Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes was the fourth supplement published for the original "white box" Dungeons & Dragons. It was the only supplement not written or co-written by Gary Gygax or David Arneson. It was written by Robert Kuntz and James Ward (it might not come to many as one of those earth-shattering surprises -- the kind that make nations fall, banks fail, and cows birth five legged steers -- to learn that James Ward and Robert Kuntz also coauthored AD&D's Deities and Demigods).

Conceptually it was supposed to be a manual for cleric characters. Clerics worshiped a god or gods. That was clear. But what god and why? Eldritch Wizardry tackled demons and devils. Why not a god book? The supplement promised to flesh out all this god business. It was, however, something of an empty promise.

It started out well, with arguably the best cover art of the initial D&D supplements. It was a pure white parchment cover with a full color Egyptian tomb painting of Osiris. This was a clue as to the contents and intents. The cleric character up until then had basically been based on the medieval warrior priest of the Crusades. In fact all the D&D character classes were heavily derived from the whole Chainmail days which was firmly set in the dark and medieval European period, a particular favorite time period of Gary Gygax. With the exception of the "out there" work of Dave Hargrave's Arduin Grimoire and the little played Empire of the Petal Throne, early FRP gamers were still pretty much clomping around a Middle Earth-like world populated with hobbits and balrogs which was nonsensically ruled over by the highly familiar Greek pantheon.

But, hey sport, what if your campaign was set in Egypt, China, India, Norway, or even worlds based on other fantasy books that weren't Middle Earth? (You mean there are other fantasy novels besides The Lord of the Rings? Is this what you're telling me, Chuckles? By Crom!) Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes added both the Hyborian gods (as in the gods from the Conan milieu) and Michael Moorcock's Melnibone god set from his Elric series.

However once you cracked the spine and kind of got over the Elric/Conan fanboy stuff, you were left wondering "errr what good is it?" The supplement listed major gods, minor gods, heroes, magic items, and some mythological beings. It gave rather brief descriptions of these gods and supplied gaming details like hit points and what level fighter Odin was.

But, okay, your cleric now worships Odin. Yi ha. How has the game been qualitatively changed by that small new pencil smudge on the purple ink player character sheet your dad the grade school principal mimeographed for you? Well, it hasn't, has it? And maybe herein lies a criticism about religion in the real world itself. The Christian God or Allah? What diff does it make? But that's for another node or Usenet group.

AD&D's Deities & Demigods itself suffered much of the same criticism. Both failed to introduce game effects. What advantage was there to worshiping Apollo over Zeus? What disadvantage was there? Were followers of X god forbidden to do work on the Great Holy Day of Grindabor? Were followers of Y god better at turning zombie rats and bad at turning zombie voles? Deities & Demigods' saving grace (ha ha) was that it at least provided some pretty detailed descriptions of the gods and had many, many pretty pictures. If it failed as a gaming aid, it made excellent bathroom reading material. Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes, in contrast, supplied scant information save for basic descriptions of what the god looked like and some game stats. One might have been better served buying a copy of Bullfinch's Mythology. You know?

In what might have been a bit of an after thought justification, the book was prefaced with a note that Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes at least created a sort of upper bounds to challenge the "Monty Hall" inflation that was taking place. It was kind of, like, saying "look Odin is only a 30th level fighter." In that, it failed as well. Many committed Monty Hall types just used it so much like a hunting ranch menu. "Sure would like to bag me a Thor today and get me that lil hammer of his…"

Upon publication a small controversy erupted almost immediately in the Letters to the Editor section of The Dragon (as it was called at that time, versus their later The-less Dragon). It seemed spooky to some that a god was at all killable. Sure Odin had 300 hit points. But could you really kill the All Father? Remarkably no one seemed to object to the inclusion of Hindu deities. While killing Odin raised half a dozen metaphysical questions, not many people are actually worshiping Odin these days. Making stats available so blood thirsty gamer types can kill off gods actively worshiped by about a billion people had certain ethical issues. Those issues were, however, easily sidestepped in the '70s because not a lot of Hindus played D&D.

The ethical issue did come up a few years later. The March 1980 issues of Dragon (issue 35) ran an article by author William Fawcett that gave AD&D game stats for the entire order of Christian angels (as laid out by St. Gregory the Great): Angels, Archangels, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Dominations, Throne, Cherubim and Seraphim. It was an extremely well written, well researched article. But now just hold on a second. For months after issue 35, The Dragon ran loads of letters to the editor arguing the merits of publishing angel stats.

See also for additional supplements:

I - Greyhawk, II - Blackmoor, III - Eldritch Wizardry, V - Swords & Spells

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