I have spent a lot of time looking at both other posts on this form about derivative work and its actual definition/ conditions, but I would like to hear your thoughts on this specific case. I have been working on an RPG rulebook from scratch that happens to revolve around a similar setting to the Shadowrun RPG. Both settings revolve around a party of mercenaries in a cyberpunk future where magic has started cropping up. Though the flavor of magic I am using is much more dark fantasy/Lovecraftian than Shadowrun's generic high magic, I am not sure if having many elements from Shadowrun's setting makes this a derivative work.

Mechanically, all the rules in my RPG are original and quite different than Shadowrun, but because of the similar setting, many of the rules cover the same topics (such as hacking and drones).

I am considering (but not set on) trying to sell this RPG for a small amount of money at some point in the future, which, as I understand it, may make derivative work a real issue If I don't pay attention to it. Do you think this constitutes a derivative work?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure this is a question that RPG.se is equipped to answer - copyright law is complicated, and without knowing a lot more about your setting it could be very difficult to judge if it crosses a line. It might help anyone who does intend to weigh in if you clarify where in the world you are located and might plan to publish. I assume you're most likely in the US but the law will vary from country to country. \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer May 13 '18 at 16:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Carcer If you take a look at the [publishing] or [intellectual-property] tags, you'll see that this is within the scope of other questions we've had. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie May 13 '18 at 18:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie I didn't mean to suggest that it was off-topic for the stack, just that it might be very difficult to answer correctly nonetheless. \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer May 13 '18 at 18:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Carcer But saying that RPG.se isn't equipped to answer by pointing out that copyright law — the entire topic — is too complex is saying no copyright question is simple enough to answer here. That is saying it's off-topic, even if that wasn't the intention. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie May 13 '18 at 19:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie I concede that "we're not equipped to answer" didn't convey the intended message, which was that the subject is complex and we aren't furnished with enough information in the question about the querent's setting to be able to definitely say if the work is derivative or not. \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer May 13 '18 at 20:35

What you're describing is a genre — specifically the fantasy-cyberpunk genre. Genres can't be copyrighted, so derivative work isn't a set of concepts that are relevant.

If you were actually using parts of the Shadowrun setting as direct sources for your work (whether copied verbatim or copied-then-changed), then that would be a derivative work. If your elves, trolls, and drakes are the same or the same-but-tweaked, or you use (or tweak) the same history, if you use the same city names, if you use nuyen (or even novoyen or nubucks) then that's deriving your work from Shadowrun.

The farther from the same details, the less likely anyone would consider it a copy. The closer the details match — if someone can say “oh, that's lifted straight from Shadowrun, but with the names changed” or something like that — then the more likely someone with a lawyer would consider it a copy or derivative.

Consider doing some research into the fantasy cyberpunk games that are already published. (Always good market research, anyway!) Then you'll be able to see for yourself what sort of similarities exist in non-Shadowrun games, and — by absence — which their authors didn't consider fair similarities.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I would only add to this answer, before you publish, consult a copyright lawyer. I do a lot of freelance work in the RPG industry, with both licensed and original properties. If you are at all in doubt, consult a lawyer. \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis May 14 '18 at 1:28

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