Jeff Russell's Webstead
My little corner of the web
Removing Support from Zak Smith

[UPDATE February 14th, 2019: Zak has issued a statement responding¬†here. I am not convinced to change my position below, but it introduces some doubt. I may have further thoughts as more information comes out, but I encourage you to read and evaluate it for yourself. UPDATE February 16th 2019: I reworded the bit about what it would take to change my stance to include adequate evidence that the claims were false, rather than only saying evidence of growth on Zak’s part would do it.]

Well, shit.

As anyone reading this has likely already seen, Zak Smith/Sabbath’s longtime girlfriend Mandy Morbid has posted that Zak has done some rather awful stuff to her and others. I came across it as re-shared (with permission) over on Dungeons & Donuts by Kiel Chenier.

I then read Patrick Stuart’s response to the news here on False Machine.

Here’s why I have chosen to believe these claims:

  • Two folks who I have had enough online interaction with to find sane and credible are saying their claims are consistent
  • The claims are to specific instances and patterns of behavior by an individual, rather than relying on rhetorical dirty tricks, like saying an unwillingness to admit to guilt is evidence of guilt, or arguing based on group membership rather than individual action
  • I cannot discern any gain or motivation for lying about these claims, except perhaps to hurt Zak to “get back” for hurt done, but see above for why I don’t think that’s the case

To change my mind, I’d need to be presented with some pretty damn compelling counter-evidence that goes beyond the usual standards of internet-proof (something like a video of someone involved saying “I made that shit up” or “Let’s take down Zak whatever the cost” or the findings of a court of law).

This news makes me rather sad. I have admired Zak’s work and his critical judgement and explanation of works of art for a long time now. He introduced me via his blog and Google+ to most of my favorite RPG creators and helped provide the impetus for a number of awesome collaborations. I still think “DIY” is a better rallying ethic than “Old School” (but continue to use “OSR” as a more helpful, if vague, label for the sort of D&D and sort of blogs I find most interesting). I have found his assertions about the Socratic method, the importance of truth, and the need to have and enforce standards in creative communities to be helpful in shaping my own thinking, even when I have disagreed with parts. Unfortunately, now he gets to help me by providing another example of a creative person who makes great stuff but seems to be personally reprehensible, leaving all of us to figure out how to make use (or not) of their work.

Until and unless I am presented with credible evidence of major personal development and change on Zak’s behalf [NEW 2/16/19: or evidence of the sort mentioned above that the claims are baseless], I will take the following actions:

  • I will not direct future attention or money to Zak, as the personality and behavioral problems described by Mandy and Patrick and others are pervasive and poisonous enough to make all of his discourse suspect, and I wish to help provide consequences for such behavior - concretely, this means I’m removing him from my blog roll, unsubscribing from his Patreon, and will not buy things in a way that will benefit him
  • As for gaming works already bought and blog posts already read, I will continue to use and enjoy them, but with perhaps a more critical eye to any implicit beliefs that may be in them
  • As I go over any elements of my own thinking and view of the world, if it comes up that it was influenced by Zak, I’ll have to re-evaluate with a more critical eye - for example, at the moment I still believe in the value of a commitment to truth over “niceness”, and the socratic method as a way of finding truth, but I’m re-thinking some of the more abrasive implementations of it that Zak had convinced me might be worthwhile, if painful
  • I will not be removing my past posts on Zak’s material here on the blog, including reviews and the “Vornheiming Middenheim” series, but I will post a link to this post at the top of them to give anyone encountering him for the first time the chance to decide for themselves how to approach his work (or not)
  • On my old post publicly supporting him against negative claims, I have added a more explicit retraction, but I am leaving it on the site in the interest of transparency on what I have believed in the past

Last modified on 2019-02-12