Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Saturday Morning D&D – Episode 1 - The Night of No Tomorrow


I decided to watch all the episodes of the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon and provide a little commentary on the episodes. I am not an expert in the field of animation or script based stories. I certainly absorbed enough of the media over the years to have an opinion on the matter. I vaguely remember the show from my youth, it seems I caught it here and there, but never on a consistent basis. I remember that I enjoyed them because I was always into fantasy and sci-fi genre materials. I was not into D&D at that point beyond listening to my brother’s games with friends from another room. I also remember finding his dice, some miniatures, and the 1st Edition AD&D Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, Monsters Manual, and Fiend Folio. It was like discovering treasure and I loved looking through the pages. Enough reminiscing though, back to the article at hand. I have not seen the vast majority of these episodes and I have only seen a handful of them in the past 10 years or so. I do know the basic premise of the show and I am going in with an open mind.

For some real world background on the show it was launched in 1983 and had 3 seasons ending in 1985. It makes more sense now why I can only somewhat remember the episodes as I was only four years old at the time. The show was a co-production between TSR and Marvel Productions. This means since Disney owns Marvel now, Venger can be a true Disney Princess. The animation was done by Toei Animation, a Japanese firm that has a long track record in the industry with titles like Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon. The show seemed to have good ratings, but was a victim of the Satanic Panic in 1985 after a series of deaths were erroneously tied to D&D. There was a demand that a warning be put at the beginning of each episode stating that the game was directly linked to children’s suicides/murders. Rather than capitulate to that demand the decision was made to pull the plug on the show.

The Premise and Characters
                If you are unfamiliar with the show, the story is about a bunch of high school age kids who go on the Dungeons & Dragons ride, and are magically transported to the world of “Dungeons & Dragons”. Each of the kids is given a class somewhat reflective of their personalities. The group are also given special magical items to help them in their quest home. I am going to do brief bios below of each person in the party and the reoccurring adversaries. First though, who exactly is giving them these items? Who gives out items in your Dungeons & Dragons game nowadays? The Dungeon Master. Dungeon Master is the impetus behind the whole show, and he is the one to guide them on their weekly adventures.

The PC character bios are ranks from least to most annoying for the main party starting with:

Diana - Diana is the party’s Acrobat and had a magical staff that could shrink or extend. Diana is extremely competent from what I remember and often has some great ideas that save the party. She was also an African American female who functions as the party's secondary leader often, which was rare for TV of that era.

Hank – He is the party’s Ranger and he has a magical bow that shoots energy blasts. The bow has a lot of undefined powers and often ends up being a Bow Ex Machina for many of the plot's obstacles. Hank is the default 80’s blond, bland, action dude and is  the default leader of the party. I do not remember him doing anything particularly “Ranger-y”, and could have just been a Fighter with a bow. We’ll see if I change my mind on that opinion after watching more of the series.

Sheila – She is the party’s Thief and she has a cloak that can make her invisible. All I can remember about Sheila is that her defining feature is that of Bobby’s sister. She is constantly fussing about him and trying to keep him out of trouble. In watching more episodes maybe I will get a better feel for her?

Presto – He is the party’s Wizard and he has a magic hat which seems to act as a focus for his magic. According to Wikipedia he has a name and it is Albert, but I cannot remember anyone calling him this throughout the show? Did they call him Presto on Earth? If so, why? And what a coincidence that he became the wizard? Presto is a typical nervous 80's nerd character. He often bumbles his spells and seems awful gullible and trusting. I want to like Presto, maybe I will more as more time passes?

Eric – He is the party’s Cavalier and has a magic shield that can make a force field to protect himself or the whole party. Eric makes it clear from the first line that he is a rich kid and he wants to go home. He is often plagued with cowardice, but you know, it is a cowardice that I can respect. He is in a strange world were monsters actually eat people. Eric wants to go home and I would too.

Bobby – He is the party’s Barbarian and has a magic club that also has an undefined power set. In general he can bang it into stuff and cause small earthquakes. Bobby is only 8 years old, and is very brash and often quite dumb. I will say he is on point with a lot of 8 year old kids that I have played D&D with and rushes headlong into battle not thinking. That being said, he is annoying. The second most annoying though. 

Uni – Uni is a baby unicorn that does nothing but is Bobby’s pet. I’ve never seen an episode with Uni that she does anything impressive, but that does not mean it does not happen. Uni makes an unforgettable noise that will drive the audience mad with rage, and I now see why Tim Curry wanted to kill them all in Legend.

These are reoccurring characters that are not in the main party.

Dungeon Master – He is a small, Yoda-like figure in red robes with large amounts of power. He is like a Dungeon Master in real life. He is there to both get the party moving on the adventure and put the party into life threatening peril. He often appears at the beginning of episodes and drops some clues, often a riddle, in the middle of the party’s lap to help them at a crucial moment. It is unclear, from what I have seen, if Dungeon Master is responsible for bringing them to this world, and if he has the ability to send them home.

Venger – He is the big bad for the show and looks like a demon with wings, fangs, and a horn. He seems to be a powerful wizard and has a rivalry with Dungeon Master. He seems to be constantly on the quest to get the party’s magic items. This is funny because they are not very good items. He seems to be the mustache-twirling villain, but maybe the character will change with time?

Tiamat – She is a five-headed dragon that seems to strike fear into everything, especially Venger. Tiamat is an equal opportunity antagonist. Tiamat hunts the party at times, but hunts Venger at times too. She is more like a force of nature instead of a thinking being. In fact, she can be quite dumb for having at least 5 brains.

The Episode
The entire show seems to open in medias res with the only real background of the whole show being the opening credits. Our party is traveling the landscape, we do not know how long, or what the motivation is for being in this particular location. Uni pulls a Uni-ism and yells and out of a cave comes Tiamat. Presto correctly identifies Tiamat meaning one of two things, 1) they’ve been around long enough to have heard of the 5 headed dragon, or 2) they have met her before. Bobby then charges Tiamat and is only saved by Hank’s undefined bow powers. Sheila actually comes up with a decent plan to lure Tiamat back into her cave, then hood up and sneak out. I gave her some shit in the Bio but this was a good idea, so Sheila take a bow. Bobby then breaks a boulder with his club sealing the cave. Diana then mentions that she “doesn’t blame Venger for being scared of that dragon” meaning they also either know of Venger, or have faced him before, cue Dungeon Master (DM).
DM starts into his adventure shenanigans, Eric mentions that he is “tired of your riddles” and we know this is not their first adventure for DM. DM states that the need to go to the town of Helix because it might have something that can help them get home (that’s a lie btw). Helix had a bit of a dragon problem (wyverns for those paying attention) back in the day. Good magic was used to drive off the dragons but they must beware of the many “faces of evil” that Venger has assumed. They also will know his newest face by his white hair according to DM. Then DM deuces out, leaving them holding the bag.
The party heads North towards Helix, and in the middle of what appears to be a desert, is a sign for Merlin’s castle. Hank reminds the group that “according to legend Merlin is a powerful magician, he can do anything”. They cannot see the castle until they look up and see it in the clouds. They are trying to figure a way up, when a golden rope ladder is lowered and they head right on up. Now there’s your first mistake. In my mind, I picture a lovely cloud giant up there capturing and eating people thinking this is Merlin’s castle. Just fishing for assholes you just have to lower your rope. The party makes it up the ladder but cannot get inside due to the drawbridge being closed. Diana has to vault across and lower the drawbridge, because she is awesome.

Merlin's Flying Castle complete with ladder

They enter the castle and instantly confronted by an old wizard with white hair who is holding a white rabbit. They do clue in on the white hair, but the old wizard reveals that he is Merlin and he wears a toupee. Merlin tells them he cannot get them home, but he tells them again about how Helix was attacked by dragons adding this time that Venger was leading the dragons. Merlin cast a spell to drive the dragons away, Helix was saved. Eric is fed up with all these “fairy tales”, which seems silly considering they are in a flying castle, and goes to leave. The party then gets Tiamat’ed. The room has a convenient Tiamat size door, and she somehow got into the cloud caste. I guess Tiamat goes where Tiamat wants? Hank does the macho thing and holds off Tiamat. With quick thinking Diana gets them all through a different door which I note cannot be bigger that 10’ tall. Do you think this is going to stop Tiamat? Hell no. She bust through that shit like the Kool Aid man. Oh Yeah!
The party flees and hits a dead end with a giant door on the floor, so it really isn’t a dead end is it? Merlin confirms that it leads to the dungeon, and it is inescapable. Who exactly does Merlin keep down there? What is Merlin up to down there? We can only imagine. The group comes up with a plan to trap Tiamat in Merlin’s “dungeon” by putting a conjured carpet over the open hole in the floor. Diana once again springs into action and lures the big she-beast onto the carpet. Tiamat tumbles into the “dungeon” and they seal the door the EXACT SAME WAY as they did in the hallway where she Kool Aid’ed out of it. Also please note in the first episode they literally have a “Dungeon” with a Dragon in it. See what they did there? Clever, Clever writing staff.
With all that cleverness they have to make the party be ultra-dumbasses at this point. Sheila, whose bow I am now regretting, says to Merlin that they saved his rabbit. Merlin then says, “Oh it is not a Rabbit, it is a hare…A White Hare.” I can be a bit thick in games, and I am not the best a puzzles and riddles, but come on people. Be present for conversations in a world that is trying to kill you. Merlin is thankful and talks about how he is 70 years young, or some other BS. He now wants to have an apprentice, and that apprentice is Presto. The only caveat is that he will have to stay, with Merlin, FOREVER! We then cut to Sheila and Diana having a conversation stating that Presto would never leave them, cue the immediate statement from Merlin that Presto is staying forever. They almost have to plan comedy bits this good, the timing is perfect, seriously go watch it.

Merlin and his white hare

Merlin wants his young apprentice to stir a cauldron for an indeterminate amount of time. Merlin then states that the answers to "everything" are in a huge book right off to the side of the room, he then leaves Presto to stir. Presto begins to read the book looking for a way home, good idea, but you have to work fast because I am sure Merlin will be back shortly. What has to be hours later, because a candle burns all the way down, he finds the right spell and tries to cast it. When something unexpected happens, dragons spew forth from the cauldron. Presto finds Merlin and explains the situation and Merlin seems surprisingly chill about it. He reveals that only good magic could undo Merlin’s spell, and Presto fit the bill. He then reveals himself as none other than Venger! He also states that Merlin has not lived in 1000 years. This is interesting because Venger was defeated by Merlin, so Venger must be at least 1000 years old. He looks good for that age. He then takes Presto’s hat to add to his power, and he is going to put a cosmic level beat down on Helix, they must be some badasses in Helix to get Venger so worked up.
Cut to Helix, it is a town of halflings or gnomes. Look to be farmers too. Venger wants this village why again? Does it have to do with his “dungeon”? I think it might. I do not see the tactical advantage of the town. Either way the dragons are noted as coming, and it is revealed that Merlin dies centuries before and the heroes know they have been tricked. They also puzzle out the piece about the White Hair vs White Hare. They then decide to mount a daring defense of the town because the dragons are almost there. They begin to make primitive shelters and want to try and lore them to the ground so they have a fighting chance. Oh wait, no they don’t do any of that, they leave the town to die and go back to the castle.

Mayor of Helix
They show up and find Presto in the library pouting over killing like an entire town, seems reasonable. They agree that Presto needs to reverse the spell, but Venger makes his grand entrance like a homecoming queen, and tells them he has the magic hat and he wants all their items of power. He proceeds to try and laser blast my girl Diana, but she ninja flips out of there and Hank has Bobby beat the ground with his boomstick, and drown Venger in literature. Suck on those Moby Dicks, Venger. They book (get it) out of there and break into two groups, Hank and Presto are going to recast Merlin’s spell, while everyone else distracts the big V.
Presto doubts his ability to cast the spell and Hank is giving him a 80s prep talk, when Venger comes in and breaks up the tea party. The other group decides that releasing Tiamat is the best idea because she will somehow automatically know where Venger is, and also not eat them. Which happens exactly like that to be honest. Tiamat Kool Aids into the room, Venger tangles for a second then dips out a secret passage, Tiamat Kool Aids out the other wall and leaves. Now why Venger just doesn’t come back in is beyond me. He has to know Tiamat is gone, he had to hear an entire wall collapsing, but he does not come back. Presto casts the spell, and the dragons disappear, Helix was saved. Presto is a little bummed that he cannot do much magic anymore without his hat and DM to come in and bring Presto back his hat, and they ride off to Helix to celebrate. The End

My thoughts
                My main gripe with the episode is that Dungeon Master send them on a lie (there is nothing to help them get home) to a town that would have been better had they not shown. Venger said he could not undo Merlin’s magic, Presto had to do it. Well, had Presto not gone there the Village of Helix would have been fine. I can imagine all the dead citizens that were sacrificed for Dungeon Master’s little “game”. He is a cruel god-like entity that enjoys inflicting pain and torturing young teenagers. Who is the really enemy of the piece?
As a cartoon it was fun and had a reasonable plot for the time. It follows an almost D&D module type format. I could see this as an adventure from back in that era of play. I like that the party has to often out think the problems and cannot simply bash their way through problems. Though at times are quite dense on certain matters, like the White Hair/Hare. 
           You can use a lot of these troupes in your own game design, you can pull major plot threads as well. Venger could make a good tiefling sorcerer villain riding in on his Nightmare. The plot with a magic castle in the sky make a good location for any game regardless of edition. The plot about a dragon raid on a city can be compelling for a higher level party. This show gives great tips that we can use for all the games we run. I like that the characters are interacting with creatures well beyond their ability (CR), but they have to figure a clever solution to get around them. When they run from Tiamat, and then trap her, that was a good idea. You do not want to face an opponent of her caliber. As a DM you can do this to your players too. Throw the party something beyond their abilities, but allow for a creative solution. These are solid DM lessons.
           The show still has that value for people playing OSR or 5e, because at its core it has some fun concepts. I hope you enjoyed this, it is hopefully the first in a series that I will hopefully do at least once a week. Happy Gaming.

Miss an episode? Look here for the archive.

I went ahead and created a Facebook group for the blog, if you are interested the link is here.


  1. i purchased the series on DVD and binge watched it. previously i saw random episodes and had missed some. I wish the character development could have been more prominent. Eric obviously changed the most and the writing didn't really note this. All the others got more confidence/compentenc but not much more in my mind. The series felt like it was just ended earlier. it needed another season.

  2. It was ended early, they expected to at least get a single extra episode.

  3. There was a script for the finale which is online somewhere. I remember reading it and it ties up the going home and Venger/DM relationship issues.

  4. I plan on getting to it down the line.