Tuesday, June 15, 2021

New Book

It folds, so you can page through it or spread it out as needed.

Friday, May 28, 2021

The Half-King's Tourney

Jousting, archery, general melee, many opponents, fabulous prizes.

Now available in The Store

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Bottle Fantasy

The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries, with vast air shafts between, surrounded by very low railings. 

             -Library of Babel, Jorge Luis Borges

 When famas go on a trip, when they pass the night in a city, their procedure is the following: one fama goes to the hotel and prudently checks the prices, the quality of the sheets, and the color of the carpets. The second repairs to the commissariat of police and there fills out a record of the real and transferable property of all three of them, as well as an inventory of the contents of their valises. The third fama goes to the hospital and copies the lists of the doctors on emergency and their specialties.

After attending to these affairs diligently, the travelers join each other in the central plaza of the city, exchange observations, and go to a café to take an apéritif. But before they drink, they join hands and do a dance in a circle. This dance is known as “The Gayety of the Famas.”

When cronopios go on a trip, they find that all the hotels are filled up, the trains have already left, it is raining buckets and taxis don’t want to pick them up, either that or they charge them exorbitant prices. The cronopios are not disheartened because they believe firmly that these things happen to everyone...

-Cronopios Y Famas, Julio Cortazar, tr. Paul Blackburn 

The Merchant is a blue skinned man sitting on a blue-green rug next to some cards, a small chest, a bag, and a knife. He is wearing a mask covering his face and a blue cloak. He acts friendly towards the player and talks to them while they view and purchase his wares.

-Slay the Spire Wiki 

There is a specific genre--or maybe just category--of fantasy I'm going to call "Bottle Fantasy". The simplest way to describe Bottle Fantasy is literally no-one has a normal life.

Let me be precise, though:

While most imaginative fiction (from the Godfather to Lord of the Rings) simply tells a story which focuses on something more exciting than human life as we know it, Bottle Fantasy takes place in a whole universe with no clear place recognizable human life as we know it. In a Bottle Fantasy, nobody gets born, then lives a whole life that looks (at least from the outside, regardless of the physical laws involved) like one that would happen in the real world, and then dies in a real-world way.

This isn't the same as just an imaginary world or universe--Middle Earth, it is strongly implied, either is the past of our world or one a lot like it, which means it both has people living normal lives in it and that it might one day mellow out and look like our world. Star Trek makes a place for our lives: in the past, Star Wars posits itself in the past--and far away. Moreover, all these fictional worlds at least want us to believe they have basically recognizable economies, human biologies (decapitation kills humans), etc.

Aside from the absence of Christianity, vanilla D&D could plausibly take place in the world that a very superstitious peasant suspects is just outside his door.

To simplify, hopefully: in most fantasy, there are dragons but the average peasant hasn't seen one. In Bottle Fantasy, there aren't average peasants and there never have been. All people eat starlight instead of meat, or there may be no people, only spheres, or all people are just stacks of owls in costumes.

Bottle Fantasy is in a bottle--while things may be analogous to our world, there is no in-world connection to our normal world.

Pac-Man, as presented in the original video game, is technically a Bottle Fantasy: there are no people, only Pac-Man, ghosts, dots and fruit. In Borges' Library of Babel there is literally no world except the library full of hexagons.

The world Julio Cortaza describes above in Cronopios Y Famas might be a Bottle Fantasy--there are doctors and taxis, but it's suggested that all people in the world of the book are Cronopios, Famas or Esperanzas--creatures who all act in a stylized way. It is unclear whether the doctors and taxi drivers are people who act in a normal way other than giving trips to Cronopios et al.

Like most genre categories, there's a spectrum. With "Total Bottle Fantasy" (world unconnected to our own operating on rules all its own) to "Almost Bottle Fantasy", some examples:

  • Planescape is the closest official D&D comes to Bottle Fantasy. Though you can travel and get to a world where regular people exist doing regular things, it's assumed you'd spend almost no time there and that the vast majority of the action takes place in worlds with alternate life patterns, economies and day-to-day physical laws.
  • Lewis Carroll's Alice books would be Bottle Fantasies if it wasn't for the fact that Alice is an ordinary girl from our world.
  • Likewise, it's spawn Red & Pleasant Land would be Bottle Fantasy if it weren't for the fact you can get there from a more recognizable world.
  • Mario's gameworld would be Bottle Fantasy if it wasn't for the fact that the early games posit that Mario and Luigi were regular plumbers from our world who just went into the pipes to clean out crabs and turtles.
  • Eberron is right on the edge, because it's implied everything that you can do in normal D&D is somewhere in Eberron, that means that there are people who just, like, go to taverns and work as regular blacksmiths, etc. There's probably versions of Eberron where even the farmwork and daily drudgery is obviously magic-based, but I don't think anyone's ever gone into that much detail. 
  • Slay The Spire is a Bottle Fantasy: there is no clear evidence of normal life anywhere. The clearest examples of real lives we see are communities trying to live within The Spire who definitely survive on weird unreal processes.
  • Candyland is an example of a minimalist Bottle Fantasy. There is naught but travelers and candy.
  • A lot of OSR gameworlds posit or begin to posit Bottle Fantasies.
  • Superhero worlds aren't generally Bottle Fantasies, since normalcy exists as a thing from which superheroes and villains emerge.
  • Sci-fis usually aren't Bottle Fantasies because they posit a normally-functioning historical Earth either far away, in the past, or existing just before the introduction of some sci-fi idea.
An important part of non-Bottle Fantasies is not so much that the real world shows up, it's that we have certain expectations brought on by the assumption that anything not called-out works as it does in our world.

For example: I'm not sure I've ever seen anyone die of vacuum-exposure in Star Wars. But the infamous scene where Princess Leia uses the force to stop herself from dying in The Last Jedi relies on your assumption that she'll die if she's unprotected in space, unless some unexpected force (or: Force) intervenes.

Some general characteristics of Bottle Fantasies in different media:

  • Bottle Fantasies are more common in video games and board games than most other media because the effort to create this kind of game starts with the fun/action/adventure part of the world--the part you, as a main character, play with--and programming in the normal world or references to it is often just more work than making something up. As a game creator with these games you start with what's unusual and then work your way out. You start with jumping on turtles and only tell us what a normal day as a plumber is like if you have extra time.
  • Bottle Fantasies are less common in tabletop RPGs (especially popular ones) because, conversely, the players' tactical choices and the game master's adventure-building choices rely heavily on assuming there's a world outside the game text that functions in a familiar way. For example: few RPG texts bother to explain that rivers are full of water and flow in one direction or that wood floats--but most RPG creators assume that these two facts can be assumed by players who want to build a river-raft to get somewhere. Everytime you want to remove a real-world assumption you need to type at least one sentence ("there are no rivers in the world of Dark Sun") and every time you want to change it, you need to type even more ("instead there are seas of silt"), and then you have to explain the implications, because it's an RPG and the world has to function even when the author isn't narrating it ("Most people get their water from...")
  • Bottle Fantasies in live-action film are even rarer than in tabletop RPGs because in these films (1) You have to take the raw material of reality and transform it to get a fictional world (2) This is expensive (3) Expensive films often have to pay for themselves by being popular (4) A wholly Bottled world, though offering opportunities for exciting special effects, is less likely to be relatable, which limits its popularity. The compromise live-action film generally makes is to offer a Mario or Alice-style "visitation" narrative like Tron where someone from our world goes to a mostly Bottled world. It is a feat of rare daring for a filmmaker to make a complete Bottle World, especially for adults.
  • Conversely, Primitive Bottle Fantasies in animation are common--especially in experimental or student animation because, say, "Dots vs Lines" is very doable.
  • Bottle Fantasies in written fiction are common in short stories, but rare as novels. While many fantasy, sci-fi, and straight literary writers have produced Bottle Fantasies as short thought-experiments, its hard to think of a novel's worth of conflict over things that don't exist in our world, and you have to be pretty good, or at least pretty driven, to do it.

In sculpture, they talk about additive and subtractive sculpture--in additive sculpture you pile up material (say: clay, or legos) until it looks like the thing, in subtractive sculpture you carve away (stone, or the like). In fiction, we can talk about reality like a material: there are media where you start with a real thing, like actors on a stage, and alter them to seem like characters in your story, and there are media where you start with nothing--an empty canvas or page--and add things.

The pattern here is: if working a medium starts with reality and then alters it in order to produce its basic material, then Bottle Fantasy is unusual, if working in a medium starts with nothing and getting something to resemble reality is itself a complex act of craft, Bottle Fantasy is more common, since a fantastic world is often easier to produce than a real one. Bottle Fantasy is easy in painting (look: a world consisting of a circle and nothing else) and hard in theater (every actor needs to be disguised as not-an-actor, the stage might have to be rigged with wires and mirrors to present alternate physics).

Oddly, this puts tabletop RPGs on the "start with reality, then alter it" side of the equation. 

Bottle Fantasy in RPG or live-action film are, thus, very ambitious projects. Building a world that functions for hours without any parts that default to the real world (or at least some shared conception of it) is a bit like trying to build a car that works without gas or electricity or even steam.

Bottle Fantasies are, almost axiomatically, imaginative but inaccessible. And the more imaginative they are, the less accessible they become.

Probably the ur-example in tabletop is Empire of the Petal Throne / Tekumel --while there are farmers in Tekumel, they're from no extant culture (when it is earthlike, Tekumel itself mixes South Asian and Mesoamerican influence, so you can't rely on one or the other the way you can assume anything left undescribed in Middle Earth is just "as you guess England circa 1200 would be") and the layers of ritual and invented religion intentionally insert themselves between players and their assumptions. Even Tekumel has a "visitation" narrative built in--players in the original game are supposed to be untutred foreigners. It might not be technically Bottle Fantasy as I've defined it, but it's close and presents the problems and opportunities of the genre.

Bottle Fantasy in RPGs is kind of great, in that it appeals to the game-masterish desire to invent everything from the ground up--"All arrows are petrified snakes here because there's no wood!" and it's kind of horrible in that it forces you to invent everything from the ground up--"Uh, if there's no wood, is there wine? What's it aged in? Wait, if there's no wood, are there vines?" etc.




Friday, May 21, 2021

Gamers Punching Themselves In The Face

I'm going to use an example, which is almost always a bad idea.

I'm going to use an example because it shows the extent of the problem, it shows that the problem still happens now today, and it shows that I haven't exaggerated or distorted the problem. If you have a blog you know what happens if you use an example: people comment on the example, not the point. You go "You can't swing a dead cat without hitting a community affected by global climate change" and someone will comment "My cat's breath smells like cat food". Try not to be distracted from the point by the example.

So, This Happened

A relatively successful independent game designer (not I nor anyone I have much history with) wrote a short, satirical tale.

In his tale, he described a hypothetical indie designer writing a game that (depending on how you interpret the tale) is either very niche or very bad. The imaginary designer complains--to comic effect for the hundreds of people who shared the tale--that D&D is making their niche or bad game harder to sell. The Take is a joke at the imaginary niche or bad designer's expense. That's it.

Now, there are lots of things to say about the story here:

  • D&D does take up a lot of space in the industry
  • An indie game can be successful, though.
  • "Success" can be defined in a variety of different ways.
  • Independently-produced games have, in the past, competed with D&D in significant ways, even financially. They've even out-competed D&D sometimes. How?
  • For an individual designer, financial success might be more likely with a niche game than working for D&D.
  • Many things WOTC does are actually unfair. Which ones?
  • Many critiques Indie designers have of D&D or its fans are unfair. Which ones?
  • Indie culture does have some self-defeating characteristics. What are they?
  • Games are not a meritocracy but to what degree can quality be said to exist or matter?
  • What things that aren't "quality" do still matter in getting to (any definition of) "success".
  • Does popular accessibility ever become quality?
  • What if you do have a niche game and know it? How do you define success for that?
et cetera.

After hundreds of people on the internet shared or liked this story, hundreds of indie game designers got very angry and railed against it and the creator of the story. Everyone yelled at everyone.

The Point

The point is that they yelled about nothing.

Literally none of that stuff above got discussed, because:

  • The indie game creator who penned the original take responded to critics with, basically "I don't have to talk to you because you're not successful and/or have no structural power".
  • The critics responded to him with, basically, "I don't have to talk to you because you are successful and/or you do have structural power".
(If you doubt this characterization, the whole useless pile-up is recorded herehere and here. Feel free to comment if you think I'm wrong)

Both sides have set boundaries on the conversation that are calculated to be impossible to overcome, even for someone who really wanted to engage. The original game creator can't go back in time to be less established any more than his critics can press a button to be successful enough for them to be "worth" talking to. Anyone familiar with nerds will see what's going on here: they're both making excuses to avoid confrontation, and thus to avoid playtesting the quality of their ideas.

The original developer spent literal hours crowing on the internet about his right to use the block button to ignore nobodies.

The critics, in turn, spent literal days crowing to each other about how irrelevant and out-of-touch the original developer was, as were all his kind.

The conversation, such as it was, wasn't about anything that could help anyone make, enjoy or sell a game, it was posturing to each other about who has the right to be listened to, to have their concerns addressed, to make a point, to have a point considered.

More than one critic said "Oh, I would've hoped for better from (the creator who had the original take)" but instead of saying that to that creator, they said it to each other. In other words: the person you're complaining about has done things to make you respect them, but you couldn't even get it together to bring your complaint to them.

Representatives from all the usual hatemob suspects are involved: mainstream careerists, what's left of Story-Games, Troika trolls, Something Awful goons, RPGnet parasites, etc. (Helpfully nobody's calling anyone a Nazi or using the "I won't debate Nazis" loophole. They're just excited to say they don't have to have conversations period.)

"Who has the right to be listened to?" is a real short and boring conversation because everyone instinctively has their own answer. It's about as useful as "Who likes lasagna?".

Everyone wastes a tremendous amount of time announcing and re-announcing and re-articulating their announcement that they're going to ignore each others' points because they don't want to waste time.

And what do they do with all this time they've freed up? The people with experience learn about nothing new and the people who are new learn nothing from those with experience. And everyone's terribly comfortable.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

The Whole Story on Mike Mearls

 So, I just finished up that series on what happened behind the scenes on Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition. Your response has been good.

I'm planning on doing a series on the whole saga with Mike Mearls, creative head of Dungeons and Dragons, going in to the conspiracy theories there about when I consulted on D&D 5e, the lawsuits, etc. with receipts. It, unsurprisingly, features a lot of the same characters...

As before, this comes with a big "if"--that is, if you care. To be sure I wasn't typing a research-heavy story into the empty ether, last time I asked folks who were genuinely interested to leave a comment. I'm going to ask a little more this time, as this story is going to require more work from me.

If you want the story here's what you should do: one time, using a persistent identity online, fact-check some element of a hatemob conspiracy theory. Find a place where their spreading misinformation, correct it, be complete, follow up in 48 hours or more. As always, never harass, personally attack, threaten or namecall anyone. The point is to check the spread of misinformation. If you're confused, ask a question.

When you've done that, email me: zakzsmith AT hawtmayle dawt calm and show me a link or screenchot showing you did it.

As before, if I get 100 responses, that's enough to convince me people actually care about this stuff, and I'll start putting out the piece.

Naturally, this could take a while or might not even happen--in which case, that's fine. No point in going to all the effort if it's not reaching people who want things to be better.


Monday, May 17, 2021

What Really Happened to Vampire 5e, Chapter 6: You're Eating Maggots, Michael

Chapter One  - Chapter Two - Chapter Three -

 Chapter 3.5 - Chapter 4 - Chapter 5 - Chapter 6

"Shut Up And Take The Pain"

So we talked about the hatemob calling trans creators' work transphobic, and calling Jews Nazis, and siccing dictators on game designers but this chapter contains the worst part. I'm tempted to skip straight to it, but first I want to spend some time with the other people who worked on the game.

So you know what I think and you saw some of what Kenneth Hite had to deal with because of Evil Hat hatemobbing on Vampire--but what about everybody else? While it started with me, Ken and The Art Director, by the end I'd been gone for over a year and there was a whole team of socialist Swedes and other RPG creatives working on the new edition.

Privately they all said a lot about being angry at the mob, but people also talked about depression, mental breakdowns, and destroyed careers. I'm going to stick to quoting the less personal stuff, so none of them get in trouble.

This is during the second wave, when Dog With Dice wrote the Jews-Are-Nazis article:

Someone else, much later, after the damage had been done...

Last month, yet another creator on the project reached out right after I announced I'd do this series...

This is consistent: people are scared to talk, fleeing the industry or to the edges of it, Olivia, Ettin and the rest are "malignant, bottom-feeding-trolls" and the "Pile-On-Club".

Pretty much no-one who ever worked on or even liked any version of Vampire got what they wanted.

The Worst Part

In a world that made any sense, what happened to Vampire should have been a Pizzagate-style cautionary tale about the danger of believing conspiracy theories. And it should've been that immediately. Because--as-noted way at the beginning--sales were ok and more people signed a petition supporting the game than spread the conspiracy theories.

While a diplomatically-worded petition leaving the names of all the bad actors out couldn't save Vampire, the sentiment that spawned it should have at least been enough to prevent the situation generally in RPGs getting worse later--everyone looks at the steaming crater full of troll-takes where once there was a city and goes "Oh wow, what a mess, let's all agree not to do that again"--but it wasn't. By way of explanation, I'm going to zoom in on one example:

Meet Chris Handley, Chris has had a World of Darkness podcast for over ten years, Chris has written World of Darkness stuff for Storytellers Vault, and Chris was also someone who read this blog and liked my work. Years ago he said he wanted to be my friend on social media, so I added him.

One day, before all this, Chris and another WoD fan were talking in a thread casually about having a beer with Olivia Hill. I did literally the only thing any responsible adult seeing this could've done: I warned them and anyone reading the thread that Olivia Hill was a certifiable harasser and to watch the fuck out. Like: where Olivia lived, you could legitimately be arrested for doing the shit Olivia did to her colleagues. I didn't call Chris or Chris' friend names, I didn't act like they should've known already, I didn't say a word in anger. I just told them what I knew because obviously it's not ok to normalize the presence of someone known to be that dishonest and dangerous.

At the time, Handley thought this was just gosh darn rude and so...joined the hatemob. So far, so normal: you tell someone their trollfriend is a troll, they disagree and start smearing you, too. That's a normal day on the internet, but what happened next is what makes this a story:

So years later, after all the things I discuss in this series happened to Chris' beloved Vampire, Chris--being a relatively typical World of Darkness fan--is up in arms, Chris is completely pissed, Chris signs the petition supporting White Wolf, Chris has a phone conversation with the White Wolf guys in May 2017, Chris writes me to say...

  • He now recognizes Olivia Hill's role in all of this and says she and her usual suspect pal Holden Shearer had acted in "God awful ways".
  • He treats Olivia and her circle with "a fairly large barge pole" due to their "pearl-clutching" and says Olivia's "gone off the deep end".
  • He says all of Olivia's accusations against me were "bullshit".
  • He believes Olivia screwed over backers on a Fate-system Kickstarter and used the money to move to Japan. 
  • He says he was on my side me about Olivia's wife attacking us over the Maxim article, Chris calls it "misplaced outrage".
  • He also throws in, for good measure, Olivia and co were also unnecessarily pearl-clutching about Kingdom Death.
  • He likes and buys my work.

And you would now expect this series of emails to end with "Thank you so much for trying to warn us--years before this happened to Vampire--about Olivia Hill because nobody else did. I am so sorry I didn't listen and I'm sorry I gave you any shit about it."

But it doesn't. Chris was actually writing to say he was still mad that I warned him and his friend about Olivia Hill. Here they were trying to talk about drinking beer with the delightful proven hatefactory Olivia Hill and here I had to go and say something unpleasant.

Remember the snakes have legs video?

This is how it ends:

The snake (who, being a snake, clearly has no legs) tells the guy to stop telling people that snakes have legs, so the guy unfriends him. The snake.

The reason nobody took what happened to Vampire to heart in later years is that instead of doing anything about the harassers, people attacked anyone trying to warn them.

And it's somehow worse if you have receipts? In the middle of this, Patrick Stuart, my co-author on Maze of the Blue Medusa, had a mental breakdown and joined the hatemob. He wrote in his hatepost that while, yes, while Olivia Hill had done fucked up things, the fact I had pointed it out and collected evidence to prove what Hill was doing, in the form of her dozens of public posts, was insane and "creepy".

I want to write the next sentence nine-hundred times in letters of fire 300 feet high:

I don't know what kind of world anyone lives in where a creator can just make up a lie that a colleague threatened their children and that's not a Jesus shit, full-court press, all-hands on-deck, holy-fuck, mother-of-all-that-is-holy-and-unholy 100% epic emergency where that creator is recognized as a massive threat to anything they touch that you need to do something about asap. Chris knew Olivia was lying, Patrick knew Olivia was lying. And somehow their reaction was Zak, why are you telling people?

Let's leave out all the things I've reported and only talk about complaints other people have about her: Olivia's been thrown off twitter for harassment, Kickstarter backers on several projects have said Olivia ripped them off, she was thrown off RPGnet for doxxing, behind-the-scenes every full-time developer I've met calls her a piece of shit, Shoe Skogen says she sexually harassed her, and her girlfriend/employee Francita said she was an abuser. What does Olivia Hill have to do for it to be ok to call her out? Dynamite the Eiffel Tower? Hijack a schoolbus and eat the kids? Shoot your mom down in a public street and drop her corpse in lime? 


And then on top of that: all the other stuff Olivia did. And then all the stuff Ettin did. And all the people from all the other forums and game companies. The most sympathetic and well-informed people decided it was not only better for them to do nothing, but that it was also bad to do something.

Since then:

Paradox basically closed White Wolf down.

Robin Laws, probably the most respected voice in the game industry, has kept right on podcasting regularly with his friend Kenneth Hite--and still has publicly said nothing.

The Vampire team, despite being privately pissed-off and supportive of each other, has said nothing. 

Olivia Hill smeared more people and grew her Twitter following to over 10k until her girlfriend called her out for abuse, at which point a few RPG people complained and then, well, nothing. She's suffered no consequences. She also said her "views have changed" since she first began her harassment campign.

Ettin kept on and smeared more people until I sued him.

Rob Donoghue at Evil Hat has seen zero consequences.

Crystal Frasier has seen less than zero consquences. WOTC hired her on the new Ravenloft.

And pretty much everyone else has either kept quiet, joined the hatemob or themselves been cancelled. A few have freaked out at their own behavior and left the game scene.

Literally no-one now publicly defends any of the accusations made against the game in any detail. 

The end.

I designed this and wish I hadn't


You might have heard I was involved in a secret email conspiracy with Mike Mearls, longtime creative head of Dungeons & Dragons. You might've heard I sued him. You might've heard a lot of not-terribly-informed things spread by a lot of people already featured in the story you just read.

Next up, if anyone reading genuinely cares, I will tell the whole story, soup-to-nuts, with receipts, about what happened with Mike Mearls. I'll get you the details tomorrow (EDIT: Within the week. I'm travelling.).

Chapter One
  - Chapter Two - 
Chapter Three -

 Chapter 3.5 - Chapter 4 - Chapter 5 - Chapter 6

*Ooh, edit: Earlier I wrote she got permanently banned and made a new account, but I just realized (9:43pm Pacific 18 May) it's possible that Olivia changed her @ name on twitter to the new one, then some troll took her old @ name and got themself banned, thus resulting in her old twitter name having a ban notice due to no fault of her own. I have no way of knowing which, so I am defaulting to caution. She may be simply a lying abuser and not a lying abuser who has been permabanned from twitter.

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:

  • ...is a Something Awful goon...
  • ...admits repeatedly to being a troll...
  • ...is 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...
  • ...is a white straight cis dude...
  • ...got 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.