On Leaving Lamentations of the Flame Princess

I’ve got a book proposal to work on, a foreword to write, a stack of great books dealing with grimoires and folk magic to read. So, there’s nothing to be done than write a post about silly elf games, right?

I’ve been running an old-school D&D game for over three years now (for those interested, Rules Cyclopedia with Moldvay insertions). This is not perfect, so for some rules I’ve ported in rules and scenarios from Lamentations of the Flame Princess, a newer game that began as a weird fiction D&D clone supported with a great range of products. I’ve enjoyed many of their products from DriveThru, and a highlight from my occasional trips to NYC is to stop at the Compleat Strategist to pick up the latest print releases. In fact, my next session was going to start our adventurers through Frostbitten and Mutilated, an award-winning supplement written by Zak S., who has been a staple in the Old School Revival community for quite some time.

And then his ex-partner Mandy Morbid, along with others, came forward with some extremely troubling and disturbing allegations of sexual abuse and assault.

Recent years have made us much more aware of the treacherous world women have to move through, and the importance that we hear and support those who have experienced traumatic events. At the same time, we sometimes hear voices raising concerns about false accusations, even though these are a minuscule fraction of the accounts that we’re hearing. In this particular case, Zak’s “defense” contained a confession that he non-consensually strangled one of the women in question, so if anyone wanted to start that debate, it’s over.

(No, I’m not linking to him.)

We’ve had statements from Wizards of the Coast, GenCon, Contessa, DriveThruRPG, and Kenneth Hite, all disassociating themselves from him.

That brings us to Lamentations and its publisher, James Raggi IV, who published his response on Facebook. The fact that he didn’t link to it elsewhere on social media or fora is indicative of how problematic it is. I’ve made comments there, and I want to supplement them here.

In terms of business matters, I’m sympathetic to James’ position. Small presses often operate in a precarious world. The illness or death of a family member, the departure of a partner, a delay at the printer, a book that doesn’t meet expectations – all of these can create situations that can doom or seriously damage a business. Certainly, having your top four selling books (at least on DriveThru) associated with a confessed assailant is going to be a serious problem.

It’s also worth remembering that publishers have many constraints on them – contractual obligations to creators and distributors, customers to satisfy, inventory to move, bills to pay. All of these might prevent a business from making a clean break with a problematic creator.

Thus, I understood the business portion of James’ piece. The personal one is a dumpster fire. It ignores the seriousness and credibility of the accusations to focus solely on the impact on James and Zak, and the fact that Internet trolls might be happy about this (but are they ever, really?). It also provides language that some will read as providing support and cover for this sort of behavior, although James has tried to walk back some of that.

Given that all these people have made their choices, what is mine? Here’s where I am, and I’m certainly open to responses.

  • I have dipped into Zak S.’s writing from time to time for my games, as much of it is good. At this point, it goes to a dark corner of the shelves.
  • It occurs to me that I’m actually in a book with Zak – the anthology Petty Gods from some years ago. I didn’t even know he was in there, to be honest. I’ll commit to not working on projects with him in the future – but I wasn’t planning to, so there’s that.
  • Zak also edited Veins of the Earth by Patrick Stuart. Zak’s financial stake in the book has ended, and Patrick has had his own history of problems with Zak, so I have no qualms about using it. Plus, it’s brilliant.
  • I’m keeping the rest of my Lamentations collection, and I’ll make a decision about using or not using it as I go forward.
  • I have some small elements of Lamentations in my game – the specialist, skill system, rules on financial investments, and a few spells. They’ll probably stay for the time being, and be re-evaluated as time goes on.
  • I will not buy further Lamentations products, regardless of author.  I will reconsider this if and when the publisher commits to anti-harassment policies and standards. Yes, it’s a small press that deals mainly with freelancers and that makes games that are run without their supervision, so there are limits to what they can do. But what can be done, should.
  • I’ve offered to run Lamentations at previous conventions. I will not do so in the future. This may be a moot point, because I think many cons already were reluctant to do so, and many more probably will be now. In fact, let’s face it – these last two bullets might be moot in a few months, for all I know.

These are not necessarily the right decisions, and certainly not the right decisions for everyone, and they are certainly up for discussion. Let me know what you think.




Published in: on March 19, 2019 at 9:49 pm  Comments (7)  

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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Yawn. Bit late to jump on the bandwagon. Unimpressed, both by the timing and the conspicuous virtue signalling.

    • My generation refers to “virtue signalling” as “having standards,” so thank you!

  2. One does wonder how far your standards extend, though. Do you boycott HP Lovecraft? Ezra Pound? Do you boycott Marxist writers and game designers? Standards need to be, well, standard or they’re just ad hoc justifications.

    • I understand where you’re coming from. I also think that trying to institute consistent standards could be incredibly time-consuming.

      If I were to state a principle that reflects my overall philosophy, it’s not to send my money for creative works to individuals who engage in language and conduct that is racist, anti-Semitic, or abusive in nature, and that I will act accordingly when it’s brought to my attention.

      For example, even if most of my Lovecraft purchasing wasn’t over, me buying one of his books today doesn’t send money his way.

      I hope that makes sense.

  3. Greetings, Dan. I’ve run a few Lamentations games and generally like those products. Normally, I don’t comment on other people’s blog posts, preferring just to enjoy quietly. And I like your work a lot. So let that be a preface for this comment. I work in the arts and in print and online media. I have done so for about 25 years and have encountered the full spectrum of personalities from wonderful to downright criminal. I used to find it particularly frustrating when I’d encounter someone who was a reprehensible person who did excellent work. I learned not to confuse the two: awful people can be incredible artists, even geniuses. Wonderful people can produce nothing or really bad work. Ethics and ability do not go hand-in-hand, something that has often caused me feel a little hesitant when someone says, “Come down and meet so-and-so. You love her work, right?” Sure, I love her work. But I might not love HER. In fact, the way people are, if I’m not naturally friends with her already, I probably won’t be just because what she produces resonates with me emotionally. So I guess what I’m trying to say here is: if Zak S.did such horrible things, he should be made accountable (and if not, maybe we need to take a long hard look at how accountability falls out according to gender and how people become victims and victimizers). But his work stands apart. Once you create something and send it out into the world, it belongs to the world, not you. I don’t feel I’m engaging with the personalities of the artists when I consume the art. That “consumption” is an even inside my experience. The artist is the one who made that event possible, but he is not the art itself. That said, I’m not defending this guy at all. I read the linked Mandy Morbid FB post and it is troubling.

    • I understand your approach, certainly. I can only add that it becomes more difficult with roleplaying games. When I’m running a supplement, I’m combining my creativity and passion with the author’s creativity and passion, along with that of the players. I won’t try to get in a discussion about artistic engagement and appreciation, which would reveal how uninformed I am, but I do feel the dynamic is different.

  4. […] you might remember (read here) that I had decided some time ago, in light of James Raggi’s poor handling of its decision […]

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