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The FBI kept a list of D&D players as part of its hunt for the Unabomber

For a time, top cops considered Gary Gygax himself to be armed and dangerous

Federal Bureau of Investigations
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Newly released documents from the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) shed light on what the nation’s top cops thought of the Dungeons & Dragons scene in the 80s and 90s.

Five separate sets of documents were released as the result of a FOIA request made about a year ago by Reason’s C.J. Ciaramella. They asked for any FBI records regarding D&D’s previous parent company, TSR. A couple of dozen redacted pages came back last week, all of which are posted on Muckrock.

The first, dated 1983, has to do with “significant cocaine traffickers in the Lake Geneva, Wisconsin area.” The birthplace of D&D was, and still is, a sleepy lakeside town just over the Illinois border. An FBI agent rooting around there for drug traffickers seems pretty far fetched, but the report appears to be genuine.

D&D co-creator Gary Gygax is named in the document, but whatever the FBI’s interest in him was has been redacted. It ended with a note that the FBI would proceed to “review corporate records for TSR, Inc. in effort to identify corporate officers and attorney of record.” A second document, dated March 1984, seems to show the FBI doing its due diligence to make sure that TSR was a publishing company and not a front for cocaine trafficking.

The third, fourth and fifth documents are where things start to get weird.

An FBI report dated September 27, 1995 indicates that the agency was investigating a group of roleplayers in connection with the hunt for the Unabomber, who was captured the following year.
Federal Bureau of Investigations

It appears that in 1995 the FBI made a sincere effort to investigate a group of D&D players. It suspected them of having a connection with the Unabomber, a terrorist named Theodore Kaczynski who spent the better part of two decades mailing people explosives.

Step one was to dig back into the past of TSR and the role-playing hobby as a whole. In so doing, the FBI put together a pretty decent three-page history, if I do say so myself. It also came up with a list of armed and dangerous individuals who were “known members of the Dungeons & Dragons” that it pulled from TSR’s own computer system.

The final page of the September 1995 report released to the public last week via FOIA. The attached list of names has been redacted in its entirety.
Federal Bureau of Investigations

Another document, dated May 1995, seems to have been produced on background to profile TSR’s legal and financial troubles, of which there were many. A lengthy section profiles D&D co-creator Gary Gygax himself.

A portion of an FBI document dated May 1995 mentions personal details of D&D co-creator Gary Gygax.
Federal Bureau of Investigations

He’s described as “eccentric and frightening,” potentially armed and as a “known member of the Libertarian Party.”

The document also mentions an FBI visit with a gaming group in Fresno, California. Members of the group were shown pictures of one of the Unabomber’s explosive devices and asked if they recognized an individual from a “composite drawing.” This is likely the iconic image of the man in a hood circulated for more than a decade prior to Kaczynski’s arrest.

The widely-disseminated sketch of the Unabomber, used by the FBI in the years leading up to his arrest in 1996.
Federal Bureau of Investigations

The final document, the most heavily redacted of the bunch, is dated April 1995. It seems to focus on an interview with a single individual at TSR, and centers around that person’s relationship with another individual in their gaming group.

“Many of the members of the group became paranoid,” the agent writes, “and began pointing fingers at one another. [The interview subject] indicated that he believes this is based on the suspicious nature of the individuals that were in the gaming group [and] indicated that he is quite sure that some of the members of the group fantasized about the possibility that maybe one of their members was responsible for the bombings.”

And that’s where the documents leave off.

TSR was purchased in 1997 by Wizards of the Coast, largely with the wealth generated by their smash hit collectible card game Magic: The Gathering. Gary Gygax passed away in 2008. D&D, the game that he helped bring into the world, is now in its 5th edition and is more popular than ever before. The Unabomber was captured in 1996, after a 17-year manhunt, inside a primitive cabin in Lincoln, Montana. He is currently incarcerated in a maximum security federal prison in Colorado.

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