Friday, May 14, 2021

What Really Happened to Vampire 5e, Chapter 5: Snakes Have Legs

 Chapter One  - Chapter Two - Chapter Three -

 Chapter 3.5 - Chapter 4 - Chapter 5 - Chapter 6

Snakes Have Legs

Maybe you've seen this video. If you haven't and can't be bothered to click "play": A snake confronts a guy who is telling people snakes have legs. The snake doesn't have legs.  The snake asks about the source:

For "Daily Testicle" read "Ettin", moderator on RPGnet and Something Awful /tg.


It's 2018 and Vampire: The Masquerade, 5th edition--produced by White Wolf games, a division of Swedish video game company Paradox Interactive--is trucking on after weathering a variety of internet hoaxes, including:

Surely. SURELY. The RPG community will not fall for a third conspiracy theory from exactly the same guys who spread these? And, surely, surely, it wouldn't be a conspiracy theory about the same target? And surely, surely surely, if it did, then after what happened to Rob Donoghue at Evil Hat, at least no reputable company would join in? 

Here we go.

So, again, I'm long gone by this point--I didn't write a word of the new Vampire tabletop game.

On November 8th, just a few months after "Jews are Nazis..." some snakes-have-legs-thinking-idiots retweeted yet another Ettin hate-take three-hundred and eighty-nine-times.

Let's unpack:

  • In the Camarilla book, the Vampire team (still operating on the policy: real real real, personal political horror) created this piece of in-game lore that Chechnya's state-sponsored murders of LGBT+ people were actually disguised anti-vampire pogroms.
  • Realistically, really, honestly, in good faith, the actual effect of this on most readers was either they barely noticed it and just kept reading because it's exactly the kind of thing you'd expect to read in a book trying to be now now now real real real personal political scab-picking horror or "Oh, there are anti-LGBT+ pogroms in Chechnya? Wow that's a bad thing, I am glad to learn about this real-life issue in a made-up game about vampires".
  • Let's say you thought differently. Would the best way to address that be maybe approach the designers or...a viral harassment campaign?
  • On November 8th, 2018, Paul Matijevic aka Ettin (who is not L or G or B or T or +, so far as anyone knows) dug the paragraph up and launched the idea this Chechnya reference was Social Justice Bad. (Receipts for this whole chain of events.) This was at least the third time he and his goons had aggressively mined the game looking for something to have a bad-faith take on since it was announced.
  • All the usual suspects bought it, hook, line and sinker.
  • His take went viral.
  • It went so viral someone from the actual Chechnyan government found out about it.
  • The Chechnyan government began to put real dictatorship-scale pressure on White Wolf, claiming this White Wolf book was slanderous.
  • Before the month was over White Wolf had to apologize to fucking Chechnya.
Now, there might actually be LGBT+ people of good faith who read the content as disrespectful or, more likely,  just failing to read the room, but, broadly:

Nobody could explain any way the paragraph itself could cause harm--nobody was seriously claiming that people playing would be fooled into thinking vampires were real and homophobes weren't. 

And: If you write a made-up vampire story based on the genuinely monstrous truth about a dictatorship being genuinely monstrous to marginalized people and then it makes that dictatorship mad, that would usually be taken by most people as a sign you're on the good guy team and, if anything, perhaps a tad too zealously so.

Ettin somehow avoided the obvious conclusion he'd just helped a homophobic dictator retaliate against the game pointing out what his regime did:

Once again, a guy who:

  • a Something Awful goon...
  • ...admits repeatedly to being a troll...
  • described by everyone who knows him in the industry as "a troll"...
  • ...lies so often he got quite successfully sued over it...
  • ...literally no-one has ever said isn't a troll...
  • a white straight cis dude...
  • caught twice already doing the same thing to the same victims...

...was believed and shared and treated like something other than The Daily Testicle. This guy:

And, again, exactly like the incident five months before, actual adults with jobs in the mainstream RPG industry inexplicably helped him. 

Cam Banks, formerly of Atlas Games and Margaret Weis productions, author of Marvel Heroic RPG, chipped in the day after Ettin started the ball rolling:

As did Crystal Frasier, of indie RPG giants Green Ronin and Paizo, the company that makes Pathfinder (and now freelancing for WOTC):
As pointed out last chapter with Rob Donoghue, these are people who could have easily dealt with any perceived problems with their colleagues' work in a non-viral-hate way.

Cam Banks and Kenneth Hite--head writer on Vampire--know each other. I don't know if Frasier and Hite do, but Hite was on good terms with Crystal Frasier's direct superior at Green Ronin, Nicole Lindroos. There is absolutely no reason either of them had to follow Ettin's lemming-pile.

This was more Thanksgiving Uncling in action--full-time creators with reputations and prestige in the industry stabbing colleagues in the back by supporting bad-faith troll takes.

"Moral Masturbation at Somebody Else's Expense"

So that's how, but doesn't cover the why. Part of it is, as-discussed earlier, the hatemob had been obsessively looking for imaginary flaws in this game ever since White Wolf put out a video game with my name on it.

But as for why they're a hatemob in the first place, Crystal Frasier herself helpfully explained in a thread just this year:

The weirdest part of this is the end, where she goes "We've all fallen into this trap". No, Crystal, it's just you and your friends who do that. Most people don't actually serially join viral hate campaigns around fake issues because they trusted the same lying dudes over and over. Like it's pretty common to understand that "When your moralizing doesn't fix anything or protect anyone, it's just moral masturbation at someone else's expense". That's a really normal thing to know.

Unsurprisingly, despite having just enough self-awareness to write that thread, Crystal hasn't apologized to anyone involved, neither did Cam, neither did Ettin, neither did any of the hundreds of gamers who fell for it. They didn't even unfollow Ettin.

And what about when moralizing goes beyond "not fixing anything or helping anyone"? When it ratchets up to full-on hurting people?

Find out next time in What Really Happened to Vampire 5e, Chapter 6: You're Eating Maggots, Michael.


p1r8z0r said...

First. I look forward to Zak writing, "Sorry p1r8z0rz, but posts that simply say "First" are deleted.

Zak Sabbath said...


But you are first, that's not misinformation.

It's not against the rules to be boring.

Serpent Messiah said...

For the first time ever in literally years of reading this blog, today my browser tried to tell me this was a phishing site, so obviously some of these lying assholes are lying again

Zak Sabbath said...

@serpent Messiah

I actually think it's just all of blogger has been hacked.

Peter Rolf said...

I have to say, Ettin was being very flippant about Chechen rpg distributors being arrested by the police. Instead of being worried about their safety or aghast at putting these people in potential danger through his bad faith attacks, it's all "oh well, lulz." I need a minute.

Zak Sabbath said...

@Peter Rolf

It's a key feature of this kind of trolling:

if someone points out something -you- did wrong, no matter how serious or even criminal, then you respond as if the person is an internet weirdo with some bizarre inexplicable beef who needs to get a life

on the other hand, if -you- raise an issue you respond with claims of chest-thumping sincerity and WON'T SOMEONE PLEASE THINK OF MEeeEEE

The key is both give you an excuse not to engage.

If you engage then someone might take something like this:
and respond like this:

...and that would force your audience to look straight down the barrel of you lying.

So blow it off by any means necessary and hope they find an excuse... not look too closely.

Simon Tsevelev said...

"It's not against the rules to be boring" is my new favourite line.
I vaguely remember the whole "Kadyrov attacks White Wolf" thing. Back then I thought "People in the West actually know that life in Ichkeria (self-given name of Chechen republic when they fought for their independence) is hell. Nice".
And people who believed that it was amoral, well. It's make-believe. In GURPS Black Ops, Oppenheimer was secretly broken by the men in black because he had some UFOs destroyed.
And it's the World of Darkness, where everything is bad, and it's supposed to be bad, and getting worse, and the world is controlled by monsters.
So in Ferngully the woodcutting machine destroys the rainforest because it's controlled by the ancient evil spirit, and in VtM bloodsucking undead are behind the massacres. Exactly because the deforestations and the massacres are real life problems, and they make the monsters feel real.
Also, yes. Putting religion, any religion, in control in a state is a bad, bad idea.

amogus said...


the leveller in ferngully UNLEASHES the spirit, and happens to be an environment for it to thrive, it was, in fact, already ruining the rainforest long before tim curry took over.

Zak Sabbath said...


Erased. No misinformation allowed. If you believe you have gotten this message in error, email zakzsmith AT hawtmayle dawt calm.

cum said...





Zak Sabbath said...


Erased. No anonymous comments, Paul.

Zak Sabbath said...


Ok, send me your email address and real name, documentation that you are the one attached to this comment, and I'll send you the necessary forms.

Simon Tsevelev said...


You're right, of course. I suppose you understand what I meant.

Zak Sabbath said...

@"industry professional (fuck you zak)"

Erased. First-strike personal attacks are not allowed, nor is misinformation. If you believe you have reached this message in error, email zakzsmith AT hawtmayle dawt calm.

You did comment

"Most claims you make can be *easily* refuted but what's the point? All you wanna do is argue"

No, I will happily sign a document saying if you disprove most claims I've made I will not only apologize publicly but give you every dollar I make for the rest of my life plus all my assets. In return you simply have to agree to address all these claims.

Email zakzsmith AT hawtmayle dawt calm to begin the process of drawing up the documents.

Peter Rolf said...

@industry professional

Jesus wept... If Zak's points are easily refuted, then shouldn't you be refuting them? You might not be able to convince Zak otherwise and it is thus pointless to you, but you could be convincing us readers of the blog.

All I have seen so far is that Zak is guilty of getting overzealous and venomous when defending his friends. As far as character flaws go, that is a fairly minor one when compared to the toxicity, obfuscation, bad-faith readings, outright hypocrisy and casual disregard for peoples life and safety because someone wanted to dunk on their twitter enemy. This industry is sick.

Zak Sabbath said...

@Peter Rolf

I've never been overzealous when defending my friends. I have obviously not been zealous enough.

If you disagree, you'll need to post an example.

Address that.

Peter Rolf said...


It was a case of me playing playing devil's advocate to compare your actions (calling people out) in light of the documented actions of the several industry professionals who have come after you. I'll refrain from making such statements in the future for the sake of clarity.

Zak Sabbath said...

@Peter Rolf

This isn't a horrible violation, but the best policy here I think is to just say what you mean. Because seriously these people have justified heinous shit based on "Zak even your friends say..." and it makes it all into a mushbag of What Violation is worse and not what it is: Olivia Hill is a fucking criminal. The people who joined her are dangerous and it's provable.

I would've said maybe "Zak is--at worst--guilty of..."

Peter Rolf said...


I see where you're coming from. Like I said, I'll refrain from making statements like that again. I don't want someone using my words to cause harm.

Zak Sabbath said...

@Peter Rolf

Appreciated :)

Brendan said...

A few questions.

Do you have two blogs and if so, why?

Also, if someone owns a subreddit or discord server, they seem to be very entrenched. For instance, the last guy that was disgraced (furry?) that owned a discord channel, people basically said, "Please give X the channel and we'll kick and ban you." I believe he actually did it, which seems weird to me, not that it's the wrong thing to do, but just that I see a lot of spiteful actions in those situations commonly. I could be wrong about this history and observation, though.

Anyways, is there a way to take over a subreddit or discord server? How important is the r/osr subreddit in the industry? Any thoughts on this issue in general (entrenched moderator/admins of public channels) would be appreciated.

Also, could you close your blog entries with estimates of when the next installment will be (for the V5 thing).

Brendan said...

Also re: the naming issues in the Olivia Hill thing, it's not ignorance, really, I'm just bad with names. I've read the posts here. That said, I did miss the business relationship between Olivia Hill and Girlfriend, and I didn't know that trashfire was somehow accidental, I just meant "garbage person".

Zak Sabbath said...


1. I have more than 2 blogs because different people want to read about different things. A lot of people don't want to wade through pages and pages of saving throw mechanics when they want to find a legal announcement.

2. Yes, if someone owns a subreddit or discored they do seem to be very entrenched and I don't know what the current group of abusers on the OSR Discord said to make the last abuser give up their ownership

3. Is there a way? Probably. Ther/osr subreddit is really important because it generates a lot of traffic and comes up in google searches for OSR topics. The most straightforward( but difficult) way to oust them is to generate public outcry about them.

4. Each entry int he series comes 1-2 days after the last except weekends. Thats' the most estimating I can do. The next will probably this monday noon LA time.

Benjamin Cusack said...


ZCE said...


Im thinking aura handed over the keys to the kingdom so the drama would end faster. He WAS accused of grooming underage boys with a ton of evidence

Zak Sabbath said...

For what it's worth Aura was one of the MOST aggressive people attacking me on the OSR discord.

Aura kept trying to be in my server and play in games we had there but also turned a blind eye when Brian Yaksha/Brian Richmond/Brianwriter/Goatmansgoblet starting being abusive on the server.

AuraTwilight — 11/01/2018
Well I don't exactly have the ability to stop him from doing it in other places anyway.
But if it becomes a repeat behavior we'll deal with it as such.
Sorry, you came back right as I was going to bed.
zak/Langouste — 11/01/2018
He can be stopped from doing it here. So: you want a victim who isn't me first?
AuraTwilight — 11/01/2018
Take it up with Chris and the others, honestly; we're doing things by commitee and I'm not exactly allowed to ban people by myself
zak/Langouste — 11/01/2018
Im not asking you in order to change policy. I am asking you because I need to know if you're dangerous.
Like: you've outright said first-strike personal attacks don't need to be dealt with
that's scary
AuraTwilight — 11/01/2018
I don't know what you mean; I said already I don't tolerate abuse before.
zak/Langouste — 11/01/2018
Then what is going on here ? Why are you tolerating this abuser?
"as long as he doesn't attack his previous victim"

Zak Sabbath said...

I don't know psychologically what's going on there, where Aura knows he's being abusive but feels the need to spread empty rhetoric about "abusers".

It might explain Olivia Hill as well.

Simon Tsevelev said...

Did the Evil Hat people support ettin this time?

Zak Sabbath said...

@simon tsevelev

I don't know

Zak Sabbath said...

They supported him again later though

Actual Questioner said...

Zak, were you one of the writers for that Chechnya bit?

Zak Sabbath said...

@Actual Questioner

Of course not, I was off the project since Chapter 3, before any actual writing began and didn't write any of it.

Zak Sabbath said...

The only thing I ever wrote for them was the video game.

A Freelance Historian said...

The Chechnya thing was an unforced error on White Wolf’s part. That was them picking a fight with someone that had actual, international clout in the form of massive oil reserves.

Chechnya is a country so famously quarrelsome that the mongols decided to bypass them rather than taking the risk to invade. In the Soviet years, Stalin tried to Russianize them by dispersing them throughout the USSR and then populating the area with ethnic Russians. After Stalin died and Kruschev loosened the leash just a bit, they moved back en masse and then declared independence when the USSR collapsed. Putin tried to pacify them using tactics so brutal that you couldn’t even print them in a DOD manual.

It didn’t work and he resorted to bribing them to just knock their shenanigans the hell off. This cauldron of horror, brutality and ultra-nationalism eventually vomited forth Ramzan Kadyrov; a man who rose to power after running a legit jihadi death squad and who runs what is an independent petroleum-state in all but name. That was the height of naivety because Vladimir Putin doesn’t give a shit about human rights or what a gaggle of Swedish game designers think. He wants stability in a one of his most oil rich constituent republics and anything that threatens that was going to provoke a backlash because dictatorships are extremely sensitive to PR and Russia still follows the old soviet playbook in this regard: Deny, make counter accusations and then club someone tangentially related to the situation.

Please note that none of this is to be construed as a defense of Chechnya or the Russian Federation: Their pogrom is horrific. ALL pogroms are horrific and should not happen.

Zak Sabbath said...

@a freelance historian


Regardless of how risky it was, it would be -wrong- to frame White Wolf as somehow doing a -morally wrong- thing in pissing them off.

And, further, anyone who tried to frame that as morally wrong would be a person doing a bad thing and a person who should be prevented from doing that bad thing again in the future.

A Freelance Historian said...

Thank you for your prompt response.

Morally, I’m in complete agreement with the decision that they made. The V5 Camarilla guide -is- the reason that I know about this because there’s a lot of news that doesn’t make it out of the former eastern bloc. Frankly, it made me a bit nostalgic for Subsidiaries which is an old W:tA book that’s largely made up of real tales of corporate malfeasance placed into a kind of lovecraftian context and I’d put that in my top 10 WoD books.

But that book was published when the knives weren’t out and the sharks weren’t circling. The act and the intent behind it was noble. The timing was arguably fatal. The people who attacked the WoD relaunch attacked it, in bad faith, from a set of shared values with the design team and its very difficult to argue with someone who does that; when someone argues against you from a different set of values, you are being rhetorically invaded. When they argue against you from shared values, you’re being rhetorically shamed and shame is a powerful motivator. The WoD team released this book after two successive social media attacks of an identical nature and, thus, were reeling and on their back foot when they released the Camarilla guide and all that they succeeded in doing was placing themselves in a position where they felt compelled to prostrate themselves to a brutal, homophobic dictator because ginned up Twitter outrage carried it to his ears. That’s insane and you’re right to point it out for what it is.

Zak Sabbath said...

@A Freelance Historian

Right, which is why I elected to point the spotlight less on the company than on the bad actors in the RPG scene. Who have names. And are still active.

Worldbuilder said...

Zak, I respect the shit out of you for not taking this lying down and fighting the good fight. If you can judge someone by their enemies or then you have some absolutely amazing credentials and you have the documentation to prove it. If you parse WW’s actions morally? They acted consistently with their values. If you parse them tactically? It makes no sense. This is where I think your analysis fails: You called their risky but I’d argue otherwise. The term “risk” implies that there actually was a way for WW to win against a mob that had decided they were a bunch of secret Nazis and edgelords as the dog-with-dice essay argued in the most passive aggressive way possible.

Zak Sabbath said...


I don't understand why you'd say my "analysis fails".

My conclusion is that there are some shitty people and someone should do something about them for the sake of their victims in the past and their potential victims in the future. This essay does not have a dog in the fight of "could WW have pulled it off". Obviously their tactics were insufficient: they lost.

Both you and Historian's first comment seem to me to be slipping into the exact sleight of hand that Ettin wants to pull: the is/ought fallacy.

Whether WW was -good at PR- is not a moral issue and not something worth writing a multipart series about where I dig up receipts and risk an intensified harassment campaign.

This sleight of hand eliding the difference between "Large Company Messages Crappily" to "Large Company Commits Moral Wrongs" is really effective for hatemob members in all media because it allows them to dogpile for clout on well-known targets without doing research or providing proof of harm.

For example:

"Lol this game is transphobic. DUNK!"

"The author is transgender and you're not"

"Well than lol u suk at PR because at first glance I thought it was. DUNK!"

Launching a game that successfully competes with D&D is an -effectiveness- issue which affects the fortunes of a large game company. Ettin and Olivia Hill and Holden Shearer and Rob Donoghue and Crystal Frasier and their thousands of clone units all running around attacking anyone who grabs enough spotlight to become a target totally affects the entire industry and matters to everyone going forward.

I think for people who see the problem clearly, a variant on "Well WW tactically handled it wrong" is a way to simply avoid thinking about the second and much more important issue of the bad-faith actors here. Because then it doesn't require action--oh lets not worry about the crocodiles, they only pick off the young and infirm.

address that.

A Freelance Historian said...

Just to clear up some confusion, I’m also worldbuilder. I forgot to select the option to post under this name when I posted that last comment. To your point about using the same fallacy that Ettin and co use? I’m not. What WW did was in the best tradition of the publication history that they were inheriting, their stated design goals and their stated aims.

My point is this: Their timing couldn’t have been worse. They made a move that they were right to make but should have made when they were reestablished and working from a position of strength. There would have been no shame in trying to temporarily fly under the radar while and somethingawful found something else to rip to shreds but that’s not the course of action that they followed. When I say that your analysis fails tactically, I mean that you offer no guidance as to how this kind of pointless disaster can be avoided in the future. You make a powerful moral case that describes the problem but you prescribe no solutions. Something that you’re very qualified to do.

Zak Sabbath said...

@A Freelance Historian / Worldbuilder

Oh that's just because I would've thought the solution was mind-numbingly obvious:

Powerful people with large platforms must point out the harassers by name and directly say all the bad things they did in detail, with receipts.

Zak Sabbath said...

“If you must choose between two paths, either of which will bring death and defeat, then choose the path wherein you die fighting for honor and justice.”

-Ban Gu

A Freelance Historian said...

Okay, that’s what I’m talking about. They should have pushed back but, again, their opponents were arguing from the same values that they supported. That’s a motherfucker. They kept fighting the same fight and losing the same fight by trying to placate someone that would not be placated. Namely, Olivia Hill, Paul Mattijevic and their ilk.

“You must not fight too often with one enemy, or you will teach him all of your art of war.”
-Napoleon Bonaparte

Zak Sabbath said...

@A Freelance Historian

I'm not saying it would've been easy and it certainly wouldn't have been normal

But, with hindsight, unless everybody wants to see just endless repeats of this story with variations, then creators and fans and preferably both will have to do different things than they are currently doing and behaving in different ways.

Facts, causation, order-of-events, all that good stuff needs to form the center of any "controversy" from now on.