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

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
Board games, I think, were still very much considered the province of kids and families at the time. It wasn't until -- what, the early 90s? -- that "Eurogames" got a real foothold?
Early to mid 2000s, I think. Settlers of Catan being the standard bearer.

After Settlers was first released in 1995, a small but passionate following emerged. It wasn't until a decade later that the game's popularity began to blossom. "The start of the tipping point was 2008," said Bob Carty, a spokesman for Settlers manufacturer Mayfair Games. "Settlers is three to five years away from being a household word." Last year alone, the game's sales grew 35 percent. Carty said that the game is mainly played by families, but it's also popular on college campuses and as a team-bonding activity at companies.

This article is from 2011. 2008 was also the first year that the Catan World Championships (started in Essen, in 2002) were held in the US, at Gen-Con Indy. Starting then, the event has been every two years, alternating between the US and Germany until the pandemic put it on hold.


 

log in or register to remove this ad

Jer

Legend
Supporter
I've never flipped through BECMI. What do you think it did beyond what B/X did to make it explicitly all ages? (What separated the changes out as being explicitly more open to the younger group as opposed to the no-experience group?) Thank you for any insight!
So specifically in the Basic set I think the introduction on how to play - the narrative choose-your-own-adventure beginning and the later more "fighting fantasy" numbered text sequence for how to play the game with dice and hit points - are the things that feel aimed at a younger audience than the B/X game. The B/X version of it was the "Example of Play" which just reads like any other example of play you might read. There are a few other little things - like how in the B/X version clerics are explicitly priests of gods/goddesses while in Mentzer Basic clerics explicitly gain their spells from a devotion to a "great and worthy cause" - usually their Alignment, and the discussion of having mythological gods in the game is off in the DM's book as an optional thing you could add if you really want to and everyone is okay with it. Basically the fact that it's a much more tutorial oriented rulebook combined with some nods to Satanic Panic.

I do think that trails off after the Basic set though - the Expert-Immortals sets are more "all ages" than specifically targetting a younger crowd (in fact if I remember correctly the Immortals set was 14+ - mostly I think because of the discussions of 5-th dimensional mathematics and physics that made up a large chunk of the book, tbh.)
 

Reynard

Legend
Early to mid 2000s, I think. Settlers of Catan being the standard bearer.



This article is from 2011. 2008 was also the first year that the Catan World Championships (started in Essen, in 2002) were held in the US, at Gen-Con Indy.

I must have been remembering Catan. I thought the follow on was quicker.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
Board games, I think, were still very much considered the province of kids and families at the time. It wasn't until -- what, the early 90s? -- that "Eurogames" got a real foothold?

Were the Avalon Hill ones (and those of that style) aimed at older? Did the public at large have any consciousness of them?
 

Yes, although the "a lot of mainstream experts and shows giving credence to it" is another part of the myth.

It was reported in a lot of mainstream places, mostly local newspapers and tabloid talk shows, though 60 Minutes most famously. I don't think there was ever actually a significant number of medical or psychological experts who had a problem with it. Pat Pulling's accomplice, fraud and later felon Thomas Radecki, founder of the "National Coalition on Television Violence" was the most prominent and loud "expert", and he was later shown demonstrably to be a complete charlatan. As was Pulling.

I am just reporting what I remember from the time, and I am sure this varied a great deal, but I certainly recall seeing it on mainstream news programs, seeing experts on panels. I also remember a number of school counselors at my schools taking issue with Dungeons and Dragons (and routinely asking those of us who played questions about our hold on reality). I am sure there were a majority of experts who didn't go in for this stuff. But people were going to jail for crimes they didn't commit during the satanic panic. It wasn't a marginal movement by any stretch.
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
So specifically in the Basic set I think the introduction on how to play - the narrative choose-your-own-adventure beginning and the later more "fighting fantasy" numbered text sequence for how to play the game with dice and hit points - are the things that feel aimed at a younger audience than the B/X game. The B/X version of it was the "Example of Play" which just reads like any other example of play you might read. There are a few other little things - like how in the B/X version clerics are explicitly priests of gods/goddesses while in Mentzer Basic clerics explicitly gain their spells from a devotion to a "great and worthy cause" - usually their Alignment, and the discussion of having mythological gods in the game is off in the DM's book as an optional thing you could add if you really want to and everyone is okay with it. Basically the fact that it's a much more tutorial oriented rulebook combined with some nods to Satanic Panic.

I do think that trails off after the Basic set though - the Expert-Immortals sets are more "all ages" than specifically targetting a younger crowd (in fact if I remember correctly the Immortals set was 14+ - mostly I think because of the discussions of 5-th dimensional mathematics and physics that made up a large chunk of the book, tbh.)
Yeah, Mentzer Basic in 1983 was the dedicated effort to crack the formula to teach players how to play directly from the books. Folks DID teach themselves from B/X and from Holmes Basic, but it was definitely harder.

Those first couple of years in the 80s were when the sales numbers, as Snarf mentioned in the OP, shifted younger. Many more middle schoolers than before.
 
Last edited:

Reynard

Legend
Were the Avalon Hill ones (and those of that style) aimed at older? Did the public at large have any consciousness of them?
Which ones? The war games weren't board games, they were war games. Later I know they tried to ape Dungeon, but I don't know what market they aimed at.
 


Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
I am just reporting what I remember from the time, and I am sure this varied a great deal, but I certainly recall seeing it on mainstream news programs, seeing experts on panels. I also remember a number of school counselors at my schools taking issue with Dungeons and Dragons (and routinely asking those of us who played questions about our hold on reality). I am sure there were a majority of experts who didn't go in for this stuff. But people were going to jail for crimes they didn't commit during the satanic panic. It wasn't a marginal movement by any stretch.
Can you remember any specific shows with those panels, and which mainstream news programs might have hosted them other than the famous 60 Minutes episode?

But that is pretty mainstream. If it is prevalent enough that you have law enforcement taking advice and acting on it, that shows how mainstream the satanic panic was
Perhaps we're having a bit of a semantic issue here. There are (depending on how you count) around 15,000 - 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies in the US. Whether fraudulent trainers on nonexistent "satanic crime waves" are mainstream kind of depends on how common they are, and perhaps whether their teachings were ever incorporated into larger national or regional training kinds or materials, no?

You can have a little cottage industry of these charlatans bilking money out of Bible belt departments run by misguided Evangelicals without it ever becoming a common thing for most departments or agencies.
 

Jer

Legend
Supporter
Were the Avalon Hill ones (and those of that style) aimed at older? Did the public at large have any consciousness of them?
The only Avalon Hill game that I remember anyone in the general public knowing about was Diplomacy. In the early 90s I knew folks who played Diplomacy who wouldn't have picked up another Avalon Hill game or played D&D.
 

Remove ads

AD6_gamerati_skyscraper

Remove ads

Upcoming Releases

Top