[RPG] Would there be legal repercussions for using words like ‘kindred’, ’embrace’, ‘disciplines’, terms defined in dictionaries, in the RPG


I'm currently in the process (soon™) of releasing my first RPG. And I have a legal question about using some terms of another IP, that seem in my layperson view of the law fair use.
The setting of the game I'm developing is one of vampires and urban politics akin to Vampire: the Masquerade (VtM). Would the use of words like 'kindred', 'embrace', 'disciplines', terms that are defined in dictionaries, possible of legal repercussion? Currently the name of the project is Lost Kindred and those 3 words are really the only ones that are in VtM that I'm using.
I wouldn't mind changing the 'embrace' and 'discipline' terms but I really would want to use the word kindred.

Best Answer

I'm not an IP lawyer, so I can't give an authoritative answer (I doubt any authoritative answer can exist without going to court or otherwise reaching a legal agreement on the status of your works), but some basic notes:

First off, being "terms that are defined in dictionaries" does not fair use make. You can argue 'til you're blue in the face that your line of Apple computers is just using a common dictionary word and it's just an homage to your favorite artist, Fiona Apple, but Cupertino will still dispatch their most heavily armed lawyers to burn your company to the ground, salt the earth, and hang your (virtual) skull on a spike as a warning to others. If White Wolf can show that you're using their trademarks "in a manner that is likely to cause confusion, deception, or mistake about the source of the goods and/or services", you're toast, end of story. Similarly, if they can make a half-decent argument to that effect for long enough for you to run out of money to pay your lawyers, you lose, even if you have a strong case. I don't know about you, but if I see an urban vampire RPG product named Lost Kindred, my first thought would immediately be "oh, hey, they rebooted VtM again" (if it's thick enough) or "Hey, another Vampire supplement" (if it's thin). Not a good start.

White Wolf has definitely sued in the past over use of fictional worlds with too many similarities to their own World of Darkness setting. The production companies behind the Underworld movies were sued, White Wolf was granted an expedited hearing, and the production companies (which included Sony, a much larger company) rapidly settled (for an undisclosed amount). There was a lot more similarity between the properties than just three specific words (among other things, the plot of the original movie was alleged to be a rip-off of an earlier WoD novel), but if you're writing a setting that's already akin to VtM and using key terminology that has no specific connection to vampires aside from its use in White Wolf products, you're treading a very dangerous line. If you stuck to nothing but freely published fan fiction, they might ignore you, but if you start selling things set in a world that's borrowing WoD style, setting and terminology, I'd expect a call from their lawyers.

On the specific topic of the word "kindred", note that there are existing trademarks associated with that word; in 1996 there was a TV show loosely based on VtM called Kindred: The Embraced (it included five of the major clans by name for instance; it was an intentional adaptation, not a thinly veiled rip-off).

On top of that, their East Asian vampire material was released under the title Kindred of the East, further associating the word "kindred" with WoD and specifically their vampire-related properties. These uses don't give them rights to all uses of "kindred" by default, but it definitely establishes a closer association between the term and legally protected trademarks specifically in the context of vampires, RPGs, and modern urban fantasy, and you're overlapping all of those categories.

Short answer: Speak to an IP lawyer if you really want to go down this road. But I'd suggest your first stop should be a thesaurus; don't poke the bear more than you have to.