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Is it bad form to "copy" fantasy races from a specific source?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by A Pineapple, Feb 18, 2021.

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  1. A Pineapple

    A Pineapple Dreamer

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    There are many fantasy races going back centuries; Elves and Dwarves are key examples. These and other fantasy races are used and tweaked in all sorts of works, so they are considered fair game for writing.

    But what about newer fantasy races. There are a host of races found in D&D or other specific places that would be conducive to my setting, with some minor world specific tweaks. Is it bad form, or at the very least confusing, to copy fantasy race names?

    For example: I am looking at including a bird/human race (and I dont want to go with the kin/folk route) and the aarakocra seems close to what I want. I am also looking at including a race physically similar to the Taurens of Wow. They dont seem to be in anything else.

    Even if it's ok to use them, would my characters be overshadowed by the originals because of the shared name?
     
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  2. S.T. Ockenner

    S.T. Ockenner Auror

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    You should not copy other works. Name them something you made up.
     
  3. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    A couple thoughts:

    1. Reactions from the audience. I think a lot of readers will share S.T. OckennerS.T. Ockenner's view that you simply shouldn't do this because it's bad form. Some readers may see it as a lack of creativity or an attempt to play on Wizards of the Coast creations for monetary reasons. In any event, it may give some readers a bad impression of the work.
    2. WotC. They have license by which creators can publish materials for various editions of D&D. Within those document they identify "Product Identity," which they basically consider as trademarks. Whether all of these really function as trademarks is another issue (I do not believe they do), and you're not a party to those license agreements so you're not bound by their terms, but it does give insight into areas where WotC might view use of race names and the like as crossing a line. Whether WotC has a good case or not, they have the money to make someone's life miserable in court if they take a strong enough view against a use.
     
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  4. A Pineapple

    A Pineapple Dreamer

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    How unique or seperate should a name be? Do you recomend hunting for other uses of a self thought of name? For example. I have a "catfolk" race that i plan on calling pantherans. Panthera is the taxological classification for some large cats including lions, jaguars, and panthers. When i look it up on google, i see that there is a d&d wiki with a stub of an article with pantherans as a homebrew race. My background for the race is very different, but it would be a ~similar physical appearance. Should i go back to the drawing board?
     
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  5. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    Speaking of D&D they're a good example of the topic at hand. Some quick google-fu shows that before 1976 Halflings in D&D were called Hobbits, but after a legal challenge from the holder of the merchandising rights to The Hobbit & Lord of the Rings they were changed to Halflings along with removing Balrogs and Wargs.

    I don't think homebrew has the same level of protections. Well, truthfully I'm just skeptical that your average homebrew creator would have the resources or interests in taking you to court.

    That said, it's common for writers or really professional content creators in general to have a flat policy of never reading any fan work of their creations. If a fanfic the author reads introduces a race of catfolk and then later on the author introduces their own catfolk race by happenstance then the fanfic writer could sue the author for ripping them off and look to get paid. If the author goes on to argue, "Nah dude, I don't read any fanfics. It's in my contract. Look here. Complete coincidence dude," then yeah, that acts as a form of defense against those lawsuits.

    Aarakorca isn't one of D&D's big names like Beholders or Mindflayers, but it looks specific enough to D&D that I wouldn't recommend using it.
     
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  6. Frenzy

    Frenzy New Member

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    Something to keep in mind. When "copying" from another literary or fantasy source, you should probably change things enough to make them different or somewhat unique. However, that being said, don't forget that Tolkein quite literally took the names for most of his characters directly from Norse stories.
     
  7. S.T. Ockenner

    S.T. Ockenner Auror

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    Mythology is not the same as published work. Mythology is public territory. Anyone can use mythological creatures or characters, since no-one owns them.
     
  8. Frenzy

    Frenzy New Member

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    True, very true. My only point is that even some of the best "borrowed" from other sources. There's still debate about how much of Shakespeare's works were original to him. Also the basis of most fantasy races has it's roots in mythology, so it's common to find that whatever you might come up with, someone else has already used it, and they most likely got the idea from something even older.
     
  9. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Personally, I wouldn't worry a lot over the mere fact that something shows up in a wiki or on a fanfic site or something like that--if you look long enough you'd likely be able to find almost any use you think of somewhere on the internet. I'd be more concerned if the source was recognized and known enough that a substantial portion of your potential readers will be aware of it and think you took the name from that source.
     
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  10. Chasejxyz

    Chasejxyz Troubadour

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    Elves and dwarves were in norse myths, so they're not really copyright-able, just like how the concept of a dragon or a unicorn or werewolf isn't. Same thing with things from Greece and Rome. A tauren is just a minotaur. Well, to be more exact, a tauren is just a cow furry. An arrakkoa is a bird furry. Turning an animal/mythological creature into a furry is something people have been doing for ages. Lots of myths have this, as well as books like The Island of Dr Moreau. Pretty much every cartoon, Zootopia...So putting minotaurs/cow furries in your book isn't stepping on anyone's toes (hooves?).

    However, if you call them tauren, or they're based off of plains tribes of Native Americans...well people are going to notice. A lot of the races in WoW are kinda "yikes" with the racial stereotypes built into them, so if you do your own thing, you don't have to bring in that baggage. Think of how they fit in your world and how they would fit.

    I have a species of birdy people that look a lot like Arrakkoa before they were "corrupted" (so the very long ones, not the hunched over ones). But I came up with that idea before I ever played WoW or DnD. It's not a groundbreaking idea. But what make mine unique is how they came into the world and their relationship with other species, because being not fully human/not fully bird means they don't fit into either society. Compare that to the arrakkoa in WoW, where they just...exist on Draenor and no one ever really does anything with them. They're in their one zone and don't have relationships with other races, they don't even really have a presence on Azeroth. The only real similarity between my species and the Arrakkoa is how they look.
     
  11. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Inkling

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    There's two sides to this.

    The artistic side: For me, I don't care either way. There isn't much difference artistically between using an elf, a hobbit and a tauren. They've all been done before. I don't see how using something from mythology is seen as original and artistic and using something invented 20 years ago is copying and being derivative (from an artistic perspective). Make them interesting and fun to read and I would be happy reading it. Or, to use a quote ascribed to Picasso: Good artists copy; great artists steal.

    The other side however, is the legal side. No one can object to you using an elf and calling it an elf. However, if you publish a work featuring Hobbits you will get a phonecall from the Tolkien estate. And they've got deeper pockets than you to get their way. The same with creatures from other works. If you want to use a race invented by someone else, check if you are actually allowed to. And if not, make sure you name them something else and give them your own spin.
     
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  12. S.T. Ockenner

    S.T. Ockenner Auror

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    Ew, no they're not. They're anthropomorphic animals. Don't take gross stuff into this forum, please.
     
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  13. Chasejxyz

    Chasejxyz Troubadour

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  14. S.T. Ockenner

    S.T. Ockenner Auror

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    No, a furry is a person who dresses up as an animal, usually for...not family friendly reasons.
     
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  15. A Pineapple

    A Pineapple Dreamer

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    I think that that is a common misconception. While the artwork may focus more on adult material, the majority of those that identify as a furry use it to kind if disassociate from the pressures of life. Its kind of like a LARP where furries get to be someone not bogged down with student loan debt and car payments and knuckleheaded bosses.

    Some furries use it as just a cosplay, while others put a bit more of their identity into it. I'm not a furry myself, but my city does usually host an annual furry convention.
     
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  16. S.T. Ockenner

    S.T. Ockenner Auror

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    Still, it's not the same as an anthropmorphic animal, which is an animal that acts like a human.
     
  17. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Maybe leave judgments about what should or should not be brought up in the forums to the mods. Otherwise we wind up with everyone telling everyone else what to do. And there's already Twitter for that. <g>
     
  18. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Inkling

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    Well, I think it really depends. You may not be doing anything illegal but the fans of those books may not like it. Best to come up with your own races, because taking that racing and just re-naming them isn't enough.
     
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  19. A Pineapple

    A Pineapple Dreamer

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    It was really for the other way around. I have my own ideas for the races as far as personality, history, culture, but the appearance of a bird person or cat person wouldn't be very different so i wanted to evoke the imagery. Much like the culture of a dwarf will vary from book to book but people can visualize a classic dwarf from just the name.
     
  20. Chasejxyz

    Chasejxyz Troubadour

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    Then I'd say you're okay. There's only so many ways to skin a cat (person). I think you would only get in trouble if you start adding in details that aren't standard because you're ripping off another species. For the cat example: having cats with 4 ears and horns like the charr do in guild wars, as those aren't things regular cats have. Tauren have 2 fingers and a thumb and a "mane" of hair sort of like a horse over the crest of their neck/shoulders. Your cow people can have a normal number of fingers, or maybe hoof hands, maybe they don't have human-like hair at all. A lot of these races we're talking about exist in video games, especially MMOs, where you need to put in features to make them aesthetically attractive/easy to customize/easy to model. There's no quadrapedal races because modeling those clothes/animations would be really hard, but that's not a problem with your book.
     
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