Saturday, 16 February 2019

I still believe Mandy

(and Jennifer, and Hannah, and Vivka)

Following up on this post.

Zak S posted an official statement — not in the obvious place but on a new dedicated blog. I read it, because… uh, balance. Like, I feel someone accused of something as awful as this deserves to be heard. Maybe that’s foolish of me. Anyway

Good faith

Assuming good faith, i.e. there was love there, the people speaking out for Zak are real people who are giving a true account, etc.

…saying “I love you” and “this person treated the other person well” is not incompatible with the other person saying “I was abused”.

You can do this and just stop there without picking apart the statement. But since I read it, I have these remarks.

First, Zak’s prose style is a fluid, densely textured sentence layered with information. It’s near-incoherent at times, demanding re-reading to extract full meaning. It looks like a stream of consciousness. That’s a handy tool for mixing statement with emotion, inviting the reader to make mental connections and as a result, sympathise with the author’s experience.

I am deeply suspicious of this writing style in this context.

Second, I would be less suspicious if there was any introspection or attempt to empathise with the damning accounts, something you would hope a smart, self-aware individual who really had loved that person might do. No empathy makes it hard to empathise.

Third, the whole thing is a combination of discrediting the detractors and painting himself as the victim, classic gaslighting.

But I had to think about it for a while. With less effort, there’s just enough to make me doubt everything and remain sitting on the fence. If like me you were/are sitting on the fence, but you don’t feel good about that — make the effort.

Who to trust

These are the things that have helped me think about this:

Scrap Princess

So looking back at my regard for him as a friend and my defending him, and the times that I would look at the evidence of his evil ways people would (very rarely even show) produce and would wonder if it was possible look past one’s bias enough to make it worth the pretense of it.

Often this contemplation of biases would come after (fruitlessly) arguing with him about his bizarre refusal to acknowledge tone in online conversation or countless other shit.

Like .. is this guy actually insane? What would it take to convince me?

Turns out Mandy revealing just how fuck awful he’d been to her would indeed convince me

Patrict Stuart

Here’s me as chief bullet-catcher; (I still remember how genuinely bad I felt for him because of the lies people were telling about him online.)

Emmy Allen

Recently, I’ll browse RPGnet or twitter or reddit, or it’ll pop up on my facebook or something, and I’ll see some (edited:) well meaning but imho unhelpful person saying “oh, he was clearly awful, we’ve been saying this for years, you should have known” and it’s horrible. See, deep down I suspect that I did know, and didn’t acknowledge it. Can we have less of that please?

We got fooled. Lots of us. We saw Zak present himself as this cool guy, detatched and intillectual and good at arguing, and he made good books, and he brought you into his web of support.

And you know? I do still think that some of the stuff people said about him was bullshit. When the VtM thing blew up and people were saying he was with White Wolf and a nazi and all that? That was bullshit. That was just internet culture-war bollocks. And he used the fact that some stuff said about him was rubbish to disprove all of it.

(emphasis mine on that last line)

Also Mazirian’s Garden, Coins and Scrolls, and Fiona Geist. There are some embedded links if you want/need to read further.

Things that have not convinced me are the mob calling for Zak’s blood (however justified) and the commercial interests that have dropped him (a commercial decision, regardless of the many positive messages condemning harrassment). The problem with all of that is the root cause gets harder to find amongst the noise (see the first paragraph from Scrap Princess above), and there’s just enough doubt to make it look like just another internet spat.


I believe Mandy, Hannah, Jennifer and Vivka. I condemn harassment. I won’t support Zak Smith’s work again. I won’t recommend anything he does to anyone.

But what about the product I’ve already bought? I have a copy of Red and Pleasant Land on my shelf. I’m not going to bin it. I’ll leave it there, untouched, to prick my conscience from time to time.

And I will say again, if anyone I know feels I didn’t listen to them or take their feelings and experiences seriously regarding Zak Smith, I’m sorry.

One other thing I’ve learned: coming back to social media has been a mistake. I’m probably going to unfollow most people so I don’t get tagged into any conversations. Don’t take it personally.

One other, other thing. The comments on Zak Smith and those on Brexit on my twitter feed have bizarrely merged together, e.g.


I had to double check which lefty stream this was coming from — I think the one with Cory Doctorow on it.

So, thinking about Brexit. We in the UK have been stirred up by demagogues and so polarised that we’re more likely to identify with Leave/Remain rather than Tory/Labour. We forget who started this, and who we should be angry with; very real people who have manipulated the Leave campaign for personal gain.

The indie gamer’s identity has been similarly polarised between OSR and Storygames. Nuanced discussion has been sorely lacking, on all sides.

I’m not saying Zak S was solely responsible for this split, that would be absurd. What I’m saying is, remember who you’re angry with.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

I believe Mandy

One of the strategies I’ve used for managing my depression is withdrawing from social media1. This is an exception, because it’s (a) too important to ignore and (b) an echo of one of the reasons I quit social media in the first place.

This is a post by Mandy Morbid about long term abuse from her former partner Zak Smith. It’s horrifying. I believe her.

For my part I’ve not really been harmed by Zak, but I have never had a positive interaction with him either. On the few occasions he commented on something of mine it was clear that he was spoiling for a fight. I found this so bizarre I honestly thought he’d mistaken me for someone else. And I did what I would do when faced with any verbally or physically combative stranger, which is to say “er, alright mate, fair enough” and walk away with my thoughts to myself2.

The main thought I had was “there’s a chap who could start a fight in an empty room with one of his own farts”.

I know he’s upset friends of mine. If that’s you and you feel like I didn’t take your feelings and experiences seriously, I’m really sorry about that.

I do remember ZS saying once that someone who has been caught in a lie should be drummed out of the (RPG) industry. Well, he has been caught in a lie (for example, impersonating Shannon Applecline on Reddit). People should therefore do what they feel is right and just. Although, I’ve seen a few people say “I’m not trying to make this into a witch hunt” and then, you know, making a list. Come on, man. If you’re going to do that, own it.

Anyway. I’ll say that again, I believe Mandy. I don’t pretend to understand what her experience was like, but I believe her.

OK. I am going to drink now. Comments off.

  1. Mostly this has involved backing out of G+ and muting everyone on Facebook. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, I hadn’t worked out how to do that on Twitter just yet. 
  2. Combatives advice from Mr. Marwood. 

Friday, 6 July 2018


In 2000 we carried two kittens through the flood in a cardboard box. Over the years to come they brought us great joy and were better companions than we ever imagined they could be.

Today we said farewell to Puck. He survived his sister by a few weeks but we’re not sure he ever got over her loss. He was thin and looked tired, and hadn’t eaten or drank anything all day today.

But for most of his life he was a bruiser. He liked his dinner and he liked to be out. He definitely got into fights, showing off his torn ears. Also when he was a kitten he’d pounce right on my crotch while I lay in bed.

And now we have no cats, which is a peculiar and melancholy sensation.

This was the puckster:

Handsome cat.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Came in the flood

18 years ago we carried two kittens through a flood in a cardboard box.

Part of a litter of five born to a ginger queen, Cobweb was one of two tortoiseshell kittens. Their faces were a mirror image of the other. I don’t know who took the other kittens; I think the other pair of male-female kittens went to another couple and the last one, a big dopy ginger tom, went to a child. I’m sure they loved their cats every bit as much as we love ours.

Cobweb’s speciality was sitting. She was the main reason for the I Have A Cat rule for tea and booze conveyance. She would sit on laps, on pillows, on chests and backs and heads of sleeping humans, on important documents, on anything that would gather cat fluff.

When I was away in another country my other half would send me pictures of herself with Cobweb on her lap.

She was the rumblecat. Her purr was audible across the room.

And we’ll miss her.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

New shoes

Today was the memorial for a friend I’d not actually seen for many years. He died suddenly and too young. The service was lovely with many many examples of how warm and smart and funny he was.

My memory is the weekly movie club, more than ten years ago; I remember The Prisoner projected onto a white sheet in a tiny flat. But it’s Twin Peaks that sticks in my memory for his impression of Leo Johnson, complete with saliva.

I suppose you had to be there. Still, I’m grateful that I was.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Tuesday, 4 October 2016


October has become a strange time of year.

Two years ago we — that is the Oxford RPGSoc alumni — lost a dear friend Kate to a horrible illness. Kate was there when I formed a lot of the lasting friendships I have today. Kate played in my Vampire game in the 3rd year. Kate would be my age, were she still alive.

I found out in a horrible way. Early morning on the 2nd of October I was looking forward to a weekend of pre-birthday fun; while I was on a conference call to Singapore that morning I got an Outlook notification that popped up briefly to tell me that Kate had died, before fading slowly and ominously. I turned off Outlook notifiactions after that.

It fucked my day royally; and it coincided with a couple of business meetings that, at any other time I would have put down to differences in personal style, but which ended up shaping my impressions of two people forever (one I concluded is basically nice but a complete fuckwit, the other has a punchable face and today I would not piss on them were they on fire).

The previous night I’d been to see Wayne Hussey at the O2 Academy, so I was riding a post-Goth gig buzz. Weirdly this year I very nearly went to see Peter Murphy in concert (but didn’t thanks to a knackered achilles’ tendon). This reminded me what I was doing two years ago, and who I should be mourning.

One year ago at this time we announced that our first child was on the way; another emotional time because we’d tried for years, and pretty much everyone had assumed that we’d actively decided not to have children, when really we were being passively worn down by the assumptions and the friends and relatives having children and cooing over other people’s babies and generally seizing every opportunity to talk about kids. Kids, we were constantly reminded, are important.

This year has been a weird and horrible year, and a wonderful year too. For most people it’s the year all the celebs died — Bowie, Rickman, Prince, Nicholas Fisk, etc. For a couple of people we know and love it’s been more personal; and just to remind us that 2016 is not to be fucked with, someone else near to us has just been snatched away.

On the other hand thanks to the April 2015 legislation I took 6 months of parental leave this year — 3 months at the same time as my partner, and another three right now as she’s returned to work. The switch has felt jarring and completely natural at the same time. Instead of me getting home and being greeted with “Daddy’s home!” I get him all day and my partner gets the big smiles when she gets in. But this week has been the first week I’ve been alone with our son all day. I’ve not been alone all day probably since I was a student. Of course back then I just talked to myself, now I have a sub-lingual infant to converse with, and he’s the best thing ever.

(a thing about parental bonding — when our kid arrived I did not immediately feel love and affection, I felt a mixture of horror and crushing responsibility. Feeling actual love took a couple of days)

Anyway. I’d felt less and less able to celebrate my birthday as time wore on, but mostly it was apathy. Then, 2014 meant that I would never again really be celebrating this week. All the birthday wishes I got for joining Facebook (which I needed to do to connect with all the people around Kate) and telling it my DOB felt hollow, even though I know they were well-meant.

Things will settle down next year, so maybe I’ll feel different in 2017. But I’m having a hard time thinking October isn’t just a bit broken. This year I think I’ll just give thanks for all the friends I still have, and send my emotional energy their way.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Lady Manvers

Farewell, Lady Manvers. We fenced, we fought, we danced and sang, we brawled, we drank, we gambled, blackmailed, smuggled, spied for the French, wore absurdly tight breeches, gave each other the pox, started fist-fights in stately homes, hunted for Black Dick, had affairs, trysts, married and divorced, bled, were poisoned, garrotted, pushed off battlements, died of consumption, collapsed in a heap, jumped on the bed, pretended to be swans, shot, stabbed, slapped, punched, posed, ponced, reposed, fainted, farted and belched, used and abused and were thoroughly rotten scoundrels, miscreants and bad sorts all round, very likely dicked in the nob.

It was a glorious time, and none of it would have happened if not for you. Thinking of you behaving badly, forever.

Yours with love,

Captain Richard Brown.


Saturday, 1 August 2015


I’ve never been to GenCon, and I certainly haven’t followed the Ennies, it’s not really where I intersect with the hobby. However I am aware thanks to social media that Red and Pleasant Land has just won a bunch of awards (gold for best writing and silver for best adventure and product of the year, I think) in spite of having a fanbase supposedly in the minority compared to the total number of voters, and therefore “no chance of winning”.

This means a decidedly not mainstream-common-denomenator-product, produced by a not mainstream publisher, won several awards. It means that it is possible for a niche, independent product to win a mainstream popularity contest on quality of writing and vision. Much more interesting than yet another award going to a mainstream game line that I have no interest or investment in. (At this point I confess that I don’t own a copy of RPL yet, though I’ve got Vornheim and Death Frost Doom and I like those, they’re quality.)

And yeah, Zak S has his fans, there was still a hype machine, but… as far as I’m concerned that’s fair play, that’s politics. So congrats to Zak, James Raggi and whoever else worked on RPL! Jolly good. But while we’re at it, two other awards I care about:

Congrats to Stacy Dellorfano for the Contessa Blog award!

…and to Kenneth Hite and Robin D. Laws for the award for Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff!

At least, I think I’ve got that right.

(I know some people might be annoyed by this owing to the personalities involved… well, whatever. I don’t have a dog in that fight. Also personally this weekend is shaping up to be shit on a stick without the stick. Let’s just try to get along and be happy for each other, eh?)

Saturday, 13 December 2014

EU VAT and the Consumer

I don’t really do politics here.

What I do is write about RPGs and other things that interest me. And while a portion of that is about theory and design of games, a good portion — at least when this blog started — is just about things I like to consume.

So this piece is about me as a consumer. Yes, it’s slightly political, but only because politics are getting in the way of my decisions about what I can and can’t consume.

VAT MOSS and Digital Sales

A lot of what I consume these days comes in digital form — without that I’d be unable to sample many, many games and ebooks from other countries. I’m a believer in the digital marketplace.

I’m also a believer in the small press, indie RPG and ebook scene. It’s easier than ever to write your own game, put it into a pdf and just sell it. That’s a great thing — not only are individuals wholly in control of their own creative content, they don’t have to content with logistical issues of printing and shipping.

(Some day I may be one of those small press publishers, but for now I’m just noodling about, writing drafts and enjoying other people’s content.)

Now, from Jan 1st 2015 there will be a change in the EU law that means VAT is levied at the country where the buyer is, not the seller. This is a measure to prevent big corporations like Amazon paying low VAT rates by locating themselves in member states with low VAT rates. Unfortunately it’s likely to have a devastating effect on small businesses who sell electronic goods. Not only could it affect the VAT threshold in the UK requiring registration, it also would require sellers to keep two identifying pieces of information from each customer they serve — identifying the country where the customer was when the purchase was made — securely for 10 years, on an EU-based server. Furthermore the measures that the HMRC think will help sole-traders — selling on platforms — not only divert profits from sole traders to those intermediaries (e.g. Amazon, the irony), but may not even be compliant or willing to comply.

There’s more information in various places. There’s a UK Facebook group, a petition directed at Vince Cable and another one directed at Pierre Moscovici, and several other great articles about why #VATMOSS is going to be a #VATMESS:

I’m sorry I don’t have time to curate them all, but they should be easy to find if you look. Last but important link is this survey:

I don’t have a digital business, but if you do, please look at it.

But anyway. Let’s set aside the concerns of the small business owner, even though I really feel for all my creative friends who are being affected by this mess. Let’s ignore the effects on the culture of creator owned and sold works, even though they’re my kind of people. Let’s just think about me, the consumer. What does this mean?

It means less choice. Projects never seeing the light of day. People unable to make a living doing creative stuff, therefore having to do much less of it in their spare time while they do a “real job” during the day. All because it’s so confusing and such an administrative burden that, for the individual creator, the joy at creating and selling their own work becomes ever so slightly less than the massive inconvenience they suffer to get it out to the public.

I’m not saying it will definitely be this bad. But there are people considering stopping digital sales at the start of next year because of the uncertainty around compliance and the fear of fines from EU states. Whether it’s because the administrative burden is real or just that this issue has been badly communicated, we’ve already lost out.

That’s why I’m boosting the signal here. I expect the handful of people who read this blog are going to be consumers like me, so you need to know. And you should support the creative people around you.

EU Flag