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.

  • Billy Ford

    They wanted to ban D&D at my Houston, Texas area junior high school in 1986 because of its occult influences.  The town had been founded by Quakers and had a large evangelical community.  My friends and I that played D&D were in the Gifted and Talented program and we decided to appeal to our GT teacher.  She was a bit of a hippie, had lived in Guam and was always encouraging us to think creatively.  She got us an audience with the Vice Principal of the school.  He came to our classroom during lunch one day and listened to us attentively.  He seemed honestly surprised that the game was played using mostly dice and graph paper.  He had thought it was more “active” than that.  But we weren’t LARPers.  We didn’t even know what that was.  We were kids drawing trapdoors and spikes and rolling cool-shaped dice.  I also don’t think he understood prior to speaking with us that we simply had characters that we played in the game.  There seemed to be a mistaken belief among some of the decision-makers at the school that we honestly thought we WERE those characters.

    The resolution was one of the oddest of my childhood.  The VP basically told us that he trusted us “smart” kids (har!) to know the difference between fantasy and reality and said that we could continue playing as long as we kept it on the down low and didn’t rub it in the faces of the other children.  He said that there had been some complaints about it from some of the parents and that, as long as he didn’t get any more compaints, he was going to drop the issue.  

  • http://www.oliviareviews.com/ PepperjackCandy

    I have only played any role-playing games very casually, but I do have another story to add.

    When I was 15 or 16 (so 1981 or 1982), my cousin (who was only ten years younger than my mom and basically grew up as her little sister) was on the phone with my mom telling her about these evil D&D books (I guess they were AD&D, actually) that her son had bought.  The books even contain the rituals to perform the Black Mass!

    We went to visit them soon after this.  I read those darned books cover-to-cover and never found the ritual for the Black Mass in any of them.  I asked her son about it and he told me that the miscommunication came from when he was trying to explain how to change your alignment.  Somehow, “changing your character from good to evil” became “perform the Black Mass.”

    I told my mom over and over that there was nothing to my cousin’s claim, but to the day she retired, she wouldn’t let people play D&D in the library she worked for, just in case.

  • jaylake

    Not me. I first played D&D in about 1977 or 1978, though I can’t remember if that was Chainmail (the precursor game) or  brown book D&D (the very first edition under that name). I started playing regularly in the blue box days (the second edition) in 1979 at boarding school, and played AD&D first edition regularly until about 1988, a couple of years after I finished college. I think this was a little ahead of the anti-RPG panics, and besides which, I was at a secular boarding school 1979-1982, so nobody really cared what I did so long as it wasn’t felonious and I was in my dorm room at lights out. Besides which, D&D/AD&D pretty much saved the life of the suicidally depressed, socially isolated teen who I was by giving me a social framework — ie, something to do and people to do it with. I was aware of the panics because they got media coverage, but as someone who deconverted from Christianity at around 15 (and still a nonmilitant atheist), it was just giggle material for me. “Look at the idiot fundies, at it again.” Mostly I felt sorry for churched kids, as I almost always do to this day. (Data point, 1978-1979 I went to a Christian missionary boarding school in West Africa, and my experience of our many PKs was dramatically negative — they were *not* an advertisement for Christianity, I’ll tell you that.)

  • fraser

    Despite living in the Bible Belt for years, I never ran into any trouble myself.
    If you think Mazes and Monsters is bad, John Coyne’s horror novel Hobgoblin is worse–though the eponymous RPG is just a sign of his protagonist’s immaturity, not an actual mind-destroyer (the horror comes from a homicidal maniac running amuck on Halloween). But Coyne writes like he’s just snatched a few terms and has no idea or interest in what they mean (so a “chaotic evil” monster is described as a loyal friend and trustworthy companion in the game)

  • Hickepedia

    I was 12, it was 1984, and a new kid at school brought some interestingly-shaped dice to class one day. We got to talking about what he used them for, and he told me it was Dungeons and Dragons. I hadn’t heard of the game before then, and was intrigued. The new kid lived in my neighborhood, and invited me over to play. I eagerly accepted, having been reading Tolkien since around age 10. I rolled up a character (a shameless Aragorn clone, iirc), rolled a critical hit during my first few rounds of combat, and my fate was sealed.
    We played every day after school, sometimes with character sheets and dice in hand, or sometimes simply improvising at recess, with simple up-or-down guesses at the direction the DM’s thumb was pointing behind his back substituting for dice rolls. After a month or two, I wanted my own set of manuals and dice. I’d saved my Christmas and birthday money, and (after not-quite-so-new friend’s mom drove us to the game store) made what was then one of the biggest purchases of my life.
    I proudly showed my parents my new books when I went home that evening, never realizing what I had let myself in for. The storm immediately broke – shouting, screaming about devil worship and black magic, prayer sessions to cast out the demons that were even now inhabiting my body. My new manuals, dice, and sheets were taken from me, and I was interrogated about where I had gotten them. A nasty phone call was made to friend’s mom about allowing me to buy such satanic garbage, and I was forbidden from visiting Finally, and most painfully, I was forced to burn my new D&D books in the fireplace. Talking about D&D, or anything fantasy-related, became a forbidden topic.
    I was deeply, deeply shocked by this, and didn’t play for years – until after I left home. I still read Tolkien and other fantasy authors, but hid them from my parents as much as possible, since I didn’t want to have to burn more books. Their blind overreaction (and the fundamentalist mindset that drove it) was certainly a contributing factor to why I didn’t consider myself a Christian for years after I left, and why, even now, I tend to view any extreme expression of religion with a jaundiced eye.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Riastlin-Lovecraft/100000678992705 Riastlin Lovecraft

    That makes me wonder…how prevalent have Chick Tracks and such ever been in the US? Are there still people handing out those ghastly comics in street corners  Where there ever?

  • Go_4_tli

    I had a bunch of friends who played in high school in the late eighties.  They were very understanding, given the weird kid in the corner — they let me observe for a while to be sure there wasn’t any inappropriate spirituality going on.  Several weeks later, as I drafted up my first character, I was terrified — convinced that hell’s maw was about to open.  I even made sure my character was a Lawful Good paladin with an Aramaic name, just in case.

    Nothing happened, of course.  Once I finally started to relax, I had a really good time, and even tried to draft up a sci-fi space-opera-ish RPG of my own.  My parents (to their credit) and I agreed to disagree on the matter.  The mentality hasn’t left them completely, though; over Christmas, my father regaled me with a story about some Soviets who drilled a really deep hole, dropped in a microphone, and recorded sounds of people being tortured in Hell… the whole thing being covered up later in some nefarious conspiracy, of course.  (I kept my mouth shut, but the whole time, I was thinking, “Who brings a microphone when you’re trying to drill a hole?  Are people really eager to find out what holes *sound like*?”)

  • Jim Roberts

    I’ll put one of my milder stories up here and consider sending one of the more bothersome ones via e-mail: I once had someone in student government at my Christian liberal arts college threaten to move to have me struck from the college senate when they found out that I didn’t just play roleplaying games, I played D&D. It never ended up going anywhere because there was nothing the bylaws of either the school code of conduct (which was rather liberal) or the rules of the senate that forbid participation in the game, but it was still quite annoying.

    Riastlin, Chick tracts are reasonably popular among a certain crowd, but at least here in the Northeast they’re fairly hard to come by. This is partly because they’re rather pricey, as tracts go, but also because their subject matter tends to be highly divisive.

  • interleaper

     My first couple of years of schooling were at a fundamentalist private school where they shoved the more kiddie-oriented Chick tracts at us. I also got them from family members.

    I’m not sure when the last time I saw a whole actual Chick tract in the wild was, but in my (fair-sized predominantly liberal West Coast) city, I occasionally find folded xeroxed sheets with panels from This Was Your Life in various places. Wedging them into cracks in bus shelters seems to be popular.

  • The_L1985

    My parents had this one too, in 2008. I think part of it is that the other stuff that’s accused of being Satanic is popular enough that anybody can look at it without the blinders on and say “But that’s harmless!” But D&D and other tabletop RPGs have always been sort of a niche thing. So it’s pretty easy to go through life without ever having played it, seen people playing it, or even known of anyone who’s ever played it. It’s harder to dispel lies about something you know nothing about–that’s why The Bubble is so precious to the cultish side of evangelism in the first place.

  • KHobbs

    My father introduced me to D&D when I was 11 or so – he was a big player when he was younger, and we would occasionally have a family game night playing either AD&D or some other random roleplaying system (I remember we were on a Torg kick for a while.)

    He has a cyclical fundamentalist thing going on, though – every few years, for a year or two, he’ll spend all his free time doing bible studies, collecting verses to support a fairly harsh theology – heavy on heavenly disapproval and damnation, light on grace. During my mid-teens (the mid 90s), when I would have marathon D&D sessions with my brother and a couple friends, he took me aside one day and asked me not to play any more. He told me that he regretted introducing me to D&D, because it encourages us to pretend to use witchcraft, and he determined that “a thought is as good as a deed” – ie, there’s no difference between actually attempting to perform magic, pretending to perform magic, or even -wishing- you could perform magic.

    I identified as a Christian at the time (I’m a happy atheist now), so his interpretation of D&D made me extremely unhappy/anxious/worried for my soul. I cut my friends off (I was the DM) for about a month, until they begged me to play again, just without magic. Since it was my only decent social outlet, I replaced all the magic with technological artifacts, avoided situations where they would kill humans (I guess I was racist against orcs – they’re not *real* people, right?) and so on. There were a few fun stories to come out of the technomancy thing, but it always hurt that my father regretted introducing me to a mind-expanding social hobby.

    In middle school, before the magic restriction, I wrote a paper in English on D&D, during a week or two where we had to write a one-page journal entry about our life every day. My teacher had me stay in during recess to explain to me that she doesn’t approve of my choice of subject matter, and I should write about something else. My next paper was a sulky complaint about how my freedom of speech was being infringed on at school, hah.

  • The_L1985

    Because they don’t realize that they’re the same thing. They might not even realize that D&D is an RPG–isn’t it something you play wearing black cloaks or something? Saw it in a Chick Tract!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jon.maki Jon Maki

    My first exposure to D&D was in the form of the ads that ran in comic books in the early 80s.  The ads themselves were done in a comic book style, and there was a whole series of them.  I remember being kind of annoyed by them because while they all featured the same characters, there didn’t appear to be any sort of specific narrative – each ad was a sort of vignette rather than part of a coherent story.  However, I did note that over time the quality of the art improved considerably.

    Beyond that, Paul Levitz threw a lot of references to D&D into Legion of Super-Heroes.  (One of my favorite bits was when the solid light hologram machine that the Legionnaires used for playing D&D went on the fritz due to Computo taking over their HQ – long story – and there was a danger of a spell that one of the game characters was casting leading to actual results, as the spellcaster was summoning Mordru, an actural powerful wizard and an enemy of the Legion.)

    And, of course, I watched the Saturday morning cartoon.

    I personally never got into gaming myself, largely due to geographic isolation.  No one in my town played any sort of RPGs (and I was unpopular anyway, so I wouldn’t have been welcome if they did).  I didn’t meet anyone who actually played D&D until I was in high school.  Given that I lived 20 miles away and didn’t have a car, there was no way for me get involved in their gaming sessions.

    Didn’t see a lot of backlash over D&D in the area – there was mostly disdain for the nerdiness, not any fear of a Satanic influence.  I remember that pretty much everyone thought that Mazes & Monsters was patently ridiculous.

    The only thing of the sort that I ever encountered was a high school teacher making an offhanded comment about the “Satanic” nature of a book I was reading.  (I believe it was one of the books in the Belgariad or Mallorean.  I shrugged it off, and nothing ever came of it.)

  • Michael Pullmann

     I just realized that the cover to Dark Dungeons is reminiscent of (a) that one bit in Nosferatu and (b) the cover to the “Mad Monk” issue of Detective Comics.

    I never really played D&D, so I didn’t experience any of the backlash or Satanic Panic associated with it. I did, however, have a friend whose mom wouldn’t let him watch “Darkwing Duck” because the word “Dark” in the title meant it was Satanic. Swear to Xenu.

  • Jim Roberts

    Really? I’ve known parents discomfited by the BDSM subtext, but not the name.

  • Arcturus909

    I saw the movie “Mazes and Monsters” before ever playing D&D. Instead of causing me to steer away from the game, I was intrigued by the scenes where the players were playing and had to go out and buy it and then find myself a Dungeon Master.
    This was also during the height of the “D&D is the Devil’s work” hysteria. I once asked my Mom, “Are you worried that I play this game that TV is always saying is evil?” She sai, “Nope. They told me the same thing about Elvis when I was your age.”

  • http://twitter.com/emjb emjb

    I wanted to play, so badly, as a young nerd. I got my friend’s brother to loan me one of his manual (whichever one had the giant red demon on the cover, can’t remember) just so I could read it. BUT, bad luck, my dad just HAPPENED to see me with it when I came home, confiscated it, and gave me a lecture on how it would leave my soul open to demons, etc. etc. I’m sure I cried, I would have been about 10 or 11. I took the manual back, never read it. I did finally get to play in college, but didn’t enjoy that particular group and never played after that. But my husband was an avid player as a kid. So far…no demons.

  • AnonaMiss

    A story from the late 2000′s: a friend of mine was Catholic and had a Baptist? some sort of fundamentalist – boyfriend. They used to play D&D at home with her nerdy Trekkie homeschooler mom as the DM. (I guess with such a big family, you know?) He was a year older than her and they kept their relationship going long distance until she could join him at the university.

    Unfortunately he fell in with a bad religious crowd at the university. A Pentecostal crowd of a Catholics Are Evil mentality.

    It caused friction for a couple years in which they were an otherwise happy couple, and during which they introduced me to D&D for the first time, with him as the DM. Then, during her sophomore/his junior year, he gave an ultimatum: she had to either convert away from Catholicism, presumably to the local fundegelicalism, or their relationship was over.

    She took the breakup hard – honestly they both did, after a few days he was begging her to take him back anyway but the fact that he had made such an ultimatum was more than she could stand.

    It was a few months later that I discovered Chick tracts in all their cheesy glory, and shared Dark Dungeons with my friend. She had a much stronger reaction than I had expected.

    Yep: as it turned out, Fundie Ex-Boyfriend, our Dungeon Master, had been attempting to evangelize her out of Catholicism with Chick Tracts.

  • Carstonio

     I’ve heard the argument that heavy metal lent itself to Satanic activity even the bands weren’t Satanists, because the music “celebrated darkness.” The term seems to be a catch-all for evil.

  • http://twitter.com/carlosdelvaca Carl D. Orr

    I remember a letter run by our hometown newspaper about the evils of D&D. I wish I had saved it, because it was spectacular not only for its crazed urgency, but for its lack of understanding about the game itself. One of the things she was concerned about was “hex sheets.” Hex sheets are basically graph paper that uses hexagons rather than a square grid, and were used for outdoor maps.

    The paper, to their credit, ran a rebuttal letters column about two weeks later, with a good 10 or 12 responses from the nerd community explaining that D&D was in fact not a gateway to Satanism, and pointing out the original letter writer’s factual errors.

  • Jdnicoll

    I ran a game store in Kitchener, Ontario from 1984 to 2001. In the 1980s, someone connected with St. Jerome’s, a near-by Catholic high school*, was given a copy of DARK DUNGEONS.

    http://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/0046/0046_01.ASP

    Believing what they read, they kicked off a short-lived panic over the moral hazards of the school’s RPG club. The reason it was only short-lived is that the teacher supervising the club knew who Chick Publications was and better, had some of their pamphlets about Catholics and Catholicism. Hilarity ensued when those got passed around at the Moral Panic meeting.

    (I have a feeling the ban was specific to D&D because the person behind it didn’t know about other rpgs and nobody wanted to educate them in this matter)

    * For historical reasons Ontario has parallel school systems. Details here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Separate_school

  • Jeff Weskamp

    My first exposure to D&D was the classic “red-box” set, which my folks bought for me back in 1983 at the local K_Mart.  I didn’t actually end up playing the game until I was 18 or 19, because I live in a small town in northeast Colorado, where fellow gamers were few and far between.

    I did a little bit of freelance writing back in the mid-00′s for Sword and Sorcery Studios, which was White Wolf’s line of products for 3rd-edition D&D under the Open Game License (specifically for their Scarred Lands campaign setting).  I’m now publishing a series of Pathfinder-compatible PDF’s for the Paizo Store.  My company is called Shadowland Press, and the series is titled “Secrets of the Synod Horrenda.”  It’s based on a slightly darker view of the Pathfinder RPG, and presents new spells, monsters, and ideas that are lean more towards the horror genre.  Here’s a link:

    http://paizo.com/store/games/roleplayingGames/p/pathfinderRPG/shadowlandPress

  • connorboone

    My father (who was raised Catholic, and who took me through Presbyterian, Reform and Evangelical as I was growing up) never disapproved of D&D, though he did mumble something about ‘well, it has magic, and some people think all magic comes from Satan’ at some point – though I’d been gaming for a couple years at that point.  I think I was 12 or so.

    I did, however, have a friend with a crazy evangelical mom – he had to hide his D&D books, but could store his Vampire: the Masquerade books openly.  He used to joke that, if his mother found his D&D books, he would just smile and say, “But I still have two more levels before I have to sacrifice my parents!”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=30319652 Tim Lehnerer

    The following anecdotes reflect my childhood and adolescence in Wheaton, Illinois (roughly 1980-1995), The only family trouble I had while running AD&D 2nd edition was the parental edict that I had to include my friendless younger brother. In grade, middle and high school I remember hearing from multiple other kids that if your character in D&D died you had to kill yourself (I even loaned someone the rule book and asked him to highlight the rule that said you had to commit suicide when you lost a character); of course, that never happened. One of my friends’ mother said that he couldn’t hang up a poster of Wolverine because it was “Satanic”, but that guy played Heroes Unlimited rather than D&D. I never actually found out what she thought of games other than the most famous one.

    I brought a Rifts book to class my junior year of high school and was reading it instead of paying attention to whatever my class was second hour; that day by fifth hour there were rumors that I was a Satanist for reading a gaming book. I was already out as an atheist at that point, and when I tried to explain my position there were a great many people who literally could not imagine any option other than “Christian of my exact doctrine” and “Satan worshipper”. But they were about 16 at the time and were raised in the brass buckle of the Bible belt. It isn’t their fault they were raised to be ignorant.

  • Otrame

    I did not play back in the day, though I do now on occasion. My son, however, did. I had a supposedly educated school psychologist tell me most sincerely that the fact that he played D&D was evidence of his “schizo-typical” personality. As near as I could tell, this idiot thought having an imagination was “abnormal” and something to be guarded against.

    I’m not the confrontational type, but that time I went off. I said, “What infuriates me about what you just said is not that it shows me how incompetent you are. All I can think about is the parents who you have scared to death with that sort of diagnosis, because I know that is complete bullshit, but too many others won’t know that. Shame on you.”

    Oh, I am sure he thought I was in denial, but really, my son’s only real problem in school was painful boredom and failure-to-respond-to-negligible-attempts-to-deal-with-his-ADD.

    I did have a very sweet lady tell me that allowing too much free reign to the imagination could allow Satan to get a toe-hold in your kid’s soul. But that was about Harry Potter.

  • Jim Roberts

    My mom kind of freaked out about me using “hex maps” until I showed her what they actually were – Honestly, both my mom and dad were very good at dealing with me getting into roleplaying, I think in part because it was the first time I showed a real interest in socializing.

  • Larry Lennhoff

    Not exactly on point, but I was in college when D&D first started (to give some idea, my DM was one of the playtesters for Blackmoor, the supplement after GreyHawk).    I kept playing long after I left college.  When the D&D craze hit, my Mom suggested I get together with my 12 year old cousin, because we were both into D&D. I was 27 at the time.  Even more embarrassing than that, a year or so later he had outgrown it, and was greatly amused that I was still playing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ann-Unemori/100001112760232 Ann Unemori

    Not much to add. For a while felt vaguely guilty about playing it, the conflict over being a RTC versus a much-needed mental adventure. Seems every group I joined broke up after about two episodes, there’s a meaning in that somewhere.

  • Matt C.

    In 1985, a few weeks after the 60 Minutes “expose’” on Dungeons and Dragons, my school tried to ban my RPG gaming group on the grounds that they’d “received complaints from parents about the disturbing things we were going playing THOSE games”.  Luckily, both my father as well as our faculty advisor (a math teacher who I’m ashamed to admit I don’t remember her name) stuck up for us and the club was allowed to continue to meet.  Later that same year, I also had a friend with a VERY religious mother who, when she discovered the Dungeons and Dragons books as well as some comic books I had loaned him, literally piled them up and had a book-burning bonfire on her apartment balcony.  When I showed up a few days later, unaware this had happened, she confronted me, called me “a pawn of Satan”, spit in my face and banned me from ever seeing her son again. 

  • Michael Pullmann

     Yes, really.

    And, what BDSM subtext? Are we thinking of the same cartoon?

  • Michael Pullmann

     Your mom is cool.

  • Jinx

    My school (in England) didn’t have a D&D club, and there was a rumor that this was because the Headmaster had bought into the Mazes and Monsters line, but there wasn’t any hard evidence or even solid rumor to support this.

    Our school chaplain did show us any anti-cult/occult video once, though. Where AD&D was mentioned once, near the end. The video included a shot of the front cover of the 1st edition AD&D DMG, but with the bottom of the cover hidden; so that you could see the big scarey demonic looking monster, but not the people fighting it. A fact that I helpfully pointed out.

    Our chaplain was a genuinely nice guy who’d never dream of raising his voice at someone. I gave him a copy of “Good Omens” as a leaving present. Perfectly innocently – he sounded interested when I’d described the plot earlier.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=30319652 Tim Lehnerer

    Just remembered another rumor:  The existence of “special characters” that you needed to play the game the properly Satanic way. I’m guessing someone made that up after they read the book(s) for the game and didn’t see any actual Satanism. I think I first heard that one in fourth or fifth grade from another kid at school.

  • http://twitter.com/MarySueTwiteth Mary Sue

    The interesting thing is I grew up in a liberal, progressive religious household, where we didn’t typically see demons behind every shadow and ill omens behind every stubbed toe. Yet my mother still banned D&D from the house because she’d seen Mazes and Monsters and a 60 Minutes special that purported anyone who would play D&D would turn into a drug-addicted serial killer. Of course, she’s terribly proud of the fact I now own my own home, but doesn’t want to hear about the raids I run for my friends around the dining room table in said home. 

  • interleaper

     Ha! I had my mom pull a face at me once when I headed for a hobby shop, mentioning I wanted to pick up a pad of “hex paper”.

    But my mom wasn’t a fundie (it’s still a mystery to me why I got sent to that private school, and I suppose it always will be since my parents aren’t around to ask anymore). It’s just that anything related to magic or myth or fantasy– “weird” things– made her squeamish. I think she was afraid of it leading to some sort of psychological breakdown, not calling demons.

    My older sister was the fanatic spiritual warrior of the family. She would lecture me about how playing D&D (among other things) would “open doors for dark spiritual forces” and while I didn’t see a reason to believe this, she had demonstrated the willingness previously to invade my room and destroy my stuff, so I had to take her seriously. In desperation I proposed showing the (1st ed) AD&D books I had borrowed from a school friend to our pastor and promising to abide by his decision. So, we had the interview, and after he lingered for an uncomfortably long time over the Demons and Devils section of the Monster Manual, he finally said that while he felt the game dwelt a bit too much on the “subterranean”, ultimately he didn’t see the harm in it. That got my sister off my case, though she wasn’t happy about it, and eventually my mom even gave me a Player’s Handbook.

    The only actual game available to me at the time, though, was a room full of over a dozen grade-school boys all trying to play the same dungeon. It was pure confusion, not a satisfying experience at all. I continued to be fascinated by RPGs, buying and reading the game books and admiring the hobby from afar, but didn’t get to play in a campaign I enjoyed until several years after I graduated college.

  • Jim Roberts

    I think it’s about as easy to spot as the satanism, so I really can’t say.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ann-Unemori/100001112760232 Ann Unemori

    Sounds like a rumor dreamed up by one of the game publishers, hoping to get people to buy more books/dice/minatures in order to get the “special” stuff. It’s like looking for the one “lucky” Monopoly piece whenever McDonald’s has one of their contests. 

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    because it is most profitable to attack very popular things, and completely unprofitable to attack obscure ones.

    Usually. But every once in a while, it occurs to someone that if you attack someone small and obscure, you can crush them completely without any risk of blowback, and then you can put their bloodied corpse out on a pike in your front yard as a fundraising tactic. (ie. “We’re winning the battle against statanic roleplaying games. See? We’ve already destroyed Aliens and Asteroids. Send us more money now so we can finally take down D&D”)

  • Vermic

    I was born in 1971 and got into D&D when I was about 10, so I was playing right around the time when fundamentalist panic about the game started gathering steam.  My parents heard the Satan stories, but didn’t put much stock in them because they knew better; they could hear our gaming sessions in the basement and knew it was harmless creative fun.  They were more concerned with D&D replacing other forms of active outdoor activity — not too unreasonable a worry, really.

    I don’t have any tales of run-ins with fundamentalists, although when I and some friends tried to set up a D&D Club in junior high, the school turned us down because “D&D is considered a controversial subject to some people” and they didn’t want to have to deal with that.

    When I was in grade school, I remember seeing some televangelist railing against D&D, brandishing a copy of the 1e Player’s Handbook (the one with the cover art of adventurers looting a demon statue) and basically arguing “Well, there’s a demon on the cover, there you go.”  For me, it was a valuable early lesson that grownups, even grownups on TV in nice suits, frequently didn’t know shit.

    But anyway, MERP as a morally acceptable alternative to D&D?  I hope they didn’t look too closely at the critical hit table.  Some of those outcomes are brutal.

  • Mathbard

    I didn’t start playing until I was stationed in Germany a few years ago, but I vaguely remember my parents burning a set of D&D books when I was a kid. I don’t remember when they were bought, but I remember my mother saying she was having nightmares about them, and that was why they were burned. Later, when I was a teenager, there was a couple episodes of Adventures in Odyssey that were about a group of kids playing some sort of RPG (D&D never got mentioned in-story, but it was made clear that *that* was what was being referenced) and horrible stuff happened to the kids playing the game.

    Now I play off and on with various groups using D&D, White Wolf, and Savage Worlds, or a combination of them all. Don’t have a local group right now, though, people keep moving away or being super busy.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    The only real incident i can remember is that my friends were briefly barred from reading their Rifts sourcebooks during study hall because RPGs were “associated with cults”.

    (Study hall was a big ball of fail anyway, since the reason it existed was that there had been a bad ice storm that year, so they extended  the school day by half an hour to catch up. This caused a lot of havoc for parents whose schedules couldn’t easily accomodate “the kid comes home half an hour later”, plus the individual schools couldn’t come up with anything useful to do with an extra half hour, so they just added a half hour of “sit quietly and read. But you’re not allowed to do homework since homework is to be done at home”)

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    I remember being puzzled in my youth by the fact that a community that was so centrally defined by their shared make-believe stories (both canonical and improvised) about magic, gods, demons, heroic adventures and so forth was so adamantly opposed to D&D. It took me a while to wrap my brain around the fact that admitting it was make-believe was such a dealbreaker.

    Not really on-point, but… my (non-Christian) parents’ objection to  D&D was mostly they thought it was stupid. I remember explicitly drawing connections between the monsters and adventures and magic items in the Greek mythology we were studying stories about in (public) high school and the monsters and adventures and magic items we were playing with stories about at home, and my mom arguing that they weren’t at all the same thing, since one of them was a school subject and the other wasn’t.

    In retrospect, I should have asked her how I’d be able to tell which of the two was stupid if I didn’t already know one of them was taught in school.

  • http://mordicai.livejournal.com Mordicai

    Let me preface this by saying that I’m in my thirties & roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons remain my primary hobby.  How that relates to being forbidden from playing Dungeons & Dragons…well, I’ll leave that up to your imagination.

    I was absolutely forbidden from playing Dungeons & Dragons.  Like a lot of my mother’s stricter rules, it was unevenly enforced.  Months would go by where I wasn’t hassled about it, & then one day I’d come home from school to find out that she’d gone through all my things & thrown out all of my RPG books (& for that matter, black clothing).  So, I’d go out & buy them again, but this time I’d just hide them.

    Why?  “The devil.”  How exactly or why exactly was totally immaterial.  It wasn’t rational, & she didn’t even pretend that it was.  “Witchcraft.”  Somehow.  She’d heard about it somewhere, & so.  That HAD to be what was wrong with me, after all!  I wasn’t the son she wanted, so if she started demonizing all the things I liked, she eventually would figure out the reason why I was such a bad son, right?

    For me, games like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness– & yes, MERP!– were a middle ground that I could sometimes occupy, as well.  Though I still took care to keep them hidden– you never know when the mood will turn– but that was the rhetorical axioms I would start from, arguing about games that, you know, didn’t have magic-users or “baatezu” in them.As sort of an end note to all this, I will mention that, unsurprisingly, I am estranged from my family.  I don’t speak to my father, don’t really talk  to my sibling, & don’t call my mother unless she sends me something for my birthday or Christmas; it would be rude otherwise, right?  I don’t go home, I don’t visit, I don’t have a real relationship with them.  Because, well, I spent my whole life being told I was– & that everything I liked, from games to music to fashion– was literally satanic.

  • histrogeek

    Probably been mentioned already but This American Life had something on the moral panic about ten years ago with some crazy woman giving a speech on the dangers of D&D. It was a recording from back in the eighties I think.
    I only remember it because she was so delightfully over the top. Basically she said D&D led to orgies, sodomy, and black magic. I just kept thinking, damn did I ever do that game wrong. Sort of like all the public sex that accompanies gay pride parades in the fundieverse, I just keep missing the good parts.

  • 2-D Man

    I never got into the tabletop games. Although I’d still like to give it a try.

    My Free Methodist dad acquired a look of concern when I told him that I was playing Baldur’s Gate 2 (and told him that it ran off the D&D ruleset). That was in 2004, I think…?

  • Vermic

    I remember being puzzled in my youth by the fact that a community that was so centrally defined by their shared make-believe stories (both canonical and improvised) about magic, gods, demons, heroic adventures and so forth was so adamantly opposed to D&D.

    The thing that broke my brain was how moral guardians warned that D&D would ruin your ability to tell fantasy from reality, but they were the ones claiming that demons were real and you could use the books to summon them.  Like, I’m eleven years old and I already know it doesn’t work that way, sir or madam.

  • Joshua

    I think I mentioned this in previous threads, but…

    As a kid, I was already quite the nerd, and correspondingly I had nerd friends. One of them was a D&D player, and at one point we (there were four of us) got together to play a game out of the old Red Box.

    Unfortunately, I made the mistake of telling my dad, as staunch a “Baptist” as he was dedicated to being a violent asshole. He was furious and forbid me from ever playing D&D again. I think he also forbid me from talking to the kid who owned the Red Box, because I don’t recall spending much time with him after that.

    Anyway, my remaining friends and I still had the RPG bug, so we tried out a few others. We tried out the Mechwarrior RPG but didn’t get that into the system. Then we moved on to the Robotech and Macross RPGS, which we did stick with. Those two RPGs were published by Palladium, who prided themselves on a cross-compatible system that allowed content from any of their games to be used in any other of their games.

    One of those other games was Rifts… As far as “demonic content”, D&D to Rifts was a real frying pan to fire scenario. At the very least, it was a solid R, and my friends and I were around 13ish. But, see, it WASN’T D&D and was therefore ok.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     Yes, exactly this.

    I mean, it took me a long time to unravel the tangle enough to state it as clearly as you just did, but that was the crux of it: just what do we mean by “reality” here?

    Once I got it clear in my head that what they meant by “reality” included Jehovah the Creator who both brought into the world as an act of special loving creation bugs whose maturing larvae ate their way out of their mothers’ still-living bodies and thought anal sex was unspeakably disgusting, it all made a lot more sense.

  • http://twitter.com/mikailborg Michael O’Brien

    Wouldn’t have changed anything for me – 60% of my gaming group are girls.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ann-Unemori/100001112760232 Ann Unemori

    Orgies? Darn, howcum I never got to join one of those groups? ;-)


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