In which I suggest only the absolute essentials for someone who might be curious about the show but not want to invest in the whole series. There are 27 episodes in total, and I’m going to suggest six, which together come to about the length of a feature film.
What are my criteria? Well written, not overly goofy, portrays the D&D game world reasonably authentically, and has heart.
Click here for Season 2 (under construction)
Click here for Season 3 (under construction)
A Marvel/TSR co-production, developed by the legendary Mark Evanier. Mark has a fun blog entry on how it all got started
The conceit of the show, explained in the opening credits, is that six American kids are transported to a realm of sword and sorcery via a carnival ride. There they are assigned AD&D classes (ranger, barbarian, thief, cavalier, magician, acrobat) and magical “Weapons of Power” by a Yoda-like character called “Dungeon Master.” Ol’ DM basically tortures them with riddles and teases them with quests that promise to lead them back to the good ol’ US. Naturally, they never escape the realm of D&D.
Oh, and because it’s the 80’s, the mandatory cutesy mascot is in this case a baby unicorn “Uni” voiced, of course, by Frank Welker. Peter “Optimus Prime” Cullen is the voice of the recurring bad guy, Venger, who we learn secrets about in later episodes.
The score is excellent, and shares some tracks with the contemporary Marvel Spider-Man and Hulk series. The animation also at times transcends typical Saturday morning fare, with some clear “money shot” sequences, such as when a castle crumbles into a volcano and Venger’s immortal spirit towers over the heroes.
As a Dungeon Master myself, I’ll be looking at this series with my DM hat on. Are some episodes D&D adventure-adaptation friendly? Could it be a playable scenario to run with your home group? I have adapted some episodes, which I detail at length in old 2005 blog entries here and here https://torenatkinson.com/2005/04/16/part-2-campaign-adaptation/
There are 13 episodes in season 1
- THE NIGHT OF NO TOMORROW
Essential? It’s fine but you can skip it.
Game adaptation friendly? No, too much of the plot is dependent on particular decisions a group probably won’t make.
AD&D Monsters: Tiamat. Original monsters: fire-breathing brown dragons
Presto the nerdy magician is tricked into releasing a swarm of dragons that plagued the town of Helix 100 years ago. The kids defeat Tiamat twice because she is very dumb.
Watch my commentary as a storyboard artist, voice actor, and DM:
2. THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER
Essential? No. As much a fan as I am of beholders, they don’t really do the monster justice, and the episode drags somewhat.
Game adaptation friendly? I can’t see how the kids could survive this in normal play, so I say no.
AD&D Monsters: beholder, giant scorpion, blue dragon. Original monsters: giant snail people, sabre-tooth cats of some kind?
The kids get mixed up with a cowardly knight, Sir John. DM leads the kids to a portal guarded by a beholder. The beholder disappointingly only shoots lazers or energy tentacles from its eyes. Venger shows up to kill John and the kids forego the way home in favor of saving John.
Notes: Frank Welker voices Sir John. My video commentary is here:
3. THE HALL OF BONES
Essential? Yes, I recommend this episode.
Game adaptation friendly? I think you could do it, except it relies on the PCs trusting Hector, which may not happen.
AD&D Monsters: Tiamat, shadow demon, troll, orcs, misc townsfolk including a bugbear and lizard man or troglodyte? Lolth demon queen of spiders! Original monsters: “simian bats”
The kids’ weapons run out of magic and must be recharged at a tomb called the Hall of Bones. Hector the pantsless halfling guides them.
Notes: Frank Welker does the “don’t stop!” background voice and Hector the Halfling
4. VALLEY OF THE UNICORNS
Essential? Yes, the new villain Kelek is cool.
Game adaptation friendly? Well, if your group doesn’t have a unicorn buddy, probably not.
AD&D Monsters: (dire) wolves; unicorns
Kelek the bad wizard wants to collect unicorn horns from the few remaining specimens. Uni learns she can teleport, although this seldom comes up in future episodes.
5. IN SEARCH OF THE DUNGEON MASTER
Essential? It’s run of the mill plot, but has some charm. Still, you can skip it.
Game adaptation friendly? Yes, I did it successfully.
AD&D Monsters: sprite, zombie, bullywugs, lamassu, earth elemental, orcs, giant snapping turtle, shadow demon. Original monster: giant snail, “Know Tree”
The mercenary Warduke captures DM to sell to Venger. In the quest to rescue him, the kids are captured and thrown in slave mines where they meet a dwarf who talks like Yoda.
Warduke was given an action figure, and years later was statted up in Dragon Magazine and given an official miniature
6. BEAUTY AND THE BOGBEAST
Essential? This is a decent character episode for Eric, so watch it if you like his character, otherwise you can skip.
Game adaptation friendly? Possibly but I haven’t tried it.
AD&D Monsters: giant metal golem, ogre mage. Original monsters: bog beasts
DM leads the kids to a portal home that opens once a year for 60 seconds, but Eric is transformed into a croaking “bog beast” by a magic flower. In order to break the spell they must seek out more bog beasts who are threatened by Kalimung the ogre mage. The kids actually make it home, but return to the realm to restore Eric’s form.
7. THE PRISON WITHOUT WALLS
Essential? It’s pretty good, but I wouldn’t say it’s mandatory.
Game adaptation friendly? Maybe, but the riddles are fairly obvious, and it requires a character to work a magic spell so probably one of the PCs should be a spellcaster.
AD&D Monsters:: shadow demon, orcs, violet fungus, shambling mound, zombies, animated statues or stone golem,
DM tells the kids that a gnome wizard trapped in ‘a prison without walls’ can help them get home, but first they must release him and free his people from Venger’s enslavement.
8. SERVANT OF EVIL
Essential? Yes. I think this ep is emblematic of the show, showcases character, has heart, and portrays the quality of D&D.
Game adaptation friendly? Yes, and I’ve run it successfully!
AD&D Monsters: lizard men, a giant, xill. Original monsters: unidentified land tadpoles, lavender serpentine prisoner, lava hydra (possibly just a spell)
With the exception of birthday boy Bobby, Venger captures all the kids, takes their weapons and puts them in the Prison of Agony. DM gives Bobby a magic amulet, and sends him to rescue his friends, which he does with the help of the fighter Strongheart and the kind-hearted giant who serves as gatekeeper
Notes: Strongheart was one of the characters in the D&D action figure line
9. QUEST OF THE SKELETON WARRIOR
Essential? No. It’s got good qualities but is annoying in places.
Game adaptation friendly? Not easily – the PCs are separated and subjected to their phobias, which can be tricky to run.
AD&D Monsters: Grimlocks, swamp hags, giant eagle AKA war bird.
A powerful artifact called the Circle of Power lies within the Lost Tower (of the Celestial Knights), and DM says it can get the kids home. Dekkion, the last Celestial Knight (presently cursed by Venger), admits the kids into the tower where their worst fears of the kids are manifest.
10. THE GARDEN OF ZINN
Game adaptation friendly? I say no.
AD&D Monsters: baby green dragon (?), phantom stalkers, bloodworm, choke creeper (?)
Bobby is poisoned during a monster fight and the only cure comes from the garden of an evil queen. The queen needs to wed a king to avoid losing her throne, and the successful applicant must survive the Trial of the Worm. The kids find an ally in the monstrous Sorlarz who has his own secret past.
11. THE BOX
Essential? A neat inventive concept but if you’re pressed for time it’s okay to skip.
Game adaptation friendly? Yes I think so but I haven’t tried.
AD&D Monsters: bullywugs, shadow demon, Tiamat, giant wasps
The kids must take the sorceress Zandora’s magical chest to Skull Mountain at noon and open it to find a way home. The kids actually do get home but Venger comes through as well and threatens to destroy Earth so they return.
12. THE LOST CHILDREN
Essential? This ep stands out from the rest because of the space stuff, which is cool. If you’re a Spelljammer fan you might check this out. Otherwise ok to skip
Game adaptation friendly? Yes I think so!
AD&D Monsters: shadow demon, orcs, lizard men, possibly a grimlock. Original monsters: some cloaked one-eyed humanoids and the creatures they ride
DM informs the kid about a ship and a group of kids from another planet, who they find and befriend. They must all rescue the groups elder and spaceship, held in Venger’s castle.
13. P-R-E-S-T-O SPELLS DISASTER
Essential? Definitely not
AD&D Monsters: stegosaurus, orcs, a xill, a three-headed giant/firbolg? a giant and 2 gold dragons.
Game adaptation friendly? Possibly
One of Presto’s spells backfires and sends the other kids to the house of a hairy giant, who torments his new playthings with his pet ‘slime beast’ Willy. He’s also been stealing eggs from a gold dragon’s nest.
SUMMARY: THE 3 ESSENTIALS FROM THIS SEASON:
1. Hall of Bones
2. Valley of the Unicorns
3. Servant of Evil
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