Sunday, January 5, 2020

Reminder: Plagiarizing other people's stuff = still not cool

A few months ago Gabor Lux wrote a blog post about how some other publishers had "borrowed" some of his creations. "Wow, that sucks," I thought. Alas, yesterday, another example showed up way closer to home.

Anthony Huso is a blogger and publisher at whose material has always been of interest to me because he's one of the few "OSR" folks whose interests line up closely with mine, which is to say Gygax-style AD&D with a particular focus on the more complex and heavily-flavored material he produced in the 80s: the rules additions from Unearthed Arcana and the World of Greyhawk boxed set, the details on the planes buried within those books and the Monster Manual II, and so forth. He's one of the only other people I know of in the online D&D fandom scene who leans into the "Advanced" moniker to embrace and explore the complexity and distinctive flavor of that version of the game rather than trying to water down or pave over it.

So, it was with some interest that I saw a new post from him about the bard class, famously an oddball outlier that was consigned to an optional appendix in the rules and was intended to be replaced in its entirety in the second edition of AD&D that Gygax announced but never completed (just as it was in the second edition of AD&D that TSR did release in his absence). That blog post links to a separate page on his site with his detailed set of house rules for bards that includes, intriguingly, an entire new repertoire of 47 new spells for bards based on songs, replacing the AD&D bard's less flavorful use of druid spells. After all, my own set of AD&D house rules that I released in 2016 - the AD&D Companion (which I've temporarily pulled from distribution while I'm revising and expanding it into the OSRIC/OGL-compliant Heroic Legendarium - coming soon, I swear!) - does the same thing, inspired by the treatment of "Spellsongs" in Gary Gygax and Dave Newton's post-TSR rpg Dangerous Journeys: Mythus.

Looking at the list of bard songs on that page, I was immediately struck by several familiar spell names - Darting Dags Adagio, Arrow-storm Aire, Fogveil Barcarolle, Safe-sleep Aria, etc. These are all spellsongs from Gygax and Newton's Mythus Magick that I adapted into AD&D spells (i.e. completely rewrote from a substantially different game-system) in my Companion (and have modified further, including name-changes, for the Legendarium). Cool, I thought. He's doing the same thing I did. I wonder how his versions compare to mine. Or maybe it wasn't a case of parallel inspiration and he's just using my versions. That would be kind of uncool to do without notifying me or giving me some kind of acknowledgment or shout-out beyond a very non-specific and squishy "Many of the songs are my own creation, some might be edited versions of songs made by people on the internet.  I honestly don't remember." But hey, even if a dozen or so out of his 47 new spells are "borrowed" without acknowledgment, that's still okay. It shows he must have liked them enough to want to re-use them, right?

Well, when I took a closer look at the page today, I discovered that in fact it went just a bit further than that: as it turns out, all but 6 of there 47 "new" spells are lifted straight out of my book. A lot of them are renamed, some of them have some modifications or additions (e.g. his "Wild Chanson," renamed from my "Forestfriend Couplet," includes a d10 table of typical animals that can be summoned by the song), but for 41 of the 47 spells the bulk of the details and specific wording of the descriptions are a direct and exact copy and paste from my work. For example, here's my "Revitalize Paen" spell:
Revitalize Paen (Necromantic)
Level: 2 Components: V, S, M  
Range: 1" Casting Time: 1 round 
Duration: Special Saving Throw: None
Area of Effect: One subject per level of the caster 
Explanation/Description: This song restores physical vitality, enery, and alertness to as many subjects as the caster is able to affect. It negates magically-induced sleepiness, drowsiness, fatigue, and/or weakness and otherwise refreshes its listeners to an extent equal to a full night’s sleep after eight rounds of singing (though no damage is healed by this song, nor is the rest sufficient to allow spell casters to refresh their spells).

Compare to his "First Call Refrain":

First Call Refrain  (Necromantic) 
Level: 2                             Components: V, S, M
Range: 1"                          Casting Time: 1 round
Duration: Special                Saving Throw: None
Area of Effect: One subject per level of the caster

Explanation/Description: This song restores physical vitality, energy, and alertness to as many subjects as the caster can affect. It negates magically-induced sleepiness, drowsiness, fatigue, and/or weakness and otherwise refreshes its listeners to an extent equal to a full nightʼs sleep after eight rounds of singing—though no actual damage is healed by this song, nor is the rest sufficient to allow spell casters to refresh their spells).
And for completeness' sake here also is the original version from Gygax and Newton's Mythus Magick that I adapted:
Revitalize Paen Spell (Casting Grade III): 
Time: Special                          Other Heka Costs: 
Area: 1 subject/10 STEEP           R&D: Nil 
Distance: 1 rod                            Other: Nil 
E/F/M: Immediately upon completion of this activation singing, the Effect of the Spell's dweomer restores Physical vitality, energy, and alertness to as many subjects as the spell singer is able to affect thus. It negates magickally or otherwise Heka-induced sleepiness, drowsiness, fatigue and/or weakness. If the subject or subjects are not so affected, the vocalization of this Paen refreshes them to an extent equal to a full nights sleep, for singing equal to merely eight Battle Turns Time, although damage is not healed through this dweomer, nor is Heka regained thus.
Yes, I adapted my spell directly from this one, and tried to match its effects as closely as possible given the differences in rules and terminology between the two systems, even down to retaining the embarrassing misspelling of "Paean" as "Paen" (now corrected in the Legendarium draft!), but there is no chance that Huso independently adapted his spell from the same source and came up with exact same wording I did. And even if by some chance he did it once, he certainly did not do it over and over again, 41 out of 47 times (and I did my comparison quickly - the total might actually be 42 or 43 out of 47). There's really no other possible explanation than that this guy took material that was about 85% mine, made a few very minor edits and modifications to it, and posted it on his site claiming it as his own. Which is plagiarism, and a shitty thing to do, especially in a community as small as this one. Admittedly, I wasn't selling this material for money (though the revised version will be) and neither is he, but if anything I feel that makes proper crediting even more important, since peer-recognition and esteem is the only thing in this for either of us, and that's what he's illegitimately claiming by plagiarizing my work.

If he had reached out to me and said he wanted to revise my stuff and post it on his site with acknowledgment, I'd not only have happily agreed to it, I'd have been flattered - that one of the people whose work I admire and feel like is on the same stylistic and aesthetic page as me liked something of mine enough to want to use it. Something like “these spells are mostly adapted from work by Trent Foster ( whose site is well worth a visit for fans of the same flavor of AD&D discussed here” would have been totally fine with me, and made me really happy because it would've shown that the Gygax-flavored wing of the OSR was growing into a self-reinforcing community building on each other's work to not only preserve but expand that version of the game, which is what I've been hoping for ever since I started talking about the game with my fellow enthusiasts at Dragonsfoot back around the turn of the century.

But not only did he not do that, he didn't even have the decency to remain silent on the subject of stealing my stuff. Instead, he wrote "Many of the songs are my own creation, some might be edited versions of songs made by people on the internet.  I honestly don't remember." The first sentence is a flat-out lie: at most 6 out of 47 spells are his creation - everything else came from me (adapted from Gygax and Newton: with a key difference being that my book is very transparent and explicit about where and from whom I did my adapting) - and if the second sentence is true it makes the whole thing worse by adding such a flagrantly disrespectful insult on top of the injury. He obviously liked my stuff well enough to keep it, edit it, and post it as his own work, so he could at the very least have had the common decency to remember who he stole it from.

So, just as a reminder in case anyone else needs it: plagiarizing someone else's material and claiming it as your own is not cool. And plagiarizing someone else's material and claiming its as your own while also saying "I may have plagiarized a little bit of this from someone, but if so it's so unimportant I can't even remember" is really not cool. If you think something you're about to post and claim as your own work may have actually been stolen from someone else, either have the decency to check and make sure or don't post it. It's really not a difficult proposition.

EDIT: In the comments below Anthony responded with an apology, and has also appended one to his blog post and removed the link to the house-rule document with all the spells. That's a happy ending, and it's refreshing to see someone step up and admit a mistake like that rather than aggressively double-down on it the way people on the internet usually do. I'm glad he and his players are enjoying the spells and will take it as a de facto endorsement for The Heroic Legendarium :)


  1. This is a real bummer man. Huso seemed like a reasonable guy in his other online interactions. If you contacted him maybe he'd be willing to square this whole thing up in the credits?

  2. Hi there, Trent.

    You are absolutely correct. I did not recall where the majority of the songs came from. Some of the songs I authored myself. But I knew I drew from unremembered sources as well. The doc I linked to is not intended to be advertised as my own creation but as the settled version of the class I've used in my games...much thanks to you.

    Although I'm at work and unable to check, I trust you. I apologize for linking to the house version without vetting the doc and compiling a proper list of sources/getting permission.

    I feel bad that you hate me.

    Once I get home tonight I can remove the link. I can also simply include your name in the blog post and thank you that most of the songs I use to round out the bard were authored by you.

    Have a good day.

    1. Thanks for responding. I was obviously pretty shocked by this yesterday so there was a lot of emotion rolled up into this post. Either pulling the spells or adding an acknowledgment of me as the source, whichever you prefer, would be fine with me.

    2. To be clear, I obviously have SERIOUS respect for your design work. And I regret again being so casual about the sources of my house rule stuff. Also, to clarify, my renaming of songs was not an attempt to take credit but to make them work in the setting. I've committed the same sin with some of the illusionist spells I linked to in another post--though to be fair many more of them belong to me. I will have to unlink that as well I'm afraid in the interest of fairness.

      Rest assured, my only interest is in advocating and sharing ideas for this version of the ruleset. Not in taking credit for things I didn't write. And I don't blame you for being upset. Hopefully you trust me that it was not malicious on my part.


  3. I'm glad Anthony owned up. To be honest, I collect a ton of stuff that I like on the internet. I make my own retro-clones and supplements and do a lot of original writing and design work. It can be very hard to keep track of all your sources. The purpose of the OGL was to allow common usage of fan made material and hopefully the cream will rise to the top and create better material.