Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Mercenaries, Spies & Private Eyes

Thanks to the OD&D message boards, I came across the website of William C. Dear, the private investigator hired to look into the disappearance of Michigan State University student James Dallas Egbert III in 1979. The website is surprisingly spare and unimpressive for this day and age, but I suspect Dear gets by on his reputation for being involved in high-profile investigations.

I remember the Egbert case quite clearly, because my father was following the story in the newspapers and magazines at the time. His interest in the story was what got my mother to buy a copy of the Holmes Basic Set, believing (incorrectly) that Dad would want to see the game for himself. Instead, the game sat in the hall linen closet unopened until Christmas. So, strangely, all the negative publicity about D&D turned out to be a catalyst for my becoming involved in the game -- an irony that was probably not lost on TSR, whose sales almost certainly increased due to the notoriety the Egbert case provided, even if they'd much rather have avoided the negative publicity that came with it.

Dear wrote a book called The Dungeon Master that chronicles his involvement in the Egbert case and which was published in 1984. I read it many years ago and found it a very odd document, mostly because Dear's experiences playing D&D (in order to understand what James Egbert might have been thinking) were so alien to my own, both then and now. But then roleplaying has always been a hobby whose participants often play the game in wildly divergent ways -- none moreso than D&D. I should see if I can hunt down a copy and read it again. I wonder if I might have a different reaction to it now than I did previously.

10 comments:

  1. I've always wanted to read The Dungeon Master, if only because I want to see what Dear's own take on the harmfulness (or otherwise) of D&D actually is. From what I know of the case, I get the impression that he was just a guy doing his job and the D&D theory was something he cooked up and then discarded once it proved fruitless, but which the media blew up out of all proportion. He certainly seems to have had a difficult juggling act in between keeping Egbert's confidence and clearing up the public misunderstandings about the case.

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  2. I get the impression that he was just a guy doing his job and the D&D theory was something he cooked up and then discarded once it proved fruitless, but which the media blew up out of all proportion.

    This is my recollection of reading the book as well. It was pretty clear to me that James Egbert was a very troubled young man and D&D was just one aspect -- and a small one -- of his rather unhappy life. Still, the book is intriguing because of the glimpse it offers of how D&D was played in the late 70s in and around Michigan State.

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  3. There are several copies of the book available on eBay for well under 10 bucks.

    I re-read it last year, actually. It is a funny little book. It focuses a lot on the D&D aspects of the investigation and some of Dallas' supposed risk-taking stunts such as trestling, and then all of a sudden the investigation takes a totally different turn and ends up being kind of mundane.

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  4. After clicking around on this guy's Web site, I'm convinced I could port him directly into a Call of Cthulhu game as an NPC. He even sells instructional videos about how to investigate!

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  5. Great. Now I have an overwhelming urge to go and see if Mothers Against Dungeons & Dragons or Bothered About Dungeons & Dragons is still active and has a web presence...

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  6. I'm convinced I could port him directly into a Call of Cthulhu game as an NPC

    I might use his picture for my next two-fisted gumshoe CoC character.

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  7. I might use his picture for my next two-fisted gumshoe CoC character.

    He does have that look about him, doesn't he? :)

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  8. Mike: As you've perhaps discovered, as table-top players have drifted off to video games, terrified anti-gaming advocates have followed: MAVAV.

    BADD appears to have been mainly Patricia Pulling's one-woman effort, inactive since her death in 1997.

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  9. Yeah, he wasn't an anti-gaming zealot or anything. He also looks into other avenues like the local gay community (Eggbert was gay) and the notion that he was hit by a train while trestling.

    The book is pretty noteworthy for creepy/cool descriptions of the universite steam tunnels. Real world underground labyrinths are just so awesome.

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  10. You do realize the title of this blog entry got me all excited for an entry about the actual Mercenaries, Spies & Private Eyes game? You pulled the old bait and switch on me!

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