Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Goons on Trial (Part 1)

There is a poll at the end of this entry, please comment if you're interested.

Three Years of Lawsuits

Three years in. One thing I do is depositions, they work like this:

Wake up before dawn, shave, put on the jacket and button-down shirt and shorts, like a day at an office, fold out one of those changing screens to block out a covid-era apartment full of unwashed dishes, turn on Zoom, work the camera so only the screen is in the frame behind you, and wait.

My lawyer pops up on the screen. Theoretically, someone in their position could ask “Are you ok? Do you have any questions?” but there aren’t ever any. All of this is easy, there are never any surprises.

The various opposition lawyers—no matter who they are or who hired them—sweat a lot—as if not used to talking to strangers. Some, despite being very well-paid, use those digital backgrounds, like a wall of law books, overlapping their bald heads when they move too fast. Some come in at angles, as if turning on their camera for the first time.

I try hard not to be hard on them: their clients have given them nothing to work with. The evidence and witnesses prove I’m telling the truth, so they have to work another angle. They are desperate to find me lying about anything. 

Most of what happens in these legal cases does not go like in the movies, but these parts always do:

“How many people read that blog entry?”

“I don’t know.”

“That’s not what you said in March! You said there were metrics and you gave a figure, Mr Smith!”

(You can see them leaning in here, riding hard.)

“Yeah that was spring, this is like winter, I haven’t looked at it since. You could just look at what I said then?”

They pause.

I’ve seen these kind of lawyers’ notes, they are lists of groups of questions. You can see, in the zoom window, the lawyer re-orienting, making a shoulder movement to cross out what’s become a cul-de-sac of questions, scanning down for some questions not made irrelevant by this totally normal answer.

They have nothing. They need to have something. So, often surprisingly early, they get in to The Goon Questions.

Something Awful Slash Tee Gee

If you already know all about Something Awful /tg is and its shitty impact on tabletop games you can skip to the last section. If not: 

“Goon” is what people who hang out on a very old website called Something Awful call themselves. It pre-dates-, spawned-, and is almost-indistinguishable from-, 4chan. It was founded by a now-dead disgraced abuser and troll named Lowtax who you can google, and “Goon” means someone who was so excited to be a troll and spend time with other trolls that they paid him an annual membership fee. 

In the porn world, it’s also slang meaning “endless masturbation”.

The goon forums are topically arranged, there’s one for each thing goons are interested in, so:

  • video games 
  • presumably some other shit idk I never looked, 
  • and, of course, tabletop RPGs.

Since for the last two decades there have been dozens, maybe hundreds, of other places to talk about tabletop RPGs, the only reason to go there is to say trolly things that would get you tossed off any other forum. Or to hang out with other trolls.

The wildest thing about goons is they all act the same, even when not on the site, even when on private blogs or twitter, under their real names:

  • Cartoon and video game avatars
  • Most-online-possible vocabulary, verbal tics, topics of conversation
  • Obsessively comment on whatever’s topical on twitter that day
  • Almost never, even when not on the site—on twitter or on a discord--talk about anything that happened to them that wasn’t on a computer
  • …except on rare occasions, and then only to frame it as a great injustice, like they went to 7-Eleven to buy Cheetos and it was a great injustice
  • All this is so consistent it’s weird

The tabletop-specific troll forum was called /tg, short for “traditional games”. Since tabletop games (especially when it started) were not mostly a thing to be done online, they all developed creepily similar takes:

  • They played D&D and it was a great injustice
  • The solution was 4th Edition D&D because 4e was not the earlier editions that had made them cry
  • Anyone who played a different edition was a “grog”—meaning they were secretly a member of the GOP no matter what they did
  • So like if it turned out Bernie Sanders played old-school D&D then Bernie Sanders is a “grog” and a secret member of the Republican party
  • If you look at the /tg threads from 2009 to around 2015 this is, again, so consistent it’s weird

Why did they troll so hard for 4e rather than, like the rest of the RPG industry, troll indiscriminately? My guess is just that it was the edition-wars era and that whoever ended up being so online they got to be the moderators of /tg just kicked out everyone who didn’t troll 4e-ward.

Here’s a reformed goon. I think everyone in the screencapped conversation reads this blog so if you have any questions you can ask them in the comments:

I first found out about the goons around then because it was one of a thousand sites making fun of my ex for being a girl in porn yet not being like them while doing it. Specifically: they were attacking her for having extension cords on her wish list and playing old D&D instead of new D&D. I rolled my eyes at the existence of what appeared to be another nest of frat bros and moved on, I didn't interact with anyone from there until years later.

Once the 5th edition of D&D had been out for a while and been popular and the Old School gamers had started winning awards and fans for their stuff, the goons softened on the "only 4e is good" line. They went on to mostly championing other indie RPGs. But:
  • None of the people who had spent all that time harassing anyone for playing anything besides their favorite edition of D&D admitted they were wrong
  • None of the people who changed their tune apologized to their victims
  • None of them did anything to help their victims
  • None of the people who had positions of influence (moderators, game designers who hired people) where they did that ever suffered any consequences
  • Even with their new and more catholic taste, they were all still assholes and acted the same

The Goon Questions

Earlier I said the wildest thing about goons is they all act the same. The wildest things about goons in the tabletop hobby specifically are:
  • Despite how much impact they've had, nobody talks about goons (in many cases, explicitly because they're afraid of being harassed).
  • When someone reveals they are a goon, the reaction from everyone else in games isn't Oh wow, you're a troll and just admitted it? We can't trust anything you say please stop posting your weird accusations until you get therapy and work to undo the harm you did.
This consistently blows my mind and has for over a decade--they're a textbook example of "abusers you shouldn't let into your community". If someone can explain it in the comments, please do leave one.

Some examples:
  • Goons get positions of influence: goons worked on the Lancer RPG, goons moderated RPGnet, Evil Hat Productions actually actively went to Something Awful to recruit goons on the site, Chris McDowall, an OSR blogger and someone who, therefore, was a de facto victim of various goons for years--let them on the OSR discord once they decided they liked OSR games, goon Dan Olson, aka "Folding Ideas" has a popular YouTube channel and people actually watch it.
  • Goon conspiracy theories are repeated on RPG twitter even by people way too snobby or "professional" to be goons, including basically everyone who participated in the harassment campaign against me
  • ...and their lawyers
Now, the goons themselves are trolls who make shit up--that's their whole deal. I sued the main troll from Something Awful /tg --Paul Matijevic aka "Ettin"--and he folded almost immediately. And it wasn't as if he couldn't afford to defend himself since he proved he could quickly run a fundraiser for legal bills.

This was the dude who had been more aggressively accusing me of "abuse" and screencapping me than anyone else online. He could have defended himself successfully by proving any kind of abuse and when his bluff got called he gave up almost as soon as he hired a lawyer. At this point anyone who had ever accused me of abuse--at least online--should logically have to go "Well Ettin had recorded Zak harder than anyone, since he was lying about all of it, there isn't anything else" but, as noted up at the top, the other peoples' lawyers don't have anything else to go on.

This means, apparently:
  • There are people who keep paying lawyers hundreds of dollars hourly to then tell their junior partners, paralegals, and research assistants to go on twitter and discord and search "Zak S""Bad".
  • These folks turn up goon conspiracy theories from either goons or in the mouths of useful idiots who can be relied upon to repeat goon shit uncritically.
  • They then contact the people who post them, who either don't respond, admit they have no idea where they heard them, or trace them back to goons like Freyja Erlings, Kai Tave, and Nora Reed.
  • The goons themselves, when contacted, either don't respond or admit they have no evidence to back these up.
  • The lawyers go "Well fuck!" and figure they'll somehow catch me out by asking about them anyway, which leads to exchanges like...
"Is it true, Mr Smith, that you got names of people who complained about you from one Mike Mearls, head of Dungeons and Dragons, and proceeded to harass those people online?"


At which point I remind them they're welcome to all my communications with Mike Mearls because of the legal thing called "discovery" which I did months ago and was explained in My Cousin Vinnie plus they have my permission to contact my phone provider to verify we had no phone conversations at the time and they can ask Mike--who doesn't like me at all because I sued him--and he can verify we didn't meet ever until years later.

And then they pause and sweat and cross a bunch of stuff out and go "So you've been banned from theRPGsite, is that true?"

And I go "No, but a goon said that and I posted on theRPGsite immediately after"

And they go "What's a 'goon'?"

And it goes on and on for hours: a goon said I was a Nazi so I have to remind them I'm Jewish and got put in the paddy wagon for being at a Black Lives Matter protest, a new goon says because I'm Jewish my family's rich so the lawyers spend hours chasing down documents proving nope I make exactly as much as most other painters lucky enough to show in Chelsea, a goon says I'm actually a parrot named Eugene so... etc.

This is all done under oath and using their client's billable hours, also eating massively into the court-ordered limited amount of time they have to question me.

Basically, the point being: for every dollar a goon has thrown at my harassers, they've cost them hundreds or thousands of dollars by mistakenly creating the impression that what they said was reality-based, thus basically trolling their side's own lawyers.

So, Over To You

In the next entry I am going to go into some detail about goons and what I learned about them during the legal process, et cetera.

However, one thing I noted earlier is it's weird that nobody in tabletop talks about Something Awful. Maybe that's changed now that the rest of the internet has started to realize the place was an abusive shitbox because the founder killed himself, I don't know. So I don't know how much any of you care.

If you don't care, don't comment, and I'll just post the short version when I get around to it.

If you do care and want to hear more about what I know about specific goons and the specific trouble they caused, including Freyja Erlings, Ettin's best pal, Kai Tave, the one-goon edition war, Nora Reed, the goon who built harassment robots, Nickoten, the goon who goons all over the OSR, Erika Muse, the goon who straight-up admitted she is full of shit and many more, then leave a comment saying "Give us the details" or something like that.

If I get 100 comments saying people want all the details, then I'll put up the long version.

No anonymous comments allowed, use a persistent identity.


Becami Cusack said...

The only thing I really saw that was good and came from somethingawful was Marble Hornets, anything and everything else, especially the /the stuff seems to be extremely malicious.

I would love to hear how what and where, all the details would help put things together.

As an example, once I knew that Ettin was problematic, it became obvious that when he was involved or being considered ok, that group was full of either ignorant people or evil trolls, sometimes both.
I imagine these others are quite similar magnets for trouble.

Anyways, hope you get 100, the details would be very valuable!

Zak Sabbath said...


Thanks--it's not a big deal butmight as well.

In the future: zakzsmith AT hawtmayle dawt calm

Simon Tsevelev said...

Dear Zak,
Please do give us the details.
... is the part about Eugene something that someone really said?

Zak Sabbath said...

The parrot thing was a joke

gdorn said...

What's the Dan Olson thing? I'm not an uncritical fanboy, but when I went looking for details (for as long as my attention span would hold up), all I found was a kiwifarms thread where a different group of lifeless trolls were grasping at straws. Seemed to boil down to "he's an SJW, therefore he's bad".

Was he an active goon, or just a goon by association?

TabelleCasuali said...

looks interesting

Zak Sabbath said...


Dan Olson is a full-on dyed-in-the-wool harasser and conspiracy theorist. Total goon:

Adamantyr said...

Definitely want the details.

Kyle T said...

I'm still interested in the details.

remial said...

I was going to ask if it was difficult for you to type, being a parrot, and did you use your feet, or your wings? :P

that said, I'd like to hear more details.

TrentB said...

Yes please

David said...

Details would be nice

VicVerde said...

I am interested in more details.

Romain Zémiri said...

I am interested in the details as well!

FloatyBoats said...

When the Ettin suit ended in his defeat, I was disturbed by how many people immediately went to 'my good friend has been victimized'. Like, people who I thought had a much better head for this, existing in a world where there's a lot of evidence for Ettin being a pile of crap, decided that his own admission was just a legally-forced lie. (The weirdest flex was three people saying 'well, he can sue me next, I don't have money'.)
Yeah, spill the tea. More of this needs to be out there.

RPG Chindit said...

More daylight on the goons please.

Em from Yuggoth said...

Details for sure

jose masaga said...

I'd like to know more, please

DM Critic said...

I'd also like to know more please and thank you.

Jason Knepper said...

Please continue. I think the details will further refute the harassers and aid in once again having open conversations in other Silvia’s media spheres.

A Freelance Historian said...

Sweet Jesus, I need this story in my life.

And imagine picking fourth edition, of all things, as the trench you want to die in.

Matrox Lusch said...

I do remember some people posting on Twitter they were sorry for ETTIN, because he lied and you stood up to him. Details sure, but the votes are thin. Someday someone will write a history of the OSR and that person is either going to side with the hate mob, bothsides the period, or dig for the truth.

Serpent Messiah said...

I'm interested in the details and also want to say: I had a SA account for years, only lurked, never posted, missed all of the specifically RPG-related drama entirely, but I did notice the weird goon pattern of insane hatethreads many times. Many of the targets are bad at art or whatever else they do as well as being bad people so it's easy to see why they'd be mocked (note that I'm not putting you in that category) but it always, always, always spirals into the thing you're talking about where every single thing the target says or does is given the worst possible interpretation, no other interpretation is ever considered even if someone raises it, and within a few pages you can see people starting to talk themselves into thinking that someone they dislike is secretly a nazi and a pederast when all they do is make a bad webcomic or something (or I guess in your case, disagree with them about elf games).

Sombodystolemyname said...

I would like the details as well!

Jordan said...

Awaiting details!

Bast said...

I would like to read more details re: goons.

J P said...

I would love to hear more about goons.

Sara said...

I want details!

Mistwell said...

I don't know much about Something Awful. I knew they existed, and knew they were trollish. For some reason I also associated them in my mind with some sort of weekly or daily online cartoon but I likely confused that with something else. Anyway, yes I'd be interested in the details.

McCabre said...

I want the deets but I'll admit I'm mostly just interested in the drama

I think Olson mostly sucks but it's hard to pin down why most of the time. I don't really like calling vibes on people but that's all I've got and he's a content creator/public figure so I can not like him all I want

I never paid for SA but I definitely had fun reading some of the video game stuff or some of the more legendary threads that made it to the Internet at large. I found myself under the impression that the TG guys were a different flavor of freak than the more palatable freaks I enjoyed reading stuff from but I was like fourteen so who knows

Zak Sabbath said...


"I don't really like calling vibes on people but that's all I've got and he's a content creator/public figure so I can not like him all I want"

Why would you say that?

I mean, you can say: "I don't like the work"

But why would you say that the act of making something and letting other people see it entitles people in the audience to talk shit outside of any identifiable wrongdoing?

(That's not a rhetorical question: please answer)

Dish said...

Details would be cool.

Zak Sabbath said...


erased. yr banned for trolling.

Zak Sabbath said...


I won’t kick a man when he’s as low as he can be already

Vas said...

I'm interested in hearing want you have to say

Vas said...

Present the information

Sean Whittaker said...

This polly definitely wants the details

laricg99 said...

I'm interested to hear more

Judge Joe Kilmartin said...

Yeah. I def want to hear more.

Ironsides2017 said...

I would like more details, please.

Nate said...

I would certainly like more details.

unclefes said...

Same, would like more details please.

Vampire Rabbit said...

I'd like the details.

Minka Eve said...

I'm interested in the details.

Ruxandra V said...

Interested in the details

Alex J. said...

I'd read it.

luis said...

i'm interested

Winterborn said...

I've really enjoyed many of Dan Olson's video essays.

I was not aware of his goonery and can only say this knowledge(particularly the tweets linked above) saddens me.

Zak Sabbath said...


Yeah, it's pretty creepy.

I get the internet is the internet and it has its own rules but with a little perspective it's kind of nuts that someone who participates regularly in the kind of over-the-top caricature-of-a-troll behavior that Olson did gets to pretend to be a thoughtful public intellectual.

It's super depressing mostly.

McCabre said...

Oh lol didn't see this response

1: "I don't like this dude very much" isn't really harmful when i also say this about people who make stupid arguments and try and make me listen to them in real life - I am not accusing him of some kind of wrongdoing he just has the energy of the kind of person I tend not to like. Like old nerds who got put in lockers for being annoying and that galvanized their annoying qualities later in life.

His work can be fine (I'm not actually sure if any of it is good) but I can still not like him and find it unimportant. If I'm going to stare at a YouTube video for a while I don't really like thinking the person talking is a dweeb.

2. I think being a public figure who trades in attention that the algorithm kept trying to shove in my face despite reasonable efforts on my part to avoid it ("don't recommend this channel" + other algorithm weeding, I have since succeeded at getting him off my feeds) gives me the right to judge a dude as a dweeb or not.

3. My general outlook is not very cautious (I'd rather be wrong about giving someone the benefit of the doubt and get slightly hurt than assume the worst for no reason and hurt someone) so if my brain tells me someone is crappy in one way or another I'm confident in trusting it. If forced to articulate it, I'd suspect that my reasoning is that I get hints of someone who values attention in a way that undermines other more important qualities that I think are more important. Usually these instincts aren't random feelings but hard-to-articulate subconscious understandings of patterns so I don't think I'll be perfect in describing them and can't be convinced they're not helpful tools in informing my life and opinions.

As you posted upthread, he is a harasser and an idiot while pretending to be an intellectual, which is well above 1+2 and frankly vindicates 3 in my opinion. I may have been hoping to hear more about it and didn't actually ask the question due to distraction but I don't remember.

I don't think there's anything wrong with 1 2 or 3 since I'm not trying to level accusations of crimes at him and would still require some degree of proof (such as that which you provided) to believe a random accusation. The relative difference in social capital between him and myself also renders my non-attack inert.

Ultimately you brought him up in the "piece of shit" camp without a real explanation as to why (perhaps in this context my not knowing SA goon history is a 101-level failure) and I said I want details so I don't think I'm too out of line at all

McCabre said...

The comment box acts wacky on my phone so I can't edit or proofread stuff well but I don't think there's anything wrong with not liking people or even saying so

Making shit up or weird specific "feelings" like "this guy gives me vibes of someone who sneezes all over the salad bar" are out of line because that's effectively an accusation that they sneezed all over the salad without having to commit to anything. (I'm now curious if there's any psychology studies on this sort of non-accusation and its effects since this is a proof oriented space but I think I can get away with acknowledging this phenomenon without sources)

The line between actual celebrity and random YouTube guy is a little blurry when it comes to when I can form a baseless opinion on someone, but I'm comfortable finding actors insufferable for no reason or thinking a band sucks for reasons I cant explain. YouTube shill seems more open to random criticism than some dudes playing guitars to me so I'm fine with it

Zak Sabbath said...


1. & 2. & concluding paragraph. Saying you just don't lke someone is fine but that fact he's a -content creator- doesn't mae it better or worse to not like him. It seems like you were claiming that somehow his line of work changes the OK-ness. You can decide the guy at your corner store is a dweeb, it doesn't matter about the algorithm.

You haven't explained why you are allowed to decide you don't like people with jobs that require participating in creating internet content is somehow more acceptable than disliking everyone else.

3. While you are describing why people often trust their instinct, since anyone could say this and peoples' instincts often give -opposite results-, it isn't fair to rely on them to make a judgment -that you then announce in public- without being clear it's based on nothing solid.

Like if someone has a "shifty face" it might make me distrust them but it's not fair to announce in public "he's shifty", but it is fair to say "something about his face makes me think he's shifty".

I am not making a clear claim you said something outta line, I just want to undestand why people with certain jobs attract your judgment in a different way.

3a. "The relative difference in social capital between him and myself also renders my non-attack inert."

This is not true at all.

People who have "social capital" can and have had huge suport pillars of their lives knocked out by anonymous internet people deciding they don't like them. This is a fact.

Just because an attack doesn't work today does not mean it can't be part of harm to the victim tomorrow.

(and if it's just noise and not useful criticism, that is also a form of harm in real time, to all the people listening whose time might be wasted by reading an attack with no information value.)

Zak Sabbath said...


So, please address those points.