Let’s talk about Zak Smith or not, and a SotE update

First off, here’s an update for those following the Swords of the Eastsea project. I was off holidaying in Eastern Finland for a bit and spent time with someone who’s going to be running a gametest for me. So far, he’s liked the material he’s seen and his group has liked it too. So I am very much happy.

Wrapup of the project is proceeding at a fairly nice rate, only inhibited by certain publishing-related time table things, so I am working at a fairly leisurely pace right now. A whole lot of drudgework left, but nothing really major.

I’ve also been in touch for the last half month with a bunch of names that might be familiar to some in hopes that whenever the Kickstarter happens, they might contribute a bit. Because it’s always fun to hand off work to someone else and even give them money for it.

I’ve got illustrators lined up and ready to work. Same goes for editing.

And then, once we got this settled, let’s talk a bit about the whole D&D Next issue. For those who have been under a rock elfgame-wise, it came to light with the release of the free version of D&D that Zak Smith, aka Zak Sabbat, was retained as a consultant for Wizards of the Coast for the D&D project. Which rather naturally has raised some ire everywhere because Zak Smith is rather notorious for his ill manner and his tendency to set up harassment of people who speak up against him. Heck, he even e-detectived a former business acquaintance of mine, called him all sorts of bad things and told him to kill himself. Which most of you probably find uncouth considering it was about something as trivial as elfgames.

In my opinion it’s good enough a reason for me to not buy more products by Wizards of the Coast. I’d encourage other people to do the same but if you play D&D, I won’t hold it against you. Though I’d encourage you to get Dungeon World or 13th Age instead because they’re better games. 

At the core of the issue there’s something I see as an grossly unprofessional move by Mike Mearls, who I don’t consider a bad person per se: if you’re going to hire consultants, you should do your homework about who you’re hiring. Mearls recently called out for people to contact him if they have evidence of the misdoings of Zak Smith, which is frankly rather ass-backwards when it comes to professional conduct. It’s not like he’s too busy to spend fifteen minutes googling, after all. 

There’s also an issue I’m familiar with due to my past work history, which is that various harassment campaigns are extremely easy for the harasser to get going but it’s extremely hard to put the blame on their shoulders. For instance, a familiar tactic used by neo-nazi groups is to publish names of journalists, activists and politicians who are opposed to them. That way, the person doing the publishing part doesn’t need to do anything themselves and can always claim they’re acting in good faith. Rather unsurprisingly, Zak Smith uses the same tactics. He makes lists of people he labels as liars, crazies or whatever and his fans carry out the actual harassment. Meanwhile he can claim he was only acting to bring out the truth about something or the other and no blame can fall on him. Or that’s what he thinks. 

So, is it surprising that a fair number of people in the industry consider him a toxic figure? Is it surprising that right now people consider that Mearls seriously dropped the ball on this one? In my opinion, not at all.


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24 Responses to Let’s talk about Zak Smith or not, and a SotE update

  1. Nigel says:

    “Heck, he even e-detectived a former business acquaintance of mine, called him all sorts of bad things and told him to kill himself.”

    Who? Where did this happen?

    • Barry Blatt says:

      Yeah I’d like to know too. Who is this person? When did this happen? How did he know it was Zak?

      • kemper2011 says:

        Unfortunately, since I’ve lost touch with the person in question that’s all I can tell you here.

      • Another accusation that goes nowhere. I don’t buy it. With all these people making these outlandish, over-the-top accusations, you’d think that one of you could provide evidence that they are real, but no one – let me emphasize that, not one person – has been able to support any of this.

  2. Is there some reason you’re providing no evidence to back up your claims? I can only think of one; you do not have such evidence. Am I incorrect?

    And to assume that Mike Mearls did not look into Zak before hiring him is ludicrous. Additionally, the onus of proof is upon those making a claim. When facts and clear reasonings are presented, a conversation can actually take place. Sans that, your words are empty harassment.

  3. KatFish says:

    “Heck, he even e-detectived a former business acquaintance of mine, called him all sorts of bad things and told him to kill himself. ”
    When? Where? This is a serious accusation – quote or link proof or supporting evidence please!

    ” Mearls recently called out for people to contact him if they have evidence of the misdoings of Zak Smith, which is frankly rather ass-backwards when it comes to professional conduct.”

    Perhaps it is a backwards way of doing it, perhaps not. However, as I understand it no evidence has been provided most likely because none exists.

  4. A guy says:

    “It’s not like he’s too busy to spend fifteen minutes googling, after all.”
    That’s really all it takes to have a comprehensive opinion, right?

  5. TrentB says:

    I like Zak, but I’d be more than happy to reconsider that position if someone were to provide any proof of him doing any of the things he is accused of.

  6. Tom Fitzgerald says:

    Oh, I see, this all looks like a hilariously incompetent witch-hunt because nobody bothered to spend fifteen minutes googling. I guess when that happens Zak will have to concede defeat. Considering his constant requests for evidence he would have to show humility if actual evidence arose.

  7. kemper2011 says:

    Considering the thing about making a list of people public did definitively happen, I’d say there’s a pretty strong case here.

    • So, the one argument that stands up to scrutiny is… he made a list of people, and he made it public.

      Well, hell, it’s obvious that he’s a monster. That list-making bastard. Should we lynch him? No, I know: he should be curbstomped!

      (For the humor-deficient, those statements are intended as over-the-top sarcasm. I feel the need to clarify this as some people have seriously proposed similar actions in regard to Zak, albeit in reaction to a belief in the more extreme and ridiculous accusations against him.)

      Now, if you buy into some conspiracy theory that Zak has vast hordes of minions who obey his every whim, and his whim was to harass and threaten the people on that list (rather than, as he stated, for those people to apologize for whatever it was he felt that they needed to apologize for), that’s another accusation entirely. Are you leveling that accusation, that he was being disingenuous in his intent and that he had malicious purpose, or are you stopping at “he made a list”? Because if you make that accusation of malice by unstated implication, you are not worth being listened to on any topic. Either make it openly or disclaim it.

      • kemper2011 says:

        Well, the malicious intent inherit in making lists like these is pretty apparent when you look at the reaction of John Stavropoulos who initially compiled the list. To quote,

        “My name was used without my permission or knowledge,
        as part of a call to name and shame people.

        I do NOT support it.
        I do NOT condone it.
        I DO find it irresponsible.

        This may be confusing because I’m not providing a link.
        I don’t want to spread the thing I’m NOT condoning.

        I didn’t even know this was happening as it was done in private G+ circles, not publicly. I found out about it after I started receiving horrendous harassing messages, personal attacks, and threats. I had to unblock several people so I could determine exactly what was happening. The threats got so bad I considered deleting my G+ account.

        Again, let me be absolutely clear, I don’t support it. I don’t condone it. I find it irresponsible. And I’m not the only one involved who feels this way. Even James D, the person this call to name and shame is being done to help wrote: “I’m not comfortable repeating his naming and shaming as its unclear from pluses etc whether people actually supported the accusations or not.”

        Even the person leading the charge of this call to name and shame stated it and was done AGAINST my advice: “Now Jon didn’t name names, because he “doesn’t want a witchhunt”. Which is respectable. But I’m not Jon and I do think the RPG community as a whole deserves an apology [snip].””

      • OK. Let me try to understand what you are trying to say here, because you aren’t being entirely clear: are you arguing that when people disagree on whether or not to pursue a course of action, that implies malicious intent on the part of the person who chooses to pursue it? You don’t think that Zac’s stated rationale, that the people on the list should be ashamed and should apologize for their actions, is one that was legitimately and honestly believed by Zac? You believe, therefore, that despite Zac’s stated purpose, he was actually trying to gather an army of minions to harass the people on that list?

      • kemper2011 says:

        The whole list thing has been at length debated elsewhere and I don’t feel like revisiting this any longer. I’ll just say that the whole action, regardless of whatever someone thinks they’re doing, is extremely malicious.

      • It’s not a complicated question requiring massive debate. But, since you seem reluctant to answer a direct question for whatever reason you might have, I guess I’ll have to leave it there, with you making implications but refusing to actually stand by your implications or disclaim them. It seems, too, that you won’t take a person at their word, which says a lot about what you assume other people must be like. That is usually a sign of how the mind of the person making the assumption works, which leaves me with a very poor impression of you as a person. That’s unfortunate.

        So, in the end, we have a person who made a list, indicated his reasons for it, and was disbelieved by people who already hated him because he played games differently than they do. Then, you have a former acquaintance who claimed to be directly threatened in some way, but no one has any evidence of that actually occurring (note the difference here: your former acquaintance made a statement about objective, verifiable facts that allegedly occurred in the world outside of his or her head, while Zak made a statement about his own personal intentions – the one can be verified or falsified, while the other is a case of either taking the person at their word or not and so comes down largely to the character of the person making the judgment unless evidence of previous mendacity exists, which has never been presented in this case). Next, you choose to dodge simple, direct questions by claiming some sort of vague “debate” that has gone on elsewhere (overlooking the fact that you brought this discussion up here, and not there, presumably to drive eyes to your advertising of your upcoming game). Finally, you make the statement that if bad things happen without intent, then that is still proof of malicious intent, which doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, but more power to you I guess.

        Yeah, this all adds up to a serious indictment… of someone, or rather someone’s credibility. Good luck with your game, though.

  8. Christopher Belz says:

    So making a list of people who behave in ways that annoy Zak is… aggressive? Provocative? Targeting for the wrath of minions or alerting readers of suspect thinking?

  9. Actually, there’s no need to look for proof. The proof is right here. An individual writes a personally held opinion about Zak Smith and Christopher, Chris, Tom, Edward, Barry and Nigel all jump on him within one day and call him a LIAR.

    Suddenly, people writing about people on the internet are expected to provide transcripts of IMs, phone calls, specific private instances, the names of friends and associates, their whereabouts and so on in order to silence critics. If one is not prepared to do this immediately – thus ignoring privacy – one is immediately declared to be a LIAR.

    Hm. Sounds like a witch hunt to me. Sounds like fascist tactics to me. Sounds like an organized, directed assault to me.

    Everyday people make claims upon the internet. I fail to see how the vociferousness of anyone’s claims have any more merit than anyone else’s claims. Zak posted names of his enemies. Why? As a public service? As an innocent gesture? As a demonstration of his own innocence? How’s that?

    Zak initiated this storm. Just as Zak initiates every storm surrounding him. Six years on the internet and I have seen him do it over and over. The issue here isn’t, am I lying about that. The issue is, Zak repeatedly fails to TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR HIS ACTIONS.

    As an asshole myself, I take full responsibility for all the storms I create surrounding me and my opinions. I think that issue that many people have who disparage Zak is that he does not do the same. As a result, by many people, he is not respected. He has no legitimacy. And all the people shouting at the top of their lungs that there is no proof does nothing to create or supposedly restore that legitimacy.

    The people who cry and moan about the lack of proof, along with those who seem to hate Zak for no reason, should all realize that this flame war will manifest again and again so long as Zak continues to play the games he does.

    The proof is in the pudding, ladies and gentlemen. It is in the fact that a flame war exists. If Zak really were a great guy, there’d be no reason to invent lies about him. If people invent lies, it is because Zak has created a persona that encourages them.

    People lie about me all the time. I have yet to post a list of my enemies.

    • kemper2011 says:

      And this surfaced a few days back: http://imgur.com/qeJ7MbQ,ZLgCtLn

      You know, the proof everyone was asking for. So now they can say something along the lines of “not good enough”.

      • Yeah, that doesn’t work so well. You may recall that Zak had previously decried those tactics, specifically asking people not to do so. Now, however, his girlfriend lies gravely ill in the hospital and he doesn’t have the time to handle a bunch of whiny internet trolls on his own. Tactics frequently must change to suit the situation. Since he’s already accused and convicted of such things by his self-styled opponents, why shouldn’t he at least gain the benefit of those methods?

    • I don’t know about anyone else, but I saw this nonsense when the dude posted it in a G+ group I follow. The initial premise looked interesting enough, but then he spouted a bunch of logically-flawed nonsense about Zak, at a time when Zak was undergoing a lot of baseless attacks of this sort. I wanted to hear specifics, not the innuendo here, but here and elsewhere no specifics were forthcoming.

  10. …so… let me see if I got this…

    First, Zak publicly denounces people for using hateful scare tactics, such as libel or bullying, to shout down an opponent. He also asks his friends and followers to not use these techniques. But then his opponents claim that he’s doing these things – the very things he decried. So… it’s now okay for him to use these verbal weapons because…

    …wait, because why? Because he’s had a rough life? Because people are being mean to him?

    Chris, I’m sorry, but the argument you present is wrong. I don’t know the specifics of Zak’s situation. I don’t know if he’s right to have done anything that he has done. But I do know that your argument in favor of bad behavior is wrong. You cannot justify behaving badly on the grounds that someone else has done the same, or that someone else accused you of behaving badly. Either bad behavior is bad (objectively speaking) and therefore we should not do it; or it isn’t and we must appeal to some other rationale.

    • Well, my argument is more along the lines of: why should he continue to play fair with internet trolls over elfgames when his girlfriend is lying in the hospital gravely ill, and they have not been playing fair from the outset? It’s not a moral justification (good and bad), it’s a pragmatic one (life and death) – why bother continuing to hold the higher ground when more important matters than people bitching because he got to be a consultant on D&D and they didn’t are at stake? I have no idea if that’s the reasoning he’s used, but that would seem to me to be the most likely scenario which would lead to the post in question.

      • We should all play fair because the moral high ground is the only option to take. The moment that we start justifying bad behavior is the moment that we lose the advantage. Everything after that is suspect. Now, as I am not familiar with this one person’s situation, I will speak generally: if one is going through difficult times in real life, then fuck the internet. It’s not important. It can wait. (The only exception I can think is if one is running a business, where one’s absence would result in a loss of sales. I rather doubt that is the case.)

        Bottom line: don’t use bad behavior to justify bad behavior. We’re not talking about actual, physical assault. We’re talking about words on the internet. There are rules for this kind of interaction and if someone like Zak S wants to keep the moral high ground (which you seem to arguing for) then they should act and speak in a manner that lets them keep it. Presently, from what little I’ve seen, that is not the case.

  11. Pingback: Grognards.txt, progress and non-progress | Lions of the North

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