It’s Not a Fantasy: Dungeons & Dragons Camp, 1981 – 1985

Shippensburg 1981


Shippensburg 1982


Shippensburg 1983


Shippensburg 1984, week 1


Shippenburg 1985


Shippenburg 1985


Shippensburg Adventure Game Camp really existed. It was held during the summer at the Shippensburg College campus in southern Pennsylvania. Ben Robbins, who is currently developing an RPG called Kingdom, attended all five years. The photos come from his Flickr set, at this point an indispensable historical document.

In a must-read interview at Gaming Brouhaha, he boils down the experience: “Take the normal magic of summer camp and then ratchet it up a few notches for sharing a rare and misunderstood subculture.” I can only imagine.

He explains the structure of the camp and how the groups were broken up, talks about the campaigns, tells stories  (for instance: going to see Clash of the Titans with all the geeks in the group). Every morning there were lectures on gaming, he says:

One of the best sections (back each year by popular demand) was audience suggestions for improv roleplaying. The councilors would all act as players, and the audience would come up with situations and characters for them and they’d roleplay it out. There wasn’t any fighting or rules — if the situation started to devolve into combat they stopped and moved to a new one. It may seem unimpressive now, but demonstrating roleplaying as a game in itself was a powerful example back in the early 80′s.

This recalls Dirk Malcolm on the “leap of faith it took in the early days “to move from Monopoly to playing mind-games with dice.”

The first 1985 photo is my favorite. The Ratt t-shirt is a classic (what’s he holding?). I also see Rush and Dio shirts. Houston Oilers hat and check Vans in the second row (are those guys twins?). All the studs in their shades and feathered back hair. Sad kid sighting: front row, second from the right. Girl sighting: smack in the middle of the pile.

The camp was cruelly canceled before the 1986 season. I posted the letter last year.

Thanks, Ben.

33 Responses to “It’s Not a Fantasy: <em>Dungeons & Dragons</em> Camp, 1981 – 1985”

  1. 2 2W2N June 18, 2013 at 4:51 pm

    Awesome. I’ve been trying to figure out how to do a G+ account as 2 Warps to Neptune. No luck so far.

  2. 5 leftylimbo June 18, 2013 at 11:20 pm

    More cool pic tidbits from the ’85 pic: The total formal rigid stance of that kid 3rd from the right in the front row (proud soldier of the realm?).

    I’m almost certain that thing the Ratt boy is holding is actually an early walkman/cassette-radio combo that’s clipped to his belt or the hem of his shorts.

    Man you’re diving deeper and deeper into all these killer archives of vintage D&D culture. I’m gonna need some air!

  3. 6 Jason June 19, 2013 at 12:42 am

    You so beat me to mentioning the Ratt, Rush, and especially Dio shirts. But what about the NC hat dude who’s apparently trying to hide a pair of way-too-short shorts?

  4. 7 2W2N June 19, 2013 at 12:46 am

    Jason, at least the NC dude is wearing shorts. Kid to his left is wearing a t-shirt dress!

    Lefty: is proud soldier… a girl?

    • 8 Jason June 19, 2013 at 12:50 am

      I wondered that about proud soldier myself. I’m wondering what awesome band shirt the badass ginger with the mirror shades might be wearing. With those crossed arms, he’s obviously set himself aside as way cooler than his Dio and Rush brethren…

    • 9 Jason June 19, 2013 at 12:53 am

      Also, 1985: Choose Beer? Choose Beef? I kinda want to know…

  5. 10 2W2N June 19, 2013 at 1:21 am

    The badass ginger is totally blocked…

    I think it’s Choose Beef, even though it kind of looks like an ‘R’ at the end. Here’s why:

    “The Cattlemen’s Beef Promotion And Research Board, or CBB, was established as part of the 1985 Farm Bill. CBB currently consists of 103 members who are nominated by certified nominating organizations and appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture to serve a three-year term. Members include domestic beef, dairy and veal producers, as well as importers of beef and beef products. Nominating organizations represent beef and dairy producers in 37 states and three regions, based on cattle numbers.”

    • 11 Jason June 19, 2013 at 1:38 am

      Personally, I’d order one of each. Heading to cafepress now.

      BTW, I’ve been obsessing over your blog for the past week. What started as a search for “Battle Beyond the Stars” has become an exercise in all that formed my youth. D&D, video games, malls, cheesy movies on HBO, heavy metal, mid-century modern, random sci-fi and fantasy… although my perspective on all this came from upstate NY, not California. I’m a packrat; I still have many of the toys you’ve posted about…

      • 12 2W2N June 19, 2013 at 1:49 am

        Well, you just made my day. I’ve really toned down the mid-century modern and mall material because I thought I was the only one who loved that stuff. Should I give it more attention?

        Would love to hear more about the east coast experience, and if you have pictures, hell yes. Check out my Christmas Morning category, too. I’m doing the same thing this year, even though it’s totally unimaginative…

        • 13 Jason June 19, 2013 at 2:01 am

          Well, maybe we’re the only ones, then. A friend of mine once called it the “brown and orange 70s.” It repulsed me in the 1980s, as it did any right-thinking teenager, but upon hitting my 30s, I came to not only appreciate the style, but long for the comfort of it. Still feeling it in my 40s. I’ve attempted to research the history of the shopping mall I grew up with (Oakdale Mall, Johnson City NY), but it’s sparse. I can remember all kinds of dark brown and wood tones before their numerous remodels, as well as all kinds of shops – a liquor store, a tobacconist, a bakery, 3 arcades simultaneously, the trippiest Burger King I’ve ever seen… that place was amazing. Home away from home. So yeah, I for one would love more attention to that. I sometimes go to the dead malls site to reminisce.

          As far as my pics, I’d have to raid my parents’ photo albums. Never really had many of my own, except for blurry prints from an off-brand 220 camera. I’ve gone through your entire archive now, and eagerly await more.

  6. 14 stan rydzewsksi July 5, 2013 at 6:13 pm

    I was there for the first two camps…great times. I still have my mimeographed copies of raiders of the bandits’ lair and dancers of the dead. 🙂

    Larry Whitsel is living in California now, Jim Forrest passed away a couple of years ago. I gamed with them off and on during the 80’s; we all lived in central Pennsylvania back then.

    • 15 Todd Goldman August 14, 2013 at 6:13 am

      Hi Stan,
      I was there for 4 years in a row and have been wanting to get some sort of Alumni group together for years now. Where in California is Larry? I’m in LA. Hopefully I can put together an online venue for the group sometime soon. A reunion would be fun.

    • 16 John Moser February 5, 2019 at 4:41 pm

      I was there for the first three! I’ve just gotten back into D&D–it’s been great introducing my 10-year-old daughter to it.

  7. 17 2W2N July 5, 2013 at 10:48 pm

    I’m so jealous. I would love to get you guys together on a podcast or something.

  8. 18 JB July 10, 2013 at 1:11 am

    And here I spent the 80s at soccer camp and wishing I was playing D&D instead of running laps.

    Wonder how many of these folks ended up holding elected office…

  9. 19 dekeparsons May 1, 2014 at 6:07 pm

    I was there all five years–I was the youngest camper the first year. My memory is that enthusiasm was waning visibly in the final years. It is great to see these pictures–it was amazing, especially the early years.

    • 20 2W2N May 1, 2014 at 6:12 pm

      Awesome. You guys should really try to reunite, IRL or online, as Todd suggests above. I’ll get someone to film it if you come to Los Angeles.

      • 21 dekeparsons May 2, 2014 at 2:19 am

        Until recently I lived in Los Angeles (well, Anaheim)! A reunion would be great–although I guess the logical place to have it would be Shippensburg.

        I just visited the campus recently–even took some pictures. The super-crappy, no air-conditioning, 100 degrees in the shade dorm they put us in is still standing–it is no longer a dorm but apparently where they house ROTC and the offices for professor REALLY low on the totem pole. They did add some window air conditioning units for the offices though. At camp it was a cinder block oven–though I loved every minute of it. The campus as a whole actually has a lot of new buildings–I only recognized a few building from camp. Sadly, the awesome arcade in the student union (this was the heyday of arcade games in the US–1981-1985) has been remodeled. It was once filled with coin-op classics like Joust (cutting edge tech then!) Now it is filled with chairs and pool tables and a couple communal Playstations for students to play (the 21st century is so lame!)

        I went with a friend and didn’t really know anyone outside of camp–I was only 10 so it wasn’t like I could drive over to see people I knew from camp. It was great to see the pictures, though–I lost my scrapbook that contained them. In fact, if anyone has a group picture from 1984, week 2–I’d be interested. I was able to find the other 4 pics from my sessions online.

        I have some stories–although my experience was probably different from the “older kids.” From my vantage point (I was 14 my last camp), “Satanism” concerns had little to do with the closing of the camp. I do remember the “controversy” about Krauss (sp?) giving an interview in the local paper–I was amused. We quoted his article directly for our rallying cry: “We are the wimps! The outcasts! The kids picked last in the bunch!” (or something close to that). Really, he was never that thrilled running the camp–I believe he started it for his son who was no longer going to the camp, although I’m not sure about that last part. He certainly was clearly sick of running the camp by the end. I had a good time all through the years, but a great time the first couple years. In my memory, the camp started out spectacular and slowly degraded…but perhaps I was just growing up by the end.

        If anyone does want to set-up a reunion, I’d certainly go. I don’t know how you’d track down the people–I don’t think there was a camp index or anything, just the group pics (without names) and a t-shirt every year. I wore my t-shirts to ribbons.

  10. 22 Christopher Keiser July 31, 2019 at 3:42 pm

    I would love to do a reunion. I was a DM (upper right corner, dark hair) in 1981. This is so cool that I found this, I lost my photo.

    • 23 Deke August 6, 2019 at 11:55 pm

      That would be great. Though it looks like I commented on this five years ago, and yours is the only response since. I’m impressed the post still exists. Watching Stranger Things–even though the D&D in the show wasn’t much like what we did–brought back some of these memories.

      • 24 Stanley Rydzewski August 7, 2019 at 12:43 am

        Amazing that some of us are still on this thread! Five years? I guess so. I’m in New Hampshire, but my parents live close to Shippensburg. I’d definitely come down for a reunion.

        • 25 Deke August 7, 2019 at 2:28 am

          Yeah, the original post is 6 years ago–I commented a year later.

          Well, we have 3 people who have shown interest recently–maybe more will comment.

          • 26 Todd Goldman August 7, 2019 at 4:27 am

            Hey guys, this is the definition of a slow burn internet topic!

            I’d love to schedule a reunion if we could get a critical mass. Perhaps we should create a digital meeting place to organize the troops so that this comments thread isn’t the only place to find info.

            Any thoughts on the best site to host? Facebook perhaps? Not sure how to get the word out beyond this site. Internet stuff isn’t my specialty.

            As for meeting locations, perhaps somewhere easier to get to than Shippensburg might make more sense. I’m thinking most of us are spread over the country and proximity to an airport might be easier. Maybe Philadelphia or Baltimore?

  11. 27 Linda Kraus January 20, 2020 at 8:31 pm

    Hello Campers. I am Camp Director Keith Kraus’s daughter Linda. My youngest brother Steve was the inspiration for the camp and one of the counselors. He was (is) the only Kraus that knew anything about the game. Some of you may remember me. A couple years I passed out questionnaires every morning, research for my doctoral dissertation. Thank you all for your time and patience with that!

    You’re right that Keith ran out of steam towards the end; that’s one reason it ended. But primarily interest was dying and the camp was beginning to lose money. He and the college administrators jointly decided the time had come to end it. Keith was amazed to learn in recent years that you all still fondly remember the camp. He enjoyed his time with you. Keith passed away in January 2020.

    • 28 Deke November 10, 2021 at 12:13 am

      I’m sorry to hear about your father. I remember him better than most of my teachers. I was too young to go to camp the first year, but my mom convinced him it would work out. I’d often see him in the background wherever I was that first year—I think, watching to see I didn’t hurt myself or get lost. In later years, he usually wore an “I can’t believe I got myself into this thing!” expression on his face. I fear he didn’t understand how much fun we were having. It was great. Whenever I see a TV or movie show with kids playing D&D in the 80s, I always think, “it was so much more fun than that!” Especially, D&D Camp.

      • 29 Linda Kraus November 21, 2021 at 3:14 pm

        Hi Deke. Thank you for your condolences. I am awed by your observations and insights at such a young age. You were exactly right: He didn’t perceive how much fun you all were having at least not at the time. But I’m so glad you did. Thanks for sharing.

  12. 30 Michael October 14, 2021 at 4:13 pm

    So, I attended 1st week of 1985. I would be up for a reunion although honestly I don’t remember much of anybody apart from my roommate and the fact that the DM, whoever he was, was great. I have vague memories of some of the other folks attending that week, but not much. A number of years ago I created a Facebook group for the camp, but nobody has found it and joined. Perhaps we can use it to gather folks and data together and eventually plan a reunion. I suspect the biggest issue is, who actually are all these people who attended? It’s not like we had a yearbook or class picture with everybody’s names.

    • 31 Deke November 10, 2021 at 12:21 am

      This thread has gone on so long that Google+ doesn’t exist (on which the first post says they were spitballing a movie about the camp), and many people have left Facebook (at least, I have). Good idea, though.

  1. 1 1984 Article on the Shippensburg Dungeons & Dragons Camp | 2 Warps to Neptune Trackback on August 5, 2015 at 2:54 pm
  2. 2 One Tranquility Base: Space Camp Brochure, 1988 Trackback on July 23, 2019 at 3:12 pm

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