D&D General What monster names are public domain?

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Goblin is, of course. Mind Flayer isn’t.

I’d one were to go through the MM, how many of the creature names are from mythology and how many are original to D&D?
 

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Alzrius

The EN World kitten
I suspect that a lot of the less generic names for demons and devils are specific to D&D. Not all of them, certainly; "balor" comes from Celtic mythology, as I recall, and it's no secret that "succubus" goes back centuries. But "nalfeshnee," "marilith," etc. are almost certainly original to the world's oldest tabletop RPG.
 




It seems that most of the dragons would be public domain as even Ancient Red Dragon is a bit generic.
You may have your dragons backwards. The Red is one of the most common in the public conversation. The metallics seem to be a D&D invention.

Plus there are several dragons that are very rare in D&D that are common in the real world lore (Lung and other Asian varieties including the jaculus).
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
It seems that most of the dragons would be public domain as even Ancient Red Dragon is a bit generic.
Using a color and a dragon is probavly not going to raise any eyebrows, but just about all the details (Blue Dragons breath lightning) would probably be copyrightable. Indeed, "blue dragons live in deserts and breath lightning" was a specific example that the IP lawyer on the Opening Arguments podcast used for what he would consider protected IP.
 

Doing a relatively quick dive, "berbalang" is one you might not expect to be public domain but is (it's Filipino), but it looks like the majority of aberrations are unique to D&D (helped along by the fact that almost all Quori are both non-mythically named and aberrations.) Almost all beasts just use common animal names which obviously can't be copyrighted, but there are a few that stand out like "fastieth" and "quipper" which are not common animal names. (Interestingly, "jaculi" is not--it's the plural form of "jaculus" or "iaculus," literally meaning "one who is thrown," referring to a dragon-like serpent creature or "javelin serpent.")

Interestingly, "couatl" is probably copyrightable, but "coatl" (no "u") is not, because it's just a Nahuatl word that means "serpent" (or "twin," apparently?) Likewise, feathered serpents in general can't be copyrighted, though making them specifically celestials might be tricky. Any angel with a word-mashup name is probably out, but angels in general and several of the types (archon, deva, planetar, solar, etc.) I'd say it's about 50/50 on whether any given celestial name (obviously not their appearance/nature/etc.) is public domain or not.

Constructs lean pretty heavily toward copyright rather than public domain, in large part because of the modrons, but there are plenty (e.g. golems) that aren't. As others have said, color + dragon and even metal + dragon is almost certainly not enough purely in terms of naming, since (for example) Green, Blue, White, Bronze, and Gold dragons (plus Brown) are all found in Anne McCaffrey's work and almost certainly some of them predate her. You might want to be careful about making "gold dragon" etc. actual categories per se, but the name alone is probably public domain.

I won't dig too much deeper, this has already taken a while, but yeah--some categories have TONS of non-copyrightable names, while others have very few. On balance, I'd say more are in the public domain than out, but it's hard to say and might depend in part on how exactly you define your criteria.
 

You may have your dragons backwards. The Red is one of the most common in the public conversation. The metallics seem to be a D&D invention.

Plus there are several dragons that are very rare in D&D that are common in the real world lore (Lung and other Asian varieties including the jaculus).
As noted above, Gold and Bronze dragons predate D&D by a minimum of seven years (1967 for Dragonriders of Pern.) Metallic-type dragons as a general concept probably can't be copyrighted by D&D's rights-holder, and given their work has existed alongside McCaffrey's for the former's entire run, it would be a real stretch. Doesn't mean people wouldn't try per se, but even if they won they'd run the risk of McCaffrey's children/estate going after them on the precedent established by their case.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
How public domain work with respect to word combinations like "violet fungus," "ice devil" or "gibbering mouther". The individual words are PD, but are the concepts as monsters PD?
Well that’s the question, isn’t it? Both dungeons and dragons are common words, but put them together and you have a brand name. Micro and soft are normal words. Star and Wars are!
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
The only declared IP is
  • Beholder
  • Gauth
  • Carrion Crawler
  • Displacer Beast
  • Githyanki
  • Githzerai
  • Mind Flayer (Illithid)
  • Umber Hulk
  • Slaad
  • Yuan-Ti
everything else that isnt a Name is good, although the specific expression (blue dragons breath lightning) is probably copyright
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
The only declared IP is
  • Beholder
  • Gauth
  • Carrion Crawler
  • Displacer Beast
  • Githyanki
  • Githzerai
  • Mind Flayer (Illithid)
  • Umber Hulk
  • Slaad
  • Yuan-Ti
everything else that isnt a Name is good, although the specific expression (blue dragons breath lightning) is probably copyright
Declared PI not IP. Different things. But that wasn’t really my question. :)
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
Declared PI not IP. Different things. But that wasn’t really my question. :)
But that's why they separated out the Product Identity items: those were all the Monsters WotC lawyers at the time of the OGL felt confident they had copyright on. Not putting a Mosnter in PI was an admission that it wasn't hard copyrighted on the conceptual level, but dangled the carrot of using some actually protected ideas (Blue Dragons breath lightning) in exchange for the third party acknowledging more rights than WotC felt conifedent of defeincorrect. court.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
But that's why they separated out the Product Identity items: those were all the Monsters WotC lawyers at the time of the OGL felt confident they had copyright on. Not putting a Mosnter in PI was an admission that it wasn't hard copyrighted on the conceptual level, but dangled the carrot of using some actually protected ideas (Blue Dragons breath lightning) in exchange for the third party acknowledging more rights than WotC felt conifedent of defeincorrect. court.
I’m not talking about the OGL, and PI is not copyright. Outside the OGL the term has no meaning.

This is just a question about public domain.
 

Well that’s the question, isn’t it? Both dungeons and dragons are common words, but put them together and you have a brand name. Micro and soft are normal words. Star and Wars are!
My go-to is always to either look for prominent examples in unaffiliated fiction that also use the combined structure (as with McCaffrey's color-coded dragons above) or determine if referring to the creature with modifiers of this type has mythological precedent. Golems, for example, are most strongly associated with clay, but they can be made from all sorts of things, including mud and stone, so long as the material itself is inanimate. Further, referring to creatures as "<material> golem" is quite common in other fantasy works that aren't controlled in any way by the D&D rights-holder: Blizzard's Warcraft series and ArenaNet's Guild Wars (the original) has flesh golems, for example.

Hence, referring to an artificially-constructed being animated through supernatural means (whether necromantic or "merely" magical/divine) as a "<material> golem" is probably not copyright-able due to both historical precedent and competitors using the terms as they like.

But even there, it's worth being cautious. Aurene (a character from Guild Wars 2) and her siblings/mother/grandfather are all crystalline dragons who specifically have crystalline and (to a certain extent) mental powers, but I don't know if that's enough to justify the claim that "crystal" dragons work. If beefed up with a few more examples, e.g. Smaug being known for having a gem-encrusted hide and (say) finding evidence of ancient Asian stories involving ruby-colored dragons, then I could see some room for it. Alternatively, again to cite WoW, there's the Emerald Dragonflight (an alternate name for the Green Dragonflight), recognizing that some types of dragons are seen as having jewel-like scales. There's also the Black Jewels series, where the titular jewels (spoiler alert) are discovered to actually be dragon scales, which manifest either as finger-sized "uncut" jewels or roughly thumbnail-sized "cut" jewels after certain coming-of-age ceremonies, and thus provide a link between "gems" and "dragons."
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
I’m not talking about the OGL, and PI is not copyright. Outside the OGL the term has no meaning.

This is just a question about public domain.
Yes, but thst is my point: the answer To your question is "what WotC did not designate as PI." They made that decision by picking out what they were certain wasn't public domain.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Yes, but thst is my point: the answer To your question is "what WotC did not designate as PI." They made that decision by picking out what they were certain wasn't public domain.
See, it doesn’t matter whether it’s in the public domain for Pi. They could have chosen goblins or the colour green. The word “and”. It’s just what they thought had value to them. There are PI elements which definitely do predate D&D. It’s nothing to do with copyright.

That’s why this question isn’t about the OGL or WitC’s PI declarations. The topics have overlap, but it’s not the same question.
 

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