OSR: Time Travel Tips for GMs

In fiction, time travel typically falls into the following categories:

  • Time travel can affect the past in details, but not in broad outcomes. X can travel into the past and save Y from a car accident, but Y will then die in a train accident
  • Time travel can affect the past, with any effects propagating into the future. X can travel into the past and save Y from a car accident. The future that caused X to travel back in time never occurs, but it's not an issue. Potential paradoxes result in people flickering or photographs fading. 
  • Time travel creates a parallel world. X can travel into the past and save Y from a car accident, but this creates a Y-less timeline and a Y-containing timeline.
  • Time travel cannot affect the past. X cannot travel into the past and save Y from a car accident. X's efforts will fail somehow. The past is already written.

The last option is, in my opinion, the most interesting for RPG purposes. One set of of events has already occurred; parallel non-contradictory events can also occur. See: Dark (2017), Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (2016), Timecrimes (2007) etc, etc.

The Time Bend

Time's arrow cannot be diverted, but it can be bent. 

X moves forward in time. They enter the time machine, jump back in time, and then move forward in time parallel to their past self. X1 is the person before the enter the time machine, X2 is the person after the enter the time machine. X1 and X2 exist simultaneously until X1 enters the time machine, at which point X2 continues forward in time.

The past cannot be altered. When X2 exits the time machine, everything that is about to happen has already happened.

Timecrimes (2007)

Time Travel for GMs

Any GM who runs a consistent Time Bend in a game gets a gold star. It's a feat of bluff and story management, and it's not for the faint-hearted. If it works, it's the sort of thing players remember for decades. Proceed with caution.

Ideal Circumstances for a Simple Time Bend Scenario

  • A event has yet to occur, but is likely to occur.
  • The PCs cannot currently stop the event.
  • Given additional time and knowledge, the PCs could stop the event.

E.g. The mad wizard Hexibald Crumb has just announced that he's buried a Thaumic Bomb somewhere in the city of Endon. It will detonate in 20 minutes. The PCs cannot find and safely defuse the bomb 20 minutes, but could - with foreknowledge of Hexibald's threat - find it given several hours.

A Time Bend is useful in this scenario. If the Thaumic Bomb had already detonated, a Time Bend would not be useful*. Only future events (from the PCs current point of view) can be altered. The past is fixed.

 *OK, the PCs could use it to travel back in time, rent fast horses, and escape Endon, but that requires the time machine to also survive the Thaumic Bomb.

Most of the Innovations in Magical Industrial Revolution give the PCs plenty of time to alter, divert, or accidentally magnify the potentially catastrophic results. They are deliberately slow and gradual changes without fixed inflection points.

But occasionally, a GM might realize that an approaching crisis could use a Time Bend. It's an interesting option if the GM is willing to put in the work and the players are on board (or are likely to be on board). Attempting to force a crisis as an excuse to use a Time Bend will feel unnatural. Have it as an option, but not the only option (or even the best option).

In the Planning Zone, the GM suspects that time travel might play an interesting role in the game.

The Careful Notes Zone, also known as the Extra Bullshit Zone, is where the GM drops hints of events occurring in the setting that could be caused by a second group of PCs operating in parallel to the first, but are also totally normal and innocuous. Newspaper headlines, strange omens, accidents, weather, hints, etc. A GM should be doing this sort of thing anyway in a city-based campaign, especially in a city like Endon, but since the PCs will be interacting with these events twice, keeping notes is important.

The start of the Careful Notes zone is earliest point at which the PCs can arrive when they jump back in time. When it works, it makes the GM look like a genius. When it doesn't work, nobody remembers hints that don't go anywhere.

If the actions/locations of the PCs' foes are completely known before starting the Time Bend , it gives the GM less scope to modify the world, so there needs to be some vagueness or undefined time.

The Crisis Zone is the future. Ideally, the time-jumped PCs have arranged matters to prevent the crisis.

E.g. At the end of a session, the GM realizes that the players have fallen for Hexibald Crumb's distracting schemes, and are now unlikely to be able to react to the Thaumic Bomb in time. It's still possible (given cunning players and exceptional schemes), but a backup plan could be useful. 

At during the first half of the next session, the GM drops a few casual hints about a burglary at Northfangor Abbey, a terrible traffic accident, and a friendly NPC who sees the PCs, does a double take, and sprints away, etc, etc.

In the middle of the session, the PCs jump back in time. 

As part of their schemes, they realize that they need to burgle Northfangor Abbey. They cause a terrible traffic accident, which prevents them from running into the past versions and causing a paradox, and they send that friendly NPC ahead to check if the coast is clear.

Ideally, these hints and schemes should feel like actual coincidences, and not the GM forcing the PCs down a set path. The GM can achieve this by spewing a variety of events and hints at all times, and letting the players pattern-match their way to the desired outcome. The best kind of coincidence is one the GM and players failed to anticipate, but which it feels like the GM could have planned. The GM should feel like a master poker player, not someone who stacked the deck.

In most time travel media, the audience experiences the events in the most convenient and dramatic order. In an RPG, the order of events is fixed. This makes dramatic revelations about seemingly unconnected events more powerful.

Side Note: Multiple overlapping Time Bends are possible, but not advised unless the GM is feeling exceptionally clever and has taken very good notes. Just in case, the GM should try to ensure the PCs spend a little time as possible around the time machine, so they won't run into additional groups. 

Side Note 2: The opposition can also use Time Bends, though this shifts the game from one that contains time travel to one that is about time travel. Bear in mind that the opposition knows the past is fixed. They, and the PCs, are basically attempting to maneuver into the best possible position when the bend ends. Each time jump decreases freedom of action. Honestly, this sort of thing is tough enough to manage with one group in one bend.

Paradoxes and Railroading

Any event that the PCs do not explicitly remember not happening can happen.

E.g. The PCs, before entering the Time Bend, did not see the Auld Grey Cathedral explode, and it's impossible for them to have failed to notice such an event. Therefore, in the bend, they cannot cause it to explode. They did not notice one way or another if someone blew the doors off the Hydrangea Vault in Loxdon College, as the vault is underground and rarely visited. Therefore, the PCs could do so in the bend.

So the PCs cannot alter the past. What if they try? 

First, this whole scheme requires a certain level of buy-in from the players. This usually isn't an issue. If a player is willing to pretend to be an imaginary wizard, they're probably willing to pretend to be an imaginary time-traveling wizard. The stranger the setting, the less strange time travel will be to its inhabitants.

Second, the GM can introduce complications that prevent the paradox from occurring. Some examples are listed in the table at the end of this article.

Third, the time machine's owner can warn of dire consequences. Paradox Angels can turn up. The PC can vanish in a puff of smoke. The universe can vanish and be replaced with something even stranger.

The larger the possible scope of action, the less chance of a paradox. If X1 and X2 are trapped in the same house, it's almost impossible for X1 to avoid running into X2. Across an entire city, especially a city like Endon, it's far easier to keep the threads from tangling. A system with a small number of moving parts ideal for tense films, but RPGs can afford to sprawl.

Finally, memory is a fickle thing. If the paradox isn't too egregious, or if nobody spots it at the time, it's probably fine.

Since the PCs cannot alter the past, their actions are nessesarily constrained. The GM should take care not to make these invisible walls too restrictive. PCs who are operating secretly (to avoid running into their past selves) and quickly (because of the time pressure imposed by bend) are unlikely to notice. Ideally, PC2s should not feel that their only course of action is something that PC1s are certain did not occur. 

E.g. The PCs travel back in time and decide to immediately assassinate Hexibald Crumb. However, as Hexibald Crumb is alive* when the PCs initiate the Time Bend, any assassination attempts in the past must nessesarily fail. If the players insist on pursuing this route, they'll run into the sort of contrived roadblocks good GMs are supposed to avoid. Genre-savvy players, buying into the conceit, will see the issue and work on a way to assassinate Hexibald after the Time Bend.

*or at least apparently alive. In an emergency, the GM can use the old pre-recorded illusion/doppelganger/disguised minion trick to bring a dead NPC back to life and avoid a paradox.

Timing the Bend

A GM should adjust the length of the jump back to suit the style of their group. Err on the side of time pressure. For an imminent apocalypse, 6 hours should be plenty, and 1 hour might be enough. For a scheme of delicacy and complexity, or one that requires a lot of prep work in a disused warehouse, a week might provide sufficient scope.

The longer the bend, the more secrets need to be kept. In a film or TV series, the writers can plan everything to ensure characters communicate the right information at the right times. With an RPG, where nobody knows how the story will turn out, it's more difficult to keep things under wraps for days, let alone years. Characters keep secrets from each other and from the audience. PCs blab to everyone and share the meta-knowledge of players sitting around the same table.

Mattias Adolfsson

Edward Kovinov and the Temporal Funnel

Encased in his stiff robes like an ivory hatstand, Edward Kovinov is clearly a motivated and eccentric wizard. His hands shake. His mustache is unevenly trimmed, like an old boot brush. His eyes are large and watery, but his pupils are tiny specks, and his smile seems to affect only his lower lip. Kovinov's workshop is covered in lead sheets. Ambient magical radiation provides plenty of blue-grey light, which should alarm more discerning wizards. Every bit of the workshop not coated in instruments, pipes, supply racks, and charms is covered in clocks, all set to different times. The ticking is a constant murmur.

From the side, the Temporal Funnel is about 10' tall and 12' long. From the front, it seems to be at least a mile deep. It's an exceedingly complicated magical apparatus. When active, it forms a portal between two times, sucking whatever is in front of it through and depositing it in the past. 

The theory is relatively simple. When activated, spells in the Temporal Funnel devour all locally available time, creating a sort of stasis bucket instead of a stasis sphere. When the other end of the portal is activated at some point in the future, the bottom of the bucket falls out, creating a tunnel.

It sounds simple (and it beats raising Gorbels) but it's taken years to perfect. It's also ludicrously dangerous. Kovinov is aware that his invention could slurp all the time out of Endon, punch a hole in space, or unwind the nature of causality, but he refuses to acknowledge the danger. He is insane, but because he seems like a harmless crank pursuing a known dead-end, people ignore him.

Edward already knows PCs will arrive because he met them in the past.

Ah, yes. Welcome, welcome. Please step into...

Oh, I should explain, you were just here. I mean, earlier today, when I finished the machine. Inserted the last gem and poof, pow, there you were. Gave me quite a shock.

Although from your point of view you're about to give me quite a shock, but you see, for me, it's already happened. Am I making any sense? No? Oh I hate it when that happens.

Let me draw a diagram. This is time. Time only goes forward, like an arrow, but the Temporal Funnel lets me bend it slightly. You will go from here to here. X to X. For about 6 hours there will be two of you in the city.

Everything will proceed as if you had not traveled back in time. You cannot use this machine to alter the past. You can use it to alter the future. From your point of view, everything that is about to happen has already happened, until you reach this point again.

Do not contact your past selves, or anyone in direct contact with your past selves. Unless you remember that happening, in which case you should definitely contact your past selves. Which you probably don't. So don't. Operate as secretly as possible. Maintain a disguise if you can. The consequences of a paradox could be catastrophic for you or for the entire fabric of reality. Total temporal annihilation.

Well of course it will work. I saw you come out of the machine!

Wait, who are you? I said what? And it's terribly urgent? Well, I suppose it must be.

Have I explained all this already? Did I draw a diagram? Oh good, then please proceed. Just remember that everything that is about to happen has already happened, so if you remember it not happening, it won't happen, but if you don't remember if it happened or not then it might happen. Have you ever said a word so often that it starts to lose all meaning and just becomes a noise? Happen happen happen happen.

The machine will take at least six hours to charge, and I need to make all sorts of adjustments.

Oh, to be clear, you can definitely still die. Your past selves can't, because they didn't, but you can, because you haven't.

Alan Linnstaedt

Time Travel Twists

  • A time machine should require an inconvenient length of time to recharge or a rare ingredient (to discourage multiple overlapping trips). Alternatively, it only works once. Alternatively, the one time it works causes the very catastrophe the PCs are trying to prevent. The machine explodes as soon as the PCs pass through it.
  • The bend isn't a jump, but a time flow reversal. Tenet-style, the PCs experience the journey back (but in reverse), then use the machine a second time to de-reversify their flow. Since the rules of Tenet aren't fully understood (even by the filmmaker), I can't recommend this method. It seems interesting on paper but breaks down in practice, even in a controlled environment like a film.
  • Instead of traveling physically through time, the PCs use astral projection. Their spirit-forms are invisible and intangible, but too weak to affect the world beyond turning a page or rolling a coin. They can gain new information, but cannot easily create paradoxes. It's much less interesting, unless their enemies are expecting ethereal foes and have taken appropriate countermeasures.
  • As astral projection, but with a possession element. The PCs take over people in the past and run them like rental cars before returning to their bodies in the future. Again, less interesting than full time travel.
  • Throughout this article, I've assumed that time travel will be obvious to the participants. It can be a surprise, though this requires a fair bit of luck on the GM's part and is more likely to result in the PCs deliberately trying to create a paradox.
  • Short bends are relatively easy to plan, but longer time travel plots are possible. A GM should consider restricting this sort of time travel to messages or small objects instead of PCs. It's deeply satisfying for the PCs to receive a note in session N, then send the same note back in time in session N+12, and then to realize what they've done.
  • Turns out, time travel is a metaphor for infidelity or personal regret. Exposure to a time bend amplifies all emotions, particularly negative ones.


1d20 Ways to Prevent a Paradox in Endon
1 A cart drives into the scene, blocking line of sight and giving everyone a chance to scatter.
2 A newspaper, blown by the wind, smacks someone in the face. 
3 Street seller urgently wants to foist a pie on someone. No sense of personal space.
4 A rascally urchin grabs a vital item and sprints away.
5 A barrel of flour rolls out of an upper window, narrowly missing pedestrians.
6 A wedge of Coppers, whistles blowing, pursue a masked thief.
7 The character is struck by an eerie sense of déjà vu, then remembers a similar moment from their childhood that only now makes sense in the context of time travel. A conspiracy or a coincidence? 
8 Desperate need to visit a Public Convenience and perform the Necessary Bodily Rituals.
9 Box of kittens in mortal peril. 
10 Something truly unusual, alarming, and relevant to the plot appears in the distance. Villain carrying a mysterious bundle, a clock ticking backwards, etc. Which path to pursue? 
11 A grandson argues with their grandfather. Bystanders drawn in, either to prevent violence or to lend support.
12 A collision, a stumble, a brief exchange of words with a stranger. Sometimes that's all it takes for an opportunity to slip away.
13 Time-shivered ghost of a half-possible future bursts into view, then melts in agony. Alarming (if described with enough purple prose), but ultimately meaningless. Just the usual side-effects of temporal brain-rot.
14 Someone offers a crate of discount fireworks for sale. Very few time-traveling schemers can resist a box of fireworks.
15 A sudden spasm of doubt. Is this really a good idea? What if it annihilates all possible futures? Is it really worth the risk?
16 An urgent message from an ally reveals a vital clue. Intended for the past group, but caught the future group instead. 
17 Catacomb collapse. A few square feet of cobbles and dirt plummet downwards. Curious bystanders peer into the dark. Most people just cross the street.
18 Oh, the old war wound! Leg crumples, eye twitches, a sudden lurch out of frame.
19 Heart attack. Not fatal if treated promptly, but the victim should be rushed to a healer.
20 Bolt of raw magic vaporizes someone completely. Not even smouldering boots. Witnesses unsure if they can believe their eyes.

Part 2: Metastafutures

Time travel cannot affect the past, but the future is unwritten. Metastafutures are contagious futures, trying to leap backwards in time and initiate their own existence. They are typically operating blindly, either by mechanical action, fanaticism, or desperation. One seed will eventually get through, but it doesn't have to be this seed.


The Colonists
Fleeing a doomed world, they seek a past full of natural resources and pliable labour. Their history is shattered and forgotten; perhaps this was how the decline began, or how their vast empire was born. In any case, they want out. They've seen this world's end and they don't like it.

Bacteria that eat sunlight. Bacteria that eat metal, asphalt, and flesh. Bacteria that eat time itself. Life evolves to use any available energy source. Blindly probing backwards, Hyperbiota bloom into a swirling soup of optimized life. An ecosystem of grey goo. It is possible that biological life was initiated by a Metastafuture.

Time Thieves
Jump back, steal something valuable, hop into a stasis sphere, and coast until you reach your origin in the timeline. Or hang around, dropping objects into stasis for later retrieval. Good records help in this case; it's useful to know when an item vanishes from the record.

The Cult
They know someone unleashed the Elder Horror at some point in the past. They're not sure when (as most of the world burned and the survivors went mad), but it happened. The cult has access to time travel. It seems only sensible to try and unleash the Elder Horror at every possible point in the past, to bring about the Blessed State of Unending Madness. If the stars aren't right, they'll leave pamphlets, build obelisks, check in on existing cult structures, and generally make a mess of the world.

Kuldar Leement

Part 3: Stasis

Stasis spells are peculiar. When analyzed, the wizards of Endon found that stasis spells with identical effects had wildly different thaumic signatures. "As alike as bats, birds, and kites," said Prof. Thorne, in despair. Not only were haste and slow completely different, different slow spells could operate completely different ways. Some altered time. Some altered air density, created bubbles of force, or sapped energy from nerves and muscles.

Black Stasis
Spell breeding was a haphazard art in the pre-Industrial era. Sometimes, perfectly stable stasis spells spawned suboptimal offspring. "Black Stasis" spells are perfectly functional, but seal their contents in an opaque shell. Generations of texts warn wizards not to expose Black Stasis to sunlight, as the spell tends to fail spectacularly, sometimes vaporizing anything sealed inside.

Bright Stasis
Considered a cosmetic variant, Bright Stasis creates a perfectly mirrored shell around its contents. 

Hedge Stasis
Does not alter the flow of time at all, but merely traps the contents in a cage of force. Mostly used for short-duration combat spells or cosmetic effects.

True Stasis
Stops time and provides a clear view of the spell's contents, as if they were preserved in glass.

Black Stasis spells trap light. The dim light of a candle, even for a decade, is nothing compared to a few moments of sunlight. If it absorbs too much light, the spell fails and explodes, releasing the energy. Attempts to weaponize Black Stasis are ongoing, but theoretical wizards believe the total yield is less than a fireball of a similar thaumic charge.

Bright stasis spells reflect light. They are, therefore, much more stable than other stasis spells, though  not sufficiently stable for the purposes of experimental illusionists. Real mirrors are better.

True stasis spells are permeable to light. Light enters, bounces off a sort of time-shell around the object (but doesn't interact with the object itself), and exits. Sufficiently bright light can still cause the spell to fail.

Most stasis spells devour local time. Some create a bubble in time's flow. Others shunt time elsewhere, causing unnatural aging and misalignments in nearby objects. They are resistant to study.

Some wizards wonder if a giant stasis-like bubble surrounds the world. The wandering stars move; the fixed stars don't, but why? What if they are trapped in stasis, and our stasis spells merely open a link to that vast outer stillness?

Additionally, time does seem to flow inside a stasis field, but almost imperceptibly slowly. The McGillicuddy Oil Drop Experiment shows that, inside a weak stasis field, drops of oil still fall a hair's breadth every decade. Presumably, stronger stasis fields slow the flow even more, but total stasis is (by some theories) impossible, as the spell still needs to act on its contents. This does suggest that stasis spells, against all expectations, are the fastest of all spells.

Stasis spells allow the past to crash into the future. Emperors dream of preserving armies in stasis, ready to unleash them when the civil wars subside. Monks escape to the end of the universe, wizards flee the mob (or just skip ahead like an impatient reader of mystery novels), and secret societies of all kinds send agents and messages into the future. Fear the hidden cave, the locked vault, the abandoned tower. In the out-of-the-way places of the world, stasis spells drift through the stream of time.


OSR: Vathek and Gothic Fiction

The aesthetics of ruin are famously important to the OSR. Vathek, as one of the first Gothic novels, has received plenty of attention in the OSR and elsewhere, but I feel like a few elements could be reviewed.

Quotes from "The Gothic Novel, 1790-1830: Plot Summaries and Index to Motifs" by Ann B. Tracy, with "Gothic" replaced by "OSR".
Visitor to a Moonlit Churchyard, Philippe-Jacques de Loutherbourg

Side Note: Is it possible the model for this work is William "Kitty" Courtenay? He'd be 22 in 1790, and the figure vaguely matches this painting from 1789.
It fits the timeline. de Loutherbourg was on good terms with Beckford. The painting's history is unclear.

Instead of summarizing the plot, let's jump right in to the middle of the text. Vathek, the caliph and titular character, is supposed to be taking his entourage to the gates of the infernal realms, there to gain access to the treasures of the Pre-Adamite Sultans, etc. His mother, Carathis, remained behind, but a letter has just arrived informing her that Vathek is dawdling in an emir's palace instead of finishing his quest.

I've lightly edited the text. You can read the original here, though reading Vathek online isn't a great experience. I suggest finding a physical copy if you can. Complaints about my edits can be sent to Byrd Park, Richmond VA.

No person knew aught of Vathek, and a thousand ridiculous stories were propagated at his expense.  The eagerness of Carathis may be easily guessed at receiving the letter, as well as her rage at reading the dissolute conduct of her son.

“Is it so,” said she; “either I will perish, or Vathek shall enter the palace of fire.  Let me expire in flames, provided he may reign on the throne of Soliman!”

Having said this, and whirled herself round in a magical manner, which struck Morakanabad with such terror as caused him to recoil, she ordered her great camel Alboufaki to be brought, and the hideous Nerkes with the unrelenting Cafour to attend.

“I require no other retinue,” said she to Morakanabad: “I am going on affairs of emergency, a truce therefore to parade!  Take you care of the people, fleece them well in my absence, for we shall expend large sums, and one knows not what may betide.”

The night was uncommonly dark, and a pestilential blast ravaged the plain of Catoul that would have deterred any other traveller however urgent the call; but Carathis enjoyed most whatever filled others with dread.  Nerkes concurred in opinion with her, and Cafour had a particular predilection for a pestilence.  In the morning this accomplished caravan, with the wood-fellers who directed their route, halted on the edge of an extensive marsh, from whence so noxious a vapour arose as would have destroyed any animal but Alboufaki, who naturally inhaled these malignant fogs.  The peasants entreated their convoy not to sleep in this place.

“To sleep,” cried Carathis, “what an excellent thought!  I never sleep but for visions; and as to my attendants, their occupations are too many to close the only eye they each have.”

The poor peasants, who were not over pleased with their party, remained open-mouthed with surprise.

Carathis alighted as well as her servants, and severally stripping off their outer garments, they all ran in their drawers to cull from those spots where the sun shone fiercest, the venomous plants that grew on the marsh.  This provision was made for the family of the emir, and whoever might retard the expedition to Istakar.  The woodmen were overcome with fear when they beheld these three horrible phantoms run, and not much relishing the company of Alboufaki, stood aghast at the command of Carathis to set forward, notwithstanding it was noon, and the heat fierce enough to calcine even rocks.  In spite, however, of every remonstrance, they were forced implicitly to submit.

Alboufaki, who delighted in solitude, constantly snorted whenever he perceived himself near a habitation, and Carathis, who was apt to spoil him with indulgence, as constantly turned him aside; so that the peasants were precluded from procuring subsistence; for the milch goats and ewes which Providence had sent towards the district they traversed, to refresh travellers with their milk, all fled at the sight of the hideous animal and his strange riders.  As to Carathis, she needed no common aliment; for her invention had previously furnished her with an opiate to stay her stomach, some of which she imparted to her mutes.

At the fall of night Alboufaki making a sudden stop, stamped with his foot, which to Carathis, who understood his paces, was a certain indication that she was near the confines of some cemetery.  The moon shed a bright light on the spot, which served to discover a long wall with a large door in it standing a-jar, and so high that Alboufaki might easily enter.  The miserable guides, who perceived their end approaching, humbly implored Carathis, as she had now so good an opportunity, to inter them, and immediately gave up the ghost.  Nerkes and Cafour, whose wit was of a style peculiar to themselves, were by no means parsimonious of it on the folly of these poor people, nor could any thing have been found more suited to their taste than the site of the burying ground, and the sepulchres which its precincts contained.  There were at least two thousand of them on the declivity of a hill; some in the form of pyramids, others like columns, and in short the variety of their shapes was endless.  Carathis was too much immersed in her sublime contemplations to stop at the view, charming as it appeared in her eyes.  Pondering the advantages that might accrue from her present situation, she could not forbear to exclaim:

“So beautiful a cemetery must be haunted by Gouls, and they want not for intelligence! having heedlessly suffered my guides to expire, I will apply for directions to them, and as an inducement, will invite them to regale on these fresh corpses.”

After this short soliloquy, she beckoned to Nerkes and Cafour, and made signs with her fingers, as much as to say:

“Go, knock against the sides of the tombs, and strike up your delightful warblings, that are so like to those of the guests whose company I wish to obtain.”

The servants, full of joy at the behests of their mistress, and promising themselves much pleasure from the society of the Gouls, went with an air of conquest, and began their knockings at the tombs.  As their strokes were repeated, a hollow noise was heard in the earth, the surface hove up into heaps, and the Gouls on all sides protruded their noses to inhale the effluvia which the carcasses of the woodmen began to emit.

They assembled before a sarcophagus of white marble, where Carathis was seated between the bodies of her miserable guides.  The princess received her visitants with distinguished politeness, and when supper was ended, proceeded with them to business.  Having soon learnt from them every thing she wished to discover, it was her intention to set forward forthwith on her journey, but her servants, who were forming tender connections with the Gouls, importuned her with all their fingers to wait, at least till the dawn.  Carathis, however, being chastity in the abstract, and an implacable enemy to love and repose, at once rejected their prayer, mounted Alboufaki, and commanded them to take their seats in a moment.  Four days and four nights she continued her route, without turning to the right hand or left; on the fifth she traversed the mountains and half-burnt forests, and arrived on the sixth before the beautiful screens which concealed from all eyes the voluptuous wanderings of her son.

Marine, Philippe-Jacques de Loutherbourg

 Vathek as an RPG Session

GM: The letter informs you that your son is delayed at the palace of an emir.
Carathis: Oh shoot. We're going after him. I tell my servants to prepare my camel...
GM: Your giant evil camel?
Carathis: Of course my giant evil camel. I'll take two hirelings, Nerkes and Cafour...
GM: Your mute one-eyed hirelings?
Carathis: Yup. Is the vizier still here?
GM: Yes, you were just playing chess.
Carathis: I whirl around and shout, uh, "Either I will perish, or Vathek shall enter the palace of fire!"
GM: The vizier looks confused. Also, I'm not sure that's an or-statement.
Carathis: I don't care. Oh, and I tell him not to forget to collect taxes. Camel! And away!


GM: You come across a pestilential marsh.
Carathis: Are there poisonous plants here?
GM: Yes.
Carathis: Great. I'm going to make some poison, just in case. I'll have my hirelings help.
GM: Just in case of what?
Carathis: You never know. Poison is always useful.


Carathis: Those guides were still with us?
GM: Yes? You didn't dismiss them or anything. It's you, your two hirelings, the guides...
Carathis: And my giant evil camel.
GM: And your giant evil camel, yes.
Carathis: The guides will be fine. I offer them some opium.
GM: They do not want the opium.
Carathis: Fine. We keep going.


GM: Your giant evil camel detects a cemetery nearby.
Carathis: I knew that ability would come in handy. We should stop.
GM: [rolls] Aaaand your guides are dead.
Carathis: Wait, what? Why?
GM: You haven't given them food or water for more than 24 hours, and you've been traveling the whole time.
Carathis: Fair enough. Wait... are there Ghouls in this cemetery?
GM: [rolls] There might be.
Carathis: I want to try and lure them out with the bodies. They'll be much better guides.


GM: Your hirelings are trying to seduce the Ghouls.
Carathis: Damn it, not again!

The Angel Binding Satan, Philippe-Jacques de Loutherbourg

Notes on the Author

William Beckford (1760-1844) was, at the time of publication, 21-year-old incredibly wealthy slave-owning complicated pederast who wrote Vathek over (allegedly) 3 days of feverish effort. Honestly, if you didn't know that, you'd probably figure it out by reading the text. It's basically author-insert Arabian Nights fanfiction, straight out of the early internet. Take your problematic author bingo card, dip it in ink, and laminate it.

Beckford was also one of the all-time great English eccentrics. The story of Fonthill Abbey is well worth a read. Echoes of theme parks and film studios; worlds that never were, "the creation of an erratic but powerful imagination" willing - or even compelled - to drag the unreal into the unreal.

He is also dead.

Vathek contains an interesting mix of dread and humour. Some of the dread is the stuff found in dreams. It's hard to explain, in the waking world, why it a dream was terrifying, but it makes perfect sense at the time. Conveying that in a novel takes real talent.

Sure, it's pure Orientalism, but it's more nuanced than some of its contemporaries. Beckford managed to capture some of the themes of various classic tales while adding new and interesting elements. He did his research (or, more accurately, devoured all the available source texts and Vathek as a way of releasing the pressure of a fevered imagination). Is it authentic? No. The "academic footnotes" added by the Reverend Samuel Henely, the well-meaning translator, only add to the joke. Beckford winks at the audience, revealing that it's just a story being told, not a cultural history or a poetic introspection. Vathek the character is a wry stand-in for Beckford. Carathis is his mother, while Nerkes and Cafour could be references to family friends, notorious servants, or Woosterian Aunts.

Such a blend of horror and farce, ambition and folly, subconscious expression, cultural pilfering, treasure, scenery, and the supernatural fit RPGs perfectly.


OSR: -Ard Classes

I misread a message from ktrey (1d4caltrops) and this is the result. What if all classes in a game or setting ended with -ard?

(This is sort of a palate cleanser after the previous post.)


No changes required. Bards are sometimes known as Blaggards or Blowhards.


A fighter-type with all the dirty tricks.


Yar har! Sword, pistol, ship, and swashbuckling. Blackbeards can be either Onboard or Landward. Bluebeards are a variant that collect wives instead of treasure.


A fighter-type with fewer dirty tricks. A fighter who appears to be a Bodyguard but is actually a Bastard is a Blackguard


See this post. Can fly (if hoisted by own petard).


The Buzzard has keen eyes, sharp talons, and wings. A Buzzard with high charisma is a Bustard. Aquatic Buzzards are Mallards.


Slide under doors! Attract monsters with your enticing aroma! Custards which focus on offensive abilities are Mustards.


A monk-type brawler. If you buy armour, you become a Tankard. If you take a vow of pacifism, you become a Coward.


Dullards cast using Intelligence. Most of their spells make enemies dumber, reducing them to the Dullard's level so the Dullard can beat them with experience (and a big stick). Old Dullards are called Dotards.


See this post


Who doesn't want to play a big ol' lizard?

"Species, Class, and Background?"
"Lizard, Lizard, and, uh, Lizard."


A vicious cat. Unfortunately, has to be carried around by other people, because once you've selected a position you cannot alter it. The Leopard cannot change its spots.


Upon selecting this class, the player must also select a Historical Richard. They are that Richard, and gain one corresponding special ability. They are probably bewildered by the sudden setting change. Examples include Richard Nixon (who Is Not A Crook), Richard of York (who Gave Battle in Vain), Richard Feynman (Nature Cannot Be Fooled), etc.

Some players just want to be dicks.


The class of the Sluggard, I've heard it declared,
Is False OSR (as if anyone cared).
As the Cleric has chain and the Fighter has plate,
The Sluggard's defense is to always be late.

"More time in the town, more time to prepare;"
Not present in combat, yet still wants a share.
If caught by an ambush, the Sluggard must weigh,
All possible actions each round of the fray.

Encumbered by items, bewildered by maps,
Useless with weapons and fearful of traps,
With health undiminished and body uncursed,
The Sluggard cries out "Lo, the last shall be first!"


A paladin-type. Wards of the State are typically orphans raised to serve as roving police officers. Wards of the Hospital are healers. Awkwards force monsters to flee... or just shuffle away without making eye contact.


Wizards, of course, cast using Wisdom. Wizards are very wise (and also very wrinkly).

All these classes feel safest in boulevards, courtyards, and blizzards.

You could instead divide them like this:


Bastard (heavily weighted), Buzzard, Custard, Leopard, and Lizard.

Bard, Bodyguard, Bombard, Drunkard, Dullard, Goliard, Richard, Sluggard, Ward, and Wizard.

But I can't vouch for any of the combinations... or for this post in general.

Sean Andrew Murray

Arduous Enemies 

Aardvarks and Aardwolves, obviously. Found in the Ardennes.


On Zak (Sabbath) Smith - The Lawsuits

In February of 2019, four women accused noted RPG author Zak (Sabbath) Smith of sexual, physical and emotional abuse. Justin Stewart (Dragons Gonna Drag) has an excellent summary post of the RPG community's response. I posted my own notes here. You can also read this Polygon article, or this article, or any number of contemporary responses.

If you don't know who Zak is, consider yourself lucky.

Since the initial reaction in 2019, reporting on Zak's activities has been sparse at best. One school of thought says that you should let this sort of thing fade away naturally. It's like a bad smell in your kitchen. Turn on a fan, open the window, take out the trash, and it's gone.

But if there's a bad smell in your basement, it might be time to call in the expensive specialists and start digging up pipes. The smell won't go away if you ignore it. The longer you wait, the greater the potential damage.

If you want something done, and nobody else is doing it, sometimes you've got to do it yourself. I couldn't find a good summary of Zak's post-2019 legal adventures, and I felt one would be useful (since there's some speculation online) so I decided to write one.

The court system does not (in my opinion) reliably generate fair results. If I'd ignore or downplay results where the court "got it wrong", it seems unfair to celebrate times when they "got it right", so merely listing the results of the various lawsuits wouldn't be valuable. Examining the arguments and conclusions presented, regardless of results, is more useful. Providing links to the original documents is better still.

I was aided by the tireless work of someone who seemed to have Zak's worst interests in mind. Someone who relentlessly dragged Zak's personal and intellectual flaws into the spotlight, exposed errors, and presented deeply unflattering arguments.

That person is Zak Smith.

Part 1: Mind Like A Sue-er

Zak announced, many times, that anyone who'd commented on, shared, supported, etc. the original posts was in line for a good legal thrashing, and had better watch what they say. Ideally, people would have to do some of the legwork for him, but still! Lawsuits! So many lawsuits!

Please dox yourself, thanks.


Dramatic reenactment provided by Gary Oldman.

 Edit 2022/03/16. Additional screenshot for context.

And then he started suing people.

Part 2. Smith v. Ettin

In February of 2019, internet resident Ettin posted a long-form Something Awful-style essay on Zak. You can read an archived version here. With a hearty blend of fact, fiction, self-aggrandizing unhelpfulness, and poop jokes, it fits SA's house style. This (and some past collisions) made Ettin a target, and he was (it seems) sued.

Side Note: this is peculiar, because it's widely accepted that Zak ran "The Dongion", a "satirical" blog featuring a hearty blend of fact, fiction, self-aggrandizing unhelpfulness, and poop jokes. You'd think he'd fit in with the goons. And he did! Until he got banned.

Anyway, I don't know if this suit ever made it to court or formal mediation, or if the parties settled out of court. The latter seems likely. As part of the settlement terms, it appears Ettin had to post an apology on various forums, delete the article and associated tweets, and hand over some money. Again, none of this is part of a court record that I can find, so it's mostly speculation.

Posters on SA responded to Ettin's apology with the grace and quiet dignity of a pack of howler monkeys on amphetamines. The thread was moved to SA's ambitiously named "Comedy Goldmine" section and archived. Zak repeatedly replied to his critics with a copy of the apology for most of 2020.

Ettin's subsequent GoFundMe raised around $7,000. Since Ettin said "All my costs have been covered", I think it's safe to assume Zak walked away with somewhere between $2k and $5. It could be more (if "costs" just included legal fees), but it'd be unusual to settle for a huge payment when gambling on a lawsuit would be cheaper.

This settlement appears to be Zak's only triumph to date.

If that seems like a whole lot of squeeze for not a lot of juice, just wait.

Image defies description
Zak (left) and Mike Mearls (right)

Part 3: Smith v. Mearls 20-2-15294-7 KNT

Documents available here (backup here) courtesy of Law Orc.

Back in 2014, Zak was invited to consult on the next edition of Dungeons and Dragons, as part of (effectively) market research on the up-and-coming Old School Renaissance. For Mike Mearls, this was probably a totally innocuous part of game development that should have begun and ended with some comments on a PDF. 

Instead, six years later, it lead to this lawsuit. Once Zak is in your life, it seems you won't ever get him out.

On to the lawsuit. People seem to expect legal documents to be full of jargon and deliberately confusing language, when, if they're written well, they are extremely clear and linear. Their clarity can be intimidating. Blog posts and novels can be vague and meandering; anything submitted to court should cut like a razor to the heart of the issue. I encourage you to read the documents in full.

A good response boils away everything superfluous, rendering a clear path for the court. Here is what I want the judge to do. Here are the core rules. Here are applicable situations where past judges, faced with the same situation, and in the same region, came to the decision I want this judge to make.

The documents filed by Zak's lawyer... do not do that.

Mearls' lawyers cut to the heart of the matter in their motion to dismiss, and they succeeded. Their basic argument is that, even if everything Zak said was true, it's still not actionable. After a few minutes in court, basically the bare minimum needed to read out names and ensure everything is in order, and the suit was dismissed.

Because this is a blog post, I can take a luxurious ramble through all the arguments Mearls' lawyers ignored as irrelevant nonsense. Take this bit, from Zak's response.

Estoppel, hammer time
Some of you are probably asking, "what is promissory estoppel"? Some of you, who are smart, and clever, and versed in the law, are probably asking, "what does promissory estoppel have to do with this case?"

Yes. Moving on...

Ok, fine. Promissory estoppel is a fancy legal term for "no take-backsies". "Sword and shield" is also D&D term. Lord Denning is dead and I wish I was too. Happy?

I don't know, maybe Zak or Zak's lawyer searched for the term in a legal dictionary and slapped in the first definition they could find, not recognizing that arguing "the defendant knows the law" doesn't really help your main case (i.e. that the defendant broke the law). It's not quite Meads v Meads word salad, but it's definitely not relevant.

This feels like something a lawyer would do when faced with a client with micromanagement tendencies. They're just doing what Zak asks. Sure. No problem. As long as the cheque clears. As we'll see in Part 6, sometimes that approach doesn't merely fail, it backfires.

The bold and underline make it true.

Tossing in a few cheap shots (like "obscure") is either a clever tactic to potentially distract the opposition (since obscurity is not the issue under litigation, and any effort spent disproving the point is wasted), or just common pettiness. 

It's tempting to get sidetracked by, say, examining Zak's adult film career, getting further sidetracked by an incongruous AVN award nomination in 2014 (after a four year gap), discussing the AVN awards voting process, discussing industry awards and vanity nominations, comparing credits to see who could have engineered a vanity nomination, using seeded torrents to compare popularity, digging into adult film revenue numbers for the early 2000s, etc, etc... but it's just not relevant.

There are a lot of amusing gems in Zak's response, but here's just one more.

The Devil and Merriam-Webster
Webster's 1913 dictionary defines "confusion" as "The state of being mixed or blended so as to produce indistinctness or error; indistinct combination; disorder; tumult."


"In Zak's response, he confuses the 'conclusion as a termination of an article' with 'conclusion as a synthesis of formal arguments'. He hurt himself in his confusion."

Anyway, case dismissed with prejudice.

Part 4: Smith v. Gen Con 21-2-01684-3 KNT

Documents available here, courtesy of Robert Bohl and Eric Tenkar. Again, I strongly encourage you to read them.

In February of 2019, Gen Con banned Zak. In 2021, Zak sued. The case was also dismissed, for largely the same reason. Here's the opening paragraphs of Gen Con's Motion to Dismiss.

Anything asserted by a narcissist must be true
This won't be a shock to anyone who's interacted with Zak online.

Let's see what Zak filed.

Merriam-Webster defines "bullshit artist" as...

If you're not aware of how modern art collecting works, this might strike you as an impressive list of institutions. To a certain extent, it is. At some point after WWII, museums and galleries realized that art is a great investment vehicle. For the cost of a warehouse, some shelves, and some archival paper, the institution can place a bet on the future. 99% of the art they accumulate will be worthless, but if even 1% turn out to be early Rothkos, the museum makes money and gains prestige. Most works are donated. Artists get a prestigious line to add to their Wikipedia page (or their lawsuits, for some reason), the museum gets art, everyone is happy.

The fact that a Yale graduate with a lot of charm and hustle has works in a few permanent collections, and displays art in art galleries, shouldn't be a surprise. That's the job. If you're a ditch-digger, you can proudly point to the ditches you've dug, but nobody should be surprised that you've dug them.

It's also largely irrelevant to the case at hand, but by this point, that should come as no surprise. Zak's whole opposition to the motion to dismiss is irrelevant. It's meandering, weakly strung together, seems to ignore the concept of linear time, and is demolished by Gen Con's lawyers with what appears to be unusual relish.

Case dismissed with prejudice.

Update 2022/03/16. Zak has announced he is appealing this case.

Update 2022/07/12. Zak's appeal of the dismissal was granted (PDF). It seems to be a procedural thing, as far as I can tell.  All the above comments on the dismissal stand. However, in March 2021

"Smith moved for reconsideration, asking for leave to file an amended complaint.
He attached a proposed amended complaint containing additional facts and exhibits and only requesting relief for defamation, defamation per se, and false light."

Basically, as I understand it, he and his lawyer did a poor job (see above) and asked for a redo, presenting new documents. The judge said "nah, still dismissed". He appealed, and the new judge, looking at the new motion (which I do not have access to at this time), said "OK, this might be enough to actually go to trial."

The ruling notes that Zak "was not required to provide evidence showing how the statements caused the specific damages" and that while he "may not have alleged specific facts proving that Gen Con and Adkison knew or should have known that the statements were false, that is not the issue at the CR 12(b)(6) [should we dismiss?] stage." No additional facts are stated in the ruling, just the same allegations more coherently phrased. 

The judge, and Zak's appeal, seems to emphasize the damage the GenCon ban did to what could be generously called Zak's career. I'm not sold on the idea. The ban came relatively late in the sequence of events. Zak has been banned from many places over the years and never seems to take it well.

Update 2023/05/15. Zak's appeal has been dismissed with prejudice. Backup of the order here. The document is very short and well worth reading. I suspect the judge in this case was as sick of dealing with Zak's usual tactics as the rest of the RPG community.

The basis of Zak's appeal of the initial summary dismissal was that evidence linking Gencon's statement to his claimed damages (2.85 million dollars!!) would be provided at trial. Come the trial, Zak was (of course) unable to show any causal link, because none exists, or provide any new facts, because no new facts can be found. Some new opinions were asserted, to what seems to be general confusion and derision. He did provide his full Enemies List to the court, which didn't help either. Zak also ignored sanctions and orders to pay.

In my opinion, this decision, combined with the Zak v. Grey decision, have rendered Zak both figuratively and literally toothless. Anti-SLAPP motions can use Zak's "discovery abuses or violations of this Court's orders," the judge's statement that "it appears that he has sued a number of [people on his enemies list] without factual basis", or that he "demonstrated a wilful and deliberate noncompliance with discovery sanctions by making retaliatory threats to the Defendant and the Defendant's counsel" to, hopefully, shut down any potential shakedown case at minimal cost. Anyone can now cite Zak's own statements in Zak v. Grey regarding the believability of the original posts.

And Zak’s lawyers, present and future, can also review these decisions and orders and decide if Zak is someone they really want to help shakedown random internet commentators for small sums based on a non-existent link between an arbitrary damage value and a few old tweets.

Zak has announce that he is appealing this decision to a higher court.

Intermission: Demon City

In July of 2018, Zak launched a Kickstarter campaign for a book called Demon City, with delivery expected in June of 2019.

As of this article, the book has not been finished, let alone printed and shipped. 

When Mandy, Hannah, Jennifer, and Vivka posted their stories in Feb. 2019, Demon City was the centre of a firestorm of controversy. A number of OSR luminaries had signed on for stretch goals. Some said nothing, some posted about their contributions. Demands for refunds poured in... and ran into a brick wall.

No refunds!

That seems like an unusual funding allocation. If the Kickstarter funded the book's production only (and all the money was already spent), how were physical copies going to be printed? Where's the money to pay for distribution and warehousing?  Who's going to pay to print the extra non-KS copies that will then need to sell to generate a refund? Who's been paying for the editing over the last 2+ years?

Mike seemed to be grimly set on steering this ship into port. His co-star, the driving force behind the project, seemed focused on other things.

Could you just be normal.

It's not great when someone running a project and desperately trying to moderate the comments section says "stop fighting", and the book's author/artist says "no". 

I almost feel sorry for Mike here, but nobody forced him to carry the scorpion.

It's noble to try and be the adult in the room, but you're still in the damn room.

Presented without comment. 

EDIT 2022/03/16. Actually, one comment. The terms of the Demon City affidavit are worth examining. I can't find a copy of it to link to (though I'd be happy to include one), but a backer posted an excerpt (verified by Zak). I'd be especially interested to see what lawyers (if any) attached their name to such a document.

What an interesting agreement.

Being trolled by your editors is normal.

Tensions between Zak and Demon City editor and Zak fan Jacob Hurst (of Hot Springs Island fame) also seem high, though Jacob's continued presence on the project seems odd to me. Mike, I can understand. As the project lead, he's lashed himself to the mast of this doomed vessel, but surely everyone else could just... quit? Hand back the money for any work not completed. Heck, if you can afford it, hand back the whole sum and take the loss; it'd be hard to argue sabotage and bad faith with a full refund.

Does anyone left on the project really want a credit on Zak Sabbath's Demon City? Really? Why? Even if you accept Zak's proposition that "There is very little room at the top in the cut-throat entertainment industry of RPG." [sic] (Smith v. Gencon, Zak's response), which I don't, does this feel like the top?

Part 5: Smith v. Nagy, 2021 ONSC 4265

Link to decision.

In August of 2020, Amanda Nagy filed a SLAPP motion against Zak. The background section of the decision summarizes this case, and it's probably the best place to start.  

A Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation ("SLAPP") suit is designed to use the legal system as a weapon to silence critics. Several jurisdictions have enacted anti-SLAPP laws to allow for speedy dismissal of such cases. SLAPP motions in Ontario, Canada, have unintentionally turned into high-speed mini-lawsuits, where the whole proposed case gets litigated before it can get litigated. Unlike a standard motion to dismiss, there are extra steps and delays, as well as a higher bar to clear. A dismissal says, "there's no case here". A SLAPP motion says, "there might be a case here, but it's not worth it." 

In this case, the judge determined it was worth it to hear the case in full, and explained process by which they arrived at their decision.

I suspect that any subsequent SLAPP motion has a better chance to succeed. Zak's history of litigation - and threats to use ligation to silence critics - are now trivial to find (even if it's tedious to collate). I'm not sure if Zak's comments constitute "a desire for revenge", but they sure sound like it to me.

"Theyre no better than nazis and should be treated as such" is quite a statement.

It's also difficult to say if public debate was chilled by Zak demanding critics send him sworn affidavits, or offering to send them books if they signed affidavits, or demanding critics send him their full name and place of residence. On the one hand, it's hard to take that sort of thing seriously. On the other hand, it's possible - given the disorganized and confused public knowledge of Zak's legal history - that people elected not to speak up because of the threat of a potential lawsuit.

Original tweet deleted. I wonder why?

Describing your opponents via military euphemisms does not pair well with a quest for truth and justice. "Whom shall I target next?" is not, perhaps, the best way to commence a legal campaign.

Zak is 44 years old.

"Smith earned only $24,000 in 2019 and virtually nothing in 2020" is an interesting disclosure.

Merriam-Webster defines "impecunious" as "that scene where the character opens their wallet and moths fly out". It may be difficult for Zak to prove that pecuniary motives don't lie behind any subsequent suits... especially since he's openly admitted to it.

Link to tweet.

EDIT: 2017/03/17

I finally tracked down another comment.

Once again, I've got nothing to say.

Finally, the decision notes that Zak has "no [prior] history of using litigation to silence critics". While this may be true, he's never shied away from talking about potential litigation. Take this PM to me, for example. You can read the full thread here (and it might be worth it just for the spats joke).

The chutzpah of Zak is beyond measure.

In any case, the judge determined that the case was worth hearing in full, and the SLAPP motion failed. James Cook of Gardiner Roberts LLP wrote a decent neutral summary of the decision. As far as I can tell, James has no connection to the RPG industry or Zak's other lawsuits, and may not be aware of the hideous quagmire into which he's inadvertently stumbled. 


Part 6: Smith v. Grey 20STCV09708

Link to Ruling.

The legal background to this case is complex. Zak is suing Vivka Grey for defamation; Vivka is countersuing, and the two suits are smushed together for convenience. This ruling comes in the middle of that suit, and only covers the issues around a single deposition. This ruling isn't as clear as some of the other legal documents, so I'm going to present a section below with references stripped out. Please consult the judge's original ruling if clarification is required.

The parties have identified non-party Amanda Nagy as a trial witness for this matter. Amanda Nagy’s deposition was set to take place on July 18, 2021 at 9:30am PDT via remote video conference. “[Grey] intends to ask questions and elicit testimony at deposition regarding Ms. Nagy’s three-way polygamous sexual relationship with her husband, Plaintiff Smith, and [Grey].” 


On July 28, 2021 at 9:20 a.m., or ten (10) minutes before the start at Ms. Nagy's deposition, Plaintiff Zachary Smith's counsel, Henry L. Self III, informed me for the first time by email that nonparty witnesses Charlotte Stokely and Michelle Ford would be attending the remote deposition.


At 9:26 am, Grey’s Counsel objected by email to Charlotte Stokely and Michelle Ford being present at Ms. Nagy’s deposition and met and conferred as to the attendance of Charlotte Stokely and Michelle Ford. The parties were unable to come to an agreement.  


Grey contends that a protective order excluding all nonparty witnesses from attending Amanda Nagy’s deposition is necessary.  The burden is on Grey to show good cause for the exclusion of all nonparty witness from attending Amanda Nagy’s deposition.  



Here, in California there is a clear longstanding right to privacy of an individual’s sexual practices. The parties anticipate eliciting testimony from non-party Amanda Nagy as to her “three-way polygamous sexual relationship with her husband, Plaintiff Smith, and [Grey].” Nagy has a privacy interest as to the testimony that the parties anticipate eliciting from her.

Further, though parties and their counsel have a right to be present at a deposition, there is no such similar right for non-parties. In fact, Code of Civil Procedure section 2025 expressly provides that non-parties may be excluded from attending a deposition. Given Nagy’s strong privacy interest in the testimony sought, the Court finds exclusion of nonparties from the deposition is proper.

Moreover, as to Michelle Ford and Charlotte Stokely, additional good cause exists to exclude them from the deposition. Amanda Nagy states in her declaration that “Michelle Ford has sworn an affidavit supporting Zak Smith in his case against [Nagy] here in Ottawa, Canada, and Charlotte Stokely has provided Zak Smith a statement of support.” Amanda Nagy also states that she has “post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), officially diagnosed by Doctor David Bakish on February 20, 2020, here in Ottawa, Canada.” Nagy states that “[h]aving Charlotte Stokely, Michelle Ford, or any other non-party, especially other witnesses [Nagy] know[s] personally and that support Zak Smith, is highly trigger for [Nagy] and [her] PTSD.”

In opposition, Smith offers scant explanation as to why Charlotte Stokely or Michelle Ford are necessary at the deposition. 


Here, there is an obvious longstanding privacy interest in the testimony sought in the deposition of Amanda Nagy.  The timing of Smith’s last-minute insistence on the attendance of non-party attendees who are testifying against the deponent in another action is somewhat suspect.  Moreover, Smith’s opposition to this motion was without merit.  Accordingly, the Court finds that some sanctions are warranted.

Accordingly, based on the totality of the circumstances, sanctions are granted in the amount of $1,847.19.

Zachary Smith and his Counsel of Record, Henry L. Self III, are jointly and severally liable and ordered to pay monetary sanctions in the amount of $1,847.19 to Vivka Grey by and through counsel, within thirty (30) days of notice of this order.  

This, in my opinion, is the Doom That Came To Sabbath.

If you want to try this greasy daytime-TV-lawyer tactic in court, you'd normally get your supporters to show up and sit in the gallery. Maybe the judge throws them out, maybe not, but the intimidation works either way and is plausibly deniable. 

Trying it on a zoom call? That's... ambitious.

It's absolutely transparent what Zak was trying to do, so transparent that the judge tossed sanctions at both him and his lawyer. Judges don't like surprises. Judges don't like bogus reasoning. Judges don't like intimidation. Qui maledixerit feritor, as the well known legal maxim goes. Anyone who wishes to formally cite Zak's bullying, harassment, and generally bad behavior can use this ruling as an example. 

Edit 2022/03/16: I missed a second ruling in this case. Link. This one is more of a procedural ruling, determining if a portion of the combined defamation case can go forward. There's not too much of general interest. Vivka's portion of the defamation suit seems to have sufficient grounds to proceed, but the "Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress" portion should be smushed into the defamation portion under California precedent.

Zak's lawyer for this case is "Henry L. Self III". Amazingly, this isn't another Zak sockpuppet account. Irony is dead and we're living in its remains.

Update 2023/03/07 - Smith v. Grey 20STCV09708 Decision

The decision is here.

So, Zak has won a lawsuit... but the manner of victory and its results would make even Pyrrhus of Epirus wince at the cost. Of the eight allegedly defamatory statements against Zak evaluated by the court, six were found to be true, one was found to be nonactionable opinion, and one was found to be false. But one is all you need, so Zak won... $1 and court costs (not his legal fees, just the procedural fees paid directly to the court).

Why is this all coming out now, in 2023? As far as I can tell, it's because Zak announced a reprint of a book and then started publicizing his "victory" via assorted minions. And if you believe his narrative, it's a flawless victory. But if you read the decision... it's really not. 

I strongly recommend reading the decision. I genuinely cannot imagine having any respect for Zak Sabbath, as a person, after reading it. If you can't be bothered, there's a point-by-point summary on twitter here. There's very little I feel I can add. I'm not sure breaking down the decision in this post would be useful when you can just... read the decision.

Once again, Zak seems to have his own worst interests at heart. Leaving aside the testimony of others, let's see what Zak has to say about himself.

Here's a convenient image with the completely normal post-trial victory selfie.

If these quotes seem bad out of context, they are, in my opinion, much worse in context. Zak seems to be trying to re-litigate the trial on twitter, using video from the depositions, which is really weird and uncomfortable, and also not how trials work. You had your chance. You won. The ashes you taste are victory.

Vivka Grey has a GoFundMe for her legal expenses, which she says total $560,000. As of this update, she has raised $60,000.

Update 2023/04/18: Part 6.5: Cameron Banks

On 2023/04/16, RPG designer Cameron Banks posted the following on twitter.

As with Smith v. Ettin (Part 2, above) this appears to be a settlement, not a judgement. A settlement is not the result of a judge ruling on the merits of a case. A settlement is the result of lawyers agreeing on a way to prevent a lawsuit from happening (or stop one that's in progress), for reasons that could have nothing to do with the law and everything to do with the cost of going to court. Zak refers to this as "winning a lawsuit", but that is, in my opinion, misleading.

Additionally, thanks to the Smith v. Grey decision, anyone who wants "proof [Zak] did anything wrong" can potentially cite Zak's words or the court's findings.

Part 7: Next Steps

It seems unlikely that Zak will quit. It does not appear to be in his nature. The smell in the basement will linger. But at least the lights are on, and we need no longer fumble in total darkness.

Since February 2019, I will take any opportunity to talk to any lawyer, especially in person--former judge, current DA, public defender, divorce lawyer, patent lawyer, someone on the side of a bus, whatever. I buy them lunch and ask them questions.


Watching a person with strongly felt and dubiously coherent legal grievances rant at an unrelated legal professional lured into lunch under false pretenses is painfully awkward. It's like meeting a dentist while shopping and showing them your rotten teeth. Nobody wants to see that! Put them away and book an appointment like a normal human being.

Also, most good trial-hardened legal professionals will refuse (out of pride or self preservation) to offer anything close to an opinion on any subject outside of their full control. You might think they're confirming your statements, but if you boil it down, they're making noncommittal noises. I can't imagine Zak, in person, is somehow able to present his arguments more clearly than he can manage in court. Oh well. 

Poor unsuspecting lawyers of the Los Angeles area. Good luck out there.


Final Notes

I've tried to cover all the cases and rulings I can find. If you find others, post a link in the comments or write your own post. If I've made any significant errors, let me know. If you find any particularly amusing or relevant details in the documents that I've missed, post them too.

Mandy has a GoFundMe for legal fees. As of this post, it's raised $12,561 with a goal of $20k.

Zak (via a proxy) also has a GoFundMe for legal fees. As of this post, it's raised $3,029 with a goal of $20k.

I am not a legal expert (if the commentary above didn't make that clear). Nothing in this post should be construed as legal advice.