Bethesda has taken down their promotional Elder Scrolls tabletop role-playing game, Elsweyr, after the game was accused of plagiarizing a 2016 Dungeon & Dragons adventure.
Elsweyr was released to fans for free on Tuesday as a promotion to celebrate the upcoming release of the new The Elder Scrolls: Online expansion, similarly, named Elsweyr. However, fans soon began to notice glaring similarities between the Elsweyr module, claimed to have been written by “friends at Bethesda Netherlands”, and The Black Road, an adventure published in 2016 by Wizards of the Coast, the publishers of Dungeons & Dragons, written by Paige Leitman and Ben Heisler.
Numerous examples have been produced comparing the writing of Elsweyr and The Black Road. For example, in one direction to Dungeon Masters (DMs), The Black Road suggests players read or paraphrase the following passage:
Ahead of you, a few days later, you see a black spot of movement on the horizon. As you travel, it gets larger and larger. Azam looks worried. “Another caravan – likely Zhents. Normally I’d suggest that we camp with them – safety in numbers. What do you think?”
In Elsweyr, DMs are advised to read a slightly reworded version of the same text:
A few days later you see a black spot of movement on the horizon. As the caravan continues to travel, the spot becomes larger and larger. Kah’reem frowns and sounds worried: “Another caravan … normally I would recommend that we travel together. The more the better … but it seems to me they are Skooma Dealers, as far as my weary eyes can see. What do you think?”
In describing the end of a quest regarding delivering a specific statue to Chandra Stol, a non-player character, The Black Road provides different scenarios which may play out. In one scenario, if food, medicine, or weapons reach the city, the players are met with a scarred man who thanks them for their assistance:
“After the priestess departs, a large, scarred man with rough features and a long mane of brown-blond hair sidles up to your group.
‘You’re the adventurers that brought the goods to town. The folks can’t thank you enough. We took up a small collection for you.’ He presses a rough burlap pouch with coins in it into your hands.
‘I’m Raggnar Redtooth, owner of the Golden Tankard. I got no room to put you up in in, other than the stables, but come have a round on the house and tell your stories of the road to the folks in town.’”
The same scenario can be achieved in Elsweyr, leading to a similar encounter with the scarred owner of a ‘Golden’ establishment:
“After the priestess leaves, a big scarred man with a rough face and long brown-blond hair comes to the group; ‘You are the people who brought the goods to the city. We cannot thank you enough! We have a small thank you for you.’ He gives you a small bag. ‘I am the bartender at the Golden Pint. I may not have room for a place to sleep, except for the stables, but my guests and I like to hear about your adventures in the desert!’”
Following outcry from both players and Leitman, Bethesda removed the post announcing and linking to the pen-and-paper module, noting in a separate Facebook post that they had “pulled a previously shared ESO tabletop RPG adventure while we investigate the source.” When reached for comment by Ars Technica, Leitman stated that she had “no comment until both authors have a chance to fully discuss it and understand the ramifications.”
What do you make of Bethesda pulling their Elsweyr promotional? Do you think they might have plagiarized The Black Road?