Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Elric - Deities and Demigods

While the original "little" book, Gods, Demigods, and Heroes (1976) was technically the first official D&D product to include statistics for Elric, it was really the 1980 hardcover, Deities and Demigods, that would become the most notorious reference containing the albino anti-hero. Notorious because, by the time the third printing was released, two of the more popular pantheons had disappeared from the book: that of HP Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos, and that of Moorcock's Melnibone.

Finding a copy of the rare first two printings became a sort of quest for the holy grail - it was pretty good gamer-geek cred to own one, and be able to reference Pyaray or Shoggoths when needed.

The story behind the disappearance of the two pantheons is an interesting one. For many years I assumed, apparently along with many other people (who would frequently state this), that the reason was that TSR had been busted for copyright infringement and been forced to remove the offending pantheons. The truth of course, was much stranger.

In fact, Cthulhu was already, by this time, public domain (though the contemporary publisher Arkham House would sell licensing rights), and TSR was pretty much free, within reason, to reference the material as they wished. The Melnibonean material was very much not in the public domain, but TSR contacted Moorcock directly, and he graciously gave them his permission to publish the material. So, legally, everything was fine.

Except in the eyes of a competitor of TSR's: Chaosium.

It just so happened that RPGs based on the Cthulhu and Melnibonean stories were this company's bread and butter, so they made kind of a stink when TSR released a book containing stats for what they look at as being their "territory". Not an unfair opinion, considering they were actually paying licensing fees for both properties. After some negotiation, Chaosium agreed to let the matter lie, provided TSR agreed to print a small "thank you" to Chaosium in the credits of the book. Not a bad deal, really, getting some advertising in your chief competitor's book. So that's what appeared in the second printing of Deities and Demigods.

However, by the time a third printing was due, TSR decided it was not worth advertising for a competitor, and the pantheons were yanked altogether.


  1. Jeff Dee illustrations. The best part of the Melnibonian section of this book.

  2. I love the idea of an 18 int Fighter but don't you think he is attributed the class levels of a God?

    Does he come across as a 19th lvl MU in the books?

  3. Two of my gaming group own this printing. I was beside myself with rapture; I had to explain... They were bamboozled that it would be in any way extraordinary.

  4. Actually, I read somewhere that Chaosium and TSR initially came to an amicable agreement: Chaosium could include AD&D stats in their 'Thieves World' product, and in return TSR could include the Cthulhu and Melnibonean mythos in DDG.

    However, the Blumes (or some other higher-up in TSR at that time) disliked the idea of crediting a rival RPG company in one of their core books, and so demanded that the sections with the Cthulhu and Melnibonean mythos be removed. Ironically, in the first printing of DDG that did not include the Cthulhu and Melnibonean mythos, Chaosium was still thanked!

    (Unfortunately, I cannot remember where I read this tale. I believe it may have been reported by a former TSR employee over at Dragonsfoot, but I'm not sure. It's been a few years since I read it.)

  5. What's Elric doing with his left hand in the picture? And look at the way he's standing...does he have a lower backache or merely suppressing gas?

  6. Al: Kent, I am really not all that interested in the comments on my blog so refrain from asking questions. I am an important person and my important activities occupy my time in an important manner. Be grateful I don't charge you to read my musings.

    Eh, fair enough Al.

  7. Kent: best heckler ever! :)

  8. Arioch forever looks like the Dee illo in my mind's eye. So, unfortunately does Moonglum, which causes no end of cognitive dissonance every time I read a story with him in it.



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