D&D in the 80s, Fads, and the Satanic Panic

nevin

Hero
You mean the ones that are still holding together great decades later? Seems the quality is there.

Did many/any of the kids playing D&D in the early '80s care? I had zero knowledge of TSR as a company beyond the fact that their logo was plastered on the books I loved. I couldn't care less about anything beyond the game as we played it.

The mainstream/global internet (web 1.0) wasn't a thing until '89-'90. That's a bit later than the Satanic Panic.
no I mean the first print of the second edition books that fell apart after being opened 15 or 20 times. my first Unearthed arcana split in half 6 months after I bought it. One of my monster manuals did the same thing. The absolute cake though were the Monster Manuals for 2nd edition that were 3 ring binders and you had to pull out the printed sheets that had 3 hole punched paper and put them in the binder yourself. If you used them often the holes broke and the pages started falling out. THOSE are the books I'm talking about. Of course the ones you still have are great. All the lousy ones I'm talking about are freaking hard to find because the quality was naughty word.

the problem in the south was Clubs couldn't find places to play. Most of our biggest clubs in the DFW metroplex just faded away between 1984 and 1986. The southern baptist convention was dead set on shutting down every Arcade and every D&D player in the south. I've stated in another post ages ago that I had players just show up and drop off all thier books because they were tired of dealing with thier family who thought they were becoming Satanists. Yeah the kids that lived in areas that weren't religious probably didn't notice. But it was bad enough the only place you saw D&D stuff or ads of any sort was in the shrinking number of game stores. do a little research tell us how many Con's and big gaming conventions were held in the southern united states from 1984 to 1990.

And no not mainstream internet. TSR started attacking people on BBC's and at College Libraries where everything was copied and shared in those days. Think about that thier legal department was trolling electronic bulletin boards and sending cease and desist letters to people, because the TSR staff thought thier falling game sales were being significantly impacted by BBC's and photocopiers at the library.

I remember it well it well. If they'd been trying to destroy their brand they couldn't have done it much better.
 

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nevin

Hero
Satan was behind a lot in the '80's, TV shows, comic books, cartoons, music, music videos, RPGs and ouija boards.

But this had little effect on most RPG sales.

Few gamers even bought the D&D books. Typically a forever DM would buy them, but that is just about it. Sure a couple players would buy every book, but not many. Some players might buy a Players Handbook. A lot of players either just used their DMs books.....or made photo copies of needed pages(OR...hand write out copies)

Many players saw no need to buy all the books and/or saw many books a "for the DM only".

Also, by the mid 80's everyone had the "core" books that wanted them. So sure new players and DMs came to the game and bought books.....but not "that" much.

TSR flounder a bit with not enough focus on AD&D, so again drop in sales. Only if someone would have thought of putting out a book like "The Dragons of D&D" or such....
all my players that could afford them bought several books. Also in the mid 80's you could go to a gaming store and they'd have 20 or 30 modules, supplements for D&D and AD&D, Dragon magazines and Dungeon Magazines. I don't think lack of stuff to buy, or players not buying was an issue. The first half of the 80's they were everywhere pushing thier product and then the second half of the 80's it was like they vanished into the woods. Maybe it was all the infighting you read about between Gygax and TSR staff and his wife. I don't know. something went really wrong though. I think part of it was they retreated from half the country trying to not be "SATANIC. To be fair in the 70's when they were smaller they almost tanked over a half dressed princess on a module. After that they may have been afraid of fighting with parents and churches and hurting thier public image.
 

Richards

Legend
I started with the AD&D 1st Edition trio of core books (Christmas gifts for me and my two younger brothers), but everything beyond that was hit or miss. We didn't have any gaming shops nearby, so we didn't use minis - it was all theater of the mind out of sheer necessity. I remember Kay-Bee Toys and Toy-R-Us were places where the odd D&D book would pop up on occasion, and I picked up what I could whenever I found something. (I remember that's where I eventually found the Dungeon Survival Guide and Oriental Adventures.) It wasn't until I went to college that I had access to a regular comics/gaming shop...but by then, I didn't have a gaming group to play with. It wouldn't be until a few years into the Air Force (in the late 80s) that I was able to get back into AD&D, and by then it was 2nd Edition.

Johnathan
 

gamerprinter

Mapper/Publisher
I started playing regular games of D&D in 1979, while in high school. So, obviously, I was playing AD&D 1e during "Satanic Panic" years, but other than having heard some of the stories and reactions - it was distant news for me, something I never personally witnessed. I was in the US Army from 1983 unti 1987, so I played plenty of TTRPGs, not just D&D, and never encountered a Satanic Panic issue. Even after I got out, I found a group right away in my hometown, and played with them over 20 years. The Satanic Panic issues was something I was aware of, but in no way directly impacted me.
 

Ogre Mage

Adventurer
It makes sense that if the media/authority figures make something seem forbidden, it can actually INCREASE interest in the forbidden thing. In the early 2000s this phenomenon became known as the "Streisand Effect" -- when an attempt to censor or remove information has the unintended consequence of increasing interest in that information.

I first played D&D as a kid in 1986. During this time, the "Satanic Panic" was in full swing. The panic struck me as nonsense. I was playing a cleric who could turn undead, how was that "satanic?" My social group of 11-13 year olds derided the people who believed in the Satanic Panic as stupid. It probably helped that I lived in Seattle, Washington which was a bastion of progressivism then and now.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
It makes sense that if the media/authority figures make something seem forbidden, it can actually INCREASE interest in the forbidden thing. In the early 2000s this phenomenon became known as the "Streisand Effect" -- when an attempt to censor or remove information has the unintended consequence of increasing interest in that information.

I first played D&D as a kid in 1986. During this time, the "Satanic Panic" was in full swing. The panic struck me as nonsense. I was playing a cleric who could turn undead, how was that "satanic?" My social group of 11-13 year olds derided the people who believed in the Satanic Panic as stupid. It probably helped that I lived in Seattle, Washington which was a bastion of progressivism then and now.

Could also be the old"there's no such thing as bad press".

Not strictly true but I get the sentiment.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
no I mean the first print of the second edition books that fell apart after being opened 15 or 20 times. my first Unearthed arcana split in half 6 months after I bought it. One of my monster manuals did the same thing. The absolute cake though were the Monster Manuals for 2nd edition that were 3 ring binders and you had to pull out the printed sheets that had 3 hole punched paper and put them in the binder yourself. If you used them often the holes broke and the pages started falling out. THOSE are the books I'm talking about. Of course the ones you still have are great. All the lousy ones I'm talking about are freaking hard to find because the quality was naughty word.
I think that's just luck of the draw, in that my own anecdotes are pretty much the opposite*. My 2e hardcover books are secondhand and while they were already thrashed to hell when I got them the one thing that hasn't given out is the binding. My 1e UA is still in near-perfect condition, as are my other 1e books except for self-inflicted damage e.g. the cup of tea I spilled onto an open PH and 38 years of hard use for my DMG.

The binding in some of my 2e softcover books, though, e.g. the Complete Xxxxx series didn't hold up nearly as well.

* - other than the 2e loose-page Monster Manuals, which I've neither owned nor used.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
I think that's just luck of the draw, in that my own anecdotes are pretty much the opposite*. My 2e hardcover books are secondhand and while they were already thrashed to hell when I got them the one thing that hasn't given out is the binding. My 1e UA is still in near-perfect condition, as are my other 1e books except for self-inflicted damage e.g. the cup of tea I spilled onto an open PH and 38 years of hard use for my DMG.

The binding in some of my 2e softcover books, though, e.g. the Complete Xxxxx series didn't hold up nearly as well.

* - other than the 2e loose-page Monster Manuals, which I've neither owned nor used.

One if my 2E books spine split phb 1995 iirc. It had a hard life of idiots grabbing it though.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
In my neck of the woods, people were more up in arms about the devil and heavy metal than they were with D&D. My mom supported our D&D hobby, but banned all heavy metal and rock. In fact, I remember one discussion how she banned Huey Lewis and the News because of "I Want a New Drug" song. Didn't matter us trying to tell her it was literally the opposite of pushing drugs; she wasn't having it.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
I was in high school in Rockford, Illinois (middle of the northern edge of the state) in the mid-80s and don't remember the satanic panic being a thing. We had a comic/record/game store in the neighborhood, a comic/game store in nearby Loves Park, and Jeff Perrin's (iirc) Royal Hobby that I thought kept selling it the whole time. I don't remember if they stopped being sold at the various mall bookstores or not.

Checking newspapers.com for articles in Illinois, there are some pretty inane articles though:

Northwest Herald (Woodstock) on 7 Aug 1986 talked about the accused Night Stalker in LA, a 17-year old former D&D player in SF who was found dead, and others.

The Southtown Star (Tinley Park) had one on 11 Dec 1988 quoting some really wackadoodle stuff from Matteson Police Chief Donald Story "a nationally recognized expert on ritualistic crime and criminal aspects of the occult", that includes supposed baby sacrifices that became unrecorded births, and saying folks should throw out D&D.

The Messenger (Belleville) from 13 Apr 1990 has Jan Stanton (a consultant in private practice) and Jeff Randall (a family therapist) talking about the the "four levels of satanic involvement. The first level are dabblers who play games like 'Dungeons and Dragons' and listen to heavy metal music."
 

Orius

Hero
Well, while @Snarf Zagyg 's initial premise that the Satanic Panic probably didn't cause the initial 1984 crash seems to bear out, I think that it may have hampered any recovery. Or more like TSR let it hamper a recovery. TSR didn't seem to engage in any sort of strong pushback, and certainly once the Stackpole report came out, they could have gotten strongly behind that especially as the biggest player in the RPG industry. Instead, they went with appeasement, and income stayed pretty flat. Nor did it help that they did things to alienate their core audience.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Oh hey, does anyone remember that time the California Highway Patrol pulled over some guys with Vampire: the Masquerade books in their trunk?
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
That's mostly my recollection of the time too. The whole Satanic Panic thing was primarily an American thing and a lot of it was a reaction to the cultural shifts and conflicts of the 70's. The Church is very much an international organization. I do remember them using some of the talking points, but I think that they were taking advantage of it for their own ends, probably competing with evangelicals and fundamentalist Protestants for influence over conservative Christians. The Church also tends to be more rational minded about things as well.
England definitely had some religious busybodies as well; I remember reading about some similar Satanic Panic activity in the pages of Game Master magazine (an English publication) in the 80s too. Probably more reactionary Anglicans than Catholics at the time, though.

all my players that could afford them bought several books. Also in the mid 80's you could go to a gaming store and they'd have 20 or 30 modules, supplements for D&D and AD&D, Dragon magazines and Dungeon Magazines. I don't think lack of stuff to buy, or players not buying was an issue. The first half of the 80's they were everywhere pushing thier product and then the second half of the 80's it was like they vanished into the woods. Maybe it was all the infighting you read about between Gygax and TSR staff and his wife. I don't know. something went really wrong though. I think part of it was they retreated from half the country trying to not be "SATANIC. To be fair in the 70's when they were smaller they almost tanked over a half dressed princess on a module. After that they may have been afraid of fighting with parents and churches and hurting thier public image.
"half dressed princess on a module"? Are you thinking perhaps of the nude figure on the altar from the cover of 1976's Eldritch Wizardry? I don't recall there being a lot of controversy over it.

Or maybe the kerfuffle over Palace of the Silver Princess, in 1980?

I started playing regular games of D&D in 1979, while in high school. So, obviously, I was playing AD&D 1e during "Satanic Panic" years, but other than having heard some of the stories and reactions - it was distant news for me, something I never personally witnessed. I was in the US Army from 1983 unti 1987, so I played plenty of TTRPGs, not just D&D, and never encountered a Satanic Panic issue. Even after I got out, I found a group right away in my hometown, and played with them over 20 years. The Satanic Panic issues was something I was aware of, but in no way directly impacted me.
I think it only rarely impacted adults. It was mostly kids impacted, whose parents were overly credulous and misled by sensationalist news stories and preachers bearing false witness. I've known a number of folks over the years whose books got taken away, tossed or burned. My folks were supportive, but we had a few older relatives who thought D&D was bad, and I remember a fill-in babysitter (in her 50s) when I had recently acquired my first set, who repeated the steam tunnel myth to me when I talked about the game.
 



MGibster

Legend
I think it only rarely impacted adults. It was mostly kids impacted, whose parents were overly credulous and misled by sensationalist news stories and preachers bearing false witness. I've known a number of folks over the years whose books got taken away, tossed or burned.
There were probably plenty of parents who weren't so concerned about the Satanic part, but were more concerned about the alleged suicides and anti-social behaviors brought on by D&D, heavy metal, etc., etc.
 


Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
I had forgotten that Bruce Sterling made his 1992 book The Hacker Crackdown, about the events of 1990 (the raid on Steve Jackson Games among them) available for free online. The introduction is a lovely little piece, and still pretty much about us today.


This is a book about cops, and wild teenage whiz-kids, and lawyers, and hairy-eyed anarchists, and industrial technicians, and hippies, and high-tech millionaires, and game hobbyists, and computer security experts, and Secret Service agents, and grifters, and thieves. This book is about the electronic frontier of the 1990s. It concerns activities that take place inside computers and over telephone lines.
A science fiction writer coined the useful term "cyberspace" in 1982. But the territory in question, the electronic frontier, is about a hundred and thirty years old. Cyberspace is the "place" where a telephone conversation appears to occur. Not inside your actual phone, the plastic device on your desk. Not inside the other person's phone, in some other city. The place between the phones. The indefinite place out there, where the two of you, two human beings, actually meet and communicate.

Although it is not exactly "real," "cyberspace" is a genuine place. Things happen there that have very genuine consequences. This "place" is not "real," but it is serious, it is earnest. Tens of thousands of people have dedicated their lives to it, to the public service of public communication by wire and electronics.

 

Jer

Legend
Supporter
My folks were supportive, but we had a few older relatives who thought D&D was bad, and I remember a fill-in babysitter (in her 50s) when I had recently acquired my first set, who repeated the steam tunnel myth to me when I talked about the game.
My mom was supportive. My dad didn't think much of the Satanism nonsense but also didn't see how it could possibly be worth the money for a game and so I'd get flak for that from him sometimes. But at least neither of them were worried that I was falling into Satanism.

But what I remember is the Satanic Panic folks making D&D sound a whole lot edgier than it actually was. They'd paint lurid pictures of D&D being this:

darkdungeons.gif


When the reality was vastly different...

danddeedee.jpg
 

In my neck of the woods, people were more up in arms about the devil and heavy metal than they were with D&D. My mom supported our D&D hobby, but banned all heavy metal and rock. In fact, I remember one discussion how she banned Huey Lewis and the News because of "I Want a New Drug" song. Didn't matter us trying to tell her it was literally the opposite of pushing drugs; she wasn't having it.

It was all three where I lived. Piece of Mind was forbidden in my house due to the song Revelations. I think it often boiled down to where you lived and what social circle your family was part of (as well as what TV programming they watched). Was allowed to listen to Stryper and Petra though lol. I had it easy though, I knew kids who weren't allowed to watch shows like Full House.

First I have ever heard of Huey Lewis being banned lol
 

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