Friday, January 8, 2021

Dear Daniel Fox / Zweihander Guy,


First, let's get this out of the way you can skip til after the picture of your game if you want: 

We're not friends, I'm not defending you, I don't like you, I think you're a monster, you supported fake allegations, that's terrible, you should've called for an investigation, you burned books and that's weird symbolism, etc.

That's not what this is about. 

Zweihander is a retroclone of Warhammer
if anyone needs context.

What this is about is I am letting you know that a bunch of people who I also do not like are about to try very hard to cancel you and they will do it for a long time.

Prepare for an oblique reference to this very post from this guy
with a lot of in-jokes underneath from his friends.

Why They'll Do It

Basically, in their mind: you're up next.

The reason they're going to try to cancel you is that you're doing well with your game or they think you are. Most of them want to be in your position, or at least want to stop being reminded that a person can be successful being like you instead of like them.

It's true they have other grievances (legitimate or not, it's not important right now for this post) but anyone whose tweets are read by over 10,000 people in this tiny crab-bucket of a community will be magnified enough for people to find grievances if they're motivated. They are motivated because: 1) you're big and 2) you didn't hire them and 3) you are still on social media and thus within reach.

It irritates them that you are a relentless marketer, it irritates them that you (like me and them and everyone else in the part of RPGs reading this) espouse progressive values but that you do it while not being their personal friend, it irritates them that you are making probably-ethically-dicey decisions about working with large companies that they do not have the opportunity to be tempted by, it irritates them that you work with Zoe Quinn and the Swordsfall guy and thus can burnish (legitimately or not) your progressive credentials. But really everyone else in RPGs has as many things someone could complain about, it's just--you're in front of them in line so they care. 


"They" is not vague and not a conspiracy--conspiracies are secret and this is not secret. The core of it is the cloud of Old School Renaissance people who hang out around the Troika/Melsonian Arts/SWORDDREAM clique and the OSR discord and OSR 4chan.  These guys love harassing designers, they've been doing it for years, and they hate talking to people outside their bubble.

Probably lots of other people also don't like you, but these folks see you as in their space and are particularly organized when they decide to do harm. They treat each other like a support group that can only protect its members by attacking people outside of it. It's depressing to say but they've become a sort of homegrown OSR version of Something Awful: inside jokes, dadaist tweets, bad faith assumptions, and a complete terror about changing their minds in response to new information.

They've talked shit about you for years because of your relentless self-promotion but the most important thing is the list of possible targets has shrunk:

Mike Mearls is off twitter, Adam Koebel is cancelled, Raggi only hangs out in his own Facebook group, Frog God is quieter after their scandal, all the really right-wing people like Pundit were never taken seriously, James Maliszewski finished his walk of shame so long ago most of them probably don't remember and everyone else is either not in their lane (storygamers, cthulhu guys), doesn't promote their work with their own name (Mork Borg), too big (Mercer) or has some clear claim to marginalization that makes them a harder target for people pretending to have progressive values.

So, basically they're targeting you by default. When they think of "we make indie swords-killing-goblins but not THAT way" they think of you. In ten years this will seem quaint: everyone who produces indie RPG content will be anonymous to avoid this kind of thing. But you're not so you're next.

"I'mma do a thread".


The inciting incident for this open letter, and what makes it a good object lesson is:

Ok, so recently we've all been talking about politics because of the Capitol terrorists. (Yes, I myself trotted out my footage of cops aiming guns at me for Black Live Mattering two blocks from city hall and then taking me to county and I asked why they weren't doing the same to these chuds at the Capitol.)

So, in your string of basically unremarkable progressive political tweets--the same ones pretty much everyone reading this makes--you "liked" some right wing guy complaining about losing his book deal. Maybe you suddenly meant, out of nowhere, to reverse polarity and become a right-wing media mogul, maybe you were liking it mockingly as in "I like that this guy lost his book deal". 

No matter which, anyone in the community who is upset by this and wants to say anything about it in public has exactly one reasonable course of action: talk to you and ask lots of questions, engage. There's other things to do if that doesn't go well or if they don't believe you after, but that's the first thing any responsible person does. (Gee Zak why don't you talk to these people? Because they blocked me long ago.).

That, of course, is not how the crab-bucket works: somebody assumed the worst, tweeted it out, got lots of retweets, saw you apologize/clarify, but no matter, now very many of them are busy subtweeting about how you're still evil because, well, that's what they do:


How They Will Do It

1. This is not your cancellation moment. 

This is just an early scuffle. However: every single time they vent any other grievance with you, they will refer back to this moment. They will do it so often that it will be taken as an article of faith among the less clever that it was somehow proven that you supported whatshisface right wing guy. Any attempt to explain yourself will be dismissed as "getting into the weeds".

2. This will happen over and over.

They say one thing and even if it's debunked half of them won't remember, and then a few months later there'll be another and the people who believed the last one will believe this one twice as much because of the last one, then maybe that gets debunked but then there's another--and on and on until one sticks because (all together now) the RPG community offers no social punishment for spreading misinformation.

3. Most of them probably don't believe it...

...but they already have decided to dislike you enough that they don't really care. The way most of us don't care whether David Cameron fucked a pig's head, we just think "Hey he did worse things, why investigate? Sure." So many of them have already put you in the category of people who don't get to have fairness

4. Some of them will believe it. 

Several sacred crackpots are part of the OSR-As-Group-Therapy clique. Sooner or later someone like that will interact with you, or see something you've done that seems harmful to them, won't contact you, won't investigate and will say you're a monster all over the internet. At least three influential trolls have already decided you're the next bad man they will never shut up about. Some will spread it out of malice, some will spread it out of the naive assumption that anything earnest sad people post is true, many will spread it just because they are apathetic to you and you're kind of in their way (like what you did to me).

5. There won't be a working defense

...because you are seen as having power and the person they will trot out to attack you will be seen as not having power, so no argumentation or logic or attempt to be nice will fix it. And if you ignore it, they will just begin to campaign to professional gatekeepers like conventions and book outlets and publishers that you be kept out of various spaces.

6. Having allies helps them attack you

You now have fanatics! You know what that means: people can pretend to take literally any preference you state as a threat. Why? Because if they disagree they might hear from the fanatics! And you know you have them--and so all your conversation is coded messages to this fanatical Zwei-army! And this person planning on attacking you? They aren't the aggressor--they are a victim of your fanatics. These fanatics have already stopped them from attacking you--silenced them even. Literally having fans makes you guilty.

7. Angry, meet Dishonest and Gullible

Once they get a certain critical mass of shares going for whatever they're hating on you about, they'll get the Something Awful refugees like Kai Tave in on it (because they will hate on anything) and then the Story Gamers (because they will believe anything). At that point people who control things will be like "We're getting a lot of complaints" and...that's all they need. Just to sense that there's more money in hurting you than being neutral. And you'll be done.

8. You are not allowed to do nothing

If you're thinking "Well I just won't do anything controversial" that won't work. Once you're targeted by people like this, they never let it go--people who worry about whether a guy who produced a clone of a game from the '80s that was tabletop who didn't do anything to them personally but advertises his stuff a lot and annoys them and has a beard is woke enough do not have other things to do with their lives.

The only thing you can hope for is an equally juicy target shows up and it divides their attention. They will keep sniping at you for years until they find something that gets traction. Why not? If they snipe and miss there's literally no downside and a good chance it earns them followers because you're bigger than them and thus a more interesting subject to followers than whatever their indie game is.

9. Apologies might work, but not forever.

Apologizing will only create a demand for you to acknowledge and be responsible for more and more of their own baggage. Once they see they can get someone with more juice to do things, it's "Why aren't you attacking this target for us with All Your Power?""Why didn't you ever do this thing we never brought up until now and never heard of?""Why are you friends with this guy instead of that one?" Even if you can convince some of them to trust you, they will be allied to-, and feel more kinship with-, the people who joined them in complaining about you in the first place who don't trust you. You will always be disposable to them--plus they're all scared of being cancelled as well if you fuck up again.

There's this sense that somehow, in some way, the only way to honor the feels that their vulnerable community has is to tend the tree of liberty with the blood of Slightly More Successful Artists. You're worth more to them as a sacrifice than as a henchman.

Maybe maybe you'll read this and do something to stop it before it happens. I don't know.  I don't know if that would be good or bad, in the end, but I'm generally pro-information.

This nerd is literally talking about bullying you into a locker

Why Do I Care?

Like I said at the top: I don't like you. I don't like them either. I mainly just want everyone else reading to understand what's going on when they watch them try to take you out in 6 months or two years, and I don't want anyone to fall into the temptation to pick sides or assume either side has a point or that this is about ideas or politics or empathy or free speech or whatever y'all pretend it's about. It's about: in a community you either follow quaint little ground rules for disagreements or there's an endless power struggle. And you both chose the endless power struggle.

Y'all deserve each other, but that doesn't mean everyone else does. 


CastlesMadeOfSand said...

Do you think a reaction movement even if rather small and underground will form towards all this craziness or are we stuck in this limbo

Zak Sabbath said...


You can answer better than me: what would make -you- take action?

CastlesMadeOfSand said...

quantifying it.. 2 things
1. Something tangible to stand behind

2. it has to come from a point of view of creation not more destruction, there's enough of that going on. I feel like the blogs are something that does that, create something new and cool.

3. a clear "line of action" or.. uhm what are the right words, seeing a path to something good. something that's beneficial and not at the expense of others.

Zak Sabbath said...


I had a secret policy of--whenever someone got attacked on Something Awful or Your Dungeon Is Suck--I wrote about how much I liked their work and linked to their blog.

Of course if I told anyone someone would game the system, so I didn't. They all joined in on trashng me.

Anyway: your 3 requirements seem like they'd be fulfilled if you went around forums posting reviews of creators that are being attacked--and stuck around to fact-check any bullshit you got for it.

Trent B said...


EoN said...

These assholes have way too much time on their hands. Sad and sickening.

Zak Sabbath said...


-No anonymous comments
-No personal attacks
-No misogyny
If you'd like to comment, remedy the first and apologize for the other two.

Goblin said...

Informative post. I've seen a few of these faces in various corners and replies and I always wondered just how much time they have on their hands to tweet so relentlessly. Besides Troika they don't really have a claim to fame, or do they?

What I wonder is what their endgoal to all of this is? Suppose they had their way everytime and all "opponents" of theirs were struck by lightning, would they find some semblance of happiness? Would they eat each other? Would they have enough time to actually sit down to play a RPG? I do not know.

Zak Sabbath said...


Well everyone has time on their hands--the whole "Oh do something instead of comment on the internet" is not a real thing. I know bestselling novelists who still have time to socialize.

That's the real problem: as far as I can tell, this is their main social outlet.

These are my guesses based on what I've seen"

They harass other people all the time not because they have some special ideological zeal (though they think they do) but simply because -this group of jackasses they met grousing about other gamers is the closes thing they have to real-life circle of friends-.

There are other games involved besides Troika, but that's probably the most successful, or Mothership. I don't know the numbers.

They don't have an endgoal--they just have friends and want to side with their friends.

That's also a problem: When you have a goal that you agree on (Like "The purpose of this space is to improve everyone's experience playing games") then you can judge someone's behavior based on whether it moves oyu toward or away from that goal. But the problem with them (as with the postForge storygames types, Something Awful, the reddits, all the other cliques, really) is the group is -so much- a social club that the real purpose of the group becomes the group itself. The purpose of the group is to make people inside the group comfortable.

This allows them to atyack anyone outside the group without disturbing their (unspoken) goal and allows them to judge any internecine conflict according to the rule "Kick out whoever's most disruptive".

So: no goal but a continuous state of comfort.

I think, in their mind, a real "world without opponents" would, realistically include no WOTC or HAsbro (which would be fine by me, but hardly up there with Trumpco, Rupert Murdoch, The Kochs and Blackwater in terms of my anticorporate priorities.) which would mean they themselves were among the most popular game companies. I don't thinkt hey have that utopian vision, realistically

They have just narrowed their social life down to appeasing each other, and they've bonded over hating outgroups and games, and so when one of them gets a xenophobic bug up their ass about an Outsider, they go after them.

I suspect there's a certain amount of glee in having a sphere where they can hurt someone or have an immediate effect, but that's ascribing sadism. They don't usually go -quite- so far as to say that, but some people do.

I feel much more on solid ground when I say thinking seems to pain them. They really don't want to consider all the implications of the things they say or that their victims say--they will outright claim you are trying to exhaust them just by saying what you think.

I can't imagine how difficult life would be if explaining yourself -took effort- but that is apparently the life they lead. Must make ordering a pizza very traumatic.

FloatyBoats said...

I'll point out here that 4chan's rpg section is very, very proud of their piracy. Zweihander guy is one of the few people that puts in effort to track down when his games get pirated, and report it to the various servers that they upload them to, so that their stashes of games get pulled down. This causes them to hate him with a great zeal. (In addition to all the standard reasons 4chan is awful.)
So, by tapping into that anger, the circle of sacred crackpots and so forth is also rewarding people who would never bother supporting them financially.

Zak Sabbath said...


Quite possible. I haven't checked.

The problem for the hatemob in general is that since their entire way of talking is always based on claiming not that their accusation is true because of facts but because it's true because they have less power than the victim of their accusation, that doesn't transfer well into actually becoming the person with influence or a successful game. This is why so many people hate on Swordsfall-guy: he can't really effectively portray himself as a victim. Meanwhile someone like Daniel Sell or Chris McDowall can only really avoid being cancelled themselves by being anonymous white sheets, men who can't possibly be a target because they're so boring--but its equally hard to get attention that way.

People don't really buy things just because they follow your attempts to hurt people--those followers are literally there -only for the cancellations-. Likewise: Zweihander guy probably can't cancel them because his fans are there for Zweihander or to try to be his friend, not because they have a zeal for cancellations--different audiences want different things. Porn accounts can have hundreds of thousands of followers but they can't make people vote.

Ettin and Ash Kreider were very successful in stirring up hate against their victims, and after that they'd both go (more or less subtly) "Hey buy my stuff" but basically people don't want it that badly.

You only need, like, 10-20 zealots to cancel someone, and maybe 100 casual morons willing to retweet any gibberish they come across. You need a thousand people ready to hand over money regularly to have a career.

So they all sit around cancelling each other and preventing anyone from climbing out of the pit and the white dudes at WOTC and Path who've been there for 15 years or more just shrug and go "ok, good".

Zak Sabbath said...


Erased-- no anonymous comments.

ᶘ ᵒ㉨ᵒᶅ Rusty James said...

I don’t anyone who plays that game. I think it’s rip off
Of lotfp

Zak Sabbath said...


Erased. no harassment allowef

Zak Sabbath said...


no anonymous comments

Zak Sabbath said...


No anonymous comments.

In the future maybe everyone will be anonymous--it would seem to make sense. They wouldn't comment here.

engenderedopinion said...

Your blog, your rules, but why are you so insistent on non-anonymous posts?

"Mike Mearls is off twitter" How is that a(n effective) defense against these tactics?

"doesn't promote their work with their own name (Mork Borg)" How do they go about doing this, and how is this a defense?

"In ten years this will seem quaint: everyone who produces indie RPG content will be anonymous to avoid this kind of thing." How does one go about doing that? How does that integrate with conventions, contracts, etc.?

"professional gatekeepers" Does it cost them money to keep unpopular people on their platforms, or just time handling complaints?

Zak Sabbath said...


-Why insist on non-anonymous posts?

Because without a persistent identity, there's no accountability and with no accountability you can't have a conversation. Simple example:

Anon "Vampire The Masquerade causes brain damage"
Blog owner "It does not. Provide proof"
(Anon fucks off, you never hear from them again--or do you?)

If the person has a persistent identity then you can ban that identity if they don't participate in good faith, which means they have to have a grown-up conversation like a sane human being: give evidence, answer questions,etc. Otherwise their comments cease appearing and the old ones can be erased.

They can't influence people with opinions that aren't backed by fact.

-"Mike Mearls is off twitter" How is that a(n effective) defense against these tactics?

It's not an effective defense, its just evidence that he's already been hurt. He's a less viable target because they already took a huge chunk out of his hide.

-"doesn't promote their work with their own name (Mork Borg)" How do they go about doing this, and how is this a defense?

It dangles less of a red flag in front of the bull. It is not a complete defense, but it is less tempting to them.

-"In ten years this will seem quaint: everyone who produces indie RPG content will be anonymous to avoid this kind of thing." How does one go about doing that? How does that integrate with conventions, contracts, etc.?

Ask Skerples.

-"professional gatekeepers" Does it cost them money to keep unpopular people on their platforms, or just time handling complaints?

They risk being themselves being targeted and called abusers if they don't follow the mob.

engenderedopinion said...

Do you feel like a legal victory will let you participate in this industry again?

Are you able to produce your own work, somehow?

Do you feel like Koebel could have saved himself with a quick and sincere apology? I don't. Why hasn't anything been done to the bystanders? There was the smug dude who leaned back in his chair and smirked and metaphorically munched popcorn while it was happening. There was the contemplative guy rubbing his face almost immediately, "Well, it's been a wild ride." There was the visibly pissed off, yet silent, woman who said nothing the whole time, but was able to muster enough courage to say, "Let us kill this creep!" Three other players, and presumably a producer, watched this, knowingly, in real time. The victim was in apparent (visible) shock... It was a cringey video on so many levels, but not just on Adam's behalf.

Zak Sabbath said...


"Do you feel like a legal victory will let you participate in this industry again?"

I don't know and it's not my primary concern. My concern is to get my life back and hold all the people responsible for the smear accountable so they can never hurt another innocent person again.

"Are you able to produce your own work, somehow?"


"Do you feel like Koebel could have saved himself with a quick and sincere apology?"


"Why hasn't anything been done to the bystanders? "

The tabletop RPG sphere is more invested in cannibalizing their own than people in adjacent spheres.

engenderedopinion said...

Thanks very much for your responses.

Zak Sabbath said...

I have no choice: all good people answer questions.