Then & Now: Dungeons & Dragons (1983 – 1985)

Geoff Harris

A slight change of pace for you, my dear readers! This time I’m looking back at the animated Dungeons and Dragons show. Enjoy!

Dungeons and Dragons (1983-1985) featured six friends whose visit to a local amusement park turns into a battle of life and death when they are magically transported to the world of Dungeons & Dragons by a mysterious being known only as The Dungeon Master. They are transformed into archetypes from the popular role-playing game by now defunct TSR Games. Ranger, Thief, Acrobat, Barbarian, Wizard, and Cavalier. Each given an item of power to wield in their journey across the dangerous terrain in search of a way home. They are often confronted by the evil sorcerer, Venger, who seeks to claim the items in his never-ending battle with the multi-headed dragon, Tiamat. Every episode was a step closer to returning home.


I had just started playing the game when this show came out so you can imagine how excited I was to “see” what I was only imagining being brought to life, so to speak. Every Saturday morning offered so much entertainment we were forced to pick and choose what we could watch and what we would seemingly forever regret missing. Video recorders were expensive and my parents weren’t about to buy a one just so I could watch cartoons. Cable didn’t have a Boomerang channel and reruns were still a relatively rare occurrence mostly aimed at prime time shows. You miss a toon, you missed it. I tried like an obsessed stalker to watch as many “new” episodes as I could catch. This was my world. My fantasies. (Okay, I was one of those “awkward” guys who didn’t know how to talk to girls and when I did, BEING MYSELF, it usually ended badly. Puberty hits us all like a train. I hid in my little geek world and was safe there.) The logistics of the show never bothered me. if anything, I would have long conversations with my then best friend over which item we’d want more. The Ranger had a bow that shot arrows of radiant energy. The Thief wore a Cloak of Invisibility. The Acrobat welded a pole which could elongate.(Snicker)(#Forever13) The Barbarian had a club which could cause seismic tremors. The Wizard’s hat was a weird blending of Bag of Holding and all the Summon Monster spells with a few extra tricks thrown in. The Cavalier’s shield created a force field that was nearly impenetrable force field.

The Ranger was strong and brave. The Cavalier a stone coward. The Barbarian was a typical temperamental little kid. The Thief was shy and the Acrobat overconfident. The Wizard unsure of himself. These were relatable characters. Who doesn’t want to be strong and brave? Who didn’t question their place in the world? I must confess though I HATED THE CAVALIER!!! Whiny weezly lying shitbag. Of course he gets the awesome shield; he needed it to protect his sorry wimpy ass. Yes, I am guilty of transference. Of all the characters I saw myself in him the most.


Nineteen Eighty Three is history. I have been a gamer for slightly over thirty-five years.  I’ve grown into a man with a few scars on my soul. The Dungeons & Dragons cartoon is painful to watch now. It’s like someone’s watered down idea of what the game is like. The characters are two-dimensional constructs. The mechanics are pure Larry Stu fanboy bullshit. And I would watch every episode again and again because this is such a part of me I can’t escape it. If it weren’t for shows like this I don’t know if I would have the imagination I have today. Yes, its campy and predictable but that’s where I learned to visualize better. Make the story better. Fill in those missing details. After watching the screaming bag of monkey crap movies Hollywood produced, I grew even more nostalgic for this simple little farce. It’s supposed to be pithy; it’s a cartoon, ya’ friggin’ goon! Yes, you now know way more about what they got wrong than most sane adults. (Case in point: Tiamat is actually the Queen and mother of all dragons hence why she had multiple heads. Each a different color associated with all the evil dragon types.) This is my generations mythology. Our stories of heroes and great adventures. To have had presented among the other programs like Transformers and GI JOE was a validation of sorts. Dungeon & Dragons has taken so much crap over the years from religious fundamentalists and parental advisory boards. All because it exposes children to ideas and concepts so alien they lead to drug abuse and suicide. Concepts like decision making and problem solving.

There are two arguments here. The first is D&D being anti-religious and the other its effects on teenage minds. Warning: Stop reading RIGHT NOW if you are easily offended by reason.

I have been told, by deeply christian people, that Dungeons & Dragons encourages devil worship because “anything that does not glorify Jesus is bad.” That is an exact quote. Now I am not one to just take what I hear as the sole totality of an issue and walk away thinking that is the end of all conversation. Dungeons & Dragons has come under fire because it features gods and goddesses and does not mention the monotheistic GOD. Not even in passing. This is often interrupted as drawing attention away from “The One True” and diverts souls from finding peace in Heaven’s Grace. A little thing called the First Commandment. Okay. I’ve read almost every edition of the Player’s Guide and NOWHERE does it say ANYTHING about forsaking GOD, Jesus, The Church, or any systems of belief. As a matter of fact, it has a morality system, Alignments, which state in black and white playing evil alignments is not encouraged and players should be ready to accept the consequences of their actions. I seem to recall reading about a guy saying stuff just like that a long time ago to a crowd while standing on a mound of dirt so he could be seen and heard. Obviously not well enough.

The second argument revolves around a few isolated incidents in which some player took the game too far. Depression is a disease that affects millions of people every day. To some, suicide is their only way to make it stop. I once asked the question, “If I was eating a pepperoni pizza from Domino’s and then blew my brains out, could an argument be made that it was something in the pizza that caused me to do it?” Who knows? It’s easy to blame something like a game because the game can be difficult to understand if you aren’t playing it. The emergence experience can be overwhelming as well. I remember a Live Action Role Player sitting in a huddled ball against a corner crying because his character had been betrayed by a fellow character he thought was his friend. “Vampires dick each other over.” was what someone once told me. “It’s part of their nature.” On one hand had I felt sympathy for the guy. Nobody likes taking a hard high one up the rails but I also found myself wanting to tell him to walk it off. It is, after all, just a game.

In the 80’s, social anxiety was treated as a conscious choice and often ignored or medicated with tranquilizers. You were treated like a pariah if you needed therapy. “Oh no, you’re one of THOSE people! Stay away from small children and me. Thank you.” Assholes. Now the loss of a child is an indescribable experience. I don’t want you to get the impression that I am critical of a parent’s grief. All I am trying to convey is perhaps there are alternate reasons why some one commits suicide. If you can find a passage in a Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook that supports suicide, I will burn every book I have and quit the game forever.  If your kid or teen is becoming more and more withdrawn and stops communicating, try seeing their eyes. You were a kid once too. Was your adolescence so perfect? So Mayberry pristine ? Consider this: Maybe you should rethink how you approach your child’s hobbies and interests. Okay, gaming may not be for you but take the time to read the books. Ask questions. There are more adults who play than you may think. Go to a local shop and talk to them. Explore your kid’s world. If only to understand that maybe it isn’t the game that is driving your child further into darkness. It’s easy to hate something you don’t know anything about.

I miss cartoons like Dungeons & Dragons. I miss Saturday mornings in general. Although I do recommend Joel Rosenburg’s Guardians of the Flame series. It’s a bit more adult than the show but the concept of normal people in fantasy world is there. A great read and an excellent companion for fans like me to see how the idea can be reworked. Got to head out now. Uni, my pet unicorn, wants to go walkies. Laters peeps!

Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255

2 thoughts on “Then & Now: Dungeons & Dragons (1983 – 1985)

  1. Having my own four decades of RPG experience, I’m way more likely to run into gamers who say that their hobby is why they *don’t* commit suicide. Just saying.


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