D&D and Transgression
“Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies,
But stranger still is
While many people have forgotten it now, Dungeons & Dragons once stirred up its own brand of parental anxiety and attendant media controversy. Back in the early 1980s, when the game first broke out of its rather small original niche and into the wider culture, many people found cause to worry about it. Christians believed that it encouraged occultism. Some parents, watching their kids spending hours and hours playing it and being preoccupied/consumed with it (I remember experiencing this kind of original fugue state the game could inspire), became concerned that the game could cause psychological damage to their children.
In The City…
Although lamps burn along the silent streets,
Even when moonlight silvers empty squares
The dark holds countless lanes and close retreats;
But when the night its sphereless mantle wears
The open spaces yawn with gloom abysmal,
The sombre mansions loom immense and dismal,
The lanes are black as subterranean lairs.
And soon the eye a strange new vision learns:
The night remains for it as dark and dense,
Yet clearly in this darkness it discerns
As in the daylight with its natural sense;
Perceives a shade in shadow not obscurely,
Pursues a stir of black in blackness surely,
Sees spectres also in the gloom intense.
The ear, too, with the silence vast and deep
Becomes familiar though unreconciled;
Hears breathings as of hidden life asleep,
And muffled throbs as of pent passions wild,
Far murmurs, speech of pity or derision;
but all more dubious than the things of vision,
So that it knows not when it is beguiled.
No time abates the first despair and awe,
But wonder ceases soon; the weirdest thing
Is felt least strange beneath the lawless law
Where Death-in-Life is the eternal king;
Crushed impotent beneath this reign of terror,
Dazed with mysteries of woe and error,
The soul is too outworn for wondering.
– J. “B.V.” T
“Beneath the city, there is yet another city: wet and dark and strange; a city of sewers and moist scuttling creatures and running rivers so desperate to be free not even Styx fits them. And in that lost city beneath the city, I found the child.”
– Harlan Ellison
The Judges Guild’s “Wraith Overlord” module was an attempt to create a mega-dungeon, or series of linked underground adventures, under the famous City State of the Invincible Overlord. This publication was issued late in the company’s history and, while currently fetching high prices online, nevertheless has a rather mixed reputation. After all, people assume that the dungeon to the City State should be at least as detailed and interesting as the city above it. That is a high bar to get over indeed.