Over on Kickstarter, Third Act Publishing is running a campaign to fund the production of their new game, Satanic Panic. Put together by Jim McClure, Jim Merritt, and Emily Reinhart, the game gleefully asks, “What if the Satanic scare of the 80’s had been real and gamers actually were summoning demons?” Set in an alternate, but no less nostalgic, 1970s and 1980s, players take the role of secret government agents combating the evils of tabletop. It sounds hysterical and ridiculously fun, but especially amusing for those of us who were gaming back then.
Mentioning the game on my Facebook page dredged up a bunch of memories from folks, so I decided to put out a call on social media and collect some of those stories:
Growing up as a Christian in South Africa in the 80’s and 90’s I was exposed to the Satanic Panic for everything from music to toys to TV shows and, yes of course, RPGs. I heard stories about people who had killed their parents because they thought it would get them to the next level. I heard about how you’d learn actual spells (nothing you haven’t heard a thousand times already in sure).
I never really got the chance to play much at any rate, maybe because of that, maybe I just had friends who genuinely aren’t interested in gaming… who knows.
The more interesting story was more recent (about 4 years ago) when I approached one leader in my church for counselling over another issue. The sessions were going well until on the penultimate session he handed me what he called a “dump list” that included such things as Heavy Metal, fantasy novels, comics, tattoos, and surprise surprise, Dungeons and Dragons. At the next session I tried explaining to him that a fair bit of the list isn’t even remotely Satanic but he wouldn’t hear anything and made me “pray against” my involvement in each thing. I didn’t, I only thanked God for the enjoyment and prayed for his protection over me.
Needless to say I no longer attend that church.
I was a bit of a late bloomer when it came to gaming. For me, it happened during my senior year of high school when a new kid joined my social circle. He saw me reading a big, fat fantasy book and asked if I played D&D, and if I didn’t, was I interested in trying? He didn’t have to twist my arm.
About two months after I started playing regularly with my new friend and his group, my mother asked me over her cup of coffee, “Isn’t that game Satanic?”
Now mind you, my mother wasn’t religious at all. Neither of my parents had much use for Church. My father claimed to be an atheist, and while I’m sure my mother believed in God, she certainly had no desire to attend church and was actually very distrustful of those who talked a great deal about faith and religion.
As she asked the question, I stopped and stared at her with a horrified expression and responded in the most teenage way possible. “MOOOOM!” So much, contained in one, drawn out syllable.
“Okay honey, just making sure. Have fun.” And that was the end of that.
My story takes place just out of the 80’s. I was aware of Dungeons & Dragons due to the cartoon and the ads in my comics, but otherwise unaware as to what it actually was. But in 1990, just before Christmas, I started seeing commercials for Hero Quest. It went straight to the top of my Christmas list and my parents were wonderful enough to get it for me. It quickly became my favorite game and I wanted to play it at every opportunity. That even included my friend Mikey.
Mikey was the son of our neighborhood holy roller. I was raised Christian myself, but my parents definitely raised me to be very tolerant and have an open mind. But Mikey’s mom was infused with the holy spirit and it seemed little in their day to day life wasn’t related to their beliefs. This also led to a very sheltered upbringing for Mikey. I remember his mother scolding me for letting him watch Goonies. Something, something, demonic deformed man. She also had my favorite book about the paranormal pulled from the school library shelves.
One afternoon, I gathered a few friends (including Mikey) to play some Hero Quest. They made their way through zombies and skeletons only to finally face off against the gargoyle. Fun was had and even Mikey seemed to really enjoy it.
Later that evening our phone rang and my mom answered it. There was a long pause for what I assumed was a telemarketer’s pitch, followed by, “Yes, Lane… Yes, Lane… I’ll talk to him. Ok, thank you. Bye.” My mom hung up the phone, sighed and looked at me, “Don’t play that game with Mikey anymore, OK?”
A few days later I go over to Mikey’s house to play. I’m greeted at the door by Mikey’s mom. To which I’m given a half hour lecture about Satan, Dungeons & Dragons, witchcraft, sewers, kids dying, and a lot of other things that got lost in a Charlie Brown muted trombone sound.
Thankfully there were no book burnings or forceful baptisms. This may have just been the death throes of the fervent 80’s outcry. I’m still thankful to this day I had supportive, if not encouraging, parents that allowed my imagination to flourish.
In my school, D&D was banned. I was not aware of this until a High School project where my friend and I wanted to run a D&D game for our class (small class). Our teacher said it was a cool idea but we couldn’t do it. Always gaming the system, we designed our own RPG with the intent of running a game of it for our next project. You can see the game here in one of my previous articles.
Dave actually had a harder time than I did. His parents were so convinced D&D was a tool of the devil, he and his brothers invented a code to discuss the game without being caught.
Quite a few in my circle were approached in stores while looking at books and told that we were going to hell if we didn’t stop playing the devil’s game.
My in-laws have offered to take all our game books and burn them for us multiple times. (Though not recently) my wife originally thought I was a creepy Satanist; partially because I had D&D books (and partly because I was creepy). The 2e Monster Manual art eventually won her over.
I grew up in Appalachia, where most things not well established are bad for you; I think xenophobia sums it up well. I started playing D&D around 1976. The first couple of years were no big issue, other than the time I put into it. When the craze hit, and the radio preachers started tossing fuel on the fire, my mother took an interest in the cover of the first edition DMG. On several occasions I had to go looking for it only to find it where she and someone had been questioning the artwork and its meaning. Not once did she ever open the book.
My Dad was generally unconcerned, he actually encouraged the creativity, so long as my chores were done. Years later, and I mean decades, my Mom called one night and when my wife told her that I was downstairs playing D&D, it was the 70s all over again. I simply must be worshiping Satan, the televangelists all said so! This would have come as a real shock to the congregation for whom I was pastor at the time.
The full story, Mom said, “I can’t believe you let him do that.” To which my wife responded, “Have you met your son? No one LETS him do anything.” She then launched into the fact that my gaming group were our best friends, most attended church regularly, one was a Catholic lay minister and that any of them would help out without hesitation.
As a long-time player (starting in ’79), I and my role-playing friends lived through the “D&D will kill you” craze that briefly entranced the media. I was already listening to Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, so it was clear that my immortal soul was in extreme peril. No one that I knew ever treated this nonsense as anything serious – except for one person.
This was the older brother of one of my close gaming friends. One day, he decided to call the local daily newspaper and report that the D&D cult had come to town and that I was the “Warlock” of the group. I don’t know what else he told them but it certainly got their interest. A reporter called me up and asked for an interview.
I was pretty shocked. As a churchgoer, I really did not want to be “outed” as some kind of black magic practitioner or cult leader. I also did not want to contribute to any misinformation about a game I played and liked. I accepted the interview request.
The next day, I appeared in the newsroom for my appointment. I had brought all of my D&D books as well as some books on mythology (a ton of books in all). The reporter was keen to begin and I did what I thought would be best – make the whole thing as boring as all get out. I was an 18-year-old pontificating on probability theory, J.R.R. Tolkien, the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis, the legends of the Greeks and Romans and how they shaped popular culture, blah blah blah.
It did not take long before the reporter’s eyes glazed over. Even as he closed his note book, I kept rattling on about military simulations using miniatures, Robin Hood, King Arthur and his Roundtable.
Finally, he shut the interview down. He wanted to interview a sex-and-death warlock but all he got was a talkative nerd with a lot of text-heavy books. There was no story here.
I wasn’t allowed to play D&D when I was younger, mostly because of things my parents saw in the news about the Satanic Panic. I don’t think they really believed it all, but they were unsure enough about it to not let me play it. They let me buy and read the books, which was odd, but I didn’t get to playing and running games until much later because of this kind of worry. That’s a huge pity, because gaming is where I found a lot of my confidence and strategies to succeed in other places in life. It let me test out different methods of socializing and gave me practice in “fake it till you make it”. It’s a pity that the Satanic Panic delayed that for me, and who knows how many others who gained similar benefits from gaming.
I was in seventh or eighth grade when I first started playing D&D. I was raised Roman Catholic, but my parents had not had any problems with my playing the game. I always got the idea that they did not quite get what all the fuss was about, but to them it was a game, nothing more. For birthdays and Christmas, I would get different books or other supplements. All-in-all they did not seem to distinguish the D&D books from any other Sci-Fi/Fantasy novels.
At some point in eighth grade my parents were talking to someone at church after mass. It was nothing out of the ordinary and I did not think much of it. However, on the way home, they suddenly had questions about D&D. They wanted details on the game, like what happened when my friends and I played. I answered their questions, saying that nothing happened, it was basically storytelling, only we were the characters in the story. I asked why the sudden interest and they told me that they had been hearing things from people at church. Things like the game was more real than what they had first assumed. My father even said that one of the people had suggested that my parents’ financial issues were all being caused by my playing D&D. My father thought the whole idea was ridiculous. We were not having any issues, beyond the norm. That being said, I got the feeling my mother was a little more concerned.
They stopped asking about it and likewise I did not think much more about the conversation. Then a few weeks later on a Saturday, my father asked if I would teach him how to play D&D. I thought it was a great idea and was thrilled at his sudden interest. We rolled up a character for him, a Fighter, I forget his name and I took him through a basic dungeon. We played for a couple hours and while we both had fun, I think I was having more fun with the whole experience than he was.
We never played again. My friends were somewhat astonished that he even tried D&D. Their parents had never once expressed any interest in learning how to play, and I am not sure if they would have wanted to teach them even if they did.
Looking back on the episode, I believe all that my father was trying to do was to figure out what took place during a game. I almost feel he was a little disappointed at the lack of ritual sacrifice. D&D was pretty much what he had always thought it was: A game played with pencils and dice, not daggers and demons.
Months afterward, my father mentioned somewhat offhandedly, that when the subject of D&D being the root of all our worldly problems was broached again at church, he basically laughed the whole thing off and asked if they had ever bothered to even open one of the books. He told them with finality that D&D was only a game and only a fool would believe that it was more than that.
Take a swing by the Kickstarter and check out the game. I’ve backed it and I’m looking forward to getting a chance to play. We’d love to hear your stories of living through the crazy days of the panic if you’ve got one you’d like to share down in the comments.