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The truth about Advanced Dungeon & Dragons' Deities & Demigods

Deities & Demigods (Front Cover)
TSR/Wizards of the Coast

Nick Ozment posted the last installment of a three-part series today at Black Gate's blog, reviewing the controversial printing of the reference book that listed statistics of gods and legendary creatures from mythology and fiction. Nick's discussion of the book led to a comment from an authoritative source who shed some light on just how Deities & Demigods became so controversial.

Part one begins with an overview of Deities & Demigods:

More wide-ranging (and less Eurocentric) than Bullfinch’s Mythology and Hamilton’s Mythology combined, here was a smorgasbord of most of the world’s major (and not-so-major) mythologies, presented as a one-stop shop for your player-character to choose a god or otherworldly entity to pledge fealty to and/or worship.

Deities & Demigods (Front Cover)
Deities & Demigods (Front Cover) TSR/Wizards of the Coast

Deities & Demigods (Front Cover)

The book had its critics. For one, some gamers thought the idea that you could just beat up gods was silly, and the stats encouraged said beating up:

Even though they assigned crazy-huge hit points and breathtakingly strong armor classes to the gods, said deities still had stats that could be overcome by powerful enough characters. As one critic observed, the book essentially turned the world’s deities into higher-level “monsters” to defeat — “bosses” for your 20th-level party to challenge. No room here for some metaphysical idea of a being that exists above corporeal, material reality and therefore cannot be “hurt” by a sword with a high-enough bonus modifier.

But more seriously, Deities & Demigods' inclusion of a wide variety of pagan deities was seen as a corrupting influence by Christian fundamentalists:

No wonder the fundamentalist Christians who condemned the game with bilious fervor back in the ‘80s heaped particular scorn on this volume. Yes, they were convinced D&D was turning children into devil worshippers, until Harry Potter came along and drew away their fire...In the fundamentalist’s world, those “imaginary” gods are not imaginary at all, but covert disguises and nom de plumes for real demons. Adding fuel to the fire (sometimes a literal bonfire at the local church youth group), D&D did directly appropriate one aspect of Judeo-Christian myth: the devils and demons (although they can be found in many other mythologies as well). Puritanical fear mongers took this and ran with it. (Can you imagine how many fuses would have blown if Deities and Demigods had included a section with stats for Adam and Eve, the angels Michael and Gabriel, and Jesus?)

Deities & Demigods (Back Cover)
Deities & Demigods (Back Cover) TSR/Wizards of the Coast

Deities & Demigods (Back Cover)

In part two, Nick explains why there are multiple printings of Deities & Demigods, as described by

The 1st and 2nd printings of this manual contained the Cthulhu and Elric Mythos. Later editions did not include these. What happened was that Chaosium held the rights to both of these properties. Chaosium actually granted TSR these rights retroactively and are thanked in the second printing of the book on page 4. However, the Blume brothers did not like thanking Chaosium in print so had the two offending chapters removed for the third printing. However, the thank you wasn't removed until the fifth printing. According to Frank Mentzer at GenCon SoCal 2003, the printings of this book were referred to internally at TSR as follows:

  • 1st: Squids, no thanks!
  • 2nd: Squids with thanks!
  • 3rd and 4th: No squids with thanks! (3rd has wizard logo, 4th has face logo)
  • 5th: No squids, no thanks!
  • 6th and later: Legends & Lore (ok, so Frank didn't mention this part, but the 6th printing is when it changed titles)

Nick translates:

My understanding with regard to the Melnibonean material is that Gygax et al had been given permission by Michael Moorcock to reference his work. Moorcock may have considered it quite flattering that his creations were being incorporated into the Dungeons & Dragons game, and he apparently wasn’t all that concerned about the ins and outs of copyright (things were much more informal in those halcyon days of yore, before everything was bought up by bloodsucking mega-corporations). Unfortunately, he had extended the same courtesy to the folks at Chaosium Games, who had their own Melnibone-based material in the works, and they did care a little bit more that their big competitor was drawing on the same source material. They also were launching their own Lovecraftian game, the famous Call of Cthulhu, for which they had secured legal rights from Lovecraft’s estate. So here was TSR horning in on their licensed products.

Lawrence Schick, editor of Deities & Demigods explained how the confusion came about in Black Gate's comments section:

As the editor of the book, I can clear up a couple of points about the Melnibonean and Cthulhu Mythos clusterfrogs. I had, in fact, gotten permission directly from Michael Moorcock to use the Elric material in DDG, which was a naive, n00b mistake: I should have gone through his agent, as Chaosium did, when they made the arrangements for “Stormbringer.” When it comes to rights, agent > author. Meanwhile, Gary had written to someone he knew at Arkham House (the name escapes me) for permission to use the Cthulhu Mythos. They said yes, largely because even then that mythos was an open-source setting, and they didn’t really have the right to say no. However, Chaosium felt they had acquired the exclusive right to do Lovecraft games, and were willing to fight for it. TSR was not, because they figured the book would sell with or without the squids.

Legends & Lore
Legends & Lore TSR/Wizards of the Coast

Legends & Lore

Today's final installment addresses the issue of female nudity in early editions of Dungeons & Dragons, and Deities & Demigods in particular:

There may be a variety of reasons for any given goddess to do this. Maybe it’s a ploy to distract from the fact that she has the head of a jackal or a snake (or a lobster, as in the case of Blibdoolpoolp, goddess of the Kuo-Toa). [There’s a story out of London about a female pickpocket who flashes her breasts at her victims after snatching their iPod or iPhone: the victims can never provide to police a description of her face.] Maybe it’s to symbolize her status as a giver and sustainer of life and sustenance to her followers. Maybe it’s just because David S. LaForce was really good at drawing breasts.

With its nudity, stat-level depiction of other religions' deities, and copyright challenges from other sources of fiction, it's easy to see why Deities & Demigods was so controversial.

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