James M Ward: The Making and Breaking of Deities & Demigods

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Jun 11, 2019, 3:12:37 PM6/11/19
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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.

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.

[ 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! ]


--
Dems & the media want Trump to be more like Obama, but then he'd
have to audit liberals & wire tap reporters' phones.


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