The Elder Scrolls Online – Elsweyr will be released on June 4 and, in anticipation for the release, Bethesda Softworks and ZeniMax Online Studios released a free tabletop adventure module that was supposed to be set in the Elsweyr region of Tamriel. However, the module contained blatant instances of plagiarism, specifically of a Dungeons & Dragons adventure published by Wizards of the Coast in 2016, The Black Road.
The Elsweyr module had been announced in a post on the official The Elder Scrolls Online Facebook page, and the authors of The Black Road, Paige Leitman and Ben Heisler, posted a comment thread under the post, “How They Plagiarized Our Adventure, An Annotated Powerpoint Presentation,” highlighting the similarity between many passages of the Elsweyr module and The Black Road. The Facebook post has since been taken down, and the comment thread along with it. The managers of the Facebook page published a new post (and also on Twitter) saying: “We have pulled a previously shared ESO tabletop RPG adventure while we investigate the source. Thank you to those who reached out with concerns.”
You can still see the adventure module here, archived by Ars Technica, who first reported the incident, also archiving the comparative text samples published by Paige Leitman and Ben Heisler. Heisler also posted a couple of those samples on Twitter. You can see a transcription of the introductions of both The Black Road and the Elsweyr module below.
The Black Road starts like this:
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, Calimshan-styled 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.
And the Elsweyr module starts like this:
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 [sic]. 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 Kar’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 stringed instrument [sic] fill the air, and the people are busy over eating, drinking, and conversation [sic]. An Argonian servant escorts you to an empty table.
Even the gameplay and scenario details seem lifted word for word. The Black Road lists the specifics of a caravan that players encounter in The Black Road:
Four wagons, each pulled by two foul-tempered camels
One wagon carries the caravan’s food
One wagon carries the caravan’s water and a shipment of medicinal herbs
One wagon carries a shipment of weapons
One wagon carries the statue of Angharradh
The caravan travels and sleeps in two shifts every day. Travel from predawn until noon, sleep from noon until late afternoon in the shade, travel from late afternoon until after dinnertime. Sleep from after dinnertime until predawn.
The Elsweyr module’s list is nearly verbatim, appearing at the same point in the adventure:
Four carts, each pulled by two horses
One cart carries all food
One cart carries all water and medicines
One cart carries a large load of weapons
One cart carries the statue
The caravan travels in two shifts every day. From early in the morning to the afternoon, then rest and sleep until late in the afternoon. And from late in the afternoon to sunset.
Several other comparative samples are available in the report from Ars Technica. The writer of the report also reached out to Paige Leitman, but she had “no comment until both authors have a chance to fully discuss it and understand the ramifications.”
Some Internet users have pointed out the irony of Bethesda and ZeniMax Media turning to plagiarism, considering their litigious history, specifically their trademark suit against Mojang over the card game Scrolls, which was settled in 2012.
What do you think of this fiasco? Will ZeniMax Media’s lawyers find a loophole out of this mess? Let us know in the comments below!