The “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s was in full swing in my small town when I was introduced to one of the main recruiting tools of the dark lord, Dungeons and Dragons. TSR’s role playing game was a one way ticket to a steady diet of brimstone and piping hot Fresca for all eternity. A few of my older friends had mentioned that they were starting to play, and I was more than just a little interested. I had stumbled across a copy of the “Dungeon Masters Guide” at my local Waldenbooks and was captivated by the cover, a wizard or mage type person fought valiantly with a Paladin companion against a giant red devil wielding an equally giant scimitar. I remember glancing around the bookstore hoping that the devil or one of his minions wouldn’t notice me as I dared to pick up the book. As if on cue a small black pamphlet fell out of the book and on the ﬂoor. It was the infamous Jack Chick tract, “Dark Dungeons.”
Jack Chick tracts had already traumatized me for a few years prior to this point. The tract, “Bewitched” had exposed me to the horrors of drug use and the day to day battle that praying grandmothers had with Satan himself. The image of poor Ashley Wilson’s face melting off as she looked into a mirror during a drug “Freak out” had insured that I would stay away from drugs until I was at least out of middle school!
“Dark Dungeons” is one of the mostly widely known and parodied Chick tracts. Poor Marcie and Black Leaf ! The horrors of role playing games were spelled out as people died with their characters, while other cast, “Mind Bondage” spells on their parents so they could play more. The reclusive Jack Chick spread his hysterical propaganda with a formidable output on many subjects, Halloween and Catholicism being rich and oft visited targets. It’s debated whether or not Jack Chick is one person or a group of people writing under a pseudonym, but what is not debated is that his methods impacted readers.
I eventually learned by playing Dungeons and Dragons, that it wasn’t a portal to hell and damnation, but rather a conduit for the imagination. How many people wrote stories about their adventures and went on to discover great fantasy literature or even developed the games that we play today. Dungeons and Dragons hysteria also produced the seriously awful movie, “Mazes and Monsters”, starring a pre-fame Tom Hanks as a role playing fan that takes things a little too seriously.
Every once and a while I feel like pulling the dice out of storage and dusting off my trusty cleric character sheet, but then I realize that there is real life to attend to, and that Greyhawk has passed me by. Hopefully my son will gravitate towards role playing games and exercise his imagination with me on a campaign someday.
— Eric J.