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I am a long time Dungeon Master of Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder. My games run in a custom world of my own making. However, I utilise a lot of the traditional lore and races of D&D.

I'm quite proud of one of my current storylines and have been thinking about turning it into a book. Of course to do this I will need to get the permission of the players to use their characters, assuming I get this is there any other reason I can't publish this?

Things I'm concerned about are the particular interpretations of the classic fantasy races, the classes/abilities of the characters and most importantly the magic system. To experienced players I expect these things to be fairly recognisable, and I'm trying to work out how much I need to modify it in my writing.

Can I publish a story from my D&D game without plagiarising D&D lore?

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    law.stackexchange.com ? – Mawg Feb 28 at 14:41
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    Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman did exactly that with great success. – Mason Wheeler Feb 28 at 15:34
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    @MasonWheeler The circumstances surrounding Dragonlance are complicated and unique, and the copyright for it is very messy. Tracy Hickman has written at length about the things he would like to do with Dragonlance, but isn't/wasn't allowed to. – Michael W. Feb 28 at 17:49
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    @MichaelW. That's interesting; I hadn't heard of him writing stuff like that before. (Though admittedly I haven't really followed him closely or anything.) Do you have a citation? – Mason Wheeler Feb 28 at 17:51
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    @Mawg - No (see first sentence after the five bullet points). – T.J. Crowder Feb 28 at 17:53
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Plagiarism would be taking exact text from the various game manuals and representing it as your own. So don't do that.

But you probably weren't going to anyway, because you want to tell a story, not publish a game log. Think of your story as being inspired by your game, but retell it as a story. When you tell a story you use the language of description, not specification -- powerful fireballs and mighty blows with great-axes, not third-level spells doing 5d6 damage and axes that do 2d12 (+3 for strength 18) etc. (It's been years since I've played D&D; please forgive my made-up stats here.)

Mechanics get in the way of storytelling, and mechanics are the part most tied to a particular game system. Unless you're targeting the gaming market specifically, you probably want your fantasy story to not clearly identify the game system at all -- readers don't need to care whether it was D&D or GURPS or RuneQuest or Fate or a product wholly of your own imagination. They want to read about your wizard calling lightning from the heavens, not about a seventh-level wizard casting a fourth-level spell and opponents making saving throws.

There is one thing to watch out for, but it's not about plagiarism or copyright -- beware of trademarks. If there is a named monster type or special artifact, check to see if the game publisher asserts a trademark on it. They can't trademark common things like trolls or healing potions, but they might have trademarked a specific monster or artifact invented for that game. Try checking another published source such as the the 3.5 edition System Reference Document; trademarked stuff is usually absent (or renamed) in such works. If you're still not sure, you might want to change the specific names just in case the publishers decide they care. (A similar concern might have caused Gygax to change "hobbits" to "halflings" after the first edition.)

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    To expand on your trademark points: D&D source books in particular always list many monsters and items (and character names) which are trademarked (or even registered trademarks). Another option to find out is to compare a published source book to an openly accessible document (such as the 3.5 edition System Reference Document). Trademarked stuff is normally absent (or renamed) from the freely available resources. – Reinstate Monica Feb 28 at 8:58
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    I'd also add that stuff that works well in books often doesn't work in a game, and vice versa. E.g. magical healing. Take your game sessions and characters as inspiration not gospel. C/f "inspired by real events" in movies. – Paul Johnson Feb 28 at 10:38
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    Trademarks are important to be aware of. Don't let this happen to YOUR story: giantitp.com/comics/oots0032.html – Willem Renzema Feb 28 at 14:53
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    @DarrelHoffman: Sure, on the other hand the spell "Mordenkainen's Disjunction" is named "Mage's Disjunction" in the SRD. In fact, all spells containing the name of a character (Hideous Laughter of Tasha, Tenser's Disk, etc...) have been carefully scrubbed. Or, for a monster example, there's no Illithid in the SRD. WotC is very careful about asserting their trademark rights. – Matthieu M. Mar 1 at 8:27
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    @WillemRenzema But don't worry if your story is parody – Nacht - Reinstate Monica Mar 2 at 11:35
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I don't know about the legality of it but this has already been done. A bunch of french players and their dungeon master turned their stories into comic books.

In french it's called "Chroniques de la lune noire", aka "Black moon chronicles". It is very famous among french D&D players. You may want to read on that.

As a fun side note their world and characters were so reputed that Gary Gigax himself once played a session with these guys!

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    A group of Japanese players did the same - turning their campaign into a story called "Record of Lodoss War". I don't recall whether it was an anime, a manga, a novel, or more than one of these, but it was very popular. It's also widely believed that "Firefly" is partly based on Joss Whedon's "Traveller" campaign - he's admitted it was based on an RPG campaign (without specifying the system) and by analysing e.g. the mechanics of the FTL drive and other factors, several people have concluded it must have been Traveller. – AJM-Reinstate-Monica Feb 28 at 17:11
  • @AJM: tyvm, I loved Firefly! By the way the "Chroniques de la lune noire" is really good. I've got them all. – Cedric Martin Feb 28 at 23:40
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It's imperative that you research what all is trademarked.

Write your book as you see fit, then before final editing/publishing, remove trademark/copyrighted terms/names/phrases from your book and replace them with an alternative that is not trademarked.

Otherwise, you would need permission to use each one. This would be the easiest legal way around this.

If you do not want to go a traditional publishing route, you could always publish your writing online as "fan-fiction", which, of course, is not breaking any commercial-use copyright laws - assuming you are not making money directly from your writing. (But I believe you could still have a Patreon or such, receiving "donations" for your work, rather than being paid for your work directly).

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    This sounds like how "50 Shades" started -- originally a Twilight Fanfic, then changed names to get a traditional publisher. – April --Un-Slander Monica-- Feb 28 at 14:18
  • You can't get around the law by pretending that things are donations. If you're accepting donations and the only reason anyone could plausibly want to donate is that they like your fan-fic, then you're making money from your fan-fic. – David Richerby Mar 1 at 17:39
  • This answer seems to spread some misinformation regarding the legal situation of fan fiction. It is a lot more complicated than that. There were cases of IP holders taking legal actions against fan fiction authors, even those who made no attempts at monetizing their work. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_issues_with_fan_fiction for details. – Philipp Mar 7 at 13:40
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Game systems cannot be copyrighted or patented.

However, identifying characters of note or settings are out of the bat.

You cannot make reference to any named character or town from published settings, or use the name of the wizards's spells.

There is also the realm of fan fiction. If you are not profiting from your work and it does not subtract from the value of the main work, you are usually safe.

There is one web novel that did exactly this. Metaworld Chronicles (I'm not affiliated to that) - it began even using references to D&D characters but then swapped them out after the author (allegedly) talked to a WoTC representative.

You can always change the names of people and places found in published official media.

  • I'm not sure this is really accurate. If there are spells with completely generic and descriptive names, such as "healing", it would be very hard to argue that those names were protected. – David Richerby Mar 1 at 17:36
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    @davidricherby not "Heal", "Freezing Sphere", "Gold Dragon" or "Warlock". But "Mordekainen's Faithful Hound", "Suzail", "Waterdeep", "Drizzt", "Elminster", "Forgotten Realms", "Spelljammer" and probably any unique (not derived from mithology) monster createdy by Mr. Gygax or the developers that came after him. – Mindwin Mar 1 at 18:14
  • OK but you say that "you cannot make reference to any named character [etc]" (my emphasis), which is a much stronger claim than what you're saying in your comment. – David Richerby Mar 1 at 18:21
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I think this will depend largely on how much of the lore you're really using. Having underground dark elves that are corrupted by their spider goddess? It'll be pretty obvious, even with some name changes, to anyone familiar with D&D. Some things are more common sense, like red dragons breathing fire and blue ones breathing lightning.

However, when you say "lore", my mind immediately turns to the official settings, and that, I believe, is a complete no-go. Even with some name changes, the setting and lore of Faerun, for example, would likely be fairly obvious to a reader. Big-name characters like Strahd, Vecna, and Drizzt would probably be recognizable, as well. Note that the names of gods, too, would fall into this category-- see the replacement for gods' names used by Matthew Mercer in his Tal'dorei book for reference. (Notably, however, this book is designed for DMs to use to build their own campaigns, and I imagine that many of them, like myself, use his titles and the actual names of the gods interchangeably while playing.)

Consult the System Reference Document for whatever version of the game you've played. It contains all of the information that Wizards of the Coast considers free for use in other creative works. If anything, and I do mean anything, including monsters, locations, and spell names, is not listed there, change the name and description.

  • "Some things are more common sense, like red dragons breathing fire and blue ones breathing lightning." The first one I can see, but why associate lightning (generally white or yellowish-white) with the color blue? – Mason Wheeler Feb 28 at 23:01
  • @MasonWheeler I think because the white ones were already ice, and I think the white = cold connection is a bit stronger, maybe? But also the black ones breathe either poison or acid (can't be bothered to google right now), so who knows. Point being, associating colors with magic elements isn't particularly uncommon in fantasy. – Blue Caboose Mar 1 at 3:05
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    @MasonWheeler en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_blue_(color) : color whose definition varies but is often considered close to cyan, and which is a representation of the color of lightning, an electric spark – Artur Biesiadowski Mar 1 at 14:58
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Note that Paizo, the authors of Pathfinder, publish books in their Golarion setting, but they avoid mentioning certain creatures found in the SRD in their fiction; Pathfinder Tales: Prince of Wolves calls a character "devil-blooded" instead of calling him a tiefling. Along the same lines, their miniature line includes what is clearly a mohrg but labels it Murderous Undead. They are a major corporation effectively publishing unbranded D&D fiction; there are probably legal concerns behind avoiding these names in their fiction.

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Yes you can, for example Record of the Lodoss War started as a Japanese DnD campaign that the DM started writing transcripts which became popular and were novelized and later animated.

You only have to avoid using certain copyrighted words, for example the Beholder copyright is owned by Wizards of the Coast (DnD and Magic publishers) so in the Light Novel/Manga/Anime Goblin Slayer they had to call it Giant Eyeball instead even though the monster was clearly a Beholder.

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It is sad fact of the publishing industry is that they have seen far too many fantasy novels or trilogies based on the author's D&D games. Nothing loses the interest of a pubisher's fantasy line editor faster than the realization this novel is yet another D&D game turned into a novel. In fact, a number of publishers put their disinterest in publishing D&D or other fantasy games translated into works of fiction, in their submission guidelines.

Expect almost instant rejection (unless your writing is so exceptionally brilliant to overcome this handicap). The problem is too many game-relayed novels have been published. The market is saturated and the novelty is gone.

Yep a whole bunch of game-based novels have been published. That's then, this is now. Publishers and readers have mostly lost interest.

However, if you have a game-based storyline is really good, then you can use that as the basis of a novel. The important thing to do is use as the starting point for fantasy fiction. That means reinvent, reconstruct, and redefine the characters representing your other players, other aspects of the lore of the game, but basically really make them your own.

The main trouble with so much of D&D lore is that is too familiar to fantasy readers and game players. Publishers know this all too well.

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As others have noted, you have to avoid names. You can't use their world or some specific monsters (no illithids!). Other monsters, like gnolls and orcs, predate D&D and thus are fair game (so to speak).

I think the rise of LitRPG shows that plenty of people want to read about game-like worlds, at least as long as you put an interesting twist on it. In my my own series (Sword of the Bright Lady, published by Pyr) experience points are tangible objects, like coins that you can collect and trade. This change lets me write about a fantasy world that is like the ones we play in rather than like the ones that usually get described in stories. My characters talk about being a fourth level wizard and my high ranking warriors can jump off of cliffs without dying. Yet it's not a parody or a game; it's a serious epic (albeit with plenty of humor, as to be expected when a Earth-borne mechanical engineer encounters magic for the first time).

The real problem with writing your game as a novel is that the plot that makes for an exciting game rarely makes for an exciting story, and vice versa. In a game, the players derive satisfaction from their own actions; but in a story, the action of the characters exist to satisfy the reader. One notable exception: The TV show The Expanse is derived from an RPG run by its two authors (there are a couple of places in the books where this is obvious). But clearly they've cut and trimmed the campaign to meet their dramatic needs.

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