Is it Legal to Use open Game Content in Fiction?


3.5/d20/OGL

Liberty's Edge

It's not quite a a game-rule, but it is a "rule" per-say, so I decided to speak of it here. You see, I've got a novel I'm (slowly) working on, that I plan to get published someday. And I was planning on including the mention of the Thrasfyr as existing in-setting, since it's a part of the open content on the Pathfinder PRD.

But, am I legally in the right to use the creature? I'd also like to use several other Pathfinder open-content creatures in the setting, albeit with different backstories (Gorzraghs and Neothelids are aliens, the Thrasfyr are the annoyingly fecund creations of a crazy wizard, the Aboleth are nuclear-waste-mutated Machiavellian catfish that infest the American South, ect.), so I'd like to know.

You can read what I've got so far here, setting-wise it's more like Earthbound or Dr. McNinja than Conan or Lord of the Rings.

Liberty's Edge

interesting idea, but I'm honestly not sure of the specifics of the OGL. I believe you cannot use anything that is Pathfinder and Golarion specific since those are covered under specific copy writes.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

You should be looking under the Community Use Guidelines. But essentially anything that's a proper noun in the setting requires a license for such use.


There's nothing in the OGL that restricts how you use OGC. As long as you follow the rules of the OGL and the product identity of the product in question, you can use it.

Using a monster in a book might be a little tricky. There's only a short description of the monster in the OGC and the image is not OGC. Are you describing what this monster looks like in your book? Are you basing that off of the picture from the Bestiary? Then that could be a problem, especially since you've chosen Pathfinder unique monsters (I think).

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

The biggest problem is that OGL is explicitly for use in *gaming* material only. There's already a problem enough with whether it does refer to non-pen/paper-RPGs (hence nobody has so far risked to use OGL in a computer game). I sincerely doubt it extends to non-gaming fiction, therefore the only things you could use are those you could make with anyway, eg. public domain stuff such as mythological creatures.

For example, there's a character in Pathfinder Novels who is often referred to as "devil-blooded", "of fiendish ancestry", "infernal spawn" but never ever as a "tiefling", since "tiefling" is an OGC term and apparently Paizo decided that OGL does not extend to fiction.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Quite frankly, if you're writing your own work, you should be making up your own monsters. Use the basic ideas that inspire you then make some changes in the appearance and the name and you should be good to go.

You're not trying to make a Golarion novel, so there's no inherent benefit towards keeping the same monster names.

President, Jon Brazer Enterprises

In Paizo's fiction, they change tiefling to hellspawn so they don't have to include an OGL in their books.


I have recommended in the past (and take this with a grain of salt, because IANAL nor should I be considered an authority on the OGL/PCL) that if you're using Open Game Content terms that do not derive from mythological/real world sources, you should include a copy of the Open Gaming License in your release.

Silver Crusade

LazarX wrote:

Quite frankly, if you're writing your own work, you should be making up your own monsters. Use the basic ideas that inspire you then make some changes in the appearance and the name and you should be good to go.

You're not trying to make a Golarion novel, so there's no inherent benefit towards keeping the same monster names.

Ah, the problems of working around Copyrighted materiel. Yea, listen to this guy. :) Remember, public domain stuff is fine and you can use Banshees, elves, and dwarves, and all that non-sense. But if you are going to use someone else's ideas expressed in their way, you might face an intellectual property suit.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Rulebook Subscriber

As a writer you will definitely benefit more from making up your own creatures and describing them. Beyond that, anything from your imagination isn't going to have handy bestiary illustrations, so you can't rely on the crutch of assuming your reader will easily be able to know what your creature looks like by it's name.

Also, if you start from scratch, you can take your creature in new direction. Mutated Catfish sounds awesome, and is already different enough from Aboleth that as long as you provide some twists on their description you should be fine.

Paizo Employee Chief Technical Officer

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As I understand the the OGL, it does not contain any restrictions with respect to media types, so I believe that you can use it in a novel.* We ourselves choose not to, partly because doing so is somewhat complicated, legally speaking. And using somebody else's intellectual property without a license (such as the OGL) is certainly unwise. My own advice? Avoid the issue entirely by just not using other people's IP.

*Note: I'm not a lawyer, and only Wizards of the Coast can definitively tell you how to use (or not use) the OGL; I cannot advise you on whether it's suitable for your needs or not. If you're in doubt, consult an attorney.


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Vic Wertz wrote:

...and only Wizards of the Coast can definitively tell you how to use (or not use) the OGL;

Splitting hairs here but there's enough incorrect OGL information out there maybe it's worth doing:

Once WotC released the OGL to the world, they lost control of it. They can tell you what they *intended*, but they certainly can't tell you how or how not to use it. Only a judge can do that at this point.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
DMFTodd wrote:
Vic Wertz wrote:

...and only Wizards of the Coast can definitively tell you how to use (or not use) the OGL;

Splitting hairs here but there's enough incorrect OGL information out there maybe it's worth doing:

Once WotC released the OGL to the world, they lost control of it. They can tell you what they *intended*, but they certainly can't tell you how or how not to use it. Only a judge can do that at this point.

Nobody (and in particular, WotC's direct competitor) wants to deal with ramifications of a potential lawsuit (like, say, having to pay up hundreds of thousands of USD in legal proceeding costs *before* the judge even gets to say a word), everybody is Playing It Safe (tm) around the OGL. Well, at least those who fall under US law.

Tangentially, recently one gentleman on this forum had some issues with interpreting the OGL and took his time to contact WotC with his questions, the answer was "we don't provide legal advice". Another reason to play it safe, because not even the licence's owner is willing to tell what was his intent behind the regulations.

Paizo Employee Chief Technical Officer

DMFTodd wrote:
Vic Wertz wrote:

...and only Wizards of the Coast can definitively tell you how to use (or not use) the OGL;

Splitting hairs here but there's enough incorrect OGL information out there maybe it's worth doing:

Once WotC released the OGL to the world, they lost control of it. They can tell you what they *intended*, but they certainly can't tell you how or how not to use it. Only a judge can do that at this point.

It would indeed be more accurate if I said "only Wizards of the Coast can definitively tell you how to use (or not use) the OGL without risk of them taking you to court."

(Not that I believe they've ever actually taken anyone to court over the OGL.)

Paizo Employee Chief Technical Officer

Gorbacz wrote:
Tangentially, recently one gentleman on this forum had some issues with interpreting the OGL and took his time to contact WotC with his questions, the answer was "we don't provide legal advice". Another reason to play it safe, because not even the licence's owner is willing to tell what was his intent behind the regulations.

The lawyer that wrote it is no longer a Wizards employee, either. In fact, I'm not sure that anyone who actually worked directly on the OGL still works there.

(That lawyer does happen to be on retainer for Paizo, and Ryan Dancey, the person who was actually providing that lawyer with Wizards' intent, works across the hall, so we very likely have a better idea about historic intent that Wizards does at this point.)


Gorbacz wrote:

(like, say, having to pay up hundreds of thousands of USD in legal proceeding costs *before* the judge even gets to say a word)

Let's ease up on the drama - nobody would "have" to pay hundreds of thousands in legal fees.

If you use somebody's material and they feel you're not following the OGL they can ask you to stop doing it. You could simply elect to destroy your product and stop distributing it.

Or, they could say you're using the OGL incorrectly and are thus in violation of copyright. Again, you can simply elect to stop distributing your product.

Or you could insist you're using the OGL correctly and keep on doing it. It would be up to them then to sue you. Would they? Would they bother? Who knows.

"Nobody wants to deal with ramifictions"? Somebody with a self-published, print on demand may very well decide it's worth the risk. If it does become a problem, they go in and change some names around (see Gray, 50 Shades Of).

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
DMFTodd wrote:
Gorbacz wrote:

(like, say, having to pay up hundreds of thousands of USD in legal proceeding costs *before* the judge even gets to say a word)

Let's ease up on the drama - nobody would "have" to pay hundreds of thousands in legal fees.

If you use somebody's material and they feel you're not following the OGL they can ask you to stop doing it. You could simply elect to destroy your product and stop distributing it.

Or, they could say you're using the OGL incorrectly and are thus in violation of copyright. Again, you can simply elect to stop distributing your product.

Or you could insist you're using the OGL correctly and keep on doing it. It would be up to them then to sue you. Would they? Would they bother? Who knows.

"Nobody wants to deal with ramifictions"? Somebody with a self-published, print on demand may very well decide it's worth the risk. If it does become a problem, they go in and change some names around (see Gray, 50 Shades Of).

You know, if I ever gave my client advice that ran along the lines of "yeah, well, I'm not sure if you're in the safe zone, but they likely won't sue you, or they'll just cease and desist, no biggie, so go ahead!" I'd be out of the business very, very quickly.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Rulebook Subscriber

Yeah, but if you have a product that WOTC says you can't sell, than suddenly you are out money and time. So even without a lawsuit you have to retool a product (which will take time, and might render the product pointless if retooling completely changes the product), and if you have printed the product, you now have a pile of glossy pricy toilet paper.

Liberty's Edge

Vic Wertz wrote:

As I understand the the OGL, it does not contain any restrictions with respect to media types, so I believe that you can use it in a novel.* We ourselves choose not to, partly because doing so is somewhat complicated, legally speaking. And using somebody else's intellectual property without a license (such as the OGL) is certainly unwise. My own advice? Avoid the issue entirely by just not using other people's IP.

*Note: I'm not a lawyer, and only Wizards of the Coast can definitively tell you how to use (or not use) the OGL; I cannot advise you on whether it's suitable for your needs or not. If you're in doubt, consult an attorney.

Ah. Thanks for that tip. I think I'll play it safe and use a self-explanitory creature of my own creation known as the Bearachnid instead. Because SyFy Channel naming conventions are funny. And I think I'll call the super-smart mutant Machiavelian catfish "Brainy Bubbas" when I finally use them, because I still love the idea.


Sorry for bumping the thread. I was wondering about this so I searched around internet and found this on wizard's website.

http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=d20/oglfaq/20040123f

Q: Is Open Game Content limited to just "the game mechanic"?

A: No. The definition of Open Game Content also provides for "any additional content clearly identified as Open Game Content." You can use the Open Game License for any kind of material you wish to distribute using the terms of the License, including fiction, artwork, maps, computer software, etc.

Wizards, however, rarely releases Open Content that is not just mechanics.

///

Jacobs spoke of all monsters being open content here, therefore I assume monster names can be used for fictions? Dunno if monsters' traits and behaviours from Bestiary / revisited lines are OGL or setting specific though.

Paizo Employee Chief Technical Officer

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Our monster names, unless they themselves contain Product Identity*, are Open Game Content, and can be used in your own work so long as you are publishing under the OGL.

Paizo has published a handful of monsters that are *not* open content, so make sure you check the statements of Open Game Content and Product Identity in each product you wish to draw from.

*Examples of monster names that include Product Identity include the Sandpoint Devil and Daughters of Urgathoa. You can use 'em—you just need to rename them.

Silver Crusade

Gorbacz wrote:

The biggest problem is that OGL is explicitly for use in *gaming* material only. There's already a problem enough with whether it does refer to non-pen/paper-RPGs (hence nobody has so far risked to use OGL in a computer game). I sincerely doubt it extends to non-gaming fiction, therefore the only things you could use are those you could make with anyway, eg. public domain stuff such as mythological creatures.

For example, there's a character in Pathfinder Novels who is often referred to as "devil-blooded", "of fiendish ancestry", "infernal spawn" but never ever as a "tiefling", since "tiefling" is an OGC term and apparently Paizo decided that OGL does not extend to fiction.

Uh, Bioware did, Gorbacz.

Paizo Employee Chief Technical Officer

GM Elton wrote:
Uh, Bioware did, Gorbacz.

If you're talking about something they did in a licensed D&D video game, they're not using the OGL to gain access to the term "tiefling"—they're gaining access to the term through a direct license with Wizards.


As far as I can tell based on wikipedia articles, BioWare used granted licenses for their D&D related computer games (the Baldur's Gate series used Interplay's Forgotten Realms license, while the Neverwinter series used Infogrames/Atari's later-acquired D&D license).

Based on that, I doubt they use the OGL alone for any of their games.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
GM Elton wrote:
Gorbacz wrote:

The biggest problem is that OGL is explicitly for use in *gaming* material only. There's already a problem enough with whether it does refer to non-pen/paper-RPGs (hence nobody has so far risked to use OGL in a computer game). I sincerely doubt it extends to non-gaming fiction, therefore the only things you could use are those you could make with anyway, eg. public domain stuff such as mythological creatures.

For example, there's a character in Pathfinder Novels who is often referred to as "devil-blooded", "of fiendish ancestry", "infernal spawn" but never ever as a "tiefling", since "tiefling" is an OGC term and apparently Paizo decided that OGL does not extend to fiction.

Uh, Bioware did, Gorbacz.

None of Bioware's RPGs were using OGL. All of them were released under specific licenses with WotC.


First let me stress I'm NOT a lawyer so don't take this in lue of actual legal advice.

I'm late to this and I know you are talking about Pathfinder, but in case this comes up for someone else. For example the D&D OGL. You can use anything here:https://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=d20/article/srd35 INCLUDING names and descriptions as it is all considered under the OGL. Things like Elf are common parlance, but you will notice they don't use "Drow". So you couldn't use that name in any way. Dark Elf however is common parlance so you could. You would have to be careful in their description as well because describing them in a way that would identify them soley as "Drow" would be illegal as well.

Now as for Pathfinder part of the 3.5 OGL specifically states you have to clearly define what, if anything, you are adding as part of the OGL. I haven't looked, but if there is anything added that is part of the OGL it should be clearly listed on the official Pathfinder rules site. While other parts are pertinent here are the two that most apply.

Quote:
... (d)"Open Game Content" means the game mechanic and includes the methods, procedures, processes and routines to the extent such content does not embody the Product Identity and is an enhancement over the prior art and any additional content clearly identified as Open Game Content by the Contributor, and means any work covered by this License, including translations and derivative works under copyright law, but specifically excludes Product Identity. ....
Quote:
8. Identification: If you distribute Open Game Content You must clearly indicate which portions of the work that you are distributing are Open Game Content.

So anything they add as OGL and NOT specifically solely for their product is governed by this OGL and they must clearly indicate which portions they are adding to the OGL.

Now I'm not going to look for it because I don't want to claim something is part of the OGL and have it not be, but it should be there somewhere and if it isn't SPECIFICALLY outlined in their OGL then by inference it is excluded. If in doubt then it isn't covered by the OGL.

In lue of all of that write Paizo and ask them(though they may just redirect you to the site). :D

Paizo Employee Chief Technical Officer

We have our own statements of Open Game Content and Product Identity in every product, usually on the title or credits page.

Paizo Employee Chief Technical Officer

Also, Drow are in the SRD—they're listed as a subrace under "Elf" in the monster section.


What about the terms for the schools of magic? I'm working on publishing something right now (have the novella written, am arranging all the other details, etc.). Just about everything in this world is built as a genre deconstruction of D&D. While most of the actual stuff from the SRD/OGL isn't actually in the setting (there are surprisingly few monsters in the world, I don't often use the actual names of classes in the fiction itself, and spells aren't given names), but the actual schools of magic were worked in as a part of the society. The main wizard cabal in the world, "The Crimson Tower," is run by a Council of Seven, with each of its seven members being the foremost specialists in one of the seven schools.
It isn't actually a part of the magic system, because magic is just magic and the schools are simply ways that wizards categorize the types of effects that spells produce, but the schools of magic are deeply rooted into the society and those who want to gain high status have to be specialists as a part of the unwritten rules. It influences everything about how that aspect of the world works and, frankly, it's not something that can be easily taken out and that makes it a real bugbear. I mean, anything else about the SRD, I could make simple modifications to if there were problems, but the seven schools was made a central aspect of the world, so I'm kinda stuck there.

Paizo Employee Chief Technical Officer

Really, the question you're asking is "Can I potentially get in trouble with Wizards of the Coast because the names of my schools of magic have exactly the same names as those in D&D?"

Since those names are in the SRD, and the SRD is Open Game Content, it would seem that you can use them if you use the OGL.

If you want to use those terms *without* using the OGL, then there are only two groups of people on the planet who can actually tell you whether that might present a problem: authorized representatives of Wizards of the Coast, and attorneys who specialize in intellectual property law. (I'm not either of those.)

Again, my advice is that you avoid the issue entirely by just not using things that might be other people's IP.

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