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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

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
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.

Before we condemn something as a falsification, maybe we should consider sources. Not all of them will agree despite substantial scholarship on either side of various differences. For example, Baldr as 'literal' sunshine wouldn't seem to match descriptions in the Prose Edda. Moreover, beliefs evolve over time and space - I wouldn't expect current adherents of religions to belief or worship exactly the same as people did a couple of centuries, much less millennia, ago, nor would I expect all contemporary adherents of any religion to worship exactly the same way either if distant enough for regional and linguistic variations to arise.
 

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Yaarel

🇮🇱He-Mage
Before we condemn something as a falsification, maybe we should consider sources. Not all of them will agree despite substantial scholarship on either side of various differences. For example, Baldr as 'literal' sunshine wouldn't seem to match descriptions in the Prose Edda. Moreover, beliefs evolve over time and space - I wouldn't expect current adherents of religions to belief or worship exactly the same as people did a couple of centuries, much less millennia, ago, nor would I expect all contemporary adherents of any religion to worship exactly the same way either if distant enough for regional and linguistic variations to arise.

Baldr is daylight, rather than sunshine.

The Norse perceive daylight, dawn, and sunlight to be distinct phenomena, different nature beings.

Specifically, Baldr is the increasing daylight that ‘resurrects’ on the Jól winter solstice.
 

maceochaid

Explorer
Baldr is daylight, rather than sunshine.

The Norse perceive daylight, dawn, and sunlight to be distinct phenomena, different nature beings.

Specifically, Baldr is the increasing daylight that ‘resurrects’ on the Jól winter solstice.
Could you provide your sources?
 

Yaarel

🇮🇱He-Mage
Moreover, beliefs evolve over time and space - I wouldn't expect current adherents of religions to belief or worship exactly the same as people did a couple of centuries, much less millennia, ago, nor would I expect all contemporary adherents of any religion to worship exactly the same way either if distant enough for regional and linguistic variations to arise.

Regarding your main point, I agree. Different cultures who inherit cognate beliefs evolve differently.

A huge headache for Scandinavian archeologists is cognates like ‘Óðinn’ and ‘Wotan’, or ‘dvergr’ and ‘dwarf’, or ‘goð’ and ‘god’, or ‘tivar’ and ‘deity’, or ‘alfar’ and ‘elves’, mean different things to the distinct cultures. These cognates are false friends, as they say. Usually, the remoter Scandinavians preserve the ancient meaning, while the Romanized Hellenized Germans and English evolve different meanings because of different cultural contexts. When the Norse say ‘tivar’, they still mean the ancient meaning ‘sky beings’, and it includes both alfar and æsir, who are skyey phenomena.

What might be true for Germany, is sometimes false for Sweden. What might be true in (Saxon) England, is sometimes false for Norway. And so on.



English speakers often dont care what Scandinavians say about their own Scandinavian sacred texts. In my experience, German scholars are more cautious these days, but a century ago the opposite was true.

To this day, many English speakers still cannot grok that there is no such thing as a ‘priest of Þórr’. I mean after all, he is a ‘god’, isnt he? He must have a priest. There are no gods, there are no temples, there are no priests to run these imaginary temples.

Some Norse homes have a personal ‘shrine’ in their home, where they place food to share with a nature being. This is a mutual friendship with a particular phenomenon of nature.

But there is no organized religion. As one, archeologist put it, the Norse have no religion, but there are beliefs and customs.

Big culprits of the spread of this disinformation about Scandinavia were medieval German Christians. Like Adam of Bremen. This German Christian claimed there was a huge temple in Uppsala, where the Swedes practiced human sacrifice. When Scandinavian archeologists examined this claim, it turned out to be false. There was no temple. Nor evidence for it. Norse texts mention Uppsala and never mention anything like that. And of course, Adam of Bremen never actually visited Sweden. Wherever he got his rumor, the story is fiction, probably slanderous hatespeech by medieval Christians who are trying to eradicate vestiges of polytheism inside Germany.



A recent paper I read was by Norwegian archeologist discussing the use of horses in Viking Period funerary rites. The paper is surprisingly interesting. The burial of horses is frequent enough, yet absent from most archeological discussions. Focusing on this one thread, helped me get a better handle on what is going on with the remarkably diverse burial customs. Anyway, she had to discuss how the horse (sometimes) relates to Freyr. Because her paper was in English it was unavoidable to use the English terms. So she placed the term "god" in scare quotes. Those of us who know the Scandinavian archeology, we know that this word goð does not mean "god". But what can she do, she is talking in English. The enormity of the miscommunication is a universe away.

Heh, in the process of addressing the literature that did exist on the so far neglected topic of horse burial, she had to contend with a (to be fair from many decades ago) British archeologist who claimed that a tapestry in Oslo was a ‘high priestess’ who was worshiped by her followers as a ‘goddess’. *rolleyes*



Anyway. Headache.
 

dave2008

Legend
Baldr is daylight, rather than sunshine.

The Norse perceive daylight, dawn, and sunlight to be distinct phenomena, different nature beings.

Specifically, Baldr is the increasing daylight that ‘resurrects’ on the Jól winter solstice.

Odd, you didn't respond to his point. So does that mean you agree with him?
 

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. Someone at TSR decided to turn down this offer, for whatever reasons. 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.

--James Lowder
 
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maceochaid

Explorer
English speakers often dont care what Scandinavians say about their own Scandinavian sacred texts. In my experience, German scholars are more cautious these days, but a century ago the opposite was true.


Do you mean current Scandinavians, or pre-Christian Scandinavians? Who are you talking about, and which texts are you referring to when you say "their own Scandinavian sacred texts"

I have to admit, I thought we only had Roman writers detailing the beliefs of the pre-Christian era, and only Post-Christian writers from Scandinavia.
 
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dave2008

Legend
To this day, many English speakers still cannot grok that there is no such thing as a ‘priest of Þórr’. I mean after all, he is a ‘god’, isnt he? He must have a priest. There are no gods, there are no temples, there are no priests to run these imaginary temples.

I think you are a bit out of touch here. Any fan of Conan can, by Crom, grok that a god need's no priest or temples or even worship! Such things do not a god make ;)
 

Yaarel

🇮🇱He-Mage
Could you provide your sources?

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.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
Indeed, especially when we compare TSR to other media at the time. I think moral relativism is important here.

Or at least context.

For example, we look at Clyde Caldwell and can say a whole bunch of his paintings are sexist. But look at what fantasy art was like in the 70s and early 80s? Frazetta and Vallejo. So while through a modern lens we can say Caldwell's paintings are clearly sexist, we should also say that TSR did a pretty good job being progressive in addressing sexism in it's art during the time.

My understanding was a lot of this was Gygax, but of course one should not look for anything really noble. They were trying to sell stuff and part of that was avoiding a lot of bad publicity and problems with the distribution networks. There were a lot of nekkid ladies in TSR's art back in the day, though.


Progress never happens immediately; and I'm sure acceptable stuff now will be deemed offensive in the future, so we should acknowledge progress even if it's not where we want it to be modernly, because to do otherwise just sends a message they shouldn't touch the topic at all. Which of course means change will never happen if it's just ignored.

Indeed, and we should be wary of assuming "progress" doesn't have its back and forth.
 

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