D&D Cartoon Show Books: Pick (YOUR) Path To Adventure!
Tower of Midnight Dreams, Backward Magic, The Witch’s Spell Book, The Maze and the Magic Dragon, The King Who Wore No Crown, and The Star Snatchers - ooh, those are some cool names!
If you grew up in the ‘80s, you’ll immediately recognize the heroes on these covers from the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon TV show: Hank the Ranger, Sheila the Thief, Diana the Acrobat, Bobby the Barbarian, Presto the Magician, and Eric the Cavalier - each with their uber powerful (and D&D class-appropriate) magic weapons & items.
You’ll probably also remember Uni the baby unicorn, Tiamat the 5-headed dragon, and the evil wizard, Venger, on his flying steed, Night-mare! Though the friendly guide, Dungeon Master, and Venger’s shadowy minion, Shadow Demon aren’t pictured on the covers, they make several visits within the books.
A fateful roller coaster ride delivered our aged 9–15 year-old heroes to the realm of Dungeons & Dragons between 1983-1985, where they went on weekly quests to save creatures & villages, undo curses, and perpetually foil Venger’s megalomaniacal plans - all while trying to find their way back home.
I LOVED THIS SHOW. Back when you had to be in front of your TV at the exact time your show would air (or you could never see it again until re-runs years later), my brother and I ate our vegetables, did our chores and went to bed early to never ever miss an episode.
How’s THIS for an awesome Saturday morning cartoon lineup? In 1985:
8:00 am: Superfriends
8:30 am: Disney’s Adventures of the Gummy Bears
9:00 am: Smurfs
9:30 am: Dungeons & Dragons
10:00 am: Dragon’s Lair
11:00 am: Dungeons & Dragons (rerun!)
If you would like to experience what a Saturday morning CBS cartoon-binge was like in 1984 (including all the glorious kids’ toy commercials), put on your pajamas (optional superhero Underoos are also acceptable), grab a bowl, spoon, milk, and your favorite breakfast cereal and stream one of these:
The Dungeons & Dragons Cartoon Show Books were 6 Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style books published by TSR in 1985 based on the TV show and targeted towards younger kids (I’d guess 10 and under). They were written by 4 authors - a Margaret, a Jean, and 2 different Lindas, while being internally illustrated by 4 different artists.
The super-fun covers were done by none other than Jeff Butler, with a couple backgrounds done by Keith Parkinson (books #4 & #5)!
Have you checked out Rediscovered Realms EXCLUSIVE interview with famous TSR artist, Jeff Butler, yet?
Now, when I mentioned a “Margaret” as one of the authors, I probably should have stated “THE” Margaret, for book #1 was written by none other than Margaret Weis of Dragonlance fame!
Speaking of Dragonlance, Jean Blashfield wrote book #2 “Backward Magic”, and look what I found out about her from Wikipedia!
A friend introduced her to Rose Estes, who wrote a number of the early Endless Quest books for TSR. "I didn't know about TSR, even though it was only a few miles away. I had heard of the Dungeons & Dragons game, of course, but I had no idea it was published in Wisconsin."
As she was already experienced as an industry editor, Jean Black was hired as Education Editor for TSR's new education department, which was created to sell classroom modules for use by teachers. She worked with Jim Ward to put together an education program.
TSR decided not to hire an educational sales staff and the department ultimately failed, and while Black would push for other educational ideas TSR did not take advantage of these.
Black then became the Managing Editor of TSR's new Book Department, and would use the success of TSR's gamebooks as a step toward the release of the Dragonlance novels.
Black picked Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis to write first Dragons of Autumn Twilight (1984) and then the rest of the books in the Dragonlance Chronicles series.
She also wrote a number of gamebooks, including Master of Ravenloft (AD&D Adventure Gamebook #6), Ghost Tower (Super Endless Quest Book #2), and Villains of Volturnus (Endless Quest Book #8).
Holy Moley - thank you Jean!!!
Want to reminisce Dragonlance style? Check this out!
Linda Jacobs (Altman) is a prolific children’s writer. Wow did she write a lot of stuff!
Linda Lowery is an American author and illustrator who wrote the Endless Quest gamebook, Spell of the Winter Wizard as well as two TSR Heartquest books (Secret Sorceress and Moon Dragon Summer)
(Featuring artwork from Clyde Caldwell & Luke Eidenschink!)
I have to say that reading these books as an adult (I didn’t have them as a kid) was really fun. The stories are simple and wouldn’t stand up under world-building-police scrutiny - but who cares!
They contain fun congruent adventures for my favorite band of adventurers.
In each one you play one of the main heroes (except for Eric the Cavalier’s book, where you’re his little brother and he accompanies you).
You typically break away from the group at the beginning of each book to make your own way, but sometimes reconnect in the middle or end of an adventure.
As I read them, I can hear Eric’s sarcastic voice (who btw was voiced by Donnie Most - Ralph Malph of Happy Days fame). I hear in my mind’s eye petulantly brave young Bobby and his big sis, Sheila, nerdy self-conscious Presto, confident Diana, heroic Hank. When you read Venger’s words, you can’t help but hear Peter Cullen’s deep bass (Optimus Prime, anyone?)
There are several goofy creatures you encounter (just look at some of the covers to get an idea!) - usually the ones that accompany you or that you have to save - but many are classic D&D creatures that make appearances like a Ki-rin, Snakemen, Ogre, Opinicus, Mermaid, Sprites, Sphinx, Lammasu, Titan, Shambling Mound, Orcs, Elves, and even a Gold Dragon.
Your adventures begin with Dungeon Master showing up early on to give you an enigmatic riddle that eventually becomes clear in its wisdom by one of your many potential endings (just like in the TV series!)
It’s like uncovering 6 never-before-seen TV cartoon episodes 38 years later!
Some of the books have kids’ activities, like dot-to-dots, find the hidden objects, a maze and a word find and word puzzle, but none of these are in any way complicated or challenging, and don’t really affect your choices. They’re just there as something to do if you wanted.
There was a lot of the artwork I liked, but it really depended on the artist’s individual style. Some portrayed the heroes more closely to the TV show than others, but again, still fun.
Sam Grainger (1930-1990) was an American comic book artist best known as a Marvel Comics inker during the 1960s and 1970s
Ivor Janci is an illustrator & graphic/product designer that worked at TSR, Tonka Toys and Sega
Gary Williams illustrated book #4, “The Maze and the Magic Dragon”, but I could not find any other information on him other than these gamebook credits
Mitch O’Connell illustrated book #5 “The King Who Wore No Crown”, but I couldn’t verify if he is one and the same with this Mitch O’Connell
I’m so glad I got to experience these books, even so many years (decades?!) after they were published.
You know, maybe I can even read them with my granddaughter, who come to think of it, is just about Bobby the Barbarian’s age - about the age I was when I first watched the D&D cartoon TV show. Maybe we can get my brother and nephews too and wake up early on a Saturday morning to share a box of cereal together. If they just made Underoos in my size . . .
What!? NEW D&D Cartoon action figures and lunchboxes? Yes please!
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