are Kobolds public domain?

MistyMistMistyMist Posts: 15,564
edited September 2012 in The Commons

it's hard to know what's safe to use and what in the RPG genre is proprietary to wizards coast.

i figure, orcs and high elves are safe since they were in the LOTR books before forgotten realms existed.

but, making high elves look like Hugo Weaving would be infringement :lol:


and hair-do's. the sailor moon is distinctive.

Post edited by MistyMist on
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Comments

  • ZaarinZaarin Posts: 385
    edited December 1969

    Well, WotC converted Kobolds to Star Wars, but I guess that's still WotC....

  • Pax AsteriaePax Asteriae Posts: 0
    edited December 1969

    Kobolds are creatures from Germanic folklore, the equivalent (apparently) to the English Boggart. Wizards of the Coast just nabbed them from folklore for their games, so as long as you're not making them look exactly like versions from the books then you're alright. They existed (arguably :lol: ) way before WotC ever did.

  • Richard HaseltineRichard Haseltine Posts: 19,933
    edited December 1969

    I hate to nit-pick, but Tolkien iss till in copyright so having something in the LotR doesn't make it public domain - far from it. As Kachi says, the name is fine but the D&D Kobold is a unique creature and I doubt you could copy it legitimately.

  • larsmidnattlarsmidnatt Posts: 3,400
    edited September 2012

    I doubt you could copy it legitimately.

    I doubt the OP was intending to steal artwork :) You can certainly make Kobolds inspired by your favorite entertainment though.

    People do it all the time. Unless you steal particular imagery its all good. Kobolds are fairly generic these days and so many iterations of them have been made that WOTC doesn't really have anything to protect.

    EDIT: Same for that Tolkien guy, pretty much anything in LOTR has been redone a billion times. Just stay away from the character/location names!

    Post edited by larsmidnatt on
  • DaWaterRatDaWaterRat Posts: 1,640
    edited December 1969

    it's hard to know what's safe to use and what in the RPG genre is proprietary to wizards coast.

    i figure, orcs and high elves are safe since they were in the LOTR books before forgotten realms existed.

    but, making high elves look like Hugo Weaving would be infringement :lol:


    and hair-do's. the sailor moon is distinctive.

    Don't get me started on T$R's attempts to copyright terms and concepts that were far older than Gary Gygax. (one of the many things that turned me off of D&D, way back before 3rd ed even existed.) While the exact expressions of many of the creatures are copyright WotC, the terms and creatures themselves are generally open, so long as you don't copy WotC too closely (and even then, there is a lot of wiggle room.)

    "Orc" as word meaning monster appears in Beowulf.

    "Elf" (or more specifically Aelf) is also from Old English.

    Kobold is, as said, a Germanic sprite.

    A quick type of whatever critter you're looking at into wikipedia should give enough information to head off in your own direction for any of them.

    (And Sailor Moon's hair isn't that distinctive, (well, the buns and ponytails), as I'm fairly certain I've seen it in other anime. (Don't ask me which one. Anime makes nice background noise when trying to write at 1 in the morning.))

  • larsmidnattlarsmidnatt Posts: 3,400
    edited December 1969

    (And Sailor Moon's hair isn't that distinctive, (well, the buns and ponytails), as I'm fairly certain I've seen it in other anime.

    Seen one seen em all :) But seriously the culture of anime is to heavily borrow from each other so it's rare to find something truly exclusive. The combination of elements or events is what makes each anime have it's own personality.

  • MistyMistMistyMist Posts: 15,564
    edited December 1969

    I doubt you could copy it legitimately.

    I doubt the OP was intending to steal artwork :) You can certainly make Kobolds inspired by your favorite entertainment though.

    People do it all the time. Unless you steal particular imagery its all good. Kobolds are fairly generic these days and so many iterations of them have been made that WOTC doesn't really have anything to protect.

    EDIT: Same for that Tolkien guy, pretty much anything in LOTR has been redone a billion times. Just stay away from the character/location names!

    Tolkien totally used 'The Ring of the Nibelung' by Richard Wagner.


    i'm toying with the monsters from the cupboard and was thinking of calling them Kobolds for my illustrations, a version of kobolds to be cuter.


    all the kewl myth beings are taken. whine, lol.


    i've been calling creatures in my books spirits or demons or gods. but, to start a new line in the RPG genre, i feel like i need to establish recognizable races - without stepping on the toes of woc or tokyopop.

  • edited December 1969

    I always wanted to write a heroic fantasy novel with an intelligent kobald as a main character.

  • MistyMistMistyMist Posts: 15,564
    edited December 1969

    snip ... Anime makes nice background noise when trying to write at 1 in the morning.))

    yep! :lol:

    Trinity Blood at the moment.

  • DaWaterRatDaWaterRat Posts: 1,640
    edited December 1969

    I doubt you could copy it legitimately.

    I doubt the OP was intending to steal artwork :) You can certainly make Kobolds inspired by your favorite entertainment though.

    People do it all the time. Unless you steal particular imagery its all good. Kobolds are fairly generic these days and so many iterations of them have been made that WOTC doesn't really have anything to protect.

    EDIT: Same for that Tolkien guy, pretty much anything in LOTR has been redone a billion times. Just stay away from the character/location names!

    Tolkien totally used 'The Ring of the Nibelung' by Richard Wagner.


    i'm toying with the monsters from the cupboard and was thinking of calling them Kobolds for my illustrations, a version of kobolds to be cuter.


    all the kewl myth beings are taken. whine, lol.


    i've been calling creatures in my books spirits or demons or gods. but, to start a new line in the RPG genre, i feel like i need to establish recognizable races - without stepping on the toes of woc or tokyopop.

    At times like this, I take a deep breath and repeat Ecclesiastes 1:9

    "What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun."

    Then I go ahead and do whatever the heck I want without worrying if it's "Been done"

    As a long time gamer (25+ years), I don't think you need to establish "new" races. You just need to make them suitable to your game world. (See TV Tropes "Call a Rabbit a Smerp" and the various "Our x are Different"... note the lack of links, for everyone's safety.)

  • Serene NightSerene Night Posts: 5,573
    edited December 1969

    Kobolds existed prior to wotc. I'd just do some research, find out how the original fairy ones were supposed to appear and go for the classic look. Sometimes WOTC bugs me... They think they own everyhting under the sun... But truth is they borrow a lot too. =-)

    You can't copywrite a kobold. You can copyrwrite the 'expression' of the idea. So, make up a new idea, and go fot it. The d&d ones were kind of annoying anyway.

  • TjohnTjohn Posts: 7,484
    edited December 1969

    The only Kobolds I've seen were in the Suikoden series of video games. They were short bipedal dogs who were sentient with a bravado and gusto for fighting with swords and a fierce loyalty to their own kind and friends they made along the way. Are there other kinds of Kobolds?

    Edit: Never mind, I googled it. I think I like the doggie Kobolds better, lol.

  • ZaarinZaarin Posts: 385
    edited December 1969

    I doubt you could copy it legitimately.

    I doubt the OP was intending to steal artwork :) You can certainly make Kobolds inspired by your favorite entertainment though.

    People do it all the time. Unless you steal particular imagery its all good. Kobolds are fairly generic these days and so many iterations of them have been made that WOTC doesn't really have anything to protect.

    EDIT: Same for that Tolkien guy, pretty much anything in LOTR has been redone a billion times. Just stay away from the character/location names!

    Tolkien totally used 'The Ring of the Nibelung' by Richard Wagner.


    i'm toying with the monsters from the cupboard and was thinking of calling them Kobolds for my illustrations, a version of kobolds to be cuter.


    all the kewl myth beings are taken. whine, lol.


    i've been calling creatures in my books spirits or demons or gods. but, to start a new line in the RPG genre, i feel like i need to establish recognizable races - without stepping on the toes of woc or tokyopop.


    Nope. Tolkien hated Wagner. But they did draw on some of the same sources: the Nibelungenlied and the older Volsungasaga upon which the Nibelungenlied was "based" (well, significantly cleaned up, since apparently incest, cannibalism, wyrd, warrior women, suicide, and child murder are not favored topics of court romances :P).

  • MistyMistMistyMist Posts: 15,564
    edited December 1969

    Zaarin said:
    I doubt you could copy it legitimately.

    I doubt the OP was intending to steal artwork :) You can certainly make Kobolds inspired by your favorite entertainment though.

    People do it all the time. Unless you steal particular imagery its all good. Kobolds are fairly generic these days and so many iterations of them have been made that WOTC doesn't really have anything to protect.

    EDIT: Same for that Tolkien guy, pretty much anything in LOTR has been redone a billion times. Just stay away from the character/location names!

    Tolkien totally used 'The Ring of the Nibelung' by Richard Wagner.


    i'm toying with the monsters from the cupboard and was thinking of calling them Kobolds for my illustrations, a version of kobolds to be cuter.


    all the kewl myth beings are taken. whine, lol.


    i've been calling creatures in my books spirits or demons or gods. but, to start a new line in the RPG genre, i feel like i need to establish recognizable races - without stepping on the toes of woc or tokyopop.


    Nope. Tolkien hated Wagner. But they did draw on some of the same sources: the Nibelungenlied and the older Volsungasaga upon which the Nibelungenlied was "based" (well, significantly cleaned up, since apparently incest, cannibalism, wyrd, warrior women, suicide, and child murder are not favored topics of court romances :P).


    i remember the incest thing in Nibelung translation. Brynnehilde and Sigurd.
    and a goblin with a ring.

    there's an earlier source? it would be interesting to find a translation to read!

    English sure changed a lot between Beowulf and Shakespeare.

  • ZaarinZaarin Posts: 385
    edited September 2012

    Brynhild and Sigurd weren't related...No, this incest is between Sigurd's grandfather and Sigurd's grandfather's twin sister (conscious on her part but not on his). Look up the Volsungasaga; there are public domain translations available if you can stomach the Victorian purple prose. :P The original is from 14th century Norway and written in Old Norse, though it itself draws on even older sources, some of which are in the Prose Edda and Poetic Edda of Iceland.

    Tolkien did a transliteration of the Sigurd and the Dragon portion of the Volsungasaga called "Sigurd and Gudrun" in the traditional Old Norse verse style. It's very good, though it's not the entire story. For the whole Volsungasaga, try William Morris--it's in very flowery poetry which is rather antithetical to the Norse style, but it's otherwise fairly accurate and free. There are probably newer translations, but you'll have to pay for them. :P

    EDIT: Oh, and Wagner's Nibelung is based more heavily on the Volsungasaga than the Nibelungenlied.

    Post edited by Zaarin on
  • ValandarValandar Posts: 662
    edited September 2012

    Back to the OP's question:

    1 ) Kobolds as a concept in general are not under any copyright or trademark, and are similar in folklore to knockers, bogies, boggarts, etcetera.

    2 ) The depiction of Kobolds, specifically, as really small, bipedal tailed creatures that resemble part draconic, part doglike critters and worship dragons and the dragon pantheon very possibly might be.

    3 ) Any critter in any RPG that has its roots in legend, lore, and old tales (such as Kobolds or goblins), or is among a group of critters (such as orcs) that have entered public domain by cultural osmosis, is by nature not under trademark or copyright, though the SPECIFIC depictions therein may be. A space orc is fine, but a space orc that is actually a fungoid critter with 'clap your hands if you believe' tech, a crude variant of an "Oop North" accent, ramshackle vehicles that actually do go faster if you paint them red, and shout "WAAAAAAAAAGH!" as they charge into battle is pretty much a Warhammer 40,000 Ork, and best to err on the side of caution.

    4 ) Any critter in any RPG that was specifically created for that RPG is probably copyrighted or trademarked by that RPG, though similar but different critters with a vaguely similar 'one sentence description' and different name might be okay. A slimy humanoid with tentacles around its mouth is fine (they appear from Lovecraft to Pirates of the Carribean), but one that dwells underground worshipping brains in pools and feed on brains by poking their tentacles through a victim's skull and possess psychic powers (especially a stunning blast) is a carbon copy of a Mind Flayer.

    5 ) If in doubt, best err on the side of caution. If you did not know for sure that the Aboleth, for example, is not from some obscure legend, then it's off-limits (for the record, it is not - it is a creation of AD&D).

    Post edited by Valandar on
  • riftwitchriftwitch Posts: 1,045
    edited December 1969

    I hate to nit-pick, but Tolkien iss till in copyright so having something in the LotR doesn't make it public domain - far from it. As Kachi says, the name is fine but the D&D Kobold is a unique creature and I doubt you could copy it legitimately.

    Most of the creatures in LOTR are taken from older mythology, and are safe for use. Tolkien certainly didn't invent orcs, elves, or dwarves. The NAMES ent, balrog, and hobbit aren't. Critters with these names appeared in older versions of D&D/AD&D, but they were changed in later versions to treant, balor, and halfling, respectively. Nothing would stop you from doing intelligent trees, winged demons, or short humanoids with furry feet; just watch what you call them. Back in the day, TSR (pre-WOTC days) was very protective of their own trademarks, but tended to somewhat ignore others' intellectual property rights.

  • Richard HaseltineRichard Haseltine Posts: 19,933
    edited December 1969

    The point I was making was that something's being in LotR doesn't mean it's fair game, though as you say some of the stuff is and only a little is totally unique.

  • Hiro ProtagonistHiro Protagonist Posts: 321
    edited December 1969

    If you have the time there is an interesting lecture on copyright issues in fanart by the legal advisor on copyright matters to deviantArt, Josh Wattles (I'm bemused by the appearance of the masked man, at which point it seems to lose its way, but up to then I found it very interesting).

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xKBsTUjd910

    I agree that Wizards of the Coast probably have a copyright interest in their depiction of the kobold (i.e. with the draconic/canine features). Given how that has been diluted, by other games, generic depictions, etc., not to mention the likelihood of fair use defence (explained in the video in this context), I think the probability of WotC pursuing a non-commercial work featuring this type of kobold is vanishingly small.

    Of course if your work features a kobold of the traditional type (typically a small humanoid) then there is no problem. However, such a kobold would be difficult to distinguish from a gnome, small goblin, spriggan, etc.

  • Jay_NOLAJay_NOLA Posts: 0
    edited December 1969

    This came up last year on the ProFantasy forums

    See the forum posts at these two links.

    http://forum.profantasy.com/comments.php?DiscussionID=2567

    http://forum.profantasy.com/comments.php?DiscussionID=2381


    You might want to get a good general reference guide to mythological creatures to have to check on the origin of things.

    I recommend these:

    Spirits, Fairies, Leprechauns, and Goblins: An Encyclopedia, by Carol Rose

    Giants, Monsters, and Dragons: An Encyclopedia of Folklore, Legend, and Myth, by Carol Rose

    An Encyclopedia of Fairies: Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, & Other Supernatural Creatures, by Katharine Briggs

  • ZaarinZaarin Posts: 385
    edited December 1969

    Jay_NOLA said:

    An Encyclopedia of Fairies: Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, & Other Supernatural Creatures, by Katharine Briggs


    Seconded. Katharine Briggs is the authority on English fairy lore. If you have access to JSTOR, she has some good articles on there, too--I cited about four of them in a paper last semester. ;)

  • s l fs l f Posts: 0
    edited December 1969

    At times like this, I take a deep breath and repeat Ecclesiastes 1:9

    "What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun."

    Then I go ahead and do whatever the heck I want without worrying if it's "Been done"

    As a long time gamer (25+ years), I don't think you need to establish "new" races. You just need to make them suitable to your game world. (See TV Tropes "Call a Rabbit a Smerp" and the various "Our x are Different"... note the lack of links, for everyone's safety.)

    Thank you for not including the TV Tropes links. :) I once accidentally found myself there and I think it was three days before I managed to break free. :lol:

  • KeryaKerya Posts: 7,245
    edited December 1969

    Kobold: Gnom, Spuk, Poltergeist are just some synonyms for this creature.

  • StratDragonStratDragon Posts: 1,808
    edited December 1969

    http://www.daz3d.com/shop/tauran-for-m4
    If this can get past daz's legal department I think you'll be fine with Kobolds.

  • MistyMistMistyMist Posts: 15,564
    edited December 1969

    there's a few things in the store i wouldn't feel comfortable using, like the Angelina look-a-like.

  • ValandarValandar Posts: 662
    edited December 1969

    http://www.daz3d.com/shop/tauran-for-m4
    If this can get past daz's legal department I think you'll be fine with Kobolds.

    Nope. The word "Tauran" is descended from the word "Minotaur", just like the WoW word "Tauren" - but both are quite different views on what a minotaur would look like. There's no real comparison there. The words are different, and the critters are very different. :P

  • StratDragonStratDragon Posts: 1,808
    edited December 1969

    the word "Minotaur" descended from the word "Taurus", which is the Greek word for a bull, but "tauran" I didn't happen to see anywhere except in the game Warcraft and the model is very much detailed after the Tauran race from that game. I may be wrong, I'm limited to Google and Euripides.

  • mjc1016mjc1016 Posts: 7,834
    edited December 1969

    I won't really get into the fact that some of the problems are because some things should never have been allowed to be copyrighted/trademarked/etc in the first place.

    Certain critters from myth and legend should not be given blanket protections...yes, a particular piece of artwork/graphic depicting someone's interpretation of that critter...fine, protect it all you want. But granting blanket protections as WotC has tried...nope.

  • ValandarValandar Posts: 662
    edited December 1969

    the word "Minotaur" descended from the word "Taurus", which is the Greek word for a bull, but "tauran" I didn't happen to see anywhere except in the game Warcraft and the model is very much detailed after the Tauran race from that game. I may be wrong, I'm limited to Google and Euripides.

    First, WoW uses TaurEn, not TaurAn. Second, I did not say it was a LEGITIMATE word, I said it was a derivative. And i'm pretty certain I've seen either Tauren or Tauran well before the first Warcraft ever came out.

  • Jay_NOLAJay_NOLA Posts: 0
    edited December 1969

    A couple of other companies aside from WOTC have tried to copyright and claim ownership of words that are public domain. White Wolf and FASA are two that come to mind. In White Wolf's case many of the names that the writers assigned to things are nowhere close to what they word is actually meant to convey if you start researching it. I've spoken to several of the people who designed games, supplements, etc.for White Wolf about this and they admit to misusing the words and giving things a certain name just because it sounded cool.

    Some companies and individuals will also just file lawsuits even knowing that the term or concept is public domain in attempt to bully a person to make changes to a product, cease publication, or try and get financial gain.

    Todd McFarlane threatened legal action against Paladium books for releasing an RPG called Nightspawn, which has no relation to the Spawn comics. Paladium ended up changing the name of the RPG to Nightbane because they didn't want to have to deal with legal fees and going to court, even though McFarlane would have lost if it had gone to court.

    John Banville in 1971 wrote a novel called Nightspawn by the way too, long before Todd McFarlane created Spawn.

    One friend of mine is involved right now in a federal legal dispute for a book and the plaintiff is claiming ownership over things related to myth and folklore that can be gotten from Wikipedia and other public domain sources. The use of the word loup-garou is one of the things in that case.

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