Bethesda Pulls Promotional Elder Scrolls D&D Module Following Plagiarism Accusations
  • Bethesda Pulls Promotional Elder Scrolls D&D Module Following Plagiarism Accusations


    Bethesda released a free D&D adventure set in Tamriel in order to promote the new expansion to their Elder Scrolls Online MMO. Shortly after posting, multiple similarities were discovered between the "Elsweyr Tabletop Scenario" and DDAL05-02 “The Black Road”, a D&D Adventure League adventure from 2016 by Paige Leitman and Ben Heisler.


    The link originally tweeted by the official Elder Scrolls Online Twitter account included six pre-generated characters for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition and a 12-page adventure titled "Elsweyr Tabletop Scenario". Not long after posting, many pointed out the similarities between the included adventure and The Black Road. The following comparisons come from the module's preview, available on the DM's Guild, and from the PDF adventure originally posted by Bethesda Netherlands.

    The Black Road, Adventure Overview

    The adventure has three parts; an introduction, various encounters on the road, and a conclusion. See the DM Appendix: Adventure Flowchart for an overview.

    Part 1: Anywhere But Here. The characters are introduced in the small caravan stop of Vuerthyl in the Anauroch desert. They have been brought together by Hsing and Azam to carry a statue to Parnast.

    Part 2: Into the Desert. The characters are attacked by goblins, run into other caravans, and are subsumed in a sandstorm from the wake of a cloud giant castle passing by overhead. As they leave the desert, they must choose to either fight hobgoblins that have set up a tollbooth, pay the toll, or to try to find a way around the waystation. Along the way, they may be ambushed by well-informed and well- organized bugbears.

    Conclusion: Welcome to Parnast. The caravan travels the last few days through the winding mountain passes to Parnast without incident. When they arrive, if they still have the statue, they are welcomed by the faithful of the Shrine of Axes. The adventure is designed for 2 hours of play. Use the table below to budget your time, adjusting the pace as necessary to keep on schedule. In a large public event, you'll need to keep an eye on the clock.

    · Part 1. 15 minutes
    · Part 2. 90 – 120 minutes
    · Part 3. 5 minutes

    Elsweyr Tabletop Scenario, Page 1

    This adventure has three parts; an introduction, some fights and puzzles along the way, and a big fight against a dragon.


    Part 1: The players meet on the border between the provinces of Cyrodiil and Elsweyr. They are brought together to accompany a caravan. It is their mission to bring a statue of the deity of fertility, Mother Mara, through the wild desert of Elsweyr to the city of Rimmen.

    Part 2: The players encounter some possible events. They are attacked by bandits, encounter Skooma dealers and have to survive a sandstorm. As they approach the end of the desert, the last thing that crosses their path is a wild dragon!

    Part 3: After a few days of traveling without any problems, the players arrive in Rimmen. And when they have their statue still safe and undamaged, they are welcomed with joy in the temple of Mara.

    Timing:
    Part 1: 15 minutes
    Part 2: 90-120 minutes
    Part 3: 5 minutes

    The Black Road, first read-aloud text:

    There's nothing like the desert to make people feel small and insignificant. In every direction, huge dunes roll across the landscape, and an even bigger sky looms above. The oasis of Vuerthyl is a motley collection of sun-bleached tents in the vast Anauroch desert.

    Through various means, it has been arranged that you would meet Azam the caravaneer in the large, Calimshanstyled tent that passes for a tavern here. A pair of tieflings, who seem to be unaffected by the heat, eye approaching visitors warily. The dim interior of the tent is a relief from the bright light and wind, though it’s as hot here as anywhere else. The gentle sounds of a stringed instrument fill the air, and the people inside are hunched over food, drink, and conversation. A dragonborn with rust-colored scales greets you, and guides you to a private table. There are a few other adventurers here.

    Elsqeyr Tabletop Scenario, opening paragraph on Page 2:

    “Nothing beats the desert to make people feel small and unimportant. In every direction enormous dunes roll across the landscape, and an even larger empty air skies above it. The oasis on the border between Cyrodiil and Elsweyr is a colorful collection of sun-drenched tents in the vast desert of Elsweyr. In various ways, it is arranged that a group of adventurers would get acquainted with the caravan leader named Kah’reem. His big tent is filled with several Khajiit, which seem unaffected by the heat, they stare at you cautiously. The dim interior of the tent is a relief compared to the bright sunlight from outside, even though it is still as hot inside as out there. The soft sounds of a stringed instrument fill the air, and the people are busy over eating, drinking and conversation. An Argonian servant escorts you to an empty table.”

    The Black Road, second read-aloud text:

    The dragonborn delivers water as well as dates, olives and bread. Before long, you are joined by a lean, half-elven man with a long, craggy face and the dark skin and hair that shows his Rashemi ancestry. He has an impressive mustache. He’s clad in practical desert gear. His most striking feature is a golden-scaled psuedodragon that lays draped around his shoulders. The pseudodragon stirs, blinking with milky irises, and sniffing the air. It gives the man a nod before shifting its wings and settling back down to snooze. "Hsing, my patron,” the man gestures to the snoozing dragon, as if it was a perfectly normal thing, “is most pleased you have come. We have business to discuss, and hopefully you are ready for a long journey. I am Azam, and we would like you to deliver a statue to Parnast."

    Elsweyr Tabletop Scenario, third paragraph on Page 2:

    “The argonian servant delivers water, dates, olives and bread. It does not take long for you to be accompanied by a skinng Khajiit with a long straight face and a dark striped coat. He is dressed in mainly practical clothing, made for the desert. In his mouth he has a long pipe that he smokes quietly. His most striking feature is a bright red eagle on his shoulder. The eagle moves, blinking, and looks at you. She gives the Khajiit a not before it collapses and seems to go napping. “Zayla, my business partner.” The Khajiit gestures to the napping eagle as if it were completely normal. “She is very pleased that you have come. We have things to discuss and hopefully you are ready for a long journey. I am Kah’reem and we would appreciate it if you would deliver a statue in Rimmen.”

    The Black Road, sidebar “Roleplaying Azam”:

    Azam has been travelling the Black Road for decades and knows what makes a good caravan guard. He’s been paid well to work with Hsing (and the dragon’s mistress), but it isn’t enough for him to throw his life away. He’ll seek to question and evaluate Hsing’s choices in companions until he’s satisfied.

    Elsweyr Tabletop Scenario, description of Kah’reem, last paragraph of Page 2:

    Kah’reem was born in the Elsweyr desert and has lived here all his life. He has seen hundreds of different people and knows exactly what kind of people are standing before him. He is well paid to transport the statue, but it is not enough to risk his life for. Like many Khajiit, he speaks with a heavy accent. If he is faced with a difficult or interesting choice, he always seems to discuss this with his eagle. It often seems as if the eagle, Zayla, is the real leader.

    On Pages 6-7 of The Black Road and on Page 3 of Elsweyr Tabletop Scenario, there are bullet points of information provided by the NPCs (Azam in the former and Kah’reem in the latter). This is a comparison of some of those bullet points:

    (The Black Road) ”There have been a number of caravans who have not completed the journey, and stories of goblins on the road have spread. I’m hoping that you can serve as insurance against that.”

    (Elsweyr) “There have been a lot of rumors of other caravans that have been attacked by bandits lately. I hope you are a good extra insurance during this trip.”

    (The Black Road) “My caravan carries a number of goods in addition to the statue that are of value, both to me and to the people of Parnast.”

    (Elsweyr) “My caravan has, besides the statue, even more goods of value, both for me and for the people of Rimmen.”

    (The Black Road) Hazards on the road may include sinkholes, sand storms, heat waves, nomads, feral creatures, goblins, blue dragons of all sizes, as well as the occasional fire or air elemental. The goblins have been a particular nuisance lately and even the Zhents can’t stamp them all out.

    (Elsweyr) “Risks on the roads are mainly sandstorms, heat waves, and other wild creatures. But nothing that you can not handle.”

    (The Black Road) The caravan leaves in four hours. Azam is anxious to get on the road soon.

    (Elsweyr) “The caravan leaves in four hours, and I’m looking forward to leaving!”

    Additional similarities could be found throughout both modules, including slightly altered and word-for-word copying of descriptions, equipment lists, a similar timeline of events, similar encounters, and some NPCs and names copied directly.

    The link to the adventure was taken down from Bethesda’s website and now redirects back to their main page, though the Dropbox account where the PDF file was hosted is still up at the time of writing. The official Twitter account for Elder Scrolls Online posted this at 12:29 PM Central time:

    We have pulled a previously shared ESO tabletop RPG adventure while we investigate the source. Thank you to those who reached out with concerns.

    The original authors of the adventure, Paige Leitman and Ben Heisler, along with D&D Adventure League Content Manager Greg Marks, commented on Twitter about the incident. Leitman stated that the adventure had done “modestly well” on the DM’s Guild and that she would be letting “the Powers That Be handle this.” Heisler said “It’s a surreal day when a top tier gaming company steals your ****, I assure you.” Marks replied to a tweet clarifying that the Open Gaming License allows for use of some rules material and intellectual property, but does not allow “word for word copying. That is plagiarism and I am pretty sure is massively illegal.” All three declined to comment further at this time.

    Bethesda has not responded to requests for further comment at the time of posting. This article will be updated if they decide to make a statement.
    Comments 58 Comments
    1. Quartz's Avatar
      Quartz -
      Quote Originally Posted by DMMike View Post
      The Gentleman? If it's anything like the Most Interesting Man in the World, it is the ONLY D&D class I'm playing from here on out.

      Read it here.
    1. Warren LaFrance's Avatar
      Warren LaFrance -
      Just hire the original writer of the copied module and have them adapt it. All will be happy and paid fairly.
    1. Abstruse's Avatar
      Abstruse -
      Quote Originally Posted by Warren LaFrance View Post
      Just hire the original writer of the copied module and have them adapt it. All will be happy and paid fairly.
      The writers of the module have said as much. If they'd been approached, they would've loved to write an original adventure for them. Though they may not be able to do an adaptation of the DDAL module directly due to the terms of DM's Guild...but still, this could've been avoided very easily and cheaply.
    1. Alzrius's Avatar
      Alzrius -
      Quote Originally Posted by Abstruse View Post
      It looks like someone ran it through Google Translate a couple of times based on the really weird grammar mistakes the new version added in. Which, considering it was Bethesda Netherlands, I wouldn't be surprised if that was literally true.
      Someone set them up the bomb?
    1. Abstruse's Avatar
      Abstruse -
      Quote Originally Posted by Alzrius View Post
      Someone set them up the bomb?
      I had to transcribe the segments I posted from the ESO book because the PDF wouldn't allow copy/paste and I didn't want to just use screenshots since that's harder to compare. I kept having to stop myself fixing errors as I was typing on pure instinct. Sent my grammar check plug-in into fits too.
    1. Dannyalcatraz's Avatar
      Dannyalcatraz -
      Quote Originally Posted by Alzrius View Post
      Someone set them up the bomb?
      All our facepalm are belong to you!
    1. Tom B1's Avatar
      Tom B1 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Alzrius View Post
      Someone set them up the bomb?
      They thought 'All your module belong to us!'.

      Reminds me of "Backstroke of the West' - a horrible subtitling of revenge of the sith. The best mis-translation was 'Jedi Council' as 'Presbyterian Church'.... who knew? Damn Kirkists!
    1. Stan Bundy's Avatar
      Stan Bundy -
      I think those that act like Bethesda should have "known better" seems to think that every corporation has some sort of "Big Brother" omniscience. It couldn't be further from the truth. Even big publications like the NY Times and Washington Post have found out months or even years later that they had writers on staff plagiarizing others, or writing fictional "articles" that were passed off as facts. Similar plagiarism occurs on occasion at publishing houses.


      There's so much out there today, especially in this era of self-publishing, that there's no way that any editor can have seen everything, and spot plagiarism on sight - and software to spot it runs into issues when dealing with fact-based writings (As opposed to fiction), as there's only a limited way to say things like "the Allied forces landed on Omaha beach on the morning of June 6". Such software actually only works well on pure fiction, yet it's typically found mostly in academic settings to check student papers for plagiarism.


      Then there's the cases of deliberate malfeasance, but those are relatively rare in the gaming world. But, those are almost always a result of a writer taking advantage of editors who don't know the subject.


      For example, the AD&D 2E product for DMs to design settings & campaigns (forget which), where in the example of a campaign the shapechanging alien/otherworldly spy falls for a PC, and turns, trying to stop the conflict, with obvious inspiration from the Macross/Robotech TV series episodes 18-25's Max/Miriya story arc (complete with said alien being named "Mirya" or something very similar). Whether that was considered riffing on a recent popular TV series for the example scenario (by bouncing it to a fantasy setting) or outright plagiarism, is up to the reader (and possibly their familiarity with the TV series). But, in the decades since, people have been fired for less than that.


      The big one that comes to mind to me was the mysterious appearance of a bootleg version of Tri-Tac's Fringeworthy with the game name, credits and (I think) publishing date changed, that someone tried to flood Gen Con with in the early 90s (and was kicked out of the con - one of the people trying to sell them WALKING THE HALLS (everywhere BUT the Exhibit Hall - which I think was itself a major violation of con rules) tried to sell them to me and to Erick Wujcik in the open gaming area where we were set up to run pick-up games. We both recognized it instantly, and reported it to con staff (EW) or to Tri-Tac (me - I hadn't had players show up yet; so I had Erick watch my stuff for me, as his table where he was running Amber was next to mine). I knew FW from playing it for years; Erick knew it from being a game writer from metro Detroit - TTG was in Pontiac, and Palladium in Detroit itself, and there was a lot of local gamers who played both in the early years of the companies). Rich joked that he must be more popular than he thought, as over a dozen people recognized the fake game and came directly to him to report it in just the first hour.


      Given how this pre-WWW RPG got pirated in an era where a 486 PC was brand new tech and digital editing was in its infancy (the selective editing, the binding style, and the number of copies printed hinted at a facility used to editing and updating scripts for filming), and the huge number of similarities found when Tri-Tac fans watched a certain Kurt Russell/James Spader movie (which was released in October 1994, so this had to be the 1992, 1994 or 1995 Gen Con - I missed 1993), led to the claim that Universal probably bought a script someone plagiarized from the RPG (possibly with the scriptwriter not realizing that TTG still existed in the 90s, since the comb-bound 1982 or 1985-ish (first or second edition, forget which) of the RPG was the one bootlegged), then the studio tried to dilute the ownership claims by flooding the market with the bootleg. Richard tried to sue, but in those days the lawyers he talked considered it to be economic suicide (for TTG and their firm) to try to litigate a movie studio as the plaintiff. He did find one willing to do it as the defendant (As they would have more control over a potential suit) - essentially, Richard pointed out the similarities on one of his company web pages (I don't think that part of the site exists after his death), and for over a decade they claimed the plagiarism there - but Universal never bit the lure. Ironically, the TV series that came from said movie were far closer to Fringeworthy than the movie itself.
    1. lumenbeing's Avatar
      lumenbeing -
      Quote Originally Posted by trancejeremy View Post
      What likely happened is that some people at Bethesda were playing D&D for fun and ran those adventures, adapting it to their game. They did that back in the Daggerfall days I know (only AD&D 2e back then).

      Someone from marketing says "Hey, let's release one of your adventures as a PR gimmick"

      Whoever was DMing was probably overwhelmed/caught off guard and couldn't come up with a whole new adventure from scratch, so tried to file off the numbers the best he could.
      I think you nailed it
    1. EpicureanDM's Avatar
      EpicureanDM -
      Quote Originally Posted by volanin View Post


      The crazyest one is this.
      They didn't even change Chandra Stol's name...
      I don't think you've got much room to criticize when the product you're selling on the DM's Guild on Theater of the Mind in 5e borrows heavily from 13th Age without acknowledging that fact.
    1. volanin's Avatar
      volanin -
      Quote Originally Posted by EpicureanDM View Post
      I don't think you've got much room to criticize when the product you're selling on the DM's Guild on Theater of the Mind in 5e borrows heavily from 13th Age without acknowledging that fact.
      Thanks for pointing that out, EpicureanDM.
      It's nice to see you created an account just to post this.

      Anyway, to make us all more informed people, game mechanics are not copyrightable. My product borrows heavily from many other great products in the market currently, not only 13th Age. On the other hand, Chandra Stol's name, along with the rest of the adventure, is most certainly Ben Heisler's and Paige Leitman's intellectual property.

      By the way, thanks once again for the call out. If anybody wants to check out my Roshambo-Style Theater of the Mind (it's free, with a suggested price if you want to contribute something) and also many, many other amazing resources to make your 5E games better, check out this great forum post by @robus.

      Best of the 5e Forum by robus:
      http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthr...f-the-5e-Forum
    1. EpicureanDM's Avatar
      EpicureanDM -
      Quote Originally Posted by volanin View Post
      TAnyway, to make us all more informed people, game mechanics are not copyrightable. My product borrows heavily from many other great products in the market currently, not only 13th Age. On the other hand, Chandra Stol's name, along with the rest of the adventure, is most certainly Ben Heisler's and Paige Leitman's intellectual property.
      What other products have you borrowed from and neglected to credit the original creators for in the product you're selling for money?

      In the forum thread which purportedly chronicled your development of this TotM system, you never make it clear that you're borrowing heavily from other products as you now confirm. You constantly take credit for being the originator of ideas that 13th Age published four years before your thread. I acknowledge your point about copyright, but retreating to the legal argument concedes the moral one, doesn't it?

      Here' the thread in which you seem to take credit for "developing" 13th Age's Theater of the Mind system: http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthr...he-Mind-Combat
    1. Mistwell's Avatar
      Mistwell -
      Quote Originally Posted by EpicureanDM View Post
      What other products have you borrowed from and neglected to credit the original creators for in the product you're selling for money?

      In the forum thread which purportedly chronicled your development of this TotM system, you never make it clear that you're borrowing heavily from other products as you now confirm. You constantly take credit for being the originator of ideas that 13th Age published four years before your thread. I acknowledge your point about copyright, but retreating to the legal argument concedes the moral one, doesn't it?

      Here' the thread in which you seem to take credit for "developing" 13th Age's Theater of the Mind system: http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthr...he-Mind-Combat
      Doesn't this seem like the sort of beef you'd take up with him in private rather than trying to make this thread about that topic?
    1. EpicureanDM's Avatar
      EpicureanDM -
      Quote Originally Posted by Mistwell View Post
      Doesn't this seem like the sort of beef you'd take up with him in private rather than trying to make this thread about that topic?
      It doesn't seem too out of place given that this thread's about taking credit for the work of others.
    1. Mistwell's Avatar
      Mistwell -
      Quote Originally Posted by EpicureanDM View Post
      It doesn't seem too out of place given that this thread's about taking credit for the work of others.
      This thread is about Bethesda, not the general topic.

      Sure seems like you have a personal beef with this guy, tracked him to this board, created an account just to call him out, and have no intention of engaging in any of the general discussion on this board except for this topic. Am I wrong?
    1. EpicureanDM's Avatar
      EpicureanDM -
      Quote Originally Posted by Mistwell View Post
      This thread is about Bethesda, not the general topic.

      Sure seems like you have a personal beef with this guy, tracked him to this board, created an account just to call him out, and have no intention of engaging in any of the general discussion on this board except for this topic. Am I wrong?
      This thread can be about more than one thing.

      As for my intentions, I have no idea who volanin is. I found their thread while browsing other threads here in the forum, as I've done for some time. Seeing what they did in their TotM/Roshambo "development" thread, I wanted to be sure that they didn't give credit to how much they lifted from 13th Age in some other post. I followed their post history to see them taking hypocritical pot shots at people who took public credit for the work of others, just as they seem to have done with TotM/Roshambo and 13th Age. I did create the account to call them out, but that doesn't mean that I won't stick around for general discussion. Seems a bit early to jump to that conclusion.
    1. Mistwell's Avatar
      Mistwell -
      Quote Originally Posted by EpicureanDM View Post
      This thread can be about more than one thing.

      As for my intentions, I have no idea who volanin is. I found their thread while browsing other threads here in the forum, as I've done for some time. Seeing what they did in their TotM/Roshambo "development" thread, I wanted to be sure that they didn't give credit to how much they lifted from 13th Age in some other post. I followed their post history to see them taking hypocritical pot shots at people who took public credit for the work of others, just as they seem to have done with TotM/Roshambo and 13th Age. I did create the account to call them out, but that doesn't mean that I won't stick around for general discussion. Seems a bit early to jump to that conclusion.
      OK, fair enough. Welcome to the boards. I hope you stick around.
    1. Umbran's Avatar
      Umbran -

      Folks,

      1) If you feel a product is in violation of copyright, please report it, rather than start up an argument about it in a thread.

      2) Yes, you cannot copyright a mechanic. But borrowing from another creator without attribution is not what we'd call being a great creative citizen. "Well, I don't *have* to give them credit, so I don't," is not a good look, in terms of public relations.

      Moreover, when you aren't up-front about it, when we find out, we do have to wonder whether you've just taken the underlying mechanical concept, or if you've cribbed enough of the actual presentation of that concept that it would be a copyright violation. We aren't IP lawyers, so if the question comes up, we are apt to shut you down. It is thus in your own best interest to be honest and open about when you've borrowed concepts, even when you don't have to. Sure, you look like less of a genius, but you look like a better person.

      With this, we expect that current sub-discussion to be closed. If you have specific questions, please take them to e-mail or PM, and leave them out of the thread, please and thank you.
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