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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

Vanveen

Villager
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.
The issue as I understand it was that the works were actually in the public domain from the time of death. Copyright as life +75 (or whatever figure) is dependent on copyright assertion in the first place. While we tend to think of this as a foundational truth now, to struggling pulp writers in the 1920s this was often the last thing they thought about. Lovecraft died without heirs; Derleth represented himself as the copyright assignee, without actual legal basis. Nobody cared enough to check for a long, long time, and in truth sorting this out would be a Herculean task. (Can you imagine what the "recordkeeping" of Weird Tales looked like? The stuff that survived? You can get an idea from Syracuse University as part of the Street and Smith collection, https://library.syr.edu/scrc/collections/areas/pulp.php.)
I'm also thinking Conan is in a similar position owing to the circumstances around Howard's career and death.
 

JLowder

Villager
The US copyright of Lovecraft's works is a complicated matter. Whether Lovecraft's works were or were not in copyright in 1980, when Deities was published, would have hinged upon the valid renewal of their copyrights 28 years after their initial publication. (The works would have been in copyright for a minimum of 28 years after publication.) The Copyright Act of 1976 significantly lengthened copyrights in the US. Based on current law in 1980 and Arkham House's practices at the time, both TSR and Chaosium had good reason to believe they needed permission from Arkham House to use the material.

--James Lowder
 

chrisshorb

Explorer
I have two copies for some reason, plus a Legends & Lore.
Same here. One has my name in my 14 year old scrawl, but the other? Clearly I have one of my first gaming group buddy’s book. Sorry man!

Also, where can I see the list of books Mr Ward mentions at the beginning of the article? From Gods Demigods and Heros? I don’t have that book. Sounds like an early Appendix N.
 

R_Chance

Explorer
Same here. One has my name in my 14 year old scrawl, but the other? Clearly I have one of my first gaming group buddy’s book. Sorry man!

Also, where can I see the list of books Mr Ward mentions at the beginning of the article? From Gods Demigods and Heros? I don’t have that book. Sounds like an early Appendix N.
The "Golden Bough" is a work on comparative religion and mythology by anthropologist James Frazer. It used to be one of the standard references on Mythology, it was written in the 1890s iirc. "Gods, Demigods and Heroes" is the 4th supplement for the original D&D game of course. I don't recall it having a list of references in it though. I'll have to look. My D&D and AD&D books are shelved in the bedroom and the wife's asleep. Waking her up (it's midnight here) looking for an old game book would be a mythological disaster of sorts :) I'll look tomorrow...

*edit* Typos...

*edit* And in the (late) morning, no list of sources in GD&H.
 
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Samloyal23

Explorer
So will we see another iteration of this tome for 5E? What pantheons would it have? Any fictitious ones, like the gods of Westeros? Maybe a voudou pantheon of loas? There are lots of possibilities...
 

dave2008

Adventurer
So will we see another iteration of this tome for 5E? What pantheons would it have? Any fictitious ones, like the gods of Westeros? Maybe a voudou pantheon of loas? There are lots of possibilities...
No likely. By today's 5e standards you would have to do several books (4-8) to cover all of the content in the 1e Deities and Demigods and updated it to 5e. That is just not going to happen by WotC.
 

Samloyal23

Explorer
No likely. By today's 5e standards you would have to do several books (4-8) to cover all of the content in the 1e Deities and Demigods and updated it to 5e. That is just not going to happen by WotC.
I would be happy with a series of pdf addendums to just update the stats to 5E...
 

gyor

Adventurer
So will we see another iteration of this tome for 5E? What pantheons would it have? Any fictitious ones, like the gods of Westeros? Maybe a voudou pantheon of loas? There are lots of possibilities...
I wouldn't mind Ebla Pantheon (a mix of Mesopotamian, Canaanite, and native Ebla Deities among others), Hititte Pantheon.

FR's full Pantheons.
 

Hussar

Legend
I wouldn't mind Ebla Pantheon (a mix of Mesopotamian, Canaanite, and native Ebla Deities among others), Hititte Pantheon.

FR's full Pantheons.
IIRC, they did FR's full Pantheons in 2e and it was two pretty hefty books. I think I owned both at one time. Someone truly, truly loved clerics who wrote that book. :D Aren't there like a couple of hundred different divinities in FR?
 

gyor

Adventurer
IIRC, they did FR's full Pantheons in 2e and it was two pretty hefty books. I think I owned both at one time. Someone truly, truly loved clerics who wrote that book. :D Aren't there like a couple of hundred different divinities in FR?
3 hefty books and I think FR's Pantheon is bigger now then it was then because MTOFs unified the Demihuman Pantheons. Plus the Sundering raised dead gods back to life and allowed others to come.

Honestly I don't know how many Gods there are in FR, it's never been completely clear, especially since FR had huge amount if Spaces unexplored, and has multiple human Pantheons. It also depends on the book and era.
 
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Samloyal23

Explorer
What I would really like to see would be an update and expansion of the Historical Reference series with details on the different cultures' pantheons. Who couldn't use a reference book about the Celts and their gods with information about their customs and myths?
 

Voadam

Adventurer
3 hefty books and I think FR's Pantheon is bigger now then it was then because MTOFs unified the Demihuman Pantheons. Plus the Sundering raised dead gods back to life and allowed others to come.

Honestly I don't know how many Gods there are in FR, it's never been completely clear, especially since FR had huge amount if Spaces unexplored, and has multiple human Pantheons. It also depends on the book and era.
What is MTOFs?
 

Mirtek

Villager
Honestly I don't know how many Gods there are in FR, it's never been completely clear, especially since FR had huge amount if Spaces unexplored, and has multiple human Pantheons. It also depends on the book and era.
Around 120. Greyhawk actually does have pretty much the same Number of deities.

Most demihuman and monstrous deities are multhispheric and the same in both worlds and the Number of unique human deities is almost the same
 

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