RPG Evolution - True Tales from Stranger Things: The Satanic Panic Comes to School

Stranger Things' latest season incorporates the Satanic Panic into its storyline, but in my experience it wasn't the jocks who became the biggest threat. It was a teacher.


The Satanic Panic Was Real​

Depending on where you lived and your family's social circle, the experience of Dungeons & Dragons players with the Satanic Panic could vary greatly. For the most part, my family rarely encountered any prejudices against the game. I've mentioned previously that my aunt was a big supporter of my hobby.

I was introduced to D&D as part of a learning program. It was considered a means of promoting reading and imaginative play and was promoted as such in elementary school. The Satanic Panic backlash came soon after while I was in high school.

The only incident I knew of where someone had a problem with us playing D&D was that my dad mentioned a coworker frantically telling him that I had to stop playing the game immediately as my soul was in danger. My dad told him off.

And that was about the extent of my experience with the Satanic Panic. Until I took an art class in high school.

Meet Mr. P.​

Mr. P. was an art teacher who was not particularly interested in art. Ironically, I met one of my lifelong fellow gamers in his class. It was a drawing class in which we would be asked to draw something and then, since there was no deadline as to when we were finished, sit around talking.

That meant a lot of time for discussions of topics Mr. P. was much more interested in. And once he found out that two of us played D&D, he then spent every class publicly debating me about it.

Mr. P. felt he was doing us a favor. He brought in material that criticized the game, then asked us to refute it. And me, being me, eagerly engaged him in a public debate. For the entire class.

This went on and off for weeks. We would barely do any drawing, then Mr. P. would bring out anti-D&D material, I would refute it, neither of us would budge on our position, and we'd do it all over again the next class. I remember at one point an audible sigh from my classmates, who were sick of the debate and certainly weren't learning anything about drawing.

The "Evidence"​

Mr. P's arguments were wide-ranging and poorly sourced. Here's some of the criticisms in the literature he shared and my response to the criticism:
  • The most powerful character is formed by rolling three sixes on a D6. I didn't even understand that "666" was supposed to be an evil number at the time. I explained there were lots of ways to generate a powerful character, and not just getting sixes.
  • There were demons featuring sexual content in the Arduin Grimoire. I'd never heard of the Arduin Grimoire until Mr. P's pamphlet mentioned it; some of the content in it was obviously for mature audiences. That wasn't in any way "official" D&D though, and I made it clear we didn't play in that setting.
  • The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master's Guide featured "real" magic circles. This was true (see picture, AD&D DMG, page 42), to the extent that they were based on what you could find in text books (I have no idea if the symbols on the magic circle are accurate). For parents concerned about exposing their kids to "occult" topics, I had to admit that it was in the book. It didn't have any bearing on the game though, as never drew these circles or used these symbols.
There was a lot more of course, but this was the kind of thing I spent my art class discussing with a teacher. To get a sense of the arguments leveled against D&D players, see Mike Stackpole's Pulling Report.

Your Tax Dollars at Work​

As a kid, I was excited about the opportunity to debate an adult publicly. My parents didn't fully understand what was happening and I didn't consider it a big enough deal to tell them. Although it was a badge of pride to take on the Satanic Panic so publicly, I also didn't really comprehend what was happening.

As an adult and a parent, I see this exchange very differently. A student and teacher are most certainly not equals, and the literature Mr. P brought in was religious in nature. There are a lot of things wrong with these exchanges, not the least of which being this teacher was bullying a student during school hours on school property and not actually doing his job.

As much as Stranger Things would like to make its villains fellow students, our critics were frequently more powerful, better connected, and protected by entrenched institutions. And they were almost always adults.

Mr. P. was a terrible art teacher, but he taught me an important lesson about how art can be perceived; be it a drawing of a demon, three numbers grouped together, or magic circles. I passed the class (he gave me a B, I think), but I learned a lot from him about what the outside world thought of my hobby.

Your Turn: How did you deal with the Satanic Panic when confronted with it?
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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca


CR 1/8
You found it! That's the pamphlet he used, or one of them at least. It includes the reference to magic circles as well as the Arduin Grimoire quote (I'll never know if Dave Hargrave really said what he said in that quote, but it sure didn't help matters).
Yeah, the thing that still sticks out in my memory from that pamphlet is the description of the "dread vampusa" from the Arduin Grimoire. It is pretty graphic, and I remember thinking that it had no resemblance to anything in D&D I was familiar with. (Which, admittedly, wasn't much at that point, since I only had the Red Box!)
I read to the end, understood it was a ignorant religious thing, and promptly ignored the Satanic Panic after that. My family moved from that rural small town shortly after that. We ended up in a much more cosmopolitan city, so that probably helped a lot to shield me from future run-ins with the nutballs.

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ye Liveliest Awfulness
The Satanic Panic was definitely real where I lived, but it needed time to grow and evolve. I started playing in 3rd grade (about 1983) after finding out about it from some older kids in the classroom next door. They actually built a massive cardboard castle from playing D&D during recess and it took up a good chunk of the classroom. We were all in the gifted program and no one expressed any concerns. A few years later, my friend's very religious mom made him stop playing D&D until we told her we started playing a completely different game called Oriental Adventures that was all about ninja and samurai. But it got much worse when I hit middle school (about 1988 or so). The trifecta of long hair, heavy metal band shirts, and D&D books made me a visible target to "concerned" teachers and fundie Xian kids. I also had an art teacher (who went to the same church as my parents and I) try to intervene, but I was otherwise a model student and didn't get into much trouble so fortunately my parents saw no need to change anything. Ah, the 80s! What a primitive time!

I was too old to get the Satanic Panic. I was in high school in the mid 70s when I started playing D&D. People thought we were odd because we played board war games and miniatures. D&D was just another game. No panic in it. By the time the Panic cropped up I was a college student / grad student and we could ignore it. I did run into it in the mid to late 90s when I was advising the game club at the high school I worked at. A couple of mothers were worried about it. I explained that the players were the heroes / good guys and the villains (vampires, demons, etc.) were the bad guys. They went away happy (and their students continued to play). Given I was working in the most religiously conservative school in the district I guess I got off easy.

edit Thinking about it I was lucky. My parents valued reading and imagination. My principal as a teacher was fine with it (and runs the entire district now). Definitely could have been worse.


Small eastern Oregon town had it.

We had a friend whose parents were very against us playing D&D so, we used Top Secret (I think it was Top Secret) looking character sheets and that was enough to hide them game from them :)

My very strict, traditional Catholic mom asked to look at the books, spent a few minutes thumbing through each them and handed them back to me and told me it looked like a weird game. Probably helped that my oldest brother and his friends were already playing.


Herr Doktor
I recounted my main brief "Satanic Panic" experience in a thread earlier this year. It happened when I was in 6th grade (~11 years old) and very new to D&D. A kid in my class was handing out pamphlets labeled "Dungeons and Dragons":


I was terribly excited a find a fellow "gamer," of course, but he proved to be pretty uncomfortable with that... and we never spoke to each other again! Later that day I read the pamphlet and only then realized it was a religious anti-D&D screed. I don't have it anymore, but found someone online who posted images of it here:

It's an interesting artifact from the time.
I particularly like that Jungian psychology is lumped in with suicide and cannibalism.
It's about time that people realized what a danger that hack shrink poses!


the magical equivalent to the number zero
Here in the Netherlands, there was never such a thing as a Satanic Panic. (Mind you, I didn't play D&D at the time, only started as an adult in the early 2000s.)

Sure, sometimes the more conservative circles want to ban things like D&D, Harry Potter books or whatnot, but they've never been any sort of major movement in my country and therefore unable to create such a mass hysteria.

I am glad I live here. Mostly.


As a UK D&D'er at the time (early-mid '80's), I wasn't exposed to any D&D prejudice except to have to wielded against me as a bullying tool by other kids. Even that was pretty tame. I've gathered in the interim that the Satanic Panic did bleed over into the UK in some minor form, but I never crossed paths with it.

In the past I've considered myself lucky in this respect. I found lifelong friends, my parents encouraged me, school was a (mostly) safe environment to play...but as I get older I've felt angry that I should consider myself lucky in that regard. 'Lucky', that as a child I was permitted to find a hobby I loved and given the freedom to express myself in it. These should be fundamental rights for any child growing up.


Herr Doktor
In Sweden it didn't really arrive until the early 90s, and the main thrust of it wasn't religious.
There were a small handful of psychologists and cops who pushed the idea that being too imaginitive was dangerous. A few religious cranks (including one member of parliament) tried to ride the coattails of this controversy, but it was all very minor.
The only lasting effect was that RPGs got pulled from the shelves of toy stores, which of course was bad enough and hurt the bottom line of the publisher Äventyrsspel. But in hindsight they maybe shouldn't have tried to sell the game Kult to small kids anyway.


I never had any issues. My friend had very conservative parents. So the acceptable alternative was Battletech / MechWarrior, so when he was around we had to play that. Or at least tell his parents that was what we were playing. :)


Very interesting article!

The satanic panic wasn’t a thing in Germany, and I was way too young to see any of it. But since my very first DM had a copy of the AD&D 1e monster manual, and I had the 2e MM, I did wonder why they renamed devils and demons. I simply figured Baatezu and Tanar‘ri sounded much cooler 😎

That makes a world of difference. My parents likewise saw the value in it as something that encouraged reading, creativity, and socialization. They had no interest in the game itself, but they never saw it as something dangerous.

edit Thinking about it I was lucky. My parents valued reading and imagination. My principal as a teacher was fine with it (and runs the entire district now). Definitely could have been worse.


The older kids I played with when I first started later asked if I wasn't worried about the suicide risk from playing D&D, I never figured out where they got that.


A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
In the Twin Cities area, Minnesota, it wasn't that strong. I did have one friend whose conservative catholic parents didn't want him playing the game, even though the priest at their church said their was nothing wrong with it. We ended up playing other RPGs instead of D&D. I ran a D&D club at my local public library at the height of the Satanic Panic without any issue.

In the early 80's I was a Freshman in High School in a small town in South Dakota. The Satanic Panic hit around then and our local newspaper had an article with the title, "Satanism Feeds on Troubled Teens". The article described the usual suspects, kids who don't fit in lockstep with the rest of the students who obey the teachers without thinking, as being open for Satanic recruitment and instead of Marijuana they decided that Dungeons and Dragons was the vector for Satan to enter your child's life. Same day, different crap I guess.

We had a regular Saturday night gaming group and we had a good time playing what was called AD&D then. Then our preachers started getting pushy. One of our freinds took a complete set of the books at that time and set them on fire because his preacher told him the books were evil and would lure him to Satan. He didn't talk to use for a year at least. Eventually he realized his mistake and came back in a very limited manner, the book burining made us all wary of his reliability.

We started to be more circumspect with our gaming, which made us seem even more like the stereotype of the dangerous loners who were going to be snapped up by Satan Worshipers. Two of us were Catholic, now that was scary for them. Fortunately they liked AD&D more than being Catholic and I dont think they take their childhood faith seriously to this day.

I was raised Lutheran and our minister had me sit down and explain AD&D to him. We had a long talk about it and he decided that it wasn't Satanic so our church remained neutral. I think he took a lot of crap for that from the more fanatic in the church for that.

Our teachers didn't care enough to bother worrying about what we were doing in our non school time to get involved in the situation.

I know that the Satanic Panic with AD&D drove the nail in the coffin of my faith in the supernatural. I suspect many of us lost our faith and walked away from religion because of those experiences. I guess there is a silver lining to every cloud.

In my experience it was parents. I grew up in a small town that was very religious. I was in third grade in 1984 and our class was doing a little play to get us kids interested in art and performance. It was a musical of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." Local religious figures, led by the parent of one my classmates protested the school for putting on this show. The school didn't back down and we had statewide news media flocking to our town of like 20,000 people to see what was going on. These parents said that the school was indoctrinating the kids into witchcraft, satanism, and homosexuality. The backlash against the school district was so severe that they cut all of the dramatic arts programs until my third grade class graduated high school. When I was in marching band we found flyers for 70s and 80s productions of Oklahoma and things in the band room. When we asked our music teacher why we didn't do musicals anymore he explained it all to us and he was livid about it. That it was accidentally tied to our class getting every theatrical and musical production cancelled for a decade. That used to be the main way the high school band program made their money, and why our uniforms hadn't changed since the late 70's.
I know it's not D&D related, but that's part of the reason why I didn't wind up playing until I was in college.

As a Senior in Colorado we did a production of Inherit the Wind. Several churches threatened to picket but they never showed up. We wanted them to because it would have been fun for us.

Anti-inclusive content
Reading these posts is making me realize that the rest of the planet is not in a perpetual state of moral panic.
In the 80s and 90s it was the Religious Right. By 2010 it became the woke left. Fanatics will fanatic. I suspect the woke left will suffer the same fate of the Religious Right in the early 00's and fade away by 2025. The question is will the Religious Right have a resurgance after that. My hope is they learned the lesson and wont, but my experience says they will play the same game.

The Satanic Panic was about music, movies and little kids' coached testimony in incendiary court trials. Dungeons and Dragons was just one among many targets.

Very true. Dee Snyder testifying before a Congressional Investigation led by Al Gore's wife Tipper against Satanic Rock Music that causes kids to commit suicide is one of my favorite moments from that era.

There are still people in prison from those psychaitrists coaching their kids to say that mom and dad were satanists raising them to be sacrificed. It's never good to be on the wrong side of a fanatical group that has the media on their side.

This was the first time I realized that my parents were...shall we say, a bit credulous on certain specific topics. It's not everything, it's just certain very specific things. I've had some very rude surprises with this over the years.
Many parents don't want to take responcibility for their failures and seek an outside source to be angry at. The attitude is as old as the cavemen. I can easily imagine some cave parents sitting around griping about how they lived perfectly well without fire and how their kids are obsessed with fire making them lazy, disrespectful and other such bad things.


In the 80s and 90s it was the Religious Right. By 2010 it became the woke left. Fanatics will fanatic. I suspect the woke left will suffer the same fate of the Religious Right in the early 00's and fade away by 2025. The question is will the Religious Right have a resurgance after that. My hope is they learned the lesson and wont, but my experience says they will play the same game.
I enjoyed reading your first post, but this one makes me less keen.
The Religious Right were (and still are if we look at a recent SCOTUS horror-decision) a problematic group doing immense damage to our hobby, among other things.
“Woke Left” seems to be a pejorative used by the Alt Right to attack any who oppose their views. If Woke Left means caring, inclusive and promoting social justice, then I’m proud to be so. The use of “woke” to criticise any form of progressive ideas is not a good thing.

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