Dungeons & Dragons #27: The Winds of Darkness

The Winds of Darkness title card

Original air date: 7 December 1985
Writer: Michael Cassutt and Katherine Lawrence; story by Karl Geurs

Here we go, one last time …

Much like three on a match, three on a script sounds like bad luck at the very least. This is Michael Cassutt’s only credit on Dungeons & Dragons; he was a writer for many ‘80s and ‘90s live-action TV shows, such as Max Headroom and the new Twilight Zone, and this seems to be his only animation credit. In the ‘90s he moved on to producing. Karl Geurs was the series producer for Dungeons & Dragons’ second and third seasons; he co-wrote a couple episodes, but his only solo effort was The Girl Who Dreamed Tomorrow. His work skews a little young — “Girl” was a Bobby episode, his first season episode was “Valley of the Unicorns” (co-written with Paul Dini), and his other episode was City at the Edge of Midnight (co-written with Michael Reaves), which involved a young child’s abduction. Lawrence / Selbert wrote the previous two episodes; this is the one that seems the least oriented toward young girls, but it also has a cutesy familiar and prominent female guest character — the most prominent one in the series, probably, who wasn’t also a villain, a love interest, or both (looking at you, Karena).

(If you need background on Dungeons & Dragons, you can read the introductory post. If you want to read my recaps in order, go here. If you want to follow along with this recap, you can watch “The Winds of Darkness” on Youtube. Since that is technically piracy, I will also point out — without judgment — that you can buy the series cheaply on physical media.)

BobbyWe begin the episode in Nostril View, looking into Bobby’s twin booger caves as he runs for help through a dead (or winter) forest. Fantastic! That’s the kind of top-notch art direction I’ve come to expect. Panting, Bobby trips over a tree root, then gives voice to the eternal lament: Dungeon Master, Dungeon Master, why hast thou forsaken me? Despite Dungeon Master’s lack of response, Bobby picks himself up (but doesn’t pick his nose) and continues running.

Somewhere else, villagers are about to burn a steampunk witch dressed in purple. Why? She says she just wants a place to spend the night, but the villagers shout, “The moons are in eclipse! It is time for him to return!” Why do lunar mechanics matter when discussing accommodations? Who is “him”? Unknown, but Witchy-Poo says “he” has nothing to do with her. Someone trying to steer the mob in wise directions says, “That’s a lie!”

Now we cut to the party, which is fighting fog; Diana tells Eric not to let it touch him. Presto is crouching near Hank, being absolutely useless, and asks, “Are you all right, Hank?” Well, Hank has translucent leg syndrome, and he also says he can’t feel either leg. I’m pretty sure that’s not OK. Sheila says Bobby has been sent to get help, which … why him? Yes, his club isn’t going to be that useful against fog, but there’s a floating scarecrow with a huge scarf chuckling nearby, and I bet Bobby’s club could do a number on him. The useless Presto would make a much better messenger.

Sheila, Presto, and Uni look at Hank’s phantom legOr maybe you should have sent Diana! She’s athletic, and she’s not doing much here — or rather, what she’s doing doesn’t make much sense. Diana lunges forward at the fog with her staff and shouts, “Gotcha!” Gotcha? To fog? You’re usually smarter than this, Diana, but I suppose stupid pills are a hell of a drug.

We switch back to Nostril View, which — I have to tell you — I can’t get enough of. And it’s always a hit with the kids! Who doesn’t want to look up into someone’s nose holes? Bobby shouts for help for his friends, who are being attacked by the fog. The villagers know what that means, and they scatter — the Darkling has returned.

Yes, the Darkling. Really. With three writers, you’d think they’d come up with a better name for Floaty McScarfcrow, but evidently not. The Purple Witch tells Bobby, “You’ll get no help from them,” then offers Bobby a ride on her wagon with her familiar, Gweekin. (Gweekin looks like a hairy, hyperactive but flightless owl.) It’s also clear Purple isn’t planning on helping his friends either, but Bobby isn’t catching on. With the camera focusing on their laps for some reason — what’s so fascinating about the laps of the steampunk witch and bondage dwarf? — she tells him flat out, “I can’t help you. I’m heading far away from here.” It’s not until Bobby says, “Where’s Dungeon Master when you need him?” that she reconsiders. She says, “I just hope we’re not too late,” and turns the wagon around.

Pink Hank surrounded by fogMatters look dire for the party. Hank, now fully translucent, rises, saying, “I’ve got to fight back!” But as soon as he touches the fog, he flickers fluorescent pink, then disappears, leaving nothing but a puff of smoke. Woooooo! He blowed up real good! And not even Sheila’s cry of “No!” can make me feel bad about that.

More chuckling from the Darkling, which is interrupted by Bobby’s voice: “There, Martha, over there!” The Darkling knows Martha (that is, Steampunk O’Witch), saying, “As always, she is nearby!” The Darkling then disappears, as does the fog.

(Geek aside: The Darkling is actually the dark stalker from Fiend Folio. Dark stalkers and the smaller dark creepers are collectively called “darklings,” although they didn’t get that unifying name until 3rd edition. Anyway, dark creepers are about the same size as a Dwarf; as their names suggest, they hate the light and live deep underground. They steal magic items and cast magical darkness.

The DarklingDark stalkers, on the other hand, are human sized and “are nearly a race apart.” They’re much less common than dark creepers — “an average of one dark stalker to every 25 dark creepers” — and they rule their smaller brethren. They have “all the powers of dark creepers, plus the ability to create a
wall of fog twice per day.” If killed, they too blow up real good: they explode “in a blinding flash equal to a 3-dice fireball.”)

Bobby is proud to have brought help, but the party is downcast. “It’s too late,” Diana says, still coming down off her stupid pill high. It’s too late, you say? His arrival saved the party! That’s just in time. Eric breaks the news of Hank’s psychedelic explosion to Bobby, who cries.

The next morning — or so it seems — Martha expresses her condolences over Hank’s disappearance at the Darkling’s hands. “Who is this Darkling guy, anyway?” Presto asks. He’s the bad guy, Presto, and he has control of a fog that disappears people. Try to keep up! (Also, why did you wait so long to ask that very pressing question?) A better question to ask Martha would be, “Who are you? I mean, are you Superman’s mom, or are you Batman’s mom? Or are you some worthless Martha?”

“He is darkness,” Martha says. “He creates that fog you saw. Everyone fears him.” This tells us nothing new. When she asks what the party will do, Presto, Diana, Sheila, and Uni all express their lack of ideas. No wonder Hank was able to lead these sheeple. Anyway, Martha wants only to head somewhere where she will be accepted. Bobby doesn’t want to abandon Hank, but Martha says, “I’m afraid once the Darkling takes someone, they’re never seen again.” Never seen again! This is promising to be the greatest Dungeons & Dragons episode ever — maybe the greatest series finale ever!

Bobby hopes Dungeon Master will be able to help them, but Eric quashes that idea. “Dungeon Master? Where was he when we needed him?” Eric, he was the same place he has always been: far away from danger.

Dungeon Master and titanothereBut he’s always there when he needs to defend himself, and now is no different. “Help is not always seen, Cavalier,” he says as he emerges from behind Martha’s titanothere, the beast of burden that pulls her wagon. That’s a convenient explanation! It’s a “mysterious ways” sort of excuse, always allowing the powerful being to claim he was helping — there was only one set of footprints in the sand because I was carrying you, not because I was safe on another plane of existence. Dungeon Master picks up Gweekin and strokes him like a supervillain. “I am very sorry about the Ranger, but I can do nothing to change what has happened.” (Finally something Dungeon Master and I agree on! I too am sorry Ford discontinued the Ranger for the US market in 2011, but good news, DM — they brought it back in 2018!)

Eric, holding Hank’s bow, is incensed, and well he should be. “Nothing? What do you mean nothing? You’re the one who sent us into this horrible forest. ‘You must seek the Lightbearer in the Forest of Dark, for only when light embraces the dark will darkness be destroyed.’ Ha!” (This is the first we’ve heard of this bit of Dungeon Master nonsense.) Eric throws down Hank’s bow. “Listen, you Master of Nothing, Hank’s gone, and you’ve got some explaining to do.” As Dungeon Master picks up the bow, Eric says, “Look at him. It’s pitiful. He hasn’t even got a poor excuse.”

Diana and Dungeon Master“Eric, that won’t help things,” Diana says. I’m of two minds here. I think Eric’s display of invective is necessary, even praiseworthy, and Eric’s words might shame a different foe into doing something. But Dungeon Master, as we all know, is proof against your human morality and “conscience.” So is Diana wrong to criticize Eric doing the right thing, or is she right because she knows it will have no effect? (You may discuss this among yourselves.) I think the former is more likely the truth, because she still hopes he’ll do the right thing: “Can’t you do anything, Dungeon Master?”

“Against the Darkling’s magic?” Dungeon Master says. “No.” Eric snatches back Hank’s bow and proposes action! “We’re not letting this Darkling creep get away with taking Hank!” he says. Unfortunately, instead of proposing they rescue Hank, he tells them they’re going to find someone else who can help. So close, Eric!

Dungeon Master and UniDungeon Master lets Uni nuzzle his hand, showing that his expertise is with the simple and easily led. “In your haste,” he says, “remember: When Darkness seems all powerful, let the forgotten candle flame be your light.”

When Martha gets back in the driver’s seat, Dungeon Master finally acknowledges Martha. “The last time I saw you, Dungeon Master,” Martha says, “my life was ruined.” Zing! Eric gets in his own zinger as well: “That sounds familiar.”

When Presto asks whether Dungeon Master knows everybody — he should, it’s his job — Diana adds, “Seems like Martha knows him too.” Odd thing to say, but OK. Martha tells the kids to hop aboard if they’re going to; Eric’s the first aboard, and only Sheila lingers. She sticks around long enough to apologize to Dungeon Master, forcing her to run to hop aboard as Martha drives away. “Maybe Dungeon Master’s given up,” Eric says as they drive away, “but we won’t. We’ll find this Darkling and make him pay for taking Hank.”

“As you wish, Cavalier,” Dungeon Master says sadly. Why is he sad? I can’t say for sure — who can fathom such a dark and twisted mind? — but it’s probably Eric saying “make him pay.” Dungeon Master has a well-documented aversion to making an effort to punish anyone, even if the perpetrator has committed many crimes against sapient beings. I wonder if Dungeon Master is related to the Darkling, like he is to other criminals?

(Geek aside: The titanothere comes from the Monster Manual and is part of a class of monsters I’ve always disliked: pre-historic beasts. Dinosaurs are the most famous members of that category, but titanotheres “roam[ed] the temperate plains of the Pleistocene Era in herds.” They’re herbivores, and the main danger they pose to adventurers is trampling if adventurers threaten their herds. In this case, Martha has removed it or is keeping it from its herd, so it stands around like a statue when it doesn’t have to be animated.)

***

Diana and Sheila with a picture of Martha’s familyMartha stops the wagon “halfway between Shalderon and Mindrel” for lunch, which means nothing to the kids. Sheila evidently pawed through Martha’s things and asks who the three people in a photograph are …wait, they have photography in the Realm? Since when? Are they mechanically or magically produced? I have so many questions, and none of them — as per usual — will even be acknowledged. Anyway, Martha says, “That was my family,” and the topic is dropped like a raw egg on the sidewalk. So is the entire subplot; this is the last we hear or see of Martha’s family. Anyone want to bet the use of the past tense will have something to do with Dungeon Master and the Darkling? I would!

Martha wants to get the kids to Mindrel and safety, but Eric and the other kids want to rescue Hank. “We appreciate your help, Martha,” He says, “but — but we don’t want to be safe.” Without Hank hold him back, Eric is stepping up as a leader! Of course, he’s the oldest white guy now, so of course he succeeds to the party leadership …

Martha relents: “Before you attempt the impossible, you better eat, and have a good night’s sleep in in a real bed in Mindrel. You’ll still have time to find him tomorrow night.” When Sheila bleats for clarification, Martha adds, “The Darkling appears for only three nights every 33 years and takes one victim each night … That’s how it has been for the last one thousand years.” Diana does some quick math and realizes that’s almost 100 victims. To be more accurate, it’s closer to 90 victims, but still: it’s an impressive bit of mental calculation. Diana’s stupid pills seem to be wearing off.

Gweekin in Martha’s lapMartha adds a bit of extra exposition: “His power grows during the eclipse of the moons, and when he takes his hundredth victim, his winds of darkness shall destroy all life in the Realm forever.” I … I don’t get why this prophecy / rule is necessary. The story already has everything it needs to drive it forward: Hank’s in peril, Martha most likely has a personal stake, and the Darkling will cause untold suffering in the future. They have only a couple of days to stop him. Adding in an “end of the world” prophecy actually lowers the tension because the party must end the episode by stopping the Darkling; without the prophecy, they could rescue Hank but allow the Darkling to escape.

Eric says there must be a way to stop him — that’s good, Eric, focus on the way forward — while Presto brings up Dungeon Master’s lightbearer prophecy / riddle. Also: Despite Diana’s quick mental calculations, she doesn’t mention that 100 isn’t divisible by 100; if the Darkling started by taking three victims, and he’s always taken three victims every appearance, then he would claim his hundredth victim on the first night of one his returns. I mean, it’s possible he could have missed getting a victim one night or claimed more than one on a lucky / unlucky night, but it’s not like we’d know that …

***

Mindrel“That is Mindrel.” Sheila says it’s beautiful, and I suppose it is, in a phallic way — fairy tale! Fairy tale way! Sorry about that. Martha parks well outside the Mindrel and heads into Mindrel, sans Gweekin, to secure lodgings. (Gweekin “might get lost in the city,” Martha says, leaving Gweekin in the custody of responsible kid Bobby.) “You’ll be safe from the Darkling as long as it’s daylight,” she says.

Of course, dusk arrives, and Martha is still absent. Bobby’s nervous about Gweekin, who’s hopping around, but Diana, lolling around on top of Martha’s wagon, high on stupid pills, lectures him: “Take it easy, Bobby. Martha said it was safe.” Well, she said it was safe as long as it was daylight, but daylight’s pretty much gone.

And the Darkling is waiting, complete with ominous narration. “Ah, as always, Martha has found the perfect prey,” he says. Has he singled out someone as his target? Yes, yes, he has. That’s because Presto is a moron and makes himself a perfect target. First of all, he’s wandering away from the party into the gathering darkness; second of all, he’s wandering off after a wasp. Who the hell follows a wasp, except for an entomologist?

A hand of fog reaches for PrestoThe Darkling reaches out for the moron with the fog. He captures the wasp, and it mystically explodes like Hank did previously. Then he forms the fog into a hand and reaches for Presto but misses, allowing the rest of the party to come to Presto’s aid. What do they do to aid him? Well, they flail around uselessly. Eric tells the others to push on toward the Darkling since “Martha says he’s the source of the fog.” But Diana counters with “We’re surrounded!”

Again, because things are desperate, it’s time for Presto to cast a spell. “C’mon, hat, you’re our only hope,” he says. “Alakawhatsis and alakazam / Give me something to make this fog …” At this point, Presto literally drops his hat, causing his “spell” to fail. Nothing knocks it from his hands or bumps him or anything else: He just lets it fall to the ground. You have one job, Presto … “Scram?” he finishes hopelessly. “Ah, gee.”

At this point, Martha emerges from Mindrel. “It’s all arranged,” she says proudly. “We’ve all got soft beds to sleep in tonight.” Of course, she shouldn’t be so proud, as it’s night (when things aren’t safe) and the kids are all screaming. Martha follows the screaming, turning on her heartlight and glowing. She’s the Lightbearer! Quelle surprise!

The Darkling’s fog covers Martha’s light sphereThe party immediately seeks shelter in her light, and Martha holds the fog at bay. “Foolish woman!” the Darkling shouts. “Why do you interfere now, after all these years?” When Martha tells him to “go elsewhere for your 99th” — how did she get the precise count, especially after playing dumb with the kids? — the Darkling laughs and says, “Watch your tongue, old woman! I spare no one!” Martha snarls defiance, but the Darkling is confident (and laughing): “You can’t stop me!”

I think half the Darkling’s dialogue is evil chuckling. Anyway, the kids scream, and the fog covers Martha’s dome of light as we head to commercial. Nice cliffhanger!

***

The party standing with Martha in her lightWhen we come out of commercial, Martha burns off the fog covering her light. “We’re safe —for now!” she says. Since night has just begun, “for now” is not reassuring.

More laughter from the Chuckles McFogfingers. “You shall pay for this, Martha!” he says. When she tells the Darkling he can’t hurt her, the Darkling says, “We shall see!” With a last burst of laughter, the Darkling disappears. Martha turns off her light.

“Gweekin gone,” Uni says after clopping up from next to the titanothere, where it was safe. I haven’t been keeping track of this, but I feel Uni’s Scooby-Dooish ability to speak has been picked up and dropped several times during the series. In this case, Bobby can’t understand what Uni’s saying — he asks, “What’s wrong with Uni?” — but Martha seems to understand, as she immediately starts looking for Gweekin.

“So that’s what he meant — the fiend took my Gweekin,” Martha says. The kids rush to comfort Martha, telling her that with her help, they’ll defeat the Darkling; Eric even realizes Martha must be the “Lightbearer” that “ol’ Dungeon Drip” mentioned. But Martha won’t help: “No! I won’t do it! I can’t bear seeing anyone else lost!” She decides to take off: “Perhaps some day I’ll find a place his evil power can’t reach.” When Eric insists she has to stop the Darkling, she says, “Dungeon Master tried to tell me the same thing. It didn’t work then, and it won’t work now.”

“Don’t you care about us?” Diana asks. She literally met you less than 24 hours ago, you want her to risk her life for a cause she has rejected, and you cost her her pet. (Or familiar, or companda. Whatever.) Why would she care about you? But Martha stammers out her rejection before putting the titanothere in gear. She gives one last bit of advice: “If you want the Darkling, you’ll find him in the Grotto of Darkness to the west — but without my help.”

(So is Gweekin the 99th victim? If so, why does he count? Is he a sapient being and Martha just treats him like a pet? Or could the Darkling have just been taking wild animals this entire time and has been taking humans because he’s a jerk? The wasp didn’t count, it seems — maybe it’s only mammals?)

Dungeon Master holds a globe of darkness““Well, just because she’s given up,” Eric says, “we’re not going to.” Again, because things are at their lowest ebb, Dungeon Master shows up. Eric lets him know he’s not welcome: “What are you doing here?” Dungeon Master lets everyone know that if they don’t stop the Darkling, that’s the end of everything in the Realm. Nothing Dungeon Master can do! Nope! How would he ever have the power to stop the Darkling? That’s why it’s up to a bunch of teenagers to save the world! Bobby is confused, though: “But you said only the Lightbearer could stop him.”

That is true,” Dungeon Master says, conjuring a globe of darkness, “but remember: In darkness, there is also light.” The globe turns bright white. This confuses Uni, and Eric recognizes it for the flimflammery it is: “What is he talking about?”

Meanwhile, Martha changes her mind — again — turning her titanothere and wagon around and evidently driving through the night, as we get an establishing shot showing dawn before we hear her again. “The children move too quickly,” she says. “I — I can’t keep up!” Lady, you’ve got a wagon and a gigantic beast of burden. It isn’t you who can’t keep up … although maybe it is, as we see her dozing in the driver’s seat. “I can’t let them go in there alone!” she says, her eyes closed.

Grotto of DarknessBut of course they do. The Grotto of Darkness doesn’t look like a grotto, which is a small, picturesque, and usually artificial cave. It certainly isn’t picturesque, but it is creepy, with lots of sickly browns and mosses on dead trees around it. Toei did a good job with the design. With the party lined up behind a small, stone wall, Eric lays out the most solid plan the party has come up with during the entire run: “Diana and I’ll go in and draw his attention, and [Presto will] take care of the fog with [his] hat … Bobby, I want you up on the roof, ready to bring it down if you have to.” When Sheila (and Uni) ask their part, Eric says, “We need you to try to find Hank … if he’s here.” Uni mentions Gweekin, and Eric understands well enough to agree it should be found as well. Before starting, he even gives Hank’s bow to Sheila.

Boy! If cancellation hadn’t put an end to Hank’s rule by the blondest, this would have done it!

Martha napsMartha actually was falling asleep; she wakes up and realizes the kids are in trouble. She puts the titanothere in gear and gets going. Better late … well, actually, better not late at all

Meanwhile, Eric and Diana are caught sneaking around, and Old Man Darkling laughs. Man, if I loved my job as much as the Darkling does, I would be a lot more successful. He assumes Martha has sent the kids; Eric gets in a little smack talk: “Yeah, she sent us to put an end to you.”

Jolly McEvilvapor seems enchanted to fight someone with a little spirit, although he seems to think it’s misplaced: “How delightful! She actually has you believing her!”

Martha on a cliff in a halo of light“That’s because I meant it!” Martha says, getting her hero entrance and her glow on at the same time. For once, the Darkling doesn’t laugh. “You’re too late,” he says. “One of these children will be the hundredth victim, and the winner of a brand-new car!”

No, wait — not the car thing. Instead, he says, “And the Winds of Darkness will be released!” Diana and Eric protest, distracting the Darkling by hopping about until the Darkling’s back is to the entrance of … the Grotto, I guess, so Sheila and Uni can sneak in. But their response gets the Darkling back in a good mood; he’s chuckling as he conjures his fog. Martha challenges the Darkling to take her as his hundredth victim, but he declines, with a chuckle: “I don’t want you! I’ve chosen another!”

“Get ready with your hat, Presto!” Diana says. Presto casts his spell: “One for the money / Two for the show / Now is the time to make this fog go!” Again he drops the hat on the ground, but this time, his hat starts drawing in some fog. Not very fast, though.

The Darkling consumed by light“Your feeble magic can’t stop me,” the Darkling says, and he’s right, as far as I can tell. His fog is still swirling everywhere, and he seems just as determined as ever. But Martha forces the issue, advancing upon the Darkling like a strangler, hands open in front of her: “There is no darkness so powerful that a single candle flame can’t chase it away!” She or her aura touches the Darkling, he lights up like an electrocution victim, and then he disappears. Boy, that was simple! Seems like she could’ve done that a long time ago!

A pink light bursts from the grotto. The kids investigate, and they find a crowd of people — a crowd of humans, really, with Sheila and Hank embracing in the middle. “About time you decided to come back and lead this band,” Eric says to Hank. “I don’t know how you put up with these guys.” Hank has the grace to thank the party, which is mighty white of him — like everything he does is.

Gweekin and Martha are also reunited among the crowd of the Darkling’s victims, but if you expected some resolution to the subplot about her family, well, screw you, because you aren’t getting it. Like the hundred-victims storyline, the photograph of her family is pointless. Or maybe this makes it poignant; Martha has wasted her life fleeing from the Darkling when she could have confronted him and moved on with her life decades before.

Survivors outside the Grotto of DarknessNo, it’s still pointless.

Back outside, Eric thanks Martha: “I never you expected you to come help us, but I’m sure glad you did.” Martha accepts the back-handed complement and gives the party a straightforward one: “It was your courage that help me understand how simply my light could defeat his darkness.”

“Indeed,” Dungeon Master says as he suddenly appears at Eric and Martha’s knees. By Odin’s missing eye, that second syllable contains a bottomless well of smugness. I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone so self-satisfied. When Martha apologizes for not following DM’s advice sooner, Dungeon Master says, “It is not the speed with which something is learned, but that is learned at all that counts.” I’m sure all those people captured by the Darkling’s didn’t mind the extra decades they spent in the grotto as a result of Martha’s incomprehension / incompetence.

If there’s anything this episode has taught me, it’s that Dungeon Master uses very dull tools to work his will. I mean, it doesn’t justify his propensity for using child soldiers and withholding basic needs from them, but the ease of Martha’s victory does make the point that perhaps these kids should be having an easier time of things.

On one hand, we knew the party wasn’t all that bright; their inability to decipher simple riddles or discern DM’s evil intentions proves that. But given that the party presumably still wants Hank to be its leader after Eric exceeded Hank’s leadership abilities in a single episode, I perhaps have overestimated their capabilities. I didn’t think that was possible, yet here we are.

“Speaking of learning, have you by any chance learned of a way we can get home?” Eric asks. Dungeon Master responds, “Well, I have heard of a great magician by the name of Krynn, who might be able to send you home.” (Final geek aside: The Dragonlance adventures in Dungeons & Dragons, which were introduced in 1984, the same year this episode aired, are set in a world named Krynn.)

The party behind Dungeon MasterFor some reason, the other freed humans have disappeared; since they’ve been in suspended existence for well past their lifetimes, perhaps they’ve simply dissolved into the aether. “Now that’s what I wanted to hear!” Eric says, ignoring the nearly a hundred humans vanishing around him. The others agree. Eric: He’s made this promise before. Why do you think it will end any differently this time?

Eric may not have learned some of the important lessons, but one last time, we can learn something:

  • Under the right circumstances (or the right hallucinogenics), you can fight fog, which is only visible water vapor suspended in the air.
  • Dungeon Master, like many petty gods and men, is immune to shame. However, shame is a powerful motivator for failures like Martha — a better motivator than love, really.
  • Still, if you eventually get around to doing a simple task you could’ve easily accomplished decades before, you’re a hero. A damn hero, I tell you.
  • If you want to add depth to a story without time or effort, you can’t do better than dropped character beats.
  • Never follow a wasp. No good will come of it.
  • I was right: Eric is a better leader than Hank. I’m not saying I’m perfect, but I am saying people should listen to me more. I’ve led the fight against Hankunism for years. I mean, people used to listen to me. I fit in.
  • If someone repeatedly withholds from you what you deserve as a human right, then do not put up with his nonsense. He is immoral, if not a criminal, and does not deserve your respect or servitude.
  • If a strange little man gives you a weird change of clothes and strange new “weapons,” run — do not walk — the other way as fast as you can.
Going home tally: No final portal. The kids found nine portals home; they briefly went through the portal twice.

Monster tally: One from the Monster Manual, one from the Monster Manual II.
Totals: MM: 44; FF: 6; Monster Manual II: 3; L&L: 1; Dragon: 1.

Dungeons & Dragons #26: Cave of the Fairie Dragons

Cave of the Fairie Dragons title card

Original air date: 9 November 1985
Writer: Katherine Lawrence

*sigh* We’ve finally reached this episode. Inevitable as it was, I still feel I’m being punished.

Like the previous episode, this one’s written by Katherine Lawrence, and it aired originally a month after the previous episode. (According to Wikipedia and IMDB, that is; for some reason, the Mill Creek DVD has the previous episode as the second of Season 3 and the final two episodes switched.) A month-long gap between episodes is never a good sign, signaling either production difficulties or a lack of confidence in the stories; a worse sign is the month-long gap between this episode and the final episode.

Well, that’s not as bad a sign as this episode. Although I found myself enjoying the previous episode more than I remembered, this one … I dunno. Maybe I am being punished.

(If you need background on Dungeons & Dragons, you can read the introductory post. If you want to read my recaps in order, go here. If you want to follow along with this recap, you can watch "Cave of the Fairie Dragons" on Youtube. Since that is technically piracy, I will also point out — without judgment — that you can buy the series cheaply on physical media.)

We open on a happy moment, with the kids splashing in a pool by a waterfall, sparkling with diamond spray. Somehow, the kids all have swimsuits — I mean, charitably, one or two of the boys could be in their underwear, but they are very colorful for boys’ underwear. Also, there’s no way Sheila should have that one-piece swimsuit. Diana, on the other hand, is wearing her normal costume to swim in, which would make a more self-aware TV show think about character design and what their previous decisions mean.

Dungeon Master addresses the kidsBut there’s nothing self-aware about Dungeons & Dragons. It’s hard to be introspective when the characters’ memories get reset every episode.

Anyway, the kids’ moment of joy can’t last; as we all know, into every Eden, a serpent must find its way. In this case, the serpent is Dungeon Master, who stares, wide-eyed, at his scantily clad "pupils." Ugh, what a perv. Although Dungeon Master needs a better (?) place to address the party, he hops from rock to rock rather than walking on water as he did in The Time Lost. Perhaps Christian groups complained? However, in the Bible, you don’t have to be God to walk on water; even rock-headed Peter did it, until he realized how dumb he was.

Eric’s personal theology warns him Dungeon Master’s presence is a bad sign: “You don’t have more bad news for us, do you?” he asks, but Dungeon Master responds, “Only if you consider a way home bad news, Cavalier.”

Dungeon Master addresses the kidsEveryone but Eric expresses their enthusiasm for this carrot, so Dungeon Master brings out the stick, in the form of one of his riddles: “When all seems lost, seek that which reflects what you are and what you desire most.” As Eric walks away, Dungeon Master continues, “However, a giant sacrifice may be required to save a tiny friend. But remember, the smallest deed may yield the biggest reward.” To illustrate this last bit, Dungeon Master drops a rock into a nearby pool. Hardly one of Jesus’s parables, but even Jesus’s parables were lost on his followers, so I suppose Dungeon Master knows better than to bother.

Eric wheels and walks back toward DM: “The only reward I want,” he says, “is a way home.” And because this series is dead set on undermining Eric’s justified fury at every possible juncture, he trips and falls onto Bobby. “Next time, watch where I’m going, squirt,” he says. His pratfall gives Dungeon Master the distraction he needs to vanish.

While Eric fumes, everyone else instantly is dressed. It’s magic — the magic of friendship! The rock Eric’s clothes and equipment are draped over begins quivering, and Eric’s brain can’t handle the change: “Presto, is this another one of your screwy spells?” I don’t have to wait for Presto’s denial to know the answer is, “Of course not.” The shaking rock deposits Eric and all of his stuff into the water, and all his “friends” laugh and laugh …

At least until the top of the rock explodes, and a giant ant emerges. “It’s Them!” Presto shouts, making a movie reference in the middle of his terror. While Eric searches under the water for his armor and shield, the rest of the party runs away. Teamwork! Diana does turn and try to take charge of the situation, vaulting onto the back of an ant and trying to ride it like she did the giant worm in “The Garden of Zinn.” But another giant ant comes along and helps its comrade, using its mandibles to pluck Diana from the other ant’s back. When Hank takes aim with his bow, he’s captured by another giant ant. (Man, those mandibles should scissor them in half.) I suppose it shouldn’t be any surprise that ants, giant or not, can work together better than the party does.

Giant ants grab DianaWith Diana and Hank in the ants’ grip, and Presto and Eric held at bay by other ants, Eric asks for somebody to do something. It turns out that somebody is Bobby, who bangs his mighty club onto the ground. The resulting vibrations disorient the ants long enough for Eric to get dressed and for the rest of the party to abandon him. Fortunately, the giant ants are hesitant to move across the water on a row of stones jutting from the rock, so Eric can catch up while the giant ants ford the river.

(Geek aside: The giant ant is the third entry in the original Monster Manual, another in Gary Gygax’s line of giant animals. Most giant ants are workers — OK — and only in their lair are warrior ants likely to be found. The ants’ treasure — whatever that might be — “will be found in the chamber of the queen ant.” I suppose a queen would want to keep the treasure —again, whatever that might be — close. The book also says, “Giant ant eggs have no normal market value,” so don’t go getting any ideas about giant-ant farming.

Now that I’ve mentioned it, though, that’s going to be the next urban hipster trend, and you’ll see giant ant eggs at farmers’ markets. The
Monster Manual makes no mention of giant ant eggs’ protein or cholesterol content, nor does it say how high in antioxidants they are.)

In their moment of safety, an extremely annoying voice says, “This way, quickly!” When Diana asks who said that, the response is, “I did — hurry!” That’s not much of an answer, but it does illustrate how to get this group to move: Sound reasonable and hint that they don’t have time to think about matters. To be fair, that works with most people.

Amber, the faerie dragonHank points in a random direction — when asked if he knows where he’s going, he says, “Not really, but at least we’ll be safer” — and they walk behind the waterfall. In the cave they find, the source of the voice reveals herself. “Far out!” Bobby says. “A baby dragon!”

What looks like a miniature gold dragon with butterfly wings preens in front of them. After touching noses with Uni, she laughs, a sound somewhere between hiccups and an out-of-tune soprano practicing scales. She identifies herself as Amber and immediately addresses Presto, whose name she knows because she has been eavesdropping, and she heard the “silly one” (Eric) call him that. When Eric objects to being called the silly one by a “little baby dragon,” Amber turns on him. “I’m not a baby dragon,” she says. “I’m a full-grown faerie dragon! And you’re the one who woke the giant ants up, not me! That’s silly.” Well, technically they woke by themselves — the rock was shaking with giant ant activity before he climbed on it — so Eric backing down from Amber is humiliating, especially since it doesn’t seem she has any offensive capabilities. Maybe it’s just her voice; it’s working on my brain like an icepick through the temple.

Eric still has enough gumption to ask for a way out of the cave, but Amber won’t tell them unless Presto asks. Presto looks like he’s going to soil himself, but he asks, and Amber points the way out after settling on Presto’s shoulder. Amber’s sweet on Presto, which is sickening. Not as sickening as her voice and laughter, but more like food poisoning. She’s even crawling into his clothes, asking if his hat is comfortable before snuggling into it. “Stop! That tickles!” Presto says, but Amber has not attended that HR seminar, and she remains in his hat.

Amber sits on Presto’s shoulder(Geek aside: The Monster Manual II describes a faerie dragon — notice how the spelling differs from the episode title — as a “chaotic offshoot of the pseudodragon,” which is itself found in the original Monster Manual. [The name’s hyphenated in its entry: “pseudo-dragon.”] Faerie dragons’ color indicates their age, starting as red and going through the color spectrum to violet as they grow older.

Faerie dragons can cast magic and druidic spells, have magic resistance, can become invisible at will, and have a “euphoria” breath weapon that makes victims “wander blissfully … during which time he or she will be unable to attack and will have an effective armor class 10% worse than normal.” Oddly specific. They can speak telepathically with each other, and they love pranks; “though many faerie dragon pranks are spur-of-the-moment affairs, months of preparation often go into a single grand practical joke.”
)

Amber in Presto’s hatAs they walk … somewhere, Eric asks if they are lost enough to trigger the conditions of Dungeon Master’s riddle, but Diana reminds him that it’s only when all “seems” lost. Hank says they’re not even lost, since they can see the end of the tunnel. That makes no sense, of course; knowing you’re at the end of the tunnel isn’t the same as knowing where you are. Eric and Bobby run for the exit anyway and immediately shout in terror as another faerie dragon flies at them. He’s just as scared as them as they are of him, though. He flies into the cavern looking for Amber; as he does so, he changes color from green, to blue, then back to green. Why? A wizard did it, or it’s the lighting, or … OK, fine, blame a careless animator and an overworked editor.

The new faerie dragon tells Amber in Frank Welker’s cutesy voice — not his Glomer voice; that’s coming — that Queen Kasmira has been captured by King Veren. Oh, boy — conflict! Not having anything better to do (or any caution), Hank immediately offers the party’s help. Amber and the newcomer pay no attention to them, flying out of the cave and up the mountainside. “Don’t tell me,” Eric says as the party looks up the mountain toward the faerie dragons.

“Looks like we’ve got some climbing to do,” Hank says immediately. Immediately! Hank is a dink, and he has no sense of comic timing. Eric waits a few seconds before saying, “I said, ‘Don’t tell me.’” Arguably he waited too long for his comeback, but he might’ve been overcompensating for Hank’s failure.

Amber and Sheila try to pull Presto to safetyThe climb is so easy the creators don’t inject drama into it, and the party soon finds a cavern of blue and green faerie dragons flying in formation. A blue faerie dragon shouts, “Humans!” and flies at the party, and even though Eric draws back in fear, the faerie dragon only annoys Eric, much in the way a housefly annoys one by buzzing around the head. When Amber vouches for the party, the faerie dragon accepts the party’s motivations. Good thing Amber’s such a great judge of character and not just after some wizard nookie!

Since we haven’t had anyone inexplicably fall over her or his own feet in at least — at least — two or three minutes, Presto falls off the cliff. Well, almost falls: Sheila (!) and Amber (!!) catch his hands and stop his fall. But as he’s dangling, Sheila calls out to Hank for help.

Presto stands on two light arrowsThe simplest act would have been for Hank to walk the five or so yards and help pull Presto onto the rocky shelf. But that’s for normal-thinking folk with their normal-thinking brain, not stable geniuses like Hank. So Hank goes to his #1 trick, shooting arrows; he launches a pair of them, which fly in an arc, turning 180 degrees in air and landing under Presto’s feet so he can stand on them. This is in line with Hank’s conservative, patriarchal politics: Even if Presto couldn’t pull himself up by his bootstraps, he certainly can pull himself up by his arms now. Giving Presto a hand-out — or a hand-up, as it were — would’ve taught him nothing. Of course, nobody learns anything in this cartoon or in this series, so I’m not sure what the point of Hank’s arrow trick really was. To show Hank could do it, I suppose.

Back inside the cave, Amber introduces everyone — everyone, these are the humans; humans, this is everyone — and Hank immediately pledges the group’s support in Queen Kasamira’s rescue because “Amber helped us.” Reciprocity is the true test of character! Diana and Sheila explicitly agree with Hank, while Eric implicitly agrees, saying, “Then can we go home?”

Amber tells the party Veren wants the faerie dragons’ treasure as a ransom for Kasamira, but Diana says, “Hold onto your treasure. We’ll get her back.” Where does she get this level of confidence? Does Diana believe the party is superior to all personal armies and able to breach all castles?

Amber takes the party to Veren’s castle. As they hide in the bushes just beyond the castle’s drawbridge, Hank says, “Everybody know the plan?” Wait, you have a plan? This isn’t like you at all. What finally inspired you to plan? The mention of treasure? The cuteness of faerie dragons? Presto getting some faerie (dragon) nookie?

Veren’s castleWhatever the reason for its creation, the plan starts with Sheila becoming invisible. Weird! How did they think of that? Sheila — who becomes invisible only halfway across the drawbridge — drives off a horse and a cart filled with hay. This clears the only two guards on duty out the way, and the entire party sneaks in. Outside the dungeon entrance, Eric and Uni are left as guards. I feel Uni would make a poor sentry, and Eric seems wasted there — Sheila could, you know, wait unseen — but it’s a plan! Gotta stay with the plan. Sheila discusses the matter with Eric, then gets chivied along by an impatient Hank. Sheila wishes Eric and Uni a hurried, “Good luck!,” to which Eric says, “We’ll probably need it.”

This scene would be better if it paid off in any meaningful sense.

In the dungeon, Hank decides to use a Scooby-Doo stratagem, splitting the party to cover more ground in the huge dungeon. C’mon, Hank: If there’s anything Dungeons & Dragons players know, it’s never split the party. With the party split into five groups — four searching in the dungeon — Bobby tells his sister, “I’m going back to the stairs to make sure no one sneaks up on us.” That’s a great idea — split up the party more!

Bobby, Presto, and Amber look at Kasamira, who is locked in a cage.Hank finds Kasamira’s cell, where she’s trapped inside a gilded cage. He gives the signal — a loud whistle, which I’m sure the guards won’t hear because Hank’s natural whistle works on only Earth ears, not Realm ears — and everyone who was searching in the dungeon instantly walks into the cell with him. Bobby has left his post as well, showing the impulse control centers of his brain have either atrophied or never developed. When he tries to smash the cage’s lock with his club — another poor idea, given the power of his club and what it might do to the cage’s occupant — nothing happens.

“Our weapons!” Hank says. “They’re not working!” That’s always a shame, because without magic, Bobby looks like a bondage dwarf.

“Of course not!” shouts a man at the cell door. Amber identifies the man as Veren. “My wizard constructed this room. Magic will not work in it, which makes it a perfect place to welcome new prisoners like you.” Wait — there are competent wizards in the Realm who may not be completely evil? Weird. Why don’t we ever see them?

VerenAnyway, the party all gasps at the idea that they’ll be prisoners, even though all Veren has to do to make them prisoners is shut the door. Which he does, after tossing Eric and Uni into the cell. (Amber slips out, unseen.) The scene ends with a moodily lit, Dutch-angle zoom in on the locked cell door. Not Toei’s greatest work, but hey — they have to do something to make the kids want to come back after the commercial break, and a little film-school razzle dazzle is the surest way.

***

Presto notices Amber is gone, so immediately everyone tries to give away the idea that Amber might be loose. I doubly resent this stupidity because it requires Amber to tell them to be quiet to end, and I was enjoying a holiday from her voice and weird lips. But no, there she is, at the door, her disturbing mouth on display. She says she’s going to get help, while everyone worries about her safety. She’s loose; you’re the ones who are trapped in a dungeon. Worry about yourselves.

Hank’s bow can’t break the lock on Kasamira’s cageEric seems to understand the danger. “Well, I feel totally lost now, Dungeon Master, so, like, where’s home?” he says. Nothing happens, which I know will shock no one; on the other hand, no one tells him to be quiet or nitpicks his attempt, so that’s something.

On the other hand, everyone ignores him. Hank tries to break the lock on Kasamira’s cage with his (now non-magical) bow; when that fails, he manages to break a hinge. Thank goodness the bow is unbreakable! Unfortunately, he can’t avoid making small talk with Kasamira, which — also unfortunately — leads to a flashback. It’s short, but I don’t care; just know that the faerie dragons are journeying to a new homeland in the Forest at the Edge of the World. The caves are only temporary. Hank says the Realm is the kids’ temporary home. “Not temporary enough,” Eric says, and Donna scolds him. What’s your problem, Diana? He’s right.

Amber looks around a cornerAnyway, Amber (and her strange lips) slip from the castle. Some castle guards spot her as she leaves the castle and follow her into the forest. Amber’s as big a screw-up as Presto or Sheila!

Anyway, Presto wishes his hat could work in the room. Eric sarcastically says, “Yeah, that would be a big help,” and of course he’s right. But Hank realizes the room’s limitation and directs Presto to hold his hat through the bars in the door’s window. Evidently, only the hat and not the will that directs it must be outside the room, as Presto’s voice command works:
“Hat of mine, please give ear / Make this door disappear!” A swarm of insects, which Presto calls “ants,” swarm out of the hat and over the door. But as the door disappears, Diana realizes they aren’t ants — they’re termites. The door disappears, metal fittings and all. “Magical termites,” Eric says. “I don’t believe this.”

Termites march into and out of Presto’s hatOutside the room, the party’s weapons work once again. Outside the castle, a panting Amber can’t shake two human soldiers. Then the scene ends! Then we go back to the castle just long enough for Hank to tell the others, “Shh! Wait here!,” then look around the corner and say, “C’mon — we’re almost out!” Then we’re back to the soldiers, who immediately give up. Thor F. Odinson — pick a scene and stick with it, will you? The rapid switches are distracting me from how awful Amber is, but I’m not sure this is better.

But we return again to the castle, where guards at the gate stymie the party. Kasamira becomes the first faerie dragon we’ve seen use her magic: “By sun and moon / Let it seem night / Cause those guards to sleep / Not fight.” The two guards inside the gate fall asleep. Sheila then says, “I have an idea”; the next we see, Eric and Hank are wearing the guards’ hooded cloaks and pretend that they’re taking the prisoners with them as they leave the castle. That’s not so much an idea so much as a cliché put into practice, but OK. I mean, it relies on the guards’ stupidity — why are prisoners leaving the castle? Are they being transferred to the federal dungeon? — but OK, they’re out, the story can move on …

… to the guards who gave up finding Amber spotting her flying into the faerie dragons’ cave. (Amber really is the worst.) Inside the cave, we see Amber and her disturbingly hairy mane — seriously, the other faerie dragons have a reptilian crest on their back — giving a speech to the other faerie dragons. Amber is overjoyed to see Presto (and notes the return of Kasamira). To show the kids her gratitude, Kasamira takes them to the faerie dragons’ treasure room. The treasure is fabulous. I mean, it really sparkles; either it’s enchanted, or the faerie dragons must spend a lot of time polishing the coins and crown and gem and mirror.

The faerie dragons’ treasure roomKasamira offers the party their pick of the faerie dragons’ treasure, but Hank demurs. “We really appreciate your offer, but we don’t want your treasure,” Hank says. Oh, c’mon — a little money would come in helpful in your aimless wanderings. I mean, you could use treasure to buy, I don’t know, water and food and maps and guides and pack animals and even — dare to dream! — a change of clothes. You know, useful stuff. But even Eric is guilted into saying he doesn’t want treasure: “All we want is a way home. Right, Presto?”

Rather than making Presto appear, saying his name makes him disappear, which would be a neat trick. Unfortunately, Presto hasn’t vanished; he just stayed behind to enjoy quality time with Amber — in this case, “quality time” means practicing magic, not what I was thinking. “I don’t think this is going to work,” Presto says, holding a rock on a string, but Amber reassures him with her gargling chuckle. Reassures? Well, he doesn’t vomit in terror, so I assume he was reassured. It is a disturbing sound, and it’s even more disturbing that Presto can stand to be around it. “Abracadabra, dabracasigh / By the power of dragons / Make this rock fly!”

The rock floats to the ceiling. At this point, the party walks in. Diana is vaguely encouraging, but Eric — in his go-to move, really — undercuts Presto: “Yeah — oh, that’s a real good spell, Presto: a floating rock trick.” Bobby says Eric’s name, reflexively annoyed, but he doesn’t put much effort into it; even he knows it’s not a great trick. On the other hand, it is a success, and the party should be enthused about that. Presto gives the rock’s string to the nonplussed Kasamira.

At that point, a faerie dragon, using Frank Welker’s Glomer voice, announces, “The army’s attacking! They found us! Run!” Welker gives the faerie dragon even less dignity than that panicked speech and the Glomer voice would suggest individually. It’s an impressive feat by Welker.

Veren’s soldiers break through a glass wallThe panic is appropriate. The army uses explosives to widen the cave entrance — the cave’s only entrance. Kasamira says they’ll have to fight, but the faerie dragons have shown no combat abilities. Eric shield bashes the first few, telling the others to run, and Hank fires his … Oh, for the love of Legolas — the arrows make a glass wall? That is next-level bullshirt. “That should hold ‘em for a little while,” Hank says, and it absolutely does not. The guards break the glass — a notably fragile building material — in an instant. Everyone retreats from the army, then takes refuge in the treasury. “All is lost,” the last faerie dragon to make it to safety says. “We’re doomed!” It’s true! It’s ironic that the party, which has been poor in every sense, should die surrounded by all the treasure. I mean, they’re not really going to die, but it would be ironic.

“What a time for Dungeon Master to be wrong!” Eric says. “I mean, all sure seems lost, so — so where’s home?” The mirror behind him suddenly shows the amusement park, and Eric puts his arms through the frame. He tells the party he’s found a way home, although they don’t understand him for a while; evidently panic has muddled their brains.

Kasamira approaches the magic mirror“We didn’t know the mirror could do that,” Amber says. Unsurprising! An ill-thought-out race in an ill-thought-out home did not think about what their treasure can do. Really, faerie dragons seem to be the kind of creatures who look at a magic item, think, “Shiny!,” and are with thinking.

“Dungeon Master said something about reflecting what we desire most,” Hank says. “Mirror: Show us the dragons’ home, the Forest at the Edge of the World.” While the faerie dragons dither, Eric and the others shovel the faerie dragons’ wealth through the mirror. It’s good that the party sacrifices their well being for the capital wealth of a bullshirt race of dragons crossed with My Little Ponies.

Hank and AmberKasamira asks how the party will get escape, Hank says, “We’ll use the mirror after you. We’ll have time if you hurry!” The dragons do not hurry. Amber takes her time to say goodbye forever to her cross-species bae. As the last treasure passes through the mirror, the army breaks into the treasury. Hank uses an arrow to turn the mirror around, and Eric says, “The smallest deed … well, here goes!” before breaking the mirror. The soldiers look shocked. I have no idea why; they can’t understand the mirror’s significance to the party or to the faerie dragons’ disappearance. They certainly can’t begin to understand what a cathartically joyous moment this is for me; I’ll never have to see or hear Amber or any of the other creepy faerie dragons again.

Captured by the army, Veren demands to know where the treasure is. “It’s where you’ll never get it,” Diana sasses him, so Veren puts the kids under arrest. I mean, surrounded by an army and not being able to leave is pretty much arrest already, but OK, Veren. Way to increase the pressure.

Veren begins to float from Presto’s spellRather than submit to Veren, Presto resorts to a spell. Desperate times, I suppose. “If rocks can rise,” Presto chants, “just like the moon / Then make this king and his soldiers become balloons!” Veren and his army float to the ceiling, making hideous wailing sounds. “Don’t worry about them,” Presto says with undeserved confidence. “They’ll come drifting back down in a few hours, just like real balloons.”

“Like I said before, Presto,” Eric says, “that’s a real useful spell you’ve got there. Thanks.” Presto returns the compliment, saying Eric made a “tough decision” to hear, not fear, and smash the mirror. No one mentions that destroying the mirror prevents the faerie dragons from returning, thank Osiris. Bobby is discouraged, but Eric, uncharacteristically, tries to cheer him up. “Sorry, Short Stuff. We all want to go home, but —” Hank cuts in reminds him that a giant sacrifice was required to save their tiny friends. Bobby is not encouraged by this, but he does smile when Eric points out, “And if we never saved tiny friends, where would you be?” As they walk into the sunset, he adds, “Look at it this way: At least we’re not any further from home, right?”

Dungeon Master rubs his hands, plotting“Correct, Cavalier,” Dungeon Master says from off-screen, as the camera pans toward him, “You are closer than you think, for home is a reflection of the heart — a reflection you are now beginning to understand.”

Which is nonsense. But by separating sense from nonsense, we could learn these lessons:
  • When one of your allies / friends needs time to prepare for battle, the best course is to allow them to create that time on their own. It’s the only way they’ll learn their lesson, whatever that lesson might be.
  • You can’t hurry prophecy. No, you just have to wait. Prophecy doesn’t come easy; it’s a game of ... waiting, I suppose.
  • Never split the party.
  • Guards pay as much attention to prisoner transfers as workers at McDonalds do to ketchup packets. Just ... just take as many as you want, man. No one cares.
  • When your fabulously wealthy acquaintance offers you money for performing a dangerous favor for them when you could have easily — easily! — declined, don’t accept. That would sully your purity.
  • And when your fabulously wealthy acquaintance requires your help at the expense of your welfare, make that sacrifice. That acquaintance and their treasure are more valuable than you, in every way possible!
Going home tally: The mirror shows a portal home briefly. The kids have found nine portals home; they’ve briefly gone through the portal twice. (Eric puts his arm through the portal this time, but I don’t really count that.)

Monster tally: One from the Monster Manual, one from the Monster Manual II.
Totals: MM: 43; FF: 6; Monster Manual II: 2; L&L: 1; Dragon: 1.

Dungeons & Dragons #25: Citadel of Shadow

Citadel of Shadow title card

Original air date: 12 October 1985
Writer: Katherine Lawrence

The last three episodes of the series are all written or co-written by Katherine Lawrence / Selbert. (“Lawrence” was the pen name, “Selbert” her real name.) Lawrence wrote for several cartoons in the ‘80s and ‘90s, including an episode each of Muppet Babies and X-Men: Evolution, as well as writing short science fiction stories. Sadly, Selbert committed suicide in the Arizona desert in 2004. Her homepage, in all of its early Internet glory, is preserved by her friend, Christy Marx.

Marx is perhaps a relevant touchstone for these three episodes. Marx is best known for her work with Jem and the Holograms (although she’s worked on many other cartoons); she’s written Birds of Prey and Amethyst for DC Comics. Both Lawrence and Marx are more than “girly” writers, but they put female characters front and center in a way their male contemporaries rarely do. In this episode, Sheila finds a friend (a female friend); in the next episode, a female cutesy faerie dragon asks the party to rescue her queen; in the final episode, the former pupil of Dungeon Master that they work with is an older woman.

Mirror used to signal OrcsThe episode begins with a bit of heliography — that method of communication in which reflections of light are used to send messages over long distances. We have no indication who is doing the signaling, although since the gloved hand doesn’t belong to a party member and a horde of Orcs lurks in the rocks, we have to assume it means no good for the kids.

(If you need background on Dungeons & Dragons, you can read the introductory post. If you want to read my recaps in order, go here. If you want to follow along with this recap, you can watch “Citadel of Shadow” on Youtube. Since that is technically piracy, I will also point out — without judgment — that you can buy the series cheaply on physical media.)

Meanwhile, Eric is mocking Sheila while seemingly apologizing. “You’re not still mad at me, are you?” he asks. “How was I supposed to know you were serious? I mean, when you grabbed the ring and then did this —” He shrieks and runs a few feet in mock terror. “It looked hilarious!” I’m also not sure what Eric is talking about: There was a ring, and Sheila was scared. That could be an average Tuesday as far as I know.

At this point, the rest of the party successfully casts “Detect Orcs,” hearing their snorting. “Not again!” Presto says. Because that’s what I think when a race of people make yet another attempt to capture and / or kill me: “Not again!”

Eric, out in front, shouts, “A whole army of them!” as he runs past the rest of the party. But he runs into another army, and the party shouts out, in chorus, “We’re surrounded!” They’ve obviously rehearsed that, but they need to work on their harmony. Anyway, when Eric asks what they’re going to do, Hank says, “Something we’ve never done before: Run!” This is obviously nonsense; they’ve run many times before. They spent most of the first five minutes of the previous episode running from those vicious mutant mini-camels, for instance.

Eric taunts OrcsHank uses his arrows to blast a path through one of the Orc armies, and Eric leads the party through the sluggardly Orcs. The party takes refuge in a nearby forest, which the Orcs are reluctant to enter. They’re also reluctant to cast spears into the forest, or fire arrows into the forest, or toss flaming torches into the forest, giving Eric a chance to taunt his pursuers … until he looks up and sees the trees have turned into a rock outcropping, upon which stands a badly carved gargoyle / dog hybrid.

I don’t think the trees were supposed to be an illusion or transformed, but given how terrain in the Realm suddenly shifts from one type to another, with no transition zones, perhaps we’re seeing a geological shift in real time. Presto expresses reservations about the desert canyon forest they’re trapped in. Outside the chimera lands, the Orc general orders one of his underlings to “tell Venger we have the children trapped in the Hills of Never.” I bet that conversation will go swimmingly.

“Why aren’t they coming after us?” Presto asks, but Eric says, “This place looks like something out of Better Homes and Gargoyles,” while Sheila says it gives her “the shivers.” This gives Eric a chance to explain why he was taunting Sheila earlier: Venger had Goblins guarding a ring Dungeon Master sent them after, Sheila was scared by them, and Eric had to grab it “for a free trip home.” Diana pushes back on Eric’s narrative, substituting “cowardly Cavalier” for “courageous Cavalier” and explaining Dungeon Master said the ring “was only the first step” on the way home.

Gargoyle-like carvingBobby claims Eric led them into the Orcs’ ambush, but that seems unfair; nobody leads the group anywhere. They just kinda flow from place to place. Eric brushes off the criticism — “nobody’s perfect” — and keeps harping on about Sheila’s incompetence and crediting himself for getting the ring. Eric: That ring isn’t going to get you home. You should know it. I understand you’re trying to capitalize on your deeds while optimism is high, but in the long run, no one’s going to remember your deed, and in the short run, it’s not going to elevate your status.

But his crowing doesn’t get the usual backlash either. Even when Sheila starts crying, the rest of the party comforts Sheila — “Don’t listen to Eric,” Bobby says, and that’s about as negative as anyone gets — but no one snaps at Eric. But for once, they should! He’s being a jerk! Not only does he keep insulting Sheila, he tries to involve her in her own humiliation by asking, “Right, Sheila?” at the end of his diatribe. Eric has been denigrated for far less.

“You know he’s right,” Sheila says. “I always mess up.” That’s not true — sometimes you don’t do anything, Sheila. It’s to Lawrence’s credit that while she works to build Sheila’s character in this episode, she recognizes Sheila has mainly been a load, someone whose main attributes have, until this point, been crying and yelling “Bobby!”

Hank holds the Ring of the MindBut Hank is focused on results over process, which is part of what makes him such an awful leader. “What’s important is we’ve got the ring, right?” Maybe! If we knew whether the ring was important, we might be able to make that determination. It could be that Dungeon Master sent them to get the ring for the same reason important people send gofers and assistants to get their dry cleaning: They can’t be bothered to do the work themselves.

Eric still won’t let up, though, and even though Diana says, “He’s just having one of his days, Sheila — ignore him” (an uncharacteristically mature / coarse line that I admire Lawrence for sneaking in), Sheila’s crying increases to sobs. “Go away and leave me alone — all of you!” she shouts. Bobby calls Eric a “jerk,” but that’s incredibly mild for what’s happened.

(Perhaps my expectations have been badly calibrated by the rest of the series. This might be how a reasonable group would react to someone who values being right so much they don’t care about other people’s feelings if the first person were someone they valued as a colleague / friend. But since the party has been cracking down on any of Eric’s deviations from groupthink throughout the entire series, it feels like they should be giving him a full-fledged, Amish-style shunning.)

Sheila and Uni walk toward a caveIn the middle of the night, Sheila is awakened by someone else’s crying. “Somebody help me!” a girl’s voice cries. Only Sheila hears the voice, although Uni stirs moments later. Sheila’s first impulse is to do the smart thing and wake the others, but when Uni approaches Eric, Sheila reconsiders. “I don’t need their help — right, Uni?” she says. Uni is hardly a qualified counselor, but hey, Sheila shouldn’t turn up her nose at any advice. Unfortunately, Uni agrees with her.

The two wander through the bare rock hills — no trees now — and stroll into a luminescent blue cave. Inside the cave, Sheila finds another blonde girl trapped behind a forcefield. That is threatening to become a motif for Venger, who put Varla behind a forcefield in a castle in “The Last Illusion.” This girl puts her hands against the forcefield and says, “Please help me. I’m — I’m trapped by this spell.”

How can the non-magical Sheila help here? Well, the girl tells Sheila to reach through the forcefield and pull her out. That sounds stupid to me, and after a few grunting attempts, Sheila says, “I don’t think I can!” But the girl asks Sheila to keep trying, and after some more grunts, Sheila pushes through and grab the girl’s hand. Rather than pulling her out, the forcefield just vanishes. “You did it!” the girl says. “The spell is broken.”

Sheila and Karena hold handsBoy, if you thought there were hints Eric’s relationship with Lorne last episode was romantic, the evidence is even heavier here. I mean, the way Sheila holds the girl’s hand isn’t the way you grab someone’s hand when you’re pulling them; that’s the way you hold a lover’s hand (in certain situations).

Meanwhile, the Orc sent by the general finally reports to Venger, but during the briefing, Venger has a conniption fit. “The spell is broken!” Venger shouts. “She must be stopped!” Then the scene whiplashes back to the castle, where “she” has tears in her eyes. “How can I ever thank you?” she says, pulling Sheila into an embrace.

The animator must have ADD, because we get our third scene shift in ten seconds. At the party’s camp, it’s full daylight, and Hank is looking for Sheila from a vaguely reptilian promontory. Bobby immediately accuses Eric of doing something to Sheila, while Eric claims, “She probably just went for a walk.” I’ve read a lot of missing persons cases, and that’s what the chief suspect usually claims after he has an argument with a missing woman — well, that, or some guy (or guys) gave her a ride in a pickup truck.

Bobby has evidently done his own reading, or at least he’s intuited how things happen. “If anything happens to her …” he says, but then Dungeon Master arrives. “Your sister is safe — for now,” Dungeon Master says. That sounds like a threat, right? It’s not just me? He even has his hands steepled like he’s about to reveal his evil plan. But Bobby doesn’t threaten Dungeon Master, perhaps because he has misinterpreted Dungeon Master (again): “She’s OK?”

Dungeon Master between Bobby and Eric“You know, if you hadn’t sent us after that ring, none of this would’ve happened,” Eric says. Good, good — but you need to diagnosing the root of your problems: It wasn’t him sending you after the ring, it was you agreeing to get the ring. Why did you go on this little quest? Oh, that’s right: He dangled a way home in front of your victimized eyes. BLAME HIM FOR THAT.

“Only when the Ring of the Heart is placed within and above the Ring of the Mind will a power be released which can send you home,” Dungeon Master says, ducking any blame. Eric is confused by “within and above,” but he should be questioning “can.” Dungeon Master won’t say which ring they have, but to find the other, he says, “You must go where your heart leads you. But remember, in shadow there lies great danger and great rewards.”

Dungeon Master then disappears without walking behind a stump or a rock or shielding himself with flowers. His creativity (or Toei’s) must be exhausted. But Eric knows what’s going on; after calling DM a coward for avoiding their questions, this time he says, “Poor little guy just can’t talk under pressure. That’s why he leaves.”

The Hills of Never come aliveHank directs the party in a semi-random direction, saying the shadows “point that way,” and off they wander. Before they get anywhere, Eric finds … something — footprints, maybe? But before anyone can react to that, the stone promontories come alive, shifting everywhere. Perhaps these are the eponymous Hills of Never? Everyone cringes in confusion.

“Where is your ring of power?” Sheila asks. Sheila is not warned by the phrase “ring of power,” nor does the girl’s answer of “in the Citadel of Shadow” get a rise out of her. No, she tells the girl, whose name is Karena, about the party finding a “bright blue” ring. Of course Sheila is trying to please this new “friend”; Karena is a blonde in a party dress, with puffed sleeves. She’s got to be the coolest, even if no one has told her purple is so not her color.

When Sheila nearly falls off a narrow but easily navigable path, Karena grabs Sheila’s arm and says, “You’ve got to be more careful — I need you.” That phrase leads either to hot-and-heavy makeout action or a ritual sacrifice, and Karena’s tone of voice leans more toward the latter. Sheila is oblivious to both implications.

The Citadel of ShadowThe Citadel looks like one of Venger’s homes, and it probably is — he’s not hiding the ring there so much as storing it. When Karena tells Sheila the inside of the citadel could be dangerous, Sheila is desperate for someone — anyone — to look at her like she’s not a screw up. “Don’t try to talk me out of it,” she says. “We’re friends.” Sure you are. Karena says, “I was hoping you’d say that.” Uni — a dumb animal who responds more to tone of voice than actual words — has figured Karena out, but Sheila is oblivious.

Back inside the rocks, Bobby is clubbing falling rocks, Hank is shooting them, and Eric is shielding Presto and himself under the rocks. Diana is hiding behind her staff, which shouldn’t work, but … well, magic. Presto tries something, which is a sign things are truly desperate: “Abracadabra, alakazam — give me something to get us out of this jam.”

He pulls out a bundle of dynamite, but Eric is unimpressed: “That stuff won’t work without a detonator.” This is, in general, true, so Presto tosses the sticks behind him. But as Lost warned us, sometimes dynamite can be unstable, and Presto’s dynamite explodes on contact, opening a hole for the party without perforating them with debris. “I could be wrong,” Eric admits.

Once out of the rocks, Diana spots the Citadel of Shadow, which is not only in a different biome but in a different time of day — the party is in bright daylight (it’s probably still morning for them), while the castle is in dusky gloom. I suppose it is called the Citadel of Shadow, which might explain the difference. Again: Funny no one mentions this. Perhaps everyone is becoming far too accustomed to shifts in reality.

Sheila, Karena, and Uni walk down a hallway in the Citadel of ShadowKarena walks Sheila to the front door. “This is it,” she says, which prompts Sheila to respond, wonderingly, “It is?” They enter, with the doors almost shutting on Uni. They walk into the interior, with Karena hunched over and taking small steps like she has … er, gastrointestinal distress. She touches an interior door and after a bright flash of light and a scream of “NOOOOO!,” she flies back at least 10 yards. That’s powerful magic!

After blaming her brother for the spell, Karena tells Sheila, “We have to get my ring back, Sheila. I’m afraid you’ll have to do it for me.” Of course Sheila is ready, showing she’s the type of person who, when told to jump, considers anything less than reaching orbit and dying of hypoxia a personal failure. Karena watches Sheila, her malicious eye askance to watch the working of her lie on Sheila. Uni sees this and tries to stop Sheila, but she brushes the pest aside.

Sheila enters the inner chamber, arms spread wide, like Dr. Strange in hero mode. A red ring, too poorly drawn for us to see any details, waits for her, while Karena performs Christina’s World cosplay. (Toei’s animators love that pose for young women.) Sheila reaches through the layers of red radiation — magic? — to pick up the ring, which is easily — easily! — as big as a Rolex. Meanwhile, Karena drags herself across the floor to Uni, covering its mouth to make sure it doesn’t rat her out. I’m not sure why she thinks Sheila will listen to Uni over her new best friend, but I suppose I shouldn’t criticize a villain for not taking chances. Also, I admire Karena for shutting Uni up.

The Ring of the HeartSheila grabs the ring. A giant bat-like creature swoops toward her as she runs for the door. The pathway collapses behind her, and she dives through the door just before it slams shut on her. The bat-like creature doesn’t do anything, though, and the collapsing walkway doesn’t even inconvenience her; it’s like a fitness test with consequences.

(Geek aside: So what is that bat-thing? Good question. Candidates include the giant bat and doombat, both from the Fiend Folio, and the mobat from the Monster Manual II. The giant bat — strangely not created by Gary Gygax, who loved his giant creatures — is only a small creature, so that seems to rule it out. The medium-sized doombat has a tail attack, which would correspond to the barb at the end of this creature’s tail, but it’s “found in dismal underground caverns,” which this definitely isn’t. The doombat illustration doesn’t particularly correspond to the creature in the cartoon, other than being large and bat-like; the tail, for instance, is serrated rather than having one barb.

I prefer to think of this creature as a mobat. The mobat is also medium-sized and is found “in warm climates where large caverns offer shelter.” It lacks a tail attack, but the barb could be mostly ornamental; more worrying is the absence of the mobat’s screech attack, which “is always used if prey resists.” On the other hand, the doombat has a screech attack too, so it’s not disqualifying. The
Monster Manual II has no pictures of the mobat.)

Karena menaces Uni and SheilaSuddenly Karena can walk again, and she stands over Sheila. “I’ll take my ring now,” she says. “Thank you.” Sheila must find friends not caring about her well-being normal, as she hands over the ring without comment. Karena puts on the ring and walks away, and Sheila gasps when Karena turns around, for no apparent reason. Or I maybe she’s anticipating, as Karena’s heel turn begins immediately. “You have served your purpose,” she says, before cackling with laughter. Her eyes glow red. “I needed you to break the spell guarding my ring. Now that I have it, I don’t need you any longer.” When Sheila protests that she thought they were friends, Karena advances menacingly and says, “You thought wrong.”

A young girl cackling menacingly is a good cliffhanger to lead into the commercial with. Good choice, everyone!

***

To the strains of dramatic music, the party arrives to save Sheila. Karena gasps. “What?” she says, turning, as if she’s surprised Sheila has actual friends. Not an unreasonable conclusion, given how needy Sheila has been toward Karena. Hank asks, “Who’s your friend?,” and despite a reasonable response being, “She’s not really a friend,” Sheila just tells them Karena’s name, albeit with a wry tone of voice.

Karena counters Venger’s spellBut Venger ends the awkward conversation by bursting through the door. Honestly, man, the kids just opened that door. I know you don’t respect real-estate value, but you could’ve opened it too. “I thought I would find you here, Karena,” Venger says, then flings a blue energy ball, rather than his traditional red, at her. Karena stops the magic with a red glow around her hands.

“Welcome, brother,” Karena says, and the kids have trouble following that idea. Look, you have siblings in your own party; you understand the words “brother” and “sister” work.

As the battle begins in earnest, Eric says, “Well, you’ve done it again, Sheila.” While she didn’t deserve all of Eric’s sniping before, she does deserve this: When you wander off, alone, during the middle of the night and help an evil wizard just because you’re lonely / horny, you’ve made a huge mistake.

“I shall destroy you and your young friends,” Venger says. Eric protests that only Sheila is friends with Karena, but it’s not like Venger needs an excuse to kill the party. But Eric panics, shouting, “Somebody think of something!”

Blue and red lights from the castle as the party fleesThat “somebody” is Hank, and that “something” is “This way!” “This way” leads to a wall, which Bobby takes care of by bashing a hole in the tower wall. Bobby makes this decision, despite — or maybe because of — what happened the last time he blew out a doorway on the ground floor of a castle with a spooky name. This time, though, the castle doesn’t collapse, and the party escapes unharmed. They watch the lights of the magical battle flare inside the castle.

The castle explodes. (It occurs to me I should’ve been keeping track of how many buildings the party has destroyed.) While Eric shields the party from the debris, Sheila fills in the rest of the party. Venger, looking very much like Shadow Demon, flies away, leaving Karena to pull herself from the wreckage. (Her purple dress is still immaculate. Magic!) Seeing Karena, Hank says, “What are we waiting for? C’mon!” Well, I’d be waiting to get a better strategic sense of what’s going on. Will Karena try to kill them? Is Venger coming back? But they run in anyway.

While Presto and Eric are quick to praise Karena for … for driving off Venger, I suppose, Karena shifts the credit to Sheila, who is quick to disclaim it. “Nonsense,” Karena says. “Without Sheila and Uni’s help, I would never have gotten my ring back or been able to overpower my brother.”

But her touchy-feely moment doesn’t last long. When Eric suggests a team-up and claps her on the shoulder, she hisses, “Don’t touch me!” When Eric’s stammering makes her realize how she sounded, she adds, “I’m sorry. That shoulder hurts.”

Sheila and Eric look at Karena“Actually, there is something you can do for me,” Karena says. Despite her outburst and despite no one really seeming to buy her apology, everyone seems eager to help her. “Name it!” Diana says; Bobby says, “Anything!,” while Hank says, “If we have it, it’s yours.” Perhaps this attitude is why the party is continually short of supplies. Karena asks for the ring they found: “Then and only then will I have absolute power.”

Even though Sheila has reservations and Karena used the phrase “absolute power,” it’s clear they’ll hand over the ring — at least until Dungeon Master arrives, for once saving the kids from their towering stupidity. “No, Karena,” he says. “The ring the children have is not and never shall be yours. Be satisfied with the one you have.” When Diana protests Karena “got rid of” Venger, Dungeon Master says, “Only temporarily. Now go, Karena. Leave these children alone.”

Karena agrees to leave — “temporarily” — and vanishes in a nimbus of red light. Sheila immediately apologizes, not for the process (wandering off from camp alone and blundering into a situation she knew nothing about) but for the results (helping the wrong person): “I didn’t know who she was.” Dungeon Master gives her absolution: “You simply followed your heart, which may lead to great danger or even greater good.”

Sheila expresses puzzlement about that last cryptic statement, which was a mistake. You’ve blundered into an infodump, Sheila! You’ll never get the stench of info off your shoes. “Many years ago, there was a struggle for power between Venger and Karena,” Dungeon Master says. “In the end, Venger won, imprisoned Karena, and took her ring.”

Dungeon Master expositsDiana has found the stash of stupid pills again, asking why it’s so bad that Sheila freed Karena. For once, Sheila has figured things out ahead of someone else. “She’s evil!” she says. “I’ve seen it, and now because of me, she’s free and has her ring back.” With Sheila’s pronouncement, everyone comes to realize Karena’s evil. Man, I want to be the salesman who peddles worthless crap to these kids — they’ll believe anything, especially if it’s repeated.

Eric proves he’s the only one with firing neurons. “Wait a minute,” he says. “Let me guess: Karena’s ring is other ring we need to get home, right?” He then quotes Dungeon Master’s line about how the two rings have to be replaced, saying, “I started memorizing his riddles.” Sheila confirms that Karena’s ring has a heart, and Dungeon Master agrees Eric is right.

“To succeed, one of you will have to be more wrong than right,” Dungeon Master says. “But let your heart guide you, for only the heart can lead you home.” He then disappears, and again the animators are too lazy to put any effort into showing it. Hoping to hurry us along, Hank suggests looking for Karena in Venger’s castle, which … wait, why? Will she be attacking? Catching up on gossip? Has Venger already captured her?

On a rocky promontory above a camp, Diana says, “This looks like it’s going to easier than we thought.” I have no idea what is going to be easier or why; we don’t see Karena or anyone else. But inside a castle, the Orc general is apologizing to Karena; his troops’ loyalty is to Venger. “They won’t fight for you,” he says.

Karena cosplaying as VengerKarena has turned herself into She-Venger, albeit with better dentistry and no horns. “I should have expected my brother to surround himself with fools,” she says. And that’s end of that scene! No need for anything more to be said between those two.

But we have time for Eric to insist he’s going to wait outside the castle, not going any closer, only to take a pratfall when rocks under his feet collapse. His friends laugh and laugh! But he shows no animosity, getting into the huddle to pitch ideas about how to get the ring back from Karena. Again, he shows he’s the only one with anything on the ball, as he’s the only one who notices Sheila has decided to make her own raid on the castle. He has to repeat himself twice to get his “friends” to pay attention, which they do with annoyance. Geez, they’re the worst. Bobby adds to their trouble by shouting Sheila’s name when he notices, attracting the attention of some nearby Orcs — the ones that wouldn’t fight for Karena, I suppose. The Orcs make a long, long charge up to the party’s position. “Thanks, Bobby!” Presto says. Yeah: Thanks, Bobby.

But this means, for once, Sheila isn’t the worst.

The party fights the Orcs, with Hank using more bullshirt arrows to corral a platoon of Orcs. Meanwhile, Sheila infiltrates the castle via intermittent invisibility, and she quickly finds Vengerina — or Vengerina finds her. “You have saved me a great deal of work,” Karena says. “Give me the ring.” When Sheila says Hank has the ring, Karena says, “Very well. We shall see which he prefers: you or the ring.”

Karena fires her magicBut Sheila does not submit easily to capture, putting up her hood and taunting Vengerette’s attempts to blast her. “I sure hope Venger’s other brothers and sisters are more clever than you,” Sheila says, which qualifies as a cutting insult from Sheila. After Vengeress flails about for a while, Sheila pulls the Ring of the Heart off Karena’s hand. “Thank you, Karena,” Sheila says. “Your magic seems to be as unreliable as your friendship. You won’t mind if I borrow this, one friend to another?” Katie Leigh seems to be relishing her chance to actually act, putting some personality into Sheila’s words for once.

Sheila runs outside, fully visible, and immediately is cornered by Orcs. Some things about Sheila don’t — can’t — change, I suppose. Eric and Diana fight their way to her rescue, treating the Orcs like the kind of joke Dungeons & Dragons players know them as. The Orcs immediately flee, raising questions: Why did they run now? What changed? And why didn’t the party manage to inflict this kind of terror earlier? Are they afraid of Sheila?

No use thinking about that, I suppose, because it’s time for the ring ceremony. Sheila quickly figures out “in and above” — nested, with the Ring of the Heart on top; it’s not complicated — but Sheila is distracted by Karena’s cries of distress from the Castle. “Now, Karena, I will do what I should have done years ago,” Venger says. Murder? Probably, although the cartoon has shown Venger’s not very good at that.

With Eric and Hank prodding her to, you know, put the rings together so they can get home, Karena’s cries are too much for Sheila. “I can’t let him destroy her,” she says, but to be honest, she probably could. Anyway, she runs back into the castle.

“Goodbye, little sister,” Venger says to Karena, who is magically trussed to the wall. She’ll never get a chance to do what her big sister done. Just as he’s about to zap her, Sheila runs past Venger, not bothering to attack or even bump him. “You shall not help her!” Venger says, aiming at Karena and Sheila, but he misses his stationary targets by a huge amount — I mean, geez, Venger, do you need glasses? Karena tells Sheila to throw the rings at Venger.

Sheila throws the ringsSure, why not? When an evil not-friend tells you to throw hard-won magic items at a villain, why wouldn’t you? I mean, if you miss, or if the villain is more powerful than your fastball magic, the villain could just grab the rings, right? But no, this work out just fine, and Venger is encased in a red and blue forcefield, which shrinks away — with Venger inside — into nothingness. Only the Ring of the Heart survives.

Her bonds gone, Karena leans over Sheila, who was knocked down and out by … magic, let’s say, when Venger was imprisoned. The party arrives, and Hank pulls his tough-guy schtick, warning Karena away from Sheila. With the danger past, Dungeon Master arrives as well, and he gives Karena back the ring, saying its hers. C’mon, man — this is Dungeons & Dragons! Property rights exist only so far as you can protect them, and she lost the ring, fair and square!

Sheila wakes up, and true to form, she apologizes. “That’s OK,” Eric says. “I mean, At least you didn’t lose the ring, right?” But Dungeon Master corrects him: “The ring which could have freed you has become Venger’s prison and freed Karena of evil.” Given that we’ll never see Karena again and Venger’s prisons are extremely temporary, this is a poor tradeoff. Also: Karena’s redemption arc isn’t even an arc; it’s more of a redemption point.

Karena, Dungeon Master, and SheilaEric turns to Karena, hoping her magic can get them home, but without the Ring of the Mind, she’s powerless in this arena too. “Oh, great,” Eric says. “I knew it! Goodbye, pizza; goodbye, milkshakes; goodbye, cheeseburgers, sauerkraut, homework … Oh, well, I guess it isn’t all bad news.”

Because Sheila saved Karena’s life, Karena offers her a boon, but Sheila says, “All I want is your friendship.” Geez, Sheila, how desperate can you get? At least as for something that will help you on your travels; I mean, how often do you get a wizard who owes you a favor? Even Karena seems amazed at how needy Sheila is.

Dungeon Master says, “Welcome home, Karena,” I suppose this means Karena gets Venger’s castle, but Venger has had so many, I can’t imagine that’s anything special — and again, property rights exist only so far as you can protect them.

Sheila helps Eric out of a shallow hole as the others look on“Well, I lost us a chance to get home but gained a friend,” Sheila says as they walk away from the castle and Karena, presumably forever. “Great trade,” Eric mutters before the inevitable pratfall into a hole. “Need a friend?” Sheila asks. Eric claims he does, but he appears to be in a shallow hole anyone could’ve crawled out of. Sheila pulls him out of the hole, but I think Eric is just giving in to karmic retribution. He didn’t need help, but he didn’t need to antagonize whatever cosmic force tends to make him the plot’s buttmonkey.

Cosmic forces lead us to remember these lessons:
  • Villains have habits they return to, again and again, although sometimes — like imprisoning a young girl in a castle — they can border on cliché.
  • When someone talks about their ring of power or about gaining absolute power, you should probably assume they are morally troubled, at the least.
  • If someone says you’re not her or his friend, don’t take that person’s word for it. You’re the only person who can decide whether someone is friends with you. INSIST YOU ARE RIGHT.
  • The best way to seek companionship is to wander off into the night and befriend the first person you meet asking for help. Make sure you do everything they ask without question!
  • When a magical battle is over, be sure to rush into the wreckage. Any unexploded booby traps or injured-but-not-incapacitated hostiles merely add to the fun!
  • An invisibility cloak can be a very useful tool, if you actually use it.

Going home tally: No portal this episode, although Sheila does forgo a chance to create one. The kids have found eight portals home; they’ve briefly gone through the portal twice.

Monster tally: I’m saying the disputed creature is a mobat from the Monster Manual II, our first monster from that book. Totals: MM: 43; FF: 6; L&L: 1; Dragon: 1; Monster Manual II: 1.

Dungeons & Dragons #24: Odyssey of the Twelfth Talisman

Odyssey of the Twelfth Talisman title card

Original air date: 28 September 1985
Writer: Mark Shiney and Michael L. DePatie

We’re in the home stretch now, but the reliable Michael Reeves, who essentially took over from Jeffrey Scott as main writer for Dungeons & Dragons during Season 2, won’t be seen again. (He wrote the unproduced final episode, but that episode is, well, unproduced, so it can’t be seen.) This episode introduces two new writers, Mark Shiney and Michael L. DePatie; this is also Shiney’s and DePatie’s only episode for the series. Shiney wrote for a few other ‘80s cartoons — he wrote episodes for Heathcliff, The New Scooby and Scrappy-Doo Show, and The Gary Coleman Show (!) — but this is DePatie’s only writing credit. That may have something to do with David H. DePatie being a Season 1 producer for the show, although IMDB doesn’t list Michael as David’s son, and Michael was the sound effects editor for Dungeons & Dragons in Season 3 and for a lot of other cartoons in the ‘80s, so who knows?

Anyway: “Odyssey of the Twelfth Talisman.” I honestly didn’t remember anything about this episode, which, given how much I dislike the final three episodes of the season, might not be the worst thing.

Diana taunts the cameloids(If you need background on Dungeons & Dragons, you can read the introductory post. If you want to read my recaps in order, go here. If you want to follow along with this recap, you can watch “Odyssey of the Twelfth Talisman” on Youtube. Since that is technically piracy, I will also point out — without judgment — that you can buy the series cheaply on physical media.)

We start with Diana running and taunting a herd of … something. They’re shaggy, heavy-hooved camel-like creatures with sharp teeth, and I feel like I should know their name. They’re not leucrotta, since they don’t have badger heads, and they’re not catoblepas, for the obvious reasons. What are they? I can’t find them in the Monster Manual (original or II) or the Fiend Folio. It’s maddening! Let me know if you know what they are, because it’s driving me crazy, and it would be a shame for me to snap so close to the end of the series.

Meanwhile, in camp, Eric is setting up a trap, laying foliage across a muddy brown river with deep banks. The rest of the party is sitting on their duffs, like they don’t know Diana is luring a bunch of angry, possibly carnivorous mutant camels toward them. But they do know! “Here she comes,” Bobby says, as bored as a pre-teen can be. Seriously: Did they gorge themselves in an orchard of Quaalude trees?

Party lying around, complacent“This will never work,” Sheila says. She’s right, of course, but for all the wrong reasons. Using greenery to conceal a pit doesn’t work when the “pit” is a flowing river; the current tends to sweep away the unanchored branches and bits of grass, and the banks of a river are easy to see; additionally, some creatures can smell / sense water. In another sense, we’re left with the question: What will never work? We never learn a) the purpose of this plan or b) the endgame (i.e., how the party plans to go from mutant camels trapped in the river to whatever their goal is). This is never explained. Eric says, “I don’t care if Dungeon Master did tell us to find that stupid Bone of Shasta —” Presto corrects him: “Stone of Astra.”

And then Eric leaves the rest of his thought unfinished. Is this trap connected to finding the Stone of Astra? Are they doing this instead of finding the Stone of Astra? Argh! I assume Dungeon Master has told them nothing about the stone, but still: Why won’t they tell the audience anything?

While I’m tearing my hair out, trying to figure out what’s going on, Diana jumps and gambols her way toward the trap, the beasts a comfortable distance behind her. She vaults the river, and the creatures dutifully crash into the river. (They also turn the brown river imperial purple, which is weird, but hey — the Realm has a lot of magic.) The plan — whatever it is — worked!

“I saw it,” Hank says, “but I don’t believe it.” Bobby agrees, shocked: “Yeah, it worked.”

The party gathers around EricThe group crowds around Eric in celebration. “I’m sorry we ever doubted you,” Sheila says, and she and Diana drape themselves over Eric, and I’m either having a fever dream or a stroke. Or maybe this is a dream sequence? Nothing makes any sense! Especially since this “plan” depended on Diana more than it did Eric. Without her ability and bravery, she and Eric couldn’t have pulled it off! Yet she’s fawning over Eric, like he did something.

Oh, of course — they have to praise Eric now so the audience knows everything is Eric’s fault after things turn sour. The world snaps back into focus; the universe makes sense again. *phew*

Bobby and Diana praise Eric, with Diana affectionately ruffling Eric’s hair. But hubris is rushing toward Eric like a freight train, something Sheila seems to foresee as she winks knowingly at Diana. Or maybe she’s winking flirtatiously at Eric, while he’s moved on to the next bit of the “plan”? I dunno. “The lure, Presto, if you please,” Eric says, disentangling himself from the girls. Presto gives him an apple but expresses his reservations, as the monsters sound “awful mad.” But Eric has an appointment with his comeuppance, and he can’t be late: “Here horsey, horsey, horsey,” he says in an affected aristocratic accent, holding the apple toward the river. So this was a plan to get mounts for the party? Maybe?

Cameloids on the attackAnd then one of the beasts snaps and barks at him, and he takes off for the hills. I would too if a camel with a carnivore’s teeth barked at me. The creatures climb over the bank, disdaining Presto’s offer of bananas, and rush toward the party. “I’ve got to hand it to Eric,” Hank says, his bow having no effect on the cameloids. “He just had another great idea … Run!” Bobby wants to stop and fight, but Hank says, “Too many, Bobby. Fighting will only make them mad.”

“You mean madder,” Eric says, and of course, he’s right. The creatures have been teased way past the breaking point by Diana, then almost trapped. They’re looking to bite something. But Bobby still wants to fight, calling them “overgrown camels,” which makes no sense: They’re smaller than camels — undergrown camels! They’re smaller than horses! Hank and Sheila bodily pick him up and carry him away.

Anime waif, a.k.a. Lorne, in a junkyardSomewhere — far away? — an anime waif complains about his hunger while kicking around the Realm’s version of a junkyard. Bits of broken-down wagons are all around him. I’m not sure why he’s looking for food here; food generally is found a) where there are people, b) where there are plants, or c) where there are animals. None of these conditions apply to the junkyard. But if he can’t find food, there’s no reason he can’t randomly find a magic gem. And he does, among the ribs of a long-dead animal! What luck! What do you want to bet it’s the Stone of Astra?

So the waif decides to trade the sparkling gem, already in a setting. He tries to haggle with the leader of a group of nomads, a swarthy Neptune-type who rejects his offer of the talisman for five or six loaves of bread? Nope — the mighty god of the waves, exiled here on the land, rejects his offer. “Even if my people could spare it,” Neptune-y says. “Five loaves is too many. … Go back to your people. We have no room for you here.”

The waif stalks off, but soon after, a loaf of bread tears itself from a woman’s hand and flies to the waif. The boy is pleased, but a shadowy figure says, “Stop him! That boy is an evil wizard!” The villagers surround the boy, and for just a moment, I’m rooting for him: Wish them into the cornfield! Or the rice paddy! Or wherever they grow crops in this area!

The villagersInstead, pink beams of — we’ll say “magic” shoot out from the talisman, causing the villagers to take cover and giving the waif a chance to escape. The shadowy figure reveals himself as an evil stereotype: Dark-skinned, hunched, mustachioed, no pants. No pants and obsessed with a child: That stereotype took a dark turn. “You must destroy him before he returns to destroy you all!” Evil Stereotype cries out. The villagers immediately pursue the waif, their very actions making Evil Stereotype’s words more likely to become a self-fulfilling prophecy!

Meanwhile, the party is out of breath and has apparently been running for hours in the dark. “Can’t run any more,” Hank says. “We’ve gotta fight!” They’ve been keeping ahead of quadrupeds for so long? Man, the Realm must do wonders for their athletic training. Bobby agrees enthusiastically, but his club and Hank’s bow are in effective again. But just as the beasts are about to close in on the party, the fleeing waif runs into Eric, knocking the Cavalier down. The waif’s necklace then fires magic indiscriminately, driving off both sets of pursuers. “Now that’s what I call a weapon!” Bobby says, and for once, he’s right. That sure is a weapon!

But Eric is offended the waif crashed into him, until Sheila points out the waif saved his life. He saved all of your lives! I suppose, however, since Eric is the only one complaining, that it’s acceptable to single Eric out. Eric reconsiders and thanks the waif, who says, “Don’t mention it.”

Presto, Sheila, Diana, and Bobby respond“Don’t worry,” Eric says. “I won’t.” This will be the beginning of a lot of verbal sparring between the two. When Bobby asks who Eric’s “new friend” is, Eric says, “Friend? Friend? I don’t see any friend.” The waif ripostes, “You mean this guy has friends?”

“Yeah, us,” Hank says. Liar! Liar! You aren’t friends; you are companions who denigrate and use Eric. Generally speaking, you don’t deserve him. Anyway, Hank finally asks the waif his name, which is Lorne, which allows me to finally stop calling him “waif.” Hank immediately invites Lorne into their group, and only Eric has reservations. The show presents Eric’s position as unreasonable, but Eric’s hesitation is admirable. The Getalong Gang would — and let’s face it, has — openly accept Venger into their group.

As they journey to find a camp site, Evil Stereotype (“ES,” from now on) wanders into the frame. Just in case you forgot about him in the two minutes he’s been off screen.

***

Eric and LorneWhen the next day dawns, Lorne has stolen Eric’s cape to use as a blanket and Eric’s shield to use as a pillow. (Hard metal shields, I would imagine, make poor pillows, but what do I know?) Eric steals back his stuff, saying, “Well, hello, Sleeping Beauty. It’s nice to know somebody kept warm last night.” Lorne responds, “Thanks for the loan of the cape, Fancypants.”

They go into a string of putdowns, which the rest of the group is already tired of — “six straight hours of putdowns,” says Presto. “Those guys ought to take their act on the road.” Rather than transcribe the insults, I’ll acknowledge the homosexual overtones of the Lorne / Eric relationship. I get where this idea comes from: They have the kind of quick banter you find in classic Hollywood rom-coms, and Lorne is pitched as Eric’s soulmate in the way that Varla was for Presto in “The Last Illusion” and Kosar was for Diana in “Child of the Stargazer.” Eric is the only person who makes a strong bond with a human of the same sex from outside the group. If that information leads you to believe Eric and Lorne have a romantic attraction, that’s fine; I believe the show chose Lorne as Eric’s soulmate because they don’t believe he should find love, and even the people he likes are unpleasant. (The party is an excellent example of that.)

Presto is amazedThat’s the attitude the party takes as well. When Sheila calls Lorne and Eric identical twins, Diana amends that to “identical twits.” Bobby says, “That’s all we need: two Erics.” They aren’t keeping their voices down, either. Great friends! Eric picks up on their insults, saying, “If my parents even suspected I was like you, they’d disinherit both of us.” At that point, Lorne says, “I don’t have any parents,” playing the orphan card and playing it hard. I can almost hear the smack of it hitting the table.

Hank ends the awkward moment by telling the party they need to look for the Stone of Astra. “Dungeon Master never even told us what it looks like!” Presto says, which is mind-boggling. How is the party supposed to find something when they don’t know what it looks like? I mean, there’s the party’s usual lack of preparation, and then there’s this. Dungeon Master is just wasting their time now. Of course, the camera zooms in on Lorne’s necklace, making it perfectly clear that that’s the Stone of Astra.

Again, ES is looking on.

Dungeon Master with a jackelopeOn the march to nowhere (I assume), Lorne complains about his hunger. He’s fitting in already! When a horned rabbit jumps across their path, Eric tells Lorne he’ll flush the beastie out of the shrubbery, and then Lorne will grab it. It’s a dumb plan because humans don’t have the reflexes to grab a rabbit as it jumps out of hiding. But we all know the gag isn’t going to get that far since Eric must be humiliated first. He jumps into the bushes and finds Dungeon Master with a jackalope on his lap. “What are you doing with our lunch?” Eric asks, but this seems to upset Dungeon Master. I don’t know why. If he didn’t want them to eat cute animals, he should’ve given them a Horn of Plenty or something. “I — I — I mean, we — we were just taking a lunch break. What I mean is we really are working hard to find your … to find that, uh …”

Presto supplies “Stone of Astra,” but Dungeon Master is already looking at the stone, which is hanging around Lorne’s neck. “Oh, my,” he says, sounding nothing like George Takei. “Calm yourself, Cavalier. You have already fulfilled the first part of your mission. … But soon, the Stone of Astra will have to be destroyed and its chain of terror broken. Then, and only then, will one among you find home.”

“I know of your despair, boy,” Dungeon Master says to Lorne. And he obviously doesn’t care; I mean, he’s Dungeon Master, and the suffering of children is not his concern. Or maybe he enjoys it, like a fine wine! I don’t know. We don’t know much about him, other than his propensity to stroke cute animals, like a Bond villain . “But loneliness cannot be overcome by the use of this deadly and dangerous weapon. Your strength will be found in weakness. Destroy the talisman.”

Stone of Astra, a.k.a. the Twelfth TalismanEveryone is aghast at this suggestion. Destroy a weapon? When they’ve been given so few weapons that a cloak is classified as a weapon? Why should they? “With Lorne’s weapon, we’re invincible,” Eric says. But Dungeon Master disagrees: “On the contrary, Cavalier, the boy’s weapon protects only him. All others who stay close to him are in terrible danger from evil ones who desire his weapon for themselves.”

“What are you talking about?” Eric shouts. “Lorne’s the best thing to come along since … since … since we got stuck in this stupid Realm, and you know it.” He’s distracted by — *subtext alert* — putting his hand on Lorne, and when he turns back to Dungeon Master, he’s gone. “Coward!”

He’s right, of course. Justifying himself would take courage, and Dungeon Master has none of that. I mean, he doesn’t want that, either, or need it. All he has to do is drop in, leave his stinking piles of lukewarm moral indignation and half-baked riddles, and disappear. Coward!

Evil Stereotype, a.k.a. KorlokAnyway, Eric isn’t going to give up the weapon or Lorne: “If anybody out there wants to try to take it away, just step right up and give it your best shot!” This is ES’s cue to step onto the stage. Now that we’re allowed to see him face-on, close up, we can see he’s even more of a stereotype than we had previously known: He’s missing a few teeth, and his hood even has an arrow point, like a cartoon devil’s tail. “Powers of the Twelve Evil Talismans, aid me now!” he shouts, drawing on magic to toss some nearby stones at the party. I mean, his aim is awful, but they’re large stones; it’s impressive he can toss them at all.

Lorne uses his talisman to blast the rocks, but stone shards still make it through. “Lorne!” Hank says. “That thing’s making it worse! Make it stop!” Well, Hank, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if you had taken shelter in the trees rather than dropping to the ground immediately behind ES’s target. I mean, look at Diana! She looks more like she has a headache than someone trying to avoid rocks falling from the sky. I’m blaming you, Hank, although everyone but Eric has to share some of the blame. (Eric can be blamed for not using his shield to help others.)

The talisman blasts rocks, while the party shelters in place.“I can’t control it!” Lorne says. “It won’t stop!” The bolts from the talisman knock down trees, and one teeters toward the viewer. Bobby warns Presto to look out, and then the screen goes black. That’s a hell of a cliffhanger — leaving us with the hope that Presto will be crushed. Man, I can’t imagine the joy viewers must have felt when this was on TV for the first time!

***

Of course Presto isn’t crushed. No one’s identified in the opening narration is going to die. The tree just misses him — and everybody else; Bobby’s sense of spatial awareness is as keen as his wit. But Lorne can’t shut the talisman down; the pink bolts from it chase Eric around even as they also split more and more stones. But ES runs out of juice — or the Powers of the Twelve Talismans do, whichever — and when the rocks stop falling, the talisman shuts off.

Bobby somersaults with UniBut the danger isn’t past; another tree falls, this time toward Uni. If a tree falls on an annoying animal in the woods, does anyone cheer? We won’t find out, because Bobby saves Uni; but rather than running from side to side — you know, the orientation in which the tree is narrower — Bobby rolls forward, toward the tree. It barely misses him. Bobby’s spatial awareness might not just be below average; it might be abysmal.

As soon as everyone’s safe, it’s time for everyone to turn on Lorne, and Eric relishes the chance to join in the shunning. “You see that, Eric?” Bobby says. “Your wise guy friend almost got Uni squashed.” Eric disclaims Lorne as a friend, then says, “Listen, Lorne, give us a head start next time you want to use us for target practice, OK?”

“Dungeon Master was right, Lorne,” Hank says, almost gleeful that he has a chance to bend someone new to the group’s will, and he has Dungeon Master’s words to throw at the newcomer. “That weapon is dangerous. If you want to stay with us, you’ll have to get rid of it.” Eric agrees with Hank, and my heart sinks. Oh, Eric. Have you been subsumed into the collective?

Uni looks skeptical?But Lorne won’t give up the necklace, and after a quick back-and-forth with Eric, he announces he’s leaving. “I’ve been [facing the Realm alone] all my life, Eric, until I got this weapon. It’s mine, and I’m keeping it. I don’t have to run from anybody any more, and I don’t need anybody, either, including you.” Well, that does seem like a romantic tiff, I suppose. Eric has a few more sharp words for Lorne, despite Hank putting hand on Eric’s shoulder to calm him down. Lorne, crestfallen, leaves; ES looks toward the camera with a grin that says, “Eh? Eh? Eh-ha!”

Hank asks Eric if he were a little hard on Lorne. Oh, I see how it is now: Eric can’t even be in-group exclusive in the correct way. There’s just no pleasing some people, you know? Diana and Sheila put their hands on Eric’s shoulders, with Diana laying Lorne’s loneliness onto Eric as a guilt trip. Man, the girls are awful handsy with Eric this episode. I can’t remember them ever touching him — ever touching any member of the group, except for Sheila touching Bobby and Hank — before. Is this a new strategy to handle him, or did he sprinkle a little Husk Musk? Anyway, it works, although not before Sheila answers Eric’s tentative question about whether Lorne will find a place to sleep by saying, “Who knows? But then, who cares? Right, Eric?” Even Adam Sandler would think that was a bit obvious, Sheila.

“You can go after Lorne, and bring him back,” Hank says. “I mean, if you want to.” Eric knows when the jig is up: “Not that I really care, mind you, but I guess I might as well go take a look, you know, just in case the creep trips over a dragon or falls over his own feet or …” The ellipses in this case aren’t meant to show Eric trailing off; he just stops talking in the middle of his sentence. Even he can’t be bothered to care about Lorne, now that the group has shamed him into going after him.

Bobby is puzzled; Uni is notBobby is puzzled. “I don’t get it: Why is Eric going after him?” Well, it’s a lover’s question, Bobby … But Sheila sees it differently: “He wouldn’t admit it in a million years, Bobby, but I think Eric’s going after the first real friend he’s found in a long, long time.” Yeah, Sheila, because it’s not like you’re his friends. Bobby’s puzzled; rather than thinking each member of the party is Eric’s friend, he’s wondering how Eric can have any friends. Stupid Bobby.

Lorne is, of course, both lost and being stalked by ES. Before ES can make a move, though, Eric finds Lorne. “Look, I’m I’m I’m sorry about — well, I mean … listen: If you want to come back with us, it’s OK, except … for one minor problem … I’m totally lost!” Lorne makes fun of Eric being lost, but Eric says, “If I wasn’t so great at getting lost, I never would have found you, would I?” The two dissolve into hysterical laughter, which isn’t a good sign. They’re probably closer to seeing the other’s head as a giant ham than they should be at this point.

Eric and Lorne climb a hill, and they are immediately out of breath — I mean, they’re taking deep, body-shaking, lung-straining, chest-heaving breaths. Did Eric take up smoking while we weren’t looking? This isn’t a good indicator for their long-term survival, either. But from the hill, they can see a wagon encampment, and Eric is sure they can ask directions there. I mean, we all know Lorne has been chased out of that camp, but Eric won’t listen to Lorne’s explanations.

Meanwhile, back at the party’s camp, a large fire is keeping the darkness away. After Hank says they’ll look for Lorne and Eric in “another five minutes,” Diana asks, “They’re probably OK. I mean, what kind of trouble could they get into?” That’s an intensely stupid question, Diana. It’s the Realm! There are literal monsters out there that want to eat all of you! I know you’re asking that to set up the humorous (?) smash cut, but c’mon. Lay off the stupid pills, will you?

The headman, a.k.a. Chief Neptune-likeCut to: Eric being dragged between two men, with Lorne surrounded by more. Neptunesque shouts, “The wizard has returned with one of his own kind!” “His own kind” is code for [fill in your own category here], but Eric is confused: “Are you nuts? I’m too smart to be a wizard, and he’s too dumb. We just want directions!”

Neptunish makes incomprehensible growling noises. I thought he was having a fit, at least until an intelligible question emerges: “Why did you come back here, wizard?” A woman protests: “Can’t you see they’re only boys?” But that’s not a convincing argument; boys can be wizards too! Harry Potter is proof enough of that. Also, Varla’s mother in “The Last Illusion” thought teenagers have some inherent goodness. Obviously they don’t have high schools in the Realm.

The Neptunoid knows this instinctively, if not necessarily experientially: “Not true, woman! They are wizards pretending to be boys. They have returned to destroy us!” But his fears become moot as ES sweeps in in a bolt of purple light and smoke. Eric is impressed, sorta, but ES is not here for his admiration. “I have come for the talisman!” he shouts, encasing everyone but Lorne in greenish force-field bubbles. The villagers’ bubbles are gender segregated, but Eric gets his own bubble because he’s special. “I shall destroy them all [unless you] give me the Stone of Astra!”

Evil Stereotype puts everyone in a bubbleEric (and Lorne) finally realize the talisman is the Stone of Astra. How did you not know figure that out? Are you stupid? Dungeon Master said you had completed the first part of the journey to find the stone when he saw the talisman! Eric tells Lorne not to give the stone away. Lorne says, “I’m not gonna give it to you, and there’s nothing you can do to make me!”

Which is stupid, of course. ES shrinks the force bubbles, and Eric’s tune changes quickly: “Give him the stone, Lorne, or I’m going to be roast Cavalier on the half shield!” Lorne worries about being powerless, but he gets a moment to stew over his decision when the ineffectual cavalry arrives. Hank fires off a few arrows and a vague challenge, and then the party gets a force bubble of its own. Great rescue, guys! Just charge across a bare plain, with no cover, no subtlety, and plenty of warning for ES. The failure belongs to Hank, and Hank alone, on this one.

“Give me the talisman, and I will release your friends!” Everyone inside the force bubbles gibbers in fear, and Lorne grudgingly tosses the necklace away. But it’s intercepted by Dungeon Master, and oh god this is going to get so much worse than the torture of innocent — well, innocent-ish — villagers: We’re going to get a Dungeon Master lecture.

Dungeon Master with the talismanDungeon Master dispels the force bubbles, the party jumps around like they’re having conniption fits, and Eric congratulates Lorne for making the right choice. Meanwhile, ES is cringing: “Spare me, Dungeon Master, I have harmed no one!” Well, physically, no, but it’s not for lack of trying, and the locals will have to clean plenty of soiled pants. Or tunics. Whatever. Still, it takes one evil wizard to recognize another, and he’s trying to find whatever key will unlock DM’s mercy. It will be flattery next time! “I merely wanted the stone of Astra — the Twelfth Talisman.”

Dungeon Master knows ES and addresses him by name, Korlok. “Then take it, Korlok,” Dungeon Master says. “Have you not searched a lifetime for it? Take it! But be warned: Evil will hound you to the end of your life, as it has every possessor of the Twlefth Talisman, including the boy. Take it! Or break its timeless chain or terror and destroy it. The choice is yours.”

Venger in front of the moonThat’s Venger’s cue to enter, and he makes a great entrance, one that backlights him with the moon — a moon — and has him give a speech with “fool” in it: “Fools such as you have no need of the talisman, Korlok. Give it to me!”

“No, Venger,” Dungeon Master says. “The journey of the Twelfth Talisman has come to an end.” Oh, so we’ve just decided we’re no longer going to call it the Stone of Astra, huh? Why didn’t you call it the Twelfth Talisman from the beginning, DM? No one in the party knows what the Stone of Astra or the Twelfth Talisman is. Why did you … ah, forget about it.

“You try my patience too often, Dungeon Master,” Venger says, and I couldn’t agree with him more. “This will be the last time.” No, it won’t, but you get points for trying. Anyway, now that Weekend Daddy is here to protect the party from Venger, Hank squeaks up with a weak threat: “Why don’t you just forget about it?”

Dungeon Master gives Korlok the talisman.“Insolent fool!” Venger says, and then he gleefully begins shooting white bolts of magic everywhere. He’s enjoying this; he might know defeat is in his future, but by Odin, he’s going to squeeze every bit of juice out of the opportunity. I’m happy for him, and not just because I approve of his targets.

“Take the talisman, Korlok,” Dungeon Master says. “Taste its power — the future you desire so desperately.” Man, I want that talisman now. (I wonder if it tastes like strawberries?) Maybe Dungeon Master should be in advertising.

Korlok does not need much convincing either, slipping the talisman over his head. “Now, Venger, try your powers against the Twelfth Talisman!” he shouts. (“With pleasure, old man!” Venger replies.) Despite Venger’s bluster, it’s a short battle. Venger conjures a big ball of dark red energy above his head, the talisman’s pink energy pops it, then destroys the cliff Venger’s on, and Venger has to teleport away inside a pink bubble. (Poor use of color coordination; Venger’s bubble should be red.)

Venger’s red bubble is about to popKorlok collapses. “That was first victory of my sad life,” he says, “and my last.” He tosses the talisman to Dungeon Master, who tells him he is wrong. I know what he means, but what is Korlok supposed to think? It isn’t his first victory? It isn’t a victory?

Anyway, that ends the interesting (for certain values of “interesting”) part of the program. Lorne has now been accepted by the travelers — “Now they’re stuck with you,” Eric says — with King Neptune-adjacent having been propitiated somehow. They leave, presumably for the large city being just a few miles away the whole time.

The caravan heads to the city on a Dutch angle“You have made a wise choice, Korlok,” Dungeon Master says, as Korlok begins to glow — literally glow! — like he’s been pumped full of 10,000 kilowatts. “All things are possible for those whose hearts are free of evil.” Together, they walk into the sunrise, and hopefully, they burn out their retinas.

But we can still see the important lessons from this episode:
  • Sometimes taunting a mutant, carnivorous animal is an end unto itself — and its own reward.
  • The best way to handle a recalcitrant male is to have women to drape themselves on him and praise him, even if he isn’t into that sort of thing.
  • Doubling down on the ethnic / poor stereotypes for a villain is fine, as long as he makes one “good” decision at the end.
  • Sending your employees / child soldiers on errands without telling them what they’re looking for is a good use of their time, especially if they’re annoying teenagers you just want out of your hair. Also, changing the name of their goal without explanation really gets across how pointless the entire task was.
  • Knowing about someone’s pain and caring about someone’s pain are vastly different.
  • Some people can’t see evil in young people, and this will be their doom.
Going home tally: No portal this episode. The kids have found eight portals home; they’ve briefly gone through the portal twice.

Monster tally: The only monsters are the barking mutant camels, and I have no idea what they are or where they came from. Totals: MM: 43; FF: 6; L&L: 1; Dragon: 1.

Dungeons & Dragons #23: The Time Lost

The Time Lost title card

Original air date: 21 September 1985
Writer: Michael Reaves

In two of the last three episodes — all written by this episode’s scribe, Michael Reaves — we first encounter the party in the midst of a mission from Dungeon Master. This time, the party has already failed in its previous mission; while Hank and Diana sit around moping and Bobby and Presto attend to the manes of (respectively) Uni and Eric, the latter grouses, “If we’d just made it through that portal in the Castle of Clouds …”

Sheila agrees, but Diana takes the role of cheerleader: “C’mon, guys, it wasn’t anybody’s fault,” she says. Wait wait wait wait wait: Neither Eric nor Sheila has blamed anyone. If you’re already rushing to some unnamed person’s defense, that means it is definitely someone’s fault. Since Sheila and Eric were complaining, and I can’t believe Diana was rising to her own defense so obviously, that leaves Bobby, Hank, and Presto as possible culprits. I know who I’d like to blame (*cough* Hank *cough*), but the biggest screwup is Presto, so: Go to hell, Presto.

Presto cuts Eric’s hairDiana also seems to think that, like a train, another portal will be along any minute. Sister, Amtrak ain’t running in the Realm. (It’s not like it was running much here in 1985 either, but that’s beside the point.) While Presto and Eric bicker about Eric’s haircut, the earth nearby is struck by a bolt out of the blue — out of a blue dragon, that is.

(If you need background on Dungeons & Dragons, you can read the introductory post. If you want to read my recaps in order, go here. If you want to follow along with this recap, you can watch “The Time Lost” on Youtube. Since that is technically piracy, I will also point out — without judgment — that you can buy the series cheaply on physical media.)

The blast separates Eric from his shield and Presto from his glasses, so most of the “comedy” of this scene is stolen from Scooby-Doo, with Presto groping helplessly for his glasses as everyone else mills about in chaos. Before Hank can summon up some nonsense with his bow, a fighter jet drives the dragon off with its lasers. The jet is piloted by Frank Welker doing his Fred-Jones-from-Scooby-Doo voice, except he’s given Fred a Southern accent.

A blue dragon, shot at by a laser(Geek aside: Blue dragons are one of the five races of evil dragons; the others are red, white, black, and green. Blue dragons breathe electricity, which explains why the lightning exploded so close to Eric and Presto. The Monster Manual gives the scientific name of blue dragons as Draco electricus and says they “typically prefer deserts and arid lands,” which may mean D. electricus is the Arizona trashbag of dragons.)

The kids celebrate as the jet roars off in pursuit of the dragon, although Eric laments that the pilot didn’t see them. “You sure he’s from Earth?” Diana asks. “I’ve never seen a plane like that before.” Really? That’s a problem with this episode: Apart from the jet shooting lasers, which I assume were a sop to the network’s Standards & Practices Department, the jet looks no stranger than a contemporary Air Force jet, and it’s less futuristic than some. Sure, later on we see this jet has VTOL capabilities, and it performs maneuvers most jets can’t, but the latter is more easily marked up as a failure of animation than as the sign of an advanced military plane.

Anyway, Sheila is convinced the pilot not seeing them has caused them to miss another chance to get home. I’m not sure how she arrives at that, as everyone else they’ve found from their world has been just as clueless on how to escape as they are, but sure, why not? Everyone else jumps to Sheila’s conclusion, with Eric complaining, “Two [missed portals] in one day — I think we just set a record.”

Starfire’s perfectly normal jetHank is gung-ho to catch up with the fighter on foot, directing everyone to climb down a cliff on the mountain they definitely were not on when the dragon attacked. Eric protests about making the climb until an avalanche triggered by the dragon-jet dogfight comes crashing down behind them; with the situation changed, Hank’s suicidally stupid plan to hurriedly climb down a mountain in order to walk after a jet plane becomes the less stupid option. Pragmatism!

Meanwhile, Southern-Fried Fred — callsign “Starfire” — is frantically calling for his base and getting no response … well, he gets a response from Venger, who seems to be hearing Starfire’s radio transmission but speaking normally to the pilot from Venger’s nightmare, which flies near the jet. Venger orders Starfire to surrender his plane. Starfire calls for help, saying he’s under attack from “some guy in a dress … riding a flying horse”; the “attack” part seems premature, as Venger hasn’t fired any generic power blasts at the plane yet, but Starfire also says Venger is gaining on him, even though his plane is “pushing Mach-1.”

Back with the party, Diana’s stupid pills are kicking in. “Look on the bright side, guys” she says, “at least we won’t run into any surprises out here.” She is immediately proven wrong, as Dungeon Master says, “Not true, Acrobat. Alas, there are surprises in store here, and not all of them pleasant.” The least pleasant, of course, is speaking to them.

Eric hangs from an outcropping while everyone else watches Dungeon MasterWhile everyone crowds around DM, Eric hangs onto a rock outcropping, his feet scrambling for purchase just above the foggy void. He neither asks for help nor receives it, which shows what a lose-lose situation he’s in; in prior episodes, he’d be mocked for asking for help, but not asking for help doesn’t ensure he’ll get it. Despite his precarious situation, Eric asks Dungeon Master to give them a straight response about whether the jet came from earth . (No one seems concerned about Eric, which is par for the course.) “Indeed it did, through a portal that holds a terrible danger,” Dungeon Master says. “Not only to you, but also to your homeworld, Earth.”

“What this time, your cheerfulness? No, on second thought, don’t tell me,” Eric says, and Dungeon Master obliges: “I won’t have to, Cavalier — time will tell.” Dungeon Master uses that as an exit line, as he turns the petals of a nearby flower into Scrubbing Bubbles, which scrub him right off the mountainside.

Dungeon Master turns a flower into magic“Terrific,” Eric says. “He splits and leaves us on a cliffhanger for real this time.” The scrubbing bubbles reach Eric; they cause him to sneeze and fall into the mists. Fortunately, the ground is only a few feet below the receding fog. “Nice fall, Eric,” Bobby says, smirking

“Somebody around here’s got a lousy sense of humor,” Eric says, “and his initials are Dungeon Master.” Well, he’s not the only one; I’d say Bobby’s sense of humor is pretty bad too. But while Eric grouses about the threat of his death being used as a sight gag, Sheila asks Hank where they’re going to go now. Hank blindly urges the party to find the portal Dungeon Master mentioned, although he gave them no guidance as to where that portal might be.

***

While Dungeon Master wasted the party’s time, Venger has been busy, forcing Starfire’s plane to the ground and throwing him into a cell with an astronaut, a samurai, a Union soldier, and a Viking. Starfire sputters the usual questions of the time-lost and / or blackout drunk: “Who are you? Where am I? What the heck is going on?” Venger flounces off, uninterested in responding, leaving Starfire to note his cellmates for the first time. As Starfire gasps in surprise, the bearded Viking gives Starfire a come-hither look, then rolls over on his rick of hay. That’s it, Mr. Viking: You know he’s going to want that Grade-A Prime bear meat, so force him to come get it.

Shadow Demon is excited, drooling over Starfire’s “most powerful flying machine.” But Venger says Starfire comes from “the wrong time and the wrong country,” which is Starfire’s poor (good?) luck. “I require a warrior from a very specific time,” Venger says, “before Dungeon Master’s young ones were born — a time when their world was torn by war.”

Ziggurat surmounted by the Crystal of ChronosThe Crystal of Chronos, a giant blue orb atop the nearby ziggurat, activates, getting Venger’s attention. It’s easy to see why: The only landmarks in this vast desert plain are the ziggurat and its crystal, the jailblock, and now Starfire’s fighter plane. (Whatever society crated the ziggurat is gone, as it every trace of its existence. Look upon their works, ye might, etc. etc.) The Crystal of Chronos opens a portal to a war-torn landscape. A fighter plane, trailing red smoke like it’s part of an airshow, falls toward the portal. “This, Shadow Demon, is the proper place,” Venger says, “and time.” The portal closes, but not before the damaged fighter comes through. “My search through the past of their world is ended,” Venger says. “Now I shall eliminate those accursed children, as if they had never existed.”

Well! This plot is beginning to take shape: Venger wants to put a Nazi in an advanced fighter jet, then return him to World War II to Back to the Future the kids to death. I don’t know whether BttF had any influence on this plot; the movie came out less than three months before this episode aired, but on the other hand, it’s possible Reaves could have learned the plot before release, perhaps from as mundane a method as a movie trailer.

Anyway, the antiquated, single-wing fighter plane belly flops near the kids, and they run to help the pilot away from the crash. “Welcome to Wackyland, Earthling,” Eric says after everyone is safe. This confuses the pilot, who — like his plane — is obviously German and from World War II. This fact flies so far over the kids’ head I have to assume the American education system has failed the kids as thoroughly as can be imagined. (In another decade, the History Channel would be there to fill in the gaps, airing a near constant barrage of World War II documentaries and footage, but this was before those glory days.)

Flaming wreckage of Josef’s plane, with BalkenkreuzThe pilot, confused as he might be about where he is, says his name is Josef Mueller (pronounced “Yosef Murler”). The party glosses over the German cross on his plane and asks where the portal he game through is. Josef is still adjusting, so they have to get specific. Presto describes the portal as “the place you came into this world,” while Bobby says it’s “a big window in space, like a door between here and Earth.”

Josef points vaguely, saying it’s about 10 kilometers away. The kids are overjoyed — with Bobby even throwing his helmet in the air in celebration — but I’m shocked at their naivete. I mean, their lack of knowledge about World War II is bizarre and / or horrifying, but there’s an easy explanation: They’re stupid, and their school has done nothing to alleviate that. However, why don’t they question Josef’s use of kilometers? I mean, they’re Americans. They should automatically be suspicious of, if not violently hostile toward, the metric system.

The kids chivvy Josef off toward the portal, allowing Venger and Shadow Demon to examine the wreck and its German cross. Shadow Demon is confused about how this wrecked plane plays into Venger’s plan, but Venger says Shadow Demon will understand “in time.” That low-level wordplay shows Venger’s more like Dungeon Master than he would like to admit!

***

Josef picnics with Presto, Eric, and DianaPresto conjures a picnic, impressing Josef. The picnic even has wine — I’m assuming the pink stuff in a bottle is wine — so maybe Josef is right to be impressed. “You could feed an entire world!” he says, but Eric says the crocodile eggs Presto conjured for breakfast hatched on the plate, so maybe this is an isolated success. While the detritus of the meal is dumped into Presto’s hat, Diana compliments Josef’s landing; when Josef tries to tell them about the battle he was in, the party is confused. Presto corrects him, saying it was an “air show,” and Diana calls it a “flying circus” and talks about the “antique” Josef flew.

Joseph is shocked, saying his plane was brand new. Diana laughs at him, saying, “Nobody makes planes like that anymore.” Hank agrees, saying it’s been 35 or 40 years since anyone made a plane like Josef’s. Now knowing how far he is in the kids’ past, Josef flees before the truth bomb explodes, running into the forest. He thinks it’s wonderful news, and when he finds a river, he tosses his non-swastika insignia into the waters. “What a blessing — a new beginning, in a new world!” he says, but Diana has followed him. Oops! He would’ve gotten away it, if it hadn’t been for those moronic kids!

“Who — what are you, Josef?” Diana asks. Josef admits to being a Luftwaffe pilot — Bobby asks, “Luke-waffle? What’s that?” — from 1945. “But I do not wish to be your enemy,” he says. “Only to be free from that horrible war, and the tyrant who caused it.” The party gathers around Josef, backing him toward the river. But this isn’t a tactical move: The kids instantly forgive Josef. No, that’s not it; they don’t even consider that there’s anything to forgive. They welcome him with handshakes and tell him of all the things they want to show him from (his) future (and their present). It’s … it’s sickening. omigodidon’tthinki’llbeabletomakeittothebathroomintimetovomit —

The party surrounds JosefOh, thank Hela: Venger picks that moment to attack. Thanks, Venger!

Venger says, “You have no future!” He sets the forest they’re in on fire, then herds them into the midst of the flames and into the commercial break. Now that’s a cliffhanger! I might’ve shoehorned a parallel between Venger and the devastation of World War II bombing in there as well, but I’m probably asking for too much.

***

Venger returns, not for another bombing run, but for Josef; a beam of light extends from his hands, snakes around Josef, and allows Venger to sky-haul Josef away from his new friends. Turns out Hank isn’t the only one whose powers can be used for weapons-grade bullshirt!

“Presto, I sure hope you’ve got something in that hat that covers forest fires!” Sheila screeches. Boy, that’s awful wordy for someone whose life is endangered by a forest fire — I would’ve gone with “Presto! Do something with your stupid hat!,” and even that has too many syllables — but this is Sheila we’re talking about. I mean, she’s in trouble, and the first thing she did was turn to Presto for help, which is not the mark of someone who makes good decisions.

Erc with his face covered by whipped cream“Abracadabra, hocus-kapocus / Save us quick / Before we go up in smokus!” Presto chants, and what he gets looks like a small fire extinguisher — too small to do any good, of course, but maybe it’s magic? No, as it turns out, it’s ineffectual, and as Eric informs Presto, “Well, it’s always been tough to put out a fire with whipped cream, Presto.” The withering condescension in Eric’s voice is *chef’s kiss*.

Hank, on the other hand, has a brainwave: “Maybe we can fight fire with fire,” he says, and although Eric’s “Huh?” should tip him off that this isn’t an adequate explanation of what’s going to happen, his only explanation is “Get ready!” Get ready for what? How do you get ready when you don’t know what’s going to happen?

Hank shoots a nearby waterfall with his bow, triggering a flood that extinguishes the forest fire. (Technically, this is “fighting fire with water,” not fighting fire with fire. Does Hank think he’s drinking fire every day? Is he perpetually confused about why the pool of water he gathers everyone around at night keeps no one warm?) The water also floods the rest of forest, which is where the party is standing. Fortunately, everyone has a chance to dive for a nearby fallen tree and hang on as the water washes over them. Perhaps someone (*cough* Hank *cough*) should’ve had them grabbing onto the tree before he triggered a flash flood. Dumbass.

Anyway, although Eric is grouchy, no one is injured by the powerful flood waters. (Bobby does pull Uni from the water by the horn, which seems like it should be painful for Uni.) Hank does not want to hear Eric’s complaints about his poor planning but decent execution: “Quit complaining, Eric. We’re all still alive, aren’t we?”

Dungeon Master walks on muddy water“Not for long, Ranger, if Venger has his way,” Dungeon Master says, from his perch on a nearby rock. Dungeon Master is putting the danger onto Venger’s shoulders, but everyone should know by now that Dungeon Master’s presence will not improve anyone’s long-range survivability forecast.

Dungeon Master walks across the muddy water, and the party follows on dry land. The kids are full of questions — not theological questions that might follow DM’s display of water walking, but questions about what’s going on. Some things never change! Dungeon Master fields the softball questions: “Venger is using the Crystal of Chronos to change the history of Earth,” he says.

“What?” Eric protests. “I already took history — three times —and got a lousy C-. You mean when we get home, I’ve got to take it again?”

“No, no,” Dungeon Master reassures him. “Venger seeks to destroy you by changing your world’s past.” Presto insists Venger can’t do that — and we should believe him, because Presto’s study of magic has led him to know what is poss — *bwahahaha* No, I can’t finish that thought. Dungeon Master sets him straight: “He can … unless you stop him, and quickly. You have little time, but remember: Time can make allies of enemies.” Dungeon Master uses that as an exit line, stranding the party by walking on water across a wide river’s surface. Was Jesus Christ this big of a jerk to his followers? (Answer: Sometimes.)

With no real plan other than to stop Venger and rescue Josef, the party strides off. Meanwhile, Venger’s plan is several steps and ten kilometers ahead … wait. The ziggurat is in the middle of a wide desert plain, with mountains on the horizon. Are you telling me there’s a lush forest within seven miles of that desolate land? Man, when you tell physics to go screw itself as often as this cartoon does, it has some unpredictable effects on geology and meteorology.

Venger tosses Josef off the nightmare“How dare you treat me in this manner?” Josef says after being abducted and tossed off Venger’s nightmare. That’s rich, Josef, coming from someone who is fighting — however unwillingly — for the Third Reich. Even if you’re willing to turn on Herr Hitler now, you’ve been supporting a regime engaged in genocide. Even against Venger, and even flying in an airplane, you’re going to have trouble finding the high ground.

Venger says, “I thought [you] were a man. Perhaps I was mistaken; perhaps you are only a coward and a fool. … I had planned to send you back to your country as a hero.” Venger is ahead of his time, using the Power of Neg to secure the cooperation of the man he needs to make his plan work. And he goes on to explain his plan to Josef, who he says was one of the best pilots of his time. (I don’t know how he learned this; let’s just assume it is flattery now that Josef isn’t resisting him.)

“Your flying machines were slow and crude compared to [Starfire’s],” Venger exposits. (We’re in exposition territory now. Nothing to do but wait it out.) “It bears weapons of which you have never dreamed. With it, you can win your petty war single-handedly. … With it, you will turn the tide of battle. Your country will rule the Earth, and history will be rewritten.”

Josef protests he’s never flown a plane like this; Venger says he’ll put the knowledge in his brain. With Josef showing more interest in Venger’s plan and wondering what his end of the bargain is, Venger magically returns the Balkenkreuz to Josef’s arm and says, “You do exactly as I say, and you will address me as Master.” Josef narrows his eyes and smiles.

Well! Force of Evil, indeed.

The party arrives at the ziggurat, just in time for Josef’s heel turn. “Is this the way home?” Hank asks Josef, who is standing by Starfire’s plane. “It is, my young friends,” Josef says, as Venger walks to his side, “but — I regret — not for you.” Sheila gasps, not at Josef’s apparent heel turn, but at Venger’s presence. Well, I suppose Venger is the more pressing danger …

Venger stands next to JosefStanding next to Josef like a sports dad who has more pride in his son’s achievements than his obviously bored child does, Venger says, “I shall explain: Your friend and I have struck a bargain. In exchange for passage back to his own world, he has agreed to help me eliminate you from this one. With that machine, he will tip the scales of battle. His country, not yours, will win your insignificant Second World War. History will change. Your parents will have never met, and none of you will have been born.”

“What?” Sheila asks, and I have to admit, as much as it pains me, that her confusion is warranted. If World War II insignificant, then how will it change history? Also, how will it keep their parents — especially the parents of ultra-Aryan Hank — from meeting? Venger’s plan, frankly, is a mess. One fighter jet would not be able to change the result of the entire war, even if it is miles beyond World War II technology. It would be able to do terrible damage, sure, but after a few destructive missions, the element of surprise would be lost, and a single fighter — even one as wonderful as this one — could be countered. (Hitting it on the ground would be the most logical idea, even if this fighter can be refueled with Third Reich supplies.) German manufacturing capability by this point was devastated, making analysis and manufacture of more of the fighter implausible. Also, by this point in the war, the Allies are — at most — seven months from implementing the atomic bomb; even with this fighter, turning Germany into radioactive slag ends the war.

I think the greatest achievement of Venger’s plan is to make Diana cry, albeit at Josef’s betrayal rather than the plan’s incomprehensibility. That’s … something, but I don’t think it’s a good return on investment. A better plan would have been to destroy Gary Gygax and / or Dave Arneson, the co-creators of Dungeons & Dragons, before the game was invented, which would probably end this foolishness before it began. It might also make the Realm blink out of existence, but, hey, acceptable collateral damage.

Venger lifts Bobby by his clubVenger gets a bit handsy, putting a finger under Sheila’s chin, then grabbing Bobby by the club when he objects to Venger’s threatening touch of his sister. “How very amusing,” he says, hosting Bobby by the club. I agree! Seeing the pipsqueak dangle helplessly is funny.

Hank steps forward with his bow, but Honey Venger don’t care: “Go ahead, Ranger. Fire, if you wish.” Still, he drops Bobby, and the two face off. When Bobby raises his club to strike, his sister stops him and says — I swear this is absolutely true — “No, Bobby, that’s what he wants you to do!”

Sheila has raided Diana’s stash of stupid pills, obviously. Why would Sheila think Venger wants Bobby to hit him? What does Venger gain from being whomped with a club? Sure, he dared Hank to shoot him, but … what … at least if you hit him … I give up.

Venger shrugs“Indeed,” Venger says, rolling with Sheila’s ludicrous statement. Maybe they’re a secret improv team? I dunno. “I want you to do whatever you please, Barbarian. Fight, scream, run if you wish, as far and fast as you can. In a moment, the portal will open, and even the memory of you will vanish from your world.”

Well! If he’s doing improv, I have to say: It ain’t comedy, but it’s impressive nevertheless. It’s the part he was born to play, baby!

Venger dispatches Josef, who takes off in his VTOL flying machine despite Bobby’s pleas. Bobby, desperate to do something, strikes the ground, which somehow surprises Venger; however, he’s back in control of the narrative a moment later, when Hank shoots at him: “As I expected,” he says. “You prefer to struggle until the last.”

Everyone starts fighting against Venger. No one does the smart thing and shoot at the Crystal of Chronos, which is their only way to stop Josef … and let’s face it: When I say “no one,” I’m blaming only Hank, as he has the only ranged weapon that could shoot the crystal. But never mind!

Eric calls out for Hank to shoot Josef: “Hank, blast ‘em! Let him have it! If he goes through that portal, we won’t even be history!” But Eric’s pragmatism can’t overcome Hank’s mushy, mushy heart / Aryan sympathies. He can’t bear to fight against the Fatherland, I suppose! But Josef surprises everyone watching (except the TV viewers) by banking and firing on the crystal instead of flying for the portal.

The party, Shadow Demon, and Venger stand around, gawkingVenger’s time prisoners disappear, with Sexy Viking is the last to go. Starfire will regret what he didn’t — or did — do in those manly, manly arms. (Also: He will regret not having a coherent explanation for what happened to the mighty war machine the U.S. [?] government entrusted him with.) Now, why don’t Josef and his mighty plane disappear at the same time, especially since the plane arrived at the same time as Starfire? Because shut up, that’s why.

Venger and the party are now standing in a line, like they’re at a town Fourth of July display, just waiting for the finale. I mean, for the kids, that makes sense, as they have nothing to do here, but why isn’t Venger trying to rally? With his plan collapsing, why isn’t he salvaging something by murdering the distracted kids? *sigh* C’mon, Venger! It’s like you’re not really competent enough to seize control of the Realm.

Josef makes another run at the crystal, blasting it again, although nothing seems to change this time. The kids are now sure, though, that Josef isn’t a traitor, even though he is manifestly a traitor to Venger. Just because he’s probably on your side doesn’t mean he has integrity, kids. Venger rallies, blasting the plane, but Josef doesn’t care about his aircraft any more; he hits the eject button, aiming the fighter at the crystal.

Venger falls apartExpecting an explosion — which, to be fair, is often the result of mixing an artifact with excessive force — Hank shouts, “Hit the dirt!” I’m sure Hank has always wanted to use that phrase because it makes him sound cool. The plane hits the crystal, everything goes white and shakes, and Venger turns into a cloud, which disintegrates. It’s not really clear why this happens to him, although it’s possibly because he didn’t escape the blast radius in time and physics took sweet, sweet revenge on him.

The kids celebrate, then watch Josef and his parachute drift through the portal, which closes as he goes through. “Goodbye, my friends! Auf wiedersehen!” he shouts. “You have given me freedom; in return, I shall give you your future!”

Diana cries for Josef, on his way to ArgentinaDiana’s in tears again. Man, Diana’s been weeping like she’s Sheila this episode. Maybe she has a thing for German guys? Or maybe she’s still emotionally off-kilter after “Child of the Stargazer.” I dunno; if continuity was a thing in the Realm, I suppose that could give someone abandonment issues. “He went back,” Diana says. “I don’t get it. Why?”

Anyway, Dungeon Master arrives to put some salve on Diana’s massive psychic wound: “To be a hero, as Venger said. But not in the way Venger planned.” Dungeon Master reassures everyone nothing has changed, which — honestly — should be the series motto / tagline. “Your friend has returned to join the forces fighting for freedom — your future freedom. Indeed, his courage will help create the world into which you will be, and have already been, born.”

And so the episode ends. With that mindblower expanding our brains, we ponder these lessons:
  • If everyone insists a piece of technology is futuristic and beyond their ken, then by Loki, it is. (This is also the lesson of Steve Jobs.)
  • Scooby-Doo jokes are — and have always been — timeless.
  • Ignorance isn’t necessarily bliss, but it does help people get along sometimes.
  • There is no theological significance to an all-powerful figure walking on water. Sometimes a defiance of physics is just the easiest way to travel.
  • Fire and water may seem like opposites, but they sometimes have similar applications.
  • A flair for improv can really add some zing to your murder / world conquering plans.
  • Hell hath no fury like physics scorned.
Going home tally: The kids see another portal, although this one isn’t — technically speaking — a portal home. They also mention (but we don’t see) failing to get home through another portal. The kids have found eight portals home; they’ve briefly gone through the portal twice.

Monster tally: The blue dragon is from the Monster Manual. Totals: MM: 43; FF: 6; L&L: 1; Dragon: 1.

Dungeons & Dragons #22: The Dungeon at the Heart of Dawn

The Dungeon at the Heart of Dawn title card

Original air date: 14 September 1985
Writer: Michael Reaves

While I don’t deny Dungeons & Dragons is less than a classic cartoon, I believe it has its redeeming qualities: the Toei animation, the early representation of Dungeons & Dragons monsters that have become classics (because the game’s endurance, if for no other reason), and interesting scripts from animation veterans. If some of those scripts fell short of what they could be, well, that happens to all TV series, if they last long enough.

It’s easy to disdain the series because of its faults in character and plot, which are difficult to ignore. The characters never develop, so there’s no respite from the annoying characters, and the plots are always rigged, usually too obviously, against the characters reaching home, with no one remembering these events long enough to learn anything for the next episode. (Seriously: Other than Hank’s incompetent leadership, the cartoon gives no reason why the kids haven’t learned to stock up on water, food, rope, and maps whenever possible.)

Although I didn’t mention it before, “Child of the Stargazer” was the second season finale, which makes “Dungeon at the Heart of Dawn” the third-season premiere. Whatever laudable attributes the cartoon possessed in its first two seasons, the third season is a series heading for cancellation. Although the cartoon still has Toei animating and familiar names writing, the episodes are some of the worst Dungeons & Dragons has to offer. The plots become insipid; the characters become lazy. The series’s worst episode, “Cave of the Faerie Dragons,” shows up as the penultimate episode. Two episodes base their plots on Venger not necessarily being the worst evil in the Realm, which is a novel but poor way to show he’s worthy of the redemption he gains in the never-produced finale.

I guess what I’m saying is that we’ve had it easy so far, but we only have six episodes to go.

Bobby bashes a hole in the wall(If you need background on Dungeons & Dragons, you can read the introductory post. If you want to read my recaps in order, go here. If you want to follow along with this recap, you can watch “ Dungeon at the Heart of Dawn” on Youtube. Since that is technically piracy, I will also point out — without judgment — that you can buy the series cheaply on physical media.)

The episode begins in the Tower of Darkness, and the animators take the name literally. The screen is completely blank, which really saves on animation time. (I doubt he was inspired by this, but around the time this episode aired, comic-book creator John Byrne wrote and drew an issue of the Marvel comic Alpha Flight with five pages that feature Snowbird, who has a mostly white costume, fighting the white-furred monster Kolomaq in a blizzard; the pages are blank except for sound effects, dialogue, and panel gutters.) We hear the voices of Bobby and Eric; Eric tells Bobby to knock down the door. Instead, Bobby knocks down the wall next to the door, revealing Bobby, Uni, Eric with a box, and ruins in the distance. This raises questions, as, indeed, the whole episode does. Why were Bobby, Eric, and Uni sent on this mission alone? None of them have enhanced nightvision, and Eric is a bit of a klutz. You’d think they’d want someone graceful like Diana. Which raises another question: How did Bobby and Eric see well enough to find a chest in the darkness? Why didn’t they leave the door open? Even if daylight didn’t penetrate the Tower of Darkness, at least they could feel for the exit.

And — seemingly least importantly — why didn’t Bobby feel for the door? It looks distinct in texture from the walls. Now, that seems unimportant, but soon after Bobby knocks a hole in the wall, the entire tower comes crashing down. “Now look what you did, you musclebound pipsqueak!” Eric shouts, yelling more insults behind him as he runs away. Bobby and Uni do not run, strolling toward their friends while rubble falls all around them. The question here is also obvious — why not run? — but Bobby strolls along, complaining about Eric’s somewhat-justified insults. I would say no one would let Eric get away with destroying a tower, but the rest of the episode puts that in doubt.

The Tower of Darkness begins to crumble.But before we can consider that, a huge chunk of the tower falls in front of Bobby and Uni. Sheila gasps and jumps up, dumping Hank, who was leaning against her, on the ground. But before any dramatic tension can be raised, Bobby destroys the stone. Why does he destroy the rock instead of walk around it? Who knows.

In any event, when Eric gets back to camp, he begs Bobby to open the lock on the box. Bobby refuses. “Dungeon Master told us to bring him the Box of Balefire, not open it, right?” Bobby asks. Well, Bobby, those two verbs — “bring” and “open” — don’t contradict each other. You can bring it to him after you open it. If it were truly dangerous, Dungeon Master would have told you not to open the box, perhaps after relating some thinly veiled version of the Pandora’s box legend. But no, he didn’t, so why not open it?

Eric asks Hank for permission to open the box, since he’s the leader, but Hank says, “Leader? Give me a break, Eric.” You’re not the leader? Then why do you boss everyone around? Anyway, Eric breaks open the flimsy lock with a stick he found lying around. He removes the pin that holds the latch closed, but just as he’s about to open it, Dungeon Master butts in. “Stop! Now move away from there, Cavalier … slowly.”

Blast of light from the Box of Balefire“This isn’t what it looks like, Dungeon Master,” Eric protests, in the tone of voice of someone who knows it is exactly what it looks like. But then the box growls, and Eric falls back. Before he can replace the pin in the latch, the box flies open, releasing a blast of light into the sky. Dungeon Master shuts the lid and replaces the pin as Shadow Demon, spying nearby, flies away. “Wh — what was that?” Eric stammers.

“It was a messenger,” Dungeon Master says, before adding they have released a being “more powerful” than any they have faced before, and now it is aware of their presence. So let’s add a few more questions: If the Box of Balefire contains a powerful evil, why not put a better lock on it? Why didn’t Dungeon Master warn the party of the immense danger? And — perhaps most importantly — why did he send them after the box in the first place, when it had been safe within the Tower of Darkness?

The answer to all of these is probably that the power of bad plotting compels him, but let’s not blame writer Michael Reeves; instead, let’s blame Dungeon Master, who sent the party into danger without warning them of the horrible consequences. Why not send the kids to fight a medusa without mirrors or a vampire without holy water or holy symbols or a rakshasa without a blessed crossbow bolt?

Outline of the party in a flame on Venger’s handBy this point, Shadow Demon has reported back to Venger, who is extremely upset. The box must be returned, he says, “before he finds out.” But it’s too late, according to Shadow Demon, as the box has already been opened. “He is returning,” Venger says, staring from his hilltop hideaway at the gathering clouds. Well, that’s ominous. “Shadow Demon, no matter what happens …” I will always love you?

No, that’s not Venger’s style. He has to hide his emotions, but not his true ambitions: “I will survive to see those accursed children punished. And I will crush them!” Good luck with that, bud. It’s not like you haven’t been trying in the past; I don’t see why this is going to give you extra motivation.

Meanwhile, Hank is firing arrows at the raging wind that started after the box was opened. Well, it becomes evident later that his arrows are now explosive, somehow, and he’s opening a pit in the ground, but we don’t know that for a little bit. Hank and Bobby lug the Box of Balefire toward the new pit as Eric says, “I thought only crooks buried their evidence!” (I’ll also note that Eric could carry the box while running, while it staggers “musclebound” Bobby and Hank.) They toss the box in, and Dungeon Master has Bobby use his club to cause an avalanche bury it. Why bury it now, a day late and a dollar short, when it holds no power? And again, if you wanted to bury the box now, why did you ever bring it into the light?

Venger’s castleEveryone follows Dungeon Master. When Eric asks “Captain Shortness” — Dungeon Master, not Bobby, who thinks Eric is talking to him at first — what’s going on, Dungeon Master responds, “We are running, Cavalier, for our very lives.” Eric finds it hard to believe this new danger is that dangerous: “You’re looking at old pros here. We’ve survived everything this silly Realm has dished out, from five-headed dragons to one-horned Vengers,” he says.

“Yeah! Everything except triple-eyed, double-fanged, flying purple people eaters,” Presto says, but Bobby says he got one of those last week. Even Hank is perplexed about what has scared Dungeon Master.

Venger sees what Dungeon Master and the party are fleeing from: a green-and-white column of light, surrounded by lightning, in the middle of a storm. The storm turns the earth to a black-and-red ruin after it passes. The storm heads to Venger’s tower, and Venger holds a one-sided dialogue with the storm — well, we understand only Venger’s side, as the storm replies in a garbled grumble. Venger says:
  • “Welcome, master.”
  • “Failure? No, master.”
  • “No! Dungeon Master will fall before me!”
  • “But I have not failed. I deserve no punishment!”

Venger confronts the stormNegotiations end there, and whatever the storm says causes Venger to fire his magic at the storm. It’s pointless defiance, though; the storm rolls over his hill outpost, destroying it and leaving a sea of broken, magma-laced earth behind. (Mustafar-like, I suppose.) The interaction between Venger and his “master” leads to more questions, but intriguing ones about their previous relationship: Did the storm tempt Venger into evil? Did he provide evil mentoring during an evil internship? Was theirs a Morgoth / Sauron relationship, or more of a Palpatine / Vader one? But most importantly, if the storm has the power to make Dungeon Master soil himself, why does he care whether Venger has destroyed Dungeon Master during his absence?

Meanwhile, the party’s still wasting time with visual gags. Presto’s pawing through his hat, looking for something to help, but the most useful items Presto has found are “a set of highway safety flares or — or a battery-powered emergency radio with no batteries or maybe a copy of Ranger Fred’s Guide to Survival in the Amazon.” When Presto says his hat needs a tune-up, Eric says, “First smart thing you’ve said all week.” So, two questions here: What did Presto think he was going to find— not just in his hat, but anywhere — that’s useful against a sentient god-storm? And why did Presto (and Eric) think the problem with the hat was an equipment failure, rather than operator error, as has been so often shown?

No time for those or any other questions! The storm has found them. Bobby wonders what the storm’s name is. Why that’s a pressing concern to Bobby is a good question, but as the answer is uninteresting — he’s a dumb kid — we’ll skip over it. “His name is not for your ears, Barbarian,” Dungeon Master says, and the direct address works both to specify who he’s talking to and as an insult. “He’s not life as we know it. He has many identities on many different worlds. But all know him as — Evil!” But the opening credits specify that Venger is … oh, never mind.

Wind swirls around Dungeon MasterBefore they can be struck by lightning / melted by magma, Dungeon Master teleports them away from the storm. Dungeon Master rises and says, without preamble: “The ruler of many universes, but his goal is to rule the entire cosmos — with Evil!” (You keep throwing the word “evil” around, and it will lose all meaning.) Teleporting is “fatiguing,” so unfortunately for DM and the kids, the storm finds them again within seconds. Not unfortunate for me — I’m enjoying Dungeon Master’s relative powerlessness and his lack of riddles. He hasn’t given the kids one yet!

To escape the storm, Dungeon Master teleports them again — “back where we started,” Bobby says. (There’s a gag with Eric, just as they teleport, falling for no apparent reason off the butte they had teleported onto, but I’ll skip over that.) “Where else can we run?” Hank says, and Dungeon Master has given in to hopelessness: “We may run no further. Let it end here, one way or the other.” When Bobby asks what’s going to happen, Sheila tries to soothe him — well, she says “Hush” and embraces him, which is as close as this episode’s going to get to an emotional response. Anyway, what’s going to happen is that you’re all going to die, Bobby.

Eric knows the score: “I’ll tell you what’s going to happen: Barbecue city, that’s what!” He also believes the others are all blaming him for opening the box. But Dungeon Master absolves him: “You asked, and then were given permission to open it, correct?” That’s not exactly what happened — Hank effectively said, “I dunno,” and Eric opened it anyway. In any event, Dungeon Master is shifting the blame from himself, for not warning the party, to Hank. It’ll be cold comfort if he can make it stick on Mr. Incompetence, but it will be some comfort.

Dungeon Master’s magic competes with the stormThe two stare at each other for a moment, with Hank breaking first. “I guess apologies won’t make any difference now,” Hank says. Now that he’s established his moral dominance again, Dungeon Master can dispense advice and try to rebuild his preferred puppet: “Never abandon your leadership, Ranger, nor your hope.” Not that his leadership amounted for much, but DM has to make sure his puppet remains leader so he can maintain control more easily.

Dungeon Master asks for their weapons for one final, desperate attempt to escape. Diana nervously asks if this is a test, but Dungeon Master doesn’t answer. “Listen carefully, my children. The instant before he strikes, he will reveal his face. No matter what happens, you must not look upon it.” That’s right: Don’t look, Marian.

The storm pauses, just long enough for Eric to ask if it’s “chicken,” then regret his insult. Then, as promised, it reveals its face. Eric sees it and is horrified, but to the disappointment of the children who had seen Raiders of the Lost Ark, no one’s flesh melts off. It’s disappointing, really: The storm’s true face is ugly, yes, but … I don’t know. It’s not face-meltingly awful. I guess we’ve seen more horrible monsters on the show, like whatever Venger turns into at the end of “The Girl Who Dreamed Tomorrow.”

The face in the StormIn any event, Eric faces no repercussions for looking at the Evil in the Storm, so why did Dungeon Master make a big deal about his warning? *sigh* Anyway, a beam of gray force rises from Dungeon Master and the party to meet the storm’s yellow blast. “He’s too powerful,” Dungeon Master says. “I cannot stop him!”

A bright yellow flash fills the screen. Everything explodes. Only a smoking crater is left where the kids and Dungeon Master were. Time for a commercial break!

***

When we come back, everyone’s in a cavern. Eric is amazed they’re alive, and even better, Dungeon Master is nowhere to be found. They may be lost in a sunless void, but things are looking up!

Well, until strange noises come from the darkness, and no one’s weapons work. And worst of all, Dungeon Master appears, falling from a ledge into Eric’s arms. He vanishes soon after that, but don’t get your hopes up: He returns. When he becomes solid, he says, “I have used nearly all of my power, and the power of your weapons, to transport us here to the Underworld.”

The use of “Underworld” raises more questions — Underworld, as in Undermountain? Or Underworld, as in Hades or Mictlān? But Hank is more curious about Dungeon Master’s well being, and no one seems interested in clarifying whether the shades of the dead will come thirsting for blood. (Or if they can get one of those shades to offer advice if they offer Uni’s blood.)

Dungeon Master claims He Who Cannot Be Named (No, Not That One, The Other One) believes they are dead, “and he may be right.” Does that mean Dungeon Master is unsure whether they are in Mictlān or Hel or one of the other many Underworlds? Or does he say that because he brought the party into the Underworld and can’t protect them, so they’ll die soon after he does? Ambiguous! What we do know is that Dungeon Master is out of power and needs to cross the Plains of Fire to the Center of the Underworld, where “I may replenish my power and that of your weapons in the Dungeon at the Heart of Dawn.” *ding ding ding* We have an episode title!

Dungeon Master’s weakness inspires Hank to take command: “Let’s move it! … Diana, you take the lead! Bobby, come with me! Presto and Sheila, stay close to Dungeon Master! And Eric —”

“I know,” Eric says. “I’ll take care of Dungeon Master. I … I sorta owe him one.” No! You owe him nothing! He has been using you for 21 episodes, and this time, he didn’t give you vital information — don’t open the box! — that would’ve easily avoided all this! Your ego is strong; why do you give in to this guilt? But I suppose that’s the price Eric has to pay for the show displaying for respect for him: He has to concede the rightness of the Getalong Gang.

Dungeon Master looks back in sorrow.As they move out, Dungeon Master looks back like a child being sold to strangers. I like that look of fear on his horrible little face!

Meanwhile, Shadow Demon has been spying on the kids; he and Venger are both in the Underworld, and both are almost out of power as well. Shadow Demon tries to attend to — maybe comfort? — Venger, but Venger won’t return that intimacy, shrugging off Shadow Demon. Venger is still obsessed with killing Dungeon Master, and he plans to follow the party and get to the Heart of Dawn, where, he says, “I will be the first to drink of its power, and the first to have my revenge.”

The party is on a narrow cliffside ledge. Someone pushes a boulder over the edge at them. Who is attempting to kill them? Shut up, that’s who! Anyway, Dungeon Master lacks the power to defeat that old trick, and only Presto leaping at him and Eric keeps them alive. Unfortunately (?), Presto falls over the edge. Welp, so much for Presto!

Hank completely fails to come close to helping Presto, who has fallen over a cliff.No, sorry, even though he flew over the edge in an impressive arc, he manages to cling to the cliffside on an even smaller ledge. The party tries to dangle Hank and his bow toward Presto, but it’s not close to being enough. “C’mon, guys, somebody think of something!” Sheila cries, but no one has the brainpower. I mean, they should’ve thought of “rope” (and backpacks, but that’s a different story) a long time ago. Presto encourages them to give up on him, which is a plan I would heartily endorse, except he also says they should come back for him. Hmm.

Hank tries to deny Presto his heroic sacrifice, but Presto points out if they don’t get Dungeon Master to the Heart of Dawn, they’re all screwed, so everyone gives in without a fight. Hooray for defeatism! As they walk away, telling him not to move and not to look down, Presto tells the cliff face, “Nice rock. Good rock.” Shut up, Presto. Just like me, rock does not care what you say or what you want.

Hey, they finally found some fire! It’s not a Plain of Fire, like Dungeon Master promised, though: It’s a river of fire. And in Dungeons & Dragons, where you have liquid fire / magma / lava, chances are you have salamanders! And boy, the salamanders — legless lizard people who love fire and sticking people with spears — come pouring out of the river. The leader bats Hank aside like he’s nothing, which he undoubtedly is, since he has no powers.

Salamander!But Diana … Although Presto has shown the party the essence of self-sacrifice is giving up and giving in, Diana shows she’s the better than that. With her gymnastic skills and a branch plucked from a nearby tree, Diana tells the others she can hold the salamanders off. Hank does not give her a second thought as he scurries away. The rest of the party follows.

(Geek aside: According to the Monster Manual, salamanders are native to the Elemental Plane of Fire. Is this the Elemental Plane of Fire? No. Salamanders prefer “temperatures of 300 degrees upwards, and they can abide lower temperatures only for a few hours.” Is the Underworld that hot? No. Salamanders are vulnerable to cold attacks, immune to fire attacks, and “affected only by magical weaponry … or with great strength,” so the party should be screwed.))

Meanwhile, Venger stumbles onto a Goblin band and the value of coalition building — or, I suppose, he is indulging his favorite hobby, which is bullying people. “Ugar, your master speaks,” he tells the Goblin leader. “I have a task for you. Now.” Ugar, fresh off bullying his own people, tries to call Venger’s bluff: “Well, it’s been a long time, Venger. Perhaps your powers are no longer strong enough to enslave us.” But Venger offers to give Ugar a taste of his power, and Ugar backs down immediately. Well, even the toughest Goblin is still a Goblin.

Purple wormDungeon Master and what remains of the party pushes into a tower, and Dungeon Master tells the kids they’re almost there — all they have to do is go down the stairs and get past the guardian. Well, if that’s all … What’s the guardian, you might ask? Well, it’s a purple worm! Don’t you know about the worm? Everyone’s heard about the worm!

The worm attacks the party, seeming to favor Eric. Is he the tastiest? Or maybe his metal boots makes him the easiest for the worm to track? In any event, the worm’s first attack knocks out the stairs between Eric and the rest, with Eric on the high side of the gap. As Dungeon Master fades in and out, Eric tells the others to “move out!” as he stays behind — not that he had much of a choice.

(Geek aside: A purple worm! A version of the creature with a different color scheme appeared in “The Garden of Zinn”; this one is much more traditional, looking almost exactly like the design was traced from the Monster Manual. To sum up: It’s a big digestive tract with teeth on one end, a stinger on the other, and vibration sense throughout its body. It’s also purple.)

Bobby, Hank, and Sheila stare into a green light.The guardian does a poor job of guardianing, as Sheila, Hank, Bobby, and Dungeon Master make it all the way to the bottom while the worm is distracted by Eric. Dungeon Master points out the Heart of Dawn, which is a green, glowing doorway. Is the green glow magic? Radiation? Colored lights? The kids don’t know, but that’s not going to stop them from heading toward it!

Of course, Venger and his goblins might have something to do with their willingness, especially since one of them is shooting red energy at them from the horns of his helmet. Hank sends the others into the light, saying, “I’ll stop Venger.”

That bit of optimism is misplaced, as the head goblin knocks him down with his magic blasts immediately. Nice job, Hank! Diana and Eric are holding three salamanders and a purple worm in check, respectively, and you let a bunch of goblins run past you. But Venger does stop, as he says Hank “is mine.” Hot! Bobby and Uni peel back to stop the Goblins, but Ugar and his magic helmet blasts Bobby’s club to a stump, and the other Goblins swarm him. Ugar and Shadow Demon keep their eyes on the prize, with Ugar grabbing (and ripping) Sheila’s cloak. Sheila then drops Dungeon Master into the chartreuse mists. “Farewell, Dungeon Master,” Shadow Demon says. Ugar blasts DM, who deflects it, then fades away.

Ugar the Goblin King(Geek aside: Goblins have been the punching bags of low-level adventurers in Dungeons & Dragons since the beginning, cowardly monsters that “enjoy dwelling in dismal surroundings” and “hate full daylight,” according to the Monster Manual. For higher-level adventurers, they can attack en masse — 40 to 400 at a time — and follow a king, the strongest in the area. Goblins are “fair miners,” “slave takers,” and are “fond of torture,” says the Monster Manual, but there’s nothing in the book about magic blasts from the head.)

Sheila shrieks Dungeon Master’s name, and then we get a glimpse of the others in trouble: Eric left on a narrow stump of stairs, looming over the long drop; Diana backed into a corner, her branch broken to a nub; Presto’s little ledge almost gone. I mean, we don’t see them for long enough for us to feel any suspense, but I appreciate the update. “Your time has come, Ranger,” Venger says to Hank, as he holds the Ranger at arm’s length like a new father holds a dirty diaper.

“You mean your time, Venger,” Hank says. Sick burn, dude. Dungeon Master has reapparated, then fell into a glowing green pool — the Heart of Dawn, evidently, although radioactive green seems a dumb color for “dawn” — before Venger can stop him. This causes a burst of energy, which causes the Goblins to run, and I don’t blame them. Venger does, though, and that’s whose opinion the Goblins should care about.

Dungeon Master arises from the green pool, encased in a purple gemAnyway, Dungeon Master emerges from the pool, encased in a purple gem. Why a gem? Why encased? What is that pool, anyway — I mean, “dawn” isn’t a satisfying descriptor. Try not to think about it — we’re almost to the end. Anyway, Dungeon Master’s re-emergence and repowering causes rejoicing in Hank, Sheila, Bobby, and Uni, and Dungeon Master starts setting things right. He teleports Diana out of danger first, which is smart, then does the same for Presto, which isn’t.

“Aren’t we … uh … missing somebody?” Hank asks. Good that you can remember Eric! That’s the way to encourage someone to behave better: Threaten to let them die or just forget about them entirely! Anyway, Dungeon Master teleports Eric into his presence just before he’s crushed by the worm. Eric is in awe of what he sees: “Wow, I guess this is what Heaven’s like.” Why does he think that? He’s in a crystal chamber lit by a green, glowing pool. Perhaps Eric’s theology is more complex and idiosyncratic than mainstream American religious thought would allow.

Venger arrives, just in time for Hank to capture him with his bow and prove that all the kids’ weapons are working now. “You have won nothing, Venger says. “We are doomed to hide forever in this accursed Underworld while He Whose Name Cannot Be Spoken rules the Realm.”

Venger, looking disgruntled“Well, I guess it’s time to head topside for a little heart-to-heart chat with old Whatshisname,” Hank says. Why has Hank forgotten the drubbing Ur-demort gave them before? A lingering traumatic brain injury, I’m guessing, but who knows? Dungeon Master agrees that it might be different this time, if Venger allied with them. He repowers Venger, gathers everyone in a circle, and says, “We may be attacked the very instant we return — that is, those of us who are not afraid to return.” Dungeon Master’s grade-school taunt makes Venger grumble like Sideshow Bob after stepping on a rake, but he doesn’t fancy staying in the Underworld either, so he joins the circle next to Eric and waits for the teleport.

Everyone returns to the Realm to find the Storm Who Can’t Be Tamed is gone. “Expect no gratitude from me, old man,” Venger says. “I shall not rest until I have destroyed all of you.” He then teleports away with Shadow Demon. Well, thanks for dropping in! You’re invited back next week to this locality, to have a heaping helping of Dungeon Master’s hospitality!

“Y’all come back now, you hear?” Sheila asks. No, she really asks, “Is he really gone?” I’ll give her points for not trusting Venger, but the non-storminess should be a tipoff that Venger’s not lying. Dungeon Master concurs with Venger’s declaration: “Yes, gone to wreak terror and destruction on other worlds. Still, we may have little time … until he returns.” The camera pulls back and reveals the greensward they’re standing on is an island in a sea of magma.

The party in a sea of devastationThat’s a chilling way to end the episode, which will never be followed up on ever again. Thank Bahamut this horrible cataclysm will have no real consequences that we will ever see!

There are no lessons to be learned from this episode. There are only questions and questions and more questions. Meditate on these non-kōans:
  • Is this episode the world’s worst unboxing video, created decades before the concept gained popularity?
  • Why did Venger think he’d receive mercy from a force of nature that devastates without thought, especially since he’d disobeyed / disappointed said force of nature?
  • If Hank had been given Presto’s hat, and vice versa, would Hank be as useless as Presto? Would Presto be the leader? (Of course not — Presto wears glasses! At best, he can be a nerd or an intellectual. Leaders of men [and girls] must be athletic types.)
  • If Hank isn’t a leader, though, then what is he?
  • Why is the Heart of Dawn said to be in a “Dungeon”? I mean, it’s a cavern, or the afterlife; a “dungeon” is a place where prisoners are kept in a castle, unless the cartoon is being metatextual and applying the game / cartoon definition to the Realm ...
  • Is this episode being metatextual? Or have we found the “dungeon” that Dungeon Master is master of?

Going home tally: No portal this time. The kids have found eight portals home; they’ve briefly gone through the portal twice.

Monster tally: Salamanders, Goblins, and a purple worm, all from the Monster Manual. Totals: MM: 42; FF: 6; L&L: 1; Dragon: 1.

Dungeons & Dragons #21: Child of the Stargazer

Child of the Stargazer title card

Original air date: 27 October 1984
Writer: Michael Reaves

It takes until the twenty-first episode — the eighth and final episode for Season 2 — for Diana to get her own story. Finally, some black girl magic! (Yes, I regret that sentence; no, I will not delete it.)

Anyway, if you were placing bets on why the creators of this cartoon have taken so long to get to Diana, I don’t think it’s because of racism; I’d lay good money on it being sexism, as Sheila hasn’t had her own episode either. (She was Ramoud’s favorite cult-child in City at the Edge of Midnight, and she gets some attention from the transformed Solars in The Garden of Zinn, but she hasn’t ever been the featured player.)

(If you need background on Dungeons & Dragons, you can read the introductory post. If you want to read my recaps in order, go here. If you want to follow along with this recap, you can watch “Child of the Stargazer” on Youtube. Since that is technically piracy, I will also point out — without judgment — that you can buy the series cheaply on physical media.)

The party sleeps in an idyllic settingThe story begins with Diana humming the closing theme as she bathes her face in a river. It’s a bucolic setting, with the rest of the party lazing on the grass. (It’s a gas, baby. Can you dig it?) Hank and Sheila are snuggled up together against a tree, Presto is getting high sniffing some white “flowers” (nudge, nudge), that immediately make him pass out. But their idyll is interrupted when a bush in the middle of their tableau starts rustling.

The group advances, weapons drawn, on the bush. Out of the bush comes a barefoot young man in a torn lavender tunic; Diana’s jaw drops, because this is the first human of color she’s seen since coming to the Realm. (I mean, the guy’s light skinned, but he’s obviously supposed to be a person of color.) The man stumbles toward Diana, moaning like a zombie / pervert, and falls into Diana’s arms. It’s not quite a meet-cute, but hey — they’ll have to take it.

Cut to a throne room, somewhere. (Realm geography is malleable at best, so who cares where we are?) The nervous King Travar — voiced by Peter Cullen, the voice of Venger, who is not going to show up this episode — is also in lavender. A cloaked woman, her face hidden, menaces the king. She mentions a prophecy — on Starfall, today, someone who just escaped the king’s dungeons can end the reign of the hooded queen — that we’re going to hear again and again until I’m begging for one of Dungeon Master’s riddles. The woman — the queen, as it turns out — has a scaly demon hand, so we know she’s not a good person. (It could be a dragon hand, but she’s called a demon throughout, so demon it is.) She tells the cowed king he will recover the escaped prisoner by tonight.

Queen Syrith points at the king with her demon fingerIt’s clear what the deal is: The young man who fell into Diana’s arms is the prisoner, he’s the one the prophecy concerns, and — anticipating many ‘90s movies and the Obama presidency — since things are really bad, an African-American is going to have to save all these white folks. It’s sad, though: Even Diana’s story of true love involves rich white people. I mean, one of those white people is at least half demon, but I’m sure some African-American readers (if there are any here) will tell me I just repeated myself.

Back at camp, Uni holds a washcloth for the young man while he finishes up his grooming. He thanks Presto for his help, including an “electric razor.” First of all, this guy didn’t need a razor of any type, and secondly, in previous episodes electric implements conjured by Presto didn’t come with electricity. Maybe Presto’s getting better at his magic, but I doubt it.

Kosar with his hand on his faceThe young man introduces himself as Kosar, which is weird: The guy sounds vaguely like Michael Jackson but has the name of a white quarterback. (When this episode came out, Bernie Kosar was in his second and final year as a starting quarterback for the University of Miami (Fla.) Hurricanes; in his freshman year, 1983, the Hurricanes won the national title. He became a mediocre pro.) He has an awkward moment with Diana, holding her hand a little too long and asking the others her name, like she isn’t right in front of him.

The voice of Dungeon Master, suddenly urging him to tell his story, scares Kosar, but Diana says Dungeon Master is on their side — that’s debatable — and Sheila says, “Dungeon Master knows everything!”

“Hey, let’s not go overboard!” Eric protests, and Dungeon Master agrees with him. Once again, Eric is the one with the clearest eyes on the issues. But, Dungeon Master says, he does know of “a hundred thousand souls living in terror, hoping tonight they would be free.” Dungeon Master is referring to the people of Turad and “an old, old prophecy.” A prophecy! Why didn’t you say so? If there’s anything we’ve learned, it’s that these kids are suckers for vaguely worded directions. Say something obscurely enough, and these kids will sell out their best interests to fulfill whatever they think you want.

Dungeon MasterIn this case, it’s a prophecy “a thousand years old.” Dungeon Master conjures a TV to illustrate the prophecy: “And on the night of Starfall, the child of the Stargazer shall come from a faraway land to stand in the Temple of Light. The demon shall be banished, and the child shall journey home.” Hank asks what that prophecy means, which seems stupid to me; it seems self-explanatory. What he really wants is context, but he’s too dumb to ask for it.

In any event, Dungeon Master says clarification must come from the child of the Stargazer. “Help the child do what must be done,” he says, “and you will see the way home.” Oh, that’s nice — he’s merely guaranteeing they will see the way home. Not that they’ll even get within an arms-breadth of the portal, but they will see it. The distinction is lost on the excited party, of course.

When Sheila asks who the child of the stargazer is, Kosar says he’s the child, as his father was an astrologer. When he was 8 years old, Queen Syrith found out and locked him up, despite having committed no crime. (He doesn’t say whether he’s made a few bad mistakes.) The party wants to help Kosar back to Turad, but he just escaped that morning, and besides, it’s too dangerous. “You’re looking at guys who defeat wicked queens for breakfast,” Eric says, inviting trouble. “Relax! The situation’s under control.”

And then the queen’s attack comes, via riders mounted on flying beasts and wielding laser lances. (If I had to guess, I’d say they were riding wyverns, but it’s more likely they are new creatures; these are too bat-like.) “Laser lances” are the laziest weapons a writer can think of in a fantasy story: the blasts have undefined effects, the weapons have a martial look without being too threatening or upsetting to kids, and the sound f/x guys don’t have too work to hard to think about what to insert into the soundtrack.

The attack scatters the kids, depriving Hank of calling out his signature strategy to the party. “Dungeon Master, who are those guys?” Sheila asks after diving into the river and floating next to Dungeon Master’s rock, but he’s gone. Sheila is somehow surprised. C’mon: There’s danger. You’re going to have to face it by yourself. You always have to face it by yourself. You should know this.

Presto pulls a mirror from his hatWhile Hank fires back, Diana stashes Kosar under the cover of a large boulder. Bobby knocks a laser blast back at the attackers with his club, Eric hides behind his shield, and Presto fumbles for something, anything to help: “Abra-kazam, I mean, alla-cadabra — ah, just give me something … anything!” For a second, I thought Presto had pulled out a noose, but it’s only a mirror, which he uses to reflect a blast back at a rider and destroys his lance.

Diana, using acrobatics, lures a rider close and unseats him, knocking him into the river. Unfortunately, she did not take the aerial riding non-weapon proficiency, and she falls herself. Fortunately, a tree is nearby, and she uses it to slow her fall enough that she doesn’t drive Kosar’s pelvis three feet into the ground when he incompetently tries to catch her. They share a laugh as they sort out their bent, spindled, and mutilated limbs. Oh, this attack is such fun! (This would have been a better meet-cute than Kosar staggering into her arms.)

As Hank desultorily fires his bow nearby, Diana tells Kosar, “Hey, you’re pretty good!” Yeah, just like that other Kosar: good at getting slammed into the turf at a critical moment. Kosar rightly deflects the compliment, saying Diana was “magnificent.” Diana blushes and tries to deflect that compliment, but Hank won’t let her: “Diana’s made first place in the state gymnastic finals two years straight.” This is likely word salad to Kosar, but good for you, Hank! Recognizing the greatness of team members is a characteristic of a good leader. Eric can’t resist chiming in as well: “Yeah, she’s got enough gold medals to start her own bank … for you to rob.” (He’s a criminal, because he was locked up for a decade, you see.)

Hank and Diana chat with Kosar while the others look onThe beasts and their riders retreat to Turad. Kosar, who’s a bit of a downer, says they’ll be back with reinforcements. Before he’s finished speaking, the party is already heading to Turad — and they won’t let Kosar dissuade them. (When Kosar tries to stop them, he calls out, “Hank, Eric —” Good to know he doesn’t think the others are worth convincing.)

I have to admit: I enjoy the party having a newbie around. It makes them look competent, for once. Eric conveys that confidence: “Would you relax? It’s simple! We get you to the city, you stand in that Temple of Light, you save your people, and we go home, just like Dungeon Master said. Piece of cake!” Technically — again — Dungeon Master said you’d see the way home, Eric.

Bobby agrees with Eric: “The queen will probably thank us for getting rid of the demon for her. Piece of cake!” I’m not sure why Bobby believes in the queen’s goodness; I mean, Kosar literally told us she locked up an 8-year-old boy for being the son of an astrologer. Evidently American schools were failing students in critical listening skills way back in the ‘80s.

“No!” Kosar shouts. “Queen Syrith is the demon!” Although Bobby missed the point of your extraordinary incarceration story, Kosar, you could have led with that fact. That failure causes Eric to groan. “Hold the cake,” he says. Well, I thought it was a funny bit. All that’s missing is a needle scratch after Kosar’s revelation.

The city of Turad, from a distanceBack in Turad, Queen Syrith rages at underlings for letting Kosar escape just before Starfall. At the same time, King Travar’s son — Prince Drogar, who has an appropriate Prince Valiant haircut — tells his father they must get the Temple of Light open, or freeing Kosar will come to nothing. “We will open the temple,” Travar says, “but not this way.” What’s “this way”? Drogar demonstrates: charging the temple door with a sword. A blast of purple lighting repels him spectacularly when he does. Drogar, you will be surprised to learn, is a moron. Travar tells Drogar, “The temple cannot be opened that way,” which would have been helpful information before he ran into the queen’s spell. “Syrith’s magic seals it. But there is another way.”

If you have watched this cartoon more than once — or, I suppose, read more than one of my recaps — you know that when the story cuts back to the kids during a journey, someone will be complaining, and the physical demands of the journey are irrelevant to the amount of complaining. In this case, it’s Presto who asks the Realm equivalent of “Are we there yet?” as they walk among grassy hills sprinkled with wildflowers. Hank, relying on Kosar’s vague directions, thinks they’ll make it in time for Starfall, even though everyone is huffing and sweating already.

Eric with wide eyesThat reminds Sheila that, oh yeah, Kosar’s a thing that exists, even though he’s not within her sight. (Magic does horrible things to one’s sense of object permanence, I suppose.) So where is he? “Back there, with Diana,” Eric says, “in love.” When Bobby remembers he has a pet and asks where it is, Eric tells him Uni is “back there, with Kosar, in love.”

Then we get to the mushy stuff, with roses and discussions of the worlds Kosar and Diana come from. Both, as it turns out, thinks the other comes from a weird place. Both are right. “Of course, [the Realm] can be pretty wonderful, sometimes,” Diana says. “Like now.” Aww. Uni agrees, so Kosar tucks a rose into Uni’s weird unicorn bangs. When they hear Bobby calling for Uni, Diana says, “I guess we better get going.” They hold hands — Kosar and Diana, that is, not Uni and Kosar. That would be silly; Uni doesn’t even have any hands.

When Bobby asks Eric where Uni is, Eric says, “Too bad, old buddy. Better get used to it. She’s run off with another guy … Sorry, short stuff — it happens to the best of us.” As Eric considers himself the best of anyone, he should know. But Bobby takes issue with the phrase “short stuff,” causing Eric to rip off Steve Martin: “Well, excuuuuuuse me!

Syrith’s demon and human hands handle a foaming beakerBack in Turad, Queen Syrith rants again. I’m beginning to think she’s not the most stable monarch in the Realm. I’m also confused with her place in the governance of Turad; with a king who presumably handles the day-to-day stuff and releases political prisoners when it’s expedient, what does Syrith do? Handle foreign policy? Life the life of a hedonistic sybarite? Enjoy her hobbies, which are chemistry, ritual murder, and exploiting the fears of the rabble? Who knows. What she’s doing now is throwing Ehrlenmeyer flasks at the wall and casting spells by mixing chemicals, which is a novel way of doing manipulating arcane energies. “Kosar is out there somewhere,” she says as a beaker bubbles. “I cannot risk waiting for him any longer. I must bring him here … now!”

This seems like a poor idea to me. If I needed to keep a prophecy from being fulfilled, one that required a certain person to be in a certain spot at a certain time, I would not bring that person to the city he (or she) needed to be in, just moments from the prophecy’s deadline. I’d wish that person into a cornfield on the other side of the world and see if the little dweeb could make that journey in time. Of course, it’s a prophecy, and if it’s a true prophecy, you can’t beat it. Still: the farther away he (or she) is, the happier I’d be.

Meanwhile, the party has descended into rocky, barren canyons, which shouldn’t make anyone believe they’re nearing Turad; as we saw before, Turad is located on a grassy hill spangled with wildflowers. It doesn’t seem like this canyon should be within a few hours’ walk of that pleasant land, but what do I know? Kosar’s the one guiding them, and as long as he’s not supposed to be guiding them to the Super Bowl, I suppose we’ll just have to trust him.

Diana stands over Kosar, defying a tornadoAnyway, Kosar is uneasy. “You ever get the feeling something’s going to happen … something, I don’t know —” Diana laughs away his concerns, saying he’s among friends, as if the power of friendship will make you immune from evil magic or a hail of arrows or a sword thrust. “And guess what,” she says, “we have something in common ... We’re both from far-away places.” Diana’s about to admit she’s a child of the stargazer too when the queen’s spell-created tornado arrives. Perhaps Kosar and Diana would have been OK if they’d taken Eric’s advice to take cover, as the tornado seems to be made up of only penciled squiggles. But no, Diana has to yell defiantly at the tornado, and as we all know, weather hates you and your defiance. The tornado envelops them, then disappears, taking both Diana and Kosar and leaving only sparks.

With no parents to ask if they’re trying to catch flies, everyone is left with gaping mouths. “Hank, where are they?” Sheila asks. “Where’d they go?” Hank says he doesn’t know, which is both fair and useless. It’s also a pretty anticlimactic way to go into the commercial break!

***

Diana and Kosar in a magical vortexIt turns out Diana and Kosar are in a magical vortex, which dumps them (for a ten-yard loss) in Syrith’s lab. Syrith is surprised to see she’s stolen two children — the spell was supposed to bring only the child of the stargazer — but she’s determined to make lemonade out of her two captives. Perhaps literally!

Diana has other ideas: “Having us and holding us are two different things,” she says, and I don’t think that’s a comment on the patriarchal nature of wedding vows, but who knows? Diana’s possibly the smartest of the kids. She knocks over a couple of magical doohickeys, which spout smoke, and then goes for a window while Syrith fires magic wildly. “Jump!” she tells Kosar, who asks, “Are you crazy?” Look, buddy, I know the impulse is to not jump when you’re high above a city like that, but you’ve seen Diana in action, and there’s an evil sorcerer-demon queen after you. As a child of the ‘80s, you should know the correct answer is: “Might as well jump!

Diana outdoes herself this time, though. She tells Kosar to grab on to her, then streamlines herself so she falls even faster past many stories on the tower. I’ve complained about the cartoon making physics cry several times, but I suppose if any of the party should have a power that makes the laws of motion weep in frustration, it would be the acrobat. She sticks her staff into a gargoyle’s mouth, and being magic, it doesn’t break; instead, it catapults her and Kosar safely onto a nearby roof, then bounces into her hands. “I don’t believe we did that,” Kosar says mildly. Well, you know what I don’t believe, Kosar? That you kept losing to the Broncos in the AFC title game. But both are true, aren’t they, so we should both adjust our expectations.

Diana pats Kosar on the head“Hey, I do that sort of thing all the time,” Diana says. “Twice on Tuesdays.” When Kosar is incredulous, Diana has to admit she’s joking (not joking) to protect his fragile male ego. When Syrith snipes at them from the tower, Kosar takes charge, promising to lead Diana to the Temple of Light.

“You will never reach the Temple of Light!” Syrith cries. “Never!” Well, they never would have made it if you hadn’t had teleported them into the city, either, so save some of that anger for yourself.

Back in the canyons, Hank is firing signal arrows into the air. “What is this, the Fourth of July?” Eric asks. “Even if Diana and Kosar could see the flares, which they can’t, they couldn’t signal back! I still say if we find that city, we’ll find them.” Eric’s right, of course, and Hank’s whining about not knowing how to find the city should remind everyone he neither procured maps of the area nor conferred with Kosar on directions before Kosar disappeared. That Hank is simply firing signal arrows into the air rather than scouting or planning shows what a poor leader he is.

Hank’s flare arrow erupts over the canyonPresto pulls a map from his hat, but as a frustrated Eric says, it turns out to be a map of Pittsburgh. “I’ve found better stuff from the bottom of a cereal box than in that dumb hat.” Bobby wants to know if Eric has a better idea. But he already had the better idea: find the city! Bobby trying to discredit Eric by showing Eric doesn’t have all the answers may be logical for a child, but the others should realize you don’t have to have all the answers for some of your solutions to be valid. If you’re not surrounded by morons, intellectual collaboration is fruitful.

Instead, Eric points at Dungeon Master, who plays innocent at the intraparty squabble: “Dear me,” he says. “What caused all this?” Oh, that’s rich, coming from you, the most unhelpful being in the Realm. Sheila asks for help without riddles, and Dungeon Master yammers on about how Kosar has to get to the temple and that he’s in the city of —

At that point, Eric cuts him off, saying “we” thought of that, graciously sharing credit with the others. Careful, Eric — that Getalong Gang nonsense is rubbing off on you. What they need is navigational aid. Dungeon Master provides that — follow the first star of the evening — but he can’t help adding his own prophecy: “One among you will have to choose between home and the heart.” I’m not sure what’s so amazing about that star, but the party’s attention is locked on it. Dungeon Master disappears while the party gawps.

Syrith’s guards patrol the streetsBack in the city, Diana and Kosar avoid Syrith’s weirdly garbed and armed guards. Kosar wants to get Diana out of the city before heading to the temple, but let’s face it: Kosar’s an idiot. Diana is at least — at least! — five times the hero Kosar is, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned since this cartoon originally aired, it’s that Kosar is never going to lead you to victory. “I care about you, more than I can explain,” Kosar says, and Diana reciprocates. Kosar tries to play up Syrith’s otherworldly, demonic nature — something the animation, unfortunately, doesn’t back up — and says he doesn’t want Diana to be there if Syrith wins, but Diana is finally able to tell Kosar she’s the daughter of an astronomer, so she’s just as much a child of a stargazer as he is.

At this point, the prince shows up, promising to show them a secret way into the temple. Convenient! Slightly less convenient: Starfall begins at that moment. Turns out, Starfall is a glow in the sky. I wouldn’t have called that glow “Starfall,” but who am I to judge? (Oh, yes, that’s right: I’m the one writing this. I get to judge everything.) The guards spot them at that moment, chasing them, but the prince leads them to safety into the sewers.

The dim glow that is Starfall!Cut to: The party, running across a bridge. Starfall is a dim glow, off somewhere; perhaps it’s localized entirely within Kosar’s kitchen. “I can’t believe you tried to distract those guards by pulling a rabbit out of your hat!” Eric shouts. Don’t knock it, Presto says: “How many six-foot tall rabbits have you seen before?” As I’m not Elwood P. Dowd, the answer is zero, but then again, even large rabbits are not renowned for their fighting prowess.

“Cut the chatter!” Hank says, a phrase he’s probably held in his back pocket for weeks, if not months, so he can sound macho and stern, just like his dad. (I’m assuming.) He’s concentrating on finding the temple, but as Bobby notes, they’ve just stumbled over it and its large contingent of guards. The queen herself is outside as well. “You are in league with the child of the Stargazer, and you will share his fate!” Syrith says before removing her half-cowl and exposing her demonic half. Eric, Bobby, and Uni are repulsed.

When Syrith fires a blast at them, Hank shouts his lone contribution to battle strategy: “Scatter!” Everyone does their own thing, at that point: Eric makes a heroic charge toward the guards and Syrith, up the temple steps; Hank fires an arrow that wraps up five guards (ugh); Bobby slams the ground with his club, causing the stone to ripple like waves and topple more guards. (Again, physics is taking a holiday, or maybe a sick day; wish it a speedy recovery!) I assume Sheila and Presto are doing something, although if I’m being honest, that “something” is probably “cowering.” Eric is amazed to have reached the entrance, but Syrith is there to blast him. Thankfully, we aren’t forced to hear any gibbering from him, although it would have been justified.

The Temple of Light’s interiorWhile the chaos is in full bloom outside, the king and prince open a panel and let Kosar and Diana into the Temple of Light. Turns out the Realm takes its cues from the past — not just the Middle Ages but the Disco Era. The temple looks like a sci-fi disco, something I imagine could have been in the movie Xanadu. (I admit: I haven’t seen it.) Other than the glimmering disco ball and ziggurat, though, it’s very minimal; I suppose it’s probably packed on Saturday nights, when Tony Manero and / or Capt. Ted Striker shows off his moves.

Outside, Eric is showing his heroism by absorbing Syrith’s blasts off his shield until she misses and hits the temple doors. (Syrith is doing everything wrong at this point. She needs to calm down, take a moment, and work out what to do … well, she needed to do that before, but you understand what I’m saying.) She sees Kosar and Diana running up the disco ziggurat and shouts, “Kosar! Don’t!”

A giant fireball comes from the heavens and drops through the hole above the roof before hitting the disco ball, unleashing the prophesied Disco Inferno. Or something. Diana and Kosar share a tender-ish moment, with Diana grabbing Kosar’s arm and saying tearfully, “Remember me!” while Kosar responds, “Always. And always.” Kosar sounds like a man who would love to exchange romantic pleasantries, but — alas — has some very pressing tax forms to fill out in triplicate. Sorry.

Syrith’s half human, half demon face.Perhaps incensed by this lack of emotion, Syrith attacks, shouting, “Never!” as she blasts Kosar in the back. He falls backwards — again, physics is very ill, keep it in your thoughts — into Diana’s arms, even though she’s several steps away from the top. When a tear does not resuscitate her handsome son of an astrologer, Diana dashes for the light. Hank wraps up Syrith with an arrow, but he also shouts out for Diana to stop.

Diana does not stop. Diana knows what to do better than you do, Hank. She steps into the light, shouts, “Let the prophecy be fulfilled!,” and turns into the glowing MEGA DIANA. This is the point the animation company, Toei, was waiting for; their effects as Mega Diana bestows her mega light on Syrith, first removing her human half, then banishing her to hell (or somewhere), are the only inventive bits of animation in the episode.

After that, everyone stands agog at Mega Diana. “Behold!” she proclaims, showing a portal home. Everyone’s thrilled, except for Debbie Downer herself, Sheila. “Wait!” she says. “Diana, he’s hurt! Dungeon Master said one among us must choose between home and the heart. If we go home, Kosar won’t survive. … You’ve got to choose!”

Diana, in her large, made-of-light-formThe portal goes away. Mega Diana hits Kosar with her inner light, which somehow causes them to trade places. “Kosar, don’t leave me!” she says.

“Fear not, my love, for you are my life,” Kosar says. “You shall live in my life forever, for all the Starfalls to come.” That’s not what she meant, dipstick. He finishes, with the enthusiasm of a man consenting to having a cavity filled, “Let the prophecy be fulfilled.” Kosar turns to light and blasts off into space —that’s one way to ghost someone — leaving Diana behind. The king sympathizes but thanks Diana for what she has done. “You have done more good than you will ever know,” he says. But Diana says he’s lost Kosar. Because things look their worst, it’s time for Dungeon Master to show up and salve the pain with empty, empty words.

“You knew him a long, long time ago,” he says, “and you shall know him again in times to come.” This confuses Diana, and makes me gag on the New Age mysticism. Where has he gone, Dungeon Master? “To a place among the stars, a place beyond your understanding. He has gone home, but he will remember you, and you shall meet him again.” So is this another f@&#ing alien story? I’d say I’m confused — is Dungeon Master referring to reincarnation, or does he think Black people have some sort of eternal form of connection with each other? — but that would imply I care enough in DM’s vagueness to want to unravel it. To Diana, I’d say: He loved you and left you. Hold that pain tight, don’t let it go, and use it when you need it.

Turad after the prophecy has been fulfilledThere is a clamor outside, ringing bells and shouting, and Dungeon Master tried to take Diana’s mind off his mystic bullshirt: “Do you hear? Do you hear what you have done? … Listen to the people you have set free!” Are they singing the songs of angry men, the music of the people who will not be slaves again? King Travar and Prince Drogar should be careful that in this wave of freedom they are not subject to reprisals from the people who resent the royal dynasty’s impotence over generations of tyranny from an unholy oppressor. On the other men, there are those weirdly dressed men who are armed with laser lances, just standing around doing nothing … I wonder if, in a generation, the people of Turad will be saying how much better things were during the reign of Queen Syrith.

Anyway, learning lessons is better than regime change. (Isn’t it?) Think hard about these lessons, if you wish to avoid history’s pitfalls:
  • Interracial relationships were no more popular in the Realm in 1984 than they were in America, so if you are a member of a racial minority and want to find romantic happiness, you’re just going to have to wait until the right (colored) person shows up.
  • In some situations, keeping your enemies close (or closer) does not work. Exiling them to the other side of the world or executing them is a far superior choice.
  • Magic could literally remove your sense of object permanence, if used correctly.
  • The governmental duties of demons are flexible but sometimes vital to a small republic.
  • Do not shout your defiance to a storm; it never ends well.
  • Disco balls are anathema to demons.
Going home tally: Another portal! That makes a total of eight portals home; two of those times (although not this time) they’ve briefly gone through the portal.

Monster tally: None this time. Totals: MM: 39; FF: 6; L&L: 1; Dragon: 1.

Dungeons & Dragons #20: The Dragon's Graveyard

The Dragon’s Graveyard title card

Original air date: 20 October 1984
Writer: Michael Reaves

“The Dragon’s Graveyard” has the reputation of being the best episode of the Dungeons & Dragons series, and after watching the episode a few times to write this post, I have to agree.

Most of the attention given to the episode centers around the moral choice the kids make, whether to kill Venger or not. And make no mistake: that was a major departure from most kids’ fare at the time. (They never use the word “kill,” though.) But the journey to arrive at that decision makes this episode stand out as well. Really, at times I almost forgot all the horrible decisions the series has made up to this point because in this episode, the party acts like we might expect real teenagers (and one pre-teen) to act.

That being said, I’m still going to make fun of some parts.

(If you need background on Dungeons & Dragons, you can read the introductory post. If you want to read my recaps in order, go here. If you want to follow along with this recap, you can watch “The Dragon’s Graveyard” on Youtube. (It has the Season 1 intro.) Since that is technically piracy, I will also point out — without judgment — that you can buy the series cheaply on physical media.)

The frost giant prepares to strikeWe start the adventure already in progress, with the party battling a frost giant in a mountainous, icy wasteland. (You can tell this giant is a frost giant because he’s standing in snow.) This sort of in media res start is an excellent choice for the show, as it a) starts the show with a little action, b) minimizes Dungeon Master’s BS, and c) provides a convenient excuse for why the previous episode is being ignored. Thus, we don’t have to watch the scene in which Varla wises up and kicks Presto to the curb, nor do we have to watch the weeks of Presto’s weeping and moping that follows. That’s a real time saver! (Although I would have liked seeing some of Presto’s emotional anguish.)

The party does their usual BS combat routine — that is, Hank yells, “Scatter!,” then fires an arrow — but even though none of the humans are wearing winter clothes and Bobby and Diana have a great deal of their torsos exposed, it’s Uni who freezes in the giant’s path. Bobby dives and saves Uni from becoming a reddish-white blotch on the giant’s club. “If anything ever happened to you, I’d —” Bobby says, stopped by either emotion or Uni’s tongue on his face.

Eric cowers behind his shield, waiting for someone to do something — because really, what else can he do? He doesn’t even bash Orcs with his shield. Bobby, eager to get some revenge on the giant who threatened his pet, cuts off the giant and says, “My club might not be as big as yours,” as the two clubs hit each other and the giant’s club is destroyed, “but it’s just as strong!”

The frost giant contemplates his broken clubNo, Bobby: You just proved yours is stronger. Not just as strong: stronger. You see, you pit the strength of your club against the strength of — oh, never mind. Anyway, the giant wants to step on Bobby, but Bobby smashes the snowpack, which dissolves under the giant’s feet. Hank shoots the giant in the face, and he topples over, landing face-first on the edge of the glacier.

Then the snowpack collapses, and the giant falls, presumably to his death. A fun way to start the episode! And then the giant’s wife and son come out, shouting about giantkind’s “Stand your rock” laws, allowing for the defense of hearth and home, and threatening to have the kids arrested for giantslaughter, and Eric has to call a lawyer — no, not really. But it would be an interesting way to celebrate the kids’ first murder!

(Geek aside: Frost giants were one of the six different kinds of giants in the Monster Manual, along with cloud, fire, hill, stone, and storm giants. Like hill giants, frost giants are chaotic evil, but unlike hill giants, they live in castles and use winter wolves as watchdogs. Like most of the other giants, they like hurling rocks at people. This one does not, which is parhaps why a bunch of teenagers — well, mostly a tween — kills him.)

The portal home”Now what?” Eric asks. “Dungeon Master said, ‘The fire in the ice will show us the way home.’” Conveniently, the kids spot a beam of light shining from an icy peak into a glacier. Hank shoots the glacier, and it opens up — that’s another use for Hank’s bow, as a key for locked glaciers — revealing a portal home. The kids immediately start counting their pullets even though said pullets have not yet emerged from their shells.

Which is unfortunate, because one blast from Venger crushes those shells (metaphorically speaking) and the portal home (literally speaking). “Venger,” Hank says, unsurprised but with an edge in his voice.

“So you have defeated the frost giant I sent against you,” Venger says. Defeated? They killed him, Venger. “I will not be so easy to deal with.” But rather than blasting the kids with his generic energy blasts — which, to be fair, has never worked — Venger uses his magic to re-lock the glacier. With the walls of solid ice closing in, Hank shoots an arrow into one of the walls, melting a path just as the glacier locks together. Soon after, Bobby smacks the kids’ way out of the ice fort with his club

Bobby sits, disconsolateFor once, everyone is glum. We don’t often see much aftermath of their failures; when we do, everyone is happy to be alive. Not this time, though. Sheila tries to raise everyone’s spirits: “C’mon, guys, cheer up! It’s not the end of the world.” No one’s buying what she’s selling, though; as Eric says, “It’s a close second.” He then trips over Bobby’s club and snaps at the boy, who snarls back. Eric apologizes, but the damage has been done. Bobby drops his club, collapses, and starts crying.

“Sis,” he says, “I hate this … I don’t want to be in this world any more. I want Mom and Dad … and our house … and my friends.” It’s an affecting moment, really. Teddy Fields III doesn’t get a chance to do much with Bobby other than be slightly angry or sarcastic, but here he gets a chance to show real emotion, and he makes the most of it.

As Sheila comforts Bobby, Eric fumes impotently. “This is all Venger’s fault,” he says. “We ought to do something about that guy.” To Eric’s sweaty consternation, Hank agrees with Eric: “The only chance we have of getting out of this world is if we take care of Venger once and for all.”

Sheila hugs BobbySheila is skeptical: “Nobody can stop Venger — not even Dungeon Master!” I’d quibble about that —Dungeon Master could stop Venger, but he just doesn’t want to put in the effort — but Hank points out that Tiamat is strong enough to defeat Venger, and he sticks with the idea even when Eric points out the insanity of dealing with Tiamat. “You got any better ideas?” he asks Eric, who has nothing to say, for once. “I didn’t think so.”

Well. I have to say: I like this steely Hank. He gives the impression of someone who is thinking ahead. More importantly, all traces of his Get-Along-Gang personality have been sloughed away, or at least hidden.

After Hank tells everyone to move out, Presto says, “This is going to be dangerous. Better keep our eyes open.” This is the “comedy” cue, as Presto almost steps on Dungeon Master, who appears like he’s been waiting for the party in power-saving mode.

Presto almost steps on Dungeon Master“I am sorry that your quest for a way home met with failure,” he says as he comes to life. “Perhaps you will have better luck in the future.” Ah, subtle negging from Dungeon Master: The way the kids will succeed is if they have luck, presumably because their competence is minimal. It’s not like they could complete any of his arbitrary missions and get home without a random events conspiring to make it happen. But if they want to win his love — er, if they want to go home — he has another mission for them: “The Duke of Darkness has taken over the land of —”

But Hank is having none of this. “We only want to hear two things,” he sternly tells the magic gnome. “How do we find Tiamat, and how do we use her to beat Venger once and for all?”

Dungeon Master tries to regain control with some Yoda-grade bullshirt: “Do not let your anger control you. The course you are taking … can only lead … to … ruin.” But the kids aren’t giving in, forming a tight circle around Dungeon Master. “So it has come to this.” He shakes his head. He’s not angry; he’s just disappointed that the kids are thinking for themselves. “Tiamat lives where the dragons go to die, the place that is the source of your weapons: the Dragons’ Graveyard.”

Dungeon Master stares aghast at Hank’s midsection You may remember Dungeon Master mentioning a similar-sounding landmark having a relationship with the kids’ weapons before, way back in the third episode, “The Hall of Bones.” But the Hall of Bones (and its Skull of Power) only recharge the weapons. That’s totally different, although that leaves the possibility that there are other places that can empower the kids’ weapons as well.

Dungeon Master continues, “As for how to use her to overcome Venger —” Hank interrupts, saying he doesn’t want any riddles. As riddles are one of DM’s raison d’etre, he snaps back, “Ask her! She may help you. But then, she may not.” Dungeon Master, beaten, tries for some last-minute sympathy: “May I go now?” When the kids don’t reply, he walks off, only to be pursued by Hank, asking for directions to the Dragons’ graveyard. Dungeon Master responds, with his voice trailing away at the end as he vanishes, “You carry the way with you. Let it begin with you, Ranger.”

As they prepare to head out, Sheila raises the question of what they’ll do when they “get” Venger. This is surprising depth from her. Hank says, “Whatever it takes,” which is the same ol’ muddle-headed shallowness we’ve come to expect from the party leader, dressed up in hard words spoken in a hard voice. Which — combined with his Aryan good looks — suggests Hank may have a future in (a different, more easily led party’s) political leadership!

***

Venger rants as Shadow Demon shrinks backShift to the villains. Shadow Demon has been exploring the glacier, but he’s found nothing inside — no trace of the kids or their weapons. Or, I guess, of the tunnel they used to escape. For some reason, he entered the glacier without damaging it, but he bursts through the ice to escape. Maybe he’s not willing to take the time to slip through cracks on his way out.

Venger is livid at the news, and he takes out his frustrations on the landscape, destroying the glacier. “The disappearance of glaciers can be traced to tantrums by magical supervillains,” says Hank on a Sunday morning chat show, years after returning from the Realm. “You never hear the lamestream media point that out when they talk about so-called ‘global warming’!” Even though he has been trained on a steady diet of Trump nonsense, the interviewer has no follow-up question, and is thereby “owned.”

***

Cut back to the party. After a wordless interlude connected to nothing, with Hank staring soulfully across a desert landscape from a rocky spire, the kids traipse across a desert, wondering what Dungeon Master meant with his final riddle. When Bobby says the only thing he carries is his club, Eric realizes their weapons are the key. (Also: there’s a bit of physical “comedy” that isn’t very funny, in which Eric’s shield catches Presto under the chin and keeps him suspended, feet off the ground. I didn’t laugh, but I’m happy Eric wasn’t the one suffering, and I’m also happy that the hypocrites in the Get-Along Gang don’t call him on it.) Diana points out whatever they do, it has to begin with Hank, so Hank draws his bow …

Venger attacks on his nightmare as lightning flashesAnd Venger attacks. “Your time has run out!” Venger says, beginning his bombing run, as lightning flashes in the background. I know Venger is the villain here, and I know the party has a legitimate beef with him, but he looks metal as hell, and I can’t root against him.

“Venger’s gone nuts!” Eric says, but I say he’s finally gone sane, given his moral alignment. Given that he doesn’t care about the kids surviving, he’s finally using his air superiority to indiscriminately rain death on his adversaries. Killing them is the goal, after all, and hey — he’s limited his bombing to an area with no civilians. Looks like someone has received a visit from Dr. Henry Killinger, and his magic murder bag …

“Give me the weapons now, or suffer the consequences!” Venger shouts, raining down consequences. He’s more accurate than usual, hitting Eric in the shield, Hank in the bow, Bobby in the club, and Diana as she vaults across a fiery rift he himself opened. Somehow, he also manages to smack Sheila out of invisibility. He’s on fire as he bombs the kids into the Stone Age — literally, in this sense, as he drives them into a cave.

Uni is hit by a power blastAll except Uni, who is lagging behind. The glee on Venger’s face when he shoots Uni is spectacular, and he pops Uni hard enough to make physics break: The beast is tossed into the air in a parabolic arc, then falls straight down. It’s a hell of a way to head into the commercial break.

***

Immediately, Venger blasts Uni again, to no real effect. Sheila can’t prevent a tearful Bobby from sallying forth, and the others scramble out to provide cover. “Your foolish sentiment will cost you dearly, boy,” Venger says, but we all know that’s untrue — foolish sentiment is a power-up in Saturday morning cartoons, especially in this era. Eric gets there in time to shield Bobby from the blast, Hank provides some cover fire, and everyone gets back into the cave as the entrance falls in.

The cave is one room, with no exit: a dead end, as Hank says. Bobby wants to know how bad Uni is hurt — the truth, not some comforting pablum. “I think she’s hurt pretty bad,” Sheila says. “I’m sorry, Bobby.”

“Don’t feel sorry for me, Sheila,” the boy says. “Feel sorry for Venger.” The cave shudders as Venger launches his bunker-buster magic, Hank says, to get them. “Good,” Bobby says, “I’m ready for him!”

“That’s comforting,” Eric says. “Where’s Dungeon Master when we need him?” Oh, Eric. You’ve cast off the oppressor’s bonds! Don’t ask for their weight to be returned in a time of crisis, just because they are familiar.

The kids crouch under a glowing pentacle“I have a feeling we’re on our own this time, Eric,” Hank says, then laments not having found the Dragons’ graveyard. But Diana reminds them they had an idea on how to do that: with their weapons. So Hank adds one more bullshirt ability to his weapon’s quiver: drawing a pentagram above his head. No, that’s not it: It’s starting the process that teleports them to the Dragons’ Graveyard. His arrow bounces around the cave, miraculously not hitting anyone, before Presto catches it in his hat; a pink bubble then emerges from his hat, which turns to gold after Eric bats it away, then green after Diana bats it with her staff. Sheila, confused, puts her cloak over it after it hovers in front of her; the ball grows larger and turns purple. Then Bobby, thinking the bubble is attacking Uni when it bobbles toward him, smacks it with his club as the others yell, “No!”

No one comes off as a genius in this situation, is what I’m saying, but after the bubble pops, they all disappear, via concentric waves of magic, just before Venger breaks in. Late again, Venger! Fortunately, he gets to make a cool entrance through the dust and the smoke of this Venger-made hell. “Again they are gone,” he says. “But where?”

Falling through concentric circles in space, into a crater filled with dragon skeletons. The kids — more or less — take it in stride. “Now we find Tiamat,” Hank says. When Eric asks how they know which of the skeletons is her, Presto says, “Simple, dummy. She’ll be the one who attacks us.” Well, Presto, at least you know you’re the one wearing Milk Bone underwear in a dog-eat-dog world.

Lizardfolk skeletonsThe kids tour the graveyard, finding not only skeletons of massive dragons but the skeletons of lizardfolk-type creatures, some of which possess magic items. I’m curious about these skeletons; they still have a use, as we see later, but what were they in life — invaders or servitors? Were they ever alive, or constructs created to serve the dead? I dunno, but for once, I don’t begrudge the show its decision to not explore an interesting alley.

The fact that kids’ weapons came from the Dragons’ Graveyard suggests these were defenders, though. (I suppose the weapons’ wielders could have been lured back, as the kids are this time.) Bobby suggests they could use these weapons against Venger, but, well … we know how that logic goes. They’ll never follow through. The kids find a sword that can split stone and a cornucopia-type horn; after Presto blows the horn, Tiamat appears, with her eerie, strained voice. Tiamat sees them as invaders, despite Hank’s attempt to parley, and we see most of the traditional breath weapons of her different-colored heads: the black head spits acid, the blue head lightning, green poison gas, the red fire. (The frost / cold breath of the white head is withheld.) The kids respond, with Hank’s arrows being more powerful, Bobby’s club opening a rift in the crater — other rifts in the graveyard speak to the possibility that it’s not the first time the club has done so — and Eric’s shield deflecting (and perhaps amplifying) the lightning.

Tiamat’s red head, with open mouthStill, none of it is powerful enough to stop Tiamat, who halts her attack only when Presto says, “She’s worse than Venger ever thought of being.” Since the party brought up the subject, Tiamat wants to dish about ol’ One Horn. When the party blurts out that Dungeon Master said Tiamat could help defeat him, Tiamat says, “In the Dragons’ Graveyard, your weapons are stronger than … Venger.” Presto pulls off his hat, and a pink blast of “magic” shoots out, which Presto believes confirms what Tiamat’s saying. “But you must face him here, and in that, I can help you.”

While they await their rendezvous with destiny, Bobby holds his pet. “I don’t know anything I can do for you, Uni,” he says, “except make Venger sorry.” This concerns Hank: “No kid your age should hate anyone this much.” Well, it’s good you’re thinking about how a constant battle for survival affects a pre-teen’s mental health now, Hank, when it’s too late to do anything. It’s not like that’s something that should have concerned a leader innumerable times before!

But Bobby reiterates that Hank should be worrying for Venger. That should put your mind at ease, leader man! “Random violence against the public is largely a mental health issue,” Future Hank (R-Realm) tells the Sunday-morning interviewer, “and mental-health care is largely something we’d like you to forget about so we aren’t blamed for not caring.”

Venger’s castleAnyway, we go back to another of Venger’s castles. This one looks like the previous one, but it’s on a mesa rather than a mountaintop. Perhaps it wasn’t destroyed last episode, as it appeared; perhaps it was teleported to a new location. Anyway, Venger’s inside, staring into his green, glowing, vapory pit — as one does, when one grumbling about what one does not have. I know it was how I spent every January when I was a kid (and teenager, and twentysomething, and thirtysomething …), seething about what I didn’t get for Christmas. Here, Venger is giving himself positive reinforcement about stealing the kids’ weapons and gaining “complete mastery of the Realm.”

Tiamat interrupts Venger’s consumerist impulses, telling him, “You shall have your chance to claim the weapons in the Dragons’ Graveyard.” Nice! It’s an approach that would appeal to Venger and hints that Tiamat isn’t above double crossing the party. But Venger doesn’t bite, tossing a ball of magic force that hits Tiamat in the chest and has no effect; Tiamat opens a portal behind Venger, then sweeps her wings to blow Venger into the portal.

While waiting, the kids mess around with magic items: Eric fools around with a trident that shoots lightning, then drops it in disgust, while Sheila idly wonders what a glowing net does. “This is weird,” she says. “It feels like it’s alive — it sure doesn’t feel like a weapon.”

Tiamat confronts VengerAs Venger exits, hinder first, from Tiamat’s portal, Hank tells the troops to get ready. “This is what we’ve been waiting for,” Hank says, and Venger agrees: “Indeed — what we have all been waiting for. Arise! Arise!” Presto is confused by the command until others point out he’s raising the dead. The kids don’t seem concerned; Presto jokes Venger is afraid to fight his own battles. (Never mind that that’s the point of an army.) Perhaps, like Homer Simpson, they are reassured that the car’s OK!

Despite Diana’s assurance that the skeletons will be pushovers, the skeletons have magic weapons, and the kids are caught off guard. One skeleton uses a magic whip to steal Diana’s staff; another blasts Eric’s shield with the lightning trident. A magic wand binds Presto’s feet to the ground, and a mace spawns a tornado that breaks Sheila’s invisibility. Hank’s arrows have no effect on another skeleton, for no reason I can see. No wonder Venger says, “This will be as easy as destroying the little unicorn.”

Shouldn’t have said that, Venger. Bobby bellows and strikes the ground, giving the party time to rally. Hank’s arrow occupies Venger, while Presto and Diana turn on their attackers, who fall apart. Eric’s attacker rushes him, but the skeleton falls apart when it hits Eric’s shield. Venger shouts in frustration, but I’m shouting in agony over the kids’ skeleton / bone puns. Stop it, all of you! (Diana and Eric, mostly.)

Venger fends off Hank’s arrow (Geek aside: Skeletons have always been easy-to-kill cannon fodder in Dungeons & Dragons. According to the Monster Manual, they are found “only in burial places or dungeons and similar forsaken places.” That checks out. Also, they take only half damage from bladed weapons, but blunt weapons and magic do normal damage. That also checks out.

The magic sword that splits the stone is likely a sword of sharpness or vorpal sword from the
Dungeon Master’s Guide; both are renowned for their ability to lop off limbs and being sharp, even for swords. The horn might be the horn of goodness / evil from Unearthed Arcana, but then again, it might not be. (The horn protects a good person who blows it from evil and vice versa.) The wand could be anything. The others seem to be original creations.)

The kids have Venger on the ropes, it seems. He rallies, knocking the bow from Hank’s hands, saying, This is the end for all of you!” But he postures too long; Bobby shatters the ground, putting Venger on an island next to shard of rock, and after returning Hank’s bow to him, Presto tosses a spell that binds Venger’s hands to the stone. Whoops! “

Venger bound to a rockHank has the shot; all he has to do is release the string. For some reason, the kids don’t expect him to follow through. Eric says, “It’s up to you, Hank,” and Diana asks what he’ll do. After drawing out the suspense, Hank fires, but the arrow releases Venger’s left hand; another shot, and Venger is free, albeit on an island of stone. Venger sinks to his knees in … relief? Defeat? Hard to tell. “Why did you not finish me?” Venger asks.

“If I did,” Hank says, “we’d be no better than you are. We’ve beaten you, and you know it. Do you understand, Venger? I didn’t do it for you; I did it for us.”

Oh, that pathetic argument. It’s the same sort of moral pablum that causes people to invoke the “slippery slope” argument, which is only a problem if you don’t have the will to draw indelible lines on that slope. In this case, murder might be wrong if it were pursued for private vengeance, but Venger is — as the show reminds us — “the force of evil.” Killing him because of his effect on those living in the Realm — including the party — is a legitimate moral question, full of questions about punishment vs. rehabilitation and who has the authority to inflict the ultimate sanction. It is not to be dismissed with a flip line about relative moral standings.

In other words, Hank, you could do a lot of evil and still be better than Venger.

What are Venger’s crimes? We haven’t seen Venger explicitly murder anyone, but he has caused suffering to wide swaths of beings. We can perhaps put aside the campaigns he’s led at the head of his Orc army, giving him the same latitude we’d give a head of state today. But using a demon-dragon (in The Treasure of Tardos) has to be considered a crime against demihumanity, as would unleashing a flock of dragons on Helix in The Night of No Tomorrow. He is a serial kidnapper and blackmailer, a torturer, a transmogrifier of innocents. He ran a prison camp for dissidents. The Realm has no check against his violence and depredations, and Dungeon Master refuses to check the problem at its source; instead, he sends his child-soldiers out to deal with the consequences.

That is what gives the party the authority to decide Venger’s fate. (Perhaps.)

Dungeon Master makes a bridge to VengerThe truth is the lives of innumerable creatures would be improved by Venger’s removal. In the Realm, our real-world expectations about the outcomes of violence must be adjusted. Since he cannot be imprisoned, only death is left as an option. It isn’t pretty, but it’s defensible, logically speaking — as long as it’s the result of a pursuit of justice, rather than revenge. (Batman killing Joker out of frustration or vengeance might be morally indefensible, but killing him to save the hundreds or thousands of Gothamites he’d otherwise kill is not.) So really, the failure is Hank’s — a failing of moral judgement, or moral cowardice, or moral stupidity — for not considering the larger picture and not encouraging the party to do so as well.

Anyway, Bobby’s pet is still hurt, and he isn’t quiet about it. But now that the heavy lifting’s done (and dropped), Dungeon Master arrives. He takes Uni and drapes the magic net over it. Uni’s cured! Bobby’s overjoyed! Teddy Fields will never be asked to act again.

With that taken care of, Dungeon Master can gloat over Venger. “Rise, my son,” he says, then sends Venger back to the Realm. (Do the kids hear him call Venger his son? Probably not. Even they would have questions about that.) Before he sends the kids back to the Realm as well, he says, “You have taken your first step home.” As Dungeon Master teleports them and Tiamat watches menacingly, I’m left with one question: Wait, what?

One of Tiamat’s eyes glowsIf you have questions, perhaps these lessons will help:
  • No one cares about Presto's pain, not even in an ironic sense.
  • Magic arrows can do anything, including opening locked glaciers and summon Satan through the TV set.
  • But necromancy isn’t something to get worked up about; instead, make puns!
  • Hank would make a worse politician than he does a leader.
  • The Dragons’ Graveyard is surprisingly accepting of diversity.
  • Moral facileness must be part of your skill toolbox if you’re an incompetent leader.
Going home tally: Another portal found, this one at the beginning of the episode. That’s a bit of variety. They’ve found seven portals home; two of those times they’ve briefly gone through the portal.

Monster tally: Two from the Monster Manual. Totals: MM: 39; FF: 6; L&L: 1; Dragon: 1.

Dungeons & Dragons #19: The Last Illusion

The Last Illusion title card

Original air date: 13 October 1984
Writer: Jeffrey Scott

With this episode, we begin the final (of three) discs in the Mill Creek DVD set. I can feel the end in sight; I can feel real momentum …

This is the last of the nine episodes written by Jeffrey Scott. He’ll always have a spot in my heart for writing “The Traitor,” and “In Search of the Dungeon Master” has its moments, but I’ve been lukewarm on a lot of his other episodes. “The Garden of Zinn” features a monster who is a disguised ally (and actually a handsome man); Steve Gerber’s “Prison without Walls” did the idea first and better. He had a penchant for splitting the party to give certain characters their own story: Bobby (with Uni) in “Servant of Evil,” Eric in “In Search of the Dungeon Master,” Presto (with Uni) in “P-R-E-S-T-O Spells Disaster.”

Most of his episodes were written in the first season, with the final two (this one and “The Traitor”) in Season 2. Michael Reaves supplanted Scott as go-to writer for the series; Reaves started in Season 2 and ended up writing / co-writing seven episodes for the series, including the previous episode and the next, which is the well-known “The Dragon’s Graveyard.”

A bubbling swamp, complete with skeletons(If you need background on Dungeons & Dragons, you can read the introductory post. If you want to read my recaps in order, go here. If you want to follow along with this recap, you can watch “The Last Illusion” on Youtube. (It has the Season 1 intro.) Since that is technically piracy, I will also point out — without judgment — that you can buy the series cheaply on physical media.)

Like “P-R-E-S-T-O Spells Disaster,” “The Last Illusion” is a Presto episode. Why devote another episode to Presto when Diana, a far superior character, hasn’t had a single one? Hellifino. But as the episode we have begins, the kids are traipsing through the calf-deep water of a bubbling swamp; given that the kids are holding their noses and complaining of the stench, that bubbling is probably methane. That’s natural, kids! The great outdoors doesn’t always smell of pine needles and rose petals. It’s dirty and smelly and sometimes unpleasant, and that’s before we get to what nature will do to those clothes you never change.

Anyway, Diana grabs for an independent thought, asking Hank if Dungeon Master gave him the right directions. Like Dungeon Master cares about your feelings or your sensibilities, Diana — you should know this by now. Hank confirms it, while holding his nose: “Yep. *phew* He said to meet him at the edge of the Swamp of Darkness.”

A giant octopus menaces Uni.The kids’ bitching about nature is interrupted by tentacles emerging from the swamp. Thank Grabthar; even as a child, I didn’t find my peers complaints fruitful or comforting, and listening to whiny children as an adult is even worse. (The irony is that I complain all the time! Wait — is that irony, or hypocrisy? I get confused sometimes.) A giant octopus emerges from the water — which, I will remind you, was only calf-deep — and attacks the kids. The octopus nearly gets a unicorn snack, but Hank shoots it with a light arrow before getting knocked on his hinder by the octopus.

Yes, I was shocked too: Hank uses an arrow as an arrow, not as a cockamamie lasso or trampoline or floor wax / dessert topping. Amazing!

With everyone else having done something — well, not Sheila, she never does anything — Presto decides to cast a spell: “Abraca-yuck, dabraca-phew / Get rid of that monster / and take the stink away too!” What looks like an icy wind studded with heart-shaped cherry blossoms emerges from his hat, like an ad for Dentine Ice Cherry. Everyone’s view of the monster is obscured, and Presto, pleased, notes the smell is gone … well, he’s pleased until he sees the giant octopus right behind him. He screams and runs, and it takes his friends a few moments to note he’s gone. Thank goodness! Say it with me: We’re going to need another wizard!

A blizzard of flower petals(Geek aside: A giant octopus! Unlike giant squids, these are not real. Their inclusion in the Monster Manual is a symptom of Gary Gygax’s obsession with gigantism. The giant octopus subdues its prey via constriction; it’s hard to escape its grip, but if “3 or more tentacles are severed it is 90% probable the octopus will retreat.” Now you know!)

Presto runs, but the giant octopus follows him, even onto dry land, using trees to pull itself along. Here Presto has his first of what in our world would be construed as a series of psychotic breaks, hearing a voice warning and guiding him. He finally eludes the octopus, but eventually he comes across the source of the voice: A hallucination of a young girl engaging in Christina’s World cosplay. Well, the obvious explanation is that Presto has snapped and that it’s a hallucination, but understandably, Presto doesn’t follow that line of thought, even after his hand causes fairy sparks and concentric mauve circles of energy. “Are you a ghost?” he asks, because in Presto’s mind, touching a ghost causes an ephemeral Lisa Frank event. Also: You’re touching her. Ghosts, at least in popular culture, tend to be immaterial.

“No,” says the not-ghost, not-yet-confirmed-to-not-be-a-hallucination, with a touch of irritation. “You must help me. I’m in … the Forbidden Tower. Please hurry. I need you …” No, listen: No one needs Presto. No one wants Presto either, but sometimes you’re forced to rely on him. I can imagine her irritation: trapped in a tower, and this is the dodo she gets to be her rescuer. Ugh. A healthy dose of feminism can not come quickly enough for this show.

Presto and Varla touch, kinda.As the girl fades away, Presto says, “I need you too!” and immediately clasps his hands over his mouth, horrified that he has revealed emotion so quickly. It’s OK, Presto. You don’t have to worry about betraying classic masculine gender norms because no one thinks of you as masculine.

When he wonders what made him say that, Dungeon Master’s voice tells him, “Your heart … I understand what you feel.” Ugh, why am I not surprised Dungeon Master can’t tell the difference between love and … whatever this is? (Not lust, but … I don’t know. Is there a term for the immature aping of heteronormative romantic ideals at the first opportunity? This doesn’t seems like a matter of the heart; it seems like a lack of cognitive development.) Or maybe he’s manipulating Presto, just like he does with the ladies who have a Danny-Devito-but-decrepit fetish.

Dungeon Master claims the girl is like Presto: “She is gifted with wondrous powers, powers that will grow as she grows.” So not like Presto at all. Anyway, Presto is puzzled because he feels like he’s “known her forever.” This is how we know Presto is imitating deep attraction, mouthing the platitudes: He’s a teenager. What the hell does he know of forever?

Anyway, Dungeon Master tells him he’ll understand when he’s older — speaking of romantic clichés — and gives a final warning before disappearing: “There is more than meets the eye in life — and in love. Find her, and you may find the way home.” Here is a particularly subtle form of deception, in which “and” is the lie: The two clauses in that sentence have no connection; finding the girl doesn’t directly lead to going home.

Oops! Spoiler, I guess. Dungeon Master’s disembodied voice tells Presto to “follow his heart” to find the Forbidden Tower, which isn’t a spoiler. I think we all could’ve guessed that would be the advice. Actually, “The Heart” or “Follow Your Heart” should have been the name of the episode, even if it isn’t as cool as “The Last Illusion.”

Jareth grabs PrestoPresto’s heart causes him to blunder through a grey, barren land while calling his friends’ names. When he hears some rustling in the brush, he thinks it’s them — but it’s actually an old man voiced by Frank Welker, doing a xenophobic yokel version of Fred Jones. The old man grabs Presto, but Hank, with a bit of menace in his voice, says, “I’d advise you to let him go.” The old man backs down as the kids emerge from the woods.

Jareth — that’s old man’s name; David Bowie and his wig didn’t suddenly appear — doesn’t back down: “No one crosses this swamp and comes back, except for witches … or wizards!” Jareth’s wife, Marinda, pops up — no one’s keeping an eye on their surroundings, so anyone can sneak up on this group — saying to stop scaring the children. You’re soft, Marinda. Being soft on teenaged magic-users is how we lost the Wizard Wars.

But perhaps she’s addled-pated because she has a secret she’s not quite willing to tell the kids. Perhaps the secret has something to do with children. Perhaps … you don’t think …

Yes, of course you think there’s some connection between Jareth, Marinda, and Presto’s magic hallucination, because you have a functioning brain stem. Unlike the kids, who can’t figure it out!

Jareth weeps in Varda’s bedroomDespite Jareth’s objections, Marinda invites the kids back to their home. One look should tell anyone that Marinda, Jareth, and their neighbors are dirt farmers, and the dirt crop looks unprofitable this year. Despite the poverty outside being almost palpable, Bobby is excited: “Wow! Real food!” Everyone, including Eric, is happily eating bowls of golden mush until Jareth says it’s swamp lizard stew. The Goblin King could serve worse, I suppose. (Uni is eating stuff of the same color out of a stew pot. A carnivorous unicorn doesn’t seem so innocent, does it?) Eric immediately acts like a jerk but tries to recover, babbling until Jareth explodes: “It’s all we have! Nobody’s forcing you to sit at this table! Get out! GET OUT!”

Marinda asks for forgiveness; their daughter, Varla, vanished in the swamp a year ago. While Marinda spins out the sad story of ruined crops, lost livestock, and poor weather that followed the girl’s disappearance, Presto tries to say he’s seen a girl in the swamp; Sheila, not having the tools to deal with Presto’s incipient mental illness but not wanting his affliction to affect the mental health of these poor people, keeps shushing him. Eventually, though, Sheila can’t stifle Presto’s outbursts, and he mentions he saw a girl in the swamp.

“She is alive!” Marinda proclaims. (It’s not a Frankenstein level “Alive!” but it’s not bad.) Everyone jumps to the conclusion that the girl is Varla, despite the lack of confirming evidence like a comparison of descriptions or clothes or distinguishing marks. Jareth shakes Presto so hard he has a fit, his brain jarred against his skull. Or maybe the head pain that causes his body to go rigid is linked to his hallucination of “Varla.” In any event, everyone is distracted from his brain trauma event by an earthquake and thunderstorm in a blood red sky.

Venger has Varla trapped in a mystical deviceAnyway, we cut to (yet another) of Venger’s castles. Here we come to the most puzzling aspect of the episode: What was Venger’s original plan? He has captured Varla, and he’s using her parents’ safety to force her to use her vast illusion powers. So far, so good — well, so villainous. But why is he directing her powers against her old village? Surely, if her illusions are successful, then her parents will starve to death. And although I get the idea that he’s bending her to his will, what does he care about the fate of a bunch of dirt farmers? They have nothing he wants and nothing he fears, and the more he torments them, the more incentive Varla has to defy him. He could have easily directed her powers against some other group, and it’s not like he could have predicted the party would come to the village when he started tormenting it. It’s cruelty for the sake of being stupid, really.

(Cool castle, and I dig the Nine Fingers of Paralysis. Venger might not be the best at evil, but he has a flair for architecture and interior design.)

A villager points, while lightning flashesBack in the village, Presto has another attack, and a moment later, lightning strikes a tree, knocking it over into the barn. A villager immediately blames Presto for the damage. As Varla cries out in pain in the Forbidden Tower, Presto cries out in pain in the village; this time, lightning strikes the barn, setting it on fire. Everyone in the village is sure Presto is to blame, and even though I know they’re wrong, I can’t deny their logic or their fervor. Sure, go ahead and kill Presto!

Marinda says he’s just a child, but I doubt her logic, as children can be evil. Presto claims his magic is good, even though magic is a force or a process, like science, and it’s only the purposes that it’s put to that can be labeled good or evil. To fight the fire, Presto uses his hat: “Bring a spell to quench the fire / And prove to these folks that I’m no liar!” A geyser emerges from Presto’s hat onto the fire, but at Venger’s urging, Varla turns it into a gout of flame. Both Varla and Presto shout in pain.

Venger transforms himself into a Greek hoplite, riding a flying (white) horse. While Hank holds the threatening villagers at bay — it’s too windy for torches, and I suppose they kept their pitchforks in the barn that’s burning — Venger shows up in his new guise and seemingly puts out the fire. Uni growls at the newcomer, but the rest of the party seems to think he’s a hero …

Venger, disguised, on a white horse… until he accuses them of being evil. “Judge them by their actions, not their words,” he says, his voice still recognizably Peter Cullen’s, but less menacing. “They’re wizards and witches, and they will destroy you if you don’t destroy them first.” The villagers are incredibly willing to kill the kids, and Jareth and Marinda put up only token resistance. The kids don’t resist or run or, you know, try anything. A female villager promises them, “At dawn, you shall suffer the fate of all wizards and witches,” which I suppose we’re supposed to think is burning at the stake. (I’m American, where we’re too civilized to burn witches; we hang them.) Venger generously agrees to take “their evil weapons,” and then he flies away into the commercial break.

***

Presto starts the episode’s second half with his head in Sheila’s lap — *ahem* — while Hank mops his brow. Now, I said this was a Presto episode, but he spends a great deal of time disabled by psychic headaches — as he says here, “I can feel it when [Varla] hurts” — while others do most of the planning and fighting.

In this case, while Hank soothes Presto after the wizard makes the obviously crazy suggestion that Varla is alive, Eric is trying to stage a breakout. (If Eric isn’t the hero of the episode, he’s certainly the hero of its second half.) Diana tries to convince Eric to pipe down: “Forget it … Without out weapons, we’re just … regular.”

“Regular?” Eric says. “We’re giant sized!” It’s an inspirational line, undercut slightly because Eric’s plan hasn’t gone farther than complaining about rights violations at the top of his voice. Since everyone else has given up, though, I can’t say it’s a bad plan.

Venger’s newest castleMeanwhile, back at the castle, Venger is storing the kids’ weapons in a secret compartment for them to recover later. How considerate! He’s still plotting against Dungeon Master, “the only thing that stands in the way of total conquest.” Varla says Venger promised to let her go, but Venger says only a fool would release her. (He’s right, of course.) Venger’s endgame, according to him, is to use Varla’s illusions to ensnare Dungeon Master, but if that’s his final goal, I think he may have succumbed to the Fallacy of the Unbounded Middle. Plus, even though Venger says Varla’s powers will grow “in ways you cannot yet dream,” I can’t imagine Dungeon Master would fall for Varla’s illusions. I mean, nothing suggests Varla’s illusions are anything but flawless, but c’mon — it’s Dungeon Master. All mortal magic is as nothing to him, just like mortal emotions, like empathy and homesickness.

In the jail, Eric’s complaints — “There’s no ketchup on my French fries, and there’s no French fries!” — finally draws a response, as a pair of villagers approach the jail. (Why does a village of dirt farmers have building with iron bars in the widow? Do they need to imprison their sheep when they’ve been baaaaaad?) But before Eric can get the others in position for a jailbreak, Presto’s hallucination appears, spilling the beans: All the village’s calamities have been her illusions — not tricks, Michael — which she cast because of Venger’s coercion. Oh, and the heroic warrior is Venger, which means he has their weapons.

The kids flee from the villagersConveniently, the two villagers are Varla’s parents; seeing their daughter (before Eric and Hank can jump them) gives them a moment of joy and torment. They let the kids go, just before the villagers — now suitably equipped with torches — can come for them. Marinda and Jareth fall into the villagers’ hands, but the kids march into the mountains to Venger’s castle.

Standing in their way are a pair of Orcs. For some reason, “Orcs” equal “comedy” on this show, which undercuts Venger’s menace and shows how easily the terrifying can become laughable in popular culture. Eric, showing why he’s the MVPM (most valuable party member), suggests using Uni as a distraction to get past the orcs. They do find unicorns delicious, but Bobby vetoes the idea.

Presto’s idea is to give up entirely: “Just forget it; it’s no use.” This is Dungeon Master’s cue to show up. “Giving up before you even try?” he asks. Well, it does save time and effort. But Presto believes he’s helpless in the face of a greater power — Venger, in this case — and is unwilling to, you know, struggle for the girl he told “I need you” less than 24 hours before. Dungeon Master may keep telling Presto to follow his heart, but it’s a weak, chicken heart, evidently.

Dungeon Master looms over PrestoBut this time, Dungeon Master ventures into prophecy rather than advice: “Remember, when things look their worst, things will be their best.” While Eric is complaining about the wordplay — “oh, worst equals best, does it?” — Dungeon Master disappears. But Hank has a plan, and he tells the others in a Who huddle. It’s not a complex plan: While they sneak into the castle, they lure the Orcs from the door with a distraction, provided by a frog tied to Eric’s metal boots. Where did they get the frog, in the rocky, dry mountains? I don’t know, and I’m trying very hard not to guess.

Inside the huge castle, the party relies on Presto’s … instinct? to guide them to Varla. Presto doesn’t mention the source of his certainty — “She’s that way, I can feel it” — but if Dungeon Master’s pronouncements mean something, Presto’s using his Cardiac Positioning System (CPS). Like Ebeneezer Scrooge, Eric believes this supernatural tidbit can be blamed on indigestion, but no one else says anything. Last episode, when Eric had the powers of Dungeon Master, everyone doubted him, but the party is more than happy to follow Presto, directed by the power of love. Eric gets no respect, I tell you, no respect.

Presto does find Varla, imprisoned under the Nine Fingers of Paralysis. Unfortunately, the forcefield around Varla shocks Presto, which, since no one else is going to laugh, HA HA. Varla says, “Only Venger can release me,” which doesn’t give them many options.

And even fewer options as an orc patrol approaches. They’re caught in a trap, and they can’t walk out, and not because Presto loves Varla too much, baby. But Elvis isn’t walking into that room, and neither is Dwight Yoakam, so Varla has a plan to disguise them — one that will work only if the guards don’t have suspicious minds.

The party disguised as Orcs.Anyway, the illusion is perfect, except for Uni, who looks like an orc on its knees and bleats like a Frank Welker animal. Eric nervously responds to the Orc leader’s questions to distract him from Uni, then nervously replies to Venger when he walks in to cover up his response to the Orc leader; since he sounds like himself, has good diction, and displays no respect to authority, it’s not the best distraction. It hardly matters; Venger causes Varla pain, which causes Presto pain and causes the illusion to drop. I don’t admire Venger’s cruelty, but I do admire the Gordian simplicity of his plan.

Hank yells, “Scatter!” But as I mention before, they’re caught in a trap and can’t walk out; they also can’t scatter out. At least I assume they can’t, but like with the villagers, they do such a poor job of scattering, who can tell? They huddle behind some columns in one corner of the room and are quickly caught. Great leadership, Hank.

Venger fires power blastsRather than have his minions capture the party or rip them limb from limb, Venger tells the orcs to leave. “I want the pleasure of dealing with Dungeon Master’s star pupils myself,” he says, and begins randomly spraying power blasts around the room. Sure, that’s one way to deal with them. But Venger: You’ve defeated them before. You don’t have to prove anything! Just kill them (or capture them) and be done with it. This is looking more and more like a self-esteem issue, and that’s beneath you, Venger.

“None of you will leave this room … ever,” Venger says. I expected him to say that they wouldn’t leave the room alive — maybe S&P butted in — but now I wonder if he’s going to kill them and leave their bodies lying on the floor to torment Varla. That would be pretty villainous!

Unfortunately, Venger shoots like a stormtrooper, although given the random directions he’s aiming in, I’m surprised his shots are close at all. Hank uses a mirror to deflect one of Venger’s blasts back at him; they ricochet and coincidentally hit the secret panel where the magic weapons are stored. (Where does the mirror come from? It appears to be the only ornament on the bare walls of the enormous room.)

Eric crashes into the secret panel with the weaponsAt this point, Eric decides to be the hero. No one has to goad him into it; no one has to ask, “Who will get our weapons back?” Hank doesn’t order him. Eric sees the weapons, unnecessarily swings across the room on a chain (don’t ask where the chain came from either) that’s blasted by Venger, and crashes into the weapons. Armed with his shield, he can defend himself, and then he tosses the weapons to his friends. Well, Presto’s hat ends up on Uni, but I think we can agree that’s safer.

Hank shoots Venger with his arrows, and Bobby knocks down a pillar so that a cylindrical section rolls toward Venger. The perfectness of the cylinder defies physics, as does the direction it rolls, which is the opposite direction in which Bobby knocked it, but let’s ignore that; given the abuse physics has taken on this show, it’s probably sulking in its trailer anyway. The next part is unclear, but the implication is that Venger, defending himself from the heavy rolling column, accidentally destroys four of the Nine Fingers of Paralysis, freeing Varla.

Sheila, Diana, and Presto run to Varla; Presto and Varla embrace. Sheila complains they can only hold Venger off, although she’s just sitting there; Hank and Eric are the ones taking fire from Venger. When Varla wonders if there’s anything Venger fears, Diana suggests Tiamat. Somebody — I’m assuming Varla, because that’s who Diana is looking at when she responds — says Tiamat has three heads, but Diana corrects her. Varla decides to create one last illusion, one that will likely cause her to fade away until she’s only a voice driving Presto into the insane asylum. (Assuming the Realm has any sort of mental health facilities at all, which I doubt.)

Venger’s castle explodesVarla fades away entirely before an illusion of Tiamat good enough to fool Venger bursts through the wall. (Remember: Varla didn’t know how many heads Tiamat had just a few moments before.) Varla’s Tiamat seems to deal real damage to the structure, and as the kids flee the castle into the waiting arms of the torch-wielding mob, the fight between Venger and the illusion destroys his castle.

The illusion fades, but the destruction is real: The castle is gone. For once, though, Venger flees the destruction on his nightmare. I’m disappointed Venger doesn’t blow up with this castle for once. Really, that was becoming his signature move: architectural and self-immolation combined.

“Why?” Presto asks. “Why did she do it?” Sheila says Varla did it for them, a group of kids she’d never met before. I hope that gives Presto some solace, but it’s obviously nonsense. She may have done it for Presto — that brain-not-fully-developed, all-enveloping obsession nonsense — and she may have done it to get rid of Venger. But she didn’t do it for you, Sheila.

Presto cries, while looking upBut Sheila does have an intriguing thought: “I wonder if we would have been brave enough to do the same.” Her meditation on bravery and mortality is immediately quashed by the arrival of the bigoted yokels. Once again, the kids put up no fight, and Presto is forced to deliver the sad news of Varla’s death — “death”? — to her parents. Jareth is devastated. Perhaps he’ll kidnap a child to console himself.

Presto, noticing the village still looks like crap, has a thought: if Varla were dead, her illusions should have faded. Diana rationalizes: “That’s what Dungeon Master meant by ‘When things look their worst, things will be their best.’” When Presto wonders how to find Varla, things truly do look their worst, as Dungeon Master arrives.

“With your heart, your heart,” Dungeon Master says. “Your lovely lady part —” No, wait, that last bit is wrong. “As you have always done” is really how he finishes his advice. The villagers all back away from the Dungeon Master; they may be small minded and bigoted, but they recognize true evil when it walks among them — well, this time they do. Their overall record isn’t so good, I admit.

Presto carries Varla, with the setting sun in the backgroundHow does Presto use / follow his heart, now that the villagers aren’t ready to sacrifice him? He just walks toward the top of the hill, and there she is! He didn’t have to do anything! She walks toward him! Her parents are overjoyed, and Varla, smiling, collapses so that Presto has to carry her down the hill, Bodyguard-style. The villagers see how their village really looks … wait, those crops look great despite being hidden from human tending for an entire year — how did that happen? No, no, don’t think about it: It’s a happy ending. More importantly, it’s an ending, and that’s the best.

Every new learning comes from some other learning’s end:

  • Giant octopodes can be luring anywhere there is standing water: swamps, ponds, birdbaths, bathtubs. Drain standing water or put a few drops of bleach in it to prevent giant octopodes from breeding in your neighborhood.
  • Remember: No one needs Presto. Sometimes people get stuck with Presto, and that’s … that’s a part of life, I guess.
  • Blessed are those who don’t believe children can be evil, for they will get their children back.
  • We’re giant sized.
  • To create a convincing illusion of an existing, living creature, one needs only a name and confirmation of the number of heads the creature has.
  • Illusions are only temporary, unless it comes to destroying the villain’s castle, in which case they can cause extensive damage.
Going home tally: No portal this time, no matter what Dungeon Master intimated to Presto. They’ve found six portals home; two of those times they’ve briefly gone through the portal.

Monster tally: One monster from the Monster Manual. Totals: MM: 37; FF: 6; L&L: 1; Dragon: 1.

Dungeons & Dragons #18: Day of the Dungeon Master

Day of the Dungeon Master title card

Original air date: 6 October 1984
Writer: Michael Reeves

After the pure rush that came from watching the kids turn on their Golden Leader, you would be right to be skeptical that the very next episode would be able to give me an even greater high. I mean, I’ve established that this cartoon does not cater to my whims, and to have two episodes in a row hit my sweet spot … well, that seems unlikely, even when the second episode has Eric gaining phenomenal cosmic power without cramming him into an itty-bitty living space.

Not only would you be right to be skeptical, but your skepticism is right. This is a cartoon that can screw up giving my favorite character the ability to alter reality to his whims, and in its own way, that’s impressive! It’s also deeply disappointing, but I should be used to that by now. So should you, for that matter, but that was why you were skeptical, right?

(If you need background on Dungeons & Dragons, you can read the introductory post. If you want to read my recaps in order, go here. If you want to follow along with this recap, you can watch “Day of the Dungeon Master” on Youtube. (It has the Season 1 intro.) Since that is technically piracy, I will also point out — without judgment — that you can buy the series cheaply on physical media.)

So this episode begins with Eric fleeing something off screen. Generally, this is a setup for a joke at Eric’s expense, but in this case, the others are right behind him, as are giant wasps. Backed into a canyon, Eric defends himself with his shield and tries to apologize: “I said I’m sorry — I didn’t mean to bounce a rock off your nest!” *sigh* Eric, just because something is trying to kill you doesn’t mean it has the capacity to forgive or understand the concept of forgiveness. Also: You totally meant to bounce that rock off its nest. Otherwise, you would’ve used a different word than “bounce.”

(Geek aside: Giant wasps were part of D&D co-creator Gary Gygax’s obsession with giant animals as monsters. Or maybe it was laziness on his part. Whichever it was, giant wasps appeared in the Monster Manual, which noted a) giant wasps lay eggs in their paralyzed victims, and 2) their venom can paralyze a person permanently. We’ve seen giant wasps already, in one of the worlds inside “The Box.”)

Giant wasps encircled by Hank’s magic arrows.For once his “friends” aren’t pointing out his culpability, although that might be because they’re too wrapped up in using their own powers to save themselves. Diana uses her staff to keep one at bay, Sheila turns invisible to lure a giant wasp into hitting a wall, and Hank, in what is perhaps peak bullshirt, has two of his arrows turn into a circle that restrains more than a half dozen of them at a time. (We don’t see Bobby during the fight; presumably, he’s heroically soiling his fur breeches.) While a few wasps use their weird hands to try to abduct Eric, hoping for a little privacy while they lay their eggs, Presto reaches into his hat and pulls out an electric fan … with no cord. “No doubt about it,” he says, parroting a better magician, “I got to get a new hat.” But when Presto tosses the fan away, it kicks on with a powerful blast of air. The wasps are all blown away, and no one asks where the electricity came from.

Eric asks, “Are they gone?” and a greater scourge answers: “Yes, Cavalier,” says Dungeon Master, “they are gone.” Eric complains Dungeon Master wasn’t there when they needed him, but c’mon, Eric: When has he ever been there to help in a fight? Dungeon Master complains he’s a busy despot, implying he has primitives to cow, females to sex up, perhaps even other child soldiers to terrorize. Eric scoffs, saying Dungeon Master’s power should make everything easy: “Boy, if I were Dungeon Master, I’d have it made.”

Even the seven-year-olds watching this episode knew how the episode was going to proceed: Dungeon Master would unload his power on Eric (to take a vacation day), Eric would protest, Eric would learn a valuable lesson. And so it happens — well, maybe not the “valuable lesson” part, but the rest … Eric tries to back out for reasons I will never understand, but Dungeon Master — perhaps of the “if I catch you smoking a single cigarette, I’m going to make you chain-smoke the entire production run of the nearest Marlboro plant” school of parenting — persists.

Dungeon Master blasts Eric with magicEric’s friends are as disbelieving as Eric is. “This is a joke, right?” Presto asks. “I wouldn’t trust Eric to do card tricks.” This is ironic, as I wouldn’t trust Presto with card tricks either, and yet he’s the magician. But that doesn’t stop Dungeon Master, who hits Eric with blinding white light that dresses him in Dungeon Master’s clothes, messes up his hair, and gives him knock knees. This is perhaps the show’s most extreme version of its “apparel oft proclaims the man” ethos.

Eric claims not to feel any different, but Dungeon Master says, “That will change in time.” That’s not ominous, no sirree. Eric says the powers will be easy to control, but he zaps himself after snapping his fingers, and his friends laugh and laugh. Blast them, Eric! Do not take their mockery! Burn their flesh until all that is left is blackened bones! Make them fear their new god!

Everyone laughs at Eric.But when Eric conjures a fountain to take a sip, Dungeon says every action has a consequence: “You must realize everything touches everything else,” he says. “If you bring water here to quench your thirst, you may be turning farmland into desert elsewhere.” When Eric asks for more moral guidance, Dungeon Master — a stranger to moral reasoning — ducks the question: “Travel east, and seek the city called Darkhaven. It is there you will find the Golden Grimoire. It holds the key to everything you seek.” When Eric complains he doesn’t have his shield, Dungeon Master gives one last bit of advice: “On this journey, knowledge will be your shield.”

Then he walks into a shimmering patch in the desert. (Disappearing into a mirage is a nice trick, but it puts the lie to the idea that Dungeon Master has given all of his power to Eric.) Thus endeth the training. Have fun storming Darkhaven!

The kids express their lack of confidence in Eric, and — as usual — start walking off in the wrong direction. When Eric politely uses his new, ineffable powers to correct them, they take it as the worst thing Eric’s ever done. “Boy, are we going to regret this,” Bobby says. Yes, you’ll regret your comrade politely telling you you’re making a huge mistake and preventing you from wasting hours or days. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve regretted a friend saving me immense time and effort, I would literally have zero dollars, because I’m not that kind of jackass. (I’m a different kind; see if you can guess which one!)

Eric announces he can send them home.The kids grumble about Dungeon Master, then turn their grumpiness on Eric — which they’d never do with Dungeon Master. When Bobby wants to know one thing Eric can now do, Eric says, “Now that I’m Dungeon Master, I can send us … home.” Hank immediately says Eric is right, but how does he know that? And more importantly, when everyone agrees Eric could send them back — even if he doesn’t know how at the moment — then why don’t they make that next leap: Dungeon Master could have sent them home at any time, but he chose not to. Rise up against the Dungeon Master, kids! All you have to lose is your chains (and your magic weapons)!

But no one realizes this, and they go back to focusing on Darkhaven — the city’s Tourism Board should really petition for a name change — and the Golden Grimoire, which Presto mispronounces as “grim-wahr-ee.” If he’s not familiar with the word, how does he know it has an “e” on the end? No one but Eric knows what a grimoire is. “What are you guys, stupid or what? A grimoire is a book of magic.” Sheila gets sarcastic: “Oh, right, Eric. Everyone knows that.” No, but a lot of smart people do, Sheila. Man, if I had a dollar for every time those around me wallowed in their ignorance and made me want to ask Eric’s question, I would literally be too rich to write this. (That’s what kind of jackass I am!)

Venger’s castleAnyway, the kids decide the Golden Grimoire could tell Eric how to get them home, so off they lurch again toward Darkhaven. Shadow Demon has been following them, and the kids have no idea. Off he goes to Venger’s new castle — another new castle, which I suppose was inevitable, given that last episode’s castle is infested with heartstones. Shadow Demon reports the kids’ goal and their quest for the grimoire. Venger’s excited: “Let the fools lead us to it; its secrets will finally be mine.”

Meanwhile, Eric has led the kids to a cliff’s edge, and no one seems to have realized they should turn around. Presto complains that Eric is Dungeon Master, so he should know how far it is to Darkhaven. Eric responds with authentic DM nonsense: “You will find it, unless it finds you first. It lies a long way off, yet, in truth, it is very near.” His friends boo him. I concur with the Getalong Gang this time, Eric — boo!

As a yeti climbs up behind him, Eric tells his friends to cut him some slack. “Things could be worse,” he says. I have my doubts about the timing of this joke. The yeti appears before Eric starts saying, “Things could be worse.” Yes , we all know when a character says, “Things could be worse,” they’ll become worse, but the joke needs to have some surprise to it. This setup assumes we all want to laugh at Eric and will take any excuse to do so.

A yeti sneaks up on Eric.(Geek aside: Yeti are also listed in the Monster Manual. According to the book, “Yeti are seldom encountered by warm-blooded mankind,” so Eric can count himself fortunate! Also: “Yeti are nearly invisible until within 10' to 30' of their prey,” so Eric can count himself lucky that he wasn’t disemboweled before seeing the yeti!)

That being said, the follow-up joke isn’t any better. Eric does his Shaggy impersonation, spinning his wheels, before falling face first in front of the yeti. The rest of the group acts bored, with Hank and Bobby each giving the other a chance to deal with the yeti. Hank eventually shoots two arrows, tying up the monster. Bobby mocks Eric, and when Eric says he wasn’t given a chance to deal with monster, Hank offers to let it go. Eric is forced to back down. He covers with a Dungeon Master imitation: “You have acted most wisely, Ranger.”

Venger, accompanied by Shadow Demon, is now following the kids as inconspicuously as he knows how: riding a screeching nightmare through the sky. He claims Eric “masquerades as” Dungeon Master. However, when he conjures a “sorcerous storm,” he expects Eric to use his magic against it, so he knows Eric isn’t planning on attending a costume party.

“This is no ordinary storm,” Eric intones. “This is the work of Venger!” Hank asks how he knows that. I would mention the purple clouds, or the data suggesting most bad things that happen to them are Venger’s fault; Eric says, “I don’t know. I just know.”

Eric, Presto, Sheila, Hank, and Bobby cross a magic bridge.The kids try to outrun the storm, which destroys a natural bridge in front of them; Hank uses his bow to shoot an arrow that becomes a bridge, and by Odin’s sweaty crack, that’s awful. I mean, there’s magic, and there’s nonsense, and this is nonsense. (Also, Diana somehow disappears, as she’s not one of the ones who runs across the bridge of light. Maybe she’s ahead of the rest?) Anyway, Eric is knocked down by a lightning blast, finds the ability to shoot pink stars at the storm, and disperses it. (Maybe he’ll figure out away to blast purple horseshoes from his hands to drive away horses.) Eric is puzzled by how he did it, everyone else is thankful, Venger is vengeful. “He has little experience,” he grouses. “His power will do him no good.”

***

More plodding through mountains, because if there’s anything this show likes, it’s plodding. Presto gets tired of walking and tired of Eric not doing anything, so he pulls a flying carpet out of his hat. Now, I’m as leery of the idea that cutthroat competition will solve all of society’s problems as anyone, but if getting showed up in the magic department has caused Presto to display, well, competence, then perhaps competition is necessary and / or praiseworthy in some cases. The carpet sprouts wings and flies away almost immediately, but it is a step up.

A roc waits to be boarded.Eric steps up to the challenge, though, summoning a giant … eagle? No, it’s probably a roc, even though it looks like a giant hawk had its perverted way with an unfortunate rooster. Everyone hops aboard — Eric says, “It’s the only way to fly” — and off they go … until they’re strafed by a red dragon.

(Geek aside: Red dragons, as you might expect, are foundational to Dungeons & Dragons, one of the five colors of evil dragons. The Monster Manual gives the scientific name of the red dragon — Draco confligratio horribilis — and says it usually lives in great hills or mountainous regions, so that checks out. They breathe fire — the only evil dragons to do so — and speak only 75 percent of the time to adventurers.

(I’m still not wild about identifying the bird as a roc, but I don’t see a better choice. Rocs are “huge birds somewhat resembling eagles,” according to the
Monster Manual. This must be a small roc, because rocs are supposed to be 60 feet long and prey upon “cattle, horses, and elephants”; this roc could not handle an elephant. Also, a roc should be a much bigger challenge for a red dragon, as it is bigger, faster, and heartier. I do suppose that fire breath is an equalizer, though.)

Commercial break!

***

A dragon strafes the roc with fire.The fight between a dragon and a thunderchicken is about as brief as you’d expect, and Presto decides the only thing to do is “Abandon bird!” He jumps, and everyone else follows, which should answer the standard question about what these people would do if their friends started jumping off things. Given that they’re thousands of feet above the ground, jumping is a dumb idea, but just like last episode, Dungeons & Dragons tells physics to cram it. Eric can’t figure out how to get them out of Presto’s mess, so once again, competition causes Presto to rise to the occasion: “Hocus pocus / Alakazaam / Do something quick / before we go splat!” allows Presto to conjure a parachute. (It does not allow him to conjure a decent rhyme.)

Everyone but Eric grabs onto the parachute without having their shoulders dislocated or the skin of their palms burned away. Eric misses the chute, but Hank conjures more absurdity by shooting several arrows into the ground, where they remain, serving as a sproingy cushion for Eric’s landing. It’s moronic, but here we are.

Eric on a tent of Hank’s arrows.Insult of insults, Hank comes over and tries to console Eric. “Hey, don’t look so glum,” he says. “You’re alive.” Eric agrees, but says, “Thanks to you. … Some Dungeon Master I am: can’t even save myself.” Then Sheila — Sheila! The most useless character of all! — tell him that learning to use Dungeon Master’s powers will take time. Eric sighs and agrees again. C’mon, Eric — you summoned a roc (probably). You’re awesome! Your friends have spent so much time grinding you down that you’re beginning to internalize it when you’re at your best. Snap out of it, man! Demand blood for the blood god!

But Eric trudges off. Hank says, “He’ll be OK.” Shut up, Hank. You’ve tried to break him; you don’t get to wish the pieces back together again, and you don’t get mercy when a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

***

The kids approach a giant door into Darkhaven.After a long walk, the kids come across Darkhaven, and it’s huge, with doorways the size of several giants stacked atop one another. Bobby wants to batter down the glowing barrier into the city, but Eric stops him: “Wait, barbarian. These doors cannot be broken.” He spreads his glitter dust across the barrier, and it dissolves. When Sheila says Eric sounded just like Dungeon Master, Eric says, “There’s no need to be insulting.” Ha!

Meanwhile, Venger and Shadow Demon take the direct route in, smashing a cupola with magic and flying through the hole. It’s a race to the Golden Grimoire — one that will be complicated by Eric being made the plot’s butt monkey. When the kids reach a room with several doors — a dungeon-crawl classic from D&D — Eric is confused on the right way to go. He rejects one door because of a growl behind it before choosing another … and then he gets his robes caught in the door, and falls into a suit of armor (with the requisite helmet on his head) when his robes are freed. Even Uni takes pity on him, and every else laughs at him. Diana says, “Obi Wan Kenobi, he’s not,” but do you have any other beings with godlike abilities willing to help? No, you do not, so keep your opinions to yourself.

Venger, his nightmare, and Shadow DemonMeanwhile, Venger’s blowing up stuff on his way to the Golden Grimoire. Shadow Demon says it will take forever for them to find the book, but Venger — posing majestically in a glowing doorway — says they’ll just follow the kids: “Since the Cavalier wears the robes of Dungeon Master, perhaps he possesses Dungeon Master’s knowledge as well.” Good guess! But he’s used Dungeon Master’s magic against you already, so, you know … you shouldn’t need fashion cues to make that guess. But given the emphasis placed on clothes in this show, I have a feeling a good tailor would either be an outstanding con man — making common people look like they have power — or a crafter of magic, if the clothes do proclaim the man.

Even though Venger believes in Eric, everyone else has doubts. But Eric has DM’s powers, and as Eric says, “After all, what does Dungeon Master got that I haven’t got?” Diana replies, “Style, Eric — style.” Style? Really? That’s what you think Dungeon Master has? He’s a bald dwarf in robes that are too big for him, and his “style” is muttering cryptic nonsense and tricking kids into doing all his work. That’s not a man with style — that’s my grandfather.

A flooded hall in DarkhavenThe kids wander into a flooded hall, snagging a floating table as a boat. They drift along, screaming in fear at the occasional bit of statuary, but when underwater tentacles grab their boat, Eric is calm; magic flows from his hands, and he blasts the tentacles. “That’s two for you, Eric,” Hank says. Well, no, it’s three, Hank: defeating Venger’s storm, summoning a roc (which saved time on their journey), and beating the tentacle monster. Or four, if you count defeating the door into Darkhaven. Oh, that Hank — ostensibly trying to help, but still undercutting his ally.

Suddenly, Eric says, “We’re here,” and lifts the table on a pillar of water. “That’s three!” Hank says, and if Hank is counting this, then opening the door should definitely count, and that should be five. Stupid Hank.

The kids wander into a grand hall — a library, it turns out, with the Golden Grimoire on a stand. Eric looks at the book and immediately finds and casts the spell to go home. A portal to the amusement park opens behind them, and loose papers flow into the portal. “We’ll have to leave our weapons here,” Eric says, in his DM voice. When Bobby asks to take Uni along, Eric says, “I am sorry, Bobby. She would not survive in our world. My magic will protect her when we’re gone.” Bobby says goodbye, Uni bleats: just another abandoned pet left behind in childhood.

(Of course, Uni went through the portal just fine in “Beauty and the Bogbeast,” but that seems to be the anomaly. Most of the time, people insist Uni can’t survive in our world. On the other hand, maybe no one really trusts Bobby with a unicorn, and they tolerate it in the Realm only because … well, let’s say survival reasons.)

Venger confronts Eric as his friends look on.Of course Venger bursts in to spoil everything, as we’ve become accustomed to. Of course he takes the kids’ abandoned weapons and the Golden Grimoire. Of course Eric orders his friends to flee while he performs a heroic rearguard action, and he will never be given enough credit for that.

Hank doesn’t think Eric has a chance; Venger agrees. Eric immediately challenges Venger to a fistfight, telling him to — literally! — “put up your dukes” and capping his challenge with, “Only one of us is going to survive this fight, and it isn’t going to be me!” I admit: I laughed.

Venger hurls invective and magic at Eric. Eric can ignore the former, but the latter knocks him over. Meanwhile, Eric’s friends are near-useless; Presto says, “We’ve got to do something!” and only Fearless Leader can figure out what has to be done: grab their weapons. He delegates that responsibility to Diana, of course. Why would he take the chance?

Eric counters Venger’s magic with his ownEric’s magic fails, and Venger power blasts Eric into a bookcase. “Did you really believe a child like you could be Dungeon Master?” Venger asks. “This is your worst mistake, Cavalier — and it will be your last.” I’m sure this is generic trash talk from Venger, but on the other hand, I’m amused by the idea that he’s catalogued all of the kids’ errors, then ranked them.

Diana reaches the weapons. Venger shoots his magic from the hip, but he shoots wide. Diana tosses everyone their weapons … well, she doesn’t throw Presto’s hat, but it magically appears in the air when everyone’s ready to catch the weapons. I suppose it is magic, but still …

Anyway, that distraction allows Eric to get off a weak blast. Hank and Eric divide Venger’s attention until Eric remembers Dungeon Master’s words about knowledge being his shield. He jumps for the Golden Grimoire and uses it to block Venger’s magic. This sets off a … I don’t know, chain reaction of some sort. The grimoire starts glowing ominously, Venger is paralyzed, Shadow Demon bugs out, and after the portal home vanishes, Eric casts a spell, gathering everyone in a whirlwind that teleports them outside the city.

A ghostly Venger fills the skyToei pulls out all the stops again as Darkhaven explodes, its tourist problems a thing of the past. Venger goes up with the city for some reason — why doesn’t he have whirlwind magic? — and another ghostly Venger appears over another exploded city before moving to menace the kids, then dissipating.

“Gosh, we almost made it home that time,” Sheila says. Well, Sheila, as my father reminded me frequently, “almost” counts only in hand shoes and horse grenades — well, and thermonuclear war, too, but even though Venger explodes, I don’t think “thermonuclear war” is applicable here. Eric apologizes for not getting them home, which shows how the others have beaten him down; he opened a portal by himself, then held off Venger. What else could he have done, other than obliterated their strongest enemy with a power he was barely trained in?

With the danger past, Dungeon Master appears, internally laughing himself silly over the kids’ inability to get home — this time without any interference or guilt from him. “You have done well, young Dungeon Master,” says the old dwarf. Turns out what Dungeon Master admires is his willingness to lay down his life for his comrades. Hank — for this one moment in time — remembers Eric’s moment of heroism in service of his friends.

Dungeon Master zaps Eric with his magic againAfter considering his heroism for a moment, Eric says, “Wow, I must be nuts.” Uni agrees. I don’t feel good about agreeing with Uni, but yeah, Eric’s right.

After a bit of a preamble — “Don’t think this hasn’t been fun,” Eric says, “because it hasn’t” — Eric petitions Dungeon Master to make him Cavalier again. Dungeon Master agrees, blasting Eric with magic, and the transformation is reversed.

“But remember,” Dungeon Master says, “once you are touched with power, you’re never quite the same.” Eric thinks that will get him some respect; Eric’s brush with power has made him insane. To demonstrate, he snaps his fingers, and a very localized rain shower falls on him. Everyone laughs. “This is pitiful,” he says. Man, it’s like you’re reading my thoughts, Eric.

Rain falls on Eric while the others laugh at him.That would be a nice idea to carry forward — Eric has random magic things happen to him, hilarity ensues. I suppose it would be too much like Presto’s incompetence, and this show has the memory of a goldfish … but even it should have been able to remember these lessons:
  • Wasps do not possess the capacity to forgive.
  • If someone complains that you haven’t completed a task, explain that exerting your energy here would cause disasters elsewhere in the world. They won’t be able to prove it’s not true!
  • Poor communication and ugly clothes become “style” if inflicted on others for long enough.
  • The right clothes are emblematic of positions and power, so dress like your boss and shove him out of his job.
  • A Dungeon Master is without honor only in his own adventuring party.
  • Complete discorporation is a mere inconvenience if you have the right mindset.
Going home tally: Eric, as Dungeon Master, opens a portal the park with the help of the Golden Grimoire. This is the sixth portal home they’ve found; two of those times they’ve briefly gone through the portal.

Monster tally: Four from the Monster Manual. Totals: MM: 36; FF: 6; L&L: 1; Dragon: 1.