When Dragons Were Bad For You

A look back at Dungeons & Dragons
May 06, 2009
When Dragons Were Bad For You

A personal look at Dungeons & Dragons in the 1980s

When I first discovered Dungeons & Dragons, I was just a sophomore in high school. I'd heard a lot of really wild stories about the game. There were rumors floating around that it was an evil game, forged by Satan himself, and that many kids had died or committed suicide as a result of playing.

But, I was skeptical and curious.

Satan owns this game!

A friend of mine had played the game a few times and owned a hardback book called The Player's Handbook. So, I asked him if I could borrow it and check it out. Somehow, I just didn't buy into all the stories I'd heard. Why would they sell a game if that many kids were dying? Surely, someone would put a stop to it.

What evil lie in this book?

With trembling hands, I sat in my room on a cold winter's day in 1984 and cracked the book open. What sort of evil might leap off the pages? Was I leading myself down a path of damnation by reading this tome?

Was this creature waiting to steal[/align]
my soul if I kept reading?[/i]

And as the minutes passed, it became ever more clear that all the stories I'd heard were complete nonsense. Hidden within the pages weren't ancient spells and paths to darkness. Instead, I found game mechanics for creating an imaginary hero who could battle evil monsters and slay dragons. Even the spells themselves weren't real rituals, as rumors had led me to believe. They were nothing more the descriptions of what spells do and rulings for how they work in a standard game.

More than that, as my fears eased, I found myself fascinated with the concept of the game. I found myself imagining what it would be like to play one of these mighty heroes, going on exciting adventures and amassing great treasures. The whole concept seemed thrilling and cinematic.

Rolling dice is what it's all about

So, I sought out other players in my high school. It didn't take long to find a guy who ran his own game. He was called the Dungeon Master when we played, but outside of the game, we just called him John. And he taught me everything I needed to know to play.

John's book of soul corruption

Was he some evil fiend sent to steal my soul? Nope. Just a guy who loved to tell a thrilling story. He had a knack for creating dungeons that would kill characters without mercy, but that made the victories that much more sweet.

Over the years, my character saved many maidens, fought hundreds of fiends and eventually built his own castle. He retired as a beloved king to his people, remembered as a hero for his chivalric deeds. And not once, in all those years, did he commit acts of evil.

See all that land? I owned it all

As I grew older, eventually becoming a Dungeon Master, I found that I had to continually defend the game from the self-righteous and the ignorant. Either they were convinced I was an agent of evil, sent to try to sway them into the clutches of the occult, or that I was a blind idiot who couldn't see he was on a path of destruction. It became pretty irritating, as most of those who pointed fingers had never even played the game, let alone cracked open one of the books.

In the 1980s, to enjoy Dungeons & Dragons meant being labeled as an outcast. We had to hide it from people; because the name alone caused people to look down upon you.

I played with people who loved the game, and then lied about playing it when in the company of people they wanted to impress. If you had a date, you never told them that you were a D&D player. That was a sure path to frustration.

Modern day computerized D&D-type game

Times have changed, of course. People play computer games like World of Warcraft and Diablo II, which owe their entire existence to a game like Dungeons & Dragons, without once thinking it's an evil hobby. And, oddly enough, they also play Dungeons & Dragons. It's a different kind of D&D than the one I played 25 years ago, but it's still the same game at the core.

Except this time, they aren't afraid to open the books...

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