1983 was a big year for me. Over the summer I turned 14, and in the fall I would begin ninth grade, kicking off my high school years as a freshman. But more importantly, it was a big year for my role-playing habits.
TSR’s sci-fi game Star Frontiers had been out for a year and was coming out with new products left and right. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was riding high with a ton of new modules, including the original Ravenloft module (the maps!), and even the D&D Basic Set was getting a slight reworking with a new boxed set. Then towards the end of the year there hints of something major coming from TSR in 1984, and eventually that would be known as Dragonlance.
So, 1983 had a lot happening in the worlds of D&D. But perhaps the most noticeable, at least for the 13-soon-14-year-old me was the Dungeons & Dragons animated TV series.
Saturday morning cartoons were a huge deal then, and TSR big shot Gary Gygax had pulled off the unthinkable when he traveled to Hollywood and got Marvel Productions (yes, of the comic book Marvel company) and Teoi Animation of Japan involved with this new animated show.
For the next couple of years, the animated Dungeons & Dragons show would lead its time slot, and suddenly it seemed as if there might be some acceptance of D&D by the wider public. Of course that didn’t happen quite yet, but the popularity of the game was booming at the time, and baby steps didn’t hurt.
What was the show about? A group of young people, from the ages of 8 to 15, travel to an amusement park where they climb into a Dungeons & Dragons ride. During their ride, something magical occurs and our heroes are transported to the world of Dungeons & Dragons where they soon meet the evil Venger, and are each given a powerful magic item by a friendly figure known as the Dungeon Master.
(As an aside, you can stop laughing if you’ve never met a friendly Dungeon Master. This one really ways, though he tended to speak in riddles, guiding our six heroes with obscure words).
The whole gist of the show was the six young people trying to find their way back home, all the while confronting and defeating the forces of evil. It was great stuff for the young me at the time, but after recent re-watchings I have to admit the show lacks in some areas. But what are you going to do? It was the early-to-mid ’80s, animated technology was nowhere near what it is today, and Saturday morning cartoons weren’t expected to be all that complex.
The main characters consisted of Hank the ranger with his magic bow, Sheila the thief with her cloak of invisibility, Diana the acrobat who had a staff that could do all kinds of magical things, Eric the cavalier with his powerful shield of protection, Presto the wizard who could pull magic out of his hat, and Bobby the barbarian, an 8-year-old who wielded a magic club that could hit so hard it could create cracks in stone. Then of course there was Uni, the baby unicorn that befriended our adventurers and followed them into all kinds of adventures.
Besides the main villain of Venger, other bad guys showed up, including the infamous Warduke and the five-headed mother of dragons, Tiamet. Even Lolth made an appearance, as well as a Beholder. Then there were the orcs and goblins, dragons galore, and a few creatures that were so weird they didn’t even really have names.
Unfortunately, there were only 27 episodes across three seasons, though a few toys based upon the show also were released. Still, the episodes are all available on DVD. Longtime fans and those wanting to check out the series might want to look around Amazon or eBay, if interested. Recently I got lucky and picked up the first 9 episodes for only 99 cents, so deals are out there.