James Dallas Egbert III

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James Dallas Egbert III
Born (1962-10-29)October 29, 1962[1]
Dayton, Ohio, United States
Died August 16, 1980(1980-08-16) (aged 17)
East Lansing, Michigan, United States
Occupation College 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 April 15, 1979. A popular theory about his disappearance at the time was that Egbert's playing of the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons led him to enter the university's steam tunnels.[2][3][4] This has since been used in various works of fiction.[citation needed] In actuality, Egbert entered the steam tunnels to perpetrate self-harm.[citation needed] Egbert died in 1980 from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.[citation needed]


Born in Dayton, Ohio, Egbert was a child prodigy. He entered Michigan State University at age 16, majoring in computer science. Personal problems cited in the reports of his disappearance include depression, loneliness, parental pressure, and drug addiction.[5]


On August 15, 1979, after writing a suicide note,[6] Egbert left his dormitory room at Case Hall and entered the university's steam tunnels. He consumed some methaqualone, intending to end his life. However, the suicide attempt did not kill him. After waking up the next day, he went to hide at a friend's house. [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 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] The search for Egbert continued unsuccessfully for several weeks after Egbert had fled the area.[citation needed]


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. When they finally met, Egbert asked the investigator to conceal the truth of his story. Dear agreed and released Egbert to the custody of his uncle, Dr. Marvin Gross, on September 13, 1979.


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


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.[10]


  • In 1981, Rona Jaffe fictionalized the case in her novel, Mazes and Monsters. The book was adapted for a made-for-television movie (see Mazes and Monsters) in 1982.[9] In Mazes and Monsters, 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.[citation needed]
  • In The Greatest American Hero, (season 3, episode 10, titled "Witches and Warlocks"), live-action role playing takes place in a fictional university's steam plant.[citation needed]
  • 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".[citation needed]
  • The 1985 comedy movie Real Genius portrays a genius former student, Lazlo Hollyfeld (played by Jon Gries), who has been lurking in the tunnel system for years since he cracked under pressure in the early 1970s.[citation needed]
  • Several sections of the 2004 novel The Rule of Four involve the use of campus steam tunnels, sometimes for games, but not for Dungeons & Dragons.[11]


  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. ^ Kushner, David (May 4, 2003). "'Masters of Doom'". The New York Times. 
  3. ^ Kushner, David (March 10, 2008). "Dungeon Master: The Life and Legacy of Gary Gygax". Wired.com. Retrieved 2008-10-16. 
  4. ^ La Farge, Paul (September 2006). "Destroy All Monsters". The Believer Magazine. Archived from the original on 2008-10-04. 
  5. ^ Dear, William C. (1984). Dungeon Master: The Disappearance of James Dallas Egbert III. Houghton Mifflin. 
  6. ^ "Police Seeking Genius", UPI, September 6, 1979, Lansing, Michigan
  7. ^ "The Disappearance of James Dallas Egbert III". KushJar. Retrieved 13 December 2011. 
  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. ^ McGinniss, Joe (1991). Cruel Doubt. Simon& Schuster. ISBN 0-671-67947-3. 
  11. ^ Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason. The Rule of Four. ISBN 0-385-33711-6. 

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