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Castles and Cauldrons

Posted by WJWalton on Tue 19 of April, 2011 10:51 PDT
Hooper from the Quilt City O.G.R.E.S. left a message on The Escapist's Facebook page yesterday to let me know about an unusual occurrence. Someone on the Focus on the Family forums expressed a concern about their children getting involved in role-playing games, and another forum user replied with a link to the O.G.R.E.S.' RPG Myths page, a page made from various 'clippings' from The Escapist.

What makes this unusual is that Focus on the Family isn't what you would call a RPG-friendly organization. In fact, on August 4th and 11th, 1990, they aired a two-part episode of their radio drama series "Adventures in Odyssey" about the imagined dangers of RPGs.

I was reminded of this when Hooper left his message yesterday, and I did a search to see if I could find recordings of the episodes somewhere. As it turns out, FotF sells individual episodes on their website, and the Castles & Cauldrons episodes can be had for just a couple bucks each. I considered purchasing them to review them on the site, but I have a hard time giving even a few dollars to an organization like Focus on the Family.

The good news is that a pretty good synopsis of the episodes can be found on the site:

The Barclays have a visitor for the summer: Len, George's nephew. Jimmy is excited to have his cousin stay with them, especially when Len shows Jimmy a new game called Castles & Cauldrons-- it's even better than Zapazoids. Castles & Cauldrons (C & C) is a fantasy role-playing game. The players become medieval characters who use battle skills and other means to conquer their enemies. Len is "Luthor the Magician," and he names Jimmy "Jondel the Apprentice." Jimmy thinks the game is harmless-until Len takes it a step further, and imagination starts becoming reality. Plastic swords ring with the sound of steel; epic battles are fought against the forces of darkness and won. Jimmy is amazed by these things, but Len wants him to go further still, into incantations, spells, and conjuring-which sounds suspiciously like black magic. What's worse, Len swears Jimmy to silence. He's not to tell anybody about the game, especially his parents or Whit, because "they won't understand."

Whit suspects something is wrong with Jimmy after he and Len visit Whit's End acting strangely. One night, Donna's doll is mysteriously ripped apart, and she blames Jimmy and Len. Whit questions her about the boys' activities. Then George tells Jimmy that Len didn't come to Odyssey just to visit them. His parents thought it would be healthy for Len to get away from a "questionable group of friends." That night, Jimmy and Len go camping out in the forest. Len decides to include Jimmy in the ultimate C & C initiation: a ritual to summon Shalman, the most powerful magician of all. Len starts the ritual. Jimmy resists, but Len gets so caught up in it, he begins forcing Jimmy to participate. Just before things get ugly, Whit and George show up to put a stop to the ritual-and to Castles & Cauldrons. Whit destroys the game. Len gets some professional help. The Barclay family retuns back to normal, and everyone realizes that even Odyssey isn't immune from Satan's wiles.


In another description of the episode, it is mentioned that a cat possessed by some sort of evil spirit is the one who ripped Donna's doll apart, Whit becomes filled with an inexplicable feeling of dread, and a roast in the oven begins to smoke - all clear signs that something sinister is afoot at Whit's End.

(You heard right - Whit's End. I would be remiss if I didn't point out the irony that this and every other episode of Adventures in Odyssey take place in a town seemingly named for the state of mind that most of its citizens must be in, due to the weekly barrage of evil that assaults them in every episode.)

The bad news is, according to the listings on the site, FotF is still airing these 20 year old episodes - the most recent airing happened on January 4th and 5th of this year. So even though someone lurking in the FotF forums seems to have a level head when it comes to RPGs, the organization itself is still promoting ideas like:

- RPGs make imagination become reality
- RPGs involve real magic that the players - not the characters - participate in
- RPGs involve "initiations"
- RPG players have to keep their games secret from parents and other authority figures
- gaming groups are "questionable" people
- playing an RPG can make all sorts of strange supernatural things happen around you
- it's perfectly okay to take someone else's belongings and destroy them if you suspect that those belongings might be evil
- people who play RPGs act strangely and need professional help

Discussion questions are included on the site for parents, educators, and anyone else who is using these episodes for lessons, but they don't seem to be intended for any sort of open and objective discussion - one of them is "Why is it a bad idea to play games like Castles & Cauldrons?"

Here's a discussion question I would like to suggest: Actors and actresses play roles all of the time, in movies, television, and even on the radio. If it is wrong to play a role in a fantasy RPG, why is it okay to play a role in a radio drama of a character that is playing a role in a fantasy RPG?

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