Harassment At PaizoCon 2017
  • Harassment At PaizoCon 2017


    In our post-Harvey Weinstein world, more and more people in the various entertainment industries are coming forward with allegations of abuse and harassment, both sexual and psychological. The tabletop gaming industry isn't isolated from this wave of revelation as incidents surface, and will likely continue to surface about professionals, and fans, within the gaming communities.


    Stories of harassment within tabletop gaming, at conventions and stores, and even in local gaming groups are nothing new. That is probably the saddest fact of this whole thing: that despite stories being brought to light, not only does harassment continue to happen but the existence of it continues to be denied by some. This denial is one of the factors that allows abuse and harassment to continue within tabletop RPGs.

    Allegations of improper behavior at the 2017 PaizoCon by Frog God Games CEO Bill Webb were brought to life by Pathfinder content creator Robert Brookes. Brookes was attending PaizoCon and has written for Paizo and Legendary Games, among others. In an incident involving alcohol, Webb allegedly sexually harassed another guest at the convention and when a staffer attempted to intervene and injury occurred with the staffer.

    In a thread about harassment and abuse on gaming forum RPGNet, Frog God Games partner Matt Finch, creator of the Swords & Wizardry retroclone, confirmed that the incident with Webb occurred, and revealed some details about an internal investigation that the partners of Frog God Games conducted into the incident:

    "I am Matt Finch, the partner of Frog God Games appointed by the partners to investigate a sexual harassment complaint filed against Mr. Webb at PaizoCon 2017. Mr. Webb was not consulted by the partners on this decision. Due to recent accusations made on Twitter by a third party, I will outline the aspects of the situation to the extent that they do not compromise the confidentiality of the person who filed the report, I will describe the nature of our internal investigation, and will also address the recently-raised tweets by Robert Brookes on his twitter feed. This report will not necessarily be updated; it stands for itself at the time of posting, based on the knowledge I currently have.

    "First, it is correct that a complaint was filed with Paizo at PaizoCon against Bill. I was made aware of this by phone on the day it happened (I was not present at the convention). Frog God is aware of the identity of the person who made the complaint, because they spoke to three of our partners at the convention after the event. We have not been invited to share that person’s identity, and although we are not under legal obligation to protect that confidentiality we have elected to respect that person’s desire not to have the event brought into the spotlight.

    "Gathering information in a situation like this is necessarily limited due to Paizo’s own confidentiality obligations. To assemble information, I spoke to the three partners who had talked with the person who filed the complaint, and obtained their accounts of what they were told. Secondhand accounts are not perfect, and I had to weigh that against the fact that an attorney making direct contact with someone who has filed such a report can be seen as a threat or intimidation, and weighing those two issues, I chose to rely on a comparison of the conversations between the individual and our partners, plus Paizo’s own resolution of the matter at the time, plus a necessarily-cautious review of Bill’s account. There has been contact between the person who filed the complaint and Frog God partners since the event, and I will provide a screenshot of one such communication with the name redacted. I believe the screenshot provides a great deal of clarification.

    "Reducing the event to a level that will maintain confidentiality, my understanding based on my investigation was that Bill Webb took an action and engaged in speech that could be construed as a sexual advance or as gender-dismissive.

    "In consequence of this finding, I and another senior partner of the company had a meeting with Mr. Webb about expectations, standards of behavior, and future protocol. We addressed that one’s lack of bad intentions does not excuse problematic behavior.

    "Some people have asked that Mr. Webb acknowledge and apologize for the situation. Bill does deeply regret his actions, and understands that they were inappropriate and upsetting. I have told Mr. Webb not to contact the person directly, for the same reason that I have not done so myself: the potential for that contact to appear intimidating or threatening. However, at whatever time the person lets us know that a direct apology from Mr. Webb would be welcomed, that apology will be immediately forthcoming. Mr. Webb is also under instruction not to discuss this matter in public, in case peripheral details were to be inadvertently disclosed that might allow the identification of the person by another party. This is also the reason we chose to have me, as the investigating partner, write the public report, given that a report has become necessary in response to a recent description of the event on Twitter."


    We reached out to Webb for comment upon this incident, and we were directed to the RPGNet post by Finch. This is the company's official statement on what happened at PaizoCon. Whether or not there will be further repercussions within Frog God Games due to this incident and Webb's actions remain to be seen.

    Paizo CEO Lisa Stevens has released an official statement on the incident on the Paizo forums. When EN World reached out to Paizo for official comment, we were directed to this statement:

    "My name is Lisa Stevens and I am the CEO and owner of Paizo Inc. Events of the past few weeks have compelled me to make this statement.

    "My company will never condone any sexual harassment or assault against any of our employees, male or female. We will never condone any sexual harassment or assault against any of our customers on paizo.com or at sanctioned organized play activities. Whenever I hear any allegations of sexual harassment or assault related to Paizo’s activities, I always immediately drop whatever I'm doing and I make getting to the bottom of these issues my top priority. We have banned people from paizo.com. We have banned people from participating in our organized play activities. We have stopped doing business with individuals. And we will continue to do so.
    "As a woman and a survivor of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape, I know what it is like to be on the receiving end of these attacks. I know what it is like to feel the shame, the terror, how it changes your life forever. And because of this, I will never stand for my company to condone this behavior.

    "Paizo’s employees are encouraged to come forward with any allegations of sexual harassment or assault and let a manager know as soon as possible. If criminal activities have taken place, they are encouraged to report it to the police and take legal action against the perpetrator. We have asked our employees to not engage in explosive and angry dialogue on paizo.com. We want our website to be a place where our customers feel safe and among friends. If there is problem on paizo.com, then our community team will handle it and, where appropriate, ban the perpetrator.

    "In closing, you have my word that I have zero tolerance for sexual harassment and assault, and the same is true of Paizo. Please be aware that we treat these issues with tremendous sensitivity, and only disclose the specifics and resolutions of any such incidents on a need-to-know basis, even within Paizo or with our legal counsel. We do not and will not discuss these matters publicly. Every instance that I am aware of has been thoroughly investigated, and appropriate actions have been taken or are in the process of being taken. You have my word on this."


    Unrelated to the PaizoCon incident, Brookes also revealed an incident of harassment within the Pathfinder Society organized play program. When a volunteer staffer reported this incident, their supervisor informed them that an NDA they had signed to be part of the program would not allow her to discuss this incident. Paizo has not officially commented on this incident or commented on whether or not there is an investigation into it.

    If tabletop role-playing games are truly going to be an inclusive, we have to be better about not just reporting incidents of abuse and harassment but being dedicated to creating spaces that are safe and free of harassment of our fellow gamers. We also need to shine a spotlight onto the incidents of harassment that occur, it is the responsibility of journalists, bloggers and gamers to do this and let people know that their actions will come to light and that they will be held responsible. It is also important to not just talk about those parts of the gaming communities that we don't agree with, but to also bring to light the improper actions of those companies and communities with whom we do agree, because unless every act of harassment is revealed there will be no change within our communities.

    Remember that EN World is an inclusive community.
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    Comments 350 Comments
    1. Dannyalcatraz's Avatar
      Dannyalcatraz -
      Sounds like a good corporate public response.
    1. Ell-Egypto -
      I hope there wasn't any conflation going on. A lot of people confuse opinions and actual harassment these days. Sometimes mere words get equated with physical assault.
    1. S'mon -
      This Robert Brookes is certainly a busy little bee. That's two scalps in less than a week.

      I expect Webb did make an off-colour remark. I'd be a lot more surprised if he really physically attacked a Paizo employee, so I wonder what was behind that allegation.
    1. Fildrigar -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ell-Egypto View Post
      I hope there wasn't any conflation going on. A lot of people confuse opinions and actual harassment these days. Sometimes mere words get equated with physical assault.
      Oh, good gravy. Did you read the post at all? The harassment happened and was acknowledged.
    1. kenmarable's Avatar
      kenmarable -
      Quote Originally Posted by S'mon View Post
      This Robert Brookes is certainly a busy little bee. That's two scalps in less than a week.

      I expect Webb did make an off-colour remark. I'd be a lot more surprised if he really physically attacked a Paizo employee, so I wonder what was behind that allegation.
      Be surprised then. Robert says he was a direct witness in the PaizoCon incident (rather than a trusted confidant reporting what others have told him like with the PFS issue), because he was nearby and had to help physically stop Bill from stalking the victim through the hotel. Other witnesses and the victim herself have said the only reason the police weren't involved is that she didn't want Bill arrested in front of his kids, and would rather he had a chance to sober up and then leave.

      So it appears that the incident was really extremely serious and so very much further than "an off-colour remark."
    1. billd91's Avatar
      billd91 -
      And they have made a statement about the PFS NDA: Tonya Woldridge on the NDAs
    1. Obryn's Avatar
      Obryn -
      Quote Originally Posted by S'mon View Post
      This Robert Brookes is certainly a busy little bee. That's two scalps in less than a week.

      I expect Webb did make an off-colour remark. I'd be a lot more surprised if he really physically attacked a Paizo employee, so I wonder what was behind that allegation.
      Evidently, what was behind that allegation is that it actually happened.

      And yeah, with Weinstein in the news right now - and O'Reilly, Ailes, etc. not too long ago before him - the time is right to bring incidents of harassment and assault into the light.
    1. Sunsword's Avatar
      Sunsword -
      The question I am wrestling with is that if BJ didn't want this be high profile and Paizo and FGG respected this and by her account handled the situation well, then why did Robert Brookes go against the target's wishes and make it a public spectacle? Is that truly helpful?
    1. billd91's Avatar
      billd91 -
      Helpful? Maybe? There are multiple ways of being helpful. You can help the victim which, in some circumstances, means keeping her out of the public eye or on a need to know basis. Or you could help the community by identifying the offenders and offenses, which means exposing them and keeping them under scrutiny. I'm not sure there's a set of entirely right or wrong approaches to these situations that determines an appropriate trade-off between the different ways of being helpful.

      However, it is true that partial information leads to misundestanding, jumping to conclusions, and a whole host of other problems including misdirecting ire (sometimes at the victim, the messenger, the medium, the host, or anywhere but the offender) and sometimes that forces people to reveal more info than they really wanted to or forces the victim into the light when they'd really prefer to avoid it so that further injustices aren't done on their behalf.
    1. James Gray1's Avatar
      James Gray1 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Sunsword View Post
      The question I am wrestling with is that if BJ didn't want this be high profile and Paizo and FGG respected this and by her account handled the situation well, then why did Robert Brookes go against the target's wishes and make it a public spectacle? Is that truly helpful?
      Robert felt Bill Webb was a potential threat to women at future conventions and couldn't be sure what was being done on a convention level to mitigate the problem. He called Webb out, hoping to raise awareness so women could know avoid going through what he saw Ms. Hensley go through. Robert did so without naming Ms. Hensley and I believe he did so with the best of intentions, trying to walk the line between her wish to remain anonymous and the need to protect others.
    1. Obryn's Avatar
      Obryn -
      Quote Originally Posted by Sunsword View Post
      The question I am wrestling with is that if BJ didn't want this be high profile and Paizo and FGG respected this and by her account handled the situation well, then why did Robert Brookes go against the target's wishes and make it a public spectacle? Is that truly helpful?
      Well, it's helpful to consumers, con-goers, and convention organizers, at a minimum.

      Robert didn't name any victims - I had no idea until she came forward. But it's a pretty serious incident, so yeah, I think on the balance it is something that needed to get out there. And I don't think we'd have seen today's and yesterday's public statements on the topic if it hadn't.

      Sweeping incidents under the rug is how a hobby gets full to the brim of serial harassers.
    1. Dannyalcatraz's Avatar
      Dannyalcatraz -
      Sweeping incidents under the rug is how a hobby (or society, institution, or any other group) gets full to the brim of serial harassers.
    1. GMSkarka's Avatar
      GMSkarka -
      Quote Originally Posted by Dannyalcatraz View Post
      Sweeping incidents under the rug is how a hobby (or society, institution, or any other group) gets full to the brim of serial harassers.
      Keep in mind, for most of you, this is a hobby. For some folks, however, this is talking about our work environment. It is critically important that this information be out there for that reason.
    1. S'mon -
      Quote Originally Posted by kenmarable View Post
      So it appears that the incident was really extremely serious and so very much further than "an off-colour remark."
      Yes, this drunkenly following her around the hotel thing sounds pretty bad.
    1. Henry's Avatar
      Henry -
      "Bad" is not the word i'd use. What the bloody ...

      To clarify, my comment isnt directed at S'mon, it's directed at the... insanity, for lack of a better word that's going on, and has been going on to a greater deal than I ever realized, apparently.
    1. mach1.9pants's Avatar
      mach1.9pants -
      BJ Hensley post on Paizo, regarding the incident
      "Paizo Con: The only thing I desire is peace and to be left alone to create.

      As the victim in this particular situation, I have watched in public silence as the world dissected my story and speculated as to the intimate details. I looked on and relived these events as people believed, disbelieved, defended me passionately, and cast doubt on the situation. I received many wonderful messages from those who were there or heard what happened, expressions of anger on my behalf and an outpouring of love. And yet I am heartbroken by what I see, not due to the event itself but that these same individuals, who aided me when I was in need, are being verbally assaulted and accused of less than exemplary behavior. So, despite being told that I in no way needed to by countless individuals on all sides of the event, I’ve chosen to speak. I’ve selected Paizo as my medium to do so to ensure that everyone can see my words.

      What happened at Paizo Con was not appropriate. The offensive behavior I dealt with from this person was very inappropriate, unwanted, and frankly a bit scary. However, Paizo’s staff did all they could to ensure I was safe, they made all the right offers to take care of the situation, and when I declined some of their suggestions they chose to protect me with their silence. Nearly every member of Paizo’s staff interacted with me in some way during these awful events. Many offered protection, others walked me to my room, spoke out on my behalf, held my hand while I was afraid, and even physically stepped in when the clearly inebriated individual in no way wanted to hear my “No thank you.”. In the end, Lisa Stevens herself shed tears alongside me as she heard my story. Her concern was genuine, her anger fierce, and at no point was there any disbelief. She passionately argued to be able to defend me and doesn’t deserve to be accused of doing anything less than her very best to protect me while I was in her “house”. Paizo made me feel welcome, believed in, and defended me in every way I would allow.

      No one tried to silence me, I silenced them.

      The individual who stalked me through the halls that day was far too drunk to drive, he had children staying at the convention, and I asked that he be allowed to leave when sober. I also requested the incident be kept as quiet as possible to protect his family. Additionally, several of my friends work at the very company this man represents, I didn’t want their professional lives impacted by a public scandal any more than I wanted anyone else’s to be. Members of Frog God Games checked in on me and handled their side of the mess as they saw fit. I protected others and I tried to protect myself. I’m a private person who’s survived far worse storms than what happened here and I simply wanted to resolve the issue for all involved and put it behind me before it resurfaced more traumatic events in my mind. We all have to choose what hills we die on. I didn't feel the need to make this one mine. I work here. This industry is my life, it’s where my friends are, it’s my creative outlet; the place where I bring to life all the crazy ideas parading through my mind, and all I want to do is take my imagination out for a stroll and create games we all enjoy.

      I would like to extend my sincere appreciation to all the people who cared enough to stand up for me, walk beside me, and protect me from the public. I personally consider this matter closed and would prefer everyone else do so as well for the sake of my own privacy and personal sanity. – BJ Hensley"

      From here: http://paizo.com/threads/rzs2uoph?Op...O-Lisa-Stevens
    1. DaveMage's Avatar
      DaveMage -
      If all the above is true (and it certainly seems that way), and since the identity of the harassed individual has been revealed, I hope Bill will speak publicly about it, and make it right.

      Even better, do the right thing corporately, such as donating some of the proceeds of a future product toward awareness (or similar).

      Necromancer/Frog God Games has always done right by its customers so I would expect the same thing in this case.
    1. trancejeremy's Avatar
      trancejeremy -
      Quote Originally Posted by Sunsword View Post
      The question I am wrestling with is that if BJ didn't want this be high profile and Paizo and FGG respected this and by her account handled the situation well, then why did Robert Brookes go against the target's wishes and make it a public spectacle? Is that truly helpful?
      To be blunt, because people who knew but said nothing is how people like Weinstein, O'Reilly, Ailes, Cosby, that college coach, that children's guy at the BBC (Jimmy Saville?), and Roman Polanski got away with it for decades, victimizing more and more people.

      The answer isn't to hush it up and hope it doesn't happen again. Because the people who do this once are more than likely to keep doing it until they are forced to stop.

      Yes, it's awful that victims essentially end up being victimized again. But it's the only way to prevent future victims.

      I have to say, I am disappointed at how Paizo has handled this, though not particularly surprised Frog God has shrugged it off. "Lol, I was just drunk, it's okay to harass women and hurt people when you're drunk"
    1. Paraxis -
      Guy gets drunk and acts stupid and people lose their minds, this happens all the time, it's happening right now, somewhere.

      No one was physically hurt, no one was raped, the "victim" needs to develop a thicker skin and learn to forgive and forget this should never have been made an issue of.


      This new social justice politically correct atmosphere plaguing society is only going to get worse if we don't draw the line somewhere soon. People shouldn't get persecuted on the internet, hounded on social media, and possibly lose employment over something like this. There is a good reason the cops were not called, it's because they wouldn't have done a damn thing besides talk to him for a bit and calm the situation down because nothing criminal happened.


      [This post is entirely inappropriate, and completely out of line with the inclusiveness stance of this website. Putting "victims" in quote marks, and belittling the experience of somebody who experienced harassment, is not acceptable on this site. It's stuff like this which normalises harassment and cons and ensures that it will continue. Please do not post in this thread again. - Morrus]
    1. kenmarable's Avatar
      kenmarable -
      Quote Originally Posted by Paraxis View Post
      Guy gets drunk and acts stupid and people lose their minds, this happens all the time, it's happening right now, somewhere.

      No one was physically hurt, no one was raped, the "victim" needs to develop a thicker skin and learn to forgive and forget this should never have been made an issue of.


      This new social justice politically correct atmosphere plaguing society is only going to get worse if we don't draw the line somewhere soon. People shouldn't get persecuted on the internet, hounded on social media, and possibly lose employment over something like this. There is a good reason the cops were not called, it's because they wouldn't have done a damn thing besides talk to him for a bit and calm the situation down because nothing criminal happened.
      Were you a witness to the incident? Do you have information that every other witness who has spoken up does not have? That would be good to know. Because all of the people who were actually there disagree with every single thing you claim here.

      Personally, I believe the people who were actually there over Random Internet Commenter.
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