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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.

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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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Nikchick

Explorer
There’s a lot here. I’m struck by. Few things nebulon maybe there’s aren’t answered but:
1. Was Bill Webb banned per Paizo Con’s policies on harassment?
2. What was ‘the incident’? I feel like the only person who doesn’t know what actually happened and it isn’t stated anywhere.
3. Was this person drunk driving? There’s talk about how he had to leave the venue at some point with his family.
I wasn’t at Paizo Con so I’m not sure if it was a hotel or a hotel.

https://twitter.com/Sphynxian/status/882439561237995520

This is the link to the Twitter thread that an eye witness to the events posted.

PaizoCon takes place at a hotel.

Nicole
 

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ZanzibarJones

First Post
https://twitter.com/Sphynxian/status/882439561237995520

This is the link to the Twitter thread that an eye witness to the events posted.

PaizoCon takes place at a hotel.

Nicole

Ok. I read that. I’m still not seeing a description of what occurred. It leaves way to much to my interpretation. What was going on that Robert had to drag Bill Webb off of this person? Why weren’t the police notified? I’m just confused about what actually happened. I understand it was harassment and clearly upsetting but that is still a huge spectrum of possible behaviors.
 

Fildrigar

Explorer
Ok. I read that. I’m still not seeing a description of what occurred. It leaves way to much to my interpretation. What was going on that Robert had to drag Bill Webb off of this person? Why weren’t the police notified? I’m just confused about what actually happened. I understand it was harassment and clearly upsetting but that is still a huge spectrum of possible behaviors.

You don't get to know. Sorry.

It was bad enough that Paizo was ready to involve law enforcement, until the victim requested that they didn't.
 

https://twitter.com/Sphynxian/status/882439561237995520

This is the link to the Twitter thread that an eye witness to the events posted.

PaizoCon takes place at a hotel.

Nicole

Probably not worth the time responding to "ZanzibarJones" since the account was created an hour after Aguirre Melchiors was thread-banned and amazingly they not only have similar ideas but even the same birthdate! Just sayin'. :) (and reported - it's the mod's call on that)

In other news... there has been encouraging discussion between Robert Brookes and Eric Mona (here and here)* about the PFS incident on Twitter. For one thing, the incident happened a few years ago (but Robert didn't state that at first for fear of inadvertently identifying the victim) and Eric Mona has said that unfortunately nothing ever reached them about it. So it really does sounds like someone in the middle might have quieted it on their own rather than Paizo upper management (and current Organized Play staff is different than who ran it a few years ago, I hear).

It's a good sign, but still a ways to go to show that they will do better going forward and learn to make official policies a higher priority rather than just believing good intentions and in-the-moment crisis management will be enough.


* There might be a couple other replies from Eric, but the way Twitter threads stuff, it's a pain to link to and get them all.
 

evilref

Explorer
In other news... there has been encouraging discussion between Robert Brookes and Eric Mona (here and here)* about the PFS incident on Twitter. For one thing, the incident happened a few years ago (but Robert didn't state that at first for fear of inadvertently identifying the victim) and Eric Mona has said that unfortunately nothing ever reached them about it. So it really does sounds like someone in the middle might have quieted it on their own rather than Paizo upper management (and current Organized Play staff is different than who ran it a few years ago, I hear).

It's a good sign an amazing sign along with James' post in this thead, in comparison to the ostrich in a hole impression they have been doing, but still a ways to go to show that they will do better going forward and learn to victim-orientated policies a higher priority rather than just believing good intentions and in-the-moment crisis management will be enough, and maybe we'll address any issue within 12 months.

As you say, it's a long way to go. They ignored and covered up the Paizocon sexual abuse and harassment, in the immediate aftermath of the revelation of historic sexual harassment in the PFS, they said nothing. They ignored complaints about 'child abuse gives you magic powers' and they've ignored Jessica Price's revelation about being silenced about her harassment. So of the four significant issues that I raised, they're up 2, and down 4 in any addressing of them, and really 1-3 because just saying 'our NDAs do X' isn't addressing the issue, it's yet another sop to try and look good, without doing anything.

For me, they have a long, long way to go, and the fact they have silenced all discussion about it on their forums, albeit tempered with the posts here and on twitter admitting mistakes, means they're not the good guys anymore, they're more concerned with image and hiding malfeasance than addressing it and fixing the problems.

As fascinating as the child molesting demon discussion is, this thread may not be the best place for it. Perhaps move it to its own thread?

Thread talking about Paizo's issues and mishandling of sexual abuse and harassment, in which the Creative Director has admitted that the child abuse demon/cult, was a mistake, and you want to move it elsewhere and push off discussion about it?

Obviously we can't talk about systemic issues in the industry as a whole, or looking at multiple issues involving a single company and considering them all in an inter-related manner. Clearly we have to put them all into a different area and in no way consider how they might be related and speak to cultural issues and management problems, or how the industry in general is screwing this up (and there are far worse products than this, ennie award winning products even).

Ohh, wait, maybe we can actually consider it in a joined-up manner, the way that police and society and media put things together and talk about patterns and repetition and contributing factors. /s

No, far better to just put it all in its little niche and not consider how it might all tie together, that just makes it look worse afterall, doesn't it?

I get that you think it's a different issue, but it's all the same issue. Paizo had a reputation, a reputation built because of people who worked there. 3 of their significant voices on social issues have left in the last year, each time they did gamergaters and alt-righters were celebrating winning the 'culture war' because paizo had gotten rid of those people who said sexism was bad, or racism was bad or whatever. Quite literally, anti-progressive sites were celebrating people leaving Paizo. And there's an argument left there of whether those people who were championed as standing out on these issues, would have made a difference on some of them.

And maybe, just maybe, it's worth considering every part of this on whether you feel you can trust them or not.

I mean, the same went for frog god, and you're not calling for their laughable defence to be spun off to a separate thread...

* There might be a couple other replies from Eric, but the way Twitter threads stuff, it's a pain to link to and get them all.
Without going into detail, i've had personal exchanges with people there who have clearly expressed wanting to do better. And I want to believe them, but the same sort of personal exchanges apparently happened with Richard 3+ months ago, and nothing happened...
 
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Caliban

Rules Monkey
Thread talking about Paizo's issues and mishandling of sexual abuse and harassment, in which the Creative Director has admitted that the child abuse demon/cult, was a mistake, and you want to move it elsewhere and push off discussion about it?

Since the discussion of the demon has devolved into the game mechanics of how and when it molests or otherwise does evil things to children...yes, absolutely. It's no longer contributing the main discussion and I think it detracts from it.
 

evilref

Explorer
Since the discussion of the demon has devolved into the game mechanics of how and when it molests or otherwise does evil things to children...yes, absolutely. It's no longer contributing the main discussion and I think it detracts from it.

I appreciate you ignoring all the actually substansive points and the broader issue, really helps move the conversation forwards.

I disagree with you, in case that wasn't obvious before.
 

Obryn

Hero
Since the discussion of the demon has devolved into the game mechanics of how and when it molests or otherwise does evil things to children...yes, absolutely. It's no longer contributing the main discussion and I think it detracts from it.
It's pretty important context.

Sent from my Moto G (5) Plus using Tapatalk
 

Caliban

Rules Monkey
I appreciate you ignoring all the actually substansive points and the broader issue, really helps move the conversation forwards.

Nothing in your quote relates to the "child molesting demon" so I don't know why you think it was relevant. I simply don't think the "child molesting demon" discussion makes or addressing any substantive points or broader issues. [edit: and now you've removed the quote. :p )

I disagree with you, in case that wasn't obvious before.

Cool story bro. Feel free to keep discussing the details of how a demon molests children in a thread about how a real person was actually harassed in real life. Because the details of fictional acts of demon molestation are what is important here. :hmm:
 

Caliban

Rules Monkey
It's pretty important context.
The fact that the demon exists in a published work and the company regrets it - absolutely important in context.

I'm just saying that I really don't think the specific game mechanics of how to properly model a demon doing inappropriate things to children are important, even in context.

Not saying it's not a topic worthy of in depth discussion if that's your thing. Just that it probably deserves its own thread instead of distracting from the main topic of this one.
 

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