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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

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teitan

Hero
As someone who follows the teachings of Aleister Crowley I've felt the impact of the Satanic Panic on two fronts. As a D&D player in Junior High and High School and then as an active Thelemite in my twenties and early thirties. It's very true that true believers will not read a book "because they already know what it says" and both D&D and Thelemites/Crowley are accused of sacrificing children for power and all sorts of other nonsense. What I learned in both cases is, as funny as it can be, don't use shock humor to win your argument! I started using language that was common between myself and the person "attacking" me, such as Guardian Angels and prayer, finding common ground and was able to open them up to new ideas in the case of my religion and to gaming in the case of D&D. Not always D&D itself, sometimes it was Shadowrun or MERP of all things! IN the case of Thelema my wife's mother and brother in law were very skeptical of our relationship until the mother came to visit before the wedding and talked to me and several other members of our community and the Brother in Law witnessed our Mass and then pursued learning what we are actually about and has been, in spite of his fundamentalism, very positive to people who ask about us. Things like this, finding common ground, I find so much more constructive and transformative than call-out culture, doxing and shunning.
 

I hated this aspect of 2e. Not only did the names get changed, but they also removed classic demonic features in many cases like hooves, horns, batwings, etc. from the art to make them look less "demonic." It may have been a business decision, but it reeked of bowing to censorship and kowtowing to a group of people who would never play the game in any case. Thank Orcus they reversed the decision later in 2e's life cycle and we saw the gradual return of the classic demons and devils. The t'anarri and batezu BS stuck however for several editions as descriptors/fluff.


Still looks pretty demonic to me.
 

Coroc

Hero
Satanic panic also did affect heavy metal music style around those times. Because bands like Black Sabbath and others used evil looking outfits made the devil sign, sang about occult stuff, had horror elements in their stage shows and album covers and also had names pointing to these things some people believed they would all be devil worshippers, seducing the youth to the side of evil.
Urban legends from songs carrying backward spoken messages did enforce these believes.
Nothing can be further from the truth. Most of it was just to provoke, otoh there are no music fans more peaceful, inclusive and tolerant like metal fans, back then and these days. It is not comparable to e.g. rap and also other genres back then who partially promoted violence.
Still some people only see the optics and not what is behind it. My ex wife coming from the Caribic, being very religious, sees evil monsters and devils even when they appear as figures in children cartoons on TV.
That e.g. Christianity shuns superstition unfortunately does not seem to come into the minds of these people.
 


Flexor the Mighty!

18/100 Strength!
I assumed tanar’ri was a kind of demon and baatezu a kind of devil. And powers was just describing how influential the gods were.

Sure. But the tanarri and baatezu were not in 2e until 1991. So at the time it came out I was like "where are my demons and devils?" By the time they came back out in the supplement I had already dropped 2e. But that wasn't the reason really. It just didn't offer enough over 1e to switch and pretty much all the published 2e stuff worked fine with 1e. 2e was cleaned up in a lot of ways but it felt more sanitized and didn't inspire me.
 


Arnwolf666

Adventurer
Sure. But the tanarri and baatezu were not in 2e until 1991. So at the time it came out I was like "where are my demons and devils?" By the time they came back out in the supplement I had already dropped 2e. But that wasn't the reason really. It just didn't offer enough over 1e to switch and pretty much all the published 2e stuff worked fine with 1e. 2e was cleaned up in a lot of ways but it felt more sanitized and didn't inspire me.
I still had my earlier edition books. I really didn’t think about playing with “edition purity” back then. We were comfortable using our 1E books and d&d book with ad&d 2E. It’s not like they were going to come to our house and stop us. Can they do that today?
 




Flexor the Mighty!

18/100 Strength!
Basically my group never noticed demons and devils were not in early ad&d 2E because we had books from earlier edition with them in it.

Sure. We just went the opposite direction. We kept playing 1e and used the 2e stuff that was cool in that. Wasn't about purity, just didn't find a compelling reason for the rest of the group to buy 2e core books, though the changes in tone we didn't care for didn't help.
 


Sacrosanct

Legend
Sure. We just went the opposite direction. We kept playing 1e and used the 2e stuff that was cool in that. Wasn't about purity, just didn't find a compelling reason for the rest of the group to buy 2e core books, though the changes in tone we didn't care for didn't help.

We implemented some changes 2e brought (like thief skill progression, making THAC0 official instead of attack tables, and spell spheres. But most of the adventures we ran were still B/X or 1e. And we still used the various monster manuals as well, and kept playing certain classes (like the monk, assassin, etc) from 1e.
 


SpellJammer16

Apprentice of the Seventh Circle of Mystery
I started with 1E in the early 80s in the North East I didn't see a whole lot of the the Satanic Panic with books or games. Waldenbooks had the Satanic bible and D&D stuff.

We played at the library, same place I used to get all my other occult books... I remember it was well stocked with things like Palm reading, superstitions and such.

Seems It was mostly aimed towards Music and "dress code" in our area.

ah the 90's... I can buy Goth-Punk Rock gear at the Mall now (Hot Topic) and Demons and Devils back are back in D&D.
 

Uller

Adventurer
Personally I always thought the changing of names was a mistake. Did changing the names really fix the problem? Or did it just happen to correlate to the tempest in a teapot losing its energy? I think probably the later. Heavy Metal faced the same attacks. It didn't seem to me to change much. It kind if fell out of favor for a bit but the old metal gods are still kicking and the new ones seem pretty happy living in that shadow even if it is a bit diminished.

I had people in the 1990s ask me about the Satanism in D&D...they were unaware of any changes to it so I don't really see how it satisfied anyone. And those people would never have played anyway... Maybe the corporate types that handled the b2b distribution saw a difference. I suppose it at least gave TSR a way to plausibly deny some of the basis of the accusations so they could get their products to a wider market.

But I think once the 80s kids grew out of the reach of their parents many of them found they could do what they wanted and didn't need their parents' permission. So people that were curious in 1983 found in 1990 they could satisfy that curiousity and oh look! There is a new edition...but like I said...maybe the changes allowed that wider distribution to reach those people so maybe it was a little of a and a little of b...

But I don't like when companies give in to moral panics and that is all the Satanic Panic was. It was no different than many of the same panics today (and the ones that came before)...which I will refrain from making direct comparisons out of deference to the mods. But every ideology that has a dogma does it to fire up their base...keep your tribe angry at the other so they don't have time to really think about how terrible or nonsensical their own tribe is and so they can act as tools in the wielding of the will to power.

Edit: decided to self censor the last bit as it might be seen as inviting debates over that which is not to be debated...
 
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Arnwolf666

Adventurer
We implemented some changes 2e brought (like thief skill progression, making THAC0 official instead of attack tables, and spell spheres. But most of the adventures we ran were still B/X or 1e. And we still used the various monster manuals as well, and kept playing certain classes (like the monk, assassin, etc) from 1e.
Even when we play 2Eish we still use the attack table values of 1E instead of the progression given in 2E. We like how the numbers work at certain levels.
 

Tsuga C

Explorer
You may have removed the assassin class in 2E, but we ignored that and just used our 1E materials. To date, the 1E assassin remains the best, most capable assassin if you ignore the level limitations.
 

Hussar

Legend
The change in original-release 2e that really got my goat was the removal of Half-Orcs and Assassins, along with the near-banning of evil PCs in the PH write-up on characters. Half-Orcs were easy enough to houserule back in using 1e as a guide, but Assassins weren't so simple.

The removal of demons and devils was predictable, though sad; and they could also easily be replaced with their 1e counterparts.

Heh, and yet, 5e goes even further than 2e did in pushing the "good PC" thing. The base assumption in the game is that the party will be good. Every class is written from that perspective. It's kinda funny how things are received very differently at different times.
 

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