Essential? Yes. This episode explains some of Venger’s backstory, and what master he serves. Game Adaptation Friendly? It could be challenging but also interesting to take away kids’ weapons of power during the Underworld set pieces. AD&D Monsters: Shadow demon, salamanders, duergar (possibly), purple worm Bonus monsters: He Whose Name Cannot Be Spoken
When the kids release a powerful evil entity from the Box of Balefire, DM drains the Weapons of Power to fend it off, and escape to the Underworld. Without magic and with Venger on their heels, the kids are separated one by one as they cross the Planes of Fire to revivify DM in the Dungeon at the Heart of Dawn.
Notes: Starts off with the characters in pitch black, saving thousands on the animation budget! Frank Welker Voices: Hogar the duergar.
23. THE TIME LOST
Essential? No but as a kid’s cartoon with Nazis it’s worth a watch Game Adaptation Friendly? No this could go sideways in many many ways. AD&D Monsters: blue dragon
Venger uses the Crystal of Chronos to send a Nazi fighter pilot back to WWII Germany with modern jet technology to win the war for Germany, thus eliminating the kids before they’re born.
Notes: Diana has never seen an American fighter jet. Frank Welker Voices: American fighter pilot
24. ODYSSEY OF THE 12TH TALISMAN
Essential? No Game Adaptation Friendly? AD&D Monsters: jackalope. Bonus monster: some kind of dire camel or possibly off-model catoblepas
DM quests the kids to find and destroy the unpredictably dangerous Stone of Astra, which is in the hands of a kid that Eric bonds with named Lorn. An evil wizard frames the kids in an effort to acquire the artifact.
Notes: this is Eric gets a friend episode. Frank Welker voices the wizard Korlock
25. CITADEL OF SHADOW
Essential? No Game Adaptation Friendly? No AD&D Monsters: orcs. Bonus monster: flying bat-thing
Sheila frees a girl Kareena from her magic prison, and there’s two magic Ring of the Heart and the Ring of the Mind that can send the kids home, but Kareena has a connection with Venger.
Notes: Frank Welker voices an orc
26. CAVE OF THE FAERIE DRAGONS
Essential? No Game Adaptation Friendly? Quite possibly! But I haven’t tried it yet. AD&D Monsters: Faerie dragons, giant ants
Tasmira, queen of the Faerie Dragons, is held prisoner by the evil warlord King Varen, who desires their treasure. Aided by the sassy little dragon Amber, the gang must free her and help her people find a new home.
Notes: Presto makes a reference to the 1950’s giant ants movie “Them!”
27. THE WINDS OF DARKNESS
Essential? No Game Adaptation Friendly? Quite possibly! But I haven’t tried it yet. AD&D Monsters: brontotherium. Bonus monsters: furry pet, darkling.
BONUS EPISODE: REQUIEM
Essential? Tough call. Considering it’s not official, I would say it’s strictly not essential. But if you want closure, watch it. Game Adaptation Friendly? Ask me later. AD&D Monsters: Hydra, bronze dragon, lizard men, shadow demon. Bonus monster: amoeboid
This was to be the final episode of the series and a script was written but it was not officially produced. A radio play of the script was released with the DVD box set, including the original voice of Sheila, Katie Leigh. In 2020 a fan-made animation was released on Youtube which you can see here.
ESSENTIAL EPISODE FROM SEASON THREE: DUNGEON AT THE HEART OF DAWN
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.
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.
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
Essential? No 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
It’s my goal to draw 26 monsters from the original D&D Monster Manual, each with a 20 minute time limit. I have recorded my twitch livestream which you can find here: https://www.twitch.tv/torenatkinson
Hey, betcha didn’t know I have a Patreon? Support the stuff you love! https://www.patreon.com/torenatkinson
Communicate often with your players. Do this both as a group and one-on-one. Converse with them, not to them. Tell them what your expectations are of your players and ask what they expect out of their DM. If you see conflicts, address them. Understand that what works for some of your players may not work for others, and you may have to make some hard choices to play the game you want to play. But above all – communicate.
TOREN’S TIP: You are the game referee, but you are not your player’s conflict mediator outside of the game. Set healthy boundaries. Seth Skorkowsky has an excellent video on his channel about this.
2. People these days talk a lot about ‘Session Zero’ – this is basically a subset of point 1. It could be in person or it could be virtual, or even just an email. It’s a communication of what the tone, gaming style, rules restrictions, setting, and everything else about your game will be, including what you will allow and what you won’t allow. This happens before the first adventuring session and it’s a great time to find out what your players are comfortable with (remembering that many of your friends have deep traumas that you might now know about including sexual assault, death of close relatives at young age, etc.).
Is alcohol allowed at the table? How about cell phones? Will characters level up via XP or milestones? What’s the balance between crunchy combat and roleplay-heavy social encounters?
TOREN’S TIP: Ask each character to have a connection or bond to any 1 or 2 other player characters (the fighter and I escaped the slave mines together; I follow the cleric’s god and look to her for advice; the druid is my adopted sister!)
There are lots of articles and youtube videos about what you should cover in a session zero. Here is a good one:
3. Watch your Group Size. It’s legendarily difficult to find a good, stable gaming group (congrats if you have one) and there are different philosophies as to the perfect size. You can absolutely have a game with 1 player and 1 DM. Typically the magic number is 4 players and 1 DM. With smaller groups, you risk having to cancel the entire session if 1 or 2 players has to cancel, whereas if you have a larger group of 5 or more, the danger becomes when everyone shows up and you get very little done in the session because there is more time used up between players’ turns. It really depends the reliability of your players so all I can say is good luck!
4a. Set reasonable standards for yourself. Everyone wants to be the greatest DM/GM in the world, and many feel like podcasters and youtuber like Matt Mercer are the gold standard to aspire to. Keep in mind these are professional actors and what you are watching are performances for a medium, rather than a casual gaming group of friends. Look to them for inspiration and ideas, but remember you will never be Matt Mercer, and you shouldn’t. Just be a good you.
4b. Don’t burn yourself out! I find preparing for my RPG sessions very therapeutic, but manage your expectations. The players will inevitably thwart or avoid many of your lovingly crafted encounters, so just try to roll with it (pun). Also, find a balance for how often you play. Most people try to have a weekly game, but if that seems to be too much for you, adjust the schedule. See if anyone in your group is interested in running a separate game (even a different system) and you can alternate weeks as a GM and a player. Also, consider the idea of a co-DM, if you have a friend that you have a good relationship to work with, having two DMs can ‘share the load’ as Samwise Gamgee once said.
5. Is Everyone Having Fun? If they are, then you are doing it right! This might be the most important tip, perhaps tied with #1. And if you are not having fun. Ask yourself why and what you might want to change.
While voice acting is not necessary to be a good DM (or player), I think we can all agree it adds a lot to keep characters lively and memorable. But I’ve heard a lot of people say that they just can’t do voices. And to that I say – you can! And I’m here to help!
Let me tell you my secret: If you’re like me, you’ve got a notebook that you bring with you to your gaming sessions. In my own notebook – on the last page (the back inside cover, in fact) – I have a list of character voices that I am comfortable with (I’ve included it below). Every time I need a new non-player character to interact with the players, I flip to that page and pick a voice that’s suitable, and when I’m not in the thick of roleplay, I’ll remember to make a note beside that voice as to which character it belongs to, so that if the players come across that NPC again, I can refer to the list and keep things consistent. Some of the voices are impressions of celebrities or existing film & TV characters, while others use broad accents or my own repertoire of character voices.
“But Toren,” you say, “I’m not a professional voice actor. I can’t do impressions or accents!”
There are a lot of ways to provide vocal character without doing accents or impressions. Let’s say you’ve got an English noble character, but you can’t do a British accent to save your life! Well, you can try to simply use refined, proper diction. It helps if you literally look down your nose at your players while doing so. Conversely, for a lowlife dock monkey, slurring your words and talking in slang, with every second word a profanity can absolutely get a great character across (for added fun, they don’t have to be offensive or modern curse words)
You can change your cadence – maybe someone speaks super quickly with run-on-sentences, with eyes darting and face twitching. Or, they speak robotically with the same emphasis of every syllable. Or portray the always bored and/or “too cool for school” cynic – who speaks in slowly and monotone, like Daria or the teacher from Ferric Bueller’s Day Off (“Bueller…Bueller…Bueller…”). Perhaps an old shell-shocked veteran speaks softly while staring into the middle distance. Another character speaks only in whispers, but they do so with wild enthusiasm. You can whisper, can’t you? Meanwhile there’s that guy who doesn’t have an ‘inside voice,’ always talking to you as if you’re on the other side of the street. And how about the character who is chronically constipated, with the strain coming through in their voice?
An old voice actors trick is to actually change your voice by physically interacting with your face, whether it be holding your nose, pulling your cheek out with a finger, or whathaveyou.
Don’t overstay your welcome.
For throwaway NPCs a strident or grating voice can be amusing and memorable, but for main NPCs that the players will see over and over, I recommend not going over the top. Nobody wants to hear your Gilbert Gottfried or Elmo impression for 3 hours.
It needs to be said: avoid offensive caricatures. My rule is if a player of a minority was at my table (let’s say a South Asian) and I did a stereotypical caricature of that minority (Apu, for example), would I feel weird? If the answer is yes – don’t do it. This goes for sexual preference and those with any kind of disability as well. Your mileage may vary.
And as always, be mindful of others within earshot of your game. After overusing ‘shouty guy’ in your friends living room you may find you no longer have a place to play.
This is the list that I use. I hope that it will inspire you to try something new next session!
Stereotypical Brooklyn guy Stereotypical Canadian guy, eh? (McKenzie Brothers) Stereotypical Scandinavian Stereotypical Russian Stereotypical Australian/Steve Irwin/Bruce Stereotypical Italian/Mario Yarrrr stereotypical pirate voice Edward G Robinson James Mason Alec Guinness Wolfman Jack Sir Ian McKellan David Attenborough Dracula (Bela Lugosi) Tim Curry Tom Waits/Nick Nolte Jason Statham/Ray Winstone Christopher Lloyd Tracy Morgan Billy Connolly Inigo Montoya Charlton Heston Lennie from Mice and Men (“I will call him George”) AKA Patrick Star Bane Emperor Palpatine Dustin Hoffman Ricardo Montalban Christopher Walken Christoff Walz Kennedy/Mayor Quimby Morgan Freeman Jay Baruschel Brando Beavis/Butthead Montgomery Burns Transatlantic accent Elvis Watto (Star Wars) Ed Wynn (Mad Hatter/Mayor McCheese) Brian Blessed/John Rhys-Davies Jesse Ventura Bob Dylan Kermit the Frog Hagrid (Harry Potter) Chris Rock Wallace Shawn Jack Nicholson Clint Eastwood Sean Bean Korg (Taika Waititi) Harvey Fierstein Drunken Dudley Moore Thurston Howell the 3rd Samuel L Jackson Cobra Commander William Shatner/Zap Brannigan Gomer Pyle Grimlock (Transformers) Jimmy Stewart Maude Flanders/Fargo Alice Glick/Maude Frickert/Old Lady Monty Python old British lady Teen with Cracking Voice Fat Albert Hank Hill Boomhauer (King of the Hill) Al Pacino Owen Wilson Jack Sparrow Michael Caine Aku/Mako Robin Leach Hippie surfer dude Caesar with lisp (Life of Brian) Ozzy Osbourne Comic Book Guy (Simpsons) Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel (Simpsons) Doctor Girlfriend (Venture Bros) Red Skull Agent Smith/Hugo Weaving Alan Rickman Ahnold Raphael (Sarcastic clerk from The Simpsons) Humphrey Bogart Tony Clifton Peter Lorre Jack Palance Marvin the Martian Lumpy Space Princess (Adventure Time) Southern Belle/Tree Trunks (Adventure Time) Mayor of Townsville (Powerpuff Girls)
Now that the 2019 Atomic D&D Tournament has concluded (Congratulations Kim, Ren, Carolina and Kieran!) I thought it might be fun to look at some of the best cartoons that feature Dungeons & Dragons!
1983: Dungeons and Dragons (Marvel/TSR) – The series featured six everyday 80s kids who rode a D&D carnival ride into another dimension, are given the coveted (by Venger, voiced by Peter “Megatron” Cullen) Weapons of Power by the enigmatic Dungeon Master, and joined by Uni the unicorn. Lots of great eps but “The Dragon’s Graveyard” in which the kids stop running and face Venger (with the aid of Tiamat the 5-headed dragon) is intense!
1994 : Reboot “Wizards, Warriors and a Word From Our Sponsor” (Mainframe) – Bob, Dot, Enzo and Mike the TV must learn to work together to overcome traps, giant spiders, and battle carrots in a game called “A Dungeon Deep.”
1997: Dexter’s Laboratory “D&DD” (Cartoon Network) – As Game Master for the game “Mazes & Monsters,” Dexter cheats dice rolls and is obsessed with killing his friends’ characters. When his sister Dee Dee takes over the game the kids have a lot more fun, except Dexter who is forced to play the role of Hodo the furry-footed burrower.
2014 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles “Mazes & Mutants” (Nickelodeon) Paul Ruebens (Pee-Wee Herman) plays a nerdy mutant who makes the heroes’ LARP (Live Action Role-Play) into reality…or does he?!?
2016 Teen Titans Go “Riding The Dragon” (DC/Warner) – Robin’s adherence to the rules of “Dragon’s Fire” sucks the joy out of the game for the rest of the team. An important lesson for all Dungeon Masters out there!
1979 “Lord of Middle Earth” – Superfriends Season 4. Not good, but definitely notable as a very blatant “homage” to Tolkien, as the heroes quest for a magic ring so they can defeat the evil wizard who has turned them into ‘trolls’ (hobbits).
Other notable shows: Home: Adventures with Tip and Oh “Lords and Lasers” SpongebobSquarepants “Dunces and Dragons” My Little Pony Friendship is Magic “Dungeons and Discords” She-Ra and the Princesses of Power “Roll With It” VoltronLegendaryDefender “Monsters and Mana” Gravity Falls “Dungeons, Dungeons and More Dungeons” Regular Show “But I Have A Receipt” Amazing World of Gumball “The Master” Harmonquest (any episode)
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