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Say I wanted to create (and sell) an original design of the D&D 5e Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and some original cartography of Forgotten Realms locations. This would mostly be a reprint but original form and artwork. I understand that OGL doesn't cover this because the published books are under standard copyright law; Source and Source - Section 18-g

If this is correct on this, based on this, I need to submit a request to them and get permission before producing anything.

Does this sound right? Am I missing something that makes this ok via OGL? Has anyone ever done this that knows the process which should be followed?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the answers everyone! I mentioned 5e here as the ideal case. But, really this is more a collectable aimed at long time fans and DMs, so 3e works just as well. It appears it may be more realistic for me to do this with the 3.5e SRD linked below and just as interesting. I will post a similar question and link it here to discuss that. wizards.com/default.asp?x=d20/article/srd35 \$\endgroup\$ – alph486 Nov 8 '15 at 19:34
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You're right that you can't reproduce the D&D 5e edition rules, Forgotten Realms maps, etcetera, because they are fully copyrighted and no open/free license exists for any of their content. You would need to get permission from Hasbro (not Wizards of the Coast), and Hasbro's lawyers wouldn't even give it a moment's consideration.

Making a “retroclone” instead would be legal, but also financial suicide

The only way you can “reproduce” D&D 5e rules is to follow the example of the retroclones: rebuilding the rules by altering the d20 SRD's text until it effectively explains the target game's rules in a new way.

However, doing this is a non-trivial amount of work — to do it effectively you have to recreate the rules from memory or via clean room reverse engineering, otherwise what you produce isn't a retroclone, it's a derivative work that's just plain violating copyright. Having attempted a retroclone, I can tell you that it's at least ten times more work than expected, and about three times harder to resist referring to the original when writing than you expect. And any hint of copying-then-editing (either literally, or mentally) left in the structure of your project would be legal doom.

In the end, the calculus isn't worth it for something like this when you intend to sell it: the amount of time spent rewriting the rules and then going over it with a fine-toothed comb to make sure none of it is going to open you to legal liability is so much that by the end, you'd have to charge hundreds for each copy to just break even in a reasonable amount of time.

Not to mention that, being WotC's current in-print edition of D&D 5e, you'd be nearly-instantly buried in Cease & Desist letters and maybe full lawsuits, regardless of how careful and within the law you actually are, and you probably can't afford the legal fees to prove it even if the project was completely above-board.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the extra insight! Wonder if 3e would have the same issues given existence of OGL? FWIW - the idea is much more a single production art project for fans than a "reprint and profit" scheme. To lawyers it makes no difference, I understand. \$\endgroup\$ – alph486 Nov 8 '15 at 5:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ Note that, regarding the barrage of litigious activity even if you are above board, some states have anti-SLAAP laws that will, to varying extents, help with that. The best you can currently hope for is that after you pay for and win the lawsuit your legal costs will be reimbursed plus punitive damages will be assessed, so that's not actually relevant unless you can get a philantropic NGO to front the suit in the first place and its not a great business plan or anything, but it's something to be aware of if you do find yourself on the recieving end of a SLAAP suit. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Nov 10 '19 at 17:12
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There is no open license for D&D 5e therefore you may not reprint, in part or on whole, any of the 5e materials without facing legal action for copyright violation. Only a specific agreement from WotC would allow you to do that, and I see no reason why they would agree to one.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Excepting Fair Use standards, of course... \$\endgroup\$ – Wesley Obenshain Nov 9 '15 at 17:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ There is now... \$\endgroup\$ – Adeptus May 16 '16 at 1:58
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Here's the process I would recommend: Get a job working for them; pitch your ideas to management. (Or, I suppose, pitch it to them as a contractor.)

https://company.wizards.com/about/careers

It's a really long shot, but it may well be your only shot -- I can't see another legal way of doing it. They're never going to simply allow you to reproduce their properties, but they might be willing to pay you to do it for them.

One in a million, but it might just work?

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The other answers are correct, you cannot do this without their permission and they are virtually certain not to give that permission.

I am not a lawyer. Get legal advice before you try this.

Having said that there is one thing you could do, which is to create a "mod kit". Create your original artwork and everything else in a way that allows it to be applied to the actual WoTC rule book.

In other words people could take your artwork and other changes and apply it to the rule book. So long as you didn't use any copyrighted material in your mod that should be fine.

In addition as a second step you could take the books and apply your changes and then sell the results. I'm not sure quite how that would fly legally as you are into selling derived works but since you are buying a rule book and then making changes to it you aren't at any point copying and copyrighted material.

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