Jim Ward: Demons & Devils, NOT!

In the very early to mid '80s religious nongamer people discovered AD&D had magical spells and demons and devils in its rules. The problems started with Sears and Penny's retail stores. TSR was selling thousands of Player Handbooks and Dungeon Master's Guides every month to both of those companies. I know this because I was in sales and inventory control at the time.

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Six ladies wrote to Sears and the same six wrote to Penny's home offices telling those two companies of the evils of AD&D. They expounded on children learning to throw demonic spells while they summoned demons in their basements. The writers claimed that they would never buy a thing again from those two companies if the companies still sold TSR games. Just like a light switch those two companies stopped selling TSR product. The companies were offered things like Boot Hill, Tractics, and Gamma World, but they weren't interested. The stopping of sales from those two huge companies was a hard blow to take for TSR.


Author's Note: When I write these articles for EN World I'm trying to present an honest look at my memories of those times. There was enough wild and crazy things happening at TSR that I think the readers should be entertained. I freely admit that there might be dates and times that I don't have correctly related. However, I never try to exaggerate the facts or actions of others. I was in the thick of things and part of the design group and middle management for most of the 20+ years I worked there. If I make a mistake in the writing of these memories, I'm sorry and the mistake was unintentional.

Things proceeded and the bible belt southern states started doing book burnings. Those always elated Gary Gygax because he thought every player who had their books taken away would go back and buy the books again.

Gary went on some of the talk shows to speak about the value of the game. He was an excellent champion for the company. One of his arguments, that I really liked, was his baseball analogy. He would say, “When a criminal hurts someone with a baseball bat are you supposed to blame baseball?” That would make the naysayers sputter every time.

Duke Siegfried, Uncle Duke as he liked to be called, ran news interview classes for the middle management of TSR; these were people who had a chance to be interviewed out at conventions. I can especially remember one of the training sessions. Duke role-played the part of Johnny Carson. Don Snow was to be the TSR representative getting interviewed. Terri Quinn was in marketing at the time and her job was to distract Don. While Duke interviewed Don about D&D, asking questions to make the game look bad, Terri went to work on Don. Acting all the way, poor Don was torn between the distraction of Terri and the questions of Duke. At the end of the scenario Duke explained that set ups like that were common for news people and we needed to be on the look out for such things. I can remember thinking that scenario could never happen.

Six months later I was at a convention in Atlanta when a reporter started quizzing and flirting with me about the evils of AD&D and its harmful effects on children. I started out all smiles and really enjoying the woman's company and her style. Suddenly, remembering Duke's lesson, I became grim-faced, and gave out the bullet-point facts Duke had prepared us with if we were interviewed. She didn't get the interview she wanted from me.

Conventions for awhile became a trial for us. Religious people would come up to the TSR booth and start arguing with us about the evils of D&D. I'm proud to say we soon found an answer for them. I have a friend Dave Conant who worked in the typesetting department. He didn't get out to many conventions. Gen Con in August was a convention everyone working for TSR went to and did 40 hours. One Gen Con in August a particularly nasty gentlemen was berating the sales woman at the show. They didn't know what to think of the dude and wanted to be polite. I knew exactly what the guy was doing. He wanted to get 15 minutes of fame as a person concerned about the evils of D&D.

I was on my way over to give the guy the bums rush, when Dave showed up. He had taken his cross out of his shirt and started calmly talking to the guy. Dave established that the guy had never read one bit of the TSR material. The man only knew what he had heard from others. Then Dave started asking the guy questions about what he thought was wrong with the game. Dave was able to quote bible versus as he calmly and gently completely tore apart the guy's argument. I had always been impressed by Dave's technical skills, but I became even more impressed with his logical argument. From then on we had at least two religious TSR people at every convention. It was amazing how quick those anti-TSR people stopped coming at us at those shows.

Time passed and TSR started working on AD&D 2nd edition. By then I had come to a realization. At conventions I had been in on many discussions about the evils of AD&D. Literally every single person coming up to argue about the game had never read one word of the books. Their argument when questioned about that fact was “We don't need to read about Satan to know he is evil.” So I came up with an idea. In second edition I ordered Zeb Cook to develop a new name for Demons & Devils.

Baatezu/Devil & Tanarri/Demon were born in second edition. Zeb did a terrific job of putting all that together.

We still had the same type of demons and devils but we called them completely different names. The word spread out that TSR had taken out all of the demons and devils in the game. Technically that wasn't true at all. But again like the click of a light switch the arguments and comments stopped. TSR picked up lots of new accounts in the Bible Best of the south. Every time it was mentioned a TSR person would tell them the company didn't have devils any more. It pleased everyone at TSR that the company didn't get any grief on that topic.
 
Jim Ward

Comments

LuisCarlos17f

Adventurer
In D&D the natural laws are different and no-sentient creatures can cast spell-like effects. There the monsters as the shocker lizard don't need pentagrams or reciting abracadabra to use their superpowers.

D&D doesn't promotes interest in occultism and esotericism but it causes the opposite effect, because the "magic" from our real life, without "FXs" becomes boring.

And now some parents play TTRPGs with their own children to teach them social skills as diplomacy, or as a softer way to explain reality with fabules and allegories as George Orwell's Animal Farm.

 

Ruin Explorer

Adventurer
This was a great read! I started in 1988-1989 so after the controversy and I had always wondered how certain elements were handled! Thank you! Also thank you to ENWorld for helping to preserve the history of RPGs with articles like this!

I also presume Zeb's work on Demons/Devils/Daemons helped lead to his work on Planescape, which was one of the best things to ever happen to D&D. As an aside, I knew a number of 1E players annoyed by the change (though most understood why), but as a new player I actually loved it, because they seemed weirder and less cheesy somehow than 1E's demons and devils.
 

Scrivener of Doom

Adventurer
(snip) As an aside, I knew a number of 1E players annoyed by the change (though most understood why), but as a new player I actually loved it, because they seemed weirder and less cheesy somehow than 1E's demons and devils.
I came from 1E and I actually really liked the change. It gave them some flavour-based differentiation that they were otherwise lacking as written.
 

Hand of Evil

Adventurer
I know it happened here in South Carolina but had heard it was bad in the mid-west, we would hear stories out of Ohio mostly, attached to teenage murders...
 

Ralif Redhammer

Adventurer
The switch to Tanar'ri and Baatezu didn't bother me. Don't get me wrong, I was glad when they got their names back in 3e, but the game was still D&D, regardless of what you called them.

The satanic panic is a strange thing. My uncle-in-law has been gaming since 81 or so and he's a priest.
 

SMHWorlds

Explorer
I thought the name changes were fine. I am sure as a 17yo jerk I may have made a snide comment or two, but overall it was fine. And the names were inventive.

My first player was my mom,back i late 81. Then she was fine. Later on she would not stop me from buying RPG stuff but she never participated again. Was there ever any thought of legal action or was the deemed too expensive / too much trouble? And I mean legal action in terms of TSR being defamed.
 

MarkAHart

Explorer
I bought my DMG, my first issue of DRAGON, and my first 8-sided die (a huge blue crystal one) at JCPenney's, and that's also where I picked up a copy of the green cover T1 Hommlet module. I distinctly remember seeing other games there, too, such as Gamma World. Then, one day, they stopped carrying any such games... now I know why!
 

dave2008

Hero
I know it happened here in South Carolina but had heard it was bad in the mid-west, we would hear stories out of Ohio mostly, attached to teenage murders...
I lived through it in Ohio, but never ran into any problems. My friend's parents did take his Stephen King book (Cycle of the Werewolf I believe), but not his D&D books (he had one of the original Deities and Demigods too).
 

Parmandur

Legend
The switch to Tanar'ri and Baatezu didn't bother me. Don't get me wrong, I was glad when they got their names back in 3e, but the game was still D&D, regardless of what you called them.

The satanic panic is a strange thing. My uncle-in-law has been gaming since 81 or so and he's a priest.
Just about any Catholic priest under 40 has rolled some dice in his youth.
 

maceochaid

Explorer
I would love if there are any more references to why Half-Orcs were removed. I know some of the reasonings claimed later, but if anyone knows where I can find some exact quotes from the time, or from people directly involved I would greatly appreciate it.
 

darjr

I crit!
I only know if the 20/20 (or was it 60 minutes?) interview. I’d love to find any others. Anyone know of any out there?
 

Celebrim

Legend
One important thing to know when dealing with a fundamentalist, whether of the Christian kind (where it is a bit out of the mainstream) or the Islamic kind (where it's central to their doctrine) or any other kind (because this is a very widespread belief common to many cultures) is that they believe that there is power in the name of something. They don't see names as being free floating pointers that reference what ever you link them to. They see names as being a fixed property of the thing itself owned by the thing and inherently labeling the thing. D&D has glimpses of this philosophy in it's references to a thing's 'true name'. The True Name of something is a fixed reference to it.

So when you take a name from Christian occult practice, the fundamentalists don't really care what you think you are using the name for or what you think the name means to you, they believe that you are inherently invoking something you don't understand. It doesn't matter to them that they don't understand your context. If you think the Satanic panic was a big deal, you wait and see what happens if you start using Allah in context that isn't their preferred context. Names are inherently sacred (or profane) to some people, actually a lot of people, so it's probably a good idea just to avoid those names - especially if your market is their kids.

Whether they are wrong or not isn't really the point. It's what they believe and you just stepped into it.

Changing the names was actually a pretty brilliant strategy, as was phasing the content back in under the new name (IIRC the first Monstrous Compendium wisely left the fiends out and put them in compartmentalized supplement). It was also a brilliant strategy to get staffers to speak to these people under their own terms and in their own language.

One thing really stood out for me in the essay as spot on though, and that is this: "He wanted to get 15 minutes of fame as a person concerned about the evils of D&D."

Absolutely. When you see someone on a soap box on a street corner yelling about sinners going to hell and whether people are sure of their salvation, but making no real noticeable attempt to be appealing or to meet anyone where they are, but just haranguing people, the important thing to realize is that they are trying to buy a positional good. They aren't up on that soap box in order to actually win any converts. What they are trying to prove is that they are a good person, and therefore win approval from the god they believe in and possibly also from their peer group. They are up there not to change anything or anyone, but for their own salvation, and the listeners are really just incidental to the show they are putting on. It's actually harmful to the cause that they claim to be wanting to advance (and probably even harmful to them from within their own belief framework), but that doesn't matter much to them compared to the sweet sweet feeling of self-righteousness.

Which is why having a believing staffer talk to these people works so well.
 
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Celebrim

Legend
It is amazing how this parallels today with social justice issues affecting 6 people who can cause massive companies to run.
It's the same thing with one exception. Companies are risk adverse (for good reason). It's easy for a small but vocal group to create a Styrofoam iceberg - you think the 10% you can see is indicative of the 90% you can't, but really you can see 90% and only 10% is below the surface.

The exception is that with a religion like Christianity or Islam or Buddhism you are dealing with a belief system that has been more or less stable for centuries if not millennia. It's usually pretty predictable what is going to upset people from those groups, and it's usually pretty predictable what you can do to calm things down. One nifty advantage dealing with fundamentalists is that they do have to adhere to their text. You have a minimal set of things that they are forced to agree with that can be a basis for common understanding.

But when you are dealing with a brand new Puritanical sect the problem you have is that their beliefs are changing almost yearly, so that if you went back 10, 20, or 30 years ago the sort of things that they approved of or disapproved of were and are completely different than what they approve and disapprove of now. So you really have no way of knowing how to keep them happy, as what would be received as admirable and good now, gets you scorned as a heretic next year.
 

Zaukrie

Adventurer
I had no issue with the name change. In some ways, it freed up the devs, I'd guess, to create new fluff, but maybe that is me projecting.
 

Aaron L

Adventurer
Eh, I ran into the "D&D is Satanic" attitude in '93/'94 and was ostracized from my church because of it (along with the rest of my family) so I never saw any positive effect from the removal of Demons and Devils. In my experience the kind of people who believed that BS would never be swayed by the actual contents of the books in any case, and it wouldn't matter what names you used.
 

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