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The D&D Cartoon was an animated series produced in 1983, which ran until 1985. As its name suggests, it was based upon/set within the earliest editions of Dungeons & Dragons. It was very popular in Brazil for some reason.
The cartoon's plot is simple, and recapped neatly in the series' opening credits: it's an isekai story, where our heroes are a band of teenagers (and one kid brother) who were attending a carnival when they made the mistake of trying the "Dungeons & Dragons ride". Their initial enjoyment gave way to terror as the ride opened up a magical portal and hurled them into an alien world, where they were attacked by a monstrous five-headed dragon. They were saved by the sudden appearance of a mysterious gnome-like being, who gave each of them an enchanted item, dubbing them "Ranger, Barbarian, Magician, Thief, Cavalier and Acrobat". Using these magical artifacts, they fled from the dragon and found themselves face to face with a demonic-looking wizard riding a nightmare. Fortunately, the dragon attacked this monstrous figure and drove him away. The gnome introduced himself as "Dungeon Master", and this world as The Realm of Dungeons & Dragons.
Ever since then, our heroes have been forced to walk the world, following the cryptic clues of the Dungeon Master and seeking a way to return to their own world - getting involved in many magical troubles along the way. The story is quite episodic, but it ultimately covers their inadvertent quest to battle the forces of evil and restore the light of hope and good to the world.
Hank the Ranger: Courageous, brave, compassionate and strong, Hank is the team's leader and shoulders the burdens of keeping his ragtag band alive as they adventure in this strange and alien land. His magical artifact is an enchanted bow that shoots arrows of pure mystic energy, which he can manipulate to do almost anything.
Diana the Acrobat: Sassy, strong-willed and sarcastic, Diana is the group's sole Afro-American member and its unofficial 2nd in command. A skilled gymnast, her magical artifact is an enchanted staff that can shrink or grow to various sizes.
Sheila the Thief: The shrinking violet of the team, Sheila's artifact was well chosen; a cloak that makes her invisible whenever she raises its hood over her head. She may be a bit of a wuss, but she always comes through in a pinch.
Erik the Cavalier: A pompous rich kid, Erik (as opposed to the traditional cavalier of the time) is a coward who hates violence and spends his time complaining. His choice of artifact was both fitting and yet not: an indestructible, forcefield-projecting shield is very useful to him. However, deep down, Erik is made of sterner stuff than he gives himself credit for, and he will leap in front of his teammates to protect them without thinking about it. As a sidenote, Erik's complaints are often very sensible; a jab from the creators at the moral guardians of the time, who insisted that the complaining character should always be depicted as being wrong.
Presto the Magician: Having earned the nickname "Presto" by which everyone calls him for his love of magic, Presto would be over the moon at being made an actual magician upon entering the Realm. There's only one small problem; whilst his enchanted artifact is potentially the most versatile of them all, a wizard's pointy hat that allows him to conjure up almost anything, he can't get the damn thing to work right! It almost never gives him what he wants... although, it usually tends to give him what he needs, in the end. Some fans theorize that it reacts so unpredictably as its own way of protesting the cheesy rhyming incantations that Presto insists on using.
Bobby the Barbarian: Brash, headstrong and fearless, Bobby is Sheila's younger brother and the complete opposite of his timid elder sibling. With his enchanted club that can deliver ridiculously powerful strikes, this pintsize powerhouse is truly the muscle of the team.
Uni: A unicorn filly that the team rescued from Tiamat shortly after arriving in the Realms, and effectively the team's mascot. Bobby dotes on her incessantly.
Dungeon Master: A mysterious, dwarf or gnome-like wizard of tremendous magical power. Whilst he claims benevolence, he never directly intervenes to the team's advantage except in the rarest circumstances. Instead, he points them on their way with cryptic riddle-clues.
Venger: The most powerful and evil of wizards in the Realm, Venger seeks to conquer the Realm entirely - but to do that, he must first topple Tiamat, the only being stronger than he is. He knows that the six magical artifacts that Dungeon Master gave to the younglings would do the trick nicely...
Shadow Demon: Venger's closest hench'man', Shadow Demon is an incorporeal being ressembling a Shade. Useless in a scrap, but a peerless spy.
Tiamat: the Dragon Queen herself, five heads and all, although she's pretty much a plot device rather than a character proper in the show. Venger wants her place and power and our heroes thwart his plans to do so. Her contribution often consist of blasting Venger away with multiple breaths and little else.
The Realm of D&D depicted in this cartoon bears no direct resemblance to any of the three main campaign settings - Mystara, Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms - released at that time period. Of the three, it perhaps closest resembles Mystara, being a pulp-influenced "weird fantasy" world rather than the neo-Medieval Europe and neo-Renaissance Europe feels of Oerth and Faerun. With three suns and as many moons, the Realm is a land of strange and bizarre natural terrains and creatures; rivers that rain upside down, forests of skyscraper-sized mushrooms inhabited by malevolent snail-men, three-year-storms (as in, it rains for three years at a stretch) and more.
D&D Cartoon was written as a show aimed at younger kids, and it shows in the nature of each individual episode as a stand-alone story and the (relatively) stereotyped characters. Definitely still worth watching no matter how old a neckbeard you are, though.
- The Night of No Tomorrow: To Presto's amazement, the party discovers none other than Merlin the Wizard residing in a tower near Helix. Naturally, the untrained magician seeks to become Merlin's apprentice - but he has been duped; "Merlin" is none other than Venger in disguise, and he uses Presto to unleash an evil night and a plague of dragons, which the party must defeat.
- Eye of the Beholder: Following Dungeon Master's latest riddle, the party must steel themselves to do battle with a dread Beholder, a many-eyed monster that guards a portal to Earth. But, along the way, they become involved in the struggles of Sir John, a well-wishing but cowardly knight desperate to prove himself for the sake of his son.
- The Hall of Bones: When their enchanted weapons fail them in the middle of a battle, the party loses the artifacts to Venger. However, they serve him no better; they have been drained completely of their magic. Now the party must locate the lost Hall of Bones, resting ground of the Realm's greatest champions, and the only place where the weapons can be rekindled.
- Valley of the Unicorns: The party's travels lead to their crossing paths with Kelek, an evil mage who seeks to gather the horns of unicorns to enhance his powers and become invincible. When he steals Uni's horn, the party has no choice but to make a temporary alliance with the one being who might be able to oppose Kelek's magic: Venger himself.
- In Search of the Dungeon Master: An attempt by the party to learn a way home from the Forest of Know Trees is ruined when an evil mercenary named Warduke captures the Dungeon Master, forcing the party to rescue him in a desperate race against time.
- Beauty and the Bogbeast: Pursuing Dungeon Master's latest suggestion to find the River That Rains Upside Down, which can generate a portal to any realm the riders desire, Eric messes with a magical flower and is turned into a hideous, toad-man monster known as a Bogbeast. Ironically, this serves them well, for the River has been dammed by a malign ogre named Kallemung, and only Eric's resemblance to a prophesized champion gives the party a chance to recruit the cowardly Bogbeasts to help them defeat Kallemung.
- Prison Without Walls: The party's eternal quest to find a way home leads them to the Swamp of Sorrows, in pursuit of gnome spellbinder Lukion, whose people can help the party return to their world. But first, they must stage a jailbreak of a most unusual sort, and release Lukion from a prison that has no walls...
- Servant of Evil: Bobby's 9th birthday is disrupted when Venger manages to capture the rest of the party and lock them in his Prison of Agony, a massive jail suspended within a live volcano. Bobby's only hope to free his friends is by persuading the Prison's reluctant gaoler, a giant named Karrox, to find the courage to oppose Venger.
- Quest of the Skeleton Warrior: Dekion, a Skeleton Warrior cursed to serve Venger for a great betrayal, manipulates the party into entering the Lost Tower of the Celestial Knights to retrieve the Circle of Power, a magical talisman of great potency, guarded by wards that attack intruders with their darkest fears.
- The Garden of Zinn: When Bobby is bitten by a poisonous reptile whilst hunting food, Dungeon Master informs the party that only the "foot of the Yellow Dragon" can save his life. To find it, they must enter the Garden of Zinn, a queen with some very dark secrets...
- The Box: A convenient earthquake reveals the magical Box of Zandora, a good wizardess and long-time friend of Dungeon Master's. Most importantly to the party, the Box can open gateways to other worlds, and if they can find just the right spot to put it in, that means they can use it to go home.
- The Lost Children: The party must help a band of stranded alien children to rescue their elder, Alfors, and the alien spacecraft that he is being forced to rebuild for Venger.
- P-R-E-S-T-O Spells Disaster: When one of Presto's spells goes disastrously wrong, the bungling magician must try and find his friends, who have become trapped in the castle of a malevolent giant.
- The Girl Who Dreamed Tomorrow: Discovering another lost child from their own world, a girl named Terri who possesses prophetic powers, the party tries to use her oracular dreams to guide them to an escape from the Realm to Earth.
- The Treasure of Tardos: To protect one of the few kingdoms still actively resisting Venger, the party must defeat his monstrous new creation; Demodragon, a two-headed fiendish dragon that spews fire and ice.
- City at The Edge of Midnight: When Bobby is kidnapped by a demon called the Nightwalker and carried off to his City On The Edge of Midnight, the party will stop at nothing to get him back.
- The Traitor: Trying to protect an inoffensive race of tree-dwelling bear-folk called the Cloud Bears from Venger's hordes, the party are stunned when it seems that Hank has chosen to betray them.
- Day of the Dungeon Master: Sick of Dungeon Master's routine of constantly showing up to spout riddles and then bugger off, Erik mocks the mystic and asserts that he could do far better with the DM's powers. Dungeon Master chooses to humor him, and Erik does his best to use his new magic to finally send them all home. But Venger will stop at nothing to steal the DM's magic from its inexperienced new wielder...
- The Last Illusion: Discovering a magical message from a benevolent Illusionist named Varla in the Swamps of Darkness, the party tries to find her and free her - but this will not go unchallenged.
- The Dragon's Graveyard: Sick and tired of Venger's harassment after he destroys a portal inches in front of them, the party force the Dungeon Master to reveal that, in the Dragon's Graveyard, their weapons will have the power to finish Venger off once and for all. But can the party really bring themselves to kill, even if it is Venger?
- Child of the Stargazer: The party's peaceful relaxing is disrupted when they are stumbled across by a young man named Kosar, fleeing the forces of the evil Queen Syrith, whose reign he is prophesied to end.
- The Dungeon At The Heart of Dawn: Erik's disobedience of the Dungeon Master finally has a true cost when he inadvertently releases an Elder Evil upon the realm, forcing a desperate race against time.
- The Time Lost: Having had his fill of the party's thwarting of his schemes, Venger tries to use a magical portal to Earth's past to disrupt Earth's history and ensure they are never born.
- Odyssey of the 12th Talisman: When an orphan named Lorne stumbles upon the powerful-yet-deadly Stone of Astra, he believes his luck to have finally changed. Can the party save him before he falls victim to the curse?
- Citadel of Shadow: Desperate to prove herself after bungling a recent mission, Sheila attempts to free a young girl named Kareena, who has been held prisoner by her evil brother. But it turns out that Kareena is no saint herself, and her brother is a figure all-too-familiar to the party...
- Cave of the Faerie Dragons: Saved from a pack of giant bugs by the aid of a clan of Faerie Dragons, the party must repay their generosity by saving the clan from a greedy ruler who wishes to take their hoard.
- The Winds of Darkness: The party find their paths crossing with a malevolent demon of night named the Darkling, whom they must find a way to defeat. But only a mysterious old woman named Martha seems to hold the key to doing so, yet she refuses to do battle against the Darkling.
Two of the characters from the cartoon make cameos in Baldur's Gate II. In 2006 the series was re-released on DVD and as extras included the planned but canceled finale as an audio drama (with one returning voice actor) and the Animated Series Handbook, which gave each character and their unique item a 3rd edition stats block (though according to these Venger could save himself a lot of trouble by just walking up to the kids and using his Blasphemy SLA to kill them instantly) and had a small adventure featuring them. Among optimizer, the handbook is best known for the Energy Bow stats, since it has a bunch of unique abilities that fix everything wrong with 3rd edition archery. It was reprinted on WotC's website.
The series became very popular in Brazilian television, with reruns even into the early 2000s. The series was called Caverna do Dragão ("The Dragon's Lair") while for some reason the actual tabletop game wasn't released under that name (Just "Dungeons & Dragons"), so the series wasn't seen as an adaptation of a pre-existing product, but its own thing. The popularity in Brazil resulted into series creator Michael Reaves teaming up with Brazilian cartoonist Reinaldo Rocha to release the last planned episode in comic form.
In 2019 Renault cashed in the nostalgia check and released a Live Action Car Commercial based around this series.
What, are you blind? Seriously, this show is dripping with direct references to actual D&D lore of the time, and a veritable gold-mine of ideas to mine for your own fantastical D&D games.
Plus, to celebrate the anniversary, Wizards of the Coast released a short "Animated Handbook" containing a miniature adventure and full 3.5 stats for the kids, their magical weapons, Venger and Shadow Demon. Of the content, the most notable from a mechanics point of view is Hank's bow received a lot of attention, as it fixes two large problems archery had throughout most of 3.5: The lack of power attack and annoyance of dealing with variable strength when bows had to be made with a fixed strength in mind.