So I haven’t written a blog entry here in a while, and this is actually related to my (apparently) sudden and (apparently) swift departure from another forum. But, yeah, this is about Lowkey13 (aka Lowkey) and why all Lowkey13's posts are gone from EnWorld. It’s pretty inside-baseball, so if you aren’t already familiar with Lowkey13, or EnWorld, you probably won’t care. That’s cool. Heck, even if you ARE familiar with Lowkey13 and EnWorld, you probably won’t care. Such is the nature of life.
This is going to be a long post, even by my standards, so I am going to nutshell it right here for anyone who comes across this looking for the good stuff:
TLDR: To quote the great bard, Howard Jones, “No one ever is to blame.” Below, I am going to detail what happened from my perspective, but I am not seeking absolution, nor am I casting blame. Stuff happens. Misunderstandings pile up. And the next thing you know, Brick killed someone with a trident. This post explains what happened, but sometimes ... well, stuff happens. There is no evil intent, there is no grand design. Things just fall apart.
So, if you aren’t dishing it out, why write this? Well, I left really quickly. I’ve been IP-banned from the forum (and since IP-banning isn’t perfect ... HA! .... more importantly I was asked not to post there again, which I will respect). It is my understanding that threads that mention me get shut down. And there seems to be a lot of misinformation that is circulating around, causing people to PM me at other places and ask me questions about why I, for example, deleted all my posts before storming off (not true). In addition, the threads that remain contain information that I do not think is fully accurate since they weren’t updated, and my posts are now deleted. So I’m writing this so that people know what happened from my perspective to the extent that they care.
Awesome! So this is the truth, right? Eh, the truth is a three-edged sword. This is my truth. I can only promise that I am as fair as a person stuck in their own perspective and writing an overly-long and unnecessary piece about why they quit a website can be.
So .... yeah. I mean, if you don’t like this, I promise to fully refund the money you paid me to write it.
1. The Cast and Characters. In order to protect the guilty, and frame the innocent, I am going to go provide a list of characters and names that I will be using.
a. Catra. That would be me. For purposes of this post, I AM CATRA.
b. The Mods. Umbrage, LaRusso, and Morrisey. The moderators of the forum in question are the three horseman of the exasperatedly patient apocalypse, Umbrage, LaRusso, and the lead singer of the Smiths, Morrisey. Now there’s a mod that never goes out! If a double decker bus, crashes into us .... to post on your site, the pleasure, the privilege is mine. Also relevant? Morrisey is the site-owner / top mod.
c. NGram. I will call the forum in question NGram, because google books ngram viewer is cool. NGram is a forum for discussing role playing games (like D&D, not the sex ones .... not that there is anything wrong with that; I don’t kink shame you if you’re into an Elf, Melf, or Milf).
d. ATYD. AYTD (“All the Young Dudes”) is just a loose term for a small number of other commentators on NGram that largely (but not exclusively) discuss two topics from one perspective. When there is a conversation about the two topics from any other perspective, ATYD tends to come in and derail the conversation to their point of view. All the young dudes, carry the news.
2. What’s up with the generalities, anyway? Specificity is the soul of narrative!
Tell me about it! Could this be any more vague? So, I kinda sorta like my privacy. As you will see from the next section, the whole “privacy” thing and my reaction to it is what set this off. So I’m being deliberately vague about some details, and about some dates and/or relationships and/or names.
Look, I’m not an idiot, contrary to what everyone who has ever met me would say. I know that given enough time and motivation, it would be fairly trivial to trace my online identities to the real person in meatspace. I also know that, as opposed to people who regularly post under their actual identity, I don’t normally have to worry about being harassed, or swatted, or suffering major consequences for silly little on-line posts and/or the spats that might ensue.
But I like to keep all the various pseudonyms that I post under (some of which are similar, some different) separate from my meatspace persona. That’s why I use different pseudonyms, and I prefer being weird and adopting personas than using my actual identity. On occasion, I do “super cereal” stuff in my real life, so I try to keep it separate from my fun.
As for why using I am using “joke-y” names to describe events ... when I know that this will only be interesting to people who come here and already know exactly what NGram is, and who Umbrage and Morrisey are? Um, why not? It may be a stupid and silly conceit, but I will make fetch happen.
And now, the story!
3. The Leadup, a/k/a yeah, Catra had it rough with Shadow Weaver, why you askin’?
This has not been a great year for ... anyone. But this year I lost a parent. And it was really difficult. It was a lot harder than I thought it would be. No matter how old you are, nothing fully prepares you for it. And no matter what your level of preparation, no matter how experienced you are, no matter what you’ve read before, it’s harder than you imagined it would be. Watching someone who raised you deteriorate quickly, and in an incredibly painful fashion; even typing this now brings me to tears. And if you are the unfortunate family member that has to handle the estate, your relatives (and boy, your relatives can really suck ... and they will show their true colors when it comes to an estate, even an itsy bitsy one), and everything else.... it takes a toll. Leading into the economic crash and the ongoing quarantine and the whole pandemic thing, and it’s just been a pretty awful, awful time. Basically .... fuck you Adora. There is nothing worse than leaving. Does it excuse bad behavior, like ending the world? Maybe not. But still.
Combine that with the nature of what I do, which lead to an increasing amount of dealing with people who were terrified of losing their livelihood and businesses and helping them try to navigate an increasingly difficult and confusing landscape so that they don’t disappear while the rules and regulations are changing constantly on them? Ugh. Seriously, sucks like a hoover.
But this leads to the NGram. NGram is a D&D (and RPG) hobbyist forum. I love posting on NGram. It’s like, one of the things that I do to blow off steam and relax a little; an escape from the mundanities of life and a way to spread a little cheer and discuss one of my favorite hobbies. I had started posting back on NGram five years ago, when 5e was released, because I was asked to start DMing for a group of kids (and I wanted to transition an older group that still played 1e to 5e), and I was trying to get current. But I eventually moved to using NGram more as a social/humor platform.
In addition to my numerous social, humor, and other postings (such as the “survivor” series I started and ran for five years), I would occasionally run into a small clique of people - ATYD. Every forum has them- you know, that group. And while I am using a group name to refer to them, I should be careful to say that these are all individuals; there are some quite lovely people in ATYD!
But there are some .... not lovely people as well. And over time, I got into a few scrapes with ATYD. Nothing too serious; one of the best features of NGram was that it had a two-way block feature. So if things got a little heated, I could just temporarily block (both ways) until it died down. Now, pretty much every .... single .... major issue I ever had on NGram ended up being with ATYD. It was just the nature of things. Had I been more intelligent than I am, I never would have engaged them, because ... well, why do you stop hitting your head against a wall? It feels so good when you stop!
At the end of last year, NGram upgraded to a new version of software, and lost the ability to two-way block. Which meant that over the past few months, I had more issues with ATYD. This included such things as being reported in threads (and called out for moderation) when ATYD were involved, or in two particularly fun examples .... having one of my threads shut down because they didn’t like it and harassed me until I finally had to shut my thread down, and then getting a mod to moderate me for “threadcrapping” my own thread by trying to return it to the subject I started after ATYD highjacked it. This was, you know .... whatever. It’s the internet; trolls happen.
But then I found out that ATYD contacted the place where I work. I mean ... sure. Again, this is a hobbyist board about dragons, and unicorns, and wizards, and someone was taking thing so seriously that they were ... I don’t even know? Trying to intimidate me? Get me fired? For posts on an RPG Forum?
So, keeping in mind that (like everyone else) I was dealing with all the stuff going on in the world, the death of a parent, and the escalating harassment from ATYD that had just moved into my actual life, I then got moderated on March 26, 2020, again because of ATYD. Specifically, Umbrage was summoned because I had noted that a thread had been resurrected by ATYD for yet another “edition war,” and they were using it to rehash a thread that had just been closed.
And that brings us to ....
4. Beware the fortnight after the Ides of March!
Stuff happens, man. So I had gone to sleep with a really bad taste in mouth because of Umbrage’s moderation. And I wake up to find that I had been moderated, again, for a post that was 11 days old. A post, by the way, that had been immediately followed by posts made by, inter alia, Umbrage (the moderator) so it was pretty obvious that the post in question wasn’t a problem and that Umbrage hadn’t moderated me. And the mod in question (that I later learned was LaRusso) said the issue was “Jackassery so soon?” And then included a threatened ban from NGram. For a joke. From 11 days ago. That no one else had a problem with, including a different moderator.
I was beyond angry. And this anger deepened when Umbrage used loaded expressions like “pogrom” when I inquired about it by posting in the meta forum. For those not fully aware of it, “pogrom” (like blood libel) is one of those terms people really shouldn’t use as an intensifier. It was the use of “pogrom” combined with the comments stating that humor, in the future, would be tolerated only to the extent that no one could be offended, and that I should immediately apologize to anyone I could offend with any humor any time ... that’s what hit me. So, that’s when I decided to take a break ... to quit for a while, and started the process. But then I calmed down, and was about to recant, and I saw Umbrage’s “You be you” post.
So I deactivated my account.
Now, here’s the brief interjection- I’ve been on the internet a long time. I’ve been a part of many groups. The internet, as a whole, lives on. Groups live on. No one, absolutely no one, cares if you “rage quit.” No one is that important.
Does the world know, or care, that Jakal the Warlock was booted from a MUD in 1992 because he surreptitiously used his girlfriend’s wiz account to boost himself? No, no it doesn’t. No one cares. Life goes on.
At this point, based on the software that NGram uses, my account was just “deactivated.” I could have taken a nice little break and asked to return at a future date. For those familiar with the website, my name had a “strike” through it, but my posts were still available.
4. Never put off till tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.
The next day, I looked at the thread after I left. That’s when I saw three things- first, the comments of certain people I didn’t .... appreciate. Second, I saw that Umbrage had posted emphatically that the fault was mine for acting like a kindergartner (fair enough!) and that in the future, all my posts that might offend anyone would have to be apologized for. Notably, and most concerning to me (given the history above) this was liked by several ATYDs, including the individual who brought on the initial moderation from March 26th. Finally, LaRusso had posted saying that even after looking at this, he still thought that it was a “general bash” and “edition warring” and that in the past this should have earned me an “actual ban” and the real issue is that there was serious underlying behavior worthy of moderation.
So let’s be clear here. For those of you not familiar with the website, in addition to my many serious posts about RPG history and deep dives into various arcane subjects, I also have various running gags; most of them are pretty well-known. Paladins are a pestilence upon the game. Gnomes are obnoxious ankle-biters. Katanas are the greatest thing ever, not just a weapon, but a class. And, of course, I parody edition warring by making fun of 2e, because ... wait for it .... Second Edition is pretty much indistinguishable from 1e.
That’s the joke. It’s almost inconceivable that I have to explain it. But, yes, the idea that someone would get so hot and bothered about 2e (in comparison to 1e) ... that’s the whole joke right there. That, plus of course that this happened 30 years ago .... So when I am “over the top” bashing 2e, it’s for a reason. In other words- the over-the-topness is the point.
So when I saw that not only had LaRusso stated that he had moderated, but LaRusso and Umbrage had now provided ATYD a roadmap for effectively continuing to harass me (to which they gave a thumbs-up, of course)... well, that’s not fun. And this was supposed to be fun.
At that point, I emailed Morissey and told him that not only was there a vicar in a tutu, but that I wanted my account deleted. I also followed up by stating that the main issue was what was going on with ATYD’s harassment, and that the most recent moderation for the 11-day old post was either continuing harassment, or that I was so gun-shy I couldn’t even tell the difference any more.
5. On the GDPR and Privacy.
So, Morissey didn’t respond to just my request for account deletion.* Long story short (if you’re reading this, you probably just stifled a laugh!), after several informal requests, I escalated my request to a more specific request under the GDPR (the EU Privacy Directive, General Data Protection Regulation) to delete my account.
*This isn’t a blame thing; I know that he has other things to do, and he did get back to me eventually, but by that point it had escalated to a generic GDPR request.
Woah, what? What just happened with all of that? So, remember way back when I said that ATYD sent something to my workplace, like, in real life? And had harassed me on the forum? And so on? So, yeah. Not cool. In other words, I knew that given my long and prolific history of posting at NGram, enough details had slipped out that ATYD had been able to make, at the least, a few stabs at my identity (I have since learned that multiple people were emailed, so ... it wasn’t that narrow!). As such, and since I am familiar with technical terms like ‘data controller’ I could ask that personal data be deleted, which would include prior posts with identifiable information about me. And since no one would want to read all my prior posts to determine which ones had identifiable information ..... well, NGram deleted all of my prior posts.
Technically, my account was deleted on March 30, 2020 (that’s when it went from “strikethrough” to “guest”). I was asked not to post again on the site (which I have not done). On or around April 13, 2020, all of 10k+ posts were deleted by NGram and I was “IP banned” as well.
6. So, wait .... who messed up? Are you the Karen?
No? Yes? In the words of the immortal philosopher and friend of Richard Rorty, Dr. Brian Flanagan, “Everything ends badly, otherwise it wouldn’t end.” There is a particular sub-genre* of movie that I have always enjoyed; “trapped by circumstances” is the best way of putting it. A great example of that type of movie is Dangerous Liaisons (1988); when the Vicomte de Valmont says, “It is beyond my control,” the true pathos of the scene is that there is the knowledge that, in fact, it isn’t beyond his control ... but he in unable and unwilling to change the stars of his destiny.
*Can you really call all of Shakespeare’s tragedies a sub-genre?
Looking back, it was the same here. If LaRusso hadn’t bothered moderating a post that was 11 days old and clearly humorous. If LaRusso hadn’t used the terms “jackassery” and “ban” in his moderation. If I had completely ignored the moderation instead of inquiring. If I had inquired in a different way. If Umbrage didn’t use the word progrom and decide to answer by attacking my posts (and humorous posts) in general. If I hadn’t read LaRusso’s return posts, and seen who had given a thumbs up to Umbrage. If Morissey had responded to the initial email I sent him. If I hadn’t escalated to a takedown request.
Etc. I really wish I could say I was making a grand statement or defending a principle. I even wish I could point to it being a “rage quit.” Because if it was, at least I would have raged! Instead, I disappeared.
And speaking for myself, there was an element of, “I’ve been a major contributor. I’ve played by the rules. Why aren’t they listening to me?” So yeah, while there wasn’t a full Karen going on, there was a little bit of, “I deserve better than this shit.” So, I totally fess up to that.
7. Three Nice Things!
So that’s kind of it. If anyone cares enough to write in the comments below, I will answer. If you are missing my posts, then go to this blog-
It has a collection of my past posts (mostly law and entertainment) that I’ve written here. Sorry, no RPG stuff! As for me, I’m playing a few PbP on other sites now. It’s my belief that you always end on a positive note. Here’s my three nice things about NGram:
A. It’s the best general-purpose RPG, with a focus on D&D, website out there. Seriously. I’ve tried to find a new home for general postings .... and .... yeah, none are as good. There are a lot of very, very good RPG websites out there. Some have better news. Some are better at particular RPGs. Some are better if you want to do a deep dive into the history of, say, OD&D or Greyhawk. Some are better for PbP. But the forums, and the community within the forums, is by far the best at NGram. IMO.
B. Great moderation. Well .... the recent experience wasn’t great. But overall, enforcement of “no politics” and “no religion” .... while it can cut some conversations short, makes for one of the nicest forums around. I mean - there are more than enough places to get politics today; leave unicorns and dragons out of it.
C. Wonderful people. I very much miss some of the characters (ahem) I met there. It is a great community. If you’re reading this, pat yourself on the back.
....and that’s it. Lowkey13 out.