Friday, 27 September 2019

Zak, Raggi, Drivethrurpg & Drawing Lines

Normally, I would simply not comment on these things, but as I am now publishing my stuff on DriveThruRPG, I felt compelled to write something.

Quick recap of what went before: Zak Smith wrote a blog about OSR stuff and was a pillar of that community. He also wrote some award-winning OSR products and consulted on D&D's 5th edition. He was always an asshole, but tolerated by many for his talents. Then earlier in the year, it transpired that he was also the kind of asshole who serially abuses women. Pretty much everyone in the RPG community disowned him, DriveThruRPG banned his titles and James Raggi, who owns the Lamentations of the Flame Princess publishing outfit that produced a lot of Zak's work, ended his working relationship with him in a "I'm sorry I had to do this" manner.

Then at GenCon, Raggi published an adventure called "Zak has nothing to do with this book", by not-zak. A few days ago, this was published as a pdf on DriveThruRPG. The plot is about "the hateful eight" who did something bad and are "blaming... Zachary Canterbury, who goes by the nickname, Zak, because he said unwise things making it rather easy to be made the scapegoat... ...They all know they’re accusing an innocent man, and are doing so to prevent themselves from being subject to any kind of scrutiny." So a fairly transparent commentary on how Zak was unfairly maligned.

The original print version from GenCon had a longer "word from the publisher" where Raggi overtly proclaims how he regrets ever having disowned Zak, how he will now 

and the house must be rebuilt.
And it will be rebuilt in accordance to my wishes, and mine alone. Anyone that thinks they have a say in this is very badly mistaken. The ‘community’ will have no say in the matter, because the ‘community’ is poisonous. You’ll take what you’re given, or you’ll go away.
With this book I reclaim my power and deny the policers, the censors, the puritans, the kindly inquisitors, all those that seek [to] define for other people what is ‘proper’, and those who endeavor to enforce their moral will upon the dreams and imaginations of others and dictate what other people may and may not create, purchase, or read.”

Renaissance Gamer has the full lowdown on this steaming pile of dung that I would encourage anyone interested to go read. Basically, Raggi is going to the mattresses for Zak.


The question then is. What to do with all that? DriveThruRPG's CEO made an executive call to leave up Raggi's not-zak product as a meta-commentary in the name of Free Speech. This in turn has led a lot of people, and also publishers, to also boycott DTRPG.

There are questions to be asked in all this. 

1. Should Zak be boycotted? Is Zak the Author distinct from Zak the Molester? 
The overwhelming response from the community has been, yes he should. I also happen to support that. At least as far as putting money on the table. The products I own already from him I might still use if it comes up (Vornheim, Death Frost Doom).

Raggi has now broken rank from this consensus to say they are distinct and he will not boycot him. Which raises another question:

2. Should those who support the publishing activities of molesters-as-authors also be boycotted?
This is, I think, a more difficult question to answer. It is certainly a lesser sin than actual molesting, and it could be argued that it is his philosophical convictions that demand that he distinguish between the author and the molester. Which, while I don't think I entirely agree with such a conviction, does change the picture. I don't think this is the case though. Quote Renaissance Gamer: one of the most puzzling defensive maneuvers I have ever read, similar to an animal that defends from predators by punching itself in the face, Raggi tells us about the not one, but two women who are accusing him of assault and sexual abuse. You see, Dear Reader, Raggi has also felt the cruel sting of people holding him accountable for his shitty behaviour, so how could he not sympathize with Brother Zak? Let he who has not beaten, or stalked, or sexually assaulted a woman cast the first stone!
I think rather Raggi has found his sympathies for Zak easier to reconcile with his own Edgelord provocateur habits and the fact that Zak has earned him a pay check for a good while, than having arrived at any sort of philosophical purity. The obnoxious and hostile manner in which he has decided to stand with Zak likewise lends itself to my conclusion - I shalt not put money in the pockets of James Raggi in the future. I also think it would serve the common good if others followed suit.

But there is a third question:

3. Should those who decide not to ban those who support the publishing activities of molesters-as-authors also be boycotted?
Here is Steve, CEO of DTRPG, and his statement about not removing the title from their shelves:
Some customers have reported this title to us as being offensive and/or asked us to remove the title from DriveThruRPG. I appreciate their taking the time to offer feedback on this title. At DriveThruRPG, I want us to provide as much space as possible for our publishers to publish books, and I want to remove books only when absolutely necessary.
Our policy is to not support the work of Zak Smith, and I have made it clear in both public and private statements that this is the case. I am aware that a legitimate reading of this book makes it a defense of Zak Smith and, in addition, can be seen as a criticism of the RPG community who moved to exclude him — including criticizing DriveThruRPG, for our decision not to carry any new works by Zak.
I have decided not to ban this book. Separated from a meta connection to Zak Smith, the content of the book itself does not cross the line into being offensive.
To the degree that the publisher’s intention is to put forth their perspective, however much I may disagree with it, on the events around Zak Smith, that is the publisher voicing their perspective. DriveThruRPG has a responsibility as the largest marketplace for makers of RPGs to tread carefully when removing content, especially when doing so would be silencing voices critical of us.
I appreciate that this decision will not be welcome to everyone. I wish that the publisher had gone a different direction and moved forward, but I won’t ban the title for expressing the publisher’s dissenting perspective.
Personally, I disagree with the decision. I think a game publisher need not give space for publishers to provide what is essentially "fuck you all rpg-community" blogpost rendered in adventure module format. I also think the premise is flawed - It is clearly authored by Zak and it is just a much a middle finger to DTRPG to have published it on their platform. I can't see it as anything but Raggi daring DTRPG to ban all LotFP products from their shelves.

But basically, Steve answers question 2 above for himself and DTRPG by arguing that those who support the publishing activities of molesters-as-authors should not necessarily be boycotted. This in turn has led to a lot of people, and even some publishers, to boycot DTRPG. 

It is at this point I find myself asking - Where does one draw the line? I will not be boycotting DTRPG as a result of their decision. I disagree with their decision. But if Steve has committed a transgression-by-association here, it is too far removed from source for me to weigh that strongly. 
I might consider buying from alternative sources though. It might also spur me to put my stuff on Lulu and recommend that people buy from there. But I will not be removing my products from DTRPG based on this either (although in considering it, I am grateful that I did not choose to be exclusive with them).