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In this answer, it mentioned that "Proper name" and "Character" are in the "Product Identity", which can NOT be reproduced.

What it means is the names of the towns and characters in any Adventure books, right!?

It doesn't mean that I can't call my Fighter "Fighter" and my skeleton "Skeleton", right!?

This might be a very bad example because they're such common class and monster.

To be unable to use them are way too unreasonable!

But how about some Pathfinder-unique classes and monsters such as Investigator or Aatheriexa!?

Can I still use them and their mechanics thereof!?

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A proper name is something like Caladrel; something that serves as an identifier for something unique (even if that name doesn't point to a particular thing; Caladrel is a sample elf name). A character is something like "Black Butterfly, the empyreal lord of distance, silence, and space", for instance; you can describe them however you like, but if they're an identifiable entity, that's a character.

Of note: Some Pathfinder characters have names that aren't protected by intellectual property law, such as Asmodeus; these characters as depicted in the collective texts of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game are protected content, even though their names are not.

More generally...

Every Pathfinder Roleplaying Game book has some text, usually in the "frontmatter" (credits page), about what falls under product identity and what falls under open content.

For example, in the pages of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Advanced Class Guide:

Product Identity: The following items are hereby identified as Product Identity, as defined in the Open Game License version 1.0a, Section 1(e), and are not Open Content: All trademarks, registered trademarks, proper names (characters, deities, etc.), dialogue, plots, storylines, locations, characters, artwork, and trade dress. (Elements that have previously been designated as Open Game Content or are in the public domain are not included in this declaration.)
Open Content: Except for material designated as Product Identity (see above), the game mechanics of this Paizo game product are Open Game Content, as defined in the Open Gaming License version 1.0a Section 1(d). No portion of this work other than the material designated as Open Game Content may be reproduced in any form without written permission.

This is important to read and understand, for every book that originated the content you're looking to reproduce.

Be sure to have a grasp of trademark and copyright law for the United States and any regions you're looking to publish your derivative content. It's generally reasonable to assume that a word that Paizo made up (such as aatheriexa) is out-of-bounds, but any common word (like investigator) or any non-unique aspect of a game element (such as the numerical stats of an aatheriexa, or the investigator class) is worth investigating the eligibility of, for use in your own work; be diligent in this regard.

I'm not a lawyer, so I hesitate to give advice beyond that, and I strongly suggest that you consult a lawyer before putting your work on the market. Be absolutely certain that you've studied the full text of the Open Game License, which can be found at the back of every PFRPG book, in depth. The Open Game License formalizes the folk knowledge that 'game mechanics don't fall under copyright, only their arrangement'. (However, this is folk knowledge--not legally binding.)

Resources

Except for the last couple years of its run, the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game 1st edition came with an online tool called the PRD, which was intended to offer third-party publishers a list of content safe to use in their own derivative works; trademarks and other product identity were scrubbed from the text where they needed to be. This is a good starting point for knowing what you can use freely, but do your homework, and especially don't rely on external 'Pathfinder SRD' sites to do the work of interpreting trademark and copyright law for you.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I just want to be sure, so I CAN'T use words like "Aatheriexa"!? If I make a similar monster, I have to come up with another name!? \$\endgroup\$ Mar 3 '20 at 8:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PiggyChu001 A good rule of thumb for Paizo-original content like that is "don't use that, unless your lawyer tells you otherwise". Yes, strive to inject your own flair and style. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 3 '20 at 8:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PiggyChu001 This is a lot of good stuff, but the concluding recommendations are vastly too limiting—they roughly describe one’s rights that don’t need any license. You could not use aatheriexa without Paizo’s permission—but if you use the OGL, you have that permission. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Mar 3 '20 at 13:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan Am I right to assume that as long as I put the "Copyright Notice" somewhere to state the origin of the content, I could then use it freely!? \$\endgroup\$ Mar 3 '20 at 13:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PiggyChu001 No, there’s more to it than that. You have to read the entire Open Game License carefully—it spells out what you have to do, what you may do, and what you cannot do. For example, including a copy of the Open Game License, with Section 15 filled in with each and every source of open game content that you use—along with every source that those sources use, so on and so forth. It’s a pain. See d20pfsrd’s copy of it, for an example. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Mar 3 '20 at 14:12
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I am not a lawyer, and I’m certainly not your lawyer. I have worked with third-party publishers who have made heavy usage of the Open Game License, but I wasn’t in charge of license compliance. The following is my understanding of matters based on being an interested party who has been “around” these issues.

Your rights, regardless of license

Paizo has no legal control over, for example, the English language—they cannot stop you from using English words like “fighter” or “investigator.” They also have no legal rights to folklore and myths, so “pegasus” and “Asmodeus” aren’t theirs to control, since both of those come from ancient sources.

Paizo does have legal rights—mainly copyright, but also some trademarks—over their own original content. The text and images and design of their books, for examples, are all covered by copyright. “Pathfinder Roleplaying Game” is trademarked, as is the Pathfinder logo. Copyright also covers characters, settings, plots, and so on—so while you can use the name “Asmodeus,” if your character is too similar Paizo’s character by that name, you could get in trouble.

Importantly, under US copyright law, game rules cannot be copyrighted. The text used to explain those rules, however, can be. This is a complicated area that would require extreme care to navigate successfully.

Additionally, in a select few cases, you can legally use copyrighted material—this is what is known as Fair Use in the United States, and pretty much everywhere else has something similar. Fair Use will almost-certainly not apply to any product you make, even if it’s free—Fair Use covers stuff like educational purposes (including reviews and the like), parody, and a few other things, but it doesn’t cover making your own product.

But the really important thing here is that no one can tell you for sure what’s safe and what isn’t. Cease and desist letters—the usually first step for dealing with copyright infringement—are just letters, there are no rules on who can send one or when. Even if you are completely in the clear, Paizo could send you one—and if you ignored it, you would run the risk of being sued, and having to defend your position legally, and that’ll cost even if you win in the end.

The Open Game License

The Open Game License is an attempt to limit some of the uncertainty around using Paizo’s work—it says you can use some of their material, even if it’s copyrighted, so long as you agree to their rules. Those rules include things like “Product Identity,” things you agree to not use, which would include Golarion (where Pathfinder campaigns usually take place), Iomedae (a goddess), and so on.

The first rule of the Open Game License is that you have to read and understand the entire license. You cannot use it if you don’t understand it. It has specific requirements for using it (including a copy of the license itself in your book, including filling in “Section 15” with every source you use, and every source those sources use, and so on and so forth (it’s a pain). It also spells out what you may do with the license and what you cannot do with the license.

Using the Open Game License will allow you to use most mechanical details in Pathfinder—classes, monsters, and so on. You could reference not just the word “fighter,” but the actual stats and mechanics of the fighter class, the bravery or weapon training features or whatever. Likewise for the investigator or even things that are more specific to Pathfinder like “monk of the seven winds” or whatever. You would be able to use aatheriexa, which without the license might be dubious.

If in doubt, a decent approach to things is to look at Pathfinder SRD sites, like d20pfsrd.com—since those are based on the OGL, they can only include things in the OGL (be careful with the Archives of Nethys, though—as Paizo’s preferred partner for these things, they may allow that site to include things that go beyond the OGL). Each sourcebook will also spell out explicitly what in that book is Product Identity—stuff you can’t use—so that is going to be the final arbiter of what you can and cannot use. Note that you will have to do this for your own work, as well. One of the requirements of using the Open Game License is that you also license your own work as open game content.

It’s not impossible to use the Open Game License without a lawyer—it’s designed to avoid that requirement—but you do have to be really careful about getting it right. And the only way to really be sure that you have gotten everything right would be to talk to a lawyer. None of the teams I’ve worked with has had a lawyer on hand to deal with these issues, but that’s taking a risk. If Paizo had ever objected to our usage of anything and sent a cease and desist letter, we would have had to pull the book in question, which would be very expensive.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Just an extra word about SRD sites - some also use Paizo's Community License, which allows things outside of the OGL. In order to do that, they have to be not-for-profit (i.e, no subscriptions or ads, and no relationship to the RPG business), so that's another hurdle to avoid when using SRD websites to decide if something's going to be okay to reuse. I do know that d20PFSRD doesn't get to use it, and so is 100% bound by the OGL (as both a disclaimer and qualifier - I work for that site) \$\endgroup\$ Mar 4 '20 at 4:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ WOW~! There are some accomplished people here! @o@ \$\endgroup\$ Mar 4 '20 at 8:11

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