So, a long time ago I started playing Dungeons & Dragons. Well really I started playing Warhammer 40K first, and painting the minis while I was recovering from surgery. I wasn’t healing properly and I didn’t respond to my post op pain medication—in fact it made me so sick I stopped taking it less than 48 hours after my surgery—so I was on my own basically as far as recovery was going. Zak was taking care of me. He had bought me a Wii to play during recovery but I was too sick to sit up long enough to play and in too much pain to manage the controller. I was also getting cabin fever being so sick and stuck in bed. So Zak then brought me some minis to paint, Daemonettes and Sisters of Battle and Harlequins for homebrew Warhammer 40K games. Our nerdier friends came over and I could play from bed, or sitting on the floor—we spread our terrain out over our studio apartment floor.
Warhammer 40K lead to D&D when my friend Satine Phoenix heard about my interest. She had been playing since she was in high school and she missed it—so D&D With Porn Stars was born. I first played a thief but this only lasted one or two sessions. I quickly abandoned my (to me) boring thief and rolled up a half-demon (abandoned on the steps of a cathedral) cleric of Vorn—grim god of iron and rain. I also quickly started recruiting my friends to play with us. I wasn’t well and I missed hanging out and this was an activity where my physical limitations didn’t matter at all. My friend Kimberly Kane (AVN best actress winner and Feminist Porn Director award winner) started playing with us—probably the most unlikely D&D player out of all my friends—then my friend Connie—we danced together at Cheetah’s a bikini bar in Hollywood. Connie is shy and has social anxiety and so I was well enough to go back to the club and tell her about our games backstage between our sets before she finally joined in. Then our friend Frankie who, like Connie and I, was a Suicide Girl model. And my siblings started playing with us whenever they were around, on the rare visits to LA and back home in Canada during the holidays.
Our campaign had been running for a year when the Escapist contacted us, Zak’s blogging about our adventures interested them, and they wanted us to film our games for a weekly web series, so that’s when we started filming I Hit With My Axe.
Awhile before IHWMA went online Zak had already had to defend me & my girls on an internet forum after someone on a podcast called us “brain damaged”. The guys involved in the podcast apologized to us—well to Zak first as he was the one most tuned into this stuff at the time—when Zak called them on that bullshit—but the forum reaction was appalling and the forum pretty much discriminated against Zak for years after. And what I saw, as a woman gamer, on that forum was pure hatred for anything different. For someone like me daring to play a make believe elf-game and for someone like Zak to post online about girls like me and my friends playing tabletop role playing games. I saw how they hated Zak for sticking up for us, I saw how no one EXCEPT Zak stood up for us, and then I saw how some of them decided to hate Zak for calling them on their bullshit loudly and aggressively.
So before Axe went online I already had a certain degree of trepidation about exposing myself as a gamer to masses of mostly white male hobbyists. We talked about it. I am not one to let fear stop me from doing something I want to do. I knew parts of Axe were going to be challenging for me, and they were.
The hostility I had glimpsed on that one forum (StoryGames) had made me feel like I wasn’t at all wanted in the hobby but my reaction my whole life to nonsense exclusion like that was to fucking rebel. So you don’t like girls playing your boy games? Oh we’re not playing the games YOU like? We’re not playing exactly the way you like to play with the rules you like? Well I don’t give a fuck what you think. I give a fuck about what I like, and I fucking know what I like, and I am going to show you all how much fun we are having. I got a lot of my porn friends to come play with us as guest stars on Axe, and many of them continued to play with regularly outside of the filmed gamed sessions. I wanted all my friends to come play with me.
So Axe went ahead and got made.
And the misogyny washed over us. In a series of tidal waves after the first few episodes aired. You wouldn’t…well women would…believe the awful stuff people said ( example:”I don’t feel like watching hookers make noise”). Satine and I got on the Escapist forums and started defending ourselves, we engaged with the people not being total dicks. Connie and Frankie joined in too. Eventually more and more people started shouting the idiots and their sexism down and Axe hit it’s stride and became quite popular. We had a lot of fun making that show but we really got shit on for doing it.
Anyway, Zak’s blog got more popular. He also started working on Vornheim: The Complete City Kit, for running D&D type adventures in a city setting. When Vornheim was published it sold out and won a bunch of awards, including the IndieCade award (usually a video-game award) for technology of all things.
A friend of ours knew a guy who’s a writer who wanted to write about our group for Maxim. So we were in Maxim, a sweet and friendly article, a little bit about us personally, a little bit about the game session that night where we had the reporter playing with us, a little bit about how people who do porn are really just normal people, and some nude photos of us sitting around our game table with a lot of colourful snacks and dice and everyone’s nipples cleverly hidden behind limbs or copies of the Monster Manual.
(Different photoshot ^^ with me, Connie, Laney Chantal, Charlotte Stokely, shot by Paradox Productions/D23)
And we got hated on more and more. And Zak went on doing what Zak does when people say fucked up shit about me and our friends: he defends us—loudly and aggressively. And he went on doing the same thing when people said fucked up shit about him too. Or anyone else, even people he doesn’t know—if they are being attacked unfairly too (read the comments in that last link).
Have you seen the youtube video about Phil Fish? You should. Especially if you, like me never heard of Phil Fish. It’s relevant. Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmTUW-owa2w
Meanwhile, offline, and elsewhere online we went on with the non-gamer parts of our lives. I was getting sicker, not better, over the years. That’s become a pretty massive part of our lives. Zak has always always taken care of me when I needed it, and our other friends as well. For nearly all of 2011 we were in Montreal trying to use my Canadian health care to find out what was happening to me. (Originally I was going to start university there—where I’m from—and split my time between LA and porn, and home and school, but my health was rapidly degenerating and I am still not in any shape to attend classes, get around campus and cope with the work load.) We started playing a lot more games on Google +’s video chat during this time since we were away from our friends.
It was Satine’s idea to use G+ group video chats to play games and Zak started this thing called ConstantCon up, where people are running tabletop rpgs on G+ all the time and lots of people from all over can meet up and play, which is pretty great for people having trouble finding cool people to game with in person or for people who are far from their usual group.
I was in Montreal drowning in a medical system not designed to care for someone with a rare and poorly understood chronic and degenerative and difficult-to-identify genetic syndrome, waiting for the next test, the next appointment, trying not to despair as I lost my ability to walk and no one could help me, and more wouldn’t even take me seriously, when our issue of Maxim came out. G+ got pretty noisy about it for awhile. Zak was defending us again because some people were saying us being in Maxim was bad for women, and bad for women in gaming. I joined in to speak for myself. It was messy and stressful. Lines were drawn in the sand at that point. I’m currently trying to work things out, move past that notorious argument, with one of the women involved. So I am not going to link to that mess.
But, in general, the hate kept coming…..
There was a horrible incident where I, some gamer women friends tried to articulate a different opinion about sexism in gaming than the typical anti-chainmail-bikini "ladyism" and tried to speak up about the “white knighting” we were experiencing in the online hobby community: http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?624898-5e-Dragon-s-Eye-View-Sexism-in-Fantasy/page53
And Zak keeps defending people, me, my girlfriends, people he doesn’t even know, online friends, and he keeps getting seriously mischaracterized as a troll or some horrible ethically unacceptable thing just, basically, for asking people honest questions. He keeps calling people on their bullshit and so he’s seen by some people as being the bad guy. He’s not a bad guy.
He is a guy in an unusual place: he has one of the most popular blogs in tabletop gaming but doesn’t make his money in the gaming industry—so he has the ability to reach people without the same fear of making waves that a full-time RPG designer would. He is in the rare position of being able to tell the truth and be listened to, so he feels an obligation to stick up for people.
Here’s an example of an event involving Zak that pissed a lot of people off. It’s recounted on someone else’s blog: Trigger warning here, for sexual assault, threats, etc, and I don’t agree with the tone or language used in the post linked: http://therpgpundit.blogspot.com/2013/12/for-pseudo-activists-lying-about-rape.html …but it’s all true. Someone made up a lie, 80 people endorsed it, Zak told everybody not to trust those people, some apologized and that was great—most got pissed and even more self-righteous.
Fast forward to now:
There’s a lot of talk online in some places recently about some “controversial" consultants on Dungeons & Dragon’s 5th edition.
My boyfriend Zak is one of the consultants.
I’ve dealt with a lot of bullshit online when it comes to gaming myself but it’s culminating in death threats and boycotts and smears and a lot of generally creepy and disturbing stuff.
Since the 5th edition came out Zak’s been accused of ableism and homophobia and transphobia and a few other nasty things too, sexism, trolling, etc. It’s all basically libel and I’ve posted about the nonsensical “ableism” accusations already. (Do you know how many disabled people are in my home group? 2 regulars, and one irregular.) When the people responsible for these accusations are questioned or asked for proof they invariable fail to provide any. Some claim to fear for their safety. Some claim they don’t have the time. WOTC—the company that runs D&D—has asked people to email them proof and got nothing at all damning on Zak. It’s pretty atrocious behaviour, going all the way to creepy-as-fuck threats and posturing.
The most active group started life as a weird militant pro-4th-edition D&D (it sounds stupid, I know) Something Awful thread that attacked me for having electrical cords on my wish list. These people still bear a grudge to this day for Zak catching one of their members openly lying.
What distinguishes the online RPG business from others is the trolls are actually professional game designers—the Something Awful veterans cluster around something called Funhaver Games, headed by someone credited as Schmelz (various first names) when designing games, and called themselves “Mikan” or “Brandon Mikan” when trolling, and is “Tablehop” on twitter (not trying to “out” this person, I don’t know how they identify, just providing a way to track their attacks over the years. They’ve copped to all these screen names). They also keep active on RPGnet where Schmelz’s friend Paul Matijevic is a moderator under the name Ettin (his name’s public on the internet).
Meanwhile people like me, Connie (my black/mixed race girlfriend—yes THAT kind of girlfriend), Scrap Princess (trans- gamer in Zak’s group and longtime friend), Satine (another friend, gamer and woman-of-colour who’s spoken (TW) publicly (*some minor factual errors in that article*) about the abuse she survived as a child, Izzy (who is my friend and a fellow gamer but also suffers from the same genetic syndrome as I do and uses a wheelchair like me) and many gay people, trans- folk, women and people of colour, many of whom have never even met Zak keep getting ignored whenever we try to speak up about this or about Zak.
Connie and I
Our opinions, our experiences, don’t count. We’re harder to target and make shit up about than Zak, who’s white, cis, straight, able bodied and male. The people attacking Zak continuously pretend we don’t exist because it makes their argument easier. They are trying to smear Zak for “silencing LGBT people” by, literally, ignoring voices of LGBT people in the discussion.
One white cishet guy even decided we all have Stockholm syndrome.
All this upsets me, more than it upsets Zak I think. All the libel and negative attention, even on the tiny scale of the tabletop RPG community (which is nothing compared to the bullshit you read about yourself in the porn world, but somehow hurts more because it’s from people pretending to be responsible). I’m Canadian, I don’t like conflict, I don’t like being involved in conflict. But I do feel morally obligated to stand up for what I believe is right. I was raised on Star Trek TNG—as an educational tool. So that’s what I’m doing. Zak’s pissed some people off yeah. But he isn’t the devil he’s been painted as. He’s fucking awesome.
These are some of my negative experiences as a girl gamer, as a fairly high profile girl gamer. People have always attacked Zak because he’s an easier target, because he is brave and bold and unflinching when it comes to standing up to bullies, because he’s out there watching out for people like me, Satine, Connie, Charlotte Stokely, artists, creators, performers, and gamers, anyone who the gatekeepers are trying to shame and intimidate out of the hobby.
If there is any such thing as an online tabletop RPG community, and I think there is a bit, I think we need to be questioning people’s behaviour, and I think it’s only fair to warn people about those who talk a big game about inclusivity and tolerance and who in practice are doing just the opposite, and have been all along.
Here is a tumblr that accuses my boyfriend of 8 years, Zak S in the RPG world, Zak Smith in the art world, Zak Sabbath in the porn world, of being ableist. It’s a tag/label under a submitted quote of his that says “ableist”, posted on July 5th. “
[on how 2-8 and 3-18 and so on is just as easy as writing out the dice needed, like 2d4 and 3d6]
My blog’s not called “Playing D&D With People Who All Graduated High School”. I will tell you right now, if I tell Kimberly Kane she’s got a 3d6 weapon or a 4d4 spell she will not know which does more damage.
But, more than that, no matter which is easier for you, the idea that the only reason to use number range is nostalgia is on the face of it silly. Not everyone is you. It depends on who’s playing.
[…] I’m KK’s math tutor for the GED—I know what math she can and can’t do.
Here’s what I, Mandy, have to say about that:
When I was 14 I was evaluated and told I had a reading comprehension level equal to that of a college graduate. I was kept from skipping from the 7th grade to the 9th because of my unusually small stature and how generally frail and ill I was. (Not skipping me turned out to be quite a mistake, but that’s a different story.) Knowing what I know now about college graduates…well if my 14 year old self knew she’d have been insulted. She was an abrasive very Hermione-ish type. (My pretty, shy, traditionally feminine, not college educated but clever mother used words like “tactless”, “blunt”, “caustic” and yes, “abrasive” to describe her manner of communicating.)
I was and am however, terrible with math. The only times I ever did well were semesters focused on geometry, and the one class with a strange & entirely effective teacher I had in high school who taught algebra like a language course. Formulas are just like translating sentences in Hungarian, that I can learn to do. I got straight As in that class. I missed the two final exams, getting zero scores on both, together worth 40% of our final grade, and passed the class with a B or B- maybe. (I often missed exams due to migraines or other problems. I once fainted during an English exam and two teachers had to carry me out of the exam hall to the office where my parents were called to come get me. I also have passed out on the bus home, climbing stairs, in and getting out of the shower and cooking me and Zak eggs for breakfast.)
Other than that one positive experience with that one brilliant and harsh teacher, my math grades were truly appalling. I was a gifted student but never with math. Geography, history, biology, ecology, sociology, anthropology, I devoured my text books the first week of every new school year. I was bored shitless 3 weeks in as classes progressed so slowly.
I was the kid in complete french immersion in kindergarten (english is my first language), a program where we were not spoken to in English, were not permitted to speak to each other in English (aside from on the playground at recess, though french was still encouraged) and of course we spoke in French to our teacher. And I complained we weren’t being taught fast enough. I should have my dad pull out my report card to text me a photo of this documented incident. I learned to write in French before I did in English. I learned to read in English and French simultaneously. (With a book about an orange dragon with a weird snout.)
I’m not stupid. But I can ‘t do math. Calculating a tip fills me dread. I still count on my fingers sometimes. When telling my DM in D&D games the amount of damage I’ve just done to the monster I say the highest part I was able to add up quickly and the rest I could not. Like this: “…11 plus 7” and the GM does the math, usually telling me the final score as it’s marked down. Given more time I wouldn’t do this, but I’m not embarrassed and our game flows more quickly this way.
Not being able to read doesn’t make a person stupid. Wasn’t Albert Einstein dyslexic?
Not being able to do math or understand fractions and percentages likewise doesn’t mean someone is stupid. (That’s not quite my problem, my brain likes to switch the order numbers are in on me, or leave digits out altogether, dyscalculia.)
Acknowledging someone’s abilities and the limitations of those abilities, especially in the role of teacher or tutor, and making adaptations to accommodate those limitations so someone can participate in an activity is quite frankly the opposite of ableism.
Beyond the math hiccups I share with my friend Kimberly (who Zak tutored and mentions in this comment/quote labeled wrongly as ableist) I am physically disabled. I can write a lot about all the diagnoses that lead to my disabilities but most who read my blog know and it’s not the point of this post. I have a genetic connective tissue disorder and osteoarthritis and a lot of other things too (more than 20 active DXes), for those of you who don’t know. I was born with it, it gets worse as I get older and it affects my whole body. I use a wheelchair outside my home, I use canes in my home. There is no cure and no real treatment. I am often bedridden.
I know what discrimination is based on physical limitations. I know ableism. I experience it on a nearly daily basis.
You know what IS problematic and ableist?
The guy who said me & my D&D playing girl friends were “brain damaged” because we like to play D&D (or Call of Cthulhu, or Night’s Black Agents, or Warhammer Dark Heresy) instead of other kinds of games. Presumably the kinds of games that guy preferred to play. Surely women with no concept of the myriad options for them out there in the vast and oh so serious world of tabletop role playing games wouldn’t choose to play D&D if only they knew better right?
(Ahem another “ist” could maybe be applied there)
Calling people “brain damaged” because you have different tastes in games than they do is ableist. What’s wrong with being brain damaged for starters? Why are you using it as an insult?
I used to care for severely medically fragile and special needs kids in foster homes. Two of my boys had brain damage. And they were better people than someone who uses their difficulties frivolously, flinging it around with the intent to hurt another. My grandmother has Cerebral Palsy, due to trauma during birth (like my littlest boy who was a spastic quadraplegic), she’s never been able to walk unassisted if she can walk at all. CP is caused by damage to the cerebral cortex, it’s brain damage. My grandmother left her home, the convent she was raised in as her needs were too much for her family to manage after her mother died suddenly, sailed across the Atlantic, married, and then raised 4 kids with my blind grandfather.
Don’t you fucking use “brain damaged” lightly or as an insult. I love people who are brain damaged. They are beautiful and brave and more worthy than half the rest of the human population.
Don’t you fucking call my boyfriend, my lover, my caretaker, the man who pushes my wheelchair and has my illnesses tattooed on his arm for when there is an emergency and the man who defended me against that slur, ableist.
Because you are really very wrong. And publicly calling him these ethically unacceptable things with no real proof means you are lying.
And I know what ableism is. I live with it and it hurts. And it’s not going to be gone before I die.
Stop crying wolf.