Do you remember waaaaaay back when having a day off meant Saturday, and Saturday meant waking up at the crack of dawn to plop yourself in front of the television set with a bowl of sugar based cereal substitute to watch Saturday morning cartoons? Yeah, me neither. But that’s okay. Let’s get NOSTALGIC!
If life has taught you anything, it should be that there are portals to other worlds practically everywhere. Check the back of a closet. Portal. Fall down the wrong rabbit hole. Portal. Be descended from a fairy tale lineage. Portal. Use an incantation to produce a portal to a mythical land described in a children’s book that was in fact based in reality… Portal, but that one seems like cheating. You could also try out a new ride at the amusement park, as did six missing children on Saturday September 17, 1983 and chronicled in Dungeons and Dragons.
“Six young people –Sheila, Hank, Eric, Diana, Bobby and Presto– embarked on an amusement park ride which turned out to be a one-way trip into the fantasy land of Dungeons and Dragons. In order to find the way out, each youngster was compelled to assume a ‘role’ (with appropriate costume) and play the game– making certain to keep at least one step ahead of Venger, ‘the Ultimate Source of Evil‘.” Literally a one-way trip as the final episode of the series, the one where the group would have finally returned home, was never produced. (For those who hate to leave things unfinished, a fan made version starring the original voice cast was completed.)
What I remember
The 80s was the heyday of the Satanic Panic, and in small town America, Dungeons and Dragons (or D&D) was the gateway to the forbidden. I know at least one of my brothers, perhaps both, played D&D and not once was I sacrificed to awaken some dread elder deity. (That I know of. I’m looking at you Jeff and Paul!) And then there was this television show with a bunch of kids from Earth exploring another world using magic weapons with the aid of a short, balding guy in a robe who called himself “The Dungeon Master.” The two concepts didn’t mesh. At worst, The Dungeon Master might have been guilty of child endangerment, but he always seemed to show up when things got too bad. I didn’t play any tabletop role playing games (TTRPG), like D&D, myself until I got to undergraduate college, and again, not once did I sacrifice any children to awaken… anything. Instead, TTRPGs helped me to deal with chronic anxiety issues I had regarding talking to people I didn’t know. Maybe I wasn’t very outgoing, but I could make a character that was, and if that character could do it, so could I. Joining the Gamer’s Guild probably helped me more, on a personal if not financial level, than the degree I earned.
Episode 1, “The Night of No Tomorrow,” doesn’t give much in the way of an exposition, beyond the opening title sequence, to explain just what happened to the main characters to land them in a fantasy world or how long they’ve been there. The same can be said for a lot of D&D games I’ve played. Someone, typically a non-player character controlled by the Dungeon Master, shows up to explain a quest and then off you go. In this episode, The Dungeon Master appears out of nowhere to inform the group that a clue to their search for a way home might be found in Helix. Helix is a town once besieged by flying dragons, under the command of Venger, that were banished by Merlin the Magician. Before disappearing, he warns them that Venger takes many forms and that they “shall know his newest face by his white hair.” “Hair” in this instance is really “hare,” something the group only discovers after they have left Presto behind in Merlin’s Castle to study with (not) Merlin. Terrible puns are also a staple of D&D. Not long after, Presto is tricked by Venger into freeing the flying dragons. The group returns to Merlin’s Castle from Helix as the dragons attack, using Tiamat, a five-headed dragon with a serious dislike for Venger, to distract Venger while Presto recasts the spell to contain the dragons once more. And what did they learn about getting home? Exactly nothing, which is also common in D&D, especially when the Dungeon Master thinks that they are furthering the plot but the players have no idea what’s going on.
Watching Dungeons and Dragons is like eating a bowl of sugary cereal: you probably don’t want to consume too much of it all at once, but it fills the nostalgia void. I could definitely see each episode as something I would have done with friends had we been given magic items and trapped in a fantasy world.
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More to come (live from what I remember about the 80’s!) as this story continues.
Kevin Wadlow is 100% a real human being and definitely not a murder of crows wearing a person suit. He is an avid reader of horror, tabletop gamer, and drinker of coffee who enjoys drawing things of strangeness along the way. When the zombie apocalypse comes, he will probably be eaten first after saying something about how he fully expected to go out like this.