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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.



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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.
 
Jim Ward

Comments

M.T. Black

Registered User
Thanks, Jim! I love that book, and it has one of the best covers TSR ever did. We really enjoyed the heroes section, and it was fun to compare our characters to King Aruthur etc.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Registered User
A little additional perspective on Jim's comments: TSR legal may have blamed Chaosium for removing the Cthulhu and Eternal Champion material from Deities & Demigods, but Chaosium offered to let TSR continue using the material, with the sole condition being the new printings acknowledge Chaosium as granting permission for that use. Chaosium asked for no money. They just wanted their existing formal contracts with both Arkham House and Michael Moorcock acknowledged. In other words, Chaosium offered to play nice.
I'm sure they realized they'd sell a whole lot of their own books based on the advertisement in Deities & Demigods.

TSR shot itself in the foot like that a lot over the years, particularly over legal issues, no matter who was running the company. I say this as someone who worked with TSR legal both as a TSR book department editor and as someone caught up in legal issues with the company after I resigned. There was never a minor problem TSR could not make into a major one, once they got legal involved.
Back in the day they were known as They Sue Regularly for a reason!
 

dave2008

Adventurer
Im not sure what needs to be sourced. This is common knowledge.

Dellingr is dawn.

Sunlight is the alfar and by extension Freyr in the sense of good sunshower weather for fertile crops.

Sunlight (corona, rays, beams, gleams) is distinct from the sun disk, who is Sól.

Regarding Baldr. For example, Simek discusses the obscure (and perhaps complex) etymology, and concludes his name means ‘shining day’, which most archeologists accept. The Saxon cognate of Baldr is Baldag, where ‘dag’ means ‘day’.

Norse texts describe Baldr shining all light. His home is a place called ‘broad radiance’.

Note daylight is luminous in beauty, but daylight is also the ‘wisest’ being, luminous and perceptive of mind.
You described Baldr as: "Baldr is daylight. Literal daylight." That description doesn't mesh with his death. If Baldr is literal daylight, why are we not in eternal darkness? The most likely answer: no one thought of Baldr as literal daylight. What is your source for detailing how the norse believe Baldr to be literal daylight? He wasn't asking for the source or meaning of his name, he is asking for your source in understanding the nature of the norse spirits which some call gods and you do not.
 
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cbwjm

Explorer
My whole entry into D&D back in the early 80's was primarily inspired by my love of mythology, so this book was always my favorite. I remember having debates in high school about how some listing, or even some minor detail inside a listing, should have been done in our vast scholarly opinions. LOL.

(I miss my high school years when I knew everything with such certainty)

Now I want to get my copy out and flip through it when I get home. :)
That's pretty much how I ended up getting into DnD.
 

Eis

Registered User
I mean, they didn't set out to provide a scholarly treatise of religions... it's a D&D take on them.... for gaming purposes

much like marvel comics or movies or Neil Gaiman books aren't accurate representations of Norse mythos etc.
 

Maxperson

Orcus on an on Day
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.
I was just looking at my Elric books and thinking that I need to re-read them.
 

Maxperson

Orcus on an on Day
To avoid falsehoods is a reasonable standard.

For example, the Norse mythos.

Deities & Demigods makes many false statements.

"Balder (God of Beauty)"
• Baldr is a vættr, an animistic nature being, not a polytheistic god.
• Baldr has nothing to do with being worshiped, nor being worshiped for his ‘beauty’.
• Baldr is daylight. Literal daylight. The same daylight streams thru our windows.
• Daylight is beautiful.
• Daylight reveals truth.
• Daylight brings new life.
• Daylight brings new hope − especially in northerly dark winters.

"Valkyries. These warrior maidens ride pegasi."
• Since when has any Norse text ever mentioned the word ‘pesasi’? Certainly not in relation to the valkyrjur.

"Thor. Chaotic Good."
• Þórr literally is social order. If anything he is Lawful Neutral.
• Norwegian Norse view him as rescuing humans, so at least here, Lawful Good (with hints of Paladin smiting) seems fair.

"Odin. Neutral Good."
• Óðinn is a Danish thing, Freyr is a Swedish thing, and Þórr is a Norwegian thing.
• In the Norwegian version of Óðinn, he is treacherous, probably Evil.
• Óðinn is literally cosmic order, astronomical cycles, seasonal cycles, etcetera.
• Probably Lawful Neutral, but again too treacherous. Neutral at best, probably Neutral Evil.

"Norns. three."
• There are many nornir.
• The three jǫtnar nornir are more about the fate of the cosmos, like when Ragnarǫk happens.
• But when it comes to the lives of human individuals, the alfar nornir are way more important.
• The jǫtnar Nornir are called Neutral, and probably fair enough, cruel inscrutable fate
• but a Norse tradition views these Nornir dooming the æsir in Ragnarǫk in order to protect humanity from them

Frey (sunshine and the elves)
• ok but peripheral
• Freyr is specifically the natural phenomenon of sex
• In addition to sexuality, Freyr connotes wealth (fertility) and peace (good relationships)

And so on. I can continue at length about the many falsifications in the Deities & Demigods.

It isnt just that the Deities & Demigods is wrong, it is the book is wrong about some of the most central concepts that matter to these cultures. It is misappropriation.

I am just giving examples pertaining to Norse spiritual heritages.

At the same time, I am familiar with many religions because of my anthropology, and because of friends who adhere to those religions.

The Deities & Demigods is false about other peoples sacred beliefs.
I have to say, so what. It's not attempting to represent a culture. It's not attempting to represent accuracy. It's not even attempting to represent any religion. It's just attempting to add some fun to the game. Think of it like a movie that is "Based on a true story." Everyone knows that the movie going to be very loosely based on that story, at best.
 
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maceochaid

Registered User
Im not sure what needs to be sourced. This is common knowledge.

Dellingr is dawn.

Sunlight is the alfar and by extension Freyr in the sense of good sunshower weather for fertile crops.

Sunlight (corona, rays, beams, gleams) is distinct from the sun disk, who is Sól.

Regarding Baldr. For example, Simek discusses the obscure (and perhaps complex) etymology, and concludes his name means ‘shining day’, which most archeologists accept. The Saxon cognate of Baldr is Baldag, where ‘dag’ means ‘day’.

Norse texts describe Baldr shining all light. His home is a place called ‘broad radiance’.

Note daylight is luminous in beauty, but daylight is also the ‘wisest’ being, luminous and perceptive of mind.
So like Simek is a source you could quote, and you did. So thank you.

But your premise that some Norse entities in the myths were primarily animistic versus theistic is what I'm interested in. There are a couple reasons I'm not convinced of your thesis that Norse mythic entities were not viewed as deities. We have very few sources, mostly Post Christian Icelandic that are highly euhemerized. While I agree completely that we must be careful about over generalizing German, Saxon, Norse, and Icelandic sources, the paucity of sources means anything we can determine cannot be anything but generalizations from these few strands. There is a clear connection between German and Norse deities, so while nothing is for certain looking cross German and Norse mythology we do get some clues.


  1. Many Gods match Indo-European God name cognates. Thor and Tiw for instance. In each of the Indo-European cultures these names are connected to Gods, not animistic forces. Each culture seems to have stories, they are anthropomorphic, and have interactions with each other.
  2. In the writings of Tacitus the Germans seem to be worshipping divinities that are identifiable to the Romans as Gods like their own. Donar is Zeus, Woden is Mercury, the match seems odd to us, but there is no evidence they had a completely shocking encounter with people who worshipped something different than what the Romans worshipped.
  3. In the Eddas they also seem to follow the Ur-Indo European myth of a battle between the fertility gods and the mage/priest/chieftain gods. This myth suggests they have a society which seems uncharacteristic of an animistic system. Freyr seems very central to this myth.
  4. The Eddas have several cosmic forces that are not described as people, the sun and moon, Yggsdrasil, etc. Baldr does not seem to be of the same kind of thng as this.
  5. The Eddas consistently portray the Aesir and Vanir as anthropomorphic, having both familial and social relationships, having dwellings, owning particular items, etc. Baldr has a mother and a father. Freyr has a sister and a wife. Freyr owns magic items that give him power.
  6. This depiction is supported by the few Icelandic Sagas that feature gods where there is the very standard God-Hero relationship where Gods appear to heroes, to give gifts, utter prophecy, and intercede on behalf of mortals. In all these cases they are represented normally indistinguishable from humans.
  7. The second Mereseberg charms also show the Gods Odin and Baldr as very human, owning a horse, etc. They do not seem to be sunlight, but people who own horses and who have supernatural powers, again very theistic appearing.
  8. The categories of beings are fuzzy, but in the Eddas there are distinct groups of entities Jotuns are seen as different as Aesir, while nature spirits in the form of Trolls, Elves, and Dwarfs is somewhat malleable, but again separate from each other. All groups are presented as generally humanoid creatures, that dwell in or are associated with rocks, rivers, trees, etc. but are generally not described as being those things.

So far you have only provided etymologies of names as the only proof that Norse people thought of the characters Baldr and Freyr as animistic forces rather than Gods. The fact that the names Baldr and Freyr meant things like sunlight, does not mean they were seen as solely natural phenomena and not gods. My name has a greek root, meaning defender of men, that does not make me a policeman. In addition the Eddas, Sagas, and traces in other texts don't seem to in anyway resemble animistic forces, but a very standard Indo-European family of Anthrpromorphic deities.

We cannot say much of anything for sure about the German/Scandinavian/Saxon religion. However in the debate about whether the names in the mythological sources represent theistic or animistic beliefs, it seems like the more cautious scholar would err on the side of theist rather than animist belief. What sources do we have for this animistic Baldr? There is no source that I know of that gives a discussion of how pre-Christian Scandinavians thought about or understood the entities named in these mythologies. So that is why I'm wondering, where are you getting these ideas from?
 

Radaceus

Villager
It's in the MCU so it must be true.
To be fair, Pegasus, is a unique creature of the Greek mythos. I think Gary and crew are having a little fun here, embellishing on both their adaptation of Pegasus into a species, and the horse riding Valkyries ability to fly ( as per the poem Helgakviða Hundingsbana, in the Völsungakviða edda).
 

Arial Black

Villager
I can say its presentation of Scandinavian animisms is ... inaccurate.
You mean, they got Thor's hit points wrong?

Same goes for Native American animisms.

Vedic texts are sacred texts to modern Hindus.
Well, 'inaccuracy' may be an appropriate criticism of a scholarly work on the subject, but here:-

* the very idea that it's even possible to be 'accurate' regarding a system of belief which changed over 100s of years, that you could capture a moment in time and perfectly replicate those beliefs as 'accurate', is absurd. It would be rendered inaccurate when not talking about that specific time

* even different adherents active at the exact same time have different ideas about what is 'true' regarding their religion! Asking a gaming product to do the impossible shows that this objection cannot rationally apply

* Deities & Demigods is/was a gaming supplement. It was designed with certain goals in mind: to provide the DM with gods and pantheons of gods to use in his campaign world, to inspire further study....to be a game supplement, not an 'accurate' scholarly work!

So until D&D players become mature enough to talk about....Atheism and other traditions...
What now?

...Atheism and other traditions...
Atheism? Tradition? What are you on about? Atheism is a tradition in the same way as 'Not Collecting Stamps' is a hobby! The word 'atheist' tells you absolutely nothing regarding what an atheist believes, only that there is one thing that they do not believe, which is the literal existence of any gods.

What would the 'Atheist Tradition' section of Deities & Demigods look like? Twelve blank pages? The day of the week that is set aside for atheists to not attend any church? What they do with the 10% of their money that they aren't compelled to give away? How many hit points 'No God' has?

...with some sensitivity, we are probably not mature enough to talk about other reallife spiritual heritages either.
It's a mistake to conflate 'real life' and 'spiritual life'. They are mutually exclusive concepts.

Sure, you come across as knowing a lot about dead religions. Well done you. But your criticism of a D&D game supplement for 'inaccuracy' is misplaced. I will continue to enjoy the Marvel comics version of a blond, clean-shaven 'Thor' despite knowing the 'inaccuracies', because the goal of the comics is to entertain, not to be a dissertation on Scandinavian culture intended to get tenure from Harvard!
 

Eubani

Explorer
The smile on your face when you look on your book shelf and know the copy of Deities and Demiclods is the original. :D
 

Maxperson

Orcus on an on Day
Atheism? Tradition? What are you on about? Atheism is a tradition in the same way as 'Not Collecting Stamps' is a hobby! The word 'atheist' tells you absolutely nothing regarding what an atheist believes, only that there is one thing that they do not believe, which is the literal existence of any gods.

What would the 'Atheist Tradition' section of Deities & Demigods look like? Twelve blank pages? The day of the week that is set aside for atheists to not attend any church? What they do with the 10% of their money that they aren't compelled to give away? How many hit points 'No God' has?
Pretty sure Atheism was in fact tackled by D&D, though. Planescape included the Athar which did not believe in gods. This is what the Athar believed.

"The "gods" are liars, every single one of them - liars and frauds. They aren't deities. They're mortals - extremely powerful mortals, to be sure, but nothing more. They are given to petty emotions, they require sustenance in the form of prayers and the belief of their followers, and, when denied that, they die. Think about it: If the deities really are the source of all creation, why is it that many clerics can cast divine magic without devoting themselves to any deity? There may indeed be an omnipotent entity (or collection of entities) responsible for making and tending reality, but if so, that power must be completely incomprehensible to the minds of mere mortals. Members of the organization known as the Athar refer to this theoretical true god as "the Great Unknown.""

2e also had clerics that could gain spells to 2nd level on belief in anything. It didn't need to be a god. That takes care of the "traditions" complaint. 3e went even further on this score and allowed full spell casting for clerics who don't have gods.
 
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jasper

Rotten DM
Im not sure what needs to be sourced. This is common knowledge.

Dellingr is dawn.

Sunlight is the alfar and by extension Freyr in the sense of good sunshower weather for fertile crops.

Sunlight (corona, rays, beams, gleams) is distinct from the sun disk, who is Sól.

Regarding Baldr. For example, Simek discusses the obscure (and perhaps complex) etymology, and concludes his name means ‘shining day’, which most archeologists accept. The Saxon cognate of Baldr is Baldag, where ‘dag’ means ‘day’.

Norse texts describe Baldr shining all light. His home is a place called ‘broad radiance’.

Note daylight is luminous in beauty, but daylight is also the ‘wisest’ being, luminous and perceptive of mind.
hhhaaaa Young Martian you don't grok. What is Common knowledge for you is a
400 Level College Course on Myth and Religion in Europe
000 Brand new knowledge I never heard of till I read your posts.
PS I find amusing the use of "GroK" which is made up word by an old white guy.
 

Paul Farquhar

Explorer
To be fair, Pegasus, is a unique creature of the Greek mythos. I think Gary and crew are having a little fun here, embellishing on both their adaptation of Pegasus into a species, and the horse riding Valkyries ability to fly ( as per the poem Helgakviða Hundingsbana, in the Völsungakviða edda).
If you want to be sensible, myths continue to develop over time, and Valkyries have been depicted riding winged horses for a long time - in paintings, in productions of Wagner etc. In D&D a winged horse is called a pegasus, after the unique Greek winged horse, so it is perfectly valid to state that Valkyries ride pegasii (meaning winged horses).
 

Yaarel

Explorer
You mean, they got Thor's hit points wrong?
Heh, Deitities & Demigods actually got that part right.

The Norse nature beings are mortals, rather than immortals, and Þórr and other æsir are potentially killable.

The æsir can die of old age for example, and keep themselves young by the use of magic.
 

Schmoe

Villager
I resent someone on a message board providing a narrow definition of "god", then telling me I should ascribe to that, and furthermore I should judge other works by this narrow definition.

I do not resent a fantasy book for providing a narrow definition of "god" that enables play of the game in a certain way. At the end of the day, any set of game rules is just one possible manifestation of things, and has no bearing on what I actually do or believe in my life. If it aids the gameplay, I can play by those rules when I choose to play the game.
 

AriochQ

Explorer
PS I find amusing the use of "GroK" which is made up word by an old white guy.
/s As an old white guy, I am insulted that you have appropriated our word 'grok' and using it in a context for which it has not been intended /s

Am I doing this right?
 

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