Category Archives: Random musings

We have to be better than this!

Update #2: Zak has posted his statement regarding the accusations here

Update: Vivka Grey, a woman, who lived with Zak and Mandy for a while, and who also was featured in the “I hit it with my axe” show, also shared her experiences with Zak on her FB page. 

I’ve struggled with this post for quite some time. Sometimes writing about important topics is incredibly hard. Sometimes you just don’t want to keep quiet, but you also don’t have the right words. At this moment, I feel angry, sad and ashamed. So what is all this about? Mandy, the ex-girlfriend of  the (in)famous Zak S. has written a lengthy post on Facebook about her relationship with him. And as it turns out, he has been abusing her physically and mentally for years.

For anyone who was interacting with him, it was quite obvious that he has an abrasive nature, to put it mildly. He can’t stand being criticized, he’s a bully and a troll. But still a lot of people respected him as a creator – including me. Eventually I got tired of his behavior and openly stated that I am done defending him. But even then I thought that his online persona was more of an act. I believed that behind the mask he was wearing, there was a kind and caring person.

When I read the post about Zak’s abuse, the thing that shocked me the most was that I wasn’t that surprised. At this point I realized that I should have seen it all along. There have been so many signs which a lot of us chose to ignore. We have to be better than this! Damn, I should be better than this! It’s so easy to overlook one’s terrible behavior because we enjoy the product they created for our favorite games. We try to rationalize why we still support someone even though we know we shouldn’t. In a way we help people like this to continue abusing others.

It was extremely brave of Mandy to share her story. She has been living in an abusive relationship for years and her abuser even used her as a shield. At this point there’s not much I can do to help her, aside from believing in her, and sharing her story, so that others don’t have to suffer the way she had to. We also should stop supporting people like Zak. We should not buy his works, invite him to conventions, interview him for our blogs or podcasts, interact with him on social media. Most importantly we should support the victims and believe their stories.

Do I think that things in the RPG community will finally change for the better? No. I am almost 100% sure that there are still many RPG fans who will support their favorite creators to the end, even if they turn out to be terrible people. For some their favorite “elf games” are more important than the lives of other people. That’s the harsh reality. But that doesn’t mean we should stop struggling. We have to try to be better than that!

Games I’m excited about: Android – Shadow of the Beanstalk

Android: Shadow of the Beanstalk is a new and upcoming setting for FFG’s Genesys Roleplaying Game. Like Realms of Terrinoth it’s based on one of FFG’s preexisting IPs. While RoT was based on the fantasy setting explored in games like Runebound, Descent, or Runewars, this time we’ll get to visit the world of Android, and Android: Netrunner. It’s a near-future science fiction roleplaying game with cyberpunk and transhumanistic elements. And it’s the setting I’ve been waiting for ages now.

nad06_mainA while back they already released a coffee table book called The Worlds of Android, which gave an extensive overview of the setting, but lacked any game rules. I guess you could probably run a game set into the Android universe with the rules in the Genesys corebook alone, but more material is always welcome.

When FFG first announced Genesys many fans were hoping for an Android setting and indeed, one of the included example settings in the final book was in fact Android. The sample settings included in the core rulebook were of course just teasers. So what is the Android setting all about? Let me quote FFG’s product page:

In the not so-distant future, humanity has spread across the solar system, unlocked the frontiers of cyberspace, and created millions of intelligent androids in its own image. At the heart of this progress stands a ladder leading to the riches of the stars—the massive space elevator called the Beanstalk. And at its base sprawls the biggest, meanest, and most exciting city on Earth: New Angeles.

gns04_box_leftThe sourcebook’s 256 pages will include rules on character creation, new equipment and vehicles, game master advice, adversaries, and any information needed to successfully run a game set in New Angeles, the future Earth, or the solar system.

So why am I so excited about this? I love cyberpunk settings. Unfortunately most settings are deeply tied to the 1980s and often have a retro feel to them. This might have a certain charm, but sometimes you are looking for a more modern feel. Android definitely delivers on that front. I am also glad FFG decided to use their Genesys rules for an Android games. It’s easy to learn, simple and fast to run, but it has still enough depth for a long-time campaign.

What are your thoughts on Shadow of the Beanstalk? What other setting teased in the Genesys core rulebook are you excited about? Please share your thoughts below.

The Mercer Effect

Without a doubt, Matthew Mercer and the rest of the Critical Role team has had a huge impact on how many people perceive roleplaying games in general and Dungeons & Dragons in particular. Their show is wildly popular, watching others play D&D has suddenly become more mainstream, something a lot of people enjoy tremendously. What sets Critical Role apart from many other groups posting their actual play sessions to the internet is that they are all professional voice actors who have played together for many years now. Their particular skills and their particular gaming style help to make their game sessions interesting to watch.

People are obviously inspired by the show and try to emulate what they are seeing. There’s nothing wrong about that and even veteran GMs like me might be tempted to go that route. My attempt to take a few pages out of the Matthew Mercer handbook pretty much ended in disaster but that was not their fault but rather me biting off more than I could chew at that moment. I also realized that while D&D 5th Edition is a game I enjoy playing, it’s not a game I am comfortable running at the moment. But I digress.

Things become complicated if people think that Critical Role’s style is the only way to go. There are as many gaming styles as there are gaming groups and no way to play D&D is the wrong one. Some groups focus on player interactions, others revel in tactical combat, others are suckers for a good mystery. For some sandboxing is the way to go, while others prefer a more GM-guided experience (what some might call railroading). But I understand if players or GMs feel threatened that they might be forced to emulate a professional voice actor and GM of 20+ years and his merry band of players which are also professional voice actors. (Check out this post by a Reddit user asking for help to beat the “Mercer effect”)

The most important goal of any game, D&D or not, should be to have fun. You can have a lot of fun even if your game doesn’t meet the standard set by Mercer et al. On the other hand, if that particular gaming style is your thing, it’s definitely achievable. I have personally played in games which were definitely as epic and as intense as any episode of Critical Role.

Without any doubt, shows like Critical Role which expose our hobby to a wider audience are a boon to our hobby and the RPG industry. But we have to make sure that people don’t get the impression that the only fun roleplaying game is D&D 5th Edition or that Matt’s style is the only valid one. What are your thoughts on the Mercer Effect? Please share your thoughts below!