From left to right: Hank, Eric, Diana, Presto, Sheila, Bobby, and Uni.
Dungeons & Dragons (often referred to by fans as the "D&DC"note :C is for cartoon in order to distinguish it from the game) was an animated television series based on the role-playing game. The show was produced and broadcast from 1983 to 1985. The premise had six friends (Hank, Diana, Eric, Presto, Sheila and Bobby) take a ride in an amusement park and suddenly find themselves in a Heroic Fantasy setting simply called The Realm. They are instantly garbed in clothes fitting their character classes and quickly gain a companion in a unicorn foal named Uni. A Mysterious Benefactor, known only as Dungeon Master, gives each of them a magic weapon to help them survive in that world and promises to help them find a way home.Together, the kids look for a way home, but the malevolent villain, Venger, is determined to hunt them down for their weapons as a means of gaining supreme power. Dungeon Master mysteriously appears at seemingly random times, restricting his help to quest assignments and giving advice in the form of cryptic riddles that frustrate the kids to no end.For the tabletop game this is based on, see Dungeons & Dragons.
Adult Fear: Oh boooooy. We have Hank being forced to betray his friends to keep a kidnapped Bobby alive, the Nightwalker kidnapping children from Earth via portals, Varla's parents being unable to keep their Barrier Maiden daughter safe from Venger...
It gets even worse in "City on the Edge of Midnight". The episode opens in our world, with a young boy screaming for help as he is dragged off by an unseen force, only for his father to come rushing in just in time to see his son sucked under the bad. Dad flips the bed over, and there's nothing but bare floor underneat, and we see the cops pull up outside. Drifts into Fridge Horror when you imagine Dad trying to explain what happened to his son to the police.
After the End: When the kids arrive in the Realm, Venger has already ruled it for the better part of a millennium, leaving only small villages and a handful of fortified cities separated by miles of wilderness and wasteland.
Alien Sky: The Realm has four suns and three moons.
In the (never-produced) finale, the lizardmen get to return to their own world, which is a lush jungle realm with three red suns in its sky.
We also would have been treated to the view of the sky off the edge of the world.
A fairly common feature of the sky is floating islands.
All-Powerful Bystander: The Dungeon Master, who has access to items that can easily overpower and thwart Venger, can teleport anywhere, is all knowing, incredibly powerful, and yet won't lift a finger to help the kids or anyone else out beyond cryptic clues.
Seeing that Venger serves a Bigger Bad that nearly killed Dungeon Master effortlessly, it may be that he is forbidden from interfering directly, lest Venger's boss decide to take a much more active role in subjugating The Realm.
And I Must Scream: Venger imprisons Kelek in a magical sphere beneath the earth, presumably conscious forever. Also, Dekion's curse.
It looked like Kelek got hit with a First Edition imprisonment spell, which means he's in suspended animation. So good for him.
Animesque: Though most of the original character designs were done by Marvel, the actual animation for the series was done by Toei Animation. It shows.
Ascended Extra: The entire series and all the characters, as a special D&D handbook◊ came with the boxed DVD set that gives 3rd edition stats to the children, Venger and all of the weapons and equipment, along with other show-only aspects, effectively making the cartoon an official part of the D&D game.
Several minor characters also suffer this fate. Sir Lawrence is turned into a dorky-looking creature in "Garden of Zinn" (and the same spell backfires on Zinn in the end) and the spellbinder Lukion has become a swamp creature made out of moss and goo in "Prison Without Walls".
Be Careful What You Wish For: When Presto's hat works at all, it tends to produce what he asks for, but not what he really wants. (Like conjuring a cannon but no cannonball.) Although half the time, the result ends up being useful after all.
In one case, he tells the hat to send an attacking orc "on a trip," and the orc is promptly dressed in Bermuda shorts and a flowered shirt, wielding a ukulele. Embarrassed, it flees.
Probably his most successful hat pull that couldn't be used for anything was an actual full-sized battleship, but only using it as a wall.
Berserk Button: Bobby is already the most impulsive member of the gang by far, but if Uni's threatened he tends to charge into the fray no matter WHAT the odds. Also, if someone so much looks cross-eyed at his older sister Sheila, they will get the literal "combat munchkin" charging at them.
Beware the Nice Ones: Almost gets Venger killed when he pushes the kids too far in "The Dragon's Graveyard".
Bigger Bad: In one episode we find out about Venger's boss, The Nameless One, a being so powerful and evil he destroys entire worlds. The kids only survive because he got bored and left to destroy some other world while they were taking refuge in the Underworld.
Character Development: Eric becomes generally less selfish and obnoxious over the course of the series. By "The Winds of Darkness" he's even stepping up to lead the party when Hank's not available, and the only one who doesn't sound halfhearted about stopping the Darkling.
Diabolus ex Machina: All too often, a chance to go home is ruined by something like this. One time when they came the closest (they were actually back in the amusement park) Venger managed to follow them. Because fighting him there was impossible (their weapons didn't work in their world, but his magic clearly did) and he was more than willing to do to Earth what he had done to the Realm, they had no choice but to trick him into chasing them back to the Realm. (And ironically, protecting their world and many others from Venger at the cost of their freedom seemed a common theme.)
Disappeared Dad: It's hinted in "City At the Edge of Midnight" that Eric is estranged from his father in the real world.
Don't Touch It, You Idiot!: Despite protests, Eric opens a locked box the kids are sent to find, and as a result summons ultimate evil to the Realm. The protests were along the lines of "Oh, hey, didn't DM say not to open it? Well, whatever." Dungeon Master even pointed out that Hank as good as gave Eric permission to do so.
Eric makes a similar mistake in "Beauty and the Bogbeast" where he picks an enchanted flower Dungeon Master warned the kids not to touch (sort of). At least this one backfires only on himself. (Although it ultimately causes the kids to return to the Realm after actually making it home.)
In the script for the unproduced finale, the group must face a giant amoeba that is immune to all of their attacks. The script actually describes it as a "Lovecraftian Horror."
Enemy Mine: Venger and the kids team up against a greater threat a couple of times, most notably against Venger's master in "Dungeon at the Heart of Dawn".
In "The Dragon's Graveyard", Tiamat is no friend to the kids (she's evil, after all), but she's willing to assist them in their plan to get rid of Venger, since she hates Venger a lot more.
Everyone Calls Him Barkeep: Dungeon Master is known only by his title and, likewise, he almost always addresses the kids by their titles. (Venger does the same, but his relationship with the kids is hardly a first-name one.)
DM addresses Diana by name once, when she was heartbroken, reassuring her that giving up her soulmate saved hundreds of people.
DM also calls Bobby by his first name once, in "Servant of Evil."
After a recent marathon, I could find no instance where DM calls Sheila by her class of Thief, save for the opening. He usually addresses her as "Child".
Evil Is Not a Toy: In "Treasure of Tardos", Venger uses a gargantuan dragon-demon hybrid to break down the gates to a city, but the beast wrestles free from his control and threatens to completely destroy the very realm he's trying to conquer.
Expository Theme Tune: The spoken voice-over by Dungeon Master dumps more information on the viewer than most actual episodes.
Fastball Special: A three person combo in "The Girl Who Dreamed Tomorrow. Diana catapulted Bobby into the air, and then Eric used the magic of his shield to propel him faster, giving him the momentum to smash the portal.
Fate Worse than Death: Transforming his enemies into monsters, putting them into a prison suspended over a volcano, locking them up in other dimensions, turning them into undead slaves... let's just say that Venger is very fond of this trope.
Getting Crap Past the Radar: SeeExecutive Meddling, above. They already had a leash on the writers because of D&D's bad reputation in the early 80s, but the writers still managed to get a couple winners through. A great example is Eric being more of a pain in the ass than usual, causing Diana to snark off to Sheila that "he's having one of his days" (implying "time of the month").
Giant Flyer: In "Day of the Dungeon Master", Eric summons a roc to serve the gang as "Bird-brain Airlines" — not entirely successfully.
God for a Day: "Day of the Dungeon Master," Eric the Cavalier is given the practically limitless power of the Dungeon Master. He screws up a lot by being rather pompous, but he actually ends up becoming very sagelike himself. He even gets the capability to send everyone back to the real world, but they stay because it would require him being left behind on his own.
Improvised Weapon: In order to avoid retaliation from the Media Watchdogs, Hank's energy bow and Bobby's megaton club could only be used directly against enemies who'd either shrug off the attack or were guaranteed to deflect it. In order to deal with the lesser Mooks, they use their weapons in creative indirect ways. Bobby scares enemies off by knocking down trees near them or creating shockwaves. Hank has been seen to use his arrows to ensnare groups of enemies, clip the wings of giant wasps, or fuse the legs of an iron giant together to trip him up.
The stuff that comes out of Presto's hat usually counts, since it never produces conventional weapons. Examples are a fire-hose against a lava dragon, an electric fan against a swarm of giant insects, and a collection of marbles to send approaching enemies to the floor. Although in the game, marbles are a standard weapon, and expected to be used this way.
In Name Only: It was a decent cartoon, but aside from a general fantasy theme and a few borrowed classes/monsters, it wasn't much like the tabletop game. To name one difference, "casting" the Dungeon Master as a combination of Yoda and a Literal Genie undoubtedly led certain inexperienced game referees to produce a few terrible role-playing sessions. Of course, this same independence from the source material also gave the writers some much-needed creative freedom.
Invisibility Cloak: The "weapon" Dungeon Master gave Sheila. It does come in handy on several occasions, however.
Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Eric the Cavalier is egotistical, prickly, and cowardly a lot of the time, but in a crunch, he is as heroic as the rest (if not even more) and eventually improves over the series.
The people behind the scenes didn't seem to think kids would notice his good qualities. There was a line of tie-in "choose your own adventure" style books where the reader gets to control each of the kids, but in one you play Eric's brother Michael rather than Eric himself. Presumably because they figured nobody would want to play him.
The Fan Fic for the series not only notices but also amps up the heart of gold part and exploits the gamer's maxim of "never trust a smiling Dungeon Master."
Just Friends: Unlike Bobby (Terri), Diana (Josef and Kosar) and Presto (Varla), Hank and Sheila never get a real romantic interest in any of the episodes. The character profiles on the DVD suggests there's a quiet sense of affection between the two. Nothing official ever develops between them on screen, though.
The series bible, written by Mark Evanier, indicates that Sheila would "probably" like to be Hank's "steady," but that the kids' current predicament keeps her from acting on her feelings. Evanier's wording gives the impression that he was instructing the writers to play with the idea of Hank and Sheila together if they wanted to, but not to feel it was necessary. There are plenty of scenes that seem to indicate that the two have strong feelings for each other.
Kick the Dog: Venger does this in "The Dragon's Graveyard" by fatally injuring Uni. Not a smart move since it only makes the kids more determined to kill him off for real.
King Incognito: The heroes once met a travelling merchant looking for his missing daughter. In the end, the Dungeon Master revealed the "Merchant" was actually a King going Incognito to make the search easier.
Lap Pillow: Sheila does this for several characters through the course of the series, probably as part of her Team Mom duties. Notable examples include Terry in "The Girl Who Dreamed Tomorrow", and Presto in "The Last Illusion."
Leeroy Jenkins: Bobby's tendency to do this is one of the main causes for Sheila's worry.
Literal Genie: Presto's magic hat, while not an actual character, is at times an example of this trope. A wish to make an orc "vanish from my sight" immediately causes a bucket to materialize over Presto's head. A wish to return horns to a group of hornless unicorns glues car horns to their heads. And a wish to have something to stop a charging golem produces a stop sign.
Load-Bearing Hero: Eric uses his shield to do this when a rockslide comes down on the characters in "Valley of the Unicorns".
Lonely Rich Kid: Eric is hinted to have been this in the real world—most notably when he comments that Ramoud in "City on the Edge of Midnight" (who they have known for one day) is "better than my dad ever was."
Lovable Coward: Eric's usual response to danger is to run away and hide. The one time he declared "Everybody get behind my shield!", his compatriots afterward expressed surprise that he'd actually grown a backbone for a second or two. He got the Golden Grimoire book and was willing to pull a Heroic Sacrifice to send the gang back home.
Luke, I Am Your Father: A later episode reveals to the audience that Dungeon Master is Venger's father. This trope is handled subtly: they knew it all along, but the kids never find out.
In the script of the unproduced final episode, the kids find out as Venger is turned back into his former self and Dungeon Master acknowledges their relation.
Lull Destruction: Kicks in about season 3, when the show started overextending occasionally and had to cram too much content into too small a time slot. Worst examples are in "Odyssey of the Twelfth Talisman" and "Citadel of Shadow", though "Citadel of Shadow" only really suffered from it for its first half.
Magic A Is Magic A: On two occasions, DM states he cannot undo something due to magical incompatibility. The first when Eric is turned into a Bog Beast, and DM says it was not his magic that made the curse, so he can't undo it. The second is when Bobby is poisoned by a dragon, and DM states his magic cannot undo a natural cause, and they must find a natural cure. Of course, in both cases, he may have been lying to achieve his own goals.
Meaningful Name: The gang's roles tend to match their personality. Eric is definitely cavalier.
Merchandise-Driven: The cartoon was greatly criticized during its run both for its violence and for being this. At least three characters, Kelek, Strongheart, and Warduke (with accompanying Nightmarenote wonder if Venger knew his steed was moonlighting?), had appeared as action figures and then as non-player characters for the game shortly before they appeared on the cartoon. Tiamat would appear as one in the cartoon's second year.
Mordor: The wasteland around Venger's various fortresses.
Mythology Gag: The series is full of shout-outs to the tabletop RPG it draws its inspiration from.
Lukion is recognizable as a "Shambling Mound", an animate mass of swamp-plants loosely inspired by Swamp Thing and Man-Thing.
Bullywugs are low-level swamp-dwelling evil mooks, essentially goblins that look like humanoid frogs.
The green-skinned, vaguely porcine appearance of the orcs is actually how they were rendered in D&D at this time; they didn't begin moving to their more simian-esque Frazetta Man look until towards the end of 2nd edition, and it didn't become standard until 3rd.
Tiamat is the five-headed Goddess of Chromatic Dragons from the game.
Lolth, Demon Queen of Spiders, actually appears in one episode and is referred to by name.
A pair of Gold Dragons, one of the few species of good dragons, appear in one episode.
Nerd Glasses: Presto wears them, and it would be a major problem if he lost them.
Never Say "Die": Venger particularly is prone to this. For instance, regarding Terri:
No Swastikas: One episode featured Venger messing with a time portal to our world, hoping to erase the kids from history by arming a Nazi fighter pilot with a 21st-century jet. Luckily for the kids, the pilot was a Turncoat who loathed Hitler's regime (and hit it off with Diana, too). More to the point, the tell-tale armband that he tries to ditch lost the swastika it bore in the story-boards and turned into a Balkankreuz (in a red circle on a white background, no less! Which Axis power did he fly for, again?).
Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Sir John in "Eye of the Beholder" has the worst English accent since Dick Van Dyke, while Josef Müller in "The Time Lost" cannot properly pronounce even his own German name.
Our Dragons Are Different: A fairly common feature of the show, naturally. The five-headed Tiamat was a semi-regular, but the game's evil chromatic and good metallic dragons showed up as well: blue dragons in "Eye of the Beholder" and "The Time-Lost", a red dragon in "Day of the Dungeon Master," gold dragons in "P-R-E-S-T-O Spells Disaster," and a bronze dragon in the unproduced "Requiem." There was also the hybrid Demodragon, half-demon, half-dragon, in "The Treasure of Tardos."
Perpetual Poverty: The children themselves never have much, if any, money, because of their ceaseless wandering and their goal being to escape the Realms rather than to acquire wealth. As a result, they depend on hunting, foraging and Presto's magic to provide food.
The Quest: For the kids, trying to find a way home. For the Dungeon Master, trying to save his son.
Rage Against the Mentor: One plot has the heroes, tired of the status quo, both setting out to finish Venger once and for all and demanding (and getting!) some straight answers from Dungeon Master, rather than his usual convoluted riddles.
Recursive Canon: The show starts with the kids going on a D&D-themed ride at a theme park, suggesting the D&D games exist in their world. They are then sucked into the real world of Dungeons and Dragons. Incidentally, they don't seem to know anything about the D&D world, despite apparently having recognized the ride's theme.
The Resolution Will Not Be Televised: The show was cancelled before the final episode was made. A script of it does exist and has been available from the writer's site. Ultimately the show was partly completed as the final episode was performed and released on the American DVD set as a radio play with Sheila's voice actress even reprising her role.
Ret Canon: Cavaliers, acrobats, and barbarians were not classes in the original Dungeons & DragonsTabletop RPG; they appeared in the show first and were added to the game shortly afterwards in Unearthed Arcana. note The former two were dropped out of later versions of the game, though cavaliers/knights have occasionally popped back in, but barbarians remain a standard class to this day.
Also, what had been done to the good elements of Venger in his backstory, only revealed in the unproduced finale.
Series Goal: Escape from The Realm and return to their own world. In the never-produced finale, the kids are offered a choice of either returning home or staying in The Realm to have more adventures.
She-Fu: Diana the Acrobat, who is a medal-winning gymnastics practitioner in the real world.
Shout-Out: To Star Wars with a few in-character jokes by the kids, presumably to show that they're from our world and our time (well, the 80s, anyway). As if having a show based on D&D wasn't nerdy enough.
Also received a Shout-Out from Nodwick, in a strip in which Yeagar, having "defeated Tiamat," goes on to rescue Sheila and Diana from Venger, as Bobby, Eric, and Hank look on.
And portraits in Baldur's Gate, where they were assumed to have been killed by Tiamat. Nice one, BioWare.
In "Cave of the Fairy Dragons", when confronted with giant ants, Bobby yells out, "It's Them!." The ant noises even sound like those from the classic film.
Shrinking Violet: Sheila (who even wears violet clothes) is a bit shy, and panics horribly at the prospect of being completely alone.
Single Tear: The animators loved using this with Sheila. Once it was used for a curse breaking effect in "The Garden of Zinn." They also use the Single Tear with her in the episode "City on the Edge of Midnight," when Rahmoud gives Sheila a doll belonging to his own missing daughter. Also used with Solinara in "The Treasure of Tardos".
Spot the Impostor: Zig-Zagged; Hank correctly spots an impostor Dungeon Master — because he's not talking in riddles — but the one he thinks is real is also an impostor.
Trapped in Another World: It's hinted through the series and confirmed in the unaired finale that "everyone" in the Realm is Trapped in Another World, or the descendants of those who were. In "Prison of Agony", the heroes meet a giant who's worse off then they are; not only is he unable to go home, he's being blackmailed into working for Venger, who threatened to destroy his homeworld.
Two-Faced: The queen of the city of Torad in "Child of the Stargazer" appears human at first until she removes the hood that obscures the left side of her face. It is then revealed she is literally half demon.
Ultimate Evil: The Nameless One, boss of Venger, is a hugely powerful and evil being that destroys worlds only because he feels like it. Its body is permanently wrapped up in a massive tornado that reaches the clouds, and its real aspect is never shown. You can only see its glowing eyes.
Villain Ball: In at least one instance, just letting the kids go home would have both rid Venger of their perennial interference and left him free to grab their magic weapons and a very powerful grimoire. This was apparently not evil enough for him.
Year Inside, Hour Outside: Implied. In one episode, the kids meet a classmate who was kidnapped from his home by the villain. He mentions he saw them just before the weekend started, meaning the kids haven't missed a single school day on earth over the months they spent trapped in the Realm.