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I am creating some software that, at the moment, uses parts of the same format of summarizing creatures as the published works of Wizards of the Coast. Specifically the 2nd edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D 2nd edition).

For reference, this is what I'm talking about:
What I'm including
What theirs look like (if linking to this isn't allowed here I apologize)

From what I understand from the research I have done this does not fall under copyright, though despite the research I still have a hard time understanding it all. Where I get slightly more confused is trademarks and what some refer to as "product identity" however I haven't been able to find much information on the latter.

I don't understand how and what is protected outside the illustrations and perhaps the physical descriptions/explanations of the creatures. From my understanding of copyright and trademark the name and what I could refer to as the "recipe" (the list of attributes) of the creature can't be protected.

So what exactly is protected here and how, if at all, am I allowed to use parts of what is protected to stay kosher.

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Firstly, all content written by Wizards of the Coast (such as descriptions and stats) are owned by them.

However, Wizards of the Coast has released the Open Game License (OGL), which allows content creators to use the rules of dungeons and dragons, and incorporate copyrighted material into their own works.

Specifically, they are allowed to use the contents of the D&D System Reference Document freely and D&D rules freely. The SRD contains monster information so would indeed permit someone to write an app intended for use with D&D monsters.

But you may not use any of the D&D media in your work. So pictures of monsters are not allowed.

Here is an article from the WotC website which briefly describes what you can and cannot do with the OGL.

But it is necessary to look at the OGL itself, which can be found here

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  • As was mentioned in another answer and what I forgot to include in my question is that the layout I use is that of a much older version of D&D (Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition) which doesn't seem to be mentioned anywhere on their site or anywhere else I have looked. I will edit my question to include this information. – PinkPenguin Jul 19 '17 at 21:27
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From my understanding of copyright and trademark the name and what I could refer to as the "recipe" (the list of attributes) of the creature can't be protected.

Well, your understanding is wrong.

WotC have produced a copyright work which includes the words, the order of the words, the layout of the words etc. you have created a derivative work and this is not allowed. While it is true that facts are not subject to copyright, the game statistics of a made-up creature are not facts.

Now, WotC have issued licences for their 3rd, 4th and 5th editions of the D&D game where the material references the licence. Your link is to 2nd edition material which is not and never has been licenced.

The only way that you are permitted to do what you want is if it is fair use. If you intend this software for personal use it probably is, if you intend public distribution it probably isn't.

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  • If I were to release the program without including any monsters would that be alright then? That is the user would be able to themselves create that content but the order and type of creature facts would be the same still. In essence, does WotC have rights to the order and layout of that specific list if it is not describing one of their creatures? – PinkPenguin Jul 19 '17 at 12:22
  • The attributes of a monster are not facts but ideas. They are absolutely not copyrightable. – stwlam Jul 14 '18 at 18:17
  • @stwlam Thats a contention, but I'm not aware of any cases on point. If WotC creates a FooMonster with certain stats and a textual description then the name and stats are probably going to be judged as a creative work in their own right. If you just took the stats and had a different monster name then the claim would be much weaker, but of course the OP wants the monster names. – Paul Johnson May 30 at 10:27
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AD&D, like all games, is covered under copyright.

HOWEVER, games are not treated the same as books and other works.

Rules of a game, including "stats" and other information required to play the game, are NOT protected by copyright. This is Copyright Law, and has nothing to do with a license which a work is published under.

Artwork is fully protected by copyright, as is any setting descriptions. In the context of the D&D franchise, the actual wording of any rulebooks, monster descriptions, game modules, and such are all protected by copyright, so you can't wholesale cut-and-paste things.

But, that does not extend to the various mechanics of the game. Armor Class, Hit Dice, etc. are all mechanics, and CANNOT be protected. That includes values assigned to monsters or characters or such. A company cannot also protect the particular layout of those statistics, if that layout is considered generic in nature. In the case we are talking about, a table listing the statistics is NOT protected, as it does nothing more than list those statistics, and contains no original, protected material of WotC.

In addition, uniquely created monsters, characters, etc. all have their name protected, but not their statistics. But generic names thereof cannot be protected. It is perfectly permissible to have a clone copy of a Drow and call them a Dark Elf (a generic name). One could not copy the description of the Drow from a Monster Manual, but the idea of a Dark Elf cannot be protected, nor can the statistics thereof.

It is explicitly permissible by Copyright Law to clone the rules to a game, which in the context of D&D includes a generic name for anything trademarked (thus, no Drow, and no Dungeon Master, but Dark Elf and Game Master), the mechanisms used to play the game -- including the terms used to reference them -- and all related numerical statistics associated with those components of the game.

All of this is in addition to any rights the OGL gives you. These rights CANNOT be restricted by the OGL, as they are basic Copyright Law rights, not license rights.

I've been writing D&D expansions and such for over 4 decades now (since the late 1980s), and this is what I've repeatedly been told by various Copyright lawyers.

In short, provided you don't use the text description of a particular monster (and instead write your own one, using the same concept of what the monster is), and you don't use a trademarked name for it, it is possible to "scrape copy" the statistic summary section of any Monster Manual or the like.


Here's an explicit parallel: the game of Monopoly.

When creating a clone of Monopoly, here's what you CAN do:

  1. Copy the basic layout of the board - a square with the properties laid out in a path around the edge.
  2. Arrange the properties as they currently are, WITH THE CURRENT NAMES on them. Each property's name is not possible to protect, as they are generic names.
  3. Free Parking, Jail, and Go To Jail, and Go can all be labeled and placed accordingly.
  4. Chance and Community Chest cards can be named as such, and referred to as such. The text on the cards is also (mostly) usable.
  5. The costs and values of all Chance, Community Chest, and properties can be copied.
  6. The rules of movement, going to jail, etc. can all be copied.
  7. Have pieces that are Hats, Dogs, Cars, etc, and both Hotels and Houses, and explicitly refer to them by those names.

Here's what you CANNOT do:

  1. Use the particular color scheme of the board
  2. Use any artwork, including the drawings on any cards.
  3. Use the particular graphic presentation of a card.
  4. Copy the design of any piece, except the House/Hotel which, insofar as they are very generic, can be extremely similar.
  5. You can only use the word "Monopoly" in the context of referring to the Parker Brothers game, not in any other context, as it is trademarked.
  6. The specific wording of the rulebook cannot be duplicated. You have to write the rules in your own words.
  7. The wording of certain Community Chest and Chance cards, where they are not just generic game instructions, cannot be duplicated. E.g. "Grand Opera Night—Collect $50 from every player for opening night seats" cannot be duplicated, but you can have any other wording for something that would gain you $50 per player.

Now, see how that works in comparison to D&D?

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Since you are not talking about specific content but rather the manner of presentation or perhaps the idea of reducing a mythological creature to an attribute set, this would be subject to patent, not copyright. WOTC does not appear to have patented this process. Further, if they had then the patent would have likely expired by now. https://patents.justia.com/assignee/wizards-of-the-coast-inc

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