Friday, March 6, 2015

James Ward on Deities & Demigods

Speaking of Moorcock -- The other week James Ward made a pretty interesting and fiery post on his Facebook page (2/20/15). He said:
Deities & Demigods
Let me set the record straight on this again. I wrote the book Deities & Demigods with some slight help from others. In doing this work I included myths from H.P. Lovecraft's works and Elric of M. Moorcock works. Gary Gygax gave me M. Moorcock's address and I wrote him for permission and got it because I said it would renew peoples interests in his books. I wrote to Arkham House which was in my state of Wisconsin and also got the rights to Lovecraft's material. Going forward both groups sold their rights to Chaosium in California. Lawyers from Chaosium then sent a cease and desist letter to TSR. TSR had the permissions I gave them, but they had no money for lawyers at that time. So Brian Blume decided to take out those two sections. I went crazy. I had done my homework, I had gotten ironclad permission, and TSR wasn't going to fight it. I offered to replace the two sections with new ones and was told no. There was no copyright infringement. That was 30+ years ago. Every five years or so some idiot brings up the fact that TSR was in infringement on this book. Let me tell the people of the world who bring this up that they don't have their facts straight and it irritates the hell out of me.

I think this is a useful recollection to document -- even though, of course, memories do get hazy over a period of 30 years or more (in fact, the initial version of Ward's post accidentally spoke of Jack Vance being Elric's creator instead of Moorcock, before being edited). Sean K. Reynolds had earlier documented what people at TSR told him on his website, with a somewhat different interpretation (link):
I investigated the matter, actually talked to people who were at TSR when the Deities & Demigods stuff happened (including James “Drawmij” Ward, VP of Creative Services, TSR), and repeated online what actually happened often enough until the answer mostly stuck. Eventually, Joel “Aardy DeVarque” Hahn added this info to the FAQ for the newsgroup*. Here’s the relevant info:

The first printing of Deities & Demigods included the mythoi of Cthulhu and Melnibone. The ideas behind the Cthulhu mythos were in the public domain at that time, but copyright on the Cthulhu books in print was owned by Arkham House, who had licensed Chaosium to create a Cthulhu RPG based on those books. TSR thought the public domain status allowed them to create game representations of whatever Cthulhu creatures they desired, and so that mythos was added to Deities & Demigods. TSR then contacted Michael Moorcock [author of the Elric of Melnibon√© stories], who gave permission for TSR to include the Melnibonean mythos in Deities & Demigods. However, again, Chaosium had already arranged for a license to create an Elric RPG. Chaosium became upset that TSR was apparently violating Chaosium’s licenses, and the print run of Deities & Demigods was halted while the two companies sat down to talk. Eventually, they agreed that TSR could continue printing the books with the two mythoi as is, on the condition that a note be added to the preface:  “Special thanks are given to Chaosium, Inc. for permission to use the material found in the Cthulhu Mythos and the Melnibonean Mythos.” The printing plates were changed, and the first printing continued.

When the time for a second printing came, the Blume brothers [majority shareholders of TSR at the time] decided that a TSR book should not contain such a prominent reference to one of their competitors. They decided to remove the two mythoi, and thus the need for the note. (Apparently, Gary Gygax offered to write up two new mythoi to fill the space, but the Blumes decided they could make more money charging the same price for a book with fewer pages.) Later, the book–still without the two mythoi and the note–was republished under the name “Legends & Lore.”

When Legends & Lore was updated to 2nd ed. AD&D, several more mythoi were removed, namely the Babylonian, Finnish, Nonhuman, and Sumerian mythoi; the Central American mythos was renamed the Aztec mythos. Contrary to rumor, the Newhon mythos was never removed, and, in fact, was included in the 2nd ed. L&L, probably due to the simple fact that it is TSR who owns the license to produce Lankhmar materials. The deities of the nonhumans were reintroduced in Monster Mythology.


  1. I think it comes down to the horses mouth, versus word of mouth. Also, things didn't get documented, because it was more of a pain, so hearsay became the record.

  2. I'm pretty sure I remember on dragonsfoot that Jim Ward basically said that Rob Kuntz did most of the work on the Finnish Mythos, while Jim did most of the work on everything else. That makes sense. The heroes of the Finnish Mythos are decked-out in magic items, while all the other heroes have very few. If you read Rob's modules, you'll know that he is a great friend of magic items!

  3. I'll add that in my opinion the D&DG Cthulhu Mythos was not written from scratch, but is a revision of Holmes & Kuntz's earlier article in Dragon #12, the bulk of which was written by Holmes. See these posts for more on this:

    Dr Holmes & the Cthulhu Mythos in D&DG

    Part II

  4. Gygax clarifies the Moorcock side nicely: Ward is right in that he approached Mike directly and got the OK, but neither knew at the time that the rights had already been assigned.

    1. Thanks for the link. That makes a lot of sense; reading the Ward & Reynolds accounts side-by-side, that possibility definitely came to mind. I myself was once part of a game company where a dispute arose over whether the party that licensed us something actually retained the right to do so.

    2. Thanks for making me aware of the latest Ward recollections. Good to see he moved in complete good faith. Sad to see a few of the fans calling Chaosium litigation trolls -- the nose is not 100% clean when dealing with the Moorcock properties but this one wasn't their mess, and they resolved it with grace that would be surprising today.

  5. I had heard the second explanation, along with part of the deal (for allowing those two Mythos) was that Chaosium got to use D&D stats for their Thieves World Sanctuary boxed set