The Dungeons & Dragons Cartoon: 30 Years Old Today

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Thirty years ago today, Dungeons & Dragons came to Saturday morning cartoon land. Whether you think this was a good thing or not probably depends (as some wizard/crazy old man once said) on your own point of view.

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Me? I loved it. I was 12 years old, and, although I had a Fiend Folio and several AD&D modules, I never really learned to play the game for real. My friend Mike and I rolled up characters — often cheating terribly: You’ve never seen so many 18s — and took turns guiding each other through adventures in a manner that would be an insult to the term “DMing.” But we had fun, and our imaginations were sparked by the books and settings.

So despite the silly amusement park ride premise of the show’s opening –

Dungeons & Dragons landed immediately on my must-watch list.

I remember being excited when I’d recognize things from my books, like the Fiend Folio‘s Shadow Demon.

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And the closing credits shot of the amusement park always struck an oddly melancholic chord with me, maybe because, at the end, it was a reminder that those kids were still far from home.

I know I’m not the only one with a soft spot for this show; at Gen Con this year, I played in a Gamma World adventure that saw our characters aboard a funhouse-type car in a DM-acknowledged tribute to the D&D cartoon.

Two regular voice actors on the show were Frank Welker and Peter Cullen, who both went on to do some voices on another notable ’80s cartoon.

Twenty-seven episodes of Dungeons & Dragons aired between September 1983 and December 1985, but the show was never wrapped up properly before its cancellation. Show writer Michael Reaves had turned in a script for the series finale, “Requiem,” but the episode was never produced for television. Years later, it was adapted into a radio play format for one of the DVD releases.

Yes, there are aspects of Dungeons & Dragons that are just buried in ’80s cheese — and I’ll admit up front that’s a guilty pleasure — but the show also reflected sincerity and heart and a clear love of the source material.

Or maybe I’ve just missed another saving throw versus nostalgia. Wouldn’t be the first time.

John Booth

About John Booth

Writer John Booth lives in northeast Ohio with his wife and daughter. He is the author of the book "Collect All 21! Memoirs of a Star Wars Geek – The First 30 Years."

John Booth

About John Booth

Writer John Booth lives in northeast Ohio with his wife and daughter. He is the author of the book "Collect All 21! Memoirs of a Star Wars Geek – The First 30 Years."

46 thoughts on “The Dungeons & Dragons Cartoon: 30 Years Old Today

  1. Loved the cartoon, remember getting up Saturday mornings to watch it and record it on our VCR. The tapes have long gone but I have the DVD boxed set now and not only my children, but my grandchildren have been “educated” with them and they remain a firm family favourite.

  2. My kids and I watch this together now. My son is 4, and my daughter is 28 months. When we play “what sound does X animal make” with out little girl, and ask about Unicorns, she does her best Frank Welker Uni neigh.

    • I bought this red-box set when it first came out a few years ago (Best Buy even had a limited package bundle that included a ‘lead/pewter/whatever’ small unpainted dragon) and was very happy with it and all the stuff included. I haven’t had a chance to watch all of it yet, but it was a great reminder of a show from when I was young.

      Then a year or so ago, I see it’s re-released by a distributor called Mill Creek. Figured I’d ignore it until I read the most favorite’d review on its Amazon entry:

      http://www.amazon.com/Dungeons-Dragons-Complete-Willie-Aames/dp/B002DH20Q0/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1380260212&sr=1-1&keywords=dungeons+and+dragons

      Long story short: The reviewer notes that the music track for “The Dragon’s Graveyard” on the red box set is wrong, and that a trivia note says that another version with a different soundtrack exists- the original broadcast version.

      The reviewer bought this Mill Creek set and says that all its music is broadcast correct. I don’t know if any other red box episodes were wrong, he only singles out “TDG”. Since it was only a few dollars on Amazon, I bought it.

      This is a much more plain packaging version, it’s a double-thickness movie case and the DVDs are placed into paper envelopes and stacked in a square holding section. It only includes the episodes, no video/audio special features and no print items.

  3. A couple of weeks ago at the Gateway 2014 convention, I ran two games of “D&D: Requiem,” using the unproduced final episode script as the adventure (and GURPS as the rules set!) — everyone had an absolute blast.

    Of the 11 players who successfully reached the end and were offered the opportunity to have their character return home or remain in the Realms for further adventure … every one of them chose to remain to stay and continue fighting evil. :)

    It was nice to have resolution after all these years!

  4. I remember it and I do know I enjoyed it… but I think I was at that age where I realized that death was a real consequence in D&D and I found the cartoon to be too “safe” for the heroes. There was never any real danger, and I think that’s why I didn’t continue to watch it.

  5. Back when I first saw it and knew very little about D&D (had the Red Box), you just wanted the kids to get home. That is what you loved about it, they went on a crazy adventure to try and make it home. You always felt bad that they didn’t make it home, the same way you felt bad that Hulk was never cured at the end of the Hulk TV Show.

    • Good answer but the producer of the cartoon show should a make season or movies finale of cartoon tv show evening if it’s over 30 years by bring the children home & ill evening rise the money to air it on tv networks

  6. This cartoon is really, really loved here in Brazil. Most of people here consider the best cartoon ever, and don´t understand why there are so few episodes. Of course, that´s because it wasn´t a huge succes in USA, where the cartoon was produced, and got cancelled. Bad for us :)

  7. Watched it every week and still administer as needed in my 40s. I have acquired the episodes and have shown them to my nieces aged 8 and 9. They love it, despite the 80′s corn.

  8. Reading this brought back a lot of good memories. It wasn’t the best show, but consider the fact that there are hardly any cartoons on Saturday mornings any more. I am glad that I had that experience growing up. It was always exciting to wake up to watch your favorite shows with a big bowl of sugary cereal (the kind you would see in the advertising that day).

  9. The fact that this cartoon and I have the same birthday must have something to do with my love of D&D.

    Though I’m 15 years older than the cartoon…

  10. When you compare D&D with other cartoons released around that time, it has to be one of the smartest cartoons in the 80s. It is also awesome to see Optimus Prime as the Bad Guy.

  11. I liked this cartoon, but didn’t really get much exposure to it as I was born in 1984 and so watched it as a rerun, and my mom was not a fan.

  12. I play DDO (Dungeons and Dragons Online) and there is part of an adventure where “an acrobat is stabbed in the back” and we fight undead copies of the Barbarian, Ranger, Cavalier, etc. OUTSTANDING nod to one of great memories of my childhood.

  13. I really did love this show when it aired. At the time I was heavy into playing D&D as well as Gamma World and Star Frontiers. I also thought the ending credits with the night time amusement park and especially the closing theme music had a kind of melancholy vibe. In part because I believe it was the last in the batch of cartoons that aired Saturday mornings where I lived.
    Now I have a 5 year old son of my own and out of the 80s relics I’ve tried out on him, this has been one he likes a lot and asks to see again.

  14. I was 15 when the show originally came out. I have that DVD set with the animated series handbook/adventure and the radio play show for “Requiem”. I also knew whick other ’80s cartoon that Frank Welker and Peter Cullen went on to do before finishing that sentence, so I am very much geeking out here. I loved the D&D cartoon dearly, and although certain aspects of it aren’t as originally preserved, I am grateful to own the complete series. Thank you for posting this!

  15. Favorite cartoon EVER! I remember when I accidently stumbled across the first DVD release while casually strolling through a Best Buy. I grabbed it up like it was the Holy Grail.

  16. Despite having to be sanitized to fit the TV standards of the day, every now and then they’d slip in something really memorable. My favorite is “City at the Edge of Midnight” where the demon kidnapped children and forced them to keep the clock from chiming midnight. That was some great imagery.

    It’s an even more poignant episode now that I have children of my own.

    • In that piece he wrote about the final episode, Michael Reaves mentions that there was a big internal dust-up over “The Dragons’ Graveyard” because the kids contemplate killing Venger in order to get home. That’s pretty hefty stuff to consider over your bowl of Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs.

  17. I lived through the original airings of this show and I was the right age to enjoy it! It was great.

    Naysayers be damned, it was one of the most adult-themed programs on kids TV at the time (second only to Robotech) and the producers notoriously wrestled with the network censors on the show’s content.

    I’d totally support a Kickstarter for an animated feature to finish the storyline, though I think it they did it, they shouldn’t pull any punches. Face it, we all want to see Bobby to get his ass whupped, even back when we.were his age.

  18. This was one of those shows that would get me out of bed early on a Saturday morning just to make sure I didn’t miss it. It definitely has a veneer of 80′s cheese, but like you said, it also started to go into a more mature direction. The funny thing is that my mom kinda bought into the whole “D&D makes kids kill themselves!” hysteria, but she watched the cartoon and she didn’t have any problem with it. Think that might have been what made it easier for me to buy GURPS later on.

  19. One of my favorite aspects of this show was being six years old, waking up at 6AM to watch it, and being the only person awake in the house. At such a young age, it was the only time where a kid that young could have HIS time and HIS time only. It is a very nostalgic and warm feeling. Of course it helps that this show was one of the best cartoons ever made!

  20. I remember this cartoon vividly! I bought the red box DVD collection a few years ago and sat down one Saturday and watched all of them! I think to myself, now how much fun it would be to see this as a TV series (maybe adulted up a bit) or even a movie. I loved the characters and those shows always had a message in them.
    I am a father now and I see the cartoons my children watch now and miss Saturday mornings!

  21. Ok so I was 12 and into D&D. A cartoon with DM, Tiamat, Kelek, Skeleton Warriors, and magic items? I mean come on that was just awesome. In a small town there was no way to be immersed in the hobby of rpg gaming. On those occasions when I was around at 10 or 10:30am on a Saturday this was just incredible. I always felt like I was missing episodes and never sure if I saw them all.

    The plot with the kids trying to get home never even registered with me as a trope since I had been raised on Gilligan’s Island reruns. If I could handle a coconut phone I could certainly handle Eric’s boneheaded interference with their progress.

    Episodes like “Valley of the Unicorns”, “Prison without Walls”, and “The Garden of Zinn” are classics in my book.

    But my opinion may be biased…my cat(who was also villainous) back then lived 17 years and his name was Venger.

  22. I loved it – and yes, those closing credits! It makes me feel ..something…definitely a strong emotion.. like a sudden bittersweet feeling..
    I loved this cartoon and will love it for all the starfalls to come.

  23. John,

    Just had to tell you how much you connected with me in your post. I also was 12 years old when the series first aired. I grew up about 30 miles west of Philadelphia (in the middle class suburb of Chester County). CBS had been advertising this new show throughout the early morning just hours before it’s debut. My brother’s and I all sat around the old style console tv in the basement with our cereal and watched it for the first time. I loved it. I so did my brothers, who were red haired twins just one year younger than me, and my youngest brother who was about 8 yrs old at the time.
    I imagined that the kids in the story were myself and my brothers. Of course I imagined that I was the archer because I had blonde hair, and my twin brothers were the magician and cavalier. The barbarian was my youngest brother Phil. We all loved the show and would watch it together at least for the first few weeks. It was great bonding, even if we did’t say much while it was on. I swear, to this day, they were thinking the same thing I was while watching it:: that’s us! Also, when you said that the ending credits struck an “oddly melancholic chord” with you, I felt the same exact way! Still do… I watch it on youtube including the commercial breaks and the ending just tops it off for me. Haunting music while the “camera” pans the amusement park after it is closed, knowing the kids are still lost in that universe is very moving. Thanks for the Post!!!!!

  24. I saw some of this in my early teens. I had not yet played D&D but I had some of the D&D action figures and related merchandise (colouring books) so I was disappointed that the cartoon did not (except for some cameos) focus on the adults characters depicted by the toys. The whole thing of inserting modern kids into the setting seemed silly to me then.

    Recently I watched the whole thing on YouTube and as an adult I have mellowed and become much more accepting. I now find it charming. I think I too succumb to nostalgia.

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