RPG Writer Zak S Accused Of Abusive Behaviour

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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.


800px-Zak_Smith.jpg

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.
 

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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey

Thanks. Definitely didn’t want to keep making it about me, but when they say something so easily proved false, it’s 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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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.

Sure it's about punishing him. No doubt it is. THAT is an open-shut case. If you wanted to condemn him, you would merely say it. Condemnation is a verbal thing.
But you want him to feel it. That is the punishment. It's the modern vigilantes equivalent of "Let's beat the ********** bloody."

I have a question for you: suppose someone else was convicted of child molestation and had served his time. Do you see any reason why anyone should give such a guy any money for anything at all? Or should we add to his punishment AFTER he paid the official price (which implies the served time was not enough)?

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.

Well, if I had personal information on the people involved and was certain the victim was telling the truth and the victim would know me, then of course I wouldn't buy from Mr. Smith. It would be hurtful to the victim if she found out, understandably so. It would feel like personal betrayal. But she can't have the same expectation from a stranger who doesn't know the case.

You're pretending as if close personal contact doesn't change the situation. This is absurd. Com'on, let's have some higher standards in our conversation than this.
 

kenmarable

Adventurer
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.

I believe his “ethics by proximity” comment is not in reference to being more focused on a problem in our community, but more in response to the (multiple) statements of “it doesn’t affect anyone I personally know, so it’s not my concern” which takes the idea that ethics are local to an indefensible extreme.
 

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.
There's a difference between "I've spent more attention today on this rapist in the gaming community today because that's what's coursing through my many gaming related social feeds but not enough time focusing on this massacre on the otherside of the world" and some guy who actually jumped into this conversation with (to paraphrase) "this isn't about me or anyone I know, so why should I care?" to be followed with "I don't spend much time looking into this more or giving it credence because it's not about me, but I would if it was about me". And there certainly is a difference in the two when the latter person is taking the time to show up in a thread talking about a specific incident and underscores their need to be central to the situation to be concerned with the subject of what everyone is talking about.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
Sure it's about punishing him. No doubt it is. THAT is an open-shut case. If you wanted to condemn him, you would merely say it. Condemnation is a verbal thing.
But you want him to feel it. That is the punishment. It's the modern vigilantes equivalent of "Let's beat the ********** bloody."

I have a question for you: suppose someone else was convicted of child molestation and had served his time. Do you see any reason why anyone should give such a guy any money for anything at all? Or should we add to his punishment AFTER he paid the official price (which implies the served time was not enough)?

Well, since Zak hasn't been accused of child molestation, doesn't seem at all contrite about his behavior so it doesn't appear any rehabilitation has happened, and we aren't beating the bastard bloody... I'm having a hard time seeing exactly how excoriating someone online and recommending that his ENnies be rescinded is really all that comparable.

That said, if someone actually pays their penalties and tries to make amends, I extend them some goodwill. I want to believe people can improve themselves and will give them a chance to do so. That puts the ball right in Zak's court, but I expect he'll squander any opportunity for redemption.
 

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 ...

You got it backwards, I'm afraid: we have given up on people taking justice into their own hands. It leads to lynch mobs. And in modern times to internet lynching mobs. We have laws against sexual harrassment, established procedures to detecting it and agreed upon sanctions. We have those so that private citizens do not go out there and avenge alleged offenses themselves - in whatever form. Boycotts to punish wrong-doing are just vigilantism. You're just not beating someone up physically.

Do you understand that? And do you understand why it's so important to give up on personal revenge? Because being part of a lynch mob feels gooood. It makes you feel both righteous and powerful. And you know what? Lynch mobs always have good reasons. They always just protect the innocent and helpless from the wicked.
 

Sure it's about punishing him. No doubt it is. THAT is an open-shut case. If you wanted to condemn him, you would merely say it. Condemnation is a verbal thing.
For some people it is, no doubt, but you can't see beyond that because your empathy gas tank is empty so your car doesn't drive very far on the humanity highway.
But you want him to feel it. That is the punishment. It's the modern vigilantes equivalent of "Let's beat the ********** bloody."
Yes.

Taking away his award and not buying from him is EXACTLY the modern equivalent of beating him to hell. EXACTLY.

(Because nobody goes around beating the crap out of people in this day and age, let alone all the other nonsense inherent to your point.)

I have a question for you: suppose someone else was convicted of child molestation and had served his time. Do you see any reason why anyone should give such a guy any money for anything at all? Or should we add to his punishment AFTER he paid the official price (which implies the served time was not enough)?
How am I not surprised that you're only able to focus on his "time" and it doesn't even occur to you to mention in your ANALOGY (sideways nod) whether or not he's rehabilitated or remorseful.

Big shock! You've somehow managed to not account for the human aspect of the correctional system.

Well, if I had personal information on the people involved and was certain the victim was telling the truth and the victim would know me, then of course I wouldn't buy from Mr. Smith. It would be hurtful to the victim if she found out, understandably so. It would feel like personal betrayal. But she can't have the same expectation from a stranger who doesn't know the case.
Again, you prove how foreign empathy is. You're closest attempt at empathy is you talking about what people expect of you and whether or not you can meet those expectations.

Empathy is actually about what you do and feel even when that person will never ever know you did it or felt that way.

You're pretending as if close personal contact doesn't change the situation. This is absurd. Com'on, let's have some higher standards in our conversation than this.
I'm not pretending it doesn't change the situation. I'm merely stating it's not the defining characteristic of it. Or it shouldn't be. But it does for you. You're presenting a binary model of human interaction that revolves around your personal involvement with the parties involved. There are not very kind words for people who define their social interactions and responses that way. There's also clinical words for such people.
 

Do you understand that? And do you understand why it's so important to give up on personal revenge? Because being part of a lynch mob feels gooood. It makes you feel both righteous and powerful. And you know what? Lynch mobs always have good reasons. They always just protect the innocent and helpless from the wicked.
What I understand is the fact that the leap to "NOT BUYING A RAPIST'S BOOKS AND TAKING AWAY HIS AWARD IS A SLIPPERY SLOPE TO LYNCH MOBS" is all sorts of a :):):):)ed up position to take.

At this point, I'm beginning to question whether you are actually a real person or an AI chatbot programmed to emulate ethics by someone who made the program read every SAW script.
 
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Well, since Zak hasn't been accused of child molestation, doesn't seem at all contrite about his behavior so it doesn't appear any rehabilitation has happened, and we aren't beating the bastard bloody... I'm having a hard time seeing exactly how excoriating someone online and recommending that his ENnies be rescinded is really all that comparable.

That said, if someone actually pays their penalties and tries to make amends, I extend them some goodwill. I want to believe people can improve themselves and will give them a chance to do so. That puts the ball right in Zak's court, but I expect he'll squander any opportunity for redemption.

That's good. Because I suspect some people would even want to punish felons who have served their time. As to the first point, it's a matter of principle: does stripping of awards serve any other purpose than punishment? If that is the main purpose, it is punishment by private citizens, outside of court, before conviction in court. It's just not physical. It's social, perhaps economical, punishment. But it's punishment.

It's legal, sure, but how does this not undermine the spirit of our court systems? Don't we now have to reduce sentencing terms because we need to figure in the punishment by private citizens that convicted felons already have to pay? And that ignores that punishment by private citizens is more likely to end in miscarriage of justice than regular trials.
 

dragoner

solisrpg.com
As to the first point, it's a matter of principle: does stripping of awards serve any other purpose than punishment?
It protects the integrity of the award by not being associated with the perpetrator.

It's legal, sure, but how does this not undermine the spirit of our court systems?

You mean the same system that routinely imprisons and executes innocent people?

No, not really.
 

Aldarc

Legend
If you don't take justice into your own hands, you're an enabler?
"The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people."
“It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, "Wait on time.”
A common motif raised in the words of Martin Luther King Jr. is about how the silence and idleness of nominally good people enables the persistence of social evils, hindering the realization of justice.

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?
No, dear Eliphaz, I do not see what you are getting at. You offer only the sound of your own windy words and confuse your verbosity for wisdom.

While some may delight in the punishment of a foe, I have found that most punishment is accompanied by various senses of melancholy, pity, remorse, regret, and disappointment. It is not about feeling a need for punishment (or the feeling thereof) but about individuals and collective bodies taking an ethical stand in accordance with their principles, making those principles known through their words and actions, and making known what unethical behaviors they will not tolerate in others. Your notion that wrong-doing can only be resolved in the realm of legal criminal justice only illustrates just how woefully deficient your notion of justice is. But let's be transparent here, this whole "let the courts decide" rhetoric is meant to derail and silence conversation.

You got it backwards, I'm afraid: we have given up on people taking justice into their own hands. It leads to lynch mobs. And in modern times to internet lynching mobs. We have laws against sexual harrassment, established procedures to detecting it and agreed upon sanctions. We have those so that private citizens do not go out there and avenge alleged offenses themselves - in whatever form. Boycotts to punish wrong-doing are just vigilantism. You're just not beating someone up physically.

Do you understand that? And do you understand why it's so important to give up on personal revenge? Because being part of a lynch mob feels gooood. It makes you feel both righteous and powerful. And you know what? Lynch mobs always have good reasons. They always just protect the innocent and helpless from the wicked.
Do you not understand how you are gaslighting here?
 

Aldarc

Legend
That's good. Because I suspect some people would even want to punish felons who have served their time. As to the first point, it's a matter of principle: does stripping of awards serve any other purpose than punishment? If that is the main purpose, it is punishment by private citizens, outside of court, before conviction in court. It's just not physical. It's social, perhaps economical, punishment. But it's punishment.

It's legal, sure, but how does this not undermine the spirit of our court systems? Don't we now have to reduce sentencing terms because we need to figure in the punishment by private citizens that convicted felons already have to pay? And that ignores that punishment by private citizens is more likely to end in miscarriage of justice than regular trials.
For someone who claims not to care either way, it amazes me how you have spent an exorbitant amount of time and effort in your arguments to provide him recourse and cushion him from criticism. He is not being lynched. He is not being asked to serve time in prison. The discussion is about revoking his Ennies, which makes your argument all the more absurd to the point of ridicule. Because yes, [MENTION=6931283]Alexander Kalinowski[/MENTION], as you seem to ignore, such practices are common to the point of banality in even the most lauded of democratic societies. This sort of action is not the exceedingly harsh or cruel and unusual punishment that you imagine. If it were, then we would see such things condemned far more frequently than they are. But society often lauds when non-governmental bodies show a commitment to justice.
 
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billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
That's good. Because I suspect some people would even want to punish felons who have served their time. As to the first point, it's a matter of principle: does stripping of awards serve any other purpose than punishment? If that is the main purpose, it is punishment by private citizens, outside of court, before conviction in court. It's just not physical. It's social, perhaps economical, punishment. But it's punishment.

It's legal, sure, but how does this not undermine the spirit of our court systems? Don't we now have to reduce sentencing terms because we need to figure in the punishment by private citizens that convicted felons already have to pay? And that ignores that punishment by private citizens is more likely to end in miscarriage of justice than regular trials.

It does nothing to undermine the spirit of the court system. People have the right to freely associate (or NOT associate) and that applies to honors they extend, such as ENnie awards. If Roman Polanski, despite his artistry, can be booted out of the Academy, Zak can have his Ennie revoked.
 

monsmord

Adventurer
If Roman Polanski, despite his artistry, can be booted out of the Academy, Zak can have his Ennie revoked.

He is not being lynched. He is not being asked to serve time in prison. The discussion is about revoking his Ennies...

And he's not even being censored. ENnies or no, he can go on publishing what he wants with whomever will work with him, and sell his products on whatever platform will have him, and reach his audience through whatever media he can afford or wrangle. No one is preventing him from expressing himself, artistically or personally.

The ENnies are a fan-based industry award, a semi-professional accolade. Well, he has abused, harassed, and bullied people in the industry and vocal gamers. Former associates' best defense of him has been, "Well, he's an a**hole, but he's not that bad," but are now speaking out against him, going so far as to edit old posts defending him, and breaking professional ties. People who know him, who have worked with him on projects over years, believe Mandy Morbid and others, and are publicly decrying him, apologizing for not seeing it or not doing more about it. Whether you do or do not believe it yourself, people working within the industry do, and that's going to impact product development in the future.

As consumers, and as a community of hobby enthusiasts, we absolutely get to determine whom we support and why. Exactly as the Basebell Hall of Fame did with Pete Rose, and as the Academy did with Roman Polanski. Zak S has demonstrated time and again, publicly and unequivocally, that he is unprofessional to his peers, demeaning to his detractors, dangerous to work with, and with absolutely so sense of remorse or concern that his behaviors are problematic. If we continue to endorse him with awards - and with purchases - we affirmatively state that any of this behavior is acceptable IN OUR INDUSTRY. Just as such activity would get him fired from most jobs, we can "fire him" here.

The only recourse we have as a community to restrict, condemn, and discourage Zak S and people like him is to deny our support. Revoke any existing awards, deny future awards. Don't review - don't even comment on - his products. ENWorld can be a powerful voice in encouraging meaningful change that makes gamers and game companies inclusive, safe, and diverse. If it wants to be. If it values those things.

The ENnies are a reflection of what we believe is the best in gaming. If Zak S is considered some of the best, it doesn't say much about us. We can do, and have, better.
 
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Shasarak

Banned
Banned
A common motif raised in the words of Martin Luther King Jr. is about how the silence and idleness of nominally good people enables the persistence of social evils, hindering the realization of justice.

Exactly! We need to stand up against social evil and say, No more! No more mob justice!
 

Exactly! We need to stand up against social evil and say, No more! No more mob justice!
Yeah.

Because that's what a man known for rallying people into boycots (among other things) to make a social statement meant.

I mean, I'm hoping you were trying to do something here and that this isn't what you actually think MLK meant, but either way ...
 

Shasarak

Banned
Banned
It does nothing to undermine the spirit of the court system. People have the right to freely associate (or NOT associate) and that applies to honors they extend, such as ENnie awards. If Roman Polanski, despite his artistry, can be booted out of the Academy, Zak can have his Ennie revoked.

To be honest the only reason for stripping someone of their Ennie award would be if they plagiarized their work.
 

Eltab

Lord of the Hidden Layer
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.
The section you put in quotes sounds like it would be fully appropriate in this case.
This is not "denial train" this is "the relationships sound THAT bad to have been in". Professional fact-finders will do better making the judgement (criminal act / civil liability / not actionable) than any of us on an Internet board will.
 

Hussar

Legend
I don't think public-vote awards should be rescinded, no matter how scuzzy the person. If Vox Day or Varg Vikernes wins an ENnie, it should stand IMO. It says nothing about their moral character.

As for the OP, I feel sorry for Mandy, and I expect she had good reasons for posting when she did. I appreciate that she feels bad about having facilitated the abuse of others. I don't plan to buy any more of Zak's stuff.

Now this I do disagree with.

If a group awards an industry award, does that not also come with some sort of community standards assumption? That the person who won the award isn't a serial rapist or abuser seems a pretty low bar. And, the brand of En World suffers by association as well, remember. They are the ones who gave an award, and thus accolades, to someone who is apparently not someone we would normally want associated with the hobby.

Taking awards away from such people sends a clear message that the community will not tolerate such behavior.
 


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