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View Full Version : DM Help Are Players okay with DMs copying other media for their campaigns?



supergoji18
2018-05-31, 10:36 AM
I came up with the idea of making a birthsign system in a D&D game similar to the one Elder Scrolls has. I am conflicted on whether I should straight up rip off the birthsigns they have or to create my own new system.

On the one hand, I do not generally like to copy things from other media. As someone whose had it hammered into his head that plagiarism is evil since elementary school, I'm averse to simply taking it without making it my own. On the other hand, the Elder Scrolls birthsign system is really well designed and even has a large amount of lore behind it.

In the end however, I came to the conclusion that it doesn't matter what I am okay with, but what players would be okay with. There is only a slight problem... I don't have players to ask yet. I'm making this campaign as both a hobby and as prep work for when I do have a group and I don't have to make them wait while I come up with a campaign. So instead I will ask for your help.

So I ask, if a DM copies material from other media and uses it in their campaign, are you okay with that? Do you feel it cheapens the campaign or makes it harder to take seriously? Would you prefer that the DM make everything himself?

PhoenixPhyre
2018-05-31, 10:42 AM
Wholesale "borrowing" is the norm, not the exception. As long as it fits with the rest of the setting, I've never seen a problem. And I borrow/pastiche hard. Many players get (and are amused by) the references.

Things that don't transfer well are things that rely on specific mechanics or tropes--especially story lines and character traits. Stories and characters that work well in single-author fiction or video games often work poorly in the cooperative, shared universe setting of a TTRPG.

Kaptin Keen
2018-05-31, 10:46 AM
When my friends GM a game, and they come up with something really clever - I always wonder what they're ripping off.

It's entirely likely I'm just too suspicious, and not giving them near enough credit =)

Anonymouswizard
2018-05-31, 11:03 AM
Yeah, wholesale borrowing is the norm. Sometimes with the names changed, sometimes not.

I'm writing a homebrew science fiction system I hope to test with my group, and a lot of the setting details are borrowed wholesale. The default FTL drive is literally the Continuous Wormhole Generator from Peter F. Hamilton's Commonwealth Saga, for example (although it uses the name 'hyperdrive').

Knaight
2018-05-31, 11:03 AM
I've seen enough enthusiasm for games set in existing media properties (e.g. someone deciding to run a Transformers game, to use an actual example I've seen) to suggest that players usually don't care. Borrowing smaller parts is very much fair game, and as far as plagiarism goes it's not like these settings and adventures are getting published, so I find it hard to care.

Blymurkla
2018-05-31, 11:03 AM
Isn't Elder Scrolls initially heavily based on pen-and-paper RPGs? So borrowing stuff 'back' is hardly unthinkable.

I can occasionally be a bit disappointed with blatant rip-off and is rarely in the mood where I find references to other media to be funny. It's not why I play.

But having a character being influenced by what astrological constellation they where born under, which I understand Birthsign is, is not a blatant rip-off Elder Scrolls but rather a reuse of an ancient idea which has cropped up in fiction and religion countless of times. If your system is similar to the Elder Scroll one, I'd probably have exactly zero problem with it.

Anonymouswizard
2018-05-31, 11:50 AM
I've seen enough enthusiasm for games set in existing media properties (e.g. someone deciding to run a Transformers game, to use an actual example I've seen) to suggest that players usually don't care. Borrowing smaller parts is very much fair game, and as far as plagiarism goes it's not like these settings and adventures are getting published, so I find it hard to care.

Yeah, while I will note that I am not a lawyer, do not know copyright law, and even if I was I couldn't dispense legal advice for this forum, borrowing an element or two from something for your home game is more than fair. I certainly wouldn't do it if you were publishing the material (even for free), but in a home game it's very much dependant on your players and most are happy for copied elements to be a part of it. Look at how many homebrew settings use the Greyhawk, Dawn War, or Forgotten Realms pantheons.


I can occasionally be a bit disappointed with blatant rip-off and is rarely in the mood where I find references to other media to be funny. It's not why I play.

I think it depends on how central an element it is. Minor setting elements and potentially secondary ones are fair game, but effort should definitely be put in to make sure major elements aren't direct copies.

Psyren
2018-05-31, 12:03 PM
It's completely fine. Speaking personally, for something as easily recognizable as the Elder Scrolls starsigns I would rather you put some effort into tweaking them a bit, but other than the brief "oh hey, it's that recognizable thing from videogame" reference taking me out of the experience momentarily, it wouldn't be a dealbreaker by any means.

Now, if you're planning to publish your setting, that's a different matter - you'd have to check with a lawyer whether Elder Scrolls constellations are sufficiently iconic to be Product Identity if you don't plan on making any changes.

War_lord
2018-05-31, 12:13 PM
The Elder Scrolls itself heavily copies from other fantasy works. Fantasy as a genre can all be traced back to a few key influences. So long as your borrowing isn't so heavy that it takes the players out of your world, it's entirely in keeping with the fantasy tradition. It's not a coincidence that D&D and the Elder Scrolls both feature a soul eating sentient black greatsword remarkably similar to the sword Stormbringer wielded by the "Elric" incarnation of the Eternal Champion in the works of Micheal Moorcock. Moorcock in turn was influenced by authors like Poul Anderson, whose Three Hearts and Three Lions is the origin of "Law and Chaos" and of the D&D troll.

PhoenixPhyre
2018-05-31, 12:55 PM
The Elder Scrolls itself heavily copies from other fantasy works. Fantasy as a genre can all be traced back to a few key influences. So long as your borrowing isn't so heavy that it takes the players out of your world, it's entirely in keeping with the fantasy tradition. It's not a coincidence that D&D and the Elder Scrolls both feature a soul eating sentient black greatsword remarkably similar to the sword Stormbringer wielded by the "Elric" incarnation of the Eternal Champion in the works of Micheal Moorcock. Moorcock in turn was influenced by authors like Poul Anderson, whose Three Hearts and Three Lions is the origin of "Law and Chaos" and of the D&D troll.

Not just fantasy. Originality is hard everywhere, and often fails worse than re-using themes and imagery from successful works in a new context. And since so much is simultaneously invented in many places, you can be accused of similarity even if you lived in a media vacuum. So just go for it.

Darth Ultron
2018-05-31, 03:06 PM
Most players are OK with it, and plenty won't even notice.

Still it's best to not use things exactly. For a lot of people using the direct things can break the immersion of the game. Like having Han Solo come out of a time/space portal and say ''I got a bad felling about this''. But if you make the gnome, Sogram Clockfalcon, and make their personality exactly like Solo, your fine.

Generally it only takes a couple seconds to change something.

Mark Hall
2018-05-31, 03:31 PM
How obvious is it? Some things are a bit universal (i.e. Hero's Journey type stuff), but the more specifics you steal from a certain source, the more you're going to have to stare at "This is just a rip-off of Darkwell, the third novel in the Moonshaes Trilogy." (I played that)

RazorChain
2018-05-31, 03:39 PM
I borrow stuff all over the place but try to make it mine. For example are the Slayer order in my game which is a rip off from the witcher. Who knows where Sapowski got his idea of a professional monster slayer but I'm pretty sure he was not the first one to get that idea

Doorhandle
2018-05-31, 05:44 PM
My opinion on this matter is "good artists borrow, great artist steal."
However, it's worth noting that borrowing can be a pretty broad in of itself: I mean, how many campagins have elves in them now? How many plots are based on collecting all the things?
Or how many dungeon crawls, for that matter. After something's stolen enough it becomes an idea in of itself, disconnected from its inspiration, and ripe for abuse and reinterpretation.

2D8HP
2018-05-31, 06:20 PM
It depends on how obvious.

Stealing from Conan the Barbarian and The Lord of the Rings probably won't fly, but stealing from Conan the Destroyer and Young Sherlock Holmes was very successful!

Mash-ups work great as well!

And frankly there's a thread in the Worldbuilding Sub-Forum for creating the most cliche-ridden setting possible (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?553440-Let-s-build-Generica-(standard-fantasy-product)) and to me it sounds AWESOME!

:elan: 🎶 Steal, steal, steal the setting details! 🎶

Honest Tiefling
2018-05-31, 06:32 PM
How obvious is it? Some things are a bit universal (i.e. Hero's Journey type stuff), but the more specifics you steal from a certain source, the more you're going to have to stare at "This is just a rip-off of Darkwell, the third novel in the Moonshaes Trilogy." (I played that)

I think this, with the idea that more universal background things, like birth signs which show up in plenty of places including actual human history, are going to be easier to give a new coat of paint to than fiddly little details like the names and histories of particular noble houses. Stealing outright is bad, tweaking ideas is good.

If you want that system, I would suggest renaming the signs at the very least. Making them unique and appropriate to the setting, maybe even tweaking the number.

Doorhandle
2018-05-31, 07:49 PM
Looking back at the OP, I wouldn't steal the star signs themselves, so much as their effects or themes.
For example, have an atronach sign would show your hand instantly, but if you keep the magic-absorb effect but rename it to something like "Sign of the Dwemorcat" no-one will bat an eyebrow.
You could potentially use the eastern/western zodiac instead as well. Ares for the warrior stone, for example, or rat for the thief stone.

...Also, BRB, adding starsigns to my campaign.

Jay R
2018-06-01, 08:26 AM
Edit: I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. This is based on what I've been trained to do when grading papers.

Speaking as a University instructor who has to consider plagiarism issues when grading, let me point a few things out.

Plagiarism is claiming to have produced what you have not produced. If you tell your players that youíve taken ideas from elsewhere, and cite your sources in the documents (which the players will probably never see anyway), then itís research, not plagiarism. When you use the Elder Scrolls birthsign, tell them where it came from.

Sequences of words are copyrighted. Very specific ideas can be copyrighted. General ideas cannot. If your quest involves an evil ring that must be destroyed, you are not plagiarizing Tolkien. If it can command nine wraiths wearing rings, has power over seven rings for dwarves (now mostly destroyed) and might someday be able to rule three rings for elves that are not yet under its thrall, then you almost certainly are.

There are lots of superheroes with super-strength who can fly. They are not plagiarizing Superman. The original Captain Marvel, with super-strength, super-speed, invulnerability, a skin-tight costume with a cape, and a news reporter alter ego, was deemed to be copyright infringement, but even that took years of court wrangling, and DC lost the first round, before it was finally decided in their favor on appeal.

-----------------------

This all assumes that you do not ever intend to publish. You certainly canít publish the Elder Scrolls birthsign without permission of the owner.

Felhammer
2018-06-01, 09:11 AM
The idea has been borrowed many times before you.

I suggest just coming up with your own group of signs, giving each an interesting mechanical property and running with it.

Telonius
2018-06-01, 10:14 AM
Personally I found it best when it's not clobbering the players over the head with the references. If you can manage it so the players don't notice for a while, the effect can be wonderful when they finally do get it. Especially important is making the references incidental, not central, to the plot.

For example, in a campaign I ran, the players started out in a small town loaded with subtle references. Ye Olde Magick Shoppe was run by a female gnome with a Pseudodragon familiar named Fang. A shy Druid lived just outside of town. The local Bard was named Diane. Town Barbarian was Iris "Speedy" Ritter. None of them were major NPCs. It was all stuff that's kind of in the background, that you wouldn't notice unless you were really paying attention and knew what the names meant. Later in the campaign, they had to go to the capital (white-stoned castle overlooking a large cliff) and disrupt a wedding; Queen Elaine's younger sister had been blackmailed by a Falxugon, who had kidnapped the fiancee and was shapeshifted into taking his place. (Her other sister, Selene, was suspicious). The references were subtle enough that it wasn't until I dropped the party into the basement that it finally dawned on them. "Hold on ... we started out in Ponyville, didn't we," was one of my most satisfying DM moments, and the players got a real laugh out of it.

Anonymouswizard
2018-06-01, 02:04 PM
Note that the style of game and setting also affects things.

For example, if I run Unknown Armies I'll reference in three ways.

The first is that the characters themselves are making references. Because not only is it something that people in a modern setting should do, some of the game's archetypes thrive on references. Some of the biggest being Videomancers and their successors Cinemancers, but everybody is obsessed with something.

The second is references to help players understand the plot. If I'm using my MOPS (Metropolitan Occult Police Service) setup and the players are in a story inspired by one of the Discworld books they'll likely here the words 'cut me own throat', references to a police werewolf, or other things people associate with the Discworld.

The third is referencing previous games of Unknown Armies I've played. This is mostly for my benefit and those I've played it with before, but it helps me to think of the Unknown Armies setting as connecting all my games. So you might here about the time people rubbed mud in the mayor's hair, or people trying to be stealthy might have a surprising tendency to wear trenchcoats (from a time where the group decided we didn't want to be noticed, then everybody individually decided to wear a black trenchcoat. No wonder the person we were meeting didn't like us).

MrNobody
2018-06-01, 04:17 PM
As a player, i'm not bothered by referencies or even copying from other media, with a couple of exceptions:

- Reference overload: everything comes from other media, the campaign is a patchwork of situations and characters taken from tv series, films, videogames, ecc. This usually bothers me since distracts me from the real plot. In my experience, also, campaigns that suffer of reference overload don't have a plot at all, they take the plot from another media and attach other "stolen" elements to it so the whole thing hardly makes sense at all.

- Narrative pauperisation: the use of film/tv/books common knowledge to skip narrative.

"You enter the bar and you see... you know X from Y tv show? yeah, him but blond!"
"You cast your spell and... you know that things Z does in W film? That!"

This annoys me a lot since takes away all the "magic" from narration.

Otherwise, well placed and well used, references and easter eggs amuse me a whole lot!

ComaVision
2018-06-01, 04:30 PM
As I've told my group, my intent to is steal ideas from enough different sources that they are unable to determine what I am ripping off.

supergoji18
2018-06-01, 08:02 PM
The idea has been borrowed many times before you.

I suggest just coming up with your own group of signs, giving each an interesting mechanical property and running with it.

This is pretty much my intention.

Thank you all for your input. I think I'll take your advice and borrow it, putting my own twist on it.

Nifft
2018-06-01, 08:06 PM
Steal everything you can.

Just be wary of differences between media that render some things inappropriate for transplantation into a table-top game.

Also, if you steal from too many distinct sources simultaneously, you risk stumbling into originality by accident -- the secret is to keep smiling and never admit your lack of originality, even under extreme praise.

Doorhandle
2018-06-01, 08:09 PM
Something additional I will note: Steal from other RPGs.

I've had a habit of playing adventures from one edition in a completely different edition or a completely different gameline.

Jay R
2018-06-02, 07:34 AM
Just make sure that your version is different enough in some crucial way that a player can recognize the reference without ruining the story.

Bohandas
2018-06-03, 03:23 PM
Copying ideas and concepts is fine, but unless you're running a wacky comedy campaign and deliberately doing it for laughs you should at least stop short of copying the actual names of things

EDIT:
Even if the details of the actual thing in your game are not exactly the same as the details of the thing in the original