Sunday, December 5, 2010

Questions of Legality and Recourse

So by no means do I fancy The Fantasy Cartographic anything more than a hobbyist venture.  As much as I would love to devote more time to my little rpg publishing experiment, family and career ensure that it will remain something to do on the side, something that, since I began, has made me only enough money to basically partake of this hobby for free.  For the foreseeable future, that will remain the case.

With that being said, I was over at the other day, and I ran across this.  For those of you who choose not to click, the link leads to a product page at RPGNow for a Pathfinder rpg supplement detailing a new character class called 'The Martialist Base Class' from a company called Little Red Goblin Games.

This caused me to raise my eyebrows a little bit, as I put out a product back in the summer of 2009 for 4E (which I realize most readers around here do not play) called Fantasy Class: Martialist and, before that, a free preview, called Fantasy Class Preview: The Martialist Heroic.  I was extremely proud of these products; not only do I believe that they are visually on par with a lot of the 'professional' products being produced, it was the one product to this day that I had an art budget for.  (For the record, I highly recommend VShane for your illustration needs.)

The Martialist class that I had developed was an unarmed fighter that was not a monk.  There is no mysticism or Eastern philosophy in its conception.

Anyway, I know that 'martialist' is not a common title.  Frankly, if the nice people at Little Red Goblin Games had read some of the reviews of my product, they might have chosen a different name for the class, as it wasn't much appreciated.  But what is the chance that those little goblins came up with the name on their own and also attached it to an unarmed combatant class?

So the questions are this:  Is there anything to do?  Should I just let it go?  Am I being a buffoon for even getting upset about this?

I think that the answers to these questions may be 'No', 'Yes', and 'Possibly', but I'm interested in hearing what others think.


  1. Unfortunately you can't copyright a word or an idea. Of course you may already know this. Unless they copy your words describing the class verbatim there's not much you can do, and even if they did, do you want to go to the expense of hiring a lawyer just to write a cease and desist order. Also, unless the copyright is registered you can't be compensated for any loss of income.

    Keep in mind I am not a lawyer, but since I am an artist and writer I learned what it takes to protect ones work. Anyway, good luck. My advice would be to find out how similar the work is to yours, and proceed from there, but again the cost versus what you might gain might make it a moot point.

  2. Yeah, you're crazy. Their martialist is nothing like yours, its not an unarmed fighter at all. And it's written for a different system. And even if it were more similar there's still nothing you'd be able to do about it.

  3. Did you make up the word, or find it somewhere?

    Is the actual class like yours?

    Have you contracted rpgnow and Little Red Goblin? If so what happened?

  4. RPG's suffer from two oddities that I've noticed:

    1. Language: There may be ten thousand possible ideas, but only one hundred words in the English language that describe them.

    2. Hivemind: No less than five times this year, I found myself working on a post that was very similar to one that popped up somewhere else that was along the same vein.

    Particularly in the age of Google, we have unprecedented ability to find works with similar ideas. As a corollary, uniqueness of presentation usually demands uniqueness of naming and description, and there are benefits to similar products linking to each other when possible. (i.e. a bothersome similarity is actually more of a call to discuss the similarity or descriptively separate your idea from others.)

    If the name of the product you referred to was 'Western Martialist', would that have appeared differently?

  5. If you make up a name or have a unique combination of words you can trademark it. Unfortunately, not only does this cost cash, if you didn't file for the trademark prior to this other guys publication you probably can't enforce it. Besides a legal action would consume an order of magnitude more money than either of you are likely to generate selling .pdf products. You might try a polite note to the author suggessing he use other names in future.

  6. Hello Nick!
    I am Scott Gladstein, producer here at Little Red Goblin Games LLC. I just came across a 2010 article from your blog regarding our old Martialist class we put out for the Pathfinder system. To be perfectly honest, we had no idea you had put out a class by the same name. The designer who wrote it (Caleb Aylsworth) and I were batting around names we could use for it. We were originally going to call it the "pugilist" but Caleb didn't feel like it captured what he was designing. He envisioned a sort of "wuxia" style fighter who used a ki pool. He included fantastic sword (and other martial weapon) style techniques as well as some unarmed techniques. We actually had no idea you put something out by the same name. Sorry if we stepped on your toes!

    There is actually a fair deal of unintentional convergence in this industry. I wrote my "A Tome of Wicked Things" which detailed the antipaladin stuff for Pathfinder before the Advanced Players Guide came out. We had almost identical stuff (despite neither of us releasing our info before we published it)! The same thing happened with their ultimate combat stuff (they had a "titian mauler" and I had a "jotun slayer" alternate class)

    Best of luck to you!
    -Scott Gladstein
    Little Red Goblin Games LLC