Over a dozen years ago, William Schnoebelen wrote Straight Talk on Dungeons and Dragons1, an article claiming to prove that D&D is a ploy to attract young people into Satanism and the occult. The author backs up these claims by citing himself as an expert in Satanism, but there's a simple logical flaw in his argument - he's not an expert in D&D, not by a long shot.

Take this quote as an example:

"Now, the question becomes—if a person "innocently" works an authentic ritual that conjures up a demon, or curses someone; thinking that they are only playing a game-might not the ritual still have efficacy?"

Schnoebelen fails to realise the difference between "actual" satanic demon-summoning rituals, and fictional creature-summoning in a game. For those of you not familiar with D&D, let me explain how a player might go about "summoning a demon".

Player: "I cast summon monster v, to summon a quasit."
DM: "A small, horned creature appears in a flash of fire, and charges at your enemy with his claws flailing."2

Maybe it's just me, but I fail to see how merely stating that a fictional game character takes a certain action, can make it true in the real world. (If it was, we would see huge red-skinned trident-wielding monsters rampaging through our cities.) Nobody who knew D&D could fail to make this distinction. The result? Schnoebelen quite literally doesn't know what he's talking about.

He goes on to state that the D&D rules give Adolf Hitler as an example of a person with high Charisma. This is true, if I recall correctly, at least for earlier versions of the D&D rules. However, fuzzy logic creeps in when Schnoebelen uses the Hitler reference to prove that D&D promotes evil values. In reality, the game does not actually suggest that players take Hitler as a role-model - it merely states that Hitler was persuasive and a natural leader, which is what D&D Charisma represents.

One of the most vicious rumors about D&D is that it has caused players to go nuts and kill themself. The article perpetuates this rumour, giving a list of D&D players who reportedly killed themself or others because of the game. This evidence might hold water, except that there's often little or nothing actually connecting the deaths to D&D. (After all, Adolf Hitler was a Christian - does this prove that he was a good person, or that all Christians are murderers?) There is of course, a more logical reason.

It's an unfortunate fact that each year, thousands of depressed, misunderstood teenagers take their own lives. Often, these people are social outcasts - the ones who get picked on at school by the popular kids for being different. Coincidentally, this same demographic of social outcasts make up much of D&D's teenage playerbase (the "cool kids" play sports, not roleplaying games). Statistically, therefore, teenage D&D players are slightly more likely to commit suicide than their well-adjusted popular counterparts - and it's got nothing to do with the game itself.

Schnoebelen is looking at D&D from the point of view of someone well-versed in the occult, and so he's taking the game out of context. Magic, curses and demon-summoning all mean different things to a true occultist than they do to a gamer - where an occultist performs actual rituals which he believes to be magical, a game player merely rolls some dice, knowing clearly that the game is fictional. An interviewer could ask an occultist to explain how a certain magical ritual is performed in great detail, but at a D&D game the player has no such knowledge, able only to say "My character casts a maximized fireball, dealing 60 points of damage".

In his enthusiasm, Schnoebelen seems to have glossed over the distinction between player and character, the most basic concept of any role-playing game. Sounds to me like he was too busy freaking out after finding all those "demons" in the Monstrous Manual.

sabby writes to remind me that William Schnoebelen also writes for Chick Publications, the organization that publishes the Dark Dungeons anti-D&D booklet. See also: Chick Tracts.

1 http://www.chick.com/articles/dnd.asp
2 Yes, I know it takes a full round action to cast summon monster v, affording the caster's enemy one round in which to act before the spellcasting finishes and the quasit appears, which is significant because if said enemy deals damage to the caster it forces him to make a difficult concentration check which if failed means that he loses the spell and is unable to finish casting or cast the spell again until he prepares it again the next day. I'm just not pedantic.