12 Nutty Dungeons & Dragons Media Mentions From the 1980s

In the 1980s, U.S. and Canadian media were up in arms over Dungeons & Dragons and the problem of teen suicide. In the wake of various suicides and even murders linked (however tenuously) to the game, D&D started popping up everywhere in popular media, often linked by reporters to Satanism, witchcraft, and the presumed dark side of youth culture. Weirdly, this was all going on while CBS aired a Saturday morning cartoon version of D&D. The controversy came to a head when, again kind of weirdly, CBS aired a 60 Minutes segment about the issue. (I found videos of that old report -- see the end of this article to check it out.)

That D&D media coverage was, in retrospect, a form of moral panic. So I figured it'd be fun to round up some real 80s media mentions of the game, highlighting the weirdest bits. Hop into the Reference Library Time Machine with me and enjoy.

1. Becoming the Master

In the wake of a tragic murder/suicide in November of 1984, police wondered whether D&D was somehow connected to the deaths of two Colorado brothers. A report in the Omaha World-Herald read:

"We aren't sure at this point whether we have a double suicide or a suicide/homicide," [Police Chief Larry] Stallcup said.

The police chief said [Dungeons & Dragons] appeals to very intelligent people, who use their imagination to manipulate characters and work through a series of mazes to achieve treasures and avoid falling into the dungeon.

"My undertstanding [sic] is that once you reach a certain point where you are the master, your only way out is death," Stallcup said.

"That way no one can beat you."

It turns out that D&D had nothing to do with it. The elder brother was facing sentencing for auto theft, and wrote a note explaining that he couldn't live within the criminal justice system. Stallcup's comments about the game indicate that he had clearly never played it; hell, I fell into the dungeon all the time. That was the main fun part.

Source: Fantasy Game Link Considered - Brothers' Deaths May Be Suicides, Omaha World-Herald (NE) - Sunday, November 4, 1984, UPI.

2. Popping 45s vs. Fireballs

On March 19, 1984, Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer Daniel R. Biddle covered Templecon, a convention devoted to various role-playing games, including Dungeons & Dragons. He wrote:

What sort of person plays these games? Consider Mark Singer, 22, a political-science junior at Temple, and Dave Appelbaum, 19, his sophomore buddy, both of whom, along with sophomore Robert Patsko, also 19, helped organize Templecon.

They were explaining in an interview yesterday that they used to do duller things - such as driving along the Atlantic City Expressway and reaching out of car windows to pop 45-r.p.m. records off the car antenna one at a time. Now they are into the [role-playing] games.

Appelbaum recalled how he'd used fireballs to help his medieval allies blow up a set of mysterious self-beating drums in a recent bout of "Dungeons and Dragons." "You can create your own world," said Singer, "where the players do what you want them to do ... for purposes of the game. You're not living inside it. Thank God."

I'd go with imaginary fireballs over broken 45s any day. For one thing, the fireballs are free.

Source: Playing Out Their Fantasies at a Convention on Games, Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA) - Monday, March 19, 1984, Daniel R. Biddle.

3. Human Sacrifice, Eating Babies, Drinking Blood

In 1985, Knight-Ridder covered the attempts of the group BADD (Bothered About Dungeons & Dragons) to put warning labels on the game. Cited in the article was Dr. Thomas Radecki, who expressed views about the content of the game:

"Dungeons & Dragons is essentially a worship of violence," said Dr. Thomas Radecki of Champaign, Ill., a psychiatrist and chairman of the National Coalition on Television Violence in Washington, D.C.

"It's a very intense war game. Talk to people that have played it. It's very fascinating. It's a game of fun. But when you have fun with murder, that's dangerous. When you make a game out of war, that's harmful. The game is full of human sacrifice, eating babies, drinking blood, rape, murder of every variety, curses of insanity. It's just a very violent game."

As a former player, I wouldn't say it's full of any of those things. Maybe murder, assuming humanoid monsters are granted human rights.

Source: Parents See a Real Conflict in Fantasy War Games Group Links Dungeons & Dragons to 51 Teen-age Suicides, Miami Herald, The (FL) - October 27, 1985, Billy Bowles, Knight-Ridder News Service.

4. D&D and AC/DC

In 1985, a minor controversy erupted when local religious groups tried to prevent AC/DC from rocking Springfield, Illinois. This happened at roughly the same time as the aforementioned 60 Minutes segment on D&D and BADD. Long story short: AC/DC played the show and the totally kick-ass letter to the editor of The State Journal-Register below reflects the opinions of an AC/DC listener whose son also happened to be a D&D player.

Wouldn't fear for mortal soul

Dear Editor,

This has been an interesting week. Sunday night I tuned into the tail end of "60 Minutes" and was confronted with some lady in a big flap about the game Dungeons and Dragons. I never did get her point -- whether she wanted the game taken off the market or just wanted to publicly air her sorrow over the suicide of her son which she blames on D&D. I commiserate. Losing a teen or preteen child to suicide must be the most agonizing thing a parent can face. The rest I took with a grain of salt.

My younger son has played D&D since the third grade and it has never occurred to me to check him for suicidal tendencies. In the eight years he has been playing, I've spent close to $600 on books, modules, dice, lead figures and other accouterments of the game. I guarantee you, when I spend that kind of money I pay attention to what it's all about. I've listened to many an hour of it. I don't exactly see what they get out of it -- it seems rather boring to me -- but I've had games continue on the kitchen table for days and I fail to see the harm in it.

Two days later I hear on the radio that AC/DC cannot appear at the Prairie Capital Convention Center because the local clergy and a few concerned parents think their music promotes Satanism. Amazing! Now I suppose I'll have to keep watch on my cats and the neighbors' dog in case my sons decide to indulge in some of the more gory rites of Satanic sacrifices. After all, we have and play every AC/DC album that's been cut.

I secretly wanted to go to the concert myself but really couldn't because, first, I'd embarrass my kids to death, and, second, my eardrums can't take the decibel level they could when I was 16. But if I did decide to go I surely wouldn't do so in fear of my mortal soul -- or my sons'. If people don't want their kids to go, keep them home. Or if they don't want them playing D&D, don't buy the game. What has that to do with the rest of us? I think all this brouhaha is ridiculous.

Glenna Burns Beckner, Pleasant Plains [Illinois]

Rock on, Glenna.

Source: Letters from Readers, State Journal-Register, The (Springfield, IL) - September 26, 1985.

5. Kids Star in Library "Video Play" About D&D

On November 10, 1985, The Morning Call of Allentown, Pennsylvania ran a brief item about a D&D-themed "video play" in the local library's children's department. Sounds like kids being creative and imaginative -- kinda like D&D itself. Also sounds like they were looking for a fancy way to describe "some stuff we shot on our new camcorder." Here's an excerpt:

Area young people will star in "Unknown Fates," a story of a "Dungeons and Dragons" game gone awry, at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Mary Meuser Memorial Library annex, Wilson.

Based on a short story by Michael Jay Wesley of Wilson, the original video play was written by Scott Rhymer of Wilson. Dan Redington and Kendra Buttner of Wilson wrote the final adaptation.

...In the play, four "Dungeons and Dragons" players are transported to the realm of an evil wizard, where their fantasy game becomes dangerously real.

"Unknown Fates" is the third video play produced by the library's children's department, with the assistance of Thomas Alercia as cameraman. Board member Marjorie Alercia helped coordinate each project.

How come these plots always have the games going awry?

Source: Wilson Play is Based on 'Dungeons' Game, Morning Call, The (Allentown, PA) - November 10, 1985.

6. Republicans vs. Satan

A 1986 article from the Richmond Times-Dispatch entitled "Game Said to Inspire Mind, Raise Satan" is a goldmine. Here's a bit from the beginning:

Recently, a number of parents and religious fundamentalists have been on the warpath against the game, which they describe as "satanical." A candidate for the Republican nomination for state attorney general last year even based his campaign on the game.

In calling for removal of Dungeons & Dragons from public schools in Virginia, Winston E. Mathews of Charles City County said in his unsuccessful campaign that the game "teaches Satan-worship, spell-casting, witchcraft, rape, suicide and assassination."

Meanwhile, more than 3 million Americans have become "D & D die-hards," according to the manufacturer of Dungeons & Dragons, a game that requires a great deal of imagination, intelligence and time.

Source: Game Said to Inspire Mind, Raise Satan, Richmond Times-Dispatch - January 18, 1986, Anna Barron Billingsley.

7. More Satan!

And here's some more from the same article...

Sharon Sipos, a Chesterfield County housewife and mother of two who has spoken out against the game on about 30 radio and television programs throughout the nation, believes D&D is not merely a game, but an "alternate lifestyle." Mrs. Sipos said she is engaged in "a spiritual battle," led by the Lord.

She is opposed not only to Dungeons & Dragons, but to all fantasy role-playing games, including a "Christian" version of D&D called Dragon Raid. She said Scripture is used as magic in that game, which she believes is associated with the occult.

Mrs. Sipos said players devote all their time and attention to the fantasy games -- even when they're not playing.

"They're always planning what they will do the next time. Kids have lost jobs, flunked out of school. They totally confuse reality and fantasy," said Mrs. Sipos. "It (the game) becomes their god."

Source: Game Said to Inspire Mind, Raise Satan, Richmond Times-Dispatch - January 18, 1986, Anna Barron Billingsley.

8. Yup, Even More Satan

Although this one is from 1990, I thought it was worth including. In a Capital Times article called "Officials Offer Warning of Trend Toward Satanism," reporter Pamela Cotant goes deep on the topic of possibly Satanic and/or gang-involved and/or goth Wisconsin youth. For example:

[Madison police officer Maureen] Wall said she sees "nocturnal" youths ranging from about age 15 to 20 roaming State Street as she works her night shift. The youths may be flashing symbols of Satan on their jackets or wearing pins through their noses or stuck in their cheeks. The outrageousness of their appearance is part of the power they seek, she said.

...The youths that Wall was tallking [sic] about are probably "dabblers," which is sort of a youth subculture, according to [Catholic priest, Reverend Stephen] Smith. Youths who dabble in Satanism tend to be experimentalists, especially with things that are unusual or exotic.

...The youths may act out their Satan worship through suicide, rituals, physical or sexual abuse, burglary of ritualistic paraphernalia, animal mutliation [sic], criminal damage to property and drug use, he said.

Their activities may involve secrecy, heavy metal music, books describing rituals, ritualistic paraphernalia and graffiti to churches. Cemeteries may be vandalized in an attempt to obtain bones for their rituals, Smith said.

Much of the paraphernalia is available through catalogs, he said.

Kathy Sorenson, director of Project HUGS, said that about three to four years ago she began to suspect that a small percentage of the students she's involved with were involved with Satan and the occult. ...

This is actually a fascinating article. Read the rest for more info on Project HUGS, LSD, a flaming pentagram, and how kids often confuse gang symbols for Satanic iconography (oops). The article also briefly ties in D&D.

Source: Officials Offer Warning of Trend Toward Satanism, Capital Times, The (Madison, WI) - February 26, 1990, Pamela Cotant.

9. Witchcraft, Chess, and Checkers

In April of 1985, one Oregon minister worried that D&D in schools represented a possible expansion in the number of local witches:

ALBANY, Ore. (AP) Talk of witchcraft usually comes with the harmless sorcery of the Halloween season, but a Willamette Valley minister is taking witchcraft very seriously because he claims it has invaded a middle school.

Rev. Jon Quigley of the Lakeview Full Gospel Fellowship says he's concerned about the game "Dungeons & Dragons," which has been part of an intramural "discovery program" at Calapooia Middle School.

Players of the game, known to devotees as "D&D," assume the roles of fantasy characters and pass through adventures to achieve some goal. There is a strong emphasis on magic.

Quigley and his wife, Alberta, say the game is an occult tool that opens up young people to influence or possession by demons.

The minister charges there are more than 600 "full-fledged, practicing witches" in the mid-Willamette Valley, and "we don't need any more."

Calapooia has offered the game periodically as one of a revolving array of hobby and leisure pursuits, including first aid, volleyball, models and rockets, art, woodcraft, chess and checkers.

...[Principal Paul] Nys said the discovery program offers "an opportunity for these kids to relax. And we think there's some value to the offerings."

Duane Hedy, assistant superintendent of the Albany Public Schools, said students have been playing D&D for years.

...The Quigleys insist the game teaches witchcraft. They claim that amounts to teaching a religion and violates the separation of church and state.

They say the game also endangers the mental and spiritual well-being of the participants.

"They eventually become oppressed, tormented, possessed through the spirits that are operating through this game," Quigley said.

Calapooia Middle School actually isn't far from me. According to their website, their electives currently include: Choir/Band, Industrial Tech, Family Studies, Art, Drama, Adv. Computers, Digital Photography, Video Game Design, and Leadership Electives. They also have a slightly witchy-looking "FLEX" period. For the record, a sarcastic letter to the editor later appeared in the Eugene Register-Guard four days after the account above, responding to Quigley's crusade. It read, in part:

I'm so thankful for the fundamentalists' campaign to expose rock musicians for what they are: agents of Satan. Just look at the examples these fiends are setting for our kids.

The latest blasphemy involved a whole bunch of them. They made a record for the people of Ethiopia, and donated all of the proceeds to famine relief. Even worse, one of the most vile demon agents in the bunch, Michael Jackson, co-wrote the song. But the frightful tale gets worse. The most evil one of all, Prince, donated the entire proceeds from one of his concerts to famine relief. Can you imagine that? These blackest of sins sicken a God-fearing person.

Sources: Minister Sees Threat of Witchcraft in School, The Seattle Times - April 7, 1985, AP; and Letters in the Editor's Mailbag, Eugene Register-Guard - April 11, 1985, J. J. Ritter.

10. Setting a World Record

In 1986, a group of Pennsylvania State University students sought a world record for the longest game of AD&D (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, for the uninitiated). Behold:

Jess Johnson, executive council president of the Historical Simulations Club at Penn State, said yesterday that the students played for 63 hours and 21 minutes, which beats the Guinness record of 61:39.

...The primary purpose of the marathon, which drew $800 to $1,000 in pledges, was to benefit Third World Starvation Relief and Four Diamonds Cancer Research, he said.

...He said one participant "dropped out Tuesday morning due to hallucinations; then we lost another Tuesday afternoon due to physical exhaustion, which claimed two more participants that same evening."

Two of the game rules required the players to remain seated around the table throughout the marathon. They were granted a five minute break every 60 minutes.

D&D for charity, folks.

Source: PSU Players Claim Record at 'Dungeons', Morning Call, The (Allentown, PA) - March 7, 1986.

11. The Killer Board Game in Your Closet

In a 1986 opinion piece, University of Illinois student D. B. Killings went on a brilliant satirical rampage, suggesting that the furor over D&D would be better aimed at the evil capitalist game of Monopoly:

...Groups such as the Moral Majority and Bothered About D&D are concerned by what they consider to be the "brainwashing of the young." They argue that the game has a "satanic and detrimental" effect on children. They point to the many documented cases of violent acts and suicides among teenagers, and the fact that in many of these cases the people had been fanatical devotees of the game.

There must be a link, they say, between the violent nature of the game and the steadily increasing violent behavior of some of its players. To combat this, these well-meaning individuals want the game restricted or even outright banned.

What these groups fail to realize is the danger in their own homes. For there exists yet another popular game that may also provide negative influences on the young.

Indeed, this game has existed long enough that it may very well be already affecting not only our children but the very world in which we live. I am speaking, of course, of Monopoly.

... First of all, it contradicts many teachings of the Bible. ...

Seriously, read the whole thing.

Source: Game opponents should target Monopoly, Chicago Sun-Times - January 7, 1986, D. B. Killings.

12. The Devil's Toys

In 1984, the Miami Herald profiled Praise Unlimited Inc., a Florida-based maker of Christian toys explicitly designed to replace D&D and even Star Wars toys.

Cute, cuddly dolls with names like Joy and Faith and an action toy called Judah the Christian Soldier could some day replace "the devil's toys," say two North Carolina women.

"We feel that this is a ministry," Dana McNeal said, displaying toys she believes answer the biblical call in Proverbs 22:6 to "Train up a child in the way he should go."

McNeal and Linda Campbell market dolls, games and other items in North Carolina for Praise Unlimited Inc., a Sarasota, Fla., company specializing in "Christian toys." Campbell and McNeal describe themselves not as distributors, but as "toy missionaries."

...McNeal dismissed with a wave of her hand dolls such as Darth Vader from the film Star Wars and the shadowy men and monsters from Dungeons and Dragons.

"We call them the devil's toys," she said.

McNeal said she hopes parents will give their children alternatives -- perhaps a 116-piece Noah's Ark or an action toy named Judah the Christian Soldier.

Source: Women Put Christian Message in Toys, Miami Herald, The (FL) - December 25, 1984, United Press International.

That 60 Minutes Story

These videos may not stay up for long -- my last story about this piece became a lot less interesting when the YouTube videos were pulled.

Top image courtesy of Andrew Logan Montgomery. This post originally appeared in 2012.

10 of the Best Indoor and Outdoor Heaters on Amazon

Mr. Heater/Amazon
Mr. Heater/Amazon

With the colder months just around the corner, you might want to start thinking about investing in an indoor or outdoor heater. Indoor heaters not only provide a boost of heat for drafty spaces, but they can also be a money-saver, allowing you to actively control the heat based on the rooms you’re using. Outdoor heaters, meanwhile, can help you take advantage of cold-weather activities like camping or tailgating without having to call it quits because your extremities have gone numb. Check out this list of some of Amazon’s highest-rated indoor and outdoor heaters so you can spend less time shivering this winter and more time enjoying what the season has to offer.

Indoor Heaters

1. Lasko Ceramic Portable Heater; $20

Lasko/Amazon

This 1500-watt heater from Lasko may only be nine inches tall, but it can heat up to 300 square feet of space. With 11 temperature settings and three quiet settings—for high heat, low heat, and fan only—it’s a dynamic powerhouse that’ll keep you toasty all season long.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Alrocket Oscillating Space Heater; $25

Alrocket/Amazon

Alrocket’s oscillating space heater is an excellent addition to any desk or nightstand. Using energy-saving ceramic technology, this heater is made of fire-resistant material, and its special “tip-over” safety feature forces it to turn off if it falls over (making it a reliable choice for homes with kids or pets). It’s extremely quiet, too—at only 45 dB, it’s just a touch louder than a whisper. According to one reviewer, this an ideal option for a “very quiet but powerful” heater.

Buy it: Amazon

3. De’Longhi Oil-Filled Radiator Space Heather; $79

De’Longhi/Amazon

If you prefer a space heater with a more old-fashioned vibe, this radiator heater from De’Longhi gives you 2020 technology with a vintage feel. De’Longhi’s heater automatically turns itself on when the temperatures drops below 44°F, and it will also automatically turn itself off if it starts to overheat. Another smart safety feature? The oil system is permanently sealed, so you won’t have to worry about accidental spills.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Aikoper Ceramic Tower Heater; $70

Aikoper/Amazon

Whether your room needs a little extra warmth or its own heat source, Aikoper’s incredibly precise space heater has got you covered. With a range of 40-95°F, it adjusts by one-degree intervals, giving you the specific level of heat you want. It also has an option for running on an eight-hour timer, ensuring that it will only run when you need it.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Isiler Space Heater; $37

Isiler/Amazon

For a space heater that adds a fun pop of color to any room, check out this yellow unit from Isiler. Made from fire-resistant ceramic, Isiler’s heater can start warming up a space within seconds. It’s positioned on a triangular stand that creates an optimal angle for hot air to start circulating, rendering it so effective that, as one reviewer put it, “This heater needs to say ‘mighty’ in its description.”

Buy it: Amazon

Outdoor Heaters

6. Mr. Heater Portable Buddy; $104

Mr. Heater/Amazon

Make outdoor activities like camping and grilling last longer with Mr. Heater’s indoor/outdoor portable heater. This heater can connect to a propane tank or to a disposable cylinder, allowing you to keep it in one place or take it on the go. With such a versatile range of uses, this heater will—true to its name—become your best buddy when the temperature starts to drop.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiland Pyramid Patio Propane Heater; Various

Hiland/Amazon

The cold’s got nothing on this powerful outdoor heater. Hiland’s patio heater has a whopping 40,000 BTU output, which runs for eight to 10 hours on high heat. Simply open the heater’s bottom door to insert a propane tank, power it on, and sit back to let it warm up your backyard. The bright, contained flame from the propane doubles as an outdoor light.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Solo Stove Bonfire Pit; $345

Solo Stove/Amazon

This one is a slight cheat since it’s a bonfire pit and not a traditional outdoor heater, but the Solo Stove has a 4.7-star rating on Amazon for a reason. Everything about this portable fire pit is meticulously crafted to maximize airflow while it's lit, from its double-wall construction to its bottom air vents. These features all work together to help the logs burn more completely while emitting far less smoke than other pits. It’s the best choice for anyone who wants both warmth and ambiance on their patio.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Dr. Infrared Garage Shop Heater; $119

Dr. Infrared/Amazon

You’ll be able to use your garage or basement workshop all season long with this durable heater from Dr. Infrared. It’s unique in that it includes a built-in fan to keep warm air flowing—something that’s especially handy if you need to work without wearing gloves. The fan is overlaid with heat and finger-protectant grills, keeping you safe while it’s powered on.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Mr. Heater 540 Degree Tank Top; $86

Mr. Heater/Amazon

Mr. Heater’s clever propane tank top automatically connects to its fuel source, saving you from having to bring any extra attachments with you on the road. With three heat settings that can get up to 45,000 BTU, the top can rotate 360 degrees to give you the perfect angle of heat you need to stay cozy. According to a reviewer, for a no-fuss outdoor heater, “This baby is super easy to light, comes fully assembled … and man, does it put out the heat.”

Buy it: Amazon

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6 Punctuation Marks Hated by Famous Authors

F. Scott Fitzgerald was not a fan of the exclamation mark.
F. Scott Fitzgerald was not a fan of the exclamation mark.
ChristianChan/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Punctuation marks are not the most important tools in a writer's toolkit, but writers can develop some strong opinions about them. Here are six punctuation marks that famous authors grew to hate.

1. The Oxford Comma

The Oxford comma, also known as the serial comma, inspires passionate emotions on both sides, but more frequently on the pro side. James Thurber, a writer for The New Yorker and author of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, made a case against the Oxford comma to his editor Harold Ross, in a discussion of the phrase “the red, white, and blue.” Thurber complained that “all those commas make the flag seemed rained on. They give it a furled look. Leave them out, and Old Glory is flung to the breeze, as it should be.”

2. The Comma

Gertrude Stein had no use for the Oxford comma, or any kind of comma at all, finding the use of them “degrading.” In her Lectures in America, she said, “Commas are servile and they have no life of their own … A comma by helping you along and holding your coat for you and putting on your shoes keeps you from living your life as actively as you should lead it.”

3. The Question Mark

The comma wasn't the only piece of punctuation Stein took issue with; she also objected to the question mark [PDF], finding it “positively revolting” and of all the punctuation marks “the completely most uninteresting.” There was no reason for it since “a question is a question, anybody can know that a question is a question and so why add to it the question mark when it is already there when the question is already there in the writing.”

4. The Exclamation Point

In Beloved Infidel, Sheilah Graham’s memoir of her time with F. Scott Fitzgerald in his later years, she describes the things she learned from him about life and writing. In a red-pen critique of a script she had written, he told her to “Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.”

5. The Apostrophe

Playwright George Bernard Shaw thought apostrophes were unnecessary and declined to use them in words like don’t, doesn’t, I’ve, that’s, and weren’t. He did use them for words like I’ll and he’ll, where the apostrophe-less version might have caused confusion. He made clear his disdain for the little marks in his Notes on the Clarendon Press Rules for Compositors and Readers, where he said, “There is not the faintest reason for persisting in the ugly and silly trick of peppering pages with these uncouth bacilli.”

6. The Semicolon

Kurt Vonnegut, in his essay “Here Is a Lesson in Creative Writing” (published in the book A Man Without a Country), comes out forcefully against the semicolon in his first rule: “Never use semicolons.” He insults them as representing “absolutely nothing” and claims “all they do is show you’ve been to college.” Semicolon lovers can take heart in the fact that he may have been kidding a little bit—after using a semicolon later in the book, Vonnegut noted, “Rules take us only so far. Even good rules.”