RPG Writer Zak S Accused Of Abusive Behaviour
  • RPG Writer Zak S Accused Of Abusive Behaviour


    RPG writer Zak S (aka Zak Smith, Zak Sabbath) has been accused by multiple women of abusive behaviour in a public Facebook post by his ex-partner, and two other women.



    Photo from Wikipedia


    Zak Smith appeared in the video series I Hit It With My Axe, and is known for the Playing D&D With Porn Stars blog. He has also written several RPG books, most recently for Lamentations of the Flame Princess, consulted on the D&D 5th Edition Player's Handbook, has won multiple ENnies, and recently worked for White Wolf. As yet, he hasn't made any public response to the accusations.

    Since then, another ex-partner of Zak Smith, Vivka Grey, has publicly come forward with a further account of his conduct.

    This isn't the first time that Zak Smith has been accused of inappropriate behaviour (language warning in that link). The Facebook post, which was posted overnight, has been shared widely on social media, and takes the form of an open letter (linked above; it makes for unpleasant reading, so please be aware of that if you choose to read it).

    The industry has been reacting to the news. Amongst many others:


    I believe Mandy, Jennifer, Hannah, and Vivka. It must be terrifying to come forward like this. They have been put through horrible ordeals. I will not cover Zakís work on this site, in my podcast, or elsewhere, and will not provide him with any kind of platform.
    Comments 282 Comments
    1. Saracenus's Avatar
      Saracenus -
      This! Yes, This! As a gaming/community organizer I cannot separate creative content from its creator because if I laud the content and DO NOT address the behavior I am tacitly endorsing/enabling their behavior.

      Nothing kills a community (any community) quicker than allowing toxic people to continue to operate in those spaces. The very people you want there, the people you want to encourage to participate there will start to leave. The death spiral of a community unwilling to hold it members to community standards is brutal.

      If these accusations were happening in a vacuum I would be more inclined to hold my judgement and see what came of them, but they have not. There has been long documented proof that Zack S. behavior is toxic and contrary to the stated rules of this site (and many others). So, the question is not weather Zack S. should be stripped of his awards here, the real question is why has it taken so damn long to even become a question.

      Quote Originally Posted by monsmord View Post
      The word at the fulcrum of this awards back-and-forth has become "merit:" "the quality of being particularly good or worthy, especially so as to deserve praise or reward."

      Like a lot of words, "merit," "good," and "worthy" are subjective. Yunru argues "merit" is a value independent of authorship, others disagree. Neither can be inherently right or wrong. But the dependent clause there is the kicker, especially "reward."

      I'm reminded of Pete Rose (an older-generation major league baseball player, for those of a certain age or not of a certain country). Some feel his outstanding record warrants his inclusion in the Basebell Hall of Fame, others feel his behavior off the field (namely betting on baseball - while a player and manager) sullied the good name of the sport and he should remain disqualified. Depends on where your values lie, and what sort of message one wants to send. The Hall of Fame concluded that Rose's behavior was contrary to the spirit of the game, and for this he was not eligible for the rewards of membership. He'll continue to hold his records until they're broken, and no one disputes his expertise or accomplishments, but he will not be found in Cooperstown (unless he's visiting) because, as determined by the Hall of Fame, accomplishment is not the sole determiner when celebrating the best baseball has to offer. Had his gambling been limited to horses or poker, it wouldn't have been an issue; but betting on the sport (and on his team) while contributing to the sport is at best problematic, and at worst cheating: hence the ban.

      It has been well documented for the past several years that Zak S has engaged in prolonged campaigns of bullying and harassment of gamers, content creators, and industry professionals, both personally and through directed proxies. He has even impersonated at least one industry professional online in an effort to discredit them. Even if you choose to ignore the many claims against him of misogyny, racism, homophobia, and transphobia, even if you dismiss the credible statements of victims of his personal non-gaming abuse and harassment... the fact that he has and continues to undermine the diversity and creative stable of the industry, and to sully the image of our hobby as an inclusive, welcoming community, should be enough to convince you that he should not be rewarded for his behavior, not by us. It's a black mark on the industry that we continue to say, "It doesn't matter how you treat my fellow gamers or publishers, or how negatively you impact the creative potential of others in my hobby, just write something I like and it'll be okay."

      The gaming hobby and industry benefits, as most things do, from diversity, inclusion, and choice. We won't all agree on, well, pretty much anything, evidenced here. But all should be welcome - and safe - across demographics. To make that possible, the gaming community and content providers must abide by the Popper Paradox: to be tolerant, it must be intolerant of intolerance. Zak S and people like him are cancerous: turning off existing and potential gamers, rattling creators, limiting diversity, and generating divisiveness not because of any artistry, but because of his actions and choices IRL. The recent statement by The Gauntlet is a decisive and - to the point that gaming should be welcoming and safe - positive step in this direction.

      The ENnies have an opportunity to say with force that behaviors contrary to the spirit of gaming can be neither rewarded nor encouraged, that part of being the "best" of anything in gaming is in improving and growing the hobby for all current and future gamers, that -isms and -phobias and harassment and bullying aren't virtues to celebrate or ignore, and will not be sanctioned or rewarded. We can encourage creative excellence AND discourage abhorrent behaviors; these are not mutually exclusive.
    1. kenmarable's Avatar
      kenmarable -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shasarak View Post
      This is you supporting fake news:
      You said I was spreading it. Quote that. Iíll wait.
    1. Steve Conan Trustrum's Avatar
      Steve Conan Trustrum -
      Quote Originally Posted by Rygar View Post
      started a giant politics thread even though the site claims to have a "No Politics" rule.
      Where, exactly, is the politics?
    1. Alexander Kalinowski's Avatar
      Alexander Kalinowski -
      Quote Originally Posted by S'mon View Post
      Anyway all I'm doing is not buying his stuff going forward (I only have Vornheim). I probably wouldn't have bought his stuff anyway due to him having demonstrably been a jerk on other occasions.
      I don't need criminal standard of proof to make that decision.
      I'm not arguing against you (not) doing that - it's your prerogative entriely and that's fine. Personal freedom and all that.

      I don't think I have ever bought anything by him. But I wouldn't rule it out now. I wouldn't even rule it out if he was convicted of any charges. Here's why: it's not my job to punish anyone for any wrong they have done. We have courts for that. (Granted, I'd probably see it differently if I knew any victim personally and believed them but that's another thing.)

      Why do I have to avenge some alleged misdeed that some random person on the other side of the globe did to another person? (By not buying anything from that person.) I thought the courts system existed so that I don't have to engage in vigilantism myself? So that I don't have to even worry about punishing other people. This is very inconvenient.
    1. Shasarak's Avatar
      Shasarak -
      Quote Originally Posted by kenmarable View Post
      You said I was spreading it. Quote that. Iíll wait.
      So now you want to care about fake news?
    1. Aldarc's Avatar
      Aldarc -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shasarak View Post
      I am not worried about Zak S's reputation, I am worried about people who think that it is somehow ok to imagine fake situations and compare them to real life tragedies.

      It is just fake news and people like you are responsible for spreading it.

      Stop being part of the problem.
      You're gaslighting (again).
    1. kenmarable's Avatar
      kenmarable -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shasarak View Post
      So now you want to care about fake news?
      So, thatís a no, then. Thatís what I thought.
    1. Steve Conan Trustrum's Avatar
      Steve Conan Trustrum -
      Quote Originally Posted by Alexander Kalinowski View Post
      I wouldn't even rule it out if he was convicted of any charges. Here's why: it's not my job to punish anyone for any wrong they have done. We have courts for that.
      And many jurisdictions within which courts operate have laws about people being able to make money from books and the like while they are behind bars.

      But not buying anything from him isn't about punishing him. It's about condemning what he's done to others and not wanting to put money in his pocket.

      I'm not at all surprised this escapes you.

      (Granted, I'd probably see it differently if I knew any victim personally and believed them but that's another thing.)
      And we're back to your position of ethics by proximity.

      It's like you've somehow managed to fail to even be qualified to participate in a conversation involving ethics. That's all kind of messed up.
    1. Shasarak's Avatar
      Shasarak -
      Quote Originally Posted by kenmarable View Post
      Then why were you asking for more that we should be aware of? Just imagine them if you want.

      And I'm wondering what the line is between accusing someone of harassing Zak for saying he should have his awards taken away, then taking issue with even hypothetical points they make, and (literally) showing sympathy for Zak. It's looking awfully blurry when someone works so hard to defend Zak's awards.
      Alright here we go.

      Youre welcome.

      Now it is time for you to quote me defending Zak S.
    1. Steve Conan Trustrum's Avatar
      Steve Conan Trustrum -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shasarak View Post
      Alright here we go.

      Youre welcome.

      Now it is time for you to quote me defending Zak S.
      Congratulations.

      Your quote proves kenmarable understands how analogies are supposed to work.
    1. Alexander Kalinowski's Avatar
      Alexander Kalinowski -
      Quote Originally Posted by Saracenus View Post
      This! Yes, This! As a gaming/community organizer I cannot separate creative content from its creator because if I laud the content and DO NOT address the behavior I am tacitly endorsing/enabling their behavior.
      If you don't take justice into your own hands, you're an enabler?

      Quote Originally Posted by Saracenus View Post
      If these accusations were happening in a vacuum I would be more inclined to hold my judgement and see what came of them, but they have not. There has been long documented proof that Zack S. behavior is toxic and contrary to the stated rules of this site (and many others). So, the question is not weather Zack S. should be stripped of his awards here, the real question is why has it taken so damn long to even become a question.
      So you need to punish Zak Smith over allegations that you consider credible? Let's say he was convicted of some of the charges made. Then he would have to pay the price that society has agreed upon that should be paid in such cases, right? Prison time, most likely. Do you think private citizens should ADD to that agreed upon price by adding economic and social sanctions on top of that? Would that imply that the official sanctions of sexual harrassment are too low to be satisfactory? Or do we engage in personal justice because it makes us feel good and powerful?

      Do you understand why personal sanctions could be interpreted as vigilantism? "Sure, he got convicted and served his time but let's beat the dude bloody nonetheless!" Again, I've got no stakes with Mr. Smith, i hardly know him and we parted ways on unfriendly terms. But do you see where I am getting at and why it could be interpreted as vigilantism? It's not your nor anyone else's place to punish Mr. Smith in our western democracies. Somehow this understanding got lost along the way.

      And let's be clear: stripping away awards does not serve the purpose of protecting anyone. Its purpose is to punish. Punishing feels good.

      Doesn't it?
    1. Whizbang Dustyboots's Avatar
      Whizbang Dustyboots -
      Quote Originally Posted by Rygar View Post
      Oh look...ENWorld took something posted to a social media site, which doesn't seem to have law enforcement involvment to show whether or not it's accurate, posted it as news, and started a giant politics thread even though the site claims to have a "No Politics" rule.

      One of these days someone's going to sue the bejeesus out of the site owners for their "News" articles.
      There's no legal grounds to do so. They're correctly reporting that there was a social media post about something. The original social media posts might be actionable, if they're not provably true, but reporting that someone said a thing, and linking to it, puts ENWorld on pretty stable legal ground.
    1. Steve Conan Trustrum's Avatar
      Steve Conan Trustrum -
      Quote Originally Posted by Alexander Kalinowski View Post
      And let's be clear: stripping away awards does not serve the purpose of protecting anyone.
      Unless you're adult and empathetic enough to realize that by showing people that a specific type of behaviour isn't welcome within a community, at all levels (including something incredibly public, like say ... an award) that you're doing something so that those people who have been victims hopefully feel safer, and would be victims feel like the community has an eye open and is watching their back.

      You know ... just for example.

      But you've already illustrated that you and empathy are not on speaking terms, so ...
    1. billd91's Avatar
      billd91 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Steve Conan Trustrum View Post
      Where, exactly, is the politics?
      How is it that whenever it's women standing up to men behaving badly, it's politics and not appropriate behavior? It's almost like some people have a political agenda to preserve the status quo or something... If I could only put my finger on it.
    1. kenmarable's Avatar
      kenmarable -
      Quote Originally Posted by Steve Conan Trustrum View Post
      Congratulations.

      Your quote proves kenmarable understands how analogies are supposed to work.
      Thanks. Definitely didnít want to keep making it about me, but when they say something so easily proved false, itís hard not to call them on it. But it also proves that I should spend more time with my Ignore List than trying to take these disingenuous arguments seriously.
    1. TwoSix -
      Quote Originally Posted by Steve Conan Trustrum View Post
      And we're back to your position of ethics by proximity.

      It's like you've somehow managed to fail to even be qualified to participate in a conversation involving ethics. That's all kind of messed up.
      All ethics are local. That's why we're talking about one particular rapist, because it impacts our fairly small community. Logically, we should be far more concerned about the tens of thousands of Burmese soldier rapists who attacked the Rohingya, to name one atrocity in a world filled with them.
    1. Immortal Sun's Avatar
      Immortal Sun -
      Oh boy, we're already into the "this needs to be taken to court and decided in court and evidence presented" part of the denial train.

      This couldn't have gone more predictably.
    1. Steve Conan Trustrum's Avatar
      Steve Conan Trustrum -
      Quote Originally Posted by billd91 View Post
      How is it that whenever it's women standing up to men behaving badly, it's politics and not appropriate behavior? It's almost like some people have a political agenda to preserve the status quo or something... If I could only put my finger on it.
      Yeah, it's almost like certain men don't internalize the fact that abusing women should just be considered universally wrong regardless of politics, but instead attribute it to something "they" do.

      I believe there are words for guys like that.
    1. monsmord's Avatar
      monsmord -
      Quote Originally Posted by kenmarable View Post
      But it also proves that I should spend more time with my Ignore List than trying to take these disingenuous arguments seriously.
      Absolutely. The only reason I even see most of that nonsense is through quotes by other folks.

      A few insipid trolls are getting well-fed tonight. Is there a way to redirect this thread into something more positive, whether supportive of the victims/claimants or on how we raise the bar in our industry?
    1. Steve Conan Trustrum's Avatar
      Steve Conan Trustrum -
      Quote Originally Posted by kenmarable View Post
      Thanks. Definitely didnít want to keep making it about me, but when they say something so easily proved false, itís hard not to call them on it. But it also proves that I should spend more time with my Ignore List than trying to take these disingenuous arguments seriously.
      I need a t-shirt that says "I went to university for 4 years to get an English degree so I could point out to Internet trolls what an analogy is and all I got was this lousy t-shirt"
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