The RPG reference bookshelf

I’ve been doing some amateur research on role playing games and in the process have acquired a number of books on them. There’s been some serious scholarship on RPGs in recent years, but I’ll limit this to the early days — the twentieth century. Most of these books fall into one of three categories: introductory type “What is a role playing game?”, guides to improve your play, or studies of RPGs from some viewpoint — possibly academic, but most often religious, and almost all of those are part of the literature of the Satanic Panic. Each listing has a short annotation, but it’s been a long time since I read a few of these.

Albrect, Bob, and Greg Stafford. The Adventurer’s Handbook: A guide to role-playing games. Reston, Va. : Reston Publishing, 1984. An introduction to RPGs, with particular emphasis on Stafford’s “Basic Role Playing” system which forms the core mechanics of RuneQuest, Call of Cthulhu, and other Chaosium games. The reader is walked through making several characters, and given some solo scenarios to play out with them. The book also includes some reviews of the major games available, suggestions for GMs, and a discussion of accessories like miniatures and magazines. The book as a whole is designed like a school workbook, with short quizzes at the end of each section and art that reminded me of my elementary school days in the 70s. Far out. Overall it’s an interesting artifact.

Butterfield, John, Philip Parker, and David Honigmann. What is Dungeons & Dragons? Warner Books, 1982. A guidebook introducing role-playing and D&D to a general audience. The authors were college students, apparently commissioned to write this book to fill a gap in the mass market. The US paperback has a label clarifying “DUNGEONS & DRAGONS is a federally registered trademark of TSR, Inc. Use of TSR’s trademarks and the contents of this book have not been approved by TSR.” The book outlines the basics of D&D with a glossary of terms, a sample dungeon, an extensive recommended reading list, and some discussion of other the other games then available, including some board games which might inspire D&D settings.

Craun, Joan, and Ludwick, Rick. (Eds.) GamesMaster Catalog: A comprehensive illustrated guide to games. Clifton, Virginia : Boynton & Associates, 1980. Perhaps intended to be an annual, this was the first attempt to be a comprehensive listing of RPGs, wargames, board games, miniatures, and accessories. The board games covered are specialist/hobby games: no Parker Bros. or Milton Bradley. Each company provided samples and information about their games, which were photographed for this catalog. This is far from comprehensive, but covers a lot of smaller companies, and is a glimpse into the market at the time.

Fannon, Sean Patrick. The Fantasy Role-Playing Gamer’s Bible. Prima Publishing, 1996. A reference book that attempts to be an overview of RPGs for novices as well as a source book for experienced gamers. Of note are the extensive glossary, timeline, and extensive notes on gamer culture. The informal writing style may be charming or grating.

Fine, Gary Alan. Shared Fantasy: Role-playing games as social worlds. University of Chicago Press, 1983. A landmark study of D&D and Empire of the Petal Throne gamers from a sociologist’s perspective. At one time this was the ONLY academic treatise on the game and likely to be found in every university library in the 1980s and 1990s. It has garnered some controversy as some of Fine’s subjects say that did not agree to be identified in the book, and felt that their academic reputations and careers were damaged by the quotes.

Galloway, Bruce, et al. Fantasy Wargaming. Cambridge : Patrick Stephens Ltd., 1981. Technically both a game in itself and a treatise, it was noted by Butterfield, Parker, and Hongimann (1982) as one of the only nonfiction works on D&D (alongside Holmes (1981). The book includes both a running critique of D&D and some anecdotes of actual play, along with extensive GM suggestions more appropriate to D&D or T&T than the included game.

Gygax, Gary. Master of the Game. New York : Perigree Books, 1989. Gygax’s book on becoming a better game master, along with suggestions for getting more involved in the industry through conventions, publishing, etc.

Gygax, Gary. Role-Playing Mastery. New York : Perigree Books, 1987. Gygax’s book on becoming a better player and game master.

Hackett, Martin. Fantasy wargaming: games with magic & monsters. Wellingborough : Patrick Stephens Limited, 1990. While the focus is much more on wargames than role-playing, there is some background on RPGs and some of the wargame scenarios presented are really skirmish-level engagements in a dungeon. I’ve always suspect that this was the book Patrick Stephens Ltd. expected Galloway’s book to be.

Holmes, John Eric. Fantasy Roleplaying Games. New York : Hippocrene Books, 1981. Groundbreaking as the first popular work about RPGs, and notable for being written by the editor of the first “basic” D&D boxed set. D&D is not the only game covered, and the extensive photographs of contemporary games, miniatures, and set-ups is a plus.

Larson, Bob. Satanism: the seduction of America’s youth. Nashville : T. Nelson Publishers, 1989. Bob Larson was a radio evangelist and now grifts as an exorcist. I remember when this book was new, as I was working my first library job in high school, and we had a sadly large collection of stuff like this. There were chapters on Satanism in pop culture, and the threat of cults, and some hilarious appendices: “A parent’s guide to occult games, ” “A supplemental guide to Dungeons & dragons,” and “A parent’s guide to black metal music.” I don’t remember too much about it after 30 years, so I recently ordered a copy via interlibrary loan. 

Leithart, Peter, and George Grant. A Christian Response to Dungeons and Dragons: The cathechism of the New Age. Fort Worth, Texas : Dominion Press, 1987. An 18 page pamphlet which is a pretty good representative of the Satanic Panic literature. “FRP activity” is linked to “more than a hundred suicide and murder cases” and similar claims are made without citation, although the suggested reading, to be fair, does include two pamphlets published by TSR. 

Livingstone, Ian. Dicing with Dragons: an introduction to role-playing games. Revised American Edition. New York : New American Library, 1983. A sort of popular guide to RPGs, notable for the choose-you-own-adventure type game that fills the first third of the book, with nice illustrations by Russ Nicholson. There are fairly in-depth explanations of D&D, RuneQuest, Tunnels & Trolls, and Traveller, followed by very brief entries on other games available at the time, as well as a listing of accessories like modules for the games. A brief chapter on miniatures has an interesting approach to painting I haven’t seen before. 

Plamondon, Robert. Through Dungeons Deep: A fantasy gamer’s handbook. Reston, Va. : Reston Publishing, 1982. A guide for role-playing and game mastering, it also includes a selection of reviews of games. I don’t own this one, but leafed through a copy. It was republished in 2008.

Porter, David. Children at Risk. Kingsway Publications, 1998. Devotes several chapters to role-playing games and their offshoots like Magic: the Gathering and their potential for harm to children. Porter is more “moral concern” than full Satanic Panic, and even recommends games based on Tolkien’s works as appropriate for Christians.

Robie, Joan Hake. The Truth about Dungeons & Dragons. Lancaster, Pa. : Timelee Books, 1991. Another full-throated Satanic Panic screechfest. The cover has a neat looking monster though.

Schick, Lawrence. Heroic worlds: a history and guide to role-playing games. Buffalo : Prometheus Books, 1991. The most ambitious RPG book, period. Schick catalogs every game and accessory that had been produced up until 1990, and gives each a short description. In my other life as a librarian I recognize what he’s doing as an attempt at a comprehensive bibliography, and he even assigns a code to each product. The entries are broken up by occasional quotes from important game designers, ranging from a single line to most of a page on various topics.

Swan, Rick. The complete guide to role-playing games. New York : St. Martin’s Press, 1990. It’s fortunate this follows alphabetically after Schick, as it is sort of the corollary to Schick’s book. Not as comprehensive, but much more detailed; no pretense of neutrality, and much more detailed in its assessments, although Swan tends to assess each game without regard to historical context as the ratings are meant to be practical guides rather than an historical review. 

Weldon, John, and James Bjornstad. Playing with Fire: Dungeons and Dragons, Tunnels and Trolls, Chivalry and Sorcery, and other fantasy games. Moody Press, 1984. A brief book on the occult dangers of playing D&D, and somewhat unusual in that it discusses some of the less well-known games of the time. It at least attempts to cite sources other than the KJ Bible and B.A.D.D. press releases, but is mostly hysterical nonsense fueled by out-of-context quotations.

 

Published in: on August 29, 2020 at 9:03 pm  Comments (4)  
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Satanic panic revisted @ the BBC

There’s a pretty long article I haven’t had time to read through yet here at the BBC’s site, and some follow-up discussion here at FARK.  Saving these here to remember to look at it tonight after work.

From the BBC article:

[Pat] Pulling [founder of BADD, Bothered About D&D] described D&D as “a fantasy role-playing game which uses demonology, witchcraft, voodoo, murder, rape, blasphemy, suicide, assassination, insanity, sex perversion, homosexuality, prostitution, satanic type rituals, gambling, barbarism, cannibalism, sadism, desecration, demon summoning, necromantics, divination and other teachings”.

That sounds like one hell of a campaign!

Published in: on April 11, 2014 at 12:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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Sister Rebecca speaks!

The good news is that Tom Moldvay’s gaming materials and manuscripts etc. were not destroyed in a bonfire.

The bad news is that they were trashed by a jackhole landlord.

Rebecca Moldvay Weiner, his sister, stumbled upon my blog and set the record straight.

Thanks for all of your memories of my brother Tom but fear that your source has been pulling your leg. I am not sure if I should be upset at being called a religious fanatic or be amused as my brother would have been at the absurd story. Sadly Tom passed while living alone and was not discovered for some time. I was notified by the coroner only after he had been cremated. After contacting his landlord I was given 2 days to go through his belongings which were stuffed into garbage bags. I tried to rescue what I could but it was a small portion of a long and creative lifetime of work. I love and miss you Tom. Sister Rebecca (yes like the character he named for me) This made me cry.

I apologized to her privately for repeating an unconfirmed rumor and I hope she will forgive any hurt that story caused.

In hindsight I can imagine a chain of events where the bare facts (Tom’s stuff mostly destroyed after his death; his sister was there) might have morphed into an urban legend that better fit the typos of the Satanic Panic (Tom’s stuff was burned in a bonfire, just like in Dark Dungeons!  His fanatic sister did it!), and I am sorry I repeated the story.

Published in: on January 6, 2012 at 11:37 am  Comments (7)  
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Satanic panic: Turmoil in the toybox

Just a quick update — I found a series of Youtube videos where the “author” of Turmoil in the toybox (scare quotes because it was actually ghostwritten for him) is interviewed on “The Eagles Nest,” a 1980s wacko show.  I watched at least one episode of that show back when I was kid and they were discussing ‘backward masking’ and the Satanic messages in rock albums. (And not just heavy metal — The Eagles, Pink Floyd, and other mainstream bands were all tools of Satan.)

Anyway the first of the 10 Youtube videos is here and it will lead you to the successive ones. Enjoy!

My, how times have changed.  Back in the dark days of the 1980s we thought Satanism was being covertly promoted by toys.  Today we know it is really Islam. 🙂

Published in: on August 26, 2011 at 6:47 am  Comments (7)  
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Satanic panic

A typical D&D session

The “Satanic panic” is familiar to people of a certain age, and apparently is not well understood by younger folks.

Two good references about the general phenomena of the ‘satanism scare’ of the 1970s/1980s are:

  • The Satanism scare / James T. Richardson, Joel Best, David G. Bromely (eds.). New York : Aldine de Gruyter, c1991. [isbn 0202303780]
  • Satanic panic : the creation of a contemporary legend / Jeffrey S. Victor. Chicago : Open Court, c1993. [isbn 0812691911 ; 081269192x]

Those two are fairly ‘academic’ but each has a chapter specifically discussing D&D in the Satanism scare (as well as other references passim).  Both arrive at the conclusion that those who criticize and condemn the game do so not on the basis of any particular facts (including game content and the actual behavior of players) but for thoroughly ideological reasons, having more to do with the desire to control leisure activities in secular settings and their conviction that any imaginative use of fantasy opens one up to satanic attack or unwitting deals with devil (no, seriously).  I am a little less comfortable with the first book because the chapter on D&D is co-authored by Gary Alan Fine, who also wrote the book Shared fantasy, which is relatively well-regarded in academic circles (being the first and for a long time only academic exploration of RPGs) but despised by some of his interview subjects who felt betrayed by what they feel were sensationalism.  Another thing that struck me is that both books were published in the 1990s, and mention satanic panic-type attacks on the game even into the 1990s.

Pretty much any book about Satanism and the Satanism scare in America will touch on D&D or RPGs generally.  Online I guess you could just as well look over Michael Stackpole’s The Pulling report, or CAR-RPa (the Committee for the Advancement of Role-Playing Games), or even Wikipedia’s article on D&D controversies . Oh, and an honor’s thesis on game censorship which examines moral panics mainly in Australia about both FRPs and computer/video games.  The Escapist has a nice timeline too.  I’d look for more on this online but I’m exhausted by all this.

Growing up in New Jersey in the late 70s and early 80s, I remember the ‘Satanism scare’ being a fairly serious topic, even in a relatively liberal suburb of Philadelphia.  Reports about Satanism were everywhere. Satanic serial killers and ritual abusers were the rage on talk shows. Satanic motorcycle gangs were described by enthusiastic middle-school kids (the ones I knew, anyway).  Televangelists described backward masking and secret messages in rock music (and not just heavy metal … I recall Pink Floyd and the Eagles being singled out by a show I saw on cable, called “The Eagles’ Nest”).  It wasn’t just a meme among fundamentalists either — one of the “CCD” teachers at the local Catholic church would go on and on about how things as disparate as the ‘peace symbol,’ KISS, and Johnson & Johnson products held satanic messages. (The “Johnson & Johnson’s is Satanic” legend actually originated among Amway salesmen, looking to knock the competition!)

Some very conservative relatives in New England worried that D&D may be a bad influence on me & my brother, but no one I knew took the D&D-is-Satanic claims very seriously.  At least, until I moved to Kansas.  In the mid-1980s my family relocated to Olathe, Kansas.  Olathe was considered a fairly liberal place, located not far from Lawrence, Kansas.  But it was in Kansas that I began hearing serious discussions about whether rock music etc. was satanic.  One of the regulars in the high-school gaming group my brother assembled had extremely conservative, Southern Baptist parents (who claimed, for example, that Roman Catholics are not Christians)  — but they nonetheless allowed us to game at his house on occasion.

Finally in the late 1980s we relocated again to northeast Ohio.  Among my highschool peers I met several people who were either forbidden to play D&D or who had been under constant threat of being banned from the game and/or the gaming group, and in every case it was for religious reasons — the game is evil, teaches witchcraft, etc.  In Ohio I first saw the infamous Chick tract “Dark dungeons” and, in my student job in the public library, began to see books like Bob Larson’s Satanism : the seduction of America’s youth. (If you haven’t seen this, there is hilarious chapter on RPGs…except that it isn’t really funny when you think about how this sort of stuff affects kids, who are hounded by their parents or pastors to give up something that is harmless.)  One guy we gamed with had an absent father and an overzealous mother and sisters who mocked and berated him for playing D&D, and ultimately destroyed his game books.  Another guy stopped into a hobby shop in the next town over and asked if they had any D&D stuff, only to be kicked out by the owner — “None of that Satanic junk here!”

Based on the stuff I have been reading in newspaper archives from the 1980s, this was pretty normal.  Schools and libraries started D&D clubs in the early 1980s and parents banned them in the later 1980s.  A lot of nerdy kids who found friends and joy in gaming were pressured to give it up.  In the wider satanic panic, I don’t think many gamers were unjustly accused and convicted of crimes (as a number of day care workers, rock fans, and others were) but still, the social ostracism was real and it had almost nothing to do with the actual content of the games.

When TSR tried to clean up D&D’s image, it didn’t do any good among the critics.  It might have removed some of the “evidence” they could point to, but honestly, this stuff is never about “evidence.”  Removing devils and demons and assassins does not solve “the problem.”  Look at the way the same zealots are still condemning stuff like Harry Potter, for crying out loud.  Reading the batshit crazy book The truth about Dungeons and Dragons reaffirmed my conviction that what really bothers the critics is not the magic, the monsters, or the mayhem.  It’s the make-believe.  Maybe stuff like the Grindhouse edition of Raggi’s game throws a little kindling on the fire, but in truth the zealots will be just as inflamed by the Mouse Guard game as they are by D&D.

But don’t take my word for it.  Here are some excerpts from the panicked:

From The truth about Dungeons & Dragons by Joan Hake Robie:

Dungeons and Dragons can be described as follows:

  • The bizarre cast list of characters includes demons, dragons, witches, zombies, harpies, gnomes, and creatures who cast spells and exercise supernatural powers.
  • It dabbles with demonic spirits and promotes the influence of the occult.
  • It encourages sex and violence.
  • It is a form of Devil worship.
  • It has been banned from public schools in Utah, summer recreation programs in California, and a minister in Kansas wants to collect money to purchase and burn every copy he can find. (p. 11-12)

Not much new there; but keep reading and you discover that the main objection is not to the particular trappings of black magic or diabolism you find in the 1st edition AD&D manuals. Robie and her ilk object to magic, the supernatural, and fantasy as such, because they apparently tempt people to invite the Devil or evil spirits into their lives…just by talking about or imagining them.  She concludes her book with a “letter from a DM” who tries very badly to defend D&D against some of these charges.  Robie responds, paragraph by paragraph, with some fascinating and insane stuff, but she saves the most revealing one for last (elipsis in the original):

(DM): So you can see, every person who plays D&D is not corrupted, or turned away from Christ. This game has taught me how to co-operate with people, how to get along with them, and with God’s blessing it will continue to do so … Jesus provided an escape for us, but when we want to get something off our mind, there’s nothing like a diversion.”

(Author’s response): Sorry, Dungeon Master, God will never bless D&D or its [sic] works. You are right when you say “Jesus has provided an escape for us.” But that escape is through Himself–not through Dungeons and Dragons. (p.74)

Robie is saying that any escapism is inherently Satanic.

She also ghostwrote most of Phil Phillips’ book Turmoil in the Toybox, which argues similarly that Saturday morning cartoons and the children’s toys based on them are teaching Satanism to children. (No, really: read an excerpt here.)  It’s not just Elminster and Robilar that are Knights In Satan’s Service*, but He-Man and the Smurfs** too.

I would also refer the morbidly curious to A Christian response to Dungeons and Dragons, a 23 page pamphlet available in PDF here.  In some ways the views here are more measured but ultimately it is not that D&D players might take on the role of an assassin or necromancer that is problematic, it is that the DM assumes a ‘godlike’ role and the players dabble in any kind of activity not specifically permitted to real life Christians, like magic use.  Clean up D&D all you want; the problem is not that PCs might be evil; it is that PCs might use magic at all:

Dungeons and Dragons is a dangerous game. It serves as an introduction to evil, a catechism of occultism, a primer for the ABCS of the New Age. It is a recruiting tool of Satan. It can alter the daily behavior of regular players. It stimulates the seamier side of our imaginations. It is an enormously attractive and effective escape for people frustrated with life. For many it becomes pure, obsessive fantasy, in its most destructive form. It is no longer a game, an imaginative diversion, but a substitute universe in which the player pretends to be his own God and to make his own rules. (p. 16)

Bob Larson’s Satanism: the seduction of America’s youth (1989) devotes one short chapter and two appendices to D&D and FRPs generally.  Although he does cite specific “evil” and demonological content in the games, his problem with D&D is mainly that such games invite real demonic entities into one’s life:

… the truth is that Dungeons & Dragons guides participants into a world of nonmaterial entities, forces, and spirits. Obviously, if such beings exist, the line of demarcation between fantasy and reality can easily be blurred. Warn anyone you know who plays D&D, “There is no assurance that conjuring an imagined entity will prevent a real spirit from responding!”(p. 54)

Larson includes an appendix on D&D, largely culled from the extravagant claim of  Dr. Thomas Radecki, which has gems like “Unfortunately, fantasy role playing games like D&D encourage evil. They reward players with power points for casting curses and remorselessly slaughtering each other.” And “in D&D manuals, Gygax encourages players to become their characters and even uses Adolph Hitler a role model for charisma.” (p. 202)  One appendix lists “occult games” other than D&D and it mentions Powers & Perils, Warhammer (Roleplay), Stormbringer, and Warlock of Firetop Mountain alongside the kabbalah and dowsing rods as tutors of evil. (Powers & perils? Was that even still in print in 1989?!?)  (Appendix C of Larson’s book, which purports to identify “Black metal music,” lists: Anthrax, Danzig, Dio, Exodus, Grim Reaper, Helloween, Iron Maiden, Megadeth, Metal Church, and Metallica as the prominent ones and Celtic Frost, Sam Hain, Satan, Sodom, and Possessed as minor bands.  Sounds more like a roster of thrash and power metal to me, but  I think at least a couple of these may actually qualify as black metal, and his comments focus almost entirely on the album covers.  An earlier chapter focuses on King Diamond and Slayer — two unambiguously Satanic acts, at least on stage — and their obvious progenitors: The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin!)

In all fairness, it is not just Christian fundamentalists who were behind the D&D=Satanism meme; Patricia Pulling (of BADD fame) was actually a fundamentalist Jew.  I strongly suspect Moslem extremists would be no less opposed to such things too.

Anyway my point is, there is no use trying to ‘clean up’ or ‘sanitize’ RPGs to satisfy their critics.  Those who think them evil or dangerous might focus on the inclusion of demons and devils and pentagrams in the monster manuals and art, but what really bothers them is not the darkness of some of the fantasy, it is the fantasy itself.  The magic, the imagination, the escapism.

I never fully understood the label of “escapist” till my friend Professor Tolkien asked me the very simple question, ‘What class of men would you expect to be most preoccupied with, and most hostile to, the idea of escape?’ and gave the obvious answer: jailers. –C.S. Lewis,”On Science Fiction”

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*My CCD teacher in 5th or 6th grade claimed that the crappy rock band KISS’s name stood for Knights In Satan’s Service or Kids In Satan’s Service.  She also loved to tell us various urban legends (many of the very ones you’ll find in books like The Choking Doberman) and claimed they were all true.

**The Smurfs are obviously Communists, not Satanists.  Nota bene: Papa Smurf wears a RED hat.  Communal living arrangements; sharing food and all the goods in the village; and the blatant shibboleth/jargon they use, much like real Communists.  Their enemy?  The obviously capitalist Gargomel, who wants to literally turn them into gold — a powerful and easily understood metaphor for the exploitation of labor!

Published in: on August 24, 2011 at 2:00 pm  Comments (7)  
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