The Alexandrian

RPGNet and Me

October 6th, 2011

Way back on July 4th, 2005, I launched the Alexandrian with the cleverly titled post “Welcome to the Alexandrian“. In that post, I talked about how I had become a freelance writer. The 100+ reviews I wrote for RPGNet played a major role in that story, but I wrapped up my post by saying: “But if you go to RPGNet today, you won’t find any of my reviews there. What happened? Well, that’s another story for another day.”

Then I didn’t really follow-up on that, largely because there were more interesting things to talk about.

But I’ve had people pinging me for awhile now wanting access to some of the content from my older reviews. And the original (and continuing) purpose of the Alexandrian is to archive my creative work. To that end, I’m going to start posting those old reviews in order to properly archive them away. Which means that “another day” has finally arrived.

THE RPGNet Logo 1998REVIEWS

I posted my first review to RPGNet in the spring of 1998.

It was a review of The Paxton Gambit, a campaign supplement for the Heavy Gear roleplaying game, and it had originally been written for and posted to the Heavy Gear Mailing List. RPGNet had been around for a couple of years at that point, but the site was just beginning to get noticed by the larger RPG community. One of the people who noticed was Phillippe Boulle, who — at the time — was an editor at Dream Pod 9. He, in turn, posted a message to the Heavy Gear Mailing List asking that fans of the game go to RPGNet and post reviews of their favorite Dream Pod 9 products. When I saw Phillippe’s message, I took the review I had already written, popped over to RPGNet, and posted it.

That was a lot of fun and, to make a long story short, I kept doing it. In fact, over the next four years I would do it 165 times.

In those early days, the RPGNet community was heavily focused on the reviews: There was no general forum, but there was a discussion thread associated with each review. That meant that all of the discussion on the site was focused through whatever reviews had been posted in the last couple of weeks. It meant that the community was radically neophilic and intensely focused on RPGs.

It also meant that, if you were a successful reviewer, you were the genesis point for sprawling discussions that could go on for dozens or even hundreds of posts.

In retrospect, it’s pretty easy to recognize that RPGNet was actually serving as one of the pioneers in the newly-emerging blogosphere: Each review was effectively a blog post and the emergent community was blog-focused. At the time, it was just exciting. I’d been participating in online discussion groups since 1988 or ’89; but here I was actually finding an audience.

RPGNet Logo 2000From ’98 through ’02, I was one of the top three or four reviewers on RPGNet. During this time period, the site went through several changes of ownership, one of which nearly destroyed the site before it was returned to Sandy Antunes (the founder). In 2001, it was then sold to Skotos Tech.

Throughout this time period I continued writing reviews. In May 2001, in fact, the site ran a “Justin Bacon Review Week” in which all of the reviews posted that week (20+ total) were written by me. That was pretty awesome and I felt very honored. Around this same time, I was asked by Sandy Antunes to help develop content for a D20 Nation website that he wanted to launch as a partner-site with RPGNet. (Unfortunately, those plans never came to fruition.)

The site was also changing, however.

Forum software had been installed at some point. This was almost certainly a good thing (the site would have probably died completely during the period when its owners weren’t updating the content if it hadn’t been for the forum), but it also meant that the character of the site was changing: The community was becoming forum-oriented instead of review-oriented.

(One memory from this time period in particular: The early forum software didn’t have any accounts. You just typed in your name and left your message. There was a period of a couple weeks where somebody was deliberately trolling the forums by posting incendiary posts under my name. It took me awhile to figure out what the heck was going on, and eventually the guy responsible confessed. I suspect this incident contributed significantly to the site updating to new forum software with registered accounts shortly thereafter.)

In mid-2002, I posted what was essentially my last review at RPGNet. (In mid-2004, I posted a review of A Game of Thrones. But it was a fluke.) Partly this was because professional work was chewing up more and more of my time. Partly it was because the RPG review community had completely fetishized the reviewing of typography and binding quality instead of actual content and gameplay. But largely it was because the audience for reviews at RPGNet had severely atrophied.

PARTING OF THE WAYS

I remained an active member of the RPGNet community, however, until 2004.

In October 2003, I was participating in a thread where somebody was voicing incredulity at the idea of someone owning more than a hundred RPGs, claiming that a hundred RPGs didn’t even exist. I pointed out that hundreds of free RPGs were available on the web; so you could own hundreds of RPGs without even spending a dollar. After a couple rounds of this, I compiled and typed up a very lengthy list of the free RPGs I owned and posted it. This took about 2-3 hours worth of effort.

This list prompted several pages worth of interesting discussion. Several days later, however, one of the forum moderators did a drive-by on the thread and deleted the entire post as “threadcrapping”. I was irate at having 2-3 hours of work eradicated and responded with, “Fuck You.”

RPGNet Logo 2002In retrospect, I probably should have saved a local copy of the post. And I probably could have been more politic in my response to the atrociously poor moderation. But I wasn’t and I got hit with a 90-day ban for mouthing off to the incompetent moderator.

Several months later, after the ban had expired, I came back and found that I couldn’t log into my account. Reconstructing events after the fact, it appears that one of the moderators (probably a fellow operating under the name “Kuma”) had decided to change the password and e-mail address on my account in an effort to secretly turn a temporary ban into a permanent one. E-mails to RPGNet went unanswered, so I created a new account under the name “Justin A. Bacon” and continued posting.

In August or September of 2004, Kuma started trying to IP ban me from the forum. Since I was posting from a dynamic IP, this completely failed. (I wasn’t even aware he was doing it, since he’d posted his intentions in a thread I was no longer reading.) After several weeks of this, another moderator apparently got around to banning the “Justin A. Bacon” account for “avoiding a ban”. (This was, of course, completely untrue. For several years after this it was quite hilarious because the “Justin Bacon” account had still never been banned, although it looks like they finally got around to “fixing” that recently.)

I sent an e-mail to the site and was told to wait a couple of days for the issue to be resolved. After a week or so, it hadn’t been.

At this point I posted to Trouble Tickets asking for an explanation. None was forthcoming. It took several days and many other people posting to both the forum thread and e-mailing RPGNet before they finally got around to posting their explanation: They believed that I had posted at some point during my 90-day ban and were, therefore, permabanning me.

Did they have a link to that post? No.

Could they find a link to that post? No.

Was there any way to fix this issue? Yes. Within 1-2 days, they would confirm the existence or nonexistence of the post Kuma claimed it existed.

… only they didn’t do that. Instead they closed the thread so that no one could post to it.

A month and a half later, somebody else posted a thread asking: “Hey. What’s going on here?” The moderators still had no explanation.

During this time period, I was being contacted by others. Something was deeply, deeply rotten in the moderation team at RPGNet and I wasn’t the only one having problems.

I decided to raise the stakes: I publicly announced that if RPGNet didn’t want me as a member of the community, then I would pull my reviews.

The point was to raise the profile not only of my issues with the moderation team, but the general issues the community was having with the moderation team. I was hoping that it would force the new owners of the site to put their cards of the table and make it clear what sort of site RPGNet was going to be. In this I was successful, although not in the way that I had hoped: Still unable to produce the posts demonstrating that there was any justification whatsoever for my permabanning, the owners of the site instead permabanned me for daring to exercise my IP rights.

I shrugged and walked away. The RPGNet I had once fervently supported was obviously dead and gone.

POSTSCRIPT

RPGNet Logo 2010I do remember quite vividly, though, my final e-mail exchange with the ownership. They wanted to give me “one last chance” to let them keep my reviews on the site. They wrote: “By removing them from RPGNet, you’re destroying the value of your reviews.”

This taught me an important lesson: When an organization believes that your work has value because they allow it to appear in their venue (rather than the reality, which is that the content is what gives a venue value) then you’re probably better off getting away from that organization as quickly as possible.

In the years since then, the situation at RPGNet has only worsened. The Tangency forums have become the tail wagging the dog. There are members of the moderation team who take great pride in the fact that they’ve never played an RPG. (This fact boggles my mind every time somebody mentions it.)

The site, which once made its name on the participation of major RPG professionals (priding itself as the “Inside Scoop on Gaming”), has become increasingly hostile to them. It’s becomes a popular past time for posters to bait professionals posting to the boards so that the professionals will get banned. At one point, this was coupled with a ludicrous policy of banning discussions of games written by people who had been banned.

A couple years ago a friend of mine told me he was being accused by RPGNet’s mods of being my sock-puppet because he included links to products I had written (and he had helped edit) in his .sig. Last year I had a complete stranger send me an e-mail saying that RPGNet’s mods were making the same accusations towards him.

I’m not sure what to tell either of them. I enjoy discussing and debating RPGs. It improves my games. It improves my writing.

But RPGNet? It’s a cesspool. And, sadly, it’s a cesspool that’s been created by the very mechanism which is supposed to be keeping the water clean.

In any case, that’s the nutshell version of my rollercoaster ride with RPGNet. Hopefully you found it at least mildly entertaining. But mostly its my way of introducing the reposting and archiving of the reviews I wrote for RPGNet “back in the day”. I’ll be starting later today and posting them semi-regularly until I’m done.

13 Responses to “RPGNet and Me”

  1. Alexei McDonald says:

    Only thing you could have done under the circumstances, I think.

  2. Rich S says:

    Wanted to thank you for your service and the reviews your had written for RPG.net. I was also on RPG.net back in the day and probably left around the same time you did. “Left” is too strong of word…faded away is more like it…With increased activity in tangency and ban-happy moderators(I prefer a more laidback approach to moderation), it just wasn’t my bag any more.

  3. Joshua Trigg says:

    I was never a member (or even a regular visitor) of RPG.net but it sounds like a mess.

    I’ve always viewed certain forums as like regular places you can hang out, not unlike meeting a group of friends and strangers at a barnes and nobles (or library, school cafeteria, restraunt, or somesuch). Stories like this really make you appreciate the establishments that are run well and professionally.
    This is especially true when the forum moderators and owner(s) care about their customers and are passionate or at least interested in the topics at hand.

    During 3e’s heyday, I was a regular member of the Wizards of the Coast forums and moderators would occasionally take a part of the discussion – they became a part of the community and interacted with the people there. I also thoroughly enjoy posting at a forum for atheists and the “Giant in the Playground” forums for this very reason.

    It makes me wonder what goes on behind the scenes with moderators who seem to go out of their way to skirt the rules and assert their dominance like that. Oh well, it’s their loss, I suppose.

  4. Doodpants says:

    Are you perchance familiar with the site rpggeek.com ? It’s a (fairly) new site from the creators of boardgamegeek.com, which itself is a wonderful community that I’ve been a part of for many years. If you’re looking for a non-cesspool RPG-centric resource and community site, it is well worth checking out.

  5. Daztur says:

    Well the thing about rpg.net is that all forums have a ratio of signal to noise. Usually the noise comes in the form of insane silly shit (see youtube). In rpg.net it comes in the form of barking insanity. But if you can ignore the barking insanity (with a big side order of self-important preening) as much as you can ignore the inane silly shit that gets posted on most forums (the standards for spelling and grammar are pretty good) then you can focus on the signal, which is a lot of really nifty creative ideas. I’d be very saddened if I never got to read stuff like the Long Stairs.

  6. Justin Alexander says:

    (Googles “long stair rpgnet”.)

    (Reads.)

    (Bookmarks.)

  7. Jorgeman says:

    Same as Daztur above. I have found loads of creativity, interesting discussions and simply fun in RGPnet forum.

    As happens with any forum with a lot of traffic, the majority of threads aren’t interesting for any one person. I successfully focus in the ones that are of my interest.

    That said, when the owner of a site or the mods of the forum doesn’t care about the community it simply dies. I’ve already seen it, but I don’t think RPGnet is in that rut just now. Hopefully.

  8. that guy says:

    Who’s not been banned from Rpg Net…
    the last good thread was in 2009

  9. Chris M says:

    Justin.. I think RPGnet in banning you then that they made the right call. For many years I recall you being argumentative, verbally abusive and cursing out people who disagreed with you in the slightest calling them idiots and treating those that did not share your views with derision or condescension. And similarly others who did the same or engaged in similar behavior were banned as well regardless of their stature. I recall another noteworthy game designer having been banned for a long time there as well for similar reasons and then in the recent years he was invited back in good stead with open arms. At the point and time of your banning RPGnet was actively incorporating vigorous moderation to point of reporting threads and investigation and making their rulings as a standard of enforcement as in the years preceding the moderation was almost zero and it was a virtual wild west of trolls and personal attacks that pushed people away from wanting to be there. Its not a perfect system.. it still isn’t.. far from it.. even I have my complaints from time to time but it works. Even now you have come here to cry sour grapes when the fine print went into great detail about your reviews and your retaining copyright of them. However under the EULA contractual agreement you acknowledged they( RPGnet) still retains the rights to still distribute or store in perpetuity what you have written on their behalf as a long time reviewer. You could have chosen to take the higher road to have walked away without having raised a fuss about trying to rip the reviews from their site in an attempt to gut them and discredit them. And no one would have thought the lesser of you for it. On the contrary it would have made people question RPGnet’s motives and operations had you went away quietly. But by attempting such a boldfaced reprisal in the community perhaps hoping it would generate buzz that you had done so successfully that failed in that instance it just comes off as pretty lame and thuggish . And now you have burned a bridge with gasoline. Because instead of looking like the victim you were looking to disguise yourself as you seem a smaller person and immature for trying to attempt to hurt a site that for the most part was source of enjoyment for the geek community and place that was at least in some way partially responsible for your gaining the reputation as a reviewer that you had in the beginning. And now you are trying some time later to get your digs and barbs in as you are on the outside looking in. So you can accuse RPGnet of having no integrity such is your right but it is my right to also point out that you are and have been editing and distorting the facts so as to reduce the accountability of your actions to nil.

  10. Justin Alexander says:

    Quick fact-check, Chris:

    (1) You can claim that RPGnet “really” banned me for reasons other than what they claimed they were banning me for. That makes either you or them a liar. Take your pick.

    (2) Much like RPGNet, you attempt to claim that they could retroactively force me to give up the copyright on reviews that were written before their current “EULA” (sic) went into effect. This is legally false and obviously absurd.

    (3) You further imply that I “failed” to get my reviews removed from RPGnet. This is simply not true. RPGNet has no right to any of my reviews except, arguably, my review of A Game of Thrones and none of my reviews currently appear on their site.

    (4) You claim that I have been “editing and distorting the facts”, but fail to cite a single example of that. Throwing around baseless aspersions like that doesn’t impress me.

    (5) You claim that I would have called more attention to the situation if I hadn’t called attention to the situation. That’s certainly an interesting opinion, but it’s unclear what your factual basis for that claim would be.

    (6) You apparently have no idea what paragraphs are.

    I encourage you to get your facts in order before attempting to comment on things in the future.

  11. Yahzi says:

    I would like to point out to Chris M. that if it’s RPGnet’s right to ban Justin for being argumentative, then it is clearly Justin’s right to ban you for being argumentative. I.e., he’s perfectly free to delete your post and ban you from posting on his blog. And to do so without even telling you that he has, let alone why.

    Do you ever wonder why he didn’t do that?

  12. Anonymous says:

    I was banned when a moderator claimed I was a sockpuppet of a banned poster, possibly (I’m only speculating) because the moderator decided that a post I made was somehow alluding to him.

    After several emails went without response, I used the guest functions to complain in Trouble Tickets – which eventually lead to the site taking notice and, despite acknowledging that I had nothing to do with the previously mentioned banned individual, upheld the ban because I had posted while being banned.

    ‘Cesspool’ doesn’t begin to describe the place. There are many great posters there, but the moderation and site ownership is awful. And heaven help you if your positions contradict those the mods favor!

  13. Matt says:

    I received a 3-day ban for daring to quote the dictionary to show that someone who posted an insult as a response to me was misusing a word. Then a week later I went on and discovered the ban was permanent, with no explanation.

    So apparently using the dictionary can get you permanently banned. I can only assume the person who insulted me has some sort of “in” with the moderator(s); otherwise no idea why that would be worthy of a 3-day ban much less a lifetime ban!

    Very strange.

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