How Dungeons & Dragons Beat Fundamentalism

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08 Oct 2018 22:32 #282872 by Shellhead

WadeMonnig wrote: Just a quick poll exploring Tolkien and dnd. What was your first character named? Saruman the white was mine. I remember my cousins was Pip (from great expectations).


I'm not sure which one was my very first D&D character, but they were both taken directly from books. Trent the Magician (a bad guy in the first Xanth book) and Cugel the Clever (a silver-tongued rogue from Jack Vance's Dying Earth stories). I had already read both The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings a couple of years earlier, but they weren't fresh influences when I first started playing D&D.
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09 Oct 2018 04:39 #282882 by Matt Thrower
In the UK the whole thing got bound up with Micheal Ryan, a mass shooter who opened fire on a playground full of kids. That lead to the country-wide ban on handguns but it was also reported that he was involved in a play-by-mail RPG that had, some weeks before, run a mass killing scenario. It wasn't even considered relevant enough to bring up at his trial, but it didn't stop the tabloids have a field day, no doubt propelled by the Satanic panic across the pond.

While my parents were sensible about it, figuring a quick chat on distinguishing fantasy from reality was enough to settle the issue, most of my wider family became horrified by my hobby. They refused to offer Christmas or birthday gifts of gaming material which was mostly what I wanted at the time.

Anyway, what I find interesting about this is that it's a pattern that's repeated down the ages. It's natural that parents worry about their children and are suspicious of anything they don't understand. Suspicious to the point of outright hostility if they see significant evidence that it might be harmful. Almost every week a bunch of worried texts go round about some new social media app that's allegedly being used for abuse or sending dick pics. So that's what it is nowadays, replacing D&D and video games before it. I wonder what will be next?
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09 Oct 2018 06:19 #282883 by Erik Twice

MattDP wrote: Anyway, what I find interesting about this is that it's a pattern that's repeated down the ages. It's natural that parents worry about their children and are suspicious of anything they don't understand. Suspicious to the point of outright hostility if they see significant evidence that it might be harmful. Almost every week a bunch of worried texts go round about some new social media app that's allegedly being used for abuse or sending dick pics. So that's what it is nowadays, replacing D&D and video games before it. I wonder what will be next?

That's an interesting though Matt, would love to hear more about it since you and many other members are parents.

Around here the latest panic were self-harm challenges that could result in death. It is extremely unlikely that a significant amount of kids actually does that kind of stuff, but media hammered it over and over for quite a long time. Right now the current panic is "death by selfie" because X number of people have allegedely died while taking a selfie.

I wonder what you guys experience is since you are, well, geeks and you are far more aware of this stuff. I always wonder if I'm going to be one of the scared parents or I'll be able to "see through".

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09 Oct 2018 12:20 #282896 by Joebot

WadeMonnig wrote: Just a quick poll exploring Tolkien and dnd. What was your first character named? Saruman the white was mine. I remember my cousins was Pip (from great expectations).


I didn't actually play D&D as a kid, but I still remember the names of my characters from the original Might & Magic RPG on my dad's old Apple II:

Fighter: Caramon
Thief: Tasslehoff
Paladin: Sir Sturm
Archer: Tanis Half-Elven
Cleric: Goldmoon
Wizard: Raistlin

I'm sure all the Dragonlance fans in the audience will recognize those names. I read Tolkien probably in high school ... but I was a MUCH bigger fan of the Weis/Hickman Dragonlance books.
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09 Oct 2018 13:30 #282901 by Jackwraith
Started briefly with Basic and then jumped right to AD&D, long before the 2nd Edition PH, the image of which headlines this post (mine was the one with the more amoral adventurers trying to pry the jewel eyes from the gigantic demon idol.) My first character was named Myriad and he was a half-elven cleric/illusionist. Something about the freewheeling nature of the then poorly-designed illusionist class just appealed to me. And I figured I'd be a cleric, too, in case the phantoms weren't working and my fellow party members needed some, y'know... actual help. Cure Light Wounds, FTW. This was before the Dark Phoenix saga, when Mastermind proved what proper illusionists could really do and before Keith Giffen took over the Legion of Superheroes, so that he could do the same with Sensor Girl aka Princess Projectra. (Nerd cred firmly established.) I think I got the most use out of Color Spray (which is the lesser spell in Assault of the Giants that you can upgrade to Prismatic Spray.)

I never went in for the famous names on characters, mostly because I wasn't THOSE characters. I was my guy, trying to become as famous as them. Or that's how I remember interpreting it in my mind. My all-time favorite character was a thief/illusionist (still with the illusions!) who was really more of an assassin, named Whisper.

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09 Oct 2018 14:17 - 09 Oct 2018 14:18 #282902 by the_jake_1973
My mom got me the red box set and my godfather and his brother taught me to play. I played off and on in the late eighties and into the early nineties. My favorite character was a 2.5 era Swashbuckler name Argent Firedrake. Suitably dashing I thought.

I never fell in with the Tolkien writing, I was drawn to Moorcock and his multiverse. Elric's as the anti-hero held great appeal to my high school self. As I grew older, I was able to appreciate that eternal quest for Tanelorn that is woven through the books.

In reference to Joebot above, all Kender must die. ;)
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09 Oct 2018 15:23 #282905 by boothwah
The artwork prominently featuring giant red demons/devils on the early Ad&D manuals was problematic - the theme shift from Gygaxian amoral treasure romps into heroic fantasy was well under way when the red box hit.


I was one of those kids that had to explain to my fundy mom that I wasn't trying to summon Satan. I just wanted revenge on Bargle for killing Aleena. Upshot - so eager to move me on from the red and blue box she bought me ALL of the FASERIP Marvel stuff - And we played that for recess the next year.

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09 Oct 2018 17:08 #282917 by Shellhead
I have generally been more of a dungeon master than a player of D&D. Tolkien was an obvious influence, but I couldn't be bothered to re-read it until just months before The Fellowship of the Ring hit theaters.

My fantasy influences while I was running AD&D 1st edition:

Michael Moorcock: He inspired Gygax to include Law and Chaos in the alignment structure, and his Elric stories were awesome for the angst and the god-slaying.

Jack Vance: His stories of the Dying Earth inspired Gygax's treatment of spellcasters. Spells were memorized and expended when cast, not skills that drained energy when used. Vance also wrote lovely prose, depicted amazing magic, and had the best rogues until Locke Lamora.

Fritz Leiber: Speaking of rogues, Leiber invented the concept of the Thieves Guild. His somewhat amoral protagonists, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, were great role models for rogues, though Fafhrd was also a barbarian and Mouser dabbled in magic.

Roger Zelazny: His Amber series was an interesting mixture of fantasy and science-fiction, and featured cross-dimensional travel.

Jack Chalker: Well World was a science-fiction series, but it made me think more about how I was playing the monsters in D&D.
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09 Oct 2018 22:30 - 09 Oct 2018 22:31 #282927 by Sagrilarus
I'll just mention that, at the time DnD came out Americans believed in Bigfoot, UFOs and the existence of an underground, organized Satanic church. All were debunked in the 80s as complete hogwash. So DnD cut its teeth at a curious time in history.

I'd be curious to hear your (San) opinion on how DnD changed fundamentalist religion, particularly the commerce-oriented TV kind that drove into a ditch with Oral Roberts and Pat Robertson. I think this isn't just about steamrolling with that crowd. I think DnD lost its power to scare, and it became less financially viable to attack it.

Great topic, great writing by the way.
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11 Oct 2018 18:03 #282990 by dysjunct
Great article San. I also grew up in evangelicalism and everything you wrote rang true.

I think, however, that the reason that D&D "beat" fundamentalism is a lot simpler: subcultures that rely on moral panics to stoke fear in their members need constant fresh targets, otherwise the members will realize that the panic-of-the-week isn't actually going to destroy the world. Which will be followed quickly by the members realizing that the leaders (or con-men/women, take your pick) are full of shit, and leave -- and more importantly, stop donating.

The list of things that the religious right has freaked out about is really long, and in every case, it's obvious that society survived just fine: jazz, slow dancing, hippies, D&D, superpredator crack babies, pr0n, gays converting your kids....

Now the current vogue is to flip out over trans people using the bathroom. No idea what the next one will be.
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13 Oct 2018 00:54 - 13 Oct 2018 00:56 #283034 by san il defanso
It makes me feel cynical to make it about money, partially because I'm still neck deep in the American church. Shoot, I work in cross-cultural ministries, which is a fancy name for "missionary." But the most visible kind of fear, the kind espoused by James Dobson or Pat Robertson, is driven at least in part by a need to keep the donations rolling in. I really do think the increased online presence of D&D has removed the power here. When you see three large hardback books with monsters on the cover, it doesn't just look weird and threatening, it looks impenetrable. Now that you can find numerous games in action on the internet, even for versions besides 5e, the game has been thoroughly demystified.

It's worth pointing out that on the ground at least, a lot of the fear surrounding D&D was absolutely genuine. It might have been stoked by very cynical agents, but cynicism itself only works when it can be perpetuated by the people on the ground. There's that pervasive fear among the more conservative end of Christianity that all of popular culture is an elaborate, even organized, conspiracy to lead astray our children. This is not something that can be explained away, because it just reinforces that narrative. I'm thankful that my own parents were not generally scaremongers. They never actually pushed me to avoid things like D&D or Magic, I just never showed much interest. (I lived overseas so there was also some separation from larger evangelical culture when I grew up.)

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13 Oct 2018 01:03 - 13 Oct 2018 01:04 #283035 by Gary Sax

san il defanso wrote: It's worth pointing out that on the ground at least, a lot of the fear surrounding D&D was absolutely genuine. It might have been stoked by very cynical agents, but cynicism itself only works when it can be perpetuated by the people on the ground. There's that pervasive fear among the more conservative end of Christianity that all of popular culture is an elaborate, even organized, conspiracy to lead astray our children. This is not something that can be explained away, because it just reinforces that narrative. I'm thankful that my own parents were not generally scaremongers. They never actually pushed me to avoid things like D&D or Magic, I just never showed much interest. (I lived overseas so there was also some separation from larger evangelical culture when I grew up.)


Slightly outside what you're talking about, but I like this post because it humanizes normal folks. It is also one of the things that makes it nearly impossible to make any positive change in this world. To give an example, denial of climate change (e.g. vs. weekend report that we have 10 years at most to prevent 1.5c and are most likely headed for Mad Max) is actually, genuinely, felt by the average person who vociferously denies it; my guess is that it's just the people at the top who are the bad faith actors who know how fucked up it is to deny global warming and therefore doom the world. It reminds me of that sinister thing corporations do day to day by continuously presenting you with a countless number of lower level rubes on the phone who can honestly say that they have no ability to change anything and didn't make whatever system/decision is screwing you.
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13 Oct 2018 10:25 #283040 by stoic



I played D&D early on and started with the blue box, then red box, then AD&D. I also played Gamma World, Boot Hill, and Top Secret. We tried to play Traveller but would never get past the character creation.

The most memorable D&D modules for me were Ravenloft, The Keep on the Borderlands, but, more importantly, the ones that we crafted ourselves.

Our parents didn't care or understand what we were doing. We'd play this all night on the weekends and spend weekdays in school mapping out new dungeons, character, module, and campaign ideas. My school notebooks were filled with sketches inspired by the Monster Manual, Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Fiend Folio. I could have spent that time studying. ;-)

The only fundamentalist encounter was when I went to what was called an all night "lock-in" sponsored by a local church and held at ShowBiz Pizza. We went, of course, to meet girls. Someone ratted on us and told the pastor that we played D&D so the night ended up being an all night deprogramming session to convince us that we were summoning the Devil in the manner of Jack Chick.






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13 Oct 2018 15:18 - 13 Oct 2018 15:21 #283044 by Brewmiester
I started with the Dungeons and Dragons Basic set in high school I'm thinking probably the '78 - '79 time frame. Unfortunately we weren't very good gamers because we couldn't figure the damn thing out! Fast forward to 1980 when I started college at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville, TN. I ran into some people playing AD&D and never looked back. We played mostly AD&D eventually starting the Dragonlance campaign but we graduated before the last of the modules came out. We dabbled in some other systems: Call of Cthulhu, Gamma World, Top Secret, Gangbusters, Champions, Justice Inc., Villains and Vigilantes, Traveller, Morrow Project and a lot of others I can't remember anymore! A local hobby shop sold mostly TSR stuff but I spent a lot of money ordering from Wargames West. We did a few GenCons, some highlights were getting Gary Gygax to autograph my players handbook, playing Gangbusters with Mark Acres, and playing a live action Justice Inc. game with some the Hero Games folks. I did run and play some stuff back home during that time as well and got my brother and some others playing back in Westmoreland. Never really ran into any religious or parental pressure.

After I graduated I came up here to Bloomington, IN. to start working. I ran into some folks at 25th Century Five and Dime, a local game/comic book shop and hooked up with some gamers around IU. Played mostly Call Of Cthulhu and Role master but also some Warhammer Roleplaying and Harn Master. Eventually married life and kids cut most of my role playing gaming time but I did run a little 3.5 for some co workers a few years ago.

Early this year I got to retire and one of the guys I play miniatures with wanted to start a 1st edition AD&D game to show some of his 5th edition players how it used to get done. We've been playing Monday nights and have made it through Against the Cult of the Reptile God and are part way through Temple of Elemental Evil. It's been a real blast playing again after all these years.
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