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.


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  • Pretty boring: Ft Worth, Texas suburb, around 1988 – I taught children’s karate and was walking past a SF bookstore with one of the parents of a 10-year old. Out of the blue she called it a “Satanist store”. Baffled, I asked why – it was because they had a D&D game in the window.

    Other than that, nothing. Only reason I never played back then is I never knew anyone who did.

  • MissusKelain

    Long-time lurker here (followed over from the old site, don’t kill me with sheep, etc.).
    I should be too young to have experienced this (born in ’91), but my evangelical mother sold my father’s 1ed books and freaked out when I brought the 3.5ed books home from the library in 2002 or so. She really calmed down once she saw me playing it (with my father and brother, no less!). My 7th grade band director gave me all of his 1ed books and lead miniatures after I told him “chromatic” was for dragons, not musical scales.I was still very aware of the stigma attached to D&D, particularly the urban legends that it caused suicide (see: The “Dark Dungeons” Chick tract). The stigma actually keep me from serious self-harm for years, out of fear my depression would be blamed on playing D&D.

    I don’t know why my mother held this one particular fear decades years after its heyday but never latched onto Harry Potter or imaginary Satanists.

  • Baby_Raptor

    My exhusband’s parents were completely convinced that DnD was to blame for Asshole’s previous girlfriend leaving him. They told him that Satan used DnD to “bind the two of them together,” and that she was “unable to resist this binding” and had to leave him for the other guy. (Who was his life-long best friend, but they didn’t mention if this guy was chosen on purpose or if it was a coincidence.) 

    Truth of the matter was, the girl and the friend had been messing around behind Asshole’s back for a long while. But the parentals never liked her and they never liked DnD, so it was a win/win blame mode for them. 

  • markedward

    I first heard of D&D when I was about twelve (late 90s). A friend had gotten the game, I played a few sessions, then my mom found out and compared it to the Ouija, and forbade me from ever playing it again. Same thing happened with the Harry Potter books.

    Ten years later (late 00s), my college roommate and I decided to try the latest version of the game. Now we play one or two campaigns per year. My mom has relaxed on it; she’s realized that D&D is not going to turn me into a satanist (or whatever ‘magic’-associated scapegoat was big back in the 90s). Same thing happened with the Harry Potter movies.

  • Cradicus

    I started playing D&D right at the end of the 80s, when I was 9 or 10. My folks were pretty liberal and my cousins had played the game for a while so it wasn’t a big deal there, but I remember being at the pediatrician for my annual check up and filling out a questionnaire thing and one of the questions was about my hobbies and I put D&D. After reading it the doctor pulled my mom aside and explained that “those games” weren’t safe and led to a lot of personal problems, though I don’t think he mentioned satanism specifically. I’m interested to see what other people say though, I find that early 80s “Satanic Panic” to be endlessly interesting!

  • Genesis

    I’m wondering why there’s so little christian outrage over World of Warcraft.

  • TheDarkArtist

    My family was kind of post-Christian liberal hippie types, so aside from my mom not wanting me to listen to “evil” music like Metallica and Anthrax, I wasn’t all that affected by the whole Satanic Panic.

    However, when my mom saw me drawing dragons and wizards and playing Dragon Warrior II on the NES, she decided to take me to the library to check out some fantasy novels. She didn’t know that Dungeons and Dragons was a tabletop RPG and not a novel, so she asked the librarian if they had it.

    All I remember is the librarian starting to give my mom some lecture about how it was irresponsible for her to be exposing me to that kind of thing, and my mom getting really pissed off and telling that lady exactly what she thought of her unsolicited parenting advice.

    But, then I got to play D&D with my best friend’s college-age brother and some of his friends when I was in like 4th grade, and it ruled. I can’t remember if I was an orc or a drow, but I remember that it was awesome.

  • Rick

    Been lurking for about four years now, so I guess I’ll jump in and comment.  My mom was a lapsed Catholic who converted to RTC when I was about 8 (1980 or so).  About a year before that, she got a job in what would today be thought of as IT, so she was around a lot of young nerdy guys at work.  Those guys suggested that her son might like D&D so she bought it for me.

    A couple years later, I think she regretted that, once she heard all the stories.  She didn’t take the D&D stuff away, but she discouraged me from playing and specifically told me not to talk about it at church.  I heard all the stories too, and wondered how true they were.  I saw all the crazy stuff – exorcisms at church camp, etc. – and while I did sort of suspect this was all just some kind of emotional frenzy they were working people into, I didn’t realize until much later that the whole Satanist movement was completely invented out of whole cloth.  Until my early twenties, I believed there were people getting together in black robes out in the woods, sacrificing animals, etc. 

  • Glenn Peters

    I was playing D&D with my friend, and his father walked in and said “don’t you guy summon any demons!”  I laughed, then my friend explained that his father wasn’t joking.

  • YggiDee

    I’m a little young to have encountered the DnD moral panic, and Canadian as well (I think we’re more lax about that sort of thing?) , but me and all my friends were well aware of the phenomenon when we started playing.  However, I believe that Dark Dungeons (here- is a pretty solid example of what you’re looking for.

  • J_Enigma23

    Alas, I was far too young. I didn’t start playing until around 2006 or 2007, well beyond the era of panics. Furthermore, I never knew any evangelicals. In fact, what you might be interested in knowing is that the suspected evangelicals I do know – right wing, no less – are familiar with the game and play it, so times have changed (I call them suspected because I never ask; I’m an atheist and I work with them, so some questions are better left buried).

    As for me personally, I left D&D and fantasy in general behind back in 2010. I run mostly science fiction games, on the hard end (with very little magic/psi), with a dash of horror thrown in just because. All of my recent science fiction games have had a transhuman slant to them (which shouldn’t be surprising for regulars to my blog).

  • reynard61

    The only story I have (second-hand, sadly. I’d love to have seen it with my own eyes.) is from a few years ago when a street preacher showed up on Massachusetts Avenue (then a burgeoning arts/commercial district) and launched into a “D&D-is-EvilZOMG!!!”-type spiel. He drew a small crowd, but then a couple of skateboarders started asking some rather pointed questions (i.e. “Got any proof?”, “Where and when did such-and-such take place?” [referring to a supposed D&D-instigated suicide that was cited], etc.) and caused him to leave in a rather nasty huff. (Not the first time I’ve heard of a supposed “Christian” shouting “F**k you!” at someone who dared to question their veracity.) Why he chose Mass. Ave. to preach about Teh Evilz of D&D is beyond me. The only place Downtown that sells RPG gaming items is a comic book store on The Circle.

  • Liz

    When I was around 14, some time in ’96 or ’97, a friend invited me to join her D&D group, but my mother, who was then part of a Pentecostal church, made disapproving noises.  

    At the time I assumed her disapproval was religious — we had been a super-conservative Catholic family, and, for example, I wasn’t allowed to watch shows that contained martial arts (Imitative Violence), environmentalist messages (Leads To Population Control) or gay characters (Do I Need To Spell It Out?).  

    I found out a couple of years later that she hadn’t even been aware there was religious disapproval of D&D — she just figured I was already obsessive, nerdy and shy, and that Star Trek took up enough of my time already.  

    I was secretly a bit disappointed that I hadn’t actually been Oppressed by Religion, but luckily then Harry Potter came along, and one of her fellow Pentecostals tried to pray the evil out of my Slytherin backpack in Jesus’ name, and that was good enough.

  • Woo! MERP shout-out! Never played, but my longest running FRP campaign used Rolemaster, which was sort of the grown-up version. 

    Not much of that ever came to HI, although I remember one very nice fellow who gamed with us once and never showed up again. When we ran into him at the arcade later he told us he was 7th day Adventist and his mom wasn’t going to let him play anymore. So that kind of sucked. 

    The Christian overreaction, however, was instrumental in me becoming an atheist at a very young age and becoming interested in everything else they said was ‘evil’; heavy metal music (which actually works pretty well with FRP games) and satanism (which is what I was into as teenager instead of Ayn Rand, I guess).

  • Baby_Raptor

    Some of them decide to use it as a “witnessing” tool. I started on Alexstrasza and now play on Mok’Nathal, and on both servers have seen things like people sitting in highly populated chat channels spamming bible verses, getting whispers from random characters asking me if I’ve found Jesus, Christian guilds, ETC. 

    There was a group back on Alex who would send players out to various zones to take prayer requests then pray in the local chat channel. I talked to one, and was told that he “felt called” to “show hope to the anti-socials of the world.” That bit was rather offensive.

  • Nicolae Carpathia

    I prefer linking to the dissections than to the tracts themselves:

    An MST3K of the tract

    Enter the Jabberwock’s dissection

  • I never played actual physical D&D type games though I did read a book based on Warhammer or some other space type game at a friend’s house. I remember it used weird terms like “coreward” and “rimward” and it was a story about a guy who thought he had an in on something and it ended with him finding out it was a huge betrayal. It might’ve been in some kind of diary format.

    Anyway, I DID however, play a LOT of the Bard’s Tale. :P I never truly completed the game, but boy, did I spend a lot of time on the level grinding necessary to get some badass characters. :D Oddly, the fact that there was magic casting in the game bothered me not a whit probably because knowing that it was on a computer and therefore clearly not physical in the same way a tabletop game is, it couldn’t “affect” me in any way.

  • MaryKaye

    A story told to me by a Fundamentalist gamer (his self-description):  He saw Pat Robertson’s hatchet job about D&D on the 700 Club and was deeply offended, so he wrote a letter explaining how wrong Robertson was.  He got back a response which said,

    “We’re glad you’re among the millions of Americans concerned about D&D.  Please consider sending a contribution to our important work.”

    He was apoplectic.  I wasn’t so surprised myself.  I had asked myself many years earlier why D&D got all the attention and not, say, In Nomine or Vampire.  Answer:  because it is most profitable to attack very popular things, and completely unprofitable to attack obscure ones.

  • MaryKaye

    I started playing in 1978, but I grew up in a liberal Catholic family
    and (other than arguments about whether
    “chaotic good” is an oxymoron–that bugged my mother for some reason)
    they never gave me any trouble about it at all.  I had one odd moment in
    graduate school when I said “D&D” to my advisor’s secretary and she
    said “Isn’t that dangerous?”–turns out she thought it involved sewer
    tunnels.  (This motivated me to check out Berkeley’s storm-drain system,
    which is actually very cool.) 

    But that was it until 2006
    when  my husband and I decided to adopt.  I can’t say that D&D was
    the cause of our 2-year failed attempts to adopt via DSHS–there was
    massive trouble with our social worker over our religion and general
    lifestyle.  But she did bring it up as a contributing factor to her
    stalling our home-study endlessly.  We finally appealed to the state
    ombudsman and got the home study done,
    but never had any kids referred to us, and after the home study ran out
    she refused to renew it.  At that point we hired a private agency, and
    are now adoptive parents, but it wasted 2 years that I regret very
    much.  I don’t know what her religious views were.  She of course was
    not supposed to discuss them with us.  But it was clear that our lives
    gave her the heebie-jeebies.  She sent my husband to a psychologist for
    child-abuse-propensity testing–that was expensive, and the psychologist
    wrote back an irritated letter saying that she was wasting his time.

    This was a sad disappointment to me, as Seattle is generally a very liberal city.  We had no trouble with the private agency, though, nor with our son’s DSHS worker.  We just had bad luck with that first one.

    husband and I play a lot–two in-house campaigns that we alternate
    between, and a third involving our teenager and the teenaged son of a
    recently deceased friend.  It’s been a staple of my life since
    1978–wow, am I that old?–and I fully expect to be playing in the
    nursing home by and by.

  • Kadh2000

    Child of the ’60s.  Raised Roman Catholic.   Heard about the backlash.  Never experienced it, either personally or through stories from my friends.  My mother even bought me my first D&D set.  

  • Tapetum

    Back when D&D first came out, my next-oldest brother got into it bigtime. At the time my parents (loosely Christian, practice only very intermittently) had no objections, and the weekly meetings were at our house. Forward six or so years (there’s quite an age gap between us), and I’m playing with friends, and again my parents have no objections.

    And here’s where things get weird.  Fast forward 25 years, I’ve married a gamer husband, who’s part of a regular group that’s been meeting weekly for years now. Our sons have gotten to an age to be interested, so husband, who’s an experienced DM starts a family game – me, the boys, a couple of near age friends.

    Cue my parents freaking out about the psychological damage we might be doing to our children. They’ve literally been watching my brother and me and my husband playing this game for more than 30 years, and now they decide it’s a satanist/liberal/i-don’t-know-what-the-hell plot to destroy the vulnerable psyches of children? The fuck?

    It’s worth noting that my parents have also gone from modestly progressive to flamingly conservative in these last twenty years or so. Now they’re even talking about finding and joining a local church. I’d be more enthusiastic if I didn’t have a deep sinking feeling about what kind of church they’d be likely to end up in.

  • Lliira

     There is. There is Christian outrage over anything with magic and fantasy and imagination in it. I learned this first-hand while working in a game store a few years ago.

    The most outstanding example: a woman came in to return Final Fantasy 12, which we had sold to her teenage daughter. (It is rated teen, and I think anyone 10+ would be perfectly fine playing it, and maybe younger.)  She told me, aghast, that it had magic in it. I couldn’t help a surprised laugh. She yelled at me for laughing at her, and said it was one of those “demon games”.

    I just took the return and didn’t say anything. Hopefully her daughter was able to play the game at a friend’s house or something.

  • Ben English

    I’m far too young to have gotten into the game when the moral panic was still going, but I grew up in a very conservative church and and the parochial school attached to it, so through osmosis I absorbed the horror stories about D&D and learned of all the supposed dangers. Then, around the turn of the century, my cousin got into the new edition with his music instructor, and the Lord of the Rings movies also hit, and these things came together and got my brother into it.

    Knowing all the stories, I went into it somewhat wary but quickly realized how silly it all was after a session or two. Still, my brother wasn’t quite a good enough DM to hold my interest, so I stopped playing until around mid 2008–which was after the unworkable fundamentalist upbringing I’d had put me in a mental hospital for two weeks for depression.

    We were playing an anime-themed game then, but after two years of putting up with that game’s horrible balance, we got into the latest edition of D&D. So far, none of us have converted to Satanism. I’m currently running a game in the Legend of Zelda universe.

  • Nothing when I was young, sadly. My mom was thrilled that I played D&D, because she knew where I was Friday nights and it forced me to socialize with other humans.

    When I was older, I met a friend whose dad was a Baptist minister and he *ran* AD&D games, figuring that fighting demons and rescuing the townsfolk was a pretty good thing for his kids to emulate.

    When I got married, my wife came from a family where D&D and fantasy books / films were strictly forbidden for their evil influence. So naturally, as soon as she hooked up with me, she jumped right into Harry Potter and Shadowrun with me, and ended up working for the Mechwarrior click-base people for a couple of years. So that went as intended… in no way at all.

    I always said, “I don’t know how rolling 20-sided dice is going to teach me to throw real fireballs, but I’m looking forward to it.”

  • Jenny Islander

    I have played since the days of the floppy red rulebook and the lightweight dice that went round at the corners awfully quickly.  I have personally gotten horrified looks from two kids my then-age (preteen) who were convinced that I was going to start sacrificing goats any second because I played THAT GAME.  

    I have heard horrific things from people I talked to online–one guy said he was physically disabled to the point of not being able to leave the house without help, dependent on his parents, and they had threatened to cut off his Internet access because his online buddies were gamers, which is awful if true.  But I got this one straight from the horse’s mouth.  

    This happened in my freshman or sophomore year of high school IIRC.  This one guy who had come to games sometimes suddenly stopped showing up or returning his friends’ calls.  (He was an acquaintance of mine, not a friend.)  I bumped into him in the stacks at the public library and he told me why.  He had purchased all of his rulebooks, miniatures, and dice with money from his after-school job.  One day his parents came home from listening to some preacher who had been specially flown in to preach a revival or a seminar or some such thing.  (We had 57 flavors of fundamentalist in town and they all anathematized each other.)  Anyway, they came back from listening to that man absolutely convinced that their son was possessed by demons.  They had their own clergyperson come over, threw everything their son had bought with his own money into a trash can in the backyard–right down to the pads of graph paper–and set fire to it while the clergyperson prayed over it.  Then the kid’s father threatened him with military school somewhere far away if he dared dabble in anything as horrible as D&D ever again.  The kid said that even being seen talking to D&D players could get him sent away, which was why he had followed me into the stacks.  And his friends pretty much all played D&D.  He said bitterly that he was planning to leave town on his own as soon as he graduated and never come back ever.  As far as I know, that is exactly what he did.

    For added stupidity, ISTR that they were actually Catholic, meaning that they went to listen to some guy who also preached that Catholics were bound for Hell, and believed what he said about D&D.  However, I don’t know enough about the Catholic parish back then to confirm this.

    As for me, I met my husband through the game and we are teaching our kids how to play.  Still can’t get any of the magic to work, though.  Gee, I wonder why!

    BTW, Fred, if you haven’t already read it, here’s a link to the Pulling Report:

  • After seeing that ridiculous movie, Mazes & Monsters, my parents banned Dungeons & Dragons from the household, and ordered me to throw away all my gaming books and dice, many of which I had bought myself after much painstaking scrimping and saving of my puny weekly allowance. I had to have a friend sneak into our trashcan to save them all – and he MADE ME BUY THEM BACK FROM HIM!

  • Baf

    I had only one direct encounter with this phenomenon, and it came about as a result of my D&D group being organized as a 4H club. (That seems a little weird, now that I look back on it, but 4H was pretty big where I grew up.) Being a 4H club meant that we had a booth at the annual 4H fair, with a display of the various D&D books we had and possibly some painted miniatures, amidst all the other booths from clubs devoted to crafts and animal husbandry and whatnot. It was there that a couple of fairgoers from the Flemington Assembly of God found us and decided to try to save us from the dire consequences of what we were doing. “You’re playing with fire” was a repeated phrase. Also, one of them mentioned opening one of the books and seeing Divination all over the place — “Divination, divination”. I didn’t know what she was talking about at the time, but I later figured out that she must have been looking at the spell list in the Dungeon Master’s Guide: divination is one of the categories of  spell, containing mostly utility spells such as Detect Magic and Identify. I had never paid much attention to this because, in first-edition D&D, these descriptors didn’t have much of any game-mechanical effect — later editions have were rules for specializing in particular types of magic, but that hadn’t happened yet. Anyway, these people quoted some bible verses warning about what happens to people who practice divination. We tried to tell them that D&D players just *pretend* to practice divination, but they just replied that we were playing with fire. I don’t think the encounter left anyone satisfied.

    I wasn’t at the booth the whole time, but apparently they came back several times and attempted to save whoever was manning it at the moment. Eventually this led to them arguing with one club member’s father, who was a rabbi, and a lot better at quoting the bible than they were.

    (Unrelatedly, anyone who remembers Mazes & Monsters might be interested in Paul Hughes’ attempts at reconstructing a playable game from the glimpses you get in movie. Mazes & Monsters, it turns out, differs from D&D in significant ways! His blog posts about it are indexed at

  • I cannot say that I ever found condemnation for my playing of Dungeons & Dragons.  In fact, my parents got me the Second Edition Basic Starter Set when I was ten because I asked them for it for Christmas.  

    The only thing in which this ties into any religious stigmatization or in this case destigmatization was because I had some friends in high school and college who happened to be Mormon.  We bonded together by playing Battletech in the study room during lunch at school, and once we went to college we would get together every Saturday to play an AD&D 2nd Ed campaign (third edition having only just come out by that time and we were not yet familiar enough with the new rules to want to jump right in.)  

    The point of this being, before then I knew no Mormons.  These were experiences that we shared and bonded over, and it went a long way toward helping break down any kind of distance or “otherness” I might have felt over an unfamiliar faith with a reputation for aggressive proselytization (a reputation that would normally put me on the defensive.)  They were just people, more than that, they were fellow geeks, and despite what might have made us different, I knew that we were part of the same tribe.  

  • “Because sometimes heavy metal is not about Satan.  Sometimes it’s about Sauron.”

  • Some of them decide to use it as a “witnessing” tool. I started on Alexstrasza and now play on Mok’Nathal, and on both servers have seen things like people sitting in highly populated chat channels spamming bible verses, getting whispers from random characters asking me if I’ve found Jesus, Christian guilds, ETC. 


    For the gaming Christian in your life.

  •  She told me, aghast, that it had magic in it. I couldn’t help a surprised laugh. She yelled at me for laughing at her, and said it was one of those “demon games”.

    You know, this really makes me think “What about Clarke’s Third Law?”  At what point does magic become not-magic in the eyes of such people?  If the magic is sufficiently “hermetic”, involving enacting the proper channels and triggers to created an effect which is reproducible within the context of its own world, is it still “magic” or is just an alternative science?

  • Makabit

    As a non-Christian and a non-D&D player, this may be worthless, but I was born in 1973, and does bring up memories.

    I never actually played, but a lot of my friends did. Both of my grandmothers, (one devout Catholic, one secular Jew), expressed concern that I would get ‘involved’, not because they believed in demons, but because they’d read media reports that kids who played D&D went crazy, or joined cults.
    (Cults were a giant concern for Jews in the 1980s. I have no idea if this was based on a lot of Jews actually joining cults, or if it was just as bogus as most of the other 1980s terrors that stalked in the night, but my very Reform religious school training was pretty much focused on inoculating us against buying Christmas trees, joining any cults, or intermarrying. I haven’t joined any cults, so I guess that part took.)

  • I’m a second-generation gamer.  My father, at the time a rather lukewarm Catholic, played wargames by mail for most of my childhood.  At some point he’d bought a 1st ed. D&D set and played one game, but he found it less interesting than wargames involving whole armies and set it on the shelf.  I, already a massive SF/fantasy fan, found it there at the tender age of 10 and began playing dungeon-crawl one-shots with my 7-year-old brother, with my father’s permission, if not encouragement.  My mother was indifferent to this.  Her pastor, a fundamentalist Lutheran (WELS Synod, if that means anything to anyone), was not – he was knee-deep in the D&D-and-rock’n’roll-are-tools-of-Satan propaganda.  As he was the pastor I was about to start confirmation class with, I kept my mouth shut about it and continued to collect the 2nd edition AD&D books as they came out.

    In high school, I ran into a group of boys who played the Marvel Super-Heroes RPG and started gaming with them.  Their parents had no problems with a comic book RPG – who could object to Spider-Man? – but, except for one, put their foot down at the idea of D&D; that was evil.   So my collection of rulebooks became something of a forbidden fruit for them.

    During the summer just after I completed high school, my parents decided to drive from our home in the Deep South to Fairbanks, Alaska and back, in a van with no seatbelts in the back and a malfunctioning gas gauge.  On the way back, we ran out of gas in the middle of nowhere, South Dakota.  I, predictably, freaked the heck out.  My father slapped me across the face (the first of two times he would ever do that) and then lectured me on how my playing AD&D was evidence of some sort of psychological damage on my part.  He didn’t directly reference the D&D = Satan propaganda, but he was clearly dancing around it.  I explained that no, I was freaking out because we were out of gas in the middle of nowhere, South Dakota.  Fortunately, my mother managed to locate a farm about an hour’s walk away (this was before cellphones or GPS) and bought a can of gas from the nice young lady who was watching the place.  My father never referenced the incident again.

    Ironically enough, I *did* become a practicing Pagan in college, and *was* introduced to NeoPaganism by someone in my college gaming group, but that was well after my gaming system of choice had switched to GURPS – D&D had absolutely nothing to do with it.

  • Enoch Root

    I only played a little D&D with some friends as a kid. Maybe one or two campaigns. But I was a fan of all the Tolkien-y stuff and would eventually go on to have a few years’ time of self-identifying as a neopagan (now atheist). I think the Fundies had it backwards: I was already predisposed to critical thought, which is why I had the friends I had who played D&D, and why I basically abandoned Christianity.

    But the single weirdest thing I remember from the moral panic ’80s was that I had an English teacher who gave us a sort of personality test on the first day of class.

    It was basically a bunch of short essay questions about ourselves. You know: Describe your summer vacation in a short paragraph. Describe what you like about yourself. That sort of thing.

    However: There was one question, about 2/3 of the way down so as not to be too obvious, that said: “Pick one of these shapes and write about what it means to you.” Underneath were a circle, a square, a triangle, and a pentagram.

  • I knew that story sounded familiar! F**CKING Mazes and Monsters; still hold that movie against Tom Hanks!

  • What — No Manowar? I am all about 75% of the bands on the ‘Symphonic Metal’ list.

  • I call it the Clarke’s Law Threshold: the point at which science is magic for a particular person. For some people it’s very very low.

  • Simon

    I suppose I’d be a good example of the fundy backlash against improv games.

    I played most of the way through my teens in the 1980’s  – mixture of D&D in various versions, Judge Dredd RPG, Star Trek RPG, Lankhmar RPG, James Bond RPG, Car Wars, Twilight 2000, Runequest and some live action RPG. The default choice though was alwasy AD&D.

    I would agree with those critics who say RPG’s are nothing like Chess, Football or Bridge. I would say that RPG’s are more like Acting, or Improvised Theatre. In a good RPG there is no winner or loser, just better and more enjoyable play.

    We tended to have a fairly liberal approach to the rule-books and would often play a “no-magic” version – like the original DragonLance. I also particularly enjoyed writing campaigns where the resort to open violence was either impossible or virtually unthinkable – I particularly liked the TSR module A4 for this effect.

    I tended to write a lot of original material for adventures, which I would then DM. Trying to acheive the balance between an open textured world for the players to express themselves in, along with a plot line to lead them along the creation of a shared story. So much more satisfying than the old school dungeon crawl – “open door – kill monster – grab treasure – move to next door”.

    Then came the 1990’s and my own Fundy phase. My pastor, hot from the excitement of a Bill Subsritzky conference and armed with the “Checklist of  signs of the demonic”, decided I needed deliverance and a good ol’ fashioned book-burning. In my naive dependence I submitted to this and watched hundreds of pounds of game kit, and more piognantly hundreds of hours of creative work, go up in flames. Even the evil d20 had to be melted in flames. I think he was disappointed that the deliverance session wasn’t more dramatic – I think it would have been if I was DM’ing that scenario and the pastor failed his saving throw.

    Along came marriage, career and responsibility and I’ve never really had time to get back into RPG’s. Still write a bit, even screenplays and dramas – wrote the parish Nativity for a few years and I think the RPG training in characterisation, plot and setting has stood me in good stead.

    My boys now are 7 and 5, not yet literate enough, or long enugh in attention span to start gaming – other than the imaginative play which comes naturally. They like LOTR,  Indiana Jones and How To Train Your Dragon and I think would enjoy the idea of participative storytelling in due course. Not sure we’ll get the latest version of D&D – from what I have heard the material have become a bit over-technical.

    I suppose the biggest memory of my D&D days was the fellowship, the humour of the finely developed in-joke, the storyteller’s nights and the occassional moments of beautiful characterisation. Further to this as a bunch of kids who were not into competitiveness it gave a form of shared activity in which no-one was inferior, in which the best solutions were the co-operative ones and in which no out-of-game advantages of gender, wealth, physical prowess or even intelligence made any difference. RPG’s created for us a level playing field and one in which playing well was important, but spending quality time with each other was really the only thing that mattered.

    That was a bit longer than I thought Fred, but I hope it helps you in your project!


  • I managed to get away with playing D&D for a few years by never calling it that – just “roleplaying” – until, one day, my mother asked me in hushed, serious tones if it was “at all related to Dungeons and Dragons, because that has connections to the occult”.

    Thankfully I was now knowledgable enough to assure her firmly that it was nothing of the sort. She looked dubious, but dropped it.

    My grandmother still doesn’t know that I roleplay – and never, ever will.

  • When I was in 6th grade, I asked for and received D&D 1st edition and later D&D Advanced. I played it intermittently for a year or so (very hard to find gamers in elementary school in Mississippi). Then, that awful, awful movie came out and all my books just “disappeared” one day and my mother told me she never wanted me to play it again. I went back to playing occasionally in college, but never really got back into it …. until 1993, when a guy who would go on to be one of my best friends introduced me to Vampire: the Masquerade, a game that makes D&D look like something you’d see on the 700 Club. Within ten years, I had collected hundreds of White Wolf Games Studios products and eventually became a freelance  writer for a gaming company. But not a single member of my family has any idea that I have over 50 RPG writing credits, and none of them ever will.

  • Rafar

    I did a lot of role playing when I was younger (probably 12-20, until I ran out of people to play with). I was raised about as weirdly into the insular evangelical subculture as you can get in the UK without going completely off the rails.

    At about 14 or so my mother persuaded me to burn all my books and figures because she was concerned that my brother was getting interested and it would lead him to darkness. She had always disapproved but knew that my brother was the weakness to exploit to get her way.

    Yes, we had a right little bonfire. D&D manuals, Some Warhammer books, even my copy of Paranoia. I have no idea what fumes you get from those lead figures, but they certainly melted well.

    The reasoning behind it was the all too familiar “If it has magic it must be evil” logic of the satanic panic. The church that I attended had talks from people who claimed to have been coven leaders who had run satanic rituals and such like. I always wondered why, if child sacrificing rites etc. were so prevalent, they hadn’t handed themselves over to the police, but you know how the “Don’t think down that lines” programming works. I guess the D&D was just part of that nonsense.

    As you might have noticed, the burning didn’t really hold much water in the long run once my parents split up and I lived with my father who was bit less extreme. One of our circle had a nasty motorbike accident and spent nearly a year in traction, and the nurses on the ward were quite happy for the quiet bunch of teenagers to spend about 3 evenings a week in his room playing Call of Cthulhu (now there’s a roleplaying game that they should have got their knickers in a knot about) until the early hours. Unfortunately, once he got out he was seen wandering around the streets with a strangely withered arm screaming about the Black Man with a Horn. He disappeared shortly after that…

    My biggest regret is that my son is now getting into Warhammer and I could have provided him with a ready made army, but now I’m going to have to fork out the readies myself… :(

    (Oh, as for Frank Peretti, I’ve been using the username “Rafar” for years. Works as a little cultural identifier when people spot it)

  • Rafar

     Death to False Metal!! Arghhhhhhhhh!!!!!

  • I got into role-games quite early (Jan 1st 1976 which makes yesterday my 37th anniversary… Oh I feel old…) and never had to suffer the disapproval of my parents as I was 21 at the time.

    Being in the UK, I’ve had very little experience of the fundamentalist craziness. Only two occasions come to mind. The first was when the pastor of one of the local Baptist churchs wrote to the local paper in the late 80s (IIRC) protesting about our friendly local game store and got a huge headline on the front page about it: BAN THIS SATANIC GAME!

    The game store didn’t mind the free publicity and when the paper sent round a reporter to the Wednesday night club to ask for our reaction we were well able to say ‘we are a bunch of harmless, nerdy hobbyists who well understand the distiction between fantasy and reality.’ And then poor old crazy Chris came in, who had taken some sort of brain damage when on active service and we had to say ‘actually, about knowing the different between fantasy and reality: that’s all of us except Chris…’

    A friend of mine wrote a letter to the paper in rebutal and the whole thing faded.

    The other time was when I went looking for a new hall for the Wednesday night group to hire and the secretary at one of the local evangelical churches shuddered and said that he would indeed have a problem renting theirs for ‘that sort of thing’.

    Nothing more.

  • Another player here from the UK – I played through much of the 80’s, starting with AD&D with two (non-overlapping) groups at school, and then at Uni we had a local club at the hall of residence where we regularly did half a dozen other games besides AD&D (notably Runequest, Paranoia, Traveller, Call of Cthulhu, and some more whose names I forget).

    My parents are Christians (I was already an atheist when I started playing) but never seemed to have any trouble with it, but I did hear about the crazy reactions at second hand: several of the guys I regularly played with at Uni were serious Christians, and they occasionally recounted the reactions they got at Christian events (often from visiting guest preachers from the US) if the subject ever came up. (This would have been 1987-88 or thereabouts.)

  • Sean Kelly

    I can recall very clearly, sometime between 1986 and 1989, living in Central Florida, riding in the bed of my dad’s rusty Ford pickup with crates of books that we were taking to the dump. (Kids rode in the back, since this was after all a covered truck, and therefore safe for children at highway speed.) I opened one, being a bored kid, and started to read what I later realized was the AD&D Monster Manual. My mother yelled back through the opened rear cabin window that I needed to put it down immediately as it was a “devil book” that would “drag me straight to hell”.

    I don’t recall hearing any of this in church, but then I didn’t tend to pay too much attention at church, except for the parts where we were warned that we might not _truly_ be saved, and therefore needed to come forward to rededicate ourselves every Sunday. 

  • cameronhorsburgh

    I started to get into RPGs when I was about 11 or 12, but all of the kids at school who played them were a year ahead of me, and I sort of lost track of them when they went to high school. 

    I remember one Christmas Eve around that time. I was a Tolkien freak and  I knew Santa was bringing me MERP. Come to think of it, that was the first Christmas I didn’t really believe in Santa. Anyway, I devoured the rule book and started to spend my newspaper money on adventure modules. Those were expensive, so I started to design my own instead (which made sense, because I seemed to know Middle-Earth far better than the game writers did!)
    My problem was I had no-one to play with. As well ceasing to believe in Santa Claus and discovering Tolkien, I became a Christian that year. (Some would say my imagination changed gears somewhat in 1985. I am one of them.)

    I heard nothing about RPGs through any of the official church channels, but none of my church friends (I was into Tolkien and role playing. Let’s face it, these guys were the only friends I had!) were interested. Some just weren’t into it. The geekier ones, who had liked this sort of stuff, were pretty sure this game was evil. I didn’t have many interests in common with these guys, and the one thing that really excited me wasn’t allowed.

    I ended up just playing MERP with my 8 year old sister, which, to be honest, was rubbish. She still refers to me as a hobbit.

    It all turned out okay though. The next year I discovered the Silmarillion and girls, and I haven’t played offline RPGs since.

  • Isabel C.

    Started playing sometime in the early-to-mid-nineties, when I was eleven or twelve. Or, rather, started buying the books at that point: most kids where I lived were uninterested, so I didn’t actually do any real gaming until I found the Internet a year or two later.

    When I was first interested, my dad exhibited some concern–he was a teacher, and had heard about “some kids who got into that and killed themselves.” I remember pointing out, with vast preteen scorn, that anyone who killed themselves over a game would probably have done it over something else anyhow,  and being very surprised when he gave in.

    Other than that, the only ZOMG SATANIST crap I got was from some kid in sixth grade. I’m not sure whether he actually thought roleplaying was of the Devil or was just trying to bug me, which he often did; I punched him in the stomach, which seemed to address the issue either way.

    MERP was among the books I bought but never used in a game. I still have fond memories of the crit tables.

  • I have no idea what fumes you get from those lead figures

    If there was any actual lead in them (and there probably was), then the fumes would have been quite toxic…

    My biggest regret is that my son is now getting into Warhammer and I could have provided him with a ready made army, but now I’m going to have to fork out the readies myself… :(

    Silver lining – you are probably more likely to be able to get lead-free ones these days.

  • Neilrodger

    i saw mazes and monsters before i ever heard of D&D, i may be odd but the film sparked my interest in roleplaying :]–  to me the film was about a young guy who had a breakdown, i didnt link the breakdown to his playing of the game though so i probably missed the point the film was trying to make. lol

    i will have to track down a copy and watch it again.

  • My mother freaked out in the mid-Seventies when I wanted to mail away for a magic-themed war game (we lived in a very small town) on the grounds that playing with “magic” was dangerous.  I think she was thinking it was Ouija.  In her defense, she grew up in a household that didn’t allow playing cards or dice because gambling was of the Devil.

    I started getting into role-playing in 1979 at college as Advanced Dungeons and Dragons was getting rolling, didn’t bother telling my parents about it.  By the time I did, Mom had mellowed considerably, especially seeing how I hadn’t gone over to the dark side.