In the early 70’s, fans of war games like Chainmail created a game that would become one of the most popular in history. Dungeons and Dragons was published by Tactical Studies Rules, Inc in 1974, and was created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. The venture was a risk, but one that ultimately paid off for the fledgling company that would later be known as TSR. During it’s time, TSR released three versions of the game, over the course of 23 years, and sold to Wizards of the Coast in 1997 who has put out four versions of the game in less time. The game sparked an industry that has become massive, but, despite stiff competition, D&D still remains the most well-known – and popular – tabletop RPG.
Like a lot of people, my introduction into tabletop RPGs was with Dungeons and Dragons, and I got in at the tender age of 14. I was on vacation with my folks, back in the town I grew up in but no longer called home. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd edition had just been released, and a buddy of mine I’d known since elementary school – and kept in touch with despite distance – invited me over to play a game with his friends. We rolled up a character for me, a draconian named Ayla (I was reading Valley of the Horses on that vacation) and we set about having a great afternoon of fun. Little did I know that day would spark my love for a hobby that I still carry 26 years later.
It was an interesting time to get involved in this hobby; a transition period of sorts, when D&D was just starting to change its image and become more popular with groups of younger players. The game was beginning to climb out of a dark period of paranoia, ignorance and outright hate surrounding ideas of what people thought the game was. Many people were afraid of it due to simple ignorance. I knew a lot of friends who had to hide the fact they played D&D from their parents, and others who got in trouble when their books were found. Non-gamers like Jack T. Chick and Patricia Pulling were outright spreading lies about the game, linking it to the occult, devil worship, and witchcraft to try and keep people away from the game.
Patricia is infamous for starting Bothered About Dungeons & Dragons, or BADD, in 1982 after her son committed suicide. She believed that a D&D curse was placed on her son at school, which led to his death, and even sued the school principle for wrongful death and then sued TSR. I presume the kids played at school. She started BADD after the suits were thrown out, and used the advocacy group to push the idea that D&D caused children to participate in all manner of awful activity including rape, murder, Satanism and suicide. During the course of the case, several reporters disproved her claims, including one report by Michael A. Stackpole which showed that players of the game were far less likely to commit suicide than non-gamers. When Pulling died, BADD evaporated, but it continued through my early years of playing D&D.
Chick was probably a more nefarious character in the story of the puritanical fight against this game. He manages Chick Publications, an evangelical group that is most infamous for leaving their little cartoon books on the backs of toilets in truck stops. In 1984, they published a comic about Dark Dungeons, which tells the story of a group playing the fictional game Dark Dungeons, clearly based on D&D. In the comic, several outright lies and hilarious misunderstandings about gaming are printed in a serious context meant to warn children and parents away from the game. At one point, a player is told that, since their cleric has reached 8th level, it was time to learn to cast real spells. Disgustingly, the comic also portrays a suicide caused by a player losing a character, or causing the death of a character. Even reading this comic now, after all these years, it makes me angry beyond belief that people would intentionally spread lies about a benign game.
Thankfully, over the years these movements to scare people have lost more and more influence over parents, and more kids and adults play roleplaying games than ever before. Now when one searches Dungeons and Dragons on Google, you find top results being the Wiki and company site, of course, but then countless links to positive articles, release news, movie news, videos, documentaries, and a plethora of stories about how the game helped someone, changed their life, or inspired them to become an artist or writer. We’ve had two movies, with a third in the works now, it seems. A cartoon, and stacks of comic books. Video games, novels, and one of the largest fan conventions in the world happens every year in Indianapolis; a con that just started as a group of people getting together in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, to celebrate their love of Dungeons and Dragons.
When I started in this hobby, D&D wasn’t a well-known game. It was just starting to gain notice on bookstore shelves rather than only in specialty stores. It was something you learned about from a friend of a friend, like a secret society, and that may have had a lot to do with much of the worry over the game. Now it’s almost a household name. I haven’t met anyone under the age of 40 that hasn’t at least heard of it. Dungeons and Dragons is arguably responsible for most of the tabletop gaming we have today, some of which you can now pick up on the shelves of Walmart, of all places, where once you had to drive miles to a smoky store where some books graced the second-hand shelving, and players threw dice in back rooms.
We’ve come a long way as gamers, and our games have grown so much over the years. Just about anyone can find a game they like, and other gamers to play them with. We’ve built a community of such diverse, loving, and passionate people. We fight, laugh, cry, shout, scream, and come together to throw dice and live our greatest fantasies. I’m glad I was introduced to this game, and, through it, all the great people I’ve come to know. I hope to always have a table to belly-up to, and dice to sling, and good friends to tell stories with into the wee hours of the night.