Some of the controversies that have arisen concern the game itself and its alleged impact on those who play it, and others concern business issues at the game's original publisher, TSR, Inc., now owned by Wizards of the Coast.
At various times in its history, Dungeons & Dragons has received negative publicity for alleged promotion of such practices as devil worship, witchcraft, suicide, and murder. In the 1980s especially, some religious groups accused the game of encouraging interest in sorcery and demons. Throughout the history of roleplaying games, many of these criticisms have been aimed specifically at Dungeons & Dragons, but touch on the genre of fantasy roleplaying games as a whole.
The concept of Dungeons & Dragons as somehow demonic was also linked to the concept of satanic ritual abuse (SRA), in that both presumed the existence of large, organized Satanic cults and societies. Sources such as the famous Dark Dungeons tract from Chick Publications portray D&D as a recruitment tool for these organizations.
When her lawsuits were dismissed, she founded BADD and began publishing information circulating her belief that D&D encouraged devil worship and suicide. BADD described D&D as "a fantasy role-playing game which uses demonology, witchcraft, voodoo, murder, rape, blasphemy, suicide, assassination, insanity, sex perversion, homosexuality, prostitution, satanic type rituals, gambling, barbarism, cannibalism, sadism, desecration, demon summoning, necromantics, divination and other teachings."
All of her related suits lost in court. Ms. Pulling was also the author of a book, The Devil's Web: Who Is Stalking Your Children For Satan? published by Vital Issues Press in August 1989 (ISBN 0-910311-59-5).
The first article, which cited Patricia Pulling as a source, summarized D&D as "a feeding program for occultism and witchcraft [which] violates the commandment of I Ths. 5:22 'Abstain from all appearance of evil.'" It continued on to suggest that rituals described in the game were actually capable of summoning demons and other real-world effects, though the books themselves describe no such detailed mechanics for any spell or ritual. It also took elements of the books out of context. For example the book states that, "the Dungeon Master's Guide gives the celebrated Adolf Hitler as an example of a real historical person that exhibited D&D charisma!" While this is technically true, the book never suggests that Hitler is "celebrated", nor that he is a model of an acceptable D&D character. The passage in the book (the 1st edition Dungeon Masters Guide, p. 15) is intended to distinguish the D&D attribute of Charisma from physical beauty. It cites Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte and Adolf Hitler as examples of individuals who were not notably attractive, but were notably high in persuasiveness and personal magnetism, and thus would have high Charisma in the D&D sense. There is no connection in D&D between Charisma and whether a character is good or evil (good and evil are part of a separate attribute, Alignment).
The second article took a subtler approach, and refrained from statements of the original such as "pain and torture are heavily involved in sadistic, sexual situations [which] stresses the defilement of innocence". Instead, it focused on the supposed contrast between the Christian world-view and the fantasy worldview of Dungeons & Dragons, suggesting that "being exposed to all these ideas of magic to the degree that the game requires cannot but help have a significant impact on the minds of the players."
A well-publicized search for Egbert began, and his parents hired private investigator William Dear to seek out their son. Dear knew nothing about Dungeons & Dragons at that time, but speculated to the press that Egbert had gotten lost in the steam tunnels during a live-action version of the game. The press largely reported the story as fact, which served as the kernel of a persistent rumor regarding such "steam tunnel incidents". Egbert's suicide attempts, including his successful suicide the following year (by self-inflicted gunshot) had no connection whatsoever to D&D, being brought on by his being depressed and under great stress.
Rona Jaffe published Mazes and Monsters in 1981, a thinly disguised fictionalization of the press exaggerations of the Egbert case. In an era when very few people understood role-playing games it seemed plausible to the public that a player might experience a psychotic episode and lose touch with reality during role-playing. The book saw adaptation into a made-for-television movie in 1982 starring Tom Hanks, and the publicity surrounding both the novel and film version served to heighten the public's unease regarding role-playing games.
Dear later revealed the truth of the incident in his 1984 book The Dungeon Master, in which he repudiated the link between D&D and Egbert's disappearance. Dear acknowledged that Egbert's domineering father had more to do with his problems than his interest in role-playing games.
Hobgoblin is a 1981 novel by horror and suspense writer John Coyne which also cashed in on the angst about the Egbert incident, and D&D and fantasy role-playing games in general. This thriller is about a young man, Scott Gardiner, who is traumatized by the sudden death of his father and by his mother's decision to take a job as caretaker of an isolated estate called Ballycastle. Ostracized by his peers at the local high school, Scott takes refuge in Hobgoblin, a role-playing game based on Irish mythology. As the novel progresses, Scott comes to identify more and more with his character, Brian Boru, frequently thinking of himself as Brian. In an attempt to improve relations with his schoolmates, Scott throws a Hobgoblin-themed costume party at Ballycastle. Tragedy strikes when the supposedly-dead former owner of Ballycastle--now hopelessly deranged--arrives at the party, killing several guests and Scott's mother. Scott--in his Brian Boru persona--kills the murderer using the weapons he carries as part of his costume.
A 2005 comedy from Scotland directed by Robbie Fraser (USA title: GamerZ: One Game to Rule Them All), this film blends fantasy and reality in such a way that they intertwine but remain distinct. The idea in this film is that the gaming by the young characters actually helps them to understand, grapple with, and successfully overcome their difficulties in reality without suicide pacts or killing rampages, a reversal of the argument about D&D fantasy scenarios being dangerous and damaging influences on youth.
Chris Pritchard had a long history of mutual antagonism with his stepfather, and state investigators learned over the course of a year that Pritchard had developed some unhealthy associations at NCSU. Pritchard had a known history for alcohol and drug use. But the NC state authorities also seized on his role-playing group after a 'game map' depicting the von Stein house turned up as physical evidence. Pritchard's friends Gerald Neal Henderson and James "Moog" Upchurch III were implicated in a plot to help Pritchard kill his stepfather. All three young men went to state prison in 1990. Henderson and Pritchard have since been paroled. Upchurch's death sentence was commuted to life in 1992; he is serving his term.
True crime authors such as Joe McGinniss and Jerry Bledsoe played up the role-playing angle. Much attention was given to Upchurch's influence and power as Dungeon Master. Bledsoe's book, Blood Games, was made into a TV movie, Honor Thy Mother, in 1992. That same year, McGinniss' book was adapted into a two part TV miniseries, Cruel Doubt. The latter film featured real role-playing game materials, doctored to imply they had caused the murders.
Even outside of the context of BADD, researchers have investigated the emotional impact of Dungeons & Dragons since the 1980s. A number of studies have shown that depression and suicidal tendencies are not typically associated with role players, feelings of alienation are not associated with the mainstream player (though those who are deeply, and often financially, committed to the game do tend to have these feelings), and according to one study there is "no significant correlation between years of playing the game and emotional stability.
Gygax himself became embroiled in a political struggle for control of TSR and disputes related to the company’s deteriorating financial situation in the early 1980s. The disagreements culminated in a court battle and Gygax’s decision to sell his ownership interest in the company in 1985.
Grimoire Games, which published David A. Hargrave's multi-volume Arduin series, had no such license. When presented with a cease and desist order regarding the use of TSR's trademarks, Grimoire was forced to rely on white-out and typing correction tape to mask its use of AD&D references in subsequent printings of the Arduin series.
TSR itself ran afoul of intellectual property law with respect to the Cthulhu Mythos and Melnibonéan Mythos it had included in early versions of the Deities & Demigods manual. These problems were ultimately resolved by excising the material from later editions of the book. Similarly, references in early TSR publications to certain creatures from J.R.R. Tolkien's mythical Middle-earth were also removed or altered due to intellectual property concerns. For example, TSR replaced all references to the race of Hobbits in D&D with their alternate name, Halflings - which was also coined by Tolkien but judged by TSR to be non-infringing.