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In the D&D 5th Edition Dungeon Master's Guide, there are two magic items named The Book of Exalted Deeds and The Book of Vile Darkness. In their description, under "Vile Lore" it says that the DM could include magic spells, rituals, curses, etc. As such, I was wondering if I would be crossing copyright boundaries if I were to take the 3.5 Rulebooks for both of these books which completely give all the information a DM would ever need for that "Vile Lore" optional rule and translate them into 5th Edition compatible rules.

I will probably do this regardless if only just for my own benefit as a DM, but...

  • Am I allowed to distribute this translation of rules to other people for free, for donations, or for profit?

  • Am I allowed to create an entirely new set of 5th Edition compatible rules for something entirely new (such as a Neutral version of those books) and distrubute in the same way?

I would likely be using Chapter 9 in the DMG, the "Dungeon Master's Workshop", to balance the 3.5 rules into 5th Edition gameplay.

I'm aware of the Open Gaming License, but I don't know what it means for what I want to do. It seems to say that I can design all of this, publish, and sell it using 5th Edition rules.

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If you're only using content from the SRD and your original work, then you can release it under OGL.
A conversion of someone else's non-OGL rules from a previous version would not be allowed under the license.
The Book of Vile Darkness is "product identity" per page one of the SRD/OGL for D&D Fifth edition. Items marked as Product Identity ... are not Open Content.

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You should be good to do this, and to distribute it. Check out the page Wizards published on the Open Gaming License here: https://dnd.wizards.com/articles/features/systems-reference-document-srd

Your example should fall under "I want to design content using the fifth edition rules for D&D" and/or "I want to print and sell my fifth edition D&D product on my own." The rules you're talking about using to balance it out aren't covered by the OGL, but you using them and not reprinting them should also be fine.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Realistically, though, just writing up (and not selling) an artifact of your own design wouldn't have gotten you into trouble even without the OGL. \$\endgroup\$ – Polisurgist Feb 28 '16 at 22:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ It could. Copyright law is very... dependent on judges/lawyers. Just because you're unlikely to be prosecuted doesn't mean you're going to be in the legal good zone. OGL does mean that you can sell and create content fairly freely, and people can make a large amount of stuff without the OGL, but it's always in a legal gray zone if there's no general license or individual license in place. \$\endgroup\$ – Kyle Willey Feb 29 '16 at 0:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think the OGL is pretty clear as far as content he creates, but it sounds like he's converting published 3.5 content into 5e, would that be allowed under the original published work's copyright? \$\endgroup\$ – Orvir Feb 29 '16 at 2:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ Kyle: though, of course, there is a license in place, so that's kind of moot. \$\endgroup\$ – Polisurgist Feb 29 '16 at 4:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Orvir: It's a little unclear from the question, but it sounds like creating a "neutral version" of the Book of Vile Lore isn't something that exists in 3.5 either. \$\endgroup\$ – Polisurgist Feb 29 '16 at 4:57

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