Never mind that the players never made their own dice rolls, or that their adventure, The Caverns of Draconis, doesn't actually exist. NBC's recent episode of Community has been one of our favorite portrayals of the game ever, with Abed playing the role of the committed Dungeon Master for the Greendale Community College study group.
In our interview with writer Andrew Guest, you find out that Community definitely knows its D&D. It was series creator Dan Harmon who forever made famous the line, "I cast magic missile at the darkness," after all! They definitely celebrated the game (albeit with one staff member having to explain the game as an amateur).
With the episode still fresh in mind, we wanted to take a look back at D&D's other appearances on the small screen -- ranked in completely subjective order.
1. Freaks and Geeks: Discos and Dragons (Season 1, Episode 18)
Judd Apatow's tragically short-lived show (it never survived past the first season) centered around high school days in the 80s, with a stellar cast that included Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, and James Franco. For most gamers, the favorite episode would have to be "Discos and Dragons," in which Franco's character joins a session of D&D and gives rise to Carlos the Dwarf (and gives a boost to the "geeks").
Why we love it: For a lot of fans, Franco's portrayal of the cool kid at the table came across as a truly genuine gamer moment -- and a great one, at that. For me personally, I happen to identify quite a lot with Sam Weir at that age. That looked just like my gaming group . . . minus James Franco.
How to watch it: You can watch "Discos and Dragons" only on DVD -- it was the last episode of the show (see The Sarah Connor Chronicles) and never actually aired. The upside is that Apatow went on to produce some of the best comedy movies in recent years (Anchorman, 40 Year Old Virgin, Superbad, et al). For just the clip of Carlos the Dwarf in action, head to YouTube.
2. The IT Crowd: Jen the Fredo (Season 4, Episode 1)
If there's one DM to give Abed a run for his money on the small screen, it's surely Moss (played by Richard Ayoade, who also happens to be directing an upcoming episode of Community). At the start of the 4th season, Moss shows the visiting business partners the good time they've been demanding, and he gives Roy the closure he needs -- by sitting around the table down in the bowels of the IT department.
Why we love it: There's more geek goodness crammed into that IT Department than the Big Bang Theory's apartment (a group we're surprised hasn't been shown playing D&D yet . . . although they have broken out a faux game of Magic: The Gathering and what looks suspiciously like Talisman). The box set even comes with its own roleplaying game!
How to watch it: The episode can now be streamed from Netflix. For any technical difficulties, we'd first ask: Have you tried turning it off and on again?
3. The Simpsons: Homer Goes to College (Season 5, Episode 3)
In "Homer Goes to College," written by none other than Conan O'Brien, Homer enrolls at Springfield University to brush up on his nuclear physics (nucular . . . it's pronounced nucular). Although Homer mentions the game only in a single line, it was still a thrill to hear Homer spending his time at college pretty much the same way we did:
"We played Dungeons & Dragons for three hours! Then I was slain by an elf."
Why we love it: Because it's Homer -- a vastly more respected figure than say, Martin Prince -- who declares himself in "Treehouse of Horrors VI" (the best episodes of the series), "the wondrous wizard of Latin! I am a dervish of declension and a conjurer of conjugation, with a million hit points and maximum charisma."
How to watch it: You don't already have the DVDs? Then catch it on syndication.
4. Futurama: Anthology of Interest I (Season 2, Episode 16)
Of course, there's Bender's Game, the direct-to-video movie that focused on D&D (in which Bender loses himself in the game in the spirit of Robbie Wheeling). But we're referring to the earlier episode, "Anthology of Interest I". Where else can you find Gary Gygax voicing his role as a member of Al Gore's Vice Presidential Action Rangers?
Why we love it: The Action Rangers clearly win the prize for best D&D group (along with Uhura and Deep Blue) outside of Penny Arcade/PvP/Wil Wheaton.
How to watch it: As with the Simpsons -- you probably already own the DVDs.
5. Dungeons & Dragons: The Cartoon
We have to include this one for the sake of our nostalgic Saturday mornings. Uni the unicorn notwithstanding, nothing beat watching a group of kids become a party of characters within the "Realm of Dungeons & Dragons." Sure, we would have loved more actual trappings and monsters from the game itself (why did they go with bullywugs?) -- but when they did weave in the occasional purple worm or beholder, it more than satisfied.
Why we love it: It brought our favorite game to our favorite viewing time: Saturday morning cartoons. Plus, who didn't want Hank's bow for his or her own character?
How to watch it: The DVD set came out not too long ago, complete with game stats for the characters.
6. The Colbert Report
Less for a single episode than for his references of Farineeth, his 21st-level lawful good paladin (and yes, we know that's redundant), we salute Stephen Colbert and his gaming enthusiasm. A written interview appeared on ign.com with more of Farineeth's career, but for us, we celebrate his on-air mentions surrounding the release of D&D Online and his green screen challenge. (Note: The spelling of the paladin's name is in question since, unlike another person with a player character you'll read about below, Stephen Colbert chose not to tattoo his character's name on himself so that we could fact check it. Or maybe he did and he hasn't yet shown it to us?)
Why we love it: Stephen Colbert even took the opportunity to say a goodbye to Gary Gygax -- and that is truly awesome.
How to watch it: View the clips on colbertnation.com.
7. Late Night with Conan O'Brien: Vin Diesel Interview
Back in 2003, Vin Diesel sat down with Conan O'Brien to discuss his 24-year career rolling d20s. Yes, Vin Diesel the roleplayer not only mentioned his drow witch-hunter (double specialization), but revealed that he wore this character's name tattooed across his stomach in xXx. Just look for the one that says "Melkor" as you watch.
Why we love it: The next year, Vin Diesel wrote the forward to 30 Years of Adventure, A Celebration of Dungeons & Dragons.
How to watch it: Look for the YouTube clip. Plus, here he is again on Shootout, talking about more of the same. And again, on Jimmy Kimmel. Folks -- you need snacks, it's as simple as that.
8. Warren the Ape: Abstinence (Season 1, Episode 2)
For fans of Greg the Bunny, it should come as no surprise that Warren DeMontague has had trouble adjusting to celebrity life . . . or really, to life in general. Despite his misgivings, Warren momentarily gets into a D&D game as White Helmet of the Simian Circle -- until the DM swiftly takes him out: "I don't train noobs." (The game store would reappear for an episode involving Magic: The Gathering's Black Lotus.)
Why we love it: Dan Milano, Warren's voice and creator, is no stranger to the game; not only did he star in our Robot Chicken podcasts, but the show's production notes reveal how the episode's props are from Dan's own collection.
How to watch it: You can watch the clip on gtheb.com.
9. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: Born to Run (Season 2, Episode 22)
Oddly enough, the show ran an episode entitled "Dungeons & Dragons" back in its first season (which had nothing to do with the game). We had to wait until the end of the series for John Henry (the sentient computer occupying a Terminator) to roll a d20 and crit an umber hulk with his vorpal longsword.
Why we love it: As it turns out, John Henry could roll 20s at will -- a skill not even displayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger's or Summer Glau's (whom we've followed since Firefly) Terminators.
How to watch it: Sadly, just like Freaks and Geeks, this looked to be the last episode of the suddenly cancelled series. You can still stream the episode off Netflix, though.
10. Dexter's Laboratory: D&D: D&DD (Season 2, Episode 3)
"So you're walking through the forest . . . and you're walking . . . and you're walking along . . ." Although Dexter's sister Dee Dee might not have made the best Dungeon Master, she was still arguably better than Dexter -- and her adventure did feature both a dungeon (well, a forest dungeon) and dragons, not to mention a vorpal sword that goes snicker snack (working in two references at once).
Why we love it: It's a brilliant cartoon, and we're a sucker for vorpal sword references.
How to watch it: Although the Cartoon Network no longer airs the show, they still host a clip (look for Clips/The Many Faces of Dexter/Dungeons & Dexter) with a writing credit for the episode going to Family Guy's Seth MacFarlane.
11. Family Guy: Sibling Rivalry (Season 4, Episode 22)
Warning, it's a fairly NSFW off-color joke (then again, just about everything in Family Guy is fairly off-color and borderline offensive). But we still love the idea of their discussing whether a paladin can use a helm of disintegration . . . in the middle of Peter and Louis's "roleplaying" night.
Why we love it: Homer trumps Peter, in our book . . . but just barely.
How to watch it: You can catch the clip on Adult Swim's website (warning: NSFW).
12. The Sarah Silverman Program: Bored of the Rings (Season 2, Episode 1)
We'll forgive the players for wearing wizard hats around the table and chalk it up to the writers taking creative liberties. But it should come as no surprise to see cast member Brian Posehn as a gamer (wearing the same "You're Not the DM of Me" shirt hanging in my own closet) -- in interviews, he has even mentioned his ongoing real life campaign.
Why we love it: Although Brian's home games have probably never culminated in a real pitched battle, this one did, and in epic style. Brian also stars in an upcoming film, Lloyd the Conqueror -- as a LARPer.
How to Watch It: You can stream the episode from Netflix.
13. The Venture Brothers: Past Tense (Season 1, Episode 11)
In this cartoon, another D&D group from college days features Baron Underbheit, Dr. Venture, and Pete White as players. Appropriately enough, the game ends when Brock Samson steps on a die and goes berserk (in true Brock Samson style).
Why we love it: Of all the cartoons on the list, this is our favorite. It has our favorite role for Patrick Warburton since David Puddy (although Steve Winter here prefers the underrated Emperor's New Groove).
How to watch it: As with many things on this list, you really should already have these DVDs.
14. That 70s Show: Radio Daze (Season 3, Episode 14)
What more can we say? It's Booger (Curtis Armstrong), Howard Hesseman, and Alice Cooper sitting around the table, facing a "dragon of fear." They could use their rod of cancellation, but it's chancy. Good stuff (gratuitous lack of girls joke aside).
Why we love it: Alice Cooper. Playing D&D.
How to watch it: The shows are on DVD and streaming off Netflix. For the clip, head to YouTube.
15. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
OK, you caught us. We're totally cheating on this one. We could have gone with any number of the game's other references (Liz Lemon designing a dungeon on 30 Rock, an ant described as neither good nor evil but "unaligned" in Adventure Time, the X-Files episode "Jose Chung's From Outer Space," Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or heck, even with Gen Con Indy on the Showcase Showdown a few weeks ago). Since this article is about D&D's appearance on the small screen, let's pretend this movie counts if you're watching it at home on DVD.
Why we love it: Although they never mention Dungeons & Dragons by name, we all know what they're playing around the kitchen table. This is probably the single most remembered reference to the game from the 80s (even more so than the entire Dungeons & Dragons cartoon series, which aired a year later). For a lot of us, this is also the best remembered reference for the game, ever.
How to watch it: DVD. Or, to see the clip, check YouTube.
What Have We Missed?
Are there small screen references of the game we missed? Let us know!
Bart Carroll has been a part of Wizards of the Coast since 2004, and a D&D player since 1980 (and has fond memories of coloring the illustrations in his 1st Edition Monster Manual). He currently works as producer for the D&D website. You can find him on Twitter (@bart_carroll) and at bartjcarroll.com.