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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

Yaarel

Explorer
@maceochaid

The attitude of the Scandinavian archeologists emerges from fieldwork, as different archeologists assess the evidence at their sites across Scandinavia and other Nordic countries.

The main reasons for the shift include the following.

• The project to establish a ‘German race’ that began over a century ago, has failed.
• Relatedly, the project to establish a Pan-German religion, has failed.

• What is today Germany was ethnically diverse. Unrelated tribes adopt the language of neighbors.
• Roman evidence requires caution, ‘Germania’ is a territory that includes Celtic tribes and other tribes.
• Indeed the ‘Germanii’ tribe is probably Celtic.

• The linguistic category ‘Proto-Germanic’ is probably a misnomer.
• Rather than being the ‘recipient’ of this language, Scandinavia is probably its originator.
• Proto-Germanic seems the Nordic linguistic environment that develops after East Europeans enter from the Baltics.
• Germanic languages are essentially an out-of-Denmark radiation South, West, and East.

• The Norse belief systems are less like the Mediterranean ones (Roman, Greek, Canaanite/Phoenician).
• and more like shamanic neighboring ethnicities, (Sámi, Suomi).
• The only evident Norse spiritual leader is a shaman, the vǫlva, always a woman.
• Norse beliefs are shamanic.
• Ways of relating to nature beings (trolls) in Scandinavian folkbelief, appear conservative and indigenous.
• Aboriginal Norse beliefs appear primarily egalitarian animism
• rather than the master-servant polytheism of the Mediterranean and Mideast, including Hellenism.
 
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dave2008

Adventurer
@maceochaid

The attitude of the Scandinavian archeologists emerges from fieldwork, as different archeologists assess the evidence at sites across Scandinavia and other Nordic countries.
OK good. So can you provide the reference(s) for the peer-reviewed publish findings of these archaeologists? This doesn't seem like it should be so difficult.

It seems like you are well versed in this research so I assume you get these references fairly quickly - thank you for the help!

EDIT: sorry that came off very passive aggressive. I just wanted to clarify that it would be a great help if you provide the references requested. I like being up to date when I can, but I can't take the word of some anonymous person on the internet - sorry!
 
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Arial Black

Villager
@maceochaid

The attitude of the Scandinavian archeologists emerges from fieldwork, as different archeologists assess the evidence at sites across Scandinavia and other Nordic countries.

The main reasons for the shift include the following.

• The project to establish a ‘German race’ that began over a century ago, has failed.
• Relatedly, the project to establish a Pan-German religion, has failed.

• What is today Germany was ethnically diverse. Unrelated tribes adopt the language of neighbors.
• Roman evidence requires caution, ‘Germania’ is a territory that includes Celtic tribes and other tribes.
• Indeed the ‘Germanii’ tribe is probably Celtic.

• The linguistic category ‘Proto-Germanic’ is probably a misnomer.
• Rather than being the ‘recipient’ of this language, Scandinavia is probably its originator.
• Proto-Germanic seems the Nordic linguistic environment that develops after East Europeans enter from the Baltics.
• Germanic languages are essentially an out-of-Denmark radiation South, West, and East.

• The Norse belief systems are less like the Mediterranean ones (Roman, Greek, Canaanite/Phoenician).
• and more like shamanic neighboring ethnicities, (Sámi, Suomi).
• The only evident Norse spiritual leader is a shaman, the vǫlva, always a woman.
• Norse beliefs are shamanic.
• Ways of relating to nature beings (trolls) in Scandinavian folkbelief, appear conservative and indigenous.
• Aboriginal Norse beliefs appear primarily egalitarian animism
• rather than the master-servant polytheism of the Mediterranean and Mideast, including Hellenism.
That's....interesting....

Meanwhile, I need a game supplement to help me with my campaign gods set in an ersatz Scandinavia! Deities & Demigods does the job. Did you see that Thor has 26 Str when he wears his Girdle of Strength! But stats only go up to 25! Thor is awesome! And that full page picture of him fighting Jorgma....Jurgmann....Jargm... the World Serpent? Epic!

...Sorry, Yaaral, I interrupted. You were saying something boring about archaeology...?
 

Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
I'm not a religious scholar, but I did take several religious studies classes in college. Enough to know that religion has always been fluid, and ever changing. Not just through time, but differed by region during the same time period. Look at how many current variations of Christianity or Islam there is right now. Every religion in history has been this way. So to try to find the 'one true way' a particular religion was in the past is a fool's errand. You can't really do it. Especially when trying to determine how people worshiped when the written record isn't very good. Christianity falls into this as well because the Bible is based on a different language that has been translated over and over again. Ever play the telephone game as a kid?

Point being, it seems fairly odd to me to get worked up over how a game incorporated exotic religions into one of it's supplements. Mr. Ward didn't submit D&D as this thesis for religious studies in college did he? No? Well then, move on.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Registered User
I thought the satanic panic was a little bit after the publishing of this book, but you could be correct.
It peaked somewhat later, but I think it was already underway. See here. The fact that someone as daft as Patricia Pulling became the main voice of it as well as becoming a consultant for law enforcement(!) shows just how dippy things were. Of course, they're not much better in a lot of places.
 
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Jay Verkuilen

Registered User
Interestingly the Cleric was designed to be what would later become the Paladin. They were mostly the original Gish, and were invented to fight a Vampire character and were based on the Song of Roland and Peter Cushing's depiction of Van Helsing in B-Rated horror movies. So the Cleric is explicitly based on fantasy Christianity.
Yeah, I agree. Things like the venerable restriction to using blunt weapons came from the Medieval canard that a priest shouldn't shed blood but by using a club that would be OK. This is on the Bayeux Tapestry as I recall. There actually is a historical St. Cuthbert.

Gygax was a guy who was inspired by Taiwanese plastic dinosaurs with bizarre critters he bought in a junk shop! He cast a very wide net.
 

Ellsworth

Villager
Thanks for this bit of D&D history, Mr. Ward! Your post brought back childhood memories of reading that book for hours on end.
 
It is only a good thing if the representation of other cultures is accurate.

By the way, I own the book, the original one.

I can say its presentation of Scandinavian animisms is ... inaccurate.

Same goes for Native American animisms.

Vedic texts are sacred texts to modern Hindus.



Here is the rule of thumb.

If it is too sensitive to talk about our own religions in our own countries, then for similar reasons, it is probably too sensitive to talk about other peoples religions in other peoples countries.

So until D&D players become mature enough to talk about Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Atheism, and other traditions, with some sensitivity, we are probably not mature enough to talk about other reallife spiritual heritages either.
Well, you're about 40 years too late so ... good luck with that. "Broad strokes" and all seems to work in comics and movies and that's right about the level where RPG's tie in.

Gygax was a guy who was inspired by Taiwanese plastic dinosaurs with bizarre critters he bought in a junk shop! He cast a very wide net.
Hey they didn't have to come from a junk shop - you could get those at K-Mart, which is where I got mine well before I started playing D&D!
 

Jay Verkuilen

Registered User
Hey they didn't have to come from a junk shop - you could get those at K-Mart, which is where I got mine well before I started playing D&D!
I remember them, too, from when I was a kid but for some reason I thought the story was he found them in a junk shop. Regardless, some of the "weird" critters like Rust Monsters or the Bulette were from that bag of dinosaurs.
 

Vanveen

Villager
Ironically, I would have kept the Cthulhu stuff in. Who did you contact for the "rights"? Sauk City/August Derleth? They didn't actually hold them as far as I'm aware, even though Arkham House acted as if they did for many years. HPL's copyrights were a mess.
Lovecraft is now in the public domain, one reason so many games have appeared in the past few years.
 

Arnwolf666

Explorer
This is a great book and I loved all the follow up books. Great resource. I used several of these pantheons, especially Sumerian, Babylonian, and Finnish in several homebrew worlds. Thanks for your hard work Jim Ward.
 

LordEntrails

Explorer
Ironically, I would have kept the Cthulhu stuff in. Who did you contact for the "rights"? Sauk City/August Derleth? They didn't actually hold them as far as I'm aware, even though Arkham House acted as if they did for many years. HPL's copyrights were a mess.
Lovecraft is now in the public domain, one reason so many games have appeared in the past few years.
And apparently you just ignored James post that stated it was a TSR Legal group decision to remove the content without further input from him?
 

Vanveen

Villager
And apparently you just ignored James post that stated it was a TSR Legal group decision to remove the content without further input from him?
I read the post in detail. The larger point was that the "TSR Legal" group decision was, as far as I can tell, a mistake based on insufficient research.
 

JLowder

Villager
Ironically, I would have kept the Cthulhu stuff in. Who did you contact for the "rights"? Sauk City/August Derleth? They didn't actually hold them as far as I'm aware, even though Arkham House acted as if they did for many years. HPL's copyrights were a mess.
Lovecraft is now in the public domain, one reason so many games have appeared in the past few years.
At the time Deities was being put together, Arkham House was the claimant to the Lovecraft/Mythos copyrights. That claim seemed legitimate and did not fall apart in court until the mid-1980s, long after Deities was out.

While Arkham House may have given TSR some permission, as Jim describes, Arkham House also had a contract with Chaosium that gave Chaosium priority on the Cthulhu Mythos rights. Chaosium had a similar existing contract with Michael Moorcock. Chaosium contacted TSR after Deities came out and informed them of the contracts, then offered to let TSR continue to use the Eternal Champion and Cthulhu material at no charge, if TSR would simply acknowledge on the copyright page of new printings of Deities that Chaosium gave them permission. Someone at TSR decided not to do that and instead pulled the Cthulhu and Eternal Champion material.

--James Lowder
 

JLowder

Villager
I read the post in detail. The larger point was that the "TSR Legal" group decision was, as far as I can tell, a mistake based on insufficient research.
No. Chaosium had the contracts they claimed to have with Arkham House and Michael Moorcock. They still exist in the company files, the last I heard. (I work with Chaosium a lot these days.) Pretty much everyone in publishing at the time--including both TSR and Chaosium--believed Arkham House controlled the Lovecraft Mythos material. TSR was given a simple, free solution and turned it down. I don't know who at TSR made that decision, but from Jim's description, it sounds like the legal department is the likely culprit.

--James Lowder
 
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gyor

Adventurer
At the time Deities was being put together, Arkham House was the claimant to the Lovecraft/Mythos copyrights. That claim seemed legitimate and did not fall apart in court until the mid-1980s, long after Deities was out.

While Arkham House may have given TSR some permission, as Jim describes, Arkham House also had a contract with Chaosium that gave Chaosium priority on the Cthulhu Mythos rights. Chaosium had a similar existing contract with Michael Moorcock. Chaosium contacted TSR after Deities came out and informed them of the contracts, then offered to let TSR continue to use the Eternal Champion and Cthulhu material at no charge, if TSR would simply acknowledge on the copyright page of new printings of Deities that Chaosium gave them permission. Someone at TSR decided not to do that and instead pulled the Cthulhu and Eternal Champion material.

--James Lowder
They pulled them instead of a simple acknowledgement, it seems petty sadly.
 

Maxperson

Orcus on an on Day
Probably didn't want to provide free advertising for a competing game.
It wouldn't have been free. The advertising would been paid for by allowing continued use of two popular categories of deities. TSR just determined that it wasn't worth the price.
 
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 yearsکشمش پلوییlater 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!
 

Lanefan

Hero
Lovecraft is now in the public domain, one reason so many games have appeared in the past few years.
It is now, because he's been dead long enough, but I'm not sure that was the case in the late 1970's. Lovecraft died in 1937, and I think at the time 1e was published it was a 50-year wait before works hit the public domain (so, 1987). Then the law was changed to 75 years (so, 2012); hence the recent explosion of Lovecraft-based material.
 

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