10

I've been working on an application that would streamline the average Dungeons and Dragons 5e tabletop experience, and it only recently occurred to me that doing so may infringe on copyrights.

Basically, the goal is to help players and DMs track action economy, initiative, spells, etc., by listing options and showing descriptions, many of which would come from Wizards of the Coast-published materials. I know that some of this may be covered by either the Creative Commons license or the OGL it was published under, but it's not clear to me how far those freedoms extend.

2
  • What is your question? May 11, 2023 at 13:20
  • Mr Pauley, the basic points remain the same but I've added some links to my answer below that might be helpful. If there's more that I'm missing, lemme know or edit it into the bottom answer for other curious gamer-entrepreneurs. Best of luck!
    – lly
    May 12, 2023 at 10:24

2 Answers 2

17

I know that some of this may be covered by either the Creative Commons license or the OGL it was published under, but it's not clear to me how far those freedoms extend.

It was all published as materials under copyright to the original authors, TSR, WotC, &c. and if things had been left like that hszmv's answer would've been completely correct: stay vague and allow users to enter those names and descriptions, talk to WotC's lawyers and sales department about license fees, or just keep it to yourself and your friends.

You're right, though: WotC went whole-hog, dumped their partial OGL idea, and relicensed some things as Creative Commons. There are different Creative Commons licenses, though, some restricting commercial use that would still keep your app to yourself and friends without a specific licensing agreement.

  • Go find out exactly what WotC put under CC. If it's only the Player's Handbook, then you can only use names and descriptions that are from the Player's Handbook and you're still facing a cease-&-desist if you start adding in Monster Manual info.

    If it's everything, it's everything they have but still won't include any older modules that they don't have the right to change the copyright status of. It'll still be under copyright, usually until 70 years after the death of the original creator. For Gary Gygax, that'll be 2078. Expect that length to extend during your lifetime though. US copyright usually extends every time Mickey & friends come close to entering the public domain. [Edit: The comments below suggest it might only have been the Systems Reference Document (I assume for 5e). It's 403 pages of not nothing but it's not much given the universe we're talking about. The spell and monster lists are generic. Bigby is nowhere to be found and the only mention of a beholder is a reminder not to use the name beholder without their written approval.]
  • Go find out exactly which CC WotC used. The article above says "all use" but you need to find out the exact number of the Creative Commons license for each thing you're using and make sure all of your uses fall within its terms. Some are basically free use but still insist you mention the copyright holder prominently or in every use. Go ahead and do that if you have to. [Edit: The comments below say it is probably CC 4.0. The SRD download page says you can use CC 4.0 or their own OGL. In both cases, yes, you must acknowledge WotC by name in a way prominent enough to satisfy the license you choose.]

And of course,

  • Don't trust legal advice from internet randos or ChatGPT. If this is a serious thing you're going to be spending a good chunk of your life working on or expect to make significant money from, go talk to an actual lawyer. Bonus points for one specialized in IP with a knowledge of roleplaying and the way it's been (partially) opening up lately.

    If you start off just by talking to WotC's lawyers, just do that somewhere where you get their explanations and permissions in writing. Then keep that somewhere safe in electronic and hard copy. Then still take that with you when you go talk to your own lawyer.
1
  • 1
    Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Law Meta, or in Law Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Dale M
    May 17, 2023 at 12:31
9

So as a general rule, one may not copyright game mechanics, so you are covered in that regard as making an inititive tracker, a dice roller, and even a sheet that will roll the dice and apply preset modifiers and list which ones are available.

Where you would be infringing is in DND specific lore, images, and terms (Some but not all DND spells are named in a way that is a copyrighted term, "Bigby's Hand" being one such example, as "Bigby" is a lore specific character who made the spell. Due to the OGL controversy earlier this year, expect more names like this to be given to spells).

Where you can avoid this is by allowing players to edit in their own spells and dice modifiers, and preset rolls (If you've ever used roll20, you can put in your various attacks and features into a character sheet, and then it's a simple button click to roll the various attacks.).

This would likely also help you with marketing to homebrew, which cannot be anticipated.

There are plenty of these applications out there already (Virtual Table Tops OR VTTs) of various sophistications and are often capable of playing different systems that have no compatibility with each other. Do keep in mind that WotC may try to send cease and desist anyway, as they want to move into the VTT market. It may also factor into what your intentions with the app are (if you're just making it for your buds or a school project and don't plan to monetize it, that will be something the courts would find more forgiving in your case.).

3
  • 1
    As linked below, this is very new and weird but, no, WotC really did just open up at least some of their company-specific gaming names and lore under a broad CC. This advice doesn't apply to this situation any more.
    – lly
    May 10, 2023 at 3:53
  • 4
    @lly: That only applies to SRD content. Much of D&D is not in the SRD and not subject to the CC license (and was never subject to any version of the OGL, either), so you still need to respect their rights in the remaining content.
    – Kevin
    May 10, 2023 at 7:36
  • 2
    Nitpick: surely a name like "Bigby's Hand" would allow for enforcement of trademark rights, not copyright. Copyright would apply (or not) to the full description of the spell, regardless of its name.
    – IMSoP
    May 11, 2023 at 9:13

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .