Wednesday, July 1, 2015

D&D - The Cartoon (Part 1: Nostalgia)

I find it hard to believe that in all my ramblings and nostalgic tangents, I've never blogged about the old Dungeons & Dragons cartoon...but search as I might, I find no mention of it. On the other hand, per Wikipedia, the DVD release (which I own) was only published between 2006 and 2008 and I started this blog in 2009...the box set was probably gathering dust on a shelf long before I ever started blogging about games.

Besides, I've tried to make the content here a bit less about nostalgia (really!). And the D&D cartoon (certainly my reasons for buying the DVD) falls squarely in the middle of that soup. Ah, well...if nostalgia's not your thang, you might want to skip this post.

Somewhere on a shelf in Seattle.
The D&D cartoon (I realize folks these days refer to it as "The Animated Series" or "TAS" but, whatever) was probably my favorite cartoon series of all time. That is to say, I'm thinking about that at this moment (about 1am my time...just put the baby back to sleep by rocking her to Free Bird, so maybe my brain's on tilt), and I'm hard pressed to think of any other show that might be in the running. Certainly Thundarr the Barbarian is neck-and-neck for the top spot. But I can distinctly remember setting my alarm clock to make sure I got up in time to watch Dungeons & Dragons (as the network kept moving it to earlier timeslots...7:30 I think?)...what kid sets an alarm clock to get up on a Saturday morning just to make sure he catches his favorite cartoon?

The show ran from 1983 to 1985 (again, per wikipedia), but most of the episodes from Season 3 are unfamiliar to me, whereas I can clearly remember all of the first two seasons. It's quite possible that in the fall of '85 (when Season 3 was airing) I was busy with extracurricular activities (I was playing a lot of soccer round about that time) and that might account for missing shows certainly I would have remembered the Fairie Dragon episode...fairie dragons having made a semi-prominent appearance in our AD&D campaign by then (though our DM had drawn them from Dragon Magazine, not the later MM2 entry). Anyway, I loved it at the time, and it certainly filled the hole in my Saturday Morning melancholy caused by the cancellation of Thundarr in 1982.

[to be clear, my love of action/adventure RPGs may stem from my love of action/adventure cartoons as much as anything. I liked Loony Tunes, certainly, but would easily switch the channel for Thundarr or Blackstar or Tarzan, Zorro, and the Lone Ranger. I stopped watching action/adventure cartoons when they started A) being used as a vehicle for marketing toys, and B) started including heavy-handed morality messages tacked on as epilogues. Shows like He-Man, G.I. Joe, and Transformers may hold a soft spot in the hearts of many Old School Nerds but for me those shows are the reason I stopped watching cartoons altogether. Sorry...I've got better things to do than be lectured by a shill for toy company]

Not that shows like Dungeons & Dragons didn't have morality messages encoded into them as part of the plot...but give me some credit for being able to figure out there was a lesson to be learned about teamwork or whatever. After Dungeons & Dragons ended, I stopped watching cartoons with a couple exceptions: the after-school series Galaxy Rangers (which featured cyborg protagonists and a cool theme song) and, of course, The Simpsons which was mandatory primetime viewing for high school kids (which I was) when it came out.

But I digress.

I picked up the DVD box set for Dungeons & Dragons a few years back, but lack of free time (and lack of interest from the significant other) precluded me from getting through all the disks before the thing went on the shelf. While it didn't have the catchy theme song common to most cartoons of the mid-80s, it certainly had plenty of "D&Dish" action, animation, and themes. No there was no murder-hobo bloodletting and corpse-looting (which, in a way, makes it fairly opposite most D&D campaigns...especially the ones I was running or playing in during the early 80s), but it was definitely populated with the weird and whimsical, the danger and fantasy that is (for me) at least as important as getting to getting my imaginary stab on fighting orcs and dragons and whatnot.

The show served as a source of inspiration on occasion, though  perhaps not as often as you'd expect. I designed a fairly extensive labyrinthine dungeon with a super-beholder at the heart of it based (in part) on the premise of a particular episode, and one of the long-running PCs in our campaign was a cleric whose magic shield was (more-or-less) a direct 'porting of Eric the Cavalier's totem. Also thief-acrobats with extendable magic quarterstaves were fairly ubiquitous later on (though on second thought, this was probably due to the publishing of Unearthed Arcana in 1985). But that's about it. Venger never made an appearance in our tabletop games (nor Tiamat, though we started using the Monster Manual with our B/X games circa 1982). No one had a bow that shot lightning bolts or a club that worked like a horn of blasting. Of course, until 1985 (and the entry of UA into the "Gygax canon") the only place folks would have heard of the character classes "cavalier," "barbarian," and "acrobat" would have been long out-o-print copies of Dragon. Bullywugs and purple worms? Sure. But even as a 10 year old I wasn't setting up encounters with Lolth at the local tavern.

ANYway...the reason for this post was NOT to stroll down Memory Lane, but rather to mine some things out of the cartoon for gaming purpose. Yes, really. But as I've meandered overlong, mired in nostalgia, I'll save that for tomorrow's post. It's 2:30 and really past my bedtime.


  1. IIRC, the boxed dvd set came with 3.5e stats for the characters and other "game usable" stuff.

    The thing I remember most (other than loving the cartoon when I was a kid!) was using Dungeon Master as an NPC in my mid-80s campaigns for a bit - although he was a polymorphed dragon. I don't remember if I stole that bit from the cartoon or not. lol

  2. The Dungeon Master was also an NPC in my campaign, only without even having access to the Immortal Rules I had figured out that he had a pool of spell points with which he could cast spells or do other "magic" things.

    I also had some of the other allies/enemies in my campaign, like Solars or Kalamung (sp? A giant ogre with a yin-yang amulet IIRC).

    I watched the show a few years back with my older boy, and he loved it. Can't wait to re-view them in a couple of years when son #2 is big enough.

    1. @ Dennis:

      Yeah, I haven't yet shown Diego the show (he's 4)...too much to explain a a bit too scary/violent.

      On the other hand he LOVES Jonny Quest (first season): "Quick kids! Grab a rifle!" Ah, those whacky 60s.
      : )