TSR 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.
 

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Jim Ward

Jim Ward

Drawmij the Wizard
I'm not aware of any specific data on the popularity of any of Tolkien's work in Nazi Germany, but it's a matter of public record that in 1938 his publisher was negotiating a German-language edition of The Hobbit. Tolkien's letter in response to a request for proof of his "aryan" heritage is somewhat famous. In 1938, Nazis demanded to know if ‘The Hobbit’ author was Jewish. He responded with a high-class burn.
That is among the most polite ripping to shreds I've read...
 

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That is among the most polite ripping to shreds I've read...
Part of the reason he was in talks about it was because the english version had already proven its popularity with germans.

Also i agree. He tore them a new one. So polite. So proper. So venomous. Supposedly tolkien identifies with the hobbits and said british country folk may have a bit of hobbit in them. But ibsay tolkien's tongue betrays that he has a bit of dragon in him too. Love that man.
 

Hussar

Legend
Ok, @Son of the Serpent, whatever you say. You refuse to provide any citation for extreme claims, your claims have shifted from "Tolkien's works" to "His academic works", and your claims have zero evidence to back them up.

You can see why there might be some skepticism here right? Why we're not taking random Internet Dude's word at face value. That Nazis had even heard of Tolkien, let alone heard about him enough that his works were popular enough to raise hackles in other circles seems a very, very large stretch considering that Tolkien's works were required reading in many, many English speaking countries for decades.

You can keep banging this drum, but, from my point of view, it looks like you're just inventing stuff to gain attention.
 



It's rather amazing to think that just 6 people writing letters to Sears and Penneys got them to stop carrying D&D books.

I think things are rather different about 40 years later, 6 customer letters couldn't have that kind of effect on merchandise.

Also, I remember that paranoia and hostility towards D&D. It may have been reduced by the 1990's and the 2nd edition era, but I ran across it enough in Junior High and High School in the early-to-mid 90's in rural Kentucky.

The people I dealt with had clearly never read any actual D&D books either, and had only the haziest and fuzziest of understandings of what it was.

In one particularly amusing instance, one kid I knew in school was SURE D&D was evil, because he had an article from some Church magazine that talked about it, and had proof. I was wondering what "proof" they had.

The "proof" was that D&D produced official Satanic idols to worship. Those "idols"? Metal miniatures. The article showed various official D&D Ral Partha minis, and focused on a big red dragon. . .which it said was clearly a demon, and that the point of these was clearly to be idols for players to worship.

I tried setting my classmate straight, but given the choice between believing his friend, and believing his parents and preacher, he chose to believe his preacher and parents and called me a liar for saying that wasn't an idol to worship.

The last time I encountered the D&D "Satanic Panic" was circa 1997, when I had a preacher at a Church I was attending and volunteering at kick me out of the congregation when I mentioned I played D&D. I was told that unless I brought my books in to be burned and repented before the congregation, I wasn't welcome there anymore. I left that Church and never came back.
 

murquhart72

Explorer
The last time I encountered the D&D "Satanic Panic" was circa 1997, when I had a preacher at a Church I was attending and volunteering at kick me out of the congregation when I mentioned I played D&D. I was told that unless I brought my books in to be burned and repented before the congregation, I wasn't welcome there anymore. I left that Church and never came back.
That is both crazy and frightening. Literal witch hunts in the late 90s. I wonder if any of the D&D playing celebrities have to deal with stuff like this in this day and age..?
 

Warren Ellis

Explorer
I always wondered how the naughty word D&D was claimed to promote occultism when its main schtick was "I kill things like demons to steal their loot."

Honestly, I suspect a more "logical" argument against D&D one could use, could be something like "Playing those tabletop games distracts players from society" or naughty word like that.

Like D&D is a Gameboy or something.
 

Iry

Hero
Everyone stayed away from her house. My buddy loved to play D&D on the down low with us, but his mother not only insisted her son would never play a game like that, she proudly declared she would burn any books she found.

It was real hard to explain why he kept needing to hang out with us after school, and our reasons got increasingly bizarre. Finally she got suspicious and walked in on us all playing at MY house. We didn't lock our doors back then, you see.

She loses her naughty word, gathers up my books, and throws them in my backyard. Then she spins around and starts demanding to know where our matches were!

My dad finally comes out to see what the hell is going on. Friends mother announces that she caught us playing "that demon game" and was about to burn the books.

Bad move. My father got me into D&D with a little computer game called Pool of Radiance in 1986. He immediately goes full drill sergeant mode on her, demands she march her ass off his property before he calls the cops, and tells her we're learning to smite evil not hide from it!

That last part was a fib, but that's how my dad rolls. She was dumbfounded. Absolute silence reigned while she just retreated from our house. Months later, she still insisted she would burn the books if she ever found them in her house... but she never stopped her son from coming over and playing with us.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
I always wondered how the naughty word D&D was claimed to promote occultism when its main schtick was "I kill things like demons to steal their loot."

Honestly, I suspect a more "logical" argument against D&D one could use, could be something like "Playing those tabletop games distracts players from society" or naughty word like that.

Like D&D is a Gameboy or something.

It's simple reaction to the unknown, using religion as a blunt tool to justify their git feelings.

A more serious approach, which I haven't seen anyone advance, might be that D&D could make people view spiritual matters as a joke, but that would require some actual theological sophistication, and I've never met a theologically sophisticated person who didn't appreciate D&D. My priest is a Diocesan exorcist who takes things very seriously, and I've discussed the game without any weirdness.
 
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