I am sketching out my 2012 programming project, and Im planning to make a classic fantasy RPG game.

The world design, plots, characters and all that I can make, but being a avid tabletop role-player, I would love to use a stable and tested rpg system like Pathfinder, since its balanced and interesting.

Would there be a problem if I make a game (indie dev, but still planning on selling it) using the pathfinder license ? Do I have to purchase a license? And would I able to say that it's based on the Pathfinder ruleset, or should i keep that under wraps.

All big official D&D games boast with that they are official, so doesn't this mean that unofficial games can exist too ?

It's not because I wan't to jump the lowest fence, and all storylines and the game setting will be by my own hand. But I love the Pathfinder system and actually think it could use some publicity as well.

Was considering posting this on the rpg board, but this is a game dev issue in my eyes.


2 Answers 2


Basically, rules aren't subject to copyright or trademark, but the names of the rules, and any non-obvious names used in the rules, are. Also, any particular lists of data in their rulebooks are copyrighted.

So, without a licence, you can use the various dice roll methods of action resolution, you can use the generic concepts like levels and stats, but you can't call it 'Pathfinder', nor can you copy their equipment or monster lists in whole or in part.

As with any legal advice, people can tell you what they understand the law to be, but that doesn't stop anybody else from attempting to sue you even if you're in the right, so err on the side of caution.


I would love to use a stable and tested rpg system like Pathfinder, since its balanced and interesting.

And what makes you think that it would be "balanced and interesting" in a videogame? For example, NeverWinter Nights used a simplified version of D&D 3.0's ruleset, but it certainly wasn't balanced by most definitions of that term. There were a lot of classes and power combinations that were flat out better than others.

What works on the tabletop does not necessarily work in a videogame.

Take Charisma, for example. In D&D 3.x-based games, it's already as close to a dump-stat as it gets. It's utility is based primarily around non-combat encounters. Unlike every other stat, it has no inherent utility in battle. Str gives a hit and damage bonus to melee; Dex gives a bonus to AC, to-hit with ranged, and reflex saves; Con gives a bonus to HP at level-up and fortitude saves; Int gives bonuses to skill point increases; and the Wis bonus is added into your will save. Charisma has no inherent utility; everything it does is based on some class feature.

In a videogame environment, non-combat encounters have to be substantially simplified. A dialog tree is about the best you're going to be able to do. Charisma and most of the abilities around it will be of relatively limited utility compared to, for example, casting a fireball.

There's a reason why most games use different rules from tabletop games. They are meant to be played by human beings, with other human beings, and with a human being as a neutral arbitrator. Those rules do not necessarily work anymore if you take all but one of the human beings out of the equation.

You can certainly start with something like Pathfinder, but you should never let it limit how your gameplay can develop and evolve. Let it inspire your design, not define it. Always make sure that you are working towards an RPG system that is fun as a videogame.


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