A Jack T. Chick tract, from 1984.

This tract has always been my favorite Chick tract - simply due to the fact that it gets somewhat out of bounds, has very, very little to do with reality (as usual JTC has no idea what he's talking of). I really hope someone organizes a role playing convention and orders a bunch of these to give to people - and I guess someone already has done that =)

The tract is aimed at Dungeons and Dragons and other role-playing games. The cover has some dark fantasy tones; a castle, a ghostly eeeevil person, and some red on otherwise black and white picture (especially black and white).

The tract opens with a depiction of a game session; youngsters gathered around table, with some sort of map grid and miniatures on the table, and the Dungeon Master sitting behind a cardboard screen. The game, according to the picture in the screen, is called "Dark Dungeons".

Now, of course, the session is somewhat unrealistic. They got the amount of drink cans right, but players aren't really handling any papers (except for a couple of people with notebooks). Also, the first panel gets the whole refereeing thing completely around; DM says "Okay, Wizard, cast your spell!" and player responds with "Okay, Dungeon Master. My spell of light blinds the monster." Usually, description of spell effects is DM's responsibility...

Second panel shows more bad DMing; the DM just says Black Leaf the Thief (now there's a fantastic fantasy name...) didn't notice the poison trap and she's dead. Obviously, Marcie, the player, is somewhat shocked; Debbie, one of the players, can't be blamed for showing too much compassion ("Get out of here. You're dead!"). If I were a DM, I would at least give the other players a shot at trying to find an antidote, but hey...

So much for actual RPG content. In third panel, JTC starts to unravel the secrets of the roleplayers. The DM tells Debbie that her cleric is now at 8th level - it's time for Debbie to learn how to really cast spells.

The intense occult training through D&D prepared Debbie to accept the invitation to enter a witches' coven

(What kind of sentence is that? "I would like to ask a permission to ask a permission to ask you when the lunch is served today?" =)

Debbie gets introduced to a shady bunch of robe-wearing people, and is now referred to by her cleric character's name, Elfstar. (Thief called Black Leaf? Cleric called Elfstar? What's next, a chaotic evil dwarf fighter called Frolics in the Branches?)

Of course, JTC fails to tell what in reality is the connection between "occult religions" and D&D. There have been reports (particularly from fundamentalist Christians) that D&D had been used as part of Satan worshipping rituals, but since I'm not an expert of Satan worshipping, I fail to understand exactly how a game like D&D promotes Satan worshipping (after all, most game plots are good players vs. evil monsters), and exactly how could D&D be used in Satan worshipping rituals! On the contrary: D&D is a game set in fictional world, and the game supplements never exactly tell how the spells actually work or how they're cast; They describe demons and spiritual entities, but not how they're actually summoned. I have heard just disagreeing comments from real "occultists" who laughed at the very idea of games having any use in rituals. Obviously, people who claim they're Satan worshippers may do all sorts of idiotic stuff when they're drunk, like break tombstones or pay for TSR material, but that doesn't mean they're real satan worshippers.

(And can't they take their pick? They first called the game "Dark Dungeons", then D&D - or did TSR actually produce a game setting for D&D called Dark Dungeons? Well, knowing the severe reality holes in JTC's game knowledge, this was a pretty dumb question).

Elfstar learns to cast real spells - the first spell was a mind bondage spell to make her father to buy more D&D stuff. (In Nethack terms: "I want to Wish for a cursed throughoutly rusty -6 crysknife named Excalibor (doh)!" I guess that at the time of publication, no one could buy $200 worth of T$R material without feeling sick =)

Later that week, we see a flash of more D&D gaming. The GM answers the phone, it's Marcie again - and Debbie can't answer because she's fighting a Zombie - with no other players in sight! (Again, I'd suggest that the DM would not let the players to do everything themselves, even alone...)

Debbie finally sees Marcie - who was so disappointed by this crappy DMing that she hung herself. (It remains debatable whether or not this kind of suicides has actually happened - and while loss of good character can be painful (says pen name "million YASDs in Nethack" =), most people can overcome it.) Marcie's suicide note says she blames herself for Black Leaf's death. The logic of the plot gets even more twisted now: Debbie now blames herself for Marcie's death, and says if she'd left the game Marcie would be alive. (Yes, if left all alone to fight a zombie on paper, I'd rather go to talk to depressed friends...)

The DM suggests that Debbie should be more concerned of her own spiritual growth, but Debbie disagrees ("I don't want to be Elfstar, I want to be Debbie!").

Debbie then meets a Good Christian who has been "praying and fasting" for Debbie's life and calls this affair a "spiritual warfare". He leads Debbie to listen to a speaker who tells about the evils of witchcraft.

You, who are involved in the occult, think you have achieved power. But you have been trapped in a dungeon of bondage. The limited power you have been given is only bait to lure you to destruction...

...

Then, according to Acts 19:19 you should gather up all your occult paraphernalia, like your rock music, occult books, charms, Dungeons and Dragons material. Don't throw them away. Burn them! We'll do that here tonight.

The single most quoted line in this tract - and also the funniest. What is in Acts 19:19? It describes how "many of (Jews and Greeks of Ephesus) also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men" - which, to me, only sounds like a statement of history rather than a direct order, and also says "many of", not "every one of". Of course, some people do everything by the book, even when not directly ordered to in it... people do have the tendency to overreact.

Debbie comes to the preacher, who orders the occult spirits to leave (yes, it's also shown graphically so that the slowest of the bunch can see it for themselves)... and then, they burn the whole pile of "this filth of Satan".

It might be worth noting that Niilo Paasivirta (the author of the fundie-parodying "Love Thy Neighbor! RPGs are sin" page did his own version of the tract, called "Dungeons of Light". The cover has a castle and a knight in bright daylight; The plot is about a vicar who comes to see a real RPG session, all of his prejudice about the game gets dispelled by the gamers, and he thinks RPGs are a good hobby and promises to use the games in sunday school - and later, the gamers return to the basement to tell these good news to Lord Satan! =)

(Oh yeah: I am Christian, do support scientific theories, believe in freedom of religion, play RPGs, CRPGs and strategy games, and don't think white magic (or Perl) is evil - it's all well, but now Minsc leads; swords for everyone! =)

Dark Dungeons is also in the process of being made into a feature film.

Amazingly, Jack Chick has given his blessing for his tract to be made into a film, and the initial trailer looks amazing. Zombie Orpheus films will be releasing the movie direct to DVD or via download on August 14, 2014.

As with most adaptations, it's appears to be not 100% faithful to the source material. Debbie and Marcie arrive in college, where a frat-party atmosphere surrounds the RPG, complete with Central Casting frat-jocks leading chants of "RPG! RPG!" as dice, figurines and candles are set upon tables while beers are consumed. There are characters not seen in the tract, complete with a troubled professor and a do-gooder college senior who warns the pair against the game. There is nothing in this expansion of the story that deviates in spirit from the source tract - it merely changes the venue slightly and allows for greater expansion of the dark progress of the gamers. It appears to be true in spirit, which counts.

There seems to be an amplification of the theme of redemption, including a dramatic conversion in a church for the surviving character, the dead "thief" appearing in spectral form, and a blurring of reality and fantasy as what appears to be game-induced effects spilling over into the real world, including people being chased in realistic dungeon settings and someone warning about the subconscious killing people. There is also a dramatic slow-mo shot of dice being poured out along with blood, the head witch "casting spells" including Elvish runes, and a mention of Cthulhu and the Necronomicon.

From the website of the producers: "Rallsfilm obtained the rights to make a Dark Dungeons movie through a remarkable series of events, including but not limited to a winning lottery ticket, a generous offer from the worlds most popular comic book artist, and a team up with ZOE after they finally saw the need to make a movie about the evils of RPGing."

It appears to be played "straight", albeit more along the lines of teen-horror-film campiness rather than mockery of Jack Chick's source material. That Chick allowed this film to be made at all, never mind with his blessing, shows that he well understands that though people might giggle and laugh at the resulting film it will bring his tract back into the public view.

Needless to say, the production values appear to be quite high, and the special effects more than acceptable. The acting, done straight, is of high caliber and the actors involved are clearly taking the source material seriously. As a result, it will probably end up being a cult film, no pun intended.

The trailer is here

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