In 2005 and 2014 I adapted episodes of the 1983 TV series for my gaming group. I’ll tell you how…
If you want an overview of adapting the series check this blog entry – keep in mind that was written for 3rd edition D&D.
Where to start? First, get familiar with the episode
Have your players create human characters that are children from Earth. They could be from the ’80s or they could be from modern times. In the cartoon the ages ranged from 9 to 15, so that’s probably a good range to choose from.
Each kid should have a phobia. For example, fear of crowds, fear of fire, fear of drowning, fear of growing old, fear of germs, fear of thunder and lightning. This will be important if you want to run them through the Quest of the Skeleton Warrior episode.
WHAT ABOUT MOTIVATION?
In the tv show, the kids were motivated to get back home. They found the monsters of the Realm to be scary and weird, whereas your players will look forward to slaying evil dragons etc. Check with your players if getting home is a good ‘final quest’ for them, or, if not, figure out what is actively moving them through the story.
NO MURDER HOBOS PLEASE
Stress to your players before the first session that all the kids are friends (and/or relatives) who care about each other (even if they may not admit it, like Eric). Decide what your tolerance for ‘lone wolf’ characters are and stress that to the group. Also, while I personally don’t use alignment, I recommend all the PCs be Good for purposes of motivation. In the cartoon the kids defeat, but do not kill, many monsters. Usually they fend off foes and one side or the other runs away. Will your campaign be similar? Will your kids slay some orcs and take their weapons and armor?
THE WEAPONS OF POWER
Work with each player to come up with a Weapon of Power. You know the ones from the cartoon, and if you watch the episode The Dragon’s Graveyard you will see some additional ideas. Here are ideas from my players:
A wand that had a random effect (we put together a table of 20 effects, similar to presto’s hat, they were not all particularly helpful and sometimes they were very unhelpful like duplicating a foe).
A musical instrument that could cast certain spells.
A lump of clay that the character could sculpt into something that would animate.
A horn which projected a cone of force and sonic affects.
Other ideas – maybe an amputee who gets a magic gauntlet to go on her missing arm?
A mirrored shield or weapon which can temporarily blind foes and perhaps scry?
A cloak that can transform the wearer into a woodland creature?
As dungeon Master, you will have to think carefully about the implications of each Weapon of Power and how they could be used to circumvent certain challenges or even entire scenes important to the plot.
ANIMAL COMPANION – YES OR NO?
We all remember Uni from the cartoon, and usually not with fondness. But if you want a creature in the party this can be memorable and help with player motivation. Remember Freddy the dog from the episode The Girl Who Dreamed Tomorrow? When you want the players to go somewhere, having the beloved pet run in that direction helps.
On the other hand, one of my players wanted to play a baby owl bear and I allowed it. However, be mindful about how restrictive playing an animal can be in terms of verbal communication and general role-playing.
STARTING THE ADVENTURE!
The first time you have a session, run the actual opening intro scene from the cartoon — they go through the amusement park ride, emerge in their new garb, and encounter Dungeon Master who gives them them their weapons, and are attacked by Tiamat and Venger.
Probably you will want to start everyone off with Inspiration or some kind of cheat dice so they can get out of impossible situations and don’t die from random bad rolls. Dying from stupid decisions is fine. But this first encounter, which seems ridiculous, sets the tone that sometimes they will have to run away. They are after all just kids and not seasoned warriors. Also, don’t play Tiamat and Venger smart. Tiamat is indestructible but is easily avoided and baited. She is ponderous and takes her time. Venger has powerful magic but prefers to just make threats and monologue about how great he is, how foolish and weak Dungeon Master is, and how the kids are doomed to fail. Play the villains creatively, not efficiently.
Please take a look at my blog entry at the beginner’s guide to the D&D cartoon. This will show you which episodes I believe are friendly to game adaptation.
SCENE 1: THE FOREST WITH KNOW TREES
The narrative begins as the group wanders through the woods. Dungeon Master has told them “you will find a clue to the way home in the forest with no trees.” On cue, they encounter a talking tree which introduces itself as a “know tree.”
Before it gives the clue for the characters to go home, it worriedly reports that Dungeon Master is in great danger, and reverts back to a normal tree. Optionally a character who has a good Perception score could hear some combat coming from some distance away. At any point they are attacked by bullywugs! Have one or more PCs see Warduke as he disappears into the woods, just as a preview to who the villain is that they will encounter later.
SCENE 2: MOUNTAINOUS CHASM
After the battle, or if things are looking grim, a sprite flies to the group and tries to enlist their help to rescue Dungeon Master. The pixie leads them into a mountainous area and along a cliff ledge, but there is a gap in the ledge that the characters must cross. If they can’t work out a way by themselves, or if a failed check leads to someone falling, have lammasu come and help them across, as in the cartoon.
SCENE 3: CAVE OF THE EARTH ELEMENTAL
The pixie leads them into a scary cave with lava rivers inside and they are attacked by an earth elemental, and subsequently, orcs. If you want to keep the characters from escaping, you can have the earth elemental collapse the entrance through which they came. The orcs take the weapons and enslave the kids in the Slave Mines of Daramorn (this will be tricky, players dislike having their agency taken away).
SCENE 4: SLAVE MINES OF DARAMORN
It’s ok to split the party at this point if only some kids are captured. The kids meet enslaved dwarfs who explain that this was their (silver?) mine before the orcs took over. They offer to help the kids rescue DM if the kids help the dwarfs escape the mine. As an option, introduce random tremors throughout these scenes, maybe even some lava leaks – this might inspire the players to come up with their plan.
A dwarf (let’s give him a name – Balzad) tells the kids that Dungeon Master is just on the other side of a mine wall. The PCs should have an opportunity to reclaim their weapons and get through the wall of the mine into the chamber where DM is held by Warduke. Before they can rescue Dungeon Master, Venger shows up. This is the climactic battle with Venger, Warduke and the bullywugs. The The key to surviving this encounter is to free dungeon master from the magic of Warduke’s ice sword.
You can find Warduke’s game stats online, but they usually give him a flaming sword. Don’t use that – give him the ice sword which freezes whoever it hits. And can shatter the magic ice it makes!
DM turns Venger’s evil magic against him and Venger explodes! DM warns the children that he’ll soon regain his form and they must flee the mines as the intermittent tremors are now shaking the place apart. And don’t forget the dwarves! In the chaos of the quakes, the baddies are scattered and that’s the end! Huzzah!
DENOUEMENT: WHAT ABOUT THAT KNOW TREE?
This is one of the few episodes of the cartoon where the kids don’t find a portal home. Why can’t the PCs go back to the Know Tree and get their clue now? No reason I can think of. This was a plot thread left dangling in the cartoon. If this bothers you, you can edit out the tree encounter altogether, or think up some clue to give the PCs that will take them on their next journey.
Next episode will be Prison Without Walls
Battle mats used
Battle with Tiamat
bullywug fight – Paizo swamp flipmat
lava cavern earth elemental fight
Just for fun, here are the stats for my players when I ran the game:
MC, age 10 (Khodi),
HP 10, STR 9 DEX 17 CON 11 INT 13 WIS 14 CHA 15
SKILL: Stealth, Perception, Sleight of Hand, Performance, Athletics, Search
Phobia of crowds
Weapon of Power: Whip
GILBERT, age 12 (Gibby)
HP 12 STR 9 DEX 11 CON 13 INT 15 WIS 14 CHA 17
SKILLS: Performance, Sleight of Hand, Insight, Perception
Weapon of Power: Horn (short burst = cone of force (save vs STR), long blow = cone of sonic damage (1d6 dmg, save vs CON or temporary deafness), melody = drowsiness (save vs. CON)
MADISON, age 12 (Louise)
HP 10 STR 13 DEX 15 CON 11 INT 17 WIS 9 CHA 14
SKILLS: Acrobatics, Performance, Intimidate, Deception
Weapon of Power: Clay
LORI, age 12 (Toni)
HP 11 STR 11 DEX 17 CON 13 INT 14 WIS 9 CHA 15
SKILLS: Acrobatics, Sleight of Hand, Stealth, Deception, Perception, +______
Phobia of drowning
MARTY, age 10 (Carl)
HP 13 STR 15 DEX 13 CON 17 INT 11 WIS 9 CHA 14
SKILLS: Deception, Intimidate, Athletics, Stealth
Phobia: growing old
Weapon: Crossbow (Bolt of Piercing 1d10+1; Bolt of Fire 1d6 + save vs DEX or catch on fire; Bolt of Poison save vs CON or be sickened; Bolt of Tether 100′)
BENNY, age 11 (Mike)
HP 12 STR 13 DEX 14 CON 15 INT 17 WIS 11 CHA 9
SKILLS: Search, Acrobatics, Athletics, History
Weapon: Staff of Random Weirdness