Remixing RPG’s and Copyrights Thereof

Everything is a remix. (Also watch parts 2 and 3. Well worth your time.) D&D, the first RPG ever, was a remix of a lot of different fantasy sources (halflings, treants, and balors from Tolkien, for example), combined with rules from Chainmail. And every other RPG since then has remixed D&D.

This is, by the way, wholly legal. Let me quote the US government’s copyright site:

Copyright does not protect the idea for a game, its name or title, or the method or methods for playing it. Nor does copyright protect any idea, system, method, device, or trademark material involved in developing, merchandising, or playing a game. Once a game has been made public, nothing in the copyright law prevents others from developing another game based on similar principles.

So, suppose we were talking about an RPG which used cards in its play. (Deadlands, as an example.) Any other RPG could adapt that idea, and it’s wholly legal. So long as they don’t use that game’s text, it’s all kosher.

In the RPG community, we kind of skirt around acknowledging this. Which is understandable, as few of us are lawyers (excepting Necromancer Games and Kenzerco) and none of us can afford to be sued. Litigation could bankrupt us.

There’s also the issue of “creativity”. As expressed by most people, “creativity” means “being wholly original”. So people can’t acknowledge their antecedents, because then they’re “uninspired” or “a ripoff”.

But that’s just not true, because (and see the top of the post for why) everything is a remix. If you think something is wholly original, it’s because you don’t know where the author borrowed his inspiration from. There are uninspired ripoffs, but just borrowing elements from other games or settings doesn’t make them so.

The Matrix is a remix of a dozen prior movies. So is Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Kill Bill as well. (As seen here, after the credits.) In fact, Quentin Taratino’s entire approach as a director is to take inspiration from all of cinema, and mix it together in his own original way. (Not that I’m claiming the skills or talent of a Quentin Taratino.) What determines originality is not if you borrow inspiration (because everyone does) but what you do with it.

I’d like to see more people acknowledge the sources they borrowed from. I’ve done so in the past, and want to again.

To be clear, the ∞ Infinity Gaming System takes strong inspiration from Torg: Roleplaying the Possibility Wars. Several of the character mechanics are adapted from FATE’s Aspects, as is one-roll combat. The inner logic of the Action economy is loosely inspired by d20. 2d10 Dice is adapted from a similar system (using 2d6) from The Babylon Project RPG. The rest is a mish-mash of ideas inspired by many different games (such as Savage Worlds) and wholly original ideas, as modified by feedback from commenters (winstoninabox, John McGlynn, Glen Taylor, Ks. Jim Ogle, and many others) and playtesting.

But as a coherent, unified whole, ∞ Infinity is wholly mine. It draws inspirations from other games, but is exactly like none of them.

I used all those elements (making my own remix), but tried to make something unique. Of course, like all RPG’s ∞ Infinity is also a remix of D&D.

Which — as I’ve stated — isn’t a problem. Everything is a remix.

5 thoughts on “Remixing RPG’s and Copyrights Thereof”

  1. Yup.

    Even back in the days of Classical Greece, playwrights and philosophers noted that every dramatic theme had already been used, and went so far as to compile lists of themes that keep getting recycled. Anyone trying to create absolutely original work is doomed to frustration.

    It’s not about being original; it’s about being good, and creating work that has its own identity.

  2. Glen: “It’s not about being original; it’s about being good, and creating work that has its own identity.”

    Very well put. That’s exactly the point I was trying to make near the end (but didn’t, at least not as well as you).

  3. Thank you. I’m humbled.

    This is actually a topic I put a lot of thought into. It touches not only on the nature of fiction, but on the nature of information, from a scientific point of view. Late at night, I find myself wondering how one could form an algorithm to analyze how history synthesizes existing elements into the present and past…

    No, I’m not stoned. Why do you ask?

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