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.
 

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Darryl Mott

Darryl Mott

Dausuul

Legend
I disagree completely, it doesn't matter how they came to hire the writer, it was still the writer that blind-sided them with a plagiarised adventure.
You keep talking about how they got "blindsided." But it is the job of a hiring manager to avoid getting blindsided by stuff like this--and the way you do that is to hire people with a good track record and demonstrated skills. You don't hire randos off the street to watch the money.
 

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MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Bummer, I would have loved an Everscroll's adventure. So, we don't know who wrote it? Did they not give the author(s) byline credit? They could have afforded to hire some great talent and actually make some money and build a lot of good will. It would have been good for both Everscrolls and D&D. All ruined by some hack.

Hopefully they'll try again, with a proper author this time.
 

cbwjm

Seb-wejem
You keep talking about how they got "blindsided." But it is the job of a hiring manager to avoid getting blindsided by stuff like this--and the way you do that is to hire people with a good track record and demonstrated skills. You don't hire randos off the street to watch the money.
We're gonna have to agree to disagree.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Supporter
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The crazyest one is this.
They didn't even change Chandra Stol's name... :p
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GreyLord

Legend
I'm not so sure that those at Bethesda are blameless or even ignorant of what happened.

It sounds a LOT like someone high up gave a writer the adventure by WotC. They told whoever was writing it, make something that is like this. Any attempt by the nameless writer to be original was shot down and then once again, it was reiterated...make it a LOT like this adventure here.

The only way to get it through the higher ups was to actually MAKE it almost the same but with some differences so that they got exactly what they were telling the writer to do...make it just like the WotC adventure, but with Elder Scrolls terminology, geography, and world rather than anything by WotC.
 

Whoever wrote the Bethesda version is a terrible writer. Like, terrible word choice and grammar, and in a few cases it’s not clear that they understood what they were trying to rephrase. F-
 

Well yeah, but it's not like they hired them thinking they'd just rip off an adventure. Whoever they hired they would have thought would create an original adventure, not a direct ripoff.

My guess was Bethesda hired an ad agency, and an ad agency employee was told by their line manager: "you play D&D, I want an Elder Scrolls themed adventure on my desk by noon."
 

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