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.

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.



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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
I disagree. I've read the OP 3 times and I don't feel JW suggested it was removed immediately. I don't necessarily think your interpretation is wrong, I just don't think it is any more correct than mine.
Leaving out the whole part where they negotiated with Chaosium and added language to the book and continued printing the material does indeed suggest the material was removed immediately. Especially since the post was specifically about the book and is not some passing comment.

So while I agree that it doesn't explicitly state that the material was removed immediately, I don't think your interpretation is really tenable. Far more likely that Ward was not involved in that part of the book's history and/or simply misremembered. As I recall it took Reynolds a fair bit of investigation to get to the bottom of how it actually went down.
 

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Nikosandros

Golden Procrastinator
I fully agree with you that Ward article gives a strong impression that the "Chaosium" material was removed immediately. However, the actual sequence of events has been known for a long time, at least in OSR circles. I don't even remember how long ago I first read about it (probably before OSR was even an acronym).
 

..., I don't think your interpretation is really tenable.
I am curious: what do you think my interpretation is?

Because I basically agree with this statement below, and I don't think anything the OP contradicts that.
Far more likely that Ward was not involved in that part of the book's history and/or simply misremembered. As I recall it took Reynolds a fair bit of investigation to get to the bottom of how it actually went down.
 


You may be putting too much emphasis on "immediately," which in 1970s and early 1980s publishing terms meant a printing or two, so at least a few months, likely longer. Remember, when the original book was published, printers were using printing plates for each page, likely metal but eventually plastic, and those had to be remade, at a cost, for every page with every change to a book. So changes within a published book were often a slow, laborious--and expensive--process between printings and editions.

The basics on all this are pretty much uncontested:

* TSR and Chaosium reportedly both had permission from Arkham House for the Cthulhu Mythos and from the Moorcocks or their agent for the Elric material.

* Jim Ward never plagiarized anything for Deities, and anyone who accuses him of that is simply wrong. He acted in good faith throughout. He thought he had clear title to use the material, based on the permissions he had secured.

* TSR got to print first with Deities, but Chaosium claimed to have signed and exclusive deals for RPGs, deals that overrode any permissions TSR had lined up.

* Chaosium did not sue. They sent a letter claiming they had clear, exclusive rights, and made an offer to work out a solution with TSR. (A copy of this letter is reportedly still in the Chaosium archives, along with the signed agreements with Arkham House and Michael Moorcock. The TSR archives, as inherited by WotC, seem to be missing whatever permissions they had obtained, but that doesn't mean Ward never got the letters he claimed to have received. TSR was terrible about record keeping, even by the 1980s.)

* The (positive) solution they arrived at was for TSR to run the "with permission" language. Chaosium reportedly did not ask for any money, just the credit line. This was in keeping with what Michael Moorcock wanted to see, which was cooperation between the companies.

* TSR ran the line for a time, before someone at TSR (reportedly ones of the Blumes) got annoyed at "promoting" a rival company and pulled the content and the line.

The contested part is who had clear permission. Without the documents, it's impossible to say.

Had the matter gone to court at the time, it likely would have been quite simple to prove what rights each company had. Produce the contracts and/or the permission letters. Which was dated earlier? If one granted exclusive rights, it could have superceded the earlier, looser permision letters, but it would depend upon the contracts and letters. Not really all that complicated.

If there were any lawsuits, they would most likely have been TSR and Chaosium suing Arkham House and the Moorcocks over granting conflicting rights, which would have been incredibly destructive for all parties and bad for the fledgling RPG industry. Full licensing contracts like the ones Chaosium used at the time and still use typically include clauses wherein the Author/IP Owner states they have not entered into agreements that conflict with the rights granted in the licensing deal, and those clauses would have kicked in here. Licensing contracts also typically include indemnification clauses that make the Author/IP Owner responsible for any damages that result from conflicting rights granted, if it turns out they had granted conflicting rights. So even if TSR had sued Chaosium, claiming they had earlier letters granting permission, the costs to Chaosium still would have likely fallen on Arkham House and the Moorcocks through the indemnification clauses.

There were also conflicting rights granted by Fritz Leiber to both publishers for the Lankhmar material. Chaosium had reportedly secured an exclusive rights license for that IP, too.

Looking back at what was published, the companies hammered out a great solution. Chaosium was planning full games built around the Cthulhu Mythos and the Elric material, which went ahead with no additional conflict between the publishers. TSR was planning a lot more material with Lankhmar, so that went ahead with no interference from Chaosium. They split the difference on Deities & Demigods and used the "with permission" line, which TSR management was, frankly, silly to eventually reject. Even so, the companies later worked out IP sharing for the Thieves' World material, so the solutions cited above seem to have been pretty constructive and amicable. That read of the situation is supported by what was published after the conflicting permissions came to light and how it was published.

So all the chatter about massive fights between the companies and lawsuits and the rest pretty much ignore what the publishing record shows--two companies discovered, after the publication of Deities, they had competing permissions on three important IPs and worked it out, with no courts involved, in a way that benefited all parties. And as Jim rightly noted, and was rightly angry about, he never plagiarized anything in Deities or willfully overstepped the rights he thought he had secured.
 
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Mercurius

Legend
I'm now 4+ years out from my last tabletop gaming experience and occasionally consider selling off most of my remaining collection (though I remain interested in RPGs, it has waned a bit to the point that I think it unlikely that I do any serious gaming again, although you never know).

But one book that I'll keep no matter what, is the original Deities & Demigods. Not because of Lovecraft/Moorcock stuff (though that is cool), but because it was the single most impactful D&D book for my childhood imagination. I think at one point I brought it to school, and looked at it with friends during recess.

My current and previous avatars were taken from it (Ptah of Egypt and Kakatal, the fire god of Melnibone).
 

Warpiglet-7

Cry havoc! And let slip the pigs of war!
I'm now 4+ years out from my last tabletop gaming experience and occasionally consider selling off most of my remaining collection (though I remain interested in RPGs, it has waned a bit to the point that I think it unlikely that I do any serious gaming again, although you never know).

But one book that I'll keep no matter what, is the original Deities & Demigods. Not because of Lovecraft/Moorcock stuff (though that is cool), but because it was the single most impactful D&D book for my childhood imagination. I think at one point I brought it to school, and looked at it with friends during recess.

My current and previous avatars were taken from it (Ptah of Egypt and Kakatal, the fire god of Melnibone).
I am very excited. My friend took mine to Gary Con and got Diesel and Erol Otus autographs for me.

I have a lot of childhood
Memories attached to it as well…the cover alone reminds me of sitting down to play with my pals…
 

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