James Dallas Egbert III

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James Dallas Egbert III
Born(1962-10-29)October 29, 1962[1]
DiedAugust 16, 1980(1980-08-16) (aged 17)
OccupationCollege student

James Dallas Egbert III (October 29, 1962 – August 16, 1980) was a student at Michigan State University who disappeared from his dormitory room on August 15, 1979. The disappearance was widely reported in the press, and his participation in the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons was seized upon by press and investigators alike as being potentially related to his disappearance, propelling the previously obscure game to nationwide attention.[3]


Egbert was born in Dayton, Ohio and grew up in Huber Heights, a Dayton suburb, attending Wayne High School.[4] He was a child prodigy, and entered Michigan State University at age 16, where he majored in computer science. Personal problems cited in the reports of his suicide attempt and disappearance include depression, loneliness, parental pressure, drug addiction, and (according to detective William Dear) difficulty in coming to terms with his homosexuality.[4]


On August 15, 1979, after writing a suicide note,[5] Egbert left his dormitory room at Case Hall and entered the university's steam tunnels.[4] He consumed some methaqualone, intending to commit suicide, but the attempt proved unsuccessful. After waking up the next day, he went into hiding at a friend's house.[6] Gen Con XII, a convention dedicated to table-top role playing, began that day and some attendees reported that they may have seen him at the con.[7]


A police search for Egbert began. The story was followed widely in the news media after Michael Stuart, a journalist for the university's newspaper, The State News, published details.[citation needed] Egbert's parents hired a private investigator, William Dear, to find their son. Knowing little about fantasy role-playing games, Dear theorized that Egbert's disappearance was related to his involvement with the Dungeons & Dragons game, a possibility further promoted in subsequent news media.[8][9] Students were reported to play live-action sessions of the game in the steam tunnels below the school, and it was speculated that Egbert was injured or otherwise disappeared during such a session.[10][3][11]

The search for Egbert continued unsuccessfully for several weeks, during which Egbert moved to two other houses in East Lansing before finally leaving the city via bus for New Orleans.[4]

Discovery, eventual death[edit]

Egbert made a second suicide attempt in New Orleans by consuming a cyanide compound, which also failed. He then moved to Morgan City, Louisiana and was employed as an oil field laborer. After four days on the job, Egbert called Dear and revealed his location. Dear traveled to Louisiana (others reported Texas) and recovered Egbert. Upon their meeting, Egbert asked the investigator to conceal the truth of his story. Dear agreed and released Egbert to the custody of his uncle, Marvin Gross, on September 13, 1979.[4]

Egbert died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on August 16, 1980.[12][13] In 1984, Dear revealed Egbert's story in The Dungeon Master.


The idea of Dungeons & Dragons players acting out real-life sessions in dangerous locations like the steam tunnels and losing touch with reality became ingrained into the cultural consciousness, inspiring movies such as Mazes and Monsters.[11] The perceived link between Egbert's disappearance and Dungeons & Dragons was one of several controversies linked to the game during the 1980s.

Pritchard incident[edit]

In 1988, during an investigation into his stepfather's murder, Christopher Wayne Pritchard told the police that he and his friends had mapped the steam tunnels of North Carolina State University for the purposes of incorporating them into their Dungeons & Dragons role-playing.[14]


  • In 1981, Rona Jaffe fictionalized the case in her novel Mazes and Monsters. The book was adapted for the made-for-television movie Mazes and Monsters in 1982.[9] In the novel, a group of college friends playing the role-playing game Mazes and Monsters use an abandoned mine near their college campus for a live-action version of the game. One of the students (played by Tom Hanks in the movie) suffers a psychotic breakdown while playing the game.
  • In 1983, an episode of The Greatest American Hero titled "Witches and Warlocks" depicted live-action role playing at a fictional university's steam plant.
  • In 1984, Neal Stephenson wrote the university satire The Big U, in which several live-action role playing gamers head into their university's sewers to play a game called "Sewers and Serpents".


  1. ^ "United States Social Security Death Index," index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/V3JX-XZJ : accessed 25 Oct 2013), James Egbert, August 1980; citing U.S. Social Security Administration, Death Master File, database (Alexandria, Virginia: National Technical Information Service, ongoing).
  2. ^ http://boingboing.net/2014/11/11/the-truth-about-the-dungeon-ma.html
  3. ^ a b Kushner, David (March 10, 2008). "Dungeon Master: The Life and Legacy of Gary Gygax". Wired.com. Retrieved 2016-01-02.
  4. ^ a b c d e Dear, William C. (1984). Dungeon Master: The Disappearance of James Dallas Egbert III. Houghton Mifflin.
  5. ^ "Police Seeking Genius", UPI, September 6, 1979, Lansing, Michigan
  6. ^ "The Disappearance of James Dallas Egbert III". KushJar. Archived from the original on 12 December 2014. Retrieved 13 December 2011.
  7. ^ Kask, Timothy J. (October 1979). "Editorial". The Dragon. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR Periodicals.
  8. ^ Fine, Gary Alan. (1983). Shared Fantasy: Role-playing Games as social Worlds. the University of Chicago Press. p. 254. ISBN 0-226-24943-3.
  9. ^ a b Shannon Appelcline (2011). Designers & Dragons. Mongoose Publishing. p. 13. ISBN 978-1-907702-58-7.
  10. ^ Kushner, David (May 4, 2003). "'Masters of Doom'". The New York Times.
  11. ^ a b La Farge, Paul (September 2006). "Destroy All Monsters". The Believer Magazine. Archived from the original on 2008-10-04.
  12. ^ "Respirator Unplugged, Boy Genius Dies". The Republic. Columbus, Indiana. August 18, 1980. p. 21.
  13. ^ Haberman, Clyde (April 18, 2016). "When Dungeons & Dragons Set Off a 'Moral Panic'". The New York Times. New York. Retrieved March 13, 2017 – via InfoTrac.
  14. ^ McGinniss, Joe (1991). Cruel Doubt. Simon& Schuster. ISBN 0-671-67947-3.


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