on their weapons. Unfortunately, problems with TSR, the D&D parent company, ultimately killed the plans for a new season, and Requiem was taken off the production board.
Watch the Complete Series
The complete series is available on DVD. It can also be viewed on YouTube, including the unproduced final episode Requiem which is put together using the radio show produced in 2006 for the DVD release and a fan-made Portuguese comic.