Co-Produced by Marvel Productions and TSR
September 17, 1983 to December 7, 1985
“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!”
- Hank the Ranger (voiced by Willie Aames)-the conscientious and confident leader of the group. He is armed with a really cool magical bow that first energy arrows.
- Eric the Cavalier (voiced by Don “Ralph Malph” Most)-a spoiled rich kid prone to complaining about their circumstances. Despite outward appearances of cowardice, he is actually brave. He is armed with a magical shield that can project a forcefield. Supposedly his contrary nature was mandated (since he is always wrong) to demonstrate the then-dominant pro-social moral of cartoons of the group as always right and the complainer as always being wrong.
- Diana the Acrobat (voiced by Tonia Gayle Smith)-armed with a magical staff that can change lengths and that she can use as a weapon.
- Presto the Magician (voiced by Adam Rich)-the groups awkward magician who lacks self-confidence. His weapon is a magical hat that he conjures stuff with/from to varying degrees of success. His name is listed as “Albert” in a few sources, but I am not sure if it is ever mentioned in the show.
- Sheila the Thief (voiced by Katie Leigh)-she is gifted with a magical cloak that renders her invisible. She is shy and in one episode is demonstrated to have a serious case of monophobia (fear of being alone). Fun fact: Dungeon Master never refers to her as “thief” during the series even though he addresses the others at the minimum of once by what they are during the show’s run. He only references her role in the opening narration. She is the older sister of Bobby.
- Bobby the Barbarian (voiced by Ted Field III)-gifted with a big club that can shake the ground when used. He is decked out in stereotypical barbarian wear. Bobby is the younger brother of Sheila and significantly more impulsive than his sister. He is the “owner” of Uni the Unicorn or as much of an owner as one can be anyway.
- Uni the Unicorn (vocal effects by Frank Welker)-a baby unicorn that sounds like a goat that is Bobby’s pet and serves as the team mascot. Like all unicorns in the show he can teleport once a day but has trouble using it due to his youth. Given that he cannot survive in our world, he must stay behind when the opportunity to go home presents itself.
- Dungeon Master (voiced by Sidney Miller)-the group’s mentor and guide who is implied to be a vastly more powerful wizard than he lets on who sets the group on their various quests with cryptic information. He is rarely direct save for the episode “The Dragon’s Graveyard” and even then he manages to not be specific at one point. He has a daughter named Karena and a son in Venger.
- Venger (voiced by Peter Cullen)-the series main villain. He is an evil wizard that seeks the children’s weapons to strengthen his own magic and aid in his efforts to defeat the multi headed dragon Tiamat. He is Dungeon Master’s corrupted son.
- Shadow Demon (voiced by Bob Holt)-he is a demon composed of shadow that is Venger’s spy and serves to inform his master of what “Dungeon Master’s young ones” are doing.
- Tiamat (voiced by Frank Welker)-she (though I thought Tiamat was a “he” for the longest time) is Venger’s multi-headed dragon nemesis and the only threat to Venger’s power besides Dungeon Master. The children, like Venger, avoid her.
This mid-80s Saturday morning cartoon is VERY loosely based on the Dungeons & Dragons board games. A group of friends after getting on a ride at a fair are sucked into a mystical realm and not now must find their way home as they face off against the villainous wizard Venger. There was never a pilot episode for the show. As was the case back then the opening credits and possibly some narration told you everything you needed.
Too often in Saturday morning cartoons you did not even get much of an explanation as to why the characters were doing what they were doing. Does anybody really know from the first Scooby Doo series why they those teenagers were zipping around the countryside unsupervised solving mysteries and quite possibly putting their lives in danger while their parents were nowhere to be found? Here you knew why they were doing what they did.
What could have been a simple adventure of the week series (and that was the template) also had moments of character growth. While the series can be watched in just about any order the characters had character moments that fleshed them out. You understand their motivations and personality. You understood why they reacted how they reacted in a previous episode even if you re-watched it out of order. Most shows of the era could not manage even that.
The group was given what amounted to assignments or missions by a mysterious character known as Dungeon Master. He would send them off in some direction with cryptic information that once they figured it out was obvious. It was never really explained why he did this to them though one could infer it had something to do with his relationship with Venger.
Through much of the series there was an implied connection between Dungeon Master and Venger. The assumption was that it was teacher and student though at one point it was revealed in “The Dragon’s Graveyard” through the episode’s final line that Dungeon Master was actually Venger’s father. This was the only episode where Dungeon Master was mostly straight with the kids. There is an unproduced episode that would have focused on this plot element and redeemed Venger.
Venger was one of the best animated series villains not only of the 80s but of all times. He was a genuine threat to the central characters. His mechanizations had the potential to kill them at times rather than merely inconvenience them. He was diabolical and devious without being campy or farcical as animated villains can be. And he looked frightening.
I have long dreamed of a faithful live action adaption of this show. Given the effects technology of today you could do it. Take a look below at this 2019 Brazilian ad to promote Renault’s Kwid Outsider. It is a faithful translation of story elements and the general appearance of the show to the screen. The weakest thing here is the appearance of Dungeon Master. Doesn’t this look great though?
I bring this up because I feel the show has some real meat. While hampered at times by the animation, the characterization was phenomenal. The characters had complexity and sophisticated backstories and reacted logically in the context of their situation and story universe. And the stories each episode told had a great deal of story in them. They were not thin and empty. Unfortunately this was produced by Marvel and Marvel is now owned by Disney and I just do not see them producing a movie based on a show that was decried for its violence in its day.
The theme was composed by Johnny Douglas and just feels like adventure. It gets you excited and ready for action. It sets the mood. Some musical cues from other animated shows of the time like Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, The Incredible Hulk, and The Transformers get used here but since he worked on those shows as well it is fine. I think the only reason I picked up on it was that those were appointment television to me back then.
Dungeons & Dragons is a classic Saturday morning fantasy adventure series. It is fun and character driven. If you get a chance to watch it (and YouTube is a good spot to do that) then you should. You will love this show.