The Father of Modern Wemics [14 Jan 05]
Iíve been interested lately in wemic origins, and having tracked down the liontaurís mythological origins in ancient Assyria, I turned to the origins of the wemic in D&D. I had long known that wemics entered the game as a bonus monster in the Monster Cards Set 3 product in 1982. But I wanted to find out more. So I tried to track down old TSR vets who might be able to help.
Jim Ward, currently of Fast Forward Entertainment, suggested that wemics were inspired by the Native-American-Indian-style centaurs of Philip Jose Farmerís World of Tiers books. That makes sense to me, since the tone of the creatures in that work certainly echoes the feel of the wemic.
But I really hit pay dirt when I wrote to Stephen D. Sullivan, one of the Alliterates, a longtime game designer, and an award-winning author. He was really enthusiastic and helpful. He wrote to me with his reminiscence of the creation of the Monster Cards at TSR:
I was in the art department at the time, and I do remember us working on it. It seems to me that it might have been illustrated by Jim Roslof -- who was the art director at the time. [Cayzle: yup! Roslof's signature is on the original card.]
Most everyone in the art department worked on the cards -- even me, though my main job was doing maps and graphics. (Roslof -- who was the Art Director at the time -- touched up some of the cards I worked on.)
Most of the designers who were there at the time also worked on the new monsters for the cards. The editorial department, then under either Harold Johnson or maybe Pat Price, was also heavily involved, as the designers had trouble writing copy that would fit on the cards. (It's difficult to write things that short.) So, I'm sure there was some pretty heavy editing on that copy.
As I recall -- and this is nearly 25 years ago now, so my memory is very fuzzy -- it's likely that either Tom Moldvay or Zeb Cook came up with the creature. I'm thinking that it was probably Tom. He was heavily into mythology (as most of us were), so it might be that he was inspired by something he read.
Sullivan was kind enough to BCC a few TSR old-hands in his response to me, and Dave "Zeb" Cook quickly wrote back:
By my memory the wemic was created by Dave Sutherland. I'm not 100 percent, but I'd say 90 percent, sure on that. I don't have the card so I can say who did the art. The cards came out in 1982 (by the copyright) so I'm not sure if Moldvay was still there or not.
This prompted another recollection from Steve Sullivan:
Zeb may be right about Dave Sutherland creating the creature. If he did, though, it's a little funny he didn't draw it. Or maybe not, as the art department standards had changed and "upgraded" -- which is one reason why my cards were retouched. The other was that, in retrospect, they weren't really great art. ;-)
Now that my memory's been jogged, I do kind of remember that Dave might have done a sketch that Roslof worked from for the painting. But that may just be my brain "backfilling" to fit new "facts."
Sleuthing instincts at the fore, he also was able to contact Dave Sutherland, and had a phone conversation with him. Sullivan wrote to me with some good news and some sad news:
I talked to Dave Sutherland (III) today, and he is, indeed, the creator of the Wemic.
Dave was in TSR's management at the time (Art Director he said), and worked with Jim Roslof to develop the drawing for it. It was something Dave was doing for himself. (All of us were very much into the game.) When the call came needing monsters for the Monster Cards, Dave submitted the Wemic along with the Tunnel Worm and the H'bsil (sp?) -- and that's how it got there.
Because Dave was in management then, he couldn't draw the creature himself. (Management rules.) So Jim did it.
As I remembered, Dave was looking to add something with a different flavor to the D&D mythos. The Wemic was -- according to Dave -- a Zulu version of a centaur: part human, part lion.
Judging from the fan reaction, he made a good choice!
If there was any mythological precident, he didn't mention it.
I hope I've done justice to what he told me on the phone. It was a very small part of a long conversation. I'm sure he'd be happy to tell you the details if you write to him.
And you should do so _soon_. Dave is very ill, probably terminally ill, and may not make it past spring. Despite this, he seemed in good spirits when we talked. I'm sure he would be glad to hear from you and other fans who appreciate his work.
For readers coming late to the game, David C. Sutherland III is a famous name for those of us who grew up with the first edition of Dungeons and Dragons. An artist, he drew the covers of the first edition Monster Manual and Dungeon Master Guide, and his illustrations fill those books as well as the first edition Players Handbook. Old-time D&Ders fondly remember his "A Paladin in Hell" (see left, with link to larger image). It's just icing on the cake that he created the wemic, too!
Since he does not have a computer, I intend to write to Dave Sutherland in the near future. I plan to include print-outs of fan Web pages (including my own) with wemic content. If anyone would like to send me a link or a message for him, I would be happy to print out and send him stuff. Please feel free to contact me at
And thanks to Jim Ward, Zeb Cook, and especially Steve Sullivan for all their help!
Update: Dave Sutherland died in early June 2005. Here are more details.