TSR The Making and Breaking of Deities & Demigods

Gods, Demigods, & Heroes was a D&D supplement that I suggested to Gary [Gygax] and it was published in 1976. It presented gods and heroes for D&D. In those days there was no google or internet research features and so I had to do a great deal of library research to get the book done. I used the Golden Bough for a great deal of the legendary treatment. I read all the novels of the authors I mentioned in the book. The concept was a first attempt at combining gods into the game and sold well.


Note from Morrus -- this is the fourth of Jim Ward's series of articles here on EN World! Upcoming articles include TSR's Amazing Accounting Department, and The Origin of Monty Haul!

Naturally, when AD&D came out the idea to update the gods book was given as an assignment to me. Rob Kuntz was supposed to do half of the writing, but was busy with other things and I ended up writing most of it. This time around for the 1980 release of the book there was a lot more known about role-playing and I included those features in the work.

I was a History and English teacher in Prairie Du Chien at the time, with a family of three young boys and a pleasant wife. I wrote all of the material for the book during one summer vacation in 1979.

In those days there wasn't the internet. I had my own reference books from the last time I designed the pantheons and I spent more hours and hours in the library, again taking notes and ordering books from other libraries. I wanted to add more value to the new work, than what was in the first pantheon version.

The hardest section to write was the Cthulhu mythology. I had to read all of the Lovecraft books. There were other writers of that type of genre, like August Derleth, but Gary Gygax and I talked it out and decided to just use the plentiful Lovecraft material. The hard part was that those books are truly scary. I read all of them in three months. For months afterward I had nightmares and constantly looked over my shoulder looking in the shadows for nasty things. Dealing with those dark concepts was a trial for the happy go lucky James M. Ward, but I persevered.

Gary gave me a format to use that was much like a monster manual listing. That was fine with me as it gave me an order and focus for each listing. I was given a thousand pieces of photocopied sheets. I put each one in my nonelectric typewriter and I typed up the deities, monsters, heroes, and other things of the pantheon. In the creation of each pantheon I did the exact same thing. I made a list of the deities. I placed an imagined value on their power and influence. This caused me to list them as greater or lesser deities. For example I had Zeus as a greater god, Artemis was listed as a lesser goddess, Heracles was listed as a demi-god for his half god parent. In the research for all the pantheons I came across creatures and heroes that were added to the pantheon. Then I looked at each character and the legends about them and made up magic statistics on the items that legends reported. I sent each pantheon for Gary to review and generally he liked all of them.

I can remember we had a debate over the hit points of the gods. I wanted the leader of the gods in each pantheon to have 1,000 hit points. Gary wanted them to have 400. His point was that they couldn't be killed on the prime material plane. If any deity were killed in a battle with player characters their spirit of some type would go back to their home plane and reform. There was no arguing with that logic. That discussion caused me to invent the Plane of Concordant Opposition among the planes that Gary put together.

I would like to use this forum to set some small bit of controversy straight from my point of view. When I first started outlining the book, Gary Gygax told me there might be a copyright problem with the Lovecraft and Moorcock sections of the book. Gary gave me the addresses of those two groups and suggested I get permission from them to print those sections of the book. I immediately sent out the two letters and a month later got positive replies back from both groups. They were pleased to get their concepts mention in the book. I foolishly gave those letters to the TSR legal department (I wish I had them to show you now). The book was printed and published in 1980 to wide acclaim. Fans liked the mention of temples and divine magic items. They liked the references to monsters associated with this or that religion.

TSR received a cease and desist order from Chaosium. In 1981 Chaosium printed Cthulhu and Elric set of role-playing games and naturally didn't want a competitor doing the same thing. Please note that I don't blame them a bit. They had contracts with those two groups and were supposed to defend their rights to the trademark. Those two groups should have mentioned to TSR that they were signing contracts with another company. I wouldn't have put those pantheons in the book in that event. There are literally hundreds of other pantheons that could have been included. It is my belief that if TSR had gone to California with those two letters and gone to court, the company would have been allowed to continue publishing. In those days TSR management didn't think they had the money to hire a California lawyer, fly out to California where the case would be judged, and take the case to court. They decided to remove those two sections and continue publishing the book.

I'm happy to report that Michael Moorcock was nice enough to declare in print that he did indeed give TSR and myself permission to write about his works.

Naturally, I wasn't pleased because I had gone through the work of getting permission for those two sections. I immediately offered to write two new sections free of charge to TSR. Management said no. Every year since then, some goofy fan on the message boards claims that TSR stole those two concepts and put them in the book. I don't like being accused of plagiarism. I'm here to say I did my due diligence and didn't get the chance to make the situation better.

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Jim Ward

Jim Ward

Drawmij the Wizard


New Publisher
I love that book so much. When we moved across the country, we were planing on never owning a house again, so I sold about 90% of my collection. This is one book I kept.....


Gelatinous Dungeon Master
My best friend gave me a first-edition copy of this book for my birthday a few years ago. It's one of my most prized possessions.


As a kid I hunted that book down like Ahab and the white whale. It kept getting mentioned in the Historical Supplements of 2nd Edition but I could never find it. I think it's interesting how enduring the choices made were. Take for instance the Celtic pantheon. All the pantheons are much more nebulous in the original literature than a canonical RPG supplement can make them. However the Celtic pantheon is particularly fraught, as it is collected fragments of Welsh, Gaulish, and Irish literature written either as rumors of the barbarians during the Roman era, or half remembered fairy tales of Christianized descendants. It seems that 38 years later the 5th edition Celtic Pantheon hews still pretty closely to the choices made in Deities and Demigods. It's a good synthesis . . . but now that I'm older having done my own scholarship I would of course create a very different pantheon ;) Thanks for the work Mr. Ward!


The EN World kitten
Thanks so much for sharing this bit of history, James!

Reading the part about the discussions of how many hit points the gods should have, and the Plane of Concordant Opposition, leads me to ask: were you involved with the additional abilities that gods gained in Appendix IV of the Manual of the Planes? I know that was Jeff Grubb's work, but I wondered if you had any input on that.


Selling that book is one of the very few regrets I have in life.

Once again, thank you for a very interesting article. Looking forward to the next one.

Thanks for the (hi)story!
And even more for these great books.
Legends & Lore was by far my favourite AD&D book.
Still sad that I cannot find it anymore, got to ask my old D&D friends....

I will add that that book certainly informed my younger self of the various religious myths from around the world. It probably still influences some of my concepts and understandings. That book is probably one of the most influential RPG books there have been. Not just within the gaming industry, but outside of it as well (at least for me).


I wonder if GRR Martin might have found inspirations from Elric and Melnibone and wrote them into the Targaryens and Valyria? My brothers certainly enjoyed their Dragon Knights of Melnibone campaign.

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