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 Zak’s work on this site, in my podcast, or elsewhere, and will not provide him with any kind of platform.
    Comments 282 Comments
    1. Jester David's Avatar
      Jester David -
      Quote Originally Posted by Yunru View Post
      Was the award for his behaviour, or his work?
      If it's not for his behaviour, why should it be stripped because of it?

      The writer of the core Cthulhu Mythos was a rampant racist and xenophobe, but that doesn't affect the merit of his work.
      The difference is, Zak S can continue to benefit from receiving the reward through future work and sales of the products that can be advertised as “ENnie award winning”.
    1. billd91's Avatar
      billd91 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Yunru View Post
      Was the award for his behaviour, or his work?
      If it's not for his behaviour, why should it be stripped because of it?

      The writer of the core Cthulhu Mythos was a rampant racist and xenophobe, but that doesn't affect the merit of his work.
      He's also dead as a doornail and can't materially benefit from his work, so less compelling reason to sanction them based on his personal beliefs. If he were alive and still writing, then I'd see a pretty good argument to deny him the benefit of my support no matter how good his work was.
    1. Gradine's Avatar
      Gradine -
      I will respect wishes of remaining personally left out of any conversation moving forward, but there are some points that kind of need to be addressed here.

      Primarily, what deeply saddens and frustrates me the most about these sorts of dialogues is the amount of sympathy and pity that inevitably flows to the perpetrators of these actions. That it's a shame that being called out for toxic, violent behavior will have a negative impact on their creative works and endeavors; and woe is it to them that they've had to struggle so hard with their demons, etc. etc.

      Look, I'm the last person who thinks anybody should be thrown into a cell and have the key thrown away. I'm a big believer that people are actually capable of change, which isn't a popular view. But there's a place and a time to talk about an abusive person's potential and rehabilitation, and the immediate aftermath of such a story breaking is not it.

      Especially when it comes without literally a single word of sympathy, empathy or respect for the women he harmed and must continue to live with the consequences of that harm.

      I'm sad for Mandy, for Jennifer, and for Hannah. To have suffered for so long at their abusers' hands and still feel to be obligated to defend their abuser is a special kind of hell that I would wish nobody would ever have to go through. Any consequences Zak Smith suffers for his abuse, whether financially, socially or even legally (the latter of which is highly unlikely), will be too little compared to the pain that he has wrought.

      I have zero respect for those that for some reason feel the need, in this moment, to express sympathy for the man.
    1. DQDesign's Avatar
      DQDesign -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jester David View Post
      If you can suggest a comparable (but non-criminal*) but equally unacceptable behaviour I will happily edit my post.

      * Not that what the Nazis did wasn’t criminal. But belonging to a neonazi organization and marching isn’t in itself illegal.
      I'm not so cool at writing in English, sorry, especially when I have to find very complex examples about very complex topics.

      anyway, for me the first example (the fighting man) was sufficient to understand.
    1. Yunru's Avatar
      Yunru -
      Quote Originally Posted by Steve Conan Trustrum View Post
      You may want to do more research into this topic before you use HP Lovecraft as an example for your point. I suggest you start with the World Fantasy Award.
      Okay, let me rephrase: It shouldn't affect the merit of his work.

      I don't bring Nazis into things lightly, but they basically a universally accepted evil, and yet that doesn't demerit their work on genetics, no matter how gruesome their methods of research.
    1. Yunru's Avatar
      Yunru -
      Quote Originally Posted by billd91 View Post
      He's also dead as a doornail and can't materially benefit from his work, so less compelling reason to sanction them based on his personal beliefs. If he were alive and still writing, then I'd see a pretty good argument to deny him the benefit of my support no matter how good his work was.
      But the entirety od his work was either based on, or a proxy for, his racism and xenophobia. So in effect they are his personal beliefs.
    1. VengerSatanis -
      Please, let's not derail this thread with further discussion on the merits and flaws of either H.P. Lovecraft or the Cthulhu Mythos. I'm sure there's another thread in this forum that already goes into a 100+ pages of pros, cons, and all kinds of debate.
    1. Jester David's Avatar
      Jester David -
      Quote Originally Posted by DQDesign View Post
      I'm not so cool at writing in English, sorry, especially when I have to find very complex examples about very complex topics.

      anyway, for me the first example (the fighting man) was sufficient to understand.
      Fair enough. I changed the offending word to the KKK.
      Is that sufficient? Or would you be more comfortable with the removal of the entire example?
    1. Yunru's Avatar
      Yunru -
      Quote Originally Posted by VengerSatanis View Post
      Please, let's not derail this thread with further discussion on the merits and flaws of either H.P. Lovecraft or the Cthulhu Mythos. I'm sure there's another thread in this forum that already goes into a 100+ pages of pros, cons, and all kinds of debate.
      But it's directly relevant to having calls for his award(s) to be rescinded.
    1. DQDesign's Avatar
      DQDesign -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jester David View Post
      Fair enough. I changed the offending word to the KKK.
      Is that sufficient? Or would you be more comfortable with the removal of the entire example?
      thanks, it is sufficient.

      anyway I just read in another post that Nazis had amazing merits in science, so I surrender.
    1. Steve Conan Trustrum's Avatar
      Steve Conan Trustrum -
      Quote Originally Posted by Yunru View Post
      Okay, let me rephrase: It shouldn't affect the merit of his work.
      Lovecraft remains a poor example because he's not a skilled, engaging storyteller who just so happens to be a xenophobic racist in real life. He included those beliefs in his writing.

      And this is me speaking as someone who absolutely loves some of his stories.

      But how we look at an author's work evolves with the times and what we learn about that author. There are entire courses you take in a literature degree about that sort of thing.

      Not everyone needs to (or should) burn everything Zak S has made if they've already paid for it. The damage is done in that regard. But it's how we move forward that matters. Stripping him of the award is not about the merit of what he created. It's about the merit of the creator himself and how he reflects on the community.

      I don't bring Nazis into things lightly, but they basically a universally accepted evil, and yet that doesn't demerit their work on genetics, no matter how gruesome their methods of research.
      Wow.

      All I can say in response to this without earning a warning (at best) from a mod is:

      Perspective, scale, and context matter.
    1. billd91's Avatar
      billd91 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Celebrim View Post
      And I'm sad that most responses are likely to be voyeurism, gossiping, moral preening, wrath and outrage, and nothing that will ever do anyone any good. I am sad that I can't make anything better. I am sad I can't wash the wounds. I am sad that whatever I say will just goad someone on. I'm sad even that I care when none of my caring matters.

      I'm not sad that I was skeptical of turning Zak into a celebrity - skepticism that no matter how mild I made it occasionally made people upset. There would be less need for people to publically walk back what they did or said before if they'd simply bought, or not bought, what he was selling and left it at that. Now we are going to make a big community wide issue of it? Count me out. I walked the other way the community was going when he became a star. I'll probably walk the other way they are walking now.

      UPDATE: Please don't respond to this point if you are thinking to. My better judgment was almost certainly to stay silent, but grief has a way of boiling out and I made the mistake of reading further in the thread. The last thing I want is an excuse to drag myself to an argument.
      Nope - I'm definitely going to respond and the point I'm going to highlight is where I started the quote. Aside from your comment about "moral preening" being just another term for virtue signaling, the point I'm going to make is that we need these discussions and we need them to be public because, whether you like it or not, they will help to define the bounds of appropriate behavior and they will help to define what we will tolerate as a community and personally. The lack of conversations about them is one of the reasons behaviors like this persist as long as they do.
      Getting these issues out in the open and openly dealing with them are exactly some of the things we need to do in order to make our community and our world a better place.
    1. Yunru's Avatar
      Yunru -
      Quote Originally Posted by Steve Conan Trustrum View Post
      Lovecraft remains a poor example because he's not a skilled, engaging storyteller who just so happens to be a xenophobic racist in real life. He included those beliefs in his writing.

      And this is me speaking as someone who absolutely loves some of his stories.

      But how we look at an author's work evolves with the times and what we learn about that author. There are entire courses you take in a literature degree about that sort of thing.

      Not everyone needs to (or should) burn everything Zak S has made if they've already paid for it. The damage is done in that regard. But it's how we move forward that matters. Stripping him of the award is not about the merit of what he created. It's about the merit of the creator himself and how he reflects on the community.
      So you would censor the art because of the artist?
      Is the integrity of an Ennie worth the political statement of retracting one?
    1. Steve Conan Trustrum's Avatar
      Steve Conan Trustrum -
      Let's just end this right now re: the Nazis and science comparison, as it is a ridiculous (and highly inappropriate) grasping-at-straws defense of Zak S keeping an award.

      Scientific discoveries do not function the same as an award. Science is something that exists regardless of whether or not we've discovered it yet. It's not someone's "creation." It's something that's already there that is discovered at some point and would have always still been there even if someone else discovered it.

      An award for writing a game?

      Doesn't work like that. At all. Science is something that exists and cannot be "put back in the bottle," whereas an award is something people decide on and, if they so choose, can decide to take away again. Especially when the award is voted on by fans who didn't know everything about the product's creator at the time.

      So, if you really want to bring up the Nazis out of some need to defend not taking a community award away from a rapist, let's go with a better analogy:

      If Hitler had been given a Nobel Peace Prize prior to WWII, would you be arguing about how, after the war, it shouldn't be stripped from him because, hey, he earned based on his "merit" at the time?

      (Hint: yes, there is actually a correct answer to this question.)
    1. Gradine's Avatar
      Gradine -
      Quote Originally Posted by Yunru View Post
      So you would censor the art because of the artist?
      Is the integrity of an Ennie worth the political statement of retracting one?
      Do you really believe that "we don't think serial emotional, physical, and sexual abusers deserve our awards" is a statement that would harm one's integrity?
    1. Yunru's Avatar
      Yunru -
      Quote Originally Posted by Gradine View Post
      Do you really believe that "we don't think serial emotional, physical, and sexual abusers deserve our awards" is a statement that would harm one's integrity?
      I think "our awards are not based on the content of the winner but on our view towards their author" would harm the integrity of an award that is supposed to be about the quality of content, yes.
    1. Steve Conan Trustrum's Avatar
      Steve Conan Trustrum -
      Quote Originally Posted by Yunru View Post
      So you would censor the art because of the artist?
      Removing an award is not "censoring the art."

      The art still exists. It is still on people's shelves and in game stores. It is not being suppressed in any way whatsoever by removing the award. Not in the least.

      Removing the award would simply be the community that the award represents saying that rapists don't get to keep their rewards.
      Is the integrity of an Ennie worth the political statement of retracting one?
      Two points:

      The fact you think the awards' "integrity" is better served by acknowledging the merits of a rapist is rather telling.

      Holding rapists to consequences is not political. Literally, no politics are involved unless you're the type of person who thinks that one sort of political leaning is "pro rape" and the other is "anti rape" and you have a problem with the latter.
    1. Ghostwind's Avatar
      Ghostwind -
      Really EN World? You have someone who has a history of abusive and narcissistic online behavior who has threatened individuals on multiple occasions. This same person now has multiple women coming forth with detailed stories of abuse and domestic violence. Where is your outrage?? Where is your anger?? Women have been hurt and abused for years!!

      Is it because these women were porn stars? Are they less than deserving of any of your emotion? Oh wait, is it because he is one of your darlings you feel you must protect him? That is absolute bull!! If it was anyone else you would be on him like a pack of piranhas. I am ashamed to be a member of this community right now after reading many of the responses above.

      Hell yes, strip him of his awards! If I were working in public relations at Wotc, I'd be doing what I could to get his name removed from any product he touched. Period. #Metoo carries some very hefty purse strings with it and companies are realizing it very quickly.

      Right now, I can't help but be sickened by the lack of moral outage against Zak S here. I really thought better of you all.
    1. Umbran's Avatar
      Umbran -
      Quote Originally Posted by VengerSatanis View Post
      Please, let's not derail this thread with further discussion on the merits and flaws of either H.P. Lovecraft or the Cthulhu Mythos.

      I'm going to support this. The issue at hand isn't Lovecraft. The digression would be rather disrespectful to the people here and now. If you want to discuss Lovecraft, please take it to another thread.
    1. Gradine's Avatar
      Gradine -
      Quote Originally Posted by Yunru View Post
      I think "our awards are not based on the content of the winner but on our view towards their author" would harm the integrity of an award that is supposed to be about the quality of content, yes.
      I think you are confusing "we take our personal biases of the content creators into account for all of our awards" and "we have a very low bar for what ought to be acceptable behavior in order to achieve recognition in our industry, and yet still some men seem incapable of clearing it, so they're out", which are two very different statements.
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