Wondrous Item auto-reject advice #9: The Intellectual Property Violation


RPG Superstar™ 2011 General Discussion

Contributor

Sean is away at NeonCon for the remainder of the week. He's asked to have his advice for the first round of RPG Superstar posted in his absence.
(Last year I compiled a list of things that would instantly disqualify your item. I'm going to post them one by one as we approach Round 1 of this year's contest.)

9. Your wondrous item violates someone else's intellectual property.

The psionic sword of the last j'dai is a blade of brilliant light that can cut through metal and blah blah blah....

The amulet of the eye tyrant is shaped like a monstrous one-eyed head with ten eyestalks, and can cast disintegrate, blah blah blah....

The cloak of the dark knight is decorated with a bat motif, gives a bonus on Stealth checks, lets the wearer throw bat-shaped shuriken, and blah blah blah....

All of the above items are thinly-veiled allusions to things owned by companies other than Paizo. Some would call them an homage, others would call them copyright or trademark violations.

It's all well and good to adapt something from a book, TV show, movie, or game into your home campaign, it's another to submit it as a contest entry where it's going to be viewed and promoted by thousands of people. It can get you in legal trouble. It can get Paizo in legal trouble. Don't do it. If your item is clearly based on someone else's intellectual property, the judges will reject it. The judges will reject it extra-quickly if it's based on an obscure source you think they wouldn't recognize.

Copying someone else's work isn't superstar. It's also a bad habit to get into if you want to be a professional designer. Don't do it.

Sovereign Court RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32, 2010 Top 8 , Star Voter Season 6

Ok, this one I’m rather strongly qualified to lecture on…

Spoiler:
The Bracelet of Shields and Boundary Chalk. Both of these items (one mine, one not) own their origins to Jim Butcher (by our own admissions). I won’t speak on the evolution of the Chalk, but my bracelet of shields I can dissect.

Harry’s bracelet works on Dresdenverse magical physics. It is on his left hand (left being for defensive magics) and is silver shields. While initially he used it to block physical objects, as of later books it deflects a lot more. Early incarnations of his bracelet could be overloaded, and it took a constant influx of energy to work. (i.e., it wasn’t self powered).

Now I found the idea of a defensive bracelet compelling, so (with the help of a rush of hot water from my shower) set about boiling down what I wanted and how to put it in game terms.

1) Protection. Ok, shield is one of my favourite spells (old reliable), so that was the basis of the effect. I wanted to augment the shield spell. Increasing the bonus would be problematic, but extending? One of my favourite metamagic feats (mage armor, phantom steed, protection from arrows… it never gets old). Ok, now I have a basic shield effect, but Harry’s stops lots of things, a bit more than a +4 shield bonus. So I’m safe here. Still I want to up the effect. So we’ll include the 1 round resilient sphere effect. A bit more powerful than Harry in Blood Rites, but it will give my potential caster time to prepare. To homage Harry’s burn out, it can only do this a limited number of times. I meant for it to take the arm/bracer slot, of course, that’s where a bracelet goes. While my item doesn’t require constant effort (concentration) like the early version of Harry’s, it is simultaneously more powerful and less. Also where it just takes ‘will’ to fuel Harry’s bracelet, mine doesn’t create shields, it just augments them.
2) Now to make it more unique. To add Golarion flavour I decided something like this needs to be Osirian (spelling optional). Rather than his silver and round disks, I look at the bronze shields of the Egyptian style mummies, both in The Mummy and in Reaper’s line. Because the number 11 has been shown to be a recurring theme in Osirian numerology, it is a no brainer to set the number of charges. Osirian Wizards, well I thought of SHAZAM to be honest.

So let’s compare the items.
Harry’s bracelet: provides an omni-directional shield, capable of stopping most physical impacts, and lessen the effects of energy ones, if overloaded it will burn out. Must be worn on a specific wrist, and requires constant energy to maintain. Can be cast through by the wielder.
My bracer: Allows a free extend on shield spells, can make a brief (non-maintainable) resilient sphere that can’t be cast through. Flavour and limitations (charges) tied to Golarion fluff. Only limit on the number of extended shields is the times you want to throw the spell.

Even though if the judges had the foresight to knowmy round 2 entry sucked, (no, really, it did) the judges didn’t see fit to disqualify me for IP theft, even after the inspiration of the bracelet was clearly disclosed.*

So, you can make items that are inspired by other items, but if it is clear enough to make people go "I want to play a rogue/monk with a cloak of the dark knight, and name him Richard, Gray's son." then you're not making a superstar item.

*(Sean, Clark, Wolfgang, if I'm overgeneralizing, and you did think about DQing me, please ammend my post. I don't want to make false assumptions, or allow others to assume the same)

Edit: Additional Caveat. Even if you do make an item that all that is left is a nod to the original. (staff of the adder to Moses' staff for example) if the voters recognize where it came from, it can still bite you in the end. (No, that didn't happen with my round 2 entry that year. It really did suck that bad.)

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut

My two-cents...

Spoiler:

Look. I'll be frank. We all take inspiration from the stories, movies, video games, you-name-it, that we've been exposed to our whole lives. There are certain tropes and cool powers and abilities that have stood the test of time over many more years than all of us have been alive. It's okay to borrow inspiration from them. It's not okay to rip one off. Or to make "easter egg" references to it. This is serious. You need to approach the design of your item submission with a serious, professional attitude. If you don't know what that entails, start learning right now. These advice threads are a great place to start.

You can also educate yourself on RPG design by taking a look through actual RPG products. Do you see an item in the PRD or SRD that makes veiled references to iconic characters and the intellectual property of other companies? No. You don't. So don't design one thinking you'll borrow something cool from another source and pass it off as your own, unique, innovative idea. Because it's not. And if the judges sense (or even remotely perceive) that that's what you've done...? Auto-reject. So why put yourself in the position of having that as a possible outcome? Just stay away from it.

Now, that said, I think it's entirely feasible to take some inspiration from a power or ability or character or whatever from something you've read or seen. But inspiration is wholly different from carbon-copy. Let me give you an example of what I mean. Take my item from RPG Superstar 2009. The last leaves of the autumn dryad have this ability to shape themselves into the face of the one who's controlling them...and to then speak with their voice, basically mugging whatever they say and having the user's voice emanate from the leaves. I got my inspiration for that from the second Chronicles of Narnia movie. There's a scene where a bunch of flower petals are moving with the wind and occasionally forming a humanoid figure which eventually delivers a message to one of the heroes. That "effect" is what inspired me to imagine a dryad's leaves doing something similar. But "doing something similar" isn't the same as carbon-copy. I didn't use flower petals. I didn't have the leaves form the entire humanoid figure...just their face. And my leaves were totally at the command and control of someone remote...not an actual creature in the land of Narnia. And I certainly made no references (easter egg or otherwise) to Narnia by naming the item something that would be an inside-joke to those clever enough to pick up on the reference.

Later, when I put together Gulga Cench as a sewer-dwelling mastermind, I took a fair amount of inspiration from a certain beholder living in the sewers of Waterdeep in the Forgotten Realms who controlled a powerful thieves' guild without anyone knowing who (or what) was pulling the strings. I took inspiration from that. But by no means did I make references to the Forgotten Realms or the non-OGL beholder. To do so would be complete folly. And yet, I knew I could still spin a similar villain who would fill that same niche...i.e., a monstrous villain pulling strings from the shadows, all while inocuously living right under everyone's feet in one of the most inaccessible places in the world--a sewer!

Even further into the contest, when I took a huge risk by selecting Sharina Legendsinger for my villain's lair, I took a ton of inspiration from the Joker (of Batman fame). I didn't view the bard as insane (though one could argue she's mentally unbalanced). Instead, I viewed her as the type of villain who would never be interested in killing off her nemesis (or nemeses) once the PCs uncovered her activities. Instead, she wanted to "play" with them by recasting them as villains while promoting a new group of handmade "heroes" to help her in fending off the PCs' vengeance. A lot of people just couldn't quite "get" her. They said she'd never have "lasting power"...that once the PCs found out she was the source of their troubles, they'd put her down easily enough, because bard's are so weak. No one says that about the Joker. He's the most capable, familiar, long-lasting villain in the entire Batman saga. But there's an element to Sharina that reminds me a lot of the Joker, or maybe the Riddler...both iconic villains with a similar playful mindset...but dangerous, cruel, and villainous all the same. The trick to using that kind of villain was to make sure I took inspiration from those who came before...but not make inane references to them or totally try to duplicate them by having her wear white makeup and dye her hair green...or wear clothes with question-mark's all over them. If I had done something like that, well...riddle me this, Batman...do you think anyone would have voted for it? I'd have been super-surprised if they did.

In addition, if you look at the Fellnight Queen...the adventure proposal that took the prize that year...I took a ton of inspiration from a variety of sources. Rhoswen is basically Maleficent, the evil witch from Sleeping Beauty. Tenzekil has a fair amount of Rumplestiltskin to him. And the Fellnight mist that rolls into Bellis and the dangers it cloaks in the forest has a certain similarity to Stephen King's "Mist." Yet, there are no overt references to any of those inspirational elements. They're all re-woven into something wholly new and uniquely inspired. An RPG Superstar competitor should look to do the same, I think, in whatever work they put forward. Take inspiration where you can. But don't step on intellectual property.

Lastly, I also remember a similar example in one of Clark's famous feedback threads where he commented on an item relying on knuckle bones or something similar that were planted in the ground and they would grow into animated skeletons capable of fighting for whoever commanded them. That's a scene straight out of a pretty famous movie (Jason and the Argonauts, I believe). And the item got rejected for it, even though it had some mojo and was even mechanically sound. It's just not unique, new, or innovative enough of an idea to warrant putting it into the Top 32 over those who did strive to create something new, unique, and innovative.

So, to me, the lesson here is to take inspiration from books, movies, and games you may have experienced before. But don't try and duplicate something exactly as it appeared in those things. And certainly never, ever make a campy reference or inside-joke in the item's name or description about it either. That just shows you're not taking the contest seriously or thinking like a true, freelance designer should be. And if you're not thinking like that, you're not submitting to the contest for the right reasons (in my opinion). Thus, you shouldn't be expecting to make it into the Top 32 with that type of item.


--Neil

Contributor

Neil Spicer wrote:
Lastly, I also remember a similar example in one of Clark's famous feedback threads where he commented on an item relying on knuckle bones or something similar that were planted in the ground and they would grow into animated skeletons capable of fighting for whoever commanded them. That's a scene straight out of a pretty famous movie (Jason and the Argonauts, I believe).

It goes back even farther... to the story of Jason and the Argonauts, where Jason used dragon's teeth for that purpose. Creating a magic item that does that is a handy item, and is definitely based on a public domain idea (no IP violation)... but isn't innovative (the idea is over 2000 years old).

Star Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9

Sean K Reynolds wrote:
Neil Spicer wrote:
Lastly, I also remember a similar example in one of Clark's famous feedback threads where he commented on an item relying on knuckle bones or something similar that were planted in the ground and they would grow into animated skeletons capable of fighting for whoever commanded them. That's a scene straight out of a pretty famous movie (Jason and the Argonauts, I believe).
It goes back even farther... to the story of Jason and the Argonauts, where Jason used dragon's teeth for that purpose. Creating a magic item that does that is a handy item, and is definitely based on a public domain idea (no IP violation)... but isn't innovative (the idea is over 2000 years old).

Dude, I saw that show on a Saturday morning. It was right after Shazam and right before HR Puffinstuff. I am pretty sure it was just the late 70's... Besides color film didn't even start until the early 60's and that show was definately technocolored. Waitaminute... 2000 years--they didn't even have cameras back then Sean!

:P

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut

From the 1963 film, Jason and the Argonauts:

Spoiler:
"Acastus tries to steal the Fleece..., but is fatally wounded by its guardian, the many-headed Hydra. Jason succeeds in killing the monster and taking the Fleece. But Aeëtes is not far behind. He strews the teeth of the Hydra on the ground and prays to Hecate. The planted teeth sprout out of the ground as armed skeletons who pursue and battle Jason and two of his men (in a famous four-minute stop-motion sequence that took special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen four and a half months to produce)...."

And for your viewing pleasure in living color...

RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32 aka Hydro

1963? Color me impressed. That was better choreographed than a lot of actor-verses-actor swordfights that I could name from much more recent films.

Shadow Lodge

just as an aside, chalk being used to mark magical boundaries could also be argued to have roots in actual mysticism from various religions. Of course, the -admitted- influence was from Jim Butcher, so I'd say that still falls in the "a bit close for comfort" arena.


I'd say this was easy to avoid, but it's not, especially when you consider the above post re: chalk used in religious ceremonies. I'll have to step carefully and check old movies I used to watch to make sure I'm not futzing up on this one.

Star Voter Season 7

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Dane Pitchford wrote:
just as an aside, chalk being used to mark magical boundaries could also be argued to have roots in actual mysticism from various religions. Of course, the -admitted- influence was from Jim Butcher, so I'd say that still falls in the "a bit close for comfort" arena.

I may be wrong on this, but I suspect actual mysticism and religion (with very few exceptions) are not anyone's intellectual property. They might not be creative, but they're legal.

Contributor

Shadar Aman wrote:
Dane Pitchford wrote:
just as an aside, chalk being used to mark magical boundaries could also be argued to have roots in actual mysticism from various religions. Of course, the -admitted- influence was from Jim Butcher, so I'd say that still falls in the "a bit close for comfort" arena.
I may be wrong on this, but I suspect actual mysticism and religion (with very few exceptions) are not anyone's intellectual property. They might not be creative, but they're legal.

Correct.

Hard to copyright something that's hundreds of years old. :p

Scarab Sages Marathon Voter Season 7

Pathfinder Card Game, Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Nicolas Quimby wrote:
1963? Color me impressed. That was better choreographed than a lot of actor-verses-actor swordfights that I could name from much more recent films.

When I think of animated undead skeletons, that scene is good but this is the one that really inspires me: 7th Voyage of Sinbad. And its from 1958.


Sean K Reynolds wrote:
Shadar Aman wrote:
Dane Pitchford wrote:
just as an aside, chalk being used to mark magical boundaries could also be argued to have roots in actual mysticism from various religions. Of course, the -admitted- influence was from Jim Butcher, so I'd say that still falls in the "a bit close for comfort" arena.
I may be wrong on this, but I suspect actual mysticism and religion (with very few exceptions) are not anyone's intellectual property. They might not be creative, but they're legal.

Correct.

Hard to copyright something that's hundreds of years old. :p

But not impossible!

copyrights breathing

Go on..hold your breath! The instant you break, you owe me! I'll be a millionaire!

Man, and to think I owe it all to Perri-air and Spaceballs. Heh.

Grand Lodge Star Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7

Neil Spicer wrote:

From the 1963 film, Jason and the Argonauts:

** spoiler omitted **

And for your viewing pleasure in living color...

I have seen that film a number of times...a dozen at least and I just rewatched your posting.

Aeetes says...."Rise slain of the Hydra"...never noticed that before. I suppose that is why the skeletons were outfitted with weapons and shields. Good reason to rewatch the classics...sometimes you just miss stuff.

Sovereign Court RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32, 2010 Top 8 , Star Voter Season 6

Best comment on that you tube link. Before there was CGI, there was talent.

Paizo Employee Creative Director

Matthew Morris wrote:
Best comment on that you tube link. Before there was CGI, there was talent.

CGI didn't change anything.

Some relatively recent CGI movies that are loaded with special-effects talent that immediately come to mind:

District 9
The Host
Splice
Avatar
Drag me to Hell
The Box
Knowing
Shutter Island
Agora
Monsters

The claim that "back in the old days" there was "more talent" behind special effects is flat out wrong. The fact that the bad special effects don't survive to become classics and fall into the realm of limbo where no one remembers them kinda results in only the memorable ones sticking around for us to compare to.

Sovereign Court RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32, 2010 Top 8 , Star Voter Season 6

James,

I took it as back then you couldn't try to rely on special effects.

Look at Avatar as an example of art over story, or compare The Matrix (where the effects were good, but it's the 'what is real' koan that drives the movie) vs. say Revolutions (where the effects desperately tried to hide the story).

Or Episode I - III

YRMV of course :-)

Liberty's Edge

For the ref's a litmus.....
would Blackrazor which is somewhat reminiscent of Stormbringer pass muster?

I....realize it's not a wondrous item and all.....


James Jacobs wrote:
Matthew Morris wrote:
Best comment on that you tube link. Before there was CGI, there was talent.

CGI didn't change anything.

Some relatively recent CGI movies that are loaded with special-effects talent that immediately come to mind:

District 9
The Host
Splice
Avatar
Drag me to Hell
The Box
Knowing
Shutter Island
Agora
Monsters

The claim that "back in the old days" there was "more talent" behind special effects is flat out wrong. The fact that the bad special effects don't survive to become classics and fall into the realm of limbo where no one remembers them kinda results in only the memorable ones sticking around for us to compare to.

I wholeheartedly agree.


Heathansson wrote:

For the ref's a litmus.....

would Blackrazor which is somewhat reminiscent of Stormbringer pass muster?

I....realize it's not a wondrous item and all.....

well which came first, Elric of Melnibone or that other guy with the sword.

Grand Lodge Dedicated Voter Season 6, Star Voter Season 7, Dedicated Voter Season 8

vikking wrote:
Heathansson wrote:

For the ref's a litmus.....

would Blackrazor which is somewhat reminiscent of Stormbringer pass muster?

I....realize it's not a wondrous item and all.....

well which came first, Elric of Melnibone or that other guy with the sword.

King Arthur?

There were cursed swords before Elric. One of the Irish gods has a spear that he has to keep in a cauldron of poppy juice to stop it lashing out and killing things of its own accord.

But, no, it's been said artifacts are not appropriate.

Liberty's Edge

Starglim wrote:
vikking wrote:
Heathansson wrote:

For the ref's a litmus.....

would Blackrazor which is somewhat reminiscent of Stormbringer pass muster?

I....realize it's not a wondrous item and all.....

well which came first, Elric of Melnibone or that other guy with the sword.

King Arthur?

There were cursed swords before Elric. One of the Irish gods has a spear that he has to keep in a cauldron of poppy juice to stop it lashing out and killing things of its own accord.

But, no, it's been said artifacts are not appropriate.

Soul drinking sword.

Black greatsword.
Guy with white hair on the back cover.
Assuming the "wondrous item" contest was for
"magic item including any and all items that are magic, and not exclusively limited to wondrous items," would Blackrazor, with it's extreme similarity to Stormbringer and knowing Gygax drew heavily from Elric for the 1e of D&D,....would it pass muster with specific regards to concerns about intellectual property?

Liberty's Edge

vikking wrote:
Heathansson wrote:

For the ref's a litmus.....

would Blackrazor which is somewhat reminiscent of Stormbringer pass muster?

I....realize it's not a wondrous item and all.....

well which came first, Elric of Melnibone or that other guy with the sword.

Elric came first.


So, my green ring that can create anything you can think of and its only weakness is the color yellow might get shot down?

Scarab Sages Marathon Voter Season 7

Pathfinder Card Game, Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Gregg Reece wrote:
So, my green ring that can create anything you can think of and its only weakness is the color yellow might get shot down?

Well, duh. Its a ring, not a wondrous item. ^_^

Star Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9

Wicht wrote:
Gregg Reece wrote:
So, my green ring that can create anything you can think of and its only weakness is the color yellow might get shot down?
Well, duh. Its a ring, not a wondrous item. ^_^

lol


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Modules Subscriber
Wicht wrote:
Gregg Reece wrote:
So, my green ring that can create anything you can think of and its only weakness is the color yellow might get shot down?
Well, duh. Its a ring, not a wondrous item. ^_^

Turn it into something else, like a lantern, and you may have something.

Paizo Employee Chief Technical Officer

I should mention that, though Sean's examples are of "thinly veiled allusions," this is one piece of advice that's closely related to actually breaking the rules. When you submit your entry, you'll be required to agree to the submission form, in which you'll attest that "my submission utilizes or is based exclusively on characters, settings, or other materials that are my own original creation, are owned by Paizo Publishing, or are in the public domain. Any use of non-original material not owned by Paizo or in the public domain will be grounds for immediate dismissal from the competition."

So, "thinly veiled" will probably get you bounced by the judges, but "blatant" will get you flat-out dismissed.

Star Voter Season 6, Dedicated Voter Season 7, Marathon Voter Season 8, Marathon Voter Season 9

deinol wrote:
Wicht wrote:
Gregg Reece wrote:
So, my green ring that can create anything you can think of and its only weakness is the color yellow might get shot down?
Well, duh. Its a ring, not a wondrous item. ^_^
Turn it into something else, like a lantern, and you may have something.

limited edition green lantern lantern.

Scarab Sages

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Campaign Setting, Cards, Companion, Maps, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber
Wicht wrote:
When I think of animated undead skeletons, that scene is good but this is the one that really inspires me: 7th Voyage of Sinbad. And its from 1958.

Put your back into it, man! It's only CR 1/3!

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Neil Spicer wrote:
Do you see an item in the PRD or SRD that makes veiled references to iconic characters and the intellectual property of other companies? No. You don't.

The displacer beast is based off the coeurl from A. E. van Vogt's 1939 story "Black Destroyer". The cubic gate is made from carnelian because it's a direct rip-off off The Carnelian Cube by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt. The halfling and treant are pretty clear copies of Tolkien's creatures.

Community / Forums / Paizo / Archive / RPG Superstar™ / Previous Contests / RPG Superstar™ 2011 / General Discussion / Wondrous Item auto-reject advice #9: The Intellectual Property Violation All Messageboards

Want to post a reply? Sign in.