Dungeons & Dragons (animation)

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
From left to right: Hank, Eric, Diana, Presto, Sheila, Bobby, and Uni.

The Dungeons & Dragons animated television series is based on the role-playing game, and is often referred to by fans as the "D&DC" in order to distinguish it from the game. Six friends (Hank, Diana, Eric, Presto, Sheila and Bobby) take a ride in an amusement park, and suddenly find themselves in a Heroic Fantasy setting simply called The Realm. They are instantly garbed in clothes fitting their character classes, and quickly gain a companion in a unicorn foal named Uni. A Mysterious Benefactor, known only as Dungeon Master, gives each of them a magic weapon to help them survive in that world and promises to help them find a way home.

Together, the kids look for a way home, but the malevolent villain, Venger, is determined to hunt them down for their weapons as a means of gaining supreme power. Dungeon Master mysteriously appears at seemingly random times, restricting his help to quest assignments and giving advice in the form of cryptic riddles that frustrate the kids no end.

This series distinguished itself as one of the better Saturday Morning Cartoon productions in the time-slot's heyday. You can almost feel the creative crew champing at the Media Watchdogs bit and struggling against the reins as far as they dared. The show could be unexpectedly dark, with the young characters often visibly shaken by their close brushes with death, or by the hopeless desperation of this desolate, alien world.

For instance, one of the more celebrated episodes is "The Dragon's Graveyard" [sic], where the show breaks the formula where the kids, frustrated at Venger ruining yet another escape attempt, balk at Dungeon Master's latest quest and demand he help them kill Venger. He reluctantly submits and advises The Dragon's Graveyard, where the kids lure Venger into battle and come within a hair's breadth of killing the villain before backing off on principle.

But such dark themes would hardly be a surprise to anyone familiar with the career of series writer Steve Gerber, who did groundbreaking work in dark, realistic stories at Marvel Comics in the late seventies before moving to cartoons.

For the tabletop game this is based on, see Dungeons & Dragons.

Tropes used in Dungeons & Dragons (animation) include:
  • Action Girl: Diana the Acrobat and Sheila the Thief.
  • Adult Fear: Oh boooooy. We have Hank being forced to betray his friends to keep a kidnapped Bobby alive, the Nightwalker kidnapping children from Earth via portals, Varla's parents being unable to keep their Barrier Maiden daughter safe from Venger...
  • After the End: When the kids arrive in the Realm, Venger has already ruled it for the better part of a millennium, leaving only small villages and a handful of fortified cities separated by miles of wilderness and wasteland.
  • The Alcatraz: The Prison of Agony
  • Alien Sky: The Realm has four suns and three moons.
    • In the (never-produced) finale, the lizardmen get to return to their own world, which is a lush jungle realm with three red suns in its sky.
  • All-Powerful Bystander: The Dungeon Master.
  • Alternate Realm Boon: Dungeon Master gives the group of teenagers magic equipment and character classes so they can survive in the fantasy realm.
  • Amusing Alien: Uni.
  • And I Must Scream: Venger imprisons Kelek in a magical sphere beneath the earth, presumably conscious forever. Also, Dekion's curse.
    • It looked like Kelek got hit with a First Edition imprisonment spell, which means he's in suspended animation. So good for him.
  • Animesque: Though most of the original character designs were done by Marvel, the actual animation for the series was done by Toei Animation. It shows.
  • Ascended Extra: The entire series and all the characters, as a special D&D handbook came with the boxed DVD set that gives 3rd edition stats to the children, Venger and all of the weapons and equipment, along with other show-only aspects, effectively making the cartoon an official part of the D&D game.
  • The Archer: Hank, of course.
  • Baleful Polymorph: Eric -- who else? -- gets turned into a bogbeast.
    • Several minor characters also suffer this fate. Sir Lawrence is turned into a dorky-looking creature in "Garden of Zinn" (and the same spell backfires on Zinn in the end) and the spellbinder Lukion has become a swamp creature made out of moss and goo in "Prison Without Walls".
  • Barbarian Hero: Bobby
  • Barrier Maiden: Varla is both this and a Reality Warper.
  • Barrier Warrior: Eric's power is centered on his powerful knightly shield.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: When Presto's hat works at all, it tends to produce what he asks for, but not what he really wants. (Like conjuring a cannon but no cannonball.) Although half the time, the result ends up being useful after all.
    • In one case, he tells the hat to send an attacking orc "on a trip," and the orc is promptly dressed in Bermuda shorts and a flowered shirt, wielding a ukulele. Embarrassed, it flees.
    • Probably his most successful hat pull that couldn't be used for anything was an actual full-sized battleship!
  • Berserk Button: Bobby is already the most impulsive member of the gang by far, but if Uni's threatened he tends to charge into the fray no matter WHAT the odds.
    • Not just Uni. If someone so much looks cross-eyed at his older sister Sheila, they will get the literal "combat munchkin" charging at them.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Almost gets Venger killed when he pushes the kids too far in "The Dragon's Graveyard".
  • Big Bad: Venger.
  • Big Badass Wolf: Minions for Kelek in "Valley of Unicorns"
  • Blind Without 'Em: That is Presto the Magician's major physical problem.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Ramoud from "City On The Edge Of Midnight".
  • Break the Haughty: Eric
  • Butt Monkeys: Eric; Presto when his spells don't work.
  • Character Development: Eric becomes generally less selfish and obnoxious over the course of the series.
  • Commander Contrarian: Eric again.
  • The Complainer Is Always Wrong: The reason behind Eric's creation, dictated largely by Executive Meddling -- and the reason series co-developer Mark Evanier particularly disliked the character. Subverted in the second season a good number of times, though.
  • Cool Big Sis: Diana
    • And Sheila. Hey, she does a really great job looking out for her "combat munchkin" little brother!
  • Cryptic Conversation: Dungeon Master, all the time, to the point where the characters start lampshading it.

Eric: What would Dungeon Master say...? You will find it, unless it finds you first. It lies a long way off, yet in truth, it is very near! How was that?

  • Cute Bruisers: Bobby, Diana
  • Did Not Do the Research: Averted, which is noteworthy given the time period. The stories often throw in more obscure Dungeons and Dragons concepts, such as Lolth the Spider Goddess and always lining up draconic breath weapons. While a lot of things get majorly simplified for the sake of the plot, there's no doubt that this was done consciously, not lazily.
  • Disappeared Dad: It's hinted in "City At the Edge of Midnight" that Eric is estranged from his father in the real world.
  • Don't Touch It, You Idiot!: Despite protests, Eric opens a locked box the kids are sent to find, and as a result summons ultimate evil to the Realm.
    • Well, the protests were along the lines of "Oh, hey, didn't DM say not to open it? Well, whatever." Dungeon Master even pointed out that Hank as good as gave Eric permission to do so.
    • Eric makes a similar mistake in "Beauty and the Bogbeast" where he picks an enchanted flower Dungeon Master warned the kids not to touch (sort of). At least this one backfires only on himself. (Although it ultimately causes the kids to return to the Realm after actually making it home.)
  • Eldritch Abomination: When Venger's boss shows up.
    • In the script for the unproduced finale, the group must face a giant amoeba that is immune to all of their attacks. The script actually describes it as a "Lovecraftian Horror."
  • Enemy Mine: Venger and the kids team up against a greater threat a couple of times, most notably against Venger's master in "Dungeon at the Heart of Dawn".
    • In "The Dragon's Graveyard", Tiamat is no friend to the kids (she's evil, after all), but she's willing to assist them in their plan to get rid of Venger, since she hates Venger a lot more.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Dungeon Master is known only by his title and, likewise, he almost always addresses the kids by their titles. (Venger does the same, but his relationship with the kids is hardly a first-name one.)
    • DM addresses Diana by name once, when she was heartbroken, reassuring her that giving up her soulmate saved hundreds of people.
  • Evil Is Not a Toy: In "Treasure of Tardos", Venger uses a gargantuan dragon-demon hybrid to break down the gates to a city, but the beast wrestles free from his control and threatens to completely destroy the very realm he's trying to conquer.
  • Executive Meddling: Not much, but still present. Eric turned out the way he did because of this.
  • Expository Theme Tune: The spoken voice-over by Dungeon Master dumps more information on the viewer than most actual episodes.
  • Eyes of Gold: Presto
  • Failure Is the Only Option: Finding a way to get home permanently, of course.
  • Family-Friendly Firearms: Hank's energy bow.
  • Fashionable Asymmetry: Venger and his single head horn.
  • Fate Worse Than Death: Transforming his enemies into monsters, putting them into a prison suspended over a volcano, locking them up in other dimensions, turning them into undead slaves... let's just say that Venger is very fond of this trope.
  • Fiery Redhead: Averted. Sheila, while a redhead, is the team's Shrinking Violet and Team Mom.
  • Five-Man Band: Well, six people, but who's counting?
  • "Friend or Idol?" Decision: The gang has faced this dilemma at least three times, when they've had to sacrifice a way home for the greater good.
  • Fur Bikini: Diana's outfit.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: See Executive Meddling, above. They already had a leash on the writers because of D&D's bad reputation in the early 80s, but the writers still managed to get a couple winners through. A great example is Eric being more of a pain in the ass than usual, causing Diana to snark off to Sheila that "he's having one of his days" (implying "time of the month").
  • Giant Flyer: In "Day of the Dungeon Master", Eric summons a roc to serve the gang as "Bird-brain Airlines" -- not entirely successfully.
  • God for a Day: "Day of the Dungeon Master," Eric the Cavalier is given the practically limitless power of the Dungeon Master. He screws up a lot by being rather pompous but he actually ends up becoming very sagelike himself and even gets the capability to send everyone back to the real world but they stay because it would require him being left behind on his own.
  • Great Big Book of Everything: The Golden Grimoire and, in the "choose your own adventure" books, Witch Agnes's Spellbook.
  • Green Lantern Ring: Hank the Ranger's energy bow can be simply a weapon, but has many other uses.
  • Heroes Prefer Swords: Averted, none of the main characters uses a sword.
  • Heroic Fantasy
  • Hey, It's That Voice!: Venger is...Optimus Prime?!
  • High Fantasy
  • Hot Amazon: Diana is a young version of the trope. She gets at least two possible love interests. One is Kosar (a young fugitive who has to fulfill a prophecy), another is a Josef Müller (Nazi fighter pilot and Turncoat summoned by Venger). (No, neither of them is a Cavalier.)
  • I Choose to Stay: In the script for the last episode, the kids are offered the choice to stay in the Realm to fight evil, though it's left open-ended as to what they decided.
  • If You Kill Him You Will Be Just Like Him: The climax of "The Dragon's Graveyard".
  • I Have Your Wife: "The Traitor": Bobby is held prisoner by Venger, and Hank is ordered to secretly help the villain or the boy dies.
  • Improvised Weapon: In order to avoid retaliation from the Media Watchdogs, Hank's energy bow and Bobby's megaton club could only be used directly against enemies who'd either shrug off the attack or were guaranteed to deflect it. In order to deal with the lesser Mooks, they use their weapons in creative indirect ways. Bobby scares enemies off by knocking down trees near them or creating shockwaves. Hank has been seen to use his arrows to ensnare groups of enemies, clip the wings of giant wasps, or fuse the legs of an iron giant together to trip him up.
    • The stuff that comes out of Presto's hat usually counts, since it never produces conventional weapons. Examples are a fire-hose against a lava dragon, an electric fan against a swarm of giant insects, and a collection of marbles to send approaching enemies to the floor.
  • Inept Mage: Presto
  • Invisibility Cloak: The "weapon" Dungeon Master gave Sheila. It does come in handy on several occasions, however.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Eric the Cavalier is egotistical, prickly, and cowardly a lot of the time, but in a crunch, he is as heroic as the rest (if not even more) and eventually improves over the series.
    • The people behind the scenes didn't seem to think kids would notice his good qualities. There was a line of tie-in "choose your own adventure" style books where the reader gets to control each of the kids, but in one you play Eric's brother Michael rather than Eric himself. Presumably because they figured nobody would want to play him.
    • The Fanfic for the series not only notices but also amps up the heart of gold part and exploits the gamer's maxim of "never trust a smiling Dungeon Master."
  • Just Friends: Unlike Bobby (Terri), Diana (Josef and Kosar) and Presto (Varla), Hank and Sheila never get a real romantic interest in any of the episodes. The character profiles on the DVD suggests there's a quiet sense of affection between the two. Nothing official ever develops between them on screen, though.
  • Kick the Dog: Venger does this in "The Dragon's Graveyard" by fatally injuring Uni. Not a smart move since it only makes the kids more determined to kill him off for real.
  • Lap Pillow: Sheila does this for several characters through the course of the series, probably as part of her Team Mom duties. Notable examples include Terry in "The Girl Who Dreamed Tomorrow", and Presto in "The Last Illusion."
  • Literal Genie: Presto's magic hat, while not an actual character, is at times an example of this trope. A wish to make an orc "vanish from my sight" immediately causes a bucket to materialize over Presto's head. A wish to return horns to a group of hornless unicorns glues car horns to their heads. And a wish to have something to stop a charging golem produces a stop sign.
  • Living Shadow: Venger's servant Shadow Demon.
  • Lonely Rich Kid: Eric is hinted to have been this in the real world--most notably when he comments that Ramoud in "City on the Edge of Midnight" (who they have known for one day) is "better than my dad ever was."
  • Lovable Coward: Eric's usual response to danger is to run away and hide. The one time he declared "Everybody get behind my shield!", his compatriots afterward expressed surprise that he'd actually grown a backbone for a second or two.
    • Let's not forget that time when he got the Golden Grimoire book and was willing to pull an Heroic Sacrifice to send the gang back home.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: A later episode reveals to the audience that Dungeon Master is Venger's father. This trope is handled subtly: they knew it all along, but the kids never find out.
    • In the script of the unproduced final episode, the kids find out as Venger is turned back into his former self and Dungeon Master acknowledges their relation.
  • Lull Destruction: Kicks in about season 3, when the show started overextending occasionally and had to cram too much content into too small a time slot. Worst examples are in "Odyssey of the Twelfth Talisman" and "Citadel of Shadow", though "Citadel of Shadow" only really suffered from it for its first half.
  • Magical Land
  • Magitek: Presto has been known to pull cannons, tanks, and even an aircraft carrier out of his hat.
    • Also the episode where the gang has to rescue a group of alien kids whose spaceship crashed into the Realms.
  • Make Wrong What Once Went Right: Venger's plan in "The Time Lost".
  • Master of Disguise: Venger
  • The Maze: "The Girl Who Dreamed Tomorrow"
  • Meaningful Name: The gang's roles tend to match their personality. Eric is definitely cavalier.
  • Merchandise-Driven: The cartoon was greatly criticized during its run both for its violence and for being this. At least three characters, Kelek, Strongheart, and Warduke (with accompanying Nightmare[1]), had appeared as action figures and then as non-player characters for the game shortly before they appeared on the cartoon. Tiamat would appear as one in the cartoon's second year.
  • The Messiah: Hank. To some degree, Presto and Sheila as well.
    • And Kosar, one of Diana's two love interests.
  • Mooks: Venger's orc soldiers.
  • Mordor: The wasteland around Venger's various fortresses.
  • Mythology Gag: The series is full of shout-outs to the tabletop RPG it draws its inspiration from.
    • Lukion is recognizable as a "Shambling Mound", an animate mass of swamp-plants loosely inspired by Swamp Thing and Man Thing.
    • Bullywugs are low-level swamp-dwelling evil mooks, essentially goblins that look like humanoid frogs.
    • The green-skinned, vaguely porcine appearance of the orcs (this is before Orcs began moving to a more simian-esque Frazetta Man look).
    • Tiamat is the five-headed Goddess of Chromatic Dragons from the game.
    • Lolth, Demon Queen of Spiders, actually appears in one episode and is referred to by name.
    • A pair of Gold Dragons, one of the few species of good dragons, appear in one episode.
  • Nerd Glasses: Presto wears them, and it would be a major problem if he lost them.
  • Never Say "Die": Venger particularly is prone to this. For instance, regarding Terri:

"…And she shall dream no more."

  • No Swastikas: One episode featured Venger messing with a time portal to our world, hoping to erase the kids from history by arming a Nazi fighter pilot with a 21st-century jet. Luckily for the kids, the pilot was a Turncoat who loathed Hitler's regime (and hit it off with Hot Amazon Diana, too). More to the point, the tell-tale armband that he tries to ditch lost the swastika it bore in the story-boards and turned into a Balkankreuz (in a red circle on a white background, no less! Which Axis power did he fly for, again?).
  • One-Winged Angel: Venger pulls this in "The Girl Who Dreamed Tomorrow".
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Presto
  • Ontological Mystery
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Sir John in "Eye of the Beholder" has the worst English accent since Dick Van Dyke, while Josef Müller in "The Time Lost" cannot properly pronounce even his own German name.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: A fairly common feature of the show, naturally. The five-headed Tiamat was a semi-regular, but the game's evil chromatic and good metallic dragons showed up as well: blue dragons in "Eye of the Beholder" and "The Time-Lost", a red dragon in "Day of the Dungeon Master," gold dragons in "P-R-E-S-T-O Spells Disaster," and a bronze dragon in the unproduced "Requiem." There was also the hybrid Demodragon, half-demon, half-dragon, in "The Treasure of Tardos."
  • Perpetual Poverty
  • A Pupil of Mine Until He Turned to Evil
  • The Quest: Trying to find a way home for the kids, trying to save his son, for the Dungeon Master.
  • Rage Against the Mentor: One plot has the heroes, tired of the status quo, both setting out to finish Venger once and for all and demanding (and getting!) some straight answers from Dungeon Master, rather than his usual convoluted riddles.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The kids
  • Reality Warper: Varla the Illusionist
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: Venger
  • The Resolution Will Not Be Televised: The show was cancelled before the final episode was made. A script of it does exist and has been available from the writer's site. Ultimately the show was partly completed as the final episode was performed and released on the American DVD set as a radio play with Sheila's voice actress even reprising her role.
  • Ret Canon: Cavaliers, acrobats, and barbarians were not classes in the original Dungeons & Dragons Tabletop RPG; they appeared in the show first and were added to the game shortly afterwords in Unearthed Arcana. [2]
  • Robe and Wizard Hat: Presto
  • Role Playing Game Verse: The original TV one!
  • Rummage Fail: Presto's magic hat.
  • Sassy Black Woman: Diana was a teenage version of this.
  • Scenery Porn: Whoever painted the backgrounds created a Realm that was beautiful and alien and dangerous all at once.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: Karena; the Balefire.
  • Sealed Good in a Can: Zandora
  • Series Goal: Escape from The Realm and return to their own world. In the never-produced finale, the kids are offered a choice of either returning home or staying in The Realm to have more adventures.
  • She Fu: Diana the Acrobat, who is a medal-winning gymnastics practitioner in the real world.
  • Shout-Out: To Star Wars with a few in-character jokes by the kids, presumably to show that they're from our world and our time (well, the 80s, anyway). As if having a show based on D&D wasn't nerdy enough.
  • Shrinking Violet: Sheila (who even wears violet clothes) is a bit shy, and panics horribly at the prospect of being completely alone.
  • Single Tear: The animators loved using this with Sheila. Once it was used for a curse breaking effect in "The Garden of Zinn." They also use the Single Tear with her in the episode "City on the Edge of Midnight," when Rahmoud gives Sheila a doll belonging to his own missing daughter. Also used with Solinara in "The Treasure of Tardos".
  • Spot the Impostor: Subverted; Hank correctly spots an impostor Dungeon Master -- because he's not talking in riddles -- but the one he thinks is real is also an impostor.
  • Standardized Leader: Hank
  • Stealth Hi Bye: Dungeon Master, all the time. Lampshaded constantly, to the point where both Uni and Eric are constantly trying to figure out how he does it.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: To some degree, Presto and Varla.
    • Diana and Kosar get it even worse. Not like she and Josef are much better.
  • Swiss Army Tears: Sheila breaks a spell on a cursed king in "The Garden of Zinn" with the Single Tear of gratitude after he helped save her brother.
  • Team Dad: Hank, so much.
  • Team Mom: Sheila. Justified, since the youngest of her teammates is her little brother.
  • Team Pet: Uni the unicorn, but at least she does not dominate the series.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Pretty much the whole group, by season 2.
  • Trapped in Another World: It's hinted through the series and confirmed in the unaired finale that "everyone" in the Realm is Trapped in Another World, or the descendants of those who were.
  • Trickster Mentor: Dungeon Master
  • Twofer Token Minority: Diana the Acrobat, being both black and female.
  • Two-Faced: The queen of the city of Torad in "Child of the Stargazer" appears human at first until she removes the hood that obscures the left side of her face. It is then revealed she is literally half demon.
  • Villain Ball: In at least one instance, just letting the kids go home would have both rid Venger of their perennial interference and left him free to grab their magic weapons and a very powerful grimoire. This was apparently not evil enough for him.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Eric and Lorne in "Odyssey of the Twelfth Talisman".
  • Weaksauce Weakness: The kids defeat a beholder and Demodragon... with a flower.
  • What Could Have Been: The script for the unaired final episode.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes??: A whole episode has the kids facing their worst phobias (Sheila finds herself alone, Presto is blinded without his glasses, Diana sees herself aging rapidly, etc.).
    • One may find Diana's fear to be a bit of Fridge Brilliance, when you stop and consider that she's a medal-winning gymnast, who tend to lose their prime before they even get a driver's license.
  • Wise Tree: The Know Trees in "In Search of the Dungeon Master"
    • Woolseyism: The Brazilian dub had the aforementioned tree say this. (In both cases it goes on to say the correct answer, preceded by "However, if you mean <competition name> in your world...")

US dub:
Bobby: OK, who won the '81 World Series?
Know Tree: Simple, the Grey Wood Elves.
Brazilian dub:
Bobby: All right, who won the '84 Golden Cup?
Know Tree: Easy, the Grey Forest Elves.

  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: Implied. In one episode, the kids meet a classmate who was kidnapped from his home by the villain. He mentions he saw them just before the weekend started, meaning the kids haven't missed a single school day on earth over the months they spent trapped in the Realm.
  • You Fool!: Venger's favorite word.
  • Zettai Ryouiki: Sheila uses the boots + skirts version.
  1. wonder if Venger knew his steed was moonlighting?
  2. The former two were dropped out of later versions of the game, but barbarians remain to this day.