Fuck You, I Survived - Thoughts on Zak S., Abuse, and D&D

CW: emotional and physical abuse, sexual assault

by John “Senstaku” Bates

Fuck that guy and people like him.

Just wanted to get that out right away so both my stance and the subject of this diatribe are clearly presented at the top. If you disagree, feel free to fuck off. Or keep reading. Whatever, I’m the nascent ramblings of a bisexual creative, not a cop. Also, for the record, the title of this is the last time I will refer to that particular shitbag by his name, because I don’t feel the need to have that particular arrangement of letters associated any further with my website, my being, or my works.

To understand my vehement disgust when it comes to abusers I’ll have to recount a few facts of my life. I understand if reading any of the following is difficult for anyone, and don’t judge you not going any further; I’ve hopefully given you p l e n t y   o f t i m e t o t u r n a w a y n o w. Those of you remaining, welcome to my circus family.

While I can’t exactly point to every instance of physical or emotional abuse I’ve gone through, I can sure as hell give you the highlights. As a child with a very physically evident psychological aversion to the very concept of needles, my family rarely missed an opportunity to bring up the concept. Even when my arm was physically locking itself up from the psychic pain of a needle being jabbed into my arm they would continue. Now that might not sound bad, but I want you to fold your non-dominant arm up to your shoulder and flex as hard as you can now.

And hold it there for half an hour.

Hurts don’t it? And it’s a physical pain you can’t stop because your brain is busy telling you “HEY GUESS WHAT THIS IS WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO HAVE A BIG FUCKOFF NEEDLE IN YOUR ARM AIN’T IT GREAT!?” Now, to be fair, it wasn’t my entire family doing that all the time. Just my older brother really who got a kick out of it. You know what my father got a kick out of? Calling me a pussy. If I wasn’t interested in doing something that he and my older brother liked (mostly car-related to be a Southern stereotype), I was a pussy. He never called me a faggot though, no, that was my brother’s word.

Now sure, being called a pussy and a faggot hardly constitutes as emotional abuse for most people, granted, but it doesn’t help when it’s piled on top of being forced into situations you don’t want to be in and cannot escape from repeatedly. When caving, or spelunking, I was constantly afraid we’d get lost or fall in a pit and die. With racing, they tried to put me in a vehicle that goes from 0 to 60 in a second when I was 8, and I hit the gas and launched myself (in a dragster, unbuckled), out of the garage at about half speed accidentally. I was screaming until the thing came to a stop and I was pulled out, called stupid for not hitting the brakes, and fortunately deemed too much of a financial risk to try it again.

I also had a nanny my parents would leave me with whenever they left town to go do important adult things I wasn’t allowed to come with (mostly racing) for. A sweet old lady with the face of a leather handbag who made us go out and find our own switches with which she would discipline us. I accidentally got one with thorns one time and she didn’t hesitate to use it. Though, I will admit, it was also in that house that I had my first crush, who introduced me to Sailor Moon. So that was nice.

School eventually came, at which point I was diagnosed with ADHD and given medicine to help calm me down. Ritalin, as it turns out, is not for everyone and especially not for me so we stopped taking it, which meant I got relegated to the Special Needs classrooms because they had to have a specialist for us ADHD kids.

Turns out you need a specialist to sit on children who aren’t behaving. Fair enough, I was a deadly little guy what with my being shorter than all the other boys and less athletic. Now, the psychology behind sitting on kids in schools I’m not necessarily familiar with, but let me tell you it certainly feels traumatic to have an adult sitting on you to the point that it feels like you might get crushed to death. I’m not alone in that either - a good friend of mine has relayed similar disciplinary experiences to me.

Then I went through a series of abusive girlfriends, from throwing my own glasses case in my face because it was funny and giving less than a shit when I get trampled at a concert she invited me to from one, to telling me that if we broke up she’d die and it would be my fault because she would write that I killed her in her diary (not that that necessarily makes any sense?) and throwing kitchen knives at me from another. Something about my “beat up geek puppy” appeal in middle and high school attracted a particular brand of person.

And finally we start getting to the good stuff: you know, actual physical trauma and emotional abuse. When I entered high school and expressed a love of acting and a desire to pursue it as a career, I got the standard “There is no money in acting, you should go to college and work on cars like your dad does, there’s no point in chasing your dreams, nobody ever makes it as an actor etc. etc. etc.” ad infinitum ad nauseum.

And my father threw me into a bookshelf.

Well, to be fair, he threw me into a bookshelf, my door, my bed, and my closet, flipping over and knocking down most of those things in the process. You see, my father had this strange idea that everything in the house belonged to him - even if he had no real claim of ownership over it. And so, since I didn’t want to share my PS2 with my younger brother at the time - I love him, but he is the reason I had to replace my physical copies of FF7 and FF8 twice - a PS2 I had paid for with money earned not from my father but from my grandmother, he decided that he was just going to rip it out and throw it in the trash.

So I defended myself and my stuff and got manhandled for it.

And to top it all off, the pièce de résistance, my older brother’s girlfriend threatened me into letting her make out with me and groping me when I was still in middle school. The less said about that particular unreported sexual assault the better.

Now, I know there are people who are going to go through all of that and say “That’s not abuse, THIS is abuse” as if abuse is some sort of Australian hunting knife, but trust me, physical and mental scars can be accrued from many a seemingly innocent incident and it’s really hard to relay the feeling of these events. Hell, I couldn’t recognize much of that myself as abuse until I sat down and thought about it years later, and realized that a lot of that experience built me to the person that I am now, and not always in a positive way.

T H A T  H A V I N G  B E E N S A I D, and hopefully that’s a good place for anyone who skipped the abuse history to come back in, I want to talk about shitbag mentioned at the top of this post. Fuck that guy.

As a member of the LGBTQA+ community, a content creator in the D&D space, an abuse survivor, and someone whose goal includes providing a safe space to play for people who often feel unwelcome or shut out of more traditional venues:  I cannot be silent on this, nor can I stand that kind of behavior, nor the sort of behavior that makes way for that particular sort of trash. It’s inexcusable, especially when - as has been stated - this has been known information for a while that wasn’t taken seriously.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t know anything at all about this guy until recently, when Mandy Morbid and Vivka Grey spoke out about him. And then I heard that he had in some capacity consulted on D&D 5th edition, my favorite D&D edition in the series. So what did I do?

I went and blotted out his name in my Player’s Handbook with a purple crayon marker. Even took a picture for proof.


You’ll notice one other name blotted out there, and if you look in your Player’s Handbook you’ll see it’s Mike Mearls. Because he defended and enabled this abuser even after receiving information about it, and then when called out delivered a fairly weak corporate apology. Do I think he’s an evil man? No, I don’t. I think he’s a contributing factor to a culture of abuse that normalizes the people who are, and while I can’t really do much to him, I can make a symbolic gesture.

Now, will I - as some have suggested - abandon D&D altogether? No, I won’t.

Because I want you to look at that picture again. Note the two names that are blotted out; and then look at all the rest. D&D is a product created by a massive team, for a massive fanbase, and has been used and can be used for good over and over again. From inspiring other people to providing safe spaces for creativity and to work through trauma and emotion, to grow as humans through the field of play. It’s not the only system that is useful for that, sure, but if we abandon it because someone who acts and thinks abhorrent things touched it then guess what?

He wins.

People that want nothing more than for LGBTQA+ people and women to disappear from the hobby and let it go back to what it used to be perceived as, a niche group for “intellectuals” (straight white men), win every time we let someone like that sack of shit push us away from each other, and from the people who pour their heart and soul into making these games inclusive, welcoming, and a creative space for everyone.

And I’m not going to let that happen. I will continue to play D&D, I will continue to do my damndest to make the space I occupy a safe one for people from all walks of life and experiences, and I will continue to stand against abusers and with their victims. I trust that I’m not alone in this.

To all those suffering from abuse, I hear you. I’m with you. To all those who think it’s fine to treat people that way, I’ve just got four words.

Fuck you. I survived.

-John “Senstaku” Bates

D6 Environmental Aspects

by Jack

D6 Environmental Aspects -- Rainforests

Any number of traditional D&D sessions have made use of forest settings – goblins, wolves, bandits, ogres, dryads, and myriad other beasties can be dropped in without seeming out of place. Ruins fit in nicely, as do caves, graveyards, and other dungeon-y bits. In my experience, most players have a mental image of a standard temperate mature woodland, probably with mixed deciduous tree growth – old oaks and maples, low-growing shrubs and the like.

Rainforests are different.

If you’re going to do a jungle setting, especially one that’s populated by jungle-specific creatures, or intentionally contains a tropical element, there are some things to consider.

1) Variety

Hundreds of different types of creatures live in a rainforest. If you’ve been wanting to introduce a new type of monster, a rainforest is probably a perfect place to do so. With natural resources so plentiful, almost any imaginable species can find the necessary sustenance. The inhabitants are not only extraordinarily diverse, however. Rainforests also exhibit incredible …

2) Biological density

Rainforests have an immense population. As one of the most fertile habitats, you can expect there to be tons and tons of living things and life-cycle activity in every direction. In my experience, a normal temperate forest generally has an interior visibility out to about 20-30 yards. A rainforest would have a mere fraction of this. In terms of combat, this may mean partial to full concealment for anything not adjacent to the player due to dense plant growth. Additionally, if random encounters are part of the system, you may want to increase the odds significantly to compensate for the higher population. Consider making diseases more frequent and/or severe, as bacteria are also everywhere, partially due to the …

3) Moisture

This is a very wet environment. Regular precipitation leads to treacherous terrain, floods, and high humidity. It may also make maintaining mundane equipment more difficult, as rot and rust can be accelerated. Constant rains also produce a …

4) Canopy

Life in a rainforest happens in all three dimensions. An entire world can be found among the treetops, separated from the earthbound species by a gap only spanned by the trunks of the forest behemoths. Gargantuan trees can serve as obstacles, pathways, or even hollow shelters. Certain encounters may even force the characters to take to the trees themselves to avoid a flood or a miles-long swarm of army ants. The canopy can also be home to …

5) Predators

With living species comes the developing food chain, and there are always dominant life forms to prey on those below. These do not always follow identical patterns. A lone monster may range over a certain area, sating its hunger on smaller, weaker animals. Alternatively, a voracious plant, rooted in one location, may ensnare the occasional passer-by – or a swarm of fish or insects may infest a stream, eating whatever is discarded by something in the canopy above. This is just one example of the way that …

6) Nature Dominates

Sentient tribes and civilizations may make their home in the rainforest, but anything left unattended is swiftly reclaimed by the natural world. Ruins that would only be overgrown over several centuries in another environment can be engulfed over a few brief years. Magic may even accelerate the process, allowing primal powers to be empowered in certain situations. Of course, when the group wakes up to find trees and vines have overrun their cleared campsite since the night before, they may not be overjoyed.

These aspects can contribute to the atmosphere of a tropical environment. Feel free to pick and choose!

D6 Environmental Aspects -- Coastlines

For those that use the nautical setting, there generally comes a time to make landfall. Very few crews will go too long upon the bounding main without eventually needing to put into port to resupply, spend their loot, visit the taverns, and find other entertainment. And then, of course, there’s the ever-popular aspect of getting marooned and wandering about the island. When spending time on the coast, consider -

1) It Changes

Wind and wave contribute to dynamic landscape. The energy expended by these two forces of nature can significantly modify the environment. Erosion and storms will frequently restructure the coastline, perhaps revealing a concealed cavern or treasure – or washing a campsite into the surf.

2) They Vary

The traditional white sandy beaches are only one of the many geomorphologies. Some coastlines are made of pebbles or cobbles, while others can be bare rock. Cliffs may occur when the ocean carves away at the land, exposing the stone strata, or when volcanism creates new land. Other features may include fjords, mudflats, reefs, marshes, quicksands, dunes, and deltas (to name only a few).

3) Unstable Ground

Soil is mainly held together by its clay content, an element that is frequently missing near the coastline. Loose terrain can make travel difficult and accidents more common.

4) Resources

Fresh water can be difficult to come by in a marine environment. Drinking brackish water or seawater can lead to salt toxicity – with symptoms ranging from mild irritability to muscle spasms to coma. Food can be entirely absent or extraordinarily plentiful, depending on the fertility of the surrounding waters. Caution may be required to avoid dangerous or poisonous species, however.

5) Weather

When land and water meet, weather severity becomes much more exaggerated. As the sun’s energy evaporates water from the ocean, the vapor is introduced to the atmosphere and fuels all manner of meteorological events. Typhoons and hurricanes are among the most severe, and typically cause the most damage when making landfall. Once over the continent, they lose much of the moisture that supports the storm cell and eventually dissipate. Differences in temperature cause the strong winds that most beaches experience. Land warms and cools much more quickly than water does, generating a wind cycle throughout the day. In the morning, the land warms rapidly, causing the air above it to rise and creating a low-pressure area that draws the wind inland. When evening arrives, the water holds the heat is has absorbed during the day and the dry ground cools, pushing strong winds back out over the ocean. For more information, investigate temperature gradients.

6) Tides

Depending on the location and dynamics of the coastline, the tide can have drastic effects. The intertidal zone can be a place of great diversity for the organisms in the beach habitat, and serves as a location where almost anything can drift in from the waves. Species living here must be able to adapt quickly, living in the water one minute and out of it the next. Rapidly rising tides are extremely hazardous, charging in with immense power and speed. A strong receding tide can reveal a hidden ruin or wreck or even sweep an adventurer out to sea.

Have fun at the beach!

photograph by Mara

photograph by Mara

D6 Environmental Aspects -- Grasslands

Sometimes the traditional medieval woodland setting becomes a bit too status quo for the GM, and the grassland locale tends to be a default alternative. A grassland, however, is by no means just a big pasture. The subtleties and characteristics can be intriguing to explore.

1) Variation

The concept of a standard grassland template is a misnomer. “Grassland” could refer to anything from a shortgrass prairie to a tree-spotted savanna. Tallgrass regions, shrublands, steppes, and heaths all fall within the general category, but each of these have unique aspects that set them apart. Decide which one your adventurers are exploring, and tailor your descriptions accordingly.

2) Population

Most grassland environments are characterized by the presence of vast herds of animals (in recent history, frequently ungulates, but feel free to use dinosaurs, flightless birds, plant-based lifeforms, or whatever). These herds tend to function as a linchpin in the ecosystem – other species prey upon them, others form symbiotic relationships or subsist in their shadow. No one species has to be dominant; the African biomes, for instance, hosted robust populations of many animals: wildebeest, antelope, buffalo, zebra, and more. The habitual grazing practices of these herds tend to be one of the main controls that keep the grasslands from becoming covered in tree growth. Of course, it’s not the only control …

3) Fire

The role of fire in the grassland environment is often highly dynamic. Some fires will occur naturally, and it can be a fearsome event when a dry prairie roars into an unstoppable conflagration. Other times the fire is set deliberately by the people dwelling there in order to maintain the environment, clear an area for settling, or even to drive game into a hunter’s ambush. Of course, with fire existing as a prevalent element, one could use it to connect the grasslands to populations of dragons, azers, ifrits, and the like.

4) Resources

Grasslands can provide a number of strategic resources to whoever controls the region. The grassland environment is usually highly fertile and can withstand long periods of sustained agriculture and livestock use given proper care. Armies march on their stomachs, after all. In a hunter-gatherer culture, having access to the the aforementioned herds can provide all the necessary resources for survival, and prime hunting ground is a precious commodity. Valuable trade routes can often pass through the vast territory as well.

Enjoy your grasslands!

Guild of the Dungeon Masters

So, I learned about two things today, both of which inspired the Two Guys One camera that just went up on the youtube channel. Wizards of the Coast have recently released the Open Game License for 5th Edition D&D, and launched a website / online store called the Dungeon Masters Guild, or DMGuild, wherein content creators who have made homebrew additions to 5th edition can hock their wares for free or for some amount of money. In particular, internet sensation Critical Role's Matthew Mercer has put both his Gunslinger fighter archetype and Blood Hunter unique class on it for "Pay what you want" I.E. free, considering he's got them available for free other places as well.

This excites me for two reasons; One, the open game license for 3.5e resulted in many fantastic spin offs on the D&D formula that are still played to this day; Pathfinder and Warcraft RPG just to name two. I greatly look forward to seeing what sprouts up from 5th edition and see where other people take the formula. Two, the DMGuild provides a fantastic resource for up and coming DMs who aren't particularly experienced at creating new content to make their games a little more unique and memorable. It also provides inspiration for others to craft their own homebrew mechanics, classes, races, etc.

It was such a fun idea that we began chatting about 'celebrity modules', which got us onto the subject of 'Walken 'n' Dungeons' - Originally titled 'Walken & Dragons' but we decided the pun was too delicious to ignore. The idea of a 5th ed remastering that only added extended awkward pauses to all of the text tickles a very particular part of my funny bone - the absurdist part, to be specific.

I look forward to seeing what fun things come out of the OGL and DMGuild in the meantime.