Lock Up the Children They Might Roll Dice!

Dungeons and Dragons Core Rulebook Gift Set, 4th EditionSitting at a table rolling handfuls of polyhedral dice while pretending to be Conan, Aragorn, or Elric is, according to many on the lunatic fringe of religious thinking, a gateway to the occult. Rule books full of esoteric tables of numbers and lists of fictional attributes are, somehow, the very directions to how to summon real demons and use black magic. What I'm talking about here is occult based hysteria, and Dungeons & Dragons.

Back in the 1970s, Gary Gygax and David Arneson, inspired by the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert A. Howard, Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock, and others as well as their own experience playing historical miniatures wargames, created the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy role-playing game. Playing the game involves creating characters detailed by intricate and obscure rules who then set out on adventures, usually with the idea of becoming mighty heroes like the protagonists in the many hundreds of fantasy novels in circulation. Players generally sit around a dining room table for hours with books, maps, dice, piles of paper, and little painted metal figurines, and from the perspective of most observers do almost nothing at all. I've played Dungeons & Dragons for years and I find watching other people play the game to be intensely boring. For someone unfamiliar with the game, watching must be an utterly mystifying experience.

And in the 1980s, this mystification seems to have turned into wild hysteria about Dungeons & Dragons and its links to the occult, most often, with Satanism. In the minds of some people, the fact that Dungeons & Dragons had spell-casting wizards, and the Monster Manual detailed the attributes of demons and devils (as antagonists for the mighty heroes) meant that the game was clearly a recruiting tool for the vast horde of Satanic covens that a particular brand of Christian imagines is to be found plotting their next human sacrifice at the corner drugstore. A sad story about a socially inept young man named Dallas Egbert was sensationally fictionalized by Ronda Jaffe into the 1981 book Mazes and Monsters. This books was later made into a movie by the same name in 1982 (starring Tom Hanks no less), which was so laughably bad that it became a cult hit among actual role-playing gamers. The Dallas story was also milked by unscrupulous private investigator William Dear with his book The Dungeon Master, who touted the connection between Dallas' playing of the game and his suicide nearly a year after he gave it up. Also in 1981, John Coyne put out Hobgoblin, which was inspired very (very, very) slightly by Dallas' experiences.

One of the most prominent purveyors of the connection between Dungeons & Dragons and the occult was Pat Pulling, the founder of the now-defunct Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons (B.A.D.D.), an organization of which she was often the sole member. After her son "Bink" killed himself, Pat decided that his love of role-playing games was to blame and unsuccessfully sued anyone she could connect with her son's gaming, and then puffed herself up into an "expert" on gaming and went on a crusade. Along with an impressive laundry list of mundane criminal activity, In her book The Devil's Web, Pulling associated Dungeons & Dragons  with a host of occult practices: demonology, Wicca, voodoo, Satanism, summoning malevolent spirits, necromancy, and Satanic divination (one would think that this would just fall under "Satanic practices", but Pulling seems to have liked to double dip when she made lists). She was also somewhat obsessed with the idea that to play Dungeons & Dragons one would roll three six-sided dice six times to obtain the basic ability scores for a character - making much hay over the fact that a "perfect" ability score was an "18", which could only be obtained by rolling a "6", "6", and "6".  I suppose one should add "Satanic numerology" to the list of practices that Pulling would associate with Dungeons & Dragons. Needless to say, Pulling's grasp on reality was somewhat tenuous - for example, in her public statements she asserted that eight percent of the population of Richmond (where she lived) was engaged in Satanism, stating that she arrived at that figure by adding four percent of the adults and four percent of the children together. One can spot the inherent problem in her assertion immediately, but I have always wondered where she got her four percent figures to begin with. I suspect that the answer is "her own ass", but since she never gave a source, we'll never know.

Given that her own son committed suicide, Pulling was somewhat obsessed with the idea of Dungeons & Dragons causing suicide, a connection which has never been demonstrated.* And if there was a connection, wouldn't that make it a lousy recruiting tool for occultists given that their fresh recruits would apparently be offing themselves in droves? Pulling's claims were systematically exposed as the baseless hysteria that they are in Game Hysteria and the Truth written by Michael J. Stackpole, much of which was later included in a more specific version dealing with Mrs. Pulling titled The Pulling Report.

One of the most famous, and most frequently lampooned, examples of hysteria linking Dungeons & Dragons to the occult is the Jack Chick track Dark Dungeons, of which a thorough analysis can be found on The Escapist website. For anyone not familiar with Jack Chick, he's something of a loon who sees demons lurking behind every door. So it really isn't a wonder that he decided that Dungeons & Dragons is laden with occult dangers, since he pretty much thinks everything (including Santa Claus) is laden with occult dangers. In Chick's version of reality, the main concern is that people who play the Dark Dungeons game (the thinly fictionalized version of Dungeons & Dragons used in the comic strip) will learn "real spells" and practice black magic, or as one of the characters in the comic strip states "I want to learn the real power!" I always wonder why role-playing gamers are such a fringe element if we are supposed to have access to actual spells that work. On the plus side, he did give generations of gamers the catch phrase "No! Not Blackleaf!"

Jack Chick's star pupil William Schnoebelen, who claims in his web article "Straight Talk on Dungeons and Dragons" (no, I won't link to it and give his inanity hits) to have been a "witch high priest" in the 1970s and early 1980s before he saw the light and converted to crazy radical fundamentalist Christianity, and who also claims that TSR employees consulted him and other members of his coven to make sure the spells in the game were "accurate" (whatever that means, given the fact that magic isn't actually real). Now, anyone who has cracked open a Player's Handbook (of any edition) knows just how silly this assertion is. That is, until you read Schoenbelen's explanation that simply saying "I'm invisible" is actually using magic. One wonders why anyone would need to check a coven for accuracy in that case. Anything qualifies as occult magic using that standard, even saying "I'm a pink pony with silver hooves". The occult, it seems, in the minds of people like Schnoebelen, is to be found in common everyday statements. One senses the smell of desperation in his attempts to convince others of the dangers of sitting around and rolling funny shaped dice.

Of course, one has to question Schnoebelen's grasp on reality**, as he repeatedly asserts that the Necronomicon is a real book of occult lore and that the various Elder Gods created by H.P. Lovecraft such as Cthulhu are real as well. I suppose that Schnoebelen thinks that saying "Hastur, Hastur, Hastur" is also going to summon a vast octopoid creature of unspeakable power. Given that just about every adolescent boy who played Dungeons & Dragons did this at least once (and in my case a couple dozen times) one wonders why we don't have numerous giant octopoid sightings on the regular basis. It is somewhat ironic that someone whose ability to differentiate fantasy from reality is so tenuous so frequently characterizes people who don't heed his warnings and still play those evil role-playing games as having a "magical world view". Umm, we aren't the ones saying that you can actually summon demons with game books.

Also highly touted by some organizations trying to draw a connection between Dungeons & Dragons and the occult is a letter written by convicted murderer Darren Molitor in 1985. Lest one think this attempted connection had grown stale, it is prominently displayed on the Logos Communications Consortium website and forms the core of their baleful warnings about the dire evils of Dungeons & Dragons. The Molitor letter is rambling, incoherent, and makes pretty clear that Molitor's obsession with the occult was only very tangentially related to his interest in role-playing games.

One element that stands out in this litany of occult charges laid at the feet of Dungeons & Dragons is just how dated the sources are. Yes, Schoenbelen's ludicrous silliness is sitting on the Jack Chick website today (and he even has a 2001 "response" to questions supposedly sent to him in the years since his original letter about Dungeons & Dragons was posted), but all of his information comes from an experience he supposedly had in the 1970s when he was practicing at three mutually exclusive religions at once. Darren Molitor's letter dates from 1985. Pat Pulling passed away in 1997, and B.A.D.D., which had atrophied from ones of other people down to her as the sole member, died along with her. More importantly, the common thread that runs through these attempts to connect Dungeons & Dragons with the occult is that those attempting to do the connecting seem to be simply incapable of separating fantasy from reality. One gets the impression that many claims about the occult are only kept alive because the very fringe religious elements keep them that way. While fantasy role-playing games make fantastic fiction, confusing the minutia of what is basically codified rules for literate people to play make-believe for "real" magic and occult training is to enter the realm of delusional thinking.

Aaron is not actually a vampire, but he seems to be up all night every night anyway using all the extra time garnered by not sleeping to review science fiction and fantasy books, movies, and television shows. And role-playing games. You can read his musings on science fiction, fantasy, and pretty much anything else that pops into his slightly twisted mind at Dreaming About Other Worlds.

*Schnoebelen tries to keep this connection alive in his 1989 letter and 2001 follow-up claiming that those like Stackpole who dismiss the connection between Dungeons & Dragons and suicide are misusing statistics to come to that conclusion, citing his own training as a counselor and the "graduate level statistics course" he took to obtain it (apparently a Masters degree in counseling from Liberty University, I leave the reader to draw their own conclusions concerning the likely rigor of that program). What he fails to reveal is that the American Association of Suicidology, the Centers for Disease Control and the Canadian Health & Welfare service have all looked into the issue and concluded that there is no causal link between fantasy role-playing games and suicide. I suppose the researchers at the CDC need Schnoebelen to help them brush up on statistics, or maybe they are part of the vast Satanic conspiracy.

**Schnoebelen is a fairly objectionable character. He is an anti-Catholic, anti-Mason, anti-Mormon, and anti-Wiccan, as well as being an anti-Satanist. According to his own self-promotion, he is an ex-member of all of these organizations as well. When one adds up all of the years he claims he was a member of these organizations, he was apparently simultaneously a Wiccan, a Mason, a Catholic, and a Satanist for five years, and a Mormon as well for one of those years. In addition to having some serious commitment issues, it seems one could do a study across a broad swath of occult lore just restricting oneself to the organizations he claims to have been a practicing member of.


  1. You mean my D&D books won't make me a real wizard?!? I am SO asking for my money back!

    I remember the anti-gaming hysteria. I had friends who felt compelled to hide their gaming materials, for fear their parents would pitch them. Fortunately, I think they all had long sit-downs with their folks, and no gaming materials were harmed.

    Much less players.

    I was reminded of this more recently when people spoke out against Harry Potter, saying the stories were anti-Christian.

    Interesting. A book populated by characters who fight to protect what's good, who protect the weak, and who would lay down their lives for each other. Who essentially live out Biblical principles in the story and on screen.

    Anti-Christian? Really?

    I better be givin' my Bible another look.

    Thanks for the excellent article.

    l: Your Library: A Tale Not Told in Books

  2. Excellent article, very well researched, well written and entertaining.


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