Forgotten TV Gems: Dungeons and Dragons: The Animated Series

BY MACK VELTMAN

Fear not: Ranger, Barbarian, Magician, Thief, Cavalier, and Acrobat. That was Venger, the force of evil. I am Dungeon Master, your guide in the realm of Dungeons and Dragons.

Raise your hand if you knew D&D was once adapted for television in the early 80s.

The popular tabletop role-playing game came to life in an 1983 animated series produced by Marvel Productions and TSR. The series ran for three seasons on CBS and follows the adventures of six children who are transported to the “realm of Dungeons & Dragons” after they ride a dark magical roller coaster. Once transported into the titular realm, they encounter the Dungeon Master, who gives each of the children a magical item to help them in their quest to return home and defend themselves against villains Tiamat, a fearsome five headed female dragon and Venger, a dark wizard and son of the Dungeon Master.

The series was actually pretty decent, featuring lots of action and intrigue, entertaining and well animated villains, elaborately designed dragons, and castles and kingdoms that transported audiences into the classic fantasy adventures they read about and imagined. The six children, ranging from eight to fifteen years of age, were all well developed and had unique personalities that made them stand out from the copy and paste heroes of other animated fantasies. They consisted of Hank, the Ranger and leader of the group; Eric, the Cavalier and spoiled rich kid with a heart of gold; Dianna, the Acrobat, who’s bravery and ability to connect with animals saved the group on a number of occasions; Presto, the Magician, the well-meaning but slightly awkward member of the group; Sheila, the Thief who was the voice of reason and had a fear of being left alone; and Bobby, the Barbarian who is the youngest member of the gang.

While their ultimate goal was go get home, the kids were often roped into side-quests and various adventures to help the people of the realm. Other characters included Uni the Unicorn, voiced by none other than the legendary Frank Welker and of course the Dungeon Master, the cryptic but kindly mentor to the kids.

The series was well received but the level of violence the show contained was controversial at the time. In fact, one episode, “The Dragon’s Graveyard” was almost shelved because the kids contemplated killing their nemesis, Venger, and obviously this was a big “no no” for a children’s television program. The series was cancelled after 27 episodes; had the show been picked up for a fourth season, the season three finale would have served as both a conclusion to the current storyline and a reimagining of the series moving forward. A fan-made animation of the finale was uploaded to YouTube in 2020, featuring new and existing animation from the series and original audio.

Fans of classic fantasy–and of course D&D itself–should give this show a try. The animation does look slightly dated, but there’s no denying the charm of the series or the surprising enthralling adventure story of six kids who grow into heroes in their quest to get home. Have you seen the show? Let me know in the comments, and as always, stay nerdy!

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