Mazes & Monsters and the BADD old days: I’m collecting stories of the backlash against Dungeons & Dragons

I’m collecting stories. I want to hear from any of you who played Dungeons & Dragons or any other pencil-and-paper fantasy role-playing games back in the day.

Specifically, I’m looking for stories of condemnation, consternation, opprobrium and sheer, unvarnished panic that you may have encountered during the height of the backlash against such games. Anything related to the Satanic panic, BADD, Mazes & Monsters, or to any of the myriad fundamentalist urban legends involving dark magic, spiritual warfare, or encounters with “real” spells, monsters or demons resulting from the perilous use of graph paper and multi-sided dice.

I’m guessing that some folks have no idea what any of the above is all about. But I’m sure that others know exactly what I’m referring to.

I first played such games back in the Reagan years. We played Tunnels & Trolls, which was every bit the down-market knock-off of D&D that its name suggests. It was a cheaper, simplified version that relied entirely on six-sided dice — requiring an unwieldy number of them for play at higher levels (we looted every Yahtzee set and board game in all of our houses).

The great advantage of Tunnels & Trolls for my friends and I was that it was not Dungeons & Dragons, which allowed us to defend the hobby in our evangelical Christian world by saying, “Oh, no, no, no. Of course we’re not playing Dungeons & Dragons. This is completely different.”

Eventually, to better shield ourselves from the concerns and criticisms of the good Christian folk at our churches and our school, we switched to MERP — Middle Earth Role-Playing. That was based on Tolkien, and Tolkien was friends with C.S. Lewis. So that had to be acceptable.

But for every member of our core-group of players, we had several other friends who wanted to play, but were not allowed. Some of their parents or churches objected due to the Mazes-and-Monsters style urban legends that were circulating back then. Others came from churches that embraced the demons-are-everywhere notion of spiritual warfare that Frank Peretti would soon ride to riches with This Present Darkness and its sequels. Others simply condemned any game involving imaginary magic for the same un-reasons that a later generation of evangelicals would condemn the Harry Potter novels.

I’m reconsidering that part of my personal history because I’m interested in how that anti-D&D sentiment ties in with the Satanic panic of that same period, and with the related phenomenon of things like Mike Warnke’s “ex-Satanic high priest” ministry, like the viral rumors about Procter & Gamble, and like the obsession with combatting Satanic baby-killers that was then transforming the public identity of our increasingly politicized evangelical subculture. (One irony of all of that, I think, is that fantasy role-playing games wound up being condemned by many people precisely because they had adopted a moralistic framework in which they were role-playing their own fantasy scenario.)

So I want to hear your stories too. If you were the proud owner of a set of multi-sided dice back then, what did your parents, relatives, teachers or Sunday school teachers think or say about that hobby? Did you have any encounters with anyone associated with BADD (Bothered About Dungeons & Dragons)? Did you encounter any religious objections to your playing such games?

Please let me know. Share your stories here in comments or, if you’d prefer, email me at slacktivist (at) hotmail-dot-com.

Thanks.

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  • usul222

    My friends and I started playing RPGs in 93. My best friend purchased the books and wanted to run a game, it sounded cool so I told my parents. My father is a preacher. As you can guess he responded by telling me that he didn’t want me to do that. Oddly enough, the reason that he gave was “games like that teach you to lie, they teach you that it is often acceptable to break laws and do immoral things to get what you want.” He never mentioned the link to the occult. Fortunately my friend had also purchased a copy of the Star Wars RPG. When we asked if I could play that he said “Sure, Star Wars is good wholesome fun”. So we played Star Wars, and sometimes we “played” Star Wars.

    Another good story is when my brother, sister and I started to collect and play Magic: The Gathering. We were playing on the back porch when dad came home and asked what we were playing, we told him the name of the game and he got angry face. We hastily explained that there were different colors of magic cards, blue was water, red was fire, green was nature, the white ones were even holy, and we didn’t use the black cards. He looked thoughtful for a moment, then told us that it was ok so long as we didn’t use the black magic. We were surprised that this ploy worked and spent a few more weeks allowance each on new cards. After a couple months, we came home from school and the cards were just gone. No one asked and nothing was ever said.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Oddly enough, the reason that he gave was “games like that teach you to lie, they teach you that it is often acceptable to break laws and do immoral things to get what you want.” He never mentioned the link to the occult. Fortunately my friend had also purchased a copy of the Star Wars RPG. When we asked if I could play that he said “Sure, Star Wars is good wholesome fun”. So we played Star Wars, and sometimes we “played” Star Wars.

    Of course, playing the “good guys” in Star Wars kind of requires you to break the laws.  Granted, they are quite probably unjust laws you are breaking in the name of toppling a tyrannical regime, but still… 

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

     

    Fortunately my friend had also purchased a copy of the Star Wars RPG.
    When we asked if I could play that he said “Sure, Star Wars is good
    wholesome fun”.

    Obviously did NOT go to Chuck Smith’s Calvary Chapel.  That guy had a pathological obsession about Star Wars = Witchcraft.

  • DandDPreacher

     Let me tell you! I have a bunch of stories of the dark days. 
     First a little about my background I am a 48 years old and have been gaming since 1975 came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ in 1979. I survived satanic panic but have scars.
     Story one: in (get) high school. My high school was a dopers paradise but for someone who wanted to learn it was a nightmare. I was bullied by one  fundi-vangilist kid and a fundi-vangilist staff member daily because I was a gamer. I lived in Lansing MI. near MSU and when James Dallas Eggbert ran off the local police herded a bunch of us D&D cultists up for questioning no lawyers no parents . My dad came up to the school looking for me when I didn’t call or come home. We were putting a addition on the house and I was learning construction skills from the family. Dad went ballistic to say the least at them and me.
     The next time the fundi-vangilist staff member came to the house with other fundi-vangilist staff members during dads newspaper reading time, we had a firm belief that the Russians knew when this was and would not attack during this time out of fear. So they come to the house and start railing on about how I am a satanist blah blah blah.
     and how he needed to do something or else the  fundi-vangilist kung-fu staff member would. It was than that I heard the dreaded “eldest son attend me” this was a herald to my impending doom in most cases but this time I lived here is what happened “eldest son are you a satanist, devil worshiper or involved in any unlawful action”? lying to my dad was not something I recommended as he would look through you and make you wish the Ghost Rider was in front of you instead. I answered “no sir” most timidly.  
     His next question was “what do you of that boy who vanished from campus”? My answer “Nothing sir” than the idiots threatened my mother. A little about my dad is in order.
     He survived the Korean war and went on to be a combat instructor in firearms and hand to hand, Next to his recliner was a wooden book case I made for him it held his newspapers and his 1911 pistol, two magazines for said pistol. I said nothing of this to the  fundi-vangilists. when kung-fu guy started to move dad lined up on him while mom called the sheriff (local police are less than useful and the Sheriff was a friend of my dads) Sheriff shows up and tells him what happened and then took hold of the  fundi-vangilist and tossed them out into street . dad asked mom if she would budget in the grocery money for pizza and soda for our game group every week.
     Christmas was spectacular that year  D&D stuff  and Traveller stuff like you would not believe.

  • Tricksterson

    Okay, fuck discus.  Tried to post a link but failed.  According to the medical definition an addiction can be to a behavior as well as a substance.  examples cited include gambling, eating etc.  On a personal level I’ve seen people’s personalities dissapear into their characters.  admittedly this was with LARPing where roleplay can go on for days at a time and is reenforced by character play offsite.

  • David DeLaney

    Just noting here that I encountered a Chick tract lying on a shelf near the SF&F section in my local Barnes & Noble this weekend. I think it was the classic Dark Dungeons one, too. This is NOT a bookstore in which this happens often at all… but shows there’s still these misguided folk out there.

    –Dave

  • Gene

    I have two different close encounters and many minor ones that I won’t recount…

    The first event occurred when I was a student in College in late 1986 or 87.  I was a commuter student and to save money rode the college commuter bus most days.  It was usually 2/3rds empty and this particular day was no exception.  The trip took about 45 minutes and made numerous stops.  I was using the time to prep for my Saturday game (I was the DM) and had all my D&D books with me.  (They were the pretty 1st edition ones with the evocative art.  There was a big smiling demon on the cover of the DMG!).

    About half-way through the trip a fellow traveller asked if I’d mind if he sat next to me, this despite the fact that there were plenty of empty seats in front of and behind me.  But being a decent person, I just gathered my stuff together and made room for him…

    Shortly after that, the seats in front of and behind me filled in solidly and they began chatting with my seat-mate…  And then it happened:  My seat-mate asked, “Do you know Jesus as your lord and Savior?”… closely followed by “How can you read that stuff, it’s the work of Satan!”  

    It was a VERY strained 20 minutes from that point until we arrived.  At some point I explained that:  A)  Yes, in fact I am a Christian.  B)  I was taught that Jesus loved folks, not judged them.  And C)  It was a creative and interesting way to meet folks and make freinds, which clearly they needed some practice at.  I found out later that I was subsequently banned from the campus Baptist Student Center because of my status a cult leader.  This was a great relief because it eliminated all the pressure to attend bible study sessions held there every afternoon.

    The second event happened just after the Pearl High School shooting in 1997.  I have owned my own internet domain for a long time.  I purchased it coming out of college so that A)  I could own my own cyber-identity, rather than let Yahoo own it.  And B) because I hoped to someday publish all my D&D campaign materials.  The domain is host to a support website for the ongoing D&D campaign I’ve been running since 1983.  I happened to live in Jackson MS at the time, about 10 miles from Pearl High School.

    I got a phone call from someone who identified themself as a reporter for the Memphis Plain Dealer.  They were looking for color commentary “from a D&D group (he slipped and said ‘cult’ but corrected himself) leader about the rumor that the shooter had done it because his cult leader had ordered him to do it after playing D&D together.  Apparently his cult leader wasn’t taking phone calls.  (The Wikipedia article for the Pearl Shooting is really quite complete on the details.)

    They called me because a web search had established that I was a senior and longstanding practitioner of D&D in Jackson MS. 

    I think I talked with that guy for an hour.  I had so MANY misconceptions to set straight.  Once it became clear to him that D&D was a social activity with about as much actual meaning behind it as hosting football watching parties and playing poker with your buddies I knew I’d gotten through to him.  Basically:  D&D is about shooting the shit with your friends, eating Pizza, and (if you’re old enough) drinking beer together.

    I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised when he didn’t call me back to follow up any further on D&D…  And as near as I can tell the Memphis Plain Dealer quit publishing negative stuff about D&D from that point on.

    Gene Pharr

    I don’t mind being on public record about this.  uurth.com is my website…  Never did publish though.

  • NJGamer

    I’ve been playing since early 1996 and largely missed the Satanic Panic.  When I first got interested my mother (non-denominational, non-practicing Christian) was worried about it based on the old rumors, but a friend’s mother explained what it was all about and she changed her mind.  She actually discussed it with some of my friends’ parents as well when they were hesitant, and they all came around once they’d had the game explained to them as well.  I never really got picked on in school over playing, though I didn’t exactly go around advertising that I was a gamer either.

    Based on these experiences, when I first started dating my wife in 2003 or so, when her parents (extremely religious Catholics) indicated that they were concerned about the game, I figured I’d just give them a quick explanation and they’d come around too.  So I prepped my little speech, told them what the game was like in practice, how it’s played, how you fight evil for the most part, etc.  I also offered to let them borrow one of my books (the original Forgotten Realms boxed set) so that they could read through it and make up their own minds.  There wasn’t a fight or anything, they basically just kind of nodded their heads and said the game made them uncomfortable.  After I left, they apparently flipped through the book, said some of the pictures were disturbing, and told her they didn’t want her or her brother playing.  A while later her mother noticed a Werewolf: the Apocalypse book that I had lent her and claimed she could feel evil spirits surrounding the book.  For the most part, the incident helped me to realize that they considered their own gut feelings and something a priest may have said one time to be more credible than a reasoned argument I made, so there was really no point in trying to explain anything to them.  My wife and I continued to play, just not at their house.  We stopped inviting her brother out of respect for their feelings, and he ended up getting pretty heavily involved with drugs and alcohol.

    In the years since I’m pretty sure my in-laws have softened their stance on the issue, considering that they know I’ve been playing this entire time and nothing seems to be wrong with me.  I even ran a D&D session in their house with a couple of their children them present, though I didn’t call it that.  Since then their youngest child has joined a D&D club at his school and there appears to be no friction due to that. 

  • http://omorka.blogspot.com/ Omorka

    Apologies if this is redundant, but given the mention of Tunnels & Trolls in the post, I wanted to point out that Flying Buffalo is currently doing a Kickstarter campaign to get the 9th edition of T&T printed.  Some of these game have stamina, Satanic Panic be damned!

  • Web

    I remember playing once and my mom came in a bit worried because she read that a kid shot another. Seems the victim tried to cast a shield spell and it failed to stop the bullet. Without missing a beat my friend said, “what an idiot, should have cast a protection from normal missiles.” My mom’s eyes bulged until we all broke out laughing. That was the end of that.

  • http://inquisitiveravn.livejournal.com/ Inquisitive Raven

    I first heard about D&D from a high school English teacher in ’78 or ’79. I think he may have been the DM for the local gaming group. He also did what could be described as Middle Earth LARPING, but I don’t think the term “LARP” had been coined yet.  I didn’t actually play until I got to college though. Female DM, lots of house rules and a homebrew setting. It was a pretty gender balanced group. 

    My parents are non-religious, so I escaped the whole Satanic panic thing, but when James Dallas Egbert disappeared, I did get the worries about being able to distinguish fantasy from  reality from my parents. Also, if my school had steam tunnels,  I never found them.

    These days if I game at all, it’s (old) World of Darkness or GURPS.

  • GhostOf503

    Started playing when I was a 6th grader in 2000. My dad who came-of-age during the Satanic Panic told me he “didn’t want me playing no D&D” and maintained that until he saw that rather then conducting satanic incantations the game was 4 geeks sitting around a table throwing a lot of weird-looking dice around.

  • Rob Wilkison

    I got off light when I started D&D in 1987 (or so).  I am from Jacksonville and only had to promise my grandmother I would not go insane from playing D&D. My parents grew to like my gaming habit, they knew where I would be and what I was doing. I still game now and have recently introduced my fifteen-year-old niece to gaming via Nightbane.

  • Uperhoan

    I remember seeing this video when I was a kid. It’s from a Christian musician named Carmen. The video is called “Witch’s Invitation.” When visiting the home of this witch, he makes note of D&D books amongst the witch’s “Satanic” possessions.

    http://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=P_WmqvXiJwI&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DP_WmqvXiJwI

    D&D at 3:58

  • Stuart Richards

    My dad was an officer in the Air Force in the 90s when I was growing up. I made the mistake of telling a friend of mine, whose dad was enlisted, that I played D&D with my dad. He told his, and next time I was at his house his dad pulled me aside to tell me about the “spiritual dangers” and then he prayed with me to become saved, because apparently our Episcopal church wasn’t Jesusy enough if they let me play D&D.

    I was always told after that to keep our D&D hobbies a secret. There were too many evangelicals in the ranks, and if any of them happened to be a higher rank than my dad, it could’ve made our life miserable. I finally let friends in on it when I was in high school in the early 2000s, and by then nobody understood what the big deal was. Times changed a lot in those ten years, I guess.


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